Thursday, January 18, 2018

Complex Flows, Simple Rules

Seeing bare tree branches silhouetted against a sunset sky is one of the best things about winter. Bereft of leaves, the trees reveal their intricate skeletons—almost fractal, reminiscent of neurons, or the network of blood vessels that perfuse the body. These complex patterns of growth and branching are produced by an invisible algorithm—less a blueprint than a computer program—encoded in the tree’s DNA, optimized over millions of years of evolution. Taking data on sunlight, airflow, and proximity to other branches, the tree regulates the expression of growth hormones to ensure that it’s making the most of its space. With all the care that goes into their creation, it’s no surprise that the patterns they produce come out so marvelously complex.


Read the rest of the post . . .

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Window Into the Heart of the Sun

When magnetic fields clash, they can rapidly unleash powerful explosions. Now scientists may have solved the decades-old mystery behind how these outbursts can happen so quickly. The findings could one day help explain the origins of the most powerful explosions in the universe and point to ways to build stable nuclear fusion reactors.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Friday, January 12, 2018

Waves & Whirlpools: on Energy, Structure, Matter, & Antimatter (Part III)

This post is part of a series, (read Part I and Part II) introducing a heuristic method for thinking about spacetime and charge that I like to call "the pond". Electromagnetic waves are often described as being similar to waves on water, and it turns out the analogy can be extended—if photons are waves, charged particles are like whirlpools: excitations with a little bit of angular momentum to them which allows them to persist.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Meet the Scientist Using Physics Techniques to Solve Linguistic Mysteries

"A good idea is useless if does not convince others. An idea that is only convincing to oneself is dead."

These wise words represent a hard-learned lesson for Dr. Ramon Ferrer-i-Cancho, a scientist in the Complexity and Quantitative Linguistics lab at the Universitat Polit├Ęcnica de Catalunya. Ferrer-i-Cancho has spent nearly two decades fleshing out a mathematical theory to describe the natural elegance of languages, fighting skepticism and intellectual inertia every step of the way. Now, with a publication in the American Physical Society's journal Physical Review E, he hopes to both refute and convert his dissenters once and for all.


Read the rest of the post . . .

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Waves & Whirlpools: on Energy, Structure, Matter, & Antimatter (Part II)

In our last post, we introduced the pond—the surface of a body of water serving as an intriguing analogy for spacetime—with waves as a transient expression of energy, much like photons or gravitational waves, and eddies representing charged particles like protons and electrons. We found that two whirlpools spinning the same direction will repel one another, much like two particles of the same charge—but what about ones spinning opposite directions?

Read the rest of the post . . .

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Waves & Whirlpools: on Energy, Structure, Matter, & Antimatter (Part I)

When physicists try to describe spacetime and its interactions with matter, the analogy we invariably seem to fall back on involves an elastic sheet, with bowling balls creating curvature on it and marbles orbiting those bowling balls like planets around a sun.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Friday, December 22, 2017

Ask a Physicist: Time Dilation

This week, Amandeep from Toronto wrote in to ask:

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity time slows down as speed of the object increases. What is the rate of change of time? E.g. if time was being measured by a simple clock, can we see the hands of the clock slowing down at a certain rate as a result of increase in speed?
Thanks,
Amandeep


Read the rest of the post . . .

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Small Chirps Could Provide Big Insights on Tiny Structures

Chirps, short bursts of (often annoying) high-pitched sounds, are generally a way of conveying information. Birds chirp to warn their feathered friends of impending danger. Male crickets chirp to announce their intentions to females. Smoke alarms chirp to keep you awake all night until you finally get up and change that low battery.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Monday, December 11, 2017

How To Build Better Rockets By Crumpling Beer Cans

Knowing more about how a metal tube crumples might improve the design of everything from beer cans to space rockets. Now scientists find that poking such cylinders in the side could help predict when they might buckle from weights or pressure from above.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Friday, December 08, 2017

Celebrate the Holidays with Famous Physicist Snowflakes!

It's the holiday season again, and the PhysicsCentral HQ has become a festive wonderland of garlands, snowflakes, and enormous tins of flavored popcorn tempting us at every turn. Today, we're going to help you get into the holiday spirit with the help of our friends at the Niels Bohr Library, who have cooked up a special set of winter decorations for your home, classroom, and office!

Read the rest of the post . . .