The Super Bowl is tomorrow, which means people were still obsessing over the so-called "DeflateGate" controversy stemming from the Patriots' win over the Colts. This week, the N.F.L. Investigator Consulted with a Columbia Physicist. The verdict: Deflation Experiments Show Patriots May Have a Point After All; the pressure change could easily be due to atmospheric conditions. Per the New York Times: “This analysis looks solid to me,” said Max Tegmark, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who reviewed the paper at The Times’s request. “To me, their measurements mean that there’s no evidence of foul play.” Related: Science Teachers: here's how to make Deflategate a learning experience for your students.
How to Understand the Super Bowl—With Physics. Related: Super Bowl athletes are scientists at work. Also: Penalty Kicks By Schroedinger's Cat That Score And Miss At The Same Time. "Why the disconnect between quantum behavior and macroscopic?" "Caring about something makes people vulnerable, so not caring gives you power." xkcd nails it as always.
Okay enough football; there was also big physics news this with the latest on the controversial BICEP2 findings. Bad news: A Joint Dust Analysis Deflates Big Bang Signal. You can read the preprint here. No definitive evidence for cosmic inflation is found, but support remains strong for the theory even as critics highlight its shortcomings as an explanation for how and why the universe began. Related: Planck on BICEP2 "It turns out that the part of the dust had been significantly underestimated." Also: BICEP2 Was Wrong, But Sharing the Results Was Right.
Anticipation is the key to crowd physics. A universal law for the interaction of pedestrians in a crowd, based on a walker’s ability to anticipate collisions, leads to accurate simulations of a variety of crowd conditions. Below: Two simulated groups of pedestrians crossing at right angles. They form narrow, one-way lanes of people moving through the densest region, similar to real crowds. There are lots more nifty video simulations here.
11 Ways Science and Technology Are Waging War on Winter. Fighting snow with sugar beet juice, snow-pooping robots, geoengineering, and more. The Science Behind NYC's Magic Macroscopic Snowflakes. Three Observations From a Winter Wonderland Explained with Physics. 1. Ice is Slippery. 2. Salt Mets Ice. 3. Snow melts on pavement first. Why? SCIENCE!
Happy 150th Birthday To Maxwell's Equations. "It’s hard to imagine life without mobile phones, radio and television. Yet the discovery of the electromagnetic waves that underpin such technologies grew out of an abstract theory that’s 150 years old."
The Pursuit of Beauty: Yitang Zhan solves an unsolvable math problem.
Elon Musk fact-checks his Simpsons episode, explains why we don't have electric rockets. tl;dr: stupid Newtonian physics ruins everything.
The Speed Limit of Quantum Uncertainty. A recent paper in Physical Review A describes "the long-hypothesized uncertainty limit as it pertains to not velocity and position but energy and time. In a way, it's a speed limit on time itself, a property that should set some fundamental limits on quantum computing and other quantum information-based tasks."
NASA Day of Remembrance Honors the Brave People Who Lost Their Lives in the Pursuit of Space Exploration. Related: Richard Feynman presents his iconic explanation of what caused the Challenger Disaster, 1/28/86.
Quantum Computing Without Qubits. A quantum computing pioneer explains why analog simulators may beat out general-purpose digital quantum machines — for now.
The Multiverse and you: Is there another version of you somewhere out there in a parallel Universe?
Bubbles from the galactic center: A key to understanding dark matter and our galaxy's past?
My Very Educated Readers Just Served Us Some New Planet Mnemonics. "There are still those who are rooting for the dwarf planets to be considered actual planets, which would require a new mnemonic. It’s not just that P - for Pluto — would be added back but also C for Ceres, E for Eris, H for Haumea and M for Makemake, creating the new order: M-V-E-M-C-J-S-U-N-P-H-M-E." The New York Times asked readers to submit their own mnemonics and picked favorites.
Nathan Myhrvold, Myth Buster: "He was the physicist who went to Microsoft and made his fortune. These days he’s a tycoon, philanthropist, dino-hunter, bestselling author and barbecue champion, who has discovered the most scientific way to enjoy claret."
How Man Ray Made Art of Math and Shakespeare. "A new exhibition at The Phillips Collection reunites the objects and photographs with the suite of paintings they inspired Man Ray to create and title Shakespearean Equations. Man Ray—Human Equations: A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare traces the artist’s travels between disciplines, between war-torn continents, and between media that became not only a journey from arithmetic to the Bard, but also a journey of artistic self-discovery."
Math Is Beautiful, But Is It Art? Or are equations "a thought process made visible through universal symbols"?
The behavior of lost hiker George Joachim was so mathematically unpredictable that he wasn't found for ten days. His actions forced Parks Canada to revise the search algorithm they use to track human beings in the wild.
Edgar Allan Poe's prose poem, Eureka "describes the origins of the universe in a single particle, from which 'radiated' the atoms of which all matter is made."
"Thousands of meters below the ocean’s surface is a tiny jelly with what looks like Iron Man’s arc reactor. But unlike Tony Stark, Atolla jellyfish use their glowing blue chests to attract bad guys, not fend them off."
Solid or liquid - scientists elucidate how the phase state of aerosol nanoparticles depends on their size.
Science Is Real Close to Developing Squid-like Color Changing Skin From Synthetic Materials.
ESA Scientists Recollect the Historic Landing on Titan 10 Years Ago.
Night Sky Timelapse with Stars Fixed Shows We're Just a Rock Hurtling Through Space.
'Will it Blend?' Puts Neodymium Magnet Spheres (Buckyballs) Into the Blender With Fiery Results.
Entanglement Makes Quantum Particles Measurably Heavier, Says Quantum Theorist. And here is a rebuttal: No, the “long sought-after link between the theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity” has not been found. tl;dr: "Nothing to see here, please move on."
Quantum computer makes finding new physics more difficult. "If new physics is waiting to be found, it just lost a big hiding place. New results, published today in Nature, dramatically improve the precision with which Lorentz covariance can be tested."
Science Determines What Spider-Man Needs to Eat for Breakfast in Order to Swing Around New York. Hint: ~900 eggs.
A Graphene Discoverer Speculates on the Future of Computing: Nobel laureate Konstantin Novoselov, considers exciting uses for graphene and other materials.
Real scientists borrow Big Bang Theory costumes. Parkas from series recently wound up in Greenland on an actual scientific expedition.
The Bizarre Mirages (Fata Morgana) That Once Scared the Bejesus Out of Sailors. "In the case of a fata morgana mirage, light reflecting from a distant object such as a ship is bent downward as it passes through the colder, denser air near the surface of the ocean (or sometimes cold land, particularly ice). But your brain places the object where it would be if the light came to you in a straight path—higher than it actually is. This bending effect can even work with the curvature of the Earth if conditions are just right, which is why some fata morgana images can actually be refracted cities and ships from beyond the horizon."
The Big Bang by Balloon: How an experiment high above Antarctica — Spider — sheds new light on the cosmic microwave background. Related: 21st Century Space Science Using 18th Century Technology (balloons). "[W]e can thank Professor Michael Faraday of The Royal Institution for inventing "caoutchoucs" - but ever since the Montgolfier brothers took their lives in their hands and flew a hot air balloon over Paris in 1783, they have been common in science too."
Entanglement on a chip: Breakthrough promises secure communications and faster computers.
Spider spins electrically charged silk. "In order to endow the fibers with an electrostatic charge, the spider pulls them over a comblike plate located on its hind legs. ... The technique is not unlike the so-called hackling of flax stems over a metal brush in order to soften and prepare them for thread-spinning, but in the spider’s case it also gives them a charge. The electrostatic fibers are thought to attract prey to the web in the same way a towel pulled from the dryer is able to attract stray socks."
The Twisted Tale of Laser Fusion: A science historian unearths a story of secrecy, jealousy and the dream of unlimited energy.
New Phase of Space Travel Hopes to Set Sail on Sunlight.
Charles Townes, who pioneered the laser, passed away this week. Townes was sitting on a park bench in 1951 when he came up with Nobel prizewinning and world-changing idea for a pure beam of light. Per John Preskill on Twitter: "There are few better examples of how physics affects our daily lives than the work of Charles Townes. Nice man, too."
Listen to Grace Hopper in this lovely short film from FiveThirtyEight, The Queen of Code.
A Physicist's Lost Love: Leo Szilard and Gerda Philipsborn.
When Einstein Proposed a Limit to the Universe.
14 unique objects have now been manufactured aboard the space station using a 3D printer.
How Superfluid "Second Sound" Helps the Large Hadron Collider Work.
The female enigmas of Bletchley Park in the 1940s should encourage those of tomorrow.
Of symmetries, the strong force and physicist Helen Quinn.
Laika and Her Comrades: The Soviet Space Dogs Who Took Giant Leaps for Mankind.
A Peek Behind the Curtain: Luis Alvarez, Cosmic Rays, and the Pyramids.
When you wish upon a star: nuclear fusion and the promise of a brighter future. Decades in the making, ITER, a huge experimental nuclear fusion reactor in rural France, could be the site of breakthroughs that will provide limitless, clean energy and secure the planet’s future.
Marconi vs Maskelyne: A Magician Used The First Pirate Radio Station To Troll A Scientist.
The finale to the most sensational murder of 2006 -- the hideous death of a KGB defector named Alexander Litvinenko via radiation poisoning -- is playing out in a London courtroom.
The 500-Page Proof That Only One Mathematician Can Understand.
Mathematics: A Means to an End. A handy catalog of mathematicians who had strange and/or colorful deaths -- including Boltzmann's suicide and Evariste Galois being killed in a duel.
A Different Perspective: Mathochism and The Calculus Diaries. "We sometimes assume that students in introductory math courses just want to fulfill a university requirement and don’t really care about learning the material. Those students do exist, and we probably won’t really be able to reach them, but it’s valuable for us to see what makes it easier or harder for a motivated student to make progress. For Whitney, teachers and textbooks are important, but she also writes about broader issues: male dominance in classrooms, our society’s attitude towards women STEM majors, and the myth that you have to be a genius to be good at math."
Learn math without fear. Stanford Professor Jo Boaler says that students most effectively learn "math facts" working on problems that they enjoy, rather than through exercises and drills they fear. Speed pressure, timed testing and blind memorization damage children's experience of math.
Worlds Within Our Worlds: Macro Photos of Everyday Objects.
There's No Point Worrying About the Doomsday Clock, says Julian Baggini in the Guardian. "I can’t say I entirely trust a clock that was set at a less menacing seven minutes to midnight during the Cuban missile crisis, the closest we’ve ever been to annihilation. Although it’s common to hear people say that the world seems to be a particularly frightening place at the moment, I’m not sure if this is objectively true."
The Oxford Electric Bell, An Electric Bell That Has Been Running on the Same Battery for 175 Years.
Oceans Give New Insights On Elements Made In Supernovae.
The Virtue of Scientific Thinking. "“All men by nature desire to know” is the first sentence of Aristotle’s Metaphysics."
"A new study suggests that the Trinity test, the first demonstration of a nuclear weapon, should mark the death of the previous epoch, the Holocene, and beginning of the new one, the Anthropocene."
Graphene Converts Single Particles of Light Into Many Electrons.
How One Team Lost A 24-Hour Race After Screwing Up The Math.
Why this popular chemistry experiment is a blast: Scientists discover what causes “bang” when sodium and water mix.
How to Create a Makeshift Laser Microscope at Home Using a Laser Pointer and a Syringe.
The Art of Stone Balancing with artist and photographer Michael Grab: "Balance requires a minimum of three contact points. Luckily, every rock is covered in a variety of tiny to large indentations that can act as a natural tripod for the rock to stand upright, or in most orientations you can think of with other rocks."
Aiming Too High (Or Too Low) When Communicating Science. A small group of scientists from different disciplines struggled (at times) to answer basic questions outside their wheelhouse. Which says something interesting, I think, about what we can and cannot expect from high school students and members of the general public.
"We were mistaking a lack of vocabulary about a process as a lack of understanding of the process itself.... Rather than being a pure criticism of the lack of understanding basic science concepts in adults – even ones with PhDs – it could also be an argument against underestimating the ability of your younger audiences to learn new and complex concepts. Most of the logical leaps we had made could have certainly been made by a middle schooler."
Gorgeous laser-cut cosmic objects: HYBYCOZO, the Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone, is a series of “sublime, laser cut cosmic objects, ranging from a Burning Man art installation to design pieces for the home.”
Crash Course Astronomy, A Fun and Informative New Educational Series Hosted by Phil Plait.
"In the indie video game Gravity Ghost, you control a young girl who leaps and spins through space, jumping from one tiny planet to the next, the arc of your flight bent by the gravity imposed by the objects around you."
Mad Men and Scientific Grant-Writing. "Faced with the difficulty of judging scientists on their creativity of their ideas, universities and institutions fall back on what can be most easily quantified: money."
Mathematical strategies aimed at helping improve the chances of winning at Rock, Paper, Scissors. Per Laughing Squid: "While the game is intended to be determined by random chance, certain strategies can increase one’s odds when playing against a human opponent."