Science Myth/Fact: Balloons, Caffeine and Vaccines! | The Wanderer Science

Welcome to the first edition of Science Myth/Fact! We have some great questions about creative crazy people, space balloons, caffeination, and vaccination! Submit your questions at

Can balloons float in space? The volume of the balloon depends directly on the pressure and temperature of the air inside, and as the pressure drops rapidly with elevation the volume of the balloon increases as it floats on up. In fact, by the time the balloon would (hypothetically) reach the equivalent height of Mount Everest, it would be three times larger than when it started out. By the time it reaches typical flight altitude it would be five times bigger than normal. Around this point a normal balloon would have broken – they can only stretch so much, and the change in temperature probably hasn’t helped the elasticity of the rubber. But let’s pretend for a while that our balloon is invisible or something… By the time our balloon hits the ozone layer it would hypothetically grow to 50 times its original size. By the time the balloon is only 10% of the way to the International Space Station, it would grow to 200 times its original size. At this point, though, any sense of ‘floating’ would have pretty much stopped. Though the density of the surrounding air could still be higher than that of the helium inside the balloon, the difference wouldn’t be large enough to cause any noticeable force on the balloon, and it would be more likely to just hang around up there. So, in short, no, balloons cannot float in space.

How much caffeine is bad for you?  Too much caffeine can have adverse effects. My lab partner reminds me of this every time she loads an agarose gel and is shaking uncontrollably (tehe! <3). Caffeine increases your heart rate and blood pressure, and can actually leave you feeling anxious (this is why I don’t caffeinate pre-exam). And let’s just be real here for a moment, it makes your poop funny. Caffeine has different effects for different people but for the most part, keep it under four cups a day. More than four and you put yourself at risk for cardiovascular problems!

Can getting a flu shot give me the flu? Absolutely, one hundred percent NOT! This is probably one of the biggest myths around the influenza illness and vaccine, and is completely not true. When you get a flu shot, you are being vaccinated and protected against the influenza virus, and technically, you are injected with a tiny dose of the virus. Do not let this fool you! The virus has been killed, meaning that even though the virus has been put into your body, it can’t do anything bad to you. What it does do is that it introduces your immune system to the virus, so it can build up protection, without actually being attacked by the virus. Imagine your immune system is an army of soldiers that know they’re going to be attacked, but they don’t know what weapons they will be attacked with. Getting a flu shot is basically like giving the soldiers a bunch of unloaded guns, so that they can study them and prepare for the attack, without putting their own army at risk. So moral of the story, you CANNOT get the flu from the flu shot, so go out and get vaccinated!


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  • Jessica

    Just a note on the flu shot myth. I got my flu shot this week and although I don’t have the form with me at this time, but I do believe it mentions various adverse effects from the flu shot. Although none of these result in you actually contracting the flu, the shot can give you flu-like signs. I believe when addressing issues like this in the future, maybe mention these things so when the people who do decide to go get their shot after reading your article are prepared for the fact that their arm will be sore, and may feel slightly ill after receiving the shot for a day or two (even though even the chances of that are very slim).


  • Paul Hayes

    Just a quick comment, Erica, on your information on the vaccination for influenza. This vaccine has most definitely been associated with subsequent development of the flu. This is not a myth at all. The process for inactivating the virus is not 100% effective. The mists and swabs that are used for influenza vaccination are typically live “attenuated” forms and individuals receiving these vaccination forms are indeed infected and infective for possibly a number of weeks after receiving them. Unfortunately the scientific facts are played with “fast and loose” seemingly protecting pharmaceutical interests. A quick but close review of the data at the Cochrane Collaborative Review will demonstrate this as true.
    Paul L. Hayes, M.D.