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Physics Week in Review: November 16, 2013

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


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This week, my guest on Virtually Speaking Science was TIME health reporter Maia Szalavitz, who specializes in addiction, among other topics. We started by discussing the recent deaths of two young people at a club called Electric Zoo, the result of an apparent overdose of a drug called “Molly” — a form of Ecstasy, or MDMA, often cut with methylone, that also contributed to a string of club-related deaths earlier this year. It ended up being a fascinating discussion about the nature of addiction, misguided federal drug policy, and finding a middle ground between demonizing or glorifying powerful substances. You can download the taped podcast at Blog Talk Radio.

Is our universe fine-tuned for the existence of life – or does it just look that way from where we’re sitting? Wonderful long read from NYU physics philosopher Tim Maudlin.  …

Why Hot Water Freezes Faster Than Cold—Physicists Solve the Mpemba Effect. Aristotle first noticed that hot water freezes faster than cold, but chemists have always struggled to explain the paradox. Until now.

Dance Your PhD finalists announced. Now is the time to vote.

A popular luxury car option might be part of the solution to unexplained (“phantom”) traffic jams.  Related: The presence of acacia trees is linked to the number of traffic fatalities. Background: The reason those scientists looked at acacia trees in the first place was due to a bizzare coincidence.

Urinal Dynamics: a Tactical Guide. “Strive for low-impact angles to reduce droplet impact…”

Ten physics misconceptions, explained poorly, by an anonymous D-student in freshman physics. “The formula for weight is w = mg, which stands for mass times gravity.  g is gravity.  It’s like a force or something.  I have no idea why my instructor winces every time I say this.”

Stephen Hawking: physics would be ‘more interesting’ if Higgs boson hadn’t been found. (He lost that bet.)

Can you boil water by stirring it? A good example of using energy to answer a question.

The Experiments Most Likely to Shake Up the Future of Physics.

What Luis Alvarez Did: “Forget Tesla. It’s time to start obsessing about Luis Alvarez.” (He was pretty awesome!)

Black hole caught blasting heavy metal in jets: Outburst contained iron ions accelerated to 66% of speed of light.

The various stages of the CMS detector cake. Photo courtesy of Alexey Finkel, Pamela Vo and Nathaniel Pastika.

CMS Detector Cake: How to make CERN’s most delicious detector. Three University of Minnesota graduate students took their particle physics skills to the kitchen to create an edible model of the CMS detector, and Symmetry has the recipe. Mmm. Cake!

The Stereotypes About Math That Hold Americans Back: Speed doesn’t matter, and there’s no such thing as a “math person.” How the Common Core’s approach to the discipline could correct these misperceptions.

The Science of Doctor WhoInvestigating the Mysteries of the Tardis.  Related: The Gallifreycrumb Tinies, A Doctor Who Parody of Edward Gorey’s ‘The Gashleycrumb Tinies.’ Also: What if the Bayeux Tapestry told the history of Doctor Who? IT WOULD BE AWESOME, that’s what!

The Patterns in the Stonework: The last in a series of seven fables/lessons/meditations on probability.

Statistical significance and its part in science downfalls.

Physicists plan to build a bigger LHC. Accelerator ring would be 100 kilometres around with seven times the energy of LHC. Related: Bigger, faster, stronger: stepping up the hunt for cosmic building blocks.

Thomas Edison interviewed at the age of 84 and asked about Einstein’s theory:

Advanced Mathematics With Legos In A Washing Machine. “Why do this? To see how many Lego(TM) bricks end up stuck together after they’ve all been spun, naturally.”

Cartographies of Time – a visual history of how we’ve mapped time, from antiquity to today.

Slate’s Complete Guide to Winning The Price Is Right—Without Knowing Any Prices. Better bidding through game theory.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield Discusses His ‘Space Oddity’ Video, Dirty Underwear, and Gravity With Conan O’Brien. -

The secrets of a bug’s flight could improve design of flying robots.

This charming Dr. Seuss parody on the science of taste reminded me of a wonderful physics-themed ditty penned by pal James Riordon back in 2005: “Young Albert E and the Miracle Year.”

There was a (computer) virus loose on the Space Station: a fascinating security story.

This Antique Polar Bear Robot (early automaton from 1905) Blows Bubbles.

A Guide to Star Trek economics – If, by the 24th century, money has become irrelevant, what will society be like?

Do the Math: The Science Behind the Numbers that Govern Our Lives. “Eat five portions of fruit and veg, drink eight glasses of water, exercise five times a week… these figures grab our attention, but do the numbers really add up?”

“If a model agrees with the data, it works.  That’s it.”  Rhett Allain models collisions with asymmetrical springs.

Why Scientists Have No Faith in Science: the Higgs boson is not like a sea of milk that sustains the gods.

Urine-powered EcoBots could perform… tasks such as measuring temperature, humidity and air quality.” Seriously.

JPL Engineers Talking About A Future Mission To Europa (including Friend of the Blog/astrobiologist Kevin Hand):

At Berkeley, an Astonishing Documentary About the Inner Workings of a Public University.

Some Dead Satellites Refuse to Go Quietly to Their Graves.

Magnetic vortices known as skyrmions could form the basis for future high-density, low-power magnetic data storage.

The creepy Sleeping Beauty thought experiment changes the odds of a coin flip.

Don’t fear the math (and the mystery of the sliced and diced Klein bottle).

Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin Explained in Ten Seconds by MinutePhysics.

Locust eardrum is a tiny frequency analyzer; could inspire new ways of processing sound.

Scribing science: Perrin Ireland’s colorful note-taking technique offers a fresh perspective on complex science.

Dark Side of the Moon: Like evangelists, astronauts travel far and return with glad tidings. But they’re only human.

Entire Alphabet Found on the Wing Patterns of Butterflies by Norwegian nature photographer Kjell Bloch Sandved.

How To Win A Trampoline War, According To Physics.

Fantastic phonons: Blocking sound, channeling heat with unprecedented precision.

Binding Energy, Nuclear Physics, and Radiation Poisoning.

Children can learn math skills, from addition to algebra, through an array of apps for tablets and smartphones.

Why does wine cry? A Mystery In A Wineglass.

Animals often move in ways engineers find counter-intuitive. For example, the glass knifefish is an undulatory swimmer.

Quantum Physics Made Relatively Simple: A Mini Course from Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist Hans Bethe.

3D model lets you “fly through” a 300-year-old supernova.  …

Ask Ethan #11: Readers ask, Ethan Siegel of Starts With A Bang answers: Why does gravity get weaker with distance?

Quantum Memory Record Broken in Quest for Super-Fast Computers.

Goofiest press release title and infographic of the week (h/t: Corey Powell): “Whither the Teakettle Whistle.”  …

“[Scientists] have located the physical source of the teakettle whistle at the spout as steam flows up it, and identified a two-mechanism process of whistle production. Their results show that as the kettle starts to boil, the whistle behaves like a Helmholtz resonator — the same mechanism that causes an empty bottle to hum when you blow over the neck. However, above a particular flow speed, the sound is instead produced by small vortices — regions of swirling flow — which, at certain frequencies, can produce noise. The findings are potentially able to explain familiar problems of other wayward whistles, such as the annoying plumbing noises caused by air trapped in pipes or damaged car exhausts.”

Conrad Heyer, a Revolutionary War Veteran, Was the Earliest-Born American To Ever Be Photographed.

Apparently flammable trousers are a “thing” in certain science subfields, beginning with the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize for agricultural history, awarded to James Watson of Massey University, New Zealand, for his study, concerning the period between World War I and World War II, called “The Significance of Mr. Richard Buckley’s Exploding Trousers.”

Lounge chair by Robby Cuthbert, http://www.robbycuthbert.com/

No screws, no glue: Ten Pieces of Furniture Held Together by Tension.   Per the designer, Robby Cuthbert (on reddit):

“For the process of removing the slack, it’s all done by feel. I have some pliers that I use to pull the cables tight and a pair of crimpers that I use to clamp copper sleeves down around the cables and hold them in place. I started out making a bunch of abstract sculptures with this method, so I got a lot of practice and a good feel for it before I went on to making practical things. The surprising part is, because there are so many cables, none of them has to be pulled that tight. If you push on any of them, it doesn’t feel like they’re under that much tension. It’s just that the added effect of them all creates a totally stable system. The cable is 1/16” galvanized steel wire rope.”

Orfeo Ascending: “Orfeo Angelucci’s career as spokesperson for aliens watching Earth began on Aug 4, 1946 with an amateur science experiment.”

Weird Nanophotonic Materials Bend and Trap Light to Make Crazy Colors.

A sobering reminder of the limits of science in the war on vampires.

Relativity + quantum physics combined to create a zone of secrecy that stretches more than 6,000 miles wide.

Jazzing up the Jabłoński diagram, a graphical depiction of electronic states of a molecule, transitions between them.

How the Simpsons (And You) Can Multiply by Seven Using Your Fingers.  Related: Flipping pancakes with mathematics: Mathematical minds love a problem that’s easy to pose but tough to solve.  Bonus: Applying bacteria to solve the Burnt Pancake Problem.

November 14, 1963: The First-Ever Footage from Space, courtesy of the Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile.

Using Nanomaterials to Recycle Rare Earth Elements From Wastewater.

Interference with 10,000-Particle “Particles”: “They’ve demonstrated wave-like behavior in really big organic molecules, this time with a mass of about 10,000 amu, or about 20 million times the mass of an electron.”

Novelist Ian McEwan and physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed discuss similarities, differences between art and science.

Munir Muniruzzaman has used his physics know-how to help in hospitals and war zones alike.

Study: L.A. County Could Power Half of California With Rooftop Solar.

Ten Amazing Close-Ups Show No Two Snowflakes are Alike.

Tweeting and blogging aren’t wastes of academics’ time – they can be valuable outreach.

Ships That Sail Through the Clouds: Meet Luigi Prina, the 83-Year-Old Builder of Flying Model Ships:

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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