The Best of Christmas Science

Posted on Dec 5, 2016

Like the Summer silly season, Christmas seems to be a focus for interesting, fun, or just plain crazy science in the media. This year, Salisbury Cathedral have used lasers to create a shape-shifting geometric Star of Bethlehem that will guide people to services this festive season.

Even Roger Highfield, former science editor of the Daily Telegraph, has been prompted to write a popular science book ‘The Physics of Christmas‘ (available at all good book stores).

Here’s our selection of some of the most amusing or interesting Christmas science stories, videos, or experiments from the last few years for you to enjoy this holiday season.

Experiments for the Christmas dinner table
The National Science Learning Centre have produced a series of easy experiments you can amaze your family and friends with around the dinner table. Here’s one of their science-based conundrums.

The thermodynamics of turkey
Also for the dinner table, don’t forget to cook the perfect Christmas turkey using the scientific method explained by Dr Peter Barham from the University of Bristol. There’s more physics involved than you might think.

Snow science
Cal-tech physics professor Kenneth Libbrecht has spent most of his career studying the process of snowflake formation. There’s both complex physics and art involved as you can see on this Smithsonian blog.

Finding the Star of Bethlehem
Astronomers have spent much time discussing the various theories that could explain a very bright object in the sky around the time of the birth of Christ. Astronomer Nick Strobel maintains one of the best websites gathering together all the available material and asks whether a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is the best explanation.

The science of gift-giving
Last year, psychologist Dan Ariely wrote a review for Scientific American looking more closely at the behavioural science behind giving gifts and whether it’s a truly irrational behaviour. Caveat emptor!

Nanoscale Christmas Tree
Below is a superhydrophobic nanoparticle Christmas tree printed using an inkjet printer and decorated with quantum dot based sensors. It was made by Dominique Danger Piché, Benoit Chandesris, Dr. Jamie D. Walters from the University of Cambridge and submitted to the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology’s photography competition 2013. You can see some of the other images here.

Nanoparticle Xmas Tree

An ink-jet printed superhydrophobic nanoparticle Christmas tree decorated with quantum dot based sensors by Dominique Danger Piché, Benoit Chandesris, Dr. Jamie D. Walters, University of Cambridge.