Saturday November 30, 2013
It's that time of year again, where we begin looking for gift ideas for family and friends. For those of you looking for gifts for a science enthusiast friend, you're in luck! You can get started on our 2013 Holiday Physics Gift Idea List, which includes some games and television shows that might be of interest, and also a link to some 2013 science books that might make great gift ideas.
What are your suggestions for a great holiday gift for the scientist in your life?
Friday November 29, 2013
It's rare that I review books by biologists, but when I received Edward O. Wilson's Letters to a Young Scientist, I was intrigued to see whether the suggestions of a world-renowned field biologist would resonate with someone whose background was in the hard sciences. While Wilson spends a bit more time on discussions about ants than I personally find necessary, the overall book was enjoyable and offered advice that I wish I'd received upon deciding to pursue the sciences.
Wilson's discussion of how science is pursued - while a bit different in the "squishy" science of biology than in physics - touches on the importance of many of the key scientific skills that I have discussed in the past. I can't call this a "must read" book, but for someone who's thinking about pursuing the sciences, and who wonders about whether it's really something that might interest them, this sort of book certainly may help point out a path that hasn't previously occurred to them, with insights about how scientists really do their work.
Read more in my full review of the book.
Sunday November 24, 2013
For years, I hated turkey at Thanksgiving. I just had no interest in eating it, because it never tasted right. The breast was too dry and the dark meat was too chewy. It seemed absolutely impossible to get turkey to come out right.
Then I discovered the science behind it, and incorporated some suggestions from Food Network food geek Alton Brown on how to get the perfect bird. It was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten.
Since then, it's been my pleasure every year to share the Physics of Turkey article with our loyal readers. (Do we have loyal readers? I'm not sure.) It brings together a lot of the interesting science behind cooking a turkey, focusing on how to get the right parts of the bird heated to the right temperatures.
The article was inspired in part by Roger Highfield's intriguing book, The Physics of Christmas, which includes a detailed discussion of cooking a turkey. The article has evolved over the years as I discover new and intriguing turkey-related physics fact. (That's a sentence you don't expect to ever write until it happens.)
Image Source: Lisa Peardon / Getty Images
Wednesday November 6, 2013
When the original Thor film came out in 2011, I commented on how effectively they incorporated scientific concepts into the film. With the upcoming release of its sequel, Thor: The Dark World, it's a good time to revisit some of the ways science manifests itself in this fundamentally mythical cinematic event.
Mjolnir - In the original film, Odin makes reference to the fact that Thor's hammer Mjolnir was forged from a dying star. This made me think that it was perhaps made of the incredibly dense material of a neutron star (a viewpoint that's also been voiced by no less than astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson). However, in the comic book Indestructible Hulk #8, a discussion of Mjolnir points at another explanation ... one that had been outlined by James Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes. In this alternate explanation, Mjolnir contains nanotechnology that can manipulate and emit graviton particles.
Bifrost - The Bifrost, or Rainbow Bridge, is the mythical path between the Norse heavenly realm of Asgard and Midgard (known to us non-Norse mere mortals as Earth). In the original film, this Rainbow Bridge is revealed to be a wormhole, or Einstein-Rosen bridge, which connects two distant points in spacetime.
The Nine Realms - Norse cosmology contains nine distinct realms, which is tied through the films into the current scientific understanding of parallel universes. Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, and other realms that show up in the films are represented as different physical realities, although there are connections (such as the aforementioned wormholes) between them.
The Aether - I haven't seen the film yet (an oversight that I expect the folks at Disney/Marvel are kicking themselves for), but the reviews that I've seen imply that a major component is a destructive force from the dawn of time known as the "Aether." It appears that it may be a power that can break down the barriers between the parallel universes, thus destroying all of reality. Or something like that. Some early trailers also hinted at the "darkness" out of which the universe was originally formed. It's not clear, but it's possible that this Aether might be dark energy, which pushes spacetime itself apart. A sufficiently powerful source of dark energy could, in theory, cause matter itself to fly apart rapidly, thus destroying the universe. (The impact on parallel universes is far less clear.)