Scientific Life Hacks (Part Two) by Angelica Y. Yang

And we're back with the second part of our science life hacks! In the first segment, we discussed how to make life easier inside the kitchen, and at parties using basic scientific principles. In this second segment, we will share how to make the most out of your coffee experience (calling out all the coffee lovers out there!), as well as the science behind a brain freeze - and how to cure it in seconds!

Life Hacks for Coffee

Need a quick energy boost for a study session? 

Why does coffee keep you awake? Coffee contains a substance called caffeine, a natural plant-produced drug that stimulates the central nervous system, increases alertness, and gives you those temporary energy boosts. Aside from coffee, caffeine can also be found in chocolate, tea, softdrinks, and pain relievers. 

When you drink coffee, caffeine passes through your small intestine and gets absorbed into your bloodstream. Without caffeine, the energy receptors in your brain bind themselves to adenosine molecules, chemical compounds that cause drowsiness. When caffeine replaces the adenosine molecules and bind to your brain's energy receptors, the reverse happens. The nerve cells speed up, and give you a jolt of energy. 

How is this related to napping for 20 minutes? Well, science tells us that sleep actually clears adenosine from the brain, allowing the caffeine to bind to your brain receptors. Be sure to set your alarm clock to exactly 20 minutes. If you sleep longer than that, you can get sleep inertia, which makes it more difficult for you to wake up. For the caffeine to bind with your brain receptors, you must be fully awake. 

Want better-tasting coffee? 

To make a great cup of coffee, you have to chill your room-temperature coffee beans in the fridge before grinding them. Scientists from the University of Bath discovered that cold coffee beans produced a better and fuller coffee flavor.

"The key is particle distribution," they wrote in a full report published in the April 2016 issue of Nature magazine. "Grinding colder coffee beans produces a more uniform particle distribution, with decreased particle size."

Cooling the coffee beans also significantly decreases how much mass is lost when they're subjected to sublimation and evaporation in brewing. The results are increased flavor, and enhanced aroma.

Now, you may be wondering, how cold does the coffee bean have to be? Just remember: the colder, the better! The colder your coffee beans are, the finer and more uniform the particles will be from the grind.

Is your coffee too bitter?

Many netizens online say that adding a pinch of salt - either to the grounds before brewing, or directly into a brewed cup - will cancel out the bitterness in coffee. Science tells us that the molecules of salt bind to the part of our taste buds that detect bitter flavors, and block them properly binding. 

To prove that salt actually made coffee less bitter, The Huffington Post conducted a blind taste test involving three coffee samples: two of which each had a pinch of salt, and one which had none. Although the salt made the two coffee samples more "full-bodied", both still tasted quite salty. The Huffington Post then concluded that while salt did reduce the bitterness, it made the coffee taste, well, salty. Another alternative would be adding cream and sugar, which would have the same effect of "mellowing" out the bitterness of coffee. 

 Instant Cures Backed by Science

Beat insomnia and get a good night's rest

According to the Valley Sleep Center website, your circadian rhythm can be likened to your body's internal clock. Why do you feel sleepy during the afternoon, or why do you take long naps, then suddenly find yourself super energetic at night? That's because of your circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep patterns and energy levels. 

The human body is programmed to get tired when it is dark, and be alert when there is light. However, this is not the same with electric light, the same light that our touchscreen phones and laptops have. Because of electric light which can be very bright, your body may be 'tricked' into believing that it is still daytime, even though it's already past midnight.

So how do you get your circadian rhythm back on track? Researchers from Harvard Medical School state that your body may have a secondary food clock that works like the circadian rhythm, but instead of being triggered by light, it is triggered by hunger.

Initial research shows that fasting, or not eating for 12-16 hours will short-cut the circadian rhythm's normal triggers and reset your body clock. Don't forget to drink lots of water if you plan to do this. Also, your first meal after fasting must be a healthy one. 

Un-freeze your brain in seconds!

Whenever you're quickly gulping down an ice-cold Slurpee on a hot day, you can get that numb and tingly feeling in your brain. That, my friend, is called a brain freeze.

A brain freeze is your body's way of telling you to slow down with eating cold food, and to take it easy. When you put something cold on your tongue, you are rapidly changing the temperature of your body, causing a surge of blood into your brain. The increased flow of blood may be a temperature-regulation mechanism.

When your brain detects something cold, it tells your body to pump more blood to the brain to keep it functioning in a warm environment. However, this activity may raise the pressure inside the skull and cause brief headaches known as brain freeze. 

When you get a brain freeze, stop drinking the Slurpee. Next, quickly hold your tongue up to the roof of your mouth or drink something warm to normalize your mouth's temperature. 

Enjoyed the second part of The Mind Museum Blog's Science Hacks? Like and share this post to keep your friends and family updated about the wonderful world of science!


1. Asprey, D. (2016). Coffee Naps: The Bulletproof Power Nap, Explained. Retrieved from:
2. Caffeine. (n.d.). Retrieved from
3. Can You Correct Your Circadian Rhythm? (2011). Retrieved from
4. Fung, B. (n.d.). The Science of Brain Freeze (!). Retrieved from
5. Lasher, M. (2016). Science Finally Figured Out How To Make Coffee Even Better. Retrieved from
6. Thomson, J.R. (n.d.). Adding Salt To Your Coffee Reduces Bitterness: Fact or Fiction? Retrieved from
7. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. "Neuroscientists explain how the sensation of brain freeze works." ScienceDaily, 22 May 2013, from

How to Help NASA Using Your Smartphone by Pecier Decierdo

What is that guy in the picture doing? He's actually doing science by helping scientists at NASA with one of their big projects. Do you want to be a citizen scientist like him and use your smartphone for science? There's an app for that. No, really.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), together with the world's science museums, are calling on you to be one of the many citizen scientists around the planet to help in the Global Experiment, a science project that can provide clues about the future course of the Earth's climate.

If you have a smartphone running on iOS or Android, just follow these easy steps to contribute.

1. Go to the App Store or Google Play. You can also use your tablets. 
2. Download the GLOBE Observer App.

3. Login using the username:
4. Login using the password: TMMclouds2016 (NOTE: This password is case sensitive).

You can make your own account. However, NASA will prepare an animation of the data gathered. Your data will be part of the animation only if it were taken using a science museum's account, like The Mind Museum's.

5. After clicking 'next' to the tutorial pages, you will see the app's main page. There, choose the 'Clouds' protocol. 

For now, GLOBE Clouds is the only protocol you can choose. NASA is still working on other protocols to be added in future updates. 

6. Using the app, make observations of the sky and take pictures of clouds. 

You don't have to be connected to the Internet to make observations. The data you collect will be stored on your smartphone until you upload it to the database. 

7. Upload your observations and see them appear on NASA's database!

The screenshot above shows the data gathered in some parts of Asia last August 16. Note the data gathered from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Contribute to filling up that map!

The GLOBE Observer app is very user friendly. Upon opening, the app will essentially guide you through the process of making the observations and uploading them to the database. If you want to learn more about using the app, you can watch this tutorial video.

The official data-gathering period for the Global Experiment runs from October 1 to 15, 2016. However, you can and are encouraged to keep on making observations beyond this period. NASA will be using all observations for even bigger and more long-term projects. 

Why are NASA and the world's science museums coming together to ask you to take pictures of clouds? It's to help us plan for a better future for humanity and the planet. Read on to learn how your cloud pictures can lead to some serious science and even help us plan for humanity's future.

The Global Experiment

This 10th of November, the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), of which The Mind Museum is a member, will be celebrating the role of science museums in the global community. This year's celebration will be the first-ever International Science Center and Museum Day (ISCSMD). 

In preparation for this year's celebration, ASTC is teaming up with NASA in facilitating the Global Experiment, a worldwide citizen science project. 

Citizen science happens when the public actively participates in scientific endeavors. For example, people all over the world report their sightings of birds, fishes, plants, and other organisms. This helps professional biologists determine the range of the habitat of these plants and animals. 

Other people help professional astronomers sift through the data gathered by telescopes. They might be on the lookout for signals that indicate the possible existence of exoplanets. Members of the public who participate in such projects are called citizen scientists. 

This young woman from the Congo is teaching an older woman to use an app that helps them
monitor biodiversity in their forest. Both are citizen scientists.
Image credit: Extreme Citizen Science: ExCiteS, University College London. 
By joining the Global Experiment, you become a citizen scientist. As a citizen scientist, you will be contributing to the science behind one of the biggest problems facing humanity right now - climate change. 

The Global Experiment aims to provide clues that can help us determine the link between climate change and cloud formation. Earth-orbiting satellites are already performing a lot of great observations of clouds. However, they cannot give scientists the whole picture because they can only directly see the tops of clouds. This is why scientists still have to make cloud observations from the ground. 

Satellites orbiting the Earth can only directly see cloud tops. Observation from the ground is still
needed so scientists get a full view of what's going on.
Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Now here's why the help of citizen scientists is needed. There are only so many professional scientists studying the atmosphere around the world. Even if all of them gathered cloud observations, that would be barely enough to give them the whole picture. By making and uploading observations of clouds, you can help the professionals get a bigger picture (literally). 

Clouds and Climate Change

Clouds play a very important role in the Earth's climate. They carry water from one part of the world and release it as rain or snow in other parts. They can contribute to climate change by trapping in heat that would otherwise bounce back to outer space. However, they can also slow down this process by blocking heat coming from the Sun. 

High-floating clouds can trap more heat in the atmosphere. Low-lying clouds can block more heat.
Evidence is growing that over all, more clouds are trapping in heat than blocking it.
Image credit: Skeptical Science. 
Clouds also tell a lot about what's going on in the atmosphere. They can tell us things such as the level of moisture in the air, the temperature, or the speed and direction of winds high above the ground. Because the warming of the planet leads to more cloud formation, they can also tell us how fast our climate is changing. 

In other words, clouds are an effect, a cause, and a potential suppressor of climate change. This complex relationship between clouds and climate change is what makes studying them so important and interesting. 

Different types of clouds float at different heights from the ground.
Image credit: Encyclopedia Britannica.
Because of climate change, extreme weather conditions such as droughts, heat waves, and super typhoons become more frequent and intense. Climate change results in the melting of the ice caps, which leads to the rise in the sea level. This in turn threatens coastal areas, low-lying islands, and the world's supply of fresh water. Climate change also threatens our food supply by making it more difficult for crops to grow where they used to flourish. 

In other words, climate change leads to destruction, disease, and lots of people dying. This is why it is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today. 

Climate change is happening everywhere and is affecting everyone. The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable to its effects.
Image credit: Environmental Protection Agency.

 By participating in the Global Experiment, you will be contributing to our knowledge of the current state of our climate, how fast it's changing, and in what direction. This knowledge will be important in creating strategies to slow down and adapt to climate change. 

So what are you waiting for? Start doing some important science, citizen scientist!

To learn more about The Mind Museum's exhibitions as well as upcoming and regular activities, visit the museum's website, and follow the museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!


1. Association of Science-Technology Centers. (2016). Global Experiment. Retrieved from:
2. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2016). About GLOBE. Retrieved from:
3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2016). A Student's Guide to Global Climate Change. Retrieved from:

Stellar Fingerprints: How Do We Know What Stars Are Made Of? Part 2 by Lanz Lagman

The second part of this article will bring us towards a more in-depth exploration of how light interacts with matter in the world of quantum mechanics.

Absorption Lines and Emission Lines: The Fingerprint of Elements

Absorption and emission lines of hydrogen in visible light.
Image credit: Kahn Academy
Spectroscopy is the study of how light interacts with matter. Matter is composed of a set of elements and an element is represented by an atom. 

When a light of a particular wavelength hits an element, the spectrum detected will have a set of dark lines separated by certain distances called the absorption lines. Each element (and therefore, molecule) has a different absorption line, making this the fingerprint of an element.

This means that by detecting the EM waves of stars, analyzing their spectra, and hence their absorption lines, we can determine their composition. We don't need to actually get star stuff after all! 

Additionally, when chemists use spectroscopy, they use various light-generating devices used to project light through their samples. Astronomers don't need to use these devices because the stars themselves already generate light.

How are these absorption lines made anyway? 

The Bohr Model of the Hydrogen Atom

Some of you may find his world boring, but his atomic model is not!
Image credit: The Simpsons
In order to understand how emission lines are made, let's study Niels Bohr's atomic model. Bohr described the atom as having a dense nucleus in the center, just like how the Sun looks like the dense center of our Solar System. The electrons could only be found at the orbitals, the circular path where they orbit. 

An orbital could contain more than one electron. When an electron gets hit by an EM wave depending on its wavelength, it will teleport (yes, teleport) to an orbital much farther from the nucleus. In order to "step down" a few orbitals, the electron must spit back an EM wave of a specific wavelength.

Bohr's Mini Solar System. Image credit: NASA
The most important aspect of his model is that the angular momentum of the electron is quantized. Quantized means that it is determined by a positive integer greater than 0 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5...), also known as the numbers we learned during our first days in school.

Angular momentum is in this sense, what determines how hard it is to make the electron orbit around the nucleus, and how hard it is to make it slow down once it orbits. Expressed as an equation, it looks like this: 

By looking at this equation, it is clear that the values of the resulting angular momentum would just be h/2π times n, which could only take up a value of 0, or 1, or 2, and so on. This quantization part is one of the principal concepts that would give birth to quantum mechanics, or what I prefer to call, the weird physics.

Now what does it mean to have a quantized angular momentum? The resulting orbital radii are quantized also:

In this equation, k is the Coulomb's constant, Z is the atomic number (number of protons), m is the mass of the electron, and e is the magnitude of the electron's charge (protons and electrons have the same magnitude charge, but electrons have a negative sign before the value). 

Radii being quantized means rcould only take the following values: r122 r32 r, and so on. To make it simple, no orbital radii will exist if its value is 1.52 r, 2.012 r, or even 3.00000000012 r. That's the essence of integers.

Another important thing to remember is that if the electron is at the orbital n=1, it's at ground state. If it goes higher, such that it becomes n=2, it's in an excited state, or in other words, ionized. To make things simpler, let's just say from 1 to 2 instead. 

Transfer from n=1 to n=2. Image credit: NASA
Consequentially, the energy involved in transferring from one lower orbital to the next consecutive orbital is also dependent on the allowed orbital radii:

To move from energy level 1 to 2, an electron must absorb the energy of an EM wave that passes through it. However, transferring from 2 to 1 involves the electron releasing an energy with a corresponding wavelength. In short, you release light.

The electron could only exit its present orbital if the wavelength has just the right length to have the required energy for the electron to transfer.

This is where quantization is very important. Think of how quantized our currency is today - there are no products in grocery stores, for example, that cost 1 centavo. 

You won't see a bar of chocolate that costs 99.9276 pesos. All products' costs are multiples of five centavos and even these coins are almost never seen, because a 1 peso coin is the most practical coin with the lowest value.

An atom jumping from one lower orbital level to a higher one produces an emission line. Jumping from a higher one to a lower one produces an absorption line.

Since each element contains a different number of electrons and orbitals occupied, the number and arrangement of lines recorded by spectroscopes would give away what substances are made of.

In the case of stars, it turns out they're primarily made of hydrogen, then helium, and lastly, traces of other heavier elements (elements containing more than two electrons). 

Bohr's model works best for hydrogen atoms and is only used as an approximation for heavier elements. For other elements, scientists use databases containing the observed spectral lines of individual elements. Now that we've explained how a single emission and absorption line is made, we'll introduce Rydberg's formula and its known offspring: the Balmer series.

Rydberg Formula and the Balmer Series

From his atomic model, Bohr has given an empirical or in simpler terms, a mathematical solution to the spectral lines of hydrogen.
Lambda (λ) is again the wavelength, R is the Rydberg Constant, and Z is the number of electrons. The letter i is the initial orbital of an electron and f is the final orbital of the electron. This is the number of the orbital where the electron would transport to. For the hydrogen atom, Z = 1. 

Hydrogen spectra has a lot of so-called series, distinguished by the value of i, for i=2, the Balmer series is produced:
The other series are the following: Lyman (i=1), Paschen (i=3), Brackett (i=4), Pfund (i=5), Humphreys (i=6), and Further (i>6).

This is how the lines of these series look like for the spectrum of the hydrogen atom.
Hydrogen spectral series. Image credit: Wikipedia.
Of all the hydrogen spectral series, the Balmer series is the most useful. This is because its lines lie on the visible range. Ground-based optical telescopes are frequently able to see on the visible range, so it would be easier for them to observe these lines.

What could we do with all this knowledge?

Observing how these lines move in the spectrum is also a useful indicator on how the star being observed moves with respect to Earth's position. Since stars and therefore galaxies, are mostly made out of hydrogen, we could look at its lines on how they move across the spectrum. 

If the lines move toward the blue side, that means that the object, star, or galaxy is moving towards us. If it moves to the red side, that means it's moving away from us. 

Redshift. Image credit: UCLA
The wavelength of light emitted by a star is also correlated with its surface temperature and brightness. By grouping them based on these criteria, we could classify stars better and this leads to understanding how stars of various sizes evolve over time. The result of this classification is the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.

An H-R diagram. Image credit: Wikipedia.
Our Sun is a yellow main-sequence star. This means that it is at the middle of its lifespan. Some stars are very big, but their temperature is lower than the Sun's, while some are medium-sized but a lot brighter and hotter than our Sun. Big stars have very short lives (just some millions of years), while smaller stars have longer life spans.

Aside from that, spectroscopy is also an important tool in searching for Earth-like planets. Since the glow of a planet is just the reflection of their parent stars, we could determine the composition of the atmosphere of exoplanets if we have very powerful instruments.

A planet with the right distance from its parent star/s and an atmosphere which is quite similar to ours is generally considered to be habitable. Hopefully, when we have better means of space travel, we could send probes to a potentially habitable planet, or even visit it ourselves!

Learning about the jewels in our sky is just a step towards exploring our universe.

Postscript: For the Advanced Reader - 

 - here is a much more detailed derivation of the previous equations mentioned. 

Bohr's model was made primarily for the hydrogen atom. In this model, the electron orbits the nucleus just like how a planet orbits around its parent star. The electrostatic force is equal to the centripetal force, and we express this as equation (1): 
Simplifying equation (1) leads to:
Bohr has proposed that the angular momentum of the electron is quantized. This is expressed as: 

Substituting the v of equation (2) to equation (4) then isolating r to the left side, we get an expression for the radius of an orbital. If n=1 or the radius of the ground state orbital, then this expression becomes:

We could generalize then that for any n, the resulting radius will be: 

In order to express the total energy of the electron, we must express it first as the sum of its kinetic energy Eand potential energy Ep

Since Ek is just one half of the electron's mass multiplied by the square of its velocity, we could use equation (2) to find an electrostatic expression of its kinetic energy. This results in:

The electric potential energy is expressed as: 

Now that we have equations (9) and (10), we could add them just like in equation (7) to solve for Eand this gives us the equation for an energy level: 

Expressing equation (11) in terms of equation (6) gives us a more quantized form: 

This means that n=1 is the ground state energy level and n>1 are the energy levels for excited states. 

The Rydberg formula tells us how much energy is absorbed or released depending on what orbital the electron goes to: if it goes from a higher orbital or a lower orbital.

As our solutions go by, this will be expressed in terms of the inverse of the wavelength or wave number (1/λ). Nonetheless, the change of energy is the difference between the final energy level Ef and the initial energy level Ei.

We could express the left-hand side of equation (13) in terms of wavelengths. After all, what happens to the electron, whether it goes up or down, depends on the wavelength it absorbs or releases.

Using equations (14) and (11), we could now express equation (13) as: 

In order to make further calculations easier, we must express the Rydberg formula in terms of only the orbital numbers. We do this by expanding equation (15) as: 

The final orbital number then becomes f and the initial becomes i. Using integers is much easier than solving first for the orbital radii of the two required orbits. We further simplify this equation by factoring out all constants from i and j.

Now that we got equation (17), we divide its left side by hc so that the left side contains the wavenumber solely. 

We're almost done. We could combine the fundamental constants and call them the Rydberg constant. Reducing this earlier known constant into more fundamental components is a known feat of the Bohr model. This results to:

For the Balmer series, Z is just equal to 1 and I is equal to 2. Finally, the Balmer series expressed by the Rydberg formula is: 


1. PhysicsLAB. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2016 from
2. Niels Bohr. (1913). On the Constitution of Atoms and Molecules, Part 1. Philosophical Magazine 26:1--25.