Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Critical Collapse and Tiny Black Holes

In life, a critical point might describe the time you said yes (or no) to a life-changing opportunity. In physics, a critical point also describes a kind of crux—you can think of it as a point beyond which things change significantly. Critical phenomena is a phrase that describes physical processes close to a critical point.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

"Couture in Orbit": High-tech & High Fashion Take the Runway

If you weren’t at the Science Museum in London on Wednesday night, here’s some of what you missed…

Image Credit: Science Museum/Barry MacDonald
Image Credit: Science Museum/Barry MacDonald
Image Credit: Science Museum/Barry MacDonald
Couture in Orbit was a high-fashion show inspired by high tech. A welcome by ESA astronaut Tim Peake beamed from the International Space Station set an appropriately space-themed atmosphere before models took futurist designs to the runway. Their unique clothes incorporated of state-of-the-art materials technology—wearable sensors that track movement, fabric made from recycled water bottles, materials that are highly insulating, absorbent, and reflective, and other high performance and smart fabrics.

The designers were students at top fashion schools in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK. These countries were chosen because Couture in Orbit highlighted the 2014-2016 International Space Station (ISS) missions of five European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts—one from each of these countries.

Designed to celebrate the “inspirational face of space exploration,” the program was a joint effort of ESA and the Science Museum. This unique form of science outreach engaged a group of students and professionals (and probably audience members) that aren’t traditionally part of the science and technology scene. I’m sure that it expanded the minds of the science geeks in attendance as well.

Back in 2014, the fashion schools* were challenged to envision the future of fashion with desirable and practical garments that incorporated technology and showcased national culture. Each school had a different theme: technology, environment, innovation, health, or sport.
Image Credit: Science Museum/Barry MacDonald
ESA provided space-certified materials and the schools worked with local companies to secure sensors and other high-tech fabrics for their garments, along with technical expertise. Several schools met with their local astronaut for inspiration and to hear about life in space. From among the many inspired designs developed over the last year, a team of judges chose six from each school to grace Wednesday’s runway.

The fashion show was presented as one of the Science Museum’s after-hours Lates programs. Sponsors included Bionic Yarn (you may have heard about their jeans made from recycled plastic found in the ocean), Sympatex (which makes a material that's simultaneously waterproof and breathable), Xsens (3D motion tracking technology) and several other companies. It featured a performance by Jordan Gray from the 2016 season of the Voice UK and was emceed by actor and presenter George Lamb.

Image Credit: Science Musem/Barry MacDonald
Recent years have seen an exciting array of developments in the field of wearable technologies and smart materials, including nanowire fabric, stretchable electronics, 3D printed clothes, and much more. From the everyday to the extreme environment, potential applications abound. Just last month the US Defense Secretary announced a $75 million investment in a new initiative for smart fabrics, recognizing their potential for sensing, power-generating, protecting, and even communicating. How these developments will play out in everyday fashion remains to be seen, but Couture in Orbit is a fun exercise in speculating.

To see more of the space-inspired looks and hear about the experience from designers, students, and ESA, check out this event video, the Couture in Orbit tumblr page, and this post from the Science Museum.

Image Credit: Science Museum/Barry MacDonald
*Participating schools: Fashion Design Akademiet (Copenhagen), ESMOD (Paris), ESMOD (Berlin), Politechnico di Milano (Milan), and Ravensbourne (London).

Kendra Redmond
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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

New Study Shows Rich Physics in Models of Hypothetical Boson Stars

Studying something you’re not sure exists may seem strange to a non-scientist. But when you’re dealing with things so large or so small or so weird that no one even knows what to look for, theoretical predictions can be more than informative, they can be essential.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nanostructures Yield New Form of Hologram

By relying on scientific advances that recently helped develop invisibility cloaks, scientists have created a new kind of hologram that they suggest could be used in virtual reality and augmented reality headsets, and prevent counterfeiting of cash and credit cards.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

A New Way to Stop & Store X-rays

X-rays reveal broken bones and objects hidden in airport luggage. They detect abnormalities in breast tissue, examine blood vessels while arteries are being repaired, and kill cancer cells. X-rays illuminate structures in crystals and stars. Although x-rays are an extremely useful tool already, the future looks bright for new applications. Among other projects, scientists are working on ways to control the movement of x-rays more precisely in order to use them for next generation methods of storing and transmitting information.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fractal "Superlens" Defeats Diffraction Limit

New advances in the design of metamaterials—specially engineered substances which have properties not found in nature—may have just overcome one of the major challenges in designing compact optical devices. The breakthrough, reported in Physical Review B, could allow scientists to study nanoscale structures using visible light: a task that was, until now, thought impossible.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Kepler Confirms Nearly 1300 New Planets

Yesterday, scientists from NASA’s Kepler team added a whopping 1,284 planets to the official list of planets we’ve found outside of our solar system. Credit for the large number of new exoplanets being added at the same time goes to a new, automated technique for analyzing planet-like signals and verifying that they actually are from planets.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ask a Physicist: Nuke the Sun?

Sharon from Pittsburgh, PA wants to know:

Would it be a bad thing to shoot our nuclear waste into the sun?

It's a fun idea, and at first blush you might think it'd be a great way to get rid of something toxic—after all, what's more "gone" than something incinerated in a giant fusion reactor, ninety million miles away? But let's dig a little into how such a proposal could work, along with some potential pitfalls.

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Friday, May 06, 2016

Why You Probably Shouldn't Buy a Wearable "Air Purifier"

Not too long ago, I went on a trip with my family. We were leaving the country, taking a ten-hour flight that left way too early in the morning for my taste. Sitting at the kitchen table, munching on some fruit and squinting at the light, I heard the low rumble of a suitcase being rolled down the hardwood floor of the hallway, accompanied by the tap tap tap of my mom's heels. She strode into the kitchen through the open doorway, beaming with excitement about the coming vacation.

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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Untangling Knots in Heart Arrhythmia Model

A study on knots recently revealed a surprising feature of the mathematical system describing the electrical activity that plays a role in some heart attacks. This work could help us better understand the physical context of these heart attacks, and also demonstrates a new approach to one of the fundamental goals of knot theory.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Testing the Physics of BB-8

Though it's spoiler-free, if you still haven't seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you may want to click away from this post and go take some quiet time to reflect on your life choices. I've uploaded very short clips from the first 30 minutes or so of the movie.

If you don't count stormtroopers, and I don't, BB-8 is the first character we are introduced to in Episode VII. It's a unit astromech droid operating approximately thirty years after the Battle of Endor, and currently the lovable companion droid of Resistance pilot Poe Dameron. He also has the first closeup and line, with "Bwao boooop. Beepbeepbeepbeep." Just a minute into the movie, it's apparent that at least as far as merchandising goes, BB-8 will easily be the cute little star of the show, the belle of the ball (droid).

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May the Fourth Be With You!

Happy "Star Wars Day" from PhysicsCentral! In a case of seriously excellent timing, the European Southern Observatory recently released a photo of their telescope being calibrated. Is it just us, or does it look suspiciously familiar?

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

New Developments in the Quest for Metallic Hydrogen

Scientists have recently added key details to a kind of map that could lead to the ultimate prize in high pressure physics: the creation of metallic hydrogen.

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