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Physics Week in Review: August 3, 2013

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


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If this week’s link fest has a theme, it might just be teleportation. I wrote about The Trouble With Teleportation for Nautilus this week, a.k.a., why the pig lizard in Galaxy Quest met with an icky end.  The same issue featured a cool science fiction short story in, which one woman faces a tough choice when teleportation goes awry. Back in the real world, a new paper finds that human teleportation is far more impractical than we thought. Specifically, “Physics students from the University of Leicester have calculated the time and energy required to beam a complete person from the Earth’s surface to a location in space. Their results were discouraging, to say the least.”

Another recurring theme: Time. Is there a “timeless” zone in the universe? Sean Carroll took your light-speed questions. The short answer? No.  Related: Buzzfeed offers video proof That You Have Absolutely No Concept Of Time. Also: The Time Traveler’s Burden (Abstruse Goose on why time machines are great – if you’re a white guy).

Then there is “Time,” A 3,099-Panel xkcd Comic. Per Laughing Squid: “The comic, set in the far future, tells the story of two people trying to save their village located in the evaporated basin of the Mediterranean Sea as it fills back up in one massive flood. The full comic can be viewed at Geekwagon.”  There is also some behind-the-scenes details of the comic’s creation at the xkcd blog. And a lovely profile of creator Randal Munroe at Wired.

Happy Birthday, Maria Mitchell: Brainpickings highlights the Pioneering Astronomer on Science and Life.  Oh, and Google gave Mitchell a Google doodle for her 195th birthday.

Cat-turning: the 19th-century scientific cat-dropping craze. No, really, this was totally a thing back then! Related: The Finch and the Pea had an intriguing Caturday science question: “Are cats actually liquids, or amorphous solids?” Jen-Luc Piquant is going with amorphous solids.

An Intergalactic Travel Bureau in Midtown can book you a trip to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan — in fantasy. In reality, it was guerilla outreach performance art, and the trip would cost you billions of dollars.

The Quantum Zeno Effect actually does stop the world… after a fashion.

Towards a global quantum network: Photoelectron trapping in double quantum dots.

Peter Trevelyan, detail from Tenuous, 2012. http://www.bartleyandcompanyart.co.nz/artist.php?artistID=3943

The Art of Science: Peter Trevelyan’s Delicate Geometry. New Zealand artist makes “’built drawings’ – fragile, airy sculptures made of fine graphite rods (the lead from mechanical pencils) held together with glue.”

In Pursuit of Quantum Biology: Q&A With Birgitta Whaley in Quanta.

Is physics truth, metaphor, or less? David Tong, Hilary Lawson, and Lev Vaidman debate.

What does mercury being liquid at room temperature have to do with Einstein’s theory of relativity?

Physicists discover theoretical possibility of large, hollow magnetic cage molecules.

Survival of the nicest: Why it does not pay to be mean. Chris Adami comments on a recent post in Technology Review on the emerging revolution in game theory (“The discovery of a winning strategy for Prisoner’s Dilemma is forcing game theorists to rethink their discipline. Their conclusion? Winning isn’t everything.”)  It’s based on a paper published last year by Freeman Dyson and William Press. :

Why Einstein Equals Musical Comedy Squared. Acclaimed science-theatre writer-performer John Hinton talks about what theatre has to offer science ahead of his new theoretical physics musical comedy, Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking, at the Edinburgh Festival.

Harnessing Physics in Grand Spaces to Make Music. “[T]he Earth Harp, so named for its inaugural performance when it spanned a mountain valley, is not just a musical accomplishment but a great feat of engineering as well. In a phone interview last month, William Close, the inventor of the Earth Harp talked about what it takes to make beautiful music with a massive physics machine.”

Physics Buzz launches a grassroots experiment to see if all 56 designs of US state and territory quarters flip the same way. BECAUSE INQUIRING MINDS NEED TO KNOW!

Hints of New Physics Detected in the LHC? “It appears that there’s a slight deviation from the “norm,” hinting that the Standard Model ain’t all that.” Ah, but not so fast! Ethan Siegel has his doubts, and explains why Breaking the Standard Model is Really, Really Hard.

Structurally-Accurate Jupiter Cake Makes The Gas Giant Look Delicious.  You can make your own by following this handy tutorial.

Watch the debris from an exploded star expand before your eyes like a cosmic heartbeat. (h/t: Bad Astronomy/Slate)

New Archive Reveals How Scientists Finally Solved the Vexing “Longitude Problem” During the 1700s.  Someone should totally write a book about that.

Why We Keep Playing the Lottery: Blind to the mathematical odds, we fall to the marketing gods.

Why Does This Man’s Head Appear Off His Body? Rhett Alain explains this optical illusion.

Perpetual Puddle Vortex: “What looks like a puddle is actually a vortex constantly sucking fluid down a hole in the table.”

Scientists think they might have pinpointed where the infamous Russian meteorite of 2013 came from.

The Physics of Disaster: An Exploration of Train Derailments. How understanding the science behind trains can help identify the causes of accidents—and lead us to safer railways.

The world’s sharpest saw blade is made of carbon nanotube wire coated with a diamond glaze: cuts with no dust.

The physics of Spain: Even at the seaside, science is all around you, according to Stephen Curry, who found inspiration on his recent vacation for musings on waves and diffraction.

Getting into the spirit of the #sciconfessions hastag on twitter, the bloggers at Physics Focus spill their darkest secrets.

Borrego Stardance, Beautiful Night Sky Time-Lapses from a Small Desert Town in California called Borrego Springs. Per Laughing Squid: “The film features the outdoor sculptures of artist Ricardo A. Breceda [and] was created by Gavin Heffernan of Sunchaser Pictures.”

Tools of the Cold-Atom Trade: Introduction.  This is the first in a new blog post series by Chad Orzel. So far he’s got posts on light scattering forces and slow atomic beamsoptical molasses;  and light shifts and optical dipole traps.

“Infinity” is a strange idea. But it’s crucial if you want to understand anything from philosophy to mathematics.

Helium: swollen stars, party balloons and squeaky voices. What is helium used for, apart from balloons? Quite a lot. So it’s kind of a big deal that there’s a pending shortage on the horizon.

How the ouija board really moves: why we can make movements and yet not realize that we’re making them.

Matt Strassler  has some good stuff to say about new results on twists and turns for neutrinos and for muons.

Did Newton get Newton’s rings wrong? “Most people see them as evidence of wave nature of light. Newton, however, did not.” (Per the Time Lord, light is a wave but looks like particles when it’s measured/observed.)

May the Force Be Nerdy: Star Wars Made a Contribution to Real Science: New geological research got an assist from Tatooine.

Economist Paul Krugman caused a stir among physicists and mathematicians on Twitter this week with his rumination on why traffic seems to move faster in the other lane. Did he get the math wrong? It inspired at least one great analysis of this classic traffic problem.

Ducati animation what would happen if the Sun, Earth, and Moon all had the same mass, and there were only two months in a year. Credit: Robert Vanderbei

Five Animated Gifs of n-body Orbits. Robert Vanderbei of Princeton University has a minimizing code he uses to minimize the light coming into a telescope from stars — “to better see if there are more-softly lit planets traveling in their wakes” — but it’s also useful for modeling the orbits of N-body systems.

A Beautiful Manuscript of Square Roots from the 1830′s.

Does dark matter affect the navigation of a spacecraft?

CERN artist-in-residence develops an ear for physics: Sound artist Bill Fontana taps into music of Large Hadron Collider.

The Ten Greatest Space Achievements Nobody Knows About.

Ooh! There was a Physics in Vogue photography exhibit! Unfortunately, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, was not amused by one shot featuring NASA scientists and launched an investigation to see if the photo had involved a misuse of government funds (it hadn’t). Killjoy.

Graphene physics helps physicists understand how hydrogen metallizes.

Kinematic analysis of light-induced jumping crystals.

A gravestone in Trinity Churchyard on Wall Street has a secret code to decipher.

The glasswinged butterfly’s claim to fame is that its wings are essentially completely transparent.

Huge Space Battle Rumbles Virtual Universe — it happened in EVE Online.

Over at Wired, Sean Carroll and Dave Goldberg discuss why scientists should talk to public. Okay, I’m not crazy about the headline, which sets up a bit of a false dichotomy between “cool” scientists and “nerdy” scientists. We need both the loveable nerds on The Big Bang Theory plus colorful characters like Tony Stark, and everything in between, to help folks appreciate the diversity in science. But it’s a great conversation and well worth a read.

An Important Lesson from Blackjack and Baseball: You Gain More by Not Being Stupid Than You Do by Being Smart.

Slingatron-tastic: Could We Lob Stuff Into Space?  New space transport technology is fabulous, except that “it would turn an astronaut into astronaut pudding.”

Astronaut describes terrifying spacesuit helmet water leak that cut short a spacewalk last week. Also: here’s more from PBS/Nova on what it’s like to nearly drown in space.

Of neutrino oscillations and coming full circle (Matthew Francis on the art of asking dumb questions).

Who First Wondered: Why is the Night Sky Dark?

Do We Expand With The Universe? Minute Physics has the answer!

The Science of Champagne, the Bubbling Wine Created By Accident.

Cenote Angelita: Underwater River Photographed by Anatoly Beloshchin: “a sort of illusion due to halocline.”

Fun with liquid nitrogen at summer camp:  “Don’t try Leidenfrost demonstrations at home.”

The Tale of Fermilab’s “Elephant Doors.” A set of twin doors take on two very different purposes at Fermilab and Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.

The mathematics of grade inflation. An Astonishing Act of Statistical Chutzpah in the Indiana Schools’ Grade-Changing Scandal.

The irresistible rise of the Standard Model: “In truth, our understanding of particle physics is at a crossroads.”

Explaining Quantum Computers (with a lovely british accent).

This is the first true image of the shadow universe–a map of the entire sky showing *only* dark matter.

Stephen Hawking tells how doctors offered to turn off life support in 1985. Physicist says his first wife refused to end his life when he became seriously ill and he recovered to complete A Brief History of Time.

Orange bubble clouds turn Michigan sky into a lava lamp (video).

WWII-Era Record Shows Albert Einstein Took Part in Program to Help Jews Escape the Nazis. He made a deposit to help finance the emigration of a Jewish person named Hugo Moos.

Finally, a bit of fun for your weekend viewing pleasure: Star Wars Parkour, A Video of Jedi Performing Free Running Stunts:

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. David Cummings 9:02 am 08/3/2013

    The best SF story ever written on teleportation is THINK LIKE A DINOSAUR by James Patrick Kelly. And when I say “best”, I am using understatement.

    James Patrick Kelly himself said that if he is remembered for one thing, he wants it to be this story. He wants it on his tombstone: The Author of Think Like A Dinosaur.

    Here’s the wikipedia link with some basic information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Think_Like_a_Dinosaur

    Here’s a Hulu video of an Outer Limits rendition of the story:
    http://www.hulu.com/watch/69830

    Link to this
  2. 2. jtdwyer 8:58 am 08/4/2013

    “This is the first true image of the shadow universe–a map of the entire sky showing *only* dark matter.”

    Like all others, the ESA Plank team’s identification of dark matter is only inferred from discrepancies between derived gravitational effects and estimations of the aggregated mass of countless compound objects of mass, comprised of hundreds of billions of discrete massive objects.
    It can only be considered “true” to the extent that one believes…

    Link to this
  3. 3. tharriss 11:32 am 08/4/2013

    I’ve thought it was interesting in most of the time travel imaginings that they don’t talk about traveling in time and space…

    If you only traveled in time, there wouldn’t be a planet under your feet when you arrived… everyone seems to conveniently forget the planet is moving quite a bit.

    Go back in time a day… the planet has spun out from beneath you… both revolving and rotating away… if you go back a week, you’d appear in space where the planet will be in a week, but isn’t yet… not a fun landing.

    Plus, not only is Earth moving, but the whole solar system is as well, plus the whole galaxy… I mean, where is the “center” point? From what reference can you measure absolute (not relative) movement?

    Link to this
  4. 4. jtdwyer 12:29 am 08/5/2013

    thariss,
    That interesting thought also occurred to me not long ago (I think watching “The Time Machine” – again). I’m not conversant in general relativity, but I think that time and space coordinates are intertwined to a degree that a device residing within the Earth’s spacetime that adjusted the time coordinate might implicitly also adjust the spacial coordinates. At least, a traveler could hope!

    Link to this
  5. 5. jtdwyer 12:33 am 08/5/2013

    Regarding a “true image” of a dark matter universe, see http://sci.esa.int/planck/51603-planck-sees-a-cosmic-journey-13-billion-years-in-the-making/
    “The projected dark matter distribution inferred from the Planck data agrees very well with our expectations…”
    Those are the usual results…
    Also see http://arxiv.org/abs/1303.5077

    Link to this

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