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Posts Tagged ‘research’

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!

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Ryan

If Your Bandage is Glowing, That’s Bad…

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment
Polymer

A polymer and fluorescent dye work together to cause a bandage to glow in the presence of infection.

A team of researchers at the University of Sheffield has developed an interesting way of detecting bacteria in a wound (I know, gross).

The researchers found that a polymer attached to a fluorescent dye on bandage can detect when bacteria or other harmful organisms come into contact with the wound. The polymer changes shape when the bacteria are present, activating the dye and emitting ultraviolet light.

The technique was mainly developed with military applications in mind. Being able to easily and quickly identify infected wounds on the battlefield could help significantly reduce the severity of injuries.

“If you know you’ve got infection it’s going to change how you treat your soldiers, it’s going to change how you’re going to treat those patients in the home,” Sheffield researcher Sheila McNeil said. [UPI.com]

At the moment, the technique has only been applied to artificial tissues. However, it currently takes several days to confirm the presence of infection, so there is quite an interest in expanding the technique to human trials.

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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:

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

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Ryan

Don’t Eat This Jelly…

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment
a66c5  55257095 hamish Jelly batteries break the mould
A battery using a polymer jelly could make for cheaper, more efficient batteries.

Researchers from the University of Leeds have developed a new type of polymer jelly which could be used to make lighter, cooler (temperature wise) and more efficient rechargable batteries. They could be used in any application which currently uses a lithium battery, such as laptops, cell phones or tablets.

Professor Ian Ward from the University of Leeds went on BBC Radio 4 recently to discuss the new polymer jelly his research group has been working on.

This jelly, he says, could replace the current liquid electrolyte in most lithium batteries. The polymer jelly is supposed to be 10-20% cheaper but will not reach the high temperatures current batteries operate at during long usage times.

It would be regarded as safer because there is no excess solvent or electrolyte. All the solvents are bound into the polymer at a molecular level.

The group set out simply to make batteries safer. But as luck would have it, the design actually makes the batteries cheaper and more efficient.

It will certainly be cheaper because…the process of making batteries at the moment is generally rather laboruious. whereas we can do it in an instant step at a rather fast rate.

The batteries will also end up being lighter for doing similar applications as current electrolyte filled batteries, which will be particularly useful for military applications, says Ward.

This is one of those scientific advances which doesn’t seem too glamourous, but could directly affect all of us. Cell phones, tablets and laptops are ubiquitous now and battery life is a major consideration when buying a new device.

Anyone in the mood for PB&J now?

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

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Ryan

Marty McFly’s Self Lacing Shoes Up For Auction

September 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Nike is auctioning off 1500 pairs of Marty McFly’s futuristic shoes from Back to the Future Part II in order to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research.

Bill Hader and Christopher Llyod star in the promo video:

If you want to bid on the shoes, you can go to http://nikemag.ebay.com/

But be forewarned, the shoes are going for $3000 – $4000. But hey, it’s for research right?

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

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Ryan