It's been a long week of immersing myself in work, but Jen-Luc Piquant has not been idle, and has ferreted out another intriguing collection of nifty science links floating around the blogosphere, just in time for Easter weekend.
He's Just This Guy, You Know? I love it when The Onion tackles scientific satire, and here's a classic "opinion piece" from 2009: "I Don't Define Myself By My Ability To Travel Between Dimensions." The Time Lord can totally relate. Seems appropriate, given the sad passing of Elisabeth Sladen, the actress who played Dr. Who's Sarah Jane during the Tom Baker era, this week. Bonus: Jezebel weighs in with some thoughts on how Dr. Who has helped promote sci-fi girl power. We are not entirely convinced of this — aren't we really talking about women who leave their families and boyfriends behind to chase after an emotionally unavailable man who will always love his TARDIS more than them? — but he is a Time Lord after all, and not just some hipster douchebag with artsy pretensions. It is true that the female companions have gotten progressively feistier over the various incarnations. That said, Ellen Ripley or River Tam they ain't.
Awesome Comic of the Week. What if the Large Hadron Collider could be ordered from Ikea? Note: follow the instructions carefully or, you know, black holes will suck you into another dimension where you'll have to battle to the death with your own doppelganger or something, because THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE. Or so all those science fiction movies would have us believe.
Split-Screen Symmetry. The good folks at WNYC’s Radiolab have collaborated with a New York filmmaking trio Everynone to create what Brain Pickings calls "a mesmerizing split-screen short film exploring the poetic parallels and contrasts of our world — birth and death, heart and brain, masculinity and femininity, all many more of humanity’s fundamental dualities."
Ernest Rutherford, Force of Nature. Okay, sure, this is the guy who compared biology to stamp collecting, thereby pissing off future generations of biologists in perpetuity. He was still awesome. We love us some Rutherford here at the cocktail party, so imagine our delight at finding Tom Siegfried of Science News has written a lovely rumination on the man who sprayed a thin gold foil target to probe the struture of the atom and ended up discovering the nucleus. Per Siegfried:
A thin enough foil, Rutherford reasoned, would contain few enough atoms that the alpha projectiles should zip through as easily as a bullet through a slab of butter. At Manchester, Hans Geiger began work on the experiments, later to be joined by Ernest Marsden. One day, Rutherford recounted years later, Geiger excitedly reported that some alpha particles had bounced backward upon encountering the foil. “It was almost as incredible,” Rutherford recalled, “as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.”
Cadbury Creme Physics. In honor of the Easter holiday,the Sixty Symbols folks are exploring egg-themed physics. This installment: extra dimensions, why gravity is so weak, and the cosmological constant. Feel free to munch on a tasty zombie chocolate bunny while you watch (white chocolate dyed green, of course).
It's Not You, It's Me. Any researcher can relate. You get an idea, you form a hypothesis, you figure out how to test it, but in the end, it just doesn't work out. How do you handle the inevitable break-up, after all you've shared together? Chuck over at Lounge of the Lab Lemming writes a "Dear John" letter to his hypothesis, and we think he managed the awkwardness pretty well:
"You’re a very attractive hypothesis, and I’m sure there are lots of theorists out there willing to overlook your lack of actual data. And while I hope you don’t rebound into the eye of a delusional crackpot, it’s a bit awkward for me to give advice at this point in time. In fact, you have every right to be angry. We were in love, and I really thought it would work out. Had the data allowed, I was ready to give you my name and make you my Theory. It just wasn’t to be."
Fucking Magnets, How Do They Work? Kids today are gonna ask this question, especially if they listen to Insane Clown Posse. And in a post dubbed "Science Question from a Toddler," Boing Boing's Maggie Koerth-Baker dug deep for an accesible answer.
Spark It Up. Lots of people were mystified by the 4/20 celebrations being referenced around the Internet this week, an unofficial "holiday" for Friends of Cannabis that just happened to coincide with the release of Portal 2. Honestly, it's a miracle the entire country didn't shut down. Science bloggers joined the fun by weighing in with posts on whether weed is really all that bad for your brain, and an exporation of the chemistry of heroin, morphine, and whether eating lemon poppy seed cake could give you a full dose of morphine. (Perhaps if you smoked a joint and got so hungry you ate the entire cake?)
Go Forth and Smell, My Son. This week, New Scientist's Culture Lab featured a post about the Art of Perfume, a masterclass in perfumery run by the Mulberry Institute in Sydney, Australia, where perfume designers delve deep into the chemistry of scents to come up with new techniques and combinations. (Jen-Luc Piquant read that Patrick Susskind novel several years ago and thinks all perfumiers are closet serial killers, but she's prone to all manner of logical fallacies.) For all the fancy liquid chromatography equipment, though, in the end it all comes down to the basic perfume formula:
Each fragrance is based on three "notes" or chemical mixtures. The top note is "the first impression," he says. It's made using volatile chemicals that quickly evaporate in the air, and is generally a citrus or fruity scent. The middle note is the "heart of the fragrance", which is often based on floral odours, and lasts about eight hours from when first applied. And finally, the base: a robust smell that lingers for days. A common example is musk, the deer's pheromone.
Pint-Sized Thor Parodies Littlest Vader. We all loved that car commercial with the little kid dressed as Darth Vader desperately trying to use The Force around the house and failing miserably under Dad comes home from work and secretly turns on the car remotely. You know you saw it. So you'll love Marvel Studio's viral parody of the ad with a little kid dressed as Thor, Norse God of Thunder:
Making Science Your Playground. The New York Times takes a look at playgrounds and discovers they aren't what they used to be. For instance, "The Science Playground, designed by BKSK Architects at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, is less fairy tale than futurama. Resembling a colorful Rube Goldberg contraption, with waterworks, the 60,000-square-foot space lets children study the laws of physics while happily submitting to them."
Denialism and Science. Chris Mooney made some waves this week with an essay in Mother Jones exploring the nature of denialism, and what cognitive psychology can tell us about why people so stubbornly reject good science, despite strong factual evidence in its favor. Well-trodden ground? Maybe. But given the 400+ comment thread, I suspect it can't be repeated enough.
To Stop a Pandemic, Do the Math. One of the most fun chapters to write for The Calculus Diaries was the one about the coming zombie apocalypse and how epidemiologists use mathematical modeling to track outbreaks and assess the effectiveness of various intervention measures. This week io9's Annalee Newitz posted a terrific article on some of the latest work being done in this area (math-y modeling, not the zombies, although hey, it's definitely relevant!). It's long, thoughtful and thorough, and well worth a read.
Droopy LEDs. The Photonist, a.k.a., science writer David Harris, shares some new research that explains why LED lighting loses efficiency at higher power — a phenomenon known as "droop." The culprit is a little something called "Auger recombination." So now you know.
The Songs of Science. Over at Scientific American's Observations blog, Ryan Reid provides a deliciously eclectic list of ten songs about science — including one of his own humble offerings. "These 10 songs, listed in no particular order, cover the gamut of genres, from ambient to pop to rock to metal, and were inspired by a wide range of scientific disciplines, including mathematics, robotics, climate science and cosmology." Here's my personal favorite science-themed song, "Protons, Neutrons, Electrons," by The Cat Empire: