Researchers get slo-mo footage of the collapse of a quantum waveform

Research from UC Berkeley's Kater Murch and team has allowed fine observation of a quantum waveform collapse. Observing single quantum trajectories of a superconducting quantum bit, published in Nature, describes the experiment, which used indirect observations of microwaves that had passed through a box containing a circuit where a particle was in a state of superposition, allowing the researchers to view the collapse in slow-motion.

I finally came to have some (admittedly crude) understanding of what all this means in 1992, thanks to Greg Egan's novel Quarantine, which is one of the best -- and most exciting and comprehensible -- explanations of superposition and uncertainty I've ever encountered.

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Nobel Prizes 2013: An award for the Higgs Boson theorists, but not for the people who found it

The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics was announced this morning and it is probably the least surprising Nobel of the year. People have been speculating for months that the award was going to be centered around the discovery of the Higgs Boson — the subatomic particle that helps explain why everything else in the Universe has mass. The Higgs Boson, itself, has been the physics pop culture celebrity for the last few years. It's even got its own blues.

So the big question going into today's announcement wasn't what discovery would the award be about. The question was who was going to end up being the named human recipients of said award. This was always going to be a tough call. The whole reason you've heard about the Higgs is because of a long-running effort to experimentally prove whether or not it existed. The very nature of experimental particle physics makes it a collaborative enterprise — proving a theory requires huge, expensive machines, international institutions, and lots of physicists. The Nobel Prize, meanwhile, can only be given to three recipients at a time. (Although an institute, like, say, CERN, could have been one of those, at least hypothetically.) The Nobel Committee gut this Gordian Knot by skipping over the experimental physicists altogether and giving the 2013 award to two theorists, alone — Peter Higgs and Francois Englert.

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Dropping things from the top of a tower — for science!

If you want to replicate the effects of weightlessness you could send various objects and animals into the sky aboard the Vomit Comet or you could just haul them to the top of a 475-foot-tall tower and let them drop. At Gizmodo India, Geoff Manaugh writes about the tower in Germany where scientists go see what happens when you drop a lead weight, or a billiard ball ... or a fish.

Live-stream two days of public lectures on physics and cosmology

The Nobel Conference is an annual event at Minnesota's Gustavus Adolphus College that brings in scientists from around the world to talk to the general public about a given theme. This year, the conference is focusing on physics and cosmology, from tiny particles to massive features of the Universe outside our own solar system. The conference runs all day tomorrow and Wednesday and you can watch the whole thing on a live stream. Lawrence Krauss will be speaking Wednesday at 1:00 central.

Richard Feynman explains rubber bands

Here's a clip from the BBC's Fun to Imagine series, in which Richard Feynman explains the amazing thing that happens when you stretch and release a rubber band. I'd always wondered why wide rubber bands got warm when you stretched them, and now I know! Feynman was a brilliant physicist and an even more brilliant physics-explainer, who busts out lines like "The world is a dynamic mess of jiggling things if you look at it right" (here's a transcript).

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Rasl: dark comic from Bone creator Jeff Smith


If you love comics, you'll know Bone, Jeff Smith's Walt Kelly-esque independent funnybook that ran for an epic 13 years. It won just about every award in the field (deservedly so), and was a nigh-perfect mix of whimsy and action.

Now, Smith is back with RASL, another self-published epic, albeit one that's much darker than Bone. Rasl, the main character, is a art-thief on the run from his past. Specifically, he's running away from his former career as a Tesla-obsessed Defense Department physicist who discovered something in Tesla's notebooks that led him to believe he had it in his power to create the ultimate weapon -- or the end to war altogether. But when he tested the technology, he learned that it let him hop between dimensions -- and also discovered that his fellow researchers were willing to hand the military everything it needed to slaughter millions. So Rasl blew up the lab and hopped to another dimension, and discovered a lucrative career in stealing transdimensional Picassos that he fences through a crooked Vegas casino owner.

Rasl is an often-brutal, high-speed adventure about loyalty, sex, romance, Tesla and mysticism. It's delicious nerdbait, tailor-made for people like me who grew up idolizing Tesla and fantasizing about dimension-hopping. It's a very different kind of story than Bone ever was, but in an absolutely wonderful way. The giant, hardcover bound edition that comes out today is a great way to acquaint yourself with it.

RASL

Enormous timescales made graspable by graphs

Wait But Why has a fantastic series of graphs that aim to help us wrap our heads around the enormous timescales on which forces like history, biology, geography and astronomy operate. By carefully building up graphs that show the relationship between longer and longer timescales, the series provides a moment's worth of emotional understanding of the otherwise incomprehensible.

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Feynman lectures as HTML

Here's an HTML-ified version of the Feynman Lectures on Physics, volume one, courtesy of the good folks at CalTech. We discussed these lectures when I reviewed Feynman, a biography in graphic novel form; they're justly considered to be one of the great works of physics instruction.

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Excellent goals from an eight-year-old


This list of third-grade goals is presented by redditor Elbostonian as the work of his eight-year-old son. It's a rather ambitious document, but admirably so -- an excellent mix of stupid body tricks, theoretical astrophysics, identity development, culinary adventure, and mystery.

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How physics sunk the Titanic

The iceberg wasn't the only thing that took down the Titanic, explains Yale University materials scientist Anissa Ramirez. Instead, cold temperatures in the icy North Atlantic changed the behavior of the materials that made up the boat — changes that reduced the ocean liner's ability to withstand a head-on iceberg collision.

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Custodian of the famous Pitch Drop Experiment died without ever seeing the pitch drop

Back in early August, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Mainstone, the man who has taken care of the Pitch Drop Experiment at Australia's University of Queensland since 1961. The experiment has been running since 1927, when Professor Thomas Parnell set out to show his students that coal-tar pitch can behave as both a solid and a liquid. Despite being hard enough to break with a hammer, the pitch also drips ... sliding very, very slowly down the neck of a funnel into a beaker.

In Mainstone's years as custodian, the drops have dripped five times. He never got a chance to watch any of them, either in person, or on video. The first falling drop he ever saw came this earlier this summer, when a different pitch drop experiment in Ireland managed to catch the event on camera.

Mainstone's pitch is predicted to drop later this fall, but he won't be around to see it. Last week, I received an email from his daughter Julia, confirming that Mainstone had died of a stroke on August 23rd. He was 78. You didn't have to talk to Mainstone for very long to get a sense of the passion he had for the pitch drop project. I'm glad I got a chance to speak with him before he died and, in a couple of weeks, we'll be running a feature story here at BoingBoing based, in part, on those interviews.

In the meantime, the Pitch Drop Experiment has a new custodian, Andrew White, a physics professor and former student of Mainstone.

Hay Devil: vortex whips field into an amazing sight

Not CGI, but convection. Krista Mitchell at the BBC Weather Centre: "This rapidly rising air lifts dust, or straw, into the air. When conditions are right, the rising air will rotate."

"Older than dirt" not really that old in the grand scheme of things

The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Actual dirt — that is to say, like the stuff in your backyard, not rocks that were once dirt — probably dates to about 2 million years ago. Dirt is young! (Relatively speaking.)

The mysterious physics of bicycles

We don't actually understand why bikes stay upright as they move, writes physicist Michael Brooks at The New Statesman. A 2011 paper, published in the journal Science, poked big holes in the old theories about gyroscopic effects, and nobody has come along with anything to fill them yet.

Physics slam (on ice!) tomorrow in Minneapolis

Tomorrow night you can catch physicists from around the country, competing to see who can explain their research in the best, funniest, most awe-inspiring way possible. The action starts at 8:00 pm in the University of Minnesota's Ridder Arena. Doors open at 7:00, and it's all free.