William (9), Erika (10) and Alissa (10) asked some questions on fossil fuels

Erika asked “Why are fossil fuels so expensive?”

Alissa asked “How were fossil fuels found?”

William asked “how is oil made?”

I asked my friends to to talk about this however firstly I would like to talk about what makes a good science question.

science question is a question that may lead to observations, an idea and help us in answering (or figuring out) the reason for some observation and the question.

Erika’s question is a good economics question.

Miners (those who look for oil and coal) have a variety of clever tools to help them find the fossil fuel. For example they can use ‘sniffers’. The  sniffers can detect small amounts of oil vapour which might find their way out of the rocks that are hiding the oil. They also use seismic detection methods. Seismic waves were used to investigate the Earths core however the oil explorers do not use earthquakes to create the seismic wave – they use special guns or explosives. The shock waves (seismic waves) travel through the rock and at some point they are reflected back and return to the surface. The waves are recorded and examined and they tell the explorer what type of material (rock, water, oil, coal) they have traveled through.

So the question from William has led to further observations and thoughts which lead me to another question……If I left my garden rubbish for a year would it turn into coal? If not why?

Edited 20/10/17 – image changed, link added and seismic waves discussed

Some questions on Gold from Chantelle (7), Shelby(9) and Mary(9)

Chantelle asked “Why is gold so hard to find?”

Shelby asked “Why is gold so heavy and hard to pick up ?”

Mary asked “Why is gold so expensive?”

Chantelle, Shelby and Mary some great questions , thank you. But are they science questions? Lets look at what a science question is.

science question is a question that may lead to an idea and help us in answering (or figuring out) the reason for some observation.

For example ‘Why is gold so heavy?” …so firstly let us look at what gold is. Gold is a solid –  Is it a rock? Is it wood? Is it plastic? Is it a metal? ……it seems to fit into the group called metals (it’s cold to the touch, it’s solid, it can be scratched, it’s shiny, it’s heavy) it’s a metal. So Shelby’s second question is a good science question.

Is it heavier than other metals?  It doesn’t seem to be heavier than other metals but how do I test this?  Fair tests are important in science investigations. Being fair I compared my gold with with metals of comparable size? It is heavier, why? Maybe the bits which make up the gold are heavier than the bits that make up other metals?

Chantelle. I think gold is quite easy to find compared to other metals. Lots of other metals, iron, silver, copper and aluminium exist as minerals  so they are quite difficult to find. What is a mineral? Look at the following page.

Science Master


Kelly (9) asks “Why when we have been in water for too long, does our fingers and other parts of our body become soggy and wrinkly?”

Thanks team, a good start. The water soaks into the dead skin. There is lots of dead skin on our hands and feet. There are parts of our bodies which have very little dead skin so you will find that the wrinkles do not appear there. It was thought that the soaked up water caused the skin to swell and get puffy and the wrinkles were formed.


It is now thought by some that the wrinkling is a nervous reaction to the water attack on the body and that the wrinkled skin is a counter reaction to the skin becoming slippery because of the water intake (wrinkles help you hold things). What do you think?

Maybe you could record your thoughts in the Leave a reply box


Elizabeth (9) asked “How doesn’t stainless steel stain?”

Elizabeth I would like you try an experiment. Gather together some different nails. If you can, find a stainless steel nail, steel nail, iron nail and as many different nails that you can. Try and get two of each. Find two jam jars and put one set of clean nails in one jar and the other set of clean nails into the other jar. Why do I suggest cleaning the nails?

Fill the first jar with tap water and the second with water that has been boiled and cooled. Cover both with cling film and leave for about 7 days. What happens ?????

Relook at what you did at the start. What did  you see in the tap water that you added? How did this compare to the boiled water? What did you see when you boiled the water?

Most of the stains on metals are caused by interactions with water and oxygen.

When steel and iron are attacked on their surface by the oxygen from the water you get  things called oxides created as the oxygen (a very reactive gas) reacts with the metals surface. For most metals the compound (oxide) that is formed is fairly ‘soft’ and is washed away creating new sites for oxygen attack. With stainless steel it is the chromium in the stainless steel that reacts with the oxygen creating an invisible layer of Chromium Oxide and this is such a hard substance that no other substance can stain the steel.

If you rub the stainless steel implement hard with a scraper you might get rid of the strong oxide and create a stain by attacking the surface of the steel with another substance. Try it (with permission).

Elizabeth and others, quite a detailed answer. If you want to ask further questions please ask.

Elizabeth (9) asked “If you picked up a shell from the beach and put it close to your ear why does it have the sound of waves?”


Elizabeth, I think we need to do some experiments, firstly did you know that sound can be reflected? Sound can be reflected like light, and like light the surface it bounces off can affect the bounce. Try reflecting sound using a mirror (preferably plastic). You could use a loud ticking clock as a sound source. You then use your ears to detect the reflection. Now cover the mirror with some paper see how it affects the reflection. You might have some difficulty in making the experiment ‘fair’ but never mind (a sound detector would help make it fairer).

Now instead of a shell, place (carefully) a cup over your ear and listen. Replace the cup with a closed cardboard tube and listen. Do you hear anything? You might hear a low quiet whistling sound. Try making the tube shorter/longer and see how it affects the sound.

How was what you heard different from what you heard when you used the shell? What is the difference between the surface of the cup and cardboard tube and the shell surface?

My thoughts are that we are living in a ‘sound’ environment. Putting the cup over our ear cuts out most of the sound but not all of it. We call that an ambient sound. This sound manages to enter our cup and it is bounced around in the cup, but inside a shell the bouncing is slightly different.

Let me know what you think by filling in the Reply box below and post your comment or ask another Question . Anybody can do this.

Mattheiu (Yr 4) asked “If sound can’t travel through vacuums, why are they so loud?”


This is an excellent question. We are told that sound travels through the air to us by the vibrations of the air molecules between speaker and listener. But how does is get to us from a very distant speaker? Or through a vacuum? The magic formula is that one form of energy can be converted to another form of energy, as my team have explained.

If we can convert one form of energy to another then why not convert sound, which is moving air and therefore kinetic energy (the energy of movement) to electrical energy that can be passed down a wire or through a vacuum as an electromagnetic wave to a listener a long way away. When it is received the reverse conversion process can take place where the electrical energy can be converted back to kinetic energy, via electromagnetics and loudspeakers and not forget ears and brain.  Then by controlling the input to the conversion process we can control the loudness. Magic but real.

See my Science Master Special on Energy

Any reader can ask another question or leave a Comment in the Leave a Reply box below

Elizabeth (9) asks “How does sand form in a desert?”

I agree we need to do an investigation.  The suggestion is that the desert sand might have come from the soil. Let’s see if we can find sand in the soil around us. Before we do this lets think about soil, the soil in your garden. What do you think it is made of? Maybe it is just made of soil? Maybe it is made of a mixture of things? Let’s investigate these questions.

Collect some soil. Get a plastic transparent beaker or a jar with a lid. Put a couple of small spoonfuls of your soil into the container. Add enough water so that it is half full. Cover and shake for about 20 seconds. Put it down and wait for about fifteen minutes. Now look at it and make notes on what you see. Repeat with another sample and another beaker or container (investigations always need to be checked).

Has your experiment resulted in layers of stuff in the beaker? Maybe a bit like the layers in the image below.

If it has then think about why you have layers? What has formed the first layer and why? Was it because it was the lightest or heaviest ‘stuff ‘ in the jar (soil)? Is the second layer made up of ‘stuff’ that is lighter or heavier?

The bottom layer is ‘sand’ …..the heaviest ‘stuff’ that makes up soil. The other layers are ‘silt’ and ‘clay’. Look at the diagram that my friends have given you the sand particles are the biggest.

Now to deserts. In very arid (dry) conditions the soil dries out. The wind basically blows away the smallest particles of clay and silt leaving the largest so a desert of sand is formed.

Elizabeth … thank you for your question.

“Will we ever discover aliens?” asks Frank (9)

Frank, as my team suggested, in 2009 NASA’s Kepler telescope began pointing at a small patch of sky for four years. In that time it found a series of stars with Earth like planets surrounding them. If you multiply this little bit of the sky to cover the whole Universe you are talking about over 50 billion Earth like planets. A good assumption would be that some form of life found it’s way to existence on some of them. Maybe they have yet to develop, like us, a way of communicating over the great distances involved.

If you are a teacher read the following Guardian article Updated 26/02/2017

Shabaar (9) asked “Can humans cause an ice age?”

The last ice age ended about 11,700 years ago. It started almost 3 million years before that and was thought to have been caused by changes in the way that the Earth moved around the Sun.

So can we cause a new ice age? From this evidence it seems unlikely that we (humans) can cause a future ice age. With our production of greenhouse gases (Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Fluoride compounds and other related gases) it likely that we will be warming the atmosphere rather than making it colder. This may cause weather extremes which might make life on our planet (for humans) unacceptable. See the following link

Jamie asked a question – “Why does water sometimes boil at different temperatures?”

I must apoligise to Jamie because he specifically asked about the water in Yellowstone River boiling at 106 0 C.  Why does it do that? Does water boil at a higher or lower temperature in other situations? I asked my friends about this.

Jamie, the properties of water does depend on it’s intermolecular structure. If it didn’t have these intermolecular forces (called hydrogen bonds) the water would likely be a gas at room temperature. Life on Earth would therefore be impossible or maybe very different.

Ok, water is as it is now, so why can it’s boiling point change? The main reason is the environment in which it is trying to boil, not the water. Boiling is linked to the process of the water molecules getting enough energy from the heat source to make it move so fast that the intermolecular forces can be broken and it can escape from the water into it’s environment.


If the environment is changed this can affect the boiling point. Make the environment thicker(more dense) and the water molecules have greater difficulty in escaping making the boiling point go up, in the kitchen a pressure cooker prevents the faster water molecules from escaping.  Make the environment thinner (go up a mountain, where the air is ‘thinner’) and you make it easier for the water molecules to escape so the boiling point goes down.


There is another way to affect the intermolecular forces of the water molecules. Introduce something into the water that increases the intermolecular bonding. Introducing salt NaCl, which gives Na+ and Cl ions in water. These make it more difficult for the water molecules to become gaseous molecules so the boiling point go up.

There are other posts that could help you…..On intermolecular forces and a game you could play and adapt.