The Haunting Science Behind Fear

You wake up in the middle of the night to complete darkness, not even a light from your phone, computer, or smoke detector glows. The air feels wrong and your gut tightens. You hear a low moan, then something as light as a spider web passes across your face. You don’t know what is going on, but you want out. In the blinding dark a cool hand covers your mouth and whispers in your ear, "Gotcha."
Okay, had enough of the creepy stuff? Or do you like being scared? Either way, we all know how it feels to be frightened, but why do we all feel many of the same things, and what’s the purpose of this interesting phenomenon? Let’s delve into the science of fear.

Why fear stuff?
Scientists believe fear exists to keep us alive, and it's been around for a very long time. Our prehistoric ancestors didn't have safe homes to live in and there were lots of big predators that liked the occasional human snack. No one had time to sit down and make a list of pros and cons about what to do when faced with a saber-toothed cat or a giant hyena. So, instead of the reasoning part of the brain being in control, the lizard brain takes over and initiates the fear response, an automatic reaction that helps keep our entire species alive. Before learning more about fear, check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine about the deadliest animals that ate humans.
There’s a lizard in my head?
There’s no reptile swimming between your ears, but when frightened, an ancient part of the brain dominates, one that controls our most basic instincts like fear, hunger, and the need to reproduce. It has been nicknamed the lizard brain. Even though this part of the brain evolved in our most distant ancestors, it still performs important functions involving messages and chemicals that are vital to our full body response to fear.

Fear on the inside
Your body’s central nervous system is designed to send and receive signals between cells or between parts of the body. Different parts of your brain are constantly receiving and processing sensory information from the outside world, as well as analyzing information about how your body is functioning on the inside. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow these messages to flow. Based on information received, your body may digest food, sneeze, or run a fever. When danger is perceived, the part of your brain known as the hypothalamus messages other parts of the body to release nearly thirty chemicals called hormones. This flood of adrenalin, cortisol and other hormones causes body changes that include:

There is a lot more to the fight or flight response than will fit here. For basic and fun information on the brain chemistry involved, explore this link , or use it as a starting point for your own deeper exploration. For a more adult treatment of how fear works, click here .

What about the psychology of fear?

Now things get a little tricky. Our emotions, perceptions, and cultural tendencies shape what we find fearful and the science of fear has been studied beyond an instinctual, pre-programmed response.
Sometimes people who have gone through a really terrifying experience claim time seemed to slow down, or things happened in slow motion. Scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston theorize that we remember scary stuff as lasting much longer than it really did because when the hypothalamus is activated during the fear response, it creates additional, richer memories in conjunction with our everyday way of processing and remembering the world. It is like the difference between remembering a vacation by looking at five still photos, or by browsing thousands of photos and some video clips from that same trip. Their findings are recapped in a LiveScience article .

Remember, the hormone adrenalin is partly responsible for that huge burst of energy, strength? People often experience a sense of well-being or invincibility as well. Some people start to crave the adrenalin high, and engage in increasingly risky behavior to reach the thrill. A subset of that group may become so focused on getting the rush that they lose all sense of personal safety. Injury or death may be the cost of adrenalin addiction.

Many people experience fear that has nothing to do with their physical safety, they are afraid of public speaking, of making a mistake in front of their peers or a teacher, or they run screaming from the room when they see a clown.

In the first two examples, recognizing that you are feeling fear, then using the accompanying energy surge can actually make you a better public speaker and less likely to make mistakes. Many actors and professional public speakers attribute onstage success to the prickly, energizing rush that comes with fear.

Then there are clowns. An irrational fear of anything is called a phobia, coulrophobia specifically, in the case of clowns. The emphasis is on irrational. You cannot deny the rational fear of being pinned to the ground by a five hundred pound bear, your body and your life are at risk. But being in the audience where there is a clown on stage, or seeing a picture of a spider online, or imagining being buried alive pose no real threats, but a lot of people feel otherwise. Sometimes those phobias are grounded in past traumas, sometimes they grow from cultural beliefs. Figuring out the why may require the help of an expert therapist, but before your session starts, click here for Oxford Dictionaries' list of phobias if you want to know see which ones you find frightening, or to learn some really long words.

A moderate amount of psychological fear is not harmful, and may even be good for you in the short term, helping you power through uncomfortable situations that are not life threatening. Some people even enjoy the heightened sense they get from watching a scary movie, riding a roller coaster, or visiting a haunted house.

However, when your perception of what is fearful becomes distorted and moves outside the norm, it can lead to many problems caused from too much time being spent ready to fight, flee, or freeze. Constant fear means your immune system is perpetually on hold, resulting in chronic disease. And distorted fears can result in significant emotional disorders that can take a huge toll on your quality of life.

So, fear is a natural part of life,and it often serves us well. Challenge yourself to learn more about the up side of fear to keep you safe, and how to manage the other side of fear to keep you sane. Attend our very own event Why Are You Afraid? The Science of Fear on October 27, 2017. For more information about this and other events, check out our website.

8 Science Myths That Will Knock Your Socks Of


It can be hard to separate scientific facts from fiction. There are a lot of myths and old wives' tales that have been repeated so many times, most of us take for granted that they're true! This article will explore eight of those myths, explain why they're untrue, and then give you the facts. Armed with this information, you'll be better able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

Myth #1: You can "catch your death of cold" if you go outside without a coat.

Most of us can probably remember being reprimanded by our parents for going outside with wet hair, bare feet, or no coat in the wintertime. Why? Well, the reasoning goes that exposure to cold weather can leave us vulnerable to catching a chill, and it seems to make sense: Winter is notorious for being cold and flu season, after all.

But what does science say about it?

The fact is that although extremely cold weather can lead to dangerous conditions like frostbite and hypothermia, the common cold isn't caused by exposure to low temperatures. It's caused by a virus, no amount of warm clothing or woolly socks can protect you from viruses. Instead, if you want to avoid spending your winter sniffling and sneezing, you should take care to wash your hands with antibacterial soap, keep your belongings disinfected, and avoid sharing food or drinks with others.

Myth #2: Too much sugar will have you bouncing off the walls.

This is another common childhood myth: Let a kid stuff his face with sugary treats, and in no time at all he'll be running amok all over the place. Generations of parents have advised their children against eating too much candy at the risk of developing a "sugar high," but is there such a thing?

The truth is that years of experiments have failed to validate the claim that sugar causes hyperactivity in kids. Instead, some researchers have suggested that the link between sugar and off-the-wall behavior has a simpler explanation: Sugary foods and drinks are likelier to be consumed on occasions that are exciting for kids, like birthday parties or Halloween, which might account for how amped up some children seem to get after loading up on cookies, cake, or soda.

That said, there are plenty of good reasons not to overindulge your sweet tooth. Sugar consumption is linked to tooth decay, childhood obesity, and even diabetes, so it's good to practice moderation when you're contemplating that second dessert.

Myth #3: If you go swimming right after dinner, you'll sink like a stone.

This is another myth most of us have probably heard as children. According to many well-meaning parents, babysitters, and lifeguards, it's important to wait at least an hour after eating before going in the pool, otherwise your risk of drowning increases. Supposedly, all the blood in your body will travel straight to your stomach while you're digesting your meal, leaving your arms and legs starved for blood and in danger of cramping.

But in fact, although your body does redirect extra blood to your digestive tract after eating, it's not nearly enough to stop your arms and legs from paddling efficiently. So even if you stuffed yourself at the summer block party, know that it's still safe to go in the water.

Myth #4: Too much hot sauce (or too much stress) can punch you right in the stomach.

There are a few different popular explanations for ulcers, painful sores in the lining of the stomach or esophagus. Some say eating too much spicy or acidic food is to blame, while others claim that stress is the real culprit. But the truth is quite different.

Ulcers are really caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, and most doctors recommend a combination of antibiotics to treat it. However, there's one kernel of truth in this myth: It's a good idea to avoid spicy food while your ulcer is healing, simply to spare yourself some needless discomfort.

Myth #5: Albert Einstein flunked out of school.

This one is sometimes told to students who are floundering academically, possibly to give them hope that their struggles were shared by one of the greatest thinkers of all time. But the truth is that it's more fiction than fact.

Although Albert Einstein did cause his parents some concern when he didn't begin speaking until the age of two, and although he failed his entrance exam to the Swiss Federal Polytechnical School, he was otherwise an exceptional student. He was not only a math whiz, but he graduated high school near the top of his class.

Myth #6: "It's just a theory."

This line is a favorite of science deniers everywhere. It's used to dismiss everything from the theory of evolution to the safety of vaccines. The problem is that it doesn't mean what most people think it means.

Many people mistakenly believe that the words theory and hypothesis can be used interchangeably, but in fact they have two very different meanings. A hypothesis is a suggested explanation for an unexplained phenomenon, whereas a theory is a unifying explanation that has been tested and verified. In other words, a theory is what a hypothesis wants to be when it grows up.

So the next time you hear somebody write off a scientific reality as "just a theory," you should realize that they don't understand what they're saying. A theory doesn't become a theory overnight, but only after rigorous observation and testing proves it to be valid.

Myth #7: There's no gravity in outer space.

We've all seen video footage of astronauts walking the moon, seemingly weightless as they glide into the air. The popular explanation given for this is that there's no gravity in outer space, but this simply isn't true. The reality is much more complicated and fascinating.

While the moon is smaller than the earth and therefore has a weaker gravitational pull, it does still have gravity. Likewise, there's gravity found all throughout space. Astronauts walking on the moon aren't feeling as strong a gravitational pull as we are back on earth, which accounts for the way they seem to float across its surface.

Meanwhile, astronauts in space shuttles located at "orbit height" (about 250 miles above earth) are still affected by earth's gravitational pull. They seem to float not because there's zero gravity, but because they are constantly falling towards the earth and missing it.

Myth #8: Your hair and nails keep growing even after you kick the bucket.

This is by far the creepiest myth on our list, and one you've probably heard before. Supposedly, your hair and fingernails continue to grow even after you die. It's a gruesome thought, but it's also completely untrue.

When your body dies, your body's ability to produce new hair or fingernail growth dies with it. Instead, the dehydration and retraction of the surrounding skin can make hair and nails appear longer, which is also why many funeral homes take pains to ensure the dead are kept well moisturized, especially for open-casket viewings.

If this myth were true, you should be able to dig up a dead body and see long, twisting fingernails and masses of hair. But we don't recommend you try it.


These are just a few of the many abundant science myths out there. We encourage you to do your own research and debunk some of your own. The better informed you are, the less likely you'll be to fall for nonsense disguised as fact.

Why Water is Awesomely Weird: Reasons H2O Will Astound You

Water is Weird!

It is everywhere, and we bathe in it. We happily drink it, and without it, we could not live. Although we will search and search for fresh water, we are easily enticed to jump into the salty sea quickly. What is this strange stuff? It is water, H2O, and it is awesomely weird!

Water is a Shapeshifter!

Water is flexible, and it will change to any shape that it desires. It shapeshifts into three states of matter: liquid as water, solid as ice, and gas as vapor! As a part of its life cycle, it likes to evaporate into a gas, saying hello to the sun, and then falls upon Earth as droplets of liquid, saying hello to you. It enjoys turning, at times, into solid chunks that fall from the heavens. Chicken Little would be very afraid! Current experiments show that water may have yet another state of matter, an extra liquid state. Since it moves back and forth from state to state, water just will not stay still!

Water is Sticky

What? I have felt water, and it feels smooth. It cannot possibly be sticky. It slides right off our bodies, cars, and into anything with a basin. Strangely enough, it is sticky. How would you feel if everything that you touched stuck to you? Well, water enjoys it! The molecules in water love each other so much that they stick together, which we call cohesive forces, as much as possible. Water molecules are so sticky that they will find any other water molecule that is nearby and combine with it.

Water is an Alien from Outer Space?

I thought only little green men come from outer space. The water you drank this morning could have come from far away in the universe. Evidence is pointing towards water visiting Earth as ice comets from space. Well, this is awkward. If water is from outer space and we are around 60% to 70% water, are we part alien? Weird!

Mpemba What?

Mpemba? Does water have strange names? Perhaps, but the Mpemba effect is named Erasto Mpemba. What did this man with an interesting name figure out? Well, hot water can apparently freeze faster than cold water. How does that make sense? Shouldn’t cold water freeze quicker than hot water? Sometimes, water will fool you, and hot will freeze faster than cold.
Everyone that heard his strange theory, which common sense contradicts, insulted Mpemba and called him names. Thankfully, he persisted and proven correct; hot water can freeze faster than cold water. However, water still has not given up this secret. While we have a few good guesses, we have no idea how this happens. Why water? It is 2017! Why are you so awesomely eccentric that we have yet to figure you out?

Water Loves My Weight

What is the biggest animal you have seen? Maybe you saw a 6-ton elephant or 2.5-ton rhinoceros. Now, what is the largest water dwelling creature that you have seen? Maybe a whale, weighing 150 tons, or a shark, weighing 100 tons. How could a former 100-ton shark live in water? What about a 150-ton whale? The mass, or weight, of water and land creatures, is so very, very different! What happened? Water simply being itself, weird, is what happened.

While land creatures must deal with gravity, water resists it by having buoyancy push up against it. While we all know that heavier things sink and lighter things float, this basic explanation is only a part of the reason, a potentially inaccurate one. How can one person sink and another float? While gravity presses down and buoyancy presses up against an object, it must displace more water than its mass to remain stable. If there is more buoyancy than the mass of an object and the gravity that acts upon it, the object will float. If these forces are equal, the object will remain neutral, or stable, and will float, or stay where it is in the water. If the buoyancy is greater than the mass of an object and the exerting gravitational influence, it will sink to the bottom. Archimedes’ Principle explains this mathematically.

For instance, a submarine works by adding or removing water and air from the inside. When it simply moves through the water, it is in a neutral state. When the submarine rises, the buoyancy is forcing it to go upward. If the submarine sinks, the weight of it and gravity overcome buoyancy.

Water the Sojourner?

We see water moving, and it becomes a natural idea in our mind that it moves. We take this for granted, but have you ever thought about water traveling from one location to the next? The water that you are drinking, where did it originate? Water will travel anywhere. If there is an open spot, water wants to claim it. It travels from one place to another and the water you drink today could be from across the world! Water is even smart, as it uses gravity to travel faster. Have you ever heard of a smart liquid? Perhaps we overlook and forget about water too much in our daily lives.

Water Becomes Beautiful

Water turns to ice as it freezes. One type of ice is so beautiful that we sing songs about it. We put it under a microscope and find exquisite symmetrical structures with lovely patterns. This ice is snow. What makes Christmas more beautiful? Snow. What makes you want to sit by a log fire with a warm drink? Snow. What do we hate to clean off the reads but love to see it fall? Snow. It is unique in that there are many different snowflake types, allowing for a broad range of shapes and sizes. I am special and unique, like a snowflake. What about you?

Water is Old

Our water is old. Water is so old that you may be drinking water that dinosaurs enjoyed. You may wish to become a dinosaur; sadly, drinking their water will not help. I wonder if our water tastes like a dinosaur. I guess we will never know. What we do know is that water gets even stranger. Science currently dates the sun to an approximate age of 4.6 billion years. Shortly afterward, the Earth formed around 4.4 billion years ago. Logically, the sun must be older than water on Earth. Nope, some water on Earth may be older than the Sun. If an icy comet formed before Sun and crashed into Earth, the water is older than the Sun. I hope the Sun doesn’t feel bad. If you find yourself on another planet, watch out for the interstellar ice!

Water, Water, Water

Water, we often forget about you. Throughout our daily experiences, we never pay attention to you. It is strange that beverages contain more of you than other ingredients. Pure water has a pH of 7, making it neutral. We need around 12 gallons of you just to raise one chicken. It is peculiar how you use capillary action to move up against the force of gravity. It is odd to think that when I am thirsty, I have lost around 1% of you. You make up around 25% of our bones. We would not exist without you. Thank you, water, for being so awesomely weird!

Quantum Physics For Dummies: Science Secrets of The Universe

Quantum Physics for Dummies

Quantum Mechanics studies the smallest stuff in the universe. You might know these as the parts of the atom: protons, neutrons, and electrons.

When scientists look at the tiniest stuff in the universe, things begin to act really weird. Contradictory things seem to happen at the same time. Things become uncertain. We have to use probability, making weird guesses about the bizarre behavior of particles. Things appear to be in two places at the same time, or teleport from one location to another. At the smallest level of everything, the world seems to turn upside down. All stability seems to break down.

Many people think quantum mechanics doesn't make sense. Is quantum physics a mystery? Can we ultimately make sense of it? Do quantum mechanics violate the laws of physics?

The Theory of Quantum Mechanics Works!

It might surprise you that quantum mechanics is actually one of the strongest scientific theories in history. We actually know a great deal about what's going with the smallest particles in the universe. The problem is, when we investigate things at the quantum level, what we find seems incredibly weird and counter-intuitive. This doesn't mean that we don't know what's going on there. It means that what's going on there doesn't make sense to us.

The History of Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics won't make sense without understanding the history. This history begins with Max Planck, continues with Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, and finally cumulating in the current theory with scientists like Schrödinger and Heisenberg. This history will help us learn why scientists think that the universe is fundamentally weird. For a more complicated version of this history, the University of Pittsburgh offers an excellent overview on their website.

Max Planck and Black Body Radiation

Have you ever wondered why fire sometimes looks blue? This happens because of something called Black Body Radiation. Physics tells us that colors are caused by different wavelengths of light. Black Body Radiation describes how something changes color as it gets hot. When things get hot, the light tends to change in this pattern:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • White
  • Blue

Now because of the law of conservation of energy, physicists generally thought that the light would keep climbing the hotter something gets. If things change color the hotter they get, you'd think that blue fire would turn into ultraviolet, right?

The Ultraviolet Catastrophe

As it turns out, the wavelengths undergo a huge drop after reaching the blue spectrum. This was called the "ultraviolet catastrophe."

Max Planck could only make sense of this one way. He hypothesized that the energy jumps from one discrete wavelength to the next. So basically, this says that the energy moves from position 1 to position 2 without passing through positions 1.3, 1.4, 1.7 and so on.

Planck's Constant: Energy Jumps from Place to Place

Planck identified a number called Planck's Constant. Whenever the energy "jumps," it does so in multiples of Planck's number. The number is incredibly small, so you would never notice the leaps. But this means that there's nothing in between these different jumps! It jumps from 1 x Planck's Constant to 2 x Planck's Constant with nothing but empty space between the jumps. It took some time, however, before scientists realized how weird things actually are.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein is best known for his theory of relativity. This, however, wasn't what made Einstein famous. It was actually his work on the Photoelectric Effect that won him the Nobel Prize in physics. This has to do with the properties of light.

Maxwell's Light Experiment: Light moves like a wave!

Previously, physicists had thought that light behaved like a wave. Think of a wave like a ripple in a pond. If there are two different ripples next to each other, when the ripples meet, they will cancel each other out. In the 19th century, Maxwell proved that light works the same way.

Einstein's Genius: Light is both Waves and Particles!

What Albert Einstein realized was that light is actually composed of tiny particles, much like Isaac Newton and others had thought in the 18th century. However, Einstein came up with the weird idea that the particles actually behave like waves.

Picturing Light Photons as Waves:

Imagine that you have a light source outside a cardboard box. You drill a hole in the cardboard box, and have a sheet on the other side that detects the light. Now, if you look at the sheet inside the cardboard box, you will see that the light passes through the hole and spreads out. In this way, light behaves a lot like a wave.

But what would happen if you made the light extremely dim? What if instead of a light source, you just had one tiny piece of light: a particle called a photon. The photon, it would seem, would simply travel through the slit and strike the other side opposite the hole, right?

Except this isn't what happens. The photon actually flies in a seemingly random direction each time. This seems to defy the way that Newton said motion should work. However, if you let photons pass through one at a time, observing the random locations that each one lands, after doing this for a while, all of the photons would start to look like the pattern of a wave.

Photons Follow Planck's Constant

At the same time, Einstein saw that photons always fall into discrete units of energy. Guess what units they fall into? That's right! The number Planck discovered called Planck's Constant. For this reason, Einstein concluded that each photon behaves like part of a wave. It's as if each water droplet in a wave in the ocean acted like it was still part of the wave crashing on the shore, and a different part of that wave each time!

Niels Bohr and the Atom

Quantum mechanics is a theory of matter, which means it's all about atoms. The early model for figuring out the structure of an atom was discovered by Niels Bohr. If you have ever seen a picture of an atom with protons, neutrons, and electrons, you've seen the Bohr model. Bohr found out what Einstein already suspected. The electrons orbiting a nucleus can only orbit in discrete positions. They leap from one position to another, skipping the space in between.

It's as if planets could only orbit at the location of Earth or Venus, but it were physically impossible for there to be a planet between the Earth and Venus. Even more crazy: that there was literally nothing between the Earth and Venus!

What were the places where the electrons were allowed to orbit? You guessed it: Planck's Constant. The electron orbits followed the same kind of pattern Planck had found with blackbody radiation.

The New Theory of Quantum Mechanics

So far we have looked at what's called the "Old Theory" of Quantum Mechanics. This theory sees the electrons as only happening at specific positions with no space in between. However, the so-called New Theory of Quantum Mechanics makes things even weirder. Basically, it combines the ideas of Einstein with the ideas of Bohr. Instead of saying that the electrons orbit at an exact position, jumping from one orbit to the next, the New Theory of Quantum Mechanics says that their movements are way crazier.

Electrons move like waves, much like Einstein said about light.

This discovery was made by physicists like Schrödinger, Heisenberg, and de Broglie. They all had different theories, but scientists quickly realized that they were all saying the same things with different math. This means that at the bottom of everything, matter (made of electrons and photons) moves in crazy and unpredictable ways. After a while, the tiny bits of matter start to form a wave like pattern, but if you just look at a single "quanta" (that is, a single electron or proton), their movements can be completely crazy and unpredictable.

The Debate

So given how random and wacky particles behave, how should we understand our universe? Einstein refused to accept that the universe was random. In a debate with Niels Bohr, Einstein famously said: "God does not play with dice." Niels Bohr replied: "Don't tell God what to do."

Quantum Mechanics: An Incomplete Universe

So then how should we make sense of quantum mechanics? Here's one way to visualize what this means:

Quantum Mechanics: The Glitch in the Universe

Imagine that you are playing a video game. Inside the game, there's a town where you walk around. In the town are houses that make up the village, but you can't actually go into the houses. Because you can't go inside of the houses, you don't know what's inside of them. Who lives there? What kind of furniture is in there? What are the floors like?

But imagine that there's a glitch in the video game that lets you go inside the house. Now, you can learn what's inside the house. However, you discover that the programmers of the game didn't think you would ever go into the house, so they didn't actually put anything in it. You find nothing but empty space in the house. No one lives inside, there's no furniture, and nothing on the floor.

In this case, it's not that we can't know what's inside the house. The glitch lets us go inside. However, there's nothing inside the house, because it wasn't programmed. This means that we know what's in the house, but the stuff inside the house doesn't make sense.

If the universe were a video game, quantum mechanics would be like discovering a glitch in the universe.We can look at what's happening at the smallest level, but what we find there (like the empty house) doesn't make sense.

It's not that we can't make sense of quantum mechanics; it's that quantum mechanics shows that the universe doesn't make sense!

For more on the debates about Quantum Mechanics, check out the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article "Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics."

For more about the history of quantum mechanics, check out this article from the University of Pittsburgh's History of Philosophy and Science program.

For lectures on Quantum Mechanics aimed at college students, check out Richard Feyman's lectures on this website.

For simulations of famous experiments in Quantum Mechanics, check out this website from the University of Boulder.

Fidget Spinners : The Science Behind The Cultural Phenomenon

Fidget spinners are practically everywhere these days. Fun, bright, and undeniably interactive, kids (and even adults) have flocked to join this fad. They may seem silly, but there's more to them than meets the eye. The science behind why they work and why we like them is entirely legitimate.

How They Work

On the surface, fidget spinners may not look very involved. They're simple in shape, and their function is just to rotate around and around. These spinners use ball bearings that limit the amount of friction the toy may encounter, making them simple and satisfying to spin. Even small hands can twist or flick the spinner to set the outer ball bearing in motion. The other ball bearing serves as the base of the toy the child can hold as they spin. The ball bearings also ensure the spinner has enough weight to balance the momentum. When kids spin it, they're technically experiencing torque (rotational force) first-hand, in that they need to push on the spinner to set it in motion. Spinners stay spinning and won't tilt due to conservation of momentum. Just like a ping-pong ball will roll fairly far without a lot of force, these spinners apply that same principle in circular form to keep everything in motion until another force is exerted upon it.

Why They Work

There is a certain amount of instant gratification when it comes to fidget spinners. People can carry them around practically everywhere they go (no wi-fi required), and it's easy for the owner to become addicted to the feel of a spinning object in your hand. The constant undulation and vibration that can be felt in the palm and in the fingers can have an immediate effect on the holder, allowing them to feel some sense of control — even when it seems there's no control to be had in a situation. When children often feel as though they're at the mercy of what other people want to do, there's little mystery in why they've taken to this phenomena so quickly.

As with any fad, people will find a way to put their own twist on the basics of the rules. Kids may try to spin with their toes, nose, or forehead. They can be stacked to create a tower, which can make even the most stable person feel a little dizzy. The ultimate challenge though seems to be trying to toss them back and forth to friends. Learning more about the science behind our favorite toys doesn't diminish their appeal, it only adds to our understanding about the world around us.

Meet Megalodon: "Big Tooth"

The largest shark to ever exist - the Megalodon - is more than just a physical marvel.

The discovery of a tooth from the Megalodon by a Croatian fisherman is allowing scientists to dig into the behavior of predators of the Early Cretaceous era. Compared with other specimen from around the world, the tooth was a central part in identifying the species and tracking its ability to migrate around the world.

The Megalodon ruled the seas 100 million years ago as an apex predator. According to scientists, the shark was more than 18 meters long (20 feet). A single vertebrae from this shark is as large as a human hand. The most current findings help to prove that previous estimates of the size of this shark were too small. Additionally, the Megalodon is also considered one of the most powerful predators to ever exist in the sea.

Megalodon may have weighed up to 100 tons. Its bite had the ability to produce a force of between 10.8 and 18.2 tons. Despite all of this power, the shark was also one of the fastest predators in the sea, able to easily catch whales and sea turtles. It is actually a mystery how such a powerful predator could have died out, because there was literally nothing in the sea that could have matched its physical prowess. Many scientists believe that they actually became too large for their environment, and even though they were dining on whales at will, there was simply not enough calories in the sea to sustain their existence!

It is possible that the species has been misidentified, although scientists are becoming more sure of themselves with every new discovery. The current Great White shark is the closest thing to the Megalodon, although it is unknown whether they are a direct descendant. The Megalodon is known to have gone extinct around 2 billion years ago during the Pleistocene era, leaving a great deal of room for the Great White shark to be derived from another species of shark. However, the ferocity of the two species causes many scientists to keep the Megalodon in the picture.

What do you think? Why don't you come take a look?

The Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise is all about introducing science to your children in a family friendly environment. Take it from us - sharks are one of the best ways to get kids interested in science as a whole! Come see the Megalodon, and stay for the other exhibits - we think they are great as well!

The Science Behind Drones 

Soar to new heights: Learn the science about drones, how they fly, and how they transmit information.

Do you love drones? Then you love science. Drones are very intricate machines and understanding how to fly them means understanding the science behind them. And yes, it's awesome.

Curious kids, adults and whole families alike can learn about drones and more with the fun and activities at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise.

What Are Drones?

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles. But unlike the old remote control helicopters of the 20th century, they're designed to not only respond to remote commands. They can control themselves.

How do Drones Fly Themselves?

Drones have A.I., artificial intelligence software. This AI software can detect movement and "see" around it.

It then makes decisions about what to do next. In other words, they can think for themselves.

And they're only getting smarter.

How Do Drones Fly?

Physics, of course. 

Lift = 1/2 air density X Velocity^2 X Surface Area X Coefficient of Lift

This equation may seem complex to some, but keep this in mind. During flight, the drone can't change the air density or its surface area. Those are always constant.

There is only one variable in the equation the drone can control.

Can you guess what it is?

The answer is "velocity", which in the case of a drone would be the rate of speed at which the blades rotate.

The drone must adjust velocity to perform maneuvers.

The basic maneuvers for a drone are:

1. Taking off
2. Rolling from side to side
3. Pitching - lowering and raising the front of the craft
4. Yawing - turning from side to side
5. Hover - staying in one place

But how can the craft perform 5 distinct maneuvers simply by adjusting the velocity of its blades?



More, physics.

While each of these maneuvers seem distinct, all of them are controlled by how fast the blades rotate and which of the 4 or more blades rotate.

For example, to take off the blades must spin in unison to reduce the air pressure above and increase the air pressure below the craft. The pressure generated beneath the craft must exceed the drone's weight in order for it to become "lighter than air".

To roll to the left, the drone increases the speed of the blades on the right and decreases on the left.

This increases the downward force on one side causing the other side to rise.

You get the picture.

How Do Drones Transmit Information? Drones are part of the Internet of Things. They are connected through WI-FI to our mobile devices.

This allows them to transmit images and data in real time. They can be equipped with sensors, infrared and night vision.

This real time data helps farmers monitors their crops, the military scout out enemy territory, news stations keep an eye on traffic and artists get the perfect shots.

This WI FI connection also allows us to switch them over to manual control to move them in to the right position before allowing the AI software to take over.

Drones can be equipped with GPS technology that not only allows the drone owner to always know where it is but also helps the drone's AI navigate from one location to another without being manually controlled.

Why Learn About Drones?

Science needs you. Drone technology is ever-changing. We are finding new uses, improving the AI capabilities and the hardware itself every day. When you learn more about science and support the curiosity of tomorrow's inventors, you can take a major role in shaping the technologies of the future.

5 Ways Science Connects the Community

It's sometimes easy to look at science as something distant. A discipline that doesn't really affect you or anyone you know directly, except maybe at a visit to a local museum or planetarium. But the truth is that science is a living, active member of the community too! Here are just a few ways how science connects and benefits your community.

Preserving Local Landmarks

A park doesn't become a park or stay a park without some help! Science is involved in these precious local landmarks and their preservation. That doesn't just mean raising awareness either. Let's say a local park, like Julia Davis Park, gets overrun by geese (which wouldn’t be surprising!).How should the geese be removed? Should the city somehow remove all the geese, or will that cause future problems that geese are preventing? Is it possible to get rid of geese but not the ducks? Well, science has the answers! That's why parks and recreation reports are one of the valuable contributions science makes to keeping your favorite parks and landmarks beautiful.

Energy Use and Management

A community is defined by how it uses energy. From nuclear power plants to wind farms and hydroelectric dams, large energy sources come to define the communities around them. However, energy policies backed by science and research also change how a community approaches vital issues like air and water quality, zoning, and construction requirements. Just like how Boise is powered by green hydroelectric energy, for example. With scientific input, communities can solve pollution issues, create more attractive buildings, and use the local landscape to its advantage. In other words, science can be beautiful.

Preserving Local History

Archaeology, anthropology, paleontology – these disciplines and many others are all about exploring history and preserving valuable evidence of the past. Without science, we wouldn't have fossil beds, historical landmarks, or knowledge of how the nearby land was settled. We wouldn’t have Sue, the world’s largest T-Rex fossil on record! Not only would this affect tourists, but it would also be bad for the families growing within those communities, who would never know why their location is unique and worth valuing. Communities are made all the better when they understand and appreciate their history...and that's where science comes in handy.

Professional Development for Teachers

Scientists do give talks at schools, and of course higher-level educators are often scientists in their own right. But there's another, more subtle way that scientists affect the overall education of a community: They help train teachers. That's right, the community of scientists is actively involved in teacher development courses where they teach the latest methods and classroom projects to help impart scientific knowledge to children.