How I Use Science In Day to Day Life

One of the most shocking things I hear occasionally from both adolescents and adults is "We learn this stuff in school, but there is no real use for it." In reality most of what we learn in high school is so basic that to question its importance is a sign of being uneducated. In some cases, otherwise enlightened people who have not been able to deal personally with past failures in subjects like math and science unjustly dismiss these subjects as being unrelated to daily life. Although this has been done before, I'll demonstrate how the basics of math and science surface every day in my life.

1.      In the Garden         I like to garden. After looking at the chalk board and computer screen all day long, I find that getting my hands into the earth is a great change of pace. But science follows me into the garden. Early in the spring, my wife bought some blueberries. To plant these we introduced several bags of new soil with a pH level of 6 to 7---adequate for most plants but too high for blueberries. Lowering the pH to their tastes means adding more acid to the soil. One way to accomplish that is to add elemental sulfur, which bacteria slowly convert into acid. If you do not want to wait a few months for the process to complete itself, you can add FeSO4, (iron II sulfate), which, according to Bachman's Floral, Home and Garden, will do the job within 2-3 weeks.

         As I garden, I love to smell the earth and flowers and enjoy seeing things grow, but to know how photosynthesis splits water molecules to replenish chlorophyll with electrons, and to understand how plant hormones play a role in the twining of climatis or beans and to identify the species of seedlings from their first "false" leaves enriches my experience.

2.      In the Kitchen         The basics of science are involved in everything from getting the water to boil faster (keep the pot lid on; it increases pressure) to creating clearer ice cubes (use hot water; Henry's Law states that less gas dissolves in a warmer solvent, and it's the air trapped within water that makes ice milky.) Cutting onions? The volatile lachrymating agent (the compound that evaporates and makes you cry) is water-soluble, so if you cut them under tap water, you'll be OK. Or since liquids evaporate more slowly at lower temperatures, you can cut one that has been in the fridge. Bored while washing dishes? Look at the beautiful diffraction patterns on the surface of soap bubbles; they are sometimes reminiscent of Jupiter's stormy clouds.

3.      On the Road                  Maybe I'm just chicken, but even when I was an adolescent, speed never excited me. In a car full of friends, I would be the only one watching the needle on the speedometer. Was it linked to my understanding that if you double your speed, the energy with which you potentially smash into something will not be twice as large but 22 times as damaging? With excessive speeds, your peripheral vision suffers, your vehicle's fuel efficiency plummets and the air within your tires heats up, increasing pressure and increasing the likelihood for a fatal blowout. Besides, for passengers sightseeing is far more enjoyable at lower speeds.

4.         Health             An incredibly large number of people willingly smoke for most of their lives; many do not. Epidimeologists have had access to their medical records. By knowing the methods of science, I see this as the ideal experiment with more than adequate numbers and an excellently varied control group. So when the results are out, and I am told of a strong correlation between smoking and diseases like lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease, I believe the heath officials who are warning me, and not the profiteers who refute the data.

By knowing some biology and chemistry, I know that it is simple-minded to regard all "natural products" as beneficial, and that is paranoid to be scared of any synthetic chemical. After all, snake-venom, carcinogenic mold byproducts, fatty acids from rancid oils, the urushiols in poison ivy and nicotine are all perfectly natural. By the same token, synthetic opiates are far less addictive than their natural counterparts, and my autistic son who refuses to drink juice or eat fruits and vegetables stays healthy from taking synthetic vitamins, which are chemically identical to those found in nature.

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Technical Asistance: C. Frizzell; and M.Pololos, D.Verrillo and K.Papoulias at EMSB

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