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Showing posts from March, 2007

Why (high school) Chemistry Rots

Why do I despise high school chemistry? Because it's described in the antiquated terms of early 20th century science.

I'm talking about you, Avogadro constant.

I was tutoring my son this week when I came to a realization - we don't need the Avogadro constant anymore.

It was useful before the existence of the atoms and molecules were established. But in 2007, we know about matter at the atomic and molecular scale, so we should stop replacing the concrete picture of subatomic particles, atoms and molecules with the (in)convenient ideas implied when we talk about moles of material.

The Avogadro constant is really just a bad approximation of one divided by the mass of the proton. It's a bad approximation because instead of using the actual mass of the proton to calculate the constant, the accepted value is one twelfth the mass of a carbon 12 atom. The error comes about for several reasons. For one thing, there are twelve particles in the nucleus of carbon 12, but only half ar…

The Look of Science

I’m sitting in an the Chicago airport right now waiting for a connecting flight to St. Louis - home of the National Science Teacher’s Association national meeting this year (of course this won’t be posted until I’m cozy in my hotel and have wireless). Anyway, my colleague just nudged me and pointed out how easy it is to tell who else is headed to this conference. Science teachers tend to have a certain look - or more accurately one of a few types of looks...

I wonder, do most groups have a characteristic look? I mean, if I were more attuned to the music culture would I be able to pick out fellow travels heading toward [insert name of big music fest here]? Or the nurses or architects headed toward their respective meetings?

It’s interesting to think about how we surround ourselves with people that resemble us. Or maybe it’s that we change ourselves to resemble the people that surround us. Or maybe our careers AND our looks both reflect our values.

I know scientists have studied how people…

Expanding prices even more

Anyone that drives anywhere is familiar with paying MORE for gas in the summer. I learned last night that most of us are paying MORE than MORE in the summer, thanks to physics (and lack of regulations in the gasoline industry).

This week I've been experimenting with homemade thermometers. To make one you fill a bottle with room temperature water, add a few drops of dark food coloring and a straw, and seal the straw in place with some clay. The water level in the straw will change in proportion to the temperature of the thermometer's surroundings.

Heat is related to the motion of atoms. The molecules in warm water move faster than those in cold water. This increased motion causes warm water to expand, thereby raising the water level in the straw.

What does this have to do with gas prices???

Well, as Jamie Court pointed out in American Public Media's Marketplace, gas pumps charge us by the gallon, which is a unit of volume. And gas, like water, expands when it gets warm.

Gas comp…

Pretty Physics Picture of the Week

This is an optomechanical resonator, which basically means that the oscillations from light that the structure absorbs can cause it to vibrate. According the authors of the article, Tal Carmon and Kerry J. Vahala of the California Institute of Technology, published in Physical Review Letters, the color bands represent distortion of a micrometre-sized silica sphere mounted at the top of a tiny pillar.

I haven't found anything in the paper to say what the oscillating sphere might be used for, but tiny oscillators are important for all kinds of devices, including the CPU at the heart of your PC, communication systems, and measuring instruments. But I'm only posting this today because it looks cool.

Laces Optional

So I'm at the gym last night (don't act so surprised. I go on occasion...) flipping through the channels on the mini-TV attached to the treadmill. I stop on CSIBones. It was Bones. Anyway, I'm half paying attention when I hear one of the characters say physicist. It takes me a moment to process the context-

Character 1 is commenting on Character 2's bad taste in men and backs up his point by listing her previous boyfriends: the man who cut off his brother's head, the cult recruiter, and the physicist who couldn't tie his own shoes.

Nice.

(10 pts to anyone that can explain to me why the one ex cut off his brother's head...)

A Nickel for your Thoughts

Waste has been used by creative minds around the country to produce unique works of art, foundations for golf courses, fuel for buses, and countless other wonders. So, to all of you creative minds I challenge this - find a good use for 15,300 tons of nickel.

The U.S. Department of Energy is seeking input from industry representatives on the safe disposition of approximately 15,300 tons of nickel scrap recovered from uranium enrichment process equipment...(press release)

Okay, maybe we should leave that one to the experts. But talking about uranium enrichment and putting waste to good(?) use reminds me of a story.

In Obsessive Genius, author Barbara Goldsmith talks about the early days of radiation treatment when radium bromide was inserted directly into tissue with needles or in small pellets. Eventually a gold filter was added, making the treatment more viable. She tells this story:

Instead of disposing of the gold filter after each use as instructed, one laboratory worker took the gold …

Kewl Physics Cartoon

I love this cartoon. Click the image to see the rest of the panels.

But beware, if you're confused about centripetal and centrifugal forces, this isn't going to make it much clearer. On the other hand, once you come to terms with fictional forces arising from certain coordinate transformations, you'll laugh your head off.

I think I got up on the ultra-nerdy side of the bed today.

Happy Birthday Albert!

I want to add my bit to the remembrance of Einstein's Birthday. To celebrate, here's my favorite Einstein joke:Albert's standup routine
"I just flew in from outer space,
and, boy, are my arms shorter!"bah-dum-dum-ching
I'm here all week, folks.

Happy Pi Day and Happy Birthday to Einstein

March 14 is Pi day (3.14), as I'm sure you all know. And 1:59 is the most Pi minute of Pi day (3.14159). And, of course the 27th second of the 59th minute of the first hour (and 13th hour in the typical US time convention) is the most Pi second (3.1415927) of Pi day.

In celebration of the occassion, here's the Pi joke I used to torment my son when he first started learning about geometry.

"Pi r squared? That's crazy, Pi r round, crackers r squared!"

But even more importantly, it's Albert Einstein's 128th birthday. Here's a poem I wrote last year in honor of the greatest physicist of the modern age.

Young Albert E. and the Miracle Year
By James Riordon

Listen my friends, and shortly you'll hear
Why 1905 was a miracle year
For that was the time that a young patent clerk
By the name Albert Einstein did incredible work.

Now this is a story that comes in three parts
And the beginning, of course, is the best place to start.
But how it begins, I confess I don't…

Meeting Moments

Hopefully you've were able to keep up with us last week over at the Physics Meetings blog, there's some good stuff there - singing physicists, a big blue bear, the latest in quantum computing, and more.

Here are some of my favorite moments from the APS March Meeting:

"Ring of Fire"...well almost

From the physics sing-a-long


Why YOU should wear a bike helmet

From "Thursday Night Football Physics with Tim Gay"


How do you get a lead brick through airport security?

From "Thursday Night Football Physics with Tim Gay"


Want more? Visit the Physics Meetings blog!

Physics Conference Blogging

We're all in Denver this week at the largest physics meeting of the year - the American Physical Society's March meeting.

Why is it called the APS March meeting? To distinguish it from the APS April meeting, which takes places in April (except the year that the April meeting took place in May and the year the March meeting took place in February). I keep telling them that they need a better name.

SpaceKendra, PhysicsBabe, and I ( Buzz Skyline) will primarily be posting over at our meeting blog - PhysicsMeetings.blogspot.com.

Although the names of the meetings don't tell you much, the March and April meetings cover very different topics.

The March meeting is chock full of materials science, nanotech, semiconductors, energy and biophysics (just to scratch the surface of the 7000 presentations here).

The April meeting includes more astrophysics, gravitational waves, and particle physics.

Drop by PhysicsMeetings.blogspot.com, and we'll let you know what fun and exciting stuff we…

That's amore

At the end of the day on Saturday, go outside and face east. Then throw your coat in the trash and get into the fountain. Okay, just kidding about those last two instructions. Seriously though, if you are on the eastern side of the US (or in various parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia) go outside just before sunset and look east.

As the sun sets and the moon rises there will be a total lunar eclipse - meaning that the moon will move through the Earth's shadow.

What will this look like to us? Well, if the moon is in the Earth's shadow then light from the sun won't be able to reach the moon. The moon doesn't generate any light of its own; it glows at night because it is reflecting sunlight. If sunlight doesn't reach the moon it will look black.

But there is a catch. As light from the sun travels through the Earth's atmosphere it scatters. Some of this scattered light will reach the moon even during a total lunar eclipse. This light will be mostly red and orange (for …