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Physics Week in Review: March 29, 2014

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


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This week there continued to be Ripples From the Big Bang. Sean Carroll discussed When Nature Looks Unnatural: “Ultimately it’s nature, not us, that decides what’s natural.” And Matt Strassler was back, explaining Which Parts of the Big Bang Theory are Reliable, and Why.  Also: The gravitational-wave finding would strengthen case for multiverse and all but rule out a ‘cyclic Universe.’ And the contrarians have come out of the woodwork: Cosmologists Say Last Week’s Announcement About Gravitational Waves May Be Wrong.  Finally, are we entering a golden era of private science funding? BICEP2 was prominently funded by Keck and Moore Foundations.

For the human interest angle, check out inflationary theory co-founder Andrei Linde showing off his bicep before giving a talk on the BICEP2 results. Inflation on the back of an envelope: Caltech’s John Preskill does some fast calculations. You know, for fun. To Discover Gravitational Waves, Someone’s Got to Keep the Antarctic Telescope Cold. That thankless task goes to Steffen Richter, among others. “We have a huge movie library. There are parties. People organize art shows.”

Hypnotic Art Shows How (Turing) Patterns Emerge From Randomness in Nature. (I wrote about Turing patterns for Quanta last year, along with this accompanying blog post — fascinating topic!) Per Wired:

“[G]enerative artist and designer Jonathan McCabe, based in Canberra, Australia, is turning Turing’s theory into art. Instead of cells, McCabe starts with pixels. Each pixel gets a random value, usually a number between -1 and 1, which is represented in the final image by a color. Then, McCabe applies a set of rules that dictate how each pixel’s value shifts in response to the ones around it. As the program progresses, pixel values change, creating clusters of shapes that begin to emerge from the originally random mix of numbers.”

This week’s Cosmos recap: The meaning and math of comets.  Related: The Milky Way has 4 billion years to live, but our solar system will survive. Also: you can watch Carl Sagan’s Original Cosmos Series on YouTube: The 1980 Show That Inspired a Generation of Scientists.

Talk Nerdy’s Cara Santa Maria chats with Sean Carroll about time, the Higgs, and the multiverse.

NASA Has Recovered seven “Precious” Particles From Solar System’s Birth. Am I the only one hearing Gollum’s voice?

Rare Neutrino Morphing Spotted Again. Now in its last act, OPERA detector all but clinches the case for process.

Physicists Produce Antineutrino Map Of The World.

At House Science Panel Hearing, sarcasm and political trash-talking overrode serious debate.

Superheroes and particle physics: the dynamic duo. From Iron Man to The Flash and astrophysicists to particle physicists, superheroes and physicists help shape each other’s worlds.

A Medieval Multiverse: Ideas in a 14th-century treatise on nature of matter — De Luce (On Light), circa 1225 — still resonate today.  … Related: What is the Multiverse, and why do we think it exists?

Photo: Vik Munix, http://vikmuniz.net, and Marcelo Coelho, http://www.cmarcelo.com

The World’s Smallest Sandcastles Built on Individual Grains of Sand by Vik Muniz and Marcelo Coelho.

“Muniz first drew each castle using a camera lucida, a 19th century optical tool that relies on a prism to project a reflection of whatever is in front of you onto paper where it can be traced. The drawings were then sent to Coelho who worked with a number of microscopic drawing processes for several years before deciding to use a Focused Ion Beam (FIB) which has the capability of creating a line only 50 nanometers wide (a human hair is about 50,000 nanometers wide). Lastly, Muniz photographed the final etchings and enlarged them to wall-sized prints.”

Poems by Laura Long tell of the work by astronomer Caroline Herschel — discoverer of eight comets, cataloger of stars.

Tom Wicks and Lois Anderson, mother and son, have worked as ironworkers on Fermilab experiments throughout their careers.

Light-activation reaction and phase transformation make single crystals jump, roll and pop (like popcorn).

Traffic Ghost Hunting: when the biggest problem with traffic is nothing at all. “Most gridlock strikes when the quick braking of one driver ripples rapidly down a string of cars.”

The Most Famous Failed Science Experiment.

Curves… in… spaaaace! (1890): the space-filling curves of Peano, Hilbert, Cantor, etc.

To Save Drowning People, Ask Yourself “What Would Light Do?”

Equations Are Art inside a Mathematician’s Brain. A brain area associated with emotional reactions to beauty activates when mathematicians view especially pleasing formulas.

Hubble Zooms-in on Mars-Buzzing Comet Siding Spring.

Dancing Stick Figures Graph Mathematical Functions With Their Arms.

Once upon a time, NASA launched inflatable disco balls into orbit. Because of course they did.

Scientists solve riddle of Celestial archaeology: white dwarfs (stars) may have swallowed planets before their demise.

‘Living materials’ combine bacterial cells with nonliving elements that can conduct electricity or emit light. Scientists at MIT turn e. coli into tiny factories that made gold nanowires and a real network.

"Caterpillar" by Claire Droppert, http://claireonline.nl/3rkw61r0v6jyttohmam8ncqadsb1be

Rotterdam-based photographer Claire Droppert hurled clumps of sand through the air, and captured peculiar shapes with hi-speed camera.

Bright Lights, Big Data: Culturomics and Results-Based Reading.  Related: Genomics, Medicine, and Pseudoscience: Why Google Flu is a failure and the hubris of big data.  Counterpoint: “Data” the buzzword vs. data the actual thing. Also: Recent Big-Data Struggles Are ‘Birthing Pains,’ Researchers Say.

The Baseball Stat Rage: Quantification Doesn’t Always Make It Science.  Quantiphobia and the turning of morals into facts.

William of Occam, Thomas Bayes, and the Fate of MH370. Related: How math determined that flight MH370 crashed in the southern ocean.

Creating Real-Time, Continent-Wide Forecasts Of Bird Migrations: BirdCast would unite big data with ornithology.

What’s the use of “econo-physics”? Why physics + economics = more than you think.  Related: Physicists annoy an economist.  “Don’t think that after watching Inside Job you can jump in to economics and save the day just because you understand the Navier–Stokes equations.”

Is This A Good Math Question? “it’s in those tiny details that things get complicated.”

If Pacific Rim Followed Its Own Math, The Kaiju Would Have Won.

How wide is a Higgs? In accord with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, short-lived particles have uncertain mass.

What Commander Chris Hadfield Learned From Going Blind in Space: In space, “there is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.”

Newton’s Most Underrated Disciple Was Pioneer for Women in Science.

Twin Paradox: A Study of Twins, Separated by Orbit: Scott and Mark Kelly are the only identical twins to have flown in space.

Burglars Beware: New Material (inspired by bombardier beetles) Steams, Foams Upon Break-In.

Great review of Max Tegmark’s Mathematical Universe, by Scott Aaronson.

How dung beetles use the Milky Way, navigationally, to find their way home:

Viral “Zero G Day” Hoax Floats Around the Internet Once Again, gives Bad Astronomer Phil Plait another <headdesk> moment.

Five Bar Tricks You Can Do With Science, including the Upside Down Bottle Trick.

The Timekeeper: Behind the Scenes of Humanity’s Most Accurate Atomic Clocks, Which Dictate Our Daily Lives.

Cold chaos: Chaotic motion and complex chemistry might lurk at nano-Kelvin temperatures.

Ten surprising facts about Isaac Newton, including that he graduated “with no honors or distinctions.”  Related: An Unusual Engraved Portrait of Isaac Newton.

A Rebel without a PhD: Freeman Dyson. “I had this skill with mathematical tools, and I played these tools as well as I could just because it was beautiful,” said Freeman Dyson in a wide-ranging interview with Quanta.

A New Planetoid Reported in Far Reaches of Solar System.

Fifty years later, it’s hard to say who named black holes.

How to See Quantum Drops of Light – the single-photon quantum eraser.

Photo: Vincent Brady, http://www.vincentbrady.com

Planetary Panoramas, Beautiful Star Trail Photographs That Appear to Distort Space. “Photographer Vincent Brady captures beautiful time-lapse night sky photos … as 360 x 180-degree panoramas — causing what looks like weird distortion of space thanks to the horizontal compression of the image.”

The Electronic Holy War: “Last March, sixteen years later, a computer program named Crazy Stone defeated Yoshio Ishida, a professional Go player and a five-time Japanese champion. The match took place during the first annual Densei-sen, or “electronic holy war,” tournament, in Tokyo, where the best Go programs in the world play against one of the best humans. Ishida, who earned the nickname “the Computer” in the nineteen-seventies because of his exact and calculated playing style, described Crazy Stone as “genius.””

Sorting the Mathematical Tools from the Toys.

Discovery of quasars in the 1960s helped show that the universe was different in the past (not static but dynamic).

Quantum ‘tornado’ provides first visual evidence that the reconnection of quantum vortexes launches Kelvin waves.

Thomas Edison & His Trusty Kinetoscope Create the First Movie Filmed In The US (c. 1889).

Mother-of-pearl inspires super-strong material.

The Curious Nature of Sharing Cascades on Facebook. Most content shared a few times but some can be shared 1M times.

Silkscreen printing goes nano: Using silk in nanolithography could allow water to replace toxic solvents.

Death Cologne’: Chemist’s Secret to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.

Antifragility and Anomaly: Why Science Works.

Chris Nolan Built Giant, Practical Spaceship Interiors For Interstellar.

‘Mars in a Bottle’ simulates dangerous dust conditions on the Red Planet.

There’s a Climate Record (of sorts) Hidden Inside Famous Paintings. …Related: Painted Sunsets Hold Record of Volcanic Eruptions, Pollution. From the Renaissance to the present, the colors master painters choose to depict sunsets tell us what’s in the air.

Physics Central Podcast: beating the Game of Go.

The “Motor” That Allows a Fly to Flap Its Wings 50 Times a Second: “a 3D visualization of a fly’s thorax in action. The 3D animation, which was put together using data pulled from a particle accelerator, offers a glimpse into the inner workings of one of nature’s most complex mechanisms.”

NASA is taking a public vote on the astronaut suit of the future.

Photo: Patrick Rochon, http://www.patrickrochon.com

Radiant Light, Beautiful Abstract Light Paintings Inspired by Unseen Phenomena.  “According to [artist Patrick] Rochon, his circular designs are inspired by phenomena that cannot normally be seen, such as sounds, emotions, and energy.”

Chaos-theory pioneer nabs Abel Prize: Yakov Sinai developed fundamental tools for study of unpredictable phenomena.

Dark energy hides behind phantom fields.

Klingon Warnog, An Official Star Trek-Themed Dunkelweizen Beer From the Federation of Beer.

Under a Microscope Even Familiar Things Look Beautifully Weird. – Related: Butterfly Wings Are Mind-Blowing Under A Microscope.

Amazing pix of the Fluid Dynamics of a core-collapse, or Type II, supernova.

Economic Network Of Organised Crime Reveals the pattern of links between Mafia-controlled firms & rest of the economy.

Alan Lightman on theory of everything, tech as mediator of human experience, empathizing with the religious impulse.

A Spinning Mosaic of Patterns Drawn on a Potter’s Wheel.

How Hard Is It to Catch a Fake Passport? “Error rates > 20% .. can have severe consequences in applied settings.”

This is What a Facial Detection Algorithm Looks Like in 3D – Mathematics made metallic onto a face of flesh.

A Networked Approach to Fighting the TB Pandemic.

A Neutrino Walks Through A Bar, And More Science Jokes From Twitter.

Clever bus stop ad makes people believe meteors are striking the street.

Crazy Furniture, A Hilarious Computer Animation of a Classroom Being Subjected to Bizarre Physics:

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. JoAnne.Growney 10:08 pm 03/31/2014

    Thanks, Jennifer, for your wide-ranging posts that lead me EVERYWHERE. For a bit of cocktail-party-mathematics, visit http://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com/2013/12/conversational-mathematics.html
    JoAnne

    Link to this

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