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Physics Week in Review: July 26, 2014

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


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Meet the 2014 recipient of the AIP Gemant Award, my own Time Lord, Sean Carroll. “Science isn’t a separate kind of human endeavor, utterly different from other things that we do,” said Carroll. “It’s part of what makes us human, a natural outcome of our intrinsic curiosity and urge to better understand the world.”  Related: Read Sean’s explication of The Born Rule: Why Probability in Quantum Mechanics is Given by the Wave Function Squared.

What to Watch This Sunday Night: The new WGN drama Manhattan follows the lives of fictional characters racing to build the bomb in WWII. “There will never be a fictional character who will be more interesting than Richard Feynman.” Check your local TV listings!

Mathematicians Explain Why Social Epidemics Spread Faster in Some Countries Than Others. Psychologists have always puzzled over why people in Sweden were slower to start smoking and slower to stop. Now a group of mathematicians have worked out why.  Related: The meaning of exponential: Why populations explode, and traces of radioactive elements hang around for a long time.

What ‘urban physics’ could tell us about how cities work. Boston as an amorphous liquid, and other insights from an engineer.

Proton Spin Mystery Gains a New Clue. [For more on mysteries of the proton, see my post from last year: Physicists Tackle the Shrinking Proton Puzzle.]

As BICEP2 illustrates, the road to scientific breakthroughs is a long and occasionally bumpy one.

Vsauce Explains the Meaning of Random and Why Many Folks Use the Term Incorrectly: most of what we refer to as random actually isn’t.

MIT physicist Scott Aaronson ponders: How might quantum information transform our future?  Bonus: here’s Aaronson taking down the ‘Schrödinger equation is “NP-complete”’ paper.

How Do You Estimate Impact Force? For example, when the MythBusters dropped a piano onto the roof of a house.

Vanishing point: five ways to become invisible. From HG Wells to JK Rowling, invisibility has long been the stuff of fiction. Not any more. Here are five methods that scientists are researching to make things ‘disappear.’

Sandstone arches form under their own stress. Downward pressure and erosion combine to create celebrated rock formations.

The Astronomical Particle Colliders That Put Our Own to Shame.

Heart of Darkness: An intrepid physicist attempts to climb into the core of black hole.

The Universe, “Branes,” and the Science of Multiple Dimensions featuring Harvard physicist Lisa Randall.

The multiverse as a scientific concept — part I and part II.

The Shocking Failure of British Rail Travel to Respect the Triangle Inequality: the mathematical properties of train routes.

A new infrared map of Mars reveals the red planet like never before.

A Square Peg for Every Round Hole: enticing mathematical morsels.

Paper Perfect: Robert Lang and the Science of Origami.

Understanding transitions may be critical to our survival.  “If Sisyphus had somehow been able to crest the hill, then at least he would have been able to demonstrate the important mathematical concept of critical transitions, abrupt and often momentous changes.”

Fukushima engineers creating walls of ice under nuclear plant to keep contaminated water from mixing with groundwater.

Credit: Carlo Bernardini, http://www.carlobernardini.it

Ethereal fiber optic art that illuminates the dark: Carlo Bernardini’s abstract point-to-point light installations.

A prototype CT scanner could improve targeting accuracy in proton therapy treatment.

What is a Quantum Observation? An illuminating explainer.  Related: Stop Using Quantum Mechanics as Evidence for Magic. Yes. Please. Make it so.

Wingtip vortices are a result of the finite length of a wing.

Tatooine blog carnival: why a bunch of science writers are posting about a fictional planet.

Particle dense suspensions lead to a smoother surface.

Happy Birthday, Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Four new images of supernova remnants celebrate 15 years of discoveries.

A determined volunteer gives an old detector (spark chamber) new life as the centerpiece of a cosmic ray exhibit.

The Physics of Making Your Guitar Cry. “One of the most important properties is known as the Young’s modulus, which essentially measures the stiffness of the string.”

Quantum Split: Particle This Way, Properties That Way. Can you separate a bell from its ring? You can in the quantum world – the Cheshire cat experiment has shown neutrons splitting from their spins. (Sub req’d)

Watching Electrons Jump Between The Fragments Of Exploding Molecules.

Time for tea: Finding a formula for the perfect brew. “Tea is a demanding beverage.”

An Indoor Positioning System Based On Echolocation. GPS doesn’t work indoors. Can a bat-like echolocation system take its place?

How Science Fiction Got Its Sound: A Brief History of the Theremin, An Eerie-Sounding Early Electronic Instrument That Gave Rise to the Synthesizer.

Had there been no Higgs boson, this observation of WW scattering would have been the bomb.

The Weird and Wonderful Rules of anime science.

How Do You Model a Spring? Rhett Allain confesses: “This was my greatest lecture. No one really learned that much.”

Harmonic Oscillations via Musical Light Swings. “The interactive swing set titled simply, The Swings, is comprised of illuminated panels that also trigger audible tones that harmonize as people swing. As more and more people join in the act of swinging turns into randomly improvised melody and light show.”

The study of galaxy clusters is bringing scientists closer to an understanding of the “dark” universe.

The Voldemort of Calculus Classes: “The mathematical equivalent of Jello-olive tacos and bowls of mustard.”

No Man’s Sky: A Science Fictional Universe Created by Algorithms. A new computer game demonstrates a new way to build computer games filled with diverse flora and fauna.

Plastics Change Color—and Back—in Less Than 1 Second. Smart windows and biosensors need the speed of new polymers.

Japanese Researchers Demonstrate “Force Illusions”: haptic interfaces that could help wearable tech catch on.

If correlation does not imply causation, then what does? Fantastic, thought-provoking analysis by Michael Nielsen.

Polarized light helps not-so-blind bats find their way at dusk (echolocation only works for short-range navigation).

Zack Patterson and Andy Peterson explore why the hexagon is the perfect shape for bees, and why circles, triangles, or squares just would not do:

Universal Solution For Quantum 3-Body Problem. Have physicists conquered scaling behavior of exotic giant molecules?

The Casimir Effect And Boosting The Force Of Empty Space. “Borrowing” energy, but just for a little while.

How to Make Any Smartphone or Tablet Screen out of Scratch-Proof Sapphire.

Take your marks … the science behind the perfect swimming dive.

How to Convert a Satellite Dish Into a Radio Telescope.

The birth of topological spintronics: combining a standard magnetic material with  a “topological insulator.”

The Epic Fight to Protect Whales From the U.S. Navy. [For background see my post from 2008.]

Algae-on-a-chip can screen algae grown under different wavelengths to generate more efficient biofuels.

Shape-Shifting Jet Wings, From Soviet War Planes to Top Gun’s Tomcat. Related: comedian Baratunde Thurston Gets to the Bottom of the Science That Propels Jets.

Why Boarding an Airplane Feels Unfair and Chaotic. “Random boarding is a scientific method invented in 2008 by a frustrated Illinois-based astrophysicist named Jason Steffen who, after waiting too long in a boarding line, vowed to find a faster way to herd people onto a plane.”

Source: This thread on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/2bnjth/cosmospolitan_id_buy_the_hell_out_of_this_magazine/

Raise Your Hand If You Would Subscribe to Cosmos-politan (right). “White hot stars for every body type and the 168 best black holes in the universe!”

Newton’s Needle: On Scientific Self-Experimentation.

What if Twitter had been around during the times of historic scientific breakthroughs and discoveries?

Gravitational Attraction Simply Explained Using a Sheet of Graph Paper Attached to a Crank.

Astronomer Jill Tarter on the Ongoing Search for Extraterrestrial Life.

Combining Astrology and Healthcare: Your Medical Horoscope.  Apparently MP David Tredinnick has stated that he wants to see more astrology used in healthcare and medicine in the UK. Sure, the Guardian‘s Dean Burnett decided to have some fun with the idea:

Libra: “An unsteady vibration in the transit of Venus through your health zone means a routine X-ray in a check-up finds an alarming shadow. Further scans reveal it to be just an artefact caused by an error when processing the film, but it causes you to panic and adopt healthier lifestyles, many of which are unsustainable (e.g. the daily 5 mile jog) but cutting down on red meat is worth pursuing.”

Kids can attach different ‘heads’ to a molecule called Nanokid, and create tiny people (“Nanoputians”), thereby learning a bit of chemistry.

Cognitive Celebrity: Albert Einstein was a genius, but he wasn’t the only one – why has his name come to mean something superhuman?

Americans Would Agree to Tax Themselves If the Cash Went to Clean Energy.

The three ways to protect Earth from an asteroid impact: “Find it early; find it early; find it early.”

The First Accurate Measurement of the Earth’s Size Was in the 1600s, thanks to Jean-Felix Picard who “made it so.”

The “Proportioner,” a fabulous desktop/tabletop calculator, as seen in the American Stationer, page 932, 1889.

High Frequency Electrical Currents in Medicine and Dentistry, 1910: a gallery.

Robert Hooke’s Micrographia inspires artists and creative writers in two-day workshop.

Is our Universe left-handed? If spiral galaxies have a preferred direction, it just might be.

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? “efforts to introduce a better way of teaching math stretch back to the 1800s. The story is the same every time: a big, excited push, followed by mass confusion and then a return to conventional practices.” Counterpoint: why it is so difficult to change the habits of math teachers?

A Geometric Chocolate Mill. “The piece was comprised of a giant cylindrical chocolate block that was carefully organized in 10 stacked layers, with flavored shapes used to create different geometric patterns. As a crank-turned blade similar to a cheese slicer grazed shavings off the top, the hidden layers were slowly revealed.”

Physicist George Ellis Knocks Physicists for Knocking Philosophy, Falsification, Free Will.

“Time is Dancing”: This clock tells the time through a ballerina doing different poses.

Casino operators are changing blackjack payouts to give the house an even greater advantage. “In March, the Venetian and Palazzo casinos changed the payouts on blackjack hands from three-to-two to six-to-five. That might not seem like a big difference to casual observers, but experts say the change significantly increases the casinos’ house edge.”

The beautiful and turbulent unpredictability of clouds, coffee, and fire.

Salon Q&A with Neil deGrasse Tyson: “I don’t know what kind of democracy that is, if you’re gonna cherry-pick … science because it conflicts with your philosophy”

Girls Love Science. We Tell Them Not To.  Related: Eleven Ways Women See STEM as a 4-Letter Word.  Bonus: “Scully Likes Science” is a musical remix by Ryan English that features The X-Files’ Dana Scully extolling the virtues of science. “Science is a high-stakes game.”

Know who else likes science? Astrophysicist Katherine (Katie) Freese! In Search of Dark Stars: A conversation with Katherine Freese, the new director of the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics.

And here’s Margaret Eby commenting on The Myth of Serious and Silly Women. [It's in response to a New York Magazine piece by Kat Stoeffel: Finally Serious Women are Standing up for Fashion Mags.] Quoth Eby:

“Serious” has become a code word, a distinguishing mark that allows certain women into a club that most are excluded from. It questions the intent of someone’s pursuits, deems some virtuous and some merely frippery. It has come to mean “better.” It is shorthand for what you are supposed to treat thoughtfully, and what you can dismiss. It sets apart a select few from a presumed crowd of fanciful ladies with heads full of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and concerns about crop tops. It is a particularly insidious, slippery form of sexism, one that hides under the guise of good taste and the rubric of authenticity. And it’s a false distinction. You can be equally as serious about fashion or pop culture or the vagaries of VH1 shows as you can be about economics. You can be deeply invested in both Knausgaard and Katy Perry. That is not a conflict of interest, nor does it render you sillier or less worthy of consideration. We contain multitudes, bro.

In the spirit of the serious and the silly — or the goofy, the geeky and the glam — here is singer/actress Gia Mora being interviewed by PBS Arts District about her one-woman show, Einstein’s Girl.

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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