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Physics Week in Review: September 28, 2013

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


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Six years ago tomorrow, I married the best person ever, and we’re currently in Vegas celebrating this milestone. Best anniversary gift ever? Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2013 shortlist announced — and the Time Lord is among the finalists for The Particle at the End of the Universe. We’re beaming with pride over here.

The big space news this week: Curiosity soil samples reveal there was once water on Mars. This is a big deal, yet the relevant papers were behind a paywall. Never fear! Michael Eisen says “You can haz PDF!”

A mathematical approach to Syria: Game theory suggests we should seek the least worst option.

Cyclist Time-Trial Dilemma Solved. On a closed track against a powerful head/tailwind, what racing strategy should a cyclist adopt? One engineer has derived a simple rule-of-thumb that gives the answer.

Science has figured out how to get you served at a crowded bar. Or has it? Not so fast, says Scicurious, who suffers from “bar invisibility” and would dearly love to hear about a solution. This bartending paper is not about you. “Who was this paper about? It was about a robot [named James]. Specifically, it’s about getting a robot to successfully socially interact with humans.”

Syllables of recorded time: clocks that run by moonlight and tide.

The Amplituhedron and Other Excellently Silly Words. “When the Quanta article says that Nima has found “the” Amplituhedron, it makes it sound like he has discovered one central formula that somehow contains the whole universe.”

Turning, G-Forces and Banked Tracks. More physics of NASCAR from Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, who literally wrote the book on the subject.

Scientific Discovery, Frame by Moving Frame: New York Times video series takes you into the lab. “The pervasiveness of digital photography and video is changing how science is done and how it is brought to the public. Now you can often see science happening before your eyes.”

Synthetic Spider Silk Capsules Assemble Themselves. “’We called this Spiderbag,’ said Thomas Scheibel, a protein-chemist-turned-engineer…. The tiny spheres… are about as strong as glass — comparable to the ornamental globes that hang on Christmas trees, ‘just a few sizes smaller.’”

As the flood waters of Left Hand Creek recede in the wake of Colorado’s deluge, a fractal pattern emerges in the sediments left behind. (Photo: © Tom Yulsman)

Wake of the Colorado Flood Fractals. “The flooding here in Colorado has killed eight people, destroyed more than 1,800 homes, and caused untold misery among the many thousands of people whose homes and businesses were damaged. But in its aftermath, nature is asserting itself in a beautiful way as well.”

“Otto Frisch got a Nobel Prize for figuring out the mechanics of fission. It seemed like he would be the last person to underestimate it. But he came within a couple of seconds of getting killed by the fission tester he named Lady Godiva.”

“The whiteboards have dozens of fans.” Meet David Saltzberg, The Man Who Gets The Science Right On The Big Bang Theory. Always nice to see David getting some media love for all his hard work.

The Simpsons’ secret formula: it’s written by maths geeks. Simon Singh goes to Hollywood and finds a team dedicated to inserting gags about complex maths problems. And you thought it was just a cartoon

Why Friction Is a Drag: probing the dynamics of friction an atom at a time.

Whoa! Researchers Build a Working Carbon Nanotube Computer. To paraphrase Anchorman‘s Ron Burgandy: It’s kind of a big deal.

Astronaut Don Pettit personifies zucchini plant aboard International Space Station in”Diary of a Space Zucchini.”  Related: New Hampshire Public Radio has given the space zucchini and its existential reflections a voice.

In their search for fundamental truths, particle physicists have a lot in common with explorers everywhere.

Today in zany science metaphors: Maki Naro takes a stab at black hole firewalls.

Taking an X-ray of an eclipse…FROM SPAAAACE! “In May 2013, the orbit of Hinode around the Earth aligned with the Moon and Sun, producing a series of solar eclipses for the satellite.”

Chris Fuchs on Lucien Hardy’s 2001 paper about axioms for quantum theory: “It hit me over the head like a hammer.”

A Fantastically Clear, Concise Explanation of Why Traffic Happens: “A human inability to maintain a steady speed and following distance on the highway makes traffic a lot less smooth than it could be.” Also see my own blog post from 2011.

The life and death of Buran, the USSR shuttle built on faulty assumptions. After concluding the US Shuttle was a weapons platform, the USSR wanted its own.

Using Google Glass to Make SciFi Films– A Cyborg in New York.

Scientists explain the formation of unusual ring of radiation in space.

Faulty Justice: Italian Earthquake Scientist Speaks Out against His Conviction.

Did the Universe Begin with a Five-Dimensional Black Hole?

Quantum Field Theory, String Theory, and Predictions, Part 1. Matt Strassler is back, on a mission to tell us more about the nuances of quantum field theory. “Our understanding of quantum field theory, while perhaps no longer in its infancy, is still clearly in adolescence, at best — and it seems likely to me that we know even less than we think.”  Here’s Part 2.

Credit: Jack Ziegler. Order prints here: http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/Cat-thinks-of-a-complex-equation-to-get-a-ball-off-of-a-table-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Prints_i8544383_.htm

The Calculating Cat. “And you thought your cats were just randomly knocking things off tables!” (via the Finch and the Pea)

Polar: A Fun Modular Pen Made of Powerful Neodymium Magnets.

Explaining the Tootsie Pop Algorithm: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

This Is What the Sun Will Look Like As It Dies.

“Some people think out research is crap.” Scicurious explores the 2013 Ig Nobel winning research on how dung beetles use the Milky Way galaxy for orientation. (It won for both biology AND astronomy.)

Is poker a game of skill or chance?   The Time Lord makes no bones about his stance: Poker is a Game of Skill.  I wrote about this topic at length last year. Related: Forget poker faces, watch your opponent’s arms if you want to win.

Physicists Discover New Form of Matter—and Compare It to a Lightsaber.

How production designer Alex McDowell built Man of Steel‘s biomechanical look.

Searching for E.T. in All the Wrong Places. “Scientists are re-thinking some of the goals behind searching for Earth-like exoplanets in the first place, in particular the quest for so-called “Super-Earth” planets, which are like ours, but far more massive.”

In “Collision” contest, 22 artists and scientists portrayed the concept of “new physics” through art.

How Google Converted Language Translation Into a Problem of Vector Space Mathematics. To translate one language into another, find the linear transformation that maps one to the other. Simple, say a team of Google engineers.

Imprisoned physicist honored by American Physical Society for refusing to work on Iran’s nuclear program.

Puzzling Measurement of “Big G” Gravitational Constant Ignites Debate [Slide Show].

IBM’s Watson computer has parts of its memory cleared after developing an acute case of potty mouth.

A red hot ball of nickel turns a glass of Oddka Wasabi Vodka into a violently boiling and spitting concoction in this video by Carsandwater.  (via Laughing Squid)

Fried, Fatty and Fanciful: The Art and Science of State Fair Foods.

The Beautiful and Frightening Experience of How Science Is Done: Feynman’s Letter to James Watson regarding the Double Helix. Also: Richard Feynman Gets Jazzed Explaining How Rubber Bands Work.

Simplicity vs. Familiarity: or, Feynman knew how magnets work, too. Related:  MinutePhysics and Veritasium align their electrons and create a magnetic moment of epic proportions.

Émile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie (1908), one of the earliest examples of hand-drawn animation.

Meet The Dead Spinning Star With a Split Personality.

Texas A&M researchers designed nanoparticles that soak up underwater oil like millions of tiny sponges.

Sacred Space: New Technological Mandalas created with soldered computer and radio components by Leonardo Ulian.

It’s that time of year again, when folks start making Nobel Prize predictions: Higgs boson, exoplanets could yield winners in 2013.

Could you walk on water? “Humans Running in Place on Water at Simulated Reduced Gravity” — for SCIENCE!

Some robots are starting to move more like humans. Designs that borrow from biology are making robots flexible, and aiding research into machine intelligence.

The Chart of Electromagnetic Radiation, an “amazing artifact of scientific education from 1944.”

The multiverse is not a paradigm and it’s not shifting anything. On models, toy models, and that  recent Wilczek paper.

The current noise about doing reproducible analyses is getting under physicist Gordon Watt’s skin.

Satire from Dr. Rubidium: Delusional Scientists Has Most Incredible List of Collaboration Requiremenets. “I will not work with a Biology colleague. I don’t care if they’re skilled like David Baltimore, I will not ever work with a Biology colleague.” [Inspired by this takedown of an obnoxious personal ad.]

The Exoskeletons Are Here! Inventing Iron Man Update 3.0.

Goodbye GOCE: Gravity Probe to Burn Up Next Month.

"Wirbelwerk." Credit: Olafur Eliasson. http://www.olafureliasson.net/

Wirbelwerk (translation: “vortex” or “whirlpool”): artist Olafur Eliasson created an installation of colored glass, metal rods and a light source that throws constantly changing patterns.

Adler Planetarium throws ‘Particle Party’: Fermilab physicists, educators mingled with young adult science enthusiasts.

The physics of scale: How much would these DIRECTV Super Fans weigh?

California’s Renewable Energy Program: Could Quantum Devices (a quantum grid) Be a Part of It?

Artificial Nose Progress: this model of a nasal cavity made of silicon has its drawbacks: “… nostril hairs are not included in the replica.”

Can soft robots transform health care, gaming, and other fields?

Atomic goal: 800 years of power from waste. TerraPower, a start-up led by Bill Gates, is at work on a new kind of reactor fueled by today’s nuclear waste.

Cyborg Astrobiologist Put Through its Paces in West Virginian Coalfields. Astrobiologists are overwhelmed by the huge volume of images from other planets. Now they have help in the form of a system that automatically identifies objects of interest in geological images.

Billiards, and How to Give a Good Maths Talk. “It is surely true that any piece of abstract mathematics can be traced back through its history to an interesting intuitive problem or idea. Now it’s this, the thing that started it all, that you should be telling the people outside of your field, rather than starting your spiel with Wojciechowski’s nineteenth lemma on the quasi-regularisation of modular semi-primitive topological bananas.”

Leeds University mathematicians think they have a solution to the Mystery of the Moving Magnetic Field.

NASA uses radar to find human heartbeats in collapsed buildings.

Astrophysicists find new use for video cards that give computer games that movie quality: crunching scientific data.

The chocolate bar that revealed the microwave. “Percy Spencer, just after the end of World War II, was working on a power tube for the Raytheon Corporation. Nothing might have come of it, if it weren’t for one heroic chocolate bar that gave its life for modern society.”

The physics of human sperm vs. the physics of the sperm whale by Aatish Bhatia for TED-Ed. In a sperm’s journey, physics meets biology and art:

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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