Tag: Physics

Quote of the Day: Science

 

“All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” – Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford was a physicist. (You could tell, couldn’t you?) Yet he hits on one essential truth with this quote: the more rigorous and replicable experiments in a field of science are, the more reliable the results. With physics, mathematics provides the rigor, and if an experiment is not replicable, there better be a really good reason — some reason that when factored in makes the result replicable. Stamp collecting is Rutherfords’s shorthand for ordering and collecting, which is about all you can do absent mathematics and rigorous analysis.

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Listen, I’m going to be straight with you. This one is mostly for my fun. I mean, they’re all up largely because I like to hear the sound of my own voice. But this one, this one is a bit superfluous. This is the quantum mechanical explanation for how semiconductors work. I’ve already described the […]

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I am an armchair physicist, meaning that when inertia and a good group of books about new physics material take over me, inertia captures my body, while science captures my mind. Now there are worries that the constant clamor for equations to explain such modern physics dilemmas as string theory or the “multi verse” are […]

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Quote of the Day: Richard Feynman

 

“We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.” — Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, well known for his role on the Presidential commission investigating the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. The above quote came from his 1985 book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and was based on his 1974 Caltech commencement address. He was a strong advocate of scientific integrity that corresponds to utter honesty — test and retest your data and eliminate any other explanations. Note his disdain above to “cargo cult” science, which plagues us today with “Climate Change” and other such theories.

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Some non-physicts I know are excited by this graphene energy story. It seems to propose the possibility of perpetual subatomic friction of graphite-based materials which could endlessly supply energy and perhaps be scaled to suit a variety of applications. Is that correct? It sounds too good to be true, so it probably is. Over the […]

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The communications arm of the world’s high energy physics laboratories Interactions.org declared October 31, 2017 International Dark Matter Day, meant to spur outreach efforts by researchers in the field. The interested can see more about this and other outreach efforts here: https://www.interactions.org I organized an event at my institution, Indiana University South Bend, which had three […]

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Saturday Night Science: Planck

 

“Planck” by Brandon R. BrownTheoretical physics is usually a young person’s game. Many of the greatest breakthroughs have been made by researchers in their twenties, just having mastered existing theories while remaining intellectually flexible and open to new ideas. Max Planck, born in 1858, was an exception to this rule. He spent most of his twenties living with his parents and despairing of finding a paid position in academia. He was 36 when he took on the project of understanding heat radiation, and 42 when he explained it in terms which would launch the quantum revolution in physics. He was in his fifties when he discovered the zero-point energy of the vacuum, and remained engaged and active in science until shortly before his death in 1947 at the age of 89. As theoretical physics editor for the then most prestigious physics journal in the world, Annalen der Physik, in 1905 he approved publication of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, embraced the new ideas from a young outsider with neither a Ph.D. nor an academic position, extended the theory in his own work in subsequent years, and was instrumental in persuading Einstein to come to Berlin, where he became a close friend.

Sometimes the simplest puzzles lead to the most profound of insights. At the end of the nineteenth century, the radiation emitted by heated bodies was such a conundrum. All objects emit electromagnetic radiation due to the thermal motion of their molecules. If an object is sufficiently hot, such as the filament of an incandescent lamp or the surface of the Sun, some of the radiation will fall into the visible range and be perceived as light. Cooler objects emit in the infrared or lower frequency bands and can be detected by instruments sensitive to them. The radiation emitted by a hot object has a characteristic spectrum (the distribution of energy by frequency), and has a peak which depends only upon the temperature of the body. One of the simplest cases is that of a black body, an ideal object which perfectly absorbs all incident radiation. Consider an ideal closed oven which loses no heat to the outside. When heated to a given temperature, its walls will absorb and re-emit radiation, with the spectrum depending upon its temperature. But the equipartition theorem, a cornerstone of statistical mechanics, predicted that the absorption and re-emission of radiation in the closed oven would result in a ever-increasing peak frequency and energy, diverging to infinite temperature, the so-called ultraviolet catastrophe. Not only did this violate the law of conservation of energy, it was an affront to common sense: closed ovens do not explode like nuclear bombs. And yet the theory which predicted this behaviour, the Rayleigh-Jeans law, made perfect sense based upon the motion of atoms and molecules, correctly predicted numerous physical phenomena, and was correct for thermal radiation at lower temperatures.

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Hillary Heads for Home

 

Welcome to the Harvard Lunch Club Political Podcast for Tuesday, October 4, 2016. It’s the Hillary Heads for Home edition. We are former congressional candidate and nano-physicist Mike Stopa and radio talk host and newspaper editor Todd Feinburg, and this week we analyze

  1. the disastrous week that Donald Trump has inflicted on his campaign since the debate of last Monday night.
  2. Then we interview John Derbyshire, a longtime conservative writer whose hardline work currently appears at alt-right site VDare.com. We talk to John about the Trump candidacy. He explains why he’s voting for Trump even though he doesn’t necessarily support Trump.

We’ll also have our Shower Thoughts, and our Hidden Gem comes from folk-singer Stan Rogers and his song about (what else) a boat called The MaryEllen Carter.

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Saturday Night Science: Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy

 

“Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy” by Roger PenroseSir Roger Penrose is one of the most distinguished theoretical physicists and mathematicians working today. He is known for his work on general relativity, including the Penrose-Hawking Singularity Theorems, which were a central part of the renaissance of general relativity and the acceptance of the physical reality of black holes in the 1960s and 1970s. Penrose has contributed to cosmology, argued that consciousness is not a computational process, speculated that quantum mechanical processes are involved in consciousness, proposed experimental tests to determine whether gravitation is involved in the apparent mysteries of quantum mechanics, explored the extraordinarily special conditions which appear to have obtained at the time of the Big Bang and suggested a model which might explain them, and, in mathematics, discovered Penrose tiling, a non-periodic tessellation of the plane which exhibits five-fold symmetry, which was used (without his permission) in the design of toilet paper.

“Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy” seems an odd title for a book about the fundamental physics of the universe by one of the most eminent researchers in the field. But, as the author describes in mathematical detail (which some readers may find forbidding), these all-too-human characteristics play a part in what researchers may present to the public as a dispassionate, entirely rational, search for truth, unsullied by such enthusiasms. While researchers in fundamental physics are rarely blinded to experimental evidence by fashion, faith, and fantasy, their choice of areas to explore, willingness to pursue intellectual topics far from any mooring in experiment, tendency to indulge in flights of theoretical fancy (for which there is no direct evidence whatsoever and which may not be possible to test, even in principle) do, the author contends, affect the direction of research, to its detriment.

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I’m traveling down to Phoenix today to attend the 2016 Electric Universe Conference there. This is a fairly controversial topic among scientists and the theories that are put forward are mind boggling. Generally, this is considered a dissident faction of cosmology. In its early days it was affected by Velikovsky’s theories and books, Ages in […]

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Turkey and Russia tell different stories about the downed Russian aircraft. You might have already chosen your favorite, but the storytelling continues in Belgium! What international thriller could not be improved by the avant garde cliché premise that everybody is lying? It’s rare to see physics being used as an effective tool to comment on […]

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Alright, Rico-scientists, I turn this over to you for further explanation and evaluation. From IFL Science: The latest news regarding the EM Drive, which produces a thrust seemingly from nowhere, comes from Paul March, one of the principal investigators on the EM Drive, and was published on the NASA Spaceflight forum. The post is in reply to an […]

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Book Review: The Road to Relativity

 

“The Road to Relativity” by EInstein, Gutfreund, and RennOne hundred years ago, in 1915, Albert Einstein published the final version of his general theory of relativity, which extended his 1905 special theory to encompass accelerated motion and gravitation. It replaced the Newtonian concept of a “gravitational force” acting instantaneously at a distance through an unspecified mechanism with the most elegant of concepts: particles not under the influence of an external force move along spacetime geodesics, the generalization of straight lines, but the presence of mass-energy curves spacetime, which causes those geodesics to depart from straight lines when observed at a large scale.

For example, in Newton’s conception of gravity, the Earth orbits the Sun because the Sun exerts a gravitational force upon the Earth which pulls it inward and causes its motion to depart from a straight line. (The Earth also exerts a gravitational force upon the Sun, but because the Sun is so much more massive, this can be neglected to a first approximation.) In general relativity there is no gravitational force. The Earth is moving in a straight line in spacetime, but because the Sun curves spacetime in its vicinity this geodesic traces out a helix in spacetime which we perceive as the Earth’s orbit.

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In his 2013 book Time Reborn, Lee Smolin argued that, despite its extraordinary effectiveness in understanding the behaviour of isolated systems, what he calls the “Newtonian paradigm” is inadequate to discuss cosmology: the history and evolution of the universe as a whole. In this book, Smolin and philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger expand upon that observation […]

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I wondered about the “rotating frame of reference” since I was a child. In particular, I wanted to know what the interior view (across a chord) of a ring-shaped space station would be if it were both quite large and spinning quite quickly. Nevermind the G’s. I get Cerenkov radiation. I get the apparent rotation […]

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Saturday Night Science: Einstein’s Unification

 

“Einstein's Unification” by Jeroen van DongenIn 1905 Albert Einstein published four papers which transformed the understanding of space, time, mass, and energy; provided physical evidence for the quantisation of energy; and observational confirmation of the existence of atoms. These publications are collectively called the Annus Mirabilis papers, and vaulted the largely unknown Einstein to the top rank of theoretical physicists. When Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, it was for one of these 1905 papers which explained the photoelectric effect. Einstein’s 1905 papers are masterpieces of intuitive reasoning and clear exposition, and demonstrated Einstein’s technique of constructing thought experiments based upon physical observations, then deriving testable mathematical models from them. Unlike so many present-day scientific publications, Einstein’s papers on special relativity and the equivalence of mass and energy were accessible to anybody with a college-level understanding of mechanics and electrodynamics and used no special jargon or advanced mathematics. Being based on well-understood concepts, neither cited any other scientific paper.

While special relativity revolutionised our understanding of space and time, and has withstood every experimental test to which it has been subjected in the more than a century since it was formulated, it was known from inception that the theory was incomplete. It’s called special relativity because it only describes the behaviour of bodies under the special case of uniform unaccelerated motion in the absence of gravity. To handle acceleration and gravitation would require extending the special theory into a general theory of relativity, and it is upon this quest that Einstein next embarked.

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Saturday Night Science: Not Even Wrong

 

Richard FeynmanNot Even Wrong by Peter Woit, a man about as difficult to bamboozle on scientific topics as any who ever lived, remarked in an interview (p. 180) in 1987, a year before his death:

…I think all this superstring stuff is crazy and it is in the wrong direction. … I don’t like that they’re not calculating anything. I don’t like that they don’t check their ideas. I don’t like that for anything that disagrees with an experiment, they cook up an explanation—a fix-up to say “Well, it still might be true.”

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Saturday Night Science: James Clerk Maxwell — The Man Who Changed Everything

 

In the 19th century, science in general — and physics in particular — grew up, assuming its modern form which is still recognisable today. At the start of the century, the word “scientist” was not yet in use, and the natural philosophers of the time were often amateurs. University research in the sciences, particularly in Britain, was rare. Those working in the sciences were often occupied by cataloguing natural phenomena, and apart from Newton’s monumental achievements, few people focussed on discovering mathematical laws to explain the new physical phenomena which were being discovered such as electricity and magnetism.

One person, James Clerk Maxwell, was largely responsible for creating the way modern science is done. He can also claim credit for the way we think about theories of physics, restoring Britain’s standing in physics compared to work on the Continent, and creating an institution that continues to do important work into the present day. While every physicist and electrical engineer knows of Maxwell and his work, he is largely unknown to the general public, and even those who are aware of his seminal work in electromagnetism may be unaware of the extent his footprints are found all over the edifice of 19th century physics.

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