Physics Week in Review: May 12, 2018

The thermodynamics of why birds migrate, theoretical “fractions” could be made in a crystal, and the physics of why water is slippery are among this week’s physics highlights.

Play a Video Game to Help Solve an 80-Year-Old Physics Debate About the Nature of Reality. The largest participatory experiment in quantum physics is helping physicists better understand the nature of reality by eliminating free will from the equation.

A Thermodynamic Answer to Why Birds Migrate. Flying thousands of miles may seem like an odd way for birds to save energy. But a new model says that energy is the major factor shaping whether birds migrate. They do it to strike a favorable balance between their input and output of energy.

Fitting a Bose-Einstein Condensate inside an Atom. A giant Rydberg atom enveloping thousands of ordinary atoms could be used to study ion-atom interactions at ultralow temperatures.

Physicists Measure Precise Value of Proton’s ‘Weak Charge’ for the First Time

Utterly bizarre theoretical ‘fractons’ could be made for real. A fracton is a weird imaginary half-particle, and can only move when paired with another fracton. It sounds wild but we could make one in a crystal.

Universe’s Coolest Lab Set to Open Quantum World. NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory will allow physicists to play with quantum phenomena like never before.

The Physics of Swinging a Mass on a String for Fun. With a specific setup, you can control the tension in the string.

Fuzzballs v Black Holes: A radical theory replaces the cosmic crunchers with fuzzy quantum spheres, potentially solving the black-hole information paradox.   See also my 2015 Quanta feature on fuzzballs.

What Is Spacetime? Physicists believe that at the tiniest scales, space emerges from quanta. What might these building blocks look like?

Congressman Divulges Unreleased Study to Win Support for Life-Hunting Mission to Jupiter’s Moon Europa.

Scientists Want to Study Exoplanet Atmospheres for Signs of Alien Life. Instead of looking at individual biosignatures, a new dynamic framework suggests that studying atmospheric seasons may be the key for detecting alien life on exoplanets.

Neutron Decay May Hint at Dark Matter: The occasional decay of neutrons into dark matter particles could solve a long-standing discrepancy in neutron decay experiments. Related: Forget WIMPs, Axions And MACHOs: Could WIMPzillas Solve The Dark Matter Problem?  Also: The case against dark matter: Erik Verlinde’s theory of emergent gravity is proof that not all physicists believe dark matter is necessary to explain the cosmos.

Troubled Times for Alternatives to Einstein’s Theory of Gravity. New observations of extreme astrophysical systems have “brutally and pitilessly murdered” attempts to replace Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Interpreting Quantum Mechanics Is All About Observers.The Copenhagen and Many-Worlds interpretations of quantum physics are very different, but each in its own way gives a crucial role to the observer.

Particle Physicists Turn to AI to Cope with CERN’s Collision Deluge. Can a competition with cash rewards improve techniques for tracking the Large Hadron Collider’s messy particle trajectories?

Dcw51ozV0AAVN89This Photo Was Made With Radiation From Vintage Dishes. Peter Shellenberger uses old Fiestaware and Ektachrome film to make his autoradiographs. [Image: Peter Shellenberger]

Why wet floors lead to pratfalls. But water is also metaphorically slippery — it behaves in some very weird ways we still don’t have perfect explanations for. Sometimes the most common things still contain mysteries.

Scientists Made a Working Invisibility Cloak (But There’s a Catch). Researchers from Pennsylvania State University have created a device that uses “acoustic cloaking” technology. Related: Scientists Didn’t Invent a Star Trek ‘Cloaking Device,’ But What They Did Is Still Neat.

The Kilauea volcano is ‘speaking in a code’ we don’t yet understand. Hawaii’s latest eruption has much to teach us about hazard mitigation, volcanology, and even outer space.

How a detector the size of a ping-pong table picked up a signal that could revolutionise cosmology. A shoestring experiment in the Australian outback has seen the signal of the very first stars – and a weird effect astronomers are struggling to explain

Ever recognize the repeating patterns of nature? There’s a theory for that. “Everything flows from the fluids inside our bodies to the electricity that feeds our homes. But it’s more than that. Information in computers and cultural norms flow too, as do artistic movements and breakthrough developments. Everything has flow and the greater our knowledge about it, the better we can manage our life and the world around us.”

Fluid Interactions Help Fish in a School Swim Faster. Simulations of fish schools that include fluid dynamics in addition to the usual coordination of individuals lead to faster swimmers and reveal a new collective swimming mode.

Math in Motion: Playing with a desktop Galton Board. “This delightful little device brings to life the statistical concept of normal distribution.”

The Science of Forging Thor’s Infinity War Weapon.  Related: What materials did the Star Wars Empire use to build their fleets?  Also: Star Wars‘ Newtonian Universe: “a closer look at the Star Wars movies reveals a remarkably un-Einsteinian universe. In fact, it seems to owe more to Newton than to Einstein.”  Bonus: Something’s  off with the turbo laser shots in The Last Jedi.

Taking measurements in a hurricane is hard, so researchers built their own lab-scale hurricane instead.

Remediating Fukushima—“When everything goes to hell, you go back to basics.”

A Tornado’s Secret Sounds Could Reveal Where It’ll Strike. Tornadoes seem to emit sounds the human ear can’t hear. That could help scientists develop better early detection systems.

Alan Turing’s chemistry hypothesis turned into a desalination filter. A chemical reaction he suggested can now be done, and it makes a great membrane.

The material science of building a light sail to take us to Alpha Centauri.

Queen’s researchers exploring Anglo-Saxons knowledge of astronomy and the undiscovered ‘Planet Nine.’

The Milky Way’s Speediest Stars Could Solve a 50-Year-Old Mystery. Stars traveling more than 1,200 kilometers per second hint at a new mechanism behind cosmos-spanning stellar explosions.

A spectacular destination for astronomy fans is being built in rural Norway. Imagine stumbling upon a small planetary system deep in a forest.

Virginia Woolf’s Totality: An Arresting 1927 Account of a Total Solar Eclipse: “We had seen the world dead. This was within the power of nature.”

No, Scientists Are Not (Necessarily) Smarter Than Non-Scientists. “The widespread belief that scientists are brainier than non-scientists is hurtful to everyone who doesn’t fit the “scientist” stereotype.”

A Brave and Startling Truth: Astrophysicist Janna Levin Reads Maya Angelou’s Stunning Humanist Poem That Flew to Space, Inspired by Carl Sagan.

Toxic Masculine Cosmology: A review of Brian Keating’s new book, Losing the Nobel Prize. “Peeling back the layers, we see a scientific community that is often driven more by personality than truth.”

Stock photos of scientists reveal that science is mostly about staring… Sometimes at chickens.

Harry Dyer watched an entire Flat Earth Convention. His conclusion: shifts in who has power to spread information have led to a resurgence in fringe ideas. “While flat-Earthers seem to trust and support scientific methods, what they don’t trust is scientists, and the established relationships between “power” and “knowledge.”

How the Classic Pepper’s Ghost Illusion Is at the Center of the Technology of Celebrity Holograms: