Five scientific answers to dumb questions you still ask

You’re nine years old and you’re in science class. The blackboard grows blurry and the teacher’s voice is an undecipherable drone. Suddenly, someone nudges you with their elbow. Class is over and you haven’t learned a thing. There’s nothing for it but to bribe your nerdy classmate: “I’ll buy you a snack if you give me a quick summary of the class on this sheet of paper.” “It’s a deal.”

One-minute physics lessons taught with doodles, arrows and crude graphs: that’s the essence of the YouTube MinutePhysics channel. Using rough-and-ready methods – and including a few laughs along the way – their videos explain the physical world just like your nerdy classmate would. Some examples:

1. Is it pointless to run in the rain? If you stand still you won’t get as wet, but if you live nearby you’re better off making a run for it.

2. Reckon you can do it? In physics, trying to look cool by balancing a pencil on your index finger is known as making an inverted pendulum. As any physicist will tell you, stabilising the pencil entirely is impossible. But it’s always fun to give it a whirl.

3. You’ve lost your glasses and contact lenses and the world’s about to end? Don’t despair! Make a tube with your hand and look through it. Thanks to the basics of optics and photography your hand can substitute your eye muscles, however feeble these may be.

4. Why is it harder to drive backwards? Not having eyes on the back of your head has nothing to do with it. The answer is the wheels. When you drive forwards, the front wheels go in the direction you point them and the back wheels follow. But when you go backwards, the back wheels dictate the direction and the driver must follow them manually.

5. If the universe is infinite space, why is the solar system squashed? The rotation of particles and their constant collision in the universe forms the shape of a vinyl record. So now you know.

Everything’s easier when explained by your nerdy classmate


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