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Showing posts from January, 2012

Disease Outbreaks: Modeling the Mayhem

In recent years, epidemics caused by HIV, SARS, and swine flu have worried health experts across the globe. While public health officials and epidemiologists have been tasked with combating these outbreaks, physicists have also lent support by modeling disease outbreaks. Researchers at Boston University have delved into how our increasingly interconnected networks contribute to the spread of disease. A generic influenza virus. Image credit: CDC

Discovery of 'Bioelectric' Arteries Opens Path to Heart Disease Treatment

A peculiar electrical property in arteries could lead to non-invasive heart disease treatments. Electrical response overlaid on the arterial wall. Credit: American Physical Society/Jiangyu Li et al. (ISNS) -- Bionic eyes and limbs made television's six million dollar man an icon, but new research suggests our existing biological structure already exhibits a valuable electrical property. Scientists have found that arteries react curiously to external electric fields, opening the door to minimally invasive detection and treatment of the U.S.'s number one killer -- heart disease.

How Complicated is Scrabble?

According to new research, pretty complex. Word lovers have long touted the cleverness required to win scrabble matches. Now they have proof. Theoretical computer scientists have crunched the numbers to determine the computational complexity of a player's decisions in the classic board game. Researchers have investigated numerous other board games for awhile. And now scrabble has been proven to be PSPACE-complete , the most difficult status within the realm of PSPACE problems. So what makes Scrabble difficult? The researchers suggest that it comes down to two things the player has to consider:

"Touch" TV Series Uses Numbers to Connect People

Mathematician explains how series can make use of actual patterns that exist in nature. Credit: Brian Bowen Smith/FOX. L-R: Cast members David Mazouz, Kiefer Sutherland and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Think about all of the different people that you come in contact with on any given day: family, friends, coworkers and strangers going about their lives. The fateful hijacking of Flight 93 on 9/11 showed how a plane full of people could be connected in a way that none of the passengers could have imagined as they boarded their flights.

State of the Union on Science

As many of you know, President Obama gave the State of the Union address last night. I, of course, was listening for the word "science." He made some interesting statements and I would like to sum them up here.

Behind the Scenes: How Physicists Maintain Movie Realism

Moviegoers crave imaginative storytelling and fantastic settings. But they also want movies to be believable, and that's where scientists play their part. Behind some of Hollywood's biggest movies—such as Watchmen, Tron: Legacy, and Star Trek—there's a team of science consultants that help directors create new worlds that remain (mostly) true to the laws of physics. And some of that movie magic has translated into exciting new technologies.

High Schoolers Compete to Control NASA Satellites

Ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up, and there's a good chance they'll say astronaut. Now kids don't have to wait quite as long to work with NASA. High School students from around the country were given the chance to furnish code that controls bowling-ball sized satellites aboard the International Space Station. Earlier today, NASA beamed down footage of the students' code at work, and a winner for the best-designed code was announced. The Proba-2 micro satellite. Image Credit: ESA/P. Carril.

Recreating a Star's Sizzling-Hot Surface

Scientists have used a burst of X-rays to recreate conditions in aging stars called white dwarfs. The Z Machine at Sandia National Labs generates bursts of x-rays that scientists have used to replicate the temperature and density conditions in white dwarf stars. Credit: Z Machine Collaboration | Sandia National Lab | Lockheed Martin | NNSA | DOE Because we can't go to the stars yet, let's bring the stars to us. In a giant X-ray-producing facility, astronomers and plasma physicists have heated a cigar-sized sample of gas to over 17,000 degrees Fahrenheit in order to replicate the surface of stars called white dwarfs.

Orb-Eating Physics Fun

Eat or be eaten—that's the simple idea behind Hemisphere Games' Osmos . In the popular Iphone/Ipad game, players must maneuver an orb through outer space and devour smaller circular specks. The game's intuitive design, however, belies the complex orbital dynamics and thermodynamics that form the game's backbone. Since its release, the game has garnered numerous awards, and now Android users can share in the physics of orb-gobbling fun.

Plushie Powers of Ten

The scale of the universe is almost incomprehensible. Galaxies are so massive it bends the mind, while on the other end of the size spectrum, subatomic particles are so tiny it twists the brain in completely different ways. There's a 1977 short movie, "Powers of Ten," which takes viewers on a journey of scale, showing the size of things in the universe from the building blocks of atoms, to the entire cosmos. It's a great little film, but I always thought it wasn't really huggable enough. Now you can take the same journey, in stuffed animal form! Starting from the very large.... Hugg-A-Star :You can  have the whole night sky in your hands with this stuffed globe by Peace Toys. The 12-inch diameter ball of sky features 88 constellations labeled in English and Latin as well as the Milky Way. It's the perfect accessory for falling asleep under the stars, with your head atop the very same stars! Also available are Earth, Mars, the Moon and the US of A

National Science Fair Reveals Students' Compelling Backgrounds

Every year, the Society for Science and the Public hosts a nationwide science fair for high school seniors. Sponsored by Intel, the fair grants over $1.2 million in awards to bright young scientists for projects covering everything from cancer research to secure satellite communication. Not only is the research compelling, but also some of the students' personal difficulties have revealed true determination. One such case is Samantha Garvey—a homeless teenager. Garvey is one of 300 applicants who were accepted as semifinalists. Each semifinalist, along with their school, will receive $1,000 for making it this far. But over half of the prize money has yet to be awarded. The winner of the fair will receive $100,000.

Fear of Diagnostic Radiation Is Overblown

Patients should not decline X-ray imaging for medically advised procedures, physics group says.   Credit: Aidan Jones via flickr An association of physicists in the medical field has warned patients not to decline diagnostic radiation procedures because of perceptions that the tests may be harmful.

Puzzle Piece Found in Search for Extraterrestrial Life

There are likely over 100 billion planets in our galaxy, according to a review of studies spanning over the past six years. This amounts to about 1.6 planets per star according to a research article published in Nature this week. With this new data, physicists are one step closer to solving a formula used to calculate the amount of extraterrestrial life: the Drake equation. An artist's rendition of the Milky Way. Magnified orbits illustrate how common planets are in our galaxy. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Mathy Arts and Crafts

One of my favorite hobbies, apart from riding my bike and lighting things on fire, is knitting. I like knitting because there is a lot of math involved. Math is used to figure out how to make stitches create the shapes you want, be they sweater sleeves or cozy wool socks. This holiday season I decided to use the math of knitting to create something, well, mathy; a Klein Bottle.

Klein Bottle Hat Pattern

Real Klein Bottle Hat Read fun stuff about both Klein bottles and the origin of this pattern here: Size Fits most heads, unless they are unusually large or small. Materials Yarn: Worsted weight wool in your choice of colors. I used scrap wool that was given to me long ago. Lambs Pride worsted or Cascade 220 would work well. I used roughly 100 yards of each color. Maybe 150 for the main color (buff). Needles Set of US #8 DPN Notions: Scrap yarn for provisional cast on Yarn needle Notes: I used a stripe pattern that I liked. I’m going to write the pattern as if the hat were all one color, but please put your own special pattern on it. This is a basic hat pattern with the addition of the weird tube at the top. Directions: The “outside” of the hat will be knit first, then the “inside.” The “outside” part needs a hole to allow the tube from the “inside” to go through. “Outside”: Cast on 80 stitches using provisional cast on. Place marker and join in round

Life, Design and the Multiverse

Fine-tuning evidence has raised compelling questions about the universe's beginning, evolution and eventual end. Image Courtesy NASA/WMAP Science Team. Every science student can recall having to memorize certain important numbers during their school years: the gravitational constant, the speed of light and Avogadro’s number, to name a few. In recent years, scientists have found extremely precise values for these fundamental constants. But what if the value of these constants were ever so slightly different? In some cases, life would not even exist.

Tesla Coil Science: From Wireless Power to Lightning Secrets

Tesla coils are the brain child of the early 20th century scientist Nikola Tesla—a man with roughly 300 patents to his name ranging from arc lamps to a helicopter prototype. Although not all of Tesla's ambitious plans came to fruition, his legacy lives on as electricity enthusiasts are still hard at work building enormous Tesla coils. One group is actively seeking funding to build the world's largest pair of Tesla coils capable of producing arcs around 100 yards long. The proposed 10-story Tesla Coils would be the largest ever built. Image Courtesy Lightning on Demand.

Debunking Psychokinesis, Old School

I love James Randi . He's better known as The Amazing Randi for his magic act, but I've never seen him doing tricks on stage. It's his commitment to debunking psychic frauds that I truly enjoy.     As I was checking out a few crackpots and fraudsters connected to stuff like cold fusion , perpetual motion machines , and zero point energy generat ors, I happened to stumble on this clip of Randi making a fool of psychic shyster James Hydrick .

Teaching Physics with Google Earth

Google Earth has a number educational uses ranging from flight simulators to undersea exploration . Now a researcher has suggested extending the virtual globe's applications to physics. From top right: inlets in Egypt, France and Italy mimic wave diffraction through an opening. Image Credit: Fabrizio Logiurato/Google Earth Fabrizio Logiurato, a postdoctoal physics researcher at the University of Trento in Italy, proposed using Google Earth for teaching wave phenomena in a paper published on the arXiv preprint server. Logiurato argues that real-life examples engender more enthusiasm from students compared to traditional drawings of waves.

Iowa Caucuses Security: Can Quantum Physics Help?

Image credit: AP via CBS News. Today, Republican presidential candidates are vying to win the Iowa caucuses. Although winning in Iowa doesn't guarantee the nomination by any means, past results suggest it's a decent predictor of victory. Recent winners who went on to win the nomination for their party include Barack Obama (D), John Kerry (D), Al Gore (D) and George W. Bush (R) in 2000. The Iowa caucuses can have a significant impact on Presidential campaigns, and the security and integrity of the vote have become a growing concern. This year, a video purportedly posted by a member of the hacker group Anonymous has threatened to shut down the election event's website and disrupt the results. But new advances in quantum cryptography already implemented in foreign elections could help make these votes more secure.