Fine Structure

Learning Physics from your Dog

You may recall a certain contest a while back at Uncertain Principles which had dispensed some early copies of Chad Orzel's forthcoming popular physics book, How to Teach Physics to your Dog. I managed to snag a copy with a fine rendition of LOLEMMY and I've found myself a little commute time to finish it recently.

Continue reading…

Ion Engines are the Future

The future of space travel is missing a critical piece of science fiction: the dull blue glow of a futuristic engine propelling a starship through the abyss.

Well, not anymore. VASIMR, an experimental ion engine from Ad Astra, is currently in testing and it gives off the most beautiful blue glow! Here's a video of the engine being run for a short period.

Ion engines are special because they're designed for the gravitational conditions of outer space - they produce a slow and steady stream of propulsion. Chemical rockets, on the other hand, are designed to give everything they've got to escape the gravity of the Earth. I'm glad the future is almost here.

Published October 7, 2009 • No comments [ ]

Women in Space, or the Mercury 13

Wired has a new article on an alternate 13 women astronauts that were put through medical and psychological evaluations similar to what the Mercury 7 were subjected to when being selected for the program. Their timing is nice since I'm a little more than halfway through Light This Candle, Alan Shepard's biography, which has spent quite a few pages on the Mercury program so far and Shepard isn't even in space yet.

Considering the times, I would wonder if the women were seriously being thought of as astronauts or if the tests were simply being done to please someone. Not that I don't think they could do the job - the tests found that the women excelled in some of the tests beyond the men - but there was such a culture of machismo in the Mercury program, it would be surprising.

Published October 6, 2009 • No comments [ ]

Physics Nobel Prize for 2009

If you're an avid reader of science blogs I'm sure you've heard this already (damn east cost bloggers), and I think my blogging license would be revoked if I didn't mention the Nobel at least in passing:

Charles Kao, Willard Boyle and George Smith won the physics Nobel prize today. Kao for his work with fiber optics, Boyle and Smith for "an imaging semiconductor circuit" - the ccd.

Congrats to them all!

Published October 6, 2009 • No comments [ ]

Summer of Science Visits Fermilab

For one reason or another, the Summer of Science blog seems to be taking a bit longer than expected to add the "summer" travels across the US to various places of physics interest. However, a number of great photos from Fermilab are now up on the site, including more strange Robert Wilson architecture than you can shake a stick at.

Hopefully the rest of the trip will appear in some publication sooner rather than later!

Published October 5, 2009 • No comments [ ]

Airborne Laser Burns Things Good

Boeing has unleashed it's ATL (that's Advanced Tactical Laser aircraft) on an unsuspecting truck and captured video for all of us to enjoy. Check out the link below for video of this impressive piece of equipment burning a hole in a 1ft square target on the hood from the vantage point of the truck, or the aircraft.

Keep in mind that this isn't just a laser pointed at a truck, it's a laser mounted on a C-130H, flying at a hundred miles an hour, at least, pointed at a truck. And this thing is hitting the 1ft square target for 20 seconds without doing too much jumping around. That's a nice bit of stabilization.

Published October 3, 2009 • No comments [ ]

CERN Says LHC is Almost Cool

Good news on the long trek to bring the LHC online after an extended downtime to replace numerous magnets. The LHC is almost cooled down again!

The LHC must run at a chilly -271˚C at all times and it takes quite a while to get all 27 kilometers of beamline down to that temperature. Scientists at the LHC are still waiting on two of eight sectors to be fully chilled, though they're already in the process of cooling as I write this. And when they're done... the magnets can be turned on again. That's really the turning point to figure out if the repairs over the last six months have been successful.

Published October 2, 2009 • No comments [ ]

Soyuz TMA-16 Launch Video

There is one way to know that you really do appreciate space travel: watch this video of the Soyuz rocket that launched TMA-16 towards the ISS today. If you still think that space travel is a beautiful thing even after watching that awfully ugly piece of metal hurtle into space, you're one of the dedicated ones.

Nothing against our Russian friends personally, of course. The Soyuz has a pretty decent safety record and simplicity will always prove reliable. The soviet-era design aesthetic, however, has never been a particular fancy of mine.

What do you think? Soyuz or Shuttle? Soviet or smooth lines? Baikonur or Cape Canaveral?

Published September 30, 2009 • No comments [ ]

Google Docs Adds LaTeX Support

A great day for scientists on the internet!

Google Docs, the online "office" suite of tools, has added a full equation editor into the document editor. Not only can you point-and-click your way through building equations, you can write them out if you're fluent in LaTeX and adjust them via an automatic preview.

As for LaTeX around these parts, I previously authored a MovableType plugin to output images from LaTeX code which has languished as I've been away from school. Now that I'm back in school (more on this later), more and more LaTeX will be required so I'll have to bring the plugin back from the dead. Hopefully soon!

Published September 29, 2009 • No comments [ ]

Nobel Prizes for 2009

Next week is Nobel prize week again (it seems like it was only yesterday...) and speculation about the Nobel prize for physics abounds. Thomson Reuters has a number of predictions up for a number of categories, although you can't take the suggestions too seriously, as their accuracy is only 15 correct guesses over 6 years.

Last year, Fine Structure bet on the creators of graphene since they won the Europhysics prize in 2008. However, there have been very few mentions of graphene this year... have there been no advancements in this field in the last year?

Published September 28, 2009 • No comments [ ]

2009 MacArthur Fellows Announced

The 2009 MacArthur Fellows were announced this week. Their prize, also known as a "genius grant", is $500,000 over five years with no strings attached as to what project they may use it for. The MacArthur Foundation award is notable in that it targets people who show promise in their future work, and is not based on past accomplishments.

Published September 23, 2009 • No comments [ ]

Dot Physics Census Results

Rhett conducted an informal census of Dot Physics readers and the results are back. Interestingly, Tom's suggestion that most readers were, in fact, science bloggers turned out to be incorrect, at least for readers of dotphys. There are a lot more college student readers than I expected, Rhett naturally has a large number of high school physics teachers and tech people make up the last large percentage of the readers.

There's some more interesting data here, maybe we can refine and extend this kind of survey across more science blogs in the future.

Published September 22, 2009 • No comments [ ]

Dead Fish Love Happy People

In a shocking paper released by UCSB scientists, dead fish can sense human emotion. No, really. The scientists placed dead fish in an MRI machine and asked the limp salmon to respond to various emotional states. The MRI lit up. Does this explain all the interesting MRI results we've heard over the last decade or so? Most of them are likely valid, so not entirely. But the point is, of course, that even high-tech procedures need control groups to eliminate the effect of random noise in the result.

[thanks sippey!]

Published September 18, 2009 • No comments [ ]

First Light Looks Good For Planck

When we last heard from Planck, the newest investigator of the cosmic microwave background, it had started taking data mid-august. Now, just a month later, the first images from Planck are available for everyone to see.

The way in which Planck takes pictures might seem a little strange from the first picture - it's sort of a curvy ribbon of data over the entire sky - but the informational video about how Planck rotates to eventually image a 360˚ area clears things up.

Published September 17, 2009 • No comments [ ]

Analysis of the LED Throwie

Evil Mad Scientist Labs, one of my favorite diy electronics blogs, practically pioneered the LED throwie as the fad took off across electronics sites in the last couple of years. Given their popularity, it's strange then that no one had ever measured the throwie performance given different colors, batteries, etc.

Wonder no more, EMSL has done a full workup on how these simple circuits consume electricity and what can be done to improve throwie lifetime by 2x!

Published September 17, 2009 • No comments [ ]

The Tevatron Collides Once Again

The tevatron is back online!

After a long shutdown to upgrade many of the tevatron's systems, the fine folks at Fermilab have once again started colliding beams of protons and anti-protons. According to the tevatron twitter account, initial collisions were seen in a cross-section of 63 inverse microbarns (10-34 meters) and 1650 inverse nanobarns (10-37 meters) - still much less than the femtobarn (10-43 meters) cross-section that the tevatron will eventually collide within.

Published September 16, 2009 • No comments [ ]