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Physics Week in Review: August 9, 2014

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


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The big news in space science this week: the Rosetta spacecraft catches its comet! Here’s what comes next. Why does it take 10 years to catch a comet? This computer simulation retraces Rosetta’s amazing journey. Related: Rosetta will teach us more about comets than we have learned in 50 years. Also: Could an astronaut on Rosetta just jump onto the comet?  Bonus: Discovery News looked at Seven Intimate Close Encounters with Comets.

There was also more debunking of the uber-hype surrounding NASA’s New “Miracle” Engine. Did NASA Validate an “Impossible” Space Drive? In a Word, No. NASA’s Quantum Drive: Cool Your Jets. Reactionless Motor Needs More Evidence, per the Bad Astronomer. “The effect is incredibly small, and one thing we’ve learned many times in history is that very small effects are usually due to something not being built or measured correctly.” Nerdist noted: “The conservation of momentum isn’t rocket science, but you can’t get very far in space without understanding it.” Starts With a Bang took a broader historical view: How to fool the world with bad science.

The big film release was Guardians of Galaxy, so naturally it inspired some science related posts, exploring, for instance, How Feynman and other physicists inspired the film’s screenwriter(s). Related:Putting Rocket Raccoon’s Hippocampus Into Hyperdrive.  Also: Do you have to be a Guardian of the Galaxy to survive the vacuum of space?

It was a big week for pop culture science. Phil Plait gave the lowdown on his panel at Comic-Con: Greetings, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: the science of The Avengers.  Related: Marvel Studios has a trippy vision for the new Doctor Strange movie.  Also: a physicist shares his adventures seeking out physics at Comic-Con.

Are you as thrilled as Jen-Luc Piquant over the release this fall of the long-awaited film, Interstellar, based on a concept by Caltech physicist Kip Thorne? A new trailer shows the film Feeds off our Exoplanet and Wormhole Dreams. “We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

Meet the minds and the algorithms behind Hollywood’s greatest spectacles and explosions.

Eddie Redmayne stars Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Here’s the trailer:

For Real-Life Transformers, Mix Paper, Batteries and Origami. Researchers make robots by electrifying paper.  Sure, you can make a paper plane — but can it fly? This origami-inspired robot can fold itself up and crawl away.

New Iridescent Plastic Makes It Possible to Thwart Counterfeiters With a Single Breath.

MIT researchers can listen to your conversation by watching your potato chip bag.

How Quantum Mechanics Helps Us Breathe: New insights explain how respiration does not result in asphyxiation.

Fact or Fiction?: Energy Can Neither Be Created Nor Destroyed — unless there’s an expanding universe?

Bottling Up Sound Waves. “Researchers have developed a technique for generating acoustic bottles in open air that can bend the paths of sound waves along prescribed convex trajectories. These self-bending bottle beams hold promise for ultrasonic imaging and therapy, and acoustic cloaking, levitation and particle manipulation.”

Did you see Pluto and Charon dancing to the tune of gravity? According to Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, “It’s the elegance of physics on a grand scale.”  Related: New Horizons Mission Catches Pluto And Charon Waltzing.

Credit: Lauren Bowker and the Unseen Studio, http://seetheunseen.co.uk

Jen-Luc would totally wear this! Wind Reactive Ink Alters Clothing Color Based on Contact with the Air, by London-based artist Lauren Bowker and her material exploration studio THE UNSEEN:

“The biological and chemical technology is integrated into layers of fabric and transforms its color in response to pressure change. Air’s nano compounds, inks, and dyes are capable of sensing up to seven stimuli: heat, UV, pollution, moisture, chemicals, friction, and sound. Each element has a different color-altering effect; pollution, for instance, can change between yellow to black. The result is that it translates our environment into a stunning visual representation, where a multi-faceted garment is reminiscent of an insect’s iridescent exoskeleton.”

What happens to a liquid in a cold vacuum? Does it boil or freeze? A: Yes (first one, then the other).

The Black Hole at the Birth of the Universe: What we perceive as the big bang, researchers argue, could be the three-dimensional ‘mirage’ of a collapsing star in a universe profoundly different than our own.

Open access to the universe: A team of scientists generated a giant cosmic simulation—and now they’re giving it away.

‘Particle Clicker’, A Game That Teaches Particle Physics in the Style of ‘Cookie Clicker.’

Cosmologist Marcelo Gleiser shows how the idea of “now” is an illusion.

Scientists who also write fiction: Fred Hoyle’s The Black Cloud (1957).

Our Favorite Orbits Are Getting Crowded With Space Junk – Fun, informative comic from The Atlantic.

Fantastically Wrong: Why the Guy Who Discovered Uranus Thought There’s Life on the Sun.

Michelle Feynman describes what it was like to grow up as the daughter of one of the world’s best-known physicists at TEDx-Caltech.

Garrett Lisi on the geometry of the Higgs and symmetry breaking.

Motherboard says that Going Deep with David Rees Is the Best Science Show Since Cosmos.

Claud Lovelace: The Man Who Invented the 26th Dimension. How a scientist you never heard of made string theory possible.

That time Robert Hooke got an ant drunk for science — cuz it just wouldn’t hold still long enough for him to sketch it.

The “Voices of the Manhattan Project” has released a series of previously unheard recordings of top Manhattan Project scientists.  For instance, Oppenheimer describes how he came to be the scientific leader of the Manhattan Project.

Planck’s Mystery Cosmic ‘Cold Spot’ Could be an Observational Error.

At picturesque Mt. Wilson, scientists discuss the massive potential of the Giant Magellan Telescope.

Putting Together How Things Fall Apart: the crucial role of moisture in setting the stage for failure.

What’s 250 Million Light-Years Big, Almost Empty, and Full of Answers? Astronomers are using new tools in their search for cosmic voids.

The Physics Girl explains how to use physics to create cool patterns on a vibrating plate. It’s like a guitar string or a singing wine glass.

Cosmological Concordance? It’s unlikely that massive neutrinos will reconcile conflicting cosmic measurements.

IBM’s New Brainlike Chip May Be “Historic”: it uses a million digital neurons and 256 million synapses.

Neutrinos could soon provide a means to remotely monitor reactors for production of weapons grade nuclear material.

Mathematicians’ Romantic Yearning for Love and Chaos: Jules et Jim in the vortex of life.

Hiroshima Dreams: How a Cinema Legend (Akira Kurosawa) Tackled Nuclear Terror.

“Ultimately, beauty must come from mathematics.” Erik and Martin Demaine apply mathematical rigor to uncommon origami. (Sub req’d)

Escher-inspired Algorithmic House by Yuusuke Karasawa Made From Steel and Glass: “much like the Dutch artist [M.C. Escher] used mathematical algorithms to create his repetitious motifs, Karasawa too used an algorithm, albeit computer-generated, to repeat his many diagonals and, in turn, derive the most optimal living space.”

“Art and physics, like wave and particle, are an integrated duality … two different but complementary facets of a single description of the world.”

Star Trek legend who became NASA’s ‘secret weapon‘: Exclusive interview with Nichelle Nichols, a.k.a. Lt. Uhura.

We Never Looked at the Stars:” What Ben Lillie’s high school astronomy club taught him about everything except astronomy.

Epic Frequency, Artwork Created From Visual Waveform Representations of Classic Recordings. “The collection includes historical voice recordings like “One Small Step” by Neil Armstrong and classic songs like “Let it Be” by The Beatles.”

This Was Your Daddy’s (Or Possibly Grand-Daddy’s) Space Station (1970).

Celebrating the 1939 Leo Szilard letter to FDR and setting the record straight.  Related: How to Hide a Nuclear Missile— “a history of imagined futures of Cold War annihilation.”

From "The Principles of Aerodynamics" exhibit, Daniel Agbag, http://www.publicoffice.com.au/Home.html

These are fantastic. Imaginative Industrial Flying Machines Made From Cardboard by Daniel Agdag. “Agdag forfeits all blueprints, drawings and plans choosing, instead, to work only from mind and scalpel. His industrial beasts–get close and you can almost smell the oil and smoke; hear the clanking and buzzing–come together only from sliced cardboard hinged with glue.”

Quantum Entanglement: When Particles Fall Left And Right At The Same Time.

How Death Valley’s ‘sailing stones’ move on their own.

Diamonds are a quantum computer’s best friend.

Computational Linguistics of Twitter Reveals the Existence of Global Superdialects.

Dropping a water droplet through a bubble will not break it. The bubble will heal itself using the Marangoni effect.

A Mathematical Equation to Predict Happiness – Easy as ‘1,2,3’.

Reading Diary: Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction by Charles L. Adler.

Scientists at MIT are using nanotubes to improve the ability of plants to absorb other wavelengths.

Tricking Facebook’s Algorithm: “You could almost feel two great blue hands ratcheting the post up my friends’ feeds.”

Traveling Between Quantum States: Mapping The Optimal Route.

Colliding Worlds Explores Art Driven by Science: “Dr. Miller’s encyclopedic survey begins at the dawn of the 20th century, when physicists as well as painters were testing radical new models of space and time. In the vein of his previous book, Einstein, Picasso, Dr. Miller shows how the discovery of quantum mechanics inspired a generation of avant-garde artists, including Picasso, Kandinsky and Dalí, who said, ‘It is with pi-mesons and the most gelatinous and indeterminate neutrinos that I want to paint the beauty of the angels and of reality.’”

Finally, here’s Veritasium’s Derek Muller with Five Fun Physics Phenomena to bend your brain.

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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