Archive for the ‘Physics’ Category

Higgs Boson Explained Using Fat Man in a Pool Metaphor

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

The Higgs Boson is big news today.

We found it.

We are close to finding it.

We have surrounded it are are now waiting for a list of it’s demands.

But if you’re someone who has no idea what a hell a Higgs Boson is, how are you supposed to get excited? Don’t be the quiet one at the table during your next D&D campaign! Watch the above video.

Added bonus, a fat man terrorizes kids in a pool during the explanation.


Podcast: Super-Awesome Juice

Monday, May 17th, 2010

weird things podcast SM

The crew invents a new form of inter-species prejudice, declares their willingness to do stupid things in the name of science and then goes metaphysical.

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Newton’s Balls! Teleporting Energy a Possibility!

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Researcher Masahiro Hotta at Tohoku University has developed a framework by which it could be possible to teleport energy vast distances. The implications for this are pretty amazing. Could we use this to power deep space missions? Teleport power from the sun? Build a Death Star? One can dream.

He gives the example of a string of entangled ions oscillating back and forth in an electric field trap, a bit like Newton’s balls. Measuring the state of the first ion injects energy into the system in the form of a phonon, a quantum of oscillation. Hotta says that performing the right kind of measurement on the last ion extracts this energy. Since this can be done at the speed of light (in principle), the phonon doesn’t travel across the intermediate ions so there is no heating of these ions. The energy has been transmitted without traveling across the intervening space. That’s teleportation.

link: Technology Review: Blogs: arXiv blog: Physicist Discovers How to Teleport Energy

Invisibility Ray or Magic Trick?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

According to an article from the October 1936 issue of Modern Mechanix, invisibility wasn’t just a possibility, it was a reality. The author credulously reports a description of an invisibility ray, but states emphatically that, “This is no illusion done by some magician, no trick of mirrors, it is asserted, but an actual performance of a new device which produces and projects what, for lack of a better name, may be called an ‘invisible ray.'”

Read the description of the potential applications and decide for yourself…

SUPPOSE that out onto a stage come eight chorus girls performing an intricate dance. Gradually something seems to happen, the heads, faces, and upper parts of the bodies of the girls seem to be disappearing. In fact, little by little they do become invisible to the audience until at last only eight pairs of legs are seen gracefully skipping about on the stage in perfect rhythm. You rub your eyes and begin to think you’d better see an oculist right away, but while you are worrying about it, back into your vision come the eight girls, wholly there and dancing gaily as though they had not just given you the shock of a lifetime. Or suppose again that a girl is sitting atop a piano, singing. The piano begins to fade from sight; finally the girl is left sitting in midair, nonchalantly swinging her feet and blithely singing, as though her perch was perfectly substantial.

If you did not think that you were just “seeing things,” right off you’d say, “Some invisible wires, or anyway, a cleverly arranged set of mirrors.” But you would be wrong in your guess. At least so says Mr. Adam Gosztonyi, the inventor of a machine which he claims can accomplish just such disappearing acts as have been described.

For something that’s not a magician’s trick, it’s kind of odd that all of the theoretical applications are theatrical in nature.

At that same time an illusion known as Pepper’s Ghost and the Blue Room was well known to magicians. It did *exactly* the same thing as described in the demonstration and under the same conditions. Check out a YouTube video here of a historic recreation of the effect (two facts: 1. It uses a mirror. 2. I’ve touched it).

In defense of the Modern Mechanix reporter, it’s a really awesome effect.

link: Modern Mechanix Invisibility At Last Within Grasp of Man

Call New Element Kryptonite!

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Super-heavy element 112 is now on the scene, more than ten years since it’s creation at the Center for Heavy Ion Research in Germany. And it needs a name. Internet sensation Professor Richard Wiseman believes it should be called Kryptonite, and has started a campaign on his blog to make it so.

If you ask us, it’s about damn time someone put kryptonite on the periodic table. To get on board with the campaign please post your support on his site, and together we can make our universe a little more like the Superman universe.

Note: This won’t change much for the majority of the population, who always thought that kryptonite was an element anyway.

Saturn’s Persistent Hexagon

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Saturn's North Pole

Saturn’s North Pole (Cassini-Huygens, 2007 and 2008)

In November 1980, planetary scientists eagerly examined transmissions received from the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it sped past Saturn. And with good reason! Amid those transmissions was the first image of Saturn’s North Pole – a region that’s virtually impossible to see from Earth, and, depending on the degree by which Saturn is tilted, can be cloaked in darkness for up to 15 years at a time (and you thought your last winter was never going to end).

What those scientists saw, and later missions confirmed, was a decidedly bizarre feature in the gas giant’s atmosphere directly above the North Pole: a 15,000-mile-wide hexagon.


Making Star Trek Possible: Warp speed without the warp drive

Friday, May 8th, 2009

A five-part series that tries to explain how to make the science of Star Trek real…


Probably the most fascinating idea that Star Trek popularized was the idea of a warp drive. This was a concept from golden age sci-fi that went mainstream via Trek as space-age audiences became sophisticated enough to realize that NASA’s fastest rockets wouldn’t take you very far in a human lifetime. Even going the speed of light wouldn’t work for a show that tried to visit more than one star system in it’s 3 season run (due to time dilation your characters could visit those places, but their friends back on earth would be long dead). What was needed was a (plot) device that allowed you to visit distant planets in the time it takes to drive to the next state.

Since Star Trek, warp drive has become a part of public consciousness. It’s a theoretical form of technology that some feel is as inevitable as AI and teleportation.

There’s one big catch; while AI (or something that acts like it) seems to be a problem solved at some point on a graph projecting the development of intelligent systems and teleportation seems to be more of an energy problem, there’s not a viable theory for how a warp drive could work (exotic matter, worm holes, Alcubierre drives etc.) that doesn’t violate the laws of physics (as we know them) or result in some equation balancing phenomenon like a “quantum scream” (an obscure term used in an equally obscure paper on the subject).

Making Star Trek Possible: The Humanoid Problem

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

A five-part series that tries to explain how to make the science of Star Trek real…

Separated at birth?

In an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called the “The Chase” a long running problem in Star Trek was finally solved – Why do all the aliens in Star Trek look humanoid. The answer was not “budget”. It was that a race that lived 4.5 billion years ago seeded the galaxy with its DNA. Humans, Vulcans, klingons etc., all got their imprint from them. We kind of look like each other because we all look like some alien race from 4.5 billion years ago. Problem solved. But is Intelligent Design really a satisfying answer?

If we find aliens that look like us, what other explanations could account for them?

Having to deal with a slightly more sophisticated audience that grew up watching Star Trek, the producers of Stargate and the producers of the television series had to come up with a simple explanation for there being humans all over the galaxy in present day time. Their solution was a popular one in sci-fi literature: We were kidnapped. Over the last 100,000 years humans have been relocated to the distant corners of our universe. Once there, they go about their business. Building monuments to their gods (Star Trek and Stargate) or becoming thriving interstellar civilizations more advanced than us on earth (Iain Banks’s The Culture).

Ian Banks Matter


Making Star Trek Possible: Practical Time Travel

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

A five-part series that tries to explain how to make the science of Star Trek real…

Time Travel stories generally suck. There are some noteworthy exceptions – specifically stories that deal with the problems of time travel and not just time travel as a plot device (Primer, Back to the Future, to name a few).


Star Trek has done some great and some very bad time travel stories. Story merits aside, there’s one big problem with most time travel stories; Transmitting people back in time (information) has no theoretical basis: It’s impossible. For every worm hole propped open with exotic matter or giant Tippler tube, someone always finds an equation to show how the universe corrects itself with quantum screams, bubbles or other annoyances that get in the way of us correcting that horrible thing that happened in 6th grade or saving the whales.

Assuming for a moment that the killjoys at MIT and Princeton who relish in pointing out that time travel as we understand it is impossible, then what? How can we tell scientifically literate time travel stories? (more…)

Making Star Trek Possible: Mind melding and ESP

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

A five-part series that tries to explain how to make the science of Star Trek real…

Spock's early failures at mind melding

An important part of the Star Trek mythos is the idea of mind-to-mind contact. Spock uses this to probe other people’s minds and even transplant his entire consciousness. Counselor Troi used it to read the feelings of other species. It’s a wonderful concept that has fascinated people since at least the 1800’s. Unfortunately, we’re no closer to it being real now then we were back then.

We can imagine all sorts of technology assisted ways to make this real, but there’s nothing sexy about your Vulcan girlfriend asking you to step into an fMRI so she can read your voxels (okay, maybe a little sexy). What we need are some organic solutions or explanations for brain to brain transmission that make the concept a little more plausible. (more…)