Tag Archives: science

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

Data, data everywhere and not a jot to think

A prediction from five years ago: “Big Data – The Next Fad to Hit the Arts?”

Two very recent reports:

The Data Illusion: by Jonathan Kott in The Arts Professional – 14 June 2019

So why are funders so keen to request data from the [arts] sector, while apparently being so careless with their own? The answer may be in the symbolic role of data. The academic Eleonora Belfiore believes that “the taking part in the auditing process itself becomes a performative act: it is the very fact of gathering data and publishing, more than the concern for what the data tell you, or the rigour (or lack thereof) of their collection that becomes paramount… The situation is convenient for funders, as it reinforces their power while making it harder to hold their own performance to account. It also provides useful work for consultants and researchers. For arts organisations themselves, however, the advantages are less obvious.”

A crisis of faith: is Big Data the art world’s new religion?: by Margaret Carrigan in The Art Newspaper – 14 June 2019

Like everything that has been baptised in the fire of Big Data, connoisseurship has been replaced by “intel” – what we know is what we can count. When it comes to the data-driven art market, to pinpoint value is to minimise risk, and without risk—well, then faith is obsolete anyway.

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

 

Scrubbing bubbles: The pros and cons of cavitation

We routinely use ultrasonic cleaners to decontaminate all kinds of surfaces.  A little solvent, some buzzing, and jewelry, electronic parts, and pen nibs get degunked effectively.  Cavitation is responsible.  It is also responsible for damaging surfaces such as ship propellers and pump impellers.  The first video explains the physical chemistry behind the process and its (mostly) destructive effects.  The second shows it applied to cleaning vegetables which, surprisingly, is a research problem funded by the National Science Foundation.  Both videos show closeups of bubble collapse making the cleaning/damage mechanism much easier to understand.

Youtube Channel: IET Institute for Energy Technology

Youtube Channel: National Science Foundation

Addendum 7 April 2019: More detailed super-slowmo  videos from the EPFL group featured in the first video.
Source: CAVITATION BUBBLES IN VARIABLE GRAVITY

Addendum 25 September 2020:  EPFL has reorganized its webpages and the cavitation videos have disappeared.  Here is an American Physical Society report on that research.

Youtube Channel: APS Physics

Seawater: Armando Hasudungan on carbohydrates

The reputation of carbohydrates waxes and wanes depending on trends in nutritional science and public interpretation.   Chemical facts that I learned years ago still hold.  Take one carbon, two hydrogen, and one oxygen, CH2O (or seawater, ha!) and repeat in quantity n to get the empirical formula for the carbohydrate family: (CH2O)n .  From there it quickly gets very interesting and very complicated.  These handed molecules can form five- and six-membered rings and the rings can join together in marvelously intricate ways.   Beyond mere aesthetics they form through sugars, starches, and cellulose the code, fuel, and structure of life.   Here is Armando Hasudungan explaining more than what I once knew but since have much forgotten about these compounds.  His channel is a gold mine for aged chemists and aspiring medical students.

Youtube Channel: Armando Hasudungan

 

Youler, Oiler, Wheeler: A flammable what’s in a name

You say CarMEEna, I say CarMYna
You say BurAHna, I say BurAYna
CarMEEna, CarMYna, BurAHna, BurAYna
Let’s Carl the whole thing Orff
— Unknown

The outsized impact of Teutonic peuples on the sciences requires the rest of the world to get acquainted with the nuances of German pronunciation what with the umlauts, diphthongs, capitalizations, and veryLongwordscomposedofötherwordswIthnospacesinbetwëënBerkeley chemistry majors of my vintage needed to take two terms of German so that we could read the older literature before English more-or-less took over as lingua franca.  Some of us actually enjoyed it, most cursed it.  Speaking of franca, the French were/are no slouches when it comes to scientific impact but we were not required to take French as part of the curriculum.

Vacky Deutscher Jens Fehlau offers a basic pronunciation course  in typical vacky, flammable, and completely not-safe-for-work idiom forgoing his usual chalkboard for a MySpace page come to life.  He vents justifiable rage against those profaning the great Leonhard Euler as ‘Youler’ or even ‘Wheeler’.  For an existence proof of the former, see UCL mathematician Hannah Fry deadpan it repeatedly in a discussion of map projections.  What in the actual f, indeed?  The definitive guide to speaking the insufficiently known Emmy Noether is a major service.

Youtube Channel: Flammable Maths

Let us now consider other Wheelers (not Youlers or Oilers) that have loomed in the physical sciences.  Most famous is Princeton’s late John Archibald, coiner of terms (black hole, wormhole, it-from-bit) and who begat Feynman, Thorne, and other luminaries.  There is also Reed’s Nicholas Wheeler whose lecture notes have become the stuff of legend.  Now the A. A. Knowlton Professor Emeritus of Physics, Wheeler created many courses over a six decade career developing first his own approach to a topic, writing about it, and then taking his students through it.  It is a pedagogical road taken by a select few.  He writes,

I learned early on in my undergraduate education that while it is instructive to read, and to attend to the words of informed speakers, I cannot gain the feeling that I “understand” a subject until I have done my best to write about it. So much of my time these past sixty years—even when seemingly involved with other things—has been spent pondering the outlines of what I would write when I returned to my desk, “composing the next sentence.”

Which means that I have been engaged more often in trying to write my way to understanding than from understanding

When thinking through a subject in preparation for a class I have no option but to write my way through the subject, and then to lecture from my own notes. I find it much more pleasant and productive to spend an afternoon and evening writing than arguing with the absent author of a published text.

Reed has placed the original handwritten notes in their Special Archives for consultation.  Fortunately, Wheeler also took pains to meticulously typeset a large fraction of these notes in \TeX and put them on his website. It is heady stuff this idiosyncratic guide through the highways, byways, and backroads of mathematical physics. Wheeler’s writing is alternately informal then precise, rigid then fluid, purposeful and then digressive. Each polished chapter contains seeds and fruits from all the others just as pieces of a hologram recapitulate the whole. There are treasures enough for many lifetimes. We can only marvel at undergraduates who had both the fortune to experience this ‘drawing out and not a putting in,’ as well as the ability to absorb and understand so much material coming from so many directions. Click the image to go the site and rejoice in each folder and its branches.

Image credit: Nicholas Wheeler

Maintaining standards: The triple-point cell

Our society depends on standards in countless, mostly invisible ways.   If we can’t agree on how to measure weight, length, temperature, or time we can kiss manufacturing and our manufactured world with its specified, engineered, and interchangeable parts goodbye.   Actually creating and maintaining these standards is hard and the methods change over the years.  The meter was once defined in relation to earthly distances until the realization that the earth changes over time.  Now it is defined in relation to the speed of light which we are pretty sure does not.  The second used to be defined in terms of the day, now it is based on a fundamental property of the cesium atom.  The kilogram has just been redefined in terms of Planck’s constant which then turns into a combination of the second and the meter.

Making any of these measurements is difficult and requires a lot of fancy equipment, often involving lasers, vacuum chambers, electromagnets, and/or racks of electronics.  Here’s how NIST’s new F2 atomic clock works schematically and here’s a package from its inventor on the details.   As the F2 becomes a practical albeit sophisticated standard, even fancier methods are under development for the future.

The Kelvin, fundamental unit of temperature, is a nice exception to this complexity.  It is defined in relation to the triple point of water; that temperature at which the liquid, solid, and vapor phases of isotopically controlled, gas and contaminant-free water are in equilibrium.  Measure this and the Kelvin is 1/273.16 of that.   The aptly named triple point cell requires appropriate water, a skilled glassblower, and some patience.   Thermometers can be calibrated against this standard within and across laboratories.

The Fluke Corporation, despite its name, has long been a respected supplier of a wide variety of test and measurement equipment and they sell such a triple point cell.  In the right hands, it can allow the temperature of 0.01C (the Centigrade and Kelvin are equivalent) to be measured with an uncertainty better than ± 0.0001 °C.  Here’s Fluke’s Matt Newman showing how it is done and not a laser to be seen.

Addendum 20 February 2019: The Kelvin has also been redefined as of November 2018.  It is now tied to Boltzmann’s constant, k.  NIST says that not much will change for the moment since the triple point cell is a known, reliable tool.