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Physics Week in Review: June 8, 2013


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Confession: Jen-Luc Piquant had a little trouble focusing on this week’s roundup of cool physics links because she is emotionally shattered by the latest shocking plot twist on Game of Thrones. (She was not alone. This comic by Amanda LaPergola for The Mary Sue nicely sums up her reaction.) Seriously, she spent two full days lying on her virtual chaise in a stupor, occasionally humming “The Rains of Castamere” while weeping softly and cursing House Lannister (except for Tyrion; she’s 100% Team Dinklage). Yes, she is aware that terrible things are happening elsewhere in the non-fictional world, such as Turkey. Don’t judge her! According to this Smithsonian article, “the emotional bonds we forge with fictional characters can be just as strong as the connection we feel with some people in the real world. So when bad things happen, the emotional responses we have can be powerful.” So there.

Jen-Luc Piquant after last week's Game of Thrones. Credit: Amanda LaPergola, via http://www.themarysue.com/amanda-reacts-game-of-thrones/#0

Finally I told her she just had to snap out of it. We had links to assemble! Physics news to share! And she valiantly rallied her spirits for you, dear readers. It helped that Physics Buzz decided to reveal its own love for Game of Thrones with A Post of Ice and Fire, in which Becky Thompson asks the burning questions: How hot does dragon fire have to be to take down a fortress like Harranhal?  What makes dragon glass so special?”

Still, she definitely needed a stiff drink after all that, so Jen-Luc was pleased to find instructions on How to Use Chemistry to Age Whiskey in Days Instead of Years.

Justin Bieber is going to be launched into space! No really: Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson announced it on Twitter. The suborbital joyrides cost $200,000 per seat, per Discovery News. And yes, all you Twitter wags, he will be coming back.

How does Thor stay so strong and mighty? “I’ve got one word for you: Prancercise!

For those confused about why your favorite Westeros characters make the bad choices that they do: “Game theory is to the behavioral universe what the telescope was to Galileo, or calculus to Newton.”

Divert yourself with the (probably untrue) legend of Isaac Newton’s most foolish (and cat-friendly) invention: the cat door.

Algae provide food bank for starving coral. Cells form crystals to store nitrogen when life gets tough.

Opal-Inspired Material Changes Color When Stretched. “By layering tiny nanospheres onto stretchy fabric, scientists have created a material that changes color when stretched.  Called “polymer opal” by the team, the material mimics the multicolored brilliance of an opal gemstone. Using ink made from synthetic photonic crystals and a printer that can modulate voltage, the team has figured out how to print shimmering, color-changing patterns onto a stretch of flexible opal.”

Sonic Water, Installation That Visualizes Sound with Water (h/t: Laughing Squid):

Bell Labs Invents Lensless Camera. A new class of imaging device with no lens and just a single light sensitive sensor could revolutionise optical, infrared and millimetre wave imaging.

They get knocked down. But they get up again. You’re never gonna keep ‘em down! Check out this video compilation of astronauts falling, getting up again on the moon.

How do you harmlessly reveal bombs that can be triggered by a single photon? With the Elitzur-Vaidman bomb tester.

MIT’s Magic Bag Of Sand: smart cubes in the pavement not just the stuff of movie magic.

Source: http://arxiv.org/abs/1306.0091: Cosmography Of The Local Universe

New Science of Cosmography Reveals 3D Map of the Local Universe.

Black hole firewalls continue to mock physicists’ deep-seated intuition.

I know this question is keeping you up at night: What does dark energy mean for the fate of the universe?

Who needs a GPS when you can navigate by the stars? Here are the only three stars you need to know.

Theorists, experimentalists and bias in popular physics: “we tend to overemphasize role of theory over experiment,” claimed The Curious Wavefunction.  This prompted Tom Swanson to delve into where the experimentalists are (or aren’t) in 2013, with Chad Orzel adding his two cents over at Uncertain Principles.

Yes, There is a Rat on Mars… also several faces, a bunny rabbit, a gun, a small chair, thanks to the phenomenon of pareidolia (i.e., we have a natural tendency to “see” familiar objects or faces).

The Best Revenge: Stars of The Big Bang Theory discuss their bright future with the Los Angeles Times as the show hits a whopping 20 million viewers.

Sadly, the humble graviton – the particle of gravity – is probably unobservable. But so what?

Researchers demonstrate an invisibility cloak that can be scaled to almost any size, and it could possibly even hide orbiting satellites. Related: This invisibility ‘time cloak‘ “works by manipulating the speed of light in optical fibres” to create a “hole in time.”

An ode to Alberto Santos-Dumont. This Man Had The Equivalent Of A Teleportation Device In 1901.

Georges Melies created the first cinematic experience of an a person appearing in a moving picture with themselves.

The Los Angeles Times takes a closer look at the closing of the San Onofre nuclear plant, which leaves Southern California more dependent on imported power.

Hope springs eternal: first, The Curious Wavefunction critiqued a new film, “Pandora’s Promise,” exploring the costs and benefits about nuclear energy.  This caused a bit of a dust-up on Twitter over some of his assertions, so he followed up with Promise or problem? A debate on nuclear power.

Credit: Youtube user Brusspup, via This Is Colossal. http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2013/06/the-visual-patterns-of-audio-frequencies-seen-through-vibrating-sand/

The Visual Patterns of Audio Frequencies Seen through Vibrating Sand (based on the Chladni plate experiment).

MIT’s OpenRelativity engine, designed to model special relativity in a video game, is now available as open-source toolset.

Graphene is such an overachiever: Even with Defects, Graphene Is Strongest Material in the World.

Weaving Superconducting Magnets: How to Build a superconducting pipe without using those pesky magnetic metals.

Giant, Heavy and Hollow: Atoms are being stretched, stripped and contorted to new and bizarre limits.

There a huge (justifiable) outcry over this week’s revelations about PRISM, the NSA’s surveillance program targeting civilian communications have caused quite a stir. The science bloggers naturally weighed in. First, mathematically, how effective can PRISM be at terror-catching? Answer: not much at all.  Second, Technology Review cautioned that what NSA can do with Verizon’s data on phone calls depends on other sources it can be combined with.

Cinderella’s convertible carriage: fairy-tale description of neutrino oscillation by University of Chicago student Emily Conover, winner of Symmetry’s latest challenge to readers, asking for the best metaphors to describe the strange behavior of neutrinos. “It seems Cinderella might have had a handle on neutrino oscillation, and yet all people know her for are her shoes.”

“Still think princesses don’t need to know math?” Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s retelling of “The Princess and the Frog.”

Quantum Banking comes to NYC, courtesy of conceptual artist Jonathan Keats.

Here’s a multimedia history of string theory, featuring interviews with some of its key developers.

In two new videos, Fermilab physicist Don Lincoln explains the what and the why of supersymmetry.

The cores of black holes may not hold points of infinite density, but portals to elsewhere in the universe.

Speaking of black holes, the Time Lord and I joined Adam Frank and Brian Greene for the opening night festivities of the Seattle Science Festival Thursday night. The undeniable highlight: the West Coast premiere of Icarus, based on Greene’s children’s book, with music by Philip Glass and narrated by actor Kal Penn (House, Harold and Kumar, as well as The Big Brain Theory on Discovery Channel which you should totes be watching). It’s the story of a young boy on an interstellar spaceship who dares to skim the event horizon of a black hole, despite his father’s warnings. Quite the moving tale, with lovely visuals and score.

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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