Friday, November 17, 2017

Bringing Tiny Points of Darkness Into the Light

“Light is intriguing and still full of surprises, even though we use it every day to perceive the world around us,” says Lorenzo De Angelis, a PhD student at the Kavli institute of Nanoscience in Delft, the Netherlands. He speaks from experience. An unexpected aspect of light’s behavior was just uncovered by a team including De Angelis, Prof. Kobus Kuipers, and collaborators from Delft and the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom. Their work originated at AMOLF in Amsterdam and was published this week in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"String Theory": Musician-Physicist Tackles Whammy Bar Dissonance

The leverlike guitar accessory known as a whammy bar is best used to bend and distort a single note—think Jimi Hendrix's famous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock 1969. But it doesn't sound very nice if used when playing multiple strings simultaneously, such as when strumming a chord. To solve this problem, a researcher from the U.K. has engineered new guitar strings that respond tunefully and as a group when you use a whammy bar.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Flash! Thunderstorms Intensify Over Busy Shipping Lanes

Lightning can be a destructive force of nature, but it’s not immune to human influence. In fact, new research suggests that the exhaust from ships transporting oil, coffee, and probably this holiday season’s most popular gifts is intensifying thunderstorms and increasing the number of lightning strikes along some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Conducted by Joel Thornton, Robert Holzworth, and Todd Mitchell from the University of Washington and Katrina Virts from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the research was published earlier this fall in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Physics in Advent: 24 Great Experiments...Dozens of Fabulous Prizes!

Studying physics and learning about the laws that define our universe is usually its own reward—but sometimes it's nice to have other rewards, too. That's why we're excited to share the news about Physics in Advent: an opportunity to learn physics via hands-on experiments all throughout the month of December, and also to win books, electronics, science kits—and, for one lucky American student, a trip to Europe!

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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Observing Curved-Space Quantum Physics in Nano-Sized Metals

There’s a lot of room between the tiny world of the nanoscale and the grand scale over which we usually talk about Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Although the arenas seem vastly different, we may soon be able to observe the phenomena of general relativity in nano-sized metals.

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Friday, November 03, 2017

Ask a Physicist: The Speed of Electricity

Last week, a reader named Nabilah wrote in to ask:

Electrons carry charge, but I've been told that electrons in a DC circuit actually move slower than a snail, and in an AC circuit, they don't move at all, just shifting to and fro. Then how does that make a lightbulb light up?

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Separation by Scattering: Scientists take on an isotope challenge

You can split sunlight into a vibrant array of colors by sending it through a prism, as fans of physics (or Pink Floyd) know well, or by bouncing it off a mirror through a refractive medium like water. In an exciting but less colorful way, a team of researchers from the University of Chicago recently demonstrated in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters that you can split neon gas into the specific varieties, or isotopes, of neon that compose the gas in an analogous way. This could be a more cost- and energy-efficient method for enriching isotopes, a key component in many medical technologies, energy systems, and other applications.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

From Butterfly Wings to Solar Cells

You may associate butterfly wings more closely with pop culture and chaos theory than with cutting-edge materials science, but the delicate wings have a lot more to offer than the plot of sci-fi movies. In new research published last week in the journal Science Advances, a team of scientists from Germany and the United States reveal how a technique inspired by black-winged butterflies could lead to more efficient solar cells.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hello, Multi-Messenger Astronomy!

As we posted Monday, it has certainly been a busy season for the scientists behind the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and its European counterpart, Virgo. Yesterday’s announcement of a neutron star merger is especially exciting because it’s the first detection made with gravitational waves that could also be viewed using optical telescopes. Within just a few hours of the initial gravitational wave detection and the gamma ray burst that arrived 1.5 seconds later, telescopes all over the world began to focus their gaze on the same region of the sky, catching a multispectral “kilonova” in action. “It was this extraordinary 2-to-3 day period,” said Aidan Brooks, staff scientist at the California Institute of Technology working on LIGO. “Everybody was completely elated and we just had this sort of amazing science flow in immediately after making this detection.”

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Scientists Free Laser Cavities to Embrace New Shapes

From medical technology to cat entertainment, lasers are one of the most revolutionary inventions of the last 75 years. Now, one of the key components of lasers may be in for a revolution. In new research published in the AAAS journal Science, researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) demonstrate an innovative design for the optical cavity of a laser. This development could help manufacturers pack laser components into less space on a chip, accelerating the development of light-based computing, among other applications.

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