“Streaming Science and Truth” was written by Lynda Grindstaff, F.SWE, SWE Editorial Board.
In keeping with this issue’s themes about trusted science and credible voices, I thought it would be relevant to review a few science-related shows that I enjoy watching. Scientific truth is the ability to repeat experiments and expect the same outcome based on laws of science. Each of these shows explains various concepts in an easy-to-understand manner and prove (or disprove in a few cases) how it’s possible. Please note: I don’t recommend trying what you see in the videos at home.
The first show, Outrageous Acts of Science, can be found on the Science Channel, or you can watch clips on YouTube. This is my absolute favorite science-related program because they find short, two- to three-minute video clips online of everyday people doing crazy, and sometimes seemingly impossible, acts of science. The hosts break down the video clips into easy-to-understand language, explaining how laws of physics, chemistry, and/or biology played a role in what you see in the videos.
One of my favorite clips involves filling a hot tub with liquid sand. In this video, they put regular sand into a hot tub, and it abruptly turns to liquid sand. A man is sitting on what appears to be a solid surface of sand when suddenly he sinks down into the sand without moving. You might be thinking, “You must mean quicksand.” Nope. It appears like liquid sand because the man can move around freely without feeling stuck. How is that possible? They installed copper pipes at the bottom of the hot tub, which had downward-facing holes drilled into the pipes. Nitrogen gas was then pumped through the sand, reducing the friction between the sand granules. The nitrogen gas caused an upward force on the individual sand grains, which countered the force of gravity. When the two forces were equal, the sand grains hovered in place, causing them to move around as if it were a liquid. If gravity and the upward forces were not equal, either sand would fly out of the hot tub or it would act more like a solid. It was amazing watching the sand appear to change properties based on the nitrogen’s being pumped into the hot tub. Watch the full video clip here.
Some of my other favorite clips include watching backyard scientists explode watermelons using science, a sailboat floating midair, how holograms look so real, and how to freeze antifreeze.
Another reason I enjoy Outrageous Acts of Science is that it uses a very diverse team of real scientists and engineers to provide explanations to the audience. You will hear from both women and men of varied backgrounds and geographies who may be, for example, astrophysicists, biologists, physicists, forensic scientists, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, or chemists. It is the only show I have seen with a truly diverse set of real-life scientists and engineers.
WIT AND WEIRDNESS
The second show I recommend is SciShow, also on YouTube. Each video is about 15 to 25 minutes in length. You can watch episodes on topics such as: should you worry about caffeine dehydrating you; five of the world’s most dangerous chemicals; and what makes you a mosquito magnet.
One episode I found particularly interesting was called “10 Scientifically Impossible Places That Actually Exist.” In this episode, they show 10 places on Earth, each having some kind of phenomenon for which there’s no clear scientific explanation. I’ll tell you about three places here, and you’ll have to watch the full episode to see the other seven.
First up is the Brule River in Minnesota. The river splits in two at one point called the Devil’s Kettle waterfall. One half of the river heads to Lake Superior; however, until recently, no one knew where the other half went. Scientists had performed colored-die experiments and added ping pong balls to the water — both to no avail.
Another place featured is Movile Cave in Romania. It was locked away from light for 5.5 million years and has a different atmosphere than anywhere else on earth. The cave’s air is toxic as it contains hydrogen sulfide and 100x the surface level of carbon dioxide. What’s crazy is that scientists have found 33 species living in this environment that don’t exist anywhere else on earth!
The third place I want to highlight is Taos, New Mexico. Residents have been hearing a constant humming sound since the early 1990s. Various investigators have tried unsuccessfully to find the source. Some scientists have theories that the residents have super hearing where they can hear sounds that other humans cannot. As of today, there still is no explanation for the hum. Have you heard it?
SciShow’s offerings also include individual channels devoted to specific subjects, such as SciShow Space, SciShow Kids, SciShow Psych, and SciShow: On Sleep, as well as videos on topics such as physics, sleep, dinosaurs, and animals. Last year, SciShow Tangents, a podcast billed by public radio station WNYC as a “lightly competitive knowledge showcase full of wit and weirdness,” was added to the SciShow mix.
When you are done binge watching all these science shows, other favorites of mine include Street Science, Smarter Every Day, and MythBusters. There is no shortage of science online!
Lynda Grindstaff, F.SWE, is a vice president of engineering for McAfee. An active SWE Fellow and senior life member, she is the immediate past chair of the editorial board and has been recognized by the Society as an Emerging Leader.