Skulls in the Stars

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Physics, pulp fantasy and horror fiction, and a bit of politics

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  • December 15, 2011
  • 06:10 PM

Sir Edmond Halley takes a dive! (1714)

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

If you study enough history of science, you learn that the things that scientists are most famous for are often not their only work of interest — or even the most fascinating thing they’ve done!  The significance of a scientist’s … Continue reading →... Read more »

Edmond Halley. (1714) The Art of Living under Water: Or, a Discourse concerning the Means of furnishing Air at the Bottom of the Sea, in any ordinary Depths. Philosophical Transactions, 492-499. info:/

  • May 27, 2011
  • 07:04 PM

Water has properties that are positively electrifying!

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

Most people certainly understand how important water is for our survival, but we often overlook how weird it can be.  I can compile a short, though not exhaustive, list off the top of my head: Water is less dense in … Continue reading →... Read more »

Sharma M, Resta R, & Car R. (2007) Dipolar correlations and the dielectric permittivity of water. Physical review letters, 98(24), 247401. PMID: 17677991  

  • May 12, 2011
  • 12:43 PM

It’s not shrinkage — it’s relativity! (1889)

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

The best stories in the history of physics are those in which someone comes from humble origins and, seemingly out of nowhere, makes a brilliant discovery that changes everything.  Such stories, however, can give a very misleading impression of the … Continue reading →... Read more »

G. FitzGerald. (1889) The Ether and the Earth's Atmosphere. Science (New York, N.Y.), 13(328), 390. PMID: 17819387  

  • December 21, 2010
  • 09:42 PM

The first glimmer of a nuclear Sun: radium and solar energy (1903)

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

While researching a recent post on the history of nuclear physics (here), I happened across a short but rather fascinating letter written in 1903.  It seems to be the first article in print that makes the connection between the processes … Continue reading →... Read more »

WILSON, W. (1903) Radium and Solar Energy. Nature, 68(1758), 222-222. DOI: 10.1038/068222a0  

  • October 10, 2010
  • 12:51 PM

Twisting light into a Möbius strip

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

Some months ago, I wrote a post introducing the subfield of optics known as singular optics.  Singular optics is concerned with the behavior of wavefields in the neighborhood of regions where the intensity of the wave is zero, and the … Continue reading →... Read more »

Freund I. (2010) Multitwist optical Möbius strips. Optics letters, 35(2), 148-50. PMID: 20081950  

  • December 4, 2010
  • 12:16 AM

Re (not the sun god) hypothesizes a solar atom (1903)

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

It is fair to say that the decade surrounding the start of the 20th century was an amazingly perplexing time to be a physicist.  Mounting experimental evidence strongly suggested that something was amiss with classical physics, especially in the understanding … Continue reading →... Read more »

Fillipo Re. (1903) Hypothése sur la nature des corps radioactifs. Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences, 1393-1395. info:other/

  • September 9, 2009
  • 12:56 PM

Quasicrystals… now all natural!

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

This result came out a few months ago, and I’ve been looking for the time to write about it ever since: in a paper published in the June 5 issue of Science, scientists reported the discovery of the first natural quasicrystal!
Of course, in order to get excited about this result, one needs to know what [...]... Read more »

Bindi, L., Steinhardt, P., Yao, N., & Lu, P. (2009) Natural Quasicrystals. Science, 324(5932), 1306-1309. DOI: 10.1126/science.1170827  

  • January 25, 2009
  • 08:52 PM

Measuring the ‘kick’ of a photon leaving a fiber!

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

In physics, there are a number of fundamental and seemingly simple questions which have remained a source of controversy for years, even decades. Last month, a paper was published by a Chinese research group describing an experiment which throws new light on one of these controversies, the so-called Abraham-Minkowski controversy.  For nearly a century, theorists [...]... Read more »

  • December 6, 2008
  • 04:19 PM

Turning a problem into a solution: aquatic clean energy from vortex-induced vibration?

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

About a week ago, I came across an intriguing article on, entitled, “Ocean currents can power the world, say scientists.”  Such a title is an immediate eyebrow-raiser for me, knowing the propensity of the news media to (a) overhype scientific results to the point of absurdity, and (b) fall for lots of suspicious “free [...]... Read more »

  • November 1, 2009
  • 12:59 AM

Boo! The optics behind “ghost” imaging

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

Halloween seemed like the perfect time to talk about an unconventional sort of optical imaging, referred to as “ghost” imaging.  I should point out at the beginning, however, that I’m not talking about this sort of ghost imaging:

Don’t get too disappointed, however!  Ghost imaging is in fact a fascinating and relatively new technique in which [...]... Read more »

Bromberg, Y., Katz, O., & Silberberg, Y. (2009) Ghost imaging with a single detector. Physical Review A, 79(5). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevA.79.053840  

  • November 20, 2009
  • 12:07 AM

Reversing optical “shockwaves” using metamaterials

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

In a recent issue of Physical Review Letters was an article with the intriguing (to me) title of “Experimental verification of reversed Cherenkov radiation in left-handed metamaterial,” by a collaboration from Zhejiang University in China and MIT.  The paper is an experimental verification of an effect predicted for metamaterials way back in 1968 by the [...]... Read more »

Xi, S., Chen, H., Jiang, T., Ran, L., Huangfu, J., Wu, B., Kong, J., & Chen, M. (2009) Experimental Verification of Reversed Cherenkov Radiation in Left-Handed Metamaterial. Physical Review Letters, 103(19). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.103.194801  

  • September 2, 2011
  • 12:35 AM

Ancient Swords, Modern Nanotechnology

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

Though science and technology in the modern era have accomplished things that our ancestors couldn’t even dream of, it is still worth remembering that the ancients weren’t dummies. Through a combination of ingenuity, observation, determination, and probably a lot of luck, these people managed to develop a number of surprising technologies — many of which have been lost to history and have proven surprisingly hard to reproduce today. Among these lost inventions are Nepenthe, an........ Read more »

Reibold, M., Paufler, P., Levin, A., Kochmann, W., Pätzke, N., & Meyer, D. (2006) Materials: Carbon nanotubes in an ancient Damascus sabre. Nature, 444(7117), 286-286. DOI: 10.1038/444286a  

  • June 1, 2011
  • 01:29 AM

Mpemba’s baffling discovery: can hot water freeze before cold? (1969)

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

“My name is Erasto B Mpemba, and I am going to tell you about my discovery, which was due to misusing a refrigerator.” With those words, Tanzanian student Erasto Mpemba entered scientific history, and also sparked a scientific mystery and … Continue reading →... Read more »

E.B. Mpemba, & D.G. Osborne. (1969) Cool?. Physics Education, 172-175. info:/

  • July 26, 2008
  • 12:05 AM

Freezing images in an atomic vapor!

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

I thought I’d step out of my comfort zone and specific field of expertise for once and do a post on some interesting quantum optics. In a June issue of Physical Review Letters, an Israeli research group experimentally demonstrated the ability to store and retrieve optical images in an atomic vapor using so-called ‘electromagnetically ... Read more »

M Shuker, O Firstenberg, R Pugatch, A Ron, & N Davidson. (2008) Storing Images in Warm Atomic Vapor. Physical Review Letters, 100(22). DOI/10.1103/PhysRevLett.100.223601

  • June 19, 2009
  • 05:10 PM

Invisibility physics: Hiding and seeking, all at once!

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

When the first papers on the idea of a “cloaking” device came out in 2006, lots of people were immediately worried that the CIA would soon be peering right over their shoulder from the shelter of invisibility cloaks.  Many scientists, including myself, pointed out the flaw in that reasoning: a “perfect” cloak would direct all [...]... Read more »

Alù, A., & Engheta, N. (2009) Cloaking a Sensor. Physical Review Letters, 102(23). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.102.233901  

  • March 4, 2010
  • 04:36 PM

Rolling out the (optical) carpet: the Talbot effect

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

One of the wonderful things about having a career in science is that a deeper understanding of the science leads to a greater appreciation of its beauty.  In physics, this usually requires a nontrivial amount of mathematics, but there are some phenomena that are self-evidently beautiful; unfortunately, many of these are also not very well [...]... Read more »

H.F. Talbot. (1836) Facts relating to optical science. No. IV. Philosophical Magazine, 401-407. info:/

  • November 20, 2008
  • 02:03 PM

X-rays from Scotch tape?

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

One of the joys of physics, and science in general, is that even seemingly mundane objects occasionally yield physical surprises.  A great example of this made the news about a month ago: the observation that, under the right circumstances, x-rays can be generated by the peeling of Scotch tape!  The phenomenon is an extreme example [...]... Read more »

  • July 13, 2010
  • 01:22 AM

Freaks & geeks: optical freak waves in the laboratory

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

One of the most fruitful and intriguing avenues for developing novel scientific research is through cross-pollination with other fields of study.  This is one of the reasons I’m proud of my excessively liberal arts-focused education, as well as one of the reasons I like reading blogs on diverse subjects outside of my field: interesting ideas [...]... Read more »

Höhmann, R., Kuhl, U., Stöckmann, H., Kaplan, L., & Heller, E. (2010) Freak Waves in the Linear Regime: A Microwave Study. Physical Review Letters, 104(9). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.104.093901  

  • August 20, 2008
  • 12:33 PM

New ‘cloaking’ results? Not really, but interesting anyway

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

About a week ago, I reported on another ‘teaser’ in the media about ‘optical cloaks’, hypothetical devices which would in principle make objects contained in their core completely invisible. Such devices have gotten a lot of attention, both scientifically and in the press, since the publication of two fascinating theoretical papers in 2006. [...]... Read more »

J Yao, Z Liu, Y Liu, Y Wang, C Sun, G Bartal, A Stacy, & X Zhang. (2008) Optical Negative Refraction in Bulk Metamaterials of Nanowires. Science, 321(5891), 930-930. DOI/10.1126/science.1157566

Jason Valentine, Shuang Zhang, Thomas Zentgraf, Erick Ulin-Avila, Dentcho Genov, Guy Bartal, & Xiang Zhang. (2008) Three-dimensional optical metamaterial with a negative refractive index. Nature. DOI/10.1038/nature07247

  • October 8, 2008
  • 10:11 PM

Optical coherence tomography and the art world

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

In recent years, scientific tools have been increasingly applied to the study of artwork, for numerous reasons: determination of authenticity, determination of provenance, analysis for restoration, or even for finding ‘hidden’ art buried behind or underneath existing masterworks.  Some time ago, Jennifer at Cocktail Party Physics wrote a fascinating post on the use of X-ray [...]... Read more »

P. Targowski, B. Rouba, M. Góra, L. Tymińska-Widmer, J. Marczak, & A. Kowalczyk. (2008) Optical coherence tomography in art diagnostics and restoration. Applied Physics A, 92(1), 1-9. DOI/10.1007/s00339-008-4446-x

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