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Showing posts from December, 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 When I first heard about MIT putting their physics lectures onli

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 (, 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 comi

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 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

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 Eins

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

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: Comer "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 inte