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Showing posts from July, 2015

Allotropy: Why Winter Spells Trouble for the Tin Man

Tin is a commonplace metal that’s used industrially in a thousand different ways. From the solder that holds your computer’s motherboard together to the PVC plumbing under your sink, tin compounds are everywhere. In spite of its versatility, tin possesses an interesting physical property which is responsible for its tendency to wear down over time outdoors. This phenomenon, known as “tin pest”, is certainly not due a biological organism, but is widely mistaken for an oxidation reaction. Instead, tin pest happens thanks to something called allotropy—the metal’s atomic lattice can take on multiple different shapes, depending on the temperature it’s kept at.

How Insects' Legs Can Improve Man-Made Materials

In an effort to improve materials used in aviation and medicine, a team of Irish researchers is studying the legs of certain insects. Some features that appear to contribute to the legs' sturdiness don’t actually do so, they found, while others that would be expected to weaken the legs don’t have that effect.
These null results provide fresh insight into the surprising ways that nature works. But the new understanding also has the potential to contribute to applications of engineering materials shaped like the insects’ legs. David Taylor’s team examined how the insects’ legs, which consist of light, thin, tubelike structures of cuticle material, buckle and bend in response to pressure. “Many materials in nature have evolved to perform some mechanical purpose. So my research group is looking at insects, crabs, plant stems, eggs, etc.,” explained Taylor, a professor of mechanical engineering at Trinity College, Dublin. In addition to studying how the natural materials work, said Tay…

Paranormal (AC)tivity

Engineering designer Vic Tandy had just seen a ghost.  That, or he was losing his mind, he thought.

Party of Five! Physicists Discover Long-Sought ‘Pentaquark’ In Stroke of Luck

One week ago, an international team of scientists announced that they had discovered the pentaquark, an exotic, short-lived chunk of matter that had long eluded researchers. Its serendipitous discovery fills in one of the remaining gaps in the Standard Model, the prevailing but incomplete theory of particle physics, and it potentially points the way to weird “subatomic molecules” and other exotic forms of matter.

The Aftermath of 'Con

Greetings, science fans! I know you missed us during our recent hiatus, but we’re back to bring you the latest and most exciting stories from the world of physics!

If you read our last post, you might have guessed that the Physics Central team has been doing some flying lately. A career in physics can take you all over the world (our resident Mathlete just returned from Taiwan) but this month’s adventures took us to beautiful San Diego, for the 46th Comic-Con International!

Asking yourself how on earth a bunch of physicists get sent to a comic book convention? You must not have heard of Spectra, the Laser Superhero! Spectra is an original comic series that follows the exploits of Lucinda Hene as she learns to use the powers of the laser and save the world from villainous plots, with the help of her friends! Written by a PhD physicist on staff here at APS, the comics are shipped to middle schools around the country with the aim of entertaining students, teaching some basic physics, a…

Clearing the Air: Why You Get Gassy on the Plane

Surprisingly, it's not just the food.

If you've ever gotten unusually bloated on an airplane, you might have chalked it up to the stress of traveling, carbonated drinks, or the fact that you wouldn't really think twice about passing gas if not for the person sitting right next to you. But fasten your seatbelts and lock your tray tables; we're exploring the physics behind the very real phenomenon of airplane flatulence, and by the time we land you'll have an indisputable excuse for your seat-mate. It may ease the social turbulence some to point out the irony of the situation: our increased tendency for in-flight flatulence is largely due to something called the ideal gas law.