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Physics Week in Review (All Saint’s Edition): November 2, 2013

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


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Happy All Saint’s Day, one day late! There were lots of fun Halloween-related science links this week, including The Argument For and Against Kicking Werewolves in the Testicles;  The Bernoulli Fallacy and other zombie myths of physics; The Harvard Doctor Who Accidentally Unleashed a Zombie Invasion. (With a little help from the Internet.); Zombie Fever: A Mathematician Studies a Pop Culture Epidemic; and Why is American Folklore Overrun with Phantom Hitchhikers?

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble: Geological Ingredients for a Perfect Potion and Newton’s Philosopher’s Stone. Hemlock, Yew, and “Tooth of Wolf”: Beware the Witches’ Brew. Halloween witch: Scopolamine, an ingredient of over-the-counter air sickness remedies, could be at the root of stories about witches riding broomsticks. When Numbers Are Used for a Witch Hunt: Dutch nurse Lucia de Berk was wrongfully convicted of murdering several patients.

Halloween costumes inspired by science: dress up this year as entropy!  Little Girl Dresses Up as All Eleven Doctors From ‘Doctor Who’ For Halloween.  “Houston, we have adorable.” Here’s A Little Girl Dressed Up As Chris Hadfield — For Science! Related: ‘I’m blind, in space, holding a drill. Houston, I have a problem’: excerpt from Chris Hadfield’s new book, An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth. Also, NASA And JPL Are Better at Pumpkin Carving Than You: “Featuring LEDs, laser etching, chocolate fountains, rotating gears and even a replica Mars Rover, these pumpkins will put your simple face to shame.”

Image: Sanford Lab

The big physics news was the much-anticipated result from the LUX dark matter detection experiment — or rather, the lack of scintillating results. The latest experimental sweep for dark matter came up empty.  And yet physicists were still pretty happy about it, because part of discovering what the dark matter is involves determining precisely what dark matter isn’t. Quote of the Week: “Basically, we saw nothing. But we saw nothing better than anyone else so far.”

Bloggy physicists themselves weighed in with analytical blog posts, most notably Ethan Siegal, who outlined the Limits of Directly Detecting Dark Matter. and explained Why “no dark matter here” doesn’t mean “no dark matter”. Also, Matt Strassler answered your post-LUX Questions. Related: The next-generation LUX dark-matter detector is called LUX-ZEPLIN. Rock on!

There’s going to be a rare solar eclipse this Sunday, and the Los Angeles Times tells you how best to see it.

Physicists eye quantum gravity interface. What happens when two massive objects are put in quantum superpositions, causing space-time to curve in tow different ways?

Nineteenth-Century Code Helps 21st-Century Mars Rover Find Its Way.

The Expandable Waistcoat and Blank Book Patents of A. Einstein and S. Clemens.

Planning for future of US particle physics moves ahead. This weekend, a panel developing a new strategic plan for US particle physics will hold the first in a series of town hall meetings.

Cheating the Causal Game: A new quantum framework blurs cause-and-effect at a fundamental level.

Kids today. Sheesh. 10-Year-Old Boy Discovers 600-Million-Year-Old Supernova.

Taking the Pulse of the City With Graffiti Artist EKG.

Snakelike zaps to flowing air can improve vehicle aerodynamics.

What Ender’s Game Gets Right About Communicating With Aliens.

“Water sculptures—a marriage of liquids, photography, and timing—are spectacular form of fluid dynamics as art. Artist Markus Reugels is a master of the form. This video captures the life and death of such water sculptures at 2,000 fps, beginning with the fall of the initial blue droplet.”

Taylor and Culick predicted a constant velocity for the rim of an opening hole in a soap film of uniform thickness.

Economist Paul Krugman’s Theory of Interstellar Trade.

What happened when philosopher Colin McGinn — disgraced by sexual harassment charges — turned his attention to the philosophy of physics? Nothing good, according to this review in MIND of McGinn’s 2011 book from Oxford University Press. “In a nutshell, Basic Structures of Reality is an impressively inept contribution to philosophy of physics, and one exemplifying everything that can possibly go wrong with metaphysics: it is mind-numbingly repetitive, toe-curlingly pretentious, and amateurish in the extreme regarding the incorporation of physical fact.” Ouch.

Physicists provide nanoscale insights into coral skeleton formation.

Asteroid fighters, unite: UN votes to create global force.

How physics ended the nighttime radio war between the US and Mexico.

Using Chaos Theory to Predict and Prevent Catastrophic ‘Dragon King’ Events.

Individualism: The legacy of great physicists. This essay in Physics Today inspired further rumination by Chad Orzel: “The argument is very straightforward– single-author publications used to be common, now they’re not, this might indicate a lack of truly independent work, that would be bad– but a lot of it is at odds with my reading of the relevant history.” Ashutash Jogalekar navigated more of a middle ground on the issue of whether physicists should be individualists or collectivists: “There is no doubt that many great physicists succeeded from their individualistic and independent attitude in physics, but it’s also true that we tend to register hits much more than misses when it comes to attributing success in science to specific traits.”

Russian Meteor’s Two Scary Lessons: The Chelyabinsk meteor blast provided scientists with a trove of rare data.

Time travel is possible – but where will it take us? Related: Three Simple and Three Complex Ways to Time Travel by Minute Physics.

Ultracold atoms set the stage for Hofstadter’s Butterfly.

Image courtesy of Frax

A New App Turns Fractals Into Ornate Art.  Computer graphics expert Ben Weiss has a new iOS app, Frax, which he developed with colleagues Kai Krause and Tom Beddard. The app puts fractals “in the palm of your hand.”

“Like a jellyfish in the air.” New design for flying machine mimics graceful swimmers.

Astronomers find rocky Earth-sized exoplanet where the floor is always made of lava.

Watch as an earthquake sends a massive wave across the US, like very powerful ripples on a pond. …

Astrophysicist Mario Livio on the incredible promise of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Why Are Reindeer Eyes Golden In Summer But Blue In Winter?

Japanese Telco Smashes Entanglement Distance Record. The ability to distribute entangled particles is an enabling technology for a quantum internet.

“Two Cultures,” by Michael Bartholomew-Biggs explores similarities, differences between math and poetic cultures.”

From Biergartens to Boozegartens: Growing Your Own Cocktails With The Drunken Botanist.

Arecibo, world’s biggest radio telescope, celebrates 50 years of listening to cosmic mysteries.

Hypothetical geons have gravity, but no mass. Could they really exist?

Synaptic transistor learns while it computes.

An animator explains why she studies physics in a marvelous short film:

Is Europa Too Prickly to Land On?

How to make a big ice wall that corrals radiation spills, stabilises tunnels, repels ice zombies.

How One 17th Century Scholar Reconciled Newly Discovered Species And the Space on Noah’s Ark.

Physicist Gian Giudice: Why our universe might exist on a knife-edge. what if the Higgs field exists in an ultra-dense state that could mean the collapse of all atomic matter?

Electrical pulses could make better wine. Engineers test new technique to get more juice from grapes.

Nabisco Snack Physicists Develop Highly Unstable Quadriscuits: “At the moment, this hyperwafer can only exist for six milliseconds in a precisely calibrated field of magnetic energy, positrons, roasted garlic, and beta particles.”

The physics of a popping bubble were never so gorgeous. “Experienced bubblers know that colors change on a bubble over time. Just before popping, the colors vanish altogether. The bubble turns to colorless light and darkness before it finally breaks up into drops.”

Shapes With “Capillary Charges” Self Assemble on the Surface of Liquids.

Credit: Natalie Kay-Thatcher

Somnium, Solaris and Making a Glass Universe: the art, science of building an image of the cosmos using stained glass.

Good old-fashioned technology: marking passing of dearly loved, enlightening technology that has gone the way of all flesh.

If You Took a Helicopter Ride on Mars, This Is What You’d See.

This one’s for the geeks, from The Curious Astronomer: Derivation of the Rayleigh-Jeans law for blackbody radiation – part 1.

On the uneven distribution of big science. ‘How Texas lost the world’s largest supercollider.’

Algorithms and Ethics and self-driving cars: Would you rather run over a grandma or two children?

Science Poem: The Irreversibility of Time.

Slide Show: The Art and Science of Modern Cuisine.

“Within the last five years, Panasonic and MIT unveiled e-bike prototypes, which boast batteries that can re-charge themselves through a process called regenerative braking.”

The Tall in the Short of It–the Giants of Microworlds and the Microscope.

A common blue pigment used in the 5 pound note could play important role in the development of a quantum computer.

Quantum Field Theory, String Theory, and Predictions (Part 5).

Podcast: the pros and cons of a thorium nuclear reactor.

One, Two, Many, Lots: Investigating the Start of Many-Body Physics.

The deadly legacy of the “demon core.”

Graduate School Barbie: A New Gift Idea for The Demoralized Grad Student in Your Life.

Scientists Discover a Substance that Appears Cold When You Heat it Up.

More on the crisis in research: Feynman on ‘cargo cult science.’

Take a moment of silence to honor a truly great telescope: The last command was sent to Planck space telescope.

Finally, this terrific Video Shows How Beautifully Math Translates Into Life (via Business Insider): “On the left, you see the equation itself, in the middle, a diagram of what’s happening in real time, and on the right, how things look in the real world. It shows how math reveals everything from the very simple – like how probability determines how likely it is that you’ll roll a two and a four during a game of backgammon.”

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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