Category: Physics & Math. ’Nuff Said.

Black Box Bot Soaks Up Heat, Then Follows You Around and Keeps You Warm

By Valerie Ross | February 7, 2012 12:26 pm

When it gets cold out, staying warm usually means either cranking up the heat—and, thus, the heating bill—or piling on the sweaters and straying from the radiator’s immediate vicinity only when absolutely necessary. But your days of dashing between warm spots, or paying extra for the privilege of not, may soon be at an end. A new robot can keep you warm by saving up the heat you’ve already got until you need it.

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High Schoolers Fold TP a Record Number of Times, Can Now Pad Resumes

By Valerie Ross | January 12, 2012 2:48 pm

High school kids armed with rolls of toilet paper usually mean there’s going to be a mess on someone’s lawn. A group of Massachusetts students, who had amassed a stockpile of more than 10 miles of toilet paper, could have been the terror of the neighborhood—had they not put their arsenal towards a more cerebral purpose: folding it 13 times. Folding toilet paper hardly sounds like an accomplishment, particularly to those of us who are long since potty trained, but try folding a spare sheet (of any paper) and see how many folds you can manage; until recently, folding paper more than seven times was thought to be mathematically impossible.

But these high schoolers (and their enthusiastic math teacher) crunched the numbers and got to folding, nearly doubling the long-assumed limit and surpassing the 2002 record of 12 folds. The resulting structure stood two-and-a-half feet tall and was made of 8192 layers of toilet tissue. Just in case 2-ply wasn’t enough.

[via New Scientist]

6 Servings of Thanksgiving Science: Ideal Turkey Diet, Black Friday Sales Tricks, Turkey-Phobia…

By Valerie Ross | November 23, 2011 8:17 am

It’s almost Thanksgiving here the US. Before you tuck into your stuffing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce, save a little room for a big helping of science. Here are a few of our favorite Thanksgiving science stories from around the Internet, detailing the research behind fattening turkeys, giving thanks, post-holiday shopping, and more: Read More

The Latest on the Great Magnetic Cow Smackdown

By Veronique Greenwood | November 14, 2011 1:09 pm


Magnetic Cows Are Visible From Space” is a memorable headline, and writers had occasion to use it several years ago, when, after poring over satellite pictures from Google Earth, a German research team reported that cows in the images reliably lined up along the magnetic field lines that run across the Earth. The magnetic field may be invisible to us without a compass (although we have sensors in our eyes that are theoretically capable of detecting it), but various animals, including sharks and turtles, are able to sense it, and one explanation for how birds manage to navigate on cross-continent migrations is that they are steering by the magnetic field. Are cows, too, endowed with magnetic field-sensing equipment?

That first paper, in 2008, and a follow-up in 2009, which showed that cows didn’t line up when they were near high-voltage powerlines (known to distort magnetic fields), seemed to indicate that they are. But an analysis of Google Earth images by another team finds no such lining up. Read More

Angry Birds TMI FTW: Better Gameplay Through Physics

By Veronique Greenwood | November 10, 2011 11:41 am

angry birds
Why just do this, when you can do…

angry birds
…this, too?

Cranky flightless birds and their green porcine enemies are on every screen these days. But despite the game’s apparent simplicity, it pays to have an expert unpack the fundamental physics of the Angry Birds universe (better gameplay through physics, and all that). That expert is physics prof and graph maker extraordinaire Rhett Allain, whose rationale is summed up thusly in his first Angry Birds post:

But what about the physics? Do the birds have a constant vertical acceleration? Do they have constant horizontal velocity? Let’s find out, shall we? Oh, why would I do this? Why can’t I just play the dumb game and move on. That is not how I roll. I will analyze this, and you can’t stop me.

His latest offering over at Wired delves into what, exactly, is up with those yellow birds, which you can use to smash the piggies’ wooden structures. Turns out they have some iiiinteresting acceleration properties it would behoove you to grok…dig out your high school calculus and check it out.

Images courtesy of Rhett Allain and Wired

Computer Scientists Crack "Unbreakable" Code, Find Minutes of 250-Year-Old Secret Society

By Veronique Greenwood | October 26, 2011 1:56 pm

“Curiosity is inherited with mankind. Frequently we want to know something only because it needs to be kept secret.” Astute psychology on the part of this secret society scribe.

With the most powerful computers ever known <insert maniacal laugh>, you’d think that modern codebreakers would have utterly smashed our forefathers’ puny ciphers. Well…no. There are quite a number of antique documents that remain mysterious, despite cryptologists’ best efforts. Code breaking still relies on good guesses and flashes of insight more than brute force.

But brute force and clever statistical analyses can help you unravel whether that guess was right in the blink of an eye, and that’s what let University of Southern California computer scientists and their collaborators unravel the text of a slender brocade-bound manuscript that had kept its secrets since the 18th century. The first words they deciphered? “Ceremonies of Initiation.” Read More

(1) Capture Asteroid. (2) Mine It. (3) PROFIT!! (4)…KABLOOM

By Veronique Greenwood | September 1, 2011 2:06 pm

Reel ‘er in!

We all know that asteroids close to the Earth are Bad News. (Although not as bad as many would have you think.) But what if we could catch one? Bring it home? Put it in Earth orbit? Maybe mine it for some valuable minerals; do a little science; potentially, I don’t know, back a new currency? Sure, say some Chinese scientists in a paper on the ArXiv. We should go for it!

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The Plane Truth: Boarding by Rows Is the Worst Possible Way, Says Physicist

By Joseph Castro | August 29, 2011 3:17 pm

Let’s face it: boarding an airplane with luggage is just downright frustrating. Not only do you have to puzzle out how you are going to wrestle your carry-on bag into the aircraft’s tiny overhead compartment, but you have to do it while trying not to get swept away by the tugging current of other passengers.

“OK, everybody count off!”
Courtesy of Steffen, arXiv

But surely not all boarding procedures are created equal—simply boarding the plane back to front would be the easiest and most efficient method, right? Wrong. In fact, boarding by sequential rows is the worst possible approach (pdf), according to a new study by physicist Jason Steffen of the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics.

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Scientists Solve Switzerland's Biggest Problem: Upset Stomachs on Tilting Trains

By Veronique Greenwood | August 5, 2011 3:25 pm

If you’re turning green, it’s not the scenery’s fault.

As you may or may not know, Switzerland, land of chocolate, cheese, and cuckoo clocks, is also the land of trains. More than 1,800 miles of track crisscross the quaint alpine utopia, carrying 347 million passengers per year and maintaining the punctuality of a Stepford wife. That’s some serious trainage.

Some of those trains, unfortunately, are making people trainsick. And the Schweizerische Bundesbahnen, the Swiss train authorities, just wouldn’t stand for that. They asked some scientists to get to the bottom of it. Read More

Fore! Golf Game Lets You Frolick on Saturn's Moons

By Veronique Greenwood | June 27, 2011 12:29 pm

enceladusThis takes location golfing to a new level.

If 18 holes on Kauai or Tenerife is old hat, grab your clubs and head to Saturn’s moons.

The NASA team behind the Cassini orbiter periodically release troves of gorgeous images of Saturn and its dozens of moons, revealing the gouges on Enceladus and the lakes of Titan. The drool-worthy vistas just beg to be explored, and you can now do just that with a nifty little Flash game developed by Diamond Sky Productions called Golf Sector 6. The game takes players through several 9-hole courses across a variety of Saint-Exupéry-esque moons, whose cratered surfaces are patched together from Cassini’s images. As Saturn drifts by in the background, you can relax, put your feet up, and bat a small pink ball toward the hole with your mouse. But beware of that pesky escape velocity: it’s different on every moon, and it’s way, way less than Earth’s.

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