Category Archives: Physics

Backyard history: Southern California’s impact on astronomy

Silicon Valley has reshaped the earth, Hollywood has driven our perceptions of it, and not always for the better.  Less well known is the outsized role California has played in understanding our universe.   Mt. Wilson, Mt. Palomar, and their astronomers have had a Copernican impact on where we stand in the grand scheme of things.  The word ‘vision’ gets bandied about a lot these days but George Ellery Hale had it in spades.  Here’s how the two observatories that housed Hubble, Humason, ShapleyZwicky, Baade, Rubin, and Schmidt came to be.

The third video from Corning’s Museum of Glass shows that the path to science is not always smooth and that learning from mistakes is the norm.  The original 200 inch pyrex disk for the Palomar primary did not go according to plan and had to be recast.  The second attempt succeeded and even so, it took ten years of painstaking grinding and polishing at Caltech before it was ready for use.

Youtube Channel: Palomar Observatory

Youtube Channel: Irish Astronomy

Youtube Channel: Corning Museum of Glass

 

The time is out of joint: Chris Impey on the tick-tick-tock of the stately clock

Steven Weinberg wrote a famous book, “The First Three Minutes” on the early stages of the universe.  The same universe became transparent to light some 370,000 years later.  There are other landmarks in post-Big Bang time going down to bewildering fractions of a second.

But the early universe was very hot, very dense, and gravitationally very different from the comfortable-to-us 1 g we experience today on the surface of the earth.  Einstein has convincingly shown that spacetime is accordingly divorced from that human experience.   Clocks, for example, are affected by gravity and satnav constellations have to take this into account.  Did the first three minutes flow the same way three minutes flow in the here and now?  I sent that question to Chris Impey’s online office hour and he kindly answered.  It is a tantalizing response and one that will require substantial further study to fully appreciate – perhaps finally diving into the guts of GR.   It makes me wonder even more intensely why we anthropomorphize those intervals the way we do.

Youtube Channel: Astronomy State of the Art

Composer Toru Takemitsu has set the general idea to music.

Youtube Channel: Orquesta Sinfónica de Xalapa

 

COVID’s Metamorphoses: RCSB Coronavirus resources

The CDC and WHO are giving us good advice on what do in this Plague Year.  The Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics (RCSB) is showing us the molecule causing the havoc.  Check out the structures of the various flavors of Coronavirus at The Protein Database (PDB).  Click on the images, most of which will go to detailed pages including 3D models that can be spun in the browser.  Knowledge will be power in dealing with this beast and let’s offer thanks to the research groups who took the lead in characterizing it which must have come at considerable risk to themselves.  When it mutates, and it will, they and others will undoubtedly don their capes and do the measurements again.

It is damnably, horrifyingly beautiful in David Goodsell’s artistic rendering of it infecting a lung:

Acknowledgement: Illustration by David S. Goodsell, RCSB Protein Data Bank; doi: 10.2210/rcsb_pdb/goodsell-gallery-019

 

License: CC-BY-4.0
Image used unmodified and there is no endorsement from or by the artist

Spectral response: The science and emotion of color

The web’s archive of older industrial films is a recurring delight.  Jam Handy, Coronet, and other firms crafted these with an attention to detail, calm explanation, and rigorous science that is harder(*) to find today when most equivalents are about sales rather than fundamentals.  Jeff Quitney has uploaded a wonderful 1954 cleaned-up film to his Vimeo page on color theory and practice by the Interchemical Corporation.  It begins with the importance of color to society – especially in packaging goods and people – and then gives a marvelous account of the optics involved.   I’ve worked in the field for years but I learned to see things (pun intended) differently thanks to it.

The second film from 2016 looks at color in packaging through its emotional impact and its influence on design and designers.  ‘Color In Sight’  resembles like Hustwit’s ‘Helvetica.’  A number of prominent designers talk about how they use and think about color in order to evoke a response, surface a memory, or reveal a part of the spectrum to the color-blind.   I have no idea what I’d say to a nail-polish maker but Suzi Weiss-Fischmann (8m18s in) comes off  as a fun seatmate on a long plane trip.  I had a similar feeling about  Helvetica’s Paula Scher.   Interestingly, it is produced by TeaLeaves, a Canadian company specializing in very high-end teas for hotels.  Judging by their Youtube page, they must spend a fortune on short films – many of which have little outward bearing on their products.  I’ve never understood the appeal of tea but the videos are well worth a look.

(*) But not impossible by any means.

Vimeo Channel: Jeff Quitney

 

Youtube Channel: TeaLeaves

 

An elegant weapon for a more civilized age: In praise of chalk

Modern ejumacation has gone multimedia and Powerpoint, often multimedia within Powerpoint.  Some like 3Blue1Brown are brilliant at it (the multimedia, not Powepoint), others less so.  Here’s a random assortment of lectures where good old chalk and boards prevail: E&M from IIT Madras, chemistry and cryptography from Ruhr Universität, Bochum, Fields Medalist Cédric Villani on something-or-the-other, and an early calm-for-him presentation by Jens Fehlau on the Leibniz integration rule made famous by Feynman.  Finally, a tribute to a popular chalk, recently discontinued.

Youtube Channel: nptelhrd

 

Youtube channel: ChemieRub

 

Youtube channel: Introduction to Cryptography by Christof Paar

Youtube channel: Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHÉS)

Youtube channel: Flammable Maths

Youtube channel: Great Big Story

 

Low-key Relativity: skydivephil on gravitational waves, the Universe, and everything

The mere detection of gravitational waves two years ago was cause for celebration and, for those of us skeptical of LIGO, eating of crow.  Now gravitational wave detections regularly cue electromagnetic observatories on the ground and in space with tighter integration to come.

Youtuber skydivephil puts the camera on several researchers active in developing the next generation GW systems and the ever more ambitious cosmological probing that these observatories will enable.

Youtube channel: skydivephil

Skydivephil and the unnamed narrator are self-effacing providing few details about themselves, not even their names in the nonexistent credits.   They also have enviable access to many leading physicists and institutes, largely on the theoretical side.   The style is simple: Let the speaker speak.  It is a refreshing antidote to the modern space documentary which highlights the doom-and-gloom with an explosion and visual effect every fifteen seconds.   Whatever one may think about string theory, loop quantum gravity, or their alternatives, it is refreshing to hear about them from the purveyors.  Here’s the “Before the Big Bang” playlist with an assortment of views on modern cosmology (note that the episodes are in reverse chronological order.)

 

Sunk Costs: ‘Dancing at Lughnasa” at The Open Fist

Memo to self: Always check to see if a playwright is <nationality>’s Chekhov before buying the ticket.  The sinking feeling sets in early with Open Fist‘s otherwise attractive ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ and by 75 minutes into a seemingly interminable first act, plans are set  for an intermission escape.  Then things happen for about 10 minutes and the coin flip comes up as stay to see how it pans out.  We get another 5 to 7 minutes of explanation in the remaining hour as we learn what happens to the hard-luck, bad-luck if any luck at all Mundys of fictional Ballybeg, County Donegal.  In the meantime, five sisters and a cleric brother may be poor but they have one another, then the fast moving world of change rolls over them.

Open Fist brings its traditional craftsmanship and smart casting to Brian Friel’s highly praised but unbalanced memory play.  Lane Allison and Christopher Cappiello stand out as lively, optimistic Maggie and Father Jack, the latter recently returned from decades in Uganda where he found the existing customs and community much more to his liking than the Catholic faith he was sent there to sell.    He’s not the only rambler in the mix as Christina’s (Caroline Klidonas) baby-daddy (Scott Roberts) shows up occasionally to see her and their son (David Shofner) who  is narrating the piece from… the future.   The Mundys are hanging on the edge of society.  Breadwinner Kate (Jennifer Zorbalas) loses her teaching job due to Jack’s apostasy not sitting well with the church school.  Industrialization eliminates a pittance  that Agnes (Ann Marie Wilding) and Rose (Sandra Kate Burck) earn from piecework.  The world  just stomps on their knuckles until they finally let go.    Burck has an especially fine moment in the second act as developmentally-disabled Rose is cruelly used by an unseen admirer despite the  loving protection of Agnes – Friel’s hat-tip to Tennessee Williams, perhaps?  We guess early on that every flicker of light these characters see is just the streamer for the next lightning bolt to hit them but the waits between the strikes are too damned long.    The set, lights, and sounds (James Spencer, Matt Richter, and Tim Labor) do hang well over the production.

The play has won all the awards and feels calculated to do so, much like ‘Anna in the Tropics’ which preceded it.   Both will be good box office for years to come.

Youtube Channel: MetOffice

Youtube Channel: Carpalton

Youtube Channel: Mickey Mouse

 

Dancing at Lughnasa
by Brian Friel
Directed by Barbara Schofield for Open Fist Theatre

Plays Mondays, Saturdays, and Sundays through 18 August 2019
at the Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039

Visit OpenFist.org for showtimes and tickets

Misnomers: Dr. Srinivasan on Mostly Neutron Stars

It took me a year and an email to understand how merging neutron stars could generate heavy elements.  For this you need protons and from where do these protons come.  The year was for intermittent research and the email due to failing in that research.  As it happens, neutron stars are chock full of particulate goodness, far more than their name implies.   On the one hand it is good to know how it works, on the other hand it shows that my research skills could use some improvement.

Dr. G. Srinivasan, Researcher Emeritus from the Raman Research Institute explains the beaks and gizzards of these dense objects in great detail.   His 12 part lecture series “A Random Walk in Astrophysics” is also available.

Youtube Channel: International Centre for Theoretical Sciences

Photo Chemistry: The silver behind the silver screen

We have megapixel cameras in our phones and gigapixel cameras on our telescopes.  Before digital took over photography (and the world,) we had film.  Light struck silver and made a mark and behind it all was some marvelous physical chemistry.  It is still awe-inspiring to think of how these processes came about when knowledge and instrumentation were not nearly as advanced as today.  Each step could have millions of alternatives and sorting them through brute force would take the age of the universe.  Yet somehow it all came together and spawned industries.  The American Chemical Society takes us through the science as it was in 1940.

Vimeo Channel: Jeff Quitney

Horizon Event: The big EHT reveal

The Event Horizon Telescope team announces its major discovery following two intense and quiet years of data analysis on top of a longer period of development.   A nice testament to aperture synthesis and international collaboration as the rest of the world spirals into madness.  Damn!!!

Youtube Channel: National Science Foundation

Context for the interested public:
Youtube Channel: Sixty Symbols