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Physics Week in Review: December 14, 2013

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


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The winter solstice isn’t until next week, but the earliest sunset of the year already happened. How’s that possible?

We’re getting awfully close to Christmas. Here’s some gift ideas for the Physics Fanatic in All of Us: “as you shop for the traditional tally whack and knick-knack, throw in some super magnetic putty or a build-your-own AM/FM radio kit for the voracious, growing minds in your family.”  Related: Ten Smart Science Gifts For Kids: Don’t buy your children robots this year—let them build their own. Also: Giving Science, Not Things — holiday science gift ideas for adults — and The Animal Lover’s Gift Guide. “Gratitude is not unique to our species, but the trading of gifts … might just be.”

The Nativity (scientifically accurate version). “So, basically, three men followed an unspecified bright object over hundreds of miles of desert in order to meet a baby, about whom all they knew was that it would have a nose, might need money and would eventually die. For this they were considered ‘wise men.’ This goes to show that wisdom is clearly a subjective term.”

“Everything is naturally related and interconnected.” Happy birthday, Ada Lovelace, world’s first computer programmer.

Cambridge don Michael Green shares $3m for Fundamental Physics prize with Caltech’s John Schwarz.

IceCube’s Cosmic neutrinos named Physics World‘s Breakthrough of the Year.

The Nobel Prize for Peter Higgs recognizes truth in an ancient Greek idea.  New Scientist‘s Valerie Jamieson snagged a coveted invitation to the ceremony. “Scientists dream of a call from Stockholm. Mine came when I was vacuuming the living room.” In honor of this auspicious occasion, we give you Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds performing a live version of the “Higgs Boson Blues“: “Have you ever heard about the Higgs Boson blues/I’m goin’ down to Geneva baby, gonna teach it to you…”:

Visitors to London’s Science Museum can now take a simulated tour of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider.

Should Dwarves Stand Up in Floating Barrels? The physics of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.

Fantastic Cartography Tips From the Guy Who Mapped Game of Thrones – because winter is coming y’all!

If your time travel theory requires wormholes, try again.

Extraordinary Footage From Starship Juno. On October 9th 2013 NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter performed an Earth-flyby. The result: “A time-lapse montage of the Earth and Moon in their ancient waltz, and a hint of a world that a real starship might want to visit one day.”

Tightropes and slacklines: Doing the Math. “A tightrope is a slackline that’s too tight; a slackline is a tightrope that’s gone loose.”

This is the tale of Ron Gordon, the American science teacher whose life mission has been to make the world take notice of arithmetically appealing dates.

Introducing Spin Glasses, a new board game focusing on quantum mechanics.

The Physics Behind Last Week’s Metro-North Derailment.

Credit: Simon Beck, https://www.facebook.com/snowart8848/photos_stream

English artist Simon Beck Creates Huge Geometric Artworks by Walking Through the Snow — like wintry crop circles.

A mysterious law (Zipf’s Law) that predicts the size of the world’s biggest cities.

NASA’s Curiosity rover finds life-friendly bonanza on once-watery Mars.  Related: Does water still flow across Mars? Dark, mysterious tracks hold clues.  Also: Mars Radiation Risk ‘Manageable’ for Human Missions.

“Sculplexity” – standing for sculptures of complexity — is 3D printing used as a tool to explain theoretical physics.

Could Knots Unravel Mysteries of Fluid Flow? “For decades, scientists have suspected the rules governing these knots could offer clues for untangling turbulence — one of the last great unknowns of classical physics — but any order exhibited by the knots was lost in the surrounding chaos.”

Fibonacci in Budapest: “What mysterious force has arranged alleyways & avenues of Budapest into Fibonacci Sequence? Was it a joke by the city planners? Is this intelligent design at work – the ghost of Pythagoras pacing across the Pannonnian Plain? Or are we simply seeing things that aren’t there?”

An interactive map that lets you hear New York in 1933: “It’s basically an audio time machine.”

Why It’s Truly Unlikely Paul Walker’s Crash Was Caused By Road Dots.

Toys in Everyday Science: Tadashi Tokieda invents toys that exhibit behaviors that intrigue scientists for weeks.

Hubble Space Telescope sees geysers on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Related: Scientists say  brown gunk on Europa surface could be organics snowing from plumes.

The Madness of the Planets – Our home in the universe continues to rock out of control.

This Map Shows the Huge Gender Gap in Science Publishing.

Malfunction on International Space Station may require spacewalk. NASA astronaut, says the prospect would be ‘exciting.’

Introducing the Temperfect Phase-Change Mug: Engineer designs mug to keep coffee temperature just right. “At room temperature, Material X is a solid. But when you pour hot coffee into the mug, the heat dissipates through the stainless steel inner wall of the mug and is absorbed by Material X, which becomes a liquid. This pulls the temperature of the coffee down to 140 degrees F. As the coffee cools, Material X releases its heat back through the lining of the mug – keeping the coffee hot.”

The (Beautiful) Physics of Adding Cream to Your Coffee (via Open Culture):

Who Says Math Has to Be Boring? “Many are being taught by teachers who have no particular expertise in the subjects. They are following outdated curriculums and textbooks. They become convinced they’re “no good at math,” that math and science are only for nerds, and fall behind.”

Why Do Pipes Burst? And why do they always do it so uniformly?

University of Nottingham Nanocentre to unveil a unique x-ray machine dedicated to the study of liquid surfaces.

NYC Tests Laser Detection System For Subway Tracks: Lasers that scan for people on tracks might just save a few commuters’ lives.

The Teacher-Centric Universe (or, Galileo Would Be Ashamed). “Here I was, contrasting theoretical frameworks to explain the movements of the planets, while my students didn’t even know that they’re visible from Earth. You don’t see much of a night sky growing up in Oakland.”

Carnivorous pitcher plants owe much of their efficacy to the viscoelasticity of their digestive fluid.

“Why is that mountain range floating?” Great example and explanation of a “superior mirage” by the University of Washington’s Cliff Mass.

Solving the Riddles of Rippled Icicles: one ingredient that is vital to the formation of icicle ripples is salt.

Tea Kettles Stop Whistling in the Dark (podcast): physics can now explain how a tea kettle whistles.

A Miraculous “Accident of Physics”: Carl Zimmer Explains How Feathers Evolved, Animated.

Credit: Sean Lynch, http://dorialusium.com/

Infrared Photographs of Nepal by New York-based photographer Sean Lynch Look Like Something Out Of  A Dr. Seuss Book.

The scale of things: Geoffrey West applies his ‘physics way of thinking’ to biology and urban life.

This 6-Year-Old Wants to Be an Astronaut, So He’s Petitioning the White House to Save NASA.

T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland As Symbolic Logic: “Solution: Answer cannot be determined.”

A Toy Box That’s Opened By A Kid’s Fingerprint; Starting ‘em young on biometric scanning.

A Note on Graphical Display and a Mechanical Heart, 1876.

Depicting the Medieval Alchemical Cosmos: George Ripley’s Wheel of Inferior Astronomy.

The Star as Starship: “Moving entire stars rather than building spaceships would have certain benefits as a way of traveling.”

DARPA’s new space telescope will track orbital debris in regions that are now largely overlooked.

The Moon Belongs to No One, but What About Its Artifacts?

The Loneliness of the Long-Abandoned Space Observatory. “Here are some observatories whose views onto space have been lost to time.”

Gravity Visualized: Dan Burns explains his space-time warping demo at Los Gatos High School, on March 10, 2012.

The Universe “Really” Is a Hologram According to New Simulations.

See a bullet passing through a soap bubble thanks to the schlieren optical technique.

For those inspired by both physics and art:  how to draw a silhouette of quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli:

Rainbow Gravity? Time May Have No Beginning If different wavelengths of light experience spacetime differently.

Introducing the Science Party: “What’s our budget for Star Trek cosplay?”

A handy  guide to cosmological milestones in recent history, including the ongoing search for dark matter and dark energy:

Paint is probably the Internet’s second favorite non-Newtonian fluid to vibrate on a speaker.

Beauty of Scientific Diagrams: honoring scientists & their discoveries in letters. F is for (Michael) Faraday!

Is Everyday Math The Worst Math Program Ever? “Everyday Math is drill free. It’s jargon full. Complaints are widespread that it is confusing for parents and children. And it doesn’t build on concepts or scaffold understanding.”

Numerical Calculations Can Seem Like Magic: modeling the motion of mass on a string.

Credit: Nikolay Lamm, http://nickolaylamm.com/

Here Are What Cell Phone Signals Would Look Like If You Could See Them. Related: Why It’s Suddenly Safe to Use Cell Phones on Planes

Nature imitates art: Depending on the size of the gold catalyst used to make them, Latika Menon’s nanowires will exhibit periodic grooves that resemble common motifs in art.

These Carnivorous Plants Glow Under Ultraviolet Light to Attract Prey.

Abstruse Goose: The Rules of Physics (on the Road). “You disrespected the laws of physics. You switched into the passing lane in front of that guy and made him decelerate by 8 m/s to match your speed…. You were directly responsible for making him lose 300 kJoules of kinetic energy.” I totally support this comic.

‘Scuse Me While I Pour a Drink Towards the Sky: “sometimes the fight with inertia lets you defy gravity and take truly “hang ten”-worthy photos.”

Tremors in the Web of Trade: Complexity, Connectivity and Criticality in the Mid-Eighth Century Eurasian World. Related: Why We’re Willing to Host Thanksgiving Dinner: insight from the social networks of Amazonian tribes.

Pneumatic Tube System Delivers Burgers At 87MPH at a restaurant in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Math in Motion: Math GIFs! “So much of mathematics is about motion, and it’s nice to see visualizations that include that motion.”

The 13 Best Science and Technology Books of 2013 from Brain Pickings.

There Are No Substitutes for the Metals in Your Smartphone.

Docs explain why James Bond prefers his martinis ‘shaken, not stirred.’

Marvel’s New “Uberframework” Graphs Every Character In The Universe.  “The business of heroes needs saving from the crushing weight of its own data. The Marvel team thinks they’ve built a solution: a massive database that uses graph theory to give fans a simple take on characters that span comics, movies, and video games.”

There’s a petition to name a recently-discovered planet ‘Gallifrey’ — because of COURSE there is!

Image courtesy Nathan Shields, http://saipancakes.blogspot.com/.Making Fractal Pancakes: Take A Fractal and I’ll Put It In a Pancake. “For budding pancake artists, [Nathan] Shields offers the following advice: ‘A condiment bottle makes the batter easier to control.” Still, he says, skill isn’t everything: “If the purpose is to make your kids smile, then a weird, ugly pancake is still better than a round one.’”

Robots in the home as servants, carers, lovers. “Standard team of 2 adults will no longer be required.”

No Reverb Added: An Acoustical Experiment in Drumming.

Beware the One-Trick Hedgehog: how Aquinas, Newton, Darwin, hedgehogs, and foxes can improve economics.

Who will write the first Google Glass apps to help people beat roulette?

Mathematics+Fatherhood: an Interview with Darren Glass.

A Robot Walks Into a Bar… “O.K., I will now try to relate to you with more human jokes,” RoboThespian offers.

Physics of the Amazon Octocopter Drone.

A 3-D Printed, Hand-Cranked Computer: “The 3-D–printed hand-cranked calculator relies on punch cards, string, and rubber bands to execute functions. One minute of turning produces part of the Fibonacci sequence.”

“I knew classroom physics, but my fellow students had taken the next step and could describe how all of that problem-set physics applied to things such as interstellar dust grains and the structure of the Sun. I was lost, and I was feeling increasingly stupid.” Harvard astronomer John Johnson (a.k.a. “John-John” — if you dare) recalls his initial struggles as a young astronomy graduate student.

Rationally Speaking: Massimo Pigliucci discusses the demarcation problem between science and pseudoscience.  …

Intellectuals on a Mission: ‘The Unbelievers’ Chronicles Road Tripping Scientists Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins Promoting Reason.

The Bizarre and Brilliant World of Knitted Science: From crocheted axons to knitted frog spleens.

Titan’s Rivers, Lakes, and Seas Mapped in Incredible Detail using data from Cassini spacecraft.

Connected: A Charming Stop-Motion Papercraft Music Video Inspired by the Universe. Per Brain Pickings, singer songwriter Luke Dick’s tune is “a heartening homage to our shared stardust, featuring papercraft by artist Benjamin Wright Coleman.”

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. David Cummings 5:54 pm 12/16/2013

    Any opinion on this?

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212113034.htm

    Link to this

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