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Showing posts from June, 2007

Towardz a Neuro*CH!P

This is going to be big.



Lyrics:
Eshel Ben-Jacob and Itay Baruchi
Were working in a laboratory out in Tel Aviv
They were trying to accomplish what no one else could do
And that is teach a neural network something new.

A neural network is some brain cells, attached to a plate
The neurons all connect ‘cause that’s their natural state
They fire in a pattern, electrically
It’s almost like there’s neural choreography.

The neurons have their first memory, a very simple one
Could we record another? It had never been done
Eshel and Itay thought the challenge might be fun
And so this experiment begun.

There are two kinds of neurons inside of every brain
If they didn’t work together, well, you’d probably be insane
The excitatory neurons, they always want to act
The inhibitory neurons say, “hey man, stop that.”

Two methods of training that work for sure
Is to reward a good deed and punish bad behavior
Experimenters had tried both methods and failed
The common wisdom was to no avail.

Neurons make up their own memory,…

CNSF Exhibit on Capitol Hill

The Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) Exhibit was held on Tuesday, June 26, 2007 at the Rayburn Building. This gathering provided the interns the opportunity to mingle with people from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and some congressional staff members. The purpose of the exhibit is to thank NSF for their funds and show Congress that these funds are contributing to the advancement of science, mathematics and engineering related fields.

We got to meet Dr. Arden Bement, the Director of NSF, and Dr. Kathie Olsen, the Deputy Director of NSF. Both were really enthusiastic to meet us. Dr. Arden Bement noted that the interns seemed to look really happy and must be enjoying what they are doing. (Definitely the truth!)



Many exhibitors were present to talk about their research. Topics varied from biology, geology, psychology, engineering, mathematics, ecology, and cosmology, just to name a few. This was a good time for interns to talk to people from other universities with diff…

Next Generation Cars?

We have 5 summer interns in the building right now (great for morale and new ideas!) Recently they took some demos to a local school and the big finale was a mentos and diet coke car. You can watch their demo below.



Anyone else sensing a new fuel alternative???

The mentos and diet coke experiment became a huge hit thanks to a couple of guys from Maine who recreated the Bellagio Fountains. Not only is the reaction a spectacular sight, it's a great testament to the cool science you can do with common items.



still no cure for cancer

Leaping Shampoo



One of the best parts about YouTube is scanning through viewer comments - especially in regard to science-related videos like Leaping Shampoo. In this case the comments range from completely missing the point ("they used the Microsoft startup music") to the classy ("GREAT excuse to bring girls in the tub").

One comment simply read, "The last time I checked, there is still no cure for cancer."

boboelmo is right of course, there is still no "cure" for cancer. Just the other night I called my mom and she answered from the ER. She was sitting with a good friend whose legendary sense of humor is drifting away with her strength as she is beaten down by chemo.

Why on earth would you invest time, money and brain power into studying how shampoo pours when they could be invested in saving lives?

That's a tough question.

I feel compelled to respond though, probably because I need to reassure myself that what I and my colleagues do is worthw…

Bridging Realities: a pendulum and its virtual self

Physicists link a real pendulum to a virtual one in world's first mixed reality experiment.

People have been linking their identities with online pseudonyms since the beginning of the Internet. Games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life make these identities more tangible, allowing players to create digital avatars to represent themselves.

Avatars can take actions, construct and destroy virtual objects, trade with currency, and travel through virtual worlds in addition to exchanging ideas verbally. Interactions among avatars become more real as headsets allow players to hear other human voices in addition to seeing an animated representation of the person. We all know that the actions of real people control virtual realities, but a recent experiment has shown that a virtual world can affect objects in the material world.


A pendulum.
Vadas Gintautas and Alfred Hübler of the Center for Complex Systems Research at the University of Illinois have been linking the real world a vir…

The Dimensions of Shadows

In honor of the recent Father's Day, I'm posting about a debate I once had in the car with my dad. We were talking about shadows and dimensions. Okay, so this is more math, but if you like physics, you must at least have some appreciation for the power of math.

Dad believes that a four-dimensional object could cast a three-dimensional shadow. I was convinced that all shadows must be two dimensional.

In my mind, a shadow is just a two-dimensional map of places where light has passed by or been obstructed by an object. So it must be two dimensional. Wikipedia says that I'm just talking about the cross section of a shadow -- they're all essentially three-dimensional.

It's hard to imagine a four-dimensional object, though. If I was better at math, maybe I could say something about how photons would interact with it, but I don't have much of a conceptual idea. Some folks at Union College of New York who are better at math made short animations of the shadows of …

High Speed Safety

Four SPS interns went to Ms. Coffman's Third Grade Class at Tuckahoe Elementary School on Tuesday, June 19, 2007, for a physics demonstration. Our main topic was speed vs. height using skateboards, a homemade ramp, and boxes. We provided the materials, including Hot Wheels Radar Guns!


The kids measured the maximum speed on the skateboard as it traveled down the ramp at an increasing height. We collected data for a height up to four boxes and then plotted our results. The kids caught on really fast and tried to convince us to let them ride down the ramp on the skateboard to see how fast they could go!


Then, we tied in a safety demo about speed, seatbelts, and bodily damage. The kids made their own Playdoh dolls and took turns sitting them on the skateboard in one of three seats. The first seat had a lap belt and shoulder strap, the middle seat had only a lap belt, and the last one had nothing. The damage assessment was based on tears, loss of limbs, and flying from the car. This was …

Physics podcast what?

That's right, we're starting a podcast. It's so new it doesn't even have intro/ending music (we boycott the term "outro"). So have a listen. It's about ocean waves, bubbles, sound, and global warming. All that in a minute and thirty-two seconds!

Podcast: Waves and Bubbles

If you want to read more, check out the lay-person's version of Deane and Stokes' paper from the 153rd meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. Since 1929.

Photo Credit: NOAA

Global Warming, Communism, and Arrogance

On the whole I try to stay out of global warming discussions because I'm not well informed about it and don't have much to offer. With that preamble, let me bring up this comment by Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic.

As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning. (read more)

Those are some strong words!

I am reminded of NASA administrator Michael Griffin's recent controversial comments,

To assume that [global warming] is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change... I think that's a rather arrogant posi…

Friday Must Read

I saw this and had to add it to the list...

Baby Monitor Picks up Video from NASA
"Since Sunday, one of the two channels on Natalie Meilinger's baby monitor has been picking up black-and-white video from inside the space shuttle Atlantis. The other still lets her keep an eye on her baby."

Friday Reads

Physicists Discover "Triple-scoop" Baryon
"Physicists of the DZero experiment at the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have discovered a new heavy particle...approximately six times the proton mass."

Liquid Lens Can Magnify at the Flick of a Switch
"The first liquid camera lens with no moving parts, and that can switch between two levels of magnification, has been designed by a German research team..."

Driver Ticketed for Using Biofuel
"Teixeira is one of a growing number of fuel-it-yourselfers -- backyard brewers who recycle restaurant grease or make moonshine for their car tanks. They do it to save money, reduce pollution or thumb their noses at oil sheiks."

Plants can Recognize and Prefer Their Kin
"The apparently passive garden plant is not as easy-going as people assume, at least not with strangers. Researchers at McMaster University have found that plants become competitive when forced to share a pot with stran…

Space Origami

I'm a fan of origami. Call me simple-minded, but there is something satisfying about starting with a flat square of paper and ending up with an adorable stocking (they made great gift tags!) or a pretty flower.

But origami isn't just for stockings and flowers anymore. NASA scientists have recently joined a Tokyo Metropolitan University group in working on an origami-based method for unrolling tethers in space.

Tethers are used in space like child harnesses are used at amusement parks - they keep a child (satellite) in orbit around the parent (space shuttle), no matter what direction the child tries to go in.

The Japanese team has designed a deployer that uses reverse origami - the tether starts out folded and unfolds into a nearly straight line as the top is pulled. At least that's the theory. There are many details left to work out before the deployer is launched in a proof of concept experiment (set for 2009).


In addition to the details of the deployment method, there is som…

Preview the Big Bang Theory

I came across the trailer for the Big Bang Theory sitcom today. Looks worse than I expected.



Big Bang Theory was one of the most highly sought-after comedies at this year's LA Screenings, and we are excited to be partnering with C4 in the UK for the premiere of this funny and insightful mass-appeal series that will play to all demographics.
-Jeffrey R Schlesinger from Warmer Bros, quoted in Chortle

This can't be good.

Serenading Paper?

Get working on your cheesy rhymes because there may be a new market for jingle writers soon.

Researchers at the University of Sweden are using conductive ink to make sound-producing paper that responds to touch. The prototypes are billboards made entirely of paper that play music or dialogue depending on where you touch them. Watch the video


The applications are endless - commercial packaging, music sampling in record stores, aides for the blind and visual impaired, interactive books...

Right now this technology exists only for large-scale objects like billboards, but the researchers are scaling it down. A New Scientist Tech article quotes Mikael Gulliksson, lead researcher, as saying,

We are interested in scaling the technology down to produce interactive packaging for products like chocolates.

Yum, chocolate. Maybe next Valentines Day I'll get a box of Swedish chocolatesthat can serenade me...

The boards are created in three layers - a base made from sturdy cardboard, a middle layer s…

Carbon Cages Shorten Lifespans

If you take carbon atoms and arrange a sheet of them in a hexagonal pattern, you’ll make graphite. If you intersperse your hexagons with pentagons, much like a soccer ball, you’ll make a hollow sphere known as a buckyball. The shape requires 60 carbon atoms, hence the symbol C60.

First time I ever heard that term was from an Australian physics professor, and I thought it was an Aussie term for a soccer ball…turns out the molecule is named for Richard Buckminster Fuller, discoverer of hollow carbon microstructures known as fullerenes.

Anyway, so we have these buckyballs. What to do with them? Well, some physicists have been using them as cages for their pet beryllium-7 atoms. A recent experiment by Japanese physicists, led by T. Ohtsuki, shows that beryllium-7 lasts longer when it is around other beryllium-7 atoms than when it is isolated in a buckyball.a




7Be is a radioactive isotope of beryllium. Radioactive nuclei decay by catching or releasing particles and becoming other nuclei …

Acoustics and Monstropolis

As we speak (well, I write and you read), Salt Lake City is buzzing with acoustical news. It's home to one of this year's Acoustical Society of America meetings.

The meeting covers topics from What Did Dinosaurs Hear? to a Workspace Speech Privacy Calculator. And where else can you hear legitimate scientific talks titled Is a Neolithic Burial Chamber Different from My Bathroom? and Life's a Pitch?

Science Daily had an interesting story, cleverly titled A Sound Way to Turn Heat into Electricity, about some research that will be presented at the meeting tomorrow. This research surrounds using sound to turn waste heat into electricity. The University of Utah physicists use hot, moving air to produce sound in a small resonator. The sound waves then squeeze a piezoelectric device, and shazam- you have electricity.


The Army is interested in this work because they could use the technology to make use of waste heat from radars and to create portable electrical energy generators that …

Hi, my name is Meagan and I'm the new person

Hello, I am an amateur blogger so here I go!

My name is Meagan and I am from Houston, Texas. I am a senior at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, Home of the Running Rams!

I am the 2007 APS Physics Quest Intern. I hope to share some of my interesting findings along the way!

-NP007

Science Fiction takes on Homeland Security

"We're well-qualified nuts."

This is how author Jerry Pournelle described the members of Sigma, a group of science fiction writers organized to advise government officials ( USA Today article).

The six writers that make up Sigma took part in a recent Homeland Security conference on science and technology. They were invited because the Homeland Security Department thinks their vivid imaginations and crazy ideas about possible terrorist attacks and detection systems might give them a leg up when it comes to anticipating attacks.

An interesting idea - after all most security systems (at least the airport's) seem reactive rather than far-sighted. But being involved in this type of activity brings up another matter that scientists have long struggled with: social responsibility.

Scientists from Alfred Nobel to J. Robert Oppenheimer (and MANY others) have struggled with the implications of their work. Knowledge, after all, is power. And the whole system of science is based on…