Category Archives: The Red Folder

A journal for brief ideas, Heisenberg’s mirror, space-mission stickers and more

Mission accomplished: these graphics were created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. (Courtesy: spaceprobe.es)

Mission accomplished: these graphics were created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. (Courtesy: spaceprob.es)

By Hamish Johnston

Dr Heisenberg’s Magic Mirror of Uncertainty” is the name of a series of photographs taken in 1999 by the American photographer Duane Michals. The picture over at that link is lovely, but I don’t really see the connection to quantum mechanics. I suspect my artist friends would accuse me of being a scientific literalist, which doesn’t bother me one bit.

More to my liking are the graphics pictured above, which have been created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. The pair run a website called spaceprob.es, which “catalogues the active human-made machines that freckle our solar system and dot our galaxy”. Here is their page on Voyager 2, which is packed with facts about the mission’s instruments and many accomplishments. These and other illustrations of space missions can be bought as stickers and posters – the perfect gift for the space enthusiast in your life.

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Oscar-nominated physics, putting the jump into popping corn and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

There is nothing quite like a bowl of hot, buttery popcorn – and it seems as if even physicists are enthralled by it as they dig into the pops and jumps of this tasty snack. A recent article in the New York Times caught our attention this week, as it talked about how a French research duo used high-speed video cameras and a hot plate to see just why a kernel of corn not only pops, but also leaps up as it puffs. The team found that as the kernel’s hull is breached, we hear the popping sound and this is swiftly followed by the jump that happens when a puffy bit of the inside pushes out and makes the corn jump, a bit like a muscle twitch. Take a look at the lovely slow-motion video above of individual kernels leaping about like perfect puffy ballet dancers.

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William Blake’s graphene sensor, boiling an egg inside out, quantum woo and more

 

By Hamish Johnston

Are you tired of the same old boiled egg staring up at you every morning? Then why not try this simple trick from the Japanese chef Yama Chaahan, who in the video above creates a boiled egg with the yolk on the outside and the white in the middle. There is angular momentum and fluid dynamics involved, and if you don’t understand Japanese, the Huffington Post has a step-by-step guide in English.

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Poetry please, a protein-folding app for your phone, and a new home for the Institute of Physics

Artist's impression of the new headquarters of the Institute of Physics

Artist’s impression of the new headquarters of the Institute of Physics.

By Hamish Johnston

You may not know it, but you could be a poet.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope have just launched a contest to find the best “Ode to Hubble” as part of the celebrations for Hubble’s 25th birthday. Although described as an ode, the contest is actually looking for a short video tribute to Hubble that can include verse, song, prose as well as still and moving images. The piece can either be about the telescope or one of its many discoveries. There are two age categories, one for “generation Hubble” – those born after its launch – and one for over 25s. So look to the stars and get those creative juices flowing.

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The devil wears pulsars, Leó’s lost love and a terrifying polonium plot

Out of this world: a Hubble T-shirt from Couth Clothing (Courtesy: Etsy)

Out of this world: a Hubble T-shirt from Couth Clothing. (Courtesy: Etsy/Couth Clothing)

By Hamish Johnston

Fancy a Hubble Space Telescope T-shirt or perhaps a pair of leggings printed with glow-in-the-dark stars and planets? For pictures and links to these and other stellar fashions, check out the STARtorialist blog, which is run by two astronomers based in New York City and described as “Where science meets fashion and scientists get fabulous!”.

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Deflategate, DIY particle detection and an ode to Beagle 2

By Hamish Johnston

Loyal sports fans often need a reason for losing beyond “their team was better than ours”, and the latest blame-game in American football comes with a twist of physics to it. The run-up to this year’s Superbowl is no exception. Some disgruntled Indianapolis Colts fans claim that the New England Patriots had taken advantage of deflated footballs to make their decisive 45-7 victory on 18 January, which sends them to the championship game.

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Entangled and stringy videos, a new chat show about the heavens, Hawking and Newton hit the Oregon Trail and more

By Hamish Johnston

This week’s Red Folder begins with a pair of videos that attempt to explain some of the most difficult concepts in physics. First up is a video featuring physicist and filmmaker Derek Muller, who does a lovely job of explaining quantum entanglement with the help of a few cardboard cut-outs and a couple of spinning avatars (see above).

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The physics of pop music, a stroll around the LHC, 3D illuminations in Bath and more

Pop physics: some of the subgenres used in a study of pop music (Courtesy:  Gamaliel Percino, Peter Klimek and Stefan Thurner/PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115255)

Pop physics: some of the subgenres used in a study of pop music. (Courtesy: Gamaliel Percino, Peter Klimek and Stefan Thurner/PLOS ONE 10.1371/journal.pone.0115255)

By Hamish Johnston

The take-home message from this week’s Red Folder is that “Scientists just discovered why all pop music sounds exactly the same”, at least according to an article on Music.Mic. The report describes a paper published in PLOS ONE by Stefan Thurner – a physicist at the Santa Fe Institute – and colleagues at the Medical University of Vienna.

The researchers used the online music database Discogs to sort the material on 500,000 albums into 15 musical genres and 374 subgenres. You can see examples of some of the subgenres in the above image. They discovered that as a genre of music becomes more popular, it becomes less complex as all its constituent artists and songs start sounding the same. Music.Mic’s Tom Barnes explains in his article how this ties in with various trends in the music industry, where he says “uniformity sells”.

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The 10 quirkiest physics stories of 2014

By Michael Banks

From a particle collider made of LEGO to physicists taking on the ice-bucket challenge, physics has had its fair share of interesting stories this year. Here is our pick of the 10 best, in chronological order.

The designated survivor

The nuclear physicist and US energy secretary Ernest Moniz may be 14th in the US presidential line of succession, but if something really terrible had happened in late January, then he might have found himself leading the world’s biggest economy. That is because Moniz was appointed the “designated survivor” while US president Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address earlier this year.

Ernest Moniz

Ernest Moniz: the designated survivor. (Courtesy: MIT Energy Initiative)

The speech, which is attended by the country’s top leaders, including the vice-president, members of the US cabinet and Supreme Court justices, is where US presidents outline their legislative agenda for the coming year. A designated survivor is a member of the cabinet who stays at a distant, secure and undisclosed location during the address to maintain continuity of government in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack that ends up killing officials in the presidential line of succession.

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Villainous physicists, Hubble’s cat and more

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in the film The Theory of Everything. (Courtesy: Universal Pictures International)

By Tushna Commissariat

This week we heard about a possible new James Bond film villain and its none other than Stephen Hawking. According to this story in the Telegraph, he feels as if his trademark wheelchair and computerized voice would lend themselves perfectly to the part. On the same note, we saw this interesting feature on the Wired website that looks at the history behind Hawking’s very recognisable voice. Last month, I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of James Marsh’s Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, which includes a rather touching and funny scene of Hawking testing out his voice for the first time. You can read more about the film in the reviews section of the upcoming January issue of Physics World.

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