Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Measuring the Speed of Light

I saw this Wired article this morning and thought it would make for a fun little experiment. Basically they claimed that with chocolate and a microwave, you could calculate the speed of light. Sounded right up my alley! I emailed my friend Alison about it and she said that she had done the same thing with marshmallows, so of course that was added to the list of things to try as well.

After work, I made a quick trip to Whole Foods for the necessary supplies. A bag of 365 brand Dark Chocolate Mini Chunks and some Sweet and Sara vegan marshmallows were procured.

I started with the chocolate as I figured that had the best chance for success. I arranged a grid of the chocolate chunks on a plate and stuck them in the microwave (after removing the turntable and placing a saucer on the spinning part under the turntable).

I let them go for about 30 seconds and got a nice pattern with four areas melting a bit. With a ruler, I measured about 6.3 cm between dark spots. Using a little math from the wired site: 6.3 cm * 2 * 2.45x10^9 Hz = 3.087x10^8 m/s which is pretty darn close to 3.0x10^8!

Next up were the marshmallows! I arranged a nice little grid on another plate and put them in for the same 35 seconds. I had never used these vegan marshmallows before, so I wasn't sure if they'd even melt like "normal" ones do.

Sure enough, they did! And I saw pretty much the same pattern as with the chocolate! This time it was about 6.5cm between gooey spots leading to: 6.5 cm * 2 * 2.45x10^9 Hz = 3.185x10^8 m/s which is a little farther off, but still within 6% of the right answer. Not bad for some sweets in the microwave!

But of course I couldn't leave it there! I had melted chocolate and marshmallows! So I really did have to make some smores for dessert! They were as tasty as they look! I highly recommend trying this at home!