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Degrees of Freedom

Degrees of Freedom


The boundless dimensions of math and physics
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    Davide Castelvecchi is a freelance science writer based in Rome and a contributing editor for Scientific American magazine. Follow on Twitter @dcastelvecchi.
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  • The Courage to Be Wrong: Reading the Biography of Stephen Hawking

    Stephen Hawking by Kitty Ferguson

    In July 2010, the editorial department of Scientific American—where at the time I was on staff—received a review copy of a book was slated to come out in September. It was a slim, drab-looking, paperback-bound volume, still without a cover design or page numbers. On the cover it carried two names, that of a respected [...]

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    Book Review: Our Magnetic Earth, by Ronald Merrill

    pole flip

    A magnetic sense is now well documented in dozens of animal species. It turns out that tracking the geomagnetic field—that same invisible thing that points compasses—is handy for life, in lots of situations. Using their internal compasses, naked mole rats in Africa navigate their pitch-black underground mazes. Lobsters off Bermuda find their way to regions [...]

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    The Reawakening of X-Ray Delta One

    –Come in, Dave. Dave, come in. Do you read me, Dave? Please come in, Dave. –Wh… where am I? –I am glad you are waking up, Dave. Your vital signs were fairly normal but I was having difficulties reawakening you. –What happened? –I am still running checks to assess the situation. –My head hurts … [...]

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    Waiting for the Higgs, With the Man Who Built the LHC

    Lyn Evans

      They call it “the machine.” Thousands of physicists working at the LHC are looking for the Higgs boson and other new particles, and many of them have contributed to building the gigantic detectors that are taking most of the media limelight these days. But humming 100 meters under the Franco-Swiss border is the apparatus [...]

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    Where’s My Higgs? LHC Physicist Joe Lykken Speaks

    Joe Lykken

    On December 13, CERN will release the results of a new data analysis in the search for the Higgs boson. at the LHC. As I was reporting my article, which appeared today, on December 7 I spoke on the phone with Joe Lykken, a Fermilab staff theoretical physicist. Lykken is a member of the CMS [...]

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    The Man Who Put the “Big” in “Big Bang”: Alan Guth on Inflation

    alan guth

    On the night of December 6, 1979–32 years ago today–Alan Guth had the “spectacular realization” that would soon turn cosmology on its head. He imagined a mind-bogglingly brief event, at the very beginning of the big bang, during which the entire universe expanded exponentially, going from microscopic to cosmic size. That night was the birth [...]

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    A Step-by-Step Guide to Cosmology’s Best-Kept Secret

    Hubble Deep Field

    In my previous post, I described the little-known and somewhat counterintuitive idea that objects in the distant universe appear larger and larger the farther they are, in a reversal of the usual rules of perspective. I called it the cosmic magnifying lens. As promised, I will now explain the physics behind it. One possible way [...]

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    The Cosmic Magnifying Lens

    rearview mirror

    The observable universe is one big, giant magnifying lens. At large distances, objects appear to be larger than their true size, and the farther they are, the bigger they look. The most distant observable objects are so magnified that their images in the sky—if we could see them—would be blown up by a factor of [...]

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    On the Physics Nobels, The Atlantic Gets Dark Energy All Wrong

    Kirk and Shahna

    The piece run by The Atlantic last week on the Nobel Prizes for Physics, sadly, contained a number of misleading or inaccurate statements on physics and cosmology. Gregg Easterbrook, the journalist who wrote it, has a storied past as a science writer. He was one of the clear-minded people who saw early on the nonsense [...]

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    “‘We Hate Math,’ Say 4 in 10 — a Majority of Americans”

    we hate math

    How did I miss this until now? This clip has apparently been making the rounds of the Interwebs for years, but I couldn’t resist posting it after I saw it on Facebook this morning. I have no idea where the article was published–nor whether it’s a joke–though the news may have originated from a 2005 [...]

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