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How to Prevent Static Cling This Winter

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As we get deeper into winter, getting dressed to go outside becomes an ordeal. Not only do we have to worry about wearing enough layers to stay warm, we also have to deal with static electricity giving our garments a life of their own.

If you’re hoping to tackle static cling head-on this season, it helps to first understand the science behind why it happens. TIME recently spoke with two experts, Rutgers University biomedical engineering professor Troy Shinbrot and George Mason University professor of Earth sciences Robert Hazen, about why this sticky phenomenon becomes so pervasive once the temperatures drop.

According to Shinbrot, the culprit is an excess of either positive or negative electrical charge. All atoms contain both positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. When balanced in number, these charges cancel each other out; but when two objects make contact, electrons can come dislodged from their original atoms and jump to another, disrupting the object's “neutral” charge.

The “cling” part comes in when these imbalanced atoms start sticking together. Opposites attract, atomically speaking, so when wool tights with too much positive charge are introduced to a dress with a neutral or negative charge, the protons in the tights will adhere to the electrons in the dress. Like charges, on the other hand, repel each other. If you get a bunch of positively charged atoms in one place the protons will push away from one another. This is why your hair sometimes acts like it wants to float off your head after you brush it. “Like people on a crowded beach who want to put space between themselves, they all stand up and spread out,” Hazen told TIME.

But that still doesn’t answer the question of why static cling is at its worst in the winter. For that we’ll need to shift gears briefly from atomic physics to meteorology: According to WCCO Minneapolis meteorologist Chris Shaffer, cold air means dry air (anyone who’s gone through multiple bottles of hand cream in January can attest to this).

In the summertime, water molecules in the air attract most surplus protons or electrons around you, so charges on your clothes or hair rarely stay imbalanced long enough for you to notice them. But when the air outside is cold and ill-equipped to retain moisture, these charges can quickly get out of control.

That doesn’t mean you’re forced to live with static cling until spring rolls around. There are ways to take the seasonal annoyance into your own hands: When getting dressed in the morning, keep a spray bottle filled with water and a tablespoon of fabric softener nearby. A spritz or two should be enough to tame sticky fabrics when the air is dry. For static that disrupts your 'do, a little hair spray will work to the same effect. And it's important not to underestimate the power of dryer sheets. The positively charged material combats the negative charges that build up as your clothes dry, and they can even be used outside the laundry room to wipe down unruly hair.

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Newly Discovered 350-Year-Old Graffiti Shows Sir Isaac Newton's Obsession With Motion Started Early
Hulton Archive//Getty Images
Hulton Archive//Getty Images

Long before he gained fame as a mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton was a young artist who lacked a proper canvas. Now, a 350-year-old sketch on a wall, discovered at Newton’s childhood home in England, is shedding new light on the budding genius and his early fascination with motion, according to Live Science.

While surveying Woolsthorpe Manor, the Lincolnshire home where Newton was born and conducted many of his most famous experiments, conservators discovered a tiny etching of a windmill next to a fireplace in the downstairs hall. It’s believed that Newton made the drawing as a boy, and may have been inspired by the building of a nearby mill.

A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
National Trust

Newton was born at Woolsthorpe Manor in 1642, and he returned for two years after a bubonic plague outbreak forced Cambridge University, where he was studying mechanical philosophy, to close temporarily in 1665. It was in this rural setting that Newton conducted his prism experiments with white light, worked on his theory of “fluxions,” or calculus, and famously watched an apple fall from a tree, a singular moment that’s said to have led to his theory of gravity.

Paper was a scarce commodity in 17th century England, so Newton often sketched and scrawled notes on the manor’s walls and ceilings. While removing old wallpaper in the 1920s and '30s, tenants discovered several sketches that may have been made by the scientist. But the windmill sketch remained undetected for centuries, until conservators used a light imaging technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to survey the manor’s walls.

Conservators using light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor,  the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
A conservator uses light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor, the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
National Trust

RTI uses various light conditions to highlight shapes and colors that aren’t immediately visible to the naked eye. “It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe,” conservator Chris Pickup said in a press release.

The windmill sketch suggests that young Newton “was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work,” added Jim Grevatte, a program manager at Woolsthorpe Manor. “Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been repainted regularly, so using them as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him would have made sense," he said.

The newly discovered graffiti might be one of many hidden sketches drawn by Newton, so conservators plan to use thermal imaging to detect miniscule variations in the thickness of wall plaster and paint. This technique could reveal even more mini-drawings.

[h/t Live Science]

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Space
The Fascinating Device Astronauts Use to Weigh Themselves in Space

Most every scale on Earth, from the kind bakers use to measure ingredients to those doctors use to weigh patients, depends on gravity to function. Weight, after all, is just the mass of an object times the acceleration of gravity that’s pushing it toward Earth. That means astronauts have to use unconventional tools when recording changes to their bodies in space, as SciShow explains in the video below.

While weight as we know it technically doesn’t exist in zero-gravity conditions, mass does. Living in space can have drastic effects on a person’s body, and measuring mass is one way to keep track of these changes.

In place of a scale, NASA astronauts use something called a Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) to “weigh” themselves. Once they mount the pogo stick-like contraption it moves them a meter using a built-in spring. Heavier passengers take longer to drag, while a SLAMMD with no passenger at all takes the least time to move. Using the amount of time it takes to cover a meter, the machine can calculate the mass of the person riding it.

Measuring weight isn’t the only everyday activity that’s complicated in space. Astronauts have been forced to develop clever ways to brush their teeth, clip their nails, and even sleep without gravity.

[h/t SciShow]

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