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YouTube

Popping Water Balloons in Space

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YouTube

Everybody likes popping water balloons on Earth. But what happens when you pop a water balloon on the International Space Station, without gravity?

So here's the test -- think about what you think will happen in this scenario. Will the water stay exactly where it was pre-pop, or will it move? If you think it will move, why would it move? In this video (including slow motion), astronaut Don Pettit pops a series of water balloons while in space, and shares the results.

For more cool space videos, check out How Do Astronauts Wash Their Hands?; Yo-Yos in Space! (also by Don Pettit); and the bizarro How to Drink Coffee in Space.

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United States Army // Public Domain
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Watch Richard Feynman Explain Fire
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United States Army // Public Domain

Physicist Richard Feynman was a master explainer. His physics lectures are a model of clarity. His specialty is explaining one concept in the context of another concept the listener already understands.

In the video below, Feynman tackles the seemingly simple question: What is fire? This is a hard question for many of us to answer without referencing fire itself. Fire is burning. Fire is what happens when you light a match. Fire is a reaction. But aside from our existing knowledge of its effects (like flame), what is it and how does it happen? What else is fire like that we understand already?

In 1983, Feynman answered this question (among others) for the BBC on its Fun to Imagine series. He starts like so:

The atoms like each other to different degrees. Oxygen, for instance in the air, would like to be next to carbon, and if they're getting near each other, they snap together. If they're not too close though, they repel and they go apart, so they don't know that they could snap together.

It's just as if you have a ball that was [rolling and] trying to climb a hill and there was a hole it could go into. Like a volcano hole, a deep one. It's rolling along, and it doesn't go down in the deep [volcano] hole, because it starts to climb the hill and it rolls away again. But if you make it go fast enough, it'll fall into the hole.

So if you set something like wood in oxygen...there's carbon in the wood from a tree. And the oxygen comes and hits the carbon, but not hard enough. It just goes away again. The air is always [moving but] nothing's happening. If you can get it fast enough, by heating it up somehow...a few of [the atoms] come past, a few of them go over the top, so to speak.

So there you have it. If you understand what a volcano looks like and how a ball rolls under normal earth gravity, you have the start of this mental image for how fire works. Feynman's explanation manages to convey chemical behaviors in terms humans intuitively understand—the way a ball rolls—because that's the world we live in. Watch this for a delightful explanation:

The BBC has more clips (in better quality) at this slightly vintage website. You can also download the entire hour-long lecture from the Internet Archive.

[h/t: Kottke.org.]

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How Marie Curie Overcame the Odds and Won Two Nobel Prizes
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Marie Curie, born Marie Skłodowska, didn’t look like most scientists at the turn of the 20th century. In order to break into a field dominated by men, the French-Polish physicist attended a secret school in Poland and then studied in Paris, despite being unable to even afford food. Her persistence eventually paid off: Her radiation research earned her two Nobel prizes—one in physics and one in chemistry. While she opened doors for many brilliant woman scientists to follow her, she remains the only person, male or female, to win Nobel prizes in two separate sciences.

To learn more about the woman behind the groundbreaking discoveries, watch the animated video below from TED-Ed.

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