It's that time of year, when we all look back over 2014 and reflect on all the cool science stuff that happened. Today, Jen-Luc Piquant has compiled her Top 20 physics-themed videos of 2014 -- with the caveat that not all of them were actually created in 2014. But we discovered them this year, and that's sufficient to meet our criteria. Look for posts in the next week on our top physics books and favorite physics papers of 2014. And now, for your viewing pleasure, our picks for the best physics videos of 2014!

1. Fabergé Fractals: Former laser physicist Tom Beddard has turned his hand to creating incredible pieces of art that celebrate the beauty and intricacy of fractals. Per Beddard:

“The 3D fractals are generated by iterative formulas whereby the output of one iteration forms the input for the next. The formulas effectively fold, scale, rotate or flip space. They are truly fractal in the fact that more and more detail can be revealed the closer to the surface you travel. The fascinating aspect is where combinations of parameters can combine to create structural ‘resonances’ of extraordinary detail and beauty—sometimes naturally organic and other times perfectly geometric. But then like a chaotic system it can completely disappear with the smallest perturbation.”

2. Listen to the Music Created By Radioactivity. Per io9: “Moscow-based musician/engineer Dmitry Morozov has built an incredible instrument called the Metaphase Sound Machine. It produces music based on radioactive particles sensed by its built-in Geiger Counter.” Per his Website:

"The Metaphase Sound Machine is an object with 6 rotating disks. Each of the discs is equipped with acoustic sound source (a speaker) and a microphone. Each of the microphones is connected via computer and the rotary axis to the speakers on the disks. Also in the center of installation a Geiger-Mueller counter is set, that detects ionizing radiation in the surrounding area. The intervals between these particles influence rotation velocity of each of the disks. Essentially the object is an audio- and kinetic installation in which a sound is synthesized based on feedbacks, produced by microphones and speakers on rotating discs. Feedback whistles are used as triggers for more complex sound synthesis. Additional harmonic signal processing, as well as the volatility of the dynamic system, lead to the endless variations of sound. The form of the object refers to the generally accepted symbolic notation of quantum entanglement as a biphoton - crossing discs of the orbits."

3. Via the clever folks at the Spitzer Space Telescope (and io9): Watch A Brain Parasite Explain Gravity. A parasite (Alan Tudyk) dwelling in the brain of an astronomer (Wil Wheaton) answers the question, “Why do astronauts appear weightless in space?”

4. Symmetry, a seven-minute short by filmmaker Yann Pineill, is an audio/visual palindrome: the first and second halves are mirror images of one another. According to Pineill: "This film has been written symmetrically: the second half is strictly like the first, but played backwards and mirrored. The second part doesn't act like a simple rewinding, but as the following of the first. It explores all sorts of symmetry: compositions, shapes, sounds and music, scenario, colors, actions, time..."

5. Visualizing Air Flow Using Schlieren Optics, with Harvard's Department of Natural Sciences. Per Twisted Sifter, this unusual optical technique “allows us to see small changes in the index of refraction in air. A point source of light is reflected from a concave mirror and focused onto the edge of a razor blade, which is mounted in front of the camera. Light refracted near the mirror and intercepted by the blade gives the illusion of a shadow.” The video below shows the flow patterns of heated gases from a candle flame and a hair dryer, helium gas, and sulfur hexafluoride gas. Per Harvard's website (which contains a lot more information about the science and the setup):

"We can see warm convection currents rising from your hand or, alternatively, cold air sinking from a glass of ice water. Gases other than air can also be seen with this technique. For example, sulfur hexafluoride gas can be visibly poured from a bottle into a glass (until overflowing) and subsequently poured out of the glass."

6. An Amusing Parody of Cosmos (Cosmos on Weed) Imagining Neil deGrasse Tyson High on Marijuana. “He puts the “GRASS” in deGrasse. Neil deGrasse Tyson … knows where to get the good sh*t.” Also: “Everything in the universe is star stuff. This cheese and this pepperoni is star stuff.” I would totally watch this show.

7. An independent filmmaker ventures back into radiation ravaged Chernobyl to make the startling documentary Beautiful Ghost. Per Lost at E Minor:

"On Saturday 26th April 1986, a routine systems check was taking place at the nuclear power plant of Chernobyl near the Soviet city of Pripyat. An unexpected power surge caused engineers to attempt an emergency shutdown. However, before it could go into effect there was an explosion caused by a build up of steam within the reactor..... To mark the 27th anniversary of the explosion, the most dangerous of its kind until the 2011 nuclear meltdown at Fukoshima, filmmaker Christiaan Welzel and his wife Kseniya entered the Exclusion Zone. The radiation levels have reached a point where a person is safe for a short period of time. However, much of the surrounding area is still heavily irradiated. Welzel’s film Beautiful Ghost emphasises the quietness of Chernobyl, essentially undisturbed for a quarter century. As he explains in his voiceover: his intent is to not induce a feeling of sadness but more to draw attention to the ‘beauty in the apocalypse.’"

8. Doubles: When Two Universes Collide, A Man Meets His Dream Girl’s Exact Double in this charming short film. Per io9: “One day, our universe starts to merge with an alternate universe and gradually, duplicate versions of every human being on Earth start to appear. It’s disorienting at first, but then one office worker meets the dopplegänger of the girl of he’s in love with.”

9. Hypnotic Art Shows How (Turing) Patterns Emerge From Randomness in Nature. (I wrote about Turing patterns for Quanta last year, along with this accompanying blog post — fascinating topic!) Per Wired:

“[G]enerative artist and designer Jonathan McCabe, based in Canberra, Australia, is turning Turing’s theory into art. Instead of cells, McCabe starts with pixels. Each pixel gets a random value, usually a number between -1 and 1, which is represented in the final image by a color. Then, McCabe applies a set of rules that dictate how each pixel’s value shifts in response to the ones around it. As the program progresses, pixel values change, creating clusters of shapes that begin to emerge from the originally random mix of numbers.”

10. Yoga in an X-Ray Machine: A visual study/exploration of the body in motion with a focus on yoga poses. Per Open Culture: "Courtesy of Hybrid Medical Animations comes a high-tech 'visual study/exploration of the body in motion.' The goal of the animation was to create a realistic representation of x-rays, while also capturing the beauty of various yoga poses. Looks like they hit the mark on both accounts. In creating this 3D animation, no x-rays were actually used.... It’s all just animation — sophisticated animation that somehow manages to show 'proper bone densities and represent actual bone marrow inside each individual bone.'"

11. A Truncated Story of Infinity is a short film by Paul Trillo. It is described as "look at the infinite possibilities within the everyday. Following a day in the life of Vincent, 'Subject X,' and his many variations that exist throughout the universe. The story begins to fracture into different threads when he follows a would be lover down the street." Apparently the story was inspired by Brian Greene's The Hidden Reality and Douglas Hoftstadter's I am a Strange Loop.

12. Think watching ice melt would be dull? Think again. The dazzling rainbow view of ice melting in the video below was captured by a photographer using a simple living room set-up that anyone can recreate. Per New Scientist: “A time-lapse video by photographer Shawn Knol brings out scintillating hidden structures using two polarizing filters and an extreme close-up view. Knol uses an LED computer monitor as a polarized light source, then attaches a circular polarizing filter to his camera’s macro lens. Rotating the filter creates the rainbow effect as varying thicknesses of ice refract the light differently.”

13. "The Rebuttal of Schroedinger's Cat." Singer/songwriter Sarah Donner is known for fun, quirky, irreverent tunes, and on her new album (titled That Is a Pegasus) she embraced her inner cat lady/physicist. She penned a catchy tune about everyone's favorite quantum cat, complete with music video filmed at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

14. Action Bill is a LEGO stop-motion short film featuring William Shatner, in a time traveling robot, attempts to destroy William Shakespeare but underestimates the fighting prowess of Action Bill. Behind-the-Scenes tidbits are featured here.

15. Sonify ALL the data! The Symphony of Particle Smashing, as Performed by CERN Scientists. Per the YouTube description: "LHChamber Music is an experimental piece and an 'experimental ensemble for the 60th CERN Anniversary, based on the sonification of the data recorded by the 4 detectors (ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb) during the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) run 2010-2013. Music by Domenico Vicinanza, performed in the four experimental caverns and in the CERN Control Centre (CCC) by physicists and engineers working at CERN."

16. "Vlad the Astrophysicist" is folk singer/songerwriter Peter Mulvey's spoken word tribute to his drinking buddy, a Czech astrophysicist named Vlad -- a.k.a. the University of Washington's Vladimir Chaloupka, who has a page devoted to the backstory of the piece. It appears on the album Letters from a Flying Machine, "built on four imaginary letters intended for his very young nieces and nephews: original songs written and performed by Peter surround the four spoken pieces."

"'It's a true story,' Mulvey says. 'I met Vlad at my yearly gig at the National Youth Science Camp. The gig happens in a cave underneath West Virginia, and the Science Camp is an incredible story in itself, but the letter came from Vlad, who is a real-deal astrophysicist from the Czech Republic. We were sitting behind a motel drinking beer, looking up at the stars, and I figured hey - he's an astrophysicist, he might actually be able to tell me whether there's intelligent life out there. So I asked him, and he answered in plain English, and his answer floored me – it was the single most startling thing anyone has ever told me. So it had to go into one of the letters.'"

17. A Journey Into the Surreal Realm Where David Lynch Meets Quantum Physics. Andrzej Dragan is quite possibly "the only quantum physics PhD who's also photographed David Lynch holding a chicken," in the words of The Creator's Project, which has a nifty Q&A with the auteur. His work includes two creepily surreal shorts, one on time dilation and the other on the bizarre quantum nature of subatomic particles (featured below). As he told The Creator's Project:

"Most of the elements of the truth that we, as scientists, discovered, are not hard to understand—but they are hard to believe. In the early days, many brilliant minds rejected Einsteinian theory of relativity, as they did not believe it. Later on, many great minds, including Einstein - rejected quantum theory, because they didn’t believe it. Since both relativity and quantum theory turned out to be empirically confirmed, all these guys well plain wrong. A lesson to be learned is that we are all usually mistaken in our beliefs, so it is better to abandon any beliefs and stick to the bare facts."

18. Revealing the Hidden Patterns of Birds and Insects in Motion: the dreamlike voyages of starlings, water striders, and more. Per The Atlantic: "Dennis Hlynsky, a film and animation professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, creates videos at the intersection of art and science. Hlynsky transforms ordinary footage of birds and insects into ethereal illustrations by digitally tracing the paths they travel." Here, he discusses his work and creative process.

 

19. Ambition is A Gorgeous Short Film About a Magician Who Builds Solar Systems. Per io9: "With a wasteland as their canvas, a Master and his Apprentice set about turning rubble into planets and moons, asteroids and comets, spinning them in orbit around a symbolic Sun. So begins Ambition, a short film made by Academy Award-nominated director Tomek Baginksi in collaboration with the European Space Agency." Eagle-eyed fans of Game of Thrones will spot none other than Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish -- a.k.a. actor Aiden Gillen -- as the Master. There's also a behind-the-scenes "Making Of" video.

20. Watch nearly 14 billion years of the universe’s creation in about 2.5 minutes in this amazing video that is the most accurate simulation of the evolution of the cosmos yet. Per the Los Angeles Times: “Watching the video is like flying through the universe … and watching galaxies as they are assembling.” According to the YouTube description:

"The Illustris simulation is the most ambitious computer simulation of our Universe yet performed. The calculation tracks the expansion of the universe, the gravitational pull of matter onto itself, the motion of cosmic gas, as well as the formation of stars and black holes. These physical components and processes are all modeled starting from initial conditions resembling the very young universe 300,000 years after the Big Bang and until the present day, spanning over 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution. The simulated volume contains tens of thousands of galaxies captured in high-detail, covering a wide range of masses, rates of star formation, shapes, sizes, and with properties that agree well with the galaxy population observed in the real universe. The simulations were run on supercomputers in France, Germany, and the US. The largest was run on 8,192 compute cores, and took 19 million CPU hours. A single state-of-the-art desktop computer would require more than 2000 years to perform this calculation."