Monday, May 12, 2008
I just found Phun the other day. It's a free open-source, cross-platform 2D physics simulator that makes you want to pick up blocks, or maybe crayons, and learn more about the way things fall and move under pressure. Written by a Swedish graduate student, the program teaches concepts of restitution and friction. Having the physics exam made me think of this.
Good luck on the exam everyone!
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Finally one of my favorite comic book heroes has come to the movies. I highly recommend watching this movie. It definitely strays from the norms of the brawns of most superhero movies and has moments of clever dialog.
Its a cool movie. And the hero, Iron Man aka Tony Stark is a scientist. Although the science and physics involved in Iron Man may seem farfetched, according to New Scientist much of the technology is closer to reality than we may think. One such example is the superhero exoskeleton. The suits that Stark builds give him super human powers but nowadays some teams have built exoskeletal legs that can transfer weight to the ground and make objects like backpacks seem lighter.
One of the coolest things about Stark's suit is not its strength but its ability to fly. Stark zooms to Afghanistan to stop warlords killing a group of poor villagers. This is also a technology being researched by such projects as SoloTrek that was capable of flying 200 km.
The way Stark manages to build his suit is due to the assistance he receives from his artificial intelligence. Stark's robotic helper doesn't always correctly guess what he wants but as real-world software grows evermore sophisticated, modern technology is making such science-fiction seem possible. He also also a 3d software program with a tactile interface.
Perhaps one day we will see these technologies realized. Have a nice rest of weekend.
Monday, April 28, 2008
I recently, and sadly, broke my violin bow. As my violin teacher once pointed out, the bow is crucial, some bows can get as expensive as millions of dollars which is more than most of the expensive violins. A bow makes the sound, and everything about the bow influences that sound. The weight, camber, balance point and materials all make a difference to the sound and my ability to play.
So when I broke my wooden bow I was worried. Thankfully my good friend loaned me his carbon fibre bow. Although the material is extremely strong and resilient (I'm not worried at all about breaking it) it is not the same as a good wooden bow (which are usually made of pernumbuco wood or brazil wood.) The different density gives the carbon fibre a different resonance. There's a saying in french, L'archet, c'est le violon. The bow is the violin. And although the new bow is quite nice it doesnt make the same sound as my old bow which relates very wholly to physics.
Have a nice rest of weekend, i.e. something like 30 minutes of it left.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Tomorrow is Earth Day. I'll probably forget to wear green and brown, but nevertheless I'll try not to forget what earth day is all about, and that it really shouldnt be just one day when i remember the environment.
But earth is also the setting and playground for so much physics. It's where we find all those situations with friction and kinematics etc. But more relevant to saving the environment and safeguarding a pristine (ish) earth for our generations and future ones is energy. We all know that ancient fossils of all types eventually became the petroleum that gets pumped out of the ground. But it seems that some people forget that we're past the half mark of world supplies, or are just too greedy to realize that we need alternatives.
Oil is great stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if eventually this time we're living in is called the Age of Petroleum because it made our industrial modern world possible (and comfortable). However, I hope future generations don't call this the Golden Age of man because we end up going down hill from here. Oil is great, but limited and temporary.
In physics we discussed energy efficient engines and even watched a video at the beginning of the year about the electric car. I also recently read an inconvenient truth by al gore. Sadly, he recommends that we use energy efficient bulbs at the end. I don't he thinks that we can do much better or more drastic stuff. Take ethanol for instance. Not only does it has 1/3 the energy of oil but it requires a lot of farming to get to that point.
We need reform in terms of the environment. Sure businesses will complain and people can argue that people in China and India will just take our places as polluters. But a spark of true and big change is the only solution to stop destroying the earth.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Although everyone else has moved on from nuclear physics I got thinking about how an "island of stability" was mentioned in chem last year. There was a chart in the reading that showed as the masses of elements got greater and the ratio of neutrons to protons grew ever larger the stability rapidly decreased.
According to wikipedia, Glenn T. Seaborg for whom seaborgium is named after, first proposed the idea of super heavy elements that would be stable. (unlike elements like seaborgium itself which has only lasted one hour or element 118, ununoctium which only lasts 0.89 ms.)
Although the half lives of elements in the island are uncertain. Some physicists think they are basically short, only minutes and days long. However, some theoretical calculations indicate that their half lives may be long (some calculations put it on the order of 109 years). It is possible that these elements could have unusual chemical properties, and, if long lived enough, various applications (such as targets in nuclear physics and neutron sources). However, the isotopes of several of these elements still have too few neutrons to be stable.
Perhaps in our lifetimes we will see the "shores" of this island reached, with a radical application ready. Anyways, I'm tired, have a nice 30 minutes of sunday left everyone.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Sadly, the few days before we all went off to spring break, a time that seems so long ago, no one mentioned a word about Arthur C. Clarke. The visionary writer died on March 19 at the age of 90.
I'm sure that many of us saw the epic Stanley Kubrick film 2001 based on Clarke's short story the sentinel, but in addition, Clarke also drew up the first plans for artificial satellites in 1945, at a time when space and communications seemed to be wholly unrelated. I indeed watched 2001: a space odyssey and the sequel, then read the following two books, all of which I really enjoyed. I've read a bunch of his other stories including Childhood's End.
But aside from being an amazing writer, Clarke was a scientist. Through his books so many people's minds have been opened to science but better yet, they have been exposed to doing the impossible.
Here are Clarke’s Three Laws: published in his Profiles of the Future
1. “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
2. “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”
3. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
His visions and optimism certainly have inspired many including myself. These visions have in turn helped bring about his predictions into reality. From a wholly unrelated play, South Pacific, comes an entirely appropriate quote, "How you gonna have a dream come true, if you don't have a dream".
Far from being my favourite science-fiction author he still grabbed my attention with his sweeping overviews of what the future holds. He made the impossible look so feasible, and its more of this attitude that is needed to give dreamers hope of making dreams into reality.
And so ends my pitifully unworthy tribute to a great man, Arthur C. Clarke. A man who helped to inspire exploration in us all of the world around us and of the world inside ourselves. I hope his visionary optimism of the future lives on in scientists and others around the world. Have a nice weekend everyone.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
A 100 trillion years from now the last stars will fade out and the only lights will be a few dim black holes and the artificial lights of civilization, at least according to the latest issue of scientific american.
There are 400 billion galaxies in our universe. And one decade ago cosmologists made the discovery that the universe's expansion is accelerating. One day the skies will be empty (if earth gets through the next 100 trillion years..). In the future the universe will look like a puddle of stars and then drop completely out of view. The article also brings up the issue of what evidence from the past we could have already lost.
This obviously relates to physics because of things that we study like light and optics. Light is fast (ha) but the distances in the universe are unimaginably immense. In addition one must wonder how to deal with a vast universe in terms of Newton's theory of universal gravitation because theres just so much matter.
But in relevance to human society it still has implications. No human will be around 100 trillion realistically speaking. But like Copernicus 500 years ago, these discovery change our attitude towards the earth and the universe. We are incredibly small to put it bluntly. And the universe itself is neither constant nor eternal.
Grand implications indeed to think about. Have a nice weekend everyone.