Category Archives: Science

Settling a heated debate in a reasonable manner

Dear Library Answer Person,

I have two friends who are currently embroiled in a heated debate about the phylogeny of bears. One friend asserts that polar bears and grizzly bears share a common ancestor. The other maintains that polar bears are descendants of the grizzly bear. Despite numerous attempts to find a conclusive answer, they have yet to settle the conflict. I was wondering if you could lend your expertise.

Thank you,

The Mediator

Really?! You have two friends who are “embroiled in a heated debate about the phylogeny of bears.”  I’m not buying it.  And if it’s true, good gracious (!), you need to get some new friends.  My solution: let your two friends go at each other and find out which is the grizzly and which is the salmon.

Understanding quantum entanglement

Do we fully understand why and how quantum entanglement happens?  Better yet, will we ever understand it?  Can it be reduced to a mechanics or is it like the rest of quantum mechanics, which is, by scientific definition, indeterminate?  As a layman to physics, I don’t quite understand entanglement and it seems like some form of magic (minus the rabbits-in-hats part).

Physics Phriend, even physicists don’t fully understand quantum mechanics or entanglement; they just use and accept the theory.  It’s a probabilistic theory, so therefore indeterminate.  Quantum entanglement appears magical, but it’s happening on extremely small scales.  So then, apparently, magical things can happen if they are within the uncertainty limits.  It’s not magic to us, because we do not directly experience it (unless you wish to call everything magic and a miracle, which it essentially is).


If you are in a car traveling at the speed of light and you turn the headlights on, does anything happen?

First of all, “does anything happen” is pretty relative.  So I’ll take a poke at what you intended to say.

According to Special Theory of Relativity, if you’re traveling at the speed of light you would have NO headlights: the whole car and you would have turned into pure energy (photons of light ) and you would be one with the universe.  But if you are traveling very close to the speed of light, the light from the headlights will still appear to go forward at the speed of light relative to the car.

Hope this helps.  Enjoy your trip 😉

Let sleeping geese lie

When a flock of geese is sleeping, one or two of them will remain awake to act as sentries. What process, if any, does the flock use to choose which geese are the sentries?

For millennia, it was Rock, Paper, Scissors.  But their webbing made every throw Paper vs. Paper.  Consequently, nobody was assigned sentry duty and geese evolved to sleep with one eye open.  True story!

What is the largest lemur?

What is the largest lemur? [3592A]

Along with the Indri, the Diademed Sifaka is the largest of the living lemurs.  There used to be many more large species (some as large as a small female gorilla), but they’ve become extinct with exposure to man (way to go, man!).  With arms fully extended, the Indri can reach nearly 4 feet in length and can weigh nearly 30 pounds.

The largest known lemur in the United States was a Sifaka named Mac, who lived on a farm outside of Libertyville, Illinois.  When he died from heart failure in 2005, Mac weighed an incredible 45 pounds.  He’d been trained to play a small cello, but in his last years did little more than slouch in a bean bag chair and eat Cap’n Crunch right out of the box.

How big is the average nose?

How big is the average nose?  Please address each dimension. [3570B]

Da Vinci believed that the nose from bridge to tip is the length of the index finger from the knuckle to the tip; the width of the base of the nose is equal to the width of the eye.  While people are generally getting larger, Da Vinci was all about proportion, so his calculations should remain accurate.  Furthermore, he was known to take meticulous measurements and is believed to have been especially determined to get the crotch to mid-thigh measurement correct.

What time is it at the North Pole?

What time is it at the North/South Pole? [3583A]

Such a question has been known to blow a few minds during certain smoke-filled social settings on weekend (or weekday!) evenings (or mornings!). Seriously, though, it’s whatever time you want it to be (that is to say, select from among the 24 standard time zones). Since longitudinal rays come together at the poles, no one time zone exists there. Polar explorers tend to use the time zone of the country from which they’ve departed. Good luck on your expedition; let us know when you return.

Unwanted guests

I miss the sunny/warm weather but I’m dreading summer already (I’m staying here) because of the cockroaches that kept me company ALL last summer on Central.  How do I tell them that they’ve overstayed and are no longer welcome? [3549B]

[written in answer space:  usually it involves poison of some type]

Tell them they’ve overstayed their welcome by feeding them a mixture that’s four parts borax, two parts flour, and one part cocoa powder. Sprinkle the mixture in a line at the baseboard and get ready to enjoy a roach-free summer.

Staying cool in the summer

Is it so wrong to wear UNC blue?  It’s a good summer color. [3502C]

[written in answer space:  Death to you.]

If you want to keep your core temperature low during the summer months, it is actually more appropriate to wear light blue, since dark colors absorb the sun’s radiation more than light colors. In other words, the wise person abandons cool to be cool.