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Physics Week in Review: August 10, 2013

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


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This week, I wrote about quasicrystals for Nautilus, telling the story of unlikely rocks found in unlikely places: Siberia, outer space, and medieval mosques.  And here’s something a wee bit different: I chatted with the folks at the Hiyaa! martial arts podcast about the physics of martial arts (fulcrum/lever, mass, momentum and torque), gender dynamics, the importance of being willing to fail, and how I got that interesting scar on my forehead.

Outsmarting the CERNageddon: Can the Large Hadron Collider spawn black holes at full power?

Mommy, where do Higgs bosons come from? In a new paper in Physical Review Letters, Physicists propose a Higgs boson ‘portal’ as the source of this elusive entity.

The Science of Europa Report: the good, the meh and the ugly.  Related: here’s what NASA would really want to do on Jupiter’s frozen-ocean moon, like mapping out the search for life on Europa.

How Close Are We to Elysium–Style Exosuits? Also: The Guardian clearly didn’t get last week’s memo on the <insert science> of Pacific Rim posts being, like, sooo two weeks ago. Are two heads better than one? The psychology of Pacific Rim: how close are we to the day when pilots can drive giant robots using their minds?

Remember when I wrote about time travel in Continuum (not to mention the technology)? So did Mika McKinnon over at Physics Today, in greater depth.

Credit: John Nelson, http://uxblog.idvsolutions.com/

Jaw-Dropper of the Week: The Earth’s Seasonal “Heartbeat” as Seen from Space. Data vizualization expert John Nelson downloaded a “sequence of twelve cloud-free satellite imagery mosaics of Earth, one from each month, and then created a number of vivid animated gifs showing the seasonal changes in vegetation and land ice around the world.”

Curiosity celebrated its first birthday this week, by singing ‘happy birthday’ to itself on Mars. Loneliest birthday ever? We’re with you in spirit, bro… A year after Curiosity’s landing, we relived those ‘Seven Minutes of Terror.’  And Curiosity’s Hard-Working Year on Mars Paid Off With Amazing Scientific Discoveries.  This week on Virtually Speaking Science, Alan Boyle hosted a free-wheeling conversation with reminiscences of what the landing was like, how the mission has been going, and what lies ahead. He was joined by Science Fiction writer Doug Turnbull. Listen at Blog Talk Radio. Oh, and now astronauts can be Pretty in Pink: Mattel, NASA teamed up to make Mars Explorer Barbie.

Making Waves: Ruby Payne-Scott, The First Woman Radio Astronomer.

The aerodynamics of spiders: High-Speed Video Shows How Silk Draglines Help Jumping Spiders Steer.

Physicists Close in on ‘Perfect’ Optical Lens. What if we could watch ribosomes assembling proteins or a virus attacking a cell?

Perform or perish? Guilty confessions of a YouTube physicist, after reading Randy Olson’s Don’t Be Such a Scientist.

Via i09, Jen-Luc Piquant discovered a short four-minute time travel film called Initium, created by the French studio ArtFX: “An accident threatens Earth. John Carson, a pilot, is sent to prevent the catastrophe from escalating. Time is running out.” Literally.

John Oliver Channels the Rage of Science Fans, Completely Demolishes Discovery Channel For SHARKNADO Of Controversy over fake documentary during Shark Week. Christie Wilcox thinks Discovery’s Megalodon Defense is pretty weak:’We Don’t Know,’ Or ‘We Don’t Care.’  Counterpoint from Krystal D’Costa: How Our Love Affair With Reality Television Created Megalodon: “Let’s be realistic: we want to believe.”

Interview with Sean Carroll (a.k.a. the Time Lord) in 3AM magazine about physics, philosophy, and how it all fits together.

Feynman Point Poems: “The Feynman Point is a sequence of six 9s that occurs in the decimal expansion of π.”

If Shakespeare Had Written Star Wars: “In time so long ago begins our play / In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.”

The Guardian‘s Rebeka Higgitt reviews Lisa Jardine’s new radio series, The Seven Ages of Science, says it “puts science back into the world and the history back into history of science programming.”

Particle accelerators: making life better since 1932.

Here’s a novel use of the emerging terahertz technology: fighting fashion fraud.

Sun’s Magnetic Field Flip Won’t Doom Earth, Scientists Say. Well, that’s a relief.

Physicists can now individually write and delete single skyrmions, a knot-like magnetic entity, which could lead to nifty applications in data storage.

The five most extreme atomic experiments in the 1950s and 1960s (aka the Atomic Age).

Jeff Bezos’ Other Crazy Investment: A 10,000-Year Clock in the Desert. “The clock’s face is in another room, and it ‘displays the natural cycles of astronomical time, the pace of the stars and the planets, and the galactic time of the Earth’s procession.’ Another display wheel shows you the exact time of day it was last wound and what time it is now.”

Porcelainia: Documentary about a Retired Chemistry Teacher Who Merges Art and Science by Sculpting Porcelain Objects Inspired by Molecules (Via This is Colossal): “[Bobby] Jaber says that because he spent so much of his life studying chemistry, the study of change in matter, that ceramics were a perfect extension as they dramatically demonstrate chemical change, especially at the physical level.”

A layer of tiny grains can slow sound waves: microscopic spheres offers new approach to controlling acoustic waves.

Squeezing light using mechanical motion. Caltech researchers have “engineered a miniature silicon system that produces a type of light that is quieter at certain frequencies—meaning it has fewer quantum fluctuations—than what is usually present in a vacuum.”

Check out “Elektotechnikai Múzeum.” Electrical curiosity museum housed in an old transformer station.

Ask a Physicist: Why can’t Einstein and Quantum Mechanics get along?

Miniboone Meets MiniBooNE: New York rock band named after the Fermilab neutrino experiment visited their namesake for the first time.

A hint of neutrino background or dark energy? A new analysis of cosmic microwave background radiation data has taken the furthest look back through time yet — 100 years to 300,000 years after the Big Bang — and provided tantalizing new hints of clues as to what might have happened.

Pollution from the Perseid meteors helps astronomers make sharper images of the universe.

Source: Nature, 6 February 1879.

A Beautiful Thumb Microscope, 1879. The “Browning New Miniature Microscope”, which we are told is in 1:1 scale. It “may also be carried in the waistcoat pocket.”

Why wet dogs are a Mars rover’s best friend: A BBC Natural History camera team reveals how slow motion filming doesn’t just create memorable sequences, it can uncover hidden secrets with unexpected benefits.

How to Swim in Molasses: Microbes Have Evolved Many Wacky Ways of Moving Through Fluids.

What Is the Funniest Number? Why the Heller novel’s title is “Catch-22″ and not “Catch-14.”

Answering An Age Old Question: why do I need to learn math?

Travels in the Fourth Dimension: Time Warped by Claudia Hammond looks at how we perceive, and misperceive, time. (book review)

Weaving power generation into the fabric of everyday life: is the future of energy production all around us?

Solving volcanic mysteries in the lava lab, with video of the stuff being produced. Behind the New Scientist paywall, but worth it, for those who love lava. And who doesn’t love lava?

The Future of High Energy Physics: where HEP research is headed and what will happen to physics jobs in this field.

You won’t believe how tiny the world’s smallest Mona Lisa is: “Mini-Lisa” is just 30-microns thick.

Did Einstein ever say “biggest blunder“? The great scientist certainly regretted introducing the “cosmological constant” into his equations, but calling it his “biggest blunder”? Not so much, it seems.

Why Aren’t More Girls Attracted To Physics? “What we found is that in communities that had a higher percentage of women in the labor force who are working in science, technology, engineering and math, that in those schools, girls were as likely as boys to take physics, or even more likely.”

Check out this short film called “A Chemical Imbalance,” which includes a number of brief interviews with chemists (most of them women). “There comes a time when you have to run out of patience.” Indeed. (Full transcript is here.)

Using mass spectrometry to detect the margins of a tumor during surgery.

Hype over the Hyperloop accelerates as Elon Musk’s ‘big reveal’ nears. Jalopnik has a helpful infographic on everything we know about the Hyperloop so far to help set matters straight. (Hint: not much.)

The Most Bonkers Scientific Theories (Almost) Nobody Believes Anymore – and why you should be thankful for them.

Minecrafting the Classroom: “Over 11 million play Minecraft. Together they create worlds, overcome challenges.”

What’s the matter? Q-glasses could be a new class of solids, “neither glasses, crystals, nor exotic quasicrystals.”

A Big Universe Deserves A Big Equation, and that’s why Adam Platz had it tattooed on his body. “In the 1920s Alexander Friedmann, a Russian astrophysicist, sought to unite Einstein’s recently conceived theory of general relativity with a general model for our universe’s behavior. The Freidmann equation resulted.”

Q&A with Physics Nobel Laureate Saul Perlmutter about the fate of the universe and a certain phone call from the Swedish Academy.

Patented Captain Kirk Moves to Help You Win Any Fight. “Starfleet accepts only the most athletic and graceful cadets. And then there’s Kirk.”

The Astronomy of xkcd’s Epic 3,100-Panel Comic, “Time.”

Why Do Small Science? “Why not just build one really amazing Bose Einstein Condensate machine, and have people bring their detection systems there to do their experiments?”

Scientists compete in first physics slam on ice. Six scientists battled in a Minnesota hockey arena to be named the best physics entertainer.

Credit: Nickolay Lamm, http://nickolaylamm.com/

What Wi-Fi Would Look Like If It Were Visible:  Artist Nickolay Lamm recently created a series of illustrations for MyDeals.com that visualize what Wi-Fi might look like if it were visible.

An algorithm by Disney research that can draw sketches in the style of any artist.

Researchers develop new method for understanding network connections.

Liquid droplets reveal clues about quantum behavior.

One year on from the Higgs Boson find, has physics hit the buffers? Despite the success of the Large Hadron Collider, evidence for the follow-up theory – supersymmetry – has proved elusive.

This summer, a huge electromagnet journeyed from New York to Illinois, offering great photo opportunities along way.  The electromagnet is the centerpiece of the Muon g-2 experiment, based at Fermilab.

Galileo’s Secret Telescope Technology Revealed. Galileo could not have built the world’s first astronomical telescope without a revolutionary new theory of optics that he must have kept secret, argue historians of science.  Also: Telescope Was Born From an Ancient Need for Fire.

Astronaut Michael J. Massimo told his personal story of spacewalking at “The Moth” live story telling event.

The Disgusting Side of Space: What Happens to Dead Skin in Microgravity (when you take a sock off, eg).

Three planets around the star Kepler-11 are puffballs that would float on water–and they probably shed gas like comets.

Finally Minute Physics explores the burning question: What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?

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 8:53 pm 08/10/2013

    “Suddenly, the ground begins to rumble. It shakes and then rends apart, as if ruptured by a monster deep within. There isn’t even time to scream before the earth gives way—pulled inward at terrifying speed—carrying lovers, fountain, and techno music down into the horrible maw of blackness that was once our planet’s core. In seconds, it’s over. Earth has evaporated into an empty black nothingness.” — http://nautil.us/issue/4/the-unlikely/outsmarting-the-cernageddon

    Actually, the Earth hasn’t evaporated into an empty black nothingness… it has collapsed into a quite full black very heavy somethingness (a seemingly everythingness for those inside). I’m suprised the writer of this otherwise excellent piece didn’t catch his own mistake on this.

    Anyway, it was an excellent discussion of the subject of LHC risks, and I thank you for posting it.

    Link to this
  2. 2. David Cummings 8:58 pm 08/10/2013

    And here it is live, the end of the world from CERN: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INodNZY5ytE

    Link to this

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