Archive for the ‘Physics’ Category

The LHC beam line leading to the ATLAS detector.

The LHC beam line leading to the ATLAS detector.

I watched Angels and Demons last night and could not get over the bad science. It came it two distinct varieties, the first is straight up bad or media-hyped style science the other is in the character of Vittoria, a CERN physicist. (There may be spoilers)

In the film there is concern  the LHC, when switched on, will create antimatter for the first time in the start up event (but not afterwards). This part hurt. Anti-matter, first proposed by Dirac in 1928 is created quite often in particle accelerators and hospitals.

The LHC had some typical science-movie computer interfaces though I was concerned with the part where people were walking in the tunnels as the collider was running. Personally I would not want to be in those tunnels during operation, the massive x-ray radiation generated would not be conducive to ones health, in any situation.

There are also some issues with the device used to hold the ant-matter but I will let that go as it is movie and necessary to the plot.

Then there is Vittoria the bio-entanglement physicist. I wish I knew what bio-entanglement research is or in particular how it links to energy companies, it must be a nascent field. Two comments she made in the film diverged to how a physicists (at least those I know) would really think.

First she said that she never thought that collecting a significant amount of antimatter could ever be used as a weapon. This is just wrong. Physicists realize that their work often leads to improvements in military technology, likely due to the military being a source of funding.

Finally there was the reference to the Higgs Boson. But she never said the word Higgs or boson, instead kept using God Particle. Something that is only done by the media or scientists talking to the media in an attempt to stop that particular nomenclature. I suppose that since this movie had a lot of religious themes in it the god particle seemed like a better choice. Still it hurts to hear it.

Eventually a big budget summer blockbuster film will consult with a few scientists while writing the script to get the science right.


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Refocusing a camera lens onto radioactive material.

Refocusing a camera lens onto radioactive material.

Going farther into physics results in some interesting numbers.

The mass of the sun is 1.48 kilometers.

The mass of an electron is 0.510 mega-electronvolts.

And of course the greatest equation relating the speed of light and Newton’s gravitational constant:

c = G = 1

The great thing about the above equation is that everything can be measured in terms length and units no longer pose a problem, just add them in until the equation balances.

And compared to the sun the earth has a mass of 0.443 centimeters.

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Cold Feet

Just cold.

Just cold.

Either physics students either have a propensity to not wear shoes or people who don’t wear shoes are drawn to physics.

In either case there is a disproportionate number of physics students who do not wear any footwear at all, no matter the situation. I thought it was just a Santa Barbara thing, seeing as we have fairly nice weather, then when visiting other school I notice that it is a national phenomena. Snow, rain, sun – no shoes.

I understand it a little bit, in particular the not wearing shoes around campus. But not having protective footwear when venturing into Isla Vista, labs or into, say, dining commons just seems a bit risky.

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We need to start building up to terraforming slowly.

We need to start building up to terraforming slowly.

I think that we can fix Venus to make it habitable and even pleasant.

The current problems are the run-away green house gases, the lack of a habitable temperature range, the inability for the planet to keep water and it is kind of far away.

A simple solution: hit it with an asteroid.

If an asteroid (mostly water) is taken from the asteroid belt and accelerated into Venus (in Venus’ orbit) we can speed up the planet and thereby give it a larger orbit. At a larger orbit it will have a temperature closer to Earth and it will be able to retain water on the surface.

The impact will also likely destroy the current atmosphere and perhaps liquify the surface, hopefully jump starting plate tectonics and allows oceans to form (once it cools).

The best place to put it would be slight closer to or farther from the sun than Earth. We don’t want to collide with it and we don’t want it in our orbit exactly. Once it is in a stable position we can add more water through smaller asteroids or collisions that are relatively slow. Also we can add asteroid as a moon if needed.

We just need an effective asteroid moving system as well as some good long term planning.

Good idea or great idea?

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Vanishing point.

Vanishing point.

The classic example of describing the expanding universe is the inflating balloon.

Imagine that you are on the surface of a half inflated balloon. As the balloon expands you see everything around you moving away even though you are not at the center. If you move around the balloon everything will still be moving away, there is no special center. The two dimensional surface of the balloon is expanding into a three dimensional space for ease of understanding. Likewise one could imagine our three dimensional space expanding into an embedded four dimensional space.

This analogy never really worked for me. I knew what the expanding universe meant but I don’t see how the balloon is the best way to explain it. I heard a better one recently in one of my classes.

Everyone in the room is standing (or sitting) on a particular floor tile. Imagine now that there is an explosion in the room that causes all the floor tiles to fly apart. If someone is at the center they would see everyone flying away from them. But someone sitting elsewhere in the room will see that same person flying away from them. Similarly everyone will see everyone else moving away from them while they are stationary. Except it is not the tiles that are moving apart but space itself.

Of course all of this would easier if we could easily visualize four dimensional space (like a hypercube or 3 sphere).

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Stencil graffiti on the grey door faces a Shephard Fairey poster across the street,

Stencil graffiti on the grey door faces a Shephard Fairey poster across the street,

My physics department has a room dedicated to physics undergraduates as a study room. In the room there are two rows of computers, blackboards on opposite walls, a few comfy chairs, two large desks (about a dozen seats each) and a constant scattering of undergraduates. Often there are non-physics majors in the room but these are scant in comparison with the number of physics majors and occasionally grad students who breath often the air of this room.

In this room conversations evolve that would not flourish in any other environment. Today and in the future I hope to capture some of the topics that came out of the this mixture of stress, frustration and physics.

Can dolphins communicate or see at relativistic speeds?

Are they blind due to the sound never catching up with their target? If it could catch up would the location be so distorted from length contraction that it would become a jumble?

Would not the vacuum kill them first?

If they had special dolphin spacesuits could they communicate through radio? Could echo location work through a radio and would a dolphin be able to compensate for the speed of light?

Or would PETA shut down this experiment before we could finish building our Sub Orbital Porpoise Launching Apparatus?

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This Phone is Tapped.

This Phone is Tapped.

I always found it hard to find a good example of how a scientific theory differs from the colloquial usage of the word. Professor Plaxco (my astrobiology professor) had a good way of demonstrating the difference.

We have a theory of Angola. Not many people of been to Angola (or if they have pick another small country) so no one can directly confirm the theory. However the theory makes certain predictions we can check. One is that there is a United Nations representative from Angola, we could look up their number and call the representative from Angola. Even though we have never been there we can confirm several phenomena associated with the theory of Angola.

The same is true with many scientific theories. We have Big Bang theory, it predicts several independent aspects of the universe and they are right. It predicts a microwave background radiation, variations in that background caused by phonons in the early universe, the primordial ratios of hydrogen, deuterium, helium and other elements and the expansion of the universe. Even though we cannot see the actually big bang (not yet there is some neat neutrino research being done that may let us see farther back beyond the microwave background) we can clearly see what it predicts should happen, just like the theory of Angola.

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