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Physics Week in Review: April 5, 2014

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


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The biggest physics news this week is the announcement of possible hints of dark matter in Fermi data, namely, a curious excess of gamma-ray light coming from the center of our galaxy.  Could this be a sighting of dark matter turning visible at the center of our galaxy? For a bit more background, here’s Natalie Wolchover’s March 3 Quanta article with more details, along with my own Quanta article from last summer.

On the shameless self-promotion front, I chatted with Calla Cofield on the Physics Central podcast about the physics hidden in my new book, Me, Myself and Why: Searching for the Science of Self.  And I have a new article up at Quanta, Self-Organized Criticality: A Fundamental Theory to Model the Mind?

This past week was April Fool’s Day, a guess what? Scientists have a sense of humor too. In-house, check out Unscientific Unamerican, and Other April Fools’ Jokes in Scientific American‘s long history. Also: Graham’s Number Is Too Big for Evelyn Lamb to Tell You How Big It Is.  Over at Slate, Phil Plait offered an April Fool debunking: No, there’s no such thing as a planet-dissolving Chaos Cloud. Here’s A Chemistry Prank From the April 1939 Issue Of Popular Science. Bonus humor: Scientists must use more jargon for public to appreciate science, study shows. “Remind us how smart you are—use five-syllable words, or better yet, Latin.”

Shake, Rattle, and Roll in Los Angeles: we had a pretty good-sized quake earlier in the week — although nothing like the one that hit Chile a couple of days ago — prompting some ruminations on the science of earthquakes. Related: How a ‘Seismic Cloak’ Could Slow Down an Earthquake.  Also: Do Smaller Earthquakes Presage the “Big One”? The trouble with “prediction.”

Did you miss my latest Cosmos recap? It’s all relative except PATRICK STEWART! As usual, there was some discontent, particularly over the fact that an episode in which William Herschel and his son John were prominently featured never once mentioned another notable member of the family, astronomer Caroline Herschel.  But not so fast? The next episode airing on Sunday is called “Sisters of the Sun,” and focuses on several women in science. Related: Awareness of Female Scientists Is So Bad That 12% Of People Asked To Name One Picked a Dude Instead

Debaleena Nandi, Caltech grad student, demystifies the essentials of making her achieve success in life.

Astronomers Publish Study On Extraterrestrial Zombies: “two astronomers have performed a genuine public service for Earth by calculating the likely number of nearby planets inhabited by the undead.”

Underground Ocean Makes Enceladus A Top Candidate For Extraterrestrial Life. Microbial life in that dark cold sea on Enceladus is a maaayyybe but don’t expect to catch any fish, warns the Washington Post‘s Joel Achenbach.

Physicists have begun to reawaken the Large Hadron Collider, with goal of having beam ready for the next run in early 2015.  … Related: I got ALICE! Which LHC experiment are you? This online quiz gets deep down and nerdy.

The Tibetan Book of Proportions provides “precise iconometric guidelines for depicting the Buddha and Bodhisattva figures.”

How to Turn a Pencil Into a Diamond: take some graphene and just add hydrogen — and 150,000 times the atmospheric pressure at the Earth’s surface.

Q: What are those lights and streaks in California’s sky? A: frozen fuel exhaust crystals from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Quasicrystals in Medieval Islamic Architecture: patterns “do not repeat periodically, and have special symmetry.”

Here’s Jaroslav Trnka on the Amplituhedron, in a guest post over at Preposterous Universe.

Photo: Jack Long, http://www.jacklongphoto.com

River Giants, Photos of Colorful Jellyfish-Like Liquid Splashes. Per Laughing Squid: “These jellyfish-like colorful plumes of liquid are from the series River Giants by photographer Jack Long. Long specializes in what he calls “liquid art photography,” intriguing high-speed photos of liquid splashes.”

The Physics of Bicycles in the late 19th Century, courtesy of British physicist C. Vernon Boys (and Nature).

Richard Easther takes a chance: “If wireless does turn out to be the lead paint, asbestos or cigarettes of the 2020s, I will eat a tinfoil hat.”

New research suggests that the toxicity risk of silver nanoparticles could outweigh their benefits.

Einstein’s ‘Spooky’ Theory Could Bring Snowden’s Encrypted Internet Dream to Life.

Study finds astronauts’ hearts become more spherical in space.

What happens when you throw a boomerang in zero gravity? Japanese astronaut Takao Doi demonstrates on the International Space Station.

Does Speeding Really Get You There Any Faster?  Mathematically, it only helps on long road trips.

Physics envy: The last emotion you ever want to feel.

Knowing Mathematics Well Enough to Teach It. Chad Orzel on the Infinite Variety of Wrong Answers: “the number of ways to do even simple questions incorrectly is essentially infinite.”

That Old Space Race Feeling: NASA Memo Suspends Contact With Russians (Except for the International Space Station). Here’s why that’s a really bad idea.

A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.

This is Not Your Father’s STEM Job: ‘Women are using their science, technology, engineering and math degrees to create new careers.”

What Makes This Substance Boil And Freeze At The Same Time?

Science and (and IMDB) show that “Darmok” is not a bad Star Trek: The Next Generation episode.

Scientists think cosmic rays could “explain a longstanding problem in the process of lightning production.”

Don’t Gamble, Use Physics for LED Lighting. “Targeting a color for a white LED is like spraying a savannah w/ buckshot in the hope of downing well-hidden deer.”

Inspired by moth eyeballs, chemists develop gold coating that dims glare.

This Superfluid Appears to Defy Gravity (h/t: Big Think):

The Insane History of Rockets at Jet Propulsion Laboratories.

The Concept of Time in the Medieval World View, featuring Augustine of Hippo’s famous line from his Confessions.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science is turning into a national embarrassment.

Researchers Cracked How to Make ‘Invisibility Cloaks‘ the Size of a Fighter Jet.

A Beaker-Shaped Tea Infuser for Making Deliciously Scientific Beverages.

Math-Inspired Works of Art (sub req’d), Making Art from Equations: From alien angels to hyperbolic lamp shades, these works of art were created not with paintbrush or chisel, but with equations and geometry.  There is also a free online gallery showcasing some of the images.

HBO to Launch Half-Hour Comedy, Women In Space, with screenwriter Kristin Gore. The show purportedly tracks the journey of “a group of women exploring the final frontier on a mission to colonize another planet.”  Related: The Dollar-And-Cents Case Against Hollywood’s Exclusion of Women.

“No sexuality please, we’re scientists”: Where are all the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) scientists?

Photo: Albert Seveso, http://burdu976.com

New Underwater Ink Plumes Photographed by Alberto Seveso.

Can an Equation be a Poem? “Connecting math to poetry isn’t a new idea.”

Maybe time’s arrow needs ergodicity as well as entropy.

Combat Juggling Turns Tossing Three Clubs Into a Competitive Team Sport.

The critics rave! Or at least Scott Aaronson does, in fine hyperbolic form. “If watching Particle Fever doesn’t cause you to feel in your bones the value of fundamental science—the thrill of discovery, unmotivated by any application—then you are not truly human.  You are a barnyard animal who happens to walk on its hind legs.”

Giuseppe Peano: The Math Genius Who Invented His Own Language.

The Classic Coke and Mentos Experiment Modified To Include Nutella Chocolate Spread and a Durex Condom.

Cosmology: Polar star. John Kovac and team captured strong evidence for long-held theory about the Universe’s birth. Related: Gravitational Waves Reveal the Universe before the Big Bang: An Interview with Physicist Gabriele Veneziano.

The Science of the Great Molasses Flood: Fluid dynamics explains why it was more devastating than a typical tsunami.

How Many Dimensions Does the Universe Really Have?

Math’s Beautiful Monsters – How a destructive idea paved the way for modern math.

Mathematical Impressions: Change Ringing is a little-known but rich and beautiful acoustical application of math. “A band of ringers plays long sequences of permutations on a set of peal bells. Understanding the patterns so they can be played quickly from memory is an exact mental exercise which takes months for ringers to perfect.”  Related:  I wrote about the change-ringing in Dorothy Sayer’s classic mystery, The Nine Tailors, back in 2011.

The Strange Stories Behind the Year’s Best Scientific Images.

Fake Astronauts Move Into Simulated Mars Colony on Hawaii Volcano.

TED Animation, ‘The Fundamentals of Space-Time,’ Breaks Down Complex Physics Concepts in Flipbook Form.

The Mystery of the Missing Black Holes. Black holes tend to be either huge or runty. Here’s Nadia Drake on where the Goldilocks ones are: “If intermediate mass black holes do form the hearts of dwarf galaxies, and if dwarf galaxies frequently merge with one another and with larger galaxies, then there could be many dark, punted hearts floating on the peripheries of large galaxies.”

Analysts shrug off rare earth trade ruling, insist WTO’s indictment of Chinese export duties won’t affect export market.

New and improved atomic clock will measure our days: A revolution in time-keeping is coming.

“Born under the second law of thermodynamics…” Neil Armstrong’s Inspiring Defense of Being a Nerd.

Brainman: Inside Mind of an Autistic Savant. What the circumference of a circle has to do with on-demand polyglotism.

There’s nothing like ice lubrication for sliding large things into the Forbidden City.

Warning: Robots are becoming smarter. They can now teach each other how to play Pac-Man.

Check it out! A fun and thorough asteroid impact simulator.

Image: Loris Cecchini, http://loriscecchini.com

Loris Cecchini’s “Wallwave Vibration” series is strongly reminiscent of Faraday wave patterns.

Billiards, Chaos, and the 2014 Abel Prize, awarded to Yakov Sinai, features “some very cool math.” Related: Mathematician Jordan Ellenberg gave a wonderful popular lecture explaining work of 2014 Abel Prizewinner Yakov Sinai.

Statistical Flaw Punctuates Brain Research in Elite Journals. “Neuroscientists need a statistics refresher.”

The first phononic crystal that can be altered in real time.

“The sea raised its great wings, coal black smoke arose from Vesuvius into the blue sky…” 29-year-old Hans Christian Andersen climbed Vesuvius while it was erupting and lived to tell about it.

This E-Tattoo Uses Conventional Chips, No Nanotech Required.  Related: E-Tattoos Can Now Store Data and Deliver Drugs.

Shakespeare Came Up With A Theoretical Physics Term 350 Years Early (well…. kinda).

The Fables of Leonardo da Vinci: “When wine is consumed by the drunkard, it takes revenge on the drinker.”

Super Slow Motion Video of Slapshots Examines the Science of Ice Hockey’s Most Powerful Shot.

Science has nothing to say about the soul? Andrew Brown disagrees. “It can tell us a lot about what they are not.”

Artist Nathalie Miebach draws on basket weaving for her work: ““My work focuses on the intersection of art and science and the visual articulation of scientific observations. I translate scientific data related to astronomy, ecology and meteorology into woven sculptures.”

“Honey, I think you’re in the wrong class.” Cindy Crawford Was Judged By Her Calculus Professor because Of Her Looks.

Jen-Luc Piquant is on tenterhooks for Sunday’s premiere of Game of Thrones, Season 4. The Science of Game of Thrones: for example, consider wildfire as chemical warfare.  Related: “Dracaerys!” A $60,000 Fire Breathing Remote Control Flying Dragon. If that’s out of your budget, there’s always these fabulous custom-made Game of Thrones corsets, with the sigils of your favorite House.

Finally, London seems a little less lonely when Lucy meets a cosmonaut on chat roulette:

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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