Perfesser Friar’s Favorite Science Facts.


If the Universe was infinitely  large and infinitely old, the entire sky would be ablaze with starlight.

The fact that we see blackness in the night sky proves that the universe is of a finite age, and that it is expanding.

If you don’t believe me, read more about Olbers’ Paradox.


We remember from High school physics that (neglecting friction), that all objects fall at the same speed.

But it’s really awesome when you can see this first-hand.

Take a large coin, and place a tiny piece of paper on top of it.

Drop the coin.   It acts as a wind break, protecting the paper from wind resistance.

They both fall together.

How cool is THAT? 😀


No engine, no matter how perfect, is 100% efficient.

Not all of the energy from the burning fuel will go towards making the wheels turn.

Some of the energy will ALWAYS be wasted as excess heat.

Yes, Friar, you might ask, but who are we to say we can’t make a perfect machine?

What if we could develop a Magical Wonderful Engine, with frictionless pistons and gears that were perfectly oiled, everything was perfectly insulated, and everything ran perfectly smoothly?

Surely, THEN, we’d be able convert all the fuel energy into increasing our gas mileage?

Well, such an Engine exists…in La-La land, in our imagination.

It’s called a Carnot Engine.

But even if we could build one, a Carnot Engine STILL wouldn’t be 100% efficient.

We’d still waste some of the energy as heat.

And this isn’t just an opinion or theory.   It’s a mathematical proof.

It’s in the Official Rule-Book of How the Universe Works.

It’s the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.


Related to the above.

That nasty 2nd Law is a bitch.    It limits the maximum output that our power generating plants can achieve.

In theory,  if some of our power plants were perfect Carnot engines, we could get efficiencies approaching 60%.

But in the Real World, nothing is perfectly frictionless or perfectly insulated.    So our actual coal and gas plants might typically be only 30% efficient.

That means for every 100 watts of heat we get from from burning fuel, at the most, maybe 30 watts will go towards making electricity we can use.

The remaining 70 watts will get dissipated into hot air up the stack, or wasted in heating the river water.

Hardly seems fair, does it?

Yet we can’t do a damn thing about it.

Oh well.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Ask the 2nd Law.


Atoms are mostly empty space,  with almost all the mass centered in the very small nucleus.

Our planet has a density of about 5500 kilograms per cubic meter.  But if you focus on just the proton and neutrons, the density of the atomic nucleus is quite high: about
1018 kilograms per cubic meter.

That’s about the same density of a neutron star, which for all intents and purposes, can be considered to be a giant atomic nucleus.


The theory of general relativity dictates that time passes more slowly under a strong gravitational field than it would under a weaker one.

You might think, oh, that really only applies for massive objects like black holes and neutron stars.

But we can actually measure this in every day life, on planet earth.

For example, our GPS units would not be accurate, if the techno-geeks didn’t take into account the time dilation factor for the satellites located far above the earth.

And in 1971, an experiment was done where they put atomic clocks on plane that flew around the globe, and compared them to an atomic clock that stayed on the ground.

Taking it account the planes’ speed and altitude, they predicted that the clocks on the planes should have run a few nanoseconds faster, because they where higher up, where the effect of Earths’ gravity was slightly less.

And the clocks did run faster, exactly as predicted.

(Way to go, Einstein!)


Take the Fibnoacci series of numbers:   1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 35, etc.

Each number is the sum of the previous two.

So what, you might ask?

Well, take the ratio of any two consecutive numbers.

The further you go down the series, the closer this ratio approaches 1.6180339….

The is called Φ, or the Golden Ratio, and it’s been know since antiquity.  It has significance in mathematics and geometry.

For some reason, humans find this number pleasing.

We’ve built temples and pyramids and composed paintings, even our credit cards are based on this ratio.

But it’s not just something we happend to make up.

You’ll  find the Fibonacci sequence in nature, in flowers and sea shells.   Our bones and anatomy appear to be based on Φ.

That’s a pretty cool number, if you ask me.

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49 Comments on “Perfesser Friar’s Favorite Science Facts.”

  1. veredd Says:

    Without fully comprehending the sky thing, (how could I? Science and I, especially physics and I, don’t see eye to eye), I love it. It has something poetic and romantic about it.

    Friar, how high is your IQ?

  2. Friar Says:


    I just think it’s cool that seeing something simple as the black night sky tells us a lot about the universe in which we live.

    PS. Oh, I’d say my IQ is double digits…at LEAST! 😉

  3. Writer Dad Says:

    Friar, I read no one else like you, and I mean that in the highest regard. What you say on your site and in the comment sections of others reflects highly on your character. I love the diversity of your posts, each one as intelligent as the next.

  4. Brett Legree Says:

    Re: the golden ratio – people who are (generally) found to be “more attractive” than others tend to have certain ratios very close to the golden ratio than “less attractive” people (I’ve got an article about this somewhere – stuff like facial shape, torso vs. hips and so forth – the article shows measurements of various real life people and it is really cool).

  5. Doc Friar,
    That post gave me the chills in the same way that gazing up at the stars on a star-filled night will do. That perfect number stuff, the way nature duplicates it over and over…How??? Accidently? This is the kind of stuff that makes me think of God. Not an Old Man sitting up in Heaven in an armchair- but something/someone we have no true ability to-as of yet -even fully comprehend.

  6. Friar Says:

    @Writer Dad

    Gee…thanks. And right back at you!

    (But to be honest, I sometimes don’t even know what I’m going to write about next, either!)

    I saw a show on that….hosted by Elizabeth Hurley and John Cleese. All the classic painters used the Golden Ratio…for example, in Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings. We human-apes seem to really LOVE that ratio.

    That Golden Ratio stuff is pretty wild, eh? Maybe we humans like that number, because it’s engrained in our nature and what’s all around us. But the fact that it can be expressed as such a simple mathematical relationships is what gets me. It’s almost like some kind of blueprint for the Universe.

  7. All very interesting but can you rub your tummy and pat yourself on the head at the same time?

    I have even mastered walking and chewing gum at the same time.

    Top that smarty-pants.


  8. Friar Says:



    So there! 🙂

  9. Karen Swim Says:

    Friar, great stuff! i just ghostwrote a piece on the Golden ratio for a physician. It was the perfect assignment – math, science and writing. Can you treat us to videos next? 🙂 That would be fun seeing the Perfessor in action.

  10. Friar Says:

    Oh, I’m shy, retiring Friar, I don’t know if I want to broadcast myself on the Internet.

    (Maybe one day, when I get a video camera!)

  11. Friar Says:


    And PROUD OF IT…!!!


  12. Steph Says:

    Friar, I know you’ve heard this a million trillion times (is there such a number? you would know!), but after reading your letters to planets and various other posts, and then this one, I seriously think you could write a totally excellent science series for kids. I really do. You’re great at this, you know.

    Remember the Charlie Brown encyclopedias? You could have your own set, covering planets, laws, etc. I get excited just thinking about it!!

    You make science fun, man!

  13. Kelly Says:


    Ooh, ooh, I saw that show, too. All of John Cleese’s science-y stuff is so neat. Actually, now that I think of it, several of the remaining Pythons are doing cool edu-tainment things now, aren’t they? Good for them.

    And now for something completely different. One of my fave pieces of art, for the Fibonnaci lover in all of us:

    Fibonacci Art

    It’s at the Des Moines (Iowa) Art Center, which I used to visit frequently when I lived there and went to artsy-fartsy school. 🙂

    The Carnot stuff is very cool. I wandered around those links for a while, wondering well, why can’t we at least do better? Cost, I suppose?

    Thanks, perfessor, this is my favorite skule.



  14. All four huh… Well can you all four while completing the proof on Fermat Last Theorom? an + bn = cn ? Huh, huh, huh? C’mon, be a man, show us how its done.

    Heh, heh, heh. I think you should write a book. You are very good at this. I read a good one a few years back called “A Short History of Nearly Everything” It was good but I’ll be that yours would be better, at least better illustrated!


  15. veredd Says:

    Writer Dad said:

    “Friar, I read no one else like you, and I mean that in the highest regard. What you say on your site and in the comment sections of others reflects highly on your character. I love the diversity of your posts, each one as intelligent as the next.”

    I’ll second what he said. 🙂

    Re the IQ, I do have a general idea. You’re young, right? Well make sure you use it to your advantage. Your combination of intelligence and personality is quite rare.

  16. Allison Day Says:

    My favorite post of yours. Ever.

    But we all know I’m a nerd/geek like that. 😀

  17. Friar Says:

    I have so many ideas right now, I don’t know where to start. (But I do know there are LOTS of these “fun” science books already out there…). That’s where I get a lot of my knowledge from.

    PS. A million trillion is ten to the eighteenth power. (Similar to the density of an atomic nucleus in kg/m3, like I just describe). 🙂

  18. Friar Says:


    You asked a VERY GOOD question on why we can’t get more efficiency out of engines.

    It turns out (and it’s an elegant mathematical proof) that the efficiency of an ideal Carnot engine is only dependent on the two extreme temperatures

    Efficiency = 1 – (Tc/Th)

    Where Th is the temperature of the hot reservoir (where the heat is generated) and Tc is the temperature of the cold reservoir (of where the heat gets dissipated).

    For example, for a steam generator at your coal or nuke plant, Th could be the temperature of the superheated steam turning the turbines. Tc could be the ice-cold river water used to condense the steam.

    Ideally, we can get a very high efficiency by making Tc very low, and Th very high.

    But, well, we’re limited to water being a liquid at 0 Celsius (273 Kelvin). And the melting point of steel is about 1370 Celsius (1643 Kelvin).

    So ideally, the most efficiency we can get out of ANY steam engine is 1- (273/1643) = 0.83, or 83%.

    Now, remember, that’s the BEST possible efficiency, because a Magic Carnot Steam Engine doesn’t wear down, the moving parts are all completely frictionless, it’s totally absolutely insulated where it needs to be.

    But even THEN, we’re losing almost one fifth of our energy as waste heat.

    Now, in real life, we’re obviously NOT going to run a turbine till it melts, we’ll probably operate at a somewhat lower temperature.

    Plus real life widgets and turbine have a nasty habit of wearing down and constantly needing lubrication. They lose heat, and are warm to the touch.

    So at most, the best efficiency we get with your real-life steam engines are 40-60%

    …and that’s considered GOOD. (The old locomotives from the 1800’s might be only 10% efficient!)

    So that’s the best we can hope for. .

    Like Scotty says….Cap’n, I cannae do anymore. I cannae defy the laws of Physics!

    (Holy crap…I didn’t realize I’d write another post here!) 🙂

  19. Friar Says:


    Regarding Fermats theorem.

    Ummm…actually, I have a truly marvelous proof, which this comment box is too narrow to contain. 🙂

    Well, I like to think I’m YOUNG (at least mentally).

    But you might be suprised to hear that I’m 44.

    Really? You liked this..even better than the Pumpkins?

    I’m flattered! 🙂

  20. Allison Day Says:

    YES! Just ask Brett… I’m a total science geek, especially when it comes to anything physics-y. 😀

  21. Brett Legree Says:

    Yes, Allison is definitely a science geek, especially in physics.

    All of this efficiency stuff will go out the window once we’re all driving Deloreans with Mr. Fusion on the back. Though I’m really looking forward to the hoverboard…

  22. Kelly Says:


    Cool secondary post. After I clicked around and read quotes about the impossibility of 100% efficiency, I did ponder just getting some more efficiency quite a bit. Now my head hurts, but Perfesser Friar does explain better than dry old science sites.

    And please let 44 be young, because Brett and I must cross the great 4-0 divide soon; I can’t speak for Brett, but I still want to be young when I cross over.

    If I admit this age might be “getting up there,” Amy just beats me up anyway. 😉



  23. Friar Says:


    Sushi and Physics. That’s a good combination! 😉

    No fair! As soon as you go nuclear, all bets are off with Carnot!

  24. Friar Says:


    I’m just flattered that Vered thought I was young.

    Like my Mom says…growing old, you can’t help. But growing up…that’s optional!

    PS. I’m glad I was a bit more informative than the dry science geek websites.

    I suspect I’m really getting into the science on my free time (because my career no longer requires it!)

  25. veredd Says:


    Yes, I’m surprised.

    OK, that explains your WISDOM.

    But your spirit – it’s so young. I think it’s wonderful. You can usually guess people’s age by their writing. I thought you were in your twenties!

  26. Allison Day Says:

    @Friar – Thanks. 😀 Now just throw dance and programming into the mix, and you’ve pretty much got an Allison! 😉

  27. Friar Says:

    @vered just threw me for a loop there. I think that’s the first time someone has called me WISE.

    (And not a Wise-cracker!). 🙂

    I’m flattered that you thought I was in my twenties!

  28. t.sterling Says:

    The coin and lil piece of paper thing had me busy for a few minutes. I hope no one in the room below got two annoyed hearing me purposely drop my quarter over and over again.

    And its bizzare you bring up the the golden ratio. I was recently reading about that due to the TV show Fringe, they show pictures during the commercial breaks and some of the pictures show that spiral. I want to see more! It interests me so!

  29. Steph Says:

    Friar: holy crap, there really is a million trillion? Okay, what about a million billion trillion?

    And no worries about the tons of books like this out there. For one thing, there is a continuous demand for them as long as children are in school. There are also that many because kids all learn differently, so there are many different approaches in an effort to make science fun and interesting. Add science experiments and you’ll have teachers and parents in the bag as well. The other thing is, these types of things are often having to be updated, so new versions or approaches are always welcome. And I have no doubt that you can beat whatever is out there.

    PS. Little by little you reveal more and more fun facts about yourself, specifically regarding your intelligence and knowledge. It makes me curious. You keep me constantly intrigued. What other gems do you hide? I’d really love to get Mystery Man (you) and Renaissance Man (Brett) in discussion around a fire one day!

  30. Friar Says:

    @t. sterling

    I never get tired of that coin trick. Every once on a while, I’ll still do it. :_)


    Well, of COURSE a million trillion exists. Numbers are infinite. There is NO LIMIT to how how high you can go. You just keep adding more zeroes.

    A million billion trillion is ten to the power of 27. (One with twenty seven zeroes). To give you an idea, unsing First year Chemistry, that’s how many MOLECULES there are in ~ 300 liters of water (more or less).

    But sooner or later, when the numbers get too high, they stop having any practical meaning.

    If you added up all the particles in the known universe (all the protonsm, electrons, etc. from all the stars, planets, galaxies) it’s estimated to be between ten to the power of 72 and ten to the power of 87.

    (It dosen’t sound like much, but remember, powers of ten are exponential!)

    PS. I think a bonfire and beer one of these days (with Brett) would definitely be in order. (We don’t live THAT far away!)

  31. Friar,

    its not the width of the post that counts its the length.

    And speaking of Start Trek (you started it) Geordi LaForge was able to get his engines to 97% efficiency.

    Explain that smarty pants! And don’t go on about Star Trek not being real. It is. It just hasn’t happened yet. Its in the future, duh.


  32. Friar Says:


    Well, we don’t have Di-lithium crystals yet.

    Once we do, I think we’ll be able to get up to at least 90%.

  33. Rita Says:

    How I wish you could have been my physucks teacher in High School. This stuff really CAN be interesting!
    Having been married to a mathematician for 23 years, I’ve learned so much about how algebra, calculus, geomtetry – basic mathmatics – play a part in our lives. It’s so much more interesting to see these things in action in everyday life, and have them explained in a non-condescending way.
    I actually UNDERSTOOD the things you wrote about – and the things in your comments (well, some of them). Presentation is everything.
    If you ever DO want to get out of “The Factory” try teaching. You’d be a VERY effective High School or even College Teacher/Professor!

  34. Friar Says:


    Thanks for the vote of confidence!

    Oh, I tried SO HARD to become a prof. At one point, I was even actively recruited by universities, and being interviewed, and I did some contract work for a college.

    I almost, but didn’t quite get the jobs. And now it’s a bit late. After multiple rejection letters and honest talks from professor colleagues, it seems I’ve missed the boat.

    Because I’m 44 and I only have x-number of publications. They’re looking for PhD’s 15 years younger have twice as many papers.

    (Never mind that I’d make a great teacher, or that my last few jobs DIDN’T allow me to publish). They don’t wanna know about it…there’s some truth to “Publish or Perish”).

    And colleges…tried that too. They tend to not hire full time teachers anymore. Instead, they hire “part time” staff where you make 35 bucks an hour, teaching 4 hours a week. (Ouch!)

    As for high school…well that would involve quitting and going back to school. And getting hired (if I can find work) at 1/2 of what I make now

    (again, I’m not willing to starve, nor go back to school…10 years of university was enough!)

    Oh well.

    I think I’d rather focus on my writing and illustrations. I think there is some valued teaching I might accomplish in that area!

  35. You’re blowing my mind, Friar! This is actually pretty timely, since I’m doing a project for a research and development company right now. You’re such a good writer that sometimes I forget you’re an engineer! (That’s a compliment.)

    Now, the Fibonacci sequence is all well and good, but I’m partial to my old pal pi …

    P.S. I’m with Steph: Publish a children’s science book!

  36. Friar Says:


    Ah..yes. Pi.

    The essence of EVERYTHING that surrounds us! (That’s one of my favorite numbers too)

    Did you know (Pi/4) can be expressed as:

    1 – 1/3 + 1/5 – 1/7 + 1/9 + ……

    (I love it how numbers come together in patterns!)

  37. Kelly Says:


    I’m sure I’ve called you wise before without putting a suffix on it. If I haven’t then I second Vered, because I’ve certainly meant to say it a dozen times. 🙂


    “It’s not the width of the post that counts it’s the length.”

    Ah hahahahahahahahaha.

    LOL for about 5 minutes before I could type.


    (Still ROFL.)

  38. Friar Says:


    Oh, I think you’ve inferred it many times, but I think Vered is the first to call me the “W-word”. 🙂

  39. Kelly Says:

    I shall continue to imply it as often as possible then.


    (That’s to make up for any time I forgot to imply it when I really should have.)

  40. Kelly Says:

    Aha! Because I’m a geek like that, I did a search.


    Every single one is LOL funny and annoyingly, also wise. I want to take it all seriously!”

    From The Philosophy of Life Using Everyday Household Objects.

    To which you responded, “I can’t believe I can sound wise. Because I’m deliberately going out of my WAY to be a smart-ass.”

    Still, it’s not as often as it’s been deserved. Wise, Renaissance Nuclear Fisherman Watercolorist Philosopher Friar.


    Wwwww…. wise.

  41. I did not know that about pi! I do, however, try and commemorate “pi day” (3/14) every year by consuming a slice of pie (with ice cream, of course).

  42. Friar Says:


    Okay, I stand corrected. You were the FIRST to call we “Wise”. (Which places you well ahead of the pack!) 🙂

    What’s really cool, is that Pi is often used in number series like that to generate OTHER numbers.

    Make mine blueberry, please! 🙂

  43. Kelly Says:

    Search features rock. 😉

  44. Friar Says:


    Maybe you can write an Ebook on SFO (Search Friar Optimzation) and make $20,000. 😉

  45. Allison Day Says:

    Gee Friar, if I’d had professors like you, I would have my physics degree in no time.

    So if we start now, we can get through theoretical particle physics in a year… right? Right? 😀

    (Allison hides before everyone else starts throwing rocks at her. 😉 )

  46. Friar Says:


    AIEEEE!!! (Do you know how HARD the math would be?) 😦

    Perhaps I would first need to read “Theoretical Particle Physics for Dummies”.

    (There are so many Books for Dummies, it wouldn’t suprise me if such a publication existed). 🙂

  47. sushiday Says:

    Dude. I get almost as excited about the math as I do about the science! 😀

  48. Ed Says:

    Great stuff guys. I enjoyed the discussion and continuing it some evening at Brett’s camp fire seems like a great idea to me. As per the book, go for it. There should be enough geeks like us to make it a go.

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