Skip to main content

Posts

“Walkers” Go Super

Without context, you might think a “superwalker” is an extra-fast power walker, topnotch zombie, or even a high-tech mobility device. But this is a physics blog, so that’s your first clue that we’re headed in a different direction. The superwalkers in this story don’t even have legs—they are small drops of liquid with surprising capabilities that were serendipitously discovered by researchers at Monash University in Australia.

Before we get into the details of superwalkers, let’s start with regular walkers. About 15 years ago, researchers discovered that if you vibrate a small, open container of liquid in the right way and under the right conditions, a droplet of the same liquid will “walk” horizontally across the liquid surface.

Sáenz, et alSpin lattices of walking dropletsAPS Gallery of Fluid Motion
When a droplet hits the liquid for the first time, it bounces upward and creates waves in the liquid. When it falls back down again, the droplet interacts with the waves it created p…
Recent posts

Scientists Discover a Mechanism Behind Jupiter’s Mysterious Winds

When the astronomer Galileo Galilei first set his sights on Jupiter through his telescope in 1610, he noticed two strange things: First, there four small moons orbiting the planet, and second, planet had these strange alternating bands of color. Now, over 400 years later, we’re looking at these stripes on the Solar System’s largest planet in a way we never have before.

 Fast forward to the year 2011: NASA has launched the Juno spacecraft (who’s name has a strange origin story) towards Jupiter, and after a lengthy four-year trek, it finally began its orbit of the gaseous planet. The Juno mission’s overarching goal is to understand how Jupiter formed, which could tell us about the enigmatic origins of our solar system. Equipped with a magnetometer, an energetic particle detector, a UV spectrograph, and a host of other analytical devices, Juno is transmitting a boatload (or spaceshipload if you will) of data back to earth. With that data, scientists aim to unlock the secrets of this mass…

A Classic(al) Story of the Creation of the Universe

In his 1980 book Cosmos, Carl Sagan famously wrote, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

 If you follow their threads back in time, the ingredients for a deliciously satisfying apple pie - apples, flour, cinnamon, heat, etc. - wind their way back to before the observable universe. Existence was contained in a vacuum then, a void empty except for quantum fluctuations. 
 According to leading cosmological models, the vacuum was fairly stable and may have existed in this state for a very long time, but it had a weakness. When quantum fluctuations caused a region of space to spontaneously become more stable (to have lower energy) than its surroundings, a “bubble” of greater stability formed. According to cosmological models, this “bubble” of stability rapidly expanded at nearly the speed of light. Multiple bubbles may have occurred at the same time, coalescing and bringing the entire vacuum into a more stable existence. An existence in wh…

The New Playground of an Unexpected Bose-Einstein Condensate

Most playgrounds feature slides, swings, and other structures that encourage visitors to explore cause-and-effect, test their physical limits, and try new things. Scientists like to engage in these activities too, although their playgrounds don’t look quite the same...


In new research published in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters, a team of researchers from the US and Canada have discovered what looks like a Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC) in an unexpected place—a magnet based on the rare-earth element ytterbium.
 “This discovery provides a new playground for understanding Bose-Einstein condensation in magnetic systems, as well as how ytterbium breaks our expectations at low-temperatures in condensed matter systems,” says Gavin Hester, a graduate student working with Kate Ross at Colorado State University and one of the project leaders. 
 BECs are often called the fifth state of matter. It’s a state that can only be reached when a very dilute gas is coo…

Snow in the Western U.S. is Rapidly Disappearing, Here’s Why that’s a Huge Problem

“The snow is melting into music” -John Muir’s Unpublished Journal (1938)

The ethereal melody of melting snow is certainly peaceful, but if the famed naturalist were alive to hear it right now, that music might sound faster than he remembered. Listening to that sound today, it doesn’t exactly give me the same chill vibes.

How has nuclear power changed since Chernobyl?

Poignant and bleak, the critically acclaimed HBO series Chernobyl revisits a difficult chapter in history to tell an important story about the role of science in society. While portions of the plot and characters have been embellished for TV, its an exceptional portrayal of what can happen when a community ignores the signs of an impending disaster (i.e. climate change) and includes surprisingly accurate and accessible explanations of nuclear physics. 

On twitter, the show has also reignited an important discussion on nuclear power and its associated hazards. It is necessary to acknowledge that while some risks will always be there, nuclear power is actually safer than ever, and importantly, it could help curb our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels.

To learn more about this funky world of radioactive physics, we’re going to answer some questions about how our nuclear landscape has changed since 1986 (I’d say spoiler alert, but that’s not really applicable to historical events that hap…

Clarity from Chaos: How Climate Models Could Be Better than We Think

Chaos theory encompasses large swathes of mathematics and physics, but it was Edward Lorenz who immortalized it in popular culture. His now-famous 1972 presentation, which summarized his decade-long work in the field, focused on a single provocative question: Can the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? Although he declined to definitively answer the question, his “butterfly effect” changed the way climatologists and meteorologists view causality in atmospheric science.