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Physics Week in Review: December 7, 2013


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This week kicked off with (another) Giant Leap For SpaceX: as Elon Musk’s company conquered Geostationary Orbit. Meanwhile, NASA funding shuffle alarms planetary scientists since it means that NASA Might Stop Exploring the Planets. The Atlantic‘s Robinson Meyer explains Why That’s a Terrible Idea. When it comes to planetary science, will NASA soon stand for NADA? Bill Nye the Science Guy (CEO of the Planetary Society) even produced a videotaped “open letter” to President Barack Obama urging the administration to reverse this potentially catastrophic course.

House panel ponders extraterrestrial life. The Washington Post‘s Joel Auchenbach writes: “Lawmakers held a free-ranging and sometimes bewilderment-inducing hearing Wednesday on the search for extra­terrestrial life, gradually working around to the question of whether humans are alone in the universe. At the end of the 90-minute session, that issue remained unresolved.”

Vermeer’s Secret Tool: Testing Whether The Artist Used Mirrors and Lenses to Create His Realistic Images.

The Quantum Algorithm That Could Break the Internet.

How Photon Torpedoes Will Mark An End To The Energy Crisis – at least in the Star Trek universe.

Could we harness power from black holes?  Related: Do black holes destroy information? “The possibility of hiding information in a vault would hardly be a cause for alarm, but what if when the door was shut, the vault evaporated right in front of your eyes? That’s exactly what Hawking predicted would happen to the black hole.”

Credit: Boaz Ng, http://www.flickr.com/photos/ng_b/

A flower placed in highlighter fluid can absorb the fluorescent ink into its leaves and petals.  Per Future Jam: “Shining a black light onto it then reveals a delicate network of glowing veins.”

The Golden Ratio on Film: The math in There Will Be Blood‘s cinematography.

Use of ancient lead in modern physics experiments ignites debate. “Roman lead is essential for conducting these experiments because it offers purity and such low levels of radioactivity — all the more so the longer it has spent underwater — which current methods for producing this metal cannot reach.”

High-Speed Strings: Video Trickery Creates Wobbly Slow Motion Effect. Per This Colossal:  “This is what happens when you film an upright bass while synchronizing the vibration of the strings with the frame rate of the camera.”

Like the vinyl record, magnetic tape data storage is making a comeback, due in part to the Large Hadron Collider.

How very meta: Wormholes and Quantum Entanglement May Be Linked. -Does gravity originate with entanglement? Physicist finds entanglement instantly gives rise to a wormhole.

The IceCube neutrino experiment named its 28 detected neutrinos after characters from Sesame Street.

The World’s Latest E-bike Begins with the now-available Copenhagen Wheel.

Fluid dynamics appear at all kinds of scales — even the solar wind and its interaction with comets Encke and ISON.

Counterexamples in Origami: “Surfaces are complicated. Triangles are simple.”

The Rime of the Ancient Astronomer: “Becoming interested in history is a disease many astronomers get as they age.”

Check out “The World Outside my Window,” an incredible time-lapse video of the view of Earth from the International Space Station:

Using Math to make Guinness by finding the best yields of barley.

The future of nuclear energy: Let a thousand flowers bloom.

What Isaac (Newton) actually asked the apple.

How Do We Welcome Astronauts Back to Earth? By Making Them Go Through Customs.

It’s Relatively Easy to Spot Water Bottles in Airport Scanners; Guns, Not So Much.

Helpful tips from a 1953 French Nuclear Blast Guidebook. The first rule for surviving an atomic attack: “Ne paniquez pas.”

New Solar Cell Material Acts as a Laser As Well.

To infinity, and beyond! Third in a series on the size of the infinite, as described in mathematical set theory.

Einstein’s ‘Spooky Action at a Distance’ Shown for First Time in Real-Time Imaging (w/video).

An astronaut’s view on Gravity: space garb isn’t as sexy as Sandra Bullock’s, says astronaut Major Tim Peake.

Credit: Alexey Kljatov, http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticmind75/sets/72157626146319517/with/8343244162/

Winter is coming, which means it’s time once again to highlight Kenneth Libbrecht’s wonderful decades-long work with snowflakes! Related: How to Take a Picture of a Single, Ultra-Magnified Snow Flake – All you need is a good camera, a plastic bag, tape.  Photographer Alexey Kljatov specializes in the highly technical art of snowflake imagery. Bonus: Here are some DIY Paper Game of Thrones House Sigil Snowflakes.

A Family Built This Museum-Quality Curiosity Rover. “The family’s museum collaboration began with a robot they named Spirit II, a 500-part, six-wheeled, remotely operated machine built in the likeness of NASA’s solar-powered Spirit rover. They re-created the rover’s complex rocker-bogie suspension system, which can clear tall obstacles, and studied patents to replicate the unique gearing that turns Spirit in place 360 degrees.”

Baryonic acoustic oscillations: studying sound waves from early universe to learn more about its history.

What’s the Best Way to Swing a Playground Swing? Seated swinging is the way to go, unless you want to go really high.

The science and magic of Lindy Hop: Great partner dancers are masters of space, time and Newton’s laws of motion.

Hubble Telescope Sends Back an Annoying Stream of Selfies. “The Hubble might think it looks good in these pictures, but they’re of no interest to anyone but the Hubble itself.”

Tolkien gesture: scientist maps climate of Lord of the Rings. Mount Doom is like Los Angeles and the Shire like Lincolnshire. It’s also the first scientific paper to be released in Elvish, Dwarvish and English — or, rather, in silly fonts designed to look like those languages (tengwar script and Cirith runes), as io9 noted in an updated postscript. Their comment: “We are not amused.”

Some squares sum squares to celebrate Pythagoras; The Museum of Math successfully Pythagorized the historic Flatiron building in Manhattan.

The Fluid Dynamics of Spitting: How Archerfish Use Physics To Hunt With Their Spit.

Book review: Nuclear Forces: The Making of the Physicist Hans Bethe by Silvan Schweber.

Russian percussion band Etnobit created music by drumming on ice shards on Siberia’s ancient Baikal Lake (via io9):

Headlines from a Mathematically Literate World. “Our World: Market Rebounds after Assurances from Fed Chair. Mathematically Literate World: Market Rebounds after Regression to the Mean.”

The Chemistry of Cheese. Blessed are the cheesemakers, or “To brie, or not to brie.” (Stop them before they pun again!)

When Algorithms Grow Accustomed to Your Face. “With face-reading software, a computer’s webcam might spot the confused expression of an online student and provide extra tutoring. Or computer-based games with built-in cameras could register how people are reacting to each move in the game and ramp up the pace if they seem bored. But the rapidly developing technology is far from infallible, and it raises many questions about privacy and surveillance.”

“Isotopes,” Interactive Audiovisual Installation Surrounds Participants with Walls of Light.

Thieves of Mexico truck carrying radioactive material “in very great risk of dying.” The missing shipment of radioactive cobalt-60 was found Wednesday near where the stolen truck transporting the material was abandoned in central Mexico.

Engineering & Technology magazine deconstructs Daleks; what makes these over-sized pepper pots so scary?  Bonus: “You may now exterminate the bride.” Life-Sized Dalek Wedding Cakes Make All Other Wedding Cakes Seem Inadequate.

Photo: Kirmani et al., Science

This Camera Capture Images in the Dark, Using Just a Few Particles of Light, thanks to new algorithm.

Turning waste into power with bacteria – and loofahs.

Watch an entire building transform into a playable Rubik’s Cube.

“‘Smelly’ is an interactive animatronic nose that attempts to enhance the quality of human nose.”

Physics in the Days of Einstein and Feynman: Recollections of Princeton in the late 1940s by Freeman Dyson. Related:  Nature recalls that Feynman Lectures “were painstakingly prepared and practised, and had generous financial backing.”

Octopus Suckers Have Groovy Secret for Strength.

What happens to space-time at very short distances? Why is the universe so big? Is supersymmetry a mirage?

In a sermon, John Donne Doth Tell What Scientist is in Hell (and releases Copernicus from his supposed torment).

A Potato Battery Can Light Up a Room For Over a Month.

Rolling on Wheels That Aren’t Round: “What shape has a constant width, no matter how it’s oriented?”

The Secrets of the Sound of The Wire: “When sound editing is done right, that usually means the viewer will never notice it. This is especially true of shows that value realism.”

X-Ray Portraits of Couples Embracing by Ayako Kanda and Mayuka Hayashi.

Newly minted Nobel Laureate Peter Higgs: “I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system.” Physicist doubts work like Higgs boson identification achievable now as academics are expected to “keep churning out papers.”

How to Read About Science – Some studies mean so much more than others, and few mean anything without honest context.

Earth-shattering kabooms: A supernova in our lifetimes? A gallery of the stars most likely to give us a light show we’ll never forget.

A Long Time Ago, in a Karaoke Bar Far, Far Away: Check out this Star Wars Parody Music Video of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” performed by the Star Wars cosplayers of the Arizona geek community — because we could always use one more Bohemian Rhapsody parody, amirite?

New underwater robot will allow archaeologists to examine ancient shipwrecks.

Reading in the Higgs era: a recommended reading list, since 2008. Related: This week on Virtually Speaking Science, Alan Boyle chatted with theoretical physicists Matt Strassler and Sean Carroll on why the Higgs particle matters.

The Art of Rube Goldberg: “An artist who followed the logic of the machine to its comic climax.”

How To Blow Smoke Rings Using a Bass Drum. “All you need is a bass drum, a smoke machine, drumsticks and talent.”

Turning the Moon into a Giant Space Solar Power Hub.

Data Mining Reveals the Secret to Getting Good Answers. If you want a good answer, ask a decent question.

The Wonderful World of Oz…and its (outdated, charmingly so) Science.

European Physical Society declared construction site of Anello di Accumulazione collider in Italy, a historic site.

H.P. Lovecraft on Big Data: “The most merciful thing in the world…is the inability of human mind to correlate all its contents.”

Ferran Adrià, the molecular gastronomy chef who brought us elBulli, takes his next step – Bullipedia.

This being a cocktail party, here’s how to make a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (on Earth).  Related: Read Filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s Recipe for the Perfect Dry Martini, and Then See Him Make One.  Also: Advert Informs that Dmitri Mendeleev Knew the Science of Perfect Vodka.

Biking Across a Pool of Cornstarch and Water. Per Laughing Squid: “Hard Science hosts Anthony Carboni and Tara Long perform a variety of experiments on a trough of ‘oobleck,’ a non-Newtonian fluid made of water and corn starch, including running on it and (attempting) to ride a bike across it.”

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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