NYT Notes

A couple of science-related items from the New York Times:

1) An article on the Cafe Scientifique phenomenon, in which scientists put on monthly get-togethers for the general public, where recent scientific research is explained in layman's terms. It's nice to be reminded that there's still interest in learning about science-- given the numbe of news stries about people rejecting modernity on the grounds that it's icky, it's easy to forget.

(Again, I'll mention that I was pleasantly surprised that twenty-odd people showed up for my "Weird Quantum Phenomena" talk, several of them taking notes, and a few sticking around afterwards to ask more questions...)

Mark Trodden at Cosmic Variance is involved with the Syracuse Cafe Scientifique, and the things he writes about it make it sound like a fun thing. If only I had infinite free time...

2) The other interesting article finds physicists studying the crucial question of why ice is slippery. As always when more than two atoms are involved, it turns out to be a really hard problem, and nobody's quite sure what the answer is.

Special bonus Top Eleven tie-in (remember to vote:


The notion that ice has an intrinsic liquid layer is not a new concept. It was first proposed by the physicist Michael Faraday in 1850 after a simple experiment: he pressed two cubes of ice against each other, and they fused together. Faraday argued that the liquid layers froze solid when they were no longer at the surface. Because the layer is so thin, however, it was hard for scientists to see.

Next up: scientists consider why competetive ice skating is so freakin' lame.

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As always when more than two atoms are involved, it turns out to be a really hard problem, and nobody's quite sure what the answer is.

This is just the sort of thing that keeps chemists in business!

Ice 9 will be defered until we need to blow planets up. It combined with Ice 2 and 37 definitely will signal the end of the world :-)

Just a referral but Robert Laughlin in his book "A Different Universe Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down" (highly recommended) discusses ice as an example of phase transition, i.e. symmetry breaking.

The NYT article was fascinating - my nit of course - dragging the atomic force tip across the surface might not really be a good argument that ice has high friction since it is at such a small scale - it is like trying to show gas laws with only a couple of atoms. It might be pushing atoms out of the way instead of dragging a whole sheet along which would only matter it that scale. Slipperyness could very well be a kind of emergent property of liquid on a surface, or even ice molecules on its surface. Of course this is without any thought of a model of this by me.

Ice 9 will be defered until we need to blow planets up. It combined with Ice 2 and 37 definitely will signal the end of the world :-)

Just a referral but Robert Laughlin in his book "A Different Universe Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down" (highly recommended) discusses ice as an example of phase transition, i.e. symmetry breaking.

The NYT article was fascinating - my nit of course - dragging the atomic force tip across the surface might not really be a good argument that ice has high friction since it is at such a small scale - it is like trying to show gas laws with only a couple of atoms. It might be pushing atoms out of the way instead of dragging a whole sheet along which would only matter it that scale. Slipperyness could very well be a kind of emergent property of liquid on a surface, or even ice molecules on its surface. Of course this is without any thought of a model of this by me.

I've heard that a lot of the bio-themed Cafe Scientifiques tend to bring in the creationist wingnuts to harass the speakers though.

Competitive ice skating lame? If there is a more overall beautiful population of women than the speed skaters, I haven't seen it.

By Michael Pereckas (not verified) on 21 Feb 2006 #permalink

If there is a more overall beautiful population of women than the speed skaters, I haven't seen it.

There is, and such women are easily identified: they have breasts.

Jeff: I've heard that a lot of the bio-themed Cafe Scientifiques tend to bring in the creationist wingnuts to harass the speakers though.

Yeah, I bet that would get old, fast.

Michael Pereckas: Competitive ice skating lame? If there is a more overall beautiful population of women than the speed skaters, I haven't seen it.

I was thinking more of figure skating when I wrote that, but I'm not hugely fond of speed skating, either. It suffers from the same problem as most of the other Winter Olympics racing sports, namely that it's mainly a timed thing. speed skating is at least better than skiing, luge, and bobsledding, in that there are at least two competitors on the ice at a time, but it doesn't compare to the track events at the Summer Olympics, which come down to a head-to-head match-up between all the top competitors.

Watching large numbers of people take turns individually running down the same course is stupendously dull.

I will agree that the speed skaters are fairly easy on the eye, though.