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Physics Week in Review: November 9, 2013

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


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This was the week we all turned our clocks back one hour, thereby disrupting our sleep/wake cycles. And here’s a post about how Ben Franklin, rudely awakened by dawn in Paris, dreamed up Daylight Savings Time.

Blast from the Past: Wilhelm Roentgen discovered the x-ray on November 8, 1895.

In addition to being the birthdate of Marie Curie, November 7 was the International Day of Medical Physics.

Polonium-210: the hard-to-detect poison that killed Alexander Litvinenko was also found in Yasser Arafat’s body (just a few milligrams of the highly radioactive isotope is a lethal dose).  Was Arafat murdered? The jury is still out, according to Poison Queen Deborah Blum writing on her Elemental blog at Wired: ” I wouldn’t rule out a poisoning scenario myself; it’s not implausible, given Israel’s ruthless history in dealing with Palestinians and its access to Po-210, that it should be suspected in an assassination plot. But even in the much stronger Litveninko case, there was never what you might call a resolution that included justice.”

The Math Trick Behind MP3s, JPEGs, and Homer Simpson’s Face: Aatish Bhatia explains the Fourier transform.

Getting the God of Thunder’s Science Straight — Thor is more like the god of mass and momentum.

Explanation for why cities form multiple centers.

Watching Ender’s Game With Science Goggles On: Corey Powell tackles such questions as why the aliens are so darn thirsty, and why it’s so difficult to get gravity right on film.

Kepler Space Telescope finds Earth-size, potentially habitable planets are common.

Skipped Sunday’s solar eclipse? See what you missed.

Credit: Fabian Oefner. http://www.behance.net/gallery/Orchid/11921893

Orchid: Exploding High-Speed Paint Flowers by Fabian Oefner. “To make the images Oefner poured numerous layers of paint with a top layer of either black or white onto which he dropped a colored sphere. The resulting splash forced the colored paint up and out of the top layer resulting in the crowning splashes of color.”

The Big Data Brain Drain: Why Science is in Trouble.

Rescue Radar from Dolphin Clicks: Twin Inverted Pulsed Sonar can see through bubbles and focus on target, like a fish.

How Long Could You Survive In A Coffin If You Were Buried Alive? It depends on size of coffin, but roughly 5 hours.

The Mystery of Moon Dust: “Lunar dust is fine, like a powder, but it cuts like glass.”

Richard Feynman’s sketches and drawings: “I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world…this feeling about the glories of the universe.”

Higher-level physics… forces its student to relax and make peace with their ignorance.” I am sooo at peace…

Scientists study ‘fishy’ behavior to solve an animal locomotion mystery.

Researchers have ruled out many possible parameters for dark photons with help of white dwarf stars.

The Repurposed Ph.D.: finding life after academia and not feeling bad about it.

The Wholeness of Quantum Reality: An Interview With Physicist Basil Hiley.

Polarizer: Rise of the Efficiency. “Polar codes compress information into the smallest space possible.”

Work begins on world’s largest multiple-dish radio telescope: the Square Kilometre Array.

Experience “Invisible Cities,” an Innovative, Italo Calvino-Inspired Opera Staged in LA’s Union Station.

Not Seeing the Atomic Forest for the Trees.

Fluid dynamics: Watching pee in super-slow motion is surprisingly fascinating.

Museum of Science Fiction May Become Reality In D.C.

The Simpsons Has Been Secretly Teaching Its Fans Complicated Math, according to a new book by Simon Singh. Here he talks about Pi and why the Simpsons, who all have four fingers, don’t occupy a base 8 world:

Chelyabinsk asteroid smashed glass, burned skin, defied expectations.

The Guardian reviews Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler by Philip Ball – The Nobel Prizewinners and the Nazis: were Heisenberg et al tacit collaborators?

These Printable Liquid Crystal Lasers Could Be the Future of Anti-Counterfeit Technology.

Two prototypes — a laser-based fraud detection device and a graphene-based piano — unveiled by Cambridge researchers.

See Math, See Math Run: “The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.”

My God, Man! XPRIZE Unveils Medical Tricorder Teams.

“Invisibility cloaks” may actually make things more visible–sort of a 2nd law of thermodynamics for hiding.

Do an awesome physics experiment with cellophane tape; See the weirdness of polarization and color.

Finding the Higgs Leads to More Puzzles. “Taken at face value, the result implies that eventually (in 10^100 years or so) an unlucky quantum fluctuation will produce a bubble of a different vacuum, which will then expand at the speed of light, destroying everything.”

Sex burns 3.6 calories/min. “at the measured rate, it would take 16 hours of romping in bed to lose pound of fat.”

Squeezing the Universe into a Ball: Poetry and Meaning.

Freak space rock spins dusty trail: The Hubble telescope has spotted an asteroid radiating six comet-like tails, making it resemble a “rotating lawn sprinkler”.

Answers to big questions could lie in small particles (neutrinos).

Feynman’s cruising van had a QANTUM license plate and Feynman diagrams displayed on its mustard-yellow exterior. That’s one reason for the new mural design in Caltech’s theoretical physics department (see photo, right), although someone mercifully nixed the mustard-yellow color motif.

Hearing Hadrons, and Doing Research by Ear.

The Mountain Where Rain Never Falls: sixth in a series of seven fables/lessons/meditations on probability.

Quantum Field Theory, String Theory, and Predictions (Part 6).

Calculus Made Easy: “Pretend you’re a baker living  in Shakespearean times.”

Solving the Tongue-Twisting Problems of Speech Animation in Motion capture techniques.

Luxury tailor launches $20,000 bulletproof suit made with carbon nanotubes.

Some tips on picking the perfect punkin for chunkin’. Related: The Physics of Punkin Chunkin (Dot Physics classic from 2010).

Stained glass windows filled with macabre X-ray images. “Wim Delvoye has created a series of stained glass windows with subjects that are both gothic and unexpected, filling the spaces between the lead with X-rays of human intestines and skeletal forms of people kissing.”

Computer tennis, anyone? Brookhaven Lab’s 1958 innovation predated the classic video game Pong by a decade.

Lady Gaga schedules tour date in space. The Artpop singer finally goes stratospheric, with (unconfirmed) plans to perform aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceflight in 2015.

“Cyclique”: An Aerial light and sound Kinetic Sculpture with 256 Helium Balloons Embedded with LEDs.

Five mysteries that (should) keep physicists awake at night.  Related: Five questions that (should) keep chemists awake at night.

What’s Wrong with the Nobel Prize? How come only fifteen women were ever awarded the prestigious accolade?

Determining the quantum geometry of a crystal.

How particle physics can save your life: From new medicines to cancer treatment.

Heaven Sent: Blast Your Ashes Into Space.

Ice paths slicked with water helped engineers build Forbidden City.

Whispering Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral: Hear the quietest sound from across the dome.

Landeyarsander, Iceland. © Bernhard Edmaier, http://www.bernhard-edmaier.de/

The Science Behind Earth’s Many Colors. “In his new book, EarthART, published by Phaidon, the aerial genius [Bernhard Edmaier] presents a broad survey, from the islands of the Bahamas to the alpine meadows of Italy’s Dolomites and Germany’s Alps, the rugged desert of California’s Death Valley to a bubbling mud pool in New Zealand.”

Life at CERN in pictures: from collider to canteen. “At the Cern campus just outside Geneva in Switzerland, the labs and offices are still abuzz after the Higgs boson announcement, and its international, ever-shifting population of physicists are endlessly enthusiastic about the chance to work inside this very special institution.”

IceCube experiment discovered two extraterrestrial neutrinos with energies higher than any neutrino detected before.

Jetman Yves Rossy Flies Around Mount Fuji with His Custom Jetpack — as one does when one has a personal jetpack.

The Curious Case of Polywater—Oily, Mysterious, and Ultimately Nonexistent. In the 1960s, scientists discovered a new form of water. How did they get it so wrong?

This Programmable 6,000-Part Drawing Boy Automata is Arguably the First Computer and It Was Built 240 Years Ago.

Mary Shelley’s Handwritten Manuscripts of Frankenstein Now Online for the First Time.

The physics of squeezing sheep through a bottleneck. “There are times when mobs have to pass through a bottleneck, such in the case of an emergency exit. If panic seizes the crowd, a jamming can obstruct the way out. This phenomenon displays many features that are also observed with inert particles (e.g. sand, cereal) when they choke the exit of a silo or clog pipe.”

Hear Vintage Episodes of Buck Rogers, the Sci-Fi Radio Show That First Aired on This Day in 1932.

Wearable textile battery can be recharged by sunlight.

Institute For Figuring: This hands-on math museum believes in turning concepts into constructs. There’s also a Kickstarter campaign to put together a book.

Moneyball Takes the Field: Gold Gloves, Team Positioning, and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

These High-Tech Cocktail Garnishes Take a Hint From Plants And Animals.

Ancient Black Hole Has Extra Suck: rare class of quasars appear to be sucking in material at relativistic speeds.

Fukushima nuclear plant set for risky operation. Nuclear engineers in Japan prepare to move more than 1,000 fuel rods from the crippled Fukushima power plant in a crucial, but risky operation.

Finally, Dance Your PhD contestant Kari Hodge interprets gravitational waves and the dreaded glitches.

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. jtdwyer 9:48 pm 11/9/2013

    Regarding Arafat’s death, there really is some mixed indications. See http://www.nature.com/news/no-firm-proof-arafat-was-poisoned-1.14130

    Link to this

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