Science Fridays at Google

Posted February 2, 2007 at 10:57 pm | 17 Comments
I spent last summer working for Google at their New York office. Working at Google is great because it’s sort like being in school, in that you’re surrounded by lots of smart, creative people who are doing interesting projects… but also the pay is much better, and they give you free gourmet meals. Google NY
kitchen Google definitely knows how to pamper you with creature comforts. I’m sure everyone has already heard about the pantries stocked with free snacks and the the well-equipped game rooms. In addition to the regular company events like Tuesday afternoon tea, the company picnic, and TGIAF, there were a slew of intern events.

I attended some of these, but my favorite at-work leisure activity was actually an unofficial event called “Science Friday.” Every Friday afternoon, a small group of science enthusiasts would gather to perform various Bill Nye-esque “science” demonstrations. These experiments would not generally advance the state of science, but they would often involve cool explosions, electronics hacking, or goopy slime. I organized two Science Fridays during my internship at Google, and I that think in the interest of disseminating scientific knowledge, I should publish the results. I hope that posting these experimental results does not violate my nondisclosure agreement.

Experiment 1: How Much Can Craig Possibly Suck?

Craig Sucks This experiment answered a question that had weighed heavily on our minds for some time: “how much could our co-worker Craig possibly suck?”

Suppose we gave Craig a straw that was 40 feet long, and asked him to drink water through it. Would it be possible? To know the answer, we need to understand some basic scientific ideas about air pressure.

Perhaps you are familiar with the scientific principle behind a mercury barometer. Building one is quite simple: after filling a clear tube with mercury, quickly upend the tube into a container of
mercury. The mercury inside the tube will begin to descend, leaving a vacuum behind, until the force of air pressure outside the tube is equal to the weight the column of mercury inside the tube. By measuring the height of the column of mercury, we can determine the air pressure.

A straw works in a similar fashion: after you suck the air out of the top of a tube, a low pressure area is created inside your mouth, and ambient air pressure pushes the liquid up the straw. (Fun Fact: A straw would not work on the moon because there is no ambient air pressure!)

Monzy sucks

In this experiment, we built a sort of barometer, but since mercury is a dangerous poison, we used water (tinted with Gatorade) instead. Naturally, since water is much less dense than mercury, the experiment required a much longer tube. Some quick calculations suggested that standard air pressure at sea level should be capable of supporting a column of water 10.3 meters high. This means that Craig couldn’t drink through a straw longer than 10.3 meters, even if his mouth were capable of producing a perfect vacuum!

Straw We met on the 21st floor of Google’s Times Square office building verify this hypothesis. We started by dangling a 40-foot length of vinyl tubing down a stairwell, all the way to the 17th floor.

We then immersed the bottom of the tube in a bucket of water, and measured how far up the tube Craig could suck the water. We compared this distance to the theoretical maximum based on an official measurement of the air pressure that day.

Here’s a video demonstrating the experimental setup:
Our experiment revealed how much Craig could suck, compared to a perfect vacuum. The rest of us decided to try sucking as well, see who sucked the most. The results are shown below in a highly scientific graph. Note that we have scientifically determined that Craig does not actually suck very much — Mike sucks much more. We would not have known this without SCIENCE. Experimental Setup

Suckage Graph

Experiment 2: Microwave Heat Distribution

Mallow Grid A microwave oven heats food using high energy radio waves, with frequencies of roughly 2450 MHz. Radio waves in this frequency range have an interesting property: they are absorbed by water, fats and sugars, and converted into molecular motion, or heat.

In the high-voltage section of a microwave oven, a transformer increases the typical household voltage of about 115 volts to approximately 3000 volts! This intense voltage is converted by a magnetron tube into undulating waves of electromagnetic cooking energy.

This microwave energy is transmitted into a metal channel called a waveguide, which feeds the energy into the cooking area where it encounters a slowly revolving “stirrer blade.” Some oven models use a type of rotating antenna, while others rotate the food through the waves of energy on a revolving carousel. The desired effect is to evenly disperse the microwave energy throughout all areas of the cooking compartment.

But some ovens are designed better than others, and this even dispersal of energy is not always successful. Perhaps you can attest to this if you have tried to cook a burrito and found that some sections of it were scalding hot, and others icy cold. In this experiment we attempted to observe this uneven distribution and evaluate our microwave oven’s capacity to heat food evenly.

Monzy Marshmallows


  • 3 Pounds Jumbo Fluffy Marshmallows
  • Toothpicks
  • Microwave Oven

Experimental Procedure:

Construct a 3D lattice of marshmallows, with toothpicks for struts, with one marshmallow at each point on the lattice. Place this lattice in the microwave, and cook for 30 seconds. Each marshmallow will expand in proportion to the intensity of microwave energy at its location. By observing the size of the marshmallows across the lattice, we can construct a 3D graph the distribution of electromagnetic energy within the microwave oven.

Check out this video to see the results of our experiment.
Eating the Results
Our results were informative and delicious.
Mounting Malleaux
We even produced a beautiful marshmallow work of art that we hung on the wall for our fellow Googlers to enjoy.


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