Science: Technoquest

Q How do you make chewing gum?

Chewing gum used to be made from thickened resin and latex from certain kinds of trees, or from various kinds of sweet grasses, leaves, grains and waxes. In ancient Greece mastic gum was chewed, and obtained from the mastic tree. Now the big chewing gum manufacturers make chewing gum synthetically from styrene-butadiene rubber, which is made from a reaction of styrene and butadiene.

Q What are the AHAs cosmetics companies now put in their moisturisers?

AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acid and is supposed to even out skin tone. However, it isn't one specific chemical. It is the general name for acids found in fruit or other foods. For example, glycolic acid (the acid in sour milk) and lactic acid (produced by tired muscles) are AHAs.

Q Why do vegetables go soft when you cook them?

All plants are made up of millions of plant cells. Each plant cell is surrounded by a very strong cell wall and adjacent cells are held together by a glue. When you eat a raw vegetable or an unripe piece of fruit, your teeth need to break the glued cells apart and this is what gives you that "crunchy" feeling. Ripening or cooking softens the glue between the cells so that your teeth just slide between the cells.

Q Who invented dinosaur names?

The word dinosaur means "terrible lizard". Individual dinosaur species were named by the scientists who first found them, often in Greek or Latin. They named them after some unusual feature about the animal, where it came from, or even who discovered it. For example, Baryonyx walkeri means Walker's heavy claw, because of the discoverer, Bill Walker. Velociraptor means "speedy hunter" and Tyrannosaurus rex means "king of the reptiles".

Q How strong is an ant?

Ants can carry up to 50 times their own body weight on their back and their pincers can grip something 1,400 times their weight.

Q How is snake venom produced?

Venom is produced at the back of the snake's head (behind the eyes). Glands similar to those that produce saliva in humans make and store a cocktail of venoms, toxins and enzymes, which travel through ducts to either fangs or grooves in the teeth. The venoms work in different ways: they can paralyse prey (cobra venom affects the nervous system) or digest tissues and organs (this is how rattle snakes' venom works) which helps them in their food intake.

You can visit the technoquest World Wide Web site at http://www.sciencenet.org.uk

Questions and answers are provided by Science Line's Dial-a-Scientist on 0345 600444

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