Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Science Fun, Vol. 6:
Beakman's World and soap

Back in the early 1990s, two science shows aimed at kids began to air. I have a lot of respect for Bill Nye The Science Guy, but I have to admit that I tuned in to Beakman's World on as regular a basis as I could, given that it came on Saturday afternoons and could easily be pre-empted for a ball game or other such non-regularly scheduled stuff.

Beakman's World was very silly, and as I had just turned 18 for the second time, it was right up my alley. How can you not love Lester the Rat? Who isn't in the mood for a segment called Those Disgusting Animals, in which the viewer is told about the digestive habits of the lamprey?

Most of the science Beakman discussed I already knew, but I remember to this day the discussion of soap. Some viewer sent a question in permanent marker on a filthy grease covered handkerchief asking what made soap work.

Beakman said "Soap makes water wetter."

The fancy explanation is that oil and water don't mix and oil tends to attract dirt to make grease. Things that mix with water are hydrophilic, things that don't are hydrophobic. Soap is made of long molecules that connect to water at one point and connect to grease nearly everywhere else, which means a soap molecule can be moved around by water and all the gunk that connects to the soap molecule will move around as well.

Though not as precise, I like Beakman's short version of the explanation better.

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