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Physics Week in Review: August 30, 2014

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


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Science Friday LIVE came to Caltech on Wednesday night, for a fun-filled evening exploring the intersection between Hollywood and science. Fortunately, you can listen to the audio if you missed the event. Program highlights included Making Hollywood Digital Doubles: USC scientist Paul Debevec and Avatar actor Stephen Lang talked about how convincing “digital actors” are made, and what Debevec’s success could mean for the future of acting. Also: Science in the Writers’ Room: Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, An Inconvenient Truth), Zoanne Clack (Grey’s Anatomy) and Eric Kaplan (The Big Bang Theory) on how they balance scientific accuracy and storytelling. Also again: From the Lab to the Silver Screen: The Birth of CGI. Animator Tom Sito explained how scientists and engineers kickstarted Hollywood’s digital animation revolution.

What Caused California’s Napa Valley Earthquake? Different Kinds of Faults Explained. Related: South Napa Earthquake: Which Fault’s at Fault? Also: Berkeley’s New Early Warning System Detected San Francisco’s Quake 20 Seconds Before It Hit. The Napa Valley quake, and why California is (geologically) not part of America at all. Other fallout of great interest to oenophile Jen-Luc Piquant: Napa Mops Up Wine and Tallies Its Losses. Bonus Longread: The Aftershocks: Seven of Italy’s top scientists were convicted of manslaughter following a catastrophic quake. has the country criminalized science?

Iceland Braces for Volcanic Eruption. “Alarms were raised last week, when an earthquake swarm struck beneath Bardarbunga — Iceland’s second-tallest volcano, situated in the center of the island nation. Worried that an eruption could be imminent, the government evacuated more than 300 people living in the vicinity of the volcano on August 20.” Related: As Iceland volcano rumbles, scientists plan for aviation alerts. Ash sensors ready to deploy on ground, planes. Also: Why a repeat of the 2010 flight chaos is unlikely. Geologist Andy Hooper explains why the chances of a huge eruption of the Bárðarbunga volcano in Iceland and massive disruption of air travel are low. Finally, on Thursday, Bárðarbunga Briefly Burbled With A Midnight Fissure Eruption.

Just seen the new Doctor Who? Here’s New Scientist‘s spoiler-free guide to the cool science bits.  Related: Congratulations, you’re a Time Lord. The amazing ways that you regenerate every day. Also: Even Daleks Need a Science Policy. “The Daleks are the most feared species in the Doctor Who universe, able to bring even the all-powerful Time Lords to the brink of defeat. So where did that technological superiority come from?” Bonus: A TARDIS Toilet Called The “Who Loo” Just Touched Down In Bristol. (Insert “bigger on the inside” jokes here.)

Quark Quartet Fuels Quantum Feud: Newly discovered particles have incited a fierce debate among experts about the correct picture of matter at the quantum scale. “We hate each other,” said Antonio Polosa, a theorist at Sapienza University of Rome… chuckling about the rival factions. “We really hate each other.”

Physics research removes outcome unpredictability of ultracold atomic reactions. A physics model helps scientists accurately predict the likely outcome of a chemical reaction and sheds new light on mysterious quantum states, including the Efimov effect.

Can This Mineral Power The Planet? Perovskite is a class of crystalline minerals with a molecular structure ideally suited to converting sunlight into electricity — and could one day replace silicon in photovoltaics.

How The Zebra Got Its Stripes, With Alan Turing.  The latest on some research I wrote about for Quanta last year.

“With great power in a smartwatch comes terrible battery life.” Could You Charge a Smartwatch by Shaking It?

X-Ray Laser probes Tiny Quantum Vortices In Droplets of Superfluid Helium.  “Scientists have mapped quantum tornadoes that swirl within tiny droplets of liquid helium, which confirms that helium nanodroplets are in fact the smallest possible superfluidic objects and opens new avenues to study quantum rotation.”

Credit: Lee Griggs, http://www.leegriggs.com

These Beautiful 3D Topographies Rendered by Madrid-based Artist Lee Griggs Look Like Weather Patterns and Ocean Floors. “Each piece is comprised of countless spheres, cylinders, or cubes that have been extruded and colored to create images reminiscent of ocean floors, bacterial growth, or even weather patterns.”

What would happen if you were punched by Superman? “If his fist has a mass of 300 grams and he moves at about 99 percent the speed of light, his punch is equivalent to 45 megatons of TNT. The movement would burn 45 trillion calories, and the energy released would be about 80 trillion Kelvin.”

How To Determine the Optical Location for your Wi-Fi router, using physics.  Hint: it involves solving the Helmholtz equation. For those who want the mathematical dirty details: Grad student solves Maxwells equations for his apartment to work out where to put Wifi router.

Everything You Need to Calculate the Speed of Light Can Be Found in Your Own Kitchen — namely that microwave.

A Protective Suit (“resembling an evil, steampunk Gumby “)That Lets You Stand Inside A Fireworks Display. You had me at “Steampunk Gumby.”

A frisbee in flight behaves very much like a wing, generating lift by flying at an angle of attack. Related: More Frisbee aerodynamics, or why the top surface has several raised concentric rings (it ensures flight stability).

The “Strange” Particle Between the Ordered Universe and Perfect Chaos.

Mathematical Predictions for the iPhone 6, based on the historical progression of features on the previous iPhones.

A better way to build a pyramid? “Maybe they should have tried rolling the stones.”

The Goldilocks of Black Holes: Scientists may have discovered the best way to find mid-sized black holes. Just look for their light-show harmonics.

Chinese team is catching up in hunt for dark matter. PandaX has first results and a clever plan to vie for lead. Related: Could Dark Matter just be Normal Stuff that’s Dark? There’s plenty of gas, dust, planets and rocky bodies out there.

What Lit Up The Universe? Astronomers May Be On The Brink Of An Answer. “new simulations hope to uncover the origin of the ultraviolet light that bathes — and shapes — the early cosmos.”

Do you think we’re alone in the universe? The Great Alien Debate (Part 1).  Related: The Search for Extraterrestrial Civilizations’ Waste Energy: “If they’re out there, other advanced civilisations should be emitting waste energy like hot exhaust. And that provides a good way to spot them, argue SETI experts.” Also: “Why I believe we’ll find aliens”: SETI’s Seth Shostak on the search for intelligent extra-terrestrial life. Finally, a Q&A with The Alien Whisperer: Jill Tarter On 38 Years Of Hunting For E.T.

The Mathematics of Herding Sheep:  “Sheepdogs think algorithmically. Using just two fundamental rules, the dogs analyze the state of a given herd and determine the best action to take among a limited set of possibilities.”

Meet Mr. Clocks: “In 1971—16 years after Einstein’s death—the definitive experiment to test Einstein’s relativity was finally carried out. It required not a rocket launch but eight round-the-world plane tickets that cost the United States Naval Observatory.”

Letters From a Calculus Class: “Dear Physics, If acceleration is the derivative of velocity, and velocity is the derivative of position, then what is position the derivative of? Did I just blow your mind? –Stoner mathematician.”

“Beautiful Ghost”: Filmmaker ventures back into radiation ravaged Chernobyl to make this startling film.

Using Quantum Physics To Speed Up Artificial Intelligence.  Related: Quantum Theory Becomes A Playable Physical Object in The Creators Project. “Artist and motion designer Will Reardon wants to bring computer-generated, screen-based art objects out into the real world.”

Wave-Particle Duality Principle Remains Safe And Sound. “You don’t destroy the laws of quantum mechanics that easily.”

Every Insanely Mystifying Paradox in Physics: A Complete List (actually a work in progress).

Quantum Physics Enables a New ‘Telepathic’ Photography Technique, exploiting entanglement.

Cosmic rays can help scientists safely image the interior of the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

How the World’s Fastest Electric Car Is Pushing Wireless Charging Technology.

Some raindrops fall faster than they should. Large fraction of small drops fall faster than their terminal velocity.

Construction has begun for AWAKE, a new proton driven plasma wakefield acceleration experiment.

Traffic Ghost Hunting – When the biggest problem with traffic is nothing at all. Related: I’ve covered the physics of traffic myself in the past, including phantom traffic jams.

“Everybody, remember where we parked!” Choosing a Landing Site on a Comet.

Type 1a Supernovae: Why our Standard Candle Isn’t Really Standard. “Ten billion years ago, the universe was filled with a different population of stars than we see today. The matter making up those stars had different chemical compositions. And if those ancient supernova 1as are behaving differently than the more recent ones, scientists need to know about it. Otherwise, imprecise distance measurements will yield an inaccurate understanding of what was happening during these earlier time periods.”

Integral gamma-ray observatory demonstrates white dwarfs can reignite & explode as supernovae.

Modern Research Borne on a Relic: Airships That Carry Science Into the Stratosphere.

Credit: Tom Beddard, http://www.subblue.com/about

3D fractals from Tom Beddard: “Some of the fractals look like Gothic architecture. Some of them look like alien seed pods. All of them are mesmerizing.”

Woodpecker Bodies Cushion Collision Impact On Bird Brains.

Why Your Coffee Stain Forms a Ring. “The effect happens because the coffee hugs the surface it’s on, instead of beading up. As the thin edges of the stain dry, more liquid, along with staining particles, is pulled outwards to take its place.”

Of Dark Matter, And Resonance Across Scales. “Personally, I’ve begun to think of knowledge as a fractal. Rich and intricate worlds lie between points that appear adjacent. The circumscribed area may well be finite, but the boundary is infinitely long.  Out on the perimeter, we can walk forever and never run out of places to explore.

Cosmic Toothpaste? Dying Stars May Have Created Toothpaste Ingredient Fluorine.

Why Sports Need Randomness – “In sports, the best team doesn’t always win.”

At The Nanoscale, A 150 Year Old Law Of Crystal Growth Breaks Down.

Science group asks U.S. energy secretary to intervene in case of fired Los Alamos researcher.

Jonsi and Alex shape Manh(a)ttan‘s atomic atmosphere with eerie sounds.  Related: Secrets of the Manhattan Project Leaked 1500 Times During World War II.

Is Pluto a planet? David Grinspoon responds to William Shatner’s question by invoking the Star Trek test.

Researchers use biometeorology to show that the best time to hold the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is winter.

What Makes a Supernova Blow? Astronomers have spotted the telltale gamma rays from a supernova explosion.

The Sound of Threads: This is what music looks like vibrating in threads of wool. “Visualizing music onto thin strands of Icelandic wool, the black and white piece translates different rhythms through lightwaves, enabling the sound not only to be heard but also ‘seen’.”

Scott Aaronson argues that consciousness relies on “participating fully in the arrow of time.”

Ardbeg distillery anticipates zero gravity single malt’s return to Earth. Space-aged whisky was launched in 2011 with the stated aim of discovering how maturation would be affected by low gravity.

Physics Demonstration: The Faraday Disk. “When Michael Faraday discovered the phenomenon of electromagnetic induction in 1831, paving the way for the complete unification of electricity and magnetism, he came up with a variety of experiments to demonstrate the effect.”

Best Places For Droplets, and Shallow Flows Of Liquid Water On Mars – Where Microbial Life May Flourish.

The powerful effects of gravity on the human body are shown in their full glory in this artistic video (NSFW).

Borexino neutrino experiment in Italy found that sun releases same amount of energy today as it did 100,000 years ago.

Ask Ethan #51: Is Astrology A Science?

The Tools of a Scientist, 1700: a compass, dividers, oil lamp, magnifying glass, microscope clock, barometer, weights and scales, and a couple of telescopes.

Interstellar Space Can Be Pebbly, per a new study using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.

Separating the buckyball twins: Selective enrichment of corannulene molecules (a.k.a. “buckybowls”) = new possibilities in nanotechnology.

Another Great Way to Prove Moon Hoax Conspiracy Theorists Wrong.

The Brilliance of Scientific Assumption: How extrapolating beyond simple scientific facts takes our understanding into uncharted waters. “it’s where our theories fail, or at the fringes, where observations-or-experiments might disagree with the best theoretical predictions, that progress is made. This tantalizing border between the known-and-understood and the next undiscovered frontier are something we only cross by challenging our most cherished assumptions.”

Image: Gabriela Barreto.

Schrödinger’s Picture: Researchers Take An Image Without Ever Detecting Light. Per New Scientist: “These images were generated using a cat stencil and entangled photons. The really spooky part is that the photons used to generate the image never interacted with the stencil, while the photons that illuminated the stencil were never seen by the camera.”

Ohio bill would demand schools teach “scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes.”

Sometimes a good GIF is all you need to make mathematical concepts come alive. Here’s 21 GIFs That Explain Mathematical Concepts.

What NASA Isn’t Saying In NASA’s Big Rocket Announcement.

Researchers devise a new way to separate cells by exposing them to sound waves as they flow through a tiny channel.

Physicist/rock star Brian May’s Homemade Guitar, Made From Old Tables, Bike and Motorcycle Parts and More. It’s called “The Red Special.” Or sometimes “The Fireplace.”

How long has the Universe been accelerating? If we came to be just a few billion years earlier, we’d never know.

How the Computer of the Future Keeps Its Cool. A team of theoretical physicists at the University of Hamburg, Germany have just published the schematics for a method that tackles the biggest hurdle in quantum computing: keeping everything cool.

In Praise of Proofs by Contradiction that Aren’t. “Writing proofs is hard, and sometimes hardest part is starting. ”

Alan Lightman’s Own Personal Nothingness – From a childhood hallucination to the halls of theoretical physics.

Watch the Films of the Lumière Brothers and the Birth of Cinema (1895).

Time Travel is Totally Possible (in Virtual Reality). “It might not solve the paradox, but perhaps VR software could help offer new, more hands-on ways of looking at the limits of theoretical time travel. Or at the very least, help make sense of the plot of Looper.

Bell-ringing as exercise in the 18th century. By replacing the noisy bell with two weighted bars, the apparatus could provide a silent workout.

Short-Lived Science Line from LEGO for Girls. “Within days of its appearance early this month, the Research Institute — a paleontologist, an astronomer and a chemist — sold out on Lego’s website.” Take a hint, Lego — there’s a market for this.

This Little Girl’s Reaction To A Rocket Launch Will Make Your Week. “Oh my goodness. ISSAWOCKETSHIIIIIIIIP!” Jen-Luc Piquant knows just how she feels.

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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