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Physics Week in Review: December 28, 2013


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It’s the last physics link fest of 2013! Not surprisingly, there were tons of Christmas-themed items circling the Internet this week. Here are the top four celestial suspects for the Star Of Bethlehem.  Also: The Twelve Days of Christmas, the Hard Way: How many gifts, in all, did my true love give to me?  Bonus: The Best of the British Medical Journal’s Goofy Christmas Papers, such as “Pie sharing in complex clinical collaborations: a piece of cake?”

Then there was the Science of Rudolph. The Red Nose Gene: “Both Santa and we should be very concerned about the genetics of red reindeer noses.” Related: The Science Behind Rudolph’s Red Nose and Colour-Changing Eyes. Also: Why Rudolph Should Have Never Joined Santa’s Reindeer. “Rudolph didn’t have a radio beam transmitter in his nose.”

Finally, we got the Truth About Santa Claus: the Bad Astronomer says, “Santa is … actually a 35-kilometer wide asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.”  Related: Holiday-themed fluid dynamics: visualization of air flow around Santa’s sleigh. Bonus: There was also the Gashlyshelf Elfies: A Tribute. “Z is for Ziv in figgy pudding mushed.”

Doctor Who fans bid farewell to (SPOILER ALERT!) Matt Smith’s incarnation of everyone’s favorite Time Lord (except this is my #1 Time Lord). The Internet marked the occasion with the Twelve Days of Doctor Who: “12 Daleks zapping…” and more! Also, the Doctor Who puppets started their Christmas special early.

Rhett Allain says his initial estimation for the amount of gold under the mountain in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug was WAY too low.

At last! A use for those pesky tachyons: science fiction author and physics professor Gregory Benford proposes the tachyonic antitelephone. Per io9: “If you’ve ever forgotten to call someone, you know the pain of finally, belatedly, picking up the phone. A tachyonic antitelephone would allow you to phone someone back in time. Because tachyons go faster than the speed of light, they would travel back in time to before you ever made your phone call.”

Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing received a very belated royal pardon, but not everyone was happy about it: “To single out Turing is to say all other persecuted gay men are not so deserving of justice b/c less exceptional.”

Spacewalk success! NASA astronauts finished ahead of schedule on International Space Station repairs. It was a big week for space walks. Cosmonauts set a Russian space-walking record of 8 hours, 7 minutes. Unfortunately, that mission wasn’t a success.

"MDMA." Credit: Sarah Schoenfeld, http://www.sarahschoenfeld.de/en

All You Can Feel, photos made by placing psychoactive substances directly on film negatives. Per Laughing Squid: “[A]rtist Sarah Schönfeld visualizes various legal and illegal psychoactive substances by creating photographs from negatives that have been exposed to the substances. To create each image, Schönfeld placed a drop of the substance on to an exposed film negative and waited for it to react with the film.”

Neutrinos From the Sky: Meet “Bert” and “Ernie” from the IceCube data.

The Show That Never Ends: Perpetual Motion in the Early 18th Century,” Q&A with science historian Simon Schaffer.

In 1949, a Physicist Proposed Using Skyscapers And a Roof to Control NYC’s Climate.

Autopsy of a Dead Social Network: modeling the collapse of Friendster.

This Crowdfunded Hot Rod Is Made of Lego and Powered by Air (but the seats are really uncomfortable).

How to Map a Galaxy When You’re Right in the Middle of It.

“Ah, you are a mathematician,/they say with admiration  or scorn.”

Physicists calculate how much energy would be required to turn water into wine.

What are Variable Stars? “To be is to be the value of a variable.” — Willard Van Orman Quine.

Learn about kitty aspect ratio drift in “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats 2.0.”

A Gorgeous Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Alfonso Cuarón Made Gravity: (h/t: io9)

Catching Rays in California and Storing Them: using batteries to store electricity during day, discharge in evening.

Curiosity project scientist John Grotzinger explains what they’re looking for on Mars.

Can you fry things in space? “In a recent paper published in Food Research International, two researchers investigated the “effect of increased gravitational acceleration in potato deep-fat frying.”

Photoset: Henrietta Swan Leavitt’s actual 1912 paper wherein she noted the pattern in cepheid variables.

Can hidden information in photographs be used to spot criminals?

The Snarky, Clever Comments Hidden in the “Acknowledgments” of Academic Papers.

Physicists and Archaeologists Tussle Over Long-Lost Lead.

Can the laws of physics be explained by science? An intriguing viewpoint from physicist Paul Davies.”What if the laws of physics as we know them are just accidents, the products of cosmic happenstance?”

Why yes, there is a Baking and Math blog, and here is a sample post: On Failure, Also Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Ask Ethan #17: The Burden of Proof (misunderstanding the word “theory”).

This Video Will Hurt, C.G.P. Grey Demonstrates Hypersounds and Explains the Nocebo Effect.

Mapping the Shake, Rattle and Roll of Tectonic Plates. Seismologists can track earthquakes better than ever before.

Teaching How To Learn: the need for a more nuanced and personalized approach that teaches students how to learn.

The Navy Just Unveiled the World’s Greatest Wave Pool – for SCIENCE!

Painted Ships on Painted Oceans: an Accidental Map of the Doldrums.

Turning Tennis Rackets Into Data Centers. Babolat Play Pure Drive rackets have sensors that measure power, spin, and contact point with the ball; players can then download the data.

That’s one way to deal with it: Stephen Serjeant’s FAQ page for when people send unsolicited “theories of everything.”

Internet-connected and smartphone-controlled houses and appliances have arrived. So open the door — with a finger tap.

Finally, here is some kitten physics for your weekend. Adorable Scottish Fold kittens — Panda, Pikachu and Pavel — discover the physics of collision while playing with a Newton’s Cradle:

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. ianlib 6:00 pm 12/28/2013

    Great compilation, even though it is the holidays. You are my only source for great science links. You pretty well cover everything. Good luck on the new book. Happy Holidays.

    Link to this

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