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Physics Week in Review: November 30, 2013

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


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As you read this, we will be winging our way back home to Los Angeles after a lovely stint across the pond. The Time Lord has much to be thankful for, since — defying our expectations and the bookie odds — his book about the hunt for the Higgs boson, The Particle at the End of the Universe, won the Royal Society’s 2013 Winton Prize.  (Watch Sean read an excerpt from the book here.) Much celebration ensued!

This was truly the year of the Higgs: not only the Nobel Prize in physics and the Winton Prize, but an intriguing new result appeared this week: The Higgs boson does a new trick (probably). The ATLAS experiment at CERN announced the strongest evidence so far that the Higgs gives mass to leptons.

Since this was also the Thanksgiving Holiday in the US, Sean posted his annual celebration of a key physics concept: This year we’re giving thanks for the insight that information is physical. Wired gave thanks for the Cassini mission, also a worthy contender. And here’s a Mathematical Thanksgiving Celebration.

Sean Carroll with his shiny new trophy -- and host of the evening's festivities, comedian Dara O'Briain. Source: The Royal Society.

Here’s How Astronauts Will Eat Thanksgiving Dinner in Space.  Turkey science: Discover’s top five fave T-Day-related studies (including the best suture pattern to close a stuffed turkey). Thanksgiving Etiquette by Ze Frank: “Billy does not like the salad. It reminds him of death.”  Eat hard, play hard: Thanksgiving dinner’s ‘sweat equivalents‘: “You really want to know what it’ll take to work off Thanksgiving dinner? Let’s just say, you’d better cancel your plans to watch football after dinner, or to go shopping on Friday: It could take you into the weekend to work it all off.” KABOOM! The Best Turkey Frying Disasters on the Internet.

We went to see Thor 2: The Dark World, and this study would have come in handy: Which Seat Should You Pick at the Movie Theater? “the audio sweet spot is 2/3 back and in the middle.”

We were in London when the BBC aired the Doctor Who 50-year anniversary special, Day of the Doctors. How cool is that? Fifty years of time travel: Mika McKinnon on the astronomy of Doctor Who in Physics Today. “The BBC series Doctor Who has routinely flitted back and forth in time, sometimes to the start and end of the universe itself.” Also:  Geologizing with Doctor Who (for example, the 10th doctor was responsible for the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79).  Finally, the perfect gift for the Whovian on your list: the Doctor Who TARDIS Tea Infuser holds loose leaf tea for brewing and comes with a tiny sonic screwdriver that hangs from a chain.

R.I.P Fred Kavli: He’ll Pay for That: this 2005 Scientific American article pays tribute to the late great science philanthropist.

A super weird, rubbery non-Newtonian fluid could be the next great material to protect your gadgets.

Ask Ethan (Siegel) of Starts With a Bang: Where does matter come from? “If you see an antimatter version of yourself running towards you, think twice before embracing.” -J. Richard Gott III.

A Universe Made of Stories: Why We Need a Science and Technology Dialogue.

Quantum Light Harvesting Hints At Entirely New Form of Computing. Light harvesting in plants and bacteria cannot be properly explained by classical processes or by quantum ones. Now complexity theorists say the answer is a delicate interplay of both, an idea that could transform computation.

Earthquake statistics get help from forest fire models.

Check out these fantastic astronomical stereo cards from 1913.

How to Burst the “Filter Bubble” that Protects Us from Opposing Views. Computer scientists have discovered a way to number-crunch an individual’s own preferences to recommend content from others with opposing views. The goal? To burst the “filter bubble” that surrounds us with people we like and content that we agree with.

Neutrinos open a new window on nature thanks to new results from IceCube. Related: individual portraits of all 28 possibly-extraterrestrial-neutrino events (PDF).  Also: Tale of the Tape: Ten years; $271 million, and how masking tape made IceCube functional.

To Settle Infinity Dispute, a New Law of Logic. As incomprehensible as it may seem, infinity comes in many measures. A new axiom is needed to make sense of its multifaceted nature.

"Emergence" (2013) by Sayaka Ganz, http://www.sayakaganz.com/

Meet the artist who makes sculptures entirely of second-hand plastics that are in sum much greater than their parts. “We have strange relationship with plastic. Many people hate it but they aren’t able to eliminate it from their lives,” says Sayaka Ganz.

Einstein@Home volunteers find four cosmic lighthouses (gamma ray pulsars) in data from Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

This was also the week for watching the fate of Comet ISON: The Comet Streaks Toward the Sun, Which Promptly Lets Loose With a Coronal Explosion. Perhaps reports of its death were greatly exaggerated:  by Friday, the BBC was reporting that there was still hope for the ‘dead’ comet: some part of it may have survived its encounter with the sun. (It’s Schroedinger’s comet!)  Bonus: here are five Things You Should Know About Comet ISON.

Worm-like movements propel octopus ballet; tentacles can execute complex movements.

For Billions of People, “Wasting Time” Makes Little Sense.

Tycho’s Supernova is expanding faster than a speeding bullet. Actually, about 1000 times as fast.

The Master, the Pupil, and the Clumsy Game of Chess.

Astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell recently spoke at CERN about “Women in STEM.” You can watch her full lecture here.

X-ray crystallography: solving the patterns of matter.

The world’s oldest astronomers: Scientists in Japan use ancient trees to look back on the history of our local cosmos.

Making the Silent Heard and the Obscure Tangible: Black Hole Coalescence.  Related: Black Hole’s Behavior Defies the Rules of Astrophysics – as if they weren’t crazy enough already.

Watch a Disney animator explain the complicated computer modeling behind an animated snowball:

A flying robotic jellyfish? Prototype proves it’s possible.

How is it possible to look at the earliest moments of the universe?  Physicists have their ways—and what they find out will tell us a lot about how the universe works today and how it will unfold in the future.  … Related: A Hint of the First Dawn from ALMA.

Seeing the Milky Way in 3D would be cool. But the Gaia mission is promising 6D.

Learning from failure: “an experiment is never a failure, unless it is done incorrectly.”

To create a super-intelligent machine, start with an equation: an attempt to mathematically define intelligence.

Benford’s Law And The Art of Succeeding in Multiple Choice Tests. In physics multiple choice papers, the correct answers should follow Benford’s law while the other options should not. So can an enterprising student use this to beat the test?

Research ethics: three ways to blow the whistle. Reporting suspicions of scientific fraud is rarely easy.

Einstein’s Lost Hypothesis – Is a third-act twist to nuclear energy at hand?

True facts about Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster.

Kids Like to Learn Algebra, if It Comes in the Right App.

The Greatest Fictional Versions of Alan Turing.

The Seahorse’s Odd Shape Makes It a Weapon of Stealth.

Illustrator Jed McGowan tells the geologic history and future of Hawaii in comic form. McGowan gave Voyager the same visual treatment back in February. Gorgeous.

Why Jupiter’s Red Spot Won’t Die.

Credit: Thomas Jackson, http://thomasjacksonphotography.com/

Love these! Emergent Behavior: New Swarms of Hovering Objects Photographed in Place by Thomas Jackson. Jackson has discovered new “materials that are nearly invisible at normal viewing distance and just barely discernable when viewing prints close-up, ensuring Photoshop only comes into play for standard color and contrast adjustments. Even the blurring you see is created by the wind.”

Policy: Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims.

Forest Children,” math-inspired poem by Colette Inez:  “Each day saws subtracted boughs/ for books of double algebra….”

This Spray-On Fabric Is a Wardrobe In a Can.

Fire ants’ superpowers could inspire self-healing bridges.

Pedal power… in the office? I would be very interested in something like this.

How Quadratic Reciprocity Is Like Dealing Cards.

To What Extent Do We See With Mathematics?

Figures of Eight and Peanut Shells: How stars move at the centre of the Galaxy.

Science toys tried and tested: science is creative and good toys reflect that.

Is this the golden age of computational materials science? Maybe not. “We are still awaiting golden age of computational drug design.”

What laws and regulations are needed concerning robotic technology and similar systems? An EU project is finding out.

The Chemistry of Cookies: Warning: this video will make you want cookies, whether you bake them or not.

A Toast to Alice – what could make the weekend better than a cold-weather cocktail recipe inspired by Wonderland?

Finally, someone built a Kinetic Light Newton’s Cradle, An Illuminated Version of the Classic Desktop Toy:

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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