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It’s autumn and things are in transition: kids heading back to school, animals migrating, leaves falling…what a great time to get your brain in gear. From an innovative break-through to a record-breaking rotation, this month’s current science will have your head spinning!

  • This guy’s neurons are definitely firing: Adam Noble of Lakefield, Ontario is the recipient of the 2013 Weston Youth Innovation Award for his work creating a biofilter to remove nanosilver from municipal water supplies. Learn more in this video and consider nominating someone for next year’s award.
  • Researchers in Scotland recently set a record for the fastest-spinning man-made object, and that inspired this month’s Science in Action. Grab a leaf blower, a hairdryer and a beach ball for some hands-on science fun!
  • And don't miss the rest of the science news stories and interesting connections our researchers have been highlighting in the HotZone area of the Weston Family Innovation Centre.

Science in Action

3d illustration of blue spinning ball. Text looks like newspaper headline and reads: Scientists set world record! Fastest spinning manmade object. Can you come close? Try this at home.

Put a new spin on things!

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In August, researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland set a record for the fastest-spinning manmade object when they got a tiny sphere of vaterite, a type of calcium carbonate, to rotate five million times per second! They did this using a sterile vacuum chamber and two kinds of polarized laser light beams—things the average person doesn’t have at home.

But you can get a feel for what they did with this nifty activity: You’ll need a small leaf blower, a hairdryer and a lightweight ball filled with air (like a small beach ball or bouncy ball from the dollar store). Note: If you’ve never operated a leaf blower before, get an adult to help you.

Leaf blower with white air blowing on red ball,  shown in 3 different positions of motion.

Put a new spin on things!

Page 2 of 4

Point the leaf blower up and away from you, and then turn it on. Have a friend place the ball carefully in the stream of air coming out of the leaf blower. The ball should stay suspended in the airstream — almost like it’s levitating.

Now try moving the leaf blower slowly from side to side. Does the ball stay inside the airstream? That’s Bernoulli’s principle at work—air moving at high speed has lower pressure than still air. When the air moves around the ball, it creates a pocket of low pressure. If the ball heads out of the pocket, the higher pressure air pushes it back in, keeping the ball aloft!

Leaf blower levitating ball on blast of air. At the left is a hand holding a hair dryer, blowing air across the ball with an arrow around the ball showing it's direction of rotation. Text pointing at hair dryer reads: aim carefully. Text at bottom of illustration reads: Record set by scientists 600 million RPM

Put a new spin on things!

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Now take the hair dryer, turn it on low speed, and aim it carefully at the edge of the floating ball. You’re trying to get the ball to spin while it continues to balance in the airstream.

With practice, you can get the ball to spin quite fast, but you won’t even come close to matching the scientists from Scotland and their experiment. They got their tiny sphere of calcium carbonate to spin briefly at a top speed of 600 million RPM before it broke apart. That’s half a million times faster than the spin speed of a washing machine and more than a thousand times faster than a dental drill.

How did they do it? Find out more…

Split image: Top panel shows 3 grey balls. Text reads: Tiny balls of calcium carbonate. Bottom panel shows close up of oneo of the balls with two red arrows indicating where it's sides end: Text reads: Four millionths of a metre in diameter.

Put a new spin on things!

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Of course the researchers in Scotland weren’t using a beach ball and a leaf blower, but the concept was similar. The tiny ball of calcium carbonate (only four millionths of a metre in diameter) was suspended and made to spin with a laser. The experiment was done in a sterile vacuum to eliminate friction and get the super high rotation rates.


From the Headlines

Roman statue and mannequin wearing wig designed by Julie Stephens, both shown both from the side and back to compare hairstyle. Caption reads: Braid and circuses. Hairdresser from Baltimore recreates Roman hairstyles and publishes breakthrough research paper for scientific journals.
Citizen scientist gets to the root of Roman hair mystery

Until recently, no one knew how ancient Roman women got their hair to stay in such elaborate braids. Then Julie Stephens, a hairdresser and amateur archaeologist, started digging around. After seven years of research, she managed to uncover the secret trick to duplicating the complicated Roman style.

Human powered helicopter in flight in warehouse with pilot in the bicycle cockpit and two people looking up at it from the floor. Caption reads: Bird? Plane? Pedal-powered helicopter! Team from University of Toronto captures Sikorsky Prize with human-powered helicopter flight lasting 64 seconds and reaching 3.3 meters.
Canadian students soar to victory

The rules of the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition are simple: the flight must 1) exceed 60 seconds duration, 2) exceed 3m in height, and 3) remain within a 10m x 10m box. Find out how students at the University of Toronto flew off with the prize!

Plastic soft drink bottle on it's side with streak of light moving through it. Caption reads: Photographing the speed of light...MIT scientists take 500 pictures in a billionth of a second and capture moving light.
Filming at the speed of light

How do you capture time—or more accurately, light—in a bottle? With an ultra-fast imaging system that can take pictures in less than two-trillionths of a second. Take a closer look at something that normally moves far too fast for the human eye, here.


Monarch butterflies on with background with text reading: Journey North links to track monarchs and other critters as they migrate.

Fall is a time of change — track monarchs and other critters as they migrate.

Text Science Fair Time with illustration of lab equipment in background links to tips for science fair projects.

This fall, why not enter one of Canada's science fairs? Don't panic — tips here.

Behind every 'eureka!' are good notes. Make a notebook for your findings.

Behind every "eureka!" are good notes. Make a notebook for your findings.

Maple leaf split into grid of four different colours links to find out which colour leaves will turn with chromatography.

Ever wondered what colour leaves will turn? Find out with chromatography.

Text Pular = pulsating star on glowing space background links to Ontario Science Centre RedShift Report podcast on pulsars.

Scientists never stop learning — now they want to know more about pulsars.

Ilustration of little boy looking through a magnifying glass at ants crawling across an anthill links to Ontario Science Centre Inside Out Blog post on citizen science.

Science is about working together — and everyone can do it!

3d illustration of glowing ring of gas around glowing blue cloud in black of space. Text reads: Zooniverse. Image links to how to be a citizen science volunteer from your home computer.

Be a citizen science volunteer from your home computer - check this out.