Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Helium Balloon In An Accelerating Vehicle

A while back, in a Part 6 of my Revamping Intro Physics Lab series, I mentioned an "experiment" that students can do involving a suspended helium balloon in an accelerating vehicle. I mentioned that this would be an excellent example of something where the students get to guess what would happen, and at first, what actually happens does not make sense.

Well now, we have a clear demonstration of this effect on video.

There is a good explanation of why this occurs in the video. It is also nice that he included a hanging pendulum in the beginning for comparison, and that this is what most of us are expecting to occur.

Might be a nice one to quiz your kids if you are teaching basic, intro physics.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dark Energy

In case you want an entertaining lesson or information on Dark Energy and why we think it is there, here's a nice video on it.

This video, in conjunction of the earlier video on Dark Matter, should give you some idea on what these "dark" entities are based on what we currently know.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Learn Quantum Mechanics From Ellen DeGeneres

Hey, why not? :)

Although, there isn't much of "quantum mechanics" in here, but rather more on black holes and general relativity. Oh well!


Science Is Running Out Of Things To Discover?

John Horgan is spewing out the same garbage again in his latest opinion piece (and yes, I'm not mincing my words here). His latest lob into this controversy is the so-called evidence that in physics, the time difference between the original work and when the Nobel prize is finally awarded is getting longer, and thus, his point that physics, especially "fundamental physics", is running out of things to discover.

In their brief Nature letter, Fortunato and co-authors do not speculate on the larger significance of their data, except to say that they are concerned about the future of the Nobel Prizes. But in an unpublished paper called "The Nobel delay: A sign of the decline of Physics?" they suggest that the Nobel time lag "seems to confirm the common feeling of an increasing time needed to achieve new discoveries in basic natural sciences—a somewhat worrisome trend."

This comment reminds me of an essay published in Nature a year ago, "After Einstein: Scientific genius is extinct." The author, psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, suggested that scientists have become victims of their own success. "Our theories and instruments now probe the earliest seconds and farthest reaches of the universe," he writes. Hence, scientists may produce no more "momentous leaps" but only "extensions of already-established, domain-specific expertise." Or, as I wrote in The End of Science, "further research may yield no more great revelations or revolutions, but only incremental, diminishing returns."
So, haven't we learned anything from the history of science? The last time someone thought that we knew all there was to know about an area of physics, and all that we could do was simply to make incremental understanding of the area,  it was pre-1985 before Mother Nature smacked us right in the face with the discovery of high-Tc superconductors.

There is a singular problem with this opinion piece. It equates "fundamental physics" with elementary particle/high energy/cosmology/string/etc. This neglects the fact that (i) the Higgs mechanism came out of condensed matter physics, (ii) "fundamental" understanding of various aspects of quantum field theory and other exotica such as Majorana fermions and magnetic monopole are coming out of condensed matter physics, (iii) the so-called "fundamental physics" doesn't have a monopoly on the physics Nobel prizes. It is interesting that Horgan pointed out the time lapse between the theory and Nobel prizes for superfluidity (of He3), but neglected the short time frame between discovery and the Nobel prize for graphene, or high-Tc superconductors.

As we know more and more, the problems that remain and new ones that popped up become more and more difficult to decipher and observe. Naturally, this will make the confirmation/acceptance up to the level of Nobel prize to be lengthier, both in terms of peer-reviewed evaluation and in time. But this metric does NOT reflect on whether we lack things to discover. Anyone who had done scientific research can tell you that as you try to solve something, other puzzling things pop up! I can guarantee you that the act of trying to solve the Dark Energy and Dark Matter problem will provide us with MORE puzzling observations, even if we solve those two. That has always been the pattern in scientific discovery from the beginning of human beings trying to decipher the world around us! In fact, I would say that we have a lot more things we don't know of now than before, because we have so many amazing instruments that are giving us more puzzling and unexpected things.

Unfortunately, Horgan seems to dismiss whole areas of physics as being unimportant and not "fundamental".


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Graphene Closer To Commercial Use

When an article related to physics makes it to the CNN website, you know it is a major news.

This article covers the recent "breakthrough" in graphene that may make it even more viable for commercial use. I'm highlighting it here in case you or someone else needs more evidence of the "application" of physics, and if anyone who thinks that something that got awarded the Nobel Prize in is usually esoteric and useless.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"An Engineering Guide To Photoinjectors"

How would you like to own a 335-page book on the physics and engineering of electron photoinjectors? For free!

That is what you will get if you click on the link. If you are ever interested in electron accelerators, especially at the "birthing" end where the electrons are generated and given the initial acceleration, this is the review book to get. It explores not only the engineering aspect of the photoinjectors, but also the physics of photocathodes, and what makes a good photocathode for accelerator applications.

Highly recommended.


"Introduction to superfluidity -- Field-theoretical approach and applications"

A very useful book chapter on superfluids if you are so inclined to study this subject in a bit more detail.


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Exploding Anvil In "Outrageous Acts of Science"

Rhett Allain vented his frustration on the bad physics being used to explain the "exploding anvil" situation from the TV show "Outrageous Acts of Science".

See if you can take up his challenge and come up with a better diagram and explanation. :)


Friday, April 04, 2014

Physics In Health And Industry

I always try to show people that many of the stuff they now use, came out of the research work that had almost no apparent and immediate practical application. I often use high energy physics as an example, because in many camps, this is the poster child of esoteric physics that has no clear applications. Yet, people forget that the World Wide Web, the medical detector and diagnostics, and many others, came about as direct spin-offs of experiments in high energy physics.

This report of a recent conference on advanced radiation detectors will reinforce this point.

The first afternoon was rounded up by Colin Latimer of the University of Belfast and member of the EPS Executive Committee. He illustrated the varying timescales between invention and mass-application multi-billion-dollar markets, with a number of example technologies including optical fibres (1928), liquid-crystal displays (1936), magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) scanners (1945) and lasers (1958), with high-temperature superconductors (1986) and graphene (2004) still waiting to make a major impact. Latimer went on to present results from the recent study commissioned by the EPS from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which has shown the importance of physics to the European economy.
Erik Heijne, a pioneer of silicon and silicon-pixel detectors at CERN, started by discussing innovation in instrumentation through the use of microelectronics technology. Miniaturization to sub-micron silicon technologies allows many functions to be compacted into a small volume. This has led in turn to the integration of sensors and processing electronics in powerful devices, and has opened up new fields of applications (CERN Courier March 2014 p26). In high-energy particle physics, the new experiments at the LHC have been based on sophisticated chips that allow unprecedented event rates of up to 40 MHz. Some of the chips – or at least the underlying ideas – have found applications in materials analysis, medical imaging and other types of industrial equipment. The radiation imaging matrix, for example, based on silicon-pixel and integrated read-out chips, has many applications already.

Without the effort and the need to push the capabilities of these detectors, there would be no reason to innovate, and the pace of advancement in many of these detectors will slow down considerably. The need to make better detectors to do high energy physics experiments DRIVES innovation in these various areas that have a clear and direct spin-offs into practical applications.

This is the part that many, including politicians, seem to not be aware of.


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Relativity Isn't Relative

This is a good Minute Physics video. Most people when they superficially read about Relativity (Special and General) pay most of their attention to the "relative" quantities, such as mass, length, and time. Yet, the most important aspect of SR and GR, and other areas of physics such as gauge theory, the thing that we want are the covariant/invariant quantities. These are things, as the video stated, that aren't based on perspective, or relative to anything. It is why, for example, that we can state the mass of the many elementary particles without the need to state the speed of these particles (not that the concept of "relativistic mass" makes much sense in the first place).

So if all you have heard about Relativity is how everything is relative, then this video will be useful to you.


The Real Physics Behind "Star Trek"

This is a rather last-minute notice, but if you are in the Chicago area, Dirk Morr will discuss the physics and technology behind Star Trek, today, Wednesday, April 2, 2014, at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus.

Dirk K. Morr, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, joins us to discuss the scientific ideas behind Star Trek technologies. Morr will present his findings at 6:00 pm on Wednesday at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Behavioral Science Building.

You may read the rest of the article to see what science and technologies from Star Trek that have some resemblance to what we do now.