January 30, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Bottles

I don't know how I forgot about this. A few months ago, casting around for something worthwhile to do in Philadelphia, my girlfriend and I headed over to the "museum" area, and settled on the "science" museum. Which, like everything else in that city, has been named after Benjamin Franklin. (Primary scientific accomplishment: inventing the sign convention that makes current a "flow" of positive charge, the opposite of the direction that the negative elections, which are actually the ones flowing, are flowing.) It was not an impressive place. Parts were fun, but kind of sad. Such as the giant heart that you can walk inside. It looks sort of cool and fanciful from the exterior, but once inside is really just a series of dark tunnels. They had a whole electromagnetism section that was nothing more than a collection of poorly functioning freshman physics demonstrations. Like the gold leaf/pith ball thing which most people couldn't figure out how to use and barely worked at all, conveying only the concept that a confusing series of steps could cause tiny pieces of foil to quiver and separate by a tenth of a centimeter.

It was all like this. And I don't think it is just because I have grown up from an easily entertained child into a cynical physics grad student man-child. I've been to the AMNH in New York, and I have a solid recollection of Boston's science museum of my youth as being a great deal more fun. In the words of Michael Scott, "You don't go to the Science museum and get handed a pamphlet about electricity. You put your hand on a metal ball, and you hair stands up. And then you know science." It was like that. They had a show where a guy in a Faraday cage created huge arcs of lightning between Van De Graaf generators. That is how you demonstrate E&M, through fear! Philadelphia, on the other hand had...a giant replica train that moves several feet. There is so much we can learn about the 1840s...

Anyhow, I think I pinpointed the very best moment of our trip. This exhibit, demonstrating the effects of air on plastic bottles:

Behold the majesty of Physics!



Thanks for the links to the science museum sites. I enjoyed my cyber visits there. As for the effects of air on plastic bottles. It didn't require a visit to a museum to see a demonstration of it today. The wind speed here today is 56 km/h (35 mph)and being recycling day, plastic bottles are being affected in majestic ways by the wind ... some are flying in the air, some are rolling on the ground. A blue,5 gal. water container is squashed and trying to hide in the bushes at the front of my house, but I believe the boisterous air has found it and will extricate it very soon.