What’s in a song? The science of singing

What’s in a song? The science of singing

How is your singing voice? I’d love to tell you how good mine is but my kids would be on that like a shot; they are only too happy to tell anyone willing to listen how bad their mum is at singing. So I reserve it for the shower, solo trips in the car… or for tormenting my children.

Regardless of how good your singing skills are, there is still a great benefit to opening your mouth and belting out a song, more than you might think. And as usual, science has plenty of facts to back this up. Some of these might surprise you.

The science of singing - boy singing

Image source: Pixabay.com

Some benefits to singing  – with a dash of science

Singing can improve our mood

This one probably isn’t of any big surprise; all of us have experienced singing in our lives, whether we are willing participants or coerced into it; but we all feel better afterwards. Why is that? It seems that singing releases a cocktail of chemicals that can both calm and invigorate at the same time.

When we sing we light up the right temporal lobe of the brain, causing the release of endorphins.  These chemicals can literally lift our mood and give us a sense of euphoria.

Studies have shown that singing can also cause the release of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that can reduce stress levels and help calm the body and mind. Oxytocin is also connected with strengthening bonds and friendships between people which is interesting as many studies have reported that people that sing together in choirs reap more benefits than singing solo. One of the observations is that people who sing together will literally synchronise their heart beats.

Singing can improve our health

The benefits mentioned above can not only make us feel happier but also reduce blood pressure and feelings of depression and isolation.

Singing can improve our breathing and our posture. It can help relieve respiratory illnesses and improves our cardiovascular and pulmonary health.

Perhaps one of the most amazing benefits of singing is the report that is can improve the cognitive abilities and well being of people suffering with dementia. It has also been shown to help people with speech impediments (such as stuttering), stroke victims and sufferers of Parkinson’s  Disease.

Singing can help us learn

Singing can alter our brain’s chemical and physical make up. it can help us exercise specific parts of the brain and can even enhance our learning. In particular, singing can help us learn a new language. Apparently singing phrases in a foreign language can help us remember them more easily and for longer.

Whatever benefit you are after, it seems that singing really might be what you need. And if you are just too shy to try it, then you can simply listen, which has lots of benefits too, but that’s a blog post for another day.

What would happen if we travelled at the speed of light?

What would happen if we travelled at the speed of light?

My youngest child is seven; he is a boy of many questions. Lately he has turned his attention to speed, specifically the speed of light, and what would happen if you travelled that fast.

The first question came at bed time (why is it always bed time??). He wanted to know what would happen if he travelled at the speed of light and would it change time. I answered as best I could (while trying to back out the door and turn off the light) and left it at that but the question has resurfaced and I know this little guy will not let it rest until he is sure he has full understanding of the answer. So, to satisfy my own son’s curiosity, and in case anyone else out there wanted to know… here is a quick low down on high speed.

Let’s start with the basics

Firstly, the speed of light is a staggering 299,792,458 metres per second (or approximately 299 792 kilometres per second). Albert Einstein may not have calculated this, but he was the one that recognised it as the fasted thing in our Universe, a cosmic speed limit.

This is the speed of light in a vacuum and is commonly denoted as c. Light travelling at different speeds depending on what it is travelling through, so for light to travel through anything other than a vacuum, it will travel a little slower. For example, light travels about 90,000 m/s slower in air (that’s about 0.03% slower).

In water light travels at 75% the speed it would in a vacuum.

It’s all relative

Einstein’s work on this cosmic speed limit led him to develop a little theory, calling it the Theory of Relativity.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity…

E = mc2

E stands for energy, m is the mass of the object and c is the speed of light. But it still looks pretty confusing, right? Keeping it simple, this equation says two interesting things…

  1. it ties mass and energy together
  2. it says that nothing with mass can travel as fast as, or faster than the speed of light

You might like a refresher on what mass is… mass is basically a measure of how much matter (atoms) something is made up of, or how densely packed those atoms are. We usually talk about mass in terms of weight (kilograms) but when we do so, we are typically saying how much it weighs here on Earth.


Close, but not close enough

Light is made up things called photons and they have no mass. Everything else we can think of in our everyday lives does have mass.

Applying Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the closer an object (with mass) gets to the speed of light, the more energy is required to keep it moving, until eventually the object would have an infinite mass and require and infinite amount of energy to move it… and that’s just not possible.

So nothing with mass, including us, or a big rocket, can move faster than the speed of light.

The fastest speed of a manned spacecraft to date was achieved by the Apollo 10 lunar module, on May 26, 1969 when it reached speeds of 39,897 km/h (about 11 km/s) before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Take your time

Where does time come into all this? Well, you might remember that the c in E=mc2 is a unit with distance and time in it, so time is part of the equation too.

What happens to time when we start to travel at close to the speed of light? The answer to that depends on where you are standing, in other words, it depends on where you are observing from.

Let’s take an example, and remember, this is all hypothetical… you are in a rocket travelling through space and you manage to travel at speeds approaching the speed of light. So for you, time slows down and you reach your destination in a relatively short space of time. You arrive, do whatever it is you went there to do and then head back to Earth (again at speeds close to the speed of light).

The main thing you would notice when you get back home is how old everyone is! People who were the same age as you when you left would be a lot older than you when you come back. Remember, as Einstein said, it’s all relative! It depends on where you are observing from; if you are on Earth then time continues as normal. But if you head off into space and travel at speeds that slow down time, then a little time for you will equal a lot of time back on Earth.

Scientists like to call this the twin paradox; if you took a set of identical twins and sent one travelling off in space at speeds close to the speed of light and left the other here on Earth, when the first twin returned from his cosmic travels he would be younger than his twin who remained on Earth.

In summary… we can’t actually travel at the speed of light, but if we could travel close to the speed of light then yes, time would slow down (for us anyway) but by the time we got back to Earth, everyone else would have aged more than us!

What did my son think of my explanation? I read this post to him last night and broke some of the theories down into seven year-old sized chunks of information and he was happy enough with the answer, he especially liked the twin paradox 🙂

Then he added some theories of his own… I’m not sure what Einstein would make of these but this guy certainly has some interesting ideas; Have a listen to a seven year-old’s theories on what else would happen if you travelled close to the speed of sound! 

Image sources: Rocket, time and light images were sourced on Pixabay.com
Mystery Creature – May 2017

Mystery Creature – May 2017

Check out this beautiful bird as this month’s mystery creature; Do you know what it is?

Photo credit:D. Hatcher; Photo source: Wiki commons

This bird was thought of as a symbol of liberty and wealth by the ancient Mayans. It appears on a flag and inspires a currency; I think that’s enough clues for the moment… over to you now!

Remember, as always, you are free to ask me any questions, or make guesses. This could make a great research project for a classroom environment. I will reveal its name at the end of the month, along with some interesting facts about this stunning bird.

Want to know what it was? Check out the ‘reveal’ post here.

Mystery creature revealed – the ‘by the wind sailor’ (Velella velella)

Mystery creature revealed – the ‘by the wind sailor’ (Velella velella)

How did you do with April’s mystery creature? It was a bit deceptive because it looked like a jellyfish but it is not actually one… it is the Velella velella and here are five facts all about it!

Image credit: Wilson44691 - Own work, CC0

So good they named it twice

The Velella velella is the only known species in its genus, therefore it is often referred to as just velella. It goes by other names too, the most common one is ‘by the wind sailor’ but it is sometimes also called the ‘purple sail’ or ‘little sail’. I think we can agree that sailing is a common theme here! And it is no wonder, it looks quite like a mini sail boat. It is deep blue/purple in colour with a translucent stiff, ridged sail along the mid line.

Looks like a jellyfish but…

It is not a jellyfish – it is actually a hydroid colony; it is made up of hundreds of small organisms, each with their own different function. Each colony is considered all male or all female. They are only about 7cm in diameter.

At the mercy of the winds

There is no way for the velella to propel itself around in the open oceans in which it is found. Instead it is at the mercy of the winds, moving in whatever direction the prevailing wind takes it. This is why, under certain weather conditions, large numbers of these are washed ashore, particularly after stormy conditions and high winds.

 Image credit: Dan from United Kingdom - Flickr.com - image description page, CC BY 2.0, Link

Valella can be found all over the world but mostly in tropical or subtropical waters. They are pleuston – organisms that live partly in and partly above water.

Eat or be eaten

Velella are typically eaten by specialized gastropods (mollusks) such as certain nudibranches. They are carnivorous themselves, feeding on plankton. The short tentacles that reach into the water contain toxins to stun their prey.

Although that are not considered a threat to humans, these toxins could possibly cause some mild skin or eye irritation, if handled.

Division of labour

The various life forms that make up the colony have specialised functions; some are involved in defence, some feeding, others reproduction etc. Any nutrients ingested from feeding are distributed among all the life forms of the colony.

Reproduction is by asexual budding (meaning that tiny new organisms , called medusa, are formed from little nodes that bud from the adult; these buds grown and eventually break away. This process of reproduction can produce thousands of these tiny medusa, each only 1mm in diameter.


Check back tomorrow for another mystery creature for you to solve!