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Showing posts from February, 2012

Looking into Phantom Mice

These are just about the creepiest cute things (or maybe cutest creepy things) I can ever remember seeing at the APS March meeting. Even better, they are called phantom mice.

Although I'm sure they'd be loads of fun to play with, and would scare the daylights out of Mathelete if they happened to turn up in her desk or fish tank unexpectedly, they're actually part of an educational system for teaching the physics of medical imaging to med school students.

Snakes on an Inclined Plane

Mechanical engineers study snakes' sophisticated frictional properties to build more nimble rescue robots. Credit: Hamid Marvi et al., | Georgia Institute of Technology 

Snakes! Love them or hate them, everyone can agree they are superb at sliding over complex terrain. Learning the slithery reptiles' tricks can provide valuable tips for designing rescue robots to help locate survivors trapped in rubble after a major disaster strikes.

March Meeting Images

The APS March Meeting has arrived. About 10,000 attendees from around the world have gathered in Boston to participate in this massive physics conference. Over 8,000 research talks will be presented, and many of them have beautiful accompanying images and videos.

So to start off the week, here's a glimpse into the aesthetic side of the March Meeting.

Soap Memory

A soap bubble trapped in a colorful configuration. Image courtesy Denis Terwagne. Experiments show that soap bubbles can become stuck in colorful configurations. This soap memory can be demonstrated through a triangular prism.

Related Talk: Memory effects in soap film arrangements
Nanowire Hay Bales

Scanning electron micrograph of iron-titanium nanowires. Image courtesy Pegah M. Hosseinpour, Northeastern University.

From Caves to Stonehenge, Ancient Peoples Painted with Sound

Researchers present evidence of sophisticated sonic illusions in ancient sites around the world.

Image courtesy svachalek via flickr.
(ISNS) -- Stone Age cave paintings evoke reverent silence in most people. But David Lubman, Miriam Kolar, and Steve Waller prefer to shout and clap instead.

They are among a growing number of researchers probing the acoustic properties of ancient sites. Their research, presented this week in Vancouver, British Columbia at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, shows that ancient peoples created sophisticated sonic illusions in ceremonial spaces ranging from Mayan temples to Stonehenge.

Science Experiments From Space

Through an exclusive partnership with NASA, Physics Central is bringing you a series of educational videos from space. Hosted by astronaut Don Pettit, the videos demonstrate a number of fun microgravity experiments performed on the International Space Station.

Known as Science Off The Sphere, the project will provide a new video — and new experiment — every one to two weeks. The second video, called "Bistro-nauts," has been released today. In the video, Pettit addresses the following question: How do astronauts drink in space?

Don Pettit showcases his special cup for drinking coffee in microgravity.

Neutrinos: Physics Embarrassment or Great Public Outreach

On September 22nd the OPERA collaboration announced that neutrinos arrived at their detectors 60 nanosecond early. In about that amount of time, the physics world was all in a tizzy with comparisons to cold fusion fiasco of 1989, saying it had to be wrong and arguing over whether or not we should even be publicizing the published results. Well today a "sources familiar with the experiment" says the result can be blamed on faulty wiring.

Ninth-Grader Recreates the Universe — To Scale

Did you know that the Apollo Lunar Module is bigger than a T-Rex? Or that Rhode Island is larger than most super-dense neutron stars?

Image courtesy Cary Huang/Michael Huang. Ninth-grader Cary Huang has set out to make relative sizes in the universe a little more relatable with an online scale model of the universe. The model serves as both a virtual microscope and telescope, allowing viewers to see the relative sizes of the smallest quarks, the largest galaxy clusters, and everything in between. There are hundreds of objects to scroll through, and each one has its own quirky description.

To take a virtual tour of the universe, you can head over to Cary Huang's website or use the smaller version below.

To Stop Epidemics, Acting Locally More Important than Globally

Blocking infectious disease depends to a surprising degree on taking local steps, mathematicians find.
Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory infection caused by several flu viruses. Credit: NIAID
It's flu season. You know this because you hear it on television and read about it in newspapers, so you get flu shots and generally avoid crowds.
All that may tilt the odds against your catching the flu, but it won't affect the spread of an epidemic around you.

Mystical Sound, Physics Phenomenon, or Both?

Since 1997, residents and tourists alike have reveled in a mysterious sound emanating from a Chinese square. When fireworks are set off near the Southern Jiangsu Victory Monument, a seconds long echo — that sounds uncannily like a bugle — can be heard.

Some attributed spiritual significance to the sound because of the monument's proximity to a sacred Taoist mountain. Scientists, however, have found that there's a straightforward physics explanation behind the bugle-like sound.

You can hear the bugle-like sound after every fireworks "pop" in the video below.

Video courtesy Sihui Wang of Nanjing University in China.

Office Rapunzels

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about the physics of ponytails. An article published this week Physical Review Letters used statistical physics to show mathematically what every girl with a bad hair day already knows; the shape of a hanging ponytail. We here at Buzz headquarters wanted to see if our ponytails were doing what math says they should be.

Space Diamonds Reveal Supernova Origins

Collisions in space may be behind mysterious diamonds found in meteorites.

Image Credit: ISNS/jtaylor14368 & Swamibu via Flickr.
(ISNS) -- Space diamonds may now be an astrophysicist's best friend.

For years, scientists have found DNA-sized diamonds in meteorites on Earth. New research suggests that these diamonds spring from violent cosmic collisions, which may help scientists unravel mysteries surrounding exploding stars -- the birthplaces of ancient materials that predate our solar system.

Why Physics Students Need Philosophy Too

Quantum Mechanics is notoriously difficult, and the subject has raised some deep questions about the natural world. Perhaps the best known example is the Schrodinger's cat thought experiment that poses the following question: does quantum mechanics imply that a cat can be both dead and alive at the same time?

Physics education researchers have found that professors often glance over or sidestep fundamental questions like this, and it's hindering students' understanding. Touching on these interpretive questions not only makes students more excited about physics, but it also leads to a better understanding of the underlying physics principles.

Schrodinger's cat is placed in a box with a bottle of poison, and the release of poison depends on the wavefunction of a radioactive isotope. Image Credit: Dhatfield

Thinking Critically about Science in the News

Your grammar is making you fat, and giant, invasive snakes have eaten everything in the Everglades . . . or not.

A couple interesting stories in the news have started my skeptical radar ringing. I love surprising and counter-intuitive science discoveries, but some are just too hard to swallow.

Ancient Forest Music

Millions of years ago, forests were buzzing with noise from a variety of organisms. In a sea of sound, it's hard to make yourself heard to friends or potential mates. You need a strategy, and scientists have reconstructed fossilized insect wings to discover the best approach: communicate loudly at a continuous frequency.

To recreate the sounds of the ancient jungle, scientists examined a well-preserved fossil of an ancient cricket found in northern China. Aptly named A. Musicus, the katydid — a type of cricket — moved its wings in a scissoring motion to create music 165 million years ago.

Researchers noticed that A. Musicus had a special file on its wings that made pure sounds audible from long distances. Using over 100 teeth on its file, the cricket could create low-frequency tones to attract females by rubbing its symmetric wings together. You can hear the cricket's song in the video below.

Video Courtesy PNAS/Gu et al.

Skydiving from Space

Felix Baumgartner epitomizes thrill-seeking. The 41-year-old Austrian skydiver already has a history of impressive feats: He has crossed the English Channel in freefall, BASE jumped from the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, and BASE jumped from the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. Now he plans to raise the stakes.

One of Baumgartner's test flights. Image Credit: Red Bull
Through a partnership with Red Bull, Baumgartner plans to jump from a weather balloon 120,000 feet above the Earth at the edge of space, breaking the sound barrier while plummeting toward Earth. In the process, he'll shatter records for the highest jump and the fastest speed during a freefall descent. Baumgartner plans to jump in August now that his legal team has resolved legal issues surrounding the project.

But there's more to the mission than pure adrenaline. In the video below, Baumgartner and his team of scientists and engineers explain how they hope to obtain valuable data about human spaceflight.

Canine Cosmonauts

In 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person to reach outer space and orbit the Earth. But Gagarin's flight may not have been possible without the help of many brave, furry astronauts that went into space before him. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union launched dozens of dogs into space to test flight conditions and space environments. Some of the dogs went on to become national heroes, but the program also had its share of tragedies.

A stamp from the United Arab Emirates commemorating Laika—the first dog to orbit the Earth. Image Courtesy NIH.

Amazing Spider Silk

Spiders are amazing creatures for all sorts of reasons, but their webs are what truly set them apart. The silk they build their homes of is so strong and flexible that it puts our crude ropes, wires, and chains to shame.

Unfortunately, even the busiest spiders spin so little silk that it's nearly impossible for us to make use of it the way we do with the product of silkworms. But anything that's "nearly impossible" is, by definition, possible (though likely very difficult), as demonstrated by a gorgeous golden cape on display at the London’s Victoria and Albert Museum art made entirely out of silk spun by 1.2 million spiders.

Crowd-Sourced Star Wars: Combining 500 Clips into One Film

Star Wars fans are dedicated. Look around online, and you'll find a plethora of fan fiction, fan films and custom costumes. Building on this dedication, filmmaker and web developer Casey Pugh solicited the help of Star Wars fans from across the globe to recreate the 1977 movie that started it all: Star Wars: A New Hope. Individuals were assigned a 15 second clip from the movie to re-film, and all of the clips were put together seamlessly for a feature length film.

Human Ears Can Detect Human Music

I am sure there are more than a few classical musicians out there or those that appreciate good music in general. A piece of music is built from several different elements and all come together to create what you hear. Pitch and rhythm generally come to mind first, but we can't forget dynamics, texture and timbre. A group at Harvard has been studying how our ear perceives rhythm, or more specifically deviation from rhythm. Basically, we like how humans play better than how computers play because humans screw up ever so slightly and if we try and mess with computer music to make it sound more "human" it only works if its done in a specific way.