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Showing posts from March, 2010

Don't Forget...

...to add your comments and headlines to our April Fools Day contest! You can submit your ideas here or on our Facebook page!

Do I need a better reason to post a picture of puppies?

Smashing!

"Smashing" is a European exclamation that I wish had caught on in the states. It just seems to have a certain ring to it...but maybe that's because it reminds me of physics.

I can't think of a better word to express my excitement and joy for the big announcement this week from CERN. The LHC swung those little protons around that 26 kilometer track aaaannnnndddd....SMASHING! Yes, the LHC is officially colliding particles at (another) record breaking (but a little more breath taking) energy of 7 TeV!!!

I would give you a round up of stories on this subject, but the Knight Science Journalism Tracker has done far better a job, so I'll just point you there. KSJT also pointed out how interesting the collision images are looking. Instead of boring spikes on nameless graphs, we are getting some really lovely and illustrative images from the experiments located on the LHC - ATLAS, ALICE, CMS and LHCb.

The LHC already holds the world record for highest energy collisions - in …

Call for April Fool's Day Headlines!

April Fools day is rapidly approaching, and we here at Physics Buzz always look forward to the opportunity to make up our own reality; i.e. write fake physics news headlines. And never fear - this year will feature our regular roll of spoofs.

[Photo: Steven Chu]

But this year we thought we'd open the flood gates and give YOU, our dear readers, the chance to participate!

Send us a funny/clever/interesting/foolish physics headline and/or photo caption to feature on Physics Buzz on April Fools day. You can come up with your own headline and short (SHORT) story from scratch, or create a caption for one of the photos we've posted here or at the Physics Central facebook page in the album Headline Pictures.

[Photo: Edison]:

Post your headlines and comments in the comments section of the blog, or on the Physics Central facebook main page.

You'll be able to see everyone's headlines in the comments, and on Thursday we'll post our favorites!

We've trained you the best we could, …

OK Go Loves Potential Energy!!

There is nothing I can say to prepare you for the awesomeness of this video (which you very well may have seen already, because it has been EVERYWHERE and you are a very cool person who knows what's going on in the world):



The power of potential energy!

There is one particularly giggle-inducing moment when a gently rolling soccer ball releases an upright piano from its position 5 feet above the ground with a grand CRASH! It's a bit poetic how such a small thing can create such a large effect. Even though there are a few places where electronic devices are used, the entire machine keeps running without human intervention - without the addition of energy. It's continual motion relies on energy stored prior to the domino tip-off. Once again, with only a few exceptions, all of this energy is mechanical, not electrical. I think in this day and age we are used to relying on electricity as our primary energy source, and seeing mechanical energy put to work in such a creative way is…

March Meeting Round Up

For those of you who couldn't join us in Portland, you missed some great physics and some fantastic smells. Even downtown Portland smells like pine trees and fresh rain all the time. For me, living there would be akin to Homer Simpson's land of chocolate fantasy.

Well, maybe not quite. I might like to live the land of chocolate as well.

ANYWAY - There was a lot of amazing reporting that came out of the meeting, and I wanted to share some of the great story highlights with you. A few of honorable mention:

Geoff Brumfiel at Nature did a great job sketching out the feeling of the meeting outside the session rooms. And often, that's where the real action is. This link will take you to the first of about a half a dozen posts.

Great stories by Laura Sanders at Science News on Superchilly Chemistry, and the ways that body heat can change the airflow in your office.

"How does a worm wriggle," asks Adrian Cho at Science News. Cho also covered what seemed to be the big breakin…

Ten Great Stories from the American Chemical Society Meeting that DON'T involve Cold Fusion

I can't attest to the validity of any of these fascinating breakthroughs reported at the American Chemical Society meeting going on this week in San Francisco, but I also don't immediately see that any of them fly in the face of firmly established science.

So, here are ten things you could learn about at the ACS meeting other than cold fusion, starting with . . .

1. Inhalable Insulin




2. Preventing glaucoma with contact lenses embedded with vitamin E, and a test to detect the disease sooner



3. Saving the planet with hair conditioner




4. New radiocarbon dating does less damage to antiquities



5. New menstrual cramp drug goes to clinical trials



6. Smart roofs to save energy



7. Test detects three diseases that torment the developing world



8. Treating prostate tumors with walnuts



9. Detecting fake wine vintages by measuring atomic bomb residue



10. Safer sunscreen and other products from soybeans


Let us discuss Wikipedia

I was going to write a post about a new word I learned at the March meeting (you will have to wait until next time to hear what it is!), but instead thought I'd talk about this afternoon's unnatural disaster. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Wikipedia has died.

Well, not died...sorry, I hope you didn't freak out just then. Wikipedia just had its (their?) servers overheat and shut down for about 2 hours. It appears to be back up and running now.

I must admit, those two hour period was dark for me. It left me feeling like a kid who's playmate is sick and can't come outside. I just feel safer when it's here. I miss it...I just want it back!

-SLAP!-

My brain reaches out and brings me back to reality. Aren't I, a hard-nosed journalist, supposed to despise Wikipedia? I feel like I am constantly reminded not to develop this kind of relationship with it. Such a relationship is sinful. If I give in to the temptation I risk having a big W burned into my chest…

Chemists taken in by Cold Fusion . . . AGAIN!

Ack! We were trying to figure out where the cold fusion proponents were at this year's annual March Meeting of the American Physical Society that took place last week. Unlike most years, there was nary a paper on cold fusion or palladium mediated nuclear transmutation, or whatever they're calling it these days.

It seems they were gearing up for the American Chemical Society meeting going on now in San Francisco. It's probably all for the best. The ACS embraces cold fusion with an inexplicable enthusiasm. As a former associate editor for one of their journals, that embarrasses me just a bit. (BTW, the photo above from the ACS press release about their cold fusion session appears to show one of the most pathetic calorimeters I've ever seen outside of a science fair.)

Yes, there are usually some cold fusion papers at our physics conferences, but that's because the APS allows any of its member to contribute talks, without peer review. It's all in the spirit of th…

Frickin' Laser Beams

Francine Prose said in her novel Goldengrove that, “People see everything through the lens of their obsessions.” Case in point - a conversation I had a while ago with a six year old:

Me: Why are some of your ponies behind the toilet?
6: They live there.
Me: Kind of a gross place to live, isn't it?
6: They're in jail.
Me: Oh, so they're trapped there?
6: No, they want to live there but they're in jail.
Me: Wow, that's actually kind of deep. Why are these ponies smushed into that bar of soap?
6: They're married.

Note that all of this was told me with a tone of "Well, I think it's pretty obvious why they're there, but if I MUST explain it to you..."

I overheard a similar encounter between a physicist and a non-physicist on the topic of APS's Laser Fest, a year-long celebration of the laser:

Physicist: Lasers are responsible for so many technologies. They're probably the greatest, or at least the most prevalent invention of the last century. They'…

Space Flight Awareness

Guys, I want to talk to you today about something kind of serious. Something that affects all of us. I want to talk about Space Flight Awareness. Hey, don't give me that look, OK? Just level with me for a minute. I know that as your resident blogger you may think I am old and out of touch with the modern world. That I'm not hip to what's dope on the street. Well, you would be right. I have no idea how to talk to you about Space Flight Awareness without using a pamphlet from the 1950's. Which is why it's great that NASA has come up with these real-movie-inspired posters for their Space Flight Awareness campaign. Entertainment goes a long way towards education, that is what I say. Now I know there's a lot of them but please don't rush into choosing your favorite Space Flight Poster. You have plenty of time and trust me, you really want to love that poster before you choose it. Space Flight Awareness, guys.

Up In the Clouds

March Meeting madness is going strong here in Portland. Once again, if you're in the area tomorrow, the public lecture by James Kakalios on the Physics of Superheroes promises to be great.

On the meeting side, the number of talks this year is mind boggling (8000!). Through watching a handful of them so far I have come to two definite conclusions. Number 1: People are still using math. Liberally. Number 2. Physicists love to model stuff. Seriously, those folks will model just about anything. It's like catnip to them (in this analogy, physicists are cats).

One example is work done by Yong Wang of UCLS, modeling how fair weather clouds get their cauliflower like shape. (Wang and collaborator Giovanni Zocchi just had their paper accepted to PRL).

It's been known for a while that these fair weather clouds are formed when droplets of moisture hanging out up in the sky, are pushed up by thermal plumes coming from the ground. Those plumes tend to have nice little dome-like tops tha…

A taste of the APS March Meeting: finance's fractal nature

Portland, Oregon. Not pictured: amazing physics breakthroughs.http://www.flickr.com/photos/infinitewilderness/ / CC BY-NC 2.0
At any time of year, Portland's charms—its scenic bridges, lush parks, microbreweries and the incomparable Powell's bookstore—would tempt me to visit. But I've never longed to be in that city as much as I do right now. The American Physical Society's March Meeting is in full swing, and I'm missing out on the hottest breakthroughs in condensed matter physics (the field that gave us the semiconductor, people!) and other strange and fascinating areas. I went to the April Meeting (held, counterintuitively, in February), and it was like a Vegas buffet—too much to choose from and not enough room (in this case mental) for all of the delicious physicsy goodness being offered. And if April is like a Vegas buffet, well, then March is like a Vegas buffet with extra sushi. Hopefully we'll get some nice tidbits in the coming days from our other blogg…

Have some Pi for Einstein's Birthday

Q: What's the area of a circle?

A: Pi r squared . . . wait, that can't be right, pi r round, brownies r squared.


Sorry, that's my favorite, bad pi joke. I send it out to you in celebration of Pi-day, which also happens to be Albert Einstein's birthday.

Nico Turns 90 (and I was there!)

Talk about being in the right place at the right time – on Friday, March 12, 2010, I had the privilege and good fortune to be able to attend a conference and birthday party in celebration of one of the greatest physicists of the 20th and 21st centuries – Nicolaas Bloembergen.

He’s called Nico, turned 90, has a Nobel Prize, and is really nice. I had the pleasure of chatting with him briefly at “The Nicolaas Bloembergen Nobel Prize Scientific Symposium” sponsored by the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences.

Nico is considered one of the fathers of optical science and in particular, lasers. In fact, the two last lectures of the day, entitled “Who (really) Invented the Laser (Part I and II),” presented by Robert A. Myers and Richard Dixon, offered evidence from patent filings that Nico is the true parent of the laser.

“By patent law, Nico is the (undeniable) inventor of the laser,” stated Myers, a former student of Bloembergen’s. He clarified that “inventorship of the laser goes…

Warning: loss of digits can be expected

A funny thing happened on the way to the physics demo. I thought I lost my finger. There was blood everywhere. I was in excruciating pain.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me assure you that in this instance my calamity had nothing to do with liquid nitrogen. Rather, the perpetrators were a busted fire extinguisher and inexperienced personnel. I won’t name names, but you can guess that the first letter of the first name of the staff member was “A”.

So from the top – it was a clear and beautiful day in sunny Tucson, AZ, and my colleague and I were preparing to do a series of physics demos for cherubic children on their way over from the local school. We weren’t presenting anything fancy, mind you, just the usual suspects – the Tesla coils/light sabers, Van de Graaff Generator, gyroscope seat, and of course, the fire extinguisher-propelled cart. Ah, the innocence of physics demos. What could possibly go wrong with a light bulb in a mouth, or for that matter, a seemingly angelic fire exti…

Cone Heads

If you happen to be in the Portland area next Wednesday, please stop into the APS March Meeting public lecture. Speaking will be none other than James Kakalios, the creative mind behind the book The Physics of Superheroes. It is truly a treat to watch him speak, and the talk is totally free and open to the public, so drop in if you can!

Although he wasn't the first to point this out, one of my favorite tidbits in Kakalios' book is the explanation of why Lois Lane would still die if Superman tried to catch her after she'd fallen thirty stories off a building. Ms. Lane's momentum and rapid deceleration would kill her - even if it was Superman's hunky arms that caught her, and not the sidewalk.

The challenge of finding a way to decelerate rapidly moving bodies, without crushing them, is the key challenge behind the physics of protective gear. We've blogged in the past about how helmets used in the military are saving lives, but also result in an increase of severe h…

Lookin' Good, Physics!

Let me start out by saying that I am a very hip and very in-touch young person. I live in the information and and I -

---HOLD ON. Got to answer this TEXT on my iPHONE. --

As I was saying, as a hip and in-touch young person, I am fully aware that information must be conveyed through multimedia if you hope to -

--- HOLD ON. Have to watch the latest VIRAL VIDEO on my MACBOOK PRO.--

Where was I? Oh yes; in order to get the attention of insanely hip and unbelievably in-touch young people like myself, you simply must cater to the fact that information is spread through -

--- HOLD ON. I must SYNCH my ipod and check out this WIFI.--

Do you see how hip and in touch I am? So as I was saying, you have to market yourself with multimedia if you hope to keep up with my generation. Which is why I'm so excited to see the photos that physicists have been submitting to accompany their talks at the APS March meeting. These are going on TWITTER!

These are genuinely stunning - I'm very impressed with th…

New Unit of Energy from a "Godfather"

Watch out, Joule: there’s a new unit of energy measurement on the block that is oh so green.

The Rosenfeld, named after physicist and energy savings pioneer Arthur Rosenfeld, is defined as the electricity savings of 3 billion kilowatt-hours per year, the amount needed to replace the annual generation of a 500 megawatt coal-fired power plant, according to the press release from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

There are 54 co-authors on the referred paper in Environmental Research Letters out today that suggests this new unit. Rosenfeld is considered to be a “godfather of energy efficiency” and has been “credited with being personally responsible for billions of dollars in energy savings,” according to Lab communications.

Rosenfeld received his Ph.D. in Physics in 1954 under Enrico Fermi, then joined the Department of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley. He worked with, and went on to lead, the Nobel prize-winning particle physics group of Luis Alvarez at Lawr…

Okay, Einstein, we get it. You were right.

As we've reviewed over the past few posts, Einstein's theory of relativity can be demonstrated by messing with the wavefunction of atoms, during an eclipse or when you are looking for super-far-away galaxies. In 1919, scientists held what I can only imagine was one of the most grand experiments ever - trying to observe the gravitational bending of light. The story surrounding it was so romantic: the expedition to South America, the ominous setting created by a full eclipse, searching for a signal from such distant objects, and of course, finding that the results were so overwhelmingly positive. I find this story breathtaking, so I hope you won't mind me telling you another tale of confirming Einstein's theory of relativity.

This one has to do with another arena that I particularly enjoy investigating: the solar system. The solar system has proved to be such a wonderful playground of discovery. It was where Galileo, Copernicus, and Kepler not only began to lay the ground…

Physics Party Tricks

Depending on the sort of parties you go to, here are two tricks to entertain your friends.

I prefer parties where this trick would be a hit.



This one isn't my cupa tea (or glassa wine), but I'd probably resort to it if the conversations were dull enough.

I Heart Particle Accelerators!

There’s great news, nay stupendous news, that should be tweeted and facebooked immediately. Turns out, physics can actually benefit society.

How’s that for a page-turner?

I learned this at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Diego a few weeks ago. And yes, I sat on the news for all this time. Please don’t hate me.

The session where this bulletin was revealed was curiously not a press conference. Rather, it was a group of symposia entitled Particles and People: How Basic Physics Benefits Society, and in it I discovered some very critical information about the science in general, and about particle physics and accelerators specifically.

Yes, we all have been hit over the head 100 times about the impending black hole to be created at CERN that’s going to swallow us up, and the related anti-matter or “God Particle” that will wipe us and the planet away which the documentary “Angels and Demons” courageously exposed. But here I found out other invaluable tidb…

Right the first time, Einstein

Following up from Wednesday's post, I wanted to take you all back to 1919 when Einstein's theory of relativity was demonstrated through experiment for the first time. It's an interesting story, and a more detailed account is given here.

The theory of relativity basically states that everything is relative to the observer. Even time. There is no absolute frame of reference where we can find out what time it is according to the universe. While time is a very important part of the universe, it can change for different folks moving at different speeds or living different distances from black holes.

Relativity also posited that gravity can bend light. So can a glass of water (see the photo from PercepZone), but this was still a pretty freaky idea.

The only thing near enough to Earth with enough mass to bend a beam of light with its gravity would be the sun. But, the blinding light of the sun makes it nearly impossible to see the light of a star go anywhere near it. What to do?

Astr…

Much Ado about Dolphins, even if they don't wear physics t-shirts

Given the fact that there were hundreds of sessions at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego last month, it should come as no surprise that I am still reporting on my experiences there. It was a seemingly endless science smörgåsbord. Hurra!

Of interesting note:

Are dolphins non-human people? According to Thomas White of Loyola Marymount University in Redondo Beach, CA, those cute, cuddly, ever-smiling sea creatures are basically like you and me. But how could this be? I don’t see any dolphins wearing “You Hadron Me at Higgs Boson” t-shirts. But as he discussed in his lecture, a “human” is a member of a species and therefore a biological concept, whereas a “person” is a philosophical idea which engenders certain treatment.
A person, says White, is:
Alive
Aware
Self-aware
Self-conscious
has the ability to experience positive and negative sensations
has emotions
has personality
has higher-order intellect
can solve problems
understand artifi…