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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

What are we made up of? Not hair. Not skin. Not bones. But cells. If a very thin slice of a plant stem is cut and put under a microscope you will see thousands of tiny box-like structures. These are cells.

You could think of cells as the sibling of particles. Only where particles make up our world’s infrastructure, cells make up the infrastructure of the living beings that inhabit the world. Thusly, cells are living and particles are non-living.

When you think about it, cells are mind boggling. It’s crazy to think that thousands of miniscule structures make up your entire body. How is that? Well, your body is much like a food chain. Cells make up tissues, tissues make up organs, several organs make up a system, and several systems make up an organism. Of course, it is unlike a food chain in the sense that organs don’t eat tissues etc.

The physical aspects of cells

Let’s start at the bottom of the chain, and basically the whole foundation of organisms. Animal cells are usually rounder than plant cells, which are boxier. An animal cell’s physical components are a cytoplasm, mitochondria, cell membrane, granules, and a nucleus. Plant cells consist of cellulose, a cell membrane, a vacuole, cell sap, plastids, chlorophyll, chloroplasts and a nucleus. Though animal and plant cells have different components, every single cell has a cell membrane. However, only most have a nucleus.

When put under a microscope, the typical animal cell’s cytoplasm looks like a thick liquid floating about, and floating about said thick liquid is the mitochondria and granules. Right smack in the middle is the nucleus, or the brain of the cell. It decides what goes in and what goes out and what is kept. The shape of every cell differs, thus it is impossible to draw a typical cell, but it is possible to show a rough sketch to show the characteristics which are standard in a cell.

The anatomy of an animal cell.

The plant cell’s structure differs greatly. Usually it is a rectangular shape, with its nucleus hiding in a bottom corner. Hence, if you were to cut the plant transversely (crosswise), you may not see a nucleus at all. Its vacuole takes up most of the cell, and the chloroplasts are sprinkle much like jellybeans on the outline of the vacuole. Weird but true.

The anatomy of a plant cell.

For cells to make tissues and those tissues make organs etc, they have to be specialized. Like the different people who make up the different parts of our world, cells are different. Though they are not as unique as each human, likewise they each have their own purpose.

Specialization starts with one cell splitting into two. Let’s say we have one cell (just to let you know, this cell’s specialization is, specialization). So, cell one splits into two. Now we have two cells, one cell becomes specialized and the other retains its ability to split. The beauty of specialization is how it’s so simple, yet it’s vital to all organisms. I’m sure you know how a baby is born. Let’s skip to before the baby is a fetus. It is a single cell. Then, like magic, it divides. At the speed of light, from one to two, to four, to eight, to 16 etc. Before you know it, you have a whole fetus, and the division doesn’t stop till the baby is fully grown.

Tissue culture

Animal tissue culture is when you take developing animal tissues and treat it with enzymes to separate the cells. The cells are then put into a culture vessel (shallow dish) containing nutrient solution, which makes the plant grow artificially. The vessel will eventually have a layer one cell thick, upon which the division will stop there until the cells are removed to another vessel. However, most mammal cells divide no more than 20 times.

Plant tissue culture is rather amazing. From just small amounts of plant tissue, great quantities of plants can be reproduced. First, a small amount of plant tissue is treated with enzymes, which separate the individual cells. The cells are then treated with hormones which help roots, stems and leaves grow from said cells.

And alternate method is taking a small piece of plant tissue and putting it on nutrient jelly. The nutrient jelly, as you may have guessed, gives the tissue the nutrients to grow into a callus, and eventually a plant.

You may be wondering what the use of tissue culture is, we have the organic plants and animals, why do we need artificial ones?

Well, tissue culture, much like pop culture, can be done at a mass level. Tissue culture, perhaps unlike pop culture, is very useful. When used at said mass level, it can help research on diseases, and sometimes can take the place of the cruel practice of animal testing.

Cells… superstars?

Though they may seem boring, they’re a vital part of our lives, indeed, they are us. Studying cells can help to develop live-saving vaccines, particularly recent progress for a vaccine against AIDS, which can prevent the AIDS from entering a cell.

Cells are greatly needed, well-liked, and respected (Well… you know what I mean). In a pop culture context, you could say that cells are the superstar of biology. Though they don’t have to worry about the paparazzi, and probably don’t have to worry about falling out of the spotlight, for children and adults alike will be studying them for years to come.

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The almighty Atoms

How stable is our world?

The Earth literally shattered a majority of Haiti’s buildings and infrastructure during the recent tragic earthquake there. Natural disasters like this can make one wonder if our tables and chairs won’t suddenly disintegrate in front of our very eyes. Fortunately, that question has been answered a long time ago.

Since Homo sapiens ruled the Earth, our world’s greatest minds have been bothered by one question (actually, they had many questions, but this particular one was rather important). That question was “What is the world made up of?” We have discovered since that it is made up of matter. But what is even more interesting is what matter is made of.

In 1807, the secret was finally revealed by John Dalton. He discovered that matter (as a matter of fact) is made up of particles. Particles are made up of molecules, which are made up of atoms, which for the longest time scientists thought was the smallest thing in the world. However, when said atom was cut open, it revealed an even smaller nucleus.

John Dalton discovered the atom

A breakthrough was made in 1919, when a scientist named James Chadwick discovered that revolving around the nucleus were clusters of tiny protons, neutrons, electrons and about 70 other, miniscule sub-atomic particles.

The Kinetic Theory

Thus, the Kinetic Theory is a fascinating one. That’s because it states that the world is made up of the aforementioned atoms, which are the tiny building blocks that support our lives. The notion that we big, heavy humans are supported by these little, cannot-be-seen-by-the-naked-eye things seems hard to believe. But it’s true.

For example, the particles which, bit by bit, make up the computer which you are using to read this now are actually moving. The movement is a very, very slight vibration fueled by kinetic energy. Throughout all the matter in the universe, kinetic energy is coursing through it. Some have less and some have more. Your computer has less, much less kinetic energy than say, your mum’s perfume. That’s because your computer is a solid and your mum’s perfume is a gas.

Confused? Think about it this way, we are what we’re surrounded by. Imagine that solids are the older generation of human beings today, stiff and stuck in their ways. Imagine that liquids are the youth of today flowing, free but slightly restricted. And imagine gases are hyper little kids, bouncing of the walls. Got that image in your head? Okay, now here’s the fun part:

The people you just imagined are actually particles, which make up solids, liquids and gases. The simplest example is water. As we all know, water is a liquid. But when we freeze it, it magically becomes its solid form, the hard, dense ice. That is because the water has hit its freezing point of 0°C, thus freezing the liquid into a solid. Likewise, doing the opposite and heating the water till it reaches its boiling point of 100°C creates its gaseous form – steam.

So when heated up, the water particles gain heat energy and move faster and faster till they break free of their bonds and is then free to move about at a high speed, occasionally colliding with each another in their new state of matter: gas.

The Different States of Matter (Source:

Proof that particles move – Diffusion

Have you ever noticed that when a person wearing a strong, pungent perfume walks into a room, within a few minutes the entire room smells like said perfume? Well, that magic is called diffusion.

With the high freedom these gas particles have, it’s not surprising how versatile they can be. For example, if gas is put into a jar, you will notice that it will spread itself out quickly and evenly. That’s because the gas particles move. In fact, they move so fast, that gases take mere hours to diffuse.

Liquids, on the other hand, can take days to diffuse as liquid particles move slower than that of gases.

Proof that particles move – Brownian motion

For many years, there was no proof that particles move. People were still uncertain what exactly we and the world were made of. However, about 150 years ago a scientist and botanist named Robert Brown erased all doubt and uncertainty regarding atoms. While gardening one day, he noticed that the fine pollen grains on the surface of the water were moving about, upon further investigation through his microscope, he discovered that the pollen grains were moving about in random motion.

Progress on this was made slowly but surely, but the breakthrough was in 1923 when another scientist, Norman Wiener, made what Brown had noticed clearer. He stated that the visible, tiny pollen grains were constantly colliding with the scores of water particles, causing the random motion. That breakthrough is called Brownian motion, after the scientist who discovered it.

Certainly, the world seems more fascinating once you have discovered atoms. And it is nice to know that the world is probably not about to crumble beneath our very feet.

Numbers are all around us. They’re in the food we eat – “4 table spoons of sugar, 250g of butter, etc.” They’re on our television screens – the TV show Numb3rs is about a mathematical genius, Charlie Eppes who helps his brother, FBI Special Agent Don Eppes, solve cases using numbers. They’re in Pop music too, without numbers, we wouldn’t have our top 100 hits charts, and artists wouldn’t be able to get their songs to No.1.

And not to mention telephone numbers. Without numbers, maybe telephones and mobiles phones will use pictures to identify a person? – “Oh sorry, I called you by mistake; I wanted to call your twin, so sorry.” But a part of what makes numbers so very important is our age. Without numbers, we wouldn’t know when we were born, or how old we are.

Now another good thing about numbers (or a bad thing about numbers depending on you) is math. Math, like numbers, is terribly useful and can be used to find the areas of triangles and other important things like that.

If you have studied math before, no doubt you would have heard of the Pythagorean Theorem. Which is the formula for finding the area of a right angled triangle:  a² + b² = c². What that means, is a², or the height of the triangle, multiplied by b², the base of the triangle, equals c², the hypotenuse of the triangle. See the diagram below for a clearer view.

Pythagoras' Theorem

Pythagoras' Theorem

This mathematical formula is a priceless and significant part of math as we know it today. So who could have been so clever to think up this formula? None other than a man called Pythagoras.

Pythagoras and math

Pythagoras (c. 570 BC – c. 495 BC) was a Greek mathematician, musician, philosopher and scientist. He was a significant part of the development of math, yet not much is known about him as none of his writing has survived. Though he didn’t leave behind any great writings, he left behind a way of life. His disciples called themselves the Pythagoreans.

The Pythagoreans were a select and secretive group and were divided into two groups merely on the base of their interest. One of them were called the akousmatikoi (“listeners”), who were focused more on the religious side of Pythagoras’ teachings, and the other were the mathēmatikoi (“learners”) who were focused more on of the scientific and mathematical side of Pythagoras’ teachings.

A bust of Pythagoras himself.

A bust of Pythagoras himself.

Nonetheless, the Pythagoreans in general adored numbers, and believed them to be the building blocks of life. They believed that each number had their own personality, and that the explanation for something existing could be explained through numbers.

But becoming a disciple of Pythagoras the man supposedly “sent from the gods”, was a very long process. The applicant’s charter, habits, feelings, words, actions and their way of life in general would be examined by Pythagoras himself, and only if they passed successfully would they be accepted into his school.

If they succeeded, they would then have to give all their property to the school, as everything was held in common. Then, for the next three years, they would have no vote in proceedings, and no medical treatment. And after that, they were required by the school to observe silence for five years, with the aim of training them to tame themselves, first to listen and then to attain wisdom.

If after those long eight years or so the pupil was considered unsuitable, he would be expelled and all his property returned. But, despite the risk of being expelled after all the hard work put in, many people from all over the region flocked to Pythagoras’ school, with hopes of learning from the great master himself.

Pythagoras is the bald one in the middle, he is teaching his disciples music.

Pythagoras is the bald one in the middle. He is teaching his disciples music.

Pythagoras and music

Pythagoras not only discovered his famous theorem, but he also discovered the overtone series, which is what you hear on a modern piano today.

It is said that one day Pythagoras was passing by a blacksmiths workshop and he noticed the various harmonies coming from the blacksmiths shop. Later, he went back to investigate, and found that the different tones that came from the blacksmiths hammer when it hit the metal changed according to the weight of his anvil.

Pythagoras was intrigued. He experimented and found that by plucking a string one foot long it vibrates x times per second, and by plucking another piece of string two feet long, it vibrates 2x per second, but at the same pitch. Thus, plucking both strings simultaneously or one after the other, creates an octave.

After further experimenting, Pythagoras found that by dividing one of the strings into halves, thirds, quarters, or fifths of the original length while keeping the other string the same length and then plucking in a similar fashion created an octave, a perfect fifth, and a major third respectively. To hear the differences click here.

This discovery was very important to Pythagoras, for he realised that these tones played musically and in the right sequence on an instrument could change the behaviour patterns of a person and accelerate the healing process.

Pythagoras’ discovery of music prompted the opening of a Pythagoras Graduate School of Music and Sound Research in Finland, and focuses more on the academic side of music and less on the performance side. Their main research fields are:

  • Musical acoustics and sound processing
  • brain research
  • music theory
  • psychology of music
  • media design

Pythagoras’ significant discovery lent further proof to the belief of the Pythagoreans: that everything, including music, was fundamentally made out of their beloved numbers.

June 2017
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