“What was the first plant that ever grew on Earth?” asks Mahdiyat (8)

So what now? Thanks team, some good answers.

It would be great if we could do some small investigations using Moss.

1.Firstly let us confirm that the moss has no stems or flowers.

2. Secondly a more long term experiment. Try ‘planting’ your moss on a rock. Before planting look closely at the surface of the rock. compare the surface 6 months after planting (and not disturbing the Moss).

Now a story ……..

The moss was the Earth’s first plant and it took over the world. It damaged the rocks it settled on and it took all of the Carbon Dioxide out of the atmosphere. This made the Earth very very cold (the first ice age). The coldness killed most of the moss and as the Carbon Dioxide built up again it allowed other plants to share the Earth with it.


“Why does my banana skin go brown when I peel it off? asked Gina (10)

Gina, it seems to be something about the ‘breaking’ of the skin of the fruit, which lets  in oxygen and allows it to react with some of the fruits chemicals.

We could test that idea. One way to test it might be to try and stop the ‘breaking’ of the skin of the banana. Can you think of a way of removing the skin without breaking or damaging it?

We could also test the role of oxygen. Any ideas how? If you have an idea why not try it  by comparing the speed of ‘browning’ for your oxygen and ‘no oxygen’ banana skin?

Remember to try and make the tests as fair as possible. Think about what that may mean. Remember a fair test means only changing one thing at a time while you try and keep all other things constant.

Let me know how you got on by Leaving a Reply in the box below.

Preethikha (13) asked a question about planting corn seeds in clay.

Preethikha you asked your question on behalf of your friend  Johan who appeared to be having trouble in growing his corn seeds in clay. I asked my friends about this and these were the ideas that they arrived at. 

The roots of the corn plant are very complex like most plants and they NEED oxygen . Clay is an important soil, it is full of nutrients which are important in providing the growing plant with food , HOWEVER  it is very different from most of the soils that we meet in our gardens.

Soils are composed of three types of particles: sand, silt, and clay.

The size of the particles varies, with clay having the smallest size and sand the largest.Smaller sized particles pack more closely together and slow the flow of water through the soil.The composition of a soil can affect the permeability (flow) of water through it.

There is the possibility that your friends corn seeds produce roots which are then ‘drowned’ in the surrounding clay soil. Investigate your friends soil and compare it to other soils in your neighbourhood. My next question for you is how would you go about investigating it ?


“I know I can see myself in a mirror but why cannot I see myself in other things?” asks Isabella (8)

Many thanks team. I have some ideas about investigations that you could do at home. People say that light travels in straight lines. How can we test this idea. Firstly we need a source of light. How about a torch. 

Now we know that a torch sends out light in all directions but how do we know if it is travelling in a straight line? Think……..

Now lets ‘capture a little bit of the light from the torch. Let’s use a piece of card with a hole in it and see if we can make the light from the torch go through the hole.

Now what do we have to do to show that, the little beam of light coming through the hole is travelling in a straight line?
Supposing we had another piece of card with a hole in it in exactly the same spot do you think you could arrange it so that the little beam of light goes through the hole in the new piece of card?

Do the same for a third piece of card arranging it so the little beam goes through it’s hole. Now draw a line between the torch and the third hole. What do you notice?

Now lets quickly look at your question about not seeing reflections in materials that are not mirrors.

Reflections are wonderful things and they happen, or do not happen because light travels in straight lines. A reflection occurs when a beam of light bounces off a surface. You could set up your torch and card above to make a reflection, using a mirror or something flat and shiny.

Now do the same for a different type of surface.try it with a piece of material. What happens? Try with all sorts of flat surfaces – shiny metal (use flat aluminum foil and then crinkle it), cardboard, paper, plastic, water, leather……..
What do you notice? Maybe reflection requires a flat shiny surface? Think about the results.

“How do you measure the distance to the Sun and stars?’ asked Julian (12)


Julian, quite a challenging question. I will only be trying to answer the first part – the Sun-Earth distance and the Earth-Stars distance.? Even then as my team suggests, I might be introducing mathematical terms that you have not met yet, but I have included links to other sources of help.

To answer the first question I recommend you read a Universe Today article   It is an excellent historical review of the problems that the early scientists had in determining the Earth-Sun distance. The answer finally came from observations of the movement of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun. In it the writer refers to a Nasa document that tries to explain the methods used. In present times the distance to the Sun is measured by ‘bouncing’ a radar pulse of of it.

Determining the distance to the other stars becomes possible once the Earth-Sun distance was known. It uses a technique called parallax.  I would like to illustrate this with a question which tackles a simpler problem. ‘How far is my finger away from my nose?’

Try this little experiment, put a finger in an upright position in front of your nose. Now close one eye and note the position of the finger. Close that eye and open the other one. The finger moves! Now suppose, with help, you could measure the amount of movement. You could end up with diagrams like those below. Did you make a note of the position of your finger relative to your nose? No – you can now see how you could work this out.

Now let’s do a little geometry and add an axis

We can then measure the angle of the apparent movement

You end with a right angled triangle ABC, knowing the angle x AND the distance between your eyes you should be able to do a bit of trigonometry using TAN x = opposite/adjacent (Tan x = AB/BC) and work out the distance of your finger from your face. For an introduction to trigonometry please look at this site.

Amazingly this is (in a crude way) the same process by which astronomers can measure the distance to the stars. Instead of using the distance between your eyes they use the orbit of the Earth. They look at a star and make a note of it’s position and then do the same thing 6 months later when the Earth is at the opposite side of the Sun. They therefore have AB (the distance between the Sun and the Earth and they have the angle through which the star has apparently moved. 

This gives the route to determining the distance between the Earth and a Star.


(revised 14/05/17)


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.

Donna (7) asks “Where do clouds come from?”

Donna, many thanks for the question. Before trying to answer it I thought I would ask my team a question.

Donna, what do you think about the puddles question? Think about how you would answer it and then go to my answer to a previous question.

Now to your question. Firstly I have created a little animation to show how the puddle disappear. You have to imagine that the shapes are water particles (molecules is the proper word). In the puddle they are all moving around. Most of them like being with the other particles BUT some are just moving around a little bit too fast and manage to escape from the puddle. When the Sun begins to warm the puddle it makes more water particles move around faster and more escape. This goes on until the puddle disappears.


The water particles are very small and are are lifted by the air up into the sky. High above the ground the air is quite cold so the water particles ‘slow down’. When they are moving ever so slowly if they meet another water particle they join up with each other and form droplets of water. This is how a cloud begins to form.

At home look at the steam from a kettle, BE VERY CAREFUL AND CONSULT AN ADULT.  At the exit of the kettle spout you can see nothing, BUT just above this the hot water particles begin to cool down and slow down and reform clouds of water.

(revised 21/4/17)

“Why can heavy things float”? ask Aiden (10)


Aiden, great question,a difficult answer. I hope that you have investigated which things float and which things sink. You should be able to look around you and say ‘That floats’ and ‘That sinks”. Think about this – when something sinks it seems to be breaking the surface of the water. What is it breaking? I pass this back to my team.

The attractive forces between water molecules are called intermolecular forces. Look at this post to find out more.  When the much bigger metal boat hits the water, because of it’s design (spread out) there are lots more water particles that push on the boat and keep it floating.  Squash the boat up into a small lump of metal  and drop it into the water. What do you think will happen? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box below.



“Why does a coke can explode when a mentos goes in. Is it a chemical reaction or just fizziness?” asks Bella (8)

Some good observations . The bumpy surface is the real reason for the fantastic reaction between the coke and the mentos.

Think about the coke. It is a fizzy drink. How has it become fizzy? In the making process a lot of gas (Carbon Dioxide) is dissolved in the coke under high pressure . Water has lots of air dissolved in it. There are quite a few liquids that can absorb gases.

So what happens when the mentos is dropped into the coke? It’s all to do with surface. If the mentos had a completely smooth surface, like the inside of the coke bottle very little would happen (you can test this). However look at the image above, the mentos tablet is covered with valleys and holes. Each of these sharp points is a place where a bubble of the gas absorbed in the coke can attach itself to and therefore remove itself from the coke liquid. 

The gas bubble is lighter than the liquid coke, so what does it do? It moves upwards (it’s lighter than the liquid so it floats). Millions of bubbles begin to move upwards. What is in their way? Coke liquid.

There are lots of things to investigate here. Start doing some science. Do shiny things create bubbles? Do the number of mentos tablets increase the explosive effect? How can you measure it fairly? Does the temperature of the coke affect what occurs.

Have fun but test the ideas that I have presented you with. Science can be fun. If you want to ask another question, do it. If you or any other reader would like to make a comment use the ‘Leave a Reply’ box below.

Sorry I forgot one of your original questions. The bubble forming and bubble emission processes are physical and not chemical processes.


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.