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Archive for January, 2011

Editor’s Selection!

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

From xkcd.com

And I don’t mean to toot MY own horn, but my post “Redefining the Kilogram” was chosen as an “Editor’s Selection” at ResearchBlogging.org!

Maybe I’m not too bad at this blogging thing after all. :)

 

Fascinating!

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Want to make your day better? Watch Spock say “fascinating” 46 times in 91 seconds.

Turning Boring Data Into Awesome Movies

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

As reported today on Scientific American, the Advanced Visualization Laboratory at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), turn terabytes worth of data into majestic astronomic visual treats.

They talk more about the process in the Scientific American piece.  For me though, sometimes you just want to see the Universe in all its awesomeness, and leave the data analysis to the experts. (That last statement is a bit ironic since I am a data analyst, but that’s not important right now…)

The first mini-galaxies formed when the universe was just a few hundred million years old. Over time, these small galaxies interacted and merged to build up ever larger galaxies, including big spirals like our own Milky Way. Credit: NCSA/NASA/B. O’Shea (MSU) and M. Norman (UC San Diego)

Two spiral galaxies undergo a protracted crash lasting two billion years, eventually merging into a single elliptical galaxy. Credit: NCSA/NASA/B. Robertson (Caltech) and L. Hernquist (Harvard Univ.)

Beginning when the universe is about 20 million years old and continuing to the present day, this visualization provides a glimpse of how the cosmic web may have developed. Credit: NCSA/NASA/R. Cen and J. Ostriker, (Princeton Univ.)

You can see a few more videos like these at the James Webb Telescope page.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Trailer Released. Yeah, I’m a Nerd. Shocker!

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Yeah, FF XIII was a bit disappointing. But remember, it was only disappointing in comparison to other Final Fantasy games.

XIII was still a pretty damn good game, and XIII-2 will be great too.

It will be released in North America either right around Christmas 2011 or Q1 2012.

 

We’ve All Wondered It: How Long Can You Wear Jeans Without Washing Them?

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

When I was in first year university, living in rez, I probably wore the same pair of jeans for about a month before washing them. I thought it was a little gross, and my mom would have my head if she ever found out, but I did it.

Yeah they smelled a little bit, but laundry just takes so long and I had this paper due and that girl wouldn’t call me back…

But I digress.

So how long can you really wear a pair of jeans without washing them? One student from the University of Alberta put it to the test.

As reported on the CBC, Josh Le wore “skin-tight” jeans for 15 months (did we need to know they were skin-tight?) without washing them, from September 2009 to December 2010.

But he actually did do a bit of science here. After 15 months he swabbed the jeans for bacteria. Then, he washed the jeans, wore them for 2 weeks and swabbed them again, and compared the results.

Josh Le, with his pair of skin tight jeans that he wore for 15 months straight. (John Ulan/Canadian Press)

And wouldn’t you know? The results were about the same!

“They were similar,” [Le’s Professor Rachel McQueen] said of the bacteria count of the freshly washed pair, compared to the pre-washing levels. “I expected they would still be much lower than after 15 months.”

So although the jeans were technically not infested, they did start to smell a bit.

“I triple-bagged them and put them in the freezer,” [Le] said.

Ok, so you COULD wear your jeans for months and they wouldn’t be any more infected with viruses or bacteria than a usual wear of a week or so. But the real question is: should you?

Whether Josh had a date in those 15 months was not mentioned. And frankly, his professor is kind of cute, so I don’t think he should have shown her those jeans.

But, anything in the name of science. Good for you Josh! I admire your gumption.

The American Physical Society Announces New, Open-Access Journal

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

With perhaps the coolest name for a journal yet, Physical Review X (PRX), a new open-access journal from the American Physical Society, will publish its first article in Fall of 2011. From the press release:

As broad in scope as physics itself, PRX will publish original, high quality, scientifically sound research that advances physics and will be of value to the global multidisciplinary readership. PRX will provide validation through prompt and rigorous peer review, and an open access venue in accord with the strong reputation of the Physical Review family of publications.

I love open access, mostly because its easy to get a hold of the articles you want to read. There are also far too few of them, but there has been some pushing to get more open-access journals out there.

So PRX will publish studies from all areas of physics. Me, with my mind in the gutter immediately thought that with a name like Physical Review X it would be about dirty things, but alas, it remains about reputable research.

Thats alright though, I can settle for regular physics research too. And also check out the editor of this journal, Jorge Pullin, Chair of the Horace C. Hearne, Jr. Institute for Theoretical Physics and professor in the Louisiana State University Center for Computation & Technology and Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Jorge Pullin, Editor of PRX. From the PRX homepage

Possibly the best chops I’ve seen on a physicist; or on anyone for that matter. Awesome.

Redefining the Kilogram

January 19, 2011 3 comments

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org
There has been a movement in the physics world for that past few years to standardize the kilogram. At the moment, a kilogram is defined as the mass of the International Prototype Kilogram (IPK), housed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM).

The International Prototype Kilogram. Via BIPM

The prototype is made of 90% Platinum and 10% Iridium. The kilogram is now the only physical constant based on a physical artifact.

Since it is the only constant left to standardize, physicists have been working on a way to do this. Unsurprisingly, it one such strategy has to do with Avogadro’s constant, which is a constant used throughout the physical sciences and relates the number of atoms of a substance to the amount of the substance. It has been previously defined as 6.02214179(30)×1023 mol-1

A study published online yesterday in Physical Review Letters has measured Avogadro’s constant with the highest accuracy yet.

The study was performed by using x-ray crystallography, a technique which studies the way x-rays “bounce” off the material. In this way, scientists can get an idea of the density of the material they are studying, which is directly related to the number of atoms.

The biggest problem with this technique in the past has been the high experimental errors. The BIPM has stated that any new definition of the kilogram  must have an error less than 2 x 10-8, which is pretty damn small.

So in this experiment, the researchers used a silicon sphere which had been enriched with the isotope 28Si. Why?

In this way, the absolute calibration of the mass spectrometer with the required small uncertainty could be overcome by applying isotope dilution mass spectrometry combined with multicollector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

What does that mean? In a nutshell it means that the experimenters changed the isotopic abundance of silicon in the sample. Since the researchers knew what the natural isotopic abundance of silicon was, they were able to measure how it changed after they added more 28Si, and through a little bit of math were able to determine the isotopic abundance of the sample.

Confused? Don’t worry. At the end of they day all it means is they were able to greatly reduce the error in their measurement.

Why silicon? Mostly because it can be produced at very high purity and with very few defects in the crystalline lattice structure.

Next, they measured the atoms in 2 silicon spheres. It was required that the isotopic abundance of the spheres be known (which they did using 28Si enrichment) as well as the molar mass and the volume. Since silicon arranges itself in a well-known crystal pattern (8 atoms per crystal cell), determining these values was feasible.

They also needed the silicon spheres to have the same mass as the BIPM standard. They were able to get the mass the same within 5 micrograms. The volume of the spheres was determined by measuring the diameter of the spheres using optical interferometry. The volume was calculated to a very high accuracy, within 1.3 x 10-7 cm3.

So, by using x-rays, the researchers measured the “lattice parameter”, or the length of one side of a single crystal structure of silicon. Knowing this lattice parameter, as well as the fact that there are 8 atoms per crystal, and the volume of the sphere, they were able to get a measure of Avogadro’s constant.

By averaging the values from both spheres, they were able to get a value for Avogadro’s constant of NA = 6.02214078(18) x 1023 with a relative uncertainty of 3.0 x 10-8.

So their error is still greater than the requirement for a new standard, but its pretty close. The researchers believe this technique can be refined enough to get the uncertainty below that requirement.

Ok, so why do we care? Well coming up with a standard for the kilogram based on Avogadro’s number is an elegant way to link the microscopic world with the macroscopic world. Having the standard will also help with the way experiments get reported all over the world.

Reference:

Andreas, B., Azuma, Y., Bartl, G., Becker, P., Bettin, H., Borys, M., Busch, I., Gray, M., Fuchs, P., Fujii, K., Fujimoto, H., Kessler, E., Krumrey, M., Kuetgens, U., Kuramoto, N., Mana, G., Manson, P., Massa, E., Mizushima, S., Nicolaus, A., Picard, A., Pramann, A., Rienitz, O., Schiel, D., Valkiers, S., & Waseda, A. (2011). Determination of the Avogadro Constant by Counting the Atoms in a ^{28}Si Crystal Physical Review Letters, 106 (3) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.106.030801