from the fringes

Inlovejenluc Just got back from a whirlwind road trip to San Francisco, where the unqualified highlight after a long rewarding day was meeting up with uber-mensch Steve Silberman and a host of local science writers (some I knew, most I met for the first time) at a cozy Italian place in Haight-Ashbury (I think). Bay Area science writers are an awesome bunch. We drank copious amounts of wine, laughed a lot, and my only regret is I didn't think to move to the other end of the table midway through the meal to chat with the folks over there. Mea culpa. Despite all the driving, we did manage to stay somewhat abreast of cool things on the Intertubes, so can still bring you the weekly roundup.

The Many Worlds of the Multiverse. Yanno, when I first heard about Hugh Everett III's "Many Worlds" hypothesis, I initially confused it with theories about the multiverse. I'm told it's a common confusion among those of us who happen to lack physics PhDs. But this past week, two physicists — Raphael Bousso and Leonard Susskind — posted a paper on arXiv arguing that perhaps. Debating the subtle nuances between them is, frankly, a bit above my pay grade, but fortunately the Time Lord weighed in over at Cosmic Variance with a thoughtful analysis. Quoth he: "These two ideas sound utterly different. In the cosmological multiverse, the other universes are simply far away; in quantum mechanics, they’re right here, but in different possibility spaces (i.e. different parts of Hilbert space, if you want to get technical). But some physicists have been musing for a while that they might actually be the same."

The Quantum Fallacy. Over at New Stateman, Michael Brooks has an intriguing article about the latest theoretical attempts to connect quantum mechanics with consciousness. This is something that usually sets a physicist's teeth on edge, with a few notable exceptions. Brooks' article is behind a paywall, but worth a read; or you can read Ian O'Neill's summation at Discovery News. For a very different take on consciousness, check out Malcolm MacIver's latest ruminations on how consciousness evolved and the supremacy of vision over at Science Not Fiction.

The Physics of My Little Pony. Self-explanatory, really, but major props for creativity! Friendship is magic… or is it?

Art, Art, Baby. The New York Times featured multimedia artist Cory Arcangel this week in anticipation of the opening of his new show, "Pro Tools,” at the Whitney Museum of American Art:

Arcangel, 32, is known for work that imports a sense of humanity into the technological realm, in part by making sure the technology it uses is never too slick. Unlike electronic media artists who rely on state-of-the-art equipment to make their work, Mr. Arcangel collects outmoded computer games, decrepit turntables and similar castoffs that pile up in Dumpsters and thrift stores or are posted on eBay whenever a fresh crop of gadgets has rendered them obsolete. Through a bit of ingenious meddling, he reboots this detritus to produce witty, and touchingly homemade, video and art installations.

How Do You Lose a Pyramid? Jen-Luc Piquant isn't sure, but she knows exactly how to find one: infrared satellite imaging! This week the BBC reported that a new satellite survey of Egypt revealed evidence for 17 "lost" pyramids, and "more than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements."

Suit Crazy-Cool Patent of the Week. John Ptak combs through wacky historical patent applications so you don't have to. Among this week'd finds: the Atom Bomb Suit, a "solitary, encapsulated, iron maidenesque survival sarcophagus," submitted in 1958. It even came with a handy attache case for storage, because who knows when a bomb might drop? "The bomb(s) would go off, and there you would be, standing with your back against the wall, or laying in the gutter pressed against the curb, just another piece of the dead city, another piece of metal waiting to decay."

Is There Anything Metamaterials Can't Do? The latest news on metamaterials, courtesy of 80 Beats, is that they could one day be used to improve wireless power transfer — currently possible, but only in tiny amounts — thereby enabling us to charge our devices without the hassle of cords and wires. How do metamaterials help? Well, according to a study published last week in Physical Review B:

Using current techniques, the amount of energy needed to charge personal electronics could, if transmitted wirelessly, burn up whatever’s in its way—up to and including the device it’s supposed to charge. What’s more, energy tends to dissipate through open space, making this sort of power transfer extremely inefficient.

But the researchers calculated that certain metamaterials—specifically, ones with effectively negative index of refraction—could transmit the needed power without frying anything. The metamaterials could be used to make a superlens that would stand between the power source and the device, essentially focusing the energy so it doesn’t scatter. According to their analyses, a hypothetical metamaterial array composed of thin copper-fiberglass loops, and resembling a set of Venetian blinds, could do the trick.

When You Wish Upon a Neutron Star. Over at io9, physicist David Goldman explores what would happen if someone, say, decided to travel to a neutron star intent on harvesting its "gooey" neutrons. It's not good news for human beings, given the density and immense gravity of such objects. Think "explosive decompression." I'm guessing it's as gruesome as it sounds.

Angry Birds… Plus a Constant. Rhett Allain of Dot Physics finally tackles a truly pressing science question: is the launch speed in the wildly popular Angry Birds game constant? Seriously, it's a wonderful example of "found physics," complete with charts and graphs and equations. Jen-Luc Piquant hereby refrains from making a joke about the air speed velocity of African swallows (laden or unladen).


1 thought on “from the fringes”

  1. The Atom Bomb Suit reminds me of the sarcophagi used in the post-collapse Demarchist society of Yellowstone, in Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe — to protect the wearer, not from radiation but from the nanoplague!

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