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Archive for January, 2011

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

Thanks To CBC Marketplace’s Erica Johnson

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the CBC Marketplace episode on Homeopathy called “Cure or Con?”

I was quite pleased with the episode, and made that known. I also decided I would send my appreciation to the host of the show, Erica Johnson via Twitter.

I didn’t expect a response, but to my surprise she was kind enough to this nerdy little internet blogger a message back.

There certainly is a lot of animosity towards her and the episode from homeopaths, mainly because they are running out of options on how to defend their practice. The evidence is quite clear that homeopathy is nothing but a placebo, and homeopaths are bilking honest consumers out of their money.

Perhaps more importantly, they are putting people at a huge health risk if they choose homeopathic remedies rather than real medicine.

Just know that you have lots of supporters Erica, and don’t let the Homeopaths nonsense get to you!

The Adventure of Links: January 17, 2010

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

After a long break, the Adventure of Links is back. This week,  an anti-pirate laser, the largest molecule ever made, and the most pornographic study ever. Enjoy!

Physics/Astronomy

Thunderstorms throw anti-matter into space. If I tried, I couldn’t come up with a cooler sentence than that one.

Playboy photo that was in the Apollo 12 spacecraft is up for auction. Dude, didn’t you know you can get porn for free now on the interwebs?

An astronomical portrait with 1 TERApixel resolution.

A little girl from Canada discovers a supernova. What am I doing with my life?

Astronomer reveals the Zodiac is out of whack. Loyal astrology followers ask him what they should do…

Sex is part of the problem if we are going to colonize Mars.

Health/Biology

Your weekly stoopid: Jenny McCarthy responds to the BMJ calling Andrew Wakefield a fraud. (He falsified his data. His work is a fraud.)

What do sex, drugs, and rock & roll have in common? Dopamine!

Listing nutrition information at fast food joints doesn’t discourage patrons from ordering the Double Quarter-Pounder.

The largest molecule ever made. Hint: It’s carbon-based.

Homeopaths show their nasty side. As opposed to their anti-science woo-loving side, which is closely related.

Fun/Funny

A device that blocks the noise from a dental drill.

The runways at Tampa airport need to be renumbered because the Earth’s magnetic pole is moving.

How to cut the top off a champagne bottle with a knife (with video!).

Trouble with pirates? Blast ’em with a laser!

Discovery of the world’s oldest wine-making facility.

Changes in climate correlate with the fall of the Roman Empire. Scientists once again try to explain the difference between “correlation” and “causation”.

Watson, the IBM supercomputer, beats two human champions in a game of Jeopardy!

NCBI ROFL finds the most pornographic study abstract of all time. Gotta love science!

Florida woman arrested for slapping a horse. And you thought YOU were having a bad day!

 

 

The World’s Coldest Physics Lab

January 17, 2011 7 comments

An overview of the South Pole with the South Pole Station to the left of the runway and IceCube to the right. (Photo: NSF - Photographer: Forest Banks)

On December 18th, 2010, construction of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica was completed.

IceCube is

a massive ice-bound telescope that fills a cubic kilometer of deep Antarctic ice. The main IceCube detector now contains 5,160 optical sensors on 86 strings embedded two kilometers below the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

These researchers used a large water drill to bore 86 holes into the ice of Antarctica. The holes are approximately 2.5 kilometers deep and each took an average of 48 hours to drill.

Next, they installed sensors into each of these holes designed to detect neutrinos.

A sensor descends down a hole in the ice as part of the final season of IceCube. (Photo: NSF/B. Gudbjartsson)

Neutrinos are subatomic particles which are extremely abundant and rarely interact with matter. In fact, as Darren Grant, a University of Alberta physicist explained on this weeks episode of Quirks  & Quarks, 10 billion neutrinos pass through your thumbnail every second! We never notice them though, because they very rarely interact with matter.

However, if you install enough detectors in the right kind of medium, eventually a neutrino will interact with that material and you will be able to see it.

So why ice? Well the Antarctic ice is both very thick and very transparent. When a neutrino eventually interacts with an ice molecule, it will emit what is called Cherenkov radiation. This is the same type of radiation that causes the weird blue glow in a nuclear reactor.

Cherenkov radiation glowing in the core of the Advanced Test Reactor. Via Wikipedia

On Quirks and Quarks, Dr. Grant explains that Cherenkov radiation is kind of like a “an optical equivalent of a sonic boom”. Basically after the neutrino interacts with the ice it will eject a muon from the ice molecule (a muon is an elementary particle similar to an electron, but 200 times bigger). As the muon travels through the ice, it travels faster than the speed of light through ice. This disrupts the electromagnetic field of neighbouring particles and generates the blue glow of Cherenkov radiation, which is then detected by IceCube.

[Aside:  Some of you may be thinking “Whoa! How can it travel faster than the speed of light?”. Be assured that relativity still holds in this situation. That is because the muon is still travelling slower than the speed of light in a vacuum. Since light moves more slowly through ice than it does in a vacuum, the muon will travel faster than light through ice, but still slower than light through a vacuum.]

So why study neutrinos? Well they are quite useful to astronomers because they can travel from distant stars and galaxies without interacting with magnetic fields or matter. Thus they are like a direct messenger from whatever it is the scientist is studying.

Because of IceCube’s size, it is able to detect the highest energy neutrinos, allowing scientists to study supernova, gamma ray bursts and even dark matter.

You can listen to Dr. Grant’s Quirks & Quarks interview here.

String Theory in 3D

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Pure physics-related comedic awesome. Gotta love xkcd.

Go Seahawks!

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

QWest Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks. Via Wikimedia Commons

I’m a Seahawks fan. I know I’m from Canada, but the Seahawks have been my time for years.

Last week, something really cool happened. The Seahawks beat the defending Super Bowl Champs the Saints. But the crowd also did something awesome.

Seattle’s home stadium is known to be the loudest in the league. More false start penalties per game (an average of 2.2 per game) occur at Qwest Field than any other stadium.

After Marshawn Lynch’s incredible touchdown run, the noise from the stadium registered on a seismometer run by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, mounted about 100 yards away.

In about 20 minutes, the Seahawks play the Bears in Chicago, so no home field advantage. I still predict a Seahawks win though!

 

CBC Marketplace Crushes Homeopathy

January 15, 2011 6 comments

Homeopathy is bull. 100% pure organic bull.

And for once, reality TV delivered everything I had hoped for.

An episode of CBC’s Marketplace aired tonight puts homeopathy to the test. I watched it, and I still can’t believe how happy I was with the episode.

I was expecting some science with mostly woo trying to make a “balanced” view for the story. Boy was I pleasantly surprised.

In this weeks episode, CBC Marketplace host Erica Johnson heads out to try and find the evidence of efficacy behind homeopathy. What she finds is excuses, loopholes and shrugging shoulders.

One homeopath even went so far as to warrant the treatment of stage 1 breast cancer with homeopathy. A claim met with (unexpected) skepticism from this TV show. How does it work? “We’re not really sure” she replied. Are you freakin’ kidding me!?!

The episode also featured a piece about a group from the Canadian group from the Centre for inquiry, a skeptic group, who went outside a Vancouver hospital and purposefully overdosed on a variety of homeopathic medicines. The result? Yeah they’re fine.

But as one of them pointed out, the real tragedy would be if someone gave their child homeopathic medicines instead of real medicine. In fact, homeopaths are selling “vaccines” for a huge range of diseases, including whooping-cough and, yes even polio. Are you freakin’ kidding me!?!

Homeopathic remedies have no active ingredient. None, whatsoever. They have been diluted to the point that no single pill has any active ingredient in them. To think that these pills could actually have any effect on the body is ludicrous. Yet because of tradition, these medicines have been given credence and even legitimacy by the Canadian government.

It is incredibly irresponsible of our government to give this kind of credibility to a product that, well, has no credibility! Its crap!

Homeopathy has been debunked time, and time, and time again. It has no credible science behind it, no logic behind it, and now it doesn’t even have the CBC behind it (whom I have criticized of late).

So great job CBC. Hopefully Ontario takes the hint and will get rid of its plans to regulate the sale of homeopathic medicine and call it “witchcraft” like the British government.

Update: You can now watch the full CBC Marketplace episode of  “Cure or Con” here.