We are swamped with a two-day conference and subsequent deadline pressures, so this week's Friday roundup is going to be a bit abbreviated. But there's still a generous sampling of tasty science goodness to trot out during cocktail party conversations this weekend!
The Physics of a High-Speed Crash. Rhett Allain over at Wired's Dot Physics has a terrific one-two physics punch with posts examining the likely impact of a move to raise the speed limit in Texas to 85 mph. First, he examines what happens in a collision between vehicles traveling at 85 mph. In part 2, he examines what impact this increase in the speed limit is likely to have on one's gas mileage. It's fun and informative — check it out, and make an informed decision, Texans!
Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot. Back when I was seriously training in jujitsu, one of my fellow practitioners invested in a Body Opponent Bag — a.k.a. B.O.B. — a molded plastic torso with a head, mounted on a base you filled with water or sand for stability, so you could then beat the crap out of B.O.B. by practicing targeted strikes on something more closely resembling a human body. (And yes, you could dress up B.O.B. in a pinch; he had a constantly changing array of dew rags.) Ideally, though, B.O.B. should have been hitting back. So how excited do you think I was to read about the Punching Pro fighting robot in the IEEE Spectrum? Answer: waaay excited! It was built by an Australian structural engineer named Kris Tressider, and can randomly throw both jabs and hooks at different speeds and from slightly different directions. Also? There's an extra motor that can be engaged if you feel the need to go into "Berserker mode." Yeah — a fighting robot with a Berserker mode. Doesn't get more awesome than that.
Neutrinos are Trouble with a Capital 'T'! So says Ann Finkbeiner at The Last Word on Nothing in a beautifully written piece detailing the intricate scientific history of this humble little particle. "Neutrinos have been trouble since day one. First a physicist, trying to explain something weird an atom was doing, broke a rule of good physics and made up neutrinos out of whole cloth; later he said he was sorry. Second, contrary to every reasonable expectation, neutrinos were found. Third, they were found to oscillate, which required physicists to re-jigger their Standard Model." And now there could be a fourth flavor, instead of three, a so-called "sterile neutrino." Yeah, those neutrinos are trouble-makers all right.
Written on the Shoulders of Giants. Over at Science 2.0, there is a truly amazing piece entitled "In the Field with James Clerk Maxwell." It's one of those long-forgotten gems, now experiencing what we hope will turn out to be a second life in the blogosphere. According to Science 2.0 blogger Hank Campbell, he came across the article and contacted Davis about posting it: "Turns out he was former editor and writer at Science 2.0 fave publication OMNI. He wrote this in 1979 for the 100th anniversary of Maxwell's death but said it never found a good home." Well, now it has, and we're all the richer for it.
Biochemistry Through the Looking Glass. Over at Scientopia, SciCurious has an excellent post about the biochemistry to be found in Lewis Carroll's writings. Think Alice in Wonderland has nothing to do with science? Hah! She covers mercury poisoning (the "mad hatter" effect), as well as chiral molecules. Furthermore, "The caterpillar smoking a hookah while sitting on a mushroom can open up lots of opportunities for discussion on the chemicals found in tobacco smoke and the damage they cause, while the mushroom the caterpillar is sitting on and start the topic of hallucinogens."
The Interpretation of Dreams. Charles Choi is guest-blogging over at Scientific American, and recently posted a provocative Q&A with Robert Stickgold, director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard Medical School. It's part of an ongoing series he calls "Too Hard for Science?", whereby he interviews scientists "about ideas they would love to explore that they don't think could be investigated." Stickgold's provocative idea: "Dreams often feel profoundly meaningful, bizarre experiences often interpreted over the centuries as messages from the gods or as windows into the unconscious. However, maybe our brains are just randomly stringing experiences together during sleep and investing the result with a feeling of profundity."
Offered without comment: Jousting on Segways. Because we can!
The Quantum Mechanics of Source Code. Jim Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes and The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics, has a nifty guest post at Cosmic Variance examining the quantum mechanical aspects of the new sci-fi thriller, Source Code. Tons and tons of spoilers, so don't go trotting out the good professor's insights in front of folks who haven't seen the movie yet. That's a surefire way to get blacklisted from the further conversations.
Big Bang in a Box. Lisa Grossman has an intriguing piece up over at Wired Science about the first-ever desktop model of the Big Bang. Relax, doomsday conspiracy theorists: it's just a simulation created with exotic substances called metamaterials.
There's an App for That. Man, there's an app for everything these days. If you're a diehard runner, and your standard pedometer just isn't sufficient to satisfy your OCD tendences, you'll love the Einstein Pedometer. You can download the sucker right onto your iPod, and it will "bring special relativity to your daily activities, showing how much time you gain by moving. The faster you move, the more nanoseconds you gain relative to your stationary friends." It's free, too!
Skateboard Science. Everyone's favorite science museum, San Francisco's Exploratorium, has started a regular "After Dark" series. The most recent: skateboard science! Check out these amazing pix.
And finally, what weekend would be complete without a visualization of a shell-sorting algorithm by way of Hungarian folk-dancing? Special comic bonus: "The Man Who Loved Math Dancing." Enjoy!