Physics Week in Review: May 26, 2018

A quantum stopwatch, quantum effects in photosynthesis, 231 new solutions to the infamous three-body problem, and another blow for NASA’s controversial EM-drive are among this week’s physics highlights.

Storing time from a quantum stopwatch with qubits – instead of losing accuracy by stopping and starting it – could give us the ultimate precision in timekeeping.

A proposed scheme for generating torus-shaped light pulses called flying doughnuts uses a metamaterial “sprinkled” with tiny resonators in a concentric ring pattern.

Watch the weird new solutions to the baffling three-body problem. The three-body problem, which determines how objects orbit each other in space, is notoriously difficult to solve. Now there are 231 new valid orbits.

Scientists Are Using AI to Painstakingly Assemble Single Atoms. A machine’s atom-wide tip could help usher in an era of microscopic circuits.

Physicists See Quantum Effects in Photosynthesis. “an international team of scientists showed that molecules involved in photosynthesis display quantum mechanical behavior. Even though we’d suspected as much before, this is the first time we’ve seen quantum effects in living systems. Not only will it help us better understand plants, sunlight and everything in between, but it could also mean cool new tech in the future.”

NASA’s EM-drive is a magnetic WTF-thruster. Test reveals that the magic space unicorns pushing the EM-drive are magnetic fields. Per Ars Technica’s Chris Lee: “I think we are now beyond the point where a couple of dudes with a copper cone and an amplifier can find a huge hole in the underpinnings of modern physics, and that makes me very suspicious of these claims. And, even though I respect the effort in testing them, I cannot help feeling that we might be able to apply a better filter to these ideas.”  Related: The US military released a study on warp drives and faster-than-light travel. Here’s what Caltech theoretical physicist Sean Carroll thinks of it. “It’s bits and pieces of theoretical physics dressed up as if it has something to do with potentially real-world applications, which it doesn’t,” Carroll said. “This is not crackpot. This is not the Maharishi saying we’re going to use spirit energy to fly off the ground — this is real physics. But this is not something that’s going to connect with engineering anytime soon, probably anytime ever.”

Quantum Physics May Be Even Spookier Than You Think: A new experiment hints at surprising hidden mechanics of quantum superpositions.

This Week’s Must-Watch Video: How to Befriend the Universe: Philosopher and Comedian Emily Levine on the Art of Meeting Reality on Its Own Terms. From Newton to quantum physics to Hannah Arendt, the wonderful Levine brings “a mind-bending, heart-opening invitation to welcome nature exactly as it is and ourselves exactly as we are.” It’s “a largehearted meditation on the existential art of befriending our finitude as she faces her own terminal illness”:

What Is Real? A tale of how big egos hijacked quantum physics. The quantum story is all brilliant insights, flawed male scientists – and few female ones. To progress, we may need to dump our prejudices, says a new book.

Caltech physicist Sean Carroll answers the Questions that plague us all, including, if there’s a chance that somewhere out there in the cosmos, there is another extraterrestrial Donald Trump ruling over a planet of little green aliens.

What do neutron stars and black holes sound like? What about the Big Bang? Listen to these scintillating sounds from the universe. The music of the cosmos can be eerie, jarring, and surprisingly beautiful.

What are quantum dots, and why are we making them out of tea? “New research from a team of scientists in the UK and India demonstrates that it’s possible to make quantum dots using waste from the tea industry.”  See also my 2015 Gizmodo article on quantum “pee-dots” made from recycled urine.

Here Come the Waves: After a clutch of historic detections, gravitational-wave researchers have set their sights on some ambitious scientific quarry.  Related: Maybe We Could “See” a Black Hole Singularity After All. When black holes collide, interactions between their cores might leave an imprint on the resulting gravitational waves.

Could the Large Hadron Collider Collide a Sandwich? “it would need to be vaporized first, and its atoms probably wouldn’t make it very far through the series of racetracks.”

The Aftermath of Michael Jackson’s Antigravity Lean. “It’s been known for years how Jackson defied gravity. His shoes had a slot that slid onto a bolt in the floor, allowing him to perform the dramatic lean.”

The Physics of How a Mirror Creates a Virtual World. Human eyes are sort of dumb—but you can trick them into being smart.

The Laser Battle Against Blood-Sucking Parasites of the Deep. What can salmon farmers do against the scourge of tiny fish-killing sea lice? Fry them.

What Made Saturn’s Ravioli-Shaped Moons? New research suggests collisions between moonlets created the oddly-formed objects.

Chaos Theory, The Butterfly Effect, And The Computer Glitch That Started It All:  the work of chaos pioneer Edward Lorenz, born this week 101 years ago.

The swirling psychedelic colors of a soap bubble come from the interference of light rays bouncing off the inner and outer surfaces of the film.  (Image credit: L. Shen et al., source)

Skeleton Of Famed Astronomer Tycho Brahe Finally Reveals Cause Of Death. It wasn’t poison that did in Tycho Brahe, but rather rich food and lots of alcohol.

Stellarator’s plasma results show a triumph of engineering and modeling. A possible route to fusion makes a very impressive start.

Questioning Truth, Reality and the Role of Science. In an era when untestable ideas such as the multiverse hold sway, Michela Massimi defends science from those who think it hopelessly unmoored from physical reality.

Math Says Urinals in Planes Could Make Lavatory Lines Shorter for Everyone… As long as you’ve got the exact right number of urinals.

How NASA Will Unlock the Secrets of Quantum Mechanics Aboard the ISS

New parts of the brain become active after students learn physics. Parts of the brain not traditionally associated with learning science become active when people are confronted with solving physics problems, a new study shows. I am sure there are tons of caveats about this study–neuro-imaging stuff can be tricky and easy to misinterpret. But I like this quote: “One of the keys seemed to be an area of the brain, the dorsal , that generates mental simulations. This suggests that learning physics is an imaginative process, which is not typically how people think of it.”

Matt Damon should’ve been more worried about radiation than dust storms, but it looks like some solar storms should be safe-ish for Mars-bound astronauts.

The Physics of Accelerating Spacecraft in The Expanse: There are no pew-pew lasers or faster-than-light space travel here—just serious science. Related: Did Han Solo Use A Trick Of Einstein’s Relativity To Make The Kessel Run? How his most famous achievement might actually be possible.

Watch The Hedy Lamarr Story, a New Documentary on the 1940s Film Star & Inventor of Wi-Fi Technology (Streaming Free for a Limited Time).

The Scientist Who Became Obsessed with Magic Lanterns. “The magic lantern, invented in the mid-1600s, preceded the 35mm slide projector and movie projector.”

A Eulogy for the Luminiferous Ether: “You were a sensical theory, luminiferous ether. And physicists love when things make sense. But science need not make sense—the universe doesn’t give a damn what human beings think.”

A Lonely Astronaut Explores a Desolate America in These Beautiful Paintings. Scott Listfield’s vision of an apocalyptic Northern California is coming to Northern California.  [Image: Scott Listfield/Spoke Art]

A NASA photographer caught the perfect SpaceX launch shot. Then his camera melted.

CBS Made a Show About a Real Rocket Science Pioneer (Jack Parsons, the founder of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) Who Practiced Sex Magick.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Explained in One of the Earliest Science Films Ever Made (1923).

European Space Agency Sponsors “Graffiti Without Gravity” Contest. “which lucky artist gets to ride on the “vomit comet”? That’s up to you.”

A Conversation with Thomas Hertog, One of Stephen Hawking’s Final Collaborators.  Related: Singularity: Poet Marie Howe’s Beautiful Tribute to Stephen Hawking and Our Belonging to the Universe.

Art Meets Science and Light Turns Liquid at ARTECHOUSE’s “Naked Eyes.” “As you make your way through the rooms of the subterranean space, you’ll find yourself immersed in a series of distinct atmospheres, all created with little more than white light and the shadows it casts.”

W00t! We’ve been a fan of Ben Orlin’s charming blog for years, and now there’s Math with Bad Drawings: The Book. “Why architects use triangles. Why people buy lottery tickets. How to evaluate schools statistically. Why the economy collapsed in 2008. Why there aren’t giants.” And so much more.

Beautiful hand-drawn works by Wacław Szpakowski, trained as an architect, explore the outer limits of a single line, creating labyrinths, mazes, patterns, circuits, buildings.

The Coupled Pendulum, a physics demonstration. “Two pendulums swing on a string, transferring energy from one to the other and back again. This demonstration by MarkHacks, made with cardboard, screw hooks, tape, string, and two plumb bobs, allows us to observe the phenomenon with no interruptions.”

The Amazing Natural Nanotechnology Embedded in the Camouflaging Skin of Chameleons. “A colorful video by the PBS series Reactions explains how chameleons uniquely change color with the use of nano crystals called iridophores, which produce iridescent light.”

Scroll to Top