Hidden Science archive

Hidden Science was a mobile phone action – found within the Orange ‘Do Some Good’ app between April 2011-July 2012. Users were asked to submit their burning science questions via the app to have them answered directly by scientists, with all answers posted onto the Future Morph website.

Submitted questions had to related to one of the 16 different themes which included Space, Food, Sport, Medical Science, Earth Science, Computers & IT, Fashion & Textiles, and more!

A selection of the questions submitted to the Water theme are shown below.

When you think of the word ‘water’ what immediately comes into your mind? Maybe you think of the water cycle, or perhaps our oceans and seas, or maybe how the water that comes out of our taps at home is made clean and suitable for drinking? Whatever it is, you are probably not thinking of the careers linked to water that are available. Water covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface and is needed by all forms of life to exist, so it makes sense that there should be a wide range of varied jobs. From a marine biologist to a flood risk consultant, an ocean modeller to a water resource scientist…there are so many out there – what could you become? The questions below will get you thinking about water in a whole new way, and while you are soaking it all in, have a think about the jobs involved too – there might just be a career here for you.

1. What jobs are related to marine biology?

Marine scientists can work in lots of different areas depending on their preference. They may work as oceanographers, zoologists, ocean modellers or bioegochemists. They may work in universities, international organisations or marine research institutes depending on their area of specialisation. For more information have a look at the National Careers Service Prospects website and the UK Marine Biology website.

2. Why does water freeze at 0 degrees celcius?

Almost all substances freeze if cold enough – the notable exception being Helium. Exactly how cold depends on the substance you’re looking at – for example iron “freezes” at temperatures below 1538 °C and ethanol freezes below -114 °C. This is because temperature at the molecular level would be visible as the speed at which molecules move so they’d move faster when it’s warmer and vice versa. At their freezing point the molecules will almost stop moving and most will arrange themselves in a nice orderly crystal structure making the material hard. So how come water freezes at exactly 0 °C? That’s because the Celsius scale was defined though the aggregate state transitions of water at sea level (sea level because the ambient air pressure affects when water boils/freezes). Somebody namely Anders Celsius and Carolus Linnaeus just decided to name the temperature at which water boils 100 °C and the temperature at which it freezes 0 °C.

3. Will we ever be able to use hydroelectric and wave power to generate enough energy in the UK?

At the minute in the UK, around 1.3% of the UKs energy needs from hydroelectric programmes which are mainly found in the Scottish Highlands. It doesn’t look like we will ever be able to use only hydroelectric power to create energy for the UK as the number of places where new schemes can be developed are limited and the cost of building the new hydroelectric stations in the few available places is large. It is however to continue to use the schemes in place to create sustainable energy. As for wave and tidal power, the increased predictability (compared to wind energy) mean it is a key resource, especially in the UK where it is estimated that around 50% of Europe’s wave/tidal power can be found. As technology develops and our understanding of how the energy systems work increases, renewable hydro power is likely to become a larger focus of research and energy generation.

4. Why is water colourless?

Actually, pure water is very slightly blue. The reason chemicals like water have colour, is that their atoms and molecules can vibrate (resonate) at certain special frequencies. This causes them to absorb specific colours of light and reflect (or transmit) the rest. So red paint absorbs all colours except red, leaving red to be reflected back to you. Water looks (mostly) colourless because its molecules do not vibrate at all strongly at the frequency of visible light – but a tiny bit of absorption of red light makes it blue.

5. What percentage of the human body is made up of water?

The healthy average human consists of 55 – 60% water with more in males than females and less with increasing age. The amount is much higher in babies for example who may consist of up to 78% water.

6. Why is it so important to drink water?

As humans a large proportion of our body is made up of water. We get rid of water everyday when we urinate and when we perspire. We also breathe out moisture. If we did not replenish the water in our bodies we would dehydrate and would not be able to get rid of the toxins in our bodies or keep the cells sufficiently hydrated. If we become too dehydrated we can die.

7. Why does the taste of water vary so much between different regions of England?

There are two sides to this. Firstly the origin of the water is different from region to region which means that there will be different substances in the water. For example you may have heard about hard water which contains a lot of Calcium ions which can settle as limescale. Any harmful substances would be filtered out between it entering the reservoir and it coming to the households but non-harmful background substances will be different from region to region and may change the taste of the water.

Secondly sometimes substances are added to the water. These include fluoride to prevent tooth decay (although it’s unlikely you can taste this) and chlorination to prevent microbial growth. Chlorine is the same substance that gives swimming pools there well “unique” smell.

8. Will fresh water ever run out on Earth?

Fresh water will never run out because the sun will never stop making water evaporate from the sea, forming clouds and making rain. Rainwater falls and produces freshwater streams, rivers and lakes.

9. Which country uses the most water?

The US style diet consumes the most water. More water is used to produce our food than we would drink or use in our households. The US style diet requires 3.5 times more water (on average) than subsistence diets in the rest of the world. The more we transition around the world to a US style diet the more water will be needed to produce our food.

10. Can water ever become poisonous?

In some parts of the world they have problems with the ground water (water from wells) being contaminated with naturally high levels of arsenic e.g. Vietnam, Bangledesh – so yes in some parts of the world water can be poisonous.