Archive | General Science


What’s the deal with 29 February?

calendarTomorrow, 29 February, only happens once every four years. It’s the only date in a year which isn’t always there. So why do we have this sometimes day in what we call a ‘leap year’?

Let’s start by clarifying what a day and a year actually are. One day is the time it takes for Earth to rotate on its axis, so the same bit of the Earth is pointing at the Sun. This the time from one midnight to the next, or from one midday to the next.

One year is the time it takes for Earth to orbit the Sun once. It’s around 365 ¼ days long, and that ¼ is a problem. If our calendar only had 365 days, then dates would occur earlier and earlier in the seasons. To keep the dates lined up with the seasons, we use a 365 day calendar, but we sometimes add a day at the end of February, making it 29 days long, instead of 28. Continue Reading

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Is anyone average?

measuring tapeYou will need:
* Internet access
* Spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel or Open Office

To get the data

1. Get online and visit the CensusAtSchool random sampler. This page will provide responses from a survey called CensusAtSchool. Read the conditions of use and if you agree, then click through to the next page.

2. Select the following data options:

* Reference Year – 2011
* Questions to display – Select data by question

For ‘data by question’, check the following boxes:

* Q8. Eye colour
* Q17. Favourite take-away
* Q20. Getting to school Continue Reading

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Are you average?

measuring tapeIs your favourite food pizza? Do you get to school by car? Is your favourite sport netball? Are you 157cm tall?

If you answered yes to all of the above, then your answers agree with ‘averages’ obtained from a random sample of the 2011 CensusAtSchool questionnaire. But does this make you average? ‘Average’ can mean different things depending on who you’re talking to. In everyday language average can mean typical, or something that you wouldn’t be surprised about. However, in statistics average and typical are very different things.

An average summarises a characteristic (such as height) using data taken from different sources. There are different types of average – each tells you something different and all are useful. Continue Reading

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Try this: Dragon eggs

Try this: Dragon eggs

Warning: This cooking activity requires boiling water. Younger scientists should get help from an adult.

You will need

  • Eggs
  • Water
  • 2 teabags
  • Stove
  • Tablespoon
  • Teaspoon
  • Small saucepan
  • Egg timer or stop watch
  • 5 star anise (optional)
  • 2 Cinnamon sticks (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce (optional)

Continue Reading

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I’ll be a monkey’s cousin!

I’ll be a monkey’s cousin!

Human and chimp‘Is it through your grandmother or your grandfather that you consider yourself descended from a monkey?’ the bishop ‘Soapy’ Sam Wilberforce once asked the naturalist Thomas Huxley during a rather heated debate on the topic of evolution.
Following Darwin’s book ‘On the Origin of Species’, a number of people mistakenly believed that the ancestors of modern humans were apes and monkeys. Of course, this makes as much sense as saying your cousins are also your great, great grandparents. Darwin’s argument was that humans and primates are more like very distant cousins – we both share a common ancestor.
Like humans, our closest living relative – the chimpanzee – has also evolved quite a bit over the past few million years. But finding fossils that describe precisely what our shared ancestor may have looked like is a little tricky.
A recent find has come quite close, and has palaeontologists rather excited. At four and a half million years old, Ardipithecus ramidus (Ardi for short) would have walked the Earth only a few hundred thousand years after the ancestors of chimpanzees and humans went their separate ways.
Ardi’s bones tell an interesting tale. It seems this species walked upright, just as we do, yet had hands and feet that were capable of grasping branches with ease. Importantly, their pointy canine teeth were smaller than those of other apes, indicating a change in how often males fought one another. This tells us a little about their behaviour.
Such clues hint at what a common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees might have looked like. While it’s tempting to picture them with rather chimp-ish characteristics, it seems nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s easy to consider the great apes as ‘primitive’ or ‘unevolved humans’. Using Ardi’s bones to give us a snapshot of our family album, it’s clear that chimpanzees have come just as far in five million years as we humans.

Illustrated by Mike McRae

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Try this: Dental designs

Try this: Dental designs

You will need

  • A group of volunteers
  • Polystyrene cups (two per volunteer)
  • Scissors
  • A marker pen
  • Pieces of paper (one per volunteer)
  • A bowl

What to do

What you'll need

For each volunteer, write a number on a piece of paper (starting at ‘1’), fold it up and place it in the bowl.
Give everybody two polystyrene cups. If the cups have raised edges, cut these off.
Instruct them to use the marker to write their name on one. The other should be left blank.
Ask the volunteers to bite (not all the way through) by placing the lip of each cup as far inside their mouth as they can and clamping down firmly with their teeth, leaving a light impression.
Collect the cups with their names on them and place them at one end of the table.
Before collecting the blank cups, ask the volunteers to pull a number from the hat, memorise it, and then place it into their unlabelled cup. Place all these unlabelled cups with the others.
Invite everybody to match the named cups with the numbers using just the teeth marks.

What’s happening?

By biting the cups, volunteers left behind an impression of their teeth. Just like our fingerprints, our dental patterns are all rather different.
Although they are white and made from similar chemicals, teeth are not bones. Rather, they are made from several different types of tissue that range from a soft dentine to an extremely hard material called enamel. Their shape and position are related to our diverse diet of meat, soft fruit and tough vegetables.
On average, humans have 20 primary or ‘milk’ teeth that fall out before adolescence and are replaced by 32 permanent teeth – half in the lower jaw (mandible) and half in the upper jaw (maxilla). They are divided into three groups – incisors for cutting, canines for piercing and grasping, and molars for grinding. Adults have a group of teeth called ‘pre molars’ that grow beneath the molar milk teeth, and can have even more molars at the very back called ‘wisdom teeth’.
The shape and growth pattern of teeth depends on a range of factors such as the size of the jaw, original positioning of the teeth, dental problems and dental work that has occurred over time. They also change rather slowly over time, meaning it’s possible to match a bite mark with a person, even if a long period of time has passed.


Forensic odontology is the term used to describe the field of study where bite marks are matched with people. Bite marks have been used as evidence since the late 19th century where a victim has been bitten or where an object – such as a piece of fruit – has tooth impressions. One of the first published cases involving forensic odontology occurred in Texas in the 1950s, when a lump of cheese was used to link a suspect to a burglary.
Some argue that although bite marks differ between most people, there isn’t much evidence showing our mouths are all completely unique, leading to the possibility of false convictions. It might also be possible to misread impressions where the material has stretched or changed shape.
Because of the tough coating of enamel on our teeth, they often survive a fire where bones don’t. If the teeth can be matched to a dental record, it’s possible to identify a victim this way.
That reminds me – it’s time I booked my next dental appointment. THis could be an interesting hobby for you, find more hobbies on Continue Reading

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Archaeological Museum in Croatia

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Monitoring Software

The Internet can be tricky for parents to deal with because kids often need to use the Internet for school, but parents parents are often worried about the various activities that their children might be engaged in. Peer-to-peer file sharing can lead to lawsuits and even a criminal prosecution. Some teens might engage in activities online that are embarrassing to the family or may lead to viruses or hackers accessing the computer. Fortunately, there are various forms of monitoring software that can offer parental control.

Monitoring software can also be very helpful when parents are trying to learn what their children are up to, such as whether they are attending class or doing their homework.

Many teens use the computer purchased specifically for schoolwork to play computer games or chat with friends. Monitoring software can not only record activities on the computer, but smartphone software such as Mobile Spy can silently record the teen's GPS information, text messages and phone call information.

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