Astronomy, Experiments, Geography, history, Milestones, Notes on everyday life, Physics, Space, Together with sis, Trips

We’ve found the real 0° meridian!

And it turned out to be a that little path next to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, not the Prime Meridian line. The 0° meridian is what the GPS uses for global navigation, the discrepancy results from the fact that the Prime Meridian was originally measured without taking it into consideration that the Earth isn’t a perfect smooth ball (if the measurements are made inside the UK, as it it was originally done, this does’t lead to as much discrepancy as when vaster areas are included).

Simon standing with one foot in the Western hemisphere and the other one in the Eastern hemisphere
The GPS determines the longitude of the Prime Meridian as 0.0015° W
Simon tried to use JS to program his exact coordinates, but that took a bit too long so we switched to the standard Google Maps instead
The Prime Meridian from inside the Royal Observatory building
Looking for the real 0° meridian: this is an open field next to the Royal Observatory. At this point, the SatNav reads 0.0004° W.
And we finally found the 0° meridian! Some 100 meters to the East of the Prime Meridian
The 0° meridian turned out to intersect the highest point on the path behind Simon’s back!
Simon and Neva running about in between the measurements of longitude
Astronomer Royal Edmond Halley’s scale at the Royal Observatory
Halley’s scale is inscribed by hand
Experiments, Group, Milestones, Murderous Maths, Physics, Together with sis, Trips

All Nerds Unite: Simon meets Steve Mould and Matt Parker in London

Hilarious, inspirational and loaded with cosmic coincidences, this was one of the best evenings ever! Many of our currently favourite themes were mentioned in the show (such as the controversy of Francis Galton, the BED/ Banana Equivalent Dose, sound wave visualizations, laser, drawing and playing with ellipses, Euler’s formula). Plus Simon got to meet his teachers from several favourite educational YouTube channels, Numberphile, StandUpMaths and Steve Mould.

With Steve Mould
With Matt Parker
Codea, Coding, Experiments, Math Tricks, Murderous Maths, Simon's Own Code, Simon's sketch book

Chaos Game and the Serpinski Triangle

Monday morning Simon showed me the Chaos Game: he created three random dots on a sheet of paper (the corners of a triangle) and was throwing dice to determine where all additional dots would appear, always half-way between the previous dot and one of the corners of the triangle.

Very soon, he found it too much work to continue and I though he gave up. Later the same day, however, he suddenly produced the same game in Codea, the points filling in much faster than when he did it manually, yet following exactly the same algorithm. To my surprise, what resulted from this seemingly random scattering of dots was a beautiful Serpinski triangle.

How come a dot never happens inside one of the black triangles in the middle? – I asked.
Sometimes you start there, but the next dot (half-way towards one of the corners) is already outside the black triangle, Simon showed. (The screenshot above is of such an occurance. If you look carefully, you will see a dot in the middle).
Exercise, Experiments, Notes on everyday life, Physics, Simon teaching, Together with sis, Trips

A lot of fluid dynamics at Technopolis

Today we celebrated my 40th birthday with a family trip to Technopolis, a mekka for science-minded kids in the Belgian town of Mechelen. (Technically, my real birthday is in two days from now, but I have messed with the arrow of time a little, to speed things up).
The entrance to the museum is adorned with a red lever that anyone can use to lift up a car!
Simon and Neva lifting up the car
The beautiful marble run and math and physics demo in one
Galton’s board and Gaussian distribution
Simon explaining the general relativity demo, which is part of the marble run
This was probably the winner among all the exhibits: a wall to climb with a mission (Simon figured it out rather quickly – one had to turn “mirrors” to change the direction of light (green projection) and have the light rays extinguish the targets.
Simon tried to explain this to other children, but they only seemed to want to climb. It was sad to see how no one cared to listen (well, except for Neva of course).
Simon was already familiar with this optical illusion. Later he saw another version of this on an Antwerp facade.
The logic gates were too easy.
the center of gravity
Huge catenaroids! Something Simon had already demonstrated to us at home, but now in XXL!
And huge vortices! Another passion.
Hydrodynamic levitation! Hydrodynamic levitation!
Look! A standing wave!
And another standing wave!

Here Simon explains one more effect he has played with at home, the Magnus effect.

Coding, Computer Science, Experiments, Geometry Joys, Milestones, Murderous Maths, Simon's Own Code

Experimenting with random walks in Wolfram Mathematica

Simon’s code is published online at:

Experimenting with random walks in Wolfram Mathematica

“If I take many random walks and see what the endpoints of those random walks are, what I’ll find is a Gaussian distribution!” Simon says. In the video, he programs 1D and 2D random walks and 2D and 3D histograms to show the distribution of the endpoints​ in Wolfram Mathematica.

chemistry, Experiments, Physics, Simon teaching, Simon's sketch book, Together with sis

Chemistry Experiments: Polarized light iridizes crystals

Today we have made beautiful rainbow chrystals! Polarized light iridizes sodium thiosulfate crystals, so we made the crystals in between two polarizing films and then observed them through the microscope. In the video, Simon also explains how polarizing film works.

From the scientific description at the MEL Science website: Sodium thiosulfate crystals contain five molecules of water per one unit of sodium thiosulfate Na2S2O3. Interestingly, when heated, the crystals release the water, while sodium thiosulfate dissolves in this water. This solution solidifies rapidly when cooling, forming beautiful crystals. If these crystals are put between polarizing films, they take on an iridescent sheen. This is because the polarizing films only let light with certain characteristics through, and this light in turn “iridizes” the otherwise-colorless sodium thiosulfate crystals.

Electricity, Experiments, Physics

Physics Experiments: Using an LED backwards

We have tried using an LED backwards: not get it to shine by letting an electric current pass through it but produce electricity by shining light on an LED (this is how solar panels work). It’s important to use a sensitive LED for this experiment, and as we have observed, it also seems to be important to use light photons of the same frequency as the colour of the LED (red laser didn’t work on a white LED, but it may have to do with the fact that red light is weaker than white light anyway, i.e. has a lower frequency). The picture below shows us measuring the voltage of the current produced by the LED.

shining a light at the diode produces voltage
the same experiment setting but with the light source turned off produces no voltage
red light not strong (energetic) enough to produce voltage, also when shined on a red LED

We’ve have learned this and a a lot more from Steve Mould’s video on How diodes, LEDs and solar panels work: Photovoltaic cells and LEDs are both made of diodes. Diodes are designed to allow electricity to flow in one direction only but the way we make them (out of semiconductors) means that can absorb and emit light.

In the video, Steve shows how the semiconductor atoms share elctrons. Semiconductors are crystal structures of atoms are replaced by the atoms of neighboring elements, for example a structure where some silicon (Si) atoms are replaced by phosphorus (P) or boron (B) atoms, thus providing for free electrons inside the structure (N-type conductor) or for free “holes” unoccupied by electrons (P-type conductor). A diode is basically two semiconductors pushed together. With enough voltage, the electrones are able to jump from the N-type semiconductor across the depletion zone and into the P-type semiconductor, emitting light (photons) as they fill the holes and go from a high energy state into the low energy state.

If you shine a light at a diode, you can kick some electrons from their shells and thus create free electrons and holes that will move (because of the electric field in the depletion zone) and generate voltage.

Experiments, Physics

Physics Experiments: Stroboscopic Effect

Simon showed us this amazing hing with a fidget spinner. It’s called stroboscopic effect. It’s a visual phenomenon that occurs when continuous motion is represented by a series of short or instantaneous samples (like camera shots), distinct from a continuous view.

In the video below, Simon also demonstrates the rolling shutter effect with the same fidget spinner and camera.