Thursday, August 16, 2018

Becoming the Noise, Part II: Putting Humans into the Physics Equation

Read part I of this story here.
When I set out for Orfield Labs, I expected the anechoic chamber to capture my full attention. After all, so many people come to experience the quietness that the lab had to start charging for tours, to compensate for lost productivity. As I talked with founder and president Steve Orfield about the evolution of his career and his lab, though, I started to appreciate that the chamber is a tool. And eventually I concluded that, like all tools, the true value lies in what it can do in the hands of an artisan.


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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Numbers in the News: How Big is that Lake on Mars?

In case you missed it, last month NASA announced the discovery of what looks like liquid water on Mars: a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) wide lake hiding under 1.5 km (~1 mile) of ice. A lake 20 kilometers across sounds like a lot of water, even if it is deep under the ice. Why did it take so long to find if it is such a large feature? Let’s put this into perspective and compare the size of the lake on Mars to the size of a dot on a basketball. The comparison might surprise you.


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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Are Gravitational Waves the Key to Nailing Down the Universe's Expansion Rate?

Just over a century ago, Einstein sat scratching his head over his own theory of general relativity. Although the equations seemed to fit all of astronomers' observations of the universe to date, there was one little detail he couldn’t seem to shake: the universe ought to be contracting over time, scrunched together by the pull of gravity.


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Friday, August 10, 2018

NASA is About to Launch a Sun-Skimming Solar Probe

Imagine yourself standing comfortably in front of a warm, cozy fire. Suddenly, you start to feel just a little too toasty, so you take a few steps away. But wait—now that you’re farther from the fire, it’s even hotter! Huh?


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Thursday, August 09, 2018

Manipulating Light May Hold the Key to Quantum Computing

It’s one of technology’s hottest (and most elusive) goals for the 21st century: quantum computing. You’ve probably heard talk of these powerful machines, which have the potential to completely transform our computing capabilities and upend modern data security. Although the foundations of this technology have already been laid down in research labs, we haven’t yet been able to develop quantum computers that can overtake their classical counterparts. However, some recent research from a group at the University of Maryland and NIST’s Joint Quantum Institute may bring us one step closer.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Numbers in the News: Sand, Sand Everywhere

This past Sunday NPR’s Weekend Edition interviewed Vince Beiser about his new book The World in a Grain. During the interview, Beiser made a mind-boggling claim. If you take all the sand used commercially every year, all 50 billion tons of it, you would have enough sand to cover the state of California. To which Californians might ask: “Well, how deep are we talking?”

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"Looking Cool" with an Infrared Invisibility Cloak

Who among us hasn’t dreamed of owning an invisibility cloak? Now, a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison thinks they have one figured out. There's a catch, though: It only works for infrared light. Although infrared is already invisible to human eyes, it’s extremely useful in security and defense, making this an exciting development.


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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

A Physicist's Take on Online Hatred and Extremism

“Do we really have to live with this?”

Like many of us, that’s what Dr. Neil Johnson wondered when the news highlighted yet another seemingly random violent terrorist attack back in 2014. But unlike many of us, he and his colleagues turned to science in search of an answer.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Becoming the Noise: A Visit to One of the Quietest Places on Earth

Scratchy. My ultra-smooth gel pen made a distracting and mildly irritating sound that I can only describe as scratchy with each stroke. I became acutely aware of the process involved in forming each letter. I flipped a page in my memo pad to make room for more notes, but the loud, prolonged crinkling of the page only left me more distracted and further behind.

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Liquid Droplets May Help Unravel the Secrets of Quantum Mechanics

Strange as it may sound, bouncing liquid droplets are changing our ideas of what happens at subatomic levels. By studying their movement across pools of liquid, Prof. John Bush from MIT is discovering how these droplets can help us understand the tiny particles that make up everything in our universe. But how can small droplets tell us about what’s going on at microscopic levels of matter? Don’t tiny, quantum particles act differently than anything in classical mechanics? Maybe not.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Simple, Inexpensive Magnetic Levitation: The Flight of the Humble “Flea”

From flying broomsticks to floating cities and container-less storage, levitation has a tendency to capture the imagination. Among the impractical and impossible ideas, there are some good ones that have already taken hold. Maglev trains now carry passengers in Japan, South Korea, and China, and have been proposed in countries across the world. Fun (but less useful) hoverboards operate on similar technology, as do magnetic bearings used in industrial machinery.


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