Category: Physics & Math. ’Nuff Said.

Watch These Technicolor Squid Cells Dance to "Insane in the Brain"

By Veronique Greenwood | August 28, 2012 11:13 am

Insane in the Chromatophores from Backyard Brains on Vimeo.

The folks at Backyard Brains, a DIY-neurobiology project, made these pigment-producing cells in a dead squid pulse to the base beats of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain.” Go watch that thing right now.

Done? Wowed? Prepare to be more wowed: They did it by exploiting the fact that electrical current is key to both the actions of cells and the playing of mp3s. These pigmented cells, called chromatophores, are surrounded by muscle cells, and it’s by flexing these muscles that the squid reveals its colorful spots. By hooked up the nerve that sends the flexing orders to the wire of a set of earbuds, they got these amazing results.

Read More

Physicists Build the Best Sandcastles

By Veronique Greenwood | August 3, 2012 2:20 pm

spacing is important

Attention, beach-going children: science has something to say to you.

You know that towering castle of bucket-ramparts and seashell turrets you built last week with your dad?

Can’t touch this.

In a very poorly copy-edited but technically interesting paper, materials scientists from Iran, France, and the Netherlands delve into the physics behind why a little bit of water transforms sand into good castle-building material. They calculate the relationship between the width of a sand-tower’s base and the height it can reach and verify it by building sand skyscrapers, which you can see to the right. They estimate that a tower with a base radius of 20 centimeters can get to 2.5 meters high before buckling.

Read More

DARPA's New Machine for Blowing Out Fires—With Sound Waves

By Sophie Bushwick | July 17, 2012 12:03 pm

Music may have charms to soothe the savage breast—but it can also do a number on flames. In the above video, a blast of sound easily conquers fire. When researchers from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA’s, placed two speakers on either side of the burning liquid fuel, the sound waves increased the air velocity and thinned the fire. As for the fuel itself, the higher velocity led to more fuel vaporization for a wider and cooler flame. Both effects made the blaze easy to snuff out.

Read More

One Near-Light-Speed Pitch Would Liven Up a Baseball Game—And Destroy It

By Sophie Bushwick | July 12, 2012 8:00 am

baseball
The last thing you’ll ever see?

Baseball is a leisurely game—some would say achingly boring—with no ticking clock forcing the players to hurry. But what if you could speed baseball up? Way, way up, up to a relativistic pace: What would happen if the pitcher wound up and released a baseball at 90 percent the speed of light?

Randall Munroe, the mind behind stick-figure comic XKCD, has a background in physics and computer programming, which heavily influences his work. Recently he launched a new weekly feature called “What If?” in which he answers readers’ hypothetical questions. Like how to hit a baseball that is moving so fast, normal mechanics no longer apply and the rules of relativity come into play. The answer is that in relativistic baseball, you don’t hit the ball; the ball—or rather the plasma shockwave that the ball creates—hits you…and everyone else.

Read More

This is the First Photo Ever Uploaded to the Web

By Veronique Greenwood | July 11, 2012 11:12 am

cernettes

Long, long ago, and far, far away—specifically, in the early 90s in Switzerland—computer scientists at CERN were test-driving a little something called the World Wide Web. And when the time came to test the thing’s capabilities with photographs, guess what happened to be on hand?

A Photoshop job of a group of CERN administrative assistants and significant others who sang physics-themed doo-wop. Sample lyric:

You never spend your nights with me
You don’t go out with other girls either
You only love your collider

(dip da-oo-yeah)

Read More

Let's Make Robots From Everything—Even Mexican Jumping Beans

By Sophie Bushwick | July 4, 2012 8:45 am

jumping beans Robots like this? That’s nuts.

If mechanical engineer David Hu ruled the world, it would be crawling with robots based on mosquitoes, snakes, and Mexican jumping beans. Hu’s lab studies animal locomotion, but the research goes beyond the traditional slow-motion footage of creatures running. Instead, Hu examines topics like how water striders and rafts of ants stay afloat on water’s surface, the mechanics of giant pumpkins collapsing into amorphous blobs under their own weight, how snakes’ scales affect their slither, the optimal way for furry animals to shake off water, and how mosquitoes survive collisions with comparatively huge raindrops. His group has even analyzed the motion of Mexican jumping beans, which is due not to some inherent magic in the “beans,” but rather to temperature-sensing moth larvae in hollow seeds. (When the ground heats up, the larvae sense the change in temperature and make their seedy houses twitch into rolling movements towards cooler, shadier ground.) These topics are weird and interesting enough to have garnered Hu’s work plenty of media coverage. But when it comes to earning funding, “weird and interesting” doesn’t always cut it. What’s the practical purpose of this research? Instead of shrugging and saying, “Now we know how mosquitoes struggle out from water droplets 50 times their size! That’s pretty cool!” Hu has come up with a standard one-size-fits-all application. At the end of his papers, he adds that whatever wacky phenomenon he studied could inspire…robots! Read More

Put Down the Gun: Bank Robberies Just Ain't Worth It

By Sophie Bushwick | June 19, 2012 8:58 am

James brothers
If only the James brothers had studied econometrics,
they would have realized that crime doesn’t pay.

Pondering a bank-robbing life of crime? Don’t start building the pool for swimming through your piles of money quite yet: Economists say that in a single raid in the United Kingdom, a robber doesn’t even earn enough to purchase a new car, while each theft increases his odds of being captured.

“The return on an average bank robbery is, frankly, rubbish. It is not unimaginable wealth. It is a very modest [$19,889.64] per person per raid,” write three British economics professors in their paper (titled “Robbing banks: Crime does pay—but not very much”) in the journal Significance. At that rate, to earn an average annual income in the UK, any would-be Butch Cassidy would have to hold up two banks a year, and by the time he completed three successful raids—and only 66 percent of bank robberies actually succeed—he would face a fifty-fifty chance of arrest.

In the United States, a bank robber’s gains are even more abysmal, with each hold-up pulling in a feeble $4,330. At least the American bank robbery can lord it over the average commercial raid (which nets an average of $1,589) and convenience store bust (only $769 on average).

Read More

Smart Seaweed Uses Laws of Fluid Dynamics to Survive Big Waves

By Sarah Zhang | May 14, 2012 2:23 pm

seaweed
Seaweeds showing off their drag reducing skills.

Littered with the dehydrating corpses of seaweeds, beaches after a big storm are a reminder that life can be tough out there in the crashing waves. But seaweeds aren’t totally defenseless. A recent study in the American Journal of Botany studied two different strategies that seaweeds use to reduce drag so that fast-moving waves don’t uproot them.

Drag is proportional to the total area of the seaweed multiplied by drag coefficient, which depends on the seaweed’s shape. (For example, a boxy school bus has a higher drag coefficient than a race car.) That means seaweeds can either get smaller or more streamlined to ride out the waves.

Read More

The Cutest Little Doll-Shaped Molecules You Ever Did See

By Sarah Zhang | March 28, 2012 9:09 am
1.-intro
2.-nanotoddler
3.-nanokid
4.-nanoprofessionals
5.-nanoballetdancer
6.-chain
nano1

 

Investigating the "Charlie Brown Effect": Astronauts' Chubby Faces and Hot-Sauce Cravings

By Sarah Zhang | February 27, 2012 8:45 am

spacing is importantOne of these pockets must have Tabasco.

Does this zero gravity make me look fat? Yup. It’s called the Charlie Brown effect, according to Michele Perchonok, NASA’s shuttle food system manager, and it’s not because she’s fattening them up with shrimp cocktail and chicken consommé. Without the benefit of gravity, bodily fluids accumulate in the head, giving the astronauts rounder, cartoon-like faces.

As anyone who’s had a cold knows, more fluid in our facial cavities also means congestion and weakening our sense of smell. But is lack of gravity actually responsible to for all this? There’s only one way to find out: “Perchonok has asked [food engineer Jean Hunter] and her crew at Cornell to test the stuffy nose theory. To do that on Earth, volunteers will spend several weeks in a bed where their heads are lower than their feet to try to re-create that Charlie Brown effect.” This might not be what people had in mind when they volunteered for astronaut simulations.

Read More

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Discoblog

Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »