Channel: Physics
Mark channel Not-Safe-For-Work? cancel confirm NSFW Votes: (0 votes)
Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel.
Previous Article Next Article

CERN's Faster Than Light Result Is Actually The Second In Four Years



CERN stunned the world when it announced last week it had clocked neutrinos moving between CERN labs in Switzerland and San Grass, Italy faster than the speed of light.

Since then physicists have been busy running calculations to confirm the findings, while also looking at data from 2007.

The four-year-old information comes from the Fermilab National Accelerator in Illinois and their MINOS experiment in Soudan, Minnesota that produced the same results found at CERN.

Because the Fermilab results were within a margin of error, no announcements were made at the time. CERN's results, however, are such a statistical certainty that were it not such an earth-shaking event, the news would already be considered a new discovery.

The teams are now combining 10 times more data for new experiments to reproduce last weeks results. Those tests will be done at Fermilab, this time using more accurate measuring tools, with teams aware they'll be searching for one of the most crucial discoveries in human history.

“The MINOS experiment has plans to update their original 2007 measurement with a number of improvements, including 10x more data,” wrote MINOS spokesperson Jenny Thomas, a professor of particle physics at University College London in an email to TPM’s Idea Lab (via idealab).

“We should have a result in 4-6 months as the data is already taken. We just have to measure some of our delays more carefully,” she added.

A Fermilab team of 4 to 5 people in Minnesota will perform the measurements with a better GPS, an Atomic clock, and LED lights to detect the neutrino stream fired from the main lab in Batavia, Illinois.

The CERN announcement comes just in time for Fermilab to contribute as it will begin shutting down September 30 — the result of federal budget cuts.

Please follow Business Insider on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Someone Stuck A Camera On A Balloon And Floated It Up Into Space


You can do some incredible things with a video camera and a vision.

Page Stephenson launched a balloon with a camera from Kent, Oregon, and it flew for 2 and a half hours before landing 87 miles away. He tracked it with an Xact Trax locator and his iPhone 4, then used Apple's Find My iPhone app.

Here's the video. Stay to the end, because the view at the top is breathtaking (via Devour):

Aerostat from Page Stephenson on Vimeo.

Please follow Business Insider on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

The Internet Weighs As Much As A Strawberry

Republicans May Have Totally Killed The Solyndra Scandal By Bullying Steven Chu


steven chu worried tbi

Republicans pulled the Solyndra scandal back into the spotlight with another investigative hearing Thursday, this time grilling Obama's Energy Secretary Steven Chu over why his department threw half a billion dollars at a doomed solar company and whether political influence played a role.

So far, Solyndra's bankruptcy debacle has basically been a layup for the GOP, as the White House struggles to explain its political ties to the company, and its involvement in securing the $535 million energy loan.

But House Republicans may have squandered their golden opportunity when they decided to make Chu, Washington's most lovable nerd, the fall guy for the scandal.

Hauled in to testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Chu was assailed for more than five hours by Republicans who accused him of "putting politics before the stewardship of taxpayer dollars."

The Nobel laureate and all-around science rockstar firmly defended the Department of Energy's loan program:

"I want to be clear — over the course of Solyndra’s loan guarantee, I did not make any decision based on political considerations," he said in his opening statement, adding later that the Solyndra decision "was absolutely based only on merits."

When asked if he knew George Kaiser, the Obama bundler whose foundation invested in Solyndra, Chu said he had never even heard of him when he approved the loan.

If Chu had been another member of Obama's Cabinet, the testimony may have seemed weak and predictable. Chu, however, is the embodiment of American meritocracy — he is a 30-year career physicist who won the Nobel Prize for developing methods for cooling and trapping atoms with laser light. This is the last guy you could ever see handing out political favors.

Republicans apparently realized this about halfway through Chu's testimony. So they switched to a more hostile line of attack — bullying the nerd.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) told Chu he was a "riverboat gambler" and implied he was not competent enough to be in charge of the nation's nuclear program. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), of BP apology fame, told Chu that "everyone and their dog at DOE" knew who Kaiser was. And Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) taunted: "I hope you don't leave your brains at the door."

Chu was totally unflappable, and gently reminded the Committee that he wasn't the one who came up with the loan program in the first place. He noted that Congress even allotted $10 billion for credit risk — clearly someone knew ahead of time that bankruptcies were a possibility.

These remarks underscore the real problem with trying to make Chu the fall guy: No one person is to blame for the Solyndra debacle — the entire DOE loan program is seriously flawed. And taking cheap shots at shy nuclear physicists isn't going to fix it.

DON'T MISS: Eight Red Flags The Government Totally Missed In The Solyndra Disaster

Please follow Politics on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Here's Why You Should Ignore Those Stories About Particles Moving Faster Than Light


cern accelerator

Talk about a story!

One lab in the world — of tens of thousands — says it has evidence that would sunder a notion physicists hold dear to their hearts: there is a particle that moves faster than the speed of light.

And it has evidence delivered from, not one, but two experiments! Two!



After working in an applied math lab for three years, I can tell you how much a pair of experiments are worth: jack squat. You have to run these experiments dozens, if not hundreds, of times in order to validate claims. And they have to be confirmed by third parties too. It's part of the scientific process, and it's worked for hundreds of years.

But let's play devil's advocate for a second. There are basically three (seemingly boring) explanations for these reports:

  • There is a particle that travels backwards in time
  • The principles of relativity need to be rewritten, OR
  • Those scientists are off their rockers and the experiment is totally boned

Let's take a look at the first possibility for a second.

Courtesy of those principles of relativity we have this special property called time dilation. As an object in space moves closer to the speed of light, time moves more slowly for them. If you spend your days sprinting at about nine-tenths the speed of light, you'll age half as slowly as everyone else.

As you run faster and faster, approaching the speed of light, time slows for you even more. There's a handy equation for time dilation:

time dilation

Messy, right? But take a look at that bottom-right term — that's how fast you are moving divided by the speed of light. As long as you don't exceed the speed of light, you end up with a perfectly reasonable calculation.

When you move faster than the speed of light, you end up with a negative value in that square root, which returns an imaginary number. Suddenly you are mucking around with complex numbers — which have to be addressed in an almost completely different matter than real number — and in the end you end up with something which essentially travels from point A to point B in negative time.

Yes: an object that moves backwards in time. Mind blown yet?

As cool as that sounds, what you'll have to remember is that these equations have been around for a long time. Since the inception of relativity, pretty much: Einstein completed his theory of special relativity, which we have since expanded upon, in 1905. That's more than a century of hardened physics and mathematics that have built off and helped validate those theories.

Sure, relativity is a very new field, and we still can't quite reconcile everything with quantum mechanics (an equally weird but insanely necessary branch of physics). But there's a lot more evidence that suggests those guys around the rest of the world know their science.

Just ask Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who has essentially become the face of physics for the popular media.

Either way, I won't be convinced until I see that experiment repeated, with the same results, at least a thousand times in different labs around the world.

Please follow SAI on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Scientists May Have Found The 'God Particle' That Makes Physics Work


cern accelerator

Researchers at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, say they might have caught a glimpse of the Higgs Boson — which would help explain why matter has mass in the universe — according to a report by the BBC.

The Higgs Boson is a particle that results from a mechanism in physics that ascribes mass to particles.

Think about it this way: you have a crowd of fans waiting for a celebrity evenly distributed through the room. When the celebrity walks in, everyone crowds around her and moves with her as she passes through the room. She's harder to slow down and harder to speed up because of the crowd around her, so now she has some momentum and more mass.

Likewise, when a particle moves through a Higgs Field, it encounters some resistance, and the varying levels of resistance ascribe mass to the fundamental particles that go on to become parts of atoms and build up the universe.

Scientists postulated the particle would exist after creating the Standard Model, a playbook for how the universe operates.

Today's discovery comes from the results of a single experiment, though, so more research is necessary. Researchers are running two large experiments at the LHC to try and discover the Higgs Boson.

Have a better analogy or explanation for how the Higgs Mechanism works? Speak up in the comments below!

Please follow SAI on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Report: Stephen Hawking Frequents Sex Clubs In His Free Time



Even renowned physicists like to have a good time. 

According to RadarOnline, Stephen Hawking is a frequenter of Freedom Acres swingers club in Devore, California. 

We bet you didn't see that one coming.

An insider at the club claims to have seen Hawking "more than a handful of times." He usually arrives with a bevy of nurses and assistants. 

Even more crazy was the insider's last sighting of Hawking at the club. "Last time I saw him he was in the back 'play area' laying on a bed fully clothed with two naked women gyrating all over him." 

But just because the physicist likes lap dances, doesn't mean he's ashamed. The insider tells Radar that Hawking is fine with getting attention at the club. In fact, the insider "shared drinks with people in his group."

"And he'll even take photos with people in the club as long as it's in a neutral area," the insider continued. 

This is probably just a great way to clear one's head while writing bestsellers and trying to prove scientific theories, right?

Now about those Adele sex tape rumors... >>

Please follow The Wire on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

This Professor Used Physics To Prove He Didn't Run A Stop Sign


dmitri krioukouv

A professor used physics to prove he didn't run a stop sign and avoided paying $400.

Dmitri Krioukov, a physicist at the University of California San Diego, was apprehended for running a stop sign. Krioukov then convinced a judge of his innocence through a 4-page paper, Physics Central reported.

According to Krioukov's paper, published online, he sneezed, accelerated quickly and then abruptly slammed on his brakes at a stop sign. Then, a larger car went by his, creating the illusion that he hadn't stopped.

The officer perceived Krioukov's angular velocity instead of his linear velocity. That means that the officer's perspective 100 feet away could have created the optical illusion that Krioukov hadn't stopped when in fact he did.

The California judge was convinced, and Krioukov got off scot-free.

We'll see if his argument creates a precedent in traffic court.

Here's a chart Krioukov made showing how the officer's vantage point could have led to a misperception about speeding:

physics chart

Please follow Getting There on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Why Heavy Raindrops Don't Crush Tiny Mosquitoes



New research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals how mosquitoes are able to survive heavy rainfall, even though a single water droplet can weigh up to 50 times as much as the tiny insect.

Biologists from the Georgia Institute of Technology began the experiment by pelting mosquitoes with raindrops in an enclosed mesh cage. They found that the bug's small size actually allows it to ride the raindrop for a split second before its wings pull it out of the drop to safety.

Additionally, the mosquito's strong exoskeleton protects it from the impact of a falling raindrop, which is comparable to a human being hit by a bus.

The only danger is if the mosquito is flying too close to the ground. Then, the little insect wouldn't have enough time to peel away from the drop before smashing to the floor.  

Of course, while an excellent survival mechanism for mosquitoes, this is less exciting news for city folks hoping to seek respite from the vicious Asian tiger mosquito

Watch mosquitoes get knocked over with water droplets in the laboratory video below, courtesy of Science News

SEE ALSO: 10 Species That Have Been Wiped Out By Man > 

Please follow Business Insider on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Complicated Scientific Theories Explained Using Simple Kitchen Terms


spaghettiTHE BIG BANG THEORY explained by a muffin:

Around 13.7 billion years ago, not a single element of the entire known universe existed. There was no space, no matter, no time, no wonderful magazine for knowledge junkies. Then, for an unknown reason, an infinitesimally small point called a singularity started to expand. Boom! That’s the Big Bang. Both blazing hot and unimaginably dense, this tiny point started expanding and cooling, and to this day the universe is still doing both.

The Big Bang theory was first proposed by Belgian physicist Georges Lemaître in 1927. Realizing that objects in space were moving farther apart, Lemaître hypothesized that if everything in the universe is now expanding, it originally must have been smaller. His idea: that it all originated from one intensely hot “primeval atom.” While the notion is generally accepted today, not everyone bought into Lemaître’s theory; the Big Bang gets its name from a sarcastic remark made by Fred Hoyle, an astronomer, science fiction novelist, and Big Bang skeptic.

Imagine a muffin tin with one cup half-full of blueberry batter (the singularity). Inside this batter are all the building blocks of a blueberry muffin. As the batter’s temperature changes, it begins expanding, just like the universe started expanding with the temperature change of the Big Bang. The blueberries in the batter are analogous to the planets, stars, and other matter, moving right along with the rest of the muffinverse. But they’re not floating at random inside the batter—they’re moving with it, getting farther apart as the muffin bakes. And that muffin? It represents the entirety of the universe. Beyond the edge of the muffin lies a vast abyss of nothingness. All that exists are blueberries, sugar crystals, and, if the baker got a little creative, a hint of nutmeg.

KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS explained by stirring a pot:

When the impressively mustachioed economist John Maynard Keynes published The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in 1936, it was a watershed moment for modern macro-economic thought. The book launched the revolutionary idea that government spending is the best way to stimulate the economy. In Keynes’s now commonly accepted view, money flows in a circle, meaning one person’s spending provides income for another. In a recession, people slow their spending, thereby slowing someone else’s earning. To grease the cycle, Keynes proposed something radically different from other free market economists—he called on the government to inject money into the economy and kickstart the cycle by “priming the pump.” His argument was that the government should solve economic problems rather than waiting for markets to self correct in the long run because, “In the long run, we’re all dead.”

A Keynesian cook would be a big fan of risotto, a dish that requires a fair bit of intervention on the part of the cook (the government). Unlike regular rice, which is dumped into a free market pot of boiling water and left to fend for itself, risotto must be regulated. The cook adds ladlefuls of hot stock to a pot, allowing the rice to absorb it. When it begins to dry during a stock recession, he intervenes with another ladleful, refusing to let the free market forces of unregulated Arborio rice dry out and ruin dinner.

OFFSIDES explained with orange juice:

Every four years, America briefly cheats on football, baseball, and basketball during the FIFA World Cup. Though we refuse to call soccer by its given name, Americans can’t resist the pull of one of the world’s most viewed sporting events. But that doesn’t mean we understand it. While the no-hands part is simple enough, the “offside” call is another matter. Basically, offside is all about an offensive player’s position on the field. A player is offside if there aren’t two defenders—the goalie is usually one of them—between him and the goal line at the moment the ball is played toward him. (If you draw a line across the field, the player has to be even with the next-to-last defender until the moment when the ball is passed to him.) But as soon as it’s passed, he can race past the defenders to receive it. Being called offside comes with a slight penalty—when a player is whistled, play is stopped, and possession is awarded to the other team. The offside rule exists to make the game more fun—i.e., to make sure players don’t just camp out in front of the goal for an easy score—as well as to confuse those who drop in for quadrennial viewings.

Think of an offside call as that unpleasant taste produced when drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth. It’s a penalty assessed for getting ahead of yourself. You must drink the orange juice (have the ball passed to you) before brushing your teeth (running past the opponent). If you confuse the order of those things, you’re punished with a mouthful of face-distorting flavor (a whistle from the referee). If you do it in the proper order, though, you stand a good chance of scoring some vitamin C. Important to note: Brushing your teeth and holding a glass of OJ is just fine—you can be in the offside position without being called offside. It’s only when you take a sip that it becomes a penalty.

STRING THEORY explained with pasta and a fork:


In Sir Isaac Newton’s day, physicists believed the basic building blocks of all matter looked like tiny, zero-dimensional points (see below). Then, in the 1960s, string theory came along like the Beatles of physics and changed everything. String theory suggests that quarks and electrons, two of the smallest known particles, are actually vibrating strings, some of which are closed loops and some of which are open. This revolutionary idea allowed physicists to consider all four forces of the universe—gravity (the attractive force of an object’s mass), electromagnetism (the push/pull between electrically charged particles), strong interaction (the glue that binds quarks together), and weak interaction (the force responsible for radioactive decay)—as part of a single theory for the first time. And while it sounds small, the idea has the potential to be big. Some believe that string theory will prove to be the elusive “theory of everything,” a yet-to-be-discovered model that solves all of the mysteries about the forces of the universe and answers the most fundamental questions about where the cosmos came from and why it’s so perfectly tuned to support life.


Prior to string theory, it was assumed that the smallest pieces of matter were like bowls of dry cereal. But string theory sees them more as big bowls of mismatched pasta. Some of the pasta has two distinct end points (spaghetti) and some is in a loop (SpaghettiOs). A forkful contains several of these strings, just as a proton or neutron is made of several quarks. And unlike dry cereal, which makes sense only with milk, spaghetti can tackle a variety of sauces (forces of the universe). If physicists are right about string theory, the movements exhibited by the pasta can help explain the origin of the universe. And if they’re ultimately wrong, well, the idea’s still delicious.

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Why All Faucet Drops Have The Same Shape


Physicists previously theorized that that the angle of water dripping from a faucet right before it breaks off into a drop should be 36.2 degrees. This was true regardless of how fast the water was moving or how the liquid was dispensed.  

Now researchers have confirmed this prediction using high-speed imaging of a dripping faucet.  

The team took more than 200,000 frames per second of a dripping faucet to determine that the angle of a water drop's cone-shaped neck milliseconds before it pinches off is 36 degrees, according to Science's Jon Cartwright. 

The study, published in the journal Physical Review E, vindicates previous theoretical studies on how fluids move, which help in many practical applications including inkjet printers.  

The figure below shows the angle for a dripping water droplet:

Water droplet

And here's a close-up video of the drop breaking:



Credit: A.A. Castrejon-Pita/University of Cambridge

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

How An NYC Bus Driver Was Able To Catch A Falling Child


A New York City bus driver has been hailed as a hero after catching a 7-year-old girl in midair when she plunged three stories from the window of a housing complex.

Stephen St. Bernard, 52, was walking home Monday afternoon (July 16) when he spotted the girl — who police later said has autism — standing on top of an air-conditioning unit three stories up. "She just stood up there teetering, teetering," Bernard later told reporters. He recalled thinking, "Please let me catch her, please let me catch her ... Let me catch the little baby."

And when she finally fell, he did just that. Bystanders captured the amazing incident on video

But how was Bernard's life-saving catch possible? We asked Louis Bloomfield, a physicist at the University of Virginia, to analyze the incident.

"The girl fell about 25 feet, which took about 1.25 seconds. The man stopped her fall in about 3 or 4 feet, which took about 0.1 second, depending on the stopping distance and how he supported her. So, she accumulated downward momentum over about 1.25 seconds and gave that momentum to the man (and ground) in about 0.1 seconds," Bloomfield told Life's Little Mysteries.

For Bernard to bring the girl's body to a stop in one-twelfth of the time she spent accelerating toward him — that's 0.1 seconds of stopping time, compared to 1.25 seconds of falling time — he had to exert an upward force 12 times greater than her (downward) weight. (Pushing upward is how you slow a falling body to a stop.) That means, "If she weighs 50 pounds, the man and ground must push up with an average of 12 times that force, or 600 pounds." [How Powerful is Willpower?]

"In a pinch, a man could exert an upward force of 600 pounds briefly, but it would likely hurt and could cause injury," Bloomfield said. "And the girl could tolerate that much upward force briefly, if distributed properly."

Indeed, Bernard sustained a torn tendon in his shoulder, and the 7-year-old was treated for minor injuries. But the catch may well have saved her life. "Had the man not caught her, she'd have stopped much faster on the ground and the forces involved in stopping her would have been more severe — say, 1,200 pounds or even 2,000 pounds," Bloomfield said. "Big injury."


Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Beautiful Video Shows Mercury Dancing To The Beat


attached image

Watch this mercury drop suspended on Teflon as the surface is vibrated at specific amplitude and frequency. The frequencies create different modes of resonance, because the molecules vibrate faster when shaken at a certain speed.

This is similar to how your glass of water will form ripples if exposed to the right sounds (like the thumping of a T-rex walking toward your car). The vibrations from the sounds moves the molecules of mercury and form them into different geometric shapes.

At mode two, the mercury switches between two elliptical shapes that are perpendicular to each other.

In mode three, the form has three corners, and the mercury blob switches between two "directions." The cycle continues, four, five, six, seven and eight cornered shapes. When subjected to a random vibration, one that didn't resonate with the liquid element, chaos ensues.

The noises used in the video are too low in frequency for us to hear, but they are on par with the very deep tones elephants use to communicate long distances.

The video was uploaded in 2007 by YouTube user alextremes. Make sure to heed its warning: "Mercury is extremely dangerous so don't play with it. It can go through skin and mercury vapors are toxic. DON'T TRY TO DO IT AT HOME."

(via Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics)

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

How To Skip Any Rock


Ever wonder what makes a rock skip? Wonder no more after watching this video from the Brigham Young University's Fluid dynamics lab. They use high speed imaging to show the science behind rock skipping — with a few tips and techniques for successful and fun summer science.

The researchers mention that the physics behind rock skipping could be used by the Navy, so it's not all fun and games! There's also a Quora thread where the physics is explained in more detail. Here are some more images from the video:

Rock skipping

Man skipping rock on lake

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Watch An Arrow Come Straight At You In Slow Motion


The explanation from F*ckYeahFluidDynamics:

When an arrow is fired from a bow, as in the high speed video above, the sudden impetus of force from the bowstring causes the arrow to flex and vibrate as it is fired. The aerodynamic forces generated by the fletches straighten the arrow’s flight, helping it reach the intended target accurately.

See the Archery Report for more information on the physics behind the bow and arrow.

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Nine Physicists Just Got $3 Million Each


big bang sun white dwaf outer space star

Nine physicists just received the deposit of a lifetime: A $3 million reward for their research.

The multimillion dollar prize came from Yuri Milner, in the form of the newly established Fundamental Physics Prize. Milner was a graduate student in physics in Russia, before dropping out and earning billions of dollars by investing in tech companies like Facebook and Groupon. The Fundamental Physics Prize will be awarded annually to researchers who have made "transformative advances in the field."

"I am delighted to announce the launch of the Fundamental Physics Prize and welcome its first recipients. I hope the new prize will bring long overdue recognition to the greatest minds working in the field of fundamental physics, and if this helps encourage young people to be inspired by science, I will be deeply gratified,"Milner said in a press release from the foundation.

Here are the winners, from the foundation's website:

Nima Arkani-Hamed— For original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics, including the proposal of large extra dimensions, new theories for the Higgs boson, novel realizations of supersymmetry, theories for dark matter, and the exploration of new mathematical structures in gauge theory scattering amplitudes.

Alan Guth— For the invention of inflationary cosmology, and for his contributions to the theory for the generation of cosmological density fluctuations arising from quantum fluctuations in the early universe, and for his ongoing work on the problem of defining probabilities in eternally inflating spacetimes.

Alexei Kitaev— For the theoretical idea of implementing robust quantum memories and fault-tolerant quantum computation using topological quantum phases with anyons and unpaired Majorana modes.

Maxim Konstevich— For numerous contributions which have taken the fruitful interaction between modern theoretical physics and mathematics to new heights, including the development of homological mirror symmetry, and the study of wall-crossing phenomena.

Andrei Linde— For the development of inflationary cosmology, including the theory of new inflation, eternal chaotic inflation and the theory of inflationary multiverse, and for contributing to the development of vacuum stabilization mechanisms in string theory.

Juan Maldacena— For the gauge/gravity duality, relating gravitational physics in a spacetime and quantum field theory on the boundary of the spacetime. This correspondence demonstrates that black holes and quantum mechanics are compatible, resolving the black hole information paradox. It also provides a useful tool for the study of strongly coupled quantum systems, giving insights into a range of problems from high temperature nuclear matter to high temperature superconductors.

Nathan Seiberg— For major contributions to our understanding of quantum field theory and string theory. His exact analysis of supersymmetric quantum field theories led to new and deep insights about their dynamics, with fundamental applications in physics and mathematics.

Ashoke Sen— For uncovering striking evidence of strong-weak duality in certain supersymmetric string theories and gauge theories, opening the path to the realization that all string theories are different limits of the same underlying theory.

Edward Witten— For contributions to physics spanning topics such as new applications of topology to physics, non perturbative duality symmetries, models of particle physics derived from string theory, dark matter detection, and the twistor-string approach to particle scattering amplitudes, as well as numerous applications of quantum field theory to mathematics.

Each got $3,000,000 wired into their bank accounts, to use in any way they see fit.

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Scientists Are Even More Sure They've Found A Higgs-Like Particle


Higgs proof

New results coming from the Large Hadron Collider suggest that the hunt for the Higgs Boson, the particle that gives matter mass and holds the physical fabric of the universe together, really is over.

One Higgs-hunting team at CERN on the Swiss-French border reports a "5.9 sigma" levels of certainty it exists.

In laymans terms that equates to a one-in-550 million chance that the Higgs does not exist and the results are statistical flukes.

Particle physics has an accepted definition for a "discovery" which is a five-sigma level of certainty or above.

The number of standard deviations, or sigmas, is a measure of how unlikely it is that an experimental result is simply down to chance rather than a real effect

Similarly, tossing a coin and getting a number of heads in a row may just be chance, rather than a sign of a "loaded" coin

The "three sigma" level represents about the same likelihood of tossing more than eight heads in a row.

Five sigma, on the other hand, would correspond to tossing more than 20 in a row.

Now that two sets of results seem to confirm its existence it is becoming more of a certainty.

Accelerators like the LHC smash together particles at extraordinary energies in a bid to create a Higgs, which should exist only for a fleeting fraction of a second before decaying into other particles or flashes of light that can be caught and counted.

The findings only shore up a result that, as far as physicists were concerned, had already passed muster for declaring the existence of a new particle.

However, many questions remain as to whether the particle is indeed the long-sought Higgs boson; the announcement was carefully phrased to describe a "Higgs-like" particle.

More analyses will be needed to ensure it fits neatly into the Standard Model - the most complete theory we have for particles and forces - as it currently exists.

Last month's result had a 5 signma which meant they were 99.999% sure they have found a new particle.

Finding the Higgs plugs a gaping hole in the Standard Model, the theory that describes all the particles, forces and interactions that make up the universe.

If the particle was shown not to exist, it would have meant tearing up the Standard Model and going back to the drawing board.

The Higgs boson is the final piece of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, a theoretical model which describes the fundamental particles and forces that control our Universe.

It was first theorised in the 1960s by Edinburgh-based physicist Peter Higgs, amongst others, and is credited for giving all other particles mass. But until now, it has proved impossible to pin down.

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

The Most Basic Theory About Black Holes Is Wrong


black hole

If most people know one thing about black holes, they probably know that nothing can escape from them, not even light.

Yet this most basic tenet about black holes has actually been disproven by the theory of quantum mechanics, explains theoretical physicist Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, in an essay published online today (Aug. 2) in the journal Science.

Black holes, in the classical picture of physics, are incredibly dense objects where space and time are so warped that nothing can escape from their gravitational grasp. In another essay in the same issue of Science, theoretical physicist Kip Thorne of Caltech describes them as "objects made wholly and solely from curved spacetime."

Yet this basic picture appears to contradict the laws of quantum mechanics, which govern the universe's tiniest elements.

"What you get from classical general relativity, and also what everyone understands about a black hole, is that it can absorb anything that comes near, but it can't emit anything. But quantum mechanics doesn't allow such an object to exist," Witten said in this week's Science podcast.

In quantum mechanics, if a reaction is possible, the opposite reaction is also possible, Witten explained. Processes should be reversible. Thus, if a person can be swallowed by a black hole to create a slightly heavier black hole, a heavy black hole should be able to spit out a person and become a slightly lighter black hole. Yet nothing is supposed to escape from black holes. [Photos: Black Holes of the Universe]

To solve the dilemma, physicists looked to the idea of entropy, a measurement of disorder or randomness. The laws of thermodynamics state that in the macroscopic world, it's impossible to reduce the entropy of the universe—it can only increase. If a person were to fall into a black hole, entropy would increase. If the person were to pop back out of it, the universal entropy tally would go down. For the same reason, water can spill out of a cup onto the floor, but it won't flow from the floor into a cup.

This principle seems to explain why the process of matter falling into a black hole cannot be reversed, yet it only applies on a macroscopic level.

Physicist Stephen Hawking famously realized that on the microscopic, quantum mechanical level, things can escape from black holes. He predicted that black holes will spontaneously emit particles in a process he dubbed Hawking radiation. Thus, quantum mechanics refuted one of the basic tenets of black holes: that nothing can escape.

"Although a black hole will never emit an astronaut or a table or a chair, in practice, it can definitely emit an ordinary elementary particle or an atom," Witten explained.

However, scientists have yet to observe Hawking radiation.

"Unfortunately, the usual astrophysical black holes, formed from stellar collapse or in the centers of galaxies, are much too big and too far away for their microscopic details to be relevant," Witten wrote.

Witten's essay is one of five new papers in Science this week summarizing the state of black hole research.

Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+

More From Space.com:

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

Astronaut Yo-Yos In Space To Impress The Ladies


NASA Astronaut Don Pettit uses his off-duty time to practice his microgravity yo-yo skills in this video from PhysicsCentral.

My favorite quote: "It's important to understand the physics of your recreational activities... you can impress people by talking about the physics of your yo-yo and if you are a guy, just think — you can impress gals by talking about the physics of how your yo-yo works," Petit says in the video. "There's gonna be a class of gals that won't be interested in that and you won't impress them, but then those are the kind of gals you don't want to be around."


(via The Awesomer)

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »

The Science Behind Your Dog's Ability To Shake Itself Dry


Dog shaking dry

Next time the family dog bounds out of the nearest body of water and shakes itself off right beside you, don't get irritated: You're witnessing a feat of evolution that engineers can only dream of re-creating.

Furry mammals can shake themselves 70 percent dry in just a fraction of a second, according to new research. The study, which looked at the shaking speeds of 16 species of mammals, from mice to lions to bears, found that the smaller the animal, the faster it must shake to dry its fur.

"We think this has been evolving over millions of years of time to become so good," said study researcher David Hu, who studies biolocomotion at Georgia Tech. "Imagine if you could come out of the shower and, instead of using a towel, you could just press a button and in one-thirtieth of a second you're 70 percent dry."

The findings could provide inspiration for self-cleaning and self-drying robotics, Hu told LiveScience. [Video: Watch the Animals Shake Dry in Slow-Motion]

Shaking to survive

For mammals, drying off is a matter of life and death, Hu said. A relatively hairless human emerging from a bath can carry up to a pound of water on his or her body. An immersed rat will emerge with 5 percent of its body mass in water clinging to its fur. And a wet ant can find itself staggering under three times its body weight in liquid. (Hu previously studied how mosquitoes can survive direct hits by raindrops during a storm.)

Drying off quickly is particularly critical in winter. Hu and his colleagues calculate that a 60-pound dog with a pound of water on its fur would use a full 20 percent of its daily caloric intake staying warm as it air-dried.

"Imagine you fell into the lake in the winter and had wet clothes all around you and couldn't dry," Hu said.

Water would also be a challenge for autonomous robots that traipse around outdoors. Dust poses similar problems for electronics, Hu noted, citing NASA's Mars rovers. Modern Earthbound electronics often include internal shakers to dislodge dust, he said.

To find out how biology solved the self-cleaning problem, Hu and his colleagues went to the zoo and the park, as well as to the lab. They measured body sizes and shake speeds in 33 mammals from 16 species, ranging from guinea pigs and tiny juvenile mice to bears and lions. They also tested five breeds of dog.

"My graduate student had the pleasure of dousing them with a hose and measuring the frequency" of their shakes, Hu said, adding that no animals were harmed beyond momentary dampness in the process of the study.

To test drying speeds, the researchers also set up a "wet-dog simulator," a device that shook tufts of wet fur.

Shake it up

The researchers found that the bigger the animal, the slower it could shake to dry off. That's because the fur of a large animal shaking travels farther and is subject to more centripetal force than the fur of a small animal shaking. Centripetal forces are those that move an object in a circle. It's a bit like being on a merry-go-round: If you're at the edge of the merry-go-round, you're subject to greater force than if you're at the center.

So while a bear shakes about four times a second and a typical dog shakes four to six times per second to dry off, mice and rats have to move up to 10 times as quickly, the research revealed.

"They have to shake 30 times per second, which is unimaginable because their whole body is whipping back and forth," Hu said.

The researchers also found that loose skin helped the drying process immensely, because the extra movement resulted in nine times the force than if the skin were tight. That could explain why hairy mammals tend to have some give in their skin, Hu said. [10 Things You Didn't Know About Dogs]

No matter their size, all of the mammals were about as efficient as possible as drying off quickly, Hu said.

"I don't think we're going to make a Mars rover in the shape of a dog or anything like that," he said. "But if people can think about how animals do this so quickly, they'll get an idea of what is possible."

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter@sipappas or LiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+

Please follow Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Join the conversation about this story »