Physics

The Razor Clam’s Digging Superpower is Quicksand | 80beats

The digging motions of a razor clam.
The soft, pale foot of a six-inch long razor clam burrows through sand at an impressive rate of four body lengths per minute (video). When scientists put muscles in the razor clam to the strength test though, they found that its foot was only 1/10 as strong as it would need to be to dig so fast. What gives? The sand, literally.

Smart Seaweed Uses Laws of Fluid Dynamics to Survive Big Waves | Discoblog

Seaweeds showing off their drag reducing skills.
Littered with the dehydrating corpses of seaweeds, beaches after a big storm are a reminder that life can be tough out there in the crashing waves. But seaweeds aren’t totally defenseless. A recent study in the American Journal of Botany studied two different strategies that seaweeds use to reduce drag so that fast-moving waves don’t uproot them.

What People in 1859 Thought of the Great Solar Storm (Hint: They Were Very Confused) | 80beats

An 1865 painting by Frederic Edwin Church, possibly inspired by the aurora of 1859.
On September 1, 1859, the sky erupted in color: “alternating great pillars, rolling cumuli shooting streamers, curdled and wisped and fleecy waves—rapidly changing its hue from red to orange, orange to yellow, and yellow to white, and back in the same order to brilliant red,” read a New York Times account. This was the aurora seen around the world.

Big Idea: Physicists Carve a Niche in Time

Physicists routinely baffle reporters, but for once things went the other way.

Weight of the World: The Ongoing Fight Over How to Define the Kilogram | 80beats

The meter is fixed to the speed of light and a second to the radiation of cesium, but the mass of one kilogram is still not defined by a universal constant. Instead, it’s still pegged to an old-fashioned cylinder of  platinum iridium alloy kept under lock and key in Sèvres, France.

Is Einstein's Greatest Work All Wrong—Because He Didn't Go Far Enough?

Julian Barbour cuts an unlikely figure for a radical. We sip afternoon tea at his farmhouse in the sleepy English village of South Newington, and he playfully quotes Faust: That I may understand whatever binds the world’s innermost core together, see all its workings, and its seeds. His love of Goethe’s classic poem, about a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge, is apropos. Forty years ago, Barbour’s desire to uncover the innermost workings of the universe led him to make a seemingly reckless gamble.

20 Things You Didn't Know About... Math

5  Sometimes the oddest bits of math often turn out to be useful. Quaternions, which can describe the rotation of 3-D objects, were discovered in 1843. They were considered beautiful but useless until 1985, when computer scientists applied them to rendering digital animation.

Time and Marshmallows | Cosmic Variance

“Perhaps no one comprehends the roots of depravity and cruelty better than Philip Zimbardo.” At least, that’s what it says here.

The Arrow of Time in a Restless Universe | Cosmic Variance

A group of philosophers and scientists interested in cosmology have started a new project, funded by the Templeton Foundation, imaginatively titled the Rutgers Templeton Project on Philosophy of Cosmology. It’s a great group of people, led by David Albert and Barry Loewer, and I’m looking forward to interesting things from them.

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