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Showing posts from July, 2007

Draft Track: Air Flow Physics and NASCAR

Based on how much the fans watching NASCAR on TV seem to hate this technology I doubt it'll be around any longer than the glowing puck in televised hockey. So be sure to check out Draft Track while you still can. It displays graphics that are supposed to represent airflow over and behind race cars. Yellow indicates down force and drag, and blue shows the turbulent air in a car's wake. I haven't yet been able to tell if this is real data being displayed, or only a simulation. I imagine they could do it with some sort of doppler radar , but I don't believe the resolution on current systems is good enough. It's ultra cool if it's real data, and a bit dorky if not.

Left handed metric screwdriver

Back when I was working on ion accelerators in the lab, we never had enough of these around. It'll probably be a problem until we finally switch to the metric system altogether. KaleCo , the company that sells them, mostly supplies car tools, parts and accessories. They point out that the screwdriver is perfect for "loosening screws on the right side of the vehicle, or tightening screws on the left side of the vehicle." Another item that would come in handy for all those seemingly never-ending experiments would have been a few of these round tuits. I can't tell you how many technicians have told me they would finish a job if they could only get one. I had no idea they cost $125.99 (plus shipping)! Maybe that's why they were so hard to find. -Buzz

Creative Pumping

What do you get when you combine a merry-go-round and the boundless energy of kids? Clean water. At least in South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia where over 2 million people are benefiting from the installation of PlayPumps . In a creative effort between scientists, community leaders, advertisers, and many others, the pumps, driven by spinning a merry-go-round, are bringing new freedom. People that once had to walk up to 5 miles to water can now turn on a tap at the village center. Girls have the time to go to school and women can spend their extra time growing vegetables, starting businesses, and caring for their children. From the PlayPump website : While children have fun spinning on the PlayPump merry-go-round (1), clean water is pumped (2) from underground (3) into a 2,500-liter tank (4), standing seven meters above the ground. A simple tap (5) makes it easy for adults and children to draw water. Excess water is diverted from the storage tank back down into the

Manhattan Narrative

I just heard L. Worth Seagondollar speak of his experience as a graduate student on the Manhattan Project, figuring out the critical mass of plutonium required for an explosion. His talk ranged from amusing anecdotes about military vehicles breaking down and menacing guards watching his every move to serious accounts of the blazing radiance of the bomb and its terrible destructive power. If you get a chance to hear him speak of his experiences, take it. My favorite part of the talk, however, was during the Q & A when Gary White of the Society of Physics Students mentioned that he had heard that the sphere of plutonium had been dropped. From Seagondollar's reaction, it was clear that there was truth to this rumor. In fact, he was responsible. He had been working late in the lab, his shift between midnight and 8 a.m. The plutonium was set up in two hemispheres, each side covered in a layer of a metal that Seagondollar believes to be silver in order to keep it from oxidizing a

I ♥ nerdy jokes

What did the Nuclear Physicist have for lunch? Fission Chips. Where does bad light end up? In a prism! How many physicists does it take to change a light bulb? If the light bulb is a perfect sphere, one. The solution for a light bulb of arbitrary shape is left as an exercise to the reader. Want more? Jokes compiled by Canadian physics grad students. --

US Physics Students Compete Internationally

The International Physics Olympiad competition is on in Isfahan, Iran right now! 76 countries sent 340 of their brightest high school physics students to compete. They were welcomed to Iran Friday, July 13th, with opening ceremonies held Saturday morning. US Physics Olympiad team and coaches. From left, Paul Stanley (coach), Rui Hu, Jenny Kwan, Haofei Wei, Kenan Diab, Jason LaRue, Robert Shurtz (coach). Kenan Diab , Jenny Kwan , Rui Hu , Haofei Wei , and Jason LaRue are representing the US at Isfahan University. Since their arrival, they have taken a theory exam, visited the Persian Gulf and walked about town, braved the searing heat of up to 120°F, feasted on kabobs, and enjoyed an introduction to Iranian culture. But you don't have to take my word for it. The team (or, largely the coaches) have been recording their activities in a blog . They took the theory exam on Sunday and finished the experimental exam today, so it's a little late to be wishing them luck, but th

God of Thunder and Lightning

Jupiter is visible! Well, at night it is. It's been hovering right over Scorpius , low in the southwestern sky. This is quite exciting for me because it is the first time that I have known a patch of the night sky well enough to recognize that one "star" didn't belong. Naturally, I was filled with nerdy excitement and had to look online to figure out what exactly I'd seen. Jupiter was my best guess, and by Jove, I was right. This nifty Planet Finder helped me confirm it. Jupiter is, Earth notwithstanding, the most interesting my humble opinion. I admit to some bias because I recall sitting on a sofa with my mom, maybe six or seven years old, looking at a picture of the Great Red Spot in a dusty tome of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. This feature made Jupiter her favorite planet. Imagine a storm, large enough to engulf three Earths, that has raged for well over three hundred years if seventeenth century scientists Robert Hooke and Giovanni Cas

Ice 'n' Roll

I'm not sure I can top all the lead-ins I've heard for this band: The Coolest (Literally) Band at Live Earth? Ice 'n' Roll: Live Earth From Antarctica Scientists face blizzard of Live Earth publicity Warm-up band is ice cool for Live Earth In case you have no idea what the word play is all about, this "unknown Antarctica band", composed of 5 scientists stationed British Antarctic Survey's Rothera Research Station, will be performing for a worldwide audience this Saturday as part of Live Earth . According to Rolling Stone 's Rock & Roll Daily , When organizers looking to stage events on every continent learned they couldn’t land commercial flights on Antarctica due to its fierce winter weather, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) suggested that rather than bring in outsiders, Live Earth hire the research team’s house band, Nunatak. And so they did. Cool!

The Quadflip FMX Limit

The 2007 Summer X-Games are ramping up. Skateboarding , surfing , rally car racing , motocross and freestyle motocross (FMX) - that's what I call physics in action. My favorite sport is the skateboarding, but freestyle motocross is a close second. Last year, Travis Pastrana landed the first double backflip ever in competition at the 2006 X-Games. Check out this Youtube clip of Travis pulling off a double to win the best trick competition. That's pretty cool, but you may be thinking (as I did), what's the limit to this backflip stuff? Triple backflips? Quadruple? Quintuple? It turns out, based on the physics involved, that the most you can ever expect to see in FMX is a quadruple backflip. To see why this is the limit, check out the first posting in my brand new blog Extreme Sports Physics .

Looking for Dark Matter

Darkness is filled now Matter confounds Newtons grasp Lost within the void - Demick As "Demick" poetically phrased in the above haiku, calculations that demonstrate missing masses in galaxies and larger-than-expected gravitational forces point to a mysterious dark matter . It seems to concentrate in halos around galaxies. The Bullet Cluster , two colliding galaxies which provide the best evidence yet for dark matter. Its particles scarcely notice the matter in our everyday lives. In fact, they hardly interact with the matter that makes up everything that we can see in the universe. So how do we figure out what it is? Well, that’s rather a large problem. Luckily, theoretical physicists like Erik Lundström, Michael Gustafsson, Lars Bergstrom, and Joakim Edsjo of Stockholm University are on the case, tracking down the cause of the unexpected mass and gravity. Weakly Interacting Massive Particles ( WIMPs ) are a hypothetical form of dark matter that interacts only thro

Ocean currents tracked with rubber duckies

This is so fabulous that I had to borrow it from Daily Mail , which I stumbled upon through Tommaso Dorigo's A Quantum Diaries Survivor . Curtis Ebbesmeyer with whimsical world travelers. Sometimes science starts with an accident. In this case, 29,000 plastic bath toys -- yellow ducks, blue turtles, green frogs, and red beavers -- were tossed into the Pacific by a January storm back in '92. The waterlogged cardboard packaging fell apart, setting the plastic critters free. A retired oceanographer by the name of Curtis Ebbesmeyer has tracked their journeys from the eastern Pacific Ocean. An estimated 19,000 of the toys headed south, landing in Australia, Indonesia, and South America. The other 10,000 turned northward, getting trapped in the ice of the Bering Straits and traveling eastward at the crawling pace of a mile a day. The first of these intrepid duckies was found thawed on the eastern side of the US in 2003. Now, after four years traveling down the North American co