Friday, December 28, 2012

Top 10 Physics Buzz Stories of 2012

It's been an eventful year in the world of physics. Curiosity landed on Mars, physicists found a Higgs-like particle, and ponytail physics made its popular debut. We covered these big stories in 2012, but many others proved more popular on our blog.

Here's the list of our 10 most popular blog posts of the year based on pageviews.

10. National Physics Day

Physics departments celebrated the day with fun science experiments for the public. Physics enthusiasts celebrate this unofficial holiday on April 24th.
9.  Zombie Apocalypse Survival Gear: Ham Radios
Shotguns, skillets and shovels may help you battle the undead, but don't underestimate the need for amateur radio.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Physicists Explore The Rise And Fall Of Words

Scientific techniques show promise for future linguistics research.
The use of terrific (blue), exciting (red), and outstanding (gold) from 1858-2008.
Image credit: Google Ngram Viewer: http://bit.ly/VCFrnd

(ISNS) -- Every year the Oxford English Dictionary expands, incorporating freshly coined terms such as "bromance," "staycation" or "frenemy." However, a recent analysis has found that as a language grows over time, it becomes more set in its ways. New words are always being added, according to this study, but few become widely used and part of the standard vocabulary.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Podcast: The Most Important Physics Stories of 2012

We're almost done with 2012, and it's time to look back and figure out which physics stories and breakthroughs were the most important. But how should we rank importance in physics? Is the most important research the kind that influences our everyday lives? The kind that saves the most lives? Or should we give the title to the research that slowly but surely moves technology forward?

In this week's podcast Mike and I try to come up with a definition of "important" when it comes to physics research, while we share some of our favorite physics stories from 2012. We cover the discovery of what is believed to be the Higg's boson (here's our jumbo podcast about it), the room-temperature maser (click for our podcast), the physics of spilling coffee (one of the stories covered in Mike's Ig Nobel podcast), neutrinos encoded with information, and the physics of mosquitos in the fog. Next week we'll be back with our favorite astrophysics and astronomy stories from 2012.

For more physics highlights from 2012, check out Physics World's top ten physics breakthroughs of 2012, top ten multimedia highlights of 2012, and favorite physics pictures of 2012. Physics World also chose How the Hippies Saved Physics as their favorite book of 2012. Listen to our podcast with the book's author, David Kaiser, here. Jennifer Ouellette also made a list of top science books from 2012, which includes The Particle at the End of the Universe—you can listen to our podcast with that book's author, Sean Carroll, here.

Have a happy and safe New Year, everyone!


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Monday, December 24, 2012

A Puzzle of a Cookie Recipe

Yes, its that time of year again where you decorate cookies with you family in the hopes that having something to do stop your parents telling you to find a 'real' job.  Why not prolong the fun even more by having people make cookies from a more difficult recipe.  If you are having trouble figuring this out, maybe the famous "Measuring Things Mug" can help you out.  Unfortunately it has been discontinued, but hopefully the photos will help.  Enjoy!




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Friday, December 21, 2012

The Science of Hitting the High Notes

For audiences that attend the traditional Christmas performances of Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute," a highlight is the aria "Queen of the Night." But sopranos who must sing the aria often approach the performance with more fear than anticipation.

Theatrical stage set created for Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute."
Image credit: Karl Friedrich Schinkel, http://bit.ly/Vbzf5u
The challenging solo requires the singer to reach notes more than two and a half octaves above middle C -- an achievement often followed by voice fatigue and the risk of vocal overuse. Some musicologists have speculated that singers employ a different vocal process when hitting extremely high notes than they do when intoning lower pitches. But a German-Swedish research team using an inventive method of imaging the vocal cords has discredited that theory.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Scientists Search for Rudolph's Red Nose, and other great stories.

Dutch scientists journeyed close to the North Pole to pursue a question that has baffled scientists for generations: Why is Rudolph's nose red?

Image Credit: Kia Krarup Hansen
You may recall the most famous reindeer of all, though you might not have realized that a species of reindeer really does have a particularly rosy snout.

In the study, published in the holiday edition of the British Medical Journal, the team of researchers found that reindeer noses contain a dense network of capillaries that are rich in red blood cells.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Podcast: The Particle at the End of the Universe

This week on the podcast I interview Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and author of the new book The Paritcle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World.

This particle at the end of the universe is none other than the Higgs boson, the particle that gives many elementary particles their mass. I talked with Carroll about why non-scientists should care about the Higgs and what kind of awesome new physics it might introduce us to. Plus, he shares the three most common misconceptions people have about the Higgs boson, and explains why, even though life as we know it would not exist without it, the Higgs is not responsible for most of the mass in your body.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Asteroid Home Movies

Last week, the asteroid 4179 Toutatis made its quadrennial encounter with Earth. This year marks Toutatis's closet flyby, coming about 4.3 million miles away (about 18 times the distance to the moon) on December 12, 2012. As the 3-mile-long asteroid whizzed by, NASA's 230-foot Deep Space Network antenna in Goldstone, California, captured radar images of the oblong asteroid tumbling through space.



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Monday, December 17, 2012

Occupied Christmas: Lasers in the Loo

What happens when a bunch of physicists and science writers compete in the annual holiday office decoration contest? Apparently, they decide to decorate the bathroom.

The Physics Buzz team and a few of our cubicle neighbors did just that during our off-duty time over the past few weeks. The tiny bathroom at the end of our hall was nearly unrecognizable (in a good way) after our flurry of interior designing.

Aptly named the Can of Cheer, our re-designed water closet comes equipped with wallpaper, lights, a Christmas tree, cookies for Santa, and a few physics goodies as well.

The judges took notice, awarding our department the Grand Prize for Best Overall Concept in our society's annual decorating contest. Santa would be proud.

We've got a video tour for you below, and I'll guide you through what makes this physics-themed restroom so festive.
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Friday, December 14, 2012

Communication of Science Through Art

2012 APS Comic-Con International Team

Since 2008 the APS public outreach team has been publishing comic books.  Starting with Nikola Tesla and the Electric Fair as part of the PhysicsQuest program and continuing now with Spectra: Turbulent times, these comics have proven to be more popular than any of us ever thought they would. Recently I (Mathlete and Spectra author) gave a talk at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) about how Spectra was created and why so many people actually read it.  


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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Podcast: Winter Physics Round-Up

It's December! The beginning of winter and the heart of the holiday season. Our podcast this week is a round-up of some of the physics you can find all around you this time of year. And boy-oh-boy is there a lot of physics.

Here are some past podcasts for this time of year:



Here's a fun interview that Roger Highfield did about his book, The Physics of Christmas. It's for a show called "The Infinite Monkey Cage" and it's hosted by physicist Brian Cox and actor/writer/comedian Robin Ince.

Here's a video created by some folks at NIST demonstrating just how fast a dry Christmas tree can go up in flames. Note that this was a staged demonstration (not really someone's house) and that sufficiently watering your tree can prevent this.


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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bringing Physics to a Bar Near You

Let's talk about beer.

This year, the number of breweries in America has hit a 125-year high, ousting 1887's former claim to the title. The US has over 2000 craft breweries and I don't think that includes the White House. Let's just call it the United States of Good Beer.



U.S. Breweries since 1887. Image Source: Brewers Association

But let's be serious. Brewing is a science and NPR agrees.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

In Hubble's Shadow

The discovery that our universe is expanding certainly ranks among the most important scientific contributions of the 20th century. Only a few years before this discovery, most astronomers believed that our universe consisted solely of our Milky Way galaxy. But we've discovered so much more since then.

So who's credited for this discovery? Most people would say Edwin Hubble — the revered astronomer with a famous telescope bearing his name.

There were several other astronomers, however, who significantly contributed to this discovery. Astronomer Knut Lundmark, for instance, provided some of the first observational evidence for an expanding universe.

Now, an historical analysis has revealed that some of Lundmark's measurements were far more accurate than Hubble's. On top of that, Lundmark conducted these measurements five years before Hubble's expansion discovery.

The Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Art and Physics Collide: Accidental Painting

"Accidental painting" is pretty simple: Drop some paint onto a horizontal surface, wait, then pour a different color of paint on top of it. When done in the correct order, however, the results can be fantastic.

An art historian and physicist decided to find out why after investigating the works of the artist who perfected this technique: David Alfaro Siqueiros

Check out the video embedded below for more on this research. The results are absolutely stunning.

Also, check out our Physics Central article that goes into the detail of the research.


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Friday, December 07, 2012

Leukemia-Killing Plasma Beam Could Offer New Cancer Treatments

A low-temperature 'plasma blowtorch' triggers death of diseased cells.

Image credit: Chuck Thomas, Old Dominion University

Patients battling the blood cancer leukemia could one day receive a new type of treatment that uses a plasma -- a gas of electrically charged particles -- to kill cancer cells while keeping the healthy cells intact, according to new research.


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Thursday, December 06, 2012

What happened to my battery?

If you've ever wondered why the battery life of your iPod or laptop flatlines after a few years, rest assured: scientists are on it.

Physicists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed advanced imaging techniques to find out how and why lithium batteries steadily degrade over time. The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, presents real-time videos of the lithium ion reaction in rechargeable lithium batteries.

Lithium ions gradually destroy material in batteries.
In this experiment, scientists used iron-fluoride
nanoparticles and watched as lithium ions separated
the nanoparticle into iron crystals and chunks of lithium-fluoride.
Image source: Brookhaven National Laboratory
"The live, nanoscale imaging may help pave the way for developing lasting, higher-capacity lithium-ion batteries," the lead author Feng Wang told Brookhaven National Laboratory press, "That means better consumer electronics, and the potential for large-scale, emission-free energy storage."

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Podcast: Extreme Cosmos

Ever wonder what the fastest object in the universe is? Or the hottest? The oldest? The heaviest? The loudest? You could try checking Wikipedia, but you'll be surprised to find how many of these seemingly simple questions aren't answered by online sources (or are answered incorrectly). Thankfully, there is now a reputable source for all those universal records you're so curious about: "Extreme Cosmos: A Guided Tour of the Fastest, Brightest, Hottest, Heaviest, Oldest and Most Amazing Aspects of Our Universe."

Author and astronomer Bryan Gaensler talks with us this week on the podcast about his book and the many extreme things there in. He shares the story of the fastest object ever measured (not counting light, it's the so-called "Oh-My-God" particle), and explains why astronomers don't always aim to break universal records in their research, even if the news headlines can seem a little over-eager to do just that. 

Dr. Gaensler is an astronomer at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO). 


Unrelated to the podcast, astronomers working at CAASTRO are looking for new ways to study the entire sky all at once. I asked him why it's important to look at the entire sky, instead of small patches the way most telescopes do.


"We're starting to hit the limit of the questions that you can answer by peering deeply at one little patch of the sky at the time," said Dr. Gaensler. "The next big questions in astronomy, things like what is dark matter, what is dark energy, how did the first stars form; the answers aren't necessarily in one little patch of the sky but they're subtly written across all the stars. So you're never going to find the answer by staring deeply, you have to gather the signal from the whole sky and you have to look for very subtle statistical signatures to get the answer." 

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

How Dunes get their Shapes

Image: NASA
Deserts are like seas of sand. The features of the landscape are constantly moving and changing like waves locked in slow motion. Much like the ocean, regular patterns form out of the chaos, which scientists have long sought to understand.

A team from Paris has now developed a new model that can accurately simulate the movements of sand dunes that almost seem to sprint across the surface of the Earth or Mars. It can take years for a sandscape to fully remake itself, so scientists seeking to understand how the wind changes the topography have to rely on simulations and computer models. They found that the formation of sand dunes is surprisingly similar to a fizzy soda.

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Monday, December 03, 2012

Curiosity detects organic compounds, but are they Martian?

Today, scientists working on NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover released some of their preliminary results from soil samples taken on the red planet.

They made a number of intriguing announcements, including the detection of simple organic compounds — some of the building blocks for life. There's a very important caveat, however. These compounds may have hitched a ride from Earth, and scientists don't have definitive evidence that the compounds actually originated on Mars.

John Grotzinger, project scientist for the Curiosity mission at Caltech, emphasized caution and patience during the team's announcement at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting in San Fransisco today.

"It has made this detection of organic compounds, simple organic compounds," said Grotzinger, referring to the mission's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.

Importantly, he added, "We simply don't know if they're indigenous to Mars or not."

Curiosity's first scoop at the "Rocknest" area on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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