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Physics Week in Review: March 30, 2013

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


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We have been Down Under in the Land of Oz all week, but Jen-Luc Piquant has been zealously compiling cool physics-y links for you anyway. By the time you read this, we will be landing in Los Angeles, arriving earlier than we left Sydney. Time travel! Of a sort….

Yowza! Scientists from Zhejiang University in China have made a graphene aerogel that’s less than one-seventh the density of air.

In other graphene-related news, a lab “accident” may solve your annoying battery problems, according to this article in Slate. UCLA grad student Maher El-Kady “wondered what would happen if he placed a sheet of graphite oxide—an abundant carbon compound—under a laser. And not just any laser, but a really inexpensive one, something that millions of people around the world already have—a DVD burner containing a technology called LightScribe, which is used for etching labels and designs on your mixtapes…. The simple trick produced very high-quality sheets of graphene, very quickly, and at low cost.” I also love this quote by Kaner:
“Nothing in science is actually an accident—it only looks like that way when you look back.”

Researchers at Stanford Linear Accelerator have created an x-ray beam with two slightly different colors. “Tuning the color of the x-rays will allow researchers to pick out specific atomic and molecular dynamics like how bonds break and rearrange in chemical reactions.”

The NOvA neutrino detector, technically still under construction, has nonetheless already begun to take data from cosmic rays.

Young Albert Einstein, 1882. Via Brainpicker.

Ladies and gentlemen: Albert Einstein as a toddler. He had a certain confident savoir-faire even then.

Justice & the Sign for Equality. In honor of civil rights for all when it comes to marriage, John Ptak tracks down when the ” = ” sign first appears in print — in Robert Recorde’s The Whetstone of Witte, published in 1557.

Dinosaur-killing impact set the world on fire: Researchers argue forcefully that the ensuing heat set off global forest fires.

Neutrino Oscillations Are Cool. OPERA snags it third tau neutrino: the experiment has caught a muon neutrino oscillating into a tau neutrino, an extremely rare event.

Socrates (In The Form Of A 9-Year-Old) Shows Up In A Suburban Backyard In Washington. Per Robert Krulwich: “This 9-year-old — what he knows is different. It’s not local; it can’t be found looking under a couch. It’s mind stuff, found mostly in books or college classrooms, or by letting your mind run free.”

Georgia Tech and Purdue scientists made a recyclable solar cell. Now solar energy is truly renewable.

I lived in Washington, DC, for six years, and well remember the news stories about exploding manhole covers. Has the mystery finally been explained? “Researchers who mapped methane concentrations on the streets of the nation’s capital found natural gas leaks everywhere, at concentrations of up to 50 times the normal background levels, they reported here last week at a meeting of the American Physical Society. The leaking gas wastes resources, enhances ozone production, and exacerbates global warming — not to mention powering the city’s infamous exploding manholes.”

From the "Black Hole" series by Fabian Oefner: http://www.fabianoefner.com/64838/1159918/projects/black-hole

The physics of fluids in spellbinding color (see photo, right)! Per io9: “Switzerland-based photographer Fabian Oefner has a knack for exploring the intersection of science and art. In his latest work, he pours a variety of colored paints over a rod connected to a power drill to produce some remarkable shots of fluid in motion. Who knew combining acrylics with power tools could be so beautiful?”

A blob of “intelligent” goo can compute solutions to Traveling Salesman problem and produces a route map as well. It didn’t even need to consult Google maps.

What happens when you “turn off” gravity in the new game Parallax? Mega-coolness, that’s what.

Watch Oppenheimer recall witnessing Trinity nuclear test in 1945. “I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”

The philosophy of the Higgs: “Is there a role for philosophy in physics? Should physicists listen to philosophers?” Particle physicist Michael Krämer hangs out with philosophers and learns that one should be wary of irrelevant blondes.

Counter-intuitive, but apparently true, based on analysis of cell phone data: Strong Social Ties Hinder the Spread of Rumours.

Eeek! The Blob is hungry! Actually it’s magnetic paste. And it’s kind of awesome.

Blasphemy! Historical contingency and the futility of reductionism: Why chemistry (and biology) is not physics. Ashutosh Jogalekar makes the argument: “The reductionist zeitgeist of physics cannot “explain” chemistry any more than “entropy” explains the inexorable march of life from birth to death.” Discuss.

Prince Rupert’s Drop: The Curious Properties of a Molten Glass Blob Dropped in Cold Water:

What an 18th century treatise on population can teach us about energy resources: Revisiting Thomas Malthus.

This week’s adventure in patent pseudoscience: Introducing the Terahertz Egg, with water imprinting! Just don’t ask the applicant to specify exactly how this happens.

I wish we’d known about these spiffy waveform wedding rings by Japanese artist/designer Sakurako Shimizu when the Time Lord and I got married five years ago. Each one is custom made, “etched with a waveform of a couple’s voices uttering any words they choose.” What could be more romantic than that?

Waveform wedding rings by Japanese artist and designer Sakurako Shimizu. Source: io9.

 

If a dry tree pops sap bubbles in the woods, does it make a sound? YES! In certain conditions, tree sap may reach extreme negative pressures and emit popping sounds.

Learn about Charles Munroe, the man who used letters to make explosions more destructive: “You can etch words into metal with an explosion, and those words reveal a startling thing about how explosives work.”

Can the Ice Wall in Game of Thrones Survive Science? tl;dr: “no.” Scientists are such killjoys.

And finally, speaking of Game of Thrones (Season 3 premiere on Sunday!), okay, it’s not related to physics in any way, but we adore this Game of Thrones Random Death Generator, which helpfully lets you know how you’d die in Westeros. Per the Mary Sue: “Because you wouldn’t live. Let’s be honest here.”  My favorite: “Stabbed by Arya Stark for Standing in Her Way (Served You Right).” But the generator told me I was choked to death by an imprisoned Jaime Lannister instead. C’est la vie! Far better than being “bored to death by Catelyn.”

Winter is coming.

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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