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Showing posts from 2007

Internet Loves Physics. Who Knew?

Perhaps even MIT didn’t realize, when they began posting introductory physics lectures online, that the videos would become so popular. Then again, who ever could have predicted the popularity of the Star Wars Kid? Even physics can't explain the phenomenon of internet video popularity, but if it makes more people love physics, I think they'll take it.

Here's a sampler of the type of lecture they're showing, featuring Professor Walter Lewin:


Professor Lewin is slowly but steadily gaining credibility in the internet realm as a prime source of both info and entertainment. Lewin says he spends 25 hours planning each 45 minute lecture, each of which is packed with fantastic demonstrations and constant reminders of the endless number of everyday places you see physics in action.

You can download the lectures for free on iTunes or MIT’s website http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Physics/8-03Fall-2004/CourseHome/.

When I first heard about MIT putting their physics lectures online I was…

Invasion of the Muons!

Not the interiors of the Mayan Temples, the secret chambers of the Egyptian Pyramids, nor the inside of massive Volcanoes can hide from…the Muons!

They sound like a 50’s horror movie villain, but Muons are nothing to be afraid of.If they were, we’d all be long gone.The Earth is hit with muons at a rate of about 1 per square centimeter per minute, but over time that’s lots of muons colliding with your whole body.These may sound familiar if you read my post a few weeks ago about physicist/detective Luis Alvarez who pioneered the muon method and used it on Egyptian Pyramids. As reported by Science News this week (http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20071208/bob8.asp), researchers are looking inside the Mayan temples and some massive volcanoes (among other things) using new muon detectors.Most notably, the new detectors don’t need to be underneath the large objects (unlike Alvarez’ original method) but can be put on the perimeter of these large objects, and detect muons coming nearly horiz…

The Bowl for the Tiniest Trophy in the World (It's the Size that Matters)

Don’t you think it’s about time football fans had more of an interest in physics?

Well, maybe you weren’t thinking that specific thought, but you might know that football is a smorgasbord of physics concepts in action. APS feels it’s time they did something about it, and have announced a contest to win the worlds Tiniest Trophy, and $1,000 to boot!
The trophy may be, quite literally, the tiniest trophy in the world (We'll see if a Guinness record is on the way…). The smallest aspect of the trophy, an image of a football field and helmet, is made up of lines that are only a few nanometers wide. Thats less than a thousandth of a human hair!

It’s a wafer, only a few centimeters wide, with multiple images of a football field and helmet. But inside one of those helmets are two, increasingly smaller images.

This image (above) shows the trophy. The multiple football fields you can see are each 12 millimeters wide.

The etchings are arranged Russian-doll style, with one image inside the n…

The New Time Travelers

I can't change the past because the past has happened; I can’t kill my grandfather because I didn’t. But that in itself doesn't mean I can't travel to the past.The dream of time travel has been shaped and sculpted by movies, science fiction, and our own imaginations; but in those hands it’s only a dream.But to a few capable scientists, time travel is a real possibility in our universe, and one that can be examined with theories of physics.The recently published book The New Time Travelers: A Journey to the Frontiers of Physics, is "a history of the serious study of time travel" by physicists, beginning in 1988. From what the author David Toomey told me about his book, the answers to many of your time travel questions may pleasantly surprise you.Toomey is an avid science writer, but not a scientist himself, and he brings an outsider's perspective to these sometimes mind-boggling concepts. I’m very excited about this book and made my dad buy a copy.I knew h…

Preparations for APS March Meeting Underway!

The APS March and April meetings offer every APS member the chance to give a 15 minute talk about, well, just about anything they want.Ok, it’s usually on research, but can also be essays on the history of science, science and society, science education, or a number of other sub groups.You do have to submit an abstract describing your talk, and over 6,000 abstracts have been submitted this year! Do the math...a 5 day conference, with 8 hours a day, with 6,000 abstracts...thats 1200 talks a day, and over 150 talks per hour! Assuming 15 minutes per abstract, that means about 40 separate sessions have to be going on simultaneously all day long.


To organize the jumble of electronically submitted abstracts, physicists from all over the country fly or drive into College Park, Maryland for a day of free food and physics talk.It’s fun for employees of APS because there are people running through the building all day.Here’s some pic’s from the front lines.

I asked Dr. Ted Einstein from the Un…

Flying Carpets Aren't Total Fantasy

It’s pretty amazing how much Disney movies can change the way you look at the world.I am personally part of the Aladdin Generation, so when I saw a physics paper discussing the mechanics of a flying carpet, I held my breath.Since no prototypes were built, there won’t be any romantic tours of the Taj Mahal any time soon (other than in my mind), but understanding the basic mechanics might be the first step.Although highly impractical for land use or carrying people, the paper did show that a flying carpet isn’t total fantasy.I had never noticed before, but sting rays that move along the ocean floor look a lot like how you might expect a flying carpet to move.To see what I mean, watch the video below.The rays have the added advantage of swimming, which we'll assume a carpet would not. But in their most relaxed state, you'll notice that the rays don't move very high above the ground. The potential to have a carpet hover relies on it moving closely along a flat surface. Thus …

TEA Science Advisor Fired for Having an Opinion on Intelligent Design

The news today reinforces that the battle to have intelligent design taught in science classes, rather than evolution, is going strong. Strong like a big, angry, drunk rhinoceros in a shopping mall. “The head of the Texas Education Agency's science curriculum alleges she was forced to resign because of memo about a talk on intelligent design.”That’s the word on the street today, and by street I mean the following publications, and probably many more:http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/150715.htmlhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/huffpost/20071201/cm_huffpost/074940
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/11/29/1129science.htmlComer "resigned" over a memo that suggested she might have an opinion about intelligent design (particularly that it should not be taught in science curriculum).Here’s the run-down:the Texas Education Agency is claiming that it is supposed to be UNBIASED or HAVE NO OPINION EITHER WAY about the issues of intelligent-design and evolution…

When will we see DSCOVR again?

It's sometimes terrifying, in this age of information, to realize how much we don't know. A satellite built by NASA that could answer the major questions we have about global warming, and settle disputes over the reality of man-made climate change, is gathering dust in a Maryland warehouse. The importance of the information it might have provided cannot be understated. The satellite is built and paid for, and was scheduled for launch two years ago, but for undisclosed though not unsought reasons, NASA and the federal government have kept the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite (DSCOVR) locked away, and with it the American public's right to an answer.

It’s a slap in the face to every American citizen that the Executive Branch has denied that it should be held accountable under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose documents concerning why the DSCOVR satellite was retired before it’s first launch.NASA itself also opted to withhold all internal documents (against…

Something to get you through the day...

I decided to do a search of all the books titled "The Physics of _______". Everything is physics, but many books give it to ya straight in specific cases. With over 300 hits, here is a list of my favorites:

The Physics of
Superheroes, Consciousness, Christianity, Everyday Life, Everyday Phenomena, Christmas, Insultingly Stupid Movies, Medical Imaging, Golf, Basketball, Baseball, Hockey, Sailing, Dancing, Skiing, Sports, Radiology, The Body, Electric Propulsion, Angels, Music, Irrigated and Nonirrigated soils, Musical Instruments, Shock Waves and High-Temperature Hydrodynamic Phenomena, Foams, Immortality, Interstellar Dust, William of Ockham, Quasicrystals, Liquid Crystals, Coronary Blood Flow, Cerebrovascular diseases, Diamond, Galactic Halos, Laser Plasma Interactions, Three-Dimensional Radiation Therapy, The Non Physical, Agriculture, Time Asymmetry, Time Reversal, Laser Fusion, The Earth’s Core, Blown Sand and Desert Dunes, Glaciers, Ice, Monsoons, Heaven and Earth, Expl…

It’s Physics, My Dear Watson. -- OR -- Pyramids, JFK, and Dinosaurs

Physics can be like a universal tool kit for solving mysteries.It doesn’t come with instructions, but if you figure out how to use it you’ll find that it comes equipped with everything you need to discover whether or not an ancient pyramid has hidden chambers, how to explain discrepancies in the JFK assassination footage, or find substantial evidence that a meteor impact killed the dinosaurs.And for those who don’t know how to use the tool kit, be sure you get a detective like Luis W. Alvarez. As reported by Phil Schewe in this week’s Physics News Update (http://www.aip.org/pnu/2007/split/847-2.html), a paper by Charles G. Wohl, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Physics reflects admiringly on the career of a true physicist.Luis W. Alvarez won a Nobel prize in 1968 for his work in elementary particle physics, but his other work stands out for it’s application to classic mysteries.
The Pyramid Burial Chambers:
The two largest pyramids ever built are in Cairo, i…

That Sweet, Sweet Voltage: The Electric Addiction

Futurama has a fantastic episode titled “Hell is Other Robots,” in which the show’s main robot, Bender, turns to the seedier side of robot life and develops a heroin-like addiction to electricity. Bender has to get his fix from an outlet or battery; otherwise he gets shaky, nervous, and irritable. The episode pitches the idea that if robots were like humans, electricity would take the place of hard drugs. But an article in the Daily India suggests that electricity might be the vice of robots and humans alike. In the Indian district of Uttar Pradesh' Lalitpur, a village priest needs to have a small electrical stimulus before he can fall asleep each night. The priest gets his electricity from home appliances or live wires plugged into the wall.He sometimes leaves the wires in his mouth, under his arms, or behind his ears for the entire night. The article doesn’t say exactly how strong the stimuli is, or if the priest prefers a short jolt to a long tingle, but doctors in the village …

Fire from Salt Water: Lets Focus, People.

A man in Erie can make salt water burn!In a manner of speaking, yes.He’s freeing the hydrogen and it makes a flame but really it's just re-bonding with oxygen so it...

You
can run an engine with it!Well, yes, it's fire, which can do that, but you have to run the radio wave generator and...

We have tons of salt water! We can use this instead of coal and oil!
No.No no no no no no.No.Stop.No.Ow.Can I get an aspirin?“New Source of Energy in Salt Water” sounds so good you just want to believe it.Bless your little heart for having so much faith in these times of despair and no snow, but unfortunately a gallon of free gas isn’t worth anything if you use up two gallons getting to the station. Always ask questions.It’s where answers come from.Questions like, if radio waves + salt water = fire, why don't the oceans ignite from radar? Or, if our bodies are 70% water and some salt, why doesn't the radio wave generator cause internal bleeding in the guy running it? Here are the most …

Stonehenge: Just add physics

Wally Wallington can move 2-ton cement blocks or barns over large distances by himself. No heavy machinery. No help. Just physics! He thinks he may have figured out how Stonehenge was built, and that it could have been done with very few people. This video shows not only some very basic physics principles in action, but illustrates that physics needs creativity and ingenuity to be put to work.This video is about 6 minutes long, but it’s worth a look. Full of lots of physics and really awesome feats!Read on to learn a little more about why Wally can move a barn with a 2x4. Getting it up on the pivot is something you’ll have to figure out from the video. The physics involved: center of mass and inertia; an object in motion tends to stay in motion; basic lever. This might be old hat if you’ve had basic physics classes, but I had to check my book to make sure I got the mechanics right. Balancing a Barn- Put a pivot under and object's center of gravity, and the object will balance. No …

The Musical Tesla Coils

Will Tesla Coils make their way to Best Buy shelves this year? It's unlikely that they'll trump an iPod on sound quality, but you can’t beat the visuals.

That singing highway was awesome (see the Nov. 13 entry), but I think it’s strongly challenged by today’s feature: The Musical Tesla Coils. Manipulation of Tesla coils to make noise has been done before, but this takes the cake. What you’re hearing is the theme from Super Mario Brothers, created by an output of plasma pushing on the air as it's frequency is changed.

Also check out "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" and others:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Opf5jIukSBM&feature=related

Sound waves are vibrations of the air around us, which you can make just by clapping your hands or talking. Pitch is just the number of times the air vibrates per second. Higher frequency, higher pitch. Tesla coils are a combination of circuits that output thousands to millions of volts. That high electric field arcs up and…