It's Friday, Friday, and this week's top fodder candidates include peeks at the science behind flight, the Great Pyramid, the high jump, and manufacturing through 3D printing. Plus, a physics grad student had a bit of trouble with airport security in Omaha due to the suspicious nature of his/her demo apparatus for the AAPT meeting in Oregon. Then there was today's announcement that Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame is teaming with astrophysicist Neal de Grasse Tyson to reboot the classic Carl Sagan series COSMOS for Fox-TV. Prime time science! At last! Oh, and the perennially single Jen-Luc Piquant (as opposed to her very married real-world counterpart) is thrilled to discover that New Scientist has established an online dating site for scientists and science geeks. Finally, she can find her Dream Cybermate!
Lift and Drag: They Go Together. Ann Finkbeiner, who blogs at The Last Word on Nothing, is (like me) married to a physicist. And apparently she has the same kind of conversations with her physicist as I do with the Time Lord, except where the Time Lord explicates things like Ising models and dark matter analogs, Finkbeiner and her spouse recently engaged in an entertaining discussion of how airplanes fly. The simplest explanation is the Bernoulli principle, duly cited in the post with the usual disclaimers about how it's not the whole story, yadda yadda yadda. But I love her account of how things progress from there to why planes crash, how pilots grasp the principles of lift and drag intuitively, and this:
“And birds?” I said. “No, no,” he said, getting all torqued up, “birds are MUCH more complicated, birds can change the shape of their wings, bird have individual muscles for each feather and move their feathers individually,” and he put his arms out and zoomed around the room, waggling his fingers and shouting about flaps and elevators. Sometimes my nerves aren’t quite strong enough for physics.
The Truth is Out There. Mulder and Scully would be so proud! In the August issue of Physics World, University of Oregon physicist Richard Taylor (whose earlier work on fractal patterns in the paintings of Jackson Pollock gave rise to one of the more long-running debates at the art/science interface) suggests that the increasingly elaborate crop circle designs being spotted around the world are not the work of aliens, but human beings using the tools of physics. Per Discovery News, "He suggests that crop-circle artists might be using a Global Positioning System (GPS), as well as lasers and microwaves, to create their patterns, dispensing with the rope, planks of wood and bar stools some used in the past."
Maker Magic Goes 3D. Science fiction is becoming science fact! Remember the amazing nanotech molecular assemblers featured in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age and Corey Doctorow's short story "Printcrime"? Well, maybe we don't have that technology just yet, but we have something remarkably similar in concept. John Rennie gives an overview of the latest in 3D printing manufacturing over at The Gleaming Retort:
[F]abbers can make tools, fully assembled robot claws and other objects with moving parts, paperback solar cells, automobile bodies, glass bowls on a beach from sintered sand, models of skulls or organs from MRI scans, or replicas of the Statue of Liberty or your head or Stephen Colbert’s head. Detailed design specs for an object can be created anew or copied from online, then fed into a 3D printer to manufacture what’s desired. In effect, physical objects can be downloaded from the Internet.
Gender Bender. Geek Grrl Gamer Becky Chambers posted a thoughtful, balanced piece at The Mary Sue ruminating on her own (largely positive) experiences in the online gaming world. What made her piece especially noteworthy is that she didn't stop there, but acknowledged that her experiences weren't necessarily the same as other women gamers, many of whom have experienced quite a bit of overt sexual harassment. Chambers acknowledged and supported those experiences; she didn't diminish them. Go, Becky! It's encouraging: as more and more women get into gaming, the culture is changing because of their presence. Hopefully we'll start to see the same kind of trend in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce, although according to the latest report from the US Department of Commerce, there's still a major gender gap in many of those fields.
Solving the Mystery of the Great Pyramid. Via io9, we learned that Archaeology has a fascinating feature article by Egyptologist Bob Bier detailing the latest theory on how the Great Pyramid was built. An architect named Pierre Houdin hypothesizes that a ramp was used to construct the base of the pyramid, which was later dismantled, and that this was then used to build a winding spiral ramp to transport large blocks of stones as the building progressed. Once completed, the ramp was hidden within the pyramid walls. It might seem a bit far-fetched, but 1986 microgravimetry images taken by French archaeologists did show a mysterious anomaly that looked a lot like that spiraling ramp. Is the mystery solved? Stay tuned!
Sunday in the Park With Bohr? The folks at Physics Buzz report on a talk by grad student Imogen Clark, a grad student in the history of science at the University of Manchester, detailing how the 20th century transition from classical to modern (quantum) physics was mirrored in the art of the same period. "'A Sunday on La Grande Jatte' painted in 1885 by Georges-Pierre Seurat, is an example of the cultural merging of continuity and discontinuity at the turn of the century, Clark said. Seurat's scene shows that while the painting appears continuous, the individual dots of paint are actually discontinuous, much like the role of atoms in our lives. Atoms on their own are discontinuous, they are individuals, but when combined they form people and rocks and trees - continuous objects."
Fizziks of the Fosbury Flop. Here's an arcane bit of sports-related physics from The Virtuosi: a move in the high jump called the Fosbury Flop. "The Fosbury Flop came into the High Jumping scene in the 1968 Olympics, where Dick Fosbury used the technique to win the gold medal. The biggest difference between the Flop and previous methods is that the jumper goes over the bar upside down (facing the sky). This allows the jumper to bend their back so that their arms and legs drape below the bar which lowers the center of mass."
Finally, via The Student Blog at PLoS comes this nifty video from Imperial College's Blast Lab: "We spent an afternoon recording members of the lab as they performed repeated blast tests.... This video was constructed from scratch, using real sounds and footage from the lab. Some adjustment of the raw sound was necessary, and string sounds had to be recreated using stringed instruments." Enjoy your weekend!