Sunday brought two NFL playoff games, whereby the Seattle Seahawks eked out an unlikely victory over the Green Bay Packers, and the New England Patriots trounced the Baltimore Colts. But the latter game sparked a controversy (dubbed "DeflateGate" on Twitter) about whether the Patriots may have illegally deflated the football slightly to make it easier to catch in the bad weather conditions. Courtesy of NBC News, here is a discussion of the physics of deflated footballs, and another take on the subject by Chad Orzel.
Related: a tech nerd's (somewhat reaching) theory behind NFL Deflate-Gate. "[I]f you factor in temperature changes, device accuracy, measurement techniques, and interpretation by the reader, a variance of 2 pounds becomes infinitely more plausible." Also: A counterpoint to DeflateGate: Let them deflate! "The amount of air in a football only really affects how each team’s quarterback and offense plays. Under-inflated footballs are easier to catch and grip in cold and wet weather, but they can’t travel as far. Some quarterbacks, like Aaron Rodgers, even like their footballs over-inflated. If every quarterback were allowed to use his ideally inflated football, then every offense would be on an equal footing to come up with a strategy that fits his team under every condition. This would make for better football games."
This week was President Barack Obama's annual State of the Union address. In terms of the science policy content, opinions differed. Scientific American's Observations blog insisted that Science was Far from Center Stage in the State of the Union. Meanwhile, Science magazine's headline declared that Science had its moment in Obama's 2015 State of the Union. Related: Obama Asks Astronaut for Instagrams from Space During State of the Union.
Ants Handle Traffic Better Than You Do: A new model explains why ants in traffic tend to bypass a collision and just keep going.
We've Been Chasing Super-Hydrophobic Metals Since 1805, and now scientists have developed a Hydrophobic Metal That Causes Water to Bounce. "Researchers at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics led by professor Chunlei Guo have developed a new type of hydrophobic surface that is so highly water repellant, it causes water droplets to bounce off like magic." Related: New Anti-Water Metal: What it is and what it isn't. (tl;dr: it's not teflon or the Leidenfrost effect.)
Is Glass a True Solid? Does glass ever stop flowing? Researchers have combined computer simulation and information theory, originally invented for telephone communication and cryptography, to answer this puzzling question.
The Dark Energy Camera, or DECam, peers deep into space from its mount on the 4-meter Victor Blanco Telescope high in the Chilean Andes.
Can the quantum state be interpreted statistically? (i.e., does it represent an underlying reality?) Some think so, others don't.
What does the anthropic principle have to do with science? A new study is claiming to have found evidence for the anthropic principle consisting of "simulations in which the fundamental constants of astrophysics—the mass of quarks, the constituent particles of neutrons and protons, for example—are slightly tweaked, demonstrating how the tiniest variations might have resulted in a universe unfit for (human, advanced) life."
A Selfish turn around CERN: According to the Guardian, author Will Self orbits the 27km circumference of the CERN Large Hadron Collider with occasional flashes of fun in his new radio program. The Quantum Diaries blog had some quibbles: "Like any documentary, biography, or other educational program on the radio, Will Self’s five-part radio program ... is partially a work of fiction. ... [E]ditorial and narrative choices have to be made in producing a radio program, and in that sense it is exactly the story that Will Self wants to tell."
"Considered as eye candy, I’d say that the CMS detector [at the Large Hadron Collider] holds its own against the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, or any of the other engineering marvels of the world," says Scott Aaronson.
A form of matter known as "nuclear pasta" in neutron star crusts may be even weirder than previously thought.
"'This Video is not in Reverse' by online filmmaker Eran Amir ... is filled with effects that make the whole thing appear as though it were playing in reverse, from a clock ticking back the minutes to a house of cards that rights itself. The entire thing was captured in one take."
Reactor Design to Lower the Cost of Nuclear Power. A new molten salt nuclear reactor design could make nuclear power safer and more economical.
Ice, Ice, Baby: MIT Students Create Otherworldly Sculptures Out of Frozen Fabric.
Physics World has a special issue with 10 of the best articles about light (including one of my own about Ibn al-Haytham). And NASA released breathtaking new space images in honor of the International Year of Light. This is also the 100-year anniversary of Einstein's general theory of relativity. Related: Confirmation of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, 1919. “It is concluded that the sun's gravitational field gives the deflection predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity.”
Physicists read scrolls scorched by ancient volcano. Per the Guardian: "A video reconstruction shows how x-ray imaging can be used to reveal the writing on hundreds of papyrus scrolls buried in Herculaneum by the eruption of Vesuvius in Italy in 79 AD."
Scientists observe geometric scaling of Efimov states for the first time: exotic giant molecules fit inside each other.
Stephen Hawking is working on a new theory of everything, with gravitational waves.
Gorgeous Macro Photographs of Butterfly and Moth Wings by Linden Gledhill, a biochemist by training. Per Colossal: "These tiny protrusions are actually scales, similar to what you would find on reptile, though extremely small and fragile."
Astronomers Catch Mysterious Radio Blast From the Distant Universe. "Lasting for just a few thousandths of a second, the burst is the first of an enigmatic class of objects to be observed in real-time"
Could our galaxy host a rapid-transit wormhole? Maybe so, but don't pack your bags just yet. Related: The More Mass You Add To Black Holes, The Lighter They Get. "Adding mass to a black hole actually decreases its density. The more mass gets tossed in, the less dense a black hole gets."
Artist Converts Folk Embroidery Patterns into Paper Scores for Music Boxes. "'Soundweaving' is a recent project by Hungarian design student Zsanett Szirmay that turns patterns used in traditional folk embroidery into music by translating them into laser-cut punch cards fed through a custom music box. The project was partially inspired by actual paper cards used in some weaving looms to easily reproduce patterns for various textiles."
How Three Guys With $10K and Decades-Old Data Almost Found the Higgs Boson First. "If Cranmer’s little team had found the Higgs boson before the multi-billion-dollar LHC and unseated the Standard Model, if the count had been 32 instead of 2, their story would have been front-page news. Instead, it was a typical success for the scientific method: A theory was carefully developed, rigorously tested, and found to be false."
Historic Atom Smasher Felled. "The nearly 80-year-old, long defunct Westinghouse Atom Smasher has been toppled. The five-story steel bulb was the first industrial particle accelerator ever built, and was the most powerful in the world when it was completed in 1937."
If dark matter is really axions, we could find out soon: An overview of the promising experiments searching for axions.
Surprises in 20th century physics: From black bodies to the accelerating universe.
Sonic Booms in Nerves and Lipid Membranes: Shock waves in nerve cells could speed signals.
Instead of microscopes, you can use diaper polymers to enlarge microscopic specimens.
Watch waves of information pass through a flock of starlings.
Minute Physics answers a burning question: just what the heck is angular momentum, anyway?
These Physicists-Turned-Priests' Invention from 1968 Could Help Us Drill Into Icy Alien Worlds Someday.
New "Scotty" 3D Printer Is Actually a Disturbingly Destructive Teleporter.
How Do Cells Manage To Go from Chaos to Order and Yet Still Obey The Laws of Physics?
Via Paul Halpern on Twitter: In 1988, acclaimed horror director John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13, etc.) wrote a short story for the New York Times. Titled "The Ghost Maker: A Halloween Tale," it takes a distinctly quantum physics approach to the concept of the undead.
Precision vs. accuracy, from medieval astronomy to modern cooking.
'Cosmic archaeologists' learn to read ancient meteorites like they're computer hard drives.
Is the Moon a Planet? QVC Asks, The Bad Astronomer Answers. And Phil Plait also made an excellent point about effective science outreach/communication:
"A lot of folks online are making fun of Killinger and Mizrahi for their discussion, but I think it’s fine. First of all, they’re curious about astronomy, and it led to getting an answer (even if I might quibble over how it happened). Second, it started a larger conversation about what all this means. And third, what they were arguing over is a subtle, layered, and difficult concept that had astronomers from all over the Earth arguing for years about what it means. And they’re still arguing over it! So if you want to feel smug and superior about the TV hosts, hey, that’s your choice. But people in glass planets shouldn’t throw asteroids."
Some Of The Most Surprising New Products That Came From NASA Research. "A skin cream, an algae-based pet food, a hand-held cabin pressure monitor, speakers built with magnetized fluid and a machine designed to fix your golf swing."
Searching for the Impossible: A quest to discover which computational tasks can never be resolved.
Decorative and flexible solar panels become part of interior design and the appearance of objects.
Supernova Mystery Found at the Bottom of the Sea.
Reflections from Werner Krauth, after teaching an online course in advanced statistical mechanics.
From Tempests and Hydraulic Machines to the Arno Diversion: the Historical Significance of da Vinci’s Study of Water. Related: Leonardo da Vinci’s Study of Light and Optics: A Synthesis of Fields in The Last Supper.
The real science of science fiction: The best science fiction draws on genuinely scholarly research, and the scholars are themselves inspired by the creative writers’ speculation.
See What a Dwarf Planet Looks Like Spinning Through the Asteroid Belt in a NASA Dawn Mission GIF.
Unseen Alan Turing notebook expected to fetch at least £1m. Fifty-six page manuscript, kept privately until now, goes up for sale in April.
Mathematics, Live: A Conversation with Amal Fahad and Rasha Osman, Part II.
How Is A Mathematical Proof Like Frodo's Journey In Lord Of The Rings? From a recent talk by mathematician Marcus du Sautoy entitled "Narrative and Proof: Two Sides of the Same Equation" (watch it here):
"A proof is a description of the journey from the Shire to Mordor. Within the boundaries of the familiar land of the Shire are the axioms of mathematics, the self-evident truths about numbers — together with those propositions that have already been proved. This is the setting for the beginning of the quest. The journey from this home territory is then bound by the rules of mathematical deduction, like the legitimate moves of a chess piece, prescribing the steps you're permitted to take through this world.... The proof is the story of the trek, and the map charting the coordinates of that journey. The mathematician's log."
Art major turned physics major illustrates a proof of Maxwell's equations with profane panache.
Mathematically Precise Kinetic Sculptures and Transformable Objects by John Edmark. He describes these as “instruments that amplify our awareness of the sometimes tenuous relationship between facts and perception.”
Medieval Math Problems: "The Liber mahameleth ... was one of the largest books on mathematics written in the Middle Ages. It was created in the 12th century by a John of Seville, a Christian living in al-Andalus. ... After covering various theories of arithmetic, such as how to divide fractions or multiply integers, the Liber mahameleth moves on to deal with math problems related to daily life and doing business: how to share profits, hire workers, buy and sell goods."
Mapping New York’s Noisiest Neighborhoods.
Your smartphone can do physics. "Apps like SensorLog (iOS) or AndroSensor (Android) display and record raw data from the phone's movement, any background noises, and even the number of satellites in the neighborhood."
Tom Scott Describes the British Rail Flying Saucer, A Scientifically Improbable Spacecraft Design. "The physics is questionable at best and utterly unrealistic at worst."
Exotic materials in NASCAR engines.
Back to Black: The Enduring Quest to Portray Nothing. This is the blackest artwork ever made, using carbon nanotubes instead of paint.
How a pair of astrophysicists are defying expectations with a science fashion blog called STARtorialist.
What computational text analysis Can and Won't Tell Us About Who Wrote Shakespeare's Plays. "What I'm trying to do is provide a much larger context in which to understand those individual books,” [Matthew] Jockers said. “And you can't do that by reading the books because there's too many. As a proxy for that, there are things you can calculate and quantify. No, it's not the same thing as reading 3,500 books, but it's the only alternative.”
Microsoft’s new interface: Introducing Windows Holographic and its wearable partner, the HoloLens. Related: Hands-on with Microsoft’s weird HoloLens. Also: NASA develops holographic tech to help nerds look ridiculous while pretending to be on Mars.
Complainant in 'unprecedented' sexual harassment case involving MIT emeritus professor Walter Lewin comes forward. "MIT last month announced that an investigation had determined that Lewin, 78, had 'engaged in online sexual harassment in violation of MIT policies.' The institution cut ties with Lewin, removing his online courses and lectures from MIT OpenCourseWare and its MOOC platform, MITx, and stripping him of his emeritus title."
An Expensive Lesson in Physics, or why a large force applied for a very short period of time is bad for tow hooks. "Well, that's what you do with these [tow] straps -- you just go," says the young man who didn't pay attention to the Wooden Block Between Two Strings experiment in physics class.
Just How Small Are Atoms? Try Wrapping Your Head Around It With This Video: