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Physics Week in Review: June 21, 2013

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


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Physics lost one of its unsung heroes this week with the passing of Kenneth Wilson (1936-2013). What’s that? You’ve never heard of him? You’re not alone. He was never one to seek the spotlight. But his influence was profound. Wilson was a quantum field theory visionary, master of renormalization, and an inspiring physics hero. Over at the Quantum Frontiers blog, John Preskill declared: “We are all Wilsonians now,” and mused on how Ken Wilson changed how we think about physics. Meanwhile, Sean Carroll (a.k.a. the Time Lord) opted for a few thousand words on effective quantum field theory, renormalization, and something called “Fock space” in honor of Wilson’s passing.

Also making headlines this week was the detection of a new particle that hints at the possibility of four-quark matter.

Fermi Problem: X-Ray Assassins. A KKK member and his accomplice were arrested for a plot to build a portable x-ray machine that they hoped to use to murder Muslims. The master plan? To “expose their victims to doses of radiation that would lead to their death in a matter of days.” There’s just one problem, as Physics Buzz pointed out: “To expose a person to 800 joules of x-rays would require about 4,000,000 joules.”

Credit: Damian Evans/PNAS

Why LIDAR rocks: Researchers Use Laser Technology and Find Long-Lost City in the Jungle.  Seriously,  Laser Scanning Revealed New Parts of an Ancient Cambodian City called Angkor Wat.

Inside Science profiled David Hughes: Zombie Ant Expert and Science Consultant for World War Z.

If you’ve been following the newly launched Nautilus magazine, Issue #2 focuses on the theme of Uncertainty, including such lovely ruminations as this: The Coin Toss and the Love Triangle. There are two flavors of uncertainty in our lives. Math helps with both.

Can We Resolve Quantum Paradoxes by Stepping Out of Space and Time? It’s an interesting proposition.

Quantum biology: Plants (or botanists?) have been ‘seen doing quantum physics.’ And that means the idea that plants make use of quantum physics to harvest light more efficiently has received a boost.

Relativity for Preschoolers: a classic paper by Albert Einstin provides “a model of a scientist walking his readers through his thought process.”

Materials Scientists Build Chlorophyll-based Phototransistor. They coated graphene with chlorophyll to build a spiffy light-activated switch.

UCLA physicist David Saltzberg does an amazing job with the science as technical advisor on The Big Bang Theory, and Deadline Hollywood gives him some much-deserved props.

The simulation of a curve ball during flight demonstrates the Magnus Effect, which is also behind the volleyball spike, and the golf slice.

Get lost in hypnotic swirl of this simulated black hole: it shows how X-rays travel around a black hole.

Check out this great profile of Neil de Grasse Tyson, focusing on overcoming his first real failure, and his reinvention.

A Day in the Life of a Fake Astronaut [Video] – tenth in series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission.

The Cyril Smith Incident: A tale of Cold War jitters. “On August 12, 1948, Senator Bourke Hickenlooper learned something that horrified him: the details of the American nuclear program were about to be spilled to a roomful of foreign scientists.”

Someone built the Longest (650 feet) Tin Can Phone Ever, in L.A. (Because growing up is no fun.)

Wired Science explains Why It Is Possible to Walk on a Lava Flow (But You Still Shouldn’t).

Aatish Bhatia of Empirical Zeal tackles a burning question: How much pressure did it take to pop the top off Mexico’s Popocatépetl volcano?

Ted Bunn maintains that any group of collegial physicists will readily start fighting over Bayesian/frequentist statistics.

Nigel Lockyer has been appointed as the new director of Fermilab.

Modern particle physics experiments are miles around, but is there now hope for tabletop particle accelerator experiments?  Physicists have figured out how to boost electrons with lasers, and SLAC celebrates this successful step toward smaller, cheaper accelerators.

A Nigerian cook was trapped for three days in an air bubble on the ocean floor, and survived. But Harrison Okene’s shipwreck survival wasn’t a miracle. It was fascinating physics.

Behold the nerdiest cocktail party ever! Specially designed EEG hats to measure the real-time brain activity of revelers? Jen-Luc Piquant would totally grace that event with her pixelated fabulousness.

Cool Flames: Playing With Balls of Space Fire. Check out how fire behaves in microgravity! Bonus: Crossbow Shooting Soda Bottles in Super Slow Motion. Because.

Butterfly wing structure inspires anti-counterfeit technology.

Your Skull and Your iTunes Mix: How skull resonance influences musical preference.

© Studio Saraceno & Kunstsammlung NRW. http://www.kunstsammlung.de/

Tomás Saraceno Launches You into the Sky with His Latest Suspended Installation “In Orbit” at K21 Staendehaus. We are booking our flight to Dusseldorf, pronto.

Kepler telescope can’t find exoplanets by the transit technique anymore, but it might use gravitational microlensing.

From the annals of sitcom lore. George Costanza and the Whale: Could You Make a Blowhole in One?

Music Festivals, Bluetooth Monitoring and the Behavior of Crowds. Research should help organisers plan future events.

Angry Birds: Vertical Velocity. Rhett Allain is back to show you how the basic motion of the bird after it is shot from the sling shows some really great physics.

Danger! Flying Objects! There is an entire Web site devoted to images of metal objects flying at/into MRI machines.

Mathematicians Predict What change is in Your Wallet: 31.9% quarters, 17% dimes, 8.5% nickels, 42.6% pennies.

Mutant Silkworms Spin Fluorescent Silk in 3 Glow-in-the-dark Colors (red, orange, green).

Demographers Discover Fundamental Law Governing Growth of Cities and show this behavior is predictable over certain timescales.

See MIT physics students do the famous “Monkey and a Gun” demonstration with a golf ball gun, and a stuffed monkey.

And finally, sure, it’s frivolous, but you know you want to watch cats battle it out, kung-fu style, in Cat Fighter, A Parody of the Video Game ‘Street Fighter’ Starring Kittens. (h/t: Laughing Squid)

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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