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Physics Week in Review: June 21, 2014

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


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It’s the physics story that just won’t die. BICEP2 was back in the news yet again as the collaborators finally published their much-anticipated peer-reviewed paper, prompting headlines like this: Astronomers Hedge on Big Bang Detection Claim.  Okay, so maybe they had dust in their eyes but they reaffirmed ripples in time in their published paper, which includes this added Note: “More data are clearly required to resolve the situation.” Related: In a series of recent papers, several theorists discuss the next steps for testing inflation theory following the BICEP2 observations of polarization in the cosmic microwave background.

Dark Matter Mystery Deepens thanks to new data from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer project.

The FIFA World Cup continues, and so do the science tie-in stories. The chemistry of the World Cup ball: a breakdown of the different types of polymers used in each component part of the ball. Related: According to NASA, this year’s World Cup ball is better for goalkeepers and worse for strikers. Also: How the goal line tech they’re using at the World Cup works and what the alternatives are. Finally, Why are so many people dying while watching the World Cup? The folks at Physics Buzz suggest an answer.

Cosmic Test For Quantum Physics’ Last Major Loophole. Proposed test of Bell’s inequality to rely on photons from quasars or patches of the Cosmic Microwave Background.

New ATLAS experiment’s measurement of Higgs mass sheds light on an important parameter for universal stability.

The Game Theory of Life: An algorithm discovered more than 50 years ago in game theory and now widely used in machine learning is mathematically identical to the equations used to describe the distribution of genes within a population of organisms.  Related: Reinventing The Boundaries of Science Journalism: A conversation with Thomas Lin, editor of Quanta Magazine

Particle physicists take sides over whether the LHC could discover evidence of Supersymmetry. Cognac is on the line.

Superfluid spacetime may help unify physics: Thinking of space and time as a liquid might help reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity.

Credit: Jim Dingilian, http://www.mckenziefineart.com/artists/dingilian/dingilian.html

Bottled Smoke Art by Jim Dingilian. “The artist begins by coating the bottles’ inner surfaces with smoke. He then uses brushes and small implements mounted on the ends of dowels to reach inside. With a steady hand, Jim slowly and selectively erases certain areas.”

Ten Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing.  Related: Ten Pseudo-Science Theories We’d Like to See Retired Forever.

Your Weekend Time-Waster: In Pixeltrek, Explore the Enterprise in All Its Glory. And Its Toilets.

Speaking of Star Trek, Jen-Luc Piquant gave a weary shrug at the overheated excitement surrounding an artistic visualization of the IXS Enterprise: An Interstellar Warpship, making the Internet rounds this week. It’s not actually news: Harold White has been hawking his design for a working warp drive for several years now, and no matter how often physicists with the appropriate expertise point out the incredible unlikelihood of the scheme ever working, excitable fanboys with fevered visions of exploring interstellar space nonetheless keep clinging to the hope that “THERE’S A CHANCE!” Here’s The Painful Truth About NASA’s Warp Drive Spaceship From A Physicist (tl;dr: not gonna happen). The naysayers include physicist Miguel Alcubierre. who famously devised a hypothetical concept for a way that warp drive might work. Alcubierre he had this to say on Twitter: “Before you ask me about this supposed design for a starship, please read this!“  As Nerdist pointed out, okay, so we will probably never have this warp-drive capable spaceship, but what the heck, it looks fantastic.  Some consolation: researchers DO have the technology to give us Star Trek-style doors; alas, they didn’t add the whoosh.

Good news: The International Space Station is getting an ISSpresso machine. Because our astronauts deserve a decent cup of joe.

My Little Brother The Physicist Explains 2003′s The Core: “Oh man – so many things wrong with that scene.”

Chemical Bouillon’s art often mixes chemistry and fluid dynamics.

Weekend Fermi Problems: Cars and Lightning. “Lightning bolts typically release about 5 billion joules of energy. So what would that do if it was all deposited in two people?”

Why does a mixture of sand and colored sugar spontaneously separate when poured? George Hart presents an easy experiment you can try at home.  More from i09: the spontaneous stratification of sand and sugar.

Exploiting Quantum Entanglement To Create Better Atomic Clocks.

The Man Who Introduced the World to Flying Saucers - Kenneth Arnold  ushered in the UFO-industrial complex.

A Slice of Art: glassworker Loren Stump’s artwork is pushing the boundaries of the artform into uncharted waters.

How to Win at Bridge Using Quantum Physics. Quantum communication skirts bridge’s bidding rules, could give players an edge.

The Photons Of Your Life: could there be an imprint of form or self left in the cosmos?  Related: There is No Art Without Death: “The sooner you come to terms with your own mortality, you have a better life.”

In case you missed it: On John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, the cable host conducted an amusing Q&A with physicist Stephen Hawking.

Quantum mechanics in the (Metaphorical) Octagon! Four interpretations enter, only one gets out alive. Watch the video of the great quantum debate at the recent World Science Festival.

Quantum biology: Algae evolved to switch quantum coherence on and off.

To test the effect of gravity on quantum entanglement, we need to go to space.

Moving Particles with Sound Waves: acoustic sieve can sift, move, trap, or align particles by size and density.

The Freaky Physics of Supercooled Water.

The Promise of a Ten Minute Charge: EV batteries that charge 16x faster w/ 63% more capacity, 40% less mass.  Related: Mathematical model powers electrical buses up for less.

They Do It With Muons: Assessing Fukushima Damage Without Eyes on the Inside.

Mountain top in Chile to be blasted off for Extremely Large Telescope.

In one episode, Star Trek: The Next Generation traced the limits of human communication—and suggested a new way of talking about the universe.

Outstanding Verizon ad admonishes parents to not squelch their daughters’ interest in science.

Quantum Computers Still Aren’t Faster Than Regular Old Computers: A speed test between quantum and classical computers has ended in a draw.  The D-Wave machine produces no “quantum speedup” but company says test is flawed.

How Crowdsourced Astrophotographs on the Web Are Revolutionizing Astronomy. Astronomers have long known that combining the data from several astrophotographs can reveal dramatically more detail about astrophysical objects. So what will they discover by combining all that are on the Web?

How does the order of questions influence people’s answers? Quantum math could explain irrational reasoning.

“Taking the Raman [spectroscopy] on the road” to explore the chemical history of the Durham Gospels.

The guys from @AsapSCIENCE come out, respond to hate comments, and discuss what it means to be gay in science:

Universe’s Expansion Measured to Extreme Precision by studying more than 140,000 extremely bright galaxies.

Why Quantum? Entropy could explain why nature chose to play by quantum rules.

Computing Crime and Punishment. The New York Times also covered this study of the digitized Old Bailey archives (my paywalled feature for New Scientist is here).

Euclid: The Game” is inspired by the constructive principles of Euclidean Geometry.  Per io9: “Its premise is simple: Players are presented a geometric puzzle in the form of a task.”

In the search for life in the solar system, Pluto’s moon Charon may be a new contender.

The sweetest calculator in the world – Sugar-based molecular computing.

Invisible Light Can Reveal Bad Paint Jobs, Perhaps Skin Cancer.

Ten reasons why black holes exist.

The art of back-of-the-envelope calculations: Students estimate pop culture problems to learn a life skill.

Suck, Squeeze, Bang, Blow – GE Explains How A Jet Engine Works.

Freeze-proof a fairy — with SCIENCE! “Tom Painter, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, studies snow hydrology in mountains around the world. He’s also a leading expert on the thermodynamics of fairies and princesses.”

The Marangoni effect is generated by variations in surface tension at an interface, generating a flower-like pattern.

Weightlessness is like rapid aging. Effects of spaceflight found to mirror onset of Type 2 diabetes, ISS study finds.

This replica of the Wright brothers’ 1902 glider demonstrates wing-warping to control an aircraft in roll.

Science and nature: Lucy de Barbaro still looks at life through the lens of physics.

Sir Isaac Newton (Weird Al Yankovic) vs. Bill Nye in Epic Rap Battles of History.

Dimension X: The 1950s SciFi Radio Show That Dramatized Stories by Asimov, Bradbury, Vonnegut and More. Related: X Minus One: More Classic 1950s Sci-Fi Radio from Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury and Dick.

Watch A Brain Parasite Played By Alan Tudyk Explain Gravity. a parasite (Alan Tudyk) dwelling in the brain of an astronomer (Wil Wheaton) answers the question, “Why do astronauts appear weightless in space?” (via io9)

For mathematically minded foodies: How to Make “e-1″ Salad Dressing.

Magnifying Power to the People with the Foldscope. Researchers from Stanford University have designed ultra-low-cost microscopes built from an inexpensive yet durable material: paper.

The Occult and the Telephone: when a disembodied voice traveling through a wire was as spooky as a ghost.. After its invention, “the telephone became implicated in a realm of research that straddled the line between the occult (hearing voices in the ether) and the technological as researchers built tools to let you transmit your voice through space and time.”

Encrypted Web Traffic and Apple’s Mobile Messaging Vulnerable to Statistical Snooping. Research suggests that surveillance agencies could use statistical tricks to peek through the encryption that protects Web browsing.

A computational model to measure how good (or bad) your puns really are.

Researcher predicts possible existence of fermionic matter in previously unknown state in the form of a 1D liquid.

How to read and understand a scientific paper: a step by step guide for non-scientists.

AP Calculus and the Common Core: Is there a conflict? (Short answer: No.)

The Mathematics of Rock.

Should You Go To Grad School? “The odds of having a wildly successful academic career after going to grad school are about the same as the odds of becoming a movie star after studying acting.”

On Black Magic in Physics: separating the signal from the noise isn’t always clearcut.

The colorful science: how chemists and artists have been inspiring each other for centuries.

Sarah Donner’s “The Rebuttal of Schrödinger’s Cat” was filmed on location at the Princeton Plasma Physics Library.

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. Dredd 6:48 pm 06/22/2014

    Roger Penrose also has a paper challenging current Big Bang cosmology (Autopoiesis: It’s Not Just For Machines Anymore). Is the ocillating universe concept returning as modified?

    Link to this

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