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Showing posts from December, 2011

From Pen to Paper

Researchers deconstruct the physics of a revered centuries-old process: writing with a fountain pen. Image Credit: János Fehér Wetting a fountain pen to compose a thank-you note is a grand way to express gratitude for a holiday gift, yet we often don’t give a thought to what happens when ink moves from pen to paper. But for a team of South Korean and American scientists, the medium is more important than the message -- and can even provide new insights into ancient biological systems.

Evolution of Icicles

As the holiday season winds down, the weather in many parts of the world remains frightful. In particular, large, sharp icicles often form on gutters, trees and vehicles. Icicles are usually harmless reminders of winter, but they can present huge problems, especially for utility workers faced with power lines that fail under the weight of ice. In a recently published article on NewScientist, author Michael Brooks explores the applications of physics research on icicle formations. With a better understanding of how icicles grow, scientists hope to provide applicable information for architects, utility workers and even Hollywood CGI specialists.

Sticky Physics

As anyone can tell you, certain liquids, like water, will usually fall in droplets while others, such as honey, will slowly slide to the ground in a long filament. The key differences between these two liquids are viscosity and surface tension, and scientists have conducted a new experiment to better understand these differences. Volcanoes, ink-jet printers, and archer fish—who use their mouth as a sharpshooting water pistol to hunt prey—all take advantage of the properties of liquid filaments and droplets.

How the Engineers Stole Christmas

How the Engineers Stole Christmas WARNING! THIS POST IS NOT FOR THOSE LITTLE READERS THAT HAVE SENT HONEST, HEART-FELT LETTERS TO THE NORTH POLE AND LEFT OUT MILK AND COOKIES FOR A MAN IN A RED SUIT. This is an internet meme from a Christmas long, long ago. Our younger contributors, [yes, I'm talking to you Hyperspace] probably haven't seen it before. I hope that those of you who have, hearken back to your internet youth, and those of you to whom this is new, get a good Fermi problem chuckle. So while you you stay up this evening listening for the sound of reindeer hooves clicking on your roof, here is some physics to ponder.

Happy Holidays From Science!

Understanding Deadly Ice Avalanches

An ice skating phenomenon might explain the snowball effect behind icy avalanches. Tumbling ice particles collide and melt, accelerating this mini-avalanche. Credit: Barbara Turnbull | University of Nottingham (ISNS) -- The same physics behind ice skating may explain why massive ice avalanches can develop so quickly according to new research. In 2002, a small disturbance on a mountain slope in the Russian Republic of North Ossetia set off a deadly ice avalanche, engulfing two glaciers en route to unsuspecting villagers. The destruction started with the collapse of 100 million cubic meters of ice and rock, which eventually stormed through a river valley toward villages at 175 miles per hour. Over 100 villagers were killed, and similar avalanches in the Alps and in North America have threatened local populations over the past few years.

Top Ten Physics Buzz Stories of the Year

The end of the year is fast approaching and us here at PhysicsBuzz went back through all our posts of the last year and pulled out our biggest hits of 2011. 10) Uncovering Da Vinci's Rule of the Trees : Scientists test Leonardo Da Vinci's rule that a tree branch splits into two limbs of combined equal thickness, and it turns out the original Renascence Man was right! 9) Newsflash: Tachyon Neutrinos Could be the Discovery of the Century : CERN reports that they have evidence of neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light, supposedly breaking the cosmic speed limit.

Earth-like Exoplanets Found

For the first time, scientists have discovered Earth-sized planets around a sun-like star using NASA's Kepler space observatory. Although the planets are too hot for life as we know it — temperatures on the two new planets range from 800 to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit — they are the smallest exoplanets found around a star similar to our own. A chart comparing the sizes of the two newly found planets, Earth and Venus. Image Courtesy NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech.

Basketball Physics

December 25th is a day of celebration for many people, but this year an unexpected group will be celebrating: basketball fans. After months of arguing, players and owners finally agreed on new terms, and the 2011-12 season will start on Christmas day. In honor of next week's tip-off, we've collected a few tidbits of basketball physics from around the web.  Over the past year, Wired's Dot Physics blog has been running a series of posts about probability and basketball shots. In one of the earlier posts, physicist Rhett Allain ran computer simulations of the amazing basketball shot seen in the video above. In the video, the shooter launched the ball from a 140-foot perch on a monument into a basket below. Allain wanted to know if the shot was real or fake.

Why NHL Goalies Prefer Wooden Sticks

Goalies in the National Hockey League overwhelmingly continue to use wooden sticks largely indistinguishable from those used decades ago by their mask-less predecessors. Credit: Hakan Dahlstrom | Compared with state-of the-art composite materials favored by the other players on the ice, the age-old wooden material dampens the sting of vibrations more effectively, making it simply more comfortable for goalies to wield a wooden stick.

Scramjet Setbacks Motivate Research

Traveling at speeds exceeding 3,800 mph, the X-51a Waverider, a joint project between the US Air Force and Boeing, could go from from New York to London in under an hour – if it doesn’t crash that is. A recent test of the scramjet-powered vehicle this summer proved unsuccessful, but new research may open the door to safe flight at hypersonic speeds, more than five times the speed of sound. An artist's conception of the Boeing X-51a Waverider. Image Courtesy US Air Force. Scramjets achieve such high speeds because of their unique air-breathing design. As opposed to traditional jets, scramjets use air from the atmosphere to ignite their fuel, providing thrust. Because scramjets capitalize on rapidly-moving air to produce thrust, they don’t need heavy fuel tanks to fly.

Happy Holidays From the Physics Buzz Team!

The Physics Buzz Team wishes all of you a wonderful holiday season. Hope you enjoy our little holiday "performance."

Hidden Messages in Beautiful Patterns

This week on the physics buzz podcast, scientists in Lithuania have used the science of self-organizing patterns to conceal top secret messages. Self organizing patterns are patterns which emerge from a system, but are not imposed on the system by any controlling force. Individual subunits (like the pigment cells in zebra skin, or termites in a colony) do their own thing with a basic set of instructions. The individual actions of these subunits unintentionally add up to gorgeous works of art, which can also give evolutionary advantage to some organisms. Here are some examples of self organizing patterns in nature - artwork without an artist. Zebra stripes: Cone shells (amazing images by Richard Parker ): The tunnels inside a termite nest: Even flocks of birds operate under the principles of self-organizing patterns: Here is a slideshow with a basic explanation of self-organizing patterns, and some more great examples.

Particle Physicists Report 'Intriguing Hints' of Higgs Boson

Long-sought particle not conclusively detected yet, but researchers may have found its hiding place. CMS proton-proton collision events in which 4 high energy muons (red lines) are observed. The event shows characteristics expected from the decay of a Higgs boson but is also consistent with background Standard Model physics processes. Credit: Copyright: 2011 CERN Physicists in Europe today reported possible signs of the Higgs boson, a missing piece in the particle-physics puzzle long suspected of giving elementary particles -- such as electrons and quarks -- their mass.

Software Helps Blind Student Learn Physics

Physics can be very difficult to learn, but imagine how much harder it would be if your textbook had numerous errors and typos. For Amanda Lacy—a computer-science major at Austin Community College—an inadequate digital textbook almost made her drop out of her physics class. With the help of a dedicated professor and some new computer software,however, she earned an A in the class and regained her enthusiasm for physics according to a recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Image Courtesy Christophe Moustier.

Another Ghost Particle?

Neutrinos, though ghostly and very difficult to detect, have been solving physics mysteries since 1930. Now an even more ghostly fourth neutrino may solve discrepancies involving the three known varieties. Physicist Wolfgang Pauli first proposed the existence of the neutrino to account for mysteriously missing energy, momentum and spin in radioactivity measurements. Although a neutrino would conveniently solve the experimental problems, the properties of the particle led Pauli himself to bet a case of champagne that it would never be detected.

Physics of Noise-Cancelling Headphones

During the holiday season, many people are frantically travelling across the country to visit friends and family. That means long lines, big crowds and delays—stress abounds. Whether traveling by plane, bus or train, background noise can prevent any relaxing moments. So many travelers turn to noise-cancelling headphones when travelling, and there's some interesting physics behind these high-tech devices. Noise-cancelling headphones can be broken down into two main groups: passive and active. Passive headphones simply reduce background noise by using insulating materials to prevent external noise from entering the ear. Active headphones, on the other hand, are a little more complex.
I still remember the first physics problem I tried to solve, though at the time I didn't even know what the word physics meant. I spent many a family road trip pondering this question, but my 6 year old brain could never quite find an answer. It popped back into my head during a recent road trip from Santa Fe to Salt Lake City. Finally I think my much older brain managed to solve the mystery.

Where Legos and Particles Collide

Weighing over 7,000 tons, the ATLAS experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider measures collisions between protons traveling near the speed of light. And now it has its own place in the world of large Lego models. One dedicated researcher has built an intricate replica of the ATLAS experiment out of 9,500 Lego pieces. The Lego replica is 50 times smaller than the actual 7,000 ton detector. Image Courtesy Sascha Mehlhase. Sascha Mehlhase, a postdoctoral researcher working on the ATLAS experiment, designed the model as part of an outreach project. Impressively, Mehlhase's replica captures all of ATLAS' intricate parts. Just building the initial 3D model took 48 hours, and then Mehlhase assembled all of the pieces in 33 hours.

Voyager 1 Reaches "Cosmic Purgatory"

As the farthest man-made object from Earth, Voyager 1 is no stranger to the unknown. Now it has reached an area with almost no solar wind as it makes its departure from our solar system's boundary. Voyager 1 has reached a new zone on the edge of our solar system called the stagnation region. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the Quantum World, Diamonds Can Communicate With Each Other

Researchers working at the Clarendon Laboratory at the University of Oxford in England have managed to get one small diamond to communicate with another small diamond utilizing "quantum entanglement," one of the more mind-blowing features of quantum physics. The vibrational states of two spatially separated, millimeter-sized diamonds are entangled at room temperature by scattering a pair of strong pump pulses (green). The generated motional entanglement is verified by observing nonclassical correlations in the inelastically scattered light. Credit: Dr. Lee and colleagues, Image Copyright Science AAAS Entanglement has been proven before but what makes the Oxford experiment unique is that concept was demonstrated with substantial solid objects at room temperature.

Uncovering Da Vinci's Rule of the Trees

Wind may be behind Leonardo da Vinci's long-standing 'rule' for tree growth. Image Credit: cjn/ISNS/Erik Jacobson As trees shed their foliage this fall, they reveal a mysterious, nearly universal growth pattern first observed by Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago: a simple yet startling relationship that always holds between the size of a tree's trunk and sizes of its branches. A new paper has reignited the debate over why trees grow this way, asserting that they may be protecting themselves from wind damage.