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Posts Tagged ‘Physics

“There are some things so serious you have to laugh at them”*…


They have just found the gene for shyness. They would have found it earlier, but it was hiding behind two other genes.
Stuart Peirson, senior research scientist, Oxford University Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology

Other howlers at The Observer’sScientists Tell Us Their Favourite Jokes.”

[cartoon source]

* Niels Bohr


As we titrate out titters, we might send birthday yucks to Stephen William Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA; he was born on this date in 1942.  A theoretical physicist and cosmologist, he is probably best known in his professional circles for his work with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity, for his theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation (now called Hawking radiation), and for his support of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

But Hawking is more broadly known as a popularizer of science.  His A Brief History of Time stayed on the British Sunday Times best-seller list for over four years (a record-breaking 237 weeks), and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

“We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful.”




Written by LW

January 8, 2014 at 1:01 am

Ways of seeing…


Photographer Víctor Enrich‘s NHDK project involves digitally reconfiguring the same building in Munich in 88 different “poses”…

The Barcelona-based artist is known for his “reconstructive” interpretations of architecture around the world (c.f., e.g., his images of  Tel Aviv shot back in 2010).  See more of Enrich‘s NHDK project at Colossal.


As we consider different perspectives, we might send terrifyingly (and at the same time, amusingly) insightful birthday greetings to Edwin Abbott Abbott; he was born on this date in 1838.  A schoolmaster and theologian, Abbott is best remembered as the author of the remarkable novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884).  Writing pseudonymously as “A Square,” Abbott used the fictional two-dimensional world of Flatland to offer pointedly-satirical observations on the social hierarchy of Victorian culture. But the work has survived– and inspired legions of mathematicians and science fiction writers– by virtue of its fresh and accessible examination of dimensionality.  Indeed, Flatland was largely ignored on its original publication; but it was re-discovered after Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity– which posits a fourth dimension– was introduced; in a 1920 letter to Nature, Abbott is called a prophet for his intuition of the importance of time to explain certain phenomena.



Written by LW

December 20, 2013 at 1:01 am

Never the Twain shall meet (a turkey)…


Pencil sketch of Mark Twain
by Samuel Johnson Woolf, 1906.

With an eye to the digestive challenges that many readers will likely be facing tomorrow, (R)D will be on holiday hiatus, to resume on Black Friday…  In the meantime, a Thanksgiving gift:  Mark Twain’s “Hunting the Deceitful Turkey.”

When I was a boy my uncle and his big boys hunted with the rifle, the youngest boy Fred and I with a shotgun—a small single-barrelled shotgun which was properly suited to our size and strength; it was not much heavier than a broom. We carried it turn about, half an hour at a time…

Readers will find links here to download the full story (as a pdf) or to read online at the Library of America’s site… and will realize that the real gift here is the link on that page to subscribe to their wonderful “Story of the Week” list– a free, downloadable short story, like this one, selected each week from the extraordinary trove of treasures in their stock.  The perfect post-prandial pleasure!


As we prepare to loosen our belts, we might send safe and satisfied birthday greetings to Jesse Ernest Wilkins, Jr.; he was born on this date in 1923. The youngest ever undergraduate at the University of Chicago when he was admitted at the age of 13, he went on to earn his doctorate there, and thus to become the first African-American PhD in mathematics.  He went on to earn both Masters and PhD degrees in mechanical engineering at NYU.

Wilkins was involved in the Manhattan Project during World War II, then developed mathematical models to calculate the amount of gamma radiation absorbed by any given material (a technique of calculating radiative absorption still widely used among researcher in space and nuclear science).  He then developed the radiation shielding used against the gamma radiation emitted during electron decay of the Sun and other nuclear sources.

Your correspondent, for one, will be using that shielding in his oven tomorrow.



Immovable Object vs. Unstoppable Force…

What happens when an immovable object encounters an unstoppable force?  MinutePhysics explains…

Email readers, click here


As we acclimate ourselves to anticlimax, we might send ethereal birthday greetings to Edward Williams Morley; he was born on this date in 1838.  A chemist by training, Morley is best remembered for his collaboration with physicist Albert Michelson at (what is now) Case Western Reserve University, where both taught.  They attempted to detect the relative motion of matter through the stationary luminiferous aether (“aether wind”– the medium required, scientists then believed, for the transmission of light).  On their first attempt, they found nothing; they tried again, with more sensitive equipment, and again found nothing.

The Michelson-Morley Experiment, as it’s now known, has been called both the most famous and the most important failed experiment of all time: because the aether couldn’t be detected, scientists had to contemplate the possibility that it didn’t exist…  thus, the Michelson-Morley Experiment kicked off the Second Scientific Revolution– initiating the line of research that eventually led to special relativity (in which a stationary aether concept has no role).

[Here's a candidate for the "experiment with surprising results" that might herald the Third Scientific Revolution...]


What’s (the) matter?…


On the heels of yesterday’s film recommendation, another… albeit somewhat different:  Stanford physics professor, Leonard Susskind, one of the fathers of string theory, articulator of the Holographic Principle,  and explainer of the Megaverse, has a gift for making science accessible… a gift that is on display in this lecture, “Demystifying the Higgs Boson“:

(email readers, click here)


As we say “ahh,” we might spare a thought for Pierre de Fermat; he died on this date in 1665.  With Descartes, one of the two great mathematicians of the first half of the Seventeenth Century, Fermat made a wide range of contributions (that advanced, among other fronts, the development of Calculus) and is regarded as the Father of Number Theory.  But he is best remembered as the author of Fermat’s Last Theorem.* Fermat had written the theorem, in 1637, in the margin of a copy of Diophantus’ Arithmetica– but went on to say that, while he had a proof, it was too large to fit in the margin.  He never got around to committing his proof to writing; so mathematicians started, from the time of his death, to try to derive one.  While the the theorem was demonstrated for a small number of cases early on, a complete proof became the “white whale” of math, eluding its pursuers until 1995, when Andrew Wiles finally published a proof.

* the assertion that no three positive integers ab, and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two


Written by LW

January 12, 2013 at 1:01 am


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