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Put Another Dime in the Jukebox: How Rock and Roll Illustrates Quantum States

Put on your headphones, crank up your speakers, and hit play:

Pete Townshend’s gritty guitar style may have helped define The Who’s sound, but it’s also the inspiration behind a recent Physical Review Letter. The wailing—even screeching—so characteristic of his style is a prime example of guitar feedback, which occurs when the amplifier’s noise makes it back to the guitar and causes the strings to vibrate. These vibrations are picked up by the microphone and amplified in turn until the note reaches ear-splitting levels—perfect for a chaotic rock concert:

Not all feedback is deafening, though. Those signs that flash your speed disapprovingly use feedback to encourage you to ease off the gas, and your heating system regulates itself the same way. Without feedback, cells could not maintain homeostasis —but the principle also has frightening implications for climate change

Regardless of the specifics, all feedback loops follow the same general pattern. It all starts when a system release…
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A Watched Spaghetti Still Curls: Why the Pasta Won’t Lie Flat

Ah, spaghetti. There’s just something about the loveable dish that’s captured popular attention for decades, from the BBC’s spaghetti tree hoax to that famous kiss scene in Lady and the Tramp. But it’s also kept researchers busy with projects like feeding pasta through an MRI machine to see how it cooks, explaining why you just can’t keep sauce from covering your shirt, and building the ultimate spaghetti-snapping machine.

Third-year graduate student Nathaniel Goldberg is one of the latest researchers to try his hand at the floppy dish. He works in Dr. Oliver O’Reilly’s lab at the University of California Berkeley, which models all kinds of things—from plant stems to shoelaces—as slender rods, a one-dimensional mathematical construction. Maybe it’s a case of having a hammer and only seeing nails, but Goldberg can’t help but think about rods anywhere he looks. “The other day, I was looking out the window at all the palm trees and started thinking, Wow, that would be fun to model,” he s…

Biophysical Signatures of Extraterrestrial Life

At this year’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union, over 28,000 earth scientists stormed the streets of San Francisco with their puffy jackets, REI backpacks, and flannels; they were decked out to sit inside and talk about the latest discoveries in earth science (and drink over 4,500 cups of coffee). In one room, however, a small group of scientists were talking about science on planets a bit further away.

Reader, they were talking about aliens.

Finding life on other planets is no easy task, and it’s not likely we’ll find tiny little green dudes. Even finding microbes would be difficult. It’s possible that planets in our solar system had life long ago, but changing conditions have rendered them uninhabitable.

We don’t even know how life is created on earth, so how are we supposed to see how it created on other planets?

So, instead of looking for life itself, we need to look for signs. Looking for traces of life on other planets is not as easy as looking for fossils, footprints…

How Acoustics Might Help Prevent Car Accidents

Car seats save lives, but ultimately the best way to protect passengers is to prevent crashes from happening in the first place. Prevention has been tackled from many different directions–insurance incentives for defensive driving, legal consequences for reckless driving, backup cameras, more effective headlights, reduced speed limits, and safer intersections, among others. But it’s still not enough.

One of the more recent prevention approaches is outfitting cars with advanced collision warning systems. By integrating radar, laser, camera, and sometimes sonar technology, these systems use math and physics to determine the relative speed between the car and objects in its path. If a system senses that the car is approaching a slow-moving vehicle or stationary object too quickly, it beeps, vibrates, or otherwise prompts the drivers to react.

Drivers don’t always react appropriately or quickly enough though, so many car manufacturers are now combining warning systems with automatic brak…

Astronomers Illuminate Giant Magnetic Ropes in the Sky

This time of year, people in many parts of the world are digging out boxes of holiday light, untying and untwisting the strands to create beautiful, sometimes tacky, glowing displays. Throughout the season, people will gather in front of the best displays, maneuvering around one another to get a better view of the twinkling shows.

25 million light-years away, astronomers have captured another brilliant display. We can’t see it with our eyes, but astronomers with the international CHANG-ES* collaboration have maneuvered telescopes and carefully processed data to make it visible. What they’ve found could shed light on the behaviors of galaxies like our own Milky Way, and might help us better understand some mysterious large-scale features of the universe.

The whale galaxy is a spiral galaxy, although it looks like a long smudge through Earth-based telescopes because we see it from the side. Like all spiral galaxies, the whale is surrounded by a glowing halo–a less dense region of gas an…

Cancer-preventing pizza, deceased magnetic cockroaches, and cube-shaped poop discoveries honored in the 2019 Ig Nobel Prizes

The 2019 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony was held in September at Harvard University, where the world’s top thinkers gathered to celebrate the year’s strangest scientific advances. The competition was fierce. The particles in the air were ionized by the sheer dynamicity of it.

 Science, at times, can be a little stuffy. Scientists, on the other hand, can be exceedingly ridiculous people. In recognition of the latter, the Ig Nobel Prizes recognize achievements that make people laugh...then think. Sometimes science answers questions about the fundamental wonders of our galaxy, but other times, it answers far smaller and weirder questions. Every year, 10 prizes are awarded to scientists with discoveries that are exceedingly eccentric.

 The ceremony itself is a rather strange affair. It begins as all distinguished ceremonies do, with a paper airplane competition, where audience members must aim for a helmet-clad human target on stage:

 Let’s take a closer look at this year’s winners:

 Medicine: P…

“Walkers” Go Super

Without context, you might think a “superwalker” is an extra-fast power walker, topnotch zombie, or even a high-tech mobility device. But this is a physics blog, so that’s your first clue that we’re headed in a different direction. The superwalkers in this story don’t even have legs—they are small drops of liquid with surprising capabilities that were serendipitously discovered by researchers at Monash University in Australia.

Before we get into the details of superwalkers, let’s start with regular walkers. About 15 years ago, researchers discovered that if you vibrate a small, open container of liquid in the right way and under the right conditions, a droplet of the same liquid will “walk” horizontally across the liquid surface.

Sáenz, et alSpin lattices of walking dropletsAPS Gallery of Fluid Motion
When a droplet hits the liquid for the first time, it bounces upward and creates waves in the liquid. When it falls back down again, the droplet interacts with the waves it created p…