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Physics Week in Review: December 21, 2013

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


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Christmas approacheth (for those who celebrate) and Jen-Luc Piquant received an early present: the Cocktail Party Physics post, “The Science of Mysteries: Leave Us the Counterpoint” — an homage to a key theme in the Dorothy Sayers classic mystery Gaudy Night — was selected for Open Lab 2013. It’s an honor to be included with so many talented writers.

Video Analysis at an Airport – what’s a physicist to do when his flight is delayed? Bonus: Rob Dunn spills the dirty truth about mistletoe. Related: Facts to Share at Your Next Holiday Party: Mistletoe is Weird (it’s actually a parasite).

Smashing ornaments at 12,500 frames per second and other holiday fun from the BYU Splash Lab.

Baby It’s Cold Outside, So Get Out There And Play With Thermodynamics.

Add ice crystals to the air, and parking-lot lights can turn into something eerie and stunning.

Santa should switch from near-light-speed sleigh to “Yuletide swarm” of unmanned drones to reach millions of homes. Symmetry weighed in on the topic, too: Santa at nearly the speed of light.

Holiday science craft kids will LOVE…gelatin sticky window decorations.  Related: Make your own scientifically-accurate Earth ornaments out of satellite imagery from NASA’s Visible Earth team.

To buy or not to buy? That is the question. The Shopping Decision Tree (flow chart/infographic).

Could this be new method for invisibility cloak? a “darkness beam” that bathes objects in the absence of light.

The Bizarre, Tangled Tale of the Only Sculpture on the Moon.

Jewel Box Sun: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows the wide range of wavelengths — invisible to the naked human eye — that the telescope can view.

CERN’s Lego scavenger hunt:  Somewhere inside the CERN Computing Centre lurk a werewolf, a gorilla, a leprechaun and other tiny exotic creatures. How many can you find?

Watch How the Wind Moves Around the Earth: “Working with data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg made a stunning Wind Map, which shows real time winds as they flow around the U.S. And now computer programmer Cameron Beccario has produced an even more powerful creation—a mesmerizing tool that helps visualize the winds all over the globe and is known simply as “Earth.”

Ray Jayawardhana — or as I like to call him, “Ray-Jay” — was all over the Internet this week, which saw the publication of his most excellent book, The Neutrino Hunters. Listen Up, It’s Neutrino Time: Higgs, Schmiggs, “It is time to give another particle a chance.”  Also: The Case of the Disappearing Physicists.

Whiteboards: A Love Story: “Color is magic. The blackboard is Kansas, and the whiteboard is Oz.”

Scott Aaronson on why philosophy is too important to be confined to philosophy departments.

How much salt would you need to add to the Dead Sea to be able to walk on water? Calculations here.

Heating Water To 600 Degrees C In 1 Trillionth Of A Second; new trick could trigger interesting chemical reactions.

Falling Upward: It’s time to learn from the ancients to create new ways to entertain our kids. “Ubiquitous in civil engineering applications, Archimedes’ screw has never formed the basis of a theme-park waterslide.” Related (sort of): How Aeneas invented pizza: Heus! Etiam mensas consumimus!

With Thermionic Generation, the Steam Age Is Looking Sad.

These Astronomical Clocks Were a Wonder of the Medieval World.

Humped bladderwort. Confocal imaging, 100x. Igor Siwanowicz, HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus, Ashburn, VA, USA. First Prize, 2013 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition®.

The Startling Beauty of the Microscopic: winners of the Olympus 2013 International Digital Imaging Competition.

SHINY! First trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, based on a concept/story by Kip Thorne.

Spare a thought for Ham the Chimp, an object and victim in the human race for space.

FIFA Physics: How a Video Game Finally Figured Out Air Resistance.

The Arguments for Slowing Down the Gen-6 Car (NASCAR physics).

It’s Not Entirely Crazy to Think Universe Could Exist in a Hologram. Why physicists imagine black-hole universes.

This is the world’s most efficient way to convert heat into electricity.

Four things you might not know about dark matter, courtesy of Symmetry magazine.

A movie about Kubrick faking the moon landing? Yes, please. “The theory that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing started circulating right after we landed on the moon in 1969,” [screenwriter Stephany] Folsom told me, adding that she has “always been fascinated by conspiracy theories”—but also noting that “fascination” is very different from “belief.” “I love the idea that a group of people could be so organized to orchestrate what essentially is a giant con job, but I just don’t buy that people are that competent to execute something on so large a scale without someone dropping the ball or spilling the secret.”

Direct measurements of the wave nature of matter: New experimental techniques map out wave properties only known previously from theory.

Solar panels perform better when listening to music, and pop music performs better than classical.

See those dots? Each is a back-from-the-dead star–white dwarf, neutron star, black hole. 100,000 new ones have been found.

How would a pandemic spread through our air transportation routes? models of imagined airplane-borne epidemics.

A Model World: In economics, climate science and public health, computer models help us decide how to act. But can we trust them?

Introducing an interactive map called Redditviz detailing subreddits with overlapping participants.

The colors of a soap film are directly related to their thickness. If a film becomes thin enough, it appears black.

Blast from the Past: Richard Feynman tells Fred Hoyle about understanding superfluid Helium in a flash, after years of struggling. “It can’t be so complicated.”

Eleven Awesome Ways Data Has Been Turned Into Art; Who knew number crunching could be so cool?

Polynesians May Have Used Binary Long Before Europeans.

Check out these Psychedelic Landscapes of Asteroid Vesta.

Orac takes on the latest Fear mongering over cell phones and cancer by Dr. Oz.

#$@^! The Industries That Make Us Sweariest: We’re Talking to You, Satellite and Cable Companies. The Marchex Institute uses phone call data to rank the most profanity-inducing business types.

The Berkeley Institute for Data Science: “Everyone is going to have to become a data scientist.”

Waterspout illustration from Annalen der Physik, series 1 volume 7, 1801, from Michaud's "Beobachtungen einiger Wasserhosen..."

Art in the Annalen der Physik: “a great sidelight in reading in the journal has been to appreciate the illustrations as they were intended, as well as images standing apart from their intended use, as found scientific art.”

A relatively simple circuit may have detected the passage of a dark matter particle back in 2004.

Mu2e attracts magnet experts. By tapping into specialized knowledge around the world, the Mu2e collaboration will undertake a first-of-its-kind experiment.

In Space, No One Can Hear You Fart. Flatulence is one of space’s lesser-known challenges.  Inspired by “Beans,” An Animated Mock Ad About Gassy Astronauts Being Ravaged by a Monster on the Moon.

The Moon is a harsh mistress: a terrifying engineering challenge that pushes technological boundaries. Former NASA developer Katy Levinson explains why we should care about the Moon as much as Mars-even if its dust is a killer problem.

The 2013 British Medical Journal’s annual holiday issue is a gift of silly science: from James Bond to the Brady Bunch.  …

A New Tool to Help Mathematicians Pack. “The problem of correcting for errors on noisy communication channels … is exactly the sphere-packing problem,” said Henry Cohn, a mathematician at Microsoft Research New England in Cambridge, Mass.”

“Ants Act as Both a Fluid and a Solid” – The physics of ants could inspire robots, roads, and even bridges.

The Scrolls Vesuvius Torched Over 1,000 Years Ago Are Readable Again thanks to infrared imaging and micro-CT imaging technique that enabled researchers to “virtually unroll the scroll.”

Complicated shock wave patterns envelope vehicles traveling at supersonic and hypersonic speeds.

Scientist’s Message in a bottle found 54 years later in the Arctic. “The words from Paul T. Walker, penciled on July 10, 1959, were a simple request to measure the distance to a nearby ice shelf on Ward Hunt Island, and report them back to his laboratory at Ohio State University, or to his colleague, Albert Crary, in Cambridge, Mass.”

Kostas Kostarelos in the Guardian: “I have a dream, that one day scientists and philosophers will join hands.”

Credit: Joel Cooper, http://joelcooper.wordpress.com/

Tesselated origami masks are stunning. “These folded masks are made entirely from single sheets of paper by origami artist Joel Cooper. As if making the shape of a face from paper wasn’t already difficult enough, Cooper uses a method of folding called tessellation where an elaborate grid is first folded into a hexagon-shaped piece of paper.”

In the Fukushima Fallout, Meet the Hackers Building a Sensor Network for Global Radiation.

Scientists found organics from Earth’s swamp trapped inside glass created by a meteor impact a million years ago.

A Crane, A Tank, and the Center of Gravity – Why did this crane tip over as it turned but not at the beginning?

Physicists delve into fundamental laws of biological materials

Scientific Storytelling: the Story Collider makes science touching, riveting and even downright hilarious.

Science Museum’s new app lets virtual visitors interact with its artefacts. Journeys of Invention iPad app includes enigma machine, 17th century microscope and Apollo command module dashboard.…

Earthrise: How Astronauts Took the Most Important Photo in Space History.

A Game Designer Thinks He Can Improve on Chess’ 1,500-Year-Old Rules.

The Cubli: A Gravity-Defying Cube that Can Jump, Balance, and Walk. “The device contains a trio of reaction wheels that rotate extremely fast and can be controlled in speed and combination to create gravity-defying tricks.” Possible applications include planetary exploration or self-assembling robots.

“Perfect” Electron Roundness Bruises Supersymmetry.

Researchers grow liquid crystal ‘flowers’ that can be used as lenses.

Towards an evolutionary theory of the origin of life based on kinetics and thermodynamics.

Beautiful Slow Motion Video of an Espresso Extraction. Per Laughing Squid: “Skunkay, an employee at Spyhouse Coffee in Minneapolis, captured this mesmerizing, slow motion (120 fps) video of an espresso extraction.”

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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