The funny thing about science

By Phil Plait | October 12, 2012 10:00 am

Science is cool. I know that, and you probably know that, but a lot of people still don’t.

That’s why I love love love this series of ads by the Vancouver Science World Centre, a science museum in Canada:

That’s just one of several posted on Buzzfeed. They’re all funny, and some are gross, which is also funny.

This is the same museum that ran really funny TV ads earlier this year, too. In my opinion they’ve set the standard on how to reach out to folks and get them interested in the natural world. The ads are funny, which gets your attention; makes an odd, seemingly out-of-place statement, which keeps your attention a bit longer; then uses the phrase "We can explain", which brings the message home. Awesomeness.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery, Science

Comments (29)

  1. Alan D

    Mimes too. (And I’d love to know why clowns are so darn annoying.)

  2. thetentman

    no sleep tonight. thanks phil.

  3. Ian

    Replace those clowns with spiders, and we got a winner

  4. Gary Ansorge

    …and, because we have a 56 foot diameter asteroid coming within 58,000 miles of earth, this site is really valuable…

    http://impact.ese.ic.ac.uk/cgi-bin/crater.cgi?dist=10&distanceUnits=1&diam=15&diameterUnits=1&pdens=&pdens_select=3000&vel=30&velocityUnits=1&theta=45&wdepth=&wdepthUnits=1&tdens=2500

    …to calculate the damage such might cause…(about 569 kilo tons of TNT)

    Gary 7

  5. People fearing clowns, spiders, bears, whatever has always puzzled me. They have absolutely no effect on me.

    Heights don’t particularly bother me either, but if I were to fall, that rude stop at the bottom is what I am afraid of…

  6. @Larian LeQuella,

    Heights don’t bother me either, but I do have a fear of falling. Put me by the closed window on the 20th floor and I’m fine. I can look out all day. But put me on a 2nd story balcony and watch me nervously back away. That’s why I went on Tower of Terror (and 3 other rides) during a recent trip to Disney World. I purposefully decided not to let my fear control me. (If you’ve never been on it before, Tower of Terror drops you a random number of times from random heights for a random distance. So it’s all about falling.)

  7. Awesome post! It’s so effective that right now i’m surfing the web to see if I can find the reason of why Mosquitoes are attracted to color blue. And of course, thinking ways of using that color to keep them away from my bed xD.

    Thanks Phil!

  8. Dan Andrews

    @techydad. That’s the same reason I went skydiving. Each jump more terrifying than the last but kept with it till I found myself anticipating the rush than fearing the jump. We used static lines so no jumping attached to an instructor. Not sure if they still use static lines for first time jumpers?

  9. mike burkhart

    I love science to. And I’m afraid of hights. The main fear for someone who is, is falling to there deaths. I’m not afarid of spiders with two exceptions: Black widows and Brown recules because there poisionis . I am afraid of yellow jackets because I’m algeric to them.

  10. Old Muley

    If the building was on fire I’d have a serious conflict. Burn to death or jump into the arms of clowns….

  11. Peter Davey

    With regard to the question of humour and science:

    T H White, in “The Sword In The Stone”, describes humour as “the prerogative of the wise”.

    Or, to quote the humourist, W S Gilbert: “To him who’s scientific, there’s nothing that’s terrific in the falling of a flight of thunderbolts.” – an atttitude shared by most visitors to this site, I suspect. (You are not required to join in the chorus).

  12. Matt B.

    I’ll cop to acrophobia, but clowns I just don’t find entertaining.

  13. “”Honk!!”" Splat!!….LOL

  14. Trebuchet

    The “You weigh less on the way down” one with the scale in the elevator one is bugging me. It seems to me that as long as the elevator is descending (or ascending) at a constant rate, the scale will read as normal. If it’s accelerating upward (starting up, or slowing a descent) it’ll read higher, if you’re accelerating downward (starting down, or slowing an ascent) it’ll read a bit less. Any thoughts?

  15. Bananer

    @Trebuchet: Think you’re right, weight should only change when you’re accelerating. Seems a bit wrong to me too.

  16. Isabel

    I’m trying to cure my fear of heights by watching this video repeatedly…

    http://zanylol.com/scariest.html

  17. Cindy

    Amy,

    The scale reads the force that the floor of the elevator is exerting on you. If the elevator is at rest, then the scale reads your weight. There has to be a net force in the direction you are accelerating.

    If the elevator is accelerating up, then the floor must be exerting more of a force on you than gravity since you’re accelerating upwards. So the scale will read heavy.

    If the elevator is accelerating down, then gravity must be exerting more of a force on you than the elevator, so the scale will read light.

    Yes, I’m a physics teacher and am currently covering forces right now.

  18. Michael S

    The 20sq ft of skin one shows nipples on the back?

  19. Sharon

    The same ad company also did these hilarious library ads: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1x7kvDfA5o

  20. Trebuchet

    @ Cindy, #17:

    Who’s Amy?

    You seem to be in agreement that the scale will only change while accelerating. The ad says you “weigh less while going down.” It’s wrong. Not also that downward acceleration occurs whether the elevator is rising or descending, just at opposite ends of the ride.

  21. Tobin Dax

    @ Treb

    You’ve got it right. (I’m trying to remember how I put it a few weeks ago.) You weigh less at the top of the ride and more at the bottom*, no matter which way you are going. In between, while moving at a constant velocity, your weight is the same as if you were at rest.

    *This was in a 2-story building, so there was no possibility of additional stops between the bottom floor and the top floor with the elevator I had in mind when I said that.

  22. DanM

    I am not afraid of clowns or heights. I am, however, afraid of falling clowns. I mean, that would hurt. Or be messy. Either way, it can’t be good.

    RE: the elevator question. Have you considered all the possibilities that down may have to offer?

  23. Cindy

    Trebuchet,

    My apologies, I thought it said “Amy”. Didn’t read it carefully enough – too many late nights grading lately.

    We used to do a lab at my school where we would bring an accelerometer into the elevator. Tobin Dax is correct about the results – we also could only go up two floors at most.

    I would love to have a smartphone app that could record some accelerometer readings and then take it into a high-rise building.

  24. Bahaha, I love these! I do think the clown one is my favorite.
    I’m not even scared of clowns, but five clown faces staring up at me expectantly, on the other hand…

    Actually, I agree with DanM: I’m not afraid of falling or clowns individually, but the thought of falling and being incapacitated while surrounded by clowns, now that’s scary!

  25. noen

    Cindy said:
    “If the elevator is accelerating down, then gravity must be exerting more of a force on you than the elevator, so the scale will read light.”

    Um, no… I don’t think that’s right or maybe it’s worded confusingly. If you and the elevator are both traveling at a constant speed and both are in free fall then the scale will read your weight as zero. The force gravity is exerting on you and the elevator remains the same. At speeds less than that needed for free fall the scale will read less than your rest weight. That is the principle behind the “vomit comet” plane. The passengers and the plane are essentially in free fall and that simulates weightlessness. Well, actually, it *is* weightlessness.

    Astronauts sometimes practice their maneuvers in a large pool and take measures to neutralize their buoyancy and simulate the zero gravity of space.

    The moment you put a scale under something you are making a practical measurement and the results you get will depend on the conditions under which you are weighing the object. The force of gravity will always be F=ma but the apparent weight of an object will vary a lot.

    How much does a battleship “weigh” when it’s floating on the ocean? I’d say the same as a block of wood floating on water. A battleship in a really really big elevator in free fall will have a weight of zero. You won’t be able to push it around due to it’s mass but it won’t weigh anything.

  26. DanM

    Regardless of anything else, a battleship in a really really big elevator in free fall would be a cool thing to witness.

    From a safe distance.

  27. @25 noen: Um, no… I don’t think that’s right or maybe it’s worded confusingly. If you and the elevator are both traveling at a constant speed and both are in free fall then the scale will read your weight as zero.

    But if you’re in free fall, you’re not traveling at a constant speed, you’re accelerating (unless you’re in a perfectly circular orbit).

    At speeds less than that needed for free fall the scale will read less than your rest weight. That is the principle behind the “vomit comet” plane.

    There isn’t a magic speed for free fall, though. It’s all about having your vertical acceleration precisely equal to that of gravity. The “Vomit Comet” plane flies a parabola which is basically identical to the path that would taken by a projectile fired from a gun in a vacuum – that is, with its trajectory determined by gravity with no other forces acting on it. Another way to look at it is a segment of an extremely elliptical orbit that intersects the ground (or would, if the pilot didn’t pull up :) )

    @20 Trebuchet You seem to be in agreement that the scale will only change while accelerating. The ad says you “weigh less while going down.” It’s wrong. Not also that downward acceleration occurs whether the elevator is rising or descending, just at opposite ends of the ride.

    Hehe, yeah, that bugged me too, but heck, devil’s advocate here, maybe we can call it a question of semantics? Does “going down” mean the entire ride, or just the part where you’re accelerating from a stop (the “going” part)? Maybe you do weigh less when “going down” but your weight returns to normal when “continuing down”? :-P

  28. Nigel Depledge

    DanM (22) said:

    RE: the elevator question. Have you considered all the possibilities that down may have to offer?

    Ah, I wonder if you had a hand in designing the Syrius Cybernetics Corporation’s Happy Vertical People Transporters?

    Noen (25) said:

    Cindy said:
    “If the elevator is accelerating down, then gravity must be exerting more of a force on you than the elevator, so the scale will read light.”

    Um, no… I don’t think that’s right or maybe it’s worded confusingly. If you and the elevator are both traveling at a constant speed and both are in free fall then the scale will read your weight as zero.

    Noen, you seem to have missed part of what Cindy was saying. She was talking specifically about acceleration, which does not mean moving at constant speed.

    Also, if you are in free fall, you are by definition accelerating. Assuming falling through an atmosphere, once you have achieved terminal velocity, you are no longer accelerating and therefore no longer in free fall. Constant speed only occurs in free fall under the special circumstance that is an orbit – and even then it is a constant angular velocity (assuming a circular orbit), not a constant velocity (velocity being a vector).

    Joseph G (27) said:

    The “Vomit Comet” plane flies a parabola which is basically identical to the path that would taken by a projectile fired from a gun in a vacuum – that is, with its trajectory determined by gravity with no other forces acting on it. Another way to look at it is a segment of an extremely elliptical orbit that intersects the ground (or would, if the pilot didn’t pull up )

    I think that’s termed a ballistic trajectory.

  29. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (25) said:

    How much does a battleship “weigh” when it’s floating on the ocean?

    It depends on what you mean by “weigh”. Ship masses are described in the term “displacement”, i.e. the mass of water a ship displaces in order to float.

    For example, HMS Dreadnought displaced between 18,000 and 21,000 tons depending on load. This was the same as her weight, because this was the downward force she experienced due to gravity. The water exerted an equal upward force.

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