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Showing posts from October, 2010

Neon Bugs for Halloween

If there were ever a time to look at creepy, crawly things up close, it's during Halloween, isn't it?


'Betcha can't guess what is in this picture. Go ahead, guess. Give up? It's a mosquito's heart 100 times magnified.

This photomicrograph (photograph taken through a microscope) by Jonas King from Vanderbilt University won first place in Nikon's 2010 International Small World contest.

Both this photo and the one at the top of a flea 20 times magnified, were taken using fluorescence microscopy. In fluorescence microscopy, the object being studied is stained with a special fluorescent material. It is then illuminated with a certain wavelength of ultraviolet light which it absorbs. The object then emits light at a different wavelength which is recorded by the fluorescence microscope.


The picture above is of a five-day old zebrafish head (20 times magnified), taken usingconfocal microscopy. Confocal microscopy uses a single point of light to scan a subject into a s…

Flaky Photos

Caltech physicist Kenneth Libbrecht is truly a renaissance researcher. He works on the LIGO project to detect gravitational waves from space, develops teaching equipment for classrooms, and photographs snow. I'm sure he deserves awards for all the things he does, but it's the snow photos that won him the most recent Lennart Nilsson Award for scientific photography.

I could tell you a bit about his work, but he's already done such a great job with his website, Snow Crystals and his new book, The Secret Life of a Snowflake: An Up-Close Look at the Art and Science of Snowflakes, that I think you should just check them our for yourself.

In particular, I highly recommend the many movies of artificial snowflakes growing in Libbrecht's lab, and my personal favorite portion of his website, the Guide to Frost.

It's a little early yet to be thinking of snow falling from the sky here in Maryland, but Libbrecht's photos have given me an early chill.

Fluid Dynamics & the Wet-Dog Shake

Some would look at a wet dog shaking off water and think only of running away to avoid the spray. For a group at the Georgia Institute of Technology, however, watching a dog do 'The Twist' reminded them of the motion of a washing machine during a spin cycle. They moved in closer for more.



Andrew Dickerson and four teammates spent some time considering the fluid dynamics behind a wet, furry animal shaking itself dry. They garnered animal volunteers from Georgia Tech's research labs, the local zoo and from friends. The hairy and furry animals were appropriately doused and then filmed with high-speed cameras as they shed water from their coats.

In order to represent mathematically what was going on in their videos, the team created a formula. Three variables were included: Surface tension, which the team decided was responsible for keeping the water droplets attached to the fur, centripetal force, which would be needed to release the droplets, and the animal's radius, a r…

Curiosity Cam: Watch a Mars Rover Being Built!

Bored at work? Watch real, live rocket scientists who, unlike you, are hard at work building the next Mars Rover - Curiosity!



For more information about Curiosity and NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, visit Curiosity's web page.

Bacteria Can Walk! Crippling Them Could Save Lives

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is bad news. It's the Grendel of the bacteria world - an antibiotic-resistant opportunistic pathogen that creates particular trouble for cystic fibrosis patients. Luckily for us, Beowolf has just arrived ready to dismember his foe.

Photo: A schematic representation of a bacterium 'walking' on a surface. Courtesy of Dr. Gerard Wong, UCLA.

It all started in an bioengineering lab where undergraduate students were studying videos of a bacterium called Pseudomonas aeruginosa (or P. aeruginosa for short). The students noticed something: Instead of sticking to crawling and tumbling like well-behaved bacteria, the bacteria stood up and started walking.

"Once we found that, we studied it in much more detail," said Dr. Gerard Wong, professor of bioengineering at UCLA,who pulled in post-graduate students to help with the new study.

Photo: A schematic representation of a bacterium 'crawling' on a surface. Courtesy of Dr. Gerard Wong, UCLA.

Bacteria…

Physics Buzz & Physics Central on Physics.org Web Awards Shortlist

Good news, everyone!


Both Physics Buzz and Physics Central have been nominated for web awards from physics.org!

Physics Buzz was one of five physics-related blogs nominated for a 'Best blog' award. The other contenders include Discover magazine's Bad Astronomy, Wired magazine's Dot Physics, Starts With A Bang, and Cosmic Variance - another Discover mag blog.

Go to the physics.org website to vote for your favorite blog. While you're there, don't forget to vote in the 'best kids site' category, where Physics Central is also on the short list!

Thanks for reading!

Lasers, Rockets and Robots, oh my!

In case you weren't one of the 500,000+ people there, here are some sights and sounds from this weekend's USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.

Many queued up to have a picture taken with Bill Nye the Science Guy at The Planetary Society's LightSail booth. Nye, who is executive director of the Society, was also signing autographs.

Did you ever want to see a tattoo being removed with lasers? Guests who waited in the long line at the LaserFest haunted house got to do just that, watching as Dr. Sean O'Malley, a LaserFest on the Road grant recipient, removed a tattoo from a pig's foot using a laser. Visitors also saw sound transferred across the room via lasers thanks to a SpectraSound laser sound transmission kit.

Astronauts Ken Reightler (left), Pam Melroy and Brian Duffy signed autographs at Lockheed Martin's "Meet the Astronauts" booth.

Ever wonder who is faster: Superman or the Flash? Dr. James Kakalios, of the University of Minn…

An Exciting Week for Young Scientists

President Obama announces he will appear on Mythbusters on Dec. 8. Top young scientists attend a science fair at the White House. And this weekend, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to descend upon the National Mall in the name of science. What's going on in Washington D.C. this week?



October 10th marked the start of the inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival hosted by Lockheed Martin. The free event is aimed at kindling young Americans' interest in science, technology, engineering and math. For the last two weeks, the festival has warmed up for the grand finale expo with events held in and around the Washington D.C. area.

This weekend, the finale event will take place on the National Mall. Hundreds of exhibits will offer visitors the opportunity to fly a helicopter simulator, see how magnets help high-speed trains operate, learn how physics and engineering keep race car drivers safe during crashes and even meet astronauts and Nobel Laureats. The American Phy…

Southern Live Oak: Density that was Destined for Greatness

"I'm George, George McFly. I'm your density. I mean...your destiny." When the shy high school student George McFly confused the word 'density' for 'destiny' while trying to woo his future wife in "Back to the Future," he may have been on to something.


Today marks the 213th anniversary of a day when density changed the destiny of the United States of America. On Oct. 21, 1797, the USS Constitution - one of America's first naval vessels - slipped into the waters of Boston Harbor.

The 44-gun frigate nicknamed "Old Ironsides" was a ship unlike any other in the world at the time. Back in the days when ships were built of wood, the Constitution was built from a special mix of woods which were layered to strengthen the hull. Two of the most essential of the woods used in construction were southern live oak and white oak, both woods with very high densities.

Southern live oak was a secret weapon of the U.S. Navy. The super-dense wood gro…

General and Special Relativity Duke it Out

As it turns out, relativity is a pretty tricky theory to try and wrap around your finger. Who would have guessed? If you’ve been thinking about our astronaut twins from yesterday, then I imagine you’ve been doing a lot of head-scratching. Does general relativity cause Scott Kelly to age faster in space, or does special relativity and a slower-ticking clock take the cake?


Buckle your seatbelt, because it’s time for the answer, and it’s a bumpy ride. Let’s imagine for a minute that we’re having a cup of coffee somewhere way out in the middle of space in a place so remote that there is next to no gravity. Looking back at a clock on Earth – using the telescope that just happens to be at the ready in this particular coffee shop – we would see time ticking by very slowly because Earth’s gravity was causing it to slow down. This is Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

While we’re looking at Earth, we happen to see the International Space Station (ISS) float by. From our viewpoint, it loo…

Twin Paradox a Paradox in Low-Earth Orbit

Relativity enthusiasts will be excited to learn that in a few months, twin brothers will meet in space for the very first time! But who will age more, the brother spending six months in orbit, or the brother on the quick shuttle hop to the International Space Station?


In March 2011, if all goes as planned, two twin brothers will meet in space for the first time ever. On Feb. 27, astronaut Mark Kelly (the one with the mustache) will launch aboard NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour to meet up with his twin brother Scott who's currently flying aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Scott made the trip up to the orbiting laboratory on a Russian Soyuz rocket launched on Oct. 7 and will be on board for the next sixth months.

The event evokes Einstein's theoretical experiment called the "twin paradox," involving two twin siblings. In the experiment, one twin travels aboard a spaceship cruising near the speed of light to a star several light-years away, while the second tw…

Greetings!

Dear Physics Buzz Readers:

With the autumn season comes change: Trees' leaves change colors, young students greet new teachers, and hats, gloves and scarves replace swimsuits, shorts and sunscreen. In the spirit of that change, allow me to introduce myself as the latest APS science writing intern!



I'm a recent graduate of Northeastern University, where I earned a master's in journalism. Before that, I worked for two years at a meteorology software company in northern Massachusetts, though I'm actually a native Texan.

I chose the alter ego "Echo Romeo" as a nod to my undergraduate alma mater, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, in Daytona Beach, Fla., where I got a degree in meteorology and spent some time flying. At Riddle, each airplane's tail number ended in "ER" for "Embry-Riddle." In the phonetic alphabet, as the letters would be said to air traffic controllers, "ER" is "Echo Romeo." So, it's actually really …

Space Tourists: Reaching Past the End of our Brick

One of my favorite poems, which my grandmother used to tell me, was A.A. Milne's The Four Friends. Partly I was tickled that I and the snail in the poem shared the same name, but more than that, I loved the odd grouping of a massive elephant, powerful lion, bumbling goat and tiny James the snail.

Ernest was an elephant, a great big fellow,
Leonard was a lion with a six foot tail,
George was a goat, and his beard was yellow,
And James was a very small snail.

Leonard had a stall, and a great big strong one,
Earnest had a manger, and its walls were thick,
George found a pen, but I think it was the wrong one,
And James sat down on a brick

Earnest started trumpeting, and cracked his manger,
Leonard started roaring, and shivered his stall,
James gave a huffle of a snail in danger
And nobody heard him at all.

Earnest started trumpeting and raised such a rumpus,
Leonard started roaring and trying to kick,
James went on a journey with the goats new compass
And he reached the end of his brick.

Ernest was an…

Simply Challenging Physics

Some of the things physicists strive to explain are important: the nature of time, what are the smallest building blocks of matter, how and why gravity works, the origin of the universe, . . .

Some things on the other hand, are (how should I put this?) . . . less grand. The thing is, I find many of the most interesting problems to be among the seemingly least important.

Why, for instance, does spaghetti almost always break into three or more pieces when you bend it, rather than simply splitting in two?

















Why on Earth does a tippe top flip over?




What would happen if you tried to run a lawn sprinkler backwards, under water?



All three of these problems are apparently mundane. And all are pretty tough, mathematically speaking.

Now a group of physicists have turned their attention to the physics of a clapping book. You know what I mean - take a book open it up outside on a breezy day, and watch the pages flap back and forth. To make things as clear as possible, they put their book in a wind tu…

Gravity Up Close

Looking for extra dimensions by measuring gravity at the microscopic level.



Scientists know how gravity works at big distances -- the inter-planetary or inter-stellar range -- but does it work the same way at the inter-atomic range?

A variety of tabletop experiments are trying to explore this issue. Already some theorists say that a departure from conventional gravity behavior could hint at the existence of extra dimensions.

Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity is one of the great stories of science. It correctly showed that the moon’s motion around the Earth, Earth’s orbit around the sun, and the fact that we all remain safely fixed to the Earth’s surface were all manifestations of a single force: universal gravity.

One of the critical parts of Newton’s theory is an equation stipulating that the force of gravity between two objects gets rapidly weaker as the distance between them increases. Called the inverse-square law, it has been tested over the years both by observing the actual …

Cracks In The Universe

Physicists are searching for the fingerprints of cosmic strings.


Physicists are hot on the trail of one of strangest theorized structures in the universe. A team of researchers have announced what they think are the first indirect observations of ancient cosmic strings, bizarre objects thought to have contributed to the arrangement of objects throughout the universe.

First predicted back in the 1970s, cosmic strings are thought to be enormous fault lines that once existed in space. Not to be confused with the subatomic strings of string theory, cosmic strings are widely believed by astrophysicists to have formed billions of years ago, just moments after the Big Bang when the universe was still a soupy mass of extremely hot matter. As the universe cooled, defects formed between different regions of space that cooled in different ways, much like cracks forming in the ice on a frozen pond. These defects in space were the cosmic strings.

Although researchers have not yet directly observed th…

"Hot Tub Time Machine" hits fast forward on time travel movies

With the release of Hot Tub Time Machine, we have entered a new era of science fiction. But unless you were paying close attention, you may have missed the paradigm shift.



In past decades, movies about time travel seemed to focus primarily on the butterfly effect (how a small change in the past can make a huge difference in the present) and paradoxical questions (What if you traveled back in time and prevented your own birth?).



Those sorts of premises are the basis for movies like The Butterfly Effect (surprise surprise), Back to the Future (I, II, and III), The Terminator series, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and on and on. It wasn't always that way. In fact, I would call the sort of time travel those movies depict as the second coming of time travel fiction. It's a very empowering take on things, which is just what you might expect from the me generation of the time, because it emphasizes how important even the least significant being or event can be in the long run…

Podcast: Colliding Planets Part 2

Today, PhysicsBuzz continues its conversation with Marc Kuchner from NASA Goddard, who was part of the research team that recently announced they discovered a dust cloud orbiting a class of binary stars. The team thinks it's likely the dust came from planetoids smashing into each other. Marc tells us more about the science used to find the dust, and why they think it's probably the leftover ashes of an obliterated solar system.

Click the link below to listen to the podcast.

Planets II

Test Tube Laureates

The odds are nearly certain that a baby born via in vitro fertilization will win a Nobel Prize before the turn of the century.


Robert G. Edwards, the "father of the test tube baby," won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine yesterday for developing in vitro fertilization, a process involving the fertilization of human eggs outside a woman’s body. This technology was first used successfully in 1978, and since then an estimated four million babies have been born in this way.

With such a large number of children, one can ask what are the odds that one or more of Edwards' test-tube progeny will eventually go on to win Nobel Prizes of their own some day?

As it turns out, the answer is remarkably high. The probability that at least one Nobel prize winner in the next 50 years will have been born using assisted reproductive techniques is at least 80 percent. And it is almost a certainty that such a baby will win a Nobel Prize before the turn of the century.

Only slightly more th…

2010 Physics Nobel Prize for Invisible Cat Hammocks

Lightning strikes twice for Ig Nobel Award Laureate Andre Geim!


Along with his colleague and former grad student Konstantin Novoselov, Andre Geim has won the Nobel Prize for pioneering work the two performed on the arduous path towards an invisible hammock for cats (not a hammock for invisible cats, that would be crazy).

Bear in mind, we're not there yet. All Geim and Novoselov have done so far is find graphene, which in theory could be the ideal material for an invisible cat hammock, according to the Scientific Background provided by the Nobel Academy (I'm serious, see page 7).

Of course, cat hammocks are pretty high level applications, which I suppose is why the Academy chose to include them in the advanced scientific background for the prize rather than the more basic information for the general public.

According to the Nobel Academy document, if a one square meter hammock made of graphene were "tied between two trees you could place a weight of approximately 4 [kilogram…