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United We Stand: The Tale of a Polymer

What is a polymer?

Polymers are all around us. They are in our cars, they are in our adhesives, they are in our food, and they are in our bodies. Plastics, rubbers, glues, starches, and even DNA are all polymers. What could all of these things possibly have in common? The answer lies in the name. Polymer is a word stemming from the Greek words for many, poly, and parts, meros. A polymer is simply a molecule which is made up of many parts. These parts, called monomers, are often many repetitions of only one or two molecules, though it is conceivable that a polymer in which every monomer differs from every other can be produced.

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Ciphers: Early Techniques

Category:WikiProject Cryptography participants

Image via Wikipedia

We have all heard the word ‘encrypted’ used many times on television or in movies.  It is usually implies some form of security or an obstacle that needs to be overcome by some button pushing by a man in a lab coat.  Shows such as CSI and Law and Order use it, almost indiscriminately and often inaccurately.  So what exactly is encryption and what does it mean to say that a message is encrypted?  In this post, I shall describe the motivation behind cryptography, a number of early encryption schemes and the idea behind modern cryptography. In the second post in this series, I will describe more modern algorithms as they are used today in computers to protect your identity, privacy and security on the Internet.
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What’s cooking?

An incandescent light bulb

Image via Wikipedia

Ever wondered how an electric incandescent bulb, an electric room heater or an electric stove worked?  Ever wondered how they produce so much heat and light?  Today, we will explore the working of electric bulbs and heaters.  I will given an overview of how electric power is converted to heat and light.  As a bonus, here is a quick poll to give you a teaser.

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A Fowl Dilemma

Which Came First, The Chicken or The Egg?

Image by "The Wanderer's Eye" via Flickr

Today, I will tackle the conundrum of Which came first:  the chicken or the egg? This is an age-old dilemma, confounding early philosophers.  The core argument takes the form of a catch-22.  All chicken hatch from an egg.  Hence, to have a chicken, one must first have had an egg.  But chicken eggs need to be laid by a chicken.  Hence, to have an egg, one must first have a chicken to lay it.  Phrased this way, this question does not seem to have a good solution.  Nevertheless, evolutionary biology has been able to resolve the issue with a correct but perhaps unsatisfactory answer.


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The Eternal Fall

Here is a video of some astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).  It depicts some common (and uncommon) activities that they do aboard it.  It has background music – so turn down your volume if you are at work.

As you can see, astronauts in space operate in a ‘zero-gravity’ environment.  They float around effortlessly and don’t fall toward the ‘floor’ of the space station.  Water, in a space station such as the ISS, automatically assumes the shape of a ball and floats around.  This is indeed, quite a strange environment.  But have you ever stopped and wondered – why are the astronauts actually floating?  Is it because there is no gravity in outer space?  Is it because the earth’s pull is so weak that it no longer affects them?  Is it because they are constantly being pushed away from the earth by rockets?  Or is it something more subtle?  In this post, we shall explore the phenomenon of micro-gravity.

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Three Strokes and Out

In this post, I will discuss the working of a four stroke internal combustion engine such as the one used in most automobiles.  The engine of most modern cars runs on gasoline/petrol.  It does this by burning petrol in air and using the energy of the hot gaseous by-products to produce mechanical movement and motion of the car.  We shall explore how fuel and air are combined in the engine, how the controlled explosion is initiated and how all the heat is converted into rotational energy for the wheels.

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The Day The Earth Stood Still

Earth

What would it take to make the earth stop spinning?  This scenario is not unheard of in B-movies and bad sci-fi shows.  It isn’t uncommon to have plots involving the Earth’s core slowing down or aliens from a different galaxy stopping the Earth’s rotation.  A lot of these plots have the Earth stop spinning either instantaneously or within a very short period of time.  Intuitively, we know that spinning bodies have energy.  The Earth is a pretty massive spinning body.  How much energy would the Earth have to shed to stop rotating?  How would that energy affect us worldly inhabitants?

Here, I will discuss the physics behind rotation and rotational energy.  We shall use simple facts about the Earth’s rotation to calculate what would happen to it were it to stop spinning.

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