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Only 6 Percent of Americans Aced This Basic Science Survey

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Now, more than ever, science is intricately woven into the fabric of our daily lives—and it's as easy as it has ever been to take science for granted.

For example, when the Pew Research Center asked 3278 American adults 12 basic science questions, only 6 percent were able to successfully answer each one. (If you'd like to see how you stack up before we spoil the answers, you can take the quiz here.) The encouraging news is that most participants answered more questions right than wrong. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed were able to identify the earth’s core as its hottest layer, and 82 percent of people knew that uranium was the element needed to make nuclear materials. Less encouragingly, only 35 percent of participants knew that amplitude determines the loudness of a sound wave and 34 percent correctly answered that water boils at a lower temperature in higher altitudes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who had earned college or graduate degrees performed better than those without them. There were also notable differences between certain age groups. Eighty percent of 18- to 29-year-olds knew that radio waves transmit cell phone calls compared to only 57 percent of people over 65 who answered correctly. But when it came to a question about the developer of the polio vaccine, the over-65 population beat the 18- to 25-year-olds 86 percent to 68 percent. 

The Pew Research Center's website stresses that many scholars agree that "public understanding of science issues and concepts is a hallmark of an informed public." As new technology develops faster each year, public knowledge of the principles behind the science we use is more important than ever before. So if you still don't know how light passes through a magnifying glass, the answer is just a Google search away.

[h/t: Gizmodo]

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History
The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

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science
Why Are Glaciers Blue?
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The bright azure blue sported by many glaciers is one of nature's most stunning hues. But how does it happen, when the snow we see is usually white? As Joe Hanson of It's Okay to Be Smart explains in the video below, the snow and ice we see mostly looks white, cloudy, or clear because all of the visible light striking its surface is reflected back to us. But glaciers have a totally different structure—their many layers of tightly compressed snow means light has to travel much further, and is scattered many times throughout the depths. As the light bounces around, the light at the red and yellow end of the spectrum gets absorbed thanks to the vibrations of the water molecules inside the ice, leaving only blue and green light behind. For the details of exactly why that happens, check out Hanson's trip to Alaska's beautiful (and endangered) Mendenhall Glacier below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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