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Critical Opalescence

Critical Opalescence

Making the transition from confusion to comprehension, on all scales
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    George Musser is a contributing editor at Scientific American. He focuses on space science and fundamental physics, ranging from particles to planets to parallel universes. He is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory. Musser has won numerous awards in his career, including the 2011 American Institute of Physics's Science Writing Award. Follow on Twitter @gmusser.
  • Why Bother with Ordinary Fireworks When You Can Have Black Hole Fireworks?

    Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, one of the creators of loop quantum gravity, and his collaborator Hal Haggard have just come out with a new paper on black holes. Ever attuned to puns, Rovelli calls it the “fireworks” model, alluding to the firewall argument that has consumed black-hole theorists over the past two years. As if [...]

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    Physicists Think They Can Solve the Mysteries of Quantum Mechanics, Cosmology, and Black Holes in One Go [Guest Post]

    It’s lucky that debates over the meaning of quantum mechanics are so entertaining, because they seem to go on forever. The sundry proposed interpretations make the same experimental predictions, so many people fret that there’ll never be a way to decide among them. Fret no longer. Some “interpretations” aren’t really interpretations so much as separate [...]

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    Physicists Look Beyond the Large Hadron Collider, to the Very Large Hadron Collider

    In 1954 the renowned physicist Enrico Fermi did a simple but depressing calculation about future particle accelerators. To create particles with an energy of 3 teraelectron-volts, he estimated, you’d have to build a ring 8,000 kilometers in radius at a cost of $170 billion. It was a rare instance of Fermi being wrong. The Large [...]

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    Time Machines Would Run Afoul of the Second Law of Thermodynamics [Guest Post]

    Last year I got talking to theoretical physicist Aron Wall about the thermodynamics of quantum gravity. Now that’s a deceptively beautiful phrase: in four words, you get three of the deepest areas in modern science. Their union promises answers to such mysteries as the arrow of time and what the heck time actually is. And [...]

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    As Ice Forms, It Can Create Amazing Spirals

    In our February issue, Scientific American had an article on the phenomenon of liquid-rope coiling—the way that viscous fluids curl as they fall onto a surface, forming what looks like a miniature basket. Dribbling honey onto toast is a classic example (not to mention a great way to liven up your breakfast with physics experiments). [...]

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    Gravitational Waves Reveal the Universe before the Big Bang: An Interview with Physicist Gabriele Veneziano

    It’s not usually put like this, but the discovery of primordial gravitational waves two weeks ago has given us our first direct glimpse of a period before the big bang. The term “big bang” is sometimes taken to mean the beginning of the universe, and that’s the impression you get from diagrams such as the [...]

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    Amanda Gefter’s Ultimate Reality Party

    Last night I had the pleasure of going to Amanda Gefter’s book party, celebrating the release of Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn. I first got to know Gefter a decade ago when she audaciously contacted Sci Am to pitch her first-ever science story, and I followed her later career at New Scientist with admiration. But nothing [...]

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    Cosmological Data Hint at a Level of Physics Underlying Quantum Mechanics [Guest Post]

    Two weeks ago, I blogged about David Bohm’s interpretation of quantum mechanics. Like Einstein and Louis de Broglie before him, Bohm argued that quantum randomness is not intrinsic to nature, but reflects our ignorance of a deeper level of reality. One physicist who has developed the idea further is Antony Valentini of Clemson University. Last [...]

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    What Happens to Google Maps When Tectonic Plates Move?

    A couple of weeks ago, I was writing up a description of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and I thought I’d compare the warping of spacetime to the motion of Earth’s tectonic plates. Nothing on Earth’s surface has fixed coordinates, because the surface is ever-shifting. Same goes for spacetime. But then it struck me: if [...]

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    The Wholeness of Quantum Reality: An Interview with Physicist Basil Hiley

    One night in 1952, Richard Feynman and David Bohm went bar-hopping in Belo Horizonte. Louisa Gilder reconstructs the night in her brilliant book on the history of quantum mechanics, The Age of Entanglement. Feynman was on a sabbatical in Rio and, ever exuberant, raved about local beers, drumming lessons, and Brazilian girls. Bohm, teaching at [...]

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