Category Archives: The Red Folder

Quantum punchlines, the cloud atlas, NASA schooled

 

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive (Courtesy: Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive? (Courtesy: Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

By Sarah Tesh

 You may not normally associate humour with quantum theory, but it’s not just jokes about Schrödinger’s cat and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that links the two. Liane Gabora of the University of British Columbia in Canada and Kirsty Kitto of Queensland University of Technology in Australia have created a new model for humour based upon the mathematical frameworks of quantum theory. The idea for their “Quantum Theory of Humour” stems from jokes like “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” Separately, the statements aren’t amusing but together they make a punchline. This requires you to hold two ideas in your head at once – a concept analogous to quantum superposition.

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John Ellis on physics after the Higgs boson, calculating the loudness of the Big Bang, the chemistry of ironing

Looking ahead: John Ellis on the future of particle physics (Courtesy: IAI TV)

Looking ahead: John Ellis on the future of particle physics. (Courtesy: IAI TV)

By Hamish Johnston

In 2012 particle physicists gave themselves a giant pat on the back when the Higgs boson was discovered at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN – nearly 50 years after it was first predicted to exist. But what have particle physicists done since, and what does the future hold for the field? In a video called “After the Higgs boson: what’s next for 21st century physics?” from the Institute of Art and Ideas, the theoretical physicist John Ellis charts the future course of particle physics. Pay attention for a joke about the UK’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

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Hidden Figures behind NASA’s success, LEGO’s famous five women of space, seismic goal in Barcelona

Flight planner: NASA's Katherine Johnson now has a NASA computational facility named after her (Courtesy: NASA)

Flight planner: NASA’s Katherine Johnson now has a NASA computational facility named after her. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

International Women’s Day was this week and to celebrate, we have published K Renee Horton’s review of the film Hidden Figures and the book by Margot Lee Shetterly that the film is based on. The book and film tell the true stories of African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA and played a crucial role in America’s race into space during the Cold War. Indeed, they calculated the flight paths that would send Neil Armstrong to the Moon.

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Exoplanet christening, physics on the catwalk, ultrasonic wine

Whiskey aging barrels

Quick spirit: ultrasonic waves speed up the ageing process. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Bbadgett)

By Sarah Tesh

Last week NASA announced the major find of seven Earth-like exoplanets orbiting a nearby dwarf star. The news that at least three of the seven could possibly support life was reported far and wide. Yet, as with most astronomical finds, the planets do not have the most imaginative names. Simply named after the star they orbit, they are currently called TRAPPIST-1a to TRAPPIST-1h. So NASA took to Twitter with the request #7NamesFor7NewPlanets and the public delivered. Suggestions have included the names of lost astronauts, famous composers and ancient deities. But naturally, there were also some less sensible contributions, including the seven dwarfs, many Harry Potter references, dedications to Pluto and, obviously, Planet McPlanetface 1 to 7.

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A laser-bubble mermaid, ode to seven exoplanets, metallic hydrogen is lost

Tiny bubbles: laser-made mermaid (Courtesy: Kota Kumagai, Utsunomiya University)

Tiny bubbles: a laser-made mermaid. (Courtesy: Kota Kumagai/ Utsunomiya University)

By Hamish Johnston

A popular way of melding science and art is to create an image of a mythical being in your lab. Yoshio Hayasaki and colleagues at Utsunomiya University in Japan have made a pretty good likeness of a mermaid using a laser that forms tiny bubbles inside a liquid. “In our display, the microbubble voxels are three-dimensionally generated in a liquid using focused femtosecond laser pulses,” explains team member Kota Kumagai.

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Churchill discusses aliens, quantum films make the cut, graphene in a dress

 

By Sarah Tesh

Last September, the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore invited people to submit short films about quantum physics for their Quantum Shorts 2016 competition. Both scientists and filmmakers alike have made the short list, which has just been released. The films could be about the science, history, theories, technologies or philosophies of quantum mechanics – anything that sparked the imagination. The online competition has been going since 2012 and alternates between short films and flash fiction, and this year the films will be screened at a film festival as well. The shortlist comprises of 10 films, all available to watch and vote for online. There are supernovae, love triangles, muesli with bananas and cats – everything you could want to help explain quantum physics.

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She’s the greatest dancer, how to name an element, soccer ball finally orbits Earth

 

By Hamish Johnston

The award for most bizarre title for a scientific paper goes to psychologist Nick Neave and colleagues at the UK’s Northumbria University and University of Lincoln for “Optimal asymmetry and other motion parameters that characterise high-quality female dance”. The team says it used “a data-driven approach to pinpoint the movements that discriminate female dance quality”. Why, you might ask? “The form and significance of attractive dance, however, has been less well studied, and this limits our understanding of its role in human courtship and partner selection.” The above video is from a previous study by the team about what constitutes a good male dancer.

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3D neutrinos on your phone, Hamiltonian: an Irish Musical, is a March for Science a good idea?

 

By Hamish Johnston

How would you like to explore a giant neutrino detector in 3D from the comfort of your mobile phone? VENu is a new smartphone app that allows you explore the physics underlying the MicroBooNE neutrino detector at Fermilab. Developed by Alistair McLean of New Mexico State University and an international team of physicists, the app is used in conjunction with the Google Cardboard headset to provide users with a virtual-reality experience of MicroBooNE. VENu includes games that offer “brain teasing challenges” including working out how to spot a neutrino event in a busy background of cosmic-ray events. The app can be downloaded free of charge from the Apple Store and the Google Android Marketplace.

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Great wagers in physics, CERN’s pine marten gets stuffed, Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight

Flat out: Wallace saw him coming (Courtesy: PI)

Flat out: Wallace saw him coming. (Courtesy: PI)

By Hamish Johnston

I bet you can’t resist clicking on “Great wagers in physics history” – which has been compiled by Colin Hunter at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. A surprising number involve Stephen Hawking, whose record on winning is quite abysmal according to Hunter. Hawking’s fellow Cantabrigian Isaac Newton also enjoyed a flutter and accepted Christopher Wren’s offer of 40 shillings to anyone who could – in two months – derive a force law that explained Keplers laws of planetary motion. Newton succeeded, but ran overtime so he didn’t collect the cash. In the image above you can read about another wager involving a “flat-Earth theorist”.

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Marie Curie battles downloading robots, happy 50th birthday ILL, a dodgy portrayal of astronomers

Robot proof: Marie Curie makes an appearance (Courtesy: APS)

Robots beware: Marie Curie makes an appearance. (Courtesy: APS)

By Sarah Tesh

Avid readers of the Physical Review series of journals will be used to clicking on a photograph of Albert Einstein before downloading papers. This is a security feature designed to stop robots from the mass downloading of papers. Now, the American Physical Society – which publishes the journals – has added a photograph of Marie Curie to the anti-robot system. The addition of a famous female physicist was the idea of Anna Watts, who is an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam. She has since Tweeted “This makes me incredibly happy.”

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