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Physics Week in Review: March 8, 2014

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


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We’ve been a bit crazed this week plugging the new book, as authors are wont to do. I chatted with Chris Mooney on Mother Jones’ Inquiring Minds podcast on how the science of self is exploring not just who we are, but if we are. Also, I played guest instead of host this week on Virtually Speaking Science, chatting with Alan Boyle about the self and the psychology of “selfies.”

“Selfies” were on everyone’s mind this week thanks to Ellen Degeneres’ infamous Oscar tweet of a star-studded selfie that quickly became the most tweeted photo ever. But apparently Our Obsession With Online Quizzes Comes From Fear, Not Narcissism.

Speaking of the Oscars, NASA Toasted Gravity — which walked away with several of the coveted statues, including a Best Director win for Cuaron — with an Amazing Series of Real-Life Images from Space.  Related: have you ever wondered how much would Oscar made out of solid gold would be worth? The answer: More money than anything ever. Also: Revisiting The Art of the Score: The Mind, Music, and Moving Images.

This week also featured the much-anticipated Cosmos reboot‘s premiere in Los Angeles, because what’s more entertaining than science? We’ll be watching when it airs on Sunday! Also, actress and science fan Taryn O’Neill explains why COSMOS matters, to Hollywood as well as to science.

The biggest science experiment in history has been captured on film. The documentary Particle Fever is in theaters now.

Once you master the art of “polar alignment” you will master the art of great astrophotography.

Maps of gamma rays from the center of the Milky Way galaxy, before (left) and after signals from known sources were removed, reveal an excess that is consistent with the distribution of dark matter. Credit: Daylan et al., via Quanta.

But the big physics news was this: X-rays From Other Galaxies Could Emanate From Particles of Dark Matter.  Related: Maps of gamma rays from the center of the Milky Way reveal an excess consistent with distribution of dark matter. Also, Katherine Freese provided thoughtful commentary with a guest post over at Preposterous Universe. The next big break in understanding dark matter may come from Japan’s Astro-H satellite, due next year.

Related: Did Dark Matter Kill the Dinosaurs? The solar system’s periodic passage through a “dark disk” on the galactic plane could trigger comet bombardments that would cause mass extinctions.

In other news, CERN has made an antimatter beam. “It will not be used as a death ray, but to study symmetries and invariants.” Buzzkill.

MIT’s Scott Aaronson says Quantum complexity theory helps us understand black holes, and maybe even fluid dynamics.

Quantum geometrical phase shakes a magnet – a new principle for future spin devices.

Rockets Cats! (And Doves). Researcher baffled by document written by artillery master Franz Helm featuring pictures of jetpacks strapped to cats and doves — a Strange, 16th Century Military Manual.

The future of rare earth recycling. Companies are scrambling to find ways to reuse costly rare earth elements.

Wind Turbines Generate “Upside-Down” Lightning: The turning blades can actually help spark lightning strikes.

The mechanics of coins falling in water: “When a coin falls in water, its trajectory is one of four types…”

Are Stonehenge’s Boulders Actually Big Bells? Some of the structure’s ‘bluestones’ ring when struck with a hammer.

A New Type of ‘Quasicrystal’: Molecules that look like molecular rosettes Accidentally Created in Lab.

D-Wave quantum processor passes tests indicating that it uses special laws of quantum mechanics to operate.

Could You See the Curvature of the Earth in this Airport? In which Rhett Allain makes the best of too much travel.

Physics in 3-D? That’s nothing. Try 0-D. Zero-dimensional quantum dots could have a big effect on technologies.

Finding New Worlds in City’s Old Snow Piles. Thru eyes of a polar geophysicist, snow becomes a crystalline world.

Is That Someone’s House? What Astronauts Can See Looking Down. Related: Incredible HD Video of Earth From Space Brings Maps to Life.

How Airships Are Set To Revolutionise Science. Airships can patrol the upper atmosphere, monitoring the ground or peering at the stars for a fraction of a cost of satellites, according to a new report. All that’s needed is a prize to kick-start innovation.

GOP’s “inane” war on science: Retiring plasma physicist congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) takes on the denialists. Could another physicist be waiting to replace Holt in Congress? Illinois physicist George Gollin hopes his status as “scientist, teacher, watchdog” will mean victory in Democratic primary.

Straight Walls Make Better Concert Halls: Acoustics in shoebox-shaped venues allow for larger dynamic range. (You can read my own take from several years ago on concert hall acoustics here.)

He grew up in grinding poverty. How did Leonard Susskind become one of the world’s greatest physicists?

Quantum Physics Made Relatively Simple: A Mini Course from Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist Hans Bethe.

Remembering MIT in the 1960s and 1970s, When There Were Just 50 Women in a Class of 1,000.

There is a major error in this famous photo of physicist Enrico Fermi — or maybe he was just messing with us. “Fermi would probably have set up the board himself. While serious about his work, he had a sense of humor, and some say that he deliberately wrote the equation wrong to have a little giggle with his friends.”

The Math Wars, Lewis Carroll Style, in which Charles Dodgson defended Euclid as best textbook.

Biobatteries: Could sugar power the cell phones of the future?

Melting ice crystals shimmer in a rainbow of colors in this time-lapse video by photographer Shawn Knol:

In Which We Discover That Every Shuffle Of A Deck of Cards Is Undiscovered Country. “While idly shuffling cards I stopped and wondered: what is the chance that a deck of cards has ever occurred before in exactly the same order as the ones in my hand?”

Do We Need A 100 TeV Proton-Proton Collider? Physicist Matt Strassler says “Yes, definitely.

Mobile devices of the future will get energy from everywhere except the wall socket.

Bicycle-Tricycle Hybrid Counteracts Gravity. Bricycle can steer like a bike or a trike, but there’s no in-between.

No Quantum Black Holes Detected at LHC up to 5 TeV. “While the search came up empty, the analysis set a lower bound of 5 TeV on the mass of QBHs, which may help guide future searches. Larger masses may be probed at the next, higher energy LHC run.”

Osmos, a Physics Game Where It’s Survival of the Fattest. Related: There’s an app for that: From arcade-style fun to simulations, these mobile downloads can supply your physics fix.

Cognitive Cooking: The IBM Watson Food Truck Serves Dishes Designed by a Supercomputer.

Start spreading the SNEWS: A worldwide network keeps astronomers and physicists ready for the next nearby supernova.

Stained Glass Windows Double As Solar Panels. Transparent, colorful cells could decorate, and power, churches.

Created by designer Ken Condal. http://zeamon.com/wordpress/

Check out this Beautiful Handcrafted Orrery, A Mechanical Model of the Solar System.

Algorithmic Art Using All RGB Colors in One Image.

The DIY Engineer Who Built a Nuclear Reactor in His Basement.

Woman Believed To Be Last Of Waterbury’s Radium Girls Dies.

The Mis-Appropriated Marie Curie. “This photo of Marie Curie can be found on postage stamps all over the world. But this isn’t a pic of Marie Curie.”

J.S. Bach’s playful interest in mathematics gets its own exhibition at museum in his home town of Eisenach.

Using effective field theory to understand the evolution of large-scale structure in the universe.

The Beauty of Mathematical Manuscripts (1840): “a combination of elementary and slightly advanced mathematics.”

John Bahcall and the Hubble Telescope – Bringing the universe home.

Crystals ripple in response to light: First propagating surface phonon polaritons in a van der Waals crystal.

Döbereiner’s lighter: Chemistry’s rule of three and whether the periodic table is a Masonic conspiracy.

The ideal number of time zones is somewhere between one and 1,000.

A TED-Ed Animation Explaining Some of the Physics Behind How Oceans Move. Per Laughing Squid: “Educator Sasha Wright explains the physics behind our oceans’ concentration gradient, and how that causes the contents of any given ocean to fight over space.”

Oh, the Places You’ll Do Theoretical Physics! “I won’t run lab tests in a box./I won’t run lab tests with a fox.”

Physics By Hand: “To encourage discussion and engagement, a physics forum has banned PowerPoint slides in favor of low-tech whiteboards.”

That Hoverboard Video Was Totally Fake, But Quantum Levitation Isn’t.

Making your own lightsaber is easier than you think. “All you need are raw eggs, a sharp stick, a great deal of repressed trauma relating to Star Wars and baby dolls, and voila!”

Alan Alda challenges scientists to explain “What is color?

Physics students calculate how to create an actual “Street Fighter” Hadouken fireball attack.

Einstein’s Lost Theory Describes a Universe Without a Big Bang.

Revised Cosmological Constant Predicts a Collapsing Universe. Except Katie Mack begs to differ, citing her own blog post from last year about the original incorrect Big Rip story.

SciShow’s Hank Green on how to predict the odds of anything with a set of statistical reasoning based on Bayes’ theorem.

Credit: Andre Ermolaev, http://andreabe.fishup.ru/p/spage/album/gid/1549301

Andre Ermolaev’s photographs of Iceland’s volcanic rivers can look more like abstract paintings.

Mathematical Proof Reveals How To Make The Internet More Earthquake-Proof. Decentralised networks are naturally robust against certain types of attack. Now one mathematician says advanced geometry shows how to make them even more robust.

Real math hiding in the Onion? Satirical piece about Tetris holds a question about random number generators.  Inspired by this: Modern Science Still Only Able To Predict One Upcoming Tetris Block.

The Brave Story of Mars’ McClure-Beverlin Escarpment.

What if the Large Hadron Collider Finds Nothing Else?

A classic: Richard Feynman Explains How Rubber Bands Work. “The world is a dynamic mess of jiggling things, if you look at it right.”

Australia Is Building a Laser To Shoot Space Junk Out of Orbit.

NASA to conduct the first-ever twin study in space.

Neat post on public knowledge of atomic physics, 1941:

“One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about the Manhattan Project is that prior to Hiroshima, all knowledge of atomic energy and nuclear fission was secret — that the very idea of nuclear weapons was unthought except inside classified circles. … The reality is, as always, more complicated, and more interesting. Fission had been discovered in 1939, chain reactions were talked about publicly a few months later, and by the early 1940s the subject of atomic power and atomic bombs had become a staple of science journalists and science fiction authors.”

The Chain Fountain, Explained. Viral video of a long bead chain provided an intriguing puzzle for two Cambridge physicists.

How 19th century physics could change the future of nanotechnology: Researchers at the University of Cincinnati say their unique method of light-matter interaction analysis could lead to better semiconductor nanowires.

Why Physicists Make Up Stories in the Dark – In unseen worlds, science invariably crosses paths with fantasy.

Nikola Tesla’s ashes spark row between Serbian scientists and Orthodox church.

Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers after scientist reveals that they were computer-generated.

If you’re a fan of the Open Lab series highlighting the best annual science blogging, you can now order the 2013 Open Laboratory from Creatavist (and yes, I have a post featured therein, along with lots of other wonderful writers).

How to Debate a Christian Apologist. “In a debate, impressions are more important than the substance of an argument.” Related:  Jason Rosenhouse shared his thoughts on Sean Carroll’s debate with William Lane Craig. “Whatever it was that brought our universe into being was nothing like the sorts of things with which we have everyday experience. It’s nothing that’s going to seem ho-hum and reasonable to us. Theists have to face that fact no less than atheists.”

How to Talk to a Mathematician. “At least rocket scientists and neurosurgeons can point to concrete objects that they work with—spaceships! Brains! By contrast, mathematicians work with pure ideas. Their game plays out entirely on the wrinkly fields inside their skulls. That can make it hard for outsiders to peek over the fence into the work of the mathematician.”

Together in her kitchen, a scientist and a robot bake macaroons. Related: ViHart Tries to Bake Cookies, Only Bakes Math.

Speaking of the always amazing Vi Hart, in this video she turns a (one-sided) Möbius strip into an instrument, rigged to play a musical theme from Harry Potter.

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. jtdwyer 2:47 am 03/10/2014

    Regarding “… X-rays From Other Galaxies Could Emanate From Particles of Dark Matter. Maps of gamma rays from the center of the Milky Way reveal an excess consistent with distribution of dark matter…”
    - You seem to be mixing two distinct reports.
    – The detected X-ray spectra are proposed to indicate the decay products of ‘sterile neutrinos’ that would have a mass of only 7.1 keV – far less than an electron at 511 keV! So this would not represent the Cold Dark Matter prescribed by the Lambda-CDM ‘standard model’ of cosmology but rather Warm Dark Matter – producing disparate effects. WDM could help solve some of the outstanding problems with the LCDM model, such as ‘the small scale structure problem’, ‘the missing satellite problem’, the ‘cuspy halo problem’ and others, but it must do so while maintaining alignment with other observations. This might require modification to the LCDM model… See http://www.nature.com/news/cosmic-mismatch-hints-at-the-existence-of-a-sterile-neutrino-1.14752.
    – A more selective, independent reanalysis of the inconclusive gamma-ray signal from the Fermi satellite (reported last year) is purported to disfavor a potential alternative signal source – millisecond pulsars – thus supporting the conclusion that the (selected) signal source is from WIMP collisions. Your https://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20140303-case-for-dark-matter-signal-strengthens/ reference primarily discusses the revised analysis of Fermi gamma ray data. Other physicists point out that if the selected signal represents WIMP collisions it should also be detectable in dwarf galaxies. A member of the Fermi Collaboration indicated that collecting necessary dwarf galaxy data may take a ‘couple of years’.
    - “The next big break in understanding dark matter may come from Japan’s Astro-H satellite, due next year.”
    – Aren’t we still awaiting the _first_ “big break in understanding dark matter”?

    Link to this

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