Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Forgot to take my book to work with me yesterday. Fetched it from my bed stand and put it on the kitchen table next to my backpack, just before I started packing my lunch, so I wouldn’t leave it behind and what did I do? Left it behind. Of course. Which didn’t bother me until about noon when I happily unpacked my lunch, setting each little container on the desk, then reached for the book and it wasn’t there. Massive bummer.

The upside: I read a couple of articles on NPR’s web site instead and ran across a video of Richard Feynman explaining how trees come from the sky, not the ground. They’re made out of air. Specifically, they’re made of carbon. Trees suck carbon dioxide out of the air, use photosynthesis to break the oxygen atom off the carbon atom, then use the carbon to build themselves. Even the water that fills their cells comes from the sky. What a terrific idea.

In the same video, Feynman used a neat little trick to explain how atoms join to make molecules, even though they tend to repel each other. From a distance, they do. “It’s exactly like rolling a ball up a hill that has a hole at the top,” he says. “It’s rolling along but it doesn’t go down the hole because, if it starts to climb the hill, it rolls away again. But, if you make it go fast enough, it’ll fall into the hole.”

This is what Feynman does best: Explain physics using words and visualizations that anybody can understand. Atoms don’t become energized; they jiggle. They don’t form bonds; they snap together. I love that the hole at the top of the hill had to be a deep hole. The visualization wouldn’t work the way he wanted it to unless he specified the snap that you’d get from that deep hole.

Finding this video almost made me feel a lot less stupid about leaving the book behind on the kitchen table.

I see molecules | 5:51 am CDT
Category: daily drivel | Tags: ,
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