Archive for the ‘Weird Physics’ Category

NYU Scientists Create Microscopic Tractor Beam!

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Star Wars uses tractor beams as frequently as newly graduated college kids use U-Haul trailers.

Imagine if, just like in the movies, you could hook up those U-Hauls with a tractor beam instead of trying to get one of those ball-and-cup trailer hook-ups?

That day might not be as far away as it once was according to research at the Department of Physics and Centre for Soft Matter Research at New York University. Although it’s on a significantly smaller scale than trying to yank the Millenium Falcon into your garage using a flashlight, scientists have recently used a beam of light to pull a particle in a line. While researchers of the ideas surrounding what’s being called ‘soft matter’ have used laser ‘tweezers’ to pull along particles, using light alone to move something verged on magical.

By varying the relative phase of the two beams, this technique traps the particle in a moving hologram they call an ‘optical conveyor’ which allows ‘bi-directional transport in three dimensions’.
New Scientist explains how projecting the beams in this way creates a pattern of alternating bright and dark regions. By fine tuning the beam photons in the bright regions which flow past the chosen particle can be made to scatter backwards, hitting the particle and knocking it on towards the next bright region.

Watch the guy in the video explain it in an endearingly enthusiastic nerdy manner…and then explain what he’s talking about to us.

[Daily Mail UK]

Don’t Kill Hitler! & 4 Other Helpful Tips To Avoid Time Travel Paradoxes

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Time travel has been a staple of science fiction since its inception.  As early as 1895 HG Wells, arguably the father of modern SciFi, wrote about time travel and its implications in “The Time Machine” .   Now a days we get at least one time travel movie every year, mostly centered around paradoxes.  Paradox is the term physicists use for the illogical effects of a careless time travelers. The most famous is one in which a time traveler kills his ancestor in the past. If this happens there is no logical way for the time traveler to be alive to kill the ancestor.  This is called the Grandfather Paradox.

In modern times, experimenters have observed time reversal in  particles and theorized how to use moving wormholes to build time loops.  Physicists have recently even shown how a time machine can be constructed.  Of course, if such a device is possible, even in the far future, care should be taken to prevent possible universe destroying paradoxes.  The following is a simple guide on how to keep yourself,  and the universe, safe, should you decide to take that vacation to the Precambrian Era.

First of all, the basics.  We don’t really know what kind of time traveling the universe allows.  There has been many scientific papers on the mechanics of possible universes.   Both Science and Fiction have narrowed down the possibilities for us:

Type I: The Back to The Future Universe, in which there is a single timeline that can be altered and produces paradox opportunities galore.

Type II: The Time Cop universe, in which every trip produces a myriad of splinter universes with different colored Statues of Liberty, etc.  JanClaude Van Damme lives in all of them.

Type III: The Doctor Who Universe in which time travel is possible but the universe itself prevents and corrects inconsistencies.  This is the currently  accepted scientific standard but things change often in this field .

Regardless of which universe we inhabit we have a few simple rules that will keep you from fading away and keep  the time space continuum running like a Canton Hegemony built  chronometer:

Get your tips AFTER THE JUMP…

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…)

Making Star Trek Possible: 5 methods for non-quantum teleportation

Monday, May 4th, 2009

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

Spock teleporting

The transporters in Star Trek are an exciting concept. Recent developments in quantum physics have made the possibility of teleporting matter a theoretical possibility while warp drive still remains a fantasy concept. However, the amount of energy required to move a person and all the other problems that go with it (engineering and ethical) leave quantum teleportation a bit to be desired for practical use. Crazy things can happen, but in the event that quantum teleportation doesn’t scale up or people are upset by the idea of their atoms being destroyed so copies can take their place, here are some slightly (we think) more practical solutions for teleportation that use way less energy and preserve your atoms: