Friday, December 30, 2016

Raising a Glass to Vera Rubin & Dark Matter

“Fame is fleeting. My numbers mean more to me than my name. If astronomers are still using my data years from now, that’s my greatest compliment,” astronomer Vera Rubin told Discover in 1990. In honor of her passing on Christmas day, this post will focus on her data.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Crowdsourcing Discovery: Meet the Massive Binary System Detected by Einstein@Home

As fingertips and keyboards cool off from the flurry of online shopping and term papers, it’s time to relax and let device processors do the work. Did you know that while you binge on TV shows and holiday leftovers, your laptop and smart phone could help discover an exotic astrophysical system? Just ask the Einstein@Home volunteers whose otherwise idle devices discovered two neutron stars locked in a tight orbit. The massive binary system could inform the search for gravitational waves and may turn out to be a unique cosmic laboratory.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Ask a Physicist: Exploding Coffee

Nick, from the US, wants to know:
"After retrieving my medium sized ceramic cup of coffee from the microwave that had been in for 2 minutes, I quickly stirred the coffee with a thick straw. Immediately bubbles started to rise and overfilled the half full cup, unfortunately burning my thumb. Could you please tell me what reactions caused this to happen? Thank you very much."


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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Electron “Leapfrog” Could Lead to Low-Power Nanoscale Devices

Remember leapfrog? Not the electronic tablets currently in Santa’s bag, but the outdoor, no-equipment-required game where your friends crouch down in a line and you vault over each person until you reach the front? It turns out that electrons play a variation of this game too.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Drag-Racing CubeSats for NASA's CubeQuest Challenge

In 2014, NASA announced the CubeQuest Challenge: a contest for homegrown teams to build their own small satellites—cubesats—and compete against each other by demonstrating technological feats. Five million dollars in prize money will be divided among teams who can get into orbit around the moon, maintain a stable orbit for a long time, or make it almost all the way to Mars’ orbit while still communicating with Earth.


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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Nuclear Power Saves Lives

Would you believe it if I told you that nuclear power saves thousands of lives every year? You will—there's math to back it up.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Shining a Light on Antimatter: The First Spectroscopic Measurement of an Antimatter Atom

Antimatter doesn’t just fuel science fiction, it fuels cutting-edge physics research into the heart of our very existence. In a paper published today in the journal Nature, a 54-member team of researchers from the ALPHA experiment at CERN announced an exciting achievement in antimatter research. For the first time, scientists have measured the spectrum of light given off by a particle of antimatter.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

The Light-Matter Interaction: Calling Theory into Question

Despite its reputation for social awkwardness, physics is fundamentally about interactions. Physics textbooks are filed with forces, fields, orbits, motion, and other concepts that describe things by the way that they interact with other things. Of all of the interactions, one of the most fundamental is how light interacts with matter. In research published in Physical Review A last week, a team of researchers called into question some generally accepted assumptions about this interaction.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Preparing for the Worst: Studying the Impacts of Impacts

A potentially hazardous object headed straight for us. Little time to prepare. Possible mass extinction. Perpetual winter. The rekindling of life. It sounds like, and it is, the stuff of movies. It’s also the stuff of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, taking place this week in San Francisco.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Reaching for New Levels of Precision with the First Molecular Fountain

There’s an old saying that’s popular in science departments:

If it moves, it’s biology.
If it smells, it’s chemistry.
If it doesn’t work, it’s physics.

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Friday, December 09, 2016

The Quarter That Defied Physics

Recently, a video landed in my inbox, sent in by a reader who observed what seemed to be an impossible phenomenon: He spun a quarter and, in flat defiance of the law of conservation of angular momentum, the thing spontaneously switched the direction that it was spinning halfway through.

Take a look for yourself and see if you can figure out what's going on:

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Thursday, December 08, 2016

Robot Parkour: Powerful Jumping Robot Inspired by Search-and-Rescue Needs

Meet Salto, a cute robot with unprecedented jumping skills. Don’t be fooled, though—Salto is more than a fun experiment and something most kids (ok, and adults) would like to own. He’s an incarnation of new research that could help address critical search-and-rescue needs in urban areas. Built in a lab at the University of California at Berkeley, Salto was inspired by galagos (also called “bush babies”), which are small, nocturnal primates that can reach great heights with numerous powerful jumps in quick succession.

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Monday, December 05, 2016

Ask a Physicist: Introduction to Cavitation

Talitha, from Australia, writes:
My boyfriend insists that if something moving fast underwater, the water wouldn't be able to move behind the object at the same speed and would create an air bubble. This doesn't seem right to me—please help!

Talitha,
So here's the deal: your boyfriend is almost right, but it's not quite an air bubble—the process he's describing is called cavitation, a name which comes from the word cavity.


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Saturday, December 03, 2016

9 Awesome GIFs from 2016's Gallery of Fluid Motion

It's that time of year again! The American Physical Society's 2016 Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting has wrapped up, and the most striking, visually appealing graphics from it are on display in this year's Gallery of Fluid Motion. The GFM's offerings are always somewhere between art and science, so enjoy the clips!

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Learning to Sniff from Man’s Best Friend

They sniff out drugs, cadavers, missing people, explosives, and even cancer. Dogs are more than man’s best friend, they are some of the best chemical detectors in existence. They are so good that by modifying a commercially available explosives detector to act like a dog’s nose, researchers were able to make the detector much more effective. That’s great news for most of us, not-so-great news for drug smugglers.

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