In this Instructable, the first in a series using the book How to Fossilize Your Hamster And Other Amazing Experiments for the Armchair Scientist as inspiration, we use a bar of chocolate to measure the speed of light.
What you'll need:
A bar of chocolate, actually, get three, that way you know you'll actually get to do the experiment! (The longer the bar of chocolate, the better)
A metric ruler
Safety Glasses (not that this is dangerous, it just adds awesome factor to any experiment)
Step 1: Eat Some Chocolate!
You know you want to. You don't have to smear it all over your face though. In fact, I don't recommend it.
Step 2: To the Microwave!!!
Remove the rotating tray thingy from your microwave, we don't want the chocolate to cook evenly.
Step 3: Zap the Chocolate
Now, place the bar of chocolate in the microwave. Turn on the microwave, and wait for pools of chocolate to form, then turn off the microwave. It should take about 40 seconds. I'll wait. Don't overcook the chocolate, it doesn't smell so good.
Step 4: Measure
Now, take out the chocolate, and measure from "hot spot" to "hot spot". A "hot spot" is where the chocolate is starting to melt, or is more melted than the rest of the chocolate. Write the measurement down. Seriously. Do it.
Step 5: Now for the Mathy Stuff.
Ok, now that we know the distance between hot spots, we'll use some math, and some science, and some more math to figure out the speed of light. First, the distance that we measured represents the half-wavelength of the waves being emitted by the microwave (according to the book). To find the wavelength of the microwaves, we multiply by two. In my example, that gives us a wavelength of
7.628 cm * 2 = 15.256 cm
Now, since the speed of light is equal to the wavelength times the frequency, we can figure out the speed of light. But we don't know the frequency of the microwaves. Apparently, most microwaves operate at 2.45 gigahertz, or 2,450,000,000 Hz. So, we take the the product of the wavelength and the frequency:
15.256 cm * 2,450,000,000 Hz = 37,377,200,000 cm/s which, given that we are doing this in a kitchen (and a small error our measurements are multiplied by 4,900,000,000), is shockingly close to the actual speed of light, which is 29,979,245,800 cm/s, or, as it is typically defined, 299,792,458 meters per second.
Step 6: Iterate
All good scientists know that repeating an experiment is good for making sure your results are statistically relevant, so do it again. And again. Eat some chocolate. Have Fun!