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Showing posts from January, 2008

News From LIGO

LIGO announced earlier this month that they did not detect gravitational wave signals from what was the most expected source of a recent intense gamma ray burst. Scientists theorized that the burst came from the collision of two neutron stars or two black holes, but now that LIGO has ruled that possibility out, they believe it must have come either from a magnetar in the Andromeda galaxy, or something behind the spiral arm of that galaxy. Even though LIGO didn’t detect gravitational waves, that information still gives astrophysicists a lot to work with. This is also an important step for the large detector because this data could not have been found with any other available methods. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) is searching for gravitational waves, which are most likely created by violent and/or massive events in the universe. Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves when he determined that time and space make up a single fabric. H

Science in America Competes for Its Life

President George W. Bush signs H.R. 2272, The America Competes Act, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2007, in the Oval Office. Normally I try to not get too political on this blog, because I’m pretty sure the FBI is monitoring it (I also try not to be too sarcastic, but sometimes it’s called for). This blog is a representative of the American Physical Society, which has a strong and respectable political image to uphold. But even the president of the American Physical Society Arthur Bienenstock had no qualms about waving his figurative fist at Congress and the White House for cutting nearly a billion dollars in science funding from the FY08 budget. Earlier this month he sent out an email to all APS members expressing his frustration at the budget cuts, and urging members to write to Congress and ask for supplemental science funding. It is with this in mind that I write this entry with both freedom and restraint. The budget cut was simply a blind-sided attack on science, especially afte

Water Striders

Hello regular readers and accidental tourists. Apologies for the sparse posts these past few weeks. We're busy getting a few things ready for the APS March Meeting in New Orleans, which although is still over a month away is moving in on us quickly. Mostly we're sorting through the 6,000 abstracts and hundreds of invited talks that will be presented at the 5 day conference and picking out our favorites. In doing so, I've found some really cool stuff, all of which I'd love to share with you. Today's post is just something to tide you over until I can put together something fancy. Take a gander at the website of David Hu , a physicist at the NYU Courant Institute. Hu specializes in analyzing biological systems with physics. For instance, at the March Meeting, he'll be presenting his work that questions how snakes move the way they do - particulary in their unidirectional slinky-like motion. At times, he gets down to the nitty-gritty of analyzing the very detail

See Spot Shine

Astronomers are celebrating the beginning of Solar Cycle 24: the beautiful beginning of the switch of the sun’s magnetic polarity that creates a tangle of magnetic field lines around the sun, and wreaks havoc on cell phones, power grids, GPS and ATM’s. Image: This image obtained by SOHO ’s EIT instrument, was taken in extreme ultraviolet light. It shows the area of the solar surface from which two ‘EIT waves,’ a kind of solar storm that blasts out from an active region across a portion of the Sun’s surface, were originated on 6 and 7 January 2008 . This area is the sunspot whose appearing marked the start of the new solar cycle (‘Cycle 24’) on 4 January 2008 . Photo: © SOHO/EIT (ESA and NASA) Satellite based technology may see some severe consequences around 2011 if this turns out to be an intense solar cycle. In addition, scientists really have no way of preventing the problems that the sun’s magnetic field could cause. The cycle could cause major problems for GPS system

It's Hip to Be Square: Science in Media

I love to report any kind of media featuring a physics or astrophysics theme, even if the creators steer off course from the real science. This first one deserves a post all it's own. Amazing stuff. The Music of Space Sun Rings—The Kronos Quartet and composer Terry Riley have constructed a performance joining a string quartet with recorded space sounds that include deep-space lightening, crackling solar winds, jovian chorus, and others. In addition, the performances feature visual creations by Willie Williams. Music in nature isn't a new idea, but this adds quite a mysterious twist to it. It's actually been going on since 2004, so I'm a bit slow on the up-take. University of Iowa professor Don Gurnett has collected space sounds for over 40 years. Here’s a sample of one of the sounds he recorded . Future Performances: 2/24, SUNY Purchase, NY 3/14, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 3/18, Sangamon Auditorium, Springfield, IL 5/16, Dresden International Music Festi

Oh the wonder of stuff!

I remember when Nickelodeon went through its materials phase and came out with Gak, Floam, Smud, Squand and Gooze; a joyous variety of moldable materials that brought mayhem to carpet everywhere. These substances probably inspired more than a few young sculptors and materials physicists. Here are a some great new developments in materials physics that actually serve a purpose beyond entertaining 12-year-olds. Metal Rubber Earlier this year, physicists created something called metal rubber which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Watch his video to see what I mean: Metal Foam Scientists have created metal foam made of a nickel-manganese-gallium alloy; metal foam is enough to wrap your mind around, but this is pretty much a super material. It’s cheaper, lighter, and potentially stronger than other materials that have its most defining property: it can return to its original shape after being deformed by physical or magnetic force. This is the very first foa

NOVA Tackles Hot and Cold

The difference between the warm bed and the cold floor in the morning; the painful reminder of the hot stove or the icy metal pole; or even the part of the world we choose to live in; it all comes down to these things we call hot and cold. Yet few of us outside the physical sciences really know what these…things (?)…are. Seriously ask yourself if you know whether or not hot and cold are the same phenomena, or two separate effects. How easy would it be for you to figure out how a refrigerator works; and why do you plug it in if electricity tend to make things hot? And once you’ve mastered those concepts: how do you reach the coldest temperature possible? NOVA is airing a two part special called “Absolute Zero: The Story of the Harnessing of Cold and the Race to Reach the Lowest Temperature Possible.” The two, one hour specials explore the mysterious realm of the coldest of cold. Part one starts at the turn of the 16th century and explores the first pursuits of scientists to underst