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Showing posts from September, 2015

The Math Of Brewing Coffee Can Model Anesthesia

Mathematics that can describe coffeepots, forest fires and flu outbreaks may also underpin the brain’s response to anesthesia, a new study suggests.

The Science of Star Trek: Accidental Prophecies

Last night, I sat down to dinner and an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (I prefer the original series, but there’s only so many times you can watch Kirk & Co. fight the space-nazis before it starts to get old.) I picked one in the first season, called “Home Soil”, where Picard and his crew beam down to a desert world that’s being adapted to support life, only to discover that there’s already a strange form of intelligent life living in the subsurface water table. Terraforming an already-inhabited planet violates the Federation’s “prime directive”, creating all sorts of drama for the episode, but we’re not here today to focus on the moral quandaries of xenobiology. Rather, the episode contains some tidbits that sound at first like technobabble plot-spackle, but upon closer examination make you start to wonder if someone in the writers’ room had access to a time machine.

Podcast: A Time Capsule of the Universe

Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics hosts the world’s largest collection of glass photographic plates, and thanks to the efforts of DASCH — which stands for Digital Access to a Sky Century @ Harvard — all of the information they contain will soon be at your fingertips. We caught up with Principal Investigator Dr. Josh Grindlay to find out how the digitization project works and what they hope to accomplish by making all of the data available to the public.

Quantum Locked: Physicists Demonstrate “Weeping Angel” Effect

A team of physicists from Cornell has shown that rapid, repeated measurements can freeze matter in place, in a paper recently accepted for publication by Physical Review Letters. The phenomenon, called the quantum Zeno effect (after the Greek philosopher famous for posing tricky questions about arrows and tortoises), limits the quantum tunneling ordinarily exhibited by confined particles.

Surprises from the LHC's "Beauty Factory"

In an attempt to unravel how matter and antimatter differ—and why we seem to have more of one than the other in our universe—scientists at the Large Hadron Collider have been studying the production and decay of particles called B mesons. Baryons, (from the greek barus, meaning heavy) such as protons and neutrons, each contain three valence quarks, but mesons (as in meso, or middle) are two-quark systems—one quark and one antiquark. They’re much less stable, contain equal amounts matter and antimatter, and tend to decay quickly into other particles, so they’re a promising tool for trying to ferret out the decay asymmetries that might have led to the state of the universe as we know it today. B mesons in particular are so-named because they contain a “bottom” antiquark, also known as a “beauty” antiquark, leading to the LHCb experiment’s name. However, as so often happens, the result the LHCb researchers found was not the one they were looking for.

The Not-So-Silent World

In 1956, the French adventurer and SCUBA inventor Jacques Cousteau published a book called The Silent World about Earth’s oceans. Cousteau’s book is widely credited with giving rise to a new awareness of the seas’ beauty and fragility.

"He picked a bad title," said Arthur Popper, professor emeritus in biology at the University of Maryland in College Park. The oceans are not silent. In fact, they are louder than ever. And that, scientists believe, is a problem.

How 4,000 Physicists Gave a Vegas Casino its Worst Week Ever

What happens when several thousand distinguished physicists, researchers, and students descend on the nation’s gambling capital for a conference? The answer is "a bad week for the casino"—but you'd never guess why.

The Solar-Powered Telegraph

The year was 1859 and, nearly six decades after the creation of Volta's battery, humans were really starting to get the hang of this electricity thing. Alternating current and low-loss power transmission lines were still a long way off, but the foundations of a communication infrastructure had emerged as telegraph cables began to crisscross the globe.

NASA's Microgravity Hoax II, The De-Pedanting

A lot of people disagree with my characterization of NASA's use of the word "microgravity" in lieu of "free fall" as a hoax. The chief objection seems to be that I am being pedantic. Well, here's what I have to say to people calling me "pedantic" --


Here are a few more (not at all pedantic) reasons why "microgravity" sucks and and "free fall" rules.

Escape From a Black Hole

The black hole: the inner boundary of the known universe, the point of no return. This is the region in the vicinity of a gravitational singularity which, once entered, cannot be left.
Or can it?

Coriolis Effect Provides Clue on Moth Navigation

Like sailors putting a finger to the wind, migrating moths check the atmospheric conditions around them and adjust their headings accordingly, a new study finds. They do it by sensing turbulence, which helps them determine whether the wind is blowing them off course.