Skulls in the Stars

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

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  • January 7, 2012
  • 11:34 PM

So, what is a “temporal cloak”, anyway?

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

I’ve been saying for a few years that optical science has entered a truly remarkable new era: instead of asking the question, “What are the physical limitations on what light can do?”, we are now asking, “How can we make … Continue reading →... Read more »

Fridman, M., Farsi, A., Okawachi, Y., & Gaeta, A. (2012) Demonstration of temporal cloaking. Nature, 481(7379), 62-65. DOI: 10.1038/nature10695  

  • January 4, 2012
  • 01:25 AM

A camera fast enough to watch light move?

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

A few weeks ago, a new optical imaging system grabbed headlines throughout the world.  This system, labeled a “picosecond camera”, can seemingly record images so fast that it can  actually track the motion of light itself!  Consider the following video … Continue reading →... Read more »

Andreas Velten, Moungi Bawendi, & Ramesh Raskar. (2011) Picosecond camera for time-of-flight imaging. Imaging Systems Applications, OSA Technical Digest. info:/

  • 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:/

  • October 10, 2011
  • 12:03 AM

Faster than a speeding photon? Precursors test whether light can be faster than light

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

Over the past two weeks, the biggest physics news has been the apparent observation of neutrinos (nearly undetectable subatomic particles) moving faster than the vacuum speed of light.  At first glance, this would seem to violate Einstein’s special theory of … Continue reading →... Read more »

Zhang, S., Chen, J., Liu, C., Loy, M., Wong, G., & Du, S. (2011) Optical Precursor of a Single Photon. Physical Review Letters, 106(24). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.106.243602  

  • 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 ancient Greek antidepressant, Greek fire, an early Byzantine version of napalm, and Roman concrete.

Last week, a tweet by Dr. Rubidium drew my attention to research on another mysterious ancient technology — Damascus steel. Renowned and practically legendary for its strength, flexibility, and ability to retain a sharp edge, Damascus steel was forged into weapons and armor in the Middle East from roughly 300 B.C.E. to 1700 C.E. The precise technique of its forging was lost, but many of the weapons survive. In 2006, researchers at Technische Universität Dresden performed an analysis of a piece of Damascus steel and found that it contains traces of very state of the art modern nanotechnology! Could this be the secret of the steel’s strength?... 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:/

  • 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  

  • January 29, 2011
  • 01:43 AM

Taking flight on light

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

On occasion, a scientific idea comes along that is so simple and elegant that one wonders that it hadn’t been done before!  Such is the case with the results of an article published online in Nature Photonics in December, which … Continue reading →... Read more »

Swartzlander, G., Peterson, T., Artusio-Glimpse, A., & Raisanen, A. (2010) Stable optical lift. Nature Photonics, 5(1), 48-51. DOI: 10.1038/NPHOTON.2010.266  

  • 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  

  • 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/

  • 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  

  • 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  

  • 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, 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  

  • 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  

  • 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  

  • 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  

  • 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 »

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