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Physics Week in Review: May 11, 2013

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


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It was a busy week! I hosted an hour-long discussion with Maria Konnikova, my SciAm bloggy sibling and author of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes, in Second Life as part of Virtually Speaking Science. (If you missed it, I hosted astrophysicist Janna Levin back in April.)

I also chatted with the folks at Skeptically Speaking about evidence for ancient supernovae in bacterial fossils, on an episode that also featured Ethan Siegel of Starts With a Bang expounding on black hole firewalls. Over at Nautilus, I mused on the mystery of whether animals exhibit consciousness. And I have a new short piece up at Simons Science News: Model Behavior: The Mathematics of Juggling, accompanying a fantastic video by George Hart.

Greg Gbur, a.k.a. Dr. Skyskll, explores Chladni patterns: “exotic & beautiful vibration figures that can be displayed with the help of just a little sand.” Somewhat related: Watch how mercury completely flips out when it’s blasted by sound.

Some Facets of Geology of Diamonds: Picasso diamond shows complex growth patterns highlighted by cathodoluminescence. Also, Inside Science explores why the filmmakers behind the new screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby chose to use real diamonds on set instead of faux gems.

A Decade of Explosions: Kyle Hill on how Mythbusters taught him that he could do science. For realz.

Under just the right circumstances, electricity and water form a floating bridge between two containers.

What do “most physicists” work on? Hint: not particle physics. It’s a very diverse field.

A Grand Unified Theory of Everything? Not so much. Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis turn a jaded eye to the paper on causal entropic forces that made such a splash last week. “Unfortunately, such grand, unified, one-size-fits-all solutions almost never work—because they radically underestimate the complexity of real world problems.”

Here is the most awesome video we saw this week: Oscillate – a mesmerizing abstract animation of waveforms by Daniel Sierra. Per This Colossal: “While essentially an experiment in animation, Sierra says the project was an attempt “to visualize waveform patterns that evolve from the fundamental sine wave to more complex patterns, creating a mesmerizing audio-visual experience in which sight and sound work in unison.””

“Just like the dog that didn’t bark in the night time, the absence of antimatter in the universe worries us.” Tara Shears explains what matters to us about antimatter.

By studying a glob of 20 million-year-old amber, scientists have proven once and for all that glass does not flow.

Math fans rejoice! There is a movie thriller now being shown in select cities about what would happen if we could solve the Traveling Salesman problem and P = NP.

A fat chance of chaos? Apparently Julia sets can be fat fractals.

US Air Force Measures Potato Cannon Muzzle Velocities. What fuel fires potatoes out of a cannon the fastest?

Remove the Noise: New Method for Gravitational Wave Detection with Atomic Sensors.

A "detail theft" by ScanLAB Projects: http://www.scanlab-ucl.co.uk/. Via BldgBlog.

Documentary Holography: using “state-of-the-art 3D scanning technologies to capture buildings, objects and spaces.”

Frank Kovak couldn’t be an astrophysicist, so he built a planetarium in his own backyard.

NASA launched two rockets from Marshall Islands to paint the upper atmosphere red and white to study “neutral winds.”

Here’s a fascinating account of what it’s like to study math in China. Apparently, the symbol for rice is the same as the symbol for meter.

Controlling drag with tunable bubble mattresses. “Chemical engineer Rob Lammertink at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and his colleagues designed and fabricated microfluidic chips that could influence the flow of fluids much as microelectronic chips steer the flow of electricity.”

A quantum internet capable of sending perfectly secure messages has been running at Los Alamos National Labs for the last two and a half years, say researchers. Meanwhile, at the Institute for Quantum Computing, scientists are imagining their own quantum future. “Let’s just harness the quantum world, and we’ll be good for the next hundred years,” said institute director Raymond Laflamme.

Superhydrophobic cicada wings are self-cleaning. “Researchers now find the design of their wings can cause filth to jump right off of them with the aid of dew, findings that might help lead to better artificial self-cleaning materials.”

Soo Sunny Park, Unwoven Light, 2013 / Commission, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas / Photo by Nash Baker: http://www.nashbaker.com/.

Shimmering Chain-link Fence Installation by Soo Sunny Park creates “a fractalized rainbow of color.”

Smallest lab-made drop of liquid might cause strange particle behavior. A new result from the CMS collaboration takes a step toward revealing the origin of the mysterious ‘ridge effect.’

New model revolutionizes tornado prediction and sheds light on why some storms generate tornadoes and others do not. “We hope that with more accurate predictions and improved lead time, more people will heed warnings and loss of life and property will be reduced.” And here’s 56 years of tornadoes on a map, plotting each path, using brightness for F-scale (level of intensity).

Flowers, music, strip clubs…Richard Feynman’s scientific curiosity knew no bounds. Christopher Riley pays tribute to an eccentric genius.

An amusing science paper in the Journal of Physics Special Topics (unearthed by Improbable Research) takes a look at the trajectory of a falling Batman: “The film Batman Begins shows the character of Batman gliding using a rigid form of his cape. This paper assesses the feasibility of such a glide and finds that while a reasonable distance could be traveled if gliding from a tall building, the speed at which Batman would be traveling would be too dangerous to stop without some method of slowing down.”

“Once upon a time in linear algebra: Blending words with numbers.” Physics grad student Nicole Yunger Halpern at TEDx-Dartmouth:

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. Adrian Morgan 10:43 pm 05/13/2013

    Very nice. My favourites this week are George Hart’s video from the juggling article, and also the Oscillate video.

    The “ridge effect” article is interesting, but surely if something is a plasma then it is by definition not a liquid! I would be interested in reading some more detailed takes on this from the blogosphere (Sean could cover it pretty well, I imagine).

    Link to this

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