Building the Next Science Thingy

By Julianne Dalcanton | September 28, 2007 5:00 pm

From the Onion:

According to the scientists, the electromagnetic science-maker will make atoms move and spin around very quickly, though spectators at the hearing said afterward they could not account for how one could get some atoms to move around faster than other ones if everything is made of atoms anyway. In addition, the scientists said that the device would be several miles in circumference, which puzzled onlookers who had long assumed that atoms were tiny. Despite these apparent inconsistencies, the scientists, in Rep. Gordon’s words, appeared “very smart-sounding” and confident that their big spinner would solve some kind of problem they described.

Nicely captures the “blah blah blah Ginger” aspect of communicating science to the general public.

(hat tip to Pure Pedantry)

  • bswift

    Julianne, I hope that you don’t see the general public as nothing more than dogs! :)

    Much like the Simpsons, you can pretty much quote Far Side in any situation…

  • No One

    You know, until I finally noticed that this was from The Onion, I was starting to get quite concerned!

  • Neil B.

    Yeah funny, but I always think of something real if I can: atoms can’t really “spin” more than the spin they already have, since they are not like solid tops. IOW, once you have a nucleus and an electron cloud, that’s it – the angular momentum is given. A classical analogy would be trying to make the solar system spin – you can’t make the planets go faster without just kicking them out. However, molecules or anything can rotate if they have any “features” to identify, as for example even nuclei (e.g. the ellipsoidal ones.)

    That makes me wonder, if electrons at the edge of atoms that are part of a spinning molecule (or bigger) have more average velocity in some sense than the electrons in a static atom? Obviously, velocity addition means that the electrons in a simply translating atom have more expectation velocity than rest case, but in this case, would it be more at the outer part than the inner part? That seems weird, considering the original point.

  • John

    Neil: if you want to talk about it that way, atoms don’t spin, as such…the nucleus has its own spin, and the electrons have their own orbital angular momentum around the nucleus. You can sort of think of the outer electrons as moving more slowly than the inner ones. The whole atom has some overall angular momentum.

    In a molecule, though, which is rotating, the outer atoms are moving faster on average than the inner ones, I think it’s fair to say. Perhaps there are physical chemists or physicists out there who have used this fact in laser spectroscopy? That is in an intereting thought… The idea would be to tune the laser just above or below some transition threshold and stimulate the outer but not inner atoms.

  • Manas Shaikh

    The questions arn’t that bad, really, if you take out all the advantage you have because you know so much! (smiley)

  • Blake Stacey

    I think there’s actually an interesting and moderately serious point in the way the Onion‘s Congresspeople respond to “math”.

  • Ian B Gibson

    Hey- if you want a real challenge, just try explaining neutrinos and how they are detected..

  • Neil B.

    BTW, isn’t it really a shame how much real physics is being held up by budget crunches, mostly because what’s left after all that war spending, pork, and special tax cuts for favored well-heeled constituents? A buddy of mine was just laid off from Jefferson Lab, and it will be hard for him to find real work.

  • meewok

    to be quite honest, i thought it was a truthful article… but then i read the first sentance… science-maker? you can’t simply make science-its already there! and then, whaddya know! the Onion! it was amusing while my confusion lasted though!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    That was a very interesting article. Best wishes to your colleague David Kaminski in his efforts.

  • spyder

    So it is not true, that the faster you go the rounder you get??? Damn, you can’t learn anything from rock-n-roll.

  • Christophe de Dinechin

    Very funny. I think the part I liked the most is, on the figure, bullet 5. “Science ends”. Enough said 😉

    But it’s not just talking to politicians. Science for the layman can sound pretty bizarre too. How frequently have you laughed at the “popular” version of an article you read?

  • tyler

    lol spyder…I got it…

    science-writing-for-the-rest-of-us is often distorted to the point of outright inaccuracy, which I find very frustrating. I’d rather read something that’s accurate but I can’t grasp in totality than something comprehensible but wrong. “Popular” explanations of the gauge principle top my list of the worst offenders in this regard.


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