Category Archives: The Science Behind

The Science of the Musical Fruit (Beans)

I confess;  I often hesitate to fix and serve any kind of beans to my family because. . . well, you know why.

The more you eat, the more you . . . you know the rest.
The more you eat, the more you . . . okay,  you know the rest.

There are all kinds of jokes about, well, “this,” but what many people don’t realize is that there’s a reason why beans are so, um, chatty.  It’s science.  It’s biology.  And chemistry.

It doesn’t matter what kind of beans you’ve consumed, either.  There are many types of beans and they’re all guilty.

See?  Many different kinds of beans!
See? Many different kinds of beans!

But, guilty of what, you might ask?  You know the answer to that, but WHY do beans make us musical?  THAT’S the science of it.

Beans are carbs, and carbs are sugars.   The specific sugars in beans are called oligosaccharides, and there are several different kinds, all of them difficult.   Bean sugars are different from most other sugars because bean sugars are BIG.  They’re bulky.  Most people’s small intestines just can’t break these sugars down the way they can easily bully the sugar in that candy bar, so these bulky sugars usually make it through the small intestine intact.

That means that when they pass into the large intestine, the bacteria that live there (nearly a thousand different kinds!)  take a look at all those chewed-up oligasaccharides and do a group attack on them.  All those different kinds of bacteria devouring the almost intact evidence of your dinner is a pretty intense activity, and it produces gases, all kinds of gases, two of which are hydrogen and methane.  The methane is what produces most of the odors, pushed out by the hydrogen.   If you had some eggs along with the beans, the atmospheric results are even more pungent.

No baked beans left in the dish.  That means some pretty pungent activity later tonight.  I might need to go shopping then.
No baked beans left in the dish. That means some pretty pungent activity later tonight. I might need to go shopping then.

Don’t forgo beans entirely; they’re an excellent source of protein.  I would not, however, advise you to eat them before a date or any kind of important business or social function.  If you really have a problem with beans, there are several excellent products on the market that break down the oligosaccharides before they get to your large intestine.  These products are usually made of molds and fungi; hey, don’t knock it.  They work.  Soaking the beans in plain water for several hours before you cook them helps, too.  Soaking the beans releases yeast, and this yeast can eat the oligosaccharides before they have a chance to, well, light up the room.

People eat beans for many reasons, two of which are:  They’re good, and they’re cheap.  Poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote a poem called The Bean Eaters,  about two old people who ate beans because they were poor, but who still had their memories:

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering. . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twingers,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
Is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
Tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

Painter Annibale Carracci painted a picture called The Bean Eater, which illustrates a similar point.

The Bean Eaters, by Annibale Carracci
The Bean Eaters, by Annibale Carracci

Did you ever even imagine that this topic was not only chemical, and biological, but also poetic, and artistic?  Well, most things are.  Nothing is just one thing.  Everything is a part of everything else.

Now, what’s for dinner?  What’s that?  Green beans?  They’re guilty, too.

They don't look like beans on the outside; the beans are on the INSIDE.
They don’t look like beans on the outside; the beans are on the INSIDE.

So what’s a person to do?  Beans are delicious!  The after-effects, while annoying and smelly, are pretty harmless.

Unless you’re one of those people who does experiments with, um, personal emissions and a lighter.  THEN you’ll have some interesting times.  Be sure to have 911 on speed dial if you’ve got a  pyroflatulence guy in the house.

In the meantime, what’s a picnic without baked beans?  Throw some ribs on the grill and make sure the Febreze is handy.


The Science Behind the 9News Broncos Clingy Thingy

Kirk Montgomery and our friends at 9News here in Denver have created a whirlwind of excitement over the Broncos amazing season with Clingy Thingys – United in Orange. Fans in Denver can’t get their hands on them fast enough.

The Science Behind the 9News Denver Broncos United in Orange Clingy Thingy

So that left us to answer the question – how does the Clingy Thingy work?

The Clingy Thingy does not use adhesive to attach to glass or plastic so it isn’t permanent. The “thingy” attaches using static electricity. Similar to the way your hair sticks to a balloon.

Static electricity involves extra electrons. When you rub a balloon on someone’s hair, the balloon picks up electrons, leaving it negatively charged and the hair positively charged. Opposites attract, so the balloon will stick to the hair, or cause the hair to stand up if the balloon is held above the hair.

When you bring a charged balloon near pieces of paper, the paper isn’t charged so you might expect nothing to happen. But the paper is attracted to the balloon. Why? The negative charge on the balloon repels the electrons in the paper, making them (on average) farther from the balloon’s charge than are the positive charges in the paper. Because electrical forces decrease in strength with distance, the attraction between the negatives and positives is stronger than the repulsion between the negatives and negatives. This leads to an overall attraction. The paper is said to have an induced charge. This explanation applies to a charged balloon sticking to a wall and a charged balloon attracting other uncharged objects.

Moisture and dirt will kill the attachment so if you are trying to stick it to a car window, wipe away any condensation or dirt with a cloth before trying to stick it.

3 Things You Can Do with Your Clingy Thingy

Here are a few ways to display your Clingy Thingy in the name of science.

Tornado Tube

There will be a tornado of orange at Sports Authority Field this Sunday as the Broncos beat the New England Patriots. Stick your Clingy Thingy to a clean plastic soda bottle (upside down), fill that bottle about 3/4 full with water. Then attach a Tornado Tube to the top and another soda bottle to the bottom. Watch the message be revealed as the water swirls down to the bottom bottle.

Tornado Tube - The Science Behind the 9News Denver Broncos United in Orange Clingy Thingy

Make the Message Appear

Place your Clingy Thingy face up under a clear dish or pie pan. Fill the pan with Water Balls.  The message will disappear because the water balls will refract the light. Pour water slowly into the dish. As the balls disappear, the message will appear. You’ve changed the refraction to reveal United in Orange!

Revealing a secret message with Water Balls - The Science Behind the 9News Denver Broncos United in Orange Clingy Thingy


What We Will Do to the Patriots Sunday

The Broncos will be on fire and light up the field. They will burn the Patriots.
(Don’t try this demonstration at home).

The Science Behind the 9News Denver Broncos United in Orange Clingy Thingy

 Follow 9News Facebook page for updates on where they will be to hand out the Clingy Thingys.

Steve Spangler Explains the Science Behind on The Doctors Science Lab

Steve Spangler visited the set of The Doctors Science Lab this week to share lessons on the science behind some health discomforts…

Steve Spangler Explained the science behind food poisoning using Elephant's Toothpaste on The Doctors TV


With Steve as their lab instructor, The Doctors donned their lab coats and went to work. They used Red Cabbage Indicator, Milk of Magnesia, giant flasks and a few ‘glubs’ of vinegar to demonstrate how antacids work and the classic Elephant’s Toothpaste demonstration to show what happens with food poisoning in the stomach.

Continue reading Steve Spangler Explains the Science Behind on The Doctors Science Lab

The Anatomy of a Flood – The Science Behind Flooding

Were the deadly and destructive floods that devastated large sections of the Colorado Front Range last week the result of climate change? Some scientists say yes.

As a landlocked state, Colorado usually only has a few flood threats – from springtime runoff from mountain snow melt or summer thunderstorms that can dump a lot of rain in a small area. This is what happened during the 1976 Big Thompson or 1997 Fort Collins floods. But last week’s events were nothing people across 17 counties have ever experienced. Many called the drenching rains and deadly floods 100 or 1,000-year events.

The Science Behind Flooding | Steve Spangler Science
Courtesy 9News, Denver

What is a Flood? 

The simple definition of a flood is too much water in the wrong place.

Floods are usually caused by a lot of rain in a short amount of time that causes rivers or oceans to overflow their banks. Floods are also caused by storm surges – the height the tides rise during a tropical storm or hurricane. Or spring run-off, when snow melts too quickly for streams and rivers to contain it and they overflow their banks.

Flash floods are the most deadliest type of flood, because they usually involve large walls of water that move quickly and without warning down riverbeds.  Flash floods can also occur in the desert where hard earth can’t hold a large amount of rain in a short period of time. The water runs over the landscape collecting until it becomes a flash flood.

Flood Facts from

  • Floods and flash floods happen in all 50 states.
  • Everyone lives in a flood zone.
  • Just a few inches of water from a flood can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
  • Flash floods often bring walls of water 10 to 20 feet high.
  • New land development can increase flood risk, especially if the construction changes natural runoff paths.
  • In a high-risk area, your home is more likely to be damaged by flood than by fire.
  • From 2003 to 2012, total flood insurance claims averaged more than $3.0 billion per year.
The Science Behind Flooding - Floods wash away roads | Steve Spangler Science
Courtesy 9News, Denver
Submitted By: Kaylie from Evergreen

What Happened in Colorado? 

Several factors went into the flooding in Colorado. First, a slow-moving system pulled a large mass of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and pushed it west. When the air hit the Rocky Mountains, it was forced up into the atmosphere and fell as rain. The weather system then stalled out over the Front Range for multiple days. The arid west is not prepared for that type of tropical rain.

Second, September is one of the driest months of the year. Previous to this storm, Boulder’s record for rainfall during the month of September was 5.5 inches.

Thirdly, the area has suffered a long-term drought for over 14 years. Drought hardens the soil. When it does finally rain, the ground cannot absorb much, so it runs across the surface.

Finally, several of the flooded areas previously experienced wildfires which burn  and eliminate vegetation. The bare landscape cannot catch and slow down the running water, causing rainwater to move quickly over large areas and collect in lower ones. Two fires near Boulder changed the land – the 2012 Flagstaff Fire and 2010 Fourmile Canyon fire.

Heavy summer rains in Manitou Springs earlier this summer caused mudslides and  flooding after fires eliminated vegetation from the surrounding mountains.

The Science Behind Flooding | Steve Spangler Science
Courtesy 9News, Denver
Normally a small creek on CR2 just east of CR23E Submitted By: Julie from Berthoud

A Result of Climate Change? 

Clouds can hold more moisture in warmer air, which can lead to more rain.

In June, President Obama told an audience at Georgetown University, “Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times. But we also know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet.”

Mark Udall, director of the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, told National Geographic that science can’t blame any specific weather event on global warming, but the extreme rain storm in Colorado has at least some connection to climate change.

The connection, Udall said, “might be 10 percent or it might be 90 percent, but it isn’t zero percent and it isn’t 100 percent.”

The Science Behind Flooding | Steve Spangler Science
Courtesy 9News, Denver
Comcast building and Vans flooded. Submitted By: John from near 1st & Taft, Loveland CO

What are the Effects of Flooding? 

Flooding is very dangerous and causes wide spread damage. About a foot (30.5 cm) of water can move a car and only 6 inches (15 cm) can knock a person off their feet. Fast moving water can carry large debris and sweep people downstream very quickly. Undercurrents and unknown depths in the water can also disorient and drown even the best swimmers.

Flood waters also wash away roads, bridges and railroad lines, preventing travel and even escape. They wash away telephone and power lines cutting off utilities. Drainage and sewer systems are also overwhelmed during flooding, which can carry bacteria and viruses. Aside from the water damage, toxic materials and mud carried by the extra water cause a lot of damage long after the flood waters recede.

In Colorado, many homes were spared from flooding, but still had to be evacuated due to lack of power, sewer, water, phone and unobstructed roads.

The Science Behind Flooding - Floods wash away roads | Steve Spangler Science
Courtesy 9News, Denver

How Can We Protect Ourselves from Floods?  

If your home is located in a flood plain, near a river or even in a wildland fire area, it is recommended that you get flood insurance. Homeowners insurance does not cover damage from floods. Special flood insurance is purchased through the government.

During soaking rains and other weather events, stay informed and watch for flood watches and warnings. Get out before the mandatory evacuations go in place. Roadways will be open, people calmer and more resources will be available. This also aides emergency personal who must go door to door during an emergency.Keep all emergency numbers and paperwork in one folder that can be grabbed at a moment’s noticeis also a great way to be prepared for any disaster. 

Levees and dams are built to contain and control flooding and large amounts of water. These are not fool-proof and can fail or even overflow. Here’s an interactive guide about levees and how they work –


Tragedy in Colorado – The Science Behind a '100 Year Flood'

The Colorado Front Range is still reeling after a major storm dumped more precipitation on areas in 24 to 48 hours than they receive in an entire year. The result was 20-foot walls of water rushing down the sides of mountains, rivers coming over their banks, roads and bridges washed away and houses flooded. Hundreds of roads and bridges washed away across the Front Range. Some places, like the town of Lyons, became islands completely surrounded by water.

The Science Behind 100-Year Floods
Lefthand Canyon washed away Submitted By: Laura
Courtesy 9News, Denver

The flooding has effected 17 Colorado counties with the most devastating in Boulder and Larimer counties. Parts of Jefferson County around Golden and Evergreen and Arapahoe County in Aurora are also affected.

Continue reading Tragedy in Colorado – The Science Behind a '100 Year Flood'