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Physics Week in Review: May 31, 2014

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


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First, a few housekeeping announcements: Those in New York City today can see me at the World Science Festival’s Science and Story Cafe at 1:30 PM, where I’ll be hanging out with neuroscientists David Eagleman and Dean Buonomano. And you can catch me again at 4 PM, chillaxing will rock star mathematician Edward Frenkel, among others. From there it’s off to Merry Olde England. If you’re going to the Cheltenham Science Festival next week, I am speaking on Wednesday June 4 at 4: 30 PM about my exploration into the science of self, as detailed in (shameless plug alert!) my latest book, Me, Myself and Why. Speaking of which: I had a great time chatting about the book with Ira Flatow on Science Friday.  Also: The Time Lord — better known as Caltech physicist Sean M. Carroll (my better half) and I will be speaking together in London on June 5 at 7:30 PM about what happens when you fall into a black hole: death by spaghettification, or death by firewall?

Everyone was all excited about the big Camelopardalids meteor shower over the weekend. Apparently, while it wasn’t exactly a dud (after all the hype), it wasn’t a smashing success either. But photographer Gavin Heffernan Captured the Vaporizing Camelopardalid Meteor on film, and it looks pretty nifty.

Why Do We Love Manhattanhenge So Much? Where nature meets the grid, we find way of connecting with the cosmos.

Twitter was all, um, a-twitter at preliminary reports of a possible gamma-ray burst detected by the Swift space observatory. But it turn out that it wasn’t a burst after all.  Not sure who first said “Swift sees a Gamma Ray Burst,” but apparently it wasn’t the Swift people who said it.

Scientists Report Finding Reliable Way to Teleport Data over distance of three meters (about 10 feet).

Physicists say new World Cup soccer ball design has a big impact. With just six panels and a rough surface, the new Brazuca ball seems to move more predictably than previous World Cup balls. Related: Stephen Hawking unveils formulae for England World Cup success.  The announcement was made with tongue firmly in cheek, but not everyone was pleased: “Hawking’s PR stunt reminds us that scientists should never be put on pedestals, even if they were childhood heroes.” Because apparently if you are a Big-Name Physicist and also in a wheelchair, you’re not allowed to have a sense of humor. Also? Jen-Luc Piquant observes that anyone who professes to be a lifelong Hawking fan should know the physicist has always loved the occasional amusing publicity stunts, as evidenced by his frequent public bets.

Physicists Prove Surprising Rule of Threes: On Tuesday I wrote about a new paper on Efimov trimers. My Quanta colleague, the talented Natalie Wolchover, also noticed the paper; by sheer coincidence, her terrific article appeared the same day.  The gist: Efimov trimers are states of matter that theoretically come in an infinite range of sizes. Experimentalists recently observed consecutive trimers, verifying the strange theory.

Photo: Tan et al., Antiquity

More than 200 Hidden Paintings were discovered on the walls of Angkor Wat. Researchers discovered the images by digitally enhancing photos of the temple’s walls.

Fire on the Mountain – The Atlantic produced this wonderful feature on the science, study, and societal impacts of wildfires. Related: From studying tree rings to computer models, scientists are trying to understand why flames behave the way they do.

The Science of the One-Inch Punch: Physiology and neuroscience combine to explain Bruce Lee’s master move.

How Jules Verne Invented Astronautics: He didn’t so much predict the future as to cause it to come true.

The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win.

How One Irreverent Physicist Went From Levitating Frogs to Winning the Nobel Prize: very nice profile of Andre Geim. Related: The Origin Story of a Theoretical Physicist: James Gates, Jr. saw the film Spaceways as a kid and it made him want to be a scientist.

The Disappearing Physicist and His Elusive Particle: Ettore Majorana ushered symmetry into theoretical physics, then vanished without a trace.

Your Favorite Novel Is Now A Soundtrack. Computer science project translates emotions described in books into music.

Hunting for Ultra-High-Energy Cosmic Rays Using the Most Massive Planet in Our Solar System.

A New “Theory of Everything”: Reality Emerges from Cosmic Copyright Law. “Constructor theory” unites in one framework how information is processed in the classical and quantum realms.

Dark Matter Debates: So Many Hints (“coming and going like clouds on a windy day”), So Little Time…. Related: Taking the Temperature of Dark Matter: If we wanted to know how cold it is now vs the distant past, how would we figure it out?

When the Earth Had Two Moons: A new model—“The Big Splat”—explains the strange asymmetry of the moon.

Quantifying the Rise and Fall of Complexity in Closed Systems: The Coffee Automaton. Complexity increases, then decreases, per a new paper by the Time Lord,  Scott Aaronson and Lauren Ouellette (no relation). Related: Aaronson’s 2011 post on the First Law of Complexodynamics provides some helpful background to the new work.

The BICEP2 Dust-Up Continues. Matt Strassler has the lowdown on two new papers that “gave more detailed voice to the opinion that the BICEP2 team may have systematically underestimated the possible impact of polarized dust on their measurement” — although the issue remains unsettled.

Spontaneous Stratification: symmetry breaking that you can demonstrate in your kitchen.  Related: Animated by artist Sarah Pedro, “The Science of Symmetry” is a TED talk given by educator Colm Kelleher explaining the precise scientific and mathematical definition of symmetry and why the concept is so important to life as we know it. (h/t: Laughing Squid)

Genius promotional spot for Through the Wormhole: host Morgan Freeman inhaling helium from a big red balloon to illustrate the weirdness of 21st century physics.

The physics of dance: Two Yale professors thrive where calculation meets choreography.

The Bike Helmet Paradox: “when it comes to human behaviour, epidemiological data gets incredibly messy…”  Excellent analysis of an ongoing debate.

The Signal and the Silence: When is prediction useful—and when is it dangerous?

Descartes’ PB&J: “The best math explores deep connections between seemingly unrelated objects.”

How Far Are You Flung When an Amusement Park Ride Goes Terribly Wrong?   “Part of the joy of the Booster Maxxx is knowing that every few weeks, a bunch of underpaid Eastern-European carnies take it apart and put it back together again in another city, significantly increasing the chances of a catastrophic accident. Not that I have a death wish—but if I have to die anyway, then a Booster-assisted parabolic launch seems like a good way to go.”

Faster Than Light Communication Gets Busted Once Again.

Modeling the fluid flows from fish swimming in close proximity with flapping hydrofoils.

Photo: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Roentgen Objects, or, Devices Larger Than the Rooms That Contain Them. Per BLDGBLOG: “Abraham Roentgen’s “mechanical ingenuity” was “exemplified by the workings of the lower section” of one of the desks on display in the show: “when the key of the lower drawer is turned to the right, the side drawers spring open; if a button is pressed on the underside of these drawers, each swings aside to reveal three other drawers.”

If you want Rhett Allain of Dot Physics to take your design for a free energy device seriously, follow these Perpetual Motion Email Guidelines.

Lasers mimic biological neurons using light.

MoMA to MoMath: a Mathematician’s Picks for Art in New York City.

How do you say “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries” in Low Valyrian?  The linguist for Game of Thrones snuck in a sly wink at Monty Python’s Holy Grail a couple of episodes ago.

Cooking with a Lava Flow: Experiments with Boiling Coke and Cooking Ravioli.

Certain Effects of Molecularly Heavy vs. Light Bits of Instant Coffee: “Curious about what happens when you take instant coffee, separate it into components that have different molecular weights, and then stick those component separately into different test tubes that have rat spleen cells in them? If so, this is the study for you.”

Apparently there was nothing special about Albert Einstein’s brain. “Nothing that modern neuroscience can detect, anyway.” That’s the gist of a new paper in Brain and Cognition by Pace University psychologist Terry Hines on “The Neuromythology of Einstein’s Brain.”

The Story (and science) of Foucault’s pendulum: How a Swinging Pendulum Proves the Earth Rotates.

You’d have to be science illiterate to think “belief in evolution” measures science literacy.

Leonardo da Vinci and the Importance of Failure. a two-part series on our distorted view of creativity and success.

When Inhumans Attack! The Real-Life Science Behind The Summer’s Most Outrageous Sci-Fi Movies.

Black Holes and Supernovas Are Getting the Google Map Treatment.

US scientists collaborated with an international team to install a new component in the core of the LHC’s ATLAS detector.

Andromeda and the Milky Way: A Merger of Galactic Proportions.

Giant volcano with glacier on Mars may have been a nice place for life.

Parody of the Week: Doctor Who Sings Rocky Horror’s “Time Warp” As Fate Always Intended, courtesy of Webseries The Hillywood Show, starring comedy sister duo Hilly and Hannah Hindi. (h/t: io9)

A Supertask Shows How Particles Can Spontaneously Start Moving.

Amidst Partisan Split, House Panel Approves Controversial NSF Bill; scientific community feels it’s seriously flawed.

A guy bought a Russian space suit on an auction Website and created an amazing and absurd photo series. Photographer Tim Dodd “spent the next few months sweating and chafing away in his space suit, capturing this clever, brilliantly executed photo series, uploading them Reddit and Instagram along the way.”

Twitter to Release All Tweets to Scientists: Billions of Tweets Will Be a Research Boon and An Ethical Dilemma.

Biologists Find New Rules for Life at the Edge of Chaos. Criticality for the win!

Is there a hidden code that rules the Universe? Physicists rely on equations to understand the world, but could the Universe operate more like a computer program instead? Stephen Wolfram thinks so.

It belongs to the people: How Marie Curie’s desire to share her science for the common good priced her out the game.

Shape of spins to come: Electron holography reveals beauty of nano magnetic vortices for spintronic data storage.

H.G. Wells’ Remarkable Scientific Article About Evolution On Mars.

Protect and Survive: 1970s British Instructional Films on How to Live Through a Nuclear Attack.

Third Data Server From the Sun – The Earth is becoming a computer visible across galactic distance.

Photo: GPSports

Astronaut Barbie goes rogue on Mars, builds Tesla death ray to hold the Earth hostage: “Kneel! Kneel before Barbie!”

It’s not a man bra—it’s a wearable technology optimization device. Love the photo caption (see right): “Go on, say mansierre one more time.”

So fashion forward! An Incredible Glowing Dress That Is Covered in Fiber Optic Filaments.

“It is not about political views or ideologies, it is blunt facts which are not known.” Professor of global health Hans Rosling’s famous TED talk is now 8 years old and we’re still woefully ignorant of the facts. “Rosling demonstrates that nearly all of us have a very different picture of the world to reality – and our assumptions are skewed in directions we don’t expect, causing us to have a range of absurd beliefs.”

Moonfishing“: Lovely short film tells a surreal story about a lonely woodcarver whose job is to fish for moonlight.

Glow-In-The-Dark Three-Piece Set of Nuclear Element Soaps. Everyone needs plutonium soap!

A Recording Project Exploring the Physical Sounds of Cloud Computing: “The idea is to highlight the physical nature of ‘cloud computing’ and to remind people that whilst their phones might be sat silently in their pockets, somewhere out there, a huge hive of hard drives and fans is spinning around frantically; managing our digital identities.”

Of Multiverses and Sleeping Beauty. “Alastair Wilson is a Vulcan somewhere else in the multiverse. He thinks about what a metaphysics of science might be, never stops contemplating the Everettian multiverse, which he thinks is one of the most beautiful ideas in the history of science. It’s a theory that he thinks shows physicists to be less conservative than philosophers.”

Creating the perfect beer foam: you’ll need alcohol content, pH level and barley lipid transfer protein 1 (LTP1).

Could You Build A Spaceship Out Of Wood? Short answer: Yes, but you’d be asking for trouble.

The Last Man on the Moon: Astronaut Gene Cernan’s book has been adapted for film. Check out the trailer.

“Phone Home,” An Animated 2012 Short About the First Man to Make a Phone Call From Mars, created by English animation team The Brothers McLeod. (h/t: Laughing Squid)

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 2:20 am 06/1/2014

    As always, I find a couple of very interesting articles that I’d missed – thanks so much! Now if I could get you to weed out all the stuff that I’ve already seen or doesn’t interest me!
    <%)

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