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Showing posts from October, 2018

Smashing (Frozen) Pumpkins: Celebrate Halloween with Triboluminescence!

Pumpkins have a very important role this time of year. Not only can they be used as decorations, jack-o-lanterns, and in pumpkin pies, but we can use them for some unique autumnal science, to demonstrate the phenomenon of  triboluminescence : when solid objects emit light under physical strain. This isn’t like putting a candle inside a jack-o-lantern, mind you— the pumpkin itself  can glow...but only for a split second, before it stops being a pumpkin altogether.

The Surprising Behavior of "Whirlpools" of Light

The fastest timescales. The highest pressures. Absolute zero. The nanoscale. These conditions are far from our everyday experience, but studying how things behave in different situations can reveal a more complete picture of their nature —and can lead to revolutionary breakthroughs.

How Dandelion Seeds Float Seemingly Impossible Distances

A single breath from a playing child can send dozens of fluffy dandelion seeds floating into the air. Now scientists find these seeds can keep themselves aloft by generating a type of vortex previously thought too unstable to exist, helping explain how these flowers have dispersed across the planet.

What Everyone Gets Wrong About Newton's Apple

As someone whose job it is to help people understand and appreciate physics, I absolutely hate  the way most people talk about Isaac Newton and how he developed his theory of gravity. It's not the apple bit that I have a problem with; that's an important part of the story, and even historically accurate! The thing that kills me is the way the idea is framed, and the gulf that it creates between his observation  and his insight . What do I mean by that? Let's unpack the story, as I remember first being told it.

Exotic "Ice VII" May Form on Ocean Worlds

Ice VII (or "ice-seven") is an exotic form of ice that grows so rapidly it could, under the right conditions, freeze an ocean-world's worth of water in just a few hours. A team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has recently uncovered the unusual process by which that freezing takes place. Their results were published in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Letters .

"Ricequakes": How Breakfast Cereal is Helping Scientists Understand the Physics Behind Collapsing Dams

The crackle of wet rice puffs is more than snappy advertising strategy: Pouring milk into a bowl of cereal might help shed light on the collapse of ice shelves and dams of compacted earth, a new study finds.

Raising Spiders in a Physics Lab Reveals There's More than Strength Behind a Spiderweb's Sturdiness

Spider silk has been seen as "the material of the future"...for about 300 years now. Since the 1700s, people have been so anxious to harness its strength, durability, and flexibility that they’ve coordinated massive spider-catching operations, painstakingly harvested threads from hundreds of spiders in silk factories , and even genetically modified goats to produce it in their milk. We're wooed by images of Spiderman and giant helicopter-snaring nets, or bridges supported by pearly white cables stronger than steel. The New Yorker claims, “ In the Future, We’ll All Be Wearing Spider Silk ”. We love the stuff, even if making use of it has turned out to be a practical impossibility.

Will Sprayable Antennas Give us "Smart" Everything?

It’s called the Internet of Things —the collection of health trackers, household gadgets, smart phones, next-generation appliances, and other technologies that connect to the internet and transmit information. The “IoT” is changing our world. And if the predictions of tech experts are right, we’re only in the early stages of that revolution.

The 150-Year-Old Art of the US Capitol Gives a Glimpse of Scientific History

Every year, over 3 million visitors pass through the doors of the United States Capitol building. For many, a highlight of this historic building is the Rotunda, the enormous chamber underneath the building's iconic dome. The floor of the Rotunda is filled with statues of American notables and paintings depicting pivotal scenes in United States history—not to mention gawking tourists and their guides, along with the occasional Congressperson.

Flawed Crystals are Beautiful in the Eyes of Scientists

Jewelers may disagree, but flaws in a crystal can be a good thing. Recently published research suggests that crystals with specific defects can be useful for making future computers more efficient.

Tiny Water Droplets Self-Propel on Sizzling Surfaces

Many cooks have experienced this—sprinkle a few drops of water on a searing hot skillet, and watch them roll around like a couple of glass beads. Scientists had previously thought that this phenomenon is solely due to the cushions of steam that form underneath the droplets, but now researchers find these drops also propel themselves, with the churning fluid inside them acting like engines. This discovery could lead to new kinds of self-propelled devices, they add.

"Tools Made from Light" Take Home 2018 Physics Nobel

At its core, physics is the study of matter and energy—the fundamental fabric of the universe. It's a field seemingly full of paradoxes: accelerator rings 15 miles around help us examine the smallest things imaginable. The faster something moves, the slower time passes. So maybe it’s no wonder that in seeking to understand the core of reality, physicists discover knowledge and create tools that start to sound like the province of fantasy. This year’s Nobel prize in physics was shared by three scientists—Arthur Ashkin, Donna Strickland, and GĂ©rard Mourou—who laid the groundwork for two such tools: optical tweezers and chirped pulse amplification .