Skip to main content


Showing posts from October, 2011

A Fermi Halloween

After passing out candy to a group of kids Trick-or-Treating in our office today, and witnessing the shocking burst of hyperactivity the energy-packed sweets produced, we were set to wondering . . . if all the candy passed out to ghouls and goblins at this holiday each year were converted into fuel, how long could it keep the lights on in New York City?

Image by JIP

Is Your House Haunted, Or Are Your Senses Being Taunted?

Supernatural-phenomena skeptics provide scientific explanations and other alternative takes about strange occurrences.

As Halloween approaches, people might find themselves feeling a little spooked. Two individuals identified as "foremost experts of the supernatural realm" have produced a list of phenomena that "might indicate your house is haunted." However, others contend that everything on this list can be perfectly well explained by everyday phenomena.

This photo feature story describes some items from the list, and offers some decidedly non-supernatural explanations from Seth Shostak, SETI Institute senior astronomer and "Big Picture Science" radio host, and from paranormal & pseudoscientific investigator James Randi, founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

SENSATION: You see something unexplained out of the corner of your eye.

By TenThirtyNine via flickr | Usage Rights

Truly Scary Stuff

Halloween is coming, and that means it's time to break out the scariest costume you can think of. Zombies, vampires, and Lindsay Lohan are among the most frightening and popular options. Thank goodness none of them are real. But just because the most horrible things we can imagine are make-believe, that doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of real stuff to be afraid of.

Image courtesy of Anthony5429

After several months of collisions at the LHC, even the most nervous people should be able to rest easy that man-made black holes and strange matter particles will not destroy the planet. Still, we at Physics Buzz have the opportunity to talk about plenty of scary things on this blog. Here are some of the topics we've covered in the past that frighten me . . .

1. Creationism

Climate Change is Altering the Lives of Alaska's Natives

Climate change has altered the lives of Native Alaskans in the state's interior in dramatic, sometimes dangerous ways.

Although the effects of change are well documented along the coast, where higher tides and ferocious storms have threatened native communities, a study by the U.S. Geological Survey has found indigenous people in Alaska's interior also have felt the transformation to a warmer climate during the past several decades of their lifetimes.

Superconducting Video

This video has been making the rounds throughout the blogosphere, and with good reason. It's pretty fantastic.

Planet Hunting Through the Rings of Saturn

Planets are formed from when clouds of dust circling a star start to clump together and coalesce into a planet. At the recent Signposts of Planets conference held at the Goddard Space Flight Center, astronomers released the first photo of what is likely a planet forming around a distant star. Because the star is many light years away, the gestating planet only shows up as a smudge in the photograph, so it’s hard to see its finer details, or of its surrounding dust cloud.

In fact over 100 dust clouds have been found circling around far away stars, and many of them likely have planets hiding some were inside them too. Astronomers have been scrutinizing these dust clouds to better understand how planets form inside of them, but it’s hard to get much resolution on these tiny spots of light.

Fortunately though, we have an ideal model right here in our own backyard; Saturn. Really, on the cosmic scale, it’s pretty much in our living rooms.

Blue Steel, Or I Guess Red-Hot, Flaming Steel

Steel is not something that burns, right?In fact, fire doors are often made of steel for that reason.And everyone has seen something rust.Usually something you like, like your car.Rusting is a neat little reaction and it turns out that if it happens fast enough it can actually light steel on fire.And of course, if it is possible to light something on fire, particularly something odd and smelly, we here at Physics Buzz have tried it.

Do White LEDs Disrupt our Biological Clocks?

Chronobiologists and vision scientists are actively investigating the effects of blue-rich light.

You come into contact every day with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) -- they illuminate alarm clocks, new televisions, traffic lights, and smartphone displays. Increasingly, you will see white-light versions of LEDs becoming available for energy-efficient home lighting, car headlights, and streetlamps.

What you may not know is that the most common form of white LEDs -- which emit a spectrum of colors, including blue light -- is inadvertently effective at sending signals to our brain’s biological clock, which regulates daily activities such as sleep.

Fossil Moths Reveal Their True Colors

Moths dead for 47 million years are again showing their true colors. For the first time, scientists have reconstructed the colors of an ancient fossil moth. The findings detailed not just a few spots of color, but the appearance of the entire organism.

[Microscopic structures can create colors in moths and butterflies, as illustrated in this image from a paper published in Physical Review E last year. Vigneron et al., Phys. Rev. E 82, 021903 (2010)]

The Downside of Physics Research

You might think nuclear weapons are the worst thing to come from physics research. Listen to this tune about faster than light neutrinos, and you could change your mind.

Hunting the Higgs? There's an (Android) App for That*

Wanna know how the search for the Higgs is going? Just download the Android app LHSee.

You can get the free app right now by way of the Android Marketplace.

Dark Matters

My first response to Tuesday’s announcement that this year's Nobel Prize would be shared among scientists who measured the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, was surprise. It’s a young discovery, only made in 1998; usually when someone wins a Nobel Prize it’s for work done several decades previously. What was so surprising to me, was that the committee seemed to have leapfrogged over the discovery of dark matter to honor the discovery of dark energy.

In a nutshell, Perlmutter, Schmidt and Riess won for discovering that the universe is accelerating while it’s expanding, totally contrary to expectations that held that because of gravity, the universe’s expansion should be slowing down. No question that this is Nobel Prize worthy research, as it totally shook the foundations of cosmology when it was announced. Soon after the discovery the term “dark energy” was coined, and it was calculated to make up three quarters of the known universe.

But what about this other “dark” stuff t…

2011 Chemistry Nobel for . . . Quasicrystal Physics!

This year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry has roots in physics research from 1984. The following is the story of quasicrystals as told by 2011 Laureate Dan Shechtman to APS News in 2003.

PRL Top Ten: #8

Metallic Phase with Long-Range Orientational Order and No Translational Symmetry
D.Shechtman, I. Blech, D. Gratias, and J.W. Cahn, Phys. Rev. Lett. 53, 1951 (1984), 2155 citations

This is the third in a series of articles by James Riordon. The first article appeared in the November 2003 issue of APS News.

While he was on sabbatical at the National Bureau of Standards in April 1982, Dan Shechtman made a startling discovery. He found that certain rapidly-cooled alloys of aluminum and manganese he was studying produced electron diffraction patterns just as crystals do, but the patterns showed that the alloy had an unusual rotational symmetry. In fact, the symmetry was inconsistent with the patterns that effectively defined a crystal. Shechtman had inadvertently stumbled across a quasicrystal.

Physics Nobel Prize

Three American scientists were awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for physics for “the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae.

The Nobel Prize Committee said that half of the award was given to Saul Perlmutter currently at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, while the other half was split between Brian Schmidt at the Australian National University and Adam Riess at Johns Hopkins University.