Physical Science

I’ve been really busy with year-end wrap-up stuff, but have also posted a bunch of stuff at Forbes. which I’ve fallen down on my obligation to promote here… So, somewhat belatedly, here’s a collection of physics-y stuff that I’ve written recently: — Using Atoms To Measure Tiny Forces: A post reporting on some very cool…

“Soon the earth will tilt on its axis and begin to dance to the reggae beat to the accompaniment of earthquake. And who can resist the dance of the earthquake, mon?” –Peter Tosh But it isn’t true that the Earth’s axial tilt will change, is it? Or rather, if it did, how would you know? Believe…

“Scientific ideas should be simple, explanatory, predictive. The inflationary multiverse as currently understood appears to have none of those properties.” –Paul Steinhardt, 2014 Cosmic inflation is alternately talked about by serious scientists as either the definitive beginning to our Universe, the thing that happened before and set up the Big Bang with absolute certainty, or…

“People get cranky when you burst their bubble. Over time, advances in astronomy have relentlessly reinforced the utter insignificance of Earth on a celestial scale.” –Nathan Myhrvold When new stars form from a collapsing molecular cloud, the hottest, bluest, brightest stars emit high-energy ultraviolet radiation. This evaporates, ionizes and pushes the gas outwards, creating a bubble…

Graduation 2015

Commencement was today, the 14th of those that I’ve been to as a faculty member. As usual, the procession was led in and out by the Schenectady Pipe Band; I realized that after many years of this, I’m coming to associate “Scotland the Brave” with graduation… This was a really unpleasant year for me in…

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” -Johnny Cash This past week at Starts…

“Nothing is lost… Everything is transformed.” –Michael Ende If you take all the kinetic motion out of a system, and have all the particles that make it up perfectly at rest, somehow even overcoming intrinsic quantum effects, you’d reach absolute zero, the theoretically lowest temperature of all. But what about the other direction? Is there a…

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” –Marcus Aurelius There are four known fundamental forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the…

“When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images.” –Niels Bohr Shortly after the Big Bang, the first nuclear fusion reactions occurred in the Universe, filling it with hydrogen, helium, and little else. Billions of years…

It’s only natural that during a crisis we look to single, “silver bullet” technical solutions, after all, they are supposed to be effective against werewolves, witches, and other monsters. For monsters like the ongoing severe California drought, the current favorite silver bullet is seawater desalination.  And why not? California sits at the edge of the…