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You can model this with an ice cube sliding down a plank: how high do you need to lift the end of the plank before the ice cube starts to slide? Try this with one side plain wood and the flip side waxed wood (use paraffin wax, candle wax or ski wax). Make sure both sides are equally smooth to start with. Do at least three trials. More advanced: using what you know about the forces acting on the ice cube, derive equations to calculate the coefficient of friction for each case. Variation: chill the planks to different temperatures (e.g., inside, vs. outside, vs. enclosed, but unheated porch; or use your freezer; make sure the boards stay long enough to reach equilibrium). Do tests at steady temperature, try different cross-country ski waxes at each temperature. (Idea from Wiese, 2002, 54–56.)
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If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:
Materials Scientist and Engineer
What makes it possible to create high-technology objects like computers and sports gear? It's the materials inside those products. Materials scientists and engineers develop materials, like metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites, that other engineers need for their designs. Materials scientists and engineers think atomically (meaning they understand things at the nanoscale level), but they design microscopically (at the level of a microscope), and their materials are used macroscopically (at the level the eye can see). From heat shields in space, prosthetic limbs, semiconductors, and sunscreens to snowboards, race cars, hard drives, and baking dishes, materials scientists and engineers make the materials that make life better.
Statisticians use the power of math and probability theory to answer questions that affect the lives of millions of people. They tell educators which teaching method works best, tell policy-makers what levels of pesticides are acceptable in fresh fruit, tell doctors which treatment works best, and tell builders which type of paint is the most durable. They are employed in virtually every type of industry imaginable, from engineering, manufacturing, and medicine to animal science, food production, transportation, and education. Everybody needs a statistician!
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