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Posts Tagged "Physics"

@ScientificAmerican

Physics, Metaphysics and Cosmology Collide in New E-Book, Possibilities in Parallel: Seeking the Multiverse

Possibilities in Parallel: Seeking the Multiverse

Parallel universes are a staple of science fiction, and it’s no wonder. They allow us to explore the question, “What if?” in a way that lets us step completely outside of the world we know, rather than question how that world might have turned out differently. For cosmologists, the question isn’t “What if the South [...]

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@ScientificAmerican

Meet the Science in Action Finalists

Who will win the first $50,000 Science in Action prize, sponsored by Scientific American? This award, offered as part of the 2012 Google Science Fair, will recognize a student project that addresses a social, environmental, ethical, health or welfare issue to make a practical difference to the lives of a group or community, and that [...]

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@ScientificAmerican

2012 Google Science Fair Begins: What’s Your Question?

“As any adult knows, there’s one thing that any kid can do better than any grown up: ask questions. In fact, many studies have actually shown how kids are born scientists. If you don’t believe me, watch a baby first accidentally knock something off her high chair and onto the floor. She’ll look at it [...]

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@ScientificAmerican

Scientific American Defends Marie Curie—and Women Scientists—in 1911

One of the pleasures of editing a magazine like Scientific American, with its 166-year history as the country’s longest continuously published magazine, is getting a “you are there” view of science as it was whenever I take a spin through our digital archives. The other day, while reading some 100-year-old prose, I was reminded of [...]

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But Not Simpler

Nerds and Words: Week 2

overthinking-it-web copy

I have dug through the Internet this week and uncovered all this geeky goodness. You can find the thousands of links from previous weeks here. I have marked my favorite links with a ∞. Enjoy. Science to Read, Watch A nuclear bomb told us that great white sharks can live longer than you The Mapmakers: [...]

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But Not Simpler

Nerds and Words: Week 1

overthinking-it-web copy

I have dug through the Internet this week and uncovered all this geeky goodness. You can find the thousands of links from previous weeks here. I have marked my favorite links with a ∞. Enjoy. Science to Read, Watch ∞ Pi is beautiful, these visualizations prove it “Mariella Superina has been studying the pink fairy’s [...]

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But Not Simpler

Nerds and Words: Week 52

overthinking-it-web copy

But Not Simpler has had a great first year (over 1,000,000 hits in eight months!), of course thanks to all my nerdy readers. I did a lot of experimenting here, from controversial pieces about water fluoridation to a piece on taste perception in full Seussian rhyming scheme to a piece proving that a Pacific Rim [...]

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But Not Simpler

When You Decide To Dispel The Santa Claus Myth, Make It A Teachable Moment

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On a bitingly cold morning in 2011, I was sitting quietly in a repurposed Chicago bar listening to a physics teacher kill Santa Claus. Apparently, physics teachers and educators do this all the time. Examinations of Kringle’s physics are posted (and rebutted) in web archives, physics news outlets, and numerous science blogs. And it’s hard [...]

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But Not Simpler

‘Scuse Me While I Pour a Drink Towards the Sky

UWf9S4k

You fight with inertia all the time, and it usually wins. Sometimes it spills coffee into your lap while you take your car around a turn. Sometimes it throws you against a wall, for your own enjoyment, at a carnival. And sometimes the fight with inertia lets you defy gravity and take truly “hang ten”-worthy [...]

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But Not Simpler

How Photon Torpedoes Will Mark An End To The Energy Crisis

Arena_photon_torpedo

Photon torpedoes come after utopia, at least in Star Trek. Imagining a universe centuries ahead of our own time and technology, the long-running sci-fi shows explored philosophy, morality, and the secluded intricacies of physics. But what was left unstated said the most. By the time Jean-Luc Picard took the captain’s chair, poverty in the 24th [...]

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But Not Simpler

You Can’t Take a Bullet for Someone Hollywood-Style, Because Physics

Bullets move fast enough to create their own shockwaves, like a speedboat on the water.

No matter how many times you’ve seen the movies and the TV shows that have a protagonist leaping in the path of a bullet, physics forbids such sacrifice. Because of a bullet’s radical speed, you can’t jump in front of it, but you could get in its way. It’s not as dramatic, but it does [...]

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But Not Simpler

Getting the God of Thunder’s Science Straight

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With Thor: The Dark World out today, it’s time to delve back into superhero fandom to find, surprisingly, just how scientifically grounded the powers of the blonde-haired god are. The God of Mass and Momentum Back in February, everyone’s favorite astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson took to Twitter to opine on the physics of Thor and [...]

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But Not Simpler

Nyan Cat’s Rainbow Moves The Feline Pop-Tart At Mach 7

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An 8-bit Pop-Tart kitty moves twice as fast as the fastest jet ever created. That’s because this cosmic cat, this ubiquitous meme, has to take off and land adorably in space. And what better place to take off and land from than the giant litter box that is the undisturbed regolith of the Moon? If [...]

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But Not Simpler

The Walking Dead Shuffles Into Science Education With Bolts, Brains, and a Physics Quiz

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In what has to be a win for science communication, AMC—the cable network behind the wildly successful zombie comic adaptation The Walking Dead—has decided to partner with an online instruction company and the University of California-Irvine to create a zombie-themed interdisciplinary course. Entitled Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s The Walking Dead, the free online [...]

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But Seriously...

Neil deGrasse Tyson at 85% the Speed of Light

Neil deGrasse Tyson in Slow-Motion

This video made me laugh harder than anything I’ve seen in a long time. Okay, except for some Louis CK videos. But for a non-comedian (allegedly)… this is hard to beat. Not that the humor is entirely intentional by the speaker. I had previously seen the original video – of Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about [...]

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But Seriously...

Chladni Figures: Amazing Resonance Experiment

Chladni plate experiment

When I first saw this video I thought it was fake. Perhaps an April Fool’s joke. But, not only is it real, it is a phenomenon that’s been known for hundreds of years. Why am I just hearing about it? (there’s also a full version in which you can hear the tones: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yaqUI4b974) So, what [...]

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Cocktail Party Physics

Don’t Be Dissin’ the Bohr Model!

bohrmodel

One of the standout anecdotes in Carl Zimmer’s most excellent compilation, Science Ink (a.k.a. My Favorite Science Book of 2011 And Possibly Ever) occurs in the first few pages: “A former student [physics major] got a tattoo of a cartoon atom on the back of one of his legs. He told me that the first [...]

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Cocktail Party Physics

Anatomy of a Stradivarius

strad1

World-famous classical violinist Joshua Bell — perennial uber-cute Cyber crush of Jen-Luc Piquant — travels all over the world performing, and his instrument of choice is a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin called Gibson ex Huberman. The violin dates back to 1713, when the famed Cremona violin-maker Antonio Stradivari was at the height of his prowess. It [...]

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Critical Opalescence

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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Critical Opalescence

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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Critical Opalescence

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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Critical Opalescence

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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Critical Opalescence

Does Some Deeper Level of Physics Underlie Quantum Mechanics? An Interview with Nobelist Gerard ’t Hooft

VIENNA—Over the past several days, I attended a fascinating conference that explored an old idea of Einstein’s, one that was largely dismissed for decades: that quantum mechanics is not the root level of reality, but merely a hazy glimpse of something even deeper. A leading advocate is Gerard ’t Hooft of Utrecht University, who shared [...]

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Critical Opalescence

When the Large Hadron Collider Is Too Small

The Large Hadron Collider has only just begun its explorations, so it might seem a little premature to begin thinking about what new particle projects might come next. But given how long these things take to plan, is it ever too soon? This summer, particle physicists held a huge planning retreat in Minneapolis, which Peter [...]

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Critical Opalescence

What Would It Be Like to Fall into a Naked Singularity? [Guest Post]

Last year, novelist Sergio De La Pava compared the American criminal justice system to the strange physics concept of naked singularities. That inspired me to ask the author of Sci Am’s article on the concept, theoretical physicist Pankaj Joshi of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai (right in photo), for an update. Watch [...]

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Critical Opalescence

It from Bit or Bit from It? Announcing the 5th Foundational Questions Institute Essay Contest

What a great way to start the week: the Foundational Questions Institute has just announced its fifth essay contest. The topic is the physics of information. It could hardly be more timely, and not just because of the cultural Zeitgeist. Going to a physics conference these days is like landing in The Village of the [...]

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Critical Opalescence

George and John’s Excellent Adventures in Quantum Entanglement, Part 2 [Video]

The first time I ever saw quantum entanglement for myself was in August 2011 on a road trip to Colgate University. Goodness knows how many blog posts and magazine articles have been written about the quantum realm, invariably describing it as weird. But I’d never actually seen this supposed mind-blowingness with my own eyes, which [...]

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Critical Opalescence

Newly Published Einstein Writings Show the Prehistory of His Debates with Niels Bohr [Guest Blog]

For physicists trying to make sense of quantum mechanics, Albert Einstein’s thinking remains highly relevant. “This guy saw more deeply and more quickly into the problems that plague us today,” one quantum physicist told me. The latest volume of the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, which contains Einstein’s publications, draft papers, letters, and scribblings from [...]

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Cross-Check

Science “faction”: Is theoretical physics becoming “softer” than anthropology?

black hole illustration

Two recent science stories, one in anthropology and the other in physics, have me wondering which field is "hard" and which "soft." The first story involves the decision of the American Anthropological Association to delete the word "science" from its mission statement. That step provoked squawks from anthropologists who’ve struggled to counter the image of [...]

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Cross-Check

Cosmic Clowning: Stephen Hawking’s “new” theory of everything is the same old CRAP

I’ve always thought of Stephen Hawking—whose new book The Grand Design (Bantam 2010), co-written with Leonard Mlodinow, has become an instant bestseller—less as a scientist than as a cosmic, comic performance artist, who loves goofing on his fellow physicists and the rest of us. This penchant was already apparent in 1980, when the University of [...]

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Culturing Science

Why Do Sequences Think They Are So Special?

De_Revolutionibus_manuscript_small

We know that the living world depends on sequences of nucleic acids for its existence and ongoing operation. We also know that humans evolved the ability to create, manipulate, and copy acoustic sequences, and later to commit those sequences to the more permanent medium of writing. Finally, we know that our advanced technological civilization is increasingly dependent on storing, moving, and processing bit strings—sequences of zeros and ones. So what is it with sequences?

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Dark Star Diaries

How to See a Black Hole: Introducing Dark Star Diaries

Sagittarius A*

The image you see here is a computer-generated model of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which we call Sagittarius A*. More precisely, it is a model of the “shadow” that Sagittarius A*, with its mass of four million suns, should cast. The glowing blob in the lower right corner is [...]

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Doing Good Science

Book review: The Radioactive Boy Scout.

When I and my three younger siblings were growing up, our parents had a habit of muttering, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The muttering that followed that aphorism usually had to do with the danger coming from the “little” amount of knowledge rather than a more comprehensive understanding of whatever field of endeavor [...]

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Doing Good Science

Help high school “nerds” visit the Large Hadron Collider.

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Last week, I got a really nice email, and a request, from a reader. She wrote: I am a high school senior and an avid follower of your blog. I am almost definitely going to pursue science in college – either chemistry, physics, or engineering; I haven’t quite decided yet! I am the editor of [...]

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Food Matters

Breaking Food Down

Original Image U. Huddersfield.

What is food? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry says “Something that nourishes, sustains, or supplies.” How beautiful. That statement captures much of the emotion and feeling surrounding food, yet it’s only part of the full definition. So where does food begin? As with most big questions, it depends who you ask. Let’s start down the reductive [...]

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Guest Blog

To What Extent Do We See with Mathematics?

Variable X

When I first became fascinated with mathematics’ tightly knit abstract structures, its prominence in physics and engineering reassured me.  Mathematics’ indisputable value in science made it clear that my preoccupation with its intangible expressions was not pathological.  The captivating creative activity of doing mathematics has real consequences. During my graduate school years, I began to [...]

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Guest Blog

Channeling Ada Lovelace: Chien-Shiung Wu, Courageous Hero of Physics

Linocut of Chien-Shiung Wu

Today marks the 5th Ada Lovelace Day, an annual celebration of women who have made important contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The event is named for Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, who is often credited as the first computer programmer. Since its inception in 2009, Ada Lovelace Day [...]

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Guest Blog

Why Is Quantum Gravity So Hard? And Why Did Stalin Execute the Man Who Pioneered the Subject?

What is the hottest problem in fundamental physics today? Physics aficionados most probably would answer: quantum gravity. Of all the fundamental forces of nature, only gravity still stands outside the rubric of the quantum theory. The difficulty of quantizing gravity has led to radical theories such as string theory, with its bold predictions of higher [...]

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Guest Blog

The Power of Theory in Science

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."—Leonardo da Vinci It’s often lonely, these days, as a theorist. As soon as most people hear the word theory, in fact, they start thinking about something like this:  (Image credit: [...]

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Guest Blog

What Does the New Double-Slit Experiment Actually Show?

Quantum mechanics is one of the most successful theories in all of science; at the same time, it’s one of the most challenging to comprehend and one about which a great deal of nonsense has been written. However, a paper from Science, titled "Observing the Average Trajectories of Single Photons in a Two-Slit Interferometer", holds [...]

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Guest Blog

Physics and the Immortality of the Soul

The topic of "life after death" raises disreputable connotations of past-life regression and haunted houses, but there are a large number of people in the world who believe in some form of persistence of the individual soul after life ends. Clearly this is an important question, one of the most important ones we can possibly [...]

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Guest Blog

Invisibility: After several years of research, it’s just gotten weirder

Is it possible to hide something within an invisible cloak? It has already been over four years since the first groundbreaking theoretical papers on invisible cloaking devices were published, stirring up a near frenzy in the physics and optics communities. Since then, new results have come at a rapid and genuinely surprising pace, and news [...]

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Guest Blog

The Evolution of the Physicist’s Picture of Nature

Paul Dirac

Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article by Paul Dirac from the May 1963 issue of Scientific American, as it might be of interest to listeners to the June 24, 2010, and June 25, 2010 Science Talk podcasts, featuring award-winning writer and physicist Graham Farmelo discussing The Strangest Man, his biography of the Nobel Prize-winning [...]

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Life, Unbounded

This Is What We Don’t Know About The Universe

dont panic.001

In recent days I’ve had some interesting conversations. There’s a giddiness going around, related to an outpouring of science love – the kind you get from President Obama introducing TV science shows, the kind that has wonderful visuals, but is, well, a wee bit simplistic (a sin that none of us could ever, ever be [...]

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Life, Unbounded

In Defense Of Metaphors In Science Writing

(James Gillray)

“Science is all metaphor” Timothy Leary We live in an elegant universe. The cosmos is like a string symphony. Genes are selfish. There is an endless battle between thermodynamics and gravity. Do you love these statements, or hate them? The reading world gets pretty divided over whether or not it’s okay to apply metaphors and [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Subatomic to Superhorizon – Abandon All Hope!

Contemplating vastness

                      Grasping for an understanding of the true scale of the cosmos is a vital part of how we try to conceptualize reality and our place among it all. But it’s tremendously difficult, whether we’re seeking that ‘oh wow’ moment, or trying to gain intuition [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Calling All Sentient Lifeforms

Galileo spacecraft images us (NASA/JPL)

You may notice that today is the one year anniversary of the Scientific American blog network. You may also notice that across the blogs this morning is a shared theme; time for the readers to speak up. Inspired by the blogger Ed Yong, the Sci Am blogs are asking for your thoughts. Consider this an [...]

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Life, Unbounded

The Hole

Hole ((c) C. Scharf 2012)

Every so often in the summer months I allow myself a bit of leeway with posts, because as fun as it is to write about real science, it’s also a lot of fun to write pure speculation. I particularly like speculation that takes extraordinary possibilities about our place in the universe, and cuts them down [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Encounter at Dawn: Stephen Hawking, me, and an ATM

A black hole lenses the light of the Milky Way in the background (Credit: Ute Kraus amd Axel Mellinger)

This weekend Stephen Hawking turns 70, an extraordinary physical accomplishment to add to an extraordinary list of physics accomplishments. Seeing this news reminded me of the the first time that I crossed paths with Hawking. I’d love to be able to say that it was in intellectual debate, an exchange of brilliant ideas, but in [...]

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Life, Unbounded

What next for neutrinos?

To catch a neutrino (MINOS)

For a ghostly type of particle, oblivious to even the massive bulk of a star or planet, neutrinos sure can generate a fuss. In the 1960s they created a stir by seemingly appearing from nuclear processes in our Sun’s core at a third of the anticipated rate – the so-called solar neutrino “problem“. In the [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Superluminal muon-neutrinos? Don’t get your hopes up.

Ghosts in the aether (CERN)

The past 24 hours have suddenly been awash in neutrinos, in addition to the 65 billion passing through every square centimeter of your skin every second from the Sun’s core. Although hardly the stuff of planetary science or astrobiology I have found myself facing questions from a few people who wonder if faster-than-light particles could [...]

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Observations

Why the Moon Looks Different in Winter [Video]

As we steel ourselves against the cold and curse the polar vortex for bringing these bitter winds upon us, it’s helpful to remember that winter can also be a magical time of fluttering snowflakes and beautiful evening skies. This Minute Physics video explains how the earth’s tilted axis makes winter the best season for viewing [...]

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Observations

Winners of the Dance Your PhD Competition Revealed [Video]

For the past 6 years, Science magazine and its publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have challenged researchers to explain their doctoral research through interpretive dance. This year, the winners of the Dance Your Ph.D. contest goes to Cedric Tan, a biologist whose postdoctoral research examines the relationship between sperm and the [...]

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Observations

Scientists Find First Neutrinos from Distant Space [Video]

IceCube

The world has heard the first faint whispers of the most powerful cataclysms in the universe. Scientists working on the IceCube experiment in Antarctica report that they have found 28 neutrinos that must have come to earth from explosions in the distant universe—the first time scientists have found neutrinos coming from outside our own solar [...]

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Observations

5 Unanswered Questions That Will Keep Physicists Awake at Night

Orion Nebula photo

Physics is all about probing the most fundamental mysteries in nature, so it’s no surprise that physicists have some very basic questions about the universe on their minds. Recently, Symmetry Magazine (published by two U.S.-government funded physics labs) asked a group of particle physicists to name the open questions in physics they most want answers [...]

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Observations

The Fingerprints the Higgs Leaves Behind

The Higgs at Last

Tomorrow, the Nobel prize in physics will most likely be awarded to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert. Along with other researchers, the two physicists are credited with the 1964 introduction of the then-theoretical Higgs field—a fluid that permeates every corner of the universe and gives each particle a distinct mass. The physical manifestation of this [...]

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Observations

Besides Higgs, Who Might Get the Physics Nobel?

Artist's impression of the planet around Alpha Centauri B

Tomorrow’s Nobel Prize in physics is widely anticipated to go to Peter Higgs, perhaps along with Francois Englert, for their nearly 50-year-old prediction of a new particle that we now call the Higgs boson. Last year’s discovery of the Higgs was one of the most important events in physics in recent decades; surely Higgs and [...]

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Observations

Particles and the People Who Love Them: Documentary Shows Human Side of Large Hadron Collider

Particle Fever poster

Full disclosure: I cried at a movie about particle physics. And I wasn’t alone. As the film showed footage of the July 4, 2012 announcement of the Higgs boson discovery, I noticed the woman next to me wiping her eyes just as I was doing the same. I was at a screening of the new [...]

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Observations

Why Friction Is a Drag: New Findings

Laboratory experiment to measure friction on atomic scale

Friction is both the boon and the bane of our everyday lives. It’s the force that drags against your car’s tires, making you use more gas to keep going. It’s also the force that allows your car to stop at all: Without friction, brakes would be dead weight. Although most of us take friction for [...]

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Observations

What You Need to Know about the Forthcoming Climate Change Report

ipcc-logo

Talk about management by committee: one group of more than 800 scientist authors to cope with more than 9,000 scientific publications on climate change and more than 20,000 comments from “expert reviewers” (plus another 30,000 or so from various other interested parties.) Now the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is into four days of wrangling [...]

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Observations

Wormholes May Save Physics from Black Hole Infernos

Black_Hole_Milkyway

Are black holes surrounded by walls of fire? Does this imply that one (or more) of our most cherished physical principles—and here I’m talking about biggies like quantum theory, the conservation of information or Einstein’s equivalence principle—is wrong? Any may our savior come in the form of wormholes? These are the questions consuming some of [...]

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Octopus Chronicles

Octopus Suckers Have Groovy Secret for Strength

octopus sucker strength material tissue

Octopus suckers are extraordinary. They can move and grasp objects independently. They can “taste” the water around them. They can even form a seal on rough surfaces underwater. And as a many a diver, biologist and intrepid eater can attest, these little suckers are strong. This strength is astounding, especially considering that their tissue is [...]

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Octopus Chronicles

3-D Printed Octopus Suckers Help Robots Stick

octopus robot suckers

Legions of animal-inspired robots are being created to improve military missions and disaster response efforts—from crawling cockroach-like RHex bots to leaping Sand Flea robots and the speeding Cheetah machines. Now, a squishier source for smart robo-tech has joined the ranks: octopuses. Teams of researchers are already developing soft-bodied, octopus-esque robots for search and rescue. These [...]

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Oscillator

Fractal Bacteria

Figure from Rudge et al. "Cell Polarity-Driven Instability Generates Self-Organized, Fractal Patterning of Cell Layers"

Bacteria are single celled organisms that can do amazing things in multicellular groups, with complex coordinated behaviors emerging from the interaction of genetic networks, chemical environments, and the physics of cell growth. Last year I wrote about the work of Tim Rudge and Fernan Federici and their incredible images of bacterial growth patterns. Their paper, [...]

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The Primate Diaries

Macaque and Dagger in the Simian Space Race

Iranian Space Monkey Square

Why does the U.S. suspect Iran of faking their monkey space flight? Because we did it first. It was a blistering hot summer, as it usually is in that part of the world. The monkey’s arms and legs were tightly strapped to a metal chair as the forlorn creature was pushed into the narrow confines [...]

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The Primate Diaries

Throwing Rocks From the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean

"Father and Son" by Nathaniel Gold

I’m teaching my son to think like a scientist. He is two years old. We frequently go for walks together through the woods and along the coastlines of British Columbia where I allow his curiosity to run free. His current research project is throwing rocks into the ocean (this is just the exploratory phase mind [...]

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PsiVid

A Capella Science–Bohemian Gravity

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 8.25.23 AM

Who has not caught themselves singing along to Queen’s number one hit “Bohemian Rhapsody”? Perhaps we’ve made up words when we didn’t know them! But, have any of you attempted to explain string theory to the tune? I’ll bet it didn’t go as well as in this new version by Tim Blais of A Capella [...]

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PsiVid

A Capella Science-Rolling in the Higgs

A capella science

What a reddit find! Physics student Tim Blais has begun an odyssey of creating harmonically enjoyable science-packed song videos! On his Facebook page, he describes it as “An educational and utterly nerdy online video project.” I’m all for that! On his about page, we read: “A Capella Science is an online video project by Tim [...]

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Roots of Unity

Lord Kelvin and the Age of the Earth

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin. Image: Smithsonian Libraries, via Wikimedia Commons. This image is in the public domain in the United States because its copyright has expired.

Today is the 189th anniversary of the birth of William Thomson, better known as Lord Kelvin. I don’t usually make a big deal about 189th birthdays, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Lord Kelvin recently. Yesterday I came across this quote of his on Pat Ballew’s blog, which reminded me that it’s his birthday: [...]

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Roots of Unity

Time in 298 Words

Last year, in the inaugural Flame Challenge, Alan Alda and the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University challenged scientists to explain what a flame is to an 11-year-old. This year, the subject was time. In particular, we were instructed to “Answer the question — ‘What is time?’ — in a way an 11-year-old [...]

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Symbiartic

SciArt of the Day: Hyperdimensional Suffering

Dali-Hypercubemini

As our month of SciArt of the Day winds down, I had to share this image. For me, this is a touchstone of what makes wonderful science-art: marrying metaphors from past and present, science and myth. The idea that art and science represent two cultures, as C.P. Snow described is a curious one. Art, or [...]

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Symbiartic

Hangin’ with Theoretical Physicists

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Nothin’ like a little light reading by the pool on a warm summer day…

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Symbiartic

We Blew a Bubble for a Man Named Edison

1937 advertisement for Corning's Pyrex

When you think of chemistry, no doubt images of scientists in white lab coats swirling beakers and test tubes come to mind. Ever wonder where those beakers and test tubes originated? If your answer is a big science catalog like Fisher Scientific or Chemglass or the like, you’re probably right… some percentage of the time. [...]

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Talking back

Higgsteria: We Didn’t Need No U.S. Supercollider

“Europe Overtakes U.S. in Physics Pursuing God Particle,” the headline blared. The Bloomberg News story declared that the home of Galileo and Newton has recaptured the lead in physics with its pursuit of the Higgs boson, a place in the scientific firmament that was once indisputably owned by the birthplace of Benjamin Franklin. The story [...]

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The Countdown

The Countdown, Episode 6 – Black Hole Neighbors, Asteroid Cooling, SpaceX Launch, Nazi Iron Man from Space, Water on Mars

Story 5 A team of Harvard-based astronomers have discovered two black holes cohabiting Messier 22, a globular cluster of stars. Links: Cluster Coexistence: Neighboring Black Holes Defy Predictions of Violent Interactions Story 4 A far-out scheme to mitigate global warming calls for tethering space dust to a near-earth asteroid. Links: Asteroid Dust Could Fight Climate [...]

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The Countdown

The Countdown, Episode 3: Quantum Teleportation, Mars Rover Mix Tape, MASER Beams, Funding Ax for Telescopes, Radiation Space Probes

Story 5 Chinese, European and Canadian scientists recently set distance records for quantum teleportation. Links: Quantum Teleportation Achieved Over Record Distances Physicists Spooked by Faster-Than-Light Information Transfer Quantum Entanglement – The Movie Story 4 The Mars Curiosity Rover receives a morning wake-up call from NASA engineers. Links: NASA Reveals Mars Rover’s Morning Mix Story 3 [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

It’s the end of fundamental physics. Again.

After Isaac Newton's discoveries of the laws of gravitation and motion, nothing comparable came out of science for more than a hundred years (Image: Wikipedia)

Fellow Scientific American blogger John Horgan is at it again. This time he is heralding the end of fundamental physics based on the increasing time lag between Nobel Prizes awarded for fundamental discoveries. There’s actually a grain of truth in his analysis; for instance the prizes awarded for quantum mechanics in rapid succession in the [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Diversifiers of the world – Unite!

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 11.42.44 AM

On my computer screen right now are two molecules. They are both large rings with about thirty atoms each, a motley mix of carbons, hydrogens, oxygens and nitrogens. In addition they have appendages of three or four atoms dangling off their periphery. The appendage in one of the rings has two more carbon atoms than [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Physics envy: The last emotion you ever want to feel

BICEP2 Twilight

This is a guest post by my friend Pinkesh Patel, a data scientist at Facebook. Pinkesh has a PhD in physics from Caltech during which he worked on LIGO, the gravitational wave detector. He then did research in computational biology at Stanford after which he moved to Facebook. Pinkesh is thus ideally poised to think [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Are We Entering a Golden Era of Private Science Funding?

Paul Allen is just one example of billionaires who are productively funding cutting-edge and important science (Image: Forbes)

Last week, the BICEP2 experiment dropped a bombshell in the physics world by announcing potential evidence for gravitational waves from inflation as well as support for the quantization of gravity. The news was all over the place. What was less appreciated was the fact that BICEP2 was prominently funded by the Keck Foundation and the [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Surprises in physics: From black bodies to the accelerating universe

Max Planck's revolutionary that energy in the subatomic world exists as discrete packets marked the beginning of a century of spectacular surprises in physics (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

Surprises rank high on the list of things that make science a source of everlasting delight. When it comes to being surprised scientists are no different from the general public. Just like children on their birthdays being surprised by unexpected gifts, scientists revel in the surprises that nature whips up in front of them. Surprises [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Falsification and its discontents

Karl Popper's grounding in the age of physics colored his views regarding the way science is done. Falsification was one of the resulting casualties (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

One of the answers to Edge.org’s question “What scientific idea is ready for retirement”? is by physicist Sean Carroll. Carroll takes on an idea from the philosophy of science that’s usually considered a given: falsification. I mostly agree with Carroll’s take, although others seem to be unhappier, mainly because Carroll seems to be postulating that [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Physics and fundamental laws: Necessary truth or misleading cacophony?

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Robert Oppenheimer’s greatest contribution to physics was one that he wanted nothing to do with for the rest of his life. In 1939 Oppenheimer and his student Hartland Snyder published a paper in the same issue of the Physical Review that featured Niels Bohr and John Wheeler’s seminal article on the mechanism of nuclear fission [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Should physicists stop looking for fundamental laws?

The existence of bubble-like multiple universes could transform physics from a fundamental science to a historical one (Image: Etfriends)

Physics, unlike biology or geology, was not considered to be a historical science until now. Physicists have prided themselves on being able to derive the vast bulk of phenomena in the universe from first principles. Biology – and chemistry, as a matter of fact – are different. Chance and contingency play an important role in [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

The Fundamental Physics prize continues to be bad for physics.

Particle tracks from a bubble chamber, one of many indications that physics is a tool-driven revolution relying on hard experiment (Image: Naturphilosophie)

The Fundamental Physics prize has again been awarded to sophisticated mathematical speculation disconnected from experimental evidence. The 2012 Fundamental Physics prize was shared among nine physicists, most of who were string theorists. String theorists continue to dominate the awardees of this year’s New Horizons and Frontiers in Physics prizes. Another string theorist, Alexander Polyakov, received the 2013 [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Five mysteries that (should) keep physicists awake at night

Consciousness challenges the fundamental principles of physics like few other phenomena (Image: Costa Rican Times)

Scientific American editor Clara Moskowitz has a nice post showcasing some of the big questions asked by participants at a recent particle physics conference. These are the kinds of questions that make scientists worry and keep the midnight oil burning at institutes and labs around the world. As relevant as the questions were they all [...]

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