13 July 2011

Difficult Science with Peter

This is a subject one normally avoids. Peter on the other hand loves science. Last week at Marsh Hall he was keen to impart information about runner beans, so we head over towards the stout bean poles in the walled garden. The more inscrutable an idea, the more his glee increases. As does my own anxiety.

'Which way do runner beans grow?' he asks. Trick question or simple question - I have no idea.
'When you look down on them from above they appear to be growing anti-clockwise. When you look up at them, they are growing clockwise. When you look at them at the centre, as if through a letter box, they are going back and forth, but not up or down.

'In New Zealand which way would they be growing? NO! not the other way around! If you were on the other side of the world right now you wouldn't feel that you were upside down and neither do the beans.'
Deep breath. 'This is because their roots are looking for the centre of the Earth. Their winding stalks are being pulled up by gravity but their frame of reference is the centre of the Earth.
f they grew the other way around in New Zealand that would imply that at the Equator they would grow horizontally, and they don't! The centre of the Earth tells the plant which direction is up and which is down!!'

This begs the inevitable question of space travel. 'If runner beans were taken to space, and they have been, they'd be growing all over the place because the poor things would be lost. They would miss the centre of the Earth pulling them in the right direction.'

He also mentions that the slightly hairy growing tips have something in common with the human ear, but let's not bother with that now.

Next time in Science with Peter
'Why you must eat a cabbage within two hours.'

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