Friday, October 02, 2015

Moonshine and Lunacy

I got an email from a reader yesterday asking for help in understanding a video that she’d seen, in which a citizen-scientist performs an experiment with a very surprising result: moonlight makes things colder! How could this be? To find out, I took a dive into the well-intentioned but deeply problematic world of Youtube science.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

A Rough Neighborhood

Once every century or so, a supernova occurs somewhere in the Milky Way, blasting out as much energy in one event as a sun-like star emits over billions of years. According to a paper recently accepted for publication in Physical Review Letters, the level of antimatter in the vacuum of our solar system makes it look like one of these supernovas happened pretty close to home, and not too long ago.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

The Math Of Brewing Coffee Can Model Anesthesia

Mathematics that can describe coffeepots, forest fires and flu outbreaks may also underpin the brain’s response to anesthesia, a new study suggests.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ask a Physicist: Cold Light and Negative Work

It's been a while since we got around to opening up the "Ask a Physicist" inbox, but we've had some great questions recently, and you can look forward to Ask a Physicist being a more regular feature on the Buzz Blog. Let's get to it!

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Papers in the Pipeline: Simulating New Materials

Designing things like LEDs and transistors has, for a long time, been an arduous process of trial and error, but that could be changing soon, thanks in part to a technique developed by physicists at SUNY-Buffalo.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Science of Star Trek: Accidental Prophecies

Last night, I sat down to dinner and an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (I prefer the original series, but there’s only so many times you can watch Kirk & Co. fight the space-nazis before it starts to get old.) I picked one in the first season, called “Home Soil”, where Picard and his crew beam down to a desert world that’s being adapted to support life, only to discover that there’s already a strange form of intelligent life living in the subsurface water table. Terraforming an already-inhabited planet violates the Federation’s “prime directive”, creating all sorts of drama for the episode, but we’re not here today to focus on the moral quandaries of xenobiology. Rather, the episode contains some tidbits that sound at first like technobabble plot-spackle, but upon closer examination make you start to wonder if someone in the writers’ room had access to a time machine.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Podcast: A Time Capsule of the Universe

Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics hosts the world’s largest collection of glass photographic plates, and thanks to the efforts of DASCH — which stands for Digital Access to a Sky Century @ Harvard — all of the information they contain will soon be at your fingertips. We caught up with Principal Investigator Dr. Josh Grindlay to find out how the digitization project works and what they hope to accomplish by making all of the data available to the public.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Quantum Locked: Physicists Demonstrate “Weeping Angel” Effect

A team of physicists from Cornell has shown that rapid, repeated measurements can freeze matter in place, in a paper recently accepted for publication by Physical Review Letters. The phenomenon, called the quantum Zeno effect (after the Greek philosopher famous for posing tricky questions about arrows and tortoises), limits the quantum tunneling ordinarily exhibited by confined particles.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Surprises from the LHC's "Beauty Factory"

In an attempt to unravel how matter and antimatter differ—and why we seem to have more of one than the other in our universe—scientists at the Large Hadron Collider have been studying the production and decay of particles called B mesons. Baryons, (from the greek barus, meaning heavy) such as protons and neutrons, each contain three valence quarks, but mesons (as in meso, or middle) are two-quark systems—one quark and one antiquark. They’re much less stable, contain equal amounts matter and antimatter, and tend to decay quickly into other particles, so they’re a promising tool for trying to ferret out the decay asymmetries that might have led to the state of the universe as we know it today. B mesons in particular are so-named because they contain a “bottom” antiquark, also known as a “beauty” antiquark, leading to the LHCb experiment’s name. However, as so often happens, the result the LHCb researchers found was not the one they were looking for.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

The Not-So-Silent World

In 1956, the French adventurer and SCUBA inventor Jacques Cousteau published a book called The Silent World about Earth’s oceans. Cousteau’s book is widely credited with giving rise to a new awareness of the seas’ beauty and fragility.

"He picked a bad title," said Arthur Popper, professor emeritus in biology at the University of Maryland in College Park. The oceans are not silent. In fact, they are louder than ever. And that, scientists believe, is a problem.

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