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Physics Week in Review: June 14, 2014

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


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Just a reminder for those of you in the Chicago area: I’ll be speaking Monday July 16th, 6 PM, at the Harold Washington Library Center. And in case you missed this week’s Virtually Speaking Science, I chatted with Jacquelyn Morie about avatars, identity and the potential of virtual worlds. Oh, and I have a feature up at New Scientist (subscription required, but a synopsis is here) on an intriguing collaboration between a complexity scientist and a digital historian to analyze the digitized archives of London’s Old Bailey courthouse. Related: When Theft Was Worse Than Murder: Hundreds of years of trial documents reveal our changing attitudes to violent crime.

Last Sunday was the final episode of the rebooted Cosmos; you can read my recap here, as well as Kyle Hill’s Season Review at Nerdist.  Related: After Centuries of Lost Ideas, Humans Saved History by Sending It to Space. Also: The Cosmos reboot is making science cool again – but will that help win over the die-hard denialists? Bonus: The Close of Cosmos, and Golden Voices in the Stars.

The mass of the Higgs boson may be telling us something profound and puzzling about the future of the universe.  Related: Physicists Look Beyond the Large Hadron Collider, to the Very Large Hadron Collider.

COSY Accelerator Produced Quarks In Six-packs. “For decades, physicists have searched in vain for exotic bound states comprising more than three quarks. Experiments performed at Jülich’s accelerator COSY have now shown that, in fact, such complex particles do exist in nature.”

You probably heard something this week about How a Computer Beat the Turing Test by Pretending to Be a 13-Year-Old Boy.  But not so fast! That Computer Actually Got an F on the Turing Test.  Per the New Yorker: “It is not a piece of innovative hardware but simply a cleverly-coded piece of software.” Granted, the program fooled 10 out of 30 judges at the Royal Society in London that it was human, but not all are convinced. Forget the Turing Test: Here’s How We Could Actually Measure AI.  Related: Scott Aaronson has a conversation with “Eugene Goostman,” the Chatbot that allegedly passed the Turing Test. Bonus: PHD Comics puts college professors to the Turing Test, and they fail hilariously.

Image: NASA Ames Research Center

On the sporting front, all eyes turned to Brazil this week for the start of the FIFA World Cup, with lots of electronic ink devoted to the science behind the new ball design. Aerodynamics of the World Cup’s New Ball Related: Ball, Disrupted: The real stars of the FIFA World Cup evolved from pigs’ bladders to lumps of rubber to aerodynamic, TV-friendly spheres. Also, from a few years back: FIFA Physics: How a Video Game Finally Figured Out Air Resistance.

The Out-of-This-World Cup: Astronauts on the International Space Station play a gravity-defying soccer game. Could World Cup football be played on other planets? The Guardian offered an unofficial guide to interplanetary football (soccer).  Related: World Cup Prediction Mathematics Explained.  Also:  Bonus: World Cup Players Hope To Beat The Heat (and Humidity).  From GM insects to dark matter, there’s more to Brazil than football — there’s also top-notch science.

Playing to Lose (or, What Mucking Around with Sports Rulebooks Has to Do with Math).

Jen-Luc Piquant is on tenterhooks for the Sunday night Season 4 finale of Game of Thrones. But what about last week’s penultimate episode? Per Nerdist, the Game of Thrones Giants Fired Nearly Supersonic Arrows: “momentum matters.”

Friday the 13th Math Special: The “Inspection Paradox” and the Persistence of Bad Luck (and Good).

Fire Ants’ Floating Rafts Could Inspire the Biomaterials of the Future. Scientists used a CT scanner to look at the internal structure of fire ant rafts.  You can read my own post from March 2013 on the physics of these marvelous creatures here.

Four-color theorem linked to crystal’s magnetic properties. “Most technological materials such as steels or magnets exhibit complex domain structures, which often determine macroscopic physical properties,” Sang-Wook Cheong, Professor at both Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, and at the Pohang University of Science and Technology in Pohang, South Korea, told Phys.org. “Our paper, for the first time, demonstrated that the configuration of domain structures can be understood in terms of mathematics, specifically color theorems.”

Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string, or The Scientific Reason Your iPhone Earbuds Get Tangled Up.

Quasicrystals are making waves again. In  a Grain, a Glimpse of the Cosmos: When scientists traced a museum rock back to its origins, they uncovered mysteries about the early solar system.

Turn Your Car’s Lighter Plug Into A Tachometer With Only An Oscilloscope And Math.

A New Player in the War of the Currents: a more efficient way to marry AC and DC using self-healing materials.

Soot, Comet Ice, And Medical Powders All Have This Number In Common: A new universal packing density for things made of small, rigid particles.

Credit: Andy Lee, http://www.andylee.co

Iceland in the Infrared: Stark Photographs of Icelandic Landscapes by UK Photographer Andy Lee.   Per This Colossal: “Using infrared photography to pick up invisible light rather than visible light, Lee transformed Iceland into a series of stark, moody and somewhat dreamlike silhouettes.”

“I was promised flying cars”: Astrophysicist Adam Frank in the New York Times on the four forces of nature and the physical limitations of our technological fantasies.

Scientific Tips for Peeing Like a Proper Gentleman via urinal dynamics. Who says physics isn’t relevant to daily life?   Related: Urine: An Ever-Flowing Stream of Fuel Cell Material? Korean scientists have demonstrated that carbon, a precious fuel cell material, can be extracted from dried urine and that it is a powerful conductor of electricity.

How Physics Is Like 3-Chord Rock — Like a set of common chords, the same math appears in diverse fields of physics.

How Atomic Particles Helped Solve A Wine Fraud Mystery. Related: My 2008 blog post on the science of detecting wine fraud.

Boom, boom, boom, boom! Supernova recreated in laboratory. “The experiment could also shed light on why magnetic fields in intergalactic space are a million billion times stronger than theory predicts.”

Whose entropy is it anyway? Part 1: Boltzmann, Shmoltzmann…  Part 2: The so-called second law.

“The soft landing is not really soft.” From Space to Earth: The Astronauts’ Journey Back.

The SciFi Story Robert H. Goddard Published 100 Years Ago.

Tiny New Synthetic Diamonds: Cooking onion carbon at high temperatures and pressures makes super-hard diamonds.

The Physics of Keeping Cool: over at Dot Physics, Rhett Allain walks us through the science of various refrigeration methods. (I wrote about the Albert Einstein-Leo Szilard refrigerator design back in 2010. They had a patent and everything.)

From blessings to toilet breaks: The strangest space launch rituals.

Microsoft Research Working on Building Block of a Quantum Computer.  Related: The U.S. Army Says It Can Teleport Quantum Data Now, Too.

The Strange Link Between Your Digital Music and Napoleon’s Invasion of Egypt: Joseph Fourier and sinusoids.

The Magnetic Cello, A Cello Shaped Instrument That Uses Magnets to Generate Sound.

Déodat de Dolomieu, The Scientist Who Inspired the Count of Monte Cristo.

Forget the big bang: the universe began with the big silence (sub req’d).

The Geology of D-Day. “aerial photos of shores of Normandy were studied to find suitable landing sites for invasion.” Related: Battlefield Earth: The Geological Legacy of War. Some 60 million rounds were fired near the village of Verdun from February to August 1916.  “All those explosions destroyed the local vegetation, reshaped and lowered the landscape, but also remixed the natural formed soil-layers and fractured the underlying bedrock – the effects of those few months are still visible today, almost 100 years after the war ended.”

A Scientist Is Growing Asparagus In Meteorites to Prepare Us for Space Farming.

The 10 Geek Commandments. #7: “Thou shalt not intentionally spoil.” Also #9: “Thou shalt not squick another’s squee.”

IRENE, The Machine That’s Saving the History of Recorded Sound. A device in the basement of the Library of Congress produces images of sound, echoing the reason recording devices were invented in the first place.

Physics envy: Do ‘hard’ sciences hold the solution to the replication crisis in psychology?

No wind chill on Mars – Because Mars’s atmosphere is much thinner than Earth’s.

Presenting The Largest Black Hole In the Known Universe.

“It hurts the scientific field that people don’t realize how much creativity is essential part of what science is.” Physicist Lisa Randall on science and creativity.

Ten Reasons Why You Can’t Live Without A Particle Accelerator.

“Feveral kinds of hairy mouldy fpots”: How Robert Hooke’s mold sounds are like quantum noise.

How do you weigh a planet? it’s a lot easier to do if you use a nearby moon.

The Science Of The Edge (Of Tomorrow): of technology and time loops. Related: Screen Junkies Enlists Scientists to Debunk Time Travel Scenarios From Blockbuster Films (h/t: Laughing Squid):

Graphene quantum dot band-aids disinfect wounds.

Incredible Underwater Shots Of Astronauts Pretending To Be In Space.

NASA scientists have created a new recipe that captures key flavors of the brownish-orange atmosphere around Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Simulations Reveal How White Lies Glue Society Together and Black Lies Create Diversity. Evolutionary biologists have long thought that lying ought to destroy societies. Now computational anthropologists have shown that nothing could be further from the truth.

The movie industry has switched to digital cameras. Here’s what is lost, and gained, in the process.

How Quantum Levitation Works: A little magnetism, a few impurities and liquid nitrogen make the magic happen.

“Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency: A [Probabilistic] Model for Male Audience Stimulation.” That’s the title of a 12-page report written by Stanford Researchers on Silicon Valley‘s (totes NSFW) “Mean Jerk Time” joke featured in last week’s roundup. To start: “Assume a large presentation hall with at least one aisle.”

Ghosts and Neutrinos: Wolfgang Pauli’s letter of 4 December 1930.

Chandra X-Ray Telescope Spies a Whirlpool of Black Holes.

Eugen Sänger: Germany’s Other Rocket Genius, played an important role in early history of rocketry and spaceflight.

Finally, an algorithm for picking the perfect bra: a new bra sizing system and lingerie line based on the analysis of hundreds of thousands of women’s body types and preferences.

Simply copying nature is no way to succeed at inventing – just ask Leonardo da Vinci.

The trials and tribulations of making lizards run over a force plate.

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Fibonacci Lemonade.

This 3D-Printed Dress Reveals More Skin As You Reveal More Data.

Time Travel: Installing an Atomic Clock at 15,000 Feet.

Chile’s Volcanic Lakes May Hint At Where To Look For Life On Mars.

The OPALS Experiment Beamed Its First Laser-Based Message from Space.

The Phases of Venus and Heliocentricity: A Rough Guide.

Cost of U.S. Share of ITER Still Uncertain, Federal Auditors Stress. “Without a reliable international project schedule, DOE neither can propose a final, stable funding plan for the U.S. ITER project, nor can it reasonably assure Congress that the project’s cost will not continue to grow and the schedule will not continue to slip…”

The dark realm of continuous nowhere differentiable functions: Here there be dragons, or at least “monsters.”

Meet ‘The Physics Girl’, Winner of Alan Alda’s “What is Color?” Video Contest.

The concept of wave-particle duality ascribes two seemingly contradictory traits to a single object.

This Shape-Shifter Could Tell Us Why Matter Exists: Neutrinos can flit between states effortlessly.

The Logic and Beauty of Cosmological Natural Selection.

Here’s the transcript of talk that Richard Feynman gave in 1966 to science teachers who had gathered in New York…

Targeting tumors using silver nano particles (plasmonics).

The Laws of Physics Render Sub-Zero’s ‘Head Rip’ Fatality Useless During an Episode of ‘Realistic Mortal Kombat.’ (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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