Do You Know What A Molecule Is?

The National Science Foundation conducted a study and found that only 33 percent of Americans know what a molecule is.

Pictured above is a water molecule, two little hydrogen atoms attached to an oxygen atom. Note that the hydrogen atoms aren’t directly opposite each other, but arranged more like Mickey Mouse’s ears.

When water molecules are placed in an alternating electromagnetic field, the ears are pulled one way, then the other. Do it at just the right speed, 2.45 gigahertz, or two-billion-four-hundred-fifty-thousand times per second, the natural ‘resonance’ of water, and a lot of friction is built up resulting in heat. That’s how microwave ovens work.

The Extent of Human Capacity

We remember one trillion things in our lifetime.

Computer scientists say our brains have a storage capacity approximately the same as an 11-terabyte hard drive, which with current solid-state technology can be stored in an area about the size of a fingertip.

Our eyes are each equivalent to a 137-megapixel camera, roughly ten times higher resolution than a typical modern digital camera.

These comparisons are a bit rough, because humans are made from wetware, not hardware. For instance, the retina has much greater sensitivity near the center than at the edges, while a camera has uniform sensitivity. The memory of a hard drive is digital. Each ‘cell’ in a hard drive can hold a one or a zero. Each cell in the human brain is more of an analog mechanism, firing or not based on many input factors.

Radio Waves and Snowflakes

In a 1980 television show, popular astronomer Carl Sagan said, “All of the radio waves from space ever studied equal less than the power of a single snowflake hitting the ground.”

That wasn’t quite true then, but it was close. Today, with many more radio telescopes and many more years of collecting astronomical radio waves, the total power of all the waves studied from space is still much less than the energy your body used while you read this post.

Astronomer Carl Sagan, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Ridges on Coins

What is the purpose of the ridges on the edges of coins? Without ridges, it is possible to scrape some shavings of metal off coins without being obvious. In the days when coins were made of silver or gold, a person could otherwise have made a good but illegal living from shaving coins and selling the precious metal.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Cost of Electricity

If you leave a 60 watt light on for 24 hours, and if your electricity costs about 15 cents per kilowatt/hour, then that light will cost less than 25 cents. If you accidentally leave it on for a whole month, the cost will still only be under $8.00. But there is a hidden cost. The power to run that light comes from a generating station that is most likely either a fossil fuel plant that pollutes the air, or is nuclear, which is risky. If you and thousands of other people turned off unnecessary lights, we may be able to use fewer nuclear or fossil-fuel generating stations.


We tend to think of molecules as sub-microscopic little things, and most are. However, with a process known as cross-linking, some molecules are quite large. Cross-linking is used to make plastic, paint, and synthetic rubber stronger. In the same way you can separate pieces of gravel, yet separating a large boulder is much more difficult, cross-linked materials resist separation.

If you are old enough, you may remember when most plastic items were fragile. If you dropped a camera or remote control on the floor, it would shatter. Modern plastics are usually cross-linked so shattering is much less common.

Now, your phone’s casing is made from a single cross-linked molecule. The rubber part of the tires on your car are one molecule each. In fact, the paint on your car is one giant molecule.

This rather typical wheel and tire was shot throught with a wooden board during the Alaska earthquake. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons