Friday, October 21, 2016

Manipulating Light by Checkerboard

From Vans shoes to Pinterest cakes and the 2020 Olympic Games logo, checkerboard patterns draw us in. Their contrasting colors have symbolized duality, co-existence, and harmony throughout history. They cover floors, flags, and furniture. In work that puts a 21st century spin on checkerboards, a team of Japanese researchers recently demonstrated that a special kind of checkerboard can be used to create state-of-the-art optical tools.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Is Planet Nine Pulling Us Closer?

It’s not time to update the posters, rulers, books, felt sets, lollipops, and mnemonics just yet, but astronomer Michael Brown anticipates that it will be by the end of next winter. Planet Nine, a predicted gas giant orbiting the sun far beyond Neptune, explains so many mysteries of the solar system, he says, that’s it’s hard to believe it doesn’t exist. The latest of these is the curious case of the six-degree tilt of the sun.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How Much Does it Cost to Blow Up a Planet?

A curious reader wrote in today with an odd and ominous inquiry—how much would it cost to power the laser of the Death Star? We're by no means the first ones to turn an analytical eye to everyone's favorite space opera, but outlandish questions like this are always a good opportunity to bring a bit of fun to mathematics.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Friday, October 14, 2016

Your Friday Reading: "Obscurantism"

It’s Friday afternoon! Let’s look into the archives of physics and pretend we’re still working.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

From Urinals to Printers: Enough with the Splashing

My local beaches and swimming pools are closed until next year, but in bathrooms, kitchens, and operating rooms worldwide, it’s always splashing season. Whether it’s a spray of liquid from raw meat thrown hastily on the cutting board or body fluids from a surgical tray going airborne, splashes aren’t just annoying—in some cases they can cause real damage. They can compromise health, safety, and the effectiveness of pesticides, along with printing techniques, forensic interpretations of events, manufacturing processes, and more.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Intriguing Data

Why do theoretical physicists write papers explaining preliminary results?

Read the rest of the post . . .

Monday, October 10, 2016

Untangling the Mystery of Cosmic Ray Sources

The north star indicates north. Seeing the moon overhead means...that the moon is overhead. It sounds obvious, right? But not everything works this way. Cosmic rays are high energy particles produced in astronomical events. They careen through space at very high speeds, some eventually making their way to Earth. Studying the cosmic rays that hit Earth and our atmosphere can tell us a whole lot about what’s happening out there, but there is a big challenge: unlike light, cosmic rays don’t travel through space in a straight line.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A Natural Law for Rotating Galaxies… What Does This Mean for Dark Matter?

Distant galaxies, black holes, exotics worlds…these are not just the stuff of science fiction; they are also the stuff that makes up our reality. Our quest to understand the universe is thrilling, challenging, and often confusing. Even the basic question “What is the universe made of?” isn’t easy to answer.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

"Flatland Physics" Wins 2016 Nobel

To the surprise of almost everyone, this year's Nobel prize in physics went to a trio of scientists who made pioneering advances in the field of topological physics, exploring the unusual properties that emerge in matter when it's confined to 2D surfaces or thin layers and then cooled to extreme temperatures. David Thouless received half the prize, while Michael Kosterlitz and Duncan Haldane shared the other half. This somewhat unusual distribution comes from the fact that Kosterlitz and Haldane each worked on different problems in the field, while Thouless had a hand in both.

Read the rest of the post . . .

Monday, October 03, 2016

Mission Complete: Rosetta’s Journey Ends, Her Story Continues

It’s the beginning of a story that draws you in, but it’s the ending that leaves you lingering, forever connected to the characters. At least if it’s a good story. The fairy tale of Rosetta and Philae, the first spacecraft and lander to rendezvous with a comet and travel with it in orbit around the sun, came to a close early Saturday morning (EDT) in a well-crafted ending.

Read the rest of the post . . .