"What’s for dinner?"

"What’s for dinner?"

I had planned a different blog for today but something funny happened yesterday evening and it has lead me down a different path!  My children commented on the nice smells from the kitchen and asked me what was for dinner…. “Carbonara” I replied.  The two oldest started to chat and whisper to themselves and I was bracing myself for some kind of “I don’t eat that” protest, but instead they just asked the question again…..”What did you say we are having Mum?”.  This time they heard my answer more clearly and the two of them cracked up laughing.  I couldn’t understand what was so funny until the laughter subsided and they told me…..


This lead to a super nerdy science discussion over dinner about all things carbon dioxide like.  The little three year old was very proud of himself telling the others how he made carbon dioxide is his science video with mammy.  I have posted this one before but here is a link if you want to see the little Einstein in action!

I was surprised at how much the children knew and how interested they were about carbon dioxide. It is a simple but essential molecule that is an integral part of life on earth.


Carbon Dioxide is a colourless gas.  It is made up of one carbon molecule bound to two oxygen atoms and is written as CO2.

Image source: explainscience.tumblr.com


Although CO2 makes up less than .04 % of the gases in air it is crucial for the existance of life on earth as we know it.  Most of us know that we need oxygen to breath but plants need CO2 for their survival.  Green plants take CO2 in from the air and, using energy from the sun, break the molecule down into carbon (C) and two oxygen molecules (O2).     The carbon is kept by the plant and converted into starch and sugar.  This process is called Photosynthesis. The O2 is then released into the air by the plant.

Image source: nskamericas.com

So how does CO2 get replenished back into the air again?  This happens through a process called respiration!  Animals (including us humans) breath in O2 into our lungs and pass it to every cell in our bodies, through our bloodstream.  Our cells need this O2 to grow and to make the energy that powers the body.  During the body’s energy making process some of the carbon (from our food) is combined with the O2 forming CO2.  This is a waste product in our bodies so it is carried  back to the lungs to be released  into the air in our breath.


You can start to see a cycle emerging in all this; plants take in CO2 and convert it to food (sugar and starch) and O2.  The O2 gets released into the atmosphere.  Animals eat the plants and break down the sugar and starch, combining the C part released with O2 forming CO2 again!  This is called the carbon cycle.

Other things contribute to the carbon cycle:  Carbon is present in our bodies, in fact it is present in all animals, and plants, even rocks and dirt.  When bodies and plants die and rot this carbon ends up in the earth.  Over time some of this carbon get converted into fossil fuel such as coal, peat or oil.

When we burn these fossil fuels the carbon gets combines with oxygen releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere.

Image source: eschooltoday.com

Another step in this cycle is what the plants do at night! In the absence of sunlight plants switch to respiration, which means that, just like us, plants take in O2 and release CO2.


CO2 exists as a gas at standard atmospheric temperature and pressure.   It will freeze into a solid state at temperatures below -78oC.  Solid CO2 is often called “dry ice”.  Dry ice can be used to create a fog or smoke effect and is a great ingredient in many fun science experiments. One of my favourites is making a big bubble using dry ice – I found this demo showing how (click the image below to link to the experiment).  If you ever do get some dry ice make sure you work with an adult supervising as it is VERY COLD!

An interesting fact about CO2 is that it does not exist in a liquid state at standard atmospheric pressure.    This means that under normal conditions dry ice will turn straight into a gas as it thaws (i.e. it does not go from solid to liquid to gas as most  substances do).  This process (solid straight to gas) is called sublimation.


Some of the gases within our atmosphere are known as greenhouse gases as they absorb some of the sun’s heat that is reflected off the earth and stop it escaping into space.  CO2 is one of the greenhouse gases naturally present in our atmosphere.

These greenhouse gases maintain the earth’s temperature and this process is called the greenhouse effect.  If the level of a greenhouse gas changes significantly then we experience global climate change.  Global warming is the term used to describe an overall increase in global temperature due to an increase in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.  Increased levels of CO2  are thought to be the main contribution to current global warming; These increases are primarily due to the large number of fossil fuels burned by humans and a vast and steady decline of trees globally.  Recent reports show a 30 percent increase in atmospheric CO2 levels since the dawn of the industrial revolution. While there is still much debate about the extend of global warming it would appear that consequences such as melting ice caps, rising water levels, global temperature increases, droughts and floods must, at least in part, be attributed to human actions!

Science has turned it’s attention to natural and renewable energies that provide some solutions to preventing and potentially reversing many of the current issues observed with global warming.

 Woody Harrelson 


Did you know that some types of fire extinguishers contain CO2?  You can make a “mini” fire extinguisher using just vinegar and breadsoda….. but I thought I would let the experts show you!

Further reference:

The carbon cycle
Living in the greenhouse

What’s your favourite colour?

What’s your favourite colour?

With three children in my house I get asked a lot of questions.  “Whys?” “What ifs?” “How comes?” are all part of the household daily dialogue.  Apparently, the average three year old asks at least 50 questions a day, although I reckon our resident three year old easily doubles this number!  I have noticed, of all the many questions my youngest asks, the most frequent one is….


Your favourite colour seems to be one of the most defining aspect of your character when you are three years old!  Apart from your food preferences, I think it is the first main expression of personal preference.  The answer to this question can change at any given moment, but my three year old has been consistent with his favourite colour of yellow and I have to admit it really fits with his personality – but why do different things appear different colours?  I thought this week I could share a bit about the science of colour!

To understand the science behind colour we need to consider a bit about the science of light.  Light, either from the sun or a light bulb, may appear white to us, but it is actually made up of seven different coloursmixed together; these colours are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

Light is a type of energy called electromagnetic (EM) energy.  EM energy actually travels in waves, even though we see light as straight lines.  Light is the only type of EM energy that humans can see.  The wavelength of light determines it’s colour.  Light with the longest wavelength is red.  Light with the shortest wavelength is violet.


When we look at a red flower, what are we really seeing?  When light shines on an object, some of that light gets bounced back (reflected) off the object. The rest of the light gets absorbed by the object.  We see the object as the colour that it reflects.  So, when we are looking at a red flower we are looking at a flower that has absorbed all the light that is shining on it EXCEPT red light.  It is reflecting red light so that is the colour it appears to the human eye.  When an object appears white it is reflecting all the light shining on it and when an object appears black it is absorbing all the light and not reflecting any of it.


photo credit: -Reji via photopin cc
photo credit: -Reji via photopin cc

Scientist and artists sometimes look at colour in two very different ways; a scientist, observing light, will say that when you combine all the colours you end up with white (as discussed above).  An artist may see it all very differently, when we mix paints, for example, if we mix all the colours together we will end up with black!MIXING COLOURS

Image credit: www.gelighting.com


You can try this yourself at home: use torches to create the coloured light…fix two different coloured pieces of cellophane (say red and green) over the end of two torches (one colour on each torch).  Shine the torches on a white wall or piece of paper.  When you overlap the red and green colours you should get yellow!  Now repeat with paint – mix red and green paint and what do you get?  Not yellow this time but brown!


When light travels through water it slows down and the light bends.  Different wavelengths of light bend to different degrees so the light gets split up into its component colours.  This is how rainbows are made…
when sunlight travels through drops of rain each colour of light bends to a different angle and the white light is separated out into it’s seven colours.

Photo credit: Eric Rolph

Did you ever notice that usually when you see a rainbow there is a second, more faint rainbow around the first one?  This second rainbow forms because some of the light is reflected off the back of the raindrop and bent a second time!  These secondary rainbows appear more dark as the light has been bent twice and the colours appear in reverse.  Check it out next time you see a rainbow!


Some animals, such as cats and dogs, rely more on what they can hear or smell, than on the colours they see.  Their colour vision  would not be as good as humans.  Like Humans, many primates and marsupials have good colour vision that they may use to allow them to recognise prey or food.  Good colour vision is common among fruit eating animals as it allows them determine ripe from un-ripe fruit.
Many species of birds and fish have better colour vision than humans.  If you consider how elaborately colourful these animals often are then it is not too surprising to accept that they must be able to see these lovely displays of colour among their own species. Pigeons, for example are thought to be among the best animals at detecting colour and can see millions of different hues.
Reptiles and amphibians are thought to have colour vision equal to, or better than, that of humans.
Many insects can see light (colour) that is not visible to humans.  Bees, for example, can see Ultra Violet (UV) light.  This allows them to see UV patterns on flowers, leading them to the source of nectar.
Finally, a myth buster…do bulls really “seeing red”? Infact, no they don’t – they are colour blind.  The only reason that they charge the red cape is because it is fluttering in front of them!


Image credit www.valencia-property.com

Further Reading:

About Rainbows
Colour vision: One of nature’s wonders
Colour vision 
Reptile vision.