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Faraday explodes in court, NIST is entangled in dance, and Oliver Sacks’ periodic table


By Hamish Johnston and Michael Banks

You may remember back in 2013 when researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US entangled the motion of a tiny mechanical drum with a microwave field for the first time ever. Not content with that feat, NIST physicist Ray Simmonds, who was involved in the work, has now made a dance about it (but no song, yet). Teaming up with choreographer Sam Mitchell, the duo has created a modern dance piece entitled Dunamis Novem (“The chance happening of nine things”). Featuring four dancers, their movements are based on nine quantized energy levels of a harmonic oscillator – like the microscopic drum in the NIST work. For each level, Mitchell created corresponding dance actions, while Simmonds created a random-number generator – to add some “quantum randomness” – for the sequence of levels that the dancers perform at. If the dancers happen to touch each other, their actions become synchronized, which can then only be broken by a beam of light – demonstrating that a measurement collapses the entanglement.

NIST has published a Q&A with Mitchell and Simmonds with links to videos of the dance and the animations of the corresponding energy levels of the harmonic oscillator. A video of the first half of Dunamis Novem is shown above and a video of the entire dance is also available.

Many famous physicists had second jobs: Isaac Newton thwarted counterfeiters on behalf of the Royal Mint; Albert Einstein was a patent clerk; and Lord Kelvin was a highly successful entrepreneur. Over at io9, Esther Inglis-Arkell reveals that “Michael Faraday was the world’s most badass insurance investigator” by causing an explosion of whale oil while testifying in court.

Rounding off this week’s Red Folder is a lovely but very sad article in the New York Times by the neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, who muses over his lifelong love of numbers. He recounts the thrill of reading a recent article in Natureby physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek about a new way of calculating the mass of the proton and neutron to greater precision. He also reveals that “element friends” send him gifts of chemical elements on his birthday with the atomic number corresponding to his age. Earlier this month, on his 82nd birthday, Sacks received a collection of objects made of lead, which has 82 protons.

The sad part of the article is that Sacks has terminal cancer and is unlikely to reach his next birthday, which is bismuth. But he writes that his friends have already sent him an assortment of bismuth objects – natural and manmade – including “bismuth slowly cooled from a melt to form beautiful iridescent crystals terraced like a Hopi village”.

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  1. M. Asghar

    (Frank Wilczek, unlike in the past, where the latticed-QCD was used to calculate the masses of the different partcles in a relative manner – relative to a particle with a known mass, it is nice that, now, one can calculate in an absolute manner these masses as in the present case of proton and neutron taking into account the QEM-self-energies due to the quark electric charges derived from the systematic study of different particles. Just to note, that in the case of electron, one does not as to what is its “intrinsic mass” beyond its self energy due to its charge.

  2. Trackback: PhysicsWorld, NIST and more! | Sam Mitchell Dance


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