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Physics Week in Review: March 16, 2013

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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This week the geekerati celebrated Pi Day (March 14) — which just happened to coincide with the confirmation that the “Higgs-like particle” discovered last summer by the Large Hadron Collider really, truly, is that elusive Higgs boson (seriously, I think “elusive Higgs boson” is now its official title) — or at least a Higgs boson, as Michael Moyer explains. Oh and it was also Albert Einstein’s birthday. Celebrate by checking out this video about robotics researchers in California have created a rather creepy lifelike bust of Einstein.

Speaking of Pi, John Ptak ferreted out the first use of the symbol for Pi in 1706, while Steven Strogatz (via Twitter) provided a link to Einstein’s proof, at age 11 (!), of the Pythagorean theorem. Meanwhile, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings remembers when Einstein met the philosopher Rabindranath Tagore.

Controversy swirled around the announcement of algae-like structures inside a Sri Lankan meteorite, which some astrobiologists claim are clear evidence of panspermia, the idea that life exists throughout the universe. Phil Plait wrote earlier this year about another paper by the same scientists claiming to have found diatoms in a meteorite. His take on their latest work? “They try to show the samples are meteorites, but the evidence they present is in many ways even worse than the outrageous claims they made in the first paper.” Physics Buzz also declared the claims to be “highly dubious.”

Providing more of a historical/cultural take, Meteorites & Asteroids looked at how objects from space slamming into Earth have inspired art throughout of human history. (h/t: The Finch and the Pea)

Via The Finch and the Pea, we learned of a Webcomic called The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl, notably Kerschl’s amusing take on the physics of an otter slide.

Remember when avid readers of yore used to personalize the books in their libraries with bookplates, known as ex libris? Albert Einstein was no exception: his ex libris was of his own doodling design.

Sean Carroll (a.k.a. The Time Lord) takes a closer look at a new paper on partially interacting dark matter. “The idea is that most of the dark matter is vanilla and boring, but some fraction of it is atom-like.”

Bifringement in a fork and spoon. Credit: Tom Swanson

Via Tom Swanson, we learned that the glowing “sunstone” of Viking legend — which, when held up to the sky, disclosed the position of the Sun on a cloudy day — may have some basis in truth. Tom explored some of the underlying optics, and also to post photographs of his own making (right), illustrating stress-induced birefringent materials viewed with polarizing filter and a polarized source.

Atomic Age Artifacts: So what exactly was in all those old fallout shelters?

Silent alarm: here’s a battery-powered bell which has rung inaudibly for 173 years. Per Frank Swain: “A clapper on a pendulum rocks from side to side between two metal spheres, driven by electrostatic forces. The bell is powered by a pair of mysterious batteries, the composition of which is unknown.” That might get pretty irritating so it’s a good thing it’s behind sound-proof glass.

Rhett Allain always asks the interesting questions. This week on Dot Physics: How fast would the Earth have to spin to fling people off? The post — and Sid the Science Kid — promoted Chad Orzel to muse on fictitious forces and frictionless surfaces.

In other news, fluid dynamics continues to be awesome. This is what happens when you run water through a 24hz sine wave. “How is this even possible? Because science!” Also, check out this nifty high-speed video showing a liquid crystal (nematic) vibrating on a tuning fork (288 Hz):

Over at the SciAm Guest Blog, Kyle Hill had another excellent physics-themed post, this one exploring the mechanics of the pull-up, arguing persuasively that yes, women can do them, too. Because SCIENCE! But it probably will take us longer to work up to it.

Spritz luminol on your pennies and they’ll glow. Don’t worry! It’s not blood — your penny’s just been framed.

The BBC and the Open University are producing two television programs about Richard Feynman.

Do the Rossby Wave! ‘Hot spots’ ride a merry-go-round on Jupiter. My SciAm Scibling Caleb Scharf has the video.

Apparently there’s something in physics called the Lazarus Effect: Per io9: “Semiconductor particle detectors can get worn down until they’re useless and dead. …Or are they? Scientists found a simple trick that can bring them back to life.”

The Galaxy Garden in Paleaku Peace Gardens Sanctuary, Kona, HI. Source: PNAS.

The lush south side of Hawaii Island’s Mauna Loa volcano is home to the Galaxy Garden, where visitors can stroll through a living model of the Milky Way at 1,000 light years per foot. Raven Hanna writes that this is the first model of the Milky Way that is “composed of living plants, a nod to the growing, evolving, and dying properties of stars and star systems. In the garden, plants symbolize stellar features.”

Zombie economics? Why not? Blood, Brains, and Benjamins: Economists are gathering undying economics about the undead.

Small-world networks and the flowering of ancient Greek civilization: interesting review of Irad Malkin’s A Small Greek World, in the journal Classical Review.

There have been many versions of the famous double-slit experiment, beginning with Thomas Young in the 19th century, but the methodology described by Richard Feynman in his 1965 Lectures on Physics has stumped would-be experimentalists seeking to replicate it in the lab — until now!

And here is a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining the timelessness of photons.

Building unbreakable codes: Quantum satellites may beam down powerful data encryption keys.

Here’s a strange bit of space history: Leading up to Yuri Gagarin’s historic Vostok 1 flight, the Soviet Union launched two missions with a man-like mannequin, Ivan Ivanovich, on board.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal mocks women’s sizing metrics. It is mockery well deserved. “Size 0 women exist in one dimension of space given by height…. either that or women’s sizing metrics are absurd.”

Via Geek Tyrant we learned of a terrific short film, Timeless Man. It’s Back to the Future meets Bill & Ted by way of Quantum Leap. Per the filmmaker, Brian O’Neill: “Have you ever imagined that you could go back in time and meet your heroes? Benjamin Hewson has. He has traveled back from the year 2330 to meet his hero, legendary rock god Jonny Murtagh. But in his bid to witness history in the making, has Benjamin put Jonny’s future in jeopardy?” Watch the film to find out!

Jennifer Ouellette About the Author: Jennifer Ouellette is a science writer who loves to indulge her inner geek by finding quirky connections between physics, popular culture, and the world at large. Follow on Twitter @JenLucPiquant.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. curiouswavefunction 3:25 pm 03/16/2013

    Neat! Although Tagore would be best described as a poet (he won the Nobel Prize in part for “Gitanjali”, his collection of poems).

    Link to this

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