Cocktail Party Physics

Cocktail Party Physics

Physics With a Twist

Physics Week in Review: April 27, 2013


First things first: There is a movement afoot of sorts within certain sectors of the high-energy physics community to rename the Higgs boson to better reflect all those who contributed to its theoretical development and eventual discovery. Sure, it's named after Peter Higgs, and has been called that for decades in the academic literature and beyond, but now there might be Nobel prizes at stake. So we should totes start training people to call it something else now -- because that approach worked so well for getting people to stop calling it the "God Particle."

Physics Buzz cheekily suggested replacing it with a strange abstract symbol and referring to it as "The Particle Formerly Known as Higgs" (think pop star Prince, children of the Nineties). I'm with the Guardian's Jon Butterworth on this one: "a dispute about the name is an embarrassing sideshow."

CERN has observed matter-antimatter asymmetry in the decays of a fourth subatomic particle. Sean Carroll, (a.k.a. the Time Lord) took issue with the media coverage -- et tu, Symmetry Breaking? Per Sean, there's a crucial nuance that is often missed: "The logic is as irresistible as it is faulty: the process of baryogenesis, by which matter came to dominate over antimatter, requires that there be CP violation in the early universe; we are studying CP violation here in the late universe; obviously, what we’re doing helps us understand the matter/antimatter asymmetry. But that’s only true if the kind of CP violation we are studying is actually somehow related to baryogenesis. Which, most experts believe, it is not."

Event display for the energy (size of circles) measured in different IceCube sensors. Source: IceCube collaboration.

Record-energy neutrinos caught by IceCube might help find the source of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays.

"WIIIILMAAAAA!" The Physics of Fred Flintstone’s Flaming Feet.

Travel with Albert Einstein through Space and Time. "Journey by Starlight is a graphic novel that takes you on a historical journey through the discoveries of astronomers and physicists, kicking off in the year 1200 BCE and ending with the postmortem travels of Einstein’s brain."

The Math Dude explains: How to Use Statistics to Understand Poll Results, and make math simpler.

Stephen Hawking’s advice for twenty-first century grads: Embrace complexity.

"It's just like living on Earth, only you weigh 90 pounds more!" Popular Science does the math: what life on Kepler-62e would be like.

Perpetual Motion Test Could Amend Theory of Time. This is a fantastic article at Simons Science News on Frank Wilczek's controversial (but intriguing!) "time crystal" concept and an ion trap experiment that's being built to test it. I wrote about this for Discovery News last year, in the context of what exotic concepts one might need to build a working TARDIS, because I'm a big ol' geek, while Alexandra Witze gave it a more serious (non-cocktail-party-physics) treatment in Science News (sub req'd because you get what you pay for). Spoiler alert: it's not really good for a perpetual motion machine.

A new paper in Scientific Reports analyzed 50 years of physics papers, examining how citations flow to and from cities, based on where papers are published, and then ranking them based on a PageRank-style algorithm. The result: Boston, Berkeley, and Los Angeles came out on top.

Cracking Goldbach's Conjecture: how grid computing is helping mathematicians tackle an old problem.

Dating ancient water samples using Atom Trap Trace Analysis, or ATTA.

Credit: Sam van Doorn.

Credit: Sam van Doorn.

Now this is awesome: Camper Obscura, A VW Camper Converted into a Camera Obscura. Even more awesome: A Drawing Machine that Records Chaos of Pinball. "the better you are at pinball the more complex the drawing."

Chad Orzel investigates Playground Physics: the merry-go-round is, fundamentally, an angular momentum conservation problem

Eight years ago, Michael Chwe, an associate professor of political science at UCLA, had an epiphany while watching the teen movie Clueless (an adaptation of Emma): it was all about manipulation and game theory! The result is his new book, Jane Austen: Game Theorist, published by Princeton University Press. SciAm's Ferris Jabr channeled his inner Austen with a wittily acerbic reality check, in which Jane responds: Game Theory? Sir, You Flatter Me: "I believe you have conceived a whole new way of looking at my writing, one that has yielded revelations never before articulated. I am exceedingly and selfishly glad that readers who can match your cleverness are rare in number, otherwise I fear people would spend more time reading books about my books than reading my novels themselves."

"Laser Forest" installation involves a forest of 150 interactive rods installed in an empty factory space that when touched trigger both light and audio cues, effectively creating a large interactive instrument.

What we talk about when we talk about symmetry: Don Lincoln on the beautiful math behind our elegant universe.

How NASA brought the monstrous F-1 “moon rocket” engine back to life, thanks to a couple of young engineers.

Physicists Build World’s First “Magnetic Hose” for Transmitting Magnetic Fields. "So-called “transformation optics” allows these fields to be bent, twisted and steered in ways that were impossible just a few years ago. The trick is to create bespoke materials–metamaterials–that interact with the fields at a sub wavelength scale, guiding them in specific, predetermined ways."

A remote-controlled robot discovered three burial chambers deep within the Temple of the Feathered Serpent at Teotihuacan.

Greg Gbur, a.k.a. "Dr. Skyskull," summarizes the potential for constructing an invisibility cloak out of metamaterials. "The cloak guides light around the central region and sending it along its original path, like water flowing around a boulder in a stream. The lines in the illustration represent rays of light being deflected and returned to their original trajectories."

Physics Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek explains: Why does the Higgs Particle matter? (First: Imagine Europa.)

The European Space Agency thinks that "space junk such as debris from rockets must be removed from the Earth’s orbit to avoid crashes that could cost satellite operators millions of euros and knock out mobile and GPS networks." Yes. Let's clean it up already.

What is physics, really? Per a new article in Physics World, it's not as straightforward as the old adage is "f it moves it’s biology, if it smells it’s chemistry and if it doesn’t work it’s physics.”

A single equation grounded in basic physics principles could describe intelligence and stimulate new insights in fields as diverse as finance and robotics, according to new research that's been getting a bit of buzz. io9's George Dvorsky chatted with the paper's author, Alex Wissner-Gross.

Finally, why do New Yorkers fold their pizza? And what does that have to do with physics? Let a talking pizza explain it to you:

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

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