Explorations in visual arts, photography and Science, along with any random thing that I find curious enough...
12 Piano notes made visible for the first time
Shannon Novak, a New Zealand-born fine artist, commissioned us to image 12 piano notes as inspiration for a series of 12 musical canvases. We decided to image the notes in video mode because when we observed the ‘A1’ note we discovered, surprisingly, that the energy envelope changes over time as the string’s harmonics mix in the piano’s wooden bridge. Instead of the envelope being fairly stable, as we had imagined, the harmonics actually cause the CymaGlyphs to be wonderfully dynamic. Our ears can easily detect the changes in the harmonics and the CymaScope now reveals them—probably a first in acoustic physics.
Are there physical limits in the universe other than the speed of light?
Fastest fast: This is worth commenting on since you often hear “nothing can travel faster then light”, but the justification is almost always missing. The universe seems to be pretty happy thinking of the speed of light as being the same to everybody first (Maxwell’s Laws give you the speed of light, but Maxwell’s laws are the same to everybody so the speed of light is the same to everybody), and as a speed limit second. Since you always see light moving at the same speed, then no matter how much you speed up, it will always pass you by. So catching up to it isn’t an option, and everyone will always see you traveling slower than the speed of light.
Densest dense: The harder you compress something, the denser it becomes. Normally this is reflected in the distance between atoms shrinking. However, if the pressure is great enough, the atoms will find that it’s easier to have their electrons merge with their protons which then turn into neutrons (and also spit out neutrinos, but whatever). Without battling electron shells, the once mostly-empty atoms can be packed nucleus-to-nucleus. Pressures and densities this high only seem to show up in neutron stars (guess where the name comes from). You can also cheat a little. If a neutron star has a mass of more than about 5 Suns it will collapse into a blackhole, which is technically more dense.
Coldest cold: You might have guessed: zero. Specifically 0K = -273°C = -460°F. However, this is more of an “asymptotic limit” and can never quite be reached. An object with a temperature of absolute zero will have no atomic movement (heat) whatsoever, but that’s not possible. One way of thinking about it is in terms of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which, in a paraphrased nutshell, states: “You can’t have both a perfectly certain position and a perfectly certain momentum,” and a temperature of 0 K would effectively have both. Most people who have heard of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle are under the impression that it’s a limit on how well we can know about an object. In fact, it’s far better to think of it as a description of how well the universe can know about an object. Despite the difficulties imposed by the uncertainty principle, we can still get things crazy cold. The world record for lowest temperature now stands at 0.0000000001K = 0.1 nK.
Smallest small: Again, for “uncertainty principle type reasons” it doesn’t make sense to talk about objects or events smaller than the Planck scale, which is about 10-35m. So far, nobody can think of anything in the universe, at any scale, that would really care, or be able to tell the difference between two points separated by 10-35m.
Emptiest empty: One version of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle can be written:
which means that the time and energy of something can’t both be perfectly well known (not even by the universe, the quantities themselves are uncertain). If you apply this principle to empty space you’ll notice that over short enough time scales there will be measurable, non-zero energy, and over really short time scales you’ll find particles popping in and out of existence. These particles are called “virtual particles”, and this phenomena is sometimes described as a “particle foam”.
So even with a perfect vacuum, you’ll still have crap around. This crap is often called the “vacuum energy” or “zero point energy”.
Looking down the tunnel of a custom-built lens deposition chamber, the birthplace of nanoscale lenses that will focus the electron beam at the National Synchrotron Light Source II.
Remember the video we posted about one of Brookhaven’s scientists using an Xbox controller to operate a machine? This is the inside of that machine. And down near that inviting, blue light, nanoscale lenses like these are grown atomic layer by atomic layer. How else are you going to focus x-rays to within just one billionth of a meter?
You’re gonna wanna click through and view this as a larger image. Trust us.
How much energy would the Death Star require to destroy Earth?
As iconic as the spherical death-bringer is, the inner tinkerings of the Death Star still remain a great mystery. For example, if the Death Star suddenly materialized in the Solar System, how much energy would the vessel require to pulverize the Earth into bloody gravel?
A group of physics students at the University of Leicester took it upon themselves to divine the Death Star’s energy requirements (using many an admittedly radical assumption). From the paper titled “That’s No Moon”:
This planet is going to be modelled after earth with the exception that it is a solid planet. It is then possible to use the gravitational binding energy of the target planet to estimate the amount of energy required to be supplied to the Death Star’s laser beam in order to destroy it […] The energy required to destroy the planet in question is 2.25 ⨉ 10^32 J. However, the destruction of large planets such as Jupiter can require much larger energy demands […] we can estimate this energy to be 2 ⨉ 10^36 J […]
Since the Death Star outputs energy equal to several main-sequence stars, even if the actual composition of Earth is used in equation, the value yielded is only a few orders of magnitudes larger and the Death Star can still easily afford to output that energy due to its tremendous power source. However as mentioned above Jupiter requires much greater energy demands which would put considerable strain on the Death Star. To destroy a planet like Jupiter it would probably have to divert all remaining power from all essential systems and life support, which is not necessarily possible.
I wouldn’t put it above the evil Empire to cut off the oxygen just to eke out that last joule of murder. When you’re spending $15.6 septillion, a Luxembourg worth of Stormtroopers is but a drop in the bucket.
Does Probability Come from Quantum Physics?
Feb. 5, 2013 — Ever since Austrian scientist Erwin Schrodinger put his unfortunate cat in a box, his fellow physicists have been using something called quantum theory to explain and understand the nature of waves and particles.
Many amateur astronomers get their first glimpses of our nearest star in white light using relatively inexpensive solar film.
The wealth of information about the features seen in this wavelength (photosphere) is widely shared and easily available.
As the cost of exclusive narrowband filters has decreased over the past few years, viewing the sun in the Hydrogen alpha and Ca II K line has become more common.
37 years ago today, the world lost one of its greatest minds.
Werner Karl Heisenberg (5 December 1901 – 1 February 1976) was a German theoretical physicist, Nobel Laureate (1932) and total badass. Along with Max Born and Pascual Jordan, he developed the matrix formulation of quantum mechanics in 1925 - one of the most important advancements in the history of physics. However, in 1927 he published an equally, if not more, influential concept - the uncertainty principle, which asserts that there is a fundamental limit to the precision with certain pairs of physical properties of any given particle may be known, most famously momentum and position. Essentially, the more precisely one of the pairs is known - the less so for the other.
But Heisenberg’s genius didn’t stop here, he also made influential contributions to the theories of the atomic nucleus, ferromagnetism and was a key member of the development of the first West German nuclear reactor. Following his controversial nuclear research during World War II, he was appointed director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, which was soon thereafter renamed the Max Planck Institute for Physics.
“Natural science, does not simply describe and explain nature; it is part of the interplay between nature and ourselves.” - Werner Heisenberg
Panel Advises Shutdown of Last U.S. Collider
A group of scientists is reluctantly recommending that the U.S. shut off its last giant atom smasher, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory, in the face of declining federal funds. With the Tevatron at Fermilab dismantled, RHIC represented a last bastion of high-energy particle colliding in this country. Effectively, due to the sad state of science funding, it must be sacrificed so that other particle acceleration projects might live.
“Closing RHIC would be a disaster for the U.S. nuclear physics community,” says Robert Tribble, a nuclear physicist at Texas A&M University, College Station, who chaired the committee that suggested doing exactly that. “We’re all losers here if this comes to pass.”
Like its name implies, RHIC smashes heavy ions together at incredible speeds, which produces super-hot temperatures that melt the building blocks of atoms. As protons and neutrons break apart, their constituent parts, gluons and quarks, form a new state of matter called a quark-gluon plasma. This particle soup is so hot -250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun- that the unchained particles behave in very strange ways, which can give physicists clues about the way the universe coalesced after the Big Bang. RHIC achieved this scorching state of matter in 2010.
It all boils down to money, and there’s just not enough to go around. And deep cuts in federal spending known as sequestration, which might happen if Congress does not get its act together, haven’t even happened yet. But RHIC supporters are not giving up yet, as Science Insider notes. The Department of Energy will likely go alone with the recommendations.
Life of Scientist Who Changed the World’s View
“I can find in my undergraduate classes, bright students who do not know that the stars rise and set at night, or even that the Sun is a star.”- Carl Sagan
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” -Stephen Hawking
Like no other science, astrophysics cross-pollinates the expertise of chemists, biologists, geologists and physicists, all to discover the past, present, and future of the cosmos—and our humble place within it.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson
“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.” -Albert Einstein
“Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think.” - Niels Bohr
“Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?”- Richard Feynman
“In science, we must be interested in things, not in persons.” -Marie Curie
“You look at science (or at least talk of it) as some sort of demoralising invention of man, something apart from real life, and which must be cautiously guarded and kept separate from everyday existence. But science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science, for me, gives a partial explanation for life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience and experiment.” -Rosalind Franklin
“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success… such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”-Nikola Tesla.
“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun. I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas Edison