This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – brightrecruits.com can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today

Blog

Robotic cowboys and clams, the SQUID at 50 and more

Pierre-Thomas Brun shows off his lassoing skills

Pierre-Thomas Brun shows off his lassoing skills.

By Tushna Commissariat at the APS March Meeting in Denver

It has been another exceedingly busy day the APS March Meeting – there were sessions on the SQUID’s many applications, robotic clams, global health physics and the spread of epidemics, and even some toys based on physics principles. Here’s another quick round-up of the fascinating talks.

On SQUID row
It’s the 50th birthday of the superconducting quantum interference device or SQUID – a very sensitive magnetometer that accurately measures extremely subtle magnetic fields – this year, and there were sessions this morning to discuss its impact to date as well as possible future applications. Kent Irwin from Stanford University discussed how superconducting photon detectors that are used in a host of astronomical and cosmological observations are being amplified using SQUIDs. Such SQUID-boosted sensors are being used to make more accurate measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – to look at its power as well as certain polarizations modes it exhibits. As certain experiments look for signs of gravitational waves in in the CMB polarization, this could be particularly helpful.

Next, Catherine Foley from CSIRO spoke about the how the field of geological exploration and observations could benefit from the SQUID. She talked about how it was the discovery of high-temperature superconductors that endeared the SQUID to the mining industry and how it was then adapted to meet mineral-exploration needs. The method that uses “transient electromagnetics” along with SQUIDS was ultimately successful in making mineral discoveries and proved financially fruitful. Foley also touched on the challenges involved, including convincing the industry that using a SQUID was better than the more commonly used magnetic coil.

Clammy robots
Kerstin Nordstrom from the University of Maryland is fascinated by the Atlantic razor clam, thanks to how quickly and efficiently it can burrow into silty underwater soil. Nordstrom explained that as the bivalve contracts and expands while it burrows, it excites the soil particles around it, making the earth act almost like a fluid that the clam can easily dig through. Her team has built a robotic version of the mollusc, in an attempt to see if it could work as a novel, lightweight anchor for small boats. The anchor could tunnel into the underwater soil while the boat is moored and then just as easily dig its way back out when the time came to weigh anchor and head home.

Playful physics
Ending the day on a lighter note was a talk by two researchers who look to physics for inspiration when making toys. Tadd Truscott from Brigham Young University spent a lot of time skipping stones with his son. When he came across the Waboba ball that easily skips on water, the physicist in him was intrigued. He and colleagues looked into the elasticity and fluid dynamics involved with the Waboba ball and found that elasticity was key. As the Waboba ball hits water, it deforms into a pancake-like shape, increasing the amount of its surface area in contact with the water, inducing a hydrodynamic lift that skips it forward.

Pierre-Thomas Brun from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland is more of a cowboy at heart. His work looks at the art of lasso throwing and he has modelled one of the simplest tricks, known as “flat loop”, that professional trick ropers perform. He also compared his simulations with high-speed videos of a professional doing the same trick, as well as a mechanical “robo-cowboy” hand and wrist. His results offer a guide on how to spin a lasso like a real live cowboy. The work may also have applications in understanding how ropes, which are ubiquitous in nature – from DNA chains to yarn to hair to transatlantic oceanic cables – can be studied. Brun’s tips for someone starting out with their first lasso: buy a flexible rope and begin with a large loop.

This entry was posted in APS March Meeting 2014 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Leave a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guidelines

  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="http://www.google.com">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="http://iop.org/">IOP</blockquote>
IOP
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="http://www.worldwildlife.org/who/index.html">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text
WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux