Thursday, April 26, 2007

Geek Jewelry

Thoughts by Delight and Peter Edgell

Two high school girls shrieked "Oh boy, geek jewelry" rushing to our booth at the 2005 International Science Fair. We just smiled.

Yeah, we make geek jewelry. It's inspired by the beauty of the Solar System, the joy of understanding a balanced chemical equation, and the exquisite structure of the DNA molecule.

When she taught middle school science, Delight referred to NASA's planet posters on her classoom walls as her "jewels". Upon retirement, she made her Solar System necklace because she "would have killed for it" when she was teaching.

Roadkill was the inspiration for one of Pete's necklaces--the black, yellow, and red bands of an Arizona Coral Snake looked just like a necklace lying there on the pavement.

Customer requests have led to new designs such as the Summer Triangle Necklace which was made for a bride to wear at her wedding ceremony in China.

We have resisted many offers to sell our necklaces in gift shops. A large part of our reward is the direct contact with our customers. We meet so many interesting people doing what we do. Their appreciation of our work gives us great satisfaction. We do have a website because people asked for it. Find us at

Necklaces shown: Gold Solar Delight (Top L), Photosynthesis (Top R), Coral Snake (Bottom L), DNA (Bottom R)

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Stephen Hawking to Travel to Iran for International High School Physics Competition

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, best known for his work in cosmology and quantum physics, will attend the annual International Physics Olympiad, a brain-to-brain competition among the top physics high school students of 86 countries. The competition will be held this year in Isfahan, Iran, July 13 - 22.

Students from every continent gather each year to test their knowledge on advanced physics and also to experience the cultures of the countries they visit. This year's Olympiad exemplifies the flow of free scientific exchange between countries. In previous years, students have visited China, Spain and South Korea, where they spent time visiting the families of the local students. The host country often also offers cultural events for these future scientists. The competition will be held at Iran's prestigious Isfahan University of Technology.

The United States Physics Olympiad students will travel to the University of Maryland in June to prepare for the international competition. After a week of lectures, labs and exams, five students will be selected to the traveling team. The students will also experience the nearby attractions of the nation's capital and visit their Senators and Representatives to encourage Congress to support physics.

Historically, the US has done well at the International Olympiad: from 1986 to 2005, the United States Teams have brought home 26 gold, 20 silver, and 26 bronze medals; and 11 honorable mentions.

Hawking will likely address the students at the competition, and many of them already know him as a strong role model for accomplishments in physics. The hosts of the competition will provide more information on Hawking's visit as it becomes available.

The US team is sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society and many other scientific organizations and technology corporations.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Dimensions of the Sun

NASA releases so many great pictures that, I admit, I've become a little callus toward them. But these new pictures are AWESOME!

What's with the hype? The first batch of 3-dimensional photos of the sun taken by the STEREO spacecraft is out! You'll need 3-D glasses so if you don't have some laying around (like I do), you might want to order a batch or request a free pair for the occasion.

STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElation Observatory) consists of two almost identical observatories. The observatories are space-based, with one observatory traveling ahead of the Earth in its orbit and one traveling behind.

This allows the observatories to view the same areas from slightly different perspectives. Using a technique called stereoscopy, the two sets of data are then combined to form 3D images.

STEREO's primary objective is to investigate coronal mass ejections (also called CMEs). CMEs are big flares on the sun like the one shown in the picture on the right.

See the bright looping structure? That's the CME. You can't see the actual sun in this picture because an occulting disk was used to block out the most intense sunlight. The white circle in the picture marks the photosphere, so the CME is about twice as big as the visible sun!

A picture may be worth a thousand words - but they can't really capture the fact that CMEs are one of the biggest explosions in our solar system and, according to NASA, approach the power in ONE BILLION hydrogen bombs!

Why do we want to study these explosions? For that I'll leave you with NASA explanation:

Why the need for STEREO?

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs), are powerful eruptions that can blow up to 10 billion tons of the Sun's atmosphere into interplanetary space. Traveling away from the Sun at speeds of approximately one million mph (1.6 million kph), CMEs can create major disturbances in the interplanetary medium and trigger severe magnetic storms when they collide with Earth's magnetosphere.

Large geomagnetic storms directed towards Earth can damage and even destroy satellites, are extremely hazardous to Astronauts when outside of the protection of the Space Shuttle performing Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs), and they have been known to cause electrical power outages.

CMEs: a Fundamental Science Challenge

Solar ejections are the most powerful drivers of the Sun-Earth connection. Yet despite their importance, scientists don't fully understand the origin and evolution of CMEs, nor their structure or extent in interplanetary space. STEREO's unique stereoscopic images of the structure of CMEs will enable scientists to determine their fundamental nature and origin.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

What the Well-Rounded Physicist is Reading

Most scientists these days specialize in narrow parts of their field. Physicists in particular often have a great depth of knowledge, and very little breadth. String theorists have no idea what nuclear experimentalists are up to, plasma physicists are out of the loop in acoustic physics, etc.

The problem, as I see it, is science is just really hard. Almost no one has time to become an expert in more than one field.

The editors of the journal Physical Review Letters are hoping to make it easier for physicists, and anyone else who is interested, to stay up to date on a range of subjects. They're selecting a handful of papers each week that they identify as suggested reading.

And to make things easier still, I've built a Yahoo Widget that lists the five most recent suggested papers on your desktop. Just click the image at the top of this story to download the widget.>

If you never used on of these things, you will have to download the Yahoo Widget 4 engine first.

While you're at the Yahoo site, check out the thousands of other cool widgets they have as well. My favorites at the moment are the binary clock, the battery monitor, and the phases of the moon widget.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

My /. picks for the week

I've been catching up with my slashdot reading this morning - here are some of my favs from the last week (click the titles for the rest of the story):

FLYING WIND FARMS wind-power engineers are looking higher in the sky for new sources of energy. Conventional turbines will not take them there—the highest to date is just over 200 metres tall. So they are trying to invent a whole new technology for harvesting wind: electricity generators that fly.

Donkey Kong was the first appearance of the Itallian plumber we now know as Mario. While this game's early '80s arcade popularity predates most of today's engineering students, it represents the amazing results that a small development team can produce...this work [6400 Post-t notes, 10 people, 5 hours] is visible at the E2 building at UCSC...

Early results from a Nasa mission designed to test two key predictions of Albert Einstein show the great man was right about at least one of them.

...some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail.

They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world - the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops...

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Child's Guide to Modern Physics

In light of April being National Poetry Month:

After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics
by W.H. Auden

Listen to the recording

If all a top physicist knows
About the Truth be true,
Then, for all the so-and-so's,
Futility and grime,
Our common world contains,
We have a better time
Than the Greater Nebulae do,
Or the atoms in our brains.

Marriage is rarely bliss
But, surely it would be worse
As particles to pelt
At thousands of miles per sec
About a universe
Wherein a lover's kiss
Would either not be felt
Or break the loved one's neck.

Though the face at which I stare
While shaving it be cruel
For, year after year, it repels
An ageing suitor, it has,
Thank God, sufficient mass
To be altogether there,
Not an indeterminate gruel
Which is partly somewhere else.

Our eyes prefer to suppose
That a habitable place
Has a geocentric view,
That architects enclose
A quiet Euclidian space:
Exploded myths - but who
Could feel at home astraddle
An ever expanding saddle?

This passion of our kind
For the process of finding out
Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
But I would rejoice in it more
If I knew more clearly what
We wanted the knowledge for,
Felt certain still that the mind
Is free to know or not.

It has chosen once, it seems,
And whether our concern
For magnitude's extremes
Really become a creature
Who comes in a median size,
Or politicizing Nature
Be altogether wise,
Is something we shall learn.

Have a favorite science poem? Send me a note and maybe I'll post it-

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Turn your attention...

For the next few days turn your attention over to the Physics Meetings blog. The APS April Meeting is in full swing and there is lots going on!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Miniature Folding

While we're on the subject of paper...

A fun story just came out in Physical Review Focus on origami. Well, not quite traditional origami.

If you wanted to make a box out of paper you start with a flat sheet and make a number of folds. BUT, if you want to make a millimeter-sized box or a micro-sized box you'll need some tiny fingers...or a drop of water.

Researchers from the Institute of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in Paris used surface tension to turn flat, rubbery, millimeter-sized membranes into spheres, boxes, and pyramids.

They placed a drop of water on a membrane, making sure that it touched the corners of the surface. Then, as the drop evaporated, the sides of the membrane were pulled up due to surface tension. The shapes they got depended on the thickness of the membrane and its shape. Awesome!

Check out the more detailed story at Physical Review Focus and the accompanying movie.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Flying away

I have a 4-year old first cousin, once removed (in other words, my cousin's son) that LOVES airplanes. Not only does he collect and daily play with toy airplanes, he also loves to make paper airplanes. Usually we make the traditional plane and then he colors the outside. Oh, and we always attach an "engine" to the back.

Man will he be excited about this! A co-worked just showed me an Exploratorium activity that combines the traditional airplane ("dart" as they call it) with origami techniques to make paper airplanes that fly straighter and farther. And it works! And, unlike many paper airplane origami books, it isn't totally confusing.

Try it for yourself!
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Friday, April 06, 2007


I wasn't the victim of any April Fools jokes this year. Well, unless you count the flight delay encountered at the St. Louis airport.

"Sorry folks, there was a mistake - although the monitors say your flight is on time and we should be boarding now, the plane actually hasn't left the Chicago airport yet."

Yes, they fooled me into thinking my flight was going to leave on time. I should have known better.

The best April fools joke I've fallen for was an email that went out to the physics department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

It announced that Stephen Hawking was giving a colloquium that day and the short notice was for security / crowd control reasons. They totally had me going - until I mentioned it to a fellow student and he pointed out that it was April 1st...

There's something great about a good laugh. But apparently laughter and jokes don't always go hand-in-hand. Check out this article from a Florida State University study that found that people often laugh not because they think something is funny, but as an automatic response to their situation - who is telling the joke and how they are related to the teller.

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