Sunday, April 23, 2006

Science Top Ten Lists

Why is the sky blue? Facts you should know. A journalist asked ten scientists to name one question all high school graduates should be able to answer. My favorite is "What is it that makes diseases caused by viruses and bacteria hard to treat?" because it requires conceptual knowledge of genetics and evolution and applies that knowledge to a real issue. I'm happy to report that I got all of them right, although I was off by 0.2 billion years on the age of the first fossils, which is either a lot or nothing at all, depending on how you look at it. Hat tip to the science goddess.

Top Ten Ways to Destroy Earth. Note that we're talking about destroying the whole planet, not human life or even all life. My favorite is definitely #2, both elegant and devious:
A von Neumann machine is any device that is capable of creating an exact copy of itself given nothing but the necessary raw materials. Create one of these that subsists almost entirely on iron, magnesium, aluminum and silicon, the major elements found in Earth's mantle and core. It doesn't matter how big it is as long as it can reproduce itself exactly in any period of time. Release it into the ground under the Earth's crust and allow it to fend for itself. Watch and wait as it creates a second von Neumann machine, then they create two more, then they create four more. As the population of machines doubles repeatedly, the planet Earth will, terrifyingly soon, be entirely eaten up and turned into a swarm of potentially sextillions of machines.

Hat tip for help procrastinating. (And here's some, um, clarification about the nature of a strangelet...).

And I'm not sure I should be excited about the release of this film... but I am.


Blogger Aunt Murry said...

Not being a teacher or anything related to science I got 6 out of the 10 right and the extra credit. I didn't think that was too bad for someone who hasn't taken a science class in 25+ years.

8:56 AM  
Blogger wolfa said...

By "right", do you mean you got the right answer, or the answers given there? (The salt answer, for instance, is just plain wrong; mostly the answers are facile and misleading.)

But I actually think the questions are reasonably good ones, and a fair enough selection, though maybe we could have switched one of the light questions for one about botany or mechanics.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I got eight out of ten right- as a (long ago ) Enlgish major. If you count a ballpark 80% guesstimate close enough to 71% then I got 90% score. I am much better with the concepts than facts. I had no clue how old the oldest fossils are.

What's great is we talk about these concepts with my daughter who has wanted to be a scientist her whole life. (God bless Bill Nye, he started her love of science.)

11:05 AM  
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7:46 AM  

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