Posts tagged science
It really doesn’t take much to make a cloud chamber at home. Just a tinfoil cake pan, rubbing alcohol, a scrap of felt, some modeling clay, a clear plastic drinking glass, and some dry ice. And ziplocs, gloves and safety glasses if you’re going to bust up the dry ice yourself. In a few moments, I’m going to be seeing particles from outer space zipping through my dining room. Whee!
Last week, I wrote about seahorses for New Scientist, and I can’t stop thinking about how amazing these little buggers are. They’re the slowest animals in the ocean — they’ve only got those tiny little fins to propel them around — but they’re the most efficient predators on the planet, snagging these super quick tiny crustaceans by sneaking up on them. It all comes down to how they’re shaped. The seahorse’s head, tilted down the way it is, creates this zone of calm water which they can aim at unsuspecting prey as they creep up behind them. My favorite fact from my reporting:
“Copepods, the tiny crustaceans that dwarf seahorses eat, are highly sensitive to changes in the water around them. They rely on small sensitive hairs to detect motion, and once they sense danger they have one of the fastest escape responses of any organism on the planet – they are able to flee at 500 body lengths per second. A cheetah can only manage 30 body lengths per second.”
The researcher told me that a six-foot-tall human going that fast would be traveling at 200 miles per hour. Wowza. I have such respect for these little creatures now that I’ve learned so much about them.
Ben Lillie went on a tweeting spree last week about Luis Alvarez, Nobel Prize winner and all-around badass scientist. (He Storified the whole thing in a post called “In Which I Discover All The Crazy Shit Luis Alvarez Did,” so go check that out to see the conversation unfold where he discovers it all.)
As I saw Ben’s tweets coming in, I got really interested in Alvarez and his unbelievable range of important scientific contributions. And then this morning, while I was digging through the Brookhaven archives, he popped up in a passage about the dedication ceremony for our first particle accelerator, the Cosmotron:
"Mariette Kuper supervised the dinner arrangements, and her efforts succeeded, where others had failed, in wrecking Dean’s intention to keep the dedication ‘scientific and academic.’ She had set up several dozen tables, covered them with paper tablecloths, and in the center of each placed pitchers of her signature martinis. The pitchers had been chilled beforehand in the freezer, and on the tables they glistened temptingly with frost and tiny rivulets of dew. They looked for all the world like pitchers of water, which is how they went down…Behavior loosened, voiced grew loud, and things got boisterous…Luis Alvarez, a forty-one-year-old Berkeley physicist sixteen years away from his Nobel Prize, set his tablecloth on fire.”
Wish I coulda known this guy.
This TED ED video is a great little primer on electrons and where they actually are within an atom. The other week when I got all confused about the electrons in palladium, I asked a chemist and a physicist to explain what I was missing. And they both did a fine job, but it’s nice to see the answers here in adorably animated form, and to really revel in their meaning.
"How electrons from one atom interact with electrons from another determines almost everything…From plain old rocks to the beautiful complexity of life, the nature of everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and even feel is determined at the atomic level.”
Man, I love chemistry.
The Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded this morning to Peter Higgs and François Englert for developing the theory of how particles acquire mass. Their theories are tested at the Large Hadron Collider, where the Higgs boson was discovered with the help of scientists from around the world.
I’m privileged to work at Brookhaven National Lab, where our scientists have been involved in the hunt for the Higgs in almost every way possible. Brookhaven physicists designed crucial pieces of the detectors that actually spotted the Higgs, we host the biggest repository of LHC data outside of Geneva, and our scientists helped analyze the snapshots these detectors take, looking for the needle-in-the-haystack particle that proves this theory.
What a phenomenal thing it is to see Peter Higgs receive the Nobel for the particle that bears his name. It continually blows me away that he could have imagined this particle (and the Higgs field), written a theory that describes how matter becomes massive, and then — after 50 years of theorizing and 20 building and running the LHC — finally see his work proven out with this enormous experiment. What a stunning accomplishment for everyone involved.
Because we don’t all have the education or knowledge to be able to imagine ourselves in space the way a cinematic masterpiece can place us there. It’s not that mysterious, you pretentious windbag.
I have so many problems with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s approach to science communication, and usually I just pass it off as “eh, this guy ain’t for me,” but this tweet really makes me angry. Sometimes he knows how to spin a soundbite, but more often than not, he comes off as condescending and pedantic. So why do we enjoy this “make-believe space” more than the reality of manned space missions?
How about this: how about the notion that film has the capability to show us realities outside our own, to take us places most people will never go.
How about the fact that our government and our public education system place little emphasis on the importance of science and the endeavor of spaceflight, making it hard for people to really understand what it takes to put humans on the International Space Station.
How about the idea that a filmmaker can say more in 90 minutes than NASA can say in 10 years of press releases.
Or how about this: art is the lens through which science transforms into wonder. We can do all the most amazing science in the world, but if we don’t have eloquent, engaging, inclusive science communicators (even if they happen to be film directors in disguise) then the work will remain a mystery to the public.
I’ve heard there are scientific inaccuracies in this movie, and I hardly care. If the most talked about movie of the season is one that centers on astronauts, a spacewalk, and satellites, I’d say we’re on the right track. I’m seeing the film on Tuesday and I can’t wait to be wowed.
(See also: the best response to this tweet)
I learned a lot of cool things about butterfly wings this week because I was writing a piece on hybrid bio-nano materials that are being created to make technology that mimics Nature’s awesome powers.
The wings of the Morpho butterfly have some crazy cool properties. The surface is essentially covered in nanoscale solar cells, honeycomb-like structures that trap light, sort of like a fibre-optic cable, and can then convert it to heat to keep the insect warm in cold environments. They’re also superhydrophobic and self-cleaning.
For more on how scientists are fusing carbon nanotubes to the wings and how that could eventually lead to flexible wearable electronics or microscopic solar cells, check out the article at New Scientist.
I’m back on the freelance horse and I wrote a piece on whooping crane migrations for New Scientist. Just 60 years ago, there were only 16 whooping cranes left in the world. These days, they’re bred in captivity and then trained to fly and migrate by following ultralight aircraft piloted by researchers that have dressed up in bird costumes and allowed the hatchlings to imprint on them.
Now, I really want to meet one of these pilots and talk to them about the wonderfully singular experience they must have. Imagine taking a flock of endangered cranes on their first flight. Just, wow. These pictures make it seem like a pretty magical experience.
(All photos courtesy Operation Migration USA Inc photographers Heather Ray and Joe Duff.)
A 1939 map of physics, which lays out famous physicists and their fields of study, including: Mechanics, Sound, Electricity, Magnetism, Light, Astronomy, Heat, Mechanical and Elecromagnetic Energy, and Radioactivity. Check out the text under the Darkness peninsula:
Coming to be
Ceasing to be
If you take some time really look at this thing, it starts to make a lot of sense. You can see how different fields are related, and how particular people influenced several areas of study. From Big Think: “Some names appear more than once: Newton appears on the banks of the river leading from Light to Electromagnetic Energy, on the opposite bank of Huygens; but also between Hooke and Leibniz, on the shores of the stream between Astronomy and Mechanical Energy.”
Go explore this one, everybody. I’m going to have to add it to the list of posters I need for my office walls.