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Life's Little Questions Guide & Resources

What makes peppers hot? Why do traffic jams happen? What's the best way to combat jet lag? On this episode of Scientific American Frontiers you'll find out that sometimes simple questions have complex (and fascinating) scientific answers. Join host Alan Alda in a scientific quest to answers some of the little questions that affect us in big ways.

Here are the topics and running times of stories on this show and a brief description of related activities you'll find in this online teaching guide:

  • Why Are Peppers Hot? (running time: 14:35) -- Paradoxically, the same compound that makes chile peppers hot (capsaisin) also relieves pain. For some patients, it's a medical breakthrough. Activity and Discussion: Are you a supertaster?

  • Can You Beat Jet Lag? (running time: 6:37) -- Travelers and night workers would love to be able to reset their biological clocks. They can, with an unusual application of light. Activity and Discussion: Raise mealworms in the light and dark.

  • How Do Bees Fly? (running time: 9:51) -- Bees, flies and other insects should not be able to fly, according to conventional rules of aerodynamics. And yet they do. Find out why. Activities and Discussion: Build a wind tunnel, testing model wings and testing plants.

  • Why Does Traffic Jam? (running time: 10:43) -- Physics provides an explanation to those traffic problems that seem to arise out of nowhere. And computer simulations will tell us even more. Activity and Discussion: Modeling impact waves.

  • Sand to Nuts (running time: 10:52) -- Seemingly trivial questions about coffee spills, mixed nuts and sand lead to intriguing areas of study and further inquiry. Activities and Discussion: Lessons learned from coffee, materials science.

  • Viewer Challenge -- After you watch Life's Little Questions, test your viewing skills with ten questions about the show!

  • Transcripts from Life's Little Questions

  • Related Scientific American Articles

  • Related Sites for Life's Little Questions


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.