Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from March, 2016

Of Ice Cores & Isotopes

Earth’s atmosphere has a history — not just in terms of temperature and composition, but also in the dynamics of its motions and chemistry. By tracing ultra-rare molecules in the present-day atmosphere and back into the past, Laurence Yeung, Assistant Professor of Earth Science at Rice University and recent Clarke Award recipient, is setting out to trace that dynamic history. “In the same way you'd tag a shark to figure out what its migration patterns are,” he explains, “you can exploit the natural tags that Mother Nature gives us in these stable isotopes.” Stable isotopes are atoms of the same element that differ slightly in mass thanks to an extra neutron or two, and they act as passive tracers in the atmosphere. A heavy isotope’s extra bit of mass can affect the physical and chemical processes it undergoes, concentrating or diluting it with respect to its lighter siblings. As a result, the ratio of these isotopes, like typical oxygen-16 (which has 8 protons and 8 neutrons…

Mountains Made of "Magnetic Honey" Lead to New Insights

What do physicists do when they get stuck on a problem? In the case of magnet mountain growth rates, they chill and stick with it.

Leidenfrost Effect Puts Perpetual Bounce into Hydrogel Beads

Not all great ideas come in the shower. Sometimes inspiration strikes when you're whipping up a stack of pancakes.

Updated Neural Model for Working Memory

Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have provided evidence opposing the current model for how working memory operates at the cellular level. The current model says the cellular basis for working memory lies in consistent, sustained activity by brain cells, or neurons. Results from the MIT study, published in the March 17 issue of the scientific journal Neuron, shows the story is more complex, that brain cells involved in working-memory tasks are activated discretely and sporadically.

Biosphere 2

Just outside the town of Oracle, Arizona, nestled between the seemingly endless plains of the Sonaran desert and the cactus-pocked foothills of Mount Lemmon, stands an enormous glass ziggurat: Biosphere 2.

Pi Day: Musings on a Constant

Happy pi day, Physics fans! This 3/14 is a particularly special one, as 3/14/16 is as close as we're going to get to the actual value of pi using our current date format (at least for the next hundred years!) While some here at PhysicsCentral are adherents of the Tau philosophy, there's no reason we can't celebrate again on 6/28! In my book, any excuse to eat pie or pontificate a bit on the nature of transcendental numbers is a good one.

Hail Hydra! Mysterious Sea Creature Revealed to Have Mouth That Functions Like a Pupil

Named after the mythological beast slain by the Greek demigod Heracles, the Hydra is a genus of freshwater animal related to jellyfish and sea anemones, best known for its ability to regenerate whole individuals from parts of another. And until recently, the way it opened its mouth—the animal's only orifice—was a mystery.

Bigger on the Inside? Scientists Trap Light in "Whispering Gallery" Microspheres

In a vacuum, light moves fast enough to travel all the way around the earth in about a tenth of a second. In recent years, though, scientists have found ways to slow and even stop light in its tracks by using new states of matter and other specially engineered materials. Now, researchers in France are reporting that they’ve devised a new way to tackle the challenge, one which circumvents many of the technical difficulties associated with previous techniques.

Physics Brain Teaser: Bee in a Jar

Imagine you've got a jar on a scale, sealed so that no air can escape. Inside this jar, there's a bee hovering in place. Does the scale read more, less, or the same as when the bee is resting at the bottom of the jar?

The Beauty of the Sea Butterfly's "Flight"

Flight has evolved independently at least three times, by three different animal groups: birds, bats, and insects. Now, a team of researchers at Georgia Tech has confirmed that a species of aquatic snail, the "sea butterfly" Limacina helicina, flaps its wing-like appendages the same way that some small insects use their wings to fly.