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Showing posts from July, 2020

arXiv-ing the History of Preprints in Physics”

By: Hannah Pell

“The American Physical Society (APS) has a vision of the future of physics publishing, in 2020 or so.” So begins a 1993 Science article titled “Publication by Electronic Mail Takes Physics by Storm.” Burton Richter, then-president of APS and former head of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), elaborated: “Any physicist, any place in the country, can turn on his computer and for free browse through the table of contents of any APS journal. [The browser] can select those things about which he wants to see an abstract, and then, after deciding what he might read, ask for the article itself and eventually pay for it like you pay your telephone bill.”

What was then a vision would in fact be our reality in 2020. In the early 1990s, physicists were on the cutting edge of revolutionizing how academic papers were shared and published. Scientists were then working within a context of seismic shifts in computational technology and seeing the early foundations of the int…

Engagement and Activism in Modern Physics Education

By Korena Di Roma Howley

As a young girl growing up in Sacramento, California, Ximena Cid would sit on her roof and stare at the night sky. “I always had a love of the stars, of the universe,” she says. Today, Cid is chair of the physics department at California State University Dominguez Hills and has pivoted from a focus in space science to one in physics education research (PER).

“In grad school, I became more and more fascinated with the way people learn [and how] the ways in which we present ideas impacts how people understand them,” she says.

She looks at how topics in physics might be rendered to better support students, noting that teaching in the introductory sequence hasn’t changed significantly in decades. “We’re still teaching in that very standard way,” she says. “What are the ways in which we can actually improve this so that more students feel engaged with the field early on?”

As a Chicana and Indigenous person of Yaqui descent, Cid is particularly interested in how t…

Fahrenheit is Good for Humans

The Case for Fahrenheit vs Celsius in terms of human comfort. 
By Allison Kubo Hutchison
Scientists have to know how to speak the languages of many units. Improper unit conversions have caused much heartache and suffering in the past, including the loss of a $125 million dollar Mars orbiter. In general, peer-reviewed science journals only accept units that are laid out in the International System of Units (SI). SI lays out seven base units that other derived units are based on. The base unit for temperature is Kelvin (K) which was first laid out by William Thomson also known as Lord Kelvin in On the Absolute Thermometric Scale in 1848. Thomson wanted a scale that started at “infinite cold” or absolute zero where molecules have a minimum vibrational motion which is theoretically the lowest possible temperature. The increments of Kelvin were set to be equal to the increments of Celcius (°C) a system which defined 0 °C to be the freezing point of water and 100 °C. Celsius had been laid o…

On Physics Identity and Culture

By: Hannah Pell


Recently I started rereading When Physics Became King by Iwan Rhys Morus, a historian of science at Aberystwyth University in Wales. Published in 2005, Morus traces the development of physics through the nineteenth century, as the field gradually evolved from its roots in natural philosophy and mathematics to later becoming regarded as the “ultimate key to unlocking nature’s secrets.” He does so emphasizing the critical roles that institution-building and identity- and community-formation have played in the professionalization of the field, tackling the questions: what did it used to mean to “be a physicist” or to “do physics,” and how have these meanings changed over time?

I wondered about the unique lessons that examining the history and culture of physics offers us. After all, physics is about exploring behaviors and phenomena within our universe that act and exist independently from us. Morus notes that, “it is central to the view of science—and of physics as the p…

Peer Pressure: how our social networks can change our choices

By Leah Poffenberger

Everyday life is full of choices: Coffee or tea? Apples or oranges? iPhone or Android? We also have to tackle more serious questions, like who to vote for in an election. Especially for the important choices in our lives, these decisions don’t happen in a vacuum: We’re usually getting a lot of information from a lot of places, especially from people around us. But how much impact do other people’s choices have on our own?

As it turns out, social networks—and the beliefs the people in those networks already hold—can have a big influence in steering what decision people within that community make. Zachary Kilpatrick, an applied mathematician and the University of Colorado, Boulder, along with collaborators at the University of Houston set out to model how individuals make choices as they gather information over time, from both their private research and members of their social network.

“A lot of past work has focused on situations where people have access to some se…

3 Groundbreaking Experiments Happening Aboard the ISS Right Now

3 Groundbreaking Experiments Happening Aboard the ISS Right Now


https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/christina-koch-activates-the-new-biofabrication-facility
NASA astronaut Christina Koch activates the BioFabrication Facility aboard the ISS in August 2019. Credit: NASA

Astronauts often leave Earth with plenty of fanfare, but spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS) also routinely carry components for on-orbit experimentation, known as payloads. These systems are integrated into ISS operations, with much of the pre-flight testing and ongoing management happening at NASA’s lesser known Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Once a payload reaches the ISS, the cutting-edge experimentation begins, and many facilities have been delivering particularly exciting data over the past few years. Below are three instruments currently aboard the ISS that are helping researchers conduct groundbreaking work in physics—and come closer to solving some of the greatest myste…