Polar Bear Perceptions

Do you remember this:

Well, I barely began school when the Coca-Cola Polar Bear commercials began and I loved them – the bears were so fluffy and cute and white! I even won a soft, mid-sized teddy bear from one of the Coke’s Christmas promos in Bulgaria and it became my favorite stuffed toy. So imagine my disappointment when I found out the polar bear’s fur isn’t white at all. It’s almost see-through.

Polar bear fur close-up
Polar bear fur close-up

The animal’s skin is black in order to absorb sun rays and keep the bear warm in the cold Arctic climate. The polar bear’s fur contains keratin (just as people’s nails) and looks colorless, almost transparent. Because the individual, longer top strands are hollow (inner layer isn’t), they diffuse light making the fur appear white. The hollowness, or strands containing air, acts as an insulator.

Another trivia tidbit I discovered looking for information about a polar bear’s fur – it can seem green:

The color, as the video mentioned, can form within the fur or even inside each strand due to the algae in the zoo pond waters.

Polar bears can look purple, too:

Polar Bear turned purple at the Mendoza City Zoo.
Polar Bear turned purple at the Mendoza City Zoo.

A 23-year-old bear at the Mendoza City Zoo in Argentina suffered from dermatitis and the treatment spray had the unusual side-effect of changing her fur to purple. Apparently, the color washed off in a few days.


Heart-Shaped Balloons and Chemical Reactions

Happy Valentine’s Day! I don’t particularly agree with what the holiday’s become (read my column on page 7 that I wrote my second year in college), but I learned something new today because of it.

Early this morning, my awesome coworker presented me with a heart-covered goody bag with candy, a Scooby-Doo card and pencil and a heart shaped balloon.

My Balloon!
My Balloon!

I picked up the balloon to hang it and my coworker said: “Shake it! It gets cold!” The chemistry nerd in me perked up and decided to find out why. So here it is:

Balloon Reaction


Now, that may look like a lot of gibberish so here is what the chemical reaction looks like in real life:

Basically, each tiny, self-inflatable balloon contains baking soda and a vinegar package, ergo the compounds in them – sodium bicarbonate and acetic acid. When you pop the packet, the acid reacts with the baking soda causing the production of carbon dioxide, which fills up the balloon, causing it to inflate. That gas is also the reason, why those balloons don’t fly or float – carbon dioxide is denser than air.

Now, going back to the cold – the balloon cools off when shaken because the chemical reaction is endothermic, meaning it takes heat in to occur, leaving the surface cold.

Maybe I like Valentine’s Day after all – it’s got chemistry!

Be Afraid

Now that the Super Bowl is behind us, I discovered another country’s sports tradition – the New Zealand’s haka. It’s a ancient Maori (an aboriginal nation of the islands) dance performed before battle. The haka blends body movements with voice and expression to portray a tribe’s passion, unity, pride. The dance became known to the rest of the world in 1905 when the All Blacks rugby team performed the haka while visiting Britain. You can see a before-a-game video from 2005 here:

Today, the haka appears in sports but also at gatherings and ceremonies. The words said during the dance can describe ancestry,  history events, strength and traditions.

Apparently, the haka has also reached the United States. Texas, in particular. Through population migration, a large Tongan (another nation sharing common Polynesian origins with the Maori) community formed in Euless leading to the Trinity Trojan football team performing the haka before Friday games. It’s a sight to behold: