Monday, November 23, 2015

Hot and Cold, All at Once

New research slated for publication in Physical Review B shows that “cold spots” can be localized within a molecule, leaving single atoms with temperatures near absolute zero, while other parts of the molecule rest around a comparatively balmy 100 Kelvin.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Can a Blob-eating Game Teach Us About Biblical Plagues?

Swarming behavior has always fascinated physicists, biologists, and behavioral scientists alike—as well as anyone who’s seen a sky-darkening flock of starlings twist into its mesmerizing shapes. It’s hard not to wonder how such elegantly concerted behavior arises on the fly, or how on earth the birds keep from running into one another. But birds aren’t the only things that swarm like this, and while the idea of The Birds acting as a collective is scary enough to merit a Hitchcock film, this might just be a psychological sublimation of the instinctive fear of a very real and far-more-threatening swarm: Locusts. Now, research from the University of Bath gives us some understanding of how this swarming behavior happens in insects, and how we might disrupt it.

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Friday, November 06, 2015

Ask a Physicist: FTL Communication With a Very Long Stick

Amy from Hull, England asks:

"Imagine a tube structure stretching a large distance (say a light year) encasing a row of ballbearings that are lined up inside the full length of the tube. If I push one more ballbearing in from one end, would a ballbearing at the far end instantaneously drop out? Or for millions of years until the information is transferred would there be more ball bearings than the tube would normally fit? Or would it simply take me millions of years to push an extra ballbearing in the tube?"

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Two by Two

For close to a decade now, two of the hottest buzzwords in technology have been “Quantum Computing”—the promise of storing a information by manipulating the spin of a single electron, and the associated prospect of harnessing quantum entanglement for faster computation has captured the imaginations of physicists and computer scientists alike. As exciting as the theoretical possibilities are, much of the nitty-gritty work of constructing a functional quantum computer has yet to be done.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

What's in a (Martian) Name?

If you’re a fan of The Martian, then you’re familiar with the alien landscape of Acidalia Planitia and Arabia Terra. But you may be wondering: Where did these strange names come from? On this week’s podcast we set out to answer that question, in a fun (spoiler-free) romp through fictional astronaut Mark Watney’s Martian neighborhood. Behind every name, there’s a story, and many of them are tied to the history of physics and astronomy down here on Earth. Here’s a taste of what we uncover in the podcast:

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Slippery Lipids Give Snakeskin its Slither

Snakes can slither smoothly over almost any surface, from jungle branches to desert sands, without damaging their skin – an ability that has fascinated researchers.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Scaling Down the Solar System

“I sort of missed the science boat entirely,” says Wylie Overstreet, one of the creators behind the new short film To Scale: The Solar System. “It was only a couple of years ago that I discovered science as a story...and it was transformative. I suddenly became totally sucked into the story of nature, and in doing so, in reading more about it, learning about it, I discovered that there's this massive discrepancy between our notion of where we are in the universe...and the reality of it.”

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to the Present

It's here, folks: today is the day we officially enter "the future", at least according to a certain wildly-popular 1980s film trilogy. The movies in question are much-beloved here at PhysicsCentral, so after ascertaining that today is in fact Marty McFly's "destination date" in "Back to the Future Part II", it seemed a special tribute post was in order. (We had to double-check, because there's a blog that's been churning out photoshopped screen captures claiming that "today's the day!" every single day for the past two years.)

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

One Small Step for Kinesin

Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short, is the universal currency of energy among living things. It’s the gasoline that drives our cellular motors, the necessary intermediate step between chemical and kinetic energy. By and large we’re still figuring out the details of how that conversion process works, but a new result from the Polish Academy of Sciences, slated for publication in PRL, brings us one step closer to understanding the mechanics of motor proteins called kinesins.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Move Over, Lithium!

Over the past twenty years, as more and more technology has become incorporated into our daily lives, we’ve become increasingly reliant on the little lithium-ion miracles that keep our gadgets running while we’re on the run. Laptops, smartphones, electric vehicles—if it makes the modern world feel futuristic, it probably uses a rechargeable battery. While that’s not likely to change any time soon, the technology inside is about eighty years overdue for an overhaul: research from Oregon State indicates that lithium’s reign as the end-all of battery technology could soon be coming to an end. The next big thing? Potassium.

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