It's been awhile since we had a Friday Fodder round-up. I assume you've followed the biggest science news, such as the faster-than-light neutrinos hullabaloo, the Tevatron's final moments, and the awarding of this year's round of Nobel Prizes, including the Physics Prize, for the discovery of the accelerating universe (and, hence, the notion of dark energy). But here's a few things you might have missed in all the excitement.
The Hand(s) That Rock Newton's Cradle. Rhett Allain at Wired's Dot Physics takes a look at the underlying physics of that popular geek's desk toy: Newton's Cradle. To add to the fun, he includes clips from the Mythbusters recent episode in which Adam and Jaime build a gigantic Newton's Cradle, and explore why bigger isn't necessarily better when it comes to energy efficiency of the toy. Oh, and they smash some stuff in the process, natch!
Primer on Virtual Particles. If you're anything like me, you still find it tough some days to wrap your head around the technical details of virtual particles -- i.e., the energy of the quantum vacuum, source of the Casimir effect, and all-around bugbear. But physicist Matt Strassler has posted a helpful primer that can help us all move to a deeper understanding of these mysterious pseudo-objects.
"A virtual particle is not a particle at all. It refers precisely to a disturbance in a field that is not a particle. A particle is a nice, regular ripple in a field, one that can travel smoothly and effortlessly through space, like a clear tone of a bell moving through the air. A “virtual particle”, generally, is a disturbance in a field that will never be found on its own, but instead is something that is caused by the presence of other particles, often of other fields."
Party On, Geeks. Those rakish wits at College Humor celebrate the fall semester with an illustrated guide to the Science of Partying, covering, economics, math, biology, and, of course, physics. My favorite? "Schroedinger's Pizza":
One Culture, Not Two. Thumbing its nose at CP Snow's famous notion of "Two Cultures," the Royal Society is having a "One Culture" festival of literature and the arts, hence this guest post by Annabel Slater, digital volunteer, featuring her thoughts on a lecture by epidemiologist and novelist Sunetra Gupta, who spoke about how narratives emerge in both science and literature. (And yes, scientists tell stories, too.) Slater also conducted a short interview with Gupta after her talk. Give it a listen.
Of Freud and Feynman. Over at The Last Word on Nothing, Maria Konnikova -- who also pens the fantastic "Lessons from Sherlock Holmes" series for Scientific American's Guest Blog -- ruminates on the nature of curiosity by comparing the distinctive approaches of father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud and physicist Richard Feynman.
Freud and Feynman, the classic psychoanalyst and the quantum physicist, were far closer in both mind and spirit that it may seem at first glance. They shared those basic qualities that make the great thinker, the great scientist, the great researcher: a fundamental irreverence toward convention, toward the expectations of what they should be doing, and a boundless curiosity for doing exactly what they wanted to do and exploring exactly what they wanted to explore. A love of science and discovery. A profound wonder about the world around them. A sense of curiosity and fun that knew no bounds.
X-Ray Specs. Via Coilhouse, we discovered these hauntingly beautiful photographic works of art by Italian artist Benedetta Bonichi, who has a Website of her work called To See in the Dark, featuring "fantastical x-rayed hybrid human-animals."
Recognizing the Triumphs of Public Science. Hopefully you've been following the ongoing blog carnival on publicly funded science organized by io9 editor Annalee Newitz, featuring various posts by science writers around the Web showcasing the triumphs of publicly funded research -- because aren't you as tired as I am of hearing ill-informed politicians try to score cheap campaign points by attacking good science? Annalee's campaign is designed to spread the word and raise awareness about all the good science does for our society -- even when it seems, superficially, to be utterly inane and irrelevant.
My own (cross-posted) essay on physicist Robert Wilson was among those featured, along with one about monkey brain implants, another on ways to manipulate single biological molecules, and Annalee's own post that kicked off the campaign. Add to those this wonderful interview by Boing-Boing's Maggie Koerth-Baker with Attila Kovacs, an astrophysicist at the University of Minnesota who specializes in the study of space dust. "Kovacs says space dust matters more than you think. And he makes a good case for why it's important to spend tax dollars on funny-sounding science."
Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves. Math and science, that is. Last week was Ada Lovelace Day, wherein various folks in the math and science blogosphere honored the women scientists who most inspired them. Sarah Zielinski writes the Surprising Science blog for Smithsonian magazine, and last month she highlighted the Top Ten Historic Female Scientists You Should Know. She's back this month with Five Historic Female Mathematicians You Should Know: Hypatia, Sophie Germain, Ada Lovelace, Sofia Kovalesky, and Emmy Noether. I'd probably add Maria Agnesi and Danica MacKellar for good measure. Who would you add?
Hiding in the Folds of a Temporal Cloak. Is it possible to erase an event from history? Probably not, but you can achieve something very similar, according to scientists from Cornell University. PhysOrg reports: "Moti Fridman and his colleagues sent a beam of light traveling down an optical fiber and through a pair of so-called "time lenses." Between these two lenses, the researchers were able to briefly create a small bubble, or gap, in the flow of light. During that fleetingly brief moment, lasting only the tiniest fraction of a second, the gap functioned like a temporal hole, concealing the fact that a brief burst of light ever occurred." The mind reels.
A Bug's Life. How many praying mantises does it take to power a SmartPhone? Via the folks at Laughing Squid: "This commercial for the Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm features a bevy of bugs generating power, via tiny circus equipment, to charge a smartphone. The Bug Circus Generator shows that it takes almost no energy to give the new processor power." Watch that praying mantis feel the burn and thrill to a bug being launched through a burning hoop!
"You Are Not Galileo" Department. Finally, evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen penned a terrific analysis of the myth of the science martyr, comparing and contrasting two very different cases: astrobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon's hugely controversial arsenic-eating bacteria, and newly crowned Nobel Laureate Dan Schechtman's quasicrystals. Both were unlikely discoveries that prompted skepticism among colleagues -- admittedly not always politely expressed -- but Eisen finds some crucial differences:
The real lesson we should take from Schechtman is that good ideas backed by compelling data almost always ultimately win – and that there is no lasting glory in being an outcast for outcasts sake. But I think we grossly underestimate just how tempting it is to slot oneself into that role, and how easy it is to succumb to that temptation.