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Physics Week in Review: October 5, 2013

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


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This week, Quanta kicked off a five-part series on science and big data, starting with Imagining Data Without Division. Part 2: A Digital Copy of the Universe, Encrypted. As physics prepares for ambitious projects like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the field is seeking new methods of data-driven discovery. Part 3 is my article on the Mathematical Shape of Things to Come. Scientific data sets are becoming more dynamic, requiring new mathematical techniques on par with the invention of calculus.  Part 4 and Part 5 will appear next week.

Related: Big Data is revolutionizing 21st-century business without anybody knowing what it actually means. Now computer scientists have come up with a definition they hope everyone can agree on.

Purest of the Purists: The Puzzling Case of Grigori Perelman, the reclusive mathematician who shunned academic fame and recognition.

Writer David Quigg asked the FBI if he could see some Hemingway files with less blocked out. The FBI actually agreed. That’s how Quigg discovered how a 1918 meeting between an astronomer, Harlow Shapley, and Robert Frost led to Frost’s famous poem, “Fire and Ice.”

This Tower Exists Solely for Dropping Things — for SCIENCE!

When the Doppler Effect gets twisted. “In 1981, a chemist discovered that when light is circularly polarized, the polarization changes its frequency. What’s more, if the light then hits a spinning object, a rotating reflective surface or a spinning gas cloud, the light’s polarization and frequency changes again.”

New York Times Opinion Column by Columbia University philosopher Stephen Asma Equates Higgs, Genes, Evolution with Feng Shui, Qi, and Turtle Blood. This is, of course, nonsense.

Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science? Long, thought-provoking rumination by former Yale physics major Eileen Pollack explores why she opted out of physics graduate school:  “I wanted to understand why I had walked away from my dream, and why so many other women still walk away from theirs.”

When it comes to popularizing science, women have been left on the sidelines as a laddish, macho presenting culture takes over, argues Sue Nelson. “Nowadays, it appears you can’t do mainstream popular science unless you’re fishing from the same pool of men. Unfortunately, the overall effect is a Top Gear for science, with blokes chatting about planets instead of Porsches.” Jen-Luc Piquant rather likes Top Gear. And Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain. As does Nelson. But it’s a thoughtful piece, and a valid point.

The American Physical Society awarded some Pre-Nobel prizes. Matt Strassler has the scoop. Physics Buzz lists a few possibilities for the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

"It might look like gibberish to you, but every term in the analytic formula for the gg → ggg scattering amplitude told us something." -- Lance Dixon.

Feynman diagrams are like grains of sand. The physics behind this year’s Sakurai Prize for new techniques for calculating amplitudes. “An “amplitude” is the fundamental thing one wants to calculate in quantum mechanics — the probability that something happens (like two particles scattering) is given by the amplitude squared. ”

Related: Scott Aaronson worries scattering amplitudes might be simple for simple theories, harder in general.

The science and magic of jam-making. Commercial jams are the sickly sweet sisters of homemade jam, but a grasp of the science will help you get yours just right.

Light rays do the twist: Accelerator physicists at SLAC have manipulated electron bunches to generate twisted light.

Physicists ‘entangle’ microscopic drum’s beat with electrical signals.

New Space Beer is Brewed With Real Moon Dust. “Celest-jewel-ale is made with lunar meteorites that have been crushed into dust, then steeped like tea in a rich, malty Oktoberfest.”

Peter Higgs profile: the self-deprecating physicist is revered by his peers. Particle physicists speak of admiration for man who outlined what came to be known as Higgs mechanism.

Particles and the People Who Love Them: Documentary Shows the Human Side of the Large Hadron Collider. “Particle Fever shows the human drama behind the physics drama in a way that is hard to experience if you weren’t actually there in the control room when the accelerator beams were first turned on, or in the great lecture hall when the conclusive data were first projected on the wall.”

The strange physics of water-repellant droplets could lead to a new way to generate power.

An Astronaut and a Writer at the Movies, watching Gravity. Discovery News looks at the science in the film’s fiction, as well as What It’s Like for Astronauts in Peril. Also: David Edelstein reviews the film for Vulture: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity Will Delight Physicists, Terrify Everybody Else.

Quantum Computer Passes Math Test, But Doesn’t Answer the Big Question. (“42.”)

International Astronomical Union Names Asteroid After xkcd Author Randall Munroe — an honor well deserved!

The world’s sharpest X-ray beam shines at DESY.

That’s no crater! First explosive supervolcanoes found on Mars.

Using borscht as a metaphor to explain the duality between electric and magnetic forces.

To find the smallest quantum unit of gravity, physicists are using the whole universe as a detector.

Made in space!’ Astronaut sews dinosaur toy from space station scraps.

German researchers have designed, built, and tested the first metamaterial made out of superconducting quantum resonators.

Way cheaper than airfare to Switzerland. You can now visit CERN—including the LHC—on Google Street View.

Statistics Explained Through Modern Dance: A New Way of Teaching a Tough Subject.

Understanding the Science Behind the Marvel: Why is the Río Celeste so Blue?

Turn On, Boot Up, and Jack In: Timothy Leary, video game designer. “At a reception celebrating the opening of the archive to researchers, the library displayed a monitor showing a continual loop of samples from the dozen or so games Leary developed in the 1980s.”

Beyond the Horizon of the Universe: the Nine Secret Codes of the Multiverse.

October 1, 1847: Miss Mitchell’s Comet and How Scientists Stand in Solidarity.

Nothing in the World is Solid. “One branch of science, rheology, has invented a dimensionless number. It’s called the Deborah Number, and it is meant to quantify the motto of the science: “Everything flows.” Put another way, everything in the world has liquid properties. Even mountains.”

Viral Marketing Successfully Modelled By Network Theorists. Network models famously fail to capture the dynamics of many real-world marketing campaigns. Now computer scientists say they’ve solved the problem.

Photo by Dan Grayber. http://www.dangrayber.com/

Dan Grayber, an artist based in California, builds intricate structures that do nothing but hold themselves up. He’s currently showing a collection of pieces at Johansson Projects in Oakland, California.

SpaceX Wants Rockets That Fly Themselves Home.

Squid are awesome. A Squid’s Switchable Cells Offer Key to Camouflage.

Flushed With Pride, a Highway Rest Stop Embraces Sustainability. It’s everywhere. Even in the men’s room.

The sounds of Pink Floyd, Daft Punk and James Brown, as expressed by flying paint “sonic sculptures.” Related: Sounds of Silence, Capturing A Building’s Sonic Signature.

Rethinking particle dynamics: Theoretical physicists are pursuing competing ways to calculate how particles interact.

Mathematical musings from the sickbed of scientist James Jeans as he recovered from tuberculosis in 1904.

Is the world built “bottom-up” or “top-down” and where might Mind fit into it all. Astrophysicist Adam Frank on scientific reductionism.

New kind of x-ray vision reveals objects’ internal nanostructure and chemistry.

What Would Happen If You Got Zapped By The Large Hadron Collider? It would burn a hole through you—and then some.

Watch My Shorts: Science is front and center in these film shorts: Accidental Painting, Flatland: the Movie, and Flatland 2: Sphereland.

In Matt Kenyon’s “Supermajor,” oil appears to flow upward against gravity from a puddle into a can. This optical illusion is a stroboscopic effect similar to the one that makes car wheels seem to rotate backwards.

Jellyfish Invasion Shuts Down Swedish Nuclear Reactor: “a huge cluster of moon jellyfish clogged the cooling water intake pipes at the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant on the Baltic Sea coast, forcing the complex’s 1,400-megawatt Unit 3 to shut down.”

Georgia Tech study finds that preferences for robo-servants vary by our ages and according to the chosen task.

In Love with Geometry: “giving a new life to the study of surfaces and curves we can actually see.”

String Theory: New Approaches to Instrument Design. “From Australia to Germany to Maui, there is something of an explosion under way in the use of science and new materials to test the limits of instrument making.”

How to make a Jedi lightsaber. You will need a vacuum chamber, various lasers, some rubidium atoms and a firm grasp of quantum nonlinear optics. (Star Wars made light sabers look easy.)

Photograph: Courtesy of Adrianus Aria/California Institute of Technology/Materials Research Society/Science as Art Competition

Let a thousand tiny nano flowers bloom: just one of this month’s collection of nano-imagery featured by the Guardian‘s Rachael Stubbins, which also includes minuscule gold stars, and crystal layers that could replace silicon as the building blocks of the information age.

“As the Cold War hovered over the United States, a “Giant Atomic Bomb” toy was marketed to children with little futuristic, robotic-looking figures emblazoned on the sides of plastic missiles in ominous colors of yellow, black, and a hazy green that seemed to match the bomb shelter signs prevalent across the country.”

Can a Closed Set Be Open? Can an Open Set Be Closed? When Math and Language Collide.

Introducing a 7-part series at Math With Bad Drawings: “The Bear in the Moonlight: Stories and Lessons in Probability.”

Millions around the world use Scientific Linux, an operating system developed for particle physics.

Sabremetrics and Math: How sports can teach statistics.

An autonomous robotic boat, Scout, just passed the 1,000-mile mark in its historic crossing of the Atlantic.

The Perils of Hacking Math: NSA Is Misusing Mathematics for Dangerous Ends.

Confirmed: Underwater sonar linked to over a hundred whale deaths.

Nature speaks in algorithms; new book suggests that computation has always been the dominating force on earth. Related: Finding the Beauty in Math.

When the Large Hadron Collider Is Too Small. “Right now, the leading proposal for a post-LHC project is the International Linear Collider, a pair of 11-kilometer-long electron guns pointing at each other as if in a subatomic duel.”

IBM’s Watson Proves Itself a Top Chef with a recipe for Swiss-Thai Fusion Quiche. As IBM launches research collaboration with four universities and institutes, it shows how Watson can build recipes.

Adding this to my Christmas wish list: Zombie Cribbage, An Undead Version of the Classic Card Game.

Finally, oneTesla is a Kit For Building Your Own Musical Tesla Coil that can play MIDI songs. Comes with a 64-page instruction manual and the caveat that it’s a pretty advanced science project. But still…

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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