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Showing posts from 2019

How has nuclear power changed since Chernobyl?

Poignant and bleak, the critically acclaimed HBO series Chernobyl revisits a difficult chapter in history to tell an important story about the role of science in society. While portions of the plot and characters have been embellished for TV, its an exceptional portrayal of what can happen when a community ignores the signs of an impending disaster (i.e. climate change) and includes surprisingly accurate and accessible explanations of nuclear physics. 

On twitter, the show has also reignited an important discussion on nuclear power and its associated hazards. It is necessary to acknowledge that while some risks will always be there, nuclear power is actually safer than ever, and importantly, it could help curb our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels.

To learn more about this funky world of radioactive physics, we’re going to answer some questions about how our nuclear landscape has changed since 1986 (I’d say spoiler alert, but that’s not really applicable to historical events that hap…

Clarity from Chaos: How Climate Models Could Be Better than We Think

Chaos theory encompasses large swathes of mathematics and physics, but it was Edward Lorenz who immortalized it in popular culture. His now-famous 1972 presentation, which summarized his decade-long work in the field, focused on a single provocative question: Can the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? Although he declined to definitively answer the question, his “butterfly effect” changed the way climatologists and meteorologists view causality in atmospheric science.

Researchers Image Current Flowing through DNA

“What’s it like to see something that no one has seen before?” I asked Tatiana Latychevskaia, a physicist at the University of Zurich.

“You’re always puzzled, trying to look for something similar,” she says. She explains that you talk to colleagues, search the literature, and think back to conference presentations… Usually, you don’t know in the moment that what you’re seeing is new. “Only later do you think that maybe this is something really being seen for the first time,” she tells me.

10 Science Podcasts You Should Listen to Right Now

It seems like there's a podcast for everything these days, and everyone (and their dog) is making a podcast. Whether you’re into beekeeping or bigfoot, there’s a pod out there for you. In the U.S., 33% of people report listening to a podcast in the past month; and 16 million Americans would call themselves an “avid podcast fan”.

With all these shows and listening platforms around, it can be difficult to know where to turn. To help you find the best science podcasts for whatever you're into, we’ve collected a list of our staff picks. While the PhysicsCentral podcast is our personal, unbiased favorite (you can listen to all 110 episodes on SoundCloud), these programs are nice too.

Inspired by Electric Eels, Scientists Create Wearable Underwater Generators

Its been over three years since my first triathlon, but I still cringe thinking about that initial dive into the water. See, I can’t really swim. If you were to watch a race between me and a housecat, I’d strongly suggest putting your money on the cat. In spite of my poor technique, I came out on the other side, as excited as one can be when they’re facing miles of biking and running ahead of them. When the race was finally over, my internal science-nerd monologue resumed, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if all that kinetic energy I just used could be converted into electricity?”

Unbeknownst to me, researchers at the Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems were working on just that, and they’ve invented flexible underwater nanogenerators (Bionic Stretchable Nanogenerator, BSNG) that can harness electricity, as you swim.

Searching for Ultralight Dark Matter with a Supermassive Black Hole

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but very few are worth 5 million gigabytes. In April 2019 the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, an international team of over 200 scientists, unveiled the first-ever picture of a black hole (or more specifically–the event horizon around it). Capturing an image of M87* was a supermassive accomplishment in astrophysics, but research in Physical Review Letters shows how it could change our perceptions of dark matter.

The Science of Ice Cream, Redux

Even though it's been a warm couple of months already, it's officially summer. A delicious, science-filled way to beat the heat? Making homemade ice cream.

(We wrote this article a few years ago, but since then we've learned a LOT about ice cream, so we're re-releasing this article, with expanded ice cream science and a wider range of dairy-free options. Enjoy!)

50 Moon Facts to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

July 20th, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, a small step for man, but a giant leap for humankind. In the past 50 years we’ve learned so much more about our planetary satellite neighbor, and to celebrate this anniversary, we’re sharing some OUT OF THIS WORLD facts about the moon:

1. Our moon is the 5th largest moon in the Solar System

2. The moon is not part of Mars. 

3. The moon used to be part of the Earth, until a Mars-sized planetesimal hit our planet, sending a cloud of hot rock into space that eventually cooled, consolidated, and turned into our moon

4. Earth’s tilted axis is likely a result of this collision. 

5. Katherine Johnson, one of only a few black “human computers” employed by NASA for 33 years, calculated the Apollo 11’s trajectory to the moon and many other missions involving human space travel.

6. The moon used to look much, much bigger, because it was closer to Earth. Research suggests the moon could have been up to 12 times closer to Earth than …

Self-Propelling Particles May Hold Clue to Life

Ramin Golestanian, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, occupies himself with the big questions: How is the thing we call life possible? In particular, he wonders, how can complex subcellular structures so critical for life as we know it form from a soup of enzymes?

“This is basically the Lego-like ingredients [of life],” he says, referring to the fundamental nature of these structures.

Listening to the Sounds of the Sun

You could say that Tim Larson, Seth Shafer, and Elaine diFalco were brought together by the Sun. Now the three of them are sharing the sounds of the Sun with scientists, musicians, and the general public through a unique effort called the Sonification of Solar Harmonics (SoSH) Project.

LGBT STEM Day: Acknowledging the scientists in science

It’s okay to be who you are.

Friday, June 5th, 2019 was the 2nd International LGBT STEM Day*, an observance designed to celebrate the contributions that LGBTQ+ people have made in STEM, and raise awareness of the issues that LGBTQ+ scientists still face in their daily life. While not always visible, LGBTQ+ scientists have existed throughout history, from the inventor of the computer Alan Turing, to astronaut Sally Ride. While significant progress has been made towards equality, significant barriers remain.

To conclude pride month and celebrate the second annual LGBT STEM Day, we spoke with LGBTQ+ scientists to highlight the personal experiences of LGBTQ+ people in STEM, put a spotlight on the issues that scientists still face today, and share resources for the benefit of the LGBTQ+ community and allies.

This information was gathered through social media, e-mails, phone interviews, and in-person conversations with scientists from a variety of career stages and professional areas with …

Science of: Slurpees, or Sugary Science

Nine million. That’s how many icy-cold, sugary-sweet Slurpees the convenience store 7-Eleven will give away to US customers today. The annual Free Slurpee Day tradition began in 2002, a brilliant marketing move that has made July 11th (7-11 in US notation) the store’s busiest day of the year. In honor of the brain-freezing drink, today we’re highlighting some of the science behind this treat.

As the story goes, Slurpees are so named because of the slurping sound consumers make while eagerly sucking up the drink through a straw. But its name is surprisingly similar to the technical name for a mixture of water and ice crystals—ice slurry. So, let’s start there.

Ice slurry, also known as slurry ice, is the subject of a lot of research. It comes up frequently in the context of refrigeration, forming the basis of energy efficient technologies found in grocery store meat displays and air conditioners. It also has medical applications. Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory developed a mac…

Nope, earthquakes in California won’t trigger eruptions at Yellowstone (and other debunked earthquake myths)

Especially if you live under a rock, you’ve likely heard of the series of earthquakes that have hit Southern California outside the town of Ridgecrest this past week. So far no deaths or major injuries have been reported, but magnitude 6.4 and 7.1 quakes have caused extensive damage. The quake was felt widespread, with residents as far away as Sacramento and Phoenix feeling the tremors. It's a fantastic example that our planet is dynamic, but a sobering reminder our infrastructure is not.

The Sands of Spacetime: Researchers investigate two of physics’ greatest problems

Each year, nearly one million visitors are left breathless by the sand dunes of Death Valley in California, stunning structures that curve gracefully, rippling upwards to an impossibly crisp ridge winding its way down the length of each dune. To a distant observer, they could be a single solid mass that morphs and grows imperceptibly over the course of time. To a physicist, though, they could be a model of spacetime itself.

Now you're (Nu)tell(a)ing me, there's a scientific way to make great crepes?

A modern French take on a classic tragedy: You see a beautiful crêpe in a restaurant, soft, thin, perhaps full of Nutella. You think to yourself “Oh! It shouldn’t be too hard to make this at home, what’s the worst that could happen?” You go to the store, pick out your ingredients, and set out to make those crêpes. The result? It's okay, but it's just not perfect.

3D Printed Microscopes Could Aid Developing Countries

Microscopes are powerful tools for examining biological cells. Under the right conditions and magnification, cell components and activity become visible and diseases can be exposed. Microscopes can inform treatment and saves lives—if they are within reach. With an inexpensive, versatile, and portable new microscope design, researchers at the University of Connecticut (UConn) and the University of Memphis (U of M) are hoping to increase access to high-resolution microscopes.

Through Oscillating Chemicals, Your Brain Cells Might be Measuring Themselves

How does your right arm know to be as long as your left? What tells your body how tall you are? Why does a giraffe’s neck grow tall, as its body stays the same size? As much as we have learned in biology, we still don’t know how organisms are aware of their size–at least not on a cellular level. New research from a team of physicists suggests that subtle chemical frequencies tell organisms how large they are.

Sailing by Sunlight: Solar Sail-Propelled Spacecraft Launches Tonight

Weather permitting, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will blast off into the dark Florida sky late tonight (live stream here). In each of its 27 first-stage engines, liquid propellant RP-1 will mix with liquid oxygen, igniting chemical reactions that will thrust the 3-million-pound system into the night sky.

The Story of Warm Little Inflatons and Cold Dark Matter

A fraction of a second after birth, before his eyes were even open, my son was pooping. Now a six-year-old, he tells the story of his first act proudly whenever the subject of babies comes up. We laugh at the memory, and the event is documented in photographs and highlighted in his baby book. It’s part of his story.

Without witnesses, photos, and written records, the universe’s first few fractions of a second are much harder to unravel. Scientists look at the current state of this 13.8 billion-year-old and try to work backwards, creating models that begin somewhere, somehow, and bring us here. The successful models make predictions that match astronomical observations, indirect records like the cosmic microwave background, and the physical laws of the universe. Modern cosmology is a well-established field, but many unknowns remain.

The Allure of Zebra Print: New Insight on the Evolutionary Advantage of Stripes

Like many other preschoolers, young Alison was intrigued by zebras and their striking black and white stripes. Why would an animal have such curious coloring? That question and its unsatisfying answer—that no one really knows—stuck with her into adulthood. Her affinity for zebras only grew during the several years she lived in Africa.

Below Bermuda, Scientists Find the Weirdest Magma on the Planet

Bermuda draws in over 650,000 tourists each year with its luxurious pink sand beaches, clear blue waters, and thriving local art scene. Sitting just below the surface, however, lies a volatile history: The island is actually an ancient volcano. While we’re not concerned of any future eruptions, the compositions of these volcanic rocks could provide key information about how volcanoes form, and what its like deep inside the earth. New research from a team of geoscientists suggests the magma that fueled this volcano formed in a rather odd place.

Bedazzling: The Size of Your Diamond Could Reveal Changes in the Fundamental Constants and the Existence Dark Matter

In the math that describes how the world works, there are some extraordinary numbers. These numbers, called fundamental constants, seem to be embedded in the very nature of the universe. They pop up whether you’re working in inches or centimeters, studying what happened billions of years ago or what’s happening today. Your very existence depends on them.

Dig in to the Physics of Donuts for National Donut Day!

Before you ingest your annual delicious (possibly free) treat for Friday's annual celebration, why not learn about the physics of donuts? From topology to nuclear fusion, donuts are the physicist's breakfast pastry of choice. Not just because they’re tasty, but because their shape, the torus, is the subject of fascinating physics. Let's dig in to some of the multitude of donut sightings in physics, and answer the age-old question: Which rolls downhill faster, the holed donut or the filled doughnut?

How the Moon Got its Fault Scarps: Moonquakes and the Lunar Surface

The Moon is known for its varied landscape; impact craters dot its surface, many with picturesque rays extending from them across the highlands, and so-called mare, or basalt “oceans”, cover the lowlands. But one aspect of lunar geography that captured scientists’ interest early is the presence of fault scarps, short clifflike structures zigzagging across the surface of the Moon. Like the much larger-scale mountain ranges that characterize the joining of two tectonic plates on Earth, these features point to tectonic activity on the single-plate Moon.

Quantum Physics in Secondary School? How Some Teachers Capture Student Interest Early

For many people, the phrase “quantum physics” evokes images of science fiction-like technology, a vaguely puzzled sensation, or perhaps just a shudder. Yet for a growing number of secondary school teachers worldwide and their teenage students, quantum physics represents a gateway to a lifelong love of science.

Meghan Trainor Was Right–It is "All About that Bass"

Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber… If you want to know about a generation, listen to its popular music. Songs rise to the top of the charts because they resonate with a lot of people. In fact, one way to explore cultural evolution, says researcher Jan Stupacher, is to examine trends in popular music over time.

Is the Universe a Hologram? Future Telescopes Could Tell Us

The world as we perceive might not actually exist. It could just be a hologram. This statement sounds more like a thought you've had at 3 am than a scientific theory, but the existence of a holographic universe is more possible than you think. Some theoretical work shows that the universe could exist in a dimension lower than the one our minds perceive. The debate over what’s called “the holographic principle” has largely remained theoretical, but new research in Physical Review Letters shows how scientists can resolve this cosmological conundrum.

Mayo goes nuclear: Researchers study dynamics in fusion reactors using mayonnaise

Hold the sriracha, put down the bbq sauce, and toss the mustard, because mayonnaise is finally getting its time to shine. Rather than spreading the condiment colloid on a sandwich though, researchers are using the product to study how materials interact in nuclear fusion reactors. A team of scientists from Lehigh University just published their latest research in Physical Review Fluids, which illustrates how this common household item can be used to explore a surprising question.

The First Signals of a Magnetic Supersolid

We live in a world full of color, noise, and causes that demand attention. In order to avoid being completely overwhelmed, most people quickly and instinctively sort things into neat categories that help them make sense of the world.

10 Facts About Light to Brighten your Day

May 16th is the International Day of Light, a worldwide initiative sponsored by UNESCO to celebrate the role light plays in scientific innovation, culture, and art. This day is a special day in history because it marks the first successful operation of the laser in 1960 by Theodore Maiman. In the past century, we have learned ways to manipulate light far beyond anything previously. Hopefully, these facts help you get lit, for the International Day of Light.

To Build a Better Teapot, Researchers Create Liquid Helix

It is a truth universally acknowledged that nothing—nothing—is more pointlessly irritating than a poorly designed water jug. You know—the kind that mindlessly dribbles all over the table every time you try to serve yourself? For centuries ceramicists and potters have slowly perfected ways to get around the so-called “teapot effect”, but scientists have long struggled to properly model the phenomenon.

Using an X-Ray Laser, Researchers Make the Loudest Underwater Sound

Researchers from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have produced an underwater sound so intense that it rivals the Earth-shaking roar of a rocket launch. “It is just below the threshold where [the sound] would boil the water in a single wave oscillation,” according to lead researcher Claudiu Stan, now at Rutgers University Newark. This research by Gabriel Blaj et al. was published in a recent issue of the American Physical Society’s journalPhysical Review Fluids.

Gargantua: The Science behind Interstellar's black hole

If there is one thing that everyone thinks they understand about black holes, it’s spaghettification. After all, it’s a popular plot device in countless sci-fi books and movies; there’s just something incredibly gripping about the image of some intrepid—or massively unlucky—soul being strung out until she is merely atoms thick.  In fact, the concept is so ingrained in the minds of scientists and the general public alike that reviewers tore the 2014 film Interstellar to shreds (see here and here) precisely because the protagonist wasn’t stretched into oblivion!

Lab-Created Nano Aerosols Could Improve Climate Models

“Climate change will affect nearly every person on the planet in the coming decades,” according to Jake Fontana, a research physicist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). Our ability to reliably predict and reasonably prepare for that change depends on how well we can model the climate. Thanks to a new tool developed by Fontana and his team at NRL, more accurate models may be on the way. Their results are reported in a recent issue of the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review B.

What's a Marsquake?

On April 23rd, NASA InSight scientists announced they had detected a small seismic event on Mars, aptly referred to as a marsquake. This event, the first of its kind ever detected, promises to bring revolutionary insights about planetary interiors and seismic activity on other worlds.

The Science of Knitting

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to receive a handmade sweater as a gift, you likely spent more time than strictly necessary listening to its creator describing each of its virtues in detail: Look, it won’t stretch out under your arms! The weight of this yarn will make the sweater grow with you. Notice how closely knit it is to keep you warm!

Fluid Physics Tackles Fondue

During the cold of winter, the Swiss will often prepare a warm pot of fondue for supper. The famous melted cheese dish is traditionally made with grated cheese, white wine, a thickener like corn or potato starch and seasonings like garlic, pepper and nutmeg.

Vancouver's TRIUMF Lab Bottles Atomic Shrapnel

While visitors and locals flock to Vancouver’s parks for a taste of the region’s famous untamed beauty, at TRIUMF labs another kind of natural exploration is taking place. Nestled among three green spaces, the enormous particle accelerator center might seem a little out of place with its twelve and a half acres of research buildings and radiation warnings. Yet the researchers at TRIUMF work tirelessly to coax some of nature’s deepest secrets out of normally untalkative particles: neutrons.

At Micro-scale, Peeling Tape Moves Faster than an F-15 Jet

Most of us are familiar with the screeching noise packing tape makes when it's peeled off a box, as well as the frustration of failing to cleanly remove a label from a new purchase. It turns out that the jerky stop-and-go motion we experience when peeling tape occurs at a microscopic level as well.

How to Cut a Car's Air Drag: More Air?

When you think of an aerodynamic car, what comes to mind? Smooth curves, sharp points, images of smoke streaming over surfaces in a wind tunnel—but what if we didn’t have to change something’s shape to help it cut through the air more efficiently? That’s the idea behind a new experiment reported in Physical Review Fluids, in which scientists showed that adding nozzles which shoot precisely timed jets of air can substantially cut a vehicle’s drag profile, potentially improving efficiency and gas mileage.

Sound Waves May Have Negative Mass, New Study Reveals

The sound of a sonic boom may produce about the same magnitude of gravitational pull as a 10-milligram weight, a new study finds. Oddly, the findings also suggest the pull is in the opposite direction of the gravitational pull generated by normal matter, meaning sound waves might fall up instead of down in Earth's gravitational field.

Antimatter Cosmic Rays Shine a Light on Mysteries of the Universe

Nobel Laureate Samuel Ting laughed when I asked where all of the high energy electrons that hit his particle detector were coming from. “The data has just been published three days ago,” he told me, hinting at the depth of the mystery and the virtue of patience. “The most important thing is that none of our results can be explained by current models.”

Do Rocks Contain Traces of Dark Matter?

For the past two decades, scientists have constructed a variety of experiments, including cryogenic detectors and tanks of liquid xenon, around the world in hopes of spotting the scantest signs of elusive dark matter particles. But time and time again, they've come up empty-handed. Now a team of scientists propose a completely different approach.

Machine Vision: How a Simple Hardware Hack Could Replace Thousands of Lines of Code

In an increasingly digital world, it’s small wonder that we’re constantly searching for ever-more-sophisticated ways to interact with photographs and images: designers scan a 3D prototype and import its dimensions into a computer; medical programs image an internal organ and delineate the tumor to be removed; robots avoid drop-offs by recognizing the shapes that stairs make on their detectors; teenagers transform their selfies into what appears to be a pencil sketch.

New Simulation Suggests We've Been Underestimating the Strength of Asteroids

The size of a small city, the target asteroid is imposing. The cracks and craters on its surface reflect years of wear in the extreme and dangerous environment of deep space.

Artificial Intelligence Helps Hunt Down Superconductors

Finding the next miracle material can be a tedious process. Thomas Edison and his fellow researchers famously tested thousands of materials before finding the right one for making lightbulb filaments. The search for superconductors, and in particular materials that can sustain superconductivity up to room temperature, is perhaps a modern-day equivalent.

How a Space Telescope's Accidental Discovery Overturned Everything we Thought we Knew About Lightning Storms

The GRAPES-3 muon telescope in Ooty, India was designed to study the cosmos—events that took place millions of years ago at distances that confound the human imagination. What researchers didn’t expect was that it would also shed light not just on cosmic history, but on a mystery much closer to home: the massive power hidden in a thundercloud.

Meet LANER: the "Network" Laser

It seemed like a simple idea: shine a laser through a complex network of optical fibers and see what pathway(s) the beam of light preferred. But once he got started, Giovanni Giacomelli realized that his project had opened the way to something much bigger—something that would eventually lead him to revisit the handful of laser designs currently in existence.

"Transparent Wood" Could Build the Greenhouses of the Future

Inspired by a technique first developed by botanists during the 1990s, materials scientists in the past few years have been making an almost oxymoronic-sounding material: transparent wood. While the biologists, who were studying the structure of wood, needed only small pieces, materials scientists have proposed applications like load-bearing windows and have focused on scaling up the technique.

WATCH: Waves in Liquid Metal Form Entrancing Patterns, Offer Hints on Quantum Theory

Cymatics. If you know the word, it conjures images of hypnotic geometries, shapes of sand that shift and rearrange into ever-more-elaborate configurations, while a humming sound in the background rises in pitch to become a whine, and then a high, warbling tone.

"Structural Paints" Could Create Brilliant Colors That Never Fade

Have you ever taken a moment to admire the brilliant blue of a bluebird’s feathers or the vibrant green of a beetle’s wings and wondered why you can’t buy that color in a paint can? Nature has long since perfected a kind of coloration that we humans still struggle with—but it may just be a matter of time before it decorates your living room.

Astronomers Spot a Pudgy Dragon in the Orion Nebula

Since ancient times, people gazing up at the night sky have seen animals, gods and goddesses, and other entities in the patterns of stars. Now scientists, using modern technology to peer heavenward, have spotted a new celestial object: a somewhat pudgy dragon lurking in the clouds of the Orion Nebula. The dragon's fat shape holds clues about how stars form—and how the process stops.

A New "Metamaterial Silencer" Creates Passive Noise Canceling, Without Blocking Airflow

How do you block sound without cutting off airflow? It’s a tricky question, but new work out of Boston University shows a promising advance.

Scientists Use Mathematical Modeling to Fight Encroaching Deserts

The Gobi Desert in Asia is the fastest growing desert in the world. Aided by deforestation and overgrazing, the desert devours more than 2,000 square miles of grassland each year. The expansion causes food scarcity, unemployment, migration, and massive dust storms. Wherever the desert spreads, it devastates the local economy, threatens political stability, and endangers public health.

What the Physics of Phase Transitions Can Teach us About Deadly Stampedes and Crushing Crowds

After the polar vortex that recently plunged much of North America into subzero temperatures, examples of stunning phase transitions abound. Videos of boiling water condensing into snow and supercooled water instantly crystalizing swept the internet alongside my personal favorite: bubbles freezing before your eyes.

Two Phases, Two Faces: "Janus Oscillators" Undergo Explosive Synchronization

What do algae, grandfather clocks and a two-faced Roman god have in common? On the face of it, not much—but they all play a part in a recent paper out of Northwestern University.

More Precise Data Can Lead to Worse Decisions, Study Shows

Key political, business, and personal decisions are regularly made on the basis of data and, increasingly, big data. In general, that’s a good thing—intuition is often a less reliable guide. But, as shown by new research published in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review Physics Education Research, interpreting data is a tricky skill to master.

Particle Accelerator X-Ray Blasts Help Create Ultra-Slo-Mo 3D Videos

Researchers have come up with a new technique to take 3D X-ray images and even slow-motion movies. The new method could help uncover the internal structure of tiny things, such as viruses and proteins, and shed light on processes that occur at super high speeds, such as the deformation of materials during high speed collisions. The results are reported in a recent paper in the journal Optica.

Scientists May Have Solved the Mystery of "Rogue Waves"

For centuries, sailors have returned to land with tales of being swept up in 100-ft swells, enormous waves appearing from an apparently calm ocean to terrorize even the most stalwart crew members, before sinking into nothingness just as suddenly as they appeared. The mariners who claim to have seen such “rogue waves” were few and far between—but it’s also not the sort of event that vessels can withstand, and there have always been ships lost at sea but never accounted for.

Using Just a Digital Camera, a New Method Lets Scientists See Around Corners

Shadows aren’t usually credited with bringing things to light. They're more often associated with clandestine meetings and dark corners, at least in spy movies. In contrast, new research published today in the journal Nature describes a technique developed by researchers at Boston University that uses shadows to reveal things otherwise hidden from view.

To Measure Gravity, Scientists Drop Individual Atoms

Since interferometry was developed in the 19th century, physics has not been the same. The technique, which relies on manipulating a wave’s path, has been used to measure everything from the speed of light to gravitational waves with remarkable precision. Now, physicists are applying it to an entirely different type of problem: determining the acceleration that matter experiences thanks to the gravitational pull of the Earth.

Bosons and Bubbles: Building a Universe from Scratch

Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why do we exist?

The Controversial "Cow" Explosion

It’s a supernova… It’s a tidal event… It’s a cow?

New Research Turns Tornado Models Upside Down

As we reflect on the best and worst things about 2018, here’s one reason many in the state of Oklahoma are grateful: no one was killed in a tornado last year.

There's an Excessive Amount of Radioactivity in this Middle Eastern Water Supply—but is it Actually Dangerous?

People in Egypt's western desert are drinking groundwater with naturally high levels of radium, a radioactive element, according to research presented last month at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington. Experts disagree on the cancer-related health risks, but babies who rely on the most radioactive wells could get more than 100 times the maximum levels recommended by the World Health Organization for long-term exposure from drinking water, according to the researchers. Many communities across the Middle East and northern Africa are likely also using water with elevated levels of radiation.

Starlight and Pink Poo: Studying Penguins from Space

December is behind us, but there's still a lot icy-cold winter left in our part of the world. That means we’re surrounded by snowmen, sleds, and cute little images of penguins and polar bears. This season I’m seeing those penguins in a whole new light, thanks to research presented at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting last month.