Saturday, September 30, 2006

Political Science

Some scientists and engineers are getting political with the new organization called Scientists and Engineers for America. SEA's mission statement says they are targeting "elections at all levels of government to renew respect for evidence-based debate and decision-making in politics."

A political action committee focussing on science - that's excellent!

It's been tried before, as I vaguely recall, but failed to get up momentum and gather broad enough support to keep it going. Here's hoping they figure it out this time.

SEA officially launched on September 27th, and their first science cafe, featuring Michael Stebbins discussing his book, Sex Drugs and DNA: Science's Taboos Confronted, will take place in Washington DC on Monday. Visit the SEA events page for details.

I'll be there!
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Friday, September 29, 2006

Pretty Physics Picture of the Week

Certain combinations of chemicals can react over and over again in cycles that take seconds, minutes or longer. Scientists call them chemical oscillators, and one of the best known is the BZ reaction. This picture is an oscillating chemical reaction described in last week's Physical Review Letters journal.

I'm not going to go into the details. I just like the picture.

If you want to read up on it, the abstract for the paper by K. J. M. Bishop and B. A. Grzybowski is online.

I plan to post pretty physics pictures from time to time. If anyone has any suggestions, drop me a line.
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Kendra's pic

That's me, kissing a fish.
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Hi from Kendra

Kendra here, James has agreed to let me post sometimes - woohoo! Stay tuned to hear about my favorite (and least favorite) physics books, toys, at home experiments, and other stuff...
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Xtreme Physics

Snowboard/skating phenom Shaun White lets writer Jeanna Brynner use him to illustrate the physics of x-treme sports.

As a lifelong skater and snowboarder, I was a little suprised by this quote from the article.

"My favorite thing to do is a really big 360--a full-circle spin,"Shaun says.

Anyone who has seen Shaun compete knows that if he pulls off a simple 360 in a competition, he's going to lose points. These days they have to throw down 540s (1.5 rotations) or 720s (2 full rotations) just to stay in the competition. Shaun is close to pulling the 900 (2.5 rotations) on a skateboard, and whips off 1080s (3 rotations) on snow all the time.
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Hip Physics Show

The Washington Post reported on a Hip Hop physics show. I can't believe this is cool, but the reporter who wrote the article certainly thought so. I'd love to see it, but my taste in argyle socks and bermuda shorts should probably be a give-away that I am no judge of what's trendy.
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Why is Physical Review E the Most Fun Physics Journal Ever?

Because PRE (one of several scholarly journals coming out of the American Physical Society) publishes papers like the one covered in this Fox News story and this CNN/Money story about how physics methods can help figure out where you should locate you new shoe store, grocery, haberdashery, or pet store.

Pablo Jensen of the Ecole Normal Superiure in Lyon, France plugs data into a model that evaluates the quality of various locations in a city for different types of businesses. He can turn the numerical crank of his equations and tell you whether a bakery might flourish on one corner or do better on another.

So how is this physics instead of economics? Well, Jensen modeled businesses in the same way physicists model atoms interacting with each other. He found that just as two atoms may sometimes attract or repel each other, depending on things like their magnetic fields, businesses can seem to attract or repel each other. A shoe shop could do well next to a formal wear outlet, but you might not want to loiter at a sidewalk cafe that's next door to an open air fishmarket.

You can read the abstract for Jensen's paper online, but the Fox and CNN/Money stories seem to cover it pretty well.
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Thursday, September 28, 2006

My 2006 Physics Nobel Prize Prediction

The chances are slim that I am going to get this right. But if I do I can brag to everyone who will listen. If I'm wrong no one will remember what I said anyway. So here goes . . .

The 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics will be awarded this coming Tuesday, October 3, 2006 to Bruce Campbell, G.A.H Walker, and S. Yang for the discovery of the first confirmed planet in a solar system outside of ours. In the grand scheme of things, it could be one of the greatest discoveries ever, particularly if we find signs of life on another planet . . . or even better, signs of intelligent life.

You heard it here first!

Thomson Scientific, publishers of the Science Citation Index, has made some predictions based on how often various scientists have their work cited by other scientists. Here's their list of likely Physics Nobel Laureates

-Emmanuel Desurvire (Alcatel Technical Academy), Masataka Nakazawa (Tohoku University) and David N. Payne (University of Southampton) for the Erbium-doped Fiber Amplifier

-Albert Fert (University of Paris-Sud) and Peter Gruenberg (Julich Research Center) for their work on Giant Magnetoresistance

-Alan H. Guth (MIT), Andrei Linde (Stanford University), and Paul J. Steinhard (Princeton University) for proposing Cosmic Inflation

The cowards! Picking 3 possibilities. Pshaw. At least I'm brave enough to pick one. ;)

Thomson brags that of the 27 possibilities they have picked since 2002, 4 have won, for a hit rate of 15%.

Not bad, but if I'm right this year, I'll be at 100%.
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PASER schmazer

You know what a laser is of course. The term stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emmission of Radiation. You may not know that they were based on principles developed with the maser (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emmission of Radiation), and have led to the saser(a sound laser). Now there's the paser, a particle version of the laser.

A paper in this week's Physical Review Letters describes the first paser. You can read more about it on the American Institute of Physics web page Physics News Update.
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Dropping Dark Matter

Dark matter is mysterious stuff. Scientists don't really know much about it at all, other than the fact that there seems to be a lot of it in the universe.

Thanks to a new analysis by physicists at Caltech and the University of Toronto, published this week in Physical Review Letters, we can expect that lumps of dark matter gravitationally attract each other in just the same way that lumps of normal matter (like you and the earth, for instance) attract each other. The researchers drew their conclusion by studying the distribution of stars in the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy (pictured here, courtesy of NASA's image archive) that orbits our Milky Way.

If dark matter experienced different forces from normal matter, it would change the relative amounts of stars kicked out ahead and behind the dwarf galaxy as a result of its interaction with our own galaxy. But the new study finds that the star distribution is just what we should expect if dark matter obeys the same gravitational laws as regular matter, to within an error of 10%. Future observations and improvements in our understanding of dark matter distributions should reduce the uncertainty to a few percent.

The analysis helps eliminate astrophysical models that explain the distribution of material in the universe by proposing exotic forms of gravitational interactions for dark matter. In addition, despite the fact that there is broad speculation regarding the true identity of dark matter and no guarantee that we will ever capture it or produce it in the lab, at least we now know how long it will take to reach the floor if a resident of a dark matter planet were to knock a bit of it off of a table.
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Hello World . . .

. . . standard first words
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My Picture

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