Science of everyday things

You do not need a personal underground bunker stuffed with hi-tech devices to do experiments (although I would not mind to have a one).

Large amount of research even at high-level science can be done with relatively basic equipment. For example at PGP, the place I study, people do a lot of amazing things with setups so simple anyone can build at home.

My coursemate Øystein studies fragmentation processes in explosive volcanic systems using two connected glass plates filled with powder in between. Pressure, generated with a hose from a gas cylinder, simulates an explosion. Afterwards he will get numerical data by processing the photos obtained during explosion with methods of image analysis. The setup of his experiment was built all by himself.

Experimental setup for studying explosive volcanism (built by Øystein T. Haug, photo: Liene Spruzeniece)

And then there is another interesting experiment by PGP researcher Stephanie Werner and colleagues. They try to repeat the defrosting patterns observed on Mars using an elastic glass plate and fine grained powder. I am not allowed to say much more because the study is not published yet but the results already look very promising.

Another significant project few years ago was done by Olivier Galland also a researcher at PGP. He modeled magma emplacement in sedimentary basins using fine grained silica powder and oil. Field studies show that in these environments magma often form so-called “saucer shaped sills” – subhorizontal magmatic bodies with upward curved edges. Despite of its word-wide distribution their origin was not well explained yet. But Olivier succeeded to produce these sills in his experiment and together with field studies and mathematical modeling proposed a reasonable explanation of the process.

Experimental apparatus (Galland et al., EPSL, 2009)

So with all of these examples I wanted to say that experiments, while a very significant tool in science, are not that complicated as it could seem at first. Of course, the result will be valid only if proper scientific method is applied on the process.

However I want to go even further and say that actually you do not need a laboratory at all to study the world. You can do it anywhere and with anything. You can look at any everyday thing as an object of exploration and this realization is actually mind-blowing because the ordinary things suddenly turn out to be not so ordinary at all. Suddenly the movement of bubbles in a glass of mineral water is explainable by the laws of physics or the fissured layer of paint on the window sill turn out to possess the same dessication pattern as the muddy sediments in arid environments. And it is possible to spend hours just by looking at the crystals on the ice covered window pane, solving the questions: “what controls the shapes and distributions of them”, “why are the crystals large and distinct on one side of the window and small and merged together on the other side” and “where was the starting point of this pattern”.

I think that is much more fascinating than confining the mind with superstitions or maintaining beliefs in unexplainable miracles.

Video by L. Spruzeniece: 


Galland, O., Planke, S., Neumann, E.-R., Malthe-Sørenssen , A. 2009. Experimental modelling of shallow magma emplacement: Application to saucer-shaped intrusions. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 277, 373-383.

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One Response to Science of everyday things

  1. Pingback: Stuff we linked to on Twitter last week | Highly Allochthonous

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