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Physics Week in Review: July 19, 2014

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


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It’s been a busy week on the physics front, so let’s get the shameless self-promotion out of the way upfront. I chatted with NPR’s Arun Rath on Weekend Edition about my recent New Scientist article on digital history and London’s Old Bailey.  The Open Notebook interviewed me and several other physics-centric science writers about tackling the physical sciences.  Finally, Science Book a Day interviewed me about Me, Myself and Why.

This Sunday marks the 45-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. io9 reminded us that The Apollo 11 Launch Wasn’t Just Historic, It was Beautiful. Here are 10 Surprising (Maybe) Secrets From Apollo 11′s Historic Moon Landing. The Mission to the Moon, As You’ve Likely Never Seen It Before: Amy Shira Teitel digs through the photo archives. Starts With a Bang Remembers Neil Armstrong: “The man may be gone, but up on the Moon, his steps still remain.” Related: Faking the Moon Landing: The Strange History of NASA’s First Lunar Simulators.

Of potential interest to future astronauts: An End to Stinky Space Clothes? “With no washing machines and dryers aboard the outpost and limited water, astronauts simply discard their laundry and break open new packages of freshly washed clothes delivered to them in orbit via pricy freighters.” Also: Lunar pits could shelter astronauts, reveal details of how ‘man in the moon’ formed. Bonus: A New Kind of Space Race: The Quest to Brew Beer With Space Yeast.

Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can’t see it. Made of carbon nanotubes, it “absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record.”

Quantum bounce could make black holes explode. If space-time is granular, it could reverse gravitational collapse and turn it into expansion.

Better Not Avoid A Cosmic Void: Barren bubble-like zones could help untangle universe’s mysteries.

Particle, meet wave: Optical qubit technique squeezes photons to bridge discrete and continuous quantum regimes.

Gluons get in on proton spin. As much as half of a proton’s spin may come from the gluons that hold it together.

The Fourier transform lets you have your cake and understand it. Teasing apart the ingredients of a jumble helps scientists to study complex things that change over time or space.  Related: Understanding the Fourier Transform: a visual explanation.

Walter Munk and The Most Astonishing Wave Tracking Experiment Ever. “Waves do have birthplaces. Once upon a time, one of the world’s greatest oceanographers asked this very question.”

The New York Times Revisits The “Debate” Over Electromagnetic Fields, Reviving Baseless Fears, While Ignoring What Has Been Learned.  Related: Debate continues on hazards of electromagnetic waves.

“It took 16 years and data from four orbiting spacecraft to assemble, but the U.S. Geological Survey’s new map of Mars is awesome.”

The Viking Facebook: There’s much to learn from studying mythical social networks. What makes a good story? And can physicists venturing into comparative lit help find out?

The machine learning community takes on the Higgs: Detecting new physics isn’t quite like detecting cat videos—yet.

“While fractal geometry is often used in high-tech science, its patterns are surprisingly common in traditional African designs.”

"HEISOFPROXIESANDITMAKESMOUNTAINSFADE" (2014). Credit: Lauren Pelc-McArthur, http://laurenpelcmcarthur.com

The Digital Glitches in These Oil and Acrylic Paintings by Toronto-based artist Lauren Pelc-McArthur Are Just Wonderful. Per Motherboard: “Digital errors like datamoshes and scanner drags can create oddly beautiful effects in videos and still images.”

In Ethan Rose’s art installation, ‘Hum,’ a Human Choir Adds Harmony to the Power Grid’s Cold Buzz.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Poised to Flip Upside-Down.

The complete magnetic properties of the prototype molecular magnet Mn12 have been modeled, for the first time.

The “Flare” Pan is a saucepan designed by University of Oxford engineer Thomas Povey that borrows design aspects from jet and rocket engines to burn hotter and more quickly than a conventional pan would over the same flame.

The science behind Tour de France’s hide-and-seek tactics; pacing is crucial.

When the World Watches the World Cup, What Does It Look Like? A writer and a designer make art to find out, with the help of 2,000 friends.

Stalking the Shadow Universe: Recently astronomers have used a cosmic web imager to visualize simulations of dark matter, showing how the large scale structure of the universe grows and the nests in which galaxies are hatched.

DAMA Drama: How the experiment that claimed to detect dark matter fooled itself. “The DAMA experiment has seen an annual modulation in its signal for over a decade. But can it be explained without invoking dark matter?” Related: It’s go time for LUX-Zeplin dark matter experiment. Also: Galaxies That Are Too Big To Fail, But Fail Anyway.

The New Science of Evolutionary Forecasting: Newly discovered patterns in evolution may help scientists make accurate short-term predictions.

Quantum math makes human irrationality more sensible.

F-SIM’s Space Shuttle Landing Simulator lets you fly the Space Shuttle Orbiter on descent using accelerators in your mobile device.

Why You Always Seem to Choose the Slowest Line: it’s just math that is working against you.

Mike Cahill’s new film, I Origins, about a molecular biologist studying the evolution of the human eye, Went To Insane Lengths To Get Its Science Right — “not just having scientific advisers, but giving them headphones and planting them in front of monitors on set.”

Bubbles Make Your Pancakes Gel. “If you wait until the bubbles in the pancake start popping and just start to hold their shape, you’re allowing just the right amount of gelatinization to happen.”

Faces in the crowd can make Big Data more valuable. “A statistical technique called “Chernoff faces” transforms mulivariate data — numbers that tend to make people feel numb — into quirky/goofy cartoon faces.”

What do particle physics and medical screening have in common? And why might we want to be tested, but not hear the result?

How Fish Eat (in SLOW MOTION!) – it involves some pretty cool physics (fluid dynamics):

How Squishy Materials Could Build Better Shape-Shifting Robots. A low-cost material could allow robots to easily shift between fluid and rigid states.

What’s the Quicker Solar Weight Loss Plan: solar wind, or nuclear fusion. How the sun loses mass.

Deep within spinach leaves, vibrations enhance efficiency of photosynthesis.

ITER unites House science panel. Troubled fusion reactor project wins bipartisan support at hearing.

Get thee to physics class. What should you do with misbehaving teens? Steer them toward physics.

How deep does the multiverse go? What’s valid/speculative, and what’s just wrong?

Fictional Conjectures and the Mathematicians Who Try To Prove Them: A Flawed Proof in “The Penultimate Conjecture” by the late celebrated writer Leonard Michaels, one of a series of seven stories featuring a fictional mathematician named Nachman.

Call it Turnover Dynamics: what rolling over in your sleep might say about your health.

The Case for Female Astronauts: Reproducing Americans in the Final Frontier.

Huge Surprise for Rosetta Comet Scientists: Twins! Rosetta’s target comet may have a split personality. As Rosetta Nears its Rendezvous With a Comet, Use this Way Cool Interactive Model to See How it Got There. Related: Rosetta’s Comet Looks Like a Rubber Ducky or Marshmallow Peep. It’s a lot weirder than scientists expected. If the rubber ducky is 4 km across, HOW BIG IS THE ERNIE? Bonus: Ten Things You Don’t Know About Comets.

How Brazil Nuts Solved A Mystery About Asteroids.

How To Accelerate Electrons The Van Allen Belt Way.

Rescuers of a zombie spacecraft uncover a treasure trove of NASA Moon photos.

Credit: Kwon O. Chul, http://www.kwonochul.com

Astrophotographer Kwon O Chul Captures Stunning Images of Auroras Over the Northwest Territories (right).

The science behind the art of Jeff Koons: a look at five of his most technologically complex works, out of 150 featured in a new retrospective of Koons’ work at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Post-empirical science is an oxymoron. “The scientific method is a misnomer. There really isn’t such a thing as a scientific method. Science operates as an adaptive system, much like natural selection. Ideas are produced, their usefulness is assessed, and the result of this assessment is fed back into the system, leading to selection and gradual improvement of these ideas.”

Science: the Quest for Symmetry. “it might be illuminating to see scientific ideas as tools forged in workshops, rather than spells divined by wizards in ivory towers. The tool metaphor also reminds us that science is not merely an outgrowth of western philosophy — it is also the result of the painstaking work of “miners, midwives and low mechanicks” whose names rarely feature in the annals of Great Men.”

Grown in Hot Rock Depths: The Geology of the Seahawks Super Bowl Rings.

A Space Game Where You Play As A Wormhole.

The Growing Threat Of Network-Based Steganography. Hiding covert messages in plain sight is becoming an increasingly popular form of cyber attack. And security researchers are struggling to catch up.

Setting Aside Rivalry for the Good of Physics. Scientists from two experiments (BaBar and Belle) have banded together to create a single comprehensive record of their work for scientific posterity: a joint 900-page scientific memoir, The Physics of the B Factories.

July 18, 1992: The First Photo Uploaded to the Web, of CERN’s Parody All-Girl Science Band, Les Horribles Cernettes. Sample lyrics from their smash-hit (among physics fans) Collider:   “I gave you a golden ring to show you my love / You went to stick it in a printed circuit / To fix a voltage leak in your collector / You plug my feelings into your detector.”

The Chaos and Tangled Energy of Living Cities. “The urge to tidy up cities is deadening – let’s celebrate the tangled chaos and honky-tonk energy that keep them alive.”

Jen-Luc Piquant counts herself among the ranks of admirers of physicist Richard Feynman — heck, the Time Lord sits at Feynman’s old desk at Caltech — but she’s not blind to the great man’s flaws, either. Feynman still stirs up strong reactions, as evidenced by a controversial post this past week on Richard Feynman, Sexism and Changing Perceptions of a Scientific Icon. (Per the editor’s note, added earlier this week, sadly, the post led to the departure of The Curious Wavefunction‘s Ashutosh Jogalekar from the SciAm blog network. His comment on the matter is here, and you can follow his future bloggy pursuits at his new — technically old — home.) As Matt Francis at Galileo’s Pendulum observed,”Very few heroes can survive scrutiny unscathed. They all have flaws, by virtue of being human.” Boing Boing also weighed in with What Richard Feynman Didn’t Understand About Women. Bonus Bit of Much-Needed Irreverance: Now everyone can play Feynman Excuses Bingo!

And here’s why it’s still relevant to talk about such matters: A new survey examined sexual aggression on scientific field sites, and found it presents a significant Obstacle for Women in STEM. “It’s hard to lean in when self-preservation tells you to lean out.”

Scientists use MRI to measure precisely how your butt deforms when you sit down. Spoiler alert: sitting makes your butt flatter… at least temporarily.

The Hair of Physicists (1930s): “Bethe’s hair, at this point, bore a not-inconsiderable resemblance to [a] mushroom cloud.”

Steven Weinberg’s advice for young scientists: jump into shark-infested waters, paddle like mad.

What Happens When Digital Cities Are Abandoned? Exploring the pristine ruins of Second Life and other online spaces.

Monkeying Around with the Hot Hand. New study suggests rhesus monkeys can fall victim to the “Gambler’s fallacy” too.

Arm swinging reduces the metabolic cost of running. “Whether they knew it or not, [the study subjects] all compensated in a very similar way by increasing the amplitude of their torso rotation…”

Better at reading than maths? Don’t blame it all on your genes.

Motion Silhouette: a storybook of light and shadows.

Why the Amazon flows backward: “new computer models hint that the U-turn resulted from more familiar geological processes taking place at Earth’s surface—in particular, the persistent erosion, movement, and deposition of sediment wearing away from the growing Andes.”

How Game Theory Could Help Find Cancer’s Moment of Weakness.

They Do It With Mirrors. Wink Space: An Immersive Kaleidoscopic Mirror Tunnel Inside a Shipping Container. “We wanted to create the world’s first zipper architecture. In other words, this polyhedron is completely connected by zippers. And in order to facilitate even more radical change some of the surfaces open and close like windows.”

Science Vs. Religion: Beyond The Western Traditions. Whose religion are you arguing about when you argue about science and religion? “Taking a pluralist view of religion means both sides are forced to think about religion in its full human context: the way it evolved in response to specific cultural and historic needs and the way those needs served the “spiritual longing” of individuals within those cultures. Even if you want to reject all religious or spiritual perspectives on reality, you need to understand the breadth of those perspectives.”

Laser Models Planet Cores That Could Crush Diamond.

ROY G BIV, A Mobile Synthesizer App for iPhone and Android That Turns Colors Into Sounds.

Kurt Godel: The Mathematician Who Showed How the US Could Be Made A Dictatorship.

Computer Models Show What Exactly Would Happen To Earth After A Nuclear War.

In Fifty Years, Carbon Fiber Will Be Spun from the Trunks of Trees.

What are the risks from nanoparticles of titanium in sunscreens?

Using water as a canvas is possible. Per Lost at E Minor: “Ebru, also called ‘Paper Marbling’, is an art form that uses water basins and special brushes to create colorful, flowing images onto water. ”

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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