Physics

Hunting for Higgses | Cosmic Variance

Update: There’s a slightly expanded version of this post on the NOVA website, where I fill in some background on what the Higgs is and why we care.

How to Make Anything Disappear

Back in 2006 Harry Potter was all the rage in the engineering world. That year a team at Duke University built the first rudimentary device for hiding objects, akin to the boy wizard’s invisibility cloak. But in technology as in the movies, Harry Potter is now old news. Over the past six years, scientists have moved beyond mere invisibility: If they could build cloaks for light waves, then why not design materials to conceal sound and even ocean waves?

Impatient Futurist: High-Tech Soaps Just Might Clean Up the Planet

Between freak Arctic melting, Japanese nuclear melting, and antibiotic resistance popping up everywhere, I can’t help but see the world as tiptoeing into pre-apocalypse.

Put Down the Gun: Bank Robberies Just Ain’t Worth It | Discoblog

If only the James brothers had studied econometrics,
they would have realized that crime doesn’t pay.
Pondering a bank-robbing life of crime? Don’t start building the pool for swimming through your piles of money quite yet: Economists say that in a single raid in the United Kingdom, a robber doesn’t even earn enough to purchase a new car, while each theft increases his odds of being captured.

FBI Releases Feynman Files | 80beats

More than just a brilliant physicist, Richard Feynman was also a larger-than-life character whose enthusiasm, boundless curiosity, and mischievous sense of humor made him a dynamic lecturer and memoirist, as well as leading him to pick locks and crack safes for fun.

The Solar System's Lost Planet

Four and a half billion years ago, the place we now call the solar system was a vast cloud of gas and dust enshrouding a newborn star. Gradually those dust grains cohered and formed pebbles, which then collided and coalesced into boulders. Over the course of about 100 million years, most of the material in that nebulous cloud accreted into the existing eight planets—four rocky (including Earth) and four gaseous. Or at least that’s how astronomers thought the story went.

How Math Can Help Save a Dying Language

Though the truism about Inuits having a hundred words for snow is an exaggeration—they have a few dozen, at most—languages really are full of charming quirks that reveal the character of a culture. Dialects of Scottish Gaelic, for instance, traditionally spoken in the Highlands and, later on, in fishing villages, have a great many very specific words for seaweed, as well as names for each of the components of a rabbit snare and a word for an egg that emerges from a hen sans shell.

Does This Ontological Commitment Make Me Look Fat? | Cosmic Variance

3:am magazine (yes, that’s what it’s called) has a very good interview with Craig Callender, philosopher of physics at UC San Diego and a charter member of the small club of people who think professionally about the nature of time. The whole thing is worth reading, so naturally I am going to be completely unfair and nitpick about the one tiny part that mentions my name. The interviewer asks:

Researchers Build Miniature Flying Carpet

We’ve all seen lectures go awry when plastic transparencies slide off projectors, but L. Mahadevan was probably the first to seriously analyze a plastic sheet’s fall from grace. It is even safer to assume he was the first to use it as a model for a flying carpet. Now, due to Mahadevan’s curiosity and an enterprising grad student, scientists have created an electrically powered sheet that propels itself through the air.

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.

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