Physical Sciences

We're going to depart from the chronological ordering again, because it's the weekend and I have to do a bunch of stuff with the kids. Which means I'm in search of a story I can outsource... In this case, I'm outsourcing to myself-- this is a genuine out-take from Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist, specifically Chapter 2, which tells two stories from the career of Luis Alvarez, who I've talked about before in the context of his experiment to x-ray one of the pyramids at Giza, and the time I wrote him a letter when I was nine about his theory that an asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs…
As I endlessly repeat, I'm an experimentalist by training an inclination, so I especially appreciate stories about experimental science. There's something particularly wonderful about the moment when an experiment clicks together, usually after weeks or months of hard, frustrating work, when things just keep breaking. Of course, sometimes, breaking stuff can be a Good Thing. Possibly my favorite story from the development of quantum physics involves just such an occasion, around 1924, when Clinton Davisson and Lester Germer at Bell Labs were trying to characterize a nickel surface by bouncing…
The winter solstice holidays are a time for family and togetherness, so building off yesterday's post about the great Marie Skłodowska Curie, we'll stay together with her family. Specifically her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie and her husband Frédéric. The Joliot-Curies are possible answers to a number of Nobel Prize trivia questions-- only mother and daughter to win, one of a handful of married couples, etc.-- but the scientific story about them that I find most fascinating is that their Nobel was for the third thing they did that could've earned them the prize, after they just missed out on…
There's no way I could possibly go through a long history-of-science blog series without mentioning the great Marie Skłodowska Curie, one of the very few people in history to win not one but two Nobel Prizes for her scientific work-- if nothing else, Polish pride would demand it. She made a monumental contribution to physics through her work on radioactivity (and through being nearly impossible to kill-- while her work on isolating radium made her ill for many years, she outlived an amazing number of her assistants...), and there are a lot of great stories about her. This series is partly…
"You wanted to see me, Herr Professor?" "Hans! Yes, come in, come in. Just going over the account books. Frightful amount of money going out of this place." "Well, radium is expensive..." "Ha! Oh, and speaking of which-- here's one of the sources. Absent-mindedly dropped the fool thing in my pocket last night when I locked up. Terrible habit, I really must work on that. Had a drawer full of the things in Montreal..." "Thank you. And you wanted to see me about...?" "Oh, yes. We have a new student, Hans, and I'd like you to put him to work on the gold foil project." "Shouldn't he have his own…
Speaking of the timing of astronomical phenomena, as we were yesterday, the timing of celestial bodies was the key to the first demonstration of one of the pillars of modern physics, the fact that light travels at a finite speed. This actually pre-dates yesterday's longitude discoveries, which I always forget, because it seems like it should've been a later development. The first really convincing demonstration that light doesn't cover arbitrary distances instantaneously dates from 1676, and was the work of the Danish astronomer Ole Rømer. Under the direction of Giovanni Cassini at the Paris…
I've been trying to keep to a roughly chronological ordering of these stories, but this slow-motion snow storm that was waiting to greet us on our return from Florida made the schools open on a two-hour delay today, which eats the time I usually use for blogging and books stuff. So I'm going to jump forward three hundred years, to a story that I can outsource. To set the stage, in the aftermath of WWII, Richard Feynman took up a faculty job at Cornell, but between working on the Manhattan Project and the death of his beloved wife, he found that he was completely burned out, and not able to do…
I've decided to do a new round of profiles in the Project for Non-Academic Science (acronym deliberately chosen to coincide with a journal), as a way of getting a little more information out there to students studying in STEM fields who will likely end up with jobs off the "standard" academic science track. The tenth profile of this round features the editor of PhysicsWorld.com, which is probably the best physics magazine web site out there. 1) What is your non-academic job? I am editor of physicsworld.com, which is a website aimed at working physicists and people with a background in physics…
I've decided to do a new round of profiles in the Project for Non-Academic Science (acronym deliberately chosen to coincide with a journal), as a way of getting a little more information out there to students studying in STEM fields who will likely end up with jobs off the "standard" academic science track. Ninth in this round is a physics major turned semiconductor engineer. 1) What is your non-academic job? I am a Plasma Etch Process Engineer at Avago Technologies, which is a semiconductor/MEMS company that produces Wireless semiconductor devices. 2) What is your science background? I…
I've decided to do a new round of profiles in the Project for Non-Academic Science (acronym deliberately chosen to coincide with a journal), as a way of getting a little more information out there to students studying in STEM fields who will likely end up with jobs off the "standard" academic science track. Eighth in this round is Grant Goodyear, who started life as a theoretical chemist, and now does nuclear physics in the oil industry. 1) What is your non-academic job? These days I'm a nuclear physicist who works on the design and characterization of nuclear well-logging tools that are used…
I've decided to do a new round of profiles in the Project for Non-Academic Science (acronym deliberately chosen to coincide with a journal), as a way of getting a little more information out there to students studying in STEM fields who will likely end up with jobs off the "standard" academic science track. Seventh in this round is a physics major who went into teaching high school, then decided to try medical school, and now works with the youngest possible subjects. He also had the excellent taste to send along a picture of himself with his dog... 1) What is your non-academic job? I am the…
I've decided to do a new round of profiles in the Project for Non-Academic Science (acronym deliberately chosen to coincide with a journal), as a way of getting a little more information out there to students studying in STEM fields who will likely end up with jobs off the "standard" academic science track. Sixth in this round is an "adult-onset engineer" working at NASA on some cool stuff. 1) What is your non-academic job? I am a thermal engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, working in the Cryogenic Systems Engineering group. Our group provides thermal engineering support (both cryogenic…
Have you heard the comet singing? From the Rosetta Blog this press release: Rosetta’s Plasma Consortium (RPC) has uncovered a mysterious ‘song’ that Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is singing into space. RPC principal investigator Karl-Heinz Glaßmeier, head of Space Physics and Space Sensorics at the Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany, tells us more. Sound_comet2 Artist's impression of the 'singing comet' 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam RPC consists of five instruments on the Rosetta orbiter that provide a wide variety of complementary information about the…
The New York Times has declared that Academic Science Isn’t Sexist. What a relief! The authors are reporting the results of a broad study of many different parameters of the career pipeline, and are happy to report that there are no problems in academia. None at all, no sir. Our analysis reveals that the experiences of young and midcareer women in math-intensive fields are, for the most part, similar to those of their male counterparts: They are more likely to receive hiring offers, are paid roughly the same (in 14 of 16 comparisons across the eight fields), are generally tenured and promoted…
It's been a bit of a depressing week. I suppose it's not any more depressing than usual, with the usual unending stream of pseudoscience, quackery (particularly of the Ebola type), and, of course, antivaccine nonsense to deal with. Then, as I'm writing yet another in a long line of unfunded grants, I find out that a foundation—and an anonymous foundation at that!—has donated close to $4 million to an "integrative oncology" practice in Ottawa affiliated with a naturopathy school to study "integrating" quackery with science-based oncology. At first, I was thinking that I'd just do an…
"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish." -David Hume It's sometimes mind-boggling how many different aspects of the Universe we touch on here at Starts With A Bang, and the past week has perhaps really exemplified that. Ranging from the largest scales down to the smallest, from Nobel-winning developments to the science of hundreds of years ago, here's what we've covered during the first week in October: Are black holes made of dark matter? (for Ask…
The new academic year starts this week-- first day of classes is Wednesday-- and I'm dealing with the usual chaos associated with the influx of a new class of students. Who now look to me only a tiny bit older than SteelyKid and the Pip in the above picture (and if you think that sharing that extremely cute photo is part of the motivation for this post, well, you're not wrong...). This year, the madness of the new term is complicated by having been away for essentially all of August, and by the fact that I'm teaching an entirely new class this term: Astronomy 052: Relativity, Black Holes, and…
"There is no dark side in the moon, really. Matter of fact, it's all dark." -Pink Floyd / Gerry O'Driscoll It's been another fantastic week here at Starts With A Bang, where we've taken on a huge diversity of topics and run two fantastic posts from our contributing writers: Brian Koberlein and James Bullock. If you missed any of them (or if you want to catch them again), here's what we've covered this past week: Is astrology a science? (for Ask Ethan), The Universe in your home (for our Weekend Diversion), The flattened fake-out globular, M19 (for Messier Monday), The brilliance of scientific…
"When a star goes supernova, the explosion emits enough light to overshadow an entire solar system, even a galaxy. Such explosions can set off the creation of new stars. In its own way, it was not unlike being born." -Todd Nelson Did you follow all the action this past week over at the main Starts With A Bang blog? With a new post nearly every day, we've really put together a set of amazing stories about the Universe we know (and are still discovering) for you, including: Do the cosmic unknowns cast doubt on the Big Bang? (for Ask Ethan), Martha Wash's biggest fan (for our Weekend Diversion…
About a week ago, my good bud Steve Novella noted a tasty bit of silly pseudoscience finding its way around the usual places, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the like. It was one of those times where I smacked myself on the forehead (metaphorically speaking, of course) and asked, “How on earth did I miss this bit of pseudoscience?” It is, after all, more than Your Friday Dose of Woo-worthy, even though I haven’t done a YFDoW segment for over a year. (Remember, I found that my creation had become too constraining; so I retired it. I might bring it back someday, but today is not the day,…