Friday, March 28, 2014

10 Things That Can Tangle Your Brain?

A blog on the Huffington Post listed 10 things in physics that can "tangle" one's brain. Normally, I would read this and shrug. But there's a bit of misleading and incorrect information here that should be corrected. Let's go through the list:

1. Space ripples

OK, this one was on the news a lot the past couple of weeks. Nothing much to say here since the coverage is appropriately on the superficial level, which is fine this this is meant for the masses.

2. Quark-gluon plasma

I'm not going to nitpick this one since the description doesn't say much more than some generalization of what it is.

3. Time is slowing down

This is where the trouble begins. The argument for "time slowing down" is given by "Tidal friction caused by the Moon's gravitational pull is causing Earth's rotation to slow so that a day on Earth gets 1.4 milliseconds longer about every 100 years. " Sorry, but this is NOT time slowing down. It is the earth's rotation that is slowing down. The rate of oscillation of cesium atom in an atomic clock remains the same.

4. Light can be stopped completely

This is not new, but it might appear to be if you read it here: "Last year scientists in Germany successfully stopped light from traveling for an entire minute, by trapping it in a crystal." Light has been stopped in atomic gasses since way back in 2001, especially from Lene Hau's group at Harvard.. That's more than a decade! They may not have done it as long as the German group, but they have stopped it, completely!

5. Teleportation

6. Quantum entanglement

I'm grouping these two together because they are basically the same thing. The claim that a photon has been "teleported" is false, because what is teleported is not the photo, but rather a particular property of the photon, and that is tightly connected to quantum entanglement. If you read the article, you'd think this is your "teleportation" that one sees in Star Trek. It isn't.

7. Quantum foam

OK, so this is vacuum fluctuation.

8. Light bends matter

On one hand, this may be unusual to most people. But if one learns a little bit about physics, is this really new and unexpected? Compton scattering, anyone? That old and well-known phenomenon alone shows that light of a certain wavelength can change the trajectory of matter (electrons, for example). And let's not forget, particle accelerators around the world use RF sources to accelerate, bend, and manipulate charged particle trajectories.

9. Invisibility cloak?

10. The "God particle"

Nothing much to comment on there.

Anyhow, I guess it should be commended that a mainstream news source is covering something in physics. I just wish that they would at least find an expert FIRST to clean up the article, rather than just use "an education research assistant" as the other contributing author. I'm always surprised that people without the proper background seem think that they can write an accurate description of something which clearly is way over their heads.



Tom said...

The stopped light is still hyperbole. The light was absorbed and re-emitted, preserving the properties, which is quite a feat, but during that time there was no photon, rather than a stopped one.

kayhayen said...

With the earth rotating slower, there is an effect of us moving less accelerated. So I think "time on earth" should go ever faster in comparison to other reference frames therefore.