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Showing posts from June, 2015

Of Mice And Magnets

Image credit:mouse: Baggie Bird 1, compass: wikimedia commons, illustration by Michael Greshko Quantum mechanics governs the quirky, counter-intuitive way the world works at the small scales of atoms and subatomic particles. It might also be important for helping animals understand their place in their surroundings. New research suggests that wood mice, commonly found in Europe, have a built-in compass that exploits quantum processes, the first seen in a wild mammal. According to a study in Scientific Reports published on April 29, wood mice placed in a container prefer to build their nests in the parts of the container closest to magnetic north and south. When researchers created an artificial magnetic field, the mice nested in line with the new north-south orientation. Scientists suspect that this compass sense comes from electrons dancing around in the mice's eyes.

When Science and Entertainment Work Together

“We’re here to inspire filmmakers,” says Rick Loverd, Program Manager of the Science and Entertainment Exchange , a program of the National Academy of Sciences. “We’re here to provide mainstream media content creators with great science.” Launched in 2008, the Exchange works to connect writers, producers, and industry executives with scientists and engineers, both to improve the overall quality of science in mainstream entertainment and to break down negative stereotypes of scientists themselves. On this week’s podcast, we delve into the world of science consulting, exploring what it takes to pull off a successful collaboration. According to Loverd, the key is to put the story first and try to find organic ways to ground it in science. “I don’t think you can steer Hollywood creatives toward something. You can just give them a better idea.” That’s how the 2011 Marvel blockbuster Thor ended up with a backstory grounded in theoretical physics. When Caltech physicist Sean M. Ca

Wrinkle In Time Divides Quantum World From Everyday Reality

Image credit: Alan Cleaver via flickr | Rights information: The world becomes a fuzzy, surreal place at its smallest levels, according to quantum physics. It has long been a mystery why strange quantum behavior is not seen at larger scales in everyday life. Now researchers find that the way Earth warps time could help explain this division. One mind-boggling consequence of quantum physics is that atoms and subatomic particles can actually exist in states known as "superpositions," meaning they could literally be located in two or more places at once, for instance, until "observed" — that is, until they interact with surrounding particles in some way. This concept is often illustrated using an analogy called Schrödinger's cat, in which a cat is both dead and alive until beheld. Superpositions are very fragile. Once disturbed in some way, they collapse or

How to Plan a Physics Party

It's June, the academic year is over, it's time to celebrate! For those of you mad about physics or graduating with a physics degree at any level, how about a physics-themed party? We've compiled a few ideas below, but feel free to get creative and let us know your ideas in the comments. The world has far too few physics parties.

Physics in Verse: A Musical Ode to the Sun

Here's a third and final Physics in Verse poem for you. It's technically the lyrics of a song, but I love the fun and memorable way it presents science about our Sun. The Sun Song is the only way I can remember trivia like " a million Earths could fit in the Sun" or "it's six thousand degrees at the photosphere". This song hails from a nerdy music group called The Chromatics , and features on their astronomy-inspired album, AstroCappella - "an astronomy class set to music" according to Sky & Telescope magazine. You can listen to their groovy recording here .

Brain Programmed To Anticipate Sounds

Scientists find the route to listening is more complex than they thought. Originally published: Jun 10 2015 - 8:00am, Inside Science News Service By: Joel N. Shurkin, Contributor ( Inside Science ) -- You are sitting in a concert hall about to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, anticipating, among other things, the famous first four notes. When it comes, it sounds just like you thought it would. Man with headphones credit to Warren Goldswain via shutterstock  | composite image credit Michael Greshko That anticipation may not just be the fact you know intellectually what’s coming, but something quite physiological: your brain is anticipating some essential properties of the sound and may even be adjusting what you will hear toward what you are expecting. According to research in Germany and the United Kingdom, sound perception is often “top-down”--ear to brain and back down to midbrain in the auditory system. Conventional theory has been fundamentally focused on bottom-up,

Physics is Least Popular in July

Google Trends tracks the popularity of a search term over time and throughout the world. Type in the word "dog" and you get back a whole set of graphs, charts, and maps that show that the English-speaking world really loves "man's best friend" (unsurprising perhaps since non-English speakers presumably search for dog in their own language). As a physics blog, we're interested in the online popularity of physics, and when we can expect the largest number of readers. This graph shows the relative popularity of the term "physics" in worldwide Google searches from January 2010 to January 2015. Just a quick glance at the data shows that the popularity of physics is cyclical, with an annual peak interest every October when the Nobel Prize in Physics is announced. Data from Google Trends . Annotations by Tamela Maciel

Life Lessons from The Martian (it's not all about physics)

Everyone's talking about The Martian , a nerdy novel (and soon-to-be film) about a stranded astronaut's self-reliance on Mars. The story is a whirlwind of adventure and its science is spot on. Unlike your typical superhero, the hero of this novel is equipped with scientific and practical know-how that allows him to (just) scrape through many disasters in the unforgiving Martian environment. More than any other story I've read, this book emphasizes the need for a broad scientific literacy that lies deeper than a Google search (no internet on Mars), as a matter of life and death. When I was a kid I thought that all I needed to do to be an astronaut was to become physically fit and learn some astronomy. After all, out in space they'd need an astronomer, right? I pored over the list of basic astronaut requirements , took up running, worried incessantly about my eyesight, and took my first astronomy course when I was 16. Ten years later, I have a PhD in astrophysics bu

How Science Helps Golfers Drain Those Tricky Putts

Tips from physics, physiology, and maybe even music can help you improve your score. Originally published: Jun 5 2015 - 2:30pm, Inside Science News Service By: Peter Gwynne, Contributor ( Inside Science ) – "Drive for show and putt for dough." In the world of professional golf, this catchphrase means that a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway has little value if the golfer can't complete the hole by sinking a sinuous 10-foot putt into the cup. As they prepare for the U.S. Open championship, starting on June 18 in Chambers Bay, Washington, players will devote at least as much practice time to reading the greens, pacing their putts, and maintaining a steady hand with what they call their "flat sticks" as they do to those 300-yard drives. Image credit:  University of the Fraser Valley via flickr | Rights information: "Putting is 43 percent of the game," said Ty Waldron, director of in

The Tour de France—In Terms of Jelly Donuts

( Inside Science Currents Blog ) -- With today being National Donut Day , and this year’s Tour de France coming up in the next month, I recalled how a late MIT physicist known for his work in the Manhattan Project once combined donuts and the famous bicycle race to teach a lesson about energy. Count on science to mash together two different things in unexpectedly fun ways. Photos by Mavis via flickr | So in honor of National Donut Day, we present to you a slightly updated version of one of the very first Inside Science News Service articles I wrote with Rory McGee Richards all the way back in July 22 1999:

How The Brain Avoids Blurry Vision

Scientists have discovered how nerve cells stabilize visual images. Originally published: Jun 2 2015 - 10:45am, Inside Science News Service By: Lisa Marie Potter, Contributor ( Inside Science ) -- Thank goodness for autostabilization, the digital camera feature that compensates for movement to achieve that crystal-clear, spontaneous selfie. But even more importantly in daily life, our eyes have an ancient form of autostabilization that prevents the world from blurring by. Skinny nerve cells called axons connecting the eye and the brain trigger tiny eye movements that stabilize our field of vision. Image credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SM via flickr | Rights information: For the first time, scientists have identified the molecules that make sure these axons are wired to the exact regions of the brain. The findings could help us understand eye movement disorders and could one day help regenerate damaged nerve cel

Cheetah Robot Sees, Runs, and Now Leaps Over Hurdles

A cheetah-inspired robot can now spot and jump over hurdles all while running autonomously at 5 miles per hour. Researchers at the MIT Biomimetic Robotics Lab have been developing this four-legged robot, named MIT Cheetah, for the past three years. First it could run on a treadmill , then it could gallop at speeds of 14 miles per hour , then it could run untethered outside . Now the group has released a video showing MIT Cheetah running untethered on an indoor track and leaping over random hurdles without breaking a stride. Adaptive Leg "Muscles" The key to MIT Cheetah's agility is a set of custom-built motors that precisely control how much force is delivered to each leg as it touches the ground. To gain speed, the legs push off the ground with more force so that the robot spends a greater fraction of the time flying through the air. The robot continually monitors its gait and the length of time its feet touch the ground in order to adjust its leg force to match

Electronic Tongue Identifies The Correct Beer — Every Time

Robot taste testers are becoming part of the food industry. Originally published : May 19 2015 - 2:15pm, Inside Science News Service By : Lisa Marie Potter, Contributor ( Inside Science ) -- Machines mimicking a human's sense of taste are going on a beer-tasting binge. Despite being called electronic tongues, these devices aren't party robots, pouring beer onto wagging, mechanical tongues. Image credit: via flickr | Rights information: "It's just a bunch of wires and buttons and computers," said María Luz Rodríguez-Méndez , a professor of inorganic chemistry at University of Valladolid in Spain. "It's an ugly thing full of cables." However it looks, Méndez and colleagues developed an electronic tongue that accurately distinguished between four styles of lager beer 100 percent of the time. A variety of screen-printed sensors "taste" electrochemical compounds in