A Fall-themed Q&A with Wooster’s Science Editor

While corn and its derivative products are very good, raw, unprocessed kernels claim many lives every year in the United States. Photo courtesy of Wallpaper Flare.
Caroline Ward, Science & Environment Editor

Why do leaves change colors?

During the spring and summer, leaves serve as food-making factories, creating energy for the growth of their host tree through the process of photosynthesis. Leaf cells contain chlorophyll (the chemical that gives them their green hue), which extracts energy from absorbed sunlight. This energy then transforms carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch. Yellow and orange pigments also exist in the leaf, and are caused by the presence of carotenes and xanthophyll pigments. However, the abundance of green pigment usually masks any other color. In the fall, leaves stop photosynthesizing. As the chlorophyll breaks down, the green pigment fades, leaving the brilliant yellow and orange pigments visible. Other chemical changes result in the formation of additional colors like vibrant reds and dark purples through the development of red anthocyanin pigments. The result is beautiful autumn foliage that lasts until the tree sheds its leaves and the cycle begins again in the spring.

Is a pumpkin a vegetable?

Nope! A pumpkin is technically considered a fruit. Botanically, any produce that develops from the flower of a plant is considered a fruit, and since pumpkins develop from flowers that grow on pumpkin vines, they are sorted into this category. But even weirder than this is the fact that a pumpkin is technically a berry. A berry has seeds and pulp (called “pericarp”) that develop from the ovary of a flower, and a pumpkin, which develops from the ovary of a flower, has both seeds and pulp. It turns out that pumpkins, alongside fruits like bananas, avocados and cucumbers, are all technically berries, and fruits like blackberries, mulberries and raspberries are not berries at all. Strange!

Are ghosts real?

Depends on who you ask. Ghost hunters and the superstitious will, of course, answer yes. Their proof often comes in the form of cold spots, photographed “orbs” and cryptic seance messages. Scientists, on the other hand, answer no. As there has never been true, definitive proof, academics find it impossible to believe in something on blind faith alone, ghosts included. However, although all our universe’s physical laws seem to disprove the existence of ghosts, the spirit world has always been tied more to the spiritual than the scientific, and perhaps must be evaluated using the rules of the spiritual, rather than the physical. Who knows? We might all be ghosts one day, laughing at this article as we float restlessly through the astral plane.

Could you drown in a pit of corn?

It’s corn! It’s got the juice. But, seriously, this is actually a thing. The Atlantic published an article in 2014 on the topic of drowning in corn held in grain-bins. The accumulation of tens of thousands of kernels has the effect of acting like a fluid when a large body, such as a human, falls into it. Conveyer belts usually sit at the bottom of grain-bins (commonly referred to as silos in agricultural areas). When the belts are turned on, they cause the corn to create a sunction-cup-like vacuum affect as the bottom kernels are pulled out of the entrapment. Occasionally, workers are in the grain-bin when the belts are turned and get sucked into the corn, becoming cemented in it. In other words, yes, one can drown in corn, but only if you are anywhere near thousands and thousands of kernels. The same suction-cup effect would most likely be achieved for any type of granular material, so, candy corn would also be deadly in a similar situation! In an economy highly depen- dent on corn products, do not expect the hazards of kernels to go away.

One thought on “A Fall-themed Q&A with Wooster’s Science Editor

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