Here's Randall Munroe's TED talk about his What If? series, in which he answers big, weird questions about baseballs travelling at the speed of light and such, which is also the subject of a hotly anticipated forthcoming book. The talk is a mix of war-stories and insight into what makes Munroe (who is a fascinating dude) tick.
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Remember Anton Purisma's lawsuit for 2 undecillion dollars? Randall "XKCD" Munroe has devoted this week's What If? to calculating exactly what $2,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000 looks like. He points out that this is a sum larger than the present value of every manufactured good in the world, as well as all the potassium and calcium in the Earth -- more, even than the present value of a planet-sized lump of solid gold.
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A walkalong glider is a type of model plane that's kept aloft, theoretically indefinitely, by someone walking along with it as it flies, generating rising air using a piece of cardboard, paddle, or even your body. Smithsonian Air & Space posted a template and instructions for making a simple paper walkalong glider. The plans come from a recent book by Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe (better known as the Mentos and Diet Coke guys) titled "How to Build a Hovercraft: Air Cannons, Magnetic Motors, and 25 Other Amazing DIY Science Projects."
Jon Lebkowsky sez, "My amazing friend, neurocomputing specialist, musician & composer David Demaris has created the most geek-tastic opera ever, For Fear the Glass May Shatter. It's been produced as part of Austin's Fusebox Festival, and is running through this weekend at the Vortex Theatre here."
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PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien goes underground in pursuit of dark matter:
At the bottom of a nickel mine near Sudbury, Ontario, scientists at one of the world's most sophisticated particle physics observatories are investigating one of the biggest mysteries of the cosmos: What is dark matter? Science correspondent Miles O'Brien helps to shed some light on the research at SNOLAB.
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The blog Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics posted some stills from this video recently. The images were fantastic, but I didn't totally understand what I was seeing. Thankfully, FYFD blogger (and aerospace engineering Ph.D. student) Nicole Sharp was kind enough to answer my questions.
What you're looking at is a rocket engine. The video shows what happens to airflow in the engine as it goes from subsonic to supersonic. In the video and the pictures, you can see a dark red line moving down the tunnel. That's the edge of the shockwave that marks the boundary between subsonic air and Mach 1. You should also pay attention to the little black vortices that whirl away from the edge of the engine wall. Those are pretty important.
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In which professor and blogger Rhett Allain uses physics to prove that Thorin Oakenshield probably stole some gold from the wood elves
. (At least, the movie version of Thorin Oakenshield.)
Growing up in the United States, I never really heard much about high-stakes, dead-of-night defections to the Soviet Union
. But here's an interesting one: Bruno Pontecorvo, an Italian nuclear physicist who vanished (along with his whole family) while vacationing in Finland in 1951.
My friend Austin took this photograph last week, looking out his office window near the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. That flare in the distance isn't Photoshop. Nor is it the nuclear annihilation of St. Paul. Instead, it's a sun dog — an atmospheric phenomenon that happens when light from the Sun is refracted off of ice crystals in the air. The light gets bent as it passes through the crystals and we see the bright flash of a "false sun" to the side of the actual Sun. The same process can also form rings around the Sun. Whether you get a halo or a sun dog depends on which way the ice crystals are oriented in relation to you.
Temperature is just a measure of jigglyness, says Henry Reich of Minute Physics. Not in the "I don't think you're ready for this jelly" sense, but at the scale of atoms. And it's this jiggle that can help explain why two things that are, technically, the exact same temperature can feel totally different when we touch them. Great science for a cold day!
It's impossible to dive in front of a bullet and play the hero. Likewise, you can't really dodge a bullet either (unless you get a big
lead on the fact that it's heading towards you). Kyle Hill explains why the stuff that looks fancy and flashy on TV doesn't work in the real world
What comes after the Large Hadron Collider? Obviously, the answer is a Very Large Hadron Collider. At least, that's what some physicists are hoping for.
Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick's Feynman was one of the best science-oriented graphic novels I've come across (see my 2011 review for more). So I was delighted to learn that the pair are now working on HAWKING, a graphic biography of The Hawk himself, to be published in 2016. Read on for the official, exclusive announcement from FirstSecond, along with a sneak peek:
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Good news, everyone*! If you're tired of being splashed (or splashing others) with your own urine, the Brigham Young University Splash Lab has done the research and produced a series of helpful tips that will enable you to potty without the spotty. Research at the Splash Lab is heavily based on imaging and this video will show you how easy it is to reduce splash-back with simple changes like peeing against a vertical, rather than horizontal, surface.
And by "everyone", I mean "people who pee into urinals".
Forget Tesla. Luis Alvarez should be the new object of your science history obsession says Ben Lillie at The Last Word on Nothing. Them's fightin' words. But Lillie backs it up. With his son Walter, Alvarez was the first to suggest that a giant asteroid impact had led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Before that, he won a Nobel for designing a better Bubble Chamber to study electrically charged particles, invented the aircraft blind landing system and night-vision binoculars, found hidden rooms in the pyramids at Giza, investigated the JFK assassination, and was also a creepily outspoken voice in favor of global nuclear armament. (So it's not all awesome stuff.) Read more
The synthetic (or man-made) elements are the ones with silly-sounding names, found along the bottom of the periodic table — Einsteinium and Nobelium, Livermorium and Mendelevium, and more. Unlike the rest of the elements, you won't find them just hanging out in nature. They have to be created in a laboratory, and they only exist for a limited amount of time — some no more than milliseconds. Though new ones have been discovered/created as recently as 2010, the 1950s and 60s were sort of a heyday of synthetic elements, with different laboratories locked in a race to find the niftiest new things first.
During that time, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab made a film strip reenacting their own 1955 discovery of the element Mendelevium. The film lay forgotten in storage for 60 years until it was recently uncovered and restored by retired physicist Claude Lyneis. Originally just a silent sequence showing real Mendelevium discoverers Al Ghiorso, Bernard Harvey, Gregory Choppin, and Stanley Thompson demonstrating how they'd found the 101st element, the film has been updated with narration and sound effects and is a pretty cool explanation of where synthetic elements come from.
What's it like to live and work in the world's most famous physics mecca? Suzanne Moore went to Geneva, Switzerland to meet the scientists who study particle physics at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs Boson — and also home to a multinational population that can reach 10,000 at different times of year. There's a kindergarten at CERN. And Halloween parties. And, of course, the much-noted tendency toward Comic Sans Powerpoints
. In other words, CERN has a culture. This is its story