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Showing posts from April, 2010

Penn State's Audible Assault

How the Nittany Lions are using the science of acoustics to help crank up home field crowd noise.

Loud stadiums help win games, and Penn State's Beaver Stadium is one of the loudest in college football. When its crowd roars at a visiting quarterback, his calls can only be heard from a foot and a half away.

Next season, the university's athletic department will put into play a new strategy to make its field even louder thanks to a team of acoustic scientists. The goal is to send a deafening wall of sound at the opposing team's offensive line.

"We're not going to let visiting teams get comfortable, and if you can't get comfortable, you're probably not going to perform as well," said Guido D'Elia, director for communications and branding for Penn State football.

Working with D'Elia in 2007-08, Penn State graduate student Andrew Barnard recorded crowd noise during three home games. Using 11 sound meters strategically placed around the field, he compar…

The Physics Buzz Challenge: Project Runway

So a while back, fellow buzz-blogger uncountable and myself were having a discussion about our favorite reality TV shows. I was deep in the heart of season 7 of Project Runway and uncountable was fixated on Ru Paul's Drag Race. We somehow came up with the idea to challenge each other to find a physics angle for each show and write a post about it. No alcohol was involved, so I guess that means we have to take the challenge seriously now. I was reminded of this challenge because of Kendra's post yesterday where an anonymous commenter actually mentioned Drag Race and suggested we go to the website and turn our favorite physicists into drag queens (it has been said and it cannot be unsaid!). Either that commenter was actually uncountable (who must be too lazy to sign in) or this is further proof that us science nerds do enjoy things non-science related from time to time (or we are all secretly hooked on fashion-related-reality-TV?).

Anyway, I am going to go for the easy-out here a…

physics, lipstick, beer

Lip gloss.

Bright pink lip gloss.

As a birthday present, maybe. As a free gift at the cosmetic counter, maybe. But as a give-away at a gathering of National Science Foundation funded projects? That caught me by surprise.

The gloss was met with mixed reactions. Some of the female scientists thought it was offensive, some thought it was cool, and some, like me, thought a little of both. The give-away, according to the giver, was meant to send the message that women don't have to change (meaning become more man-like) to succeed in a science research career.

With the intention of treading the lighter side, I thought I'd look into the physics of lipstick instead of treating you all to my not-quite-developed thoughts about women in physics. To my surprise, I came across Institute of Physics, lipstick, and beer all in the same sentence.

Apparently, the Institute of Physics (IOP) sponsored a 4-week initiative last fall aimed at igniting discussions about the physics of food and drink. One …

A Fish Called Snooki

Spidey Senses, Spidey Tenses

Spider-Man fever never seems to die. Just Google-news search "spider" and you'll see what I mean. Apparently there's a Spider-Man Broadway musical set to be produced (and Alan Cummings has bailed out - but we should have seen that coming). I live in New York City and I can honestly say that I may never go see a Broadway musical and I will not feel bad about it. Still, I recognize the iconic/ridiculous popularity that something must reach before it is turned into a Broadway musical (see: Toxic Avenger)(did I just invalidate my own point?).

But that's not all. Now it seems you can have Spider Man clean your windows for you. A full grown man or woman who is already performing a very dangerous job will now dress up in a costume fit for a child and perform that same job for the entertainment of the many onlookers who have previously stopped to watch window washers but have felt that it lacks zest (what? exactly.). The company featuring these costumed clean-saders (get …

Earth Day: Have You Been Saved?

According to the giant calendar above my desk, today is Earth Day. That calendar is made of paper (and is designed with atrocious colors but that's what you get for $1.99), and come December its corpse will become waste unless I decided to haul it back to my apartment where we have recycling. On Earth Day I feel particularly motivated to do things like reduce, reuse and recycle. I get the same buzz when I buy a new reusable grocery bag or watch a documentary about penguins. But it's just so easy to slack off in my Earth-saving habits for about 300 days out of the year. The rest of the time, it's either out of my mind or secondary to so many other things. Saving the Earth is something I'd like to do, but I also want to make my yoga class this afternoon and that has some more immediate benefits. So I use one more plastic bag; I throw away a container I could have reused; I do not, for one moment, Save the Earth.

And maybe it is so easy for me to forget about Saving the E…

Roped In

Physics really is the study of everything. By which I mean there is no item or process in this whole wide world that some physicist, somewhere, doesn't want to get their hands on and study. Does that make us all physicists? Even if we are biologists or chemists or cosmetologists? Does that make me a physicist if I feel like studying puppies and Cheetos? Maybe it does. All I know is, today some people who call themselves physicists went out and studied the physics (actually, the geometry) of rope.

Scientists in Denmark posted a paper on the arxiv claiming to have boiled down the nature of rope and found a law that governs when and why a rope will or will not unwind when pulled. Rope is made of strands of material, like wire or fabric, that are each individually twisted in one direction, and then twisted or braided together in the opposite direction. The beauty of rope is that materials which are actually quite weak on their own, can be manipulated to be quite strong. As the research…

The Smarter Electric Grid Of The Future

Electricity, appliances, automobiles are going to be more Internet-friendly 10 years from now.

The smart grid idea aims to save money, reduce pollution, lower costs, and create new "green" jobs.

Smart grid is a phrase that refers to a number of things at the same time. It refers to the modernization of the electrical grid itself -- the way electricity is transmitted over long distances and then brought to customers. It refers to things in the home, such as appliances that turn themselves off and on at certain hours in order to save energy. And it can refer to the effect electricity will have on other parts of the economy, such as transportation.

George W. Arnold, who works at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., has the job of coordinating government programs with private efforts to ensure that new technology coming into being will be compatible with existing grid equipment and with the technology of tomorrow.

Arnold spoke this week about the…

Riddle Me Physics

Physics is all about riddles. What are we made of? How did we get here? How do you cool down a group of particles to a millionth of a degree above absolute zero when you can only build a refrigerator that gets down to 4 Kelvin? Physicists must find the answers.

If you like riddles and puzzles, physics probably tickles your fancy. There's a great deal of creativity involved in uncovering lines of cause and effect. Here's one puzzle that me and my friends in undergrad would pitch to newbies:

Start with a room. The room has no windows and one door. Inside the room is a lightbulb. Outside the room there are three switches. One of the switches turns on the light. You are allowed to open the door once, but you cannot flip any switches while the door is open. So, you could open the door while one of the switches is flipped on, but you can't flip the switch off or flip on another switch until the door is closed.

How do you find out which switch turns on the light?

There's a hint …

Real read world physics problems

If you haven’t seen the classic video “Real World Problems from my Physics Book” on Youtube, it’s worth the 3 minute and 10 seconds.



Amusing, yet poignant.

Well, ArtieTSMITW, here is a real world problem for you.

A few weeks ago, as I was backing out of a parking spot at work, I heard a noise. My noise making skills aren’t nearly as developed as those of the Car Talk guys, but it sounded like a cross between a rattle and a “ping ping ping”, although not as high pitched. The last time I ignored a sound in my car, pieces of it fell out as I was driving, so I decided to do a few laps around the parking lot before heading into DC traffic.

Here is what I noticed
-Nothing was dragging behind my car
-The sound was most pronounced when I was just starting to move, or just coming to a stop
-The noise went away when I was stopped completely
-The noise went away when I went above 5 mph or so

Any ideas?

I’ll give you a hint…I had my tires rotated a day or two before.


It turns out that the mechanic forgot to…

Funky Science

Shortly after I posted a video of the recently released Fermilab Rap, Funky49 himself found the post and left a comment. Also known as Steve Rush, Funky49 was kind enough to agree to an interview about his rap career, science outreach as a hobby, nerdcore, and School House Rock. You can download the song and see more of funky49 at funky49.com and rapbassador.com. You can also check out the video director Dan Lamoureax's website. Enjoy!

How long have you been rapping?

Rapping is my hobby. I work in IT. My frist official rap song was in 2000. I've been making music since 1997. I would write poems and raps while at work and while I was bored or inspired.


How and why did you get into rapping?
I had a love of the music and the environment. I just wanted to be able to express myself and express what I had going on inside. Hip hop is a great way to do that. I got some [music] software and listened to a lot of music and hung out with some musical friends and then started to make my own s…

Kinetic Sculpture Clock development

Check out the giant jug vortex we made at the Physics Central Headquarters in College park.



We weren't just fooling around - we were on a quest to make a cool timing device for the upcoming Kinetic Sculpture Race in Baltimore.

The organizers have put out a call for a way to count down the time left before racers like the Rocky Horror Picture Shoe and Cycloctopus have run out of time in the infamous mud pit portion of the race.

If you have a better idea, let us know. We need something that will count down about two minutes with reasonable reliability and precision of plus or minus about ten seconds (it's a sculpture race, not Olympic trials). It should be easy to build - the race takes place May 1, so we don't have a lot of time. It should also be Kinetically Kool, which I can't really define, but if you look at some of the pictures of past races you'll probably get the idea.

Our Giant Jug Vortex runs for a minute and 35 seconds in its current form. We're going …

An Atom At The End Of The Material World

The story of Element 117, the latest addition to the periodic table, just discovered by a team of Russian and U.S. scientists.

Five years of preparation, eight months collecting a few drops of precious radioactive material from a nuclear reactor in Tennessee, five trans-Atlantic flights, millions in research dollars and rubles, and six months of nearly 24-hour-a-day bombardment in a Russian particle accelerator had come to this: Element 117.

Six times in the last few months, it had flashed in a detector for a few fractions of a second and then disintegrated away, earning a permanent spot on the periodic table.

This new atom was discovered during a six-month long experiment that ended in late February, according to the team of scientists from Tennessee, California, Nevada, and Russia, who are reporting their discovery this week. Before August of last year, element 117 had never before existed on Earth -- and probably never before in the history of the universe.

Though it has yet to be nam…

490 billion nanometers tall

Scales have been on my mind a lot lately—and not just because I have to fit into a wedding dress in 6 weeks.

A few days ago I came across this great line in a story about Louisiana State University’s participation in a NanoDays event,

Will Heitman, a 9-year-old student at Bernard Terrace Elementary, discovered at the event he was 490 billion nanometers tall. [I get the point, but does that number seem a little off to anyone else?!]

And I recently heard this illustration in the context of the national debt,

The height of a stack of 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) one dollar bills measures 67,866 miles. This would reach more than one fourth the way from the earth to the moon.

I remember grumbling about losing points for missing units when I was in Physics I. Even more vividly, I remember grumbling about how my Physics I students would leave off their units when I was a TA.

Sure, we all know units are necessary and that you might run into some *minor* resistance if you were to measure out a m…

Where the Higgs At?

Let me just first say that we unfortunately live in a time when physics and hip hop do not frequently come together. I could argue that this disconnect is present in all music, and I think we can all agree that this is because music reflects life, and in life physics is not necessarily a part of the basic human experience. In other words, the reasons that musicians do not write about physics are the same as the reasons that physics might not come up in a discussion at most dinner tables. However, science and physics are not totally absent from music, and upon deeper investigation we find that even with this representation in mind, they are particularly underrepresented in the genres of hip hop and rap. I could potentially put together some thesis argument about how this might be related to race issues in our country, but then I would have to also point out that physics is also mostly absent from Polka and Electronica, and we would be in a bit of a sociological mess.

That said, I have a…