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Physics and Folly: Heavy discussion



Physics and Folly applies real world science to familiar and fantastic situations. Discover the answers no one has heard, to the questions no one ever asked.

For a while I’ve been trying to outsource interesting topic ideas for these articles to my friends. After all, if you make a venn diagram with one side being the people who ask interesting questions about the universe, and the other side being scientists, you’ve just drawn a circle. This time round, I was asked, “How much do you think UFV weighs?” So hold onto your hats, because things are about to get heavy.

First off, I know some of you might say that UFV is not the buildings, but rather the people who use them students, teachers, janitors heck, even the people who work for SUS. The weight of all these people is easy to figure out; at a little under 70 kilos per person, we weigh a hefty thousand tonnes.

But, as I’m sure you’re aware, the buildings that comprise UFV are not small. If we consider all 11 buildings on the Abbotsford campus, the total floor space is a little over 51,000 square metres. If we divided up the school so that each student gets an equal portion, we would all get nearly 3½ metres to ourselves. Okay, so UFV isn’t huge per person but there’s a lot of us students, so it must add up. If UFV is similar to most low-rise buildings, each floor will be made of about nine-inch-thick concrete slabs, held up by sturdy concrete columns. Surprisingly, the total weight of UFV’s buildings isn’t significantly more than the weight of the bare concrete structure lying underneath, so with some quick math, and the density of concrete, we can find that UFV probably weighs about 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes.

That’s pretty heavy, but is it heavy compared to, say, a species? If you add up the mass of all the lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, lynx, and jaguars in the world, you get about 10,000 tonnes of big cats scary, but still a few times less than the buildings on campus. We’re not even close, however, to matching the weight of all the 600 million house cats in the world. But if I have to pick one from all the animals, UFV weighs in pretty similar to that of the world’s 80,000 giraffes, although given the choice of our campus or one made of 80,000 giraffes, I’d stick with what we’ve got.

Then again, maybe we’re still not measuring the weight of UFV correctly; some other people yet might say that UFV is not just the buildings, but also all of the ground underneath the buildings, and all of the air above. Those people are in that circular venn diagram, they are often my friends, and they make my life difficult. If we take an ice cream cone of the entire Earth, from the centre core all the way out to the edge of the atmosphere the top bit of the cone being UFV’s Abbotsford campus and find a way to measure it, it would weigh 2,000 billion tonnes.

This puts UFV in the nice company of large mountains, or large asteroids. (It seems odd to me that those are comparably sized things.) One important asteroid the Chicxulub Impactor was a rock about 10 kilometres in diameter, bigger than Canada’s largest mountain, and it is likely responsible for a mass extinction event the one that killed the dinosaurs. Our pizza slice UFV would weigh as much as this gargantuan space rock, no longer comparable to a single species, but rather comparable to a mountainous mass that could have ended it all.

Image: Max Pixel

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