As noted astronomer Carl Sagan once said, "We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology." If you take a quick glance at the world around you, you'll find yourself surrounded by truths that support his statement. From static shock and magnetism to the conversion of matter and gravitational pull, we are constantly bearing witness to demonstrations of science principles, whether we realize it or not.
The word "science" stems from the Latin "scientia" meaning "knowledge," and it's a root that makes perfect sense, as the practice heavily relies on the study of the natural world, be it physical, chemical, biological, or geological. Aspects of science generally start out as a hypothesis that's put to the test to see whether or not it holds true. Once these theories are proven, many become a part of day-to-day actions and world. Let's take a look at some of the more common science principles that take place right before your eyes -- no lab required.
10: The Doppler Effect
When you hear an ambulance, police car, or other emergency vehicle in the distance, ever noticed how the pitch of the siren changes, first becoming higher as it approaches, then lower as it passes? What you're hearing is a result of a shift in the frequency of sound waves around the object, which is known more commonly as the Doppler Effect. It's named after Austrian mathematician and physicist Christian Doppler who first discovered this principle in the mid-1800s [source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association]. When something is moving toward you, sound waves bunch up, leading to an increase in pitch due to this compression. When it's moving away from you, the waves start to expand, leading to a decrease in sound.
The word "Doppler" may also bring to mind "Doppler radar," a term frequently thrown into the mix when it comes to meteorology. Most meteorologists rely on the Doppler radar system to provide accurate results on the distance and direction of rain. The Doppler Effect serves as a part of this process. The radar system uses a high-powered antenna to send out radio wave pulses. The amount needed for the pulses to bounce off the rain and return to the source is used to calculate the rain's distance and direction.
9: Bernoulli Principle
Have you ever wondered how something as heavy as an airplane manages to stay aloft in the sky? Doesn't seem to make much sense, unless you're familiar the Bernoulli Principle (or in some circles, the Bernoulli Equation). Discovered in the 1700s by Swiss physicist and mathematician Daniel Bernoulli, this law of physics stipulates that the pressure of a fluid (liquid or gas) decreases as the speed of the fluid increases [source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration].
So what does this have to do with airplanes? Well, the shape of the plane's wing as it passes through the air creates lower pressure above the wing than beneath it. This pressure difference is what allows the wings to push upward and the plane to take flight. The faster the wing moves, the more lift is created, playing a key role in making sure air traffic stays on the up and up.
8: Classical States of Matter
Next time someone asks you, "What's the matter?" if you want to answer literally, choose from one of the following three options: solid, liquid or gas. Though some scientists also argue that plasma should be considered as well, these three selections are generally used across the board as the primary states.
Each one is defined by major physical characteristics, determined in large part by the kinetic energy of molecules (which spreads them apart) as well as attractive forces (which pull them together) [source: Kurtus]. The temperature or energy determines which force wins. The higher the temperature of the molecules, the greater the kinetic energy and the faster the molecules will move.
You can see this in action by starting with a glass full of ice cubes, representing the solid state when the molecules are confined to vibrating either in place or in rotation. As the ice melts, the molecules gain enough kinetic energy to overcome the force until it becomes liquid.
If the water is boiling (or else in a very reduced pressure), the molecules are extremely energetic and their kinetic energy is greater than the attractive force between them. Thus, the water will become gas and spread beyond an open container [source: Kurtus]. The water will ultimately evaporate, though it evaporates more slowly at freezing point than boiling point because the energy required to break up the bonds holding water molecules together happens more quickly with the latter option [source: United States Geological Survey].
The phrase "opposites attract" may be tossed around when discussing social relationships, but its roots are purely scientific, tracing back to the concept of magnetism. Observations and recognition of this natural force traces back throughout many centuries [source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration]. However, physician and scientist William Gilbert is most frequently credited with creating the science of magnetism in 1600 [source: British Broadcasting Corporation].
Magnetism is a force that occurs when materials attract or repel other materials at a distance. The most common example of this is probably on display as a magnet stuck to your fridge. A magnet has a strong magnetic field and attracts materials like the iron in your fridge door. Magnets have two poles (north and south) and will be attracted by the opposite pole and repelled by the like pole of the other magnet [source: Kurtus]. The magnet may not stick to a stainless steel fridge because that has different proportions of nickel, which tend to interfere with iron atoms.
6: The Coriolis Force
How is it possible for wind to flow in curved trajectories, or even counterclockwise? The scientific explanation traces back to a mathematical equation known as the Coriolis force, and as you might imagine, it's a bit more complicated than 1+1=2. First discovered in 1835 by French scientist Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis, it demonstrates that objects moving within a rotating coordinate system do not actually deviate from their path, but simply appear to do so because of the motion of the coordinate [source: USA Today].
Case in point: As air begins to flow from high to low pressure, the Earth rotates under it, serving as the object or rotating frame of reference. However, motions over its surface such as wind are subject to acceleration. At the equator, the Coriolis force is zero, but in the Northern Hemisphere, wind turns to the right of its direction of motion, while in the Southern Hemisphere, it turns to the left, making the Coriolis force one to be reckoned with when it comes to studying storms and oceanic currents.
P.S., the Coriolis force has nothing to do with making toilets rotate one way in the Northern Hemisphere and the other way in the Southern Hemisphere. It's noticeable only on large forces such as winds.
5: Gravitational Pull
What goes up, must come down. No really, it must. So sayeth Sir Isaac Newton, a master-of-all-trades in his time, including mathematician, astronomer, physicist, and alchemist (just to name a few) [source: Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematics]. While there's a lovely story about an apple falling on Newton's head serving as his gravitational "Ah-ha" moment, whether or not this actually happened has been debated [source: Gefter].
What hasn't been debated is his insight and ultimate conclusion: Gravity is the force that attracts objects towards Earth, the result being that all objects fall at the same rate, regardless of mass. [source: Kurtus]. However gravitational force or pull can vary on other celestial bodies. On Earth, the force is always equal to the weight of the object, as opposed to a location like the moon, where the force of gravity is about 1/6 that of Earth (which is why astronauts always need to be tethered down when walking its surface). But for those on our planet, go ahead and toss that apple or ball into the air, because it will fall right back down into your lap.
Remember how we said Sir Isaac Newton was a master-of-all-trades? Turns out he knew a thing or two about properties of light as well, as he's credited for being the first kid on the block to note that sunlight is actually composed of an entire range of colors, that when combined look white to the eye [source: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research].
Those colors can be seen more individually every time a rainbow is formed in the sky, and that's where the idea of refraction comes into play. When light passes through transparent material -- in this case, raindrops -- its velocity slows, causing the light to bend. The angle of bending varies slightly for each wavelength, which leads to the reveal of the brilliant colors actually contained within sunlight [source: Kurtus].
3: Greenhouse Effect
You don't actually need to be inside or near a greenhouse to witness the greenhouse effect. In fact, a physical greenhouse actually has little to do with the principle. The concept can be seen in practice from a much closer perspective, such as when your car is warmed on a cold yet clear day as a result of the entrapment of energy from the sun.
The term "greenhouse effect" is used to describe a rise in temperature experienced when atmospheric gases (or greenhouse gases) such as water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane trap energy from the sun. On a wide-scale level, the phrase often refers to discussions related to the Earth at large, and the impact of sunlight that's streaming into our planet's surface, causing warmth, then reradiating back into the atmosphere.
However, not as much of this heat now actually makes it back out into space, as human actions such as driving and deforestation have contributed to producing higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This reradiated heat ends up getting blocked or trapped, resulting in warmer temperatures, which often serves as one of the core examples behind climate change and global warming debates [source: Environmental Protection Agency].
2: Static Electricity
It's called "static" for a reason: This type of electricity doesn't move through wires, but rather builds up on the surface as objects are rubbed together and charges from one item transfer to another. A popular demonstration of this in elementary school lessons usually involves rubbing a balloon on fabric such as corduroy pants, then placing the balloon next to a wall, where it seemingly self-adheres [source: Lawson].
Of course, this is not something most people commonly practice, but the principle is seen more organically in situations such as getting a shock when touching a doorknob. In this case, the static electricity has built up as electrons move from a carpeted floor to your body, arming you with extra electrons and subsequently a negative static charge. These will remain on an object (in this case, you!) until they wear off naturally, unless they become neutralized by a discharge, such as you touching a doorknob, which then acts as the conductor. That "zap" you feel is a result of the electrons jumping from you to the door handle.
Without the aid of a refrigerator or other applied cooling device, a chilled glass of lemonade (or whatever your favorite libation may be) will eventually become warm. If you want to get fancy, drop the word "entropy" into conversation next time this occurs, which refers to the science behind what's actually happening.
Essentially, the principle speaks to the averaging out of energy as a result of the movement of molecules. In the truest sense, however, entropy measures the disorder within a system, which can't "unmix" itself and therefore must merge. In the case of the lemonade, the disorder within the lemonade increases as the liquid acclimates to room temperature, and the molecular movement in surrounding air around the glass decreases, causing the transfer of heat [source: New Mexico Solar Energy Association].
The term "entropy" also often gets mistakenly intermixed into discussions about decay where bacteria are usually the true culprit behind the change [source: Kurtus].
Lots More Information
- Materials Science Pictures
- 10 Most Valuable Metals
- Top 10 Natural Building Materials
- Metals Puzzles
- Everyday Science: Aluminum Quiz
- British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). "William Gilbert." (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/gilbert_william.shtml
- Glenn Research Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). "Bernoulli's Equation. " April 9, 2009. (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/bern.html
- Glenn Research Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). "Doppler Effect." July 11, 2008. (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/doppler.html
- Gefter, Amanda. "Newton's apple: The real story." New Scientist. Jan. 18. 2010. (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2010/01/newtons-apple-the-real-story.html
- Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematics. "Life of Isaac Newton" (Dec. 22, 2010). http://www.newton.ac.uk/newtlife.html
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- Kurtus, Ron. "Basics of Magnetism." Succeed in Physical Science: School for Champions. Oct. 6, 2006. (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.school-for-champions.com/science/magnetism.htm
- Kurtus, Ron. "Gravitation and the Force of Gravity." Succeed in Physical Science: School for Champions. Sept. 2, 2010. (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.school-for-champions.com/science/gravity.htm
- Kurtus, Ron. "Refraction of Light." Succeed in Physical Science: School for Champions. Sept. 8, 2005. (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.school-for-champions.com/science/light_refraction.htm
- Kurtus, Ron. "States of Matter." Succeed in Physical Science: School for Champions. March 21, 2009. (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.school-for-champions.com/science/matter_states.htm
- Lawson, Jennifer E. "Hands-on Science: Electricity, Physical Science (energy)." Peguis Publishers, 2001.
- The National Center for Atmospheric Research & the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Office of Programs. "About Rainbows." (Dec. 17, 2010). http://eo.ucar.edu/rainbows/
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- National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). "The Doppler Effect." (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.crh.noaa.gov/abr/?n=doppler.php
- Stern, Dr. David P. "Magnetism." NASA. June 5, 1996. (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www-spof.gsfc.nasa.gov/Education/Imagnet.html
- United States Centennial of Flight Commission, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). "Bernoulli's Principle." (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Dictionary/bernoulli/DI9.htm
- United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Climate Change for Kids. "Greenhouse Effect." (Dec. 17, 2010). http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/kids/greenhouse.html
- United States Geological Survey (USGS). "The Water Cycle: Evaporation." Dec. 14, 2010. (Dec. 22, 2010). http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycleevaporation.html
- USA Today. "Understanding the Coriolis Force." (Dec. 17, 2010).http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/basics/coriolis-understanding.htm