Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10 Mind-Blowing Most Extreme Physics Buzz Posts for 2013

It's New Year's Eve, and that means it's time for a rundown of our top blog posts last year complete with an unnecessarily hyperbolic headline! Here's our list based on traffic numbers:

Canadian fireworks at the 2007 Malaysia International Fireworks Competition.
Image Credit: SJ Photography

10. Physics Halloween Costumes
Ideas included a Doppler shift dress and Maxwell's Demon.
9. Reinventing the Wheel?
These wobbly skateboard wheels don't live up to the pseudo-physics hype.
8. A Tour of Plasma Physics in Downtown Cambridge
Our writer, Quantum, captured this sweet photo gallery of MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center. 
7. The Physics is Clear on Foamy Beer
A perfect combination! 
6. NASA's Cold Fusion Folly
Will cold fusion ever take off? Not likely, says our contributor Buzz Skyline. 
5. Turn Your Phone into a Spectrometer — For Free!
Discover the spectra of colors around you with our SpectraSnapp app.
4. The 5 Most Extreme Atomic Experiments
Experiments ranging from nuclear fracking to bomb-powered rockets.
3. The Best Majors for GRE Scores in 2013: Philosophy Dominates
Physics students fared impressively as well.
2. Bad Physics, Bad Investment
Another de-bunking post. This time, it's about bicycle cranks.
1.  The Most Exciting Video of Nothing Happening: Pitch Drop Experiment in 2013
Scientists had been waiting for years for the next step in this long-running experiment.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Forest Snow Can Melt Faster Than Flakes In Open Fields

Originally published: Dec 20 2013 - 2:00pm, Inside Science News Service
By: Jyoti Madhusoodanan, ISNS Contributor

(ISNS) -- As fresh snow turns us into grumbling commuters or weekend skiers, consider that those flakes are more than a winter wonder. Melted snow, in many parts of the world, becomes the water people drink year-round.

Seasonal snow replenishes streams, creeks and groundwater when it melts in the spring; how long this frozen reservoir of water lasts strongly influences a region's water supply during drier months, especially in areas like western Washington state.

Tree cover that obscures spring sunshine might be expected to retain snow longer. But recent research, published in the journal Water Resources Research, suggests that in some areas, snow melts faster under forests than it does in open spaces. Though researchers – and snow enthusiasts – have long known forests affect how long the fat wet piles of snow persist, it wasn't clear precisely how trees made a difference.

Image credit: Mayovskyy Andrew via shutterstock
Rights information: http://shutr.bz/1cWTPUh

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Physicists and Archaeologists Tussle Over Long-Lost Lead

Roman mosaic from the 2nd century AD of a ship displaying similar hull shape to the Madrague de Giens wreck.
Image credit: via wikipedia | http://bit.ly/19mo34m,
Rights information: http://bit.ly/1lavRWo

A confrontation among ancient and modern studies is pitting particle physicists seeking concrete evidence of dark matter against marine archaeologists intent on preserving material in centuries-old shipwrecks.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Arctic Science: A Post-Christmas Rhyme

Aerial view of the edge of the ice in Nunavut.
Credit: Doc Searls 
from Santa Barbara, USA
Tis the day after Christmas,
all the presents unwrapped.
The North Pole: Santa snoozes
savoring a post-Christmas nap.

Enjoy your slumber, Santa
for soon there will be work,
because near the North Pole
keys to science mysteries lurk.

An ice-covered ocean,
the Arctic region reacts
measurably to changing temps,
which poses global impacts.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Qubitcoins to Stop Counterfeiting

In October, the Federal Reserve rolled out the newest iteration of the venerable $100 bill. It's colorful and chock full of high-tech anti-counterfitting measures like holograms, microprinting and color changing ink. They're pretty good, and sure to give wannabe counterfeiters a run for their money. However there's always the chance that some nefarious actor will get a fancy enough printer to reproduce convincing fakes.


What if there was some way to use the weird peculiarities of quantum physics to make an un-copyable dollar bill. Physicists have been working on the theoretical underpinnings for such quantum money, but unfortunately for practical reasons we're not likely to see "qubitcoins" in our wallets any time soon.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Miley Cyrus on Pendulums

A lot of people have wondered why Miley Cyrus would want to ride on a wrecking ball wearing nothing but her underwear, and sometimes even less. We at Physics Buzz took a few moments to chat with Miley* and discovered it's really all about the physics.



PB: Miley, we may be reading too much into your Wrecking Ball video, but you appear to love pendulums.

MC: You're not reading too much in to it at all.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Triggering Waves in Antarctica with a Single Penguin Step

Emperor penguins are lords of the cold. They thrive in frigid conditions that would make human popsicles out of anyone relying on only the hair nature gave them for protection. Many researchers have bundled up and braved harsh Antarctic winters to study these fascinating birds and their strategies for survival.

In 2011, a team of international scientists reported that tight-knit huddles of Emperor penguins exhibit wave-like motions. Every 30-60 seconds waves will propagate throughout the huddle, which can consist of thousands of penguins at a time, allowing penguins at the huddle’s chilly outskirts to move inward to the warm center and those at the center to relinquish their turn.



The team’s observations generated more questions than answers. Was there a lead penguin that triggers the wave each time? How do the waves compare with the collective behavior of other masses such as bird flocks, fish schools and traffic jams? And why do the waves move throughout the huddle in the direction researchers observe? Another group of researchers, including two of the four scientists who authored the 2011 paper, have answered some of these questions in a recent paper published in IOP’s New Journal of Physics.

By developing a model that replicates observations in nature, the group determined that any individual penguin, regardless of their position in the huddle, could trigger a wave. Moreover, because the penguins are so closely amalgamated, the simple movement of a single step can produce this phenomenon.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Podcast: Favorite Physics Stories of 2013


2013 has been an exciting year for physics. Voyager left the solar system; a cosmic ray source was confirmed; India launched a mission to Mars and China landed a spacecraft on the Moon; some scientists preserved a quantum state for 39 minutes; there was a carbon nanotube computer!

Listen to this week's Physics Central Podcast to hear more about these stories, and check out these other round-ups of the best science stories of 2013: Discover Magazine's top 100 Science Stories of 2013; Physics World top breakthroughs of the year (number 1 goes to IceCube for discovering new sources of cosmic neutrinos. Learn more about that in our podcast).

Happy New Year, everyone! We'll be back with a weekly edition of the Physics Central Podcast on January 8!
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What is More Important: Quality or Budget of a Film?

Featured films are as much of a tradition during the holidays as wrapping paper and eggnog. Classics like “A Christmas Story,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “Miracle on 34th Street” juxtapose each holiday season’s new releases like this year’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” and Disney’s “Frozen.”

When deciding whether to see this year’s hottest action thriller or heart-warming romance, hundreds of millions will navigate to the Internet Movie Database, IMDb, to read synopses, reviews and ratings. Using IMDb data, including user ratings and film budgets, a team of Northwestern University researchers suggests that a film’s prominence depends more on its budget than its quality.

Credit: IMDb.com

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Monday, December 16, 2013

A Better Way to Find Your New Favorite Subreddit, With Science

Reddit's front page of cat pictures and memes belies its diverse underbelly of subreddits — hundreds of thousands of link-sharing sites within the larger site that cater to interests ranging from movies to My Little Pony.

The sheer amount of subreddits can be overwhelming, making it difficult for a casual browser to find and contribute to the subreddits that match their interests. Seeking a better way to navigate the massive link-sharing social network, computer science student Randal Olson (Mighigan State) and sociologist Zachary Neal (Michigan State) teamed up to map similarities among subreddits.

Their research produced an interactive map called Redditviz detailing subreddits with overlapping participants. You can see a screenshot of the interactive map below.

Image Credit: Randal Olson/Zachary Neal/RedditViz

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Riddles Of A Rippled Icicle

Image by
With the wintry holiday season now upon us, icicles will soon join luminous and festive decorative lights along roofs and rafters. Natural icicles are more than convenient decorations, however, for University of Toronto physicists Antony Szu-Han Chen and Stephen Morris. They are an icy enigma waiting to be solved.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gifts for the Physics Fanatic in All of Us

From the electricity that fuels your holiday lights, to the shape of dancing snowflakes in the wind, down to the red-orange color of crackling flames in the fireplace, physics can explain much of what makes this time of year festive and memorable. More than the decorations, snowy weather or fire-roasted chestnuts, however, gifts are what many look forward to most each holiday season, especially the kids.

So, as you shop for the traditional tally whack and knick-knack, throw in some super magnetic putty or a build-your-own AM/FM radio kit for the voracious, growing minds in your family. Here, we’ve provided a number of links to sites where you can find physics-themed holiday gifts. Along the way, you might even find something for yourself that will give everyone a laugh, like the shirt with a mug shot of Schrodinger’s cat “Wanted dead and alive.”



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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Podcast: Apollo's Mystery Flashes



The ALFMED, short for the "Apollo Light Flash Moving Emulsion Detector" may go down as one of NASA's weirdest looking physics experiments. Kind of like an Apollo-era Daft Punk.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA




Scientists built it after astronauts on their way to the moon reported seeing mysterious flashes of light, even when their eyes were closed. The experiment was a way to identify these mysterious sprites. You can hear the crew of Apollo 17 using it on this week's podcast.

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Monday, December 09, 2013

Spin Physics, Now in a Board Game

You've likely heard that "spin" is an important property in the world of quantum mechanics, but it's not quite the same as our everday sense of the word "spin." Instead, the spin of an elementary particle (such as a quark or electron) represents its intrinsic angular momentum, which isn't quite the same as the classical sense of angular momentum.

Spin can be tough to wrap your head around, but now there's an interactive way to appreciate what spin means: a board game. Physics professor Alexander K. Hartmann's (University of Oldenburg in Germary) board game, Spin Glasses, aims to bring spin to your living room.

In a style reminiscent of the popular game Othello, Spin Glasses pits two players against each other as they learn about the game's titular material (spin glasses): a complex and peculiar form of magnets. At first glance, the game looks fun yet challenging. And if you don't want to pay for the professional version, you can make your own game for free with a color printer, scissors, and glue.

A picture of Spin Glasses, a new board game focusing on quantum mechanics.
Image Credit: Alexander K. Hartmann

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Voyager May Still Be Inside The Solar System

NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA announced in September that the Voyager 1 spacecraft became the first man-made object to leave the solar system, although the group noted that the readings were different than what scientists expected. Now, some researchers reviewing the same data think that the space probe might not have crossed that border into interstellar space, but instead was inside a giant magnetic bubble within the bounds of the solar system, and may still be there.

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Didgeridoos, Yo-Yoes and ZZ Top Tunes in Space

Add “in space” to the end of any sentence and you create a completely different picture full of possibilities. For example, “drinking a glass of water” in space does not require the glass since you can simply suck a floating water blob out of the air.

Astronaut and chemical engineer Don Pettit has conducted a number of engaging experiments in space during his off-duty time aboard the International Space Station, which the American Physical Society has captured in our 14-video series Science off the Sphere.

Fans of Science off the Sphere are in luck. Today, APS released a bonus clip that includes never-before-shown footage of some of Pettit’s experiments, which show what everyday-life activities are like in space. From toying with a yo-yo to watching water dance to the bass vibrations of ZZ top tunes, Pettit offers an entertaining look at his spacey science hobbies that capture and inspire the imagination.



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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Podcast: IceCube Neutrinos

This week on The Physics Central Podcast I'm talking about Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and Mr. Snuffaluffagus. No, not the muppets: the neutrinos!

In the November 22 issue of the journal Science, the IceCube neutrino experiment announced its detection of 28 very special neutrinos, which the collaboration members then named after characters from Sesame Street (apparently it's easier to remember names than numbers).  There are a lot of neutrinos in the world, but these 28 mean something very special to the astrophysics community. These are the highest energy neutrinos ever detected, and they may be associated with some of the most violent and awesome events in our universe, such as active galactic nuclei (a galaxy with a supermassive black hole at the center), gamma ray bursts (the most instantaneously luminous events in the universe), a pulsar (a super-dense, super-magnetized rotating star), or perhaps some as-yet-unknown phenomenon.

Listen to this week's podcast to learn more about the Sesame Street neutrino gang.
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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The World's Latest E-bike Begins with the now-available Copenhagen Wheel

Last month we blogged about how regenerative braking might be possible for electric bicycles. Using a crude estimation, we estimated that regenerative braking alone would have a difficult time re-charging the e-bike’s batteries enough to boost a cyclist to high speeds or up hill.

It looks like MIT in collaboration with the Cambridge-based startup Superpedestrian have solved the problem because today they announced that their latest product, the Copenhagen Wheel, is now available for pre-order. Since it was founded in late 2012, Superpedestrian has been working toward untangling the knots and finer details in order to commercialize the Copenhagen Wheel – an MIT design that transforms regular bikes into e-bikes.



The Copenhagen Wheel has now joined the burgeoning e-bike market. What makes it unique, and might give it a competitive edge, is its versatility.

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Monday, December 02, 2013

Science Cheerleaders Help Send Microbes to Space

Originally published: Nov 14 2013 - 3:45pm, Inside Science TV
By: Marsha Lewis, ISTV Contributing Producer

In the air, on the ground, on every wall, every phone, virtually everything we touch, there lurks an invisible world of microbes. Now, a new project at the University of California-Davis will help scientists understand how microbes grow both on Earth and in space.


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