Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Physics’

IgNobel Prize Winners!

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, the IgNobel Prizes wrapped up not too long ago. Scicurious was live blogging the event and there was also a live webcast.

And the winners are:

A group from Europe won the Physiology award for demonstrating that yawns are not contagious in Red-Footed tortoises.

A group from Japan won the award for Chemistry by demonstrating the ideal amount ofwasabi to put in the air in order to wake people up. The purpose? A wasabi fire-alarm!

A couple of studies demonstrating how people make decisions when they really, really have to pee won the award for Medicine.

A group from Oslo won the Psychology prize for studying why people sigh. 

The Literature prize was given to John Perry of Stanford University for his theory of “Structured Procrastination“.

The Biology prize was given to a couple guys hailing from Canada, Australia and the USA for discovering a type of beetle that mates with stubby beer bottles.

A bunch of loons (e.g. Harold Camping) won the Mathematics prize for predicting the world would end and being wrong.

The Peace prize was awarded to Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, for driving over an illegally parked luxury car with an armored tank.

The Public Safety prize was given to John Senders of the University of Toronto for conducting a driving safety study by having someone drive down the highway and have avisor repeatedly hit them in the face.

And finally, (and most importantly!) the Physics prize was given to a group from France and the Netherlands for studying why discus throwers get dizzy, but hammer throwers don’t. Very important with the 2012 Olympics coming up!

______________________________________________________________________

REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

The new RSS Feed is: http://feeds.feedburner.com/AQuantumOfKnowledge

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will no longer be supported after September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

Advertisements

Watch the IgNobel Prizes Tomorrow!

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The 21st 1st (no typo) Annual IgNobel Prizes are tomorrow. What are the Igs, you ask?

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.

Awarded by Improbable Research, we will learn tomorrow whose real-life research is the weirdest, coolest, and funniest.

For example, last year’s physics prize went to

Lianne ParkinSheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, New Zealand, for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes.

Here’s the reference to prove it!

To hear about it live, you can watch the webcast or you can watch Scicurious (one of my fav science bloggers) live blog the event.

It is always entertaining and reminds us all why we love science!

______________________________________________________________________

REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

The new RSS Feed is: http://feeds.feedburner.com/AQuantumOfKnowledge

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will no longer be supported after September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

Scientists Can Be Funny!

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Apparently this is a genuine abstract from the American Geophysical Union conference in 1991:

 

______________________________________________________________________

REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

The new RSS Feed is: http://feeds.feedburner.com/AQuantumOfKnowledge

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will no longer be supported after September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

Fermilab Double-Checking CERN’s (and their own) Math

September 27, 2011 1 comment
Detector used in the MINOS experiment at Fermilab.

Of course the big news of the past week is the OPERA experiment’s measurement of neutrino’s travelling faster than light.

The paper is up on arXiv. I’ve gone through it and nothing jumps out as to what they could have possibly done wrong. Chad Orzel on his blog Uncertain Principles has written a really nice summary of the paper and what the group actually did.

(Aside: I just read How to Teach Physics To Your Dog by Orzel, and I would definitely recommend it to a reader with a budding interest in quantum mechanics.)

Now it looks like the US based Fermilab is going to go over some old data to see if they can support (or contradict) the results of the OPERA experiment.

It was back in 2007 that Fermilab announced the results of their MINOS (Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search) experiment. They also found neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light, however they had a much larger margin of error than the OPERA experiment, so they did not receive much attention.

Now, they are going to go back over their old data, as well as add some new data, to see what they find.

“The MINOS experiment has plans to update their original 2007 measurement with a number of improvements, including 10x more data,” wrote MINOS spokesperson Jenny Thomas, a professor of particle physics at University College London in an email to TPM’s Idea Lab.

“We should have a result in 4-6 months as the data is already taken. We just have to measure some of our delays more carefully,” she added. [TPM]

So in 6 months (I know, science is slow!) we will hopefully add another chapter to this fascinating story.

______________________________________________________________________

REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

The new RSS Feed is: http://feeds.feedburner.com/AQuantumOfKnowledge

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will no longer be supported after September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

Faster Than Light Particles! So, Warp Speed Ahead, Right???

September 22, 2011 3 comments

The OPERA detector at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy

I’ll have more to say about this story once I see the work on arXiv, but I feel I should comment now because this story is exploding.

The interwebs and blogospheres are abuzz with the news that researchers at CERN have measured the velocity of neutrinos which seem to be travelling faster than light.

Neutrinos are nearly massless  subatomic particles which have been known to travel near the speed of light. But, like all other things in the universe, they are not supposed to be able to travel faster than light.

Basically the experiment involves the creation of neutrinos at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and the neutrinos travelling 730 km to a laboratory 1,400 meters underground in Italy. There, an experiment called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) detects those neutrinos and measures how quickly it took them to make the trip.

The neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds sooner than they should have. This means they were travelling at a speed of about 299 800 km/s, which is slightly higher than the speed of light, which is about 299 792 km/s.

This discovery will rock the very foundation upon which modern physics is built. Seriously, this is like the discovery that the world is round or wave-particle duality; it’s a complete game-changer.

If it’s true.

Like a lot of folks out there, I am quite skeptical of this discovery. Think of it this way: which of these two scenarios is more likely,

  1. Particles can travel faster than light, completely re-writing modern physics and decades of previous research. Or,
  2. These guys made an innocent mistake.

Now, it is certainly possible that this discovery will turn out to be genuine. However, it is much more likely that there was some kind of error or misinterpretation which has led to this result.

I would like to point out that the researchers have revealed their work in the proper way. They are excited, but very skeptical themselves and are asking the academic community to review their work and try to find a flaw. Antonio Ereditato, a physicist at the University of Bern in Switzerland and OPERA’s spokesman said in an interview

Whenever you are in these conditions, then you have to go to the community

THIS is science in action, folks! A group of physicists think they have discovered something awesome. But they haven’t started trumpeting their results like they have been absolutely confirmed, no emails were leaked suggesting the discovery, and they didn’t go to some rogue publication to get their work in print prior to peer-review.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

I am very hopeful this turns out to be a genuine discovery. I can’t wait to read the papers and hear the response from the scientific community.

______________________________________________________________________

REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will no longer be supported after September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

Build Your Own Cloud Chamber!

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Cloud chambers are nifty little tools which physicists used in the 1920s to 1950s to study ionizing radiation. They were responsible for the discovery of the positron in 1932, which garnered Carl David Anderson the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1936.

After the 1950s, the Bubble chamber became the more useful tool to study radiation, but cloud chambers remain the simplest and easiest to build.

In fact, you can even build one yourself! Here’s a cool video demonstrating how they work and how you can build one:

______________________________________________________________________

REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will no longer be supported after September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

Star Trek: 45 Years of Awesome!

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

It was 45 years ago today that we were first introduced to Star Trek (not counting “The Cage”; superfans know what I’m talking about).

The cultural and even scientific implications of Star Trek are incalculable. The first interracial kiss on television was shown on an episode of The Original Series between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura. Current devices like the tablet computer and catchphrases like “Beam me up, Scotty” all permeate our lives today. (Although, Kirk never actually said “Beam me up, Scotty”, but I digress.)

The Original Series, as well as the later incarnations, have been sources of inspriation and wonder for scientists, engineers, inventors, writers and countless others.

File:Enterprise free flight.jpg
The Space Shuttle “Enterprise” was named after the Starship “Enterprise”

I’m certain that my minor obsession with Star Trek led to my 6 (almost 7) years of studying physics at the University of Western Ontario. Science has always been a passion of mine, and my life is now better for it, and I owe part of that to Star Trek.

Personally, my favourite series was The Next Generation, and I think I am in good company. TNG benefited from seeing what worked for The Original Series, and giving it a good modernization.

File:TNGopeninglogo.svg

I also quite enjoyed Deep Space Nine. Opinions are quite divided on this series, but I felt the main story arc was a fresh detraction from tradional Trek that it was well worth watching.

Recently, I had a rousing game of “Star Trek: Scene It?” with some fellow nerd friends. When my team did not answer the final questions correctly (did you know that Lt. Reginald Barclay was on an episode of The A-Team?) we moved on to a discussion of what each of our favourite episodes were.

For me, the episode that sticks out the most is The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect”. The plot involves the crew of the Enterprise-D getting caught in a time loop and attempting to send messages to their “past selves” in order to break out of loop. The intensity of the episode is kept pretty high as the time loop always ended with the destruction of the Enterprise. (The episode also has a nice little cameo by Kelsey Grammar!)

So, what is YOUR favourite Trek episode? Any series, any season, lemme know!

Now, I think I will go celebrate the rest of this day by watching a few of my favourite episodes and enjoying a nice cup of tea.

Earl Grey.

Hot.

______________________________________________________________________

REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will go dead on September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan