Come on a virtual science trip with me!

It’s 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic has brought a stop to all my travel plans 😦 but also schools, businesses and so much more. You all know what I’m talking about by now. In May, we were supposed to travel to Dubai & Bali on our honeymoon – which we have obviously had to postpone. But that didn’t stop me taking the trip virtually and bring you along for the ride too. Over on my Instagram, I shared a series of posts as I virtually travelled across the world and shared a little fun snippet of science with each post, and I thought it would be great to share that virtual trip with all of you again here. So, it is time to virtual travel and learn with me from the comfort of your own home. We learn more about the sound that sand dunes make, the different types of flight, how facial recognition works and more! You can also take a whistle stop tour in my “virtual honeymoon” highlight on my Instagram here. But stick around for the whole experience here. Let’s go!


First stop – The Airport

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How do planes fly??✈ . After a short delay on take off, we are finally on our first leg of the virtual honeymoon trip! . Bagging myself the window seat as we are Dubai bound got me thinking. How on earth do these enormous planes ✈get off the ground, let alone stay in the air for hours on end? . This incredible feat of engineering comes down to 4 simple things: THRUST ➡️ DRAG ⬅️ LIFT & ⬆️ GRAVITY ⬇️ . Thrust is the force that pushes the plane forward ➡️. This comes from the engines. The pilot needs to gain enough speed from thrust to generate the lift. But… . Thrust is also competing with drag ⬅️. Drag wants to keep this huge chunk of metal you are sitting in firmly on the ground. So thrust needs to generate enough speed not only to generate the lift but to overcome the drag that is holding it back. Aeroplanes have been designed to reduce drag as much as possible so the level the thrust has to reach isnt as high. . Let's come back to lift⬆️. This is all to do with the air pressure on those plane wings & pushing you & your window seat up into the air! As the plane is thrust forward, the air hits the wings & is forced to go either under or over the wing. Depending on the shape of the wing, called an airfoil, the air will do different things. These wings are chiselled in such a way that there is a steep slant up making air travel over the wing faster. But the key here is that the air under the wing is going slower. The air under the wing has a higher pressure & so can lift the plane upwards. If you want to read more about this then its called the Bernoulli principle. . But what goes up must come down⬇️. Gravity wants us to stay on the ground & pulls the plane back down for the entire flight. So much like thrust & drag, a plane needs to be designed in a way that enough lift can be created to overcome the gravitational force pushing down on it. . So we need the engines to generate enough thrust to overcome drag. And we need those specifically designed wings to use that thrust to generate enough lift to overcome gravity. . I'm off to watch some in-flight✈ entertainment. First stop Dubai!🇦🇪 . Any plane/flight Qs? Share below 👇🏼👇🏼

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Next stop – Dubai

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What sound does a sand dune make?? 🎶 . First full day on our virtual trip and we headed out to the desert 🏜 surrounding Dubai. A landscape of dune after dune after dune. But did you know that some sand dunes can sing?🎶 . If you head out to the desert on the right day, you can hear this booming sound📣. Apparently it sounds like the propeller on an aeroplane! It has an audible frequency of between 70-105 Hertz. You can even feel these booms as the ground trembles, the sand ripples and the surface moves! And they can last for several minutes! But what causes these deep booms? . Booming dunes can happen naturally or be induced. They occur when there is enough dry sand on the surface – usually from the heat in deserts🏜 drying it out – to cause an avalanche. Usually at an angle of about 33 degrees. But only under certain conditions will the sand grains interact in a way that causes these acoustic and seismic effects. . Researchers have examined the texture and surfaces of booming dunes and found that the sand grains need to be super smooth and spherical ⚫ in shape for this phenomenon. The size of the grain of sand, presence of vegetation & amount of moisture 💧 are all other factors that affect whether this rare event happens. So if you hear it, you know you are lucky today! . Some other cool quick fire facts about sand dunes: 🏜They can whistle as well as boom. 🏜There are 4 different types – crescent, linear, transverse & star! 🏜They can communicate as they migrate – yes there is research about this one. Go read more if you dont believe me :p . Time to head back to the city ready for our next stop in Dubai. Next virtual trip stop coming tomorrow! . Did you know sand dunes could sing? Ask any questions below. If you found this post cool – share it with you friends too 🙂

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Are you scared of heights?? What if I told you that the higher you are, the faster you age too? 😰 . For the next stop on our virtual trip, we headed to the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa. Climbing to the top of the 838m tower and taking in the incredible views got me thinking about this really cool phenomenon. So does being at a higher altitude really make you age faster? . It really does. But dont go rushing to build your house on top of Everest, or looking to live at the top of this Space Tower I've learnt about today. Why? These differences in time are not something you can see with your watch or smartphone. The difference between living at sea level and at the top of this building would mean you are only a few microseconds younger! Hell – if we raise the height to the International Space Station, after a whole year in space you would only be 3 microseconds younger. But despite these teeny differences, what is causing these effects? . This time dilation effect is due to Einsteins theory of general relativity. This theory says that the gravity of a mass warps the space time around it. Imagine a ball on a trampoline. The heavier the ball, the more warped the trampoline aka spacetime becomes. This theory also suggests it is this bending of spacetime that causes the speed of time to change. As you get closer to that mass like the Earth, the slower time passes. . These changes are tiny. But they are measurable changes! Scientists have even recorded that one person who is around 1 foot shorter than the other at the end of their life would be about 90 billionths of a second younger! So good news for my fellow short people! But not news that is going to make me throw out my face creams just yet. . Times up in Dubai. Time to head back to the airport for our connecting flight. See you at the next stop. . Any questions? Share in the comments. Ask away 🙂 👇🏼👇🏼

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Next stop – Back to the airport

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How does facial recognition work? 👱🏻‍♀️ . Before we land at our next stop on our virtual trip, we need to catch our connecting flight complete with passport checks. But how do those machines work? . The ability to recognise faces is something that we pick up on quite quickly while we are young👶🏻. But it's actually something that is quite tricky for computers💻. It's a very human thing to do. We have evolved a whole area of our brain 🧠 for it called the fusiform face area. . When you think of a face, you think of the basic features: eyes 👀 a nose👃🏼 a mouth👄. But there is a hella lot more to a face than just those features. Think about all the different faces out there if we also consider shape and size of eyes, width of nose and fullness of lips for example. You may be starting to get a glimpse of the complexity of this issue right? . Computers will try to mimic this human method of identifying patterns. It does this by dividing the face into visible landmarks called nodal points. But this is more than just eyes, nose and moth. They measure the depth of eye sockets, distance between the eyes and height of cheekbones. . All of this generates a faceprint which as the name suggests is a fingerprint of you face. . BUT… you rarely look the same in 3D as the 2D image in your passport. Plus many other factors like age, light and emotion. . Some programs now take your 2D photo and create a 3D model of your face to account for the different angles and is only created from parts of your face that are rigid so not to be affected by age. The tech then compares the generated model with what it can see in front of it and asks whether it is a match or not. . Bonus info!!🎉🎉 Snapchat filters use facial detection but there is a big difference to facial recognition. With your filters, the computers are simply saying yep that's a face, rather than the yep that's your face from facial recognition. . Made it through passport control! Time to bound and head off to Bali! Virtually of course. . ✈

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Next stop – Bali

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What's the secret to cooking rice? 🍚 . The next stop on our virtual trip is the beautiful Bali. In a coronavirus-free parallel reality, we should have been staying at our villa over looking the stunning rice paddies right now. Instead it got me thinking about the secret to making this dietary staple? . There are so many varieties of this nutritional storehouse – white, brown, wild, risotto, paella, wild & so on. But it's something that is easy to get wrong in the kitchen, but it's not always your chef skills 👩🏽‍🍳 that are to blame. So what could it be? . It's all to do with the water to rice ratio🍚💧. Depending on the type of rice you're using, different amounts of water are needed. For example, short grain white rice can be used at a ratio of 1:1, but brown rice needs twice as much water to rice. So does this mean that brown rice absorbs more water than white rice? . This is not the case! In fact, each type of rice from basmati to black absorbs almost the same amount of water. So why the excess water? Its all to do with evaporation during the cooking process. Brown rice for example doesnt need more water than white rice, it just takes longer to cook. It takes time for the water to make it through that tough outer bran layer but also means that there is more water loss from evaporation. But as always there are a few caveats… . There are many things that will affect the evaporation too. The shape and size of your pot, how tight your lid is & heat source 🔥are just some. All this means is that you need to do some at home science experiments using your equipment to see what water to rice ratio you need. Once you have found those perfect conditions, all you need to do is repeat it exactly the same way each time you cook rice. Just like being back in the lab again🔬 . But what about if you are making rice for more than just you? Do you just double the rice & double the amount of water?? What do you think? Let me know in the comments . There is so much more cool science on the cooking of rice and even the growing and eating of rice too. So ask your rice related questions in the comments below. . Stay tuned for the next stop on our virtual trip in my next post.

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How are waterfalls formed? 💧 . After a few day offline, it's time for the next installment of my virtual honeymoon trip to share with you from beautiful Bali. There are hundreds of waterfalls across this island, especially in this luscious region of Ubud, but have you ever wondered how they are formed? . It's all to do with the ability of a river to erode or wear away at the rock, but also the hardness of the rock over which it flows. When it comes to a waterfall, a river flows over a layer of hard rock over lies softer rock. . The water is able to erode the softer rock much more easily which over time creates a dip in the river bed. The more and more water than rushes over the forming ledge of hard rock at the top, causes more and more erosion of the soft rock in the river bed. This dip then becomes deeper and deeper and forms a plunge pool. . Falling water and rocks in boulders loosen from the top falling to the bottom of the plunge pool. The abrasion combined with the hydraulic action of the falling water starts the process of undercutting. This is where the softer rock that sits under the hard rock layer continues to erode and erode leaving a bigger and bigger overhang of hard rock at the top. . But eventually the hard rock overhang wont be supported and collapse into the plunge pool below under the pull of gravity. This forces the top of the waterfall further back, and the broken up rock causes more erosion in the plunge pool if it isnt swept downstream in the river. . And this cycle of erosion continues as the waterfall slowly eats it's way back upstream towards the source of the river leaving an ever growing pool below. . A short little lesson on this pit stop. Bonus waterfall quiz question – what is the tallest waterfall in the world? Share your answers in the comments. Or any other waterfall questions too . Onto the next stop on our trip!

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Have monkeys gained immunity against COVID-19?? 🐵 . Okay, so I know I said we were going to take a break from COVID stuff during this virtual trip but I couldnt miss out on this link to connect the two. After a virtual trip to the Monkey Forest, what is the connection? . The monkeys 🐵 that are found here in Bali are long tailed macaques or to go by their scientific name Macaca fascicularis. These types of monkey along with Rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) are the most frequently used non-human primate in biomedical research. But how often is most frequently? . The latest figures from Understanding Animal Research show that in 2018 the number of procedures on animals decreased by 7% to 3.52 million here in the UK & of all of those procedures, less than 0.1% used primates 🐵 Primates in research have been crucial to many medical advances such as the polio vaccine & life support systems for premature babies. But the main areas are neuroscience, reproduction & infectious diseases such as COVID-19. So what is the latest news with monkeys & immunity to this coronavirus? . A recent study showed that surviving COVID-19 or receiving preliminary vaccines💉 gave monkeys protective immunity to the novel coronavirus. While we still dont know how long that protection lasts, or it will be the same for humans, the work shows that there could be hope for a successful vaccine against COVID-19. . I just want to wrap up this post by saying that many potential vaccines that seem to work in animals do fail in humans & that is why we need to go through the rigorous process of clinical trials. But success in a fellow primate is a much better indication than more distantly related animals. Also, the use of primates, just like any other animal, in biomedical research should only be used when there is no alternative & is subject to careful regulation. There are also routine enquiries into the use of animals in research, including the Weatherall Report which is one of the most recent in the UK which conclude that there is a strong case for the use of primates to advance scientific knowledge & assessing safety of new medicines. . Please ask any Qs related to this in comments or DM me 🙂

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Next stop – Island hopping

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How do islands form? 🏝 . In a parallel universe where COVID-19 wasn’t around, I should currently have been island hopping from Bali to the Gili Islands to Nusa Penida and Lombok. Instead we are having a virtual tour and learning a little along every step of the way. And after some virtual snorkelling, cocktails and more around these islands, we are asking – how is it that islands form?🏝 . There are well over 100,000 islands across the globe. Some are huge. Some are small. Some are millions of years old, some are a matter of months old – yes really! – new islands form surprisingly often. But regardless of all of these factors – many of them came to exist from volcanic eruptions 🌋 . Most of these smaller islands appear in what is called the ‘Ring of Fire’ 🔥. This is an area that stretches from the South East of Asia including these Indonesian islands I’ve been virtually hopping, past New Zealand and up the West coast of the Americas. This region is where 75% of Earth’s active volcanoes are. But this volcanic activity that results in island formation is all to do with plate tectonics. That is the movement of pieces of the Earth’s outer surface grinding against each other. This slipping and sliding can cause a build up of pressure which is relieved again by the eruption of volcanoes🌋. Including ones that are underwater, not just on dry land! . Some of these eruptions can cause an island to form when the lava is cooled. But as islands, especially smaller ones, can come and go its got to act fast to have a volcano that sticks around. A volcano needs to erupt faster than the waves of the ocean can erode this baby island away. If a volcano keeps erupting then it could build up enough mass over millions of years to become habitable – like Hawaii for example. But are volcanoes the only way that islands can form?🏝 . As with most things in science, there are multiple ways to do things. Volcanic eruptions are the way most islands are formed, but they can also be formed from processes like erosion or glacial retreat. . What are some of your favourite islands that you have visited and why? Let me know in the comments

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What makes a beautiful sunset?🌅 . As the sunsets on our final night on this virtual trip and the sky is flooded with these gorgeous yellows, oranges and reds, it could me asking why is the sky blue during the day but these gorgeous colours at sunset? . The light from the Sun ☀️ is white but really it consists of these seven different colours of the rainbow. If we were to look at the Sun from space, like Doug and Bob on the SpaceX flight, it would always appear white. But here on Earth we have this wonderful thing called an atmosphere which changes things a bit… . The sunlight hitting the Earth has to come through the atmosphere and some of those light waves get scattered in a process called Rayleigh scattering. It's this process that affects what colours we see in the sky because if there was no scattering we would just see the combined white light. So what's the difference between the red and the blue waves? . Red waves are the longest on the spectrum, whereas blue waves are amongst the shortest. These shorter waves are much more likely to hit the particles in the atmosphere and scatter and why the sky during the day is blue. . As the Sun gets lower in the sky, it has further to travel through the atmosphere. The blue light gets scattered so much after colliding with so many particles in the atmosphere that it doesnt reach the back of our eyes. But on a longer journey through the atmosphere, the red light waves have more chance of scattering to make our skies glow these beautiful colours. But what makes a beautiful sunset? 🌅 . As the Sun gets lower in the sky, the colours darken and get richer. Cleaner skies, colder temperatures and lower humidity also gives more intense sunsets. . Time to begin our journey back home on this virtual trip, but it's not quite over yet… . 🌅

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Final stop – The journey home

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How do insects fly? 🐝 . After another longer delay, we are leaving our virtual trip behind & are back in the air home✈. But our ride home got me asking another question – are there different types of flight? And I’m not talking about first class or economy here – so what on earth am I talking about? . Air travel is a result of mechanical flight, which needs a machine to help us fly. But there are other types too: ✈Supersonic – travelling at faster than the speed of sound which can create sonic booms ✈Hypersonic – super high speed travel like when spacecraft reenter Earth’s atmosphere ✈Ballistic – oddly generates little or no lift, but moves through momentum or gravity & so on. Fireworks for example. ✈Space – an extreme type of ballistic flight using technology to achieve flight into or through space . But there is also animal flight used by birds, insects & bats only! In this post, I wanted to share more about insect flight. Did you know there are two types?🐝 . The first type is direct. Direct flight muscles are found in all insects but there are only two insect groups that use them to power flight including dragonflies & mayflies. Direct flight muscles link directly to the wingbase in these insects – hence the hugely imaginative name. They are hinged in such a way that contraction of the elevator muscles lift the wing up into the air, whereas contraction of the depressor muscles force the wing downwards. When one set is contracting the other relax, creating the lift these insects need. . As you may have guessed, the second type is indirect. All other insects use this mechanism where the upstroke of the wing is caused by contractions of muscle that are attached to the insect’s thoracic cuticle – a part of the insect’s outer skeleton – not the wing itself. In this situation there are only elevator muscles. They don’t have the depressor muscles to pull the wing back down. . There is so much more to learn about insect flight 🐝 & their muscles than I ever thought but for now I’m going to enjoy the rest of this virtual flight I’m on✈ . Anyone else wishing they were on a flight somewhere right now? Let me know where you would be heading in the comments 👇🏼👇🏼

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Im completely jet lagged*. We’ve been virtually back from our honeymoon trip ✈ for a week or so now, but Im feeling more than just those holiday blues. So, whats happening to my body? 😰 . Jet lag, also called desynchronosis, happens when you jump across a load of different time zones quickly. It puts your circadian rhythms aka your body clock out of sync. So, lets learn a little chronobiology – the effect of time on living things! All living things have a sleep/wake cycle – even plants! that are all slightly different, but more on this another time. Where do the symptoms of jet lag start in the human body? . It all starts in your eye👀. At the back of our eyes in our retina, there are lots of different cell types. You may have heard of rod & cone cells that help us to see, but there are also cells called photosensitive ganglion cells. Now these cells dont help us see per se but they help us to detect natural light. Now what happens when they do sense natural light? . These cells are linked to the optic nerve at the back of our eye & send nerve signals to a region of our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Try saying that one 5 times fast! Anyway, what the SCN then does is sends out a signal around your body that basically is announcing for you to wake up! It’s telling you that it is time to get up and go pee! Just me? Ok… . Now when you fly halfway around the world & the sun is rising & setting at different times that your body is set to, this is what puts you out of sync. And because the SCN is a part of the hypothalamus in your brain it creates a whole heap of different symptoms as this part of your brain has its fingers in a lot of pies. Your body temp can be messed up, you could produce more urine than normal. Or less! You could be super hungry all the time. Your stress hormones are all over the shop & so many more responses. . Its safe to say my body is experiencing all the feels right now – virtually of course! . Share some of your top tips to help with jet lag in the comments. Also if you have liked this virtual honeymoon series, let me know in the comments or DMs too. I would love to know if you have liked seeing something a little different here.

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And that’s a wrap on our virtual tour. I hope you enjoyed seeing a little something different around here and over on my Instagram. Let me know if you would like to see more of these virtual educational tours and we can make them more interactive where YOU can help me decide where we travel to next. Where would you like us to virtually travel to? Where were you supposed to be travelling to right now but have had to cancel your plans?

I want to thank you for travelling with Soph talks science virtual tours, and I hope that you choose to travel again with us very soon 😛


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I absolutely LOVE creating fun content that of course mixes in some science learning at the same time. I love it so much that I want to take this venture full time, but I also want to make sure that all that I can share remains FREE to all. After all education is something that should be free for everyone.

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2 thoughts on “Come on a virtual science trip with me!

    1. Thanks Stina. I’m glad you think so. It was so fun to do and a little something different. I’m thinking about maybe doing some more of these series and making it more interactive so you guys can help me choose where we go next. I’ve even thought about turning it into a podcast – in the hope that someone would then sponsor me to travel around the world visiting these places too 😛

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