Adventures in Ethics and Science

Dr. Free-Ride: Any ideas for tomorrow’s sprog blog?

Younger offspring: I wanted to do how photosynthesis works.

Dr. Free-Ride: Did you do any research on that since last week?

Younger offspring: I don’t do research.


Dr. Free-Ride: You don’t do research?! How do you do science, then?

Younger offspring: I don’t research stuff.

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, then, how do you learn stuff?

Younger offspring: (after a pause) I didn’t do research about how photosynthesis works at night.

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, but does it work at night? ‘Cause, what is photosynthesis?

Younger offspring: The moon could make it work at night.

Dr. Free-Ride: Hmm.

Younger offspring: If it’s bright enough.

Dr. Free-Ride: You think moonshine — the light shining off the moon, not the backwoods liquor — you think that might be strong enough that plants could make some sugar during the night?

Younger offspring: Maybe.

Dr. Free-Ride: I guess we’d have to do research to find out. That actually sounds like kind of an interesting project to research, but we’d have to figure out some way to tell what was happening with the plants at the full moon — how to measure whether photosynthesis is actually happening. Any ideas about that, [elder offspring]?

Elder offspring: Well, you could have one plant that gets only sun, one plant that’s a control plant and gets both, and one plant that gets only moonlight.

Dr. Free-Ride: I see. And so, we could sort of take plant growth as at least an indirect measure of which plants are making sugar out of the available light. If we had fancy scientific equipment, are there other ways we could try to measure photosynthesis besides just comparing how the plants look?

Younger offspring: Stay up all night and watch the plant.

Elder offspring: A watched pot never boils.

Dr. Free-Ride: Well, I think you could watch the grass and it might still grow, although it would be kind of boring. (Also, a watched pot will boil, but the time it takes to come to a boil may seem longer while you’re watching it.)

Younger offspring: We could have entertainment outside.

Dr. Free-Ride: But then maybe we’d get distracted from what we’re supposed to be watching.

Younger offspring: We could listen to the radio, or music.

Elder offspring: But wouldn’t that disturb the neighbors?

Dr. Free-Ride: It might distract neighbors.

Younger offspring: Not too loud!

Dr. Free-Ride: What if we used earbuds? Because anyway, wouldn’t we have to worry about whether the music had some influence on the plant growth patterns, or on whatever reactions were happening inside the plant?

Elder offspring: Yeah.

Dr. Free-Ride: So, have you studied photosynthesis at all in school, or have you just read about it or heard about it?

Elder offspring: Haven’t studied it — we’re not to cells yet in science. In the spring, probably.

Dr. Free-Ride: Photosynthesis takes sunlight and uses the energy from that to make a chemical reaction go. But it’s also taking something out of the air to do that chemical reaction. Do you remember what plants take out of the air when they’re photosynthesizing?

Younger offspring: CO2!

Dr. Free-Ride: CO2, yes.

Elder offspring: They also use H2O.

Dr. Free-Ride: Yes.

Elder offspring: And they make C6H12O –

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s glucose!

Elder offspring: — and O2.

Dr. Free-Ride: So one thing we could do to measure how much photosynthesis is going on during a particular period of time, if we had fancy schmancy equipment, we could measure how much CO2 gets used up. Maybe we’d have to put the plant we’re measuring in a container that keeps in the gasses but lets in the light, and measure how much CO2 we start with, and then after however long in the sunlight or moonlight, measure how much CO2 is in the container at the end. If the CO2 decreases when the plant is in the moonlight, that might be a good clue that a plant can photosynthesize with moonlight. Or, we could measure how much O2 (if any) is produced. Of course, there’s one complication.

Younger offspring: What?

Dr. Free-Ride: Photosynthesis isn’t the only thing plants do.

Elder offspring: They also respire.

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s right. Part of the point of making that glucose is being able to use it when the plant needs energy. And when they use the glucose –

Elder offspring: The plant takes in O2 and gives off CO2.

Dr. Free-Ride: So if we had a plant in a closed container and were set up to measure the different levels of gases, we could measure how the composition of the gas changes over a night with a new moon –

Younger offspring: And compare it to a night with a full moon!

Dr. Free-Ride: And that might tell us how much energy a plant uses at night when no photosynthesis is going on and let us figure out whether there could be any photosynthesis happening under a full moon.

Younger offspring: Cool.

Dr. Free-Ride: You didn’t do any research and somehow we still had a discussion about photosynthesis. You lucked out this time.

Comments

  1. #1 Anon
    November 20, 2009

    I love these posts.

    Slight problem–your control group is out of phase with your experimental group by 2 weeks, and may differ because of rain, or some other uncontrolled variable. Would it be sufficient to have your gas-tight container be transparent in one case and opaque in the other, then test both during a full moon? Or am I missing something else important that the offspring can correct me on?

  2. #2 LO
    November 20, 2009

    We need a sprog critique on scientific method as it appears in the film The Secert Life of Plants. I’ve got it on my iPod and can broadcast to our TV if you visit. Or my JP can point you to where you can download it. It’s fascinating on so many levels. Winged Migration meets Koyaanisqatsi meets What the Bleep (emphasis on the Bleep). I’m not bothered enough by the content that I can’t still enjoy Stevie Wonder’s soundtrack.

  3. #3 $0.01
    November 20, 2009

    Showing my age again, I immediately refreshed my memory of these lyrics:
    Your sister said that you’re too young.
    They should know they’ve been there twice.
    The call was two and fifty-one.
    They said it couldn’t be arranged.
    I see your money on the floor, I felt the pocket change. Though all
    The feelings that broke through that door just didn’t seem to be too real.
    We ankled up the garbage sound, but they were busy in the rows.
    We fell up not to see the sun, gardening at night just didn’t grow.
    Gardening at night. Gardening at night. Gardening at night.

    Sounds to me like REM didn’t do any research or any field work (pun intended!). Stipe’s got nothing on the Free-Ride Offspring!

  4. #4 Jim Thomerson
    November 20, 2009

    Do your sprogs know about the dark reaction in photosynthesis, or about C4 plants?

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