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Physics Week in Review: April 12, 2014

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


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There were several physics news items this week, coming on the heels of the APS April Meeting in Savannah Georgia.

Like a BOSS: Astronomers make the most precise measurement yet of the expanding universe. Related: The universe is expanding, but how quickly? Quasars may shed some light.

Meet Big Bird, the highest-energy neutrino ever detected.

Building on light-cloaking work, physicists aim to shield cities from earthquakes by deflecting incoming energy.

Check out this week’s Cosmos recap: Finding the secret code that’s “Hiding in the Light.”  Related: Spectroscopy Is the Rosetta Stone to the Universe.  Also: Neil deGrasse Tyson Gets the “SNL” Treatment.  And finally: how the creator of Family Guy remade Carl Sagan’s pivotal TV series.

Shameful: Teacher removed for ‘dangerous’ science projects. “As far as we can tell, he’s being punished for teaching science.”

Stephen Colbert is the best thing to happen to science on TV. Will this continue at his new CBS gig replacing David Letterman?

Credit: Edward Tufte, http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/

Edward Tufte, celebrated statistician and master of informational graphics, transforms physics notations into works of art. For example, “All Possible Photons” (pictured at right) “depicts in Feynman diagrams the 120 possible outcomes of a meeting of six discrete units of light. The steel wire sculptures are mounted inches from a wall and illuminated with light sources of varying qualities to create a three-dimensional appearance. The piece is composed of both the sculptures and the shadows they create.”

The First total lunar eclipse since 2011 is coming up next week. It’s the first in a string of four. And just what is a “blood moon,” anyway? Related: Incredibly rare “back-to-back” maximum eclipses are coming.

LHC makes clear identification of a weird particle made of four quarks. Related: Fire It Up! LHC Begins Long Restart: “It’s not simply a question of flicking the ‘on’ switch.”

A possible dark matter bubble in gamma rays.

Shameless self-promotion alert! This week in Virtually Speaking Science, I chatted with physicist and author Ray Jayawardhana (a.k.a. “RayJay”) about hunting neutrinos. And speaking of neutrinos, the IceCube experiment has taken hits from three neutrinos carrying energies above the outlandishly high peta–electron volt range that suggest they may radiate from titanic explosions in the depths of space.

This is also my chance to plug the growing number of smart, beautiful young women with a passion for science who are making the most out of new media. For instance, here’s an interview with Gia Mora, actress, chanteuse, and all-around physics fan: E=MC What? ‘Einstein’s Girl’ Seeks Formula For Love.  “You can be female and feminine and still be interested in these things,” said Mora. “It doesn’t have to be this stereotypical nerd girl, glasses and mousy hair and all of that. You can have the glam, and the goof, and the geek all in one thing.”

I recently chatted with host-with-the-most Cara Santa Maria in the latest episode of her new Talk Nerdy podcast, about the science of self, my work with the Science & Entertainment Exchange, and why I earned a black belt in jujitsu (as well as why I eventually quit martial arts).

I also visited with the smart and sassy women of the new BiteSizeTV Webseries, Chaotic Awesome, about self, identity, Second Life, and LSD — as well as a panel segment called The Fellowship of the Thing, where we talked about the XPrize for Artificial Intelligence. That’s Chloe Dykstra, Michele Morrow and Christina Ochoa with me on set in the clip below (not shown: correspondent Marisha Ray). The show’s title alludes to the moral alignment grid from Dungeons and Dragons (in which good and evil can be lawful, neutral or chaotic):

What do NYC Streets and Asteroids Have in Common? “Fatigue, that’s what.”

Studying ant-made structures could help us understand how complex systems emerge in nature.

An engineer, a mathematician and a physicist walk into a universe. How many dimensions do they find?

Profiting from Re-Entry: How NewSpace Needs Public Policy to Take Space Debris Out of the Equation.

Scientists have gained new insight into how matter can change from hot soup of particles to matter we know today.

How Stars Can Be Used as ‘Probes’ for Galactic Archaeology.

A physics grad student’s take on high frequency trading. “HFT has simply computerized age-old tactics.”It’s easy to point to extreme examples of algorithmic traders abusing markets, and they regularly do, but my argument is that HFT has simply computerized age-old tactics. In this process, these tactics have become more benign and markets more stable.”  Adam Frank had a more agnostic take: High Frequency Trading is creating a new version of human time. “Are all time logics equal? Are all time logics good? Are all time logics sane? As we rush headlong into this new world of milliseconds, microseconds and nanoseconds, the time to address these questions is probably now.”

Is the viral “skydiver nearly hit by meteorite” video legit? Phil Plait takes a look at the evidence.

Sector Vector: Flex your vector skills in this nifty new physics game.

Has BICEP seen the first moments of the big bang or a nearby galactic supernova remnant?

Triboluminescence! Sparkly Mints May Help Explain Puzzling “Earthquake Lights.”

The Physics of the Wiffle Ball Pitch: “Mechanical engineer Jenn Stroud Rossmann at Lafayette College placed the ball in a wind tunnel, measured airflow around it, and concluded that the shifting balance of forces inside and outside the ball is what makes it so devilishly hard to hit.”

Credit: Darren Moore, http://www.darrenmoorephotography.com

The Ethereal Daytime Long Exposure Photography of Darren Moore: “Moore creates ethereal black and white landscapes using a method called daytime long exposure, where a special filters are attached to a camera lens to reduce the amount of light. These neutral density filters allow for the shutter to open for extended periods of time in broad daylight, from 30 seconds to upward of 15 minutes for a single exposure.”

Searching for the  holographic universe: Physicist Aaron Chou keeps the Holometer experiment grounded. And here’s a Counterpoint to the search for the holographic universe.

Trap doors – the answer for people moving seats at the theatre? “In 1924, Louis J Duprey of Dorchester, Massachusetts, patented a system that ‘permits any patron of the theatre to enter or leave his place without at all disturbing other patrons.’ You, the patron, entered vertically, though a trap door, already ensconced on a chair. When you wanted to leave, a discreet twist of a knob activated the machinery in reverse, causing the chair, and you, to quietly sink back down, and out.”

Off mass-shell: When a particle physicist describes something as “off mass-shell”, they could be referring to a precise bit of quantum mechanics, or denouncing an unrealistic budget estimate. Either way, it’s a bit of jargon that connects Pythagoras to the Large Hadron Collider, via Einstein and Feynman.

Astrophysicist Janna Levin — Mathematics, Purpose, and Truth.

Can You Identify These Cities From Their Light Signatures? “The light that a city emits is like its glowing fingerprint.”

Power Networks of Future will require new ways of forecasting demand on the scale of individual households.

How do birds zip through the environment with ease? They have mastered “optic flow.”

Cost Skyrockets for United States’ Share of ITER Fusion Project.

How the “Gooey Universe” Could Shed Light on the Big Bang. Apparently the universe has the viscosity of chocolate syrup.

The Slowest Way to Draw a Lute, courtesy of Albrecht Dürer’s 1525 text “A Painter’s Manual.”

A Fossil Galaxy Packed with Dark Matter Is a Window to the Ancient Universe.

“There was once a princess who fell in love with geometry: Step Inside an Interactive Escher Drawing with Monument Valley. This game looks seriously amazing.  “Heavily influenced by the drawings of M.C. Escher the game is so aesthetically beautiful the developers include an in-game camera that lets you take pictures you can share as you play. But this game isn’t just about pretty architectural landscapes, the gameplay is as entertaining as it is brilliant—instantaneous changes of perspective and gravity propel the game forward in unexpected ways.”

Super Planet Crash: A Game That Lets You Build — Or Destroy — Your Own Solar System.  Related: An Interactive, 3D tour of the solar system.

Speaking of gaming, it’s not the violent content; it’s that we’re sore losers. If Video Games Make You Aggressive, Blame Your Own Incompetence.

A Clever New Steampunk Chemistry Kit Your Kid Will Actually Want to Use.

Plan to Allow Libyan Nuclear Scientists to Study in U.S. Draws Fire in Congress.

Why are there no antimatter asteroids out there that would blow Earth to bits? Ethan Siegel finds that’s not an easy question to answer.

John Conway is the subject of a new Science Lives video from the Simons Foundation: “best known for inventing the Game of Life, a cellular automaton that evolved into existence after years and years of fiddling.”

“The gasp that follows many math tricks is also the gasp that sometimes follows a good presentation of a proof.” Related: Magic and symmetry in mathematics. Also: the Flash Mind Reader exploits the “magic” of mathematics.

This week in Fluid Dynamics: The motion of the medium matters for self-assembling particles.

What is Mathematics About? “People care about philosophy of mathematics in a way they do not care about, say, the philosophy of accountancy.”

Calculating kinetic energy? Don’t copy Department for Education‘s answers.

Space Station, 1783: actually the earliest image of a flying astronomical observatory.

Newton’s third law (equal and opposite reaction) in action: video of an A380 prototype launched through a wall of smoke.

E=MC2: Einstein’s equation that gave birth to the atom bomb.

Credit: Bing Wright, http://www.bingwright.com

Shattered Mirror Sunset Reflections That Look Like Stained Glass Windows, by New York artist Bing Wright. Per the James Harris Gallery Website:  “Wright photographs sunsets, then projects the images onto mirrors he has broken in the studio. The mirrors are small, measuring just 14 x 11 inches. The artist re-photographs the reflection and then enlarges the image into a large scale format.” (h/t: Twisted Sifter)

Predicting Where Water Will Go In A Hurricane with new computer model.

The Stark Dignity of Self-Organization in the poetry of William Carlos Williams.

In his poem “Spring and All”, Williams describes the reemergence of biological forms at the end of winter’s barrenness. Winter is characterized by a lack of form with words like “mottled”, “waste”, “fallen”, and “scattering”, while the colors are reddish, brown, or purplish – no green anywhere.

Against the waste and cold wind, living forms slowly appear, naked and uncertain at first, but they soon take on more “defined” shapes: a “stiff curl”, the “outline of leaf”, until these newly self-organized living things make their entrance with “stark dignity” as they “begin to awaken.”

Alan Alda’s Quest to Put Story to Science.   Related: The Irish Times also published a story on improv for scientists, featuring Alda.

What is philosophy of science (and should scientists care)?

The number 7 triumphs in poll to discover world’s favorite number: the results of an online survey reveal a world in love with numbers that stand out and feel exceptional.

Science denial: Richard Easther on taming the pig instead of wrestling with it.

In case you were wondering, Lawrence Krauss says “I Have No Idea How I Ended Up in That Stupid Geocentrism Documentary.”  … Related: Kate Mulgrew Sorry for Working with Geocentrist, Anti-Semitic Filmmaker.

Stuart Parkin wins prestigious Millennium technology prize for breakthrough in magnetic disk drive storage capacity. Related: Meet the ‘Spintronics’ Pioneer, Stuart Parkin, Who Made Google, Facebook and Amazon Possible.

Why Are There So Few Female Scientists?  Meanwhile, New Scientist featured a Gallery of Unsung heroines showcasing five women denied scientific glory.  Related: A review of Rocket Girl: the story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s first female rocket scientist: an unknown pioneer.

Measure Yourself by the Standard of the Capybara: “One of us, they say, one of us, but they will not say it to you.”

With a quantum gate Max Planck physicists are developing an essential logic element for quantum computers.

How bacon helped put a man on the moon (seriously).

Why do we say some sounds are ‘high’ and others ‘low‘? Maybe to assign spatial positions to different types of noises.

A Star Wars-Themed Astronomy Tea Party at UC Berkeley, complete with a melon ball Death Star and mini Han Solos frozen in chocolate.

Finally, can Math Equations Be A Form of Art? DNews host Tara Long examines a recent paper.

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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