how much is inside ______?

24 Jul

Measurement is a fundamental skill in science, and the question of “how much inside” is an often practical question. The answer may be intriguing and occasionally humorous (see below). For students, this basic question presents some different lines for problem solving and inquiry. How to go about measuring it? What data to collect? How to present the data? Do two populations differ in how much is inside?

Here’s an example: How much is inside a samosa?

Samosas are delectable triangles of deep-fried goodness. But what is it exactly that contributes to their irresistibility? In an attempt to better understand the delicious mysteries of the samosa, we carefully examined this culinary treat’s inner workings.

First, all the necessary materials were gathered.

Next, we scrubbed in and gloved up.

Lines were drawn to mark the incision points.

The first cut was made.

The dissection was demanding total focus and concentration.

A first peek at the samosa’s inner composition.

The folds were pinned back to fully expose the samosa’s oily interior.

Once exposed, the constituent food particles were located and identified. Surprisingly, this samosa only appeared to contain 4 ingredients: potatoes, onions, and hint of bay leaves, all of which were covered in a generous coat of oil.

Let the sorting begin.

Sorting the food particles proved to be a delicate and laborious task.

6 hours and 17 minutes later, the dissection was complete. The potatoes, onions and bay leaves had been sorted into 3 neat, oily piles.

Then it was time to mass the ingredients…First the potatoes.

Next the onions.

Then the bay leaves.

Oops. We almost forgot the skin.

Then it was time to clean up. Conveniently, hamsters love samosas probably as much as humans, and they didn’t discriminate against dissected samosa ingredients the way people did when we tried to share.

When it was all said and done, the composition of the samosa broke down something like this:

% of total
Bay Leaf

Thank you, friendly neighborhood samosa salesman for providing us with the necessary and delicious samples for our dissection.


I had plenty of fun with this, and plan to do more with the “What’s inside?” question. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how to work it into the classroom this year, so this officially a WIP.

I’m considering doing this in the beginning of the year for experimental design and statistical analysis. I recently purchased a bag of Planter’s pistachios from Target and was disappointed when approximately 1/3 of the bag contained contained shells lacking a proper nut. Students use tests of significance (Kolmogorov-smirnov anyone?), maybe to compare various bags of a brand’s products (similar to the M&M chi-square lab) or maybe compare different brands. My hankering for pistachios unsatisfied, I bought a giant bag of Kirkland pistachios from Costco and was relieved when there were practically zero nutless pistachios…

[I have to give credit to Rob Cockerham of for the inspiration behind the idea for this post. I’ve been following his brilliant and hilarious website since I googled “How many beers in a keg” back in college.]


One Response to “how much is inside ______?”


  1. TEACHING|chemistry» Blog Archive » links for 7.28.2010 - July 28, 2010

    […] twitter, and has some interesting ideas (WIPs) for teaching science. My favorite post so far is on dissecting samosas, but his most recent is on encouraging skepticism among our […]

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