Physics Week in Review: June 16, 2018

InlovejenlucBrains may function best near, but not precisely at, the critical point between two phases; the math of how order falls into chaos; and shape-shifting antimatter neutrinos are among this week’s physics highlights.

Brains May Teeter Near Their Tipping Point: physicists argue that brains optimize performance by staying near — though not exactly at — the critical point between two phases.  My latest for Quanta, essentially a follow-up to this 2014 Quanta article.

Equations Show How Order Falls Into Chaos. “The transition from orderly progress to chaotic wandering, as happens when a herd of sheep walk together into a pasture then disperse unpredictably, has been given a detailed mathematical description for the first time.”

Too Small for Big Muscles, Tiny Animals Use Springs. Elastic springs help tiny animals stay fast and strong. New work is finding what size critters must be to benefit from the springs.

MIT Device Uses WiFi to ‘See’ Through Walls and Track Your Movements.

Could some black holes actually be wormholes to another universe? It’s not a rhetorical question. Gravitational-wave data from LIGO will soon test this wild idea.

Antimatter neutrinos caught shape-shifting between flavours. We’ve seen antineutrinos morphing from one ‘flavour’ to another, and it could help us figure out why the universe is full of normal matter and not antimatter.

The Universe Is Not a Simulation, but We Can Now Simulate It. Computer simulations have become so accurate that cosmologists can now use them to study dark matter, supermassive black holes and other mysteries of the real evolving cosmos.

“Researchers will use FACET-II to develop the plasma wakefield acceleration method, in which researchers send a bunch of very energetic particles through a hot ionized gas, creating a plasma wake for a trailing bunch to “surf” on and gain energy.”

The Battle Behind the Periodic Table’s Latest Additions. Four new elements were added in 2015, but some researchers say the announcement was premature.

Giving droplets a kick by accelerating the surface they sit on creates elaborate shapes as the drops respond.

Bubble-3This Bubble Artisan Might Blow Up, But She Won’t Go Pop. Bubble engineer Melody Yang knows that bubbles are a lot like us—they need water, air, and a loving touch in order to thrive. Check out the full video at Wired. See also

The Surprisingly Cool Physics of Pushing a Block Against a Wall. You might think this is just a boring physics problem—but you’d be wrong.

A Theory with No Strings Attached: Can Beautiful Physics Be Wrong? [Excerpt]. A physicist decries the trend of chasing after aesthetically pleasing theories that lack empirical evidence.

Black Holes, Galaxy Mergers, Quasars: A Quest to Understand the Ordinary. “Last week at the 232nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Scott Barrows from the University of Colorado, Boulder (UC) presented a method for identifying quasars in merging galaxies that has led to new insights.”

The Physics of a Puzzling Perpetual Motion Machine: “Nope, this YouTube video hasn’t just changed everything we know about energy.”

Can You Cook an Egg by Screaming at It? “It may not be that easy to transfer sound energy to heat, but it is possible”

Glittering Diamond Dust in Space Might Solve a 20-Year-Old Mystery. The Milky Way is strewn with sparkling, spinning microscopic diamonds, which might explain an unusual microwave glow.

The Standard Model (of Physics) at 50: It has successfully predicted many particles, including the Higgs Boson, and has led to 55 Nobels so far, but there’s plenty it still can’t account for.

How a Uranium Hunter Sniffs Out Nuclear Weapons. Every bit of uranium ore has a chemical fingerprint specific to its source on Earth. Track the metal, and you can track the ne’er-do-well who took it.

Many lurid tales from the nuclear world are real. But the industry also generates myths that are widely accepted as true.

Nuclear Power Won’t Survive Without A Government Handout.  See also my December 2015 Gizmodo article on the sad state of the nuclear power industry.

The Physics of the One Goal You *Won’t* See at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. A soccer player rarely scores directly off a corner kick. It’s called an Olympic goal, and when it does happen, it’s usually an accident. Here’s why.  Related: The Secret Materials Science Of Football Kits. With the FIFA World Cup kicking off in Russia, you may be surprised to discover just how much science and technology has gone into creating the basic kit of this Beautiful Game.

The Surprising Reason Why Neutron Stars Don’t All Collapse To Form Black Holes.

Making quantum puddles: Physicists discover how to create the thinnest liquid films ever.

If spacetime is like a fabric, and mass bends it, what flattens it back out again?

LIGO Laboratories, where gravitational waves were discovered, to be designated Historical Sites by the American Physical Society.

“Why I Won’t Debate Science“: Once you put established facts about the world up for argument, you’ve already lost. “Science isn’t a popularity contest… physics and chemistry don’t care what I, or anyone else, wants.”

Stephen Hawking’s words will be beamed into a black hole about 3,457 light years away after his memorial service.

Science has a sexual harassment problem. The solution will require a “systemwide change to the culture and climate in higher education,” the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine conclude. Related:  Harassers Aren’t Brilliant Jerks, They’re Bad Scientists–and They Cost All of Us. “Scientists bear a responsibility to others in their field… safe, collegial relations …undergird our best and most innovative research. Those who fail in this task should at best be considered mediocre scientists.”

Where Boys Outperform Girls in Math: Rich, White & Suburban Districts, according to a new study from Stanford researchers, one of the most comprehensive looks at the gender gap in test scores at the school district level.

Private journals kept by the scientist and humanitarian icon show prejudiced attitudes towards the people he met while travelling in Asia. Counterpoint: Chinese internet users are surprisingly sympathetic to Einstein’s racist remarks. “Einstein’s observations of China, they say, are to some extent simply telling it like it is—or rather was, at that point in China’s history.”

How to Solve a Riddle That Saves the City From Dr. Schrödinger’s Planned Army of Giant Cats.