Category Archives: The Red Folder

Pokémon physics, photon torpedoes, a neutrino Ghostbuster and more

Don’t fall in the water! Pokémon Go arrives at Fermilab (Courtesy: Lauren Biron/Fermilab)

Don’t walk into the water! Pokémon Go arrives at Fermilab. (Courtesy: Lauren Biron/Fermilab)

By Michael Banks and Hamish Johnston

The smartphone app Pokémon GO has been all the rage since its recent launch. The augmented-reality game is based on the Nintendo franchise and features players exploring their surroundings while trying to catch as many of the virtual creatures as possible, According to Science, Pokémon have been spotted at a number of science centres including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory while Symmetry Magazine reports that the game has also infiltrated particle-physics labs such as Fermilab, with scientists seen walking around the lab peering into their phone as they hunt down Pokémon.

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In flight around the world’s brightest laser and the inverse Cheerio effect

 

By Tushna Commissariat

If you have never been one of the lucky few to have wandered the tunnels of a particle accelerator, but have always wondered what lies within, take a look at the video above. The European X-ray Free Electron Laser (European XFEL) – which is currently under construction in Germany and will come online next year – will provide ultrashort (27,000 X-ray flashes per second) and ultrabright X-ray laser flashes that are needed to study chemical reactions in situ or to study extreme states of matter (you can read more about the kind of research that will be done there in the September issue of Physics World magazine). The XFEL tunnel is 3.4 km long and you can zoom across all of it in the 5 minute long video. I particularly enjoyed watching particular locations where engineers could be seen carrying out tests, as well as watching folks on bicycles wobble out of the camera’s way.

On a slightly related note, if, like me, you occasionally get a bit muddled when it comes to certain details of different particle accelerators – for example which came first, the synchrotron or the cyclotron – take a look at this excellent “primer” over at Symmetry magazine.

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Dinner that’s out of this world, Higgs pizza and a cosmic symphony

 

By Michael Banks and Tushna Commissariat

Before setting off to the International Space station (ISS) for six months, UK astronaut Tim Peake revealed that one of the meals he would miss most is the classic British roast dinner. So what better way to celebrate the 44 year old’s safe return to Earth last month than to create a portrait of him made from his favourite nosh? Designed by UK “food artist” Prudence Staite for the Hungry Horse pub chain, the culinary creation took 20 hours to make – you can watch a timelapse video of it being created above. The finished portrait weighed in at 12 kg and says “Welcome Home Tim”. Hungry Horse has even offered Tim and his family free roast dinners for life.

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Jupiter roars as Juno approaches, a huge helium discovery and all you need to know about dark matter

 

By Hamish Johnston

Early next week NASA’s Juno spacecraft will fire its blasters and pop itself into orbit around Jupiter. On 24 June the approaching spacecraft fell under the spell of the planet’s powerful magnetic field and the transition was captured by Juno’s Waves instrument, which measures radio and plasma waves.

The signals have been converted to sound and you can listen to them in the above video. There are two abrupt changes in the signal from Waves. One is a shift from a high-pitch whisper to a low-frequency roar that occurs when Juno crosses Jupiter’s bow shock. This is where the supersonic solar wind is slowed by the planet’s magnetic field and the roar is the equivalent of a sonic boom here on Earth.

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Cats and causality: is your moggy an Isaac Mewton?

Causal connection: are cats feline physicists? (Courtesy: CC BY/David Corby)

Causal connection: are cats feline physicists? (CC BY David Corby)

By Hamish Johnston

It’s been a very difficult week for some UK-based physicists for reasons that you can read about here. Therefore I thought this week’s Red Folder should be a bit of a tonic, so here’s a combination that’s guaranteed to put smile on even the glummest face: cats, physics and the Internet.

Cats seem to grasp the laws of physics,” at least according to Saho Takagi and colleagues at Kyoto University in Japan. It seems that our feline friends have a firm understanding of causality, as shown by their ability to recognize that an effect (an object falling out of an overturned container) is preceded by its cause (the noisy shaking of the object in the upright container). The cats quickly realized that a noisily shaken container would yield an object, but the silent shaking of an empty container would not.

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Second wave: all about LIGO, black holes, gravitational ripples and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

What an exciting week it has been, as the LIGO and Virgo collaborations announced that they have definitely detected a second gravitational wave event using the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (aLIGO) in the US.  These waves made their way into aLIGO early on Boxing Day last year (in fact it was still very late on Christmas Day in the US states where the twin detectors are located), a mere three months after the first gravitational-wave event was detected on 14 September 2015.

This event once again involved the collision and merger of two stellar-mass black holes, and since the “Boxing Day binary” is still on my mind, this week’s Red Folder is a collection of all the lovely images, videos, infographics and learning tools that have emerged since Wednesday.

LIGO physicist and comic artist Nutsinee Kijbunchoo has drawn a cartoon showing that while the researchers were excited about the swift second wave, they were a bit spoilt by the first, which was loud and clear – and could be seen by naked eye in the data. The black holes involved in the latest wave were smaller and a bit further away, meaning the signal was fainter, but actually lasted for longer in the detectors.

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Sea monsters at LIGO, how to become a ‘thought leader’ and why not string theory?

"The art of naming glitches" by Antimatter Webcomic (click to enlarge).

“The art of naming glitches” by Nutsinee Kijbunchoo/Antimatter Webcomics (click to enlarge).

By Hamish Johnston

Have you ever wondered how the LIGO collaboration managed to tease out the tiny signal from gravitational wave GW150914 from all the background noise in its kilometre-sized detectors? Well you’re in luck because experts from the LIGO detector characterization group have written a lively piece on the CQG+ blog called “How do we know LIGO detected gravitational waves?”.

It’s packed full of fun facts; for example, did you know that detecting GW150914 is roughly the same as measuring a change in distance the thickness of a human hair between Earth and Alpha Centauri, the closest star to Earth? But be warned, the article is also full of technical terms such as “whistles”, “blips”, “koi fish” and even “Fringey the sea monster”. These are illustrated in the above graphic by LIGO physicist and artist Nutsinee Kijbunchoo.

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Fractals and infinite curves, sonified data and farewell to Sir Tom Kibble

By Tushna Commissariat

Fractals have always fascinated me and I am sure it’s the same for many of you. What I find most intriguing about them is how the relatively simple base pattern, or “seed”, quickly scales up to form the intricate designs we see in a snowflake or a coastline. In the video above, mathematician and animator Grant Sanderson has created a montage of “space filling curves” – theoretically speaking, such curves can endlessly expand without every crossing its own path to fill an infinite space. Following on from these curves, Sanderson shows you just how a simple seed pattern grows into a fractal and also describes how small changes to a seed property – such as an angle in a V – can alter the final image. The above video follows from a previous one Sanderson created on “Hilbert’s curve, and the usefulness of infinite results in a finite world” so check them both out.

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Killer asteroid bust-up, exposing academic plagiarism, #IAmAPhysicist and more

Time-lapse image of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE space telescope

Time-lapse image of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE space telescope, which is used by NEOWISE to measure asteroid sizes. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

First-up in this week’s Red Folder is a tale of killer asteroids, hubris and peer review from the Washington Post. The science writer Rachel Feltman has written a nice article about a claim by physicist-turned-entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold that NASA’s research on asteroids that could potentially collide with Earth is deeply flawed. On Monday, Myhrvold posted a 111-page preprint on arXiv that argues that asteroid radii measured by NASA’s NEOWISE project are far less accurate than stated by NASA scientists. What’s more, Myhrvold seems to suggest that NEOWISE scientists have “copied” some results from previous asteroid studies.

Myhrvold began his career as a theoretical physicist and, after a stint as Microsoft’s chief technology officer, founded an intellectual-property firm. He has never worked in the field of asteroids, yet he has taken great exception to some of the physics and statistical analysis underlying the NEOWISE results. His paper has been submitted to the journal Icarus, but has not yet passed peer review – unlike the NEOWISE results. In her article, Feltman ponders why Myhrvold is actively promoting his controversial work – he was featured in a New York Times article on Monday – before it has passed peer review. She also speaks to several NEOWISE scientists, who are not amused.

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Rosetta and bedbugs, LIGO and dark matter, arXiving science and more…

 

By Tushna Commissariat

Space missions and insects are not the most usual of bedfellows. But in a wonderful example of how space technology can be translated into practical devices for use here on Earth,  a UK company has repurposed and adapted an analyser used onboard the Rosetta mission – that in 2014 landed a probe on a comet for the first time – to sniff out bedbugs. The pest-control company, Insect Research Systems, has created a 3D-printed detector that picks up bodily gas emissions from bedbugs – such a device could be of particular use in the hotel industry, for example, where many rooms need to be quickly scanned. The device is based on the Ptolemy analyser on the Philae lander, which was designed to use mass spectroscopy to study the comet’s surface.

“Thanks to the latest 3D-printing capabilities, excellent design input and technical support available at the Campus Technology Hub, we have been able to optimize the design of our prototype and now have a product that we can demonstrate to future investors,” says Taff Morgan, Insect Research Systems chief technical officer, who was one of the main scientists on Ptolemy. In the TEDx video above, he talks about the many technological spin-offs that came from Ptolemy – skip ahead to 13:45 if you only want to hear about the bedbugs, though.

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