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This alcohol-laced comet spewed 500 wine bottles' worth of booze per second

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comet lovejoy 2014 q2 john vermette wikipedia

Comet Lovejoy is carrying the ingredients for a raging celestial happy hour.

When the frozen comet passed by the sun earlier this year, part of it thawed and started spewing a huge stream of ethyl alcohol like a giant bottle of popped Champagne.

According to NASA, this is the first time astronomers have ever observed a comet carrying ethyl alcohol, or ethanol — the same chemical you'll find behind a bar.

"We found that comet Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second during its peak activity," Nicolas Biver, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory, said in a press release.

Other than making the comet a potential party venue, the presence of ethyl alcohol has a profound implication: It's more evidence that comets hold the ingredients that made life on Earth possible.

Astronomers think comets are clumpy, frozen preserves of a giant cloud of gas and dust that formed our solar system billions of years ago. Every once in a while, one of these comets pass close enough to the sun for it to thaw and release a stream of water and chemicals as a tail.

That's what happened to the comet Lovejoy in January 2015, when astronomers used a giant radio telescope to analyze the tail's chemical composition. The team found 21 different organic materials in the comet, including ethyl alcohol and sugar, according to their October 23 study in the journal Science Advances.

Organic materials are the building blocks of life, and the astronomers think that comets and asteroids that crashed into early Earth may have delivered them, making it possible for life to arise.

So tracing the ingredients for the origin of life all the way back to comets and asteroids that formed billions of years ago may be possible. The next step, however, is to see if the organic materials like alcohol and sugar the astronomers found were present in the dusty cloud that formed our solar system, or if those organics came into existence after the fact.

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NOW WATCH: This is what you're actually seeing when you watch a meteor shower

This bizarre experiment just produced the best evidence yet of the universe's 'spooky' side

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albert einstein

A group of Dutch physicists have shown that one of the weirdest, most puzzling ideas in the universe is real.

Well, almost.

The idea is part of quantum mechanics, a theory of physics that describes how the cosmos works on the tiniest of scales. Specifically, scientists are squirming over a bizarre phenomenon of quantum mechanics called "entanglement," where one particle can instantly influence another — even from opposite sides of the universe.

If this Dutch experiment holds up and the idea of entanglement is real, it might lead to the development of unbreakable codes, the most precise clocks ever made, and superfast computers, to name a few applications.

The study was published this month in the journal Nature.

What is 'entanglement?'

According to physics theories pioneered by Albert Einstein, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, so it should be impossible for information from one particle to travel instantaneously to another.

That's why Einstein famously rejected quantum mechanics and called entanglement "spooky action at a distance." He refused to accept that the universe operated in such a strange, seemingly inexplicable way.

entangled particles

Physicists are still arguing over whether this "spooky action" exists or not.

It sounds like magic, but in quantum mechanics, particles can also exist in multiple states at the same time. This is called superposition. But as soon as you try to measure them and see what state they're in, their strange quantum state collapses and you're left with two regular particles.

It's sort of like the fairy tale idea that toys (or the weeping angels in Doctor Who) come to life when we have our backs turned to them, but as soon as we turn around, they return to their original position as quick as lightning. Or Schrödinger's famous thought experiment, where a cat in a box can either be alive or dead until you open it up and check.

Putting it to the test

So how do we figure out if quantum entanglement is real?

Scientist John Bell designed an experiment to prove quantum entanglement. It involves entangling particles, separating them, moving them off in different directions, and then measuring to see if they maintain that "spooky" connection even while physically separated.

You can watch a detailed explanation of a Bell test in the video below:

Many physicists have performed versions of the Bell test, and most of the results suggest quantum entanglement is real. But critics say all the experiments — so far — left too much room for loopholes and other possible explanations for the strange phenomenon.

The researchers behind the latest attempt describe their experiment as a "loophole-free Bell test," but other physicists disagree.

"The experiment has closed two of the three major loopholes beautifully, but two out of three isn’t three," Dr. Kaiser told The New York Times. "I believe in my bones that quantum mechanics is the correct description of nature. But to make the strongest statement, frankly we're not there."

The new experiment

That said, this particular experiment came closer than many others to being truly loophole-free.

According to the research paper, the physicists made two diamond traps to capture a single electron — one per diamond — and used superfast laser pulses to "entangle" the electrons at a close distance. Next, they separated the diamonds almost a mile apart on Delft University's campus in The Netherlands:

quantum entanglement

Remember superposition, where a particle can exist in multiple states at once? Electrons only have two possible states: They have a magnetic property called "spin" where they can point either up or down. When we're not looking at them, they can point both up and down at the same time. As soon as we look, though, their spin changes to either up or down.

The weird entangled link between the electrons means that the measurement of one particle's spin instantly defines the other particle's spin. So if one electron is measured as "up," quantum mechanics says its partner must be "down" if the two were truly entangled.

For their experiment, the physicists painstakingly set up the diamonds and lasers in a way that made it possible to measure one pair of electrons at a time — getting rid of one loophole. Closing a second loophole, they set up the diamonds far enough apart that there was no way the electrons inside could interact other than by entanglement.

Based on the measurements of 245 pairs of entangled electrons, the team confirmed that each electron really was exerting "spooky action" on its entangled partner; whenever they measured one electron, the other electron across campus instantly flipped.

The one loophole remaining that might explain the weird behavior is the influence of nearby, unentangled electrons. Accounting for this may involve measuring all the electrons at the same location as the entangled electron, which might be impossible (electrons are everywhere).

Despite its flaw, the new experiment could be a big step forward in determining if all the strange rules of quantum mechanics are real.

And if we can learn to harness quantum entanglement, experts think it help us send perfectly encrypted messages around the world, create the most precise atomic clocks ever built, and provide computer engineers with insight to build the first working, practical quantum computers.

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NOW WATCH: Here’s what would happen if the Earth stopped spinning

China 'to start work on super, super-collider by 2020'

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The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) Magnet Facility, which is used to train engineers and technicians, at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin, near Geneva on Febuary 10, 2015

Beijing (AFP) - China will begin work on the world's largest super-collider in 2020, state-run media reported Thursday, in an attempt to increase understanding of the Higgs boson, or "god particle".

The facility, designed to smash subatomic particles together at enormous speed, will reportedly be at least twice the size of the Swiss-based CERN, where the Higgs boson was discovered.

Scientists believe the particle is one of the fundamental building blocks of the universe. 

The final concept design for the project is on schedule to be completed by the end of next year, Wang Yifang, director of the Institute of High Energy Physics at the China Academy of Sciences, told the China Daily.

The facility is expected to generate millions of Higgs boson particles, far more than the capacity of Europe's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), helping scientists to answer some fundamental questions about how the universe works.

As planned, the Chinese project will generate seven times the energy of the LHC, colliding electrons and protons at super high speeds to generate the elusive particles on an unprecedented scale.

CMS at LHC"LHC is hitting its limits of energy level," Wang told the China Daily, which is published by the government. "It seems not possible to escalate the energy dramatically at the existing facility."

At a time when austerity measures have led many developed nations to reduce research funding for projects without clear applications, China is pouring huge sums money into theoretical as well as practical science, hoping to become a world leader in fields from biology to cosmology.

Planning for the project began in 2013, shortly after the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson, according to slides from a presentation by Wang in Geneva that appeared on his institute’s website.

He suggested Qinhuangdao, a northern port city that is the starting point of the Great Wall, as an ideal location for the underground facility, noting its favourable geological conditions and local wineries as important selling points.

China's rapid economic growth and large population put it in a unique position to invest in basic scientific research, he wrote.

"This is a machine for the world and by the world: not a Chinese one," he added, noting that physicists from around the globe had travelled to China to help with the project.

SEE ALSO: Scientists built the most powerful physics machine on earth to study the fate of our universe — and it may break the laws of physics

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NOW WATCH: How scientists uncovered a completely new world inside the tunnels of the most powerful physics machine on Earth

Astronomers just saw a monster black hole do something shocking

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black hole x-ray burst

Black holes are some of the most mysterious, frightening, and — paradoxically — brightest objects in the cosmos.

Supermassive black holes in particular, which can outweigh the sun millions of times, sometimes flare with powerful bursts of X-ray light that can rival the energy output of hundreds of stars.

X-ray flares aren't visible to the naked eye and black holes don't emit visible light, as their name suggests. But astronomers can detect them in deep space with specially tuned telescopes.

Years of observing black holes show many of them are shrouded with a shroud of glowing-hot plasma, called a corona, which is made from the sucked-in gases of nearby stars. Astronomers have long suspected the corona had something to do with X-ray flashes, but couldn't be certain; we usually only detect X-ray bursts long after they're made, not during their formation.

For the first time, however, astronomers recorded a supermassive black hole named Markarian 335 halfway through spewing out a burst of X-ray light. What's more, the flare happened right after the black hole shot a cloud of its hot plasmatic corona away at around 20% the speed of light.

"The corona gathered inward at first and then launched upwards like a jet," Dan Wilkins, an astronomer at Saint Mary's University, said in a press release.

Here's an artist's impression of what the ejection looked like:

black hole coronas

Wilkins said we still don't know what causes a corona to launch and speed away from black holes, nor what about the phenomenon triggers a stream of X-rays known as a black hole flare.

We'll need to see a black hole flare from start to finish to find out more about the process.

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NOW WATCH: Here's what happens when a black hole and a star collide

If the zombie apocalypse happens, scientists say you should head for the hills

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Rick, Walking Dead

If — or when — the zombie apocalypse comes, those of us in big cities are in trouble, according to research presented at the American Physical Society March meeting on March 5, 2015.

Starting in a big city like New York or Atlanta would mean you are basically screwed from the start if the epidemic had already hit there, according to Alex Alemi, a graduate student at Cornell University and part of the research team.

You are much better off starting further away from people, they say, which gives you a better chance of avoiding infection. Ideally, you'd escape to an almost empty region like the Rocky Mountains.

"I'd love to see a fictional account where most of New York City falls in a day, but upstate New York has a month or so to prepare," Alemi said in the APS press release.

Thanks, Alex. Though I've always wondered, if you could make it onto a boat in such a scenario, how long would you survive at sea? We are closer to water here in NYC, after all. Can zombies swim, or do they just wade through the waters?

Authentic disease modeling

Alemi and colleagues used standard disease models to estimate the zombie infection rate around the US, assuming that humans would need to be infected by a zombie bite (of course). Also following standard protocol, zombies travel only by walking and wouldn't die naturally but would need to be "killed," presumably with a well-placed blow to the head.

Essentially, they used a realistic model that's very similar to the way epidemiologists calculate the spread of other viruses, but using fictional parameters unique to zombies. They did make some assumptions, including a transportation infrastructure collapse. It's hard to imagine airports staying operational for long in such a scenario.

The video below shows how a national outbreak would play out. The top right map, susceptible humans, shows the human population that's still able to be infected. In the green bottom right map, the "killed" zombie population grows, but as you can see in the red bottom left map, so does the infected population. The top left is a composite map of the other three.

 

As you can see the Rockies are the safest place to be in this fictional scenario — sparsely populated and difficult to reach.

And big population centers are the worst place to start the outbreak. About 28 days later (coincidence?), they become safer as the areas that surround them become more dangerous.

Though of course, as Terrence McCoy pointed out at the Washington Post, if a large percentage of the population flooded any area, the risk of infection there would skyrocket.

The statistical research was inspired by a reading of Max Brooks's "World War Z", a book that is better than the movie that was based on it.

How it works

Alemi and co-authors modeled out the population centers of the country and then assumed certain possible interactions, with an element of randomness. A zombie might bite and infect a human or the person might escape or kill the creature. And of course, the undead shamble onward.

Also, in reality, an outbreak probably wouldn't start all over the country, and there are some variables. The undead might be more or less aggressive or more or less mobile.

So the research team built an interactive model that allows you to simulate an outbreak, picking a starting point, a zombie-bite to zombie-kill ratio, and whether the zombies are fast or slow.

As you can see in the GIF below, a fast-zombie outbreak in New York City would be devastating within 24 hours.

zombie apocalypseNot looking good. More complex variables would be interesting though.

"Given the time, we could attempt to add more complicated social dynamics to the simulation, such as allowing people to make a run for it, include plane flights, or have an awareness of the zombie outbreak, etc.," Alemi said in the press release.

 Physicists seemed to want to be prepared. The talk was reportedly standing-room only.

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Do this simple experiment with a piece of paper to understand how airplanes fly

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airplane

We've all heard that Bernoulli's principle is the reason that airplanes fly.

This physical phenomenon has been illustrated in different ways and described endlessly, but it's still difficult to visualize.

A simplified explanation goes like this: The airplane's wing is teardrop-shaped. Air that flows over the top of the wing has to travel a longer distance than the air that flows below the wing, so the air above has to move faster. This pulls air molecules farther apart, which means they put less air pressure on the top of the wing than the bottom.

The upward force of denser air below the wing produces lift:

Sometimes it's hard to believe a little quick-moving air is really all it takes to lift it up a big, hulking aluminum tube in the sky (especially if you're inside one). But the principle is easily demonstrated using just a piece of paper and your mouth.

I saw this trick on the "How to make a paper airplane" episode of Going Deep With David Rees. The show goes into extreme detail to explain how to do simple things like making a paper airplane or opening a door. During the episode, Rees visits the NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, and gets interrupted by engineer Red Jensen, who shows him this neat trick.

By blowing over the top of a piece of paper you can demonstrate Bernoulli's principle. As Rees notes, "I'm totally about to understand what flying is! OK, go!"

"What we want to do to simulate a wing is to accelerate air over the top and have relatively still air under the wing," Jensen said. To do this, blow over the top of a piece of paper held loosely from one end.

When the air moves quickly over the paper it creates lift, just like an airplane wing does. You'd think blowing on a piece of paper would push it away from your mouth but actually it lifts it up because of the faster-moving air above the sheet.

There's some debate as to whether this actually shows Bernoulli's principle, or if it's another physics principle being applied, but it's still a cool demonstration.

"Wait, so the airplanes that have jets, the jet doesn't lift the plane?" Rees explains. "It just gets it going fast enough to trick the air into lifting the plane? That's how jets work?"

See the full clip, from Going Deep with David Rees:

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Why physicists are fascinated by Vincent van Gogh's episodes of 'psychotic agitation'

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van gogh self portrait

"This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big," Vincent van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother.

He was sitting in the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy, France, at the time, where he had checked in to not long after his infamous ear-severing episode.

Little did he know that his rendition of the view from that window would later come to be revered as one of the masterpieces of Western art: "Starry Night."

At first glance, the medium-sized painting's subject matter doesn't appear to be anything particularly radical. As the name aptly suggests, it's an painting of a starry night.

But, what is fascinating about the painting is that van Gogh seemed to have managed to represent not only his turbulent mind, but turbulence as we see it in nature, too.

And that's what physicists — and mathematicians — find so fascinating about the work.

van gogh starry night painting art sky physics

Physicist José Luis Aragón of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Queretaro and his team published a paper in 2006 noting that van Gogh's works from his "psychotic" periods closely follow the mathematical structure of natural turbulence, such as that of swirling water.

"The probability distribution function (PDF) of luminance fluctuations in some impassioned van Gogh paintings, painted at times close to periods of prolonged psychotic agitation of this artist, compares notable well with the PDF of the velocity differences in a turbulent flow as predicted by the statistical theory of [Soviet physicist Andrey] Kolmogorov," Aragón wrote in the paper.

Or in lay-person English: The physicists checked the correlation between van Gogh's paintings and natural turbulence, using Kolmogorov's model of turbulence to determine the degree of "realism" contained in the paintings. And they found that the paintings he did during periods of "psychotic agitation" closely mirror the turbulence we see in nature.

Road with Cypress and Star van goghAs a side detail, Aragón also mentions that some have compared the turbulence in "Starry Night" to that of an image taken by NASA.

"It has been specifically mentioned, for instance, that the famous painting Starry Night, vividly transmits the sense of turbulence and was compared with a picture of a distant star from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, where eddies probably caused by dust and gas turbulence are clearly seen," he wrote in the paper.

The physics and Impressionism behind all this

For those unfamiliar with turbulence, it happens to be one of the hardest questions in physics.

Kolmogorov's theory from the 1940's — to which Aragón et. al. compared van Gogh's work — is incredibly close to how turbulence actually works. But a complete description of it still remains an unsolved problem in physics.

Nobel-prize winning physicist Werner Heisenberg even reportedly once said: "When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: 'Why relativity?' and 'Why turbulence?' I really believe he will have an answer for the first."

And yet, van Gogh represented "turbulence" in paintings ... while sitting in an asylum.

"The painter's magnificent brushwork made (intuitive?) use of a property known as luminance, a measure of the relative brightness between different points. The eye is more sensitive to luminance change than to color change, meaning we respond more promptly to changes in brightness than in colors. This is what gives many Impressionist paintings that familiar and emotionally moving twinkle,"Dartmouth physics professor Marcelo Gleiser wrote"Remarkably, van Gogh's paintings from his own turbulent period show luminance with a scaling similar to that of the mathematical theory of turbulence."

But he only painted like this in states of 'psychotic agitation'

van gogh ear cut offThe real kicker in all of this is that van Gogh only painted like this in states of "psychotic agitation." During periods of — for lack of better word — "sanity," his paintings did not mirror real turbulence.

One interesting example happens to be his painting "Self-portrait with Pipe and Bandaged Ear."

"Van Gogh said that he painted this image in a state of 'absolute calm,' having been prescribed the drug potassium bromide following his famous self-mutilation," according to the science journal Nature.

As you can see in the image, there is no "turbulence" in the pipe smoke as we saw in "Starry Night's" sky.

Notably, van Gogh's aforementioned self-portrait is significantly less famous than "Starry Night." Admittedly, this is only two paintings, but it is still interesting to consider how our brains might interpret the two works, and whether or not there is any correlation between our collective "preference" for "Starry Night" and its near-perfect representation of turbulence.

It's important to note that it would not be appropriate to oversimplify all of this and say that van Gogh's psychotic states "made" him "solve" a complicated physics problem.

Still, "it's also far too difficult to accurately express the rousing beauty of the fact that in a period of intense suffering van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most supremely difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind, and to unite his unique mind's eye with the deepest mysteries of movement, fluid, and light," aNatalya St. Clair notes in a TED-Ed Original.

As an fun postscript, van Gogh's art isn't the only time that this analogy with hydrodynamic turbulence was reported in an ostensibly unrelated field of study. As Aragón noted in his paper, it has also been "observed in fluctuations of the foreign exchange markets time series."

SEE ALSO: The famous last words of 18 famous people

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Neil deGrasse Tyson explains how 'Star Wars' lightsabers could actually work

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"Star Wars"
lightsabers are a novel idea. They're lightweight, portable, and their laser-like beams can cut through just about anything. Unfortunately, the reality isn't so simple. Astrophysicist and "StarTalk Radio" host Neil deGrasse Tyson explains how the fictional blade would work in real life.

Produced by Christine NguyenDarren Weaver and Kamelia Angelova. Additional production by Rob Ludacer.

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StarTalk Radio is a podcast and radio program hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, where comic co-hosts, guest celebrities, and scientists discuss astronomy, physics, and everything else about life in the universe. Follow StarTalk Radio on Twitter, and watch StarTalk Radio "Behind the Scenes" on YouTube.

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The incredible physics of Grand Prix motorcycle racing

The incredible story of the scientist who launched a nuclear age

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marie curie

Above all else, Marie Curie was a scientist with remarkable insight. But to the science contemporaries of her time, Curie was a woman, who happened to study science.

At times she was overlooked for her achievements, which were laying the foundation for what we understand about radioactive behavior that, today, runs nuclear reactors, powers deep-space exploration, and drives an entire field of medicine, called radiology.

Through the shameful, sexist-derived neglect, Curie's intellect, wit, and drive pushed her toward miraculous discoveries that even the scientific community could not ignore for long.

Curie became the first scientist to earn two Nobel Prizes, had three radiology institutes erected in her honor, saw her eldest daughter win a Nobel Prize, and was revered by the most brilliant minds of our time, including Albert Einstein.

Today, she's celebrated as one of the greatest scientists in history. In honor of Madame Marie Curie's birthday this month, here's the incredible story of her struggles and victories in a world where women were shunned.

READ MORE: The amazing life of Albert Einstein, an underestimated genius whose childhood nickname was 'the dopey one'

SEE ALSO: This amazing 25-year-old woman helped bring Apollo astronauts back from the moon

Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born in Warsaw, Poland on Nov. 7, 1867. Here's one of the earliest known photos of her at the age of 16.

Born in Warsaw, Poland as Maria Salomea Skłodowska, her middle name originates from the Polish word "Salome," which is traced to the Hebrew word for "peace."

Maria would later adopt her husband's last name as well as the French translation of her first name, to become known as Marie Curie.

Source: NobelPrize.org



The Curie sisters were determined to study despite government bans on higher education for women.

Russia-dominated Poland was in the midst of a feminist revolution, but changes were slow-going.

Since women were still banned from higher education, Curie and one of her sisters joined the Flying University — an educational institution that admitted women— in the mid 1880s.

Source: American Institute of Physics



She eventually moved to Paris in 1891.

To continue her studies in chemistry, math, and physics, Curie studied at Sorbonne — the University of Paris at the time — where she eventually became head of the Physics Laboratory.

Source: NobelPrize.org



See the rest of the story at Business Insider

This high school student just won $400,000 for making absurdly complex physics make sense

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breakthrough junior ryan chester GettyImages 496344642

When high school student Ryan Chester heard that Silicon Valley's prestigious Breakthrough Prize would include a new category for an outstanding science video, he decided to go big and tackle a question that baffles most adults:

Why do space travelers experience time more slowly than people on Planet Earth?

"Time dilation has been in science TV shows and movies like Interstellar so often that I've just accepted it without understanding why it was true. So when this challenge came around I thought this area was a great one to dig into," the 18-year-old Ohio native explains in an introduction to his video, available on YouTube under the title "Some Cool Ways of Looking at the Special Theory of Relativity."

Chester's digging has resulted in a humorous, imaginative romp through Einstein's theory of Special Relatively, the umbrella theory for time dilation.

 And his video was more than just a fun concept: out of over 2,000 entries and 15 finalists, it won tonight's Breakthrough Junior Challenge worth $400,000, funded by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and Khan Academy.

"Special Relativity has got to rank up there with one of the most revolutionary theories in physics."

Chester will himself receive $250,000 in educational prizes and his teacher Richard Nestoff will receive an award of $50,000.

Furthermore, Chester's school, North Royalton High School, will receive a custom built $100,000 science lab designed in partnership with the non-profit Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York State.

"Special Relativity has got to rank up there with one of the most revolutionary theories in physics. I've seen it referenced in science books and magazines for years," says Chester "It was always mentioned in relationship to the idea that you can travel forward in time if you just move fast enough."

Along with penning a compelling tale that guides you between the first postulate of Special Relativity to the second postulate, Chester deployed a Renaissance worthy array of skills in the video including on-camera narration along with filming and editing.

He also spiced up the narrative with a beautifully selected and edited musical score, and a generous helping of motion graphics and special effects of his own creation including an "actual" takeoff and landing of a spaceship from what appears to be the front yard of his house.

Most of the action takes place in and around a typical suburban backyard, where Chester makes his first appearance from behind a child's play set to give a gentle push to a tire swing.

That simple action provides the backdrop for Chester's main point, which is that groundbreaking ideas don't have to be complicated or hard to understand.

As he explains in another introduction, "even the simplest understanding of quantum mechanics can be used to wrap your mind around why time must slow down the faster an object moves."

It's difficult to pick out a favorite sequence from among the "easy-to-understand real-world experiments" Chester presents in his hometown setting. Our favorite has to be the bowl of popcorn he deploys to demonstrate that "popcorn will behave the same within any reference frame" (hint: do not attempt the second part of this experiment at home).

In the video, Chester notes that while the relativity of time is theoretically a natural conclusion, "it just isn't a natural conclusion from our experience here on earth, where currently there aren't a whole lot of near light-speed travel options available."

Undaunted, Chester looks forward to the day when super fast space travel is a thing. In the meantime as this year's Breakthrough Junior Challenge winner, he can figure out where he wants to put his prize, a $250,000 educational scholarship.

This article originally appeared on Popular Science.

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NOW WATCH: Here's the real science behind time travel

This high school student just won $400,000 for making absurdly complex physics make sense

0
0

breakthrough junior ryan chester GettyImages 496344642

When high school student Ryan Chester heard that Silicon Valley's prestigious Breakthrough Prize would include a new category for an outstanding science video, he decided to go big and tackle a question that baffles most adults:

Why do space travelers experience time more slowly than people on Planet Earth?

"Time dilation has been in science TV shows and movies like Interstellar so often that I've just accepted it without understanding why it was true. So when this challenge came around I thought this area was a great one to dig into," the 18-year-old Ohio native explains in an introduction to his video, available on YouTube under the title "Some Cool Ways of Looking at the Special Theory of Relativity."

Chester's digging has resulted in a humorous, imaginative romp through Einstein's theory of Special Relatively, the umbrella theory for time dilation.

 And his video was more than just a fun concept: out of over 2,000 entries and 15 finalists, it won tonight's Breakthrough Junior Challenge worth $400,000, funded by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and Khan Academy.

"Special Relativity has got to rank up there with one of the most revolutionary theories in physics."

Chester will himself receive $250,000 in educational prizes and his teacher Richard Nestoff will receive an award of $50,000.

Furthermore, Chester's school, North Royalton High School, will receive a custom built $100,000 science lab designed in partnership with the non-profit Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York State.

"Special Relativity has got to rank up there with one of the most revolutionary theories in physics. I've seen it referenced in science books and magazines for years," says Chester "It was always mentioned in relationship to the idea that you can travel forward in time if you just move fast enough."

Along with penning a compelling tale that guides you between the first postulate of Special Relativity to the second postulate, Chester deployed a Renaissance worthy array of skills in the video including on-camera narration along with filming and editing.

He also spiced up the narrative with a beautifully selected and edited musical score, and a generous helping of motion graphics and special effects of his own creation including an "actual" takeoff and landing of a spaceship from what appears to be the front yard of his house.

Most of the action takes place in and around a typical suburban backyard, where Chester makes his first appearance from behind a child's play set to give a gentle push to a tire swing.

That simple action provides the backdrop for Chester's main point, which is that groundbreaking ideas don't have to be complicated or hard to understand.

As he explains in another introduction, "even the simplest understanding of quantum mechanics can be used to wrap your mind around why time must slow down the faster an object moves."

It's difficult to pick out a favorite sequence from among the "easy-to-understand real-world experiments" Chester presents in his hometown setting. Our favorite has to be the bowl of popcorn he deploys to demonstrate that "popcorn will behave the same within any reference frame" (hint: do not attempt the second part of this experiment at home).

In the video, Chester notes that while the relativity of time is theoretically a natural conclusion, "it just isn't a natural conclusion from our experience here on earth, where currently there aren't a whole lot of near light-speed travel options available."

Undaunted, Chester looks forward to the day when super fast space travel is a thing. In the meantime as this year's Breakthrough Junior Challenge winner, he can figure out where he wants to put his prize, a $250,000 educational scholarship.

This article originally appeared on Popular Science.

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This clever DIY convertible standing desk costs just $29 to make

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If you've got a spare $29 lying around, Scott Rumschlag has a proposition for you.

Instead of sitting at your desk for eight hours each day, consider channeling your inner carpenter to build a totally convertible standing desk from scratch. You could be saving your life.

A mechanical engineer by trade, Rumschlag is the brains behind the popular expanding table unveiled late last year. Now he's back with his latest creation: an all-wood hickory desk that is smooth as silk because it goes back to basics.

"A lot of the standing desks out there have motors that grind away as they go up and down," Rumschlag says. "Mine has counterweights."

standing desk screenshotThanks to two 42-lb. wooden boxes on the back of the desk — each filled with heavy-duty nails and sand — the user only needs to apply a light amount of force to lower the standing desk back to chair-height, and even less to raise it back up. 

As the desk moves up and down, greased-up wheels slide along a small block. These wheels give the counterweights the freedom to move with the desk.

"Life is short," he says. "I don't want to spend it waiting for my desk to catch up."

A discreet locking mechanism on the underside of the desk helps keep it in place.

"And it's strong once it's locked in place like that," Rumschlag says.

To demonstrate, he puts a 71-lb. weight on the very edge of the elevated desk, which flexes slightly but holds steady.

Then he puts all his body weight on it, and still the desk holds. Then, as the grand finale, he puts both the 71-lb. weight and his full weight on at the same time.

Still, standing desk prevails.

If any home woodworkers are feeling adventurous, Rumschlag has made the plans for his desk freely available on his website, Mechanical Lumber. 

Here's the full demo:

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5 things Albert Einstein got totally wrong

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Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein changed the world forever 100 years ago this month by publishing his theory of general relativity.

Relativity is now a centerpiece of modern physics, the reason GPS satellites and mobile internet exist, and why Einstein is easily the most famous scientist in history.

But a legendary status doesn't mean you're infallible. Einstein made plenty of errors and oversights, and sometimes, he was flat out wrong.

Here are five of Einstein's biggest mistakes explained.

1. A notable error shows up in Einstein's most famous work: Relativity.



His theory of relativity describes gravity, space, and time in math equations — which no one had successfully done before.



But in order to get the math right, Einstein had to create a new constant number (an unchanging value, like 'pi' or 'e') and stick it inside his general relativity equations to balance them.



See the rest of the story at Business Insider

5 things Albert Einstein got totally wrong

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Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein changed the world forever 100 years ago this month by publishing his theory of general relativity.

Relativity is now a centerpiece of modern physics, the reason GPS satellites and mobile internet exist, and why Einstein is easily the most famous scientist in history.

But a legendary status doesn't mean you're infallible. Einstein made plenty of errors and oversights, and sometimes, he was flat out wrong.

Here are five of Einstein's biggest mistakes explained.

We can probably all agree that Einstein was brilliant.



But he made some pretty epic mistakes.



1. A notable error shows up in his most famous work: Relativity.



See the rest of the story at Business Insider

China is on the verge of solving one of the most important mysteries in physics

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The Chinese Academy of Science has created a space probe to investigate dark matter.  The probe has the widest range of particle behavior detection in the world.

Produced by Monica Manalo. Video courtesy of Reuters.

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Researchers have written quantum code on a silicon chip for the first time

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Entangled1_web_1024

For the first time, Australian engineers have demonstrated that they can write and manipulate the quantum version of computer code on a silicon microchip. This was done by entangling two quantum bits with the highest accuracy ever recorded, and it means that we can now start to program for the super-powerful quantum computers of the future.

Engineers code regular computers using traditional bits, which can be in one of two states: 1 or 0. Together, two bits create code words that can be used to program complex instructions. But in quantum computing language there's also the possibility for bits to be in superposition, which means they can be 1 and 0 at the same time. This opens up a vastly more powerful programming language, but until now researchers haven't been able to figure out how to write it.

Now engineers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have demonstrated that not only can they do this, but they can do it on silicon microchips very similar to the ones that make up today's computers, which means the technology will be easy and quick to scale up.

So how exactly do you write quantum code? It all comes down to a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement. When two particles are entangled, it basically means that the measurement of one of them will instantly affect the state of its entangled particle, even if it's thousands of kilometers away.

"This effect is famous for puzzling some of the deepest thinkers in the field, including Albert Einstein, who called it 'spooky action at a distance',"said lead researcher Andrea Morello, from the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at UNSW. "Einstein was skeptical about entanglement, because it appears to contradict the principles of 'locality', which means that objects cannot be instantly influenced from a distance."

silicon quantum computer processorBut entanglement has been demonstrated time and time again through something by something known as Bell's test, which requires engineers to violate Bell's Inequality Principle. Basically, Bell's Inequality Principle sets a limit for the amount of correlation there can be between two classical bits – anything above that must be quantum entangled.

"The key aspect of the Bell test is that it is extremely unforgiving: any imperfection in the preparation, manipulation and read-out protocol will cause the particles to fail the test,"said one of the researchers, Juan Pablo Dehollain. "Nevertheless, we have succeeded in passing the test, and we have done so with the highest 'score' ever recorded in an experiment."

 

CollageEntangled_webIn their experiment, the two entangled particles in question were the electron and the nucleus of a single phosphorous atom, which was placed inside a silicon microchip. By entangling the two particles, they made it so that the state of the electron was entirely dependent on the state of the nucleus.

This meant that they expanded on the four possible digital codes that can be made with two traditional bits (00, 01, 10, or 11) to being able to create a much wider set of code words with two entangled bits, such as 00+11, 00-11, 01+10 or 01-10.

"This is, in some sense, the reason why quantum computers can be so much more powerful,"said team member Stephanie Simmons. "With the same number of bits, they allow us to write a computer code that contains many more words, and we can use those extra words to run a different algorithm that reaches the result in a smaller number of steps."

The next step is to entangle more particles and create more complex quantum code words, so that the team can begin to program an entire quantum computer. All the other pieces are already in place, in large part thanks to another UNSW team, which just last month built the first logic gate in silicon. The material is important, because it's something we're already incredibly familiar with building computers out of.

"Now, we have shown beyond any doubt that we can write this code inside a device that resembles the silicon microchips you have on your laptop or your mobile phone,"said Morello. "It's a real triumph of electrical engineering."

The research has been published in Nature Nanotechnology.

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This unprecedented South Pole lab is cracking the mysteries of ghost particles

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IceCube Lab

Standing at the South Pole is the next-best thing to being on another planet.

If you walk a few hundred yards away from the buildings that make up the National Science Foundation’s research station, you see a featureless plain of snow and ice, most likely empty of living creatures larger than microbes for hundreds of miles.

With nothing but snow for sound waves to echo off, there’s an eerie silence. It’s easy to get lost in reverie, contemplating the stark landscape. But then you remember that you’re here for a reason: to work on what may be the world’s weirdest telescope, searching for some of nature’s most mysterious subatomic particles.

Every second, more than 10,000 high-energy particles– protons and atomic nuclei – rain down on every square meter of the Earth’s atmosphere. Some of them carry more than a million times the energy of the protons at the most powerful particle accelerator, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. Fortunately, the atmosphere absorbs most of them, but a few stray particles pass through your body every second – they’re the reason intercontinental airline crews are classified as radiation workers.

Scientists discovered these particles, known as cosmic rays, more than a century ago, before Einstein’s theory of general relativity or Bohr’s quantum mechanical model of the atom. But even today, despite half a dozen Nobel Prizes awarded for research related to cosmic rays, we’re not sure where these particles come from. The magnetic fields that fill the universe deflect cosmic rays on their way to Earth, so the direction they’re traveling when they reach us doesn’t tell us where they were originally produced.

Neutrinos hint at where cosmic rays come from

I’m part of an international team of scientists who built an unusual type of telescope to look for the sources of the cosmic rays. Since the cosmic rays themselves don’t point back to their sources, we look instead for neutrinos, a type of subatomic particle that should be produced as a byproduct of cosmic ray acceleration, wherever it’s happening. (The same process occurs when cosmic rays hit our atmosphere; these “atmospheric” neutrinos were used to discover neutrino oscillations by one of the two experiments that won 2015’s Nobel Prize in Physics.)

Neutrinos are very strange– they’ve been called ghost particles. They very rarely interact with other matter, so to see them, you need a very large detector. Our telescope is called IceCube, because we use a cubic kilometer – a billion tons – of the Antarctic ice cap to catch neutrinos.

IceCube

Most neutrinos pass invisibly through IceCube, but by chance a few of them will smash into a proton or neutron in the ice, releasing a shower of relativistic particles we can see. By measuring the number and direction of these visible particles, we can determine the direction the original neutrino came from, its energy, and its type or “flavor.” One by one, we build up a picture of the sky as it shines in neutrinos, rather than starlight.

Antarctica may not sound like the obvious place to build such a telescope, but in fact it’s the easiest and cheapest place to do it. The US maintains a scientific facility at the South Pole, home to several other experiments besides IceCube. Most importantly for us, the South Pole station sits on top of nearly three kilometers of the purest, clearest ice in the world – a perfect neutrino target just waiting to be used.

south pole plane runway

Good for science, tough for people

But “easiest” is not the same as “easy” – the South Pole is a challenging place to work. Traveling to the pole from the US can take a week or more. The last leg of the trip is on a special ski-equipped C-130 cargo aircraft operated by the Air National Guard, which lands on a runway made of compressed snow. These aircraft can only reach the pole for four months of the year: at midsummer (January, in the southern hemisphere), the average temperature is a balmy -15 degrees Fahrenheit (-26 degrees Celsius), but by March temperatures have fallen to -50F (-45C), too cold for C-130s to operate. We pack our work into those summer months, then hand IceCube off to two hardy “winter-over” scientists. Our winter-overs are part of a team of 45 people who stay at the station for the rest of the year, cut off from the rest of the world for eight months except for internet and radio communications.

In the summer, the station population expands to about 150. The South Pole is a high-altitude desert, so the air is thin and very, very dry. But the cold isn’t the toughest part of working at the South Pole – at least in the summer. The strangest thing, at least for me, is the constant daylight. At the South Pole, the sun stays up for six months, circling along the horizon and slowly spiraling down until it sets at the autumn equinox. Then our winter-overs get six months of constant darkness until sunrise in the spring. This plays havoc with circadian rhythms; I’ve awoken to see the clock read 3:00, not knowing whether it’s am or pm, whether I’ve slept for four hours or 16.

Despite being one of the most isolated places on Earth, the station is also very crowded in the summer. It takes a lot of expensive fuel to heat buildings, so space is at a premium, and needless to say most of us work indoors. It also takes fuel to melt water, so showers are rationed to two minutes of running water twice a week, contributing to the unique working atmosphere at the South Pole.

Results starting to roll in

After seven years of work, IceCube was fully commissioned in 2011, on schedule and on budget. Coordinating the efforts of around 250 scientists around the world was another challenge, and that was only the beginning. Most new telescopes are validated by observing known sources: stars, pulsars, radio galaxies. But there are no known high-energy neutrino sources – IceCube is opening an entirely new window on the universe – so we had to convince ourselves and the rest of the scientific community that we know what we are seeing.

Two years after IceCube was completed, we announced that we had identified our first two neutrinos from outside the solar system – the first entries in our map of the neutrino sky. (We named them Bert and Ernie.) Last year we recorded the highest-energy neutrino ever seen: 1,000 times the energy of the protons accelerated at CERN.

There’s a wonderful debate in the scientific community over where these neutrinos come from, whether any of them might be produced in our own galaxy or even be related to exotic new particles like dark matter. As we take more data, we hope more exciting new discoveries are in store.

The Conversation

Tyce DeYoung, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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One of Einstein's most famous quotes is often completely misinterpreted

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albert einstein

One of Albert Einstein's most famous quotes is, "God does not play dice with the universe."

But there are two huge errors in the way many people have interpreted this quote over the years. People have wrongly assumed Einstein was religious, believed in destiny, or that he completely rejected a core theory in physics.

First, Einstein wasn't referring to a personal god in the quote. He was using "God" as a metaphor.

"Einstein of course believed in mathematical laws of nature, so his idea of a God was at best someone who formulated the laws and then left the universe alone to evolve according to these laws," physicist Vasant Natarajan wrote in an essay.

Einstein himself even cleared up the matter in a letter he wrote in 1954:

I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

The second half of the quote — "does not play dice"— is often misunderstood, too. It's not an affirmation of destiny.

The phrase refers to one of the most important theories in modern physics: quantum mechanics. It describes the weird behavior of tiny subatomic particles. It's also the guiding theory that led to critical technologies like nuclear power, MRI machines, and transistors in computer and phones.

It's true that Einstein never accepted quantum mechanics, but the reason was much more nuanced than a flat-out rejection of the theory. After all, Einstein won a Nobel Prize in 1921 for describing the photoelectric effect — a phenomenon that led to the development of quantum mechanics.

The reason for the quote is to express how bizarre quantum mechanics is as a theory. While most of the universe is deterministic and measurable, quantum mechanics says there's a world of tiny particles behind everything that's governed by total randomness.

For example, a major part of quantum theory, called the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle, says it's impossible to know both the speed and position of a single particle at the same time. So in quantum mechanics nothing can be certain, and we can only describe things in terms of probabilities.

Einstein didn't like this one bit. He believed there must be some underlying laws of nature that could define particles and make it possible to calculate both their speed and position.

There's no evidence of the law Einstein hoped for, and all experimental evidence suggests that quantum mechanics is real. So Einstein was probably wrong to reject the idea.

However, when you try to join quantum mechanics to any other major theory in physics, like Einstein's general theory of relativity, it doesn't work. Quantum mechanics may be correct, but it's a total mystery as to how it fits in with the rest of physics.

Join the conversation about this story »

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Here's what Einstein really meant when he said 'God does not play dice'

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albert einstein

One of Albert Einstein's most famous quotes is, "God does not play dice with the universe."

But there are two huge errors in the way many people have interpreted this quote over the years. People have wrongly assumed Einstein was religious, believed in destiny, or that he completely rejected a core theory in physics.

First, Einstein wasn't referring to a personal god in the quote. He was using "God" as a metaphor.

"Einstein of course believed in mathematical laws of nature, so his idea of a God was at best someone who formulated the laws and then left the universe alone to evolve according to these laws," physicist Vasant Natarajan wrote in an essay.

Einstein himself even cleared up the matter in a letter he wrote in 1954:

I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

The second half of the quote — "does not play dice"— is often misunderstood, too. It's not an affirmation of destiny.

The phrase refers to one of the most important theories in modern physics: quantum mechanics. It describes the weird behavior of tiny subatomic particles. It's also the guiding theory that led to critical technologies like nuclear power, MRI machines, and transistors in computer and phones.

It's true that Einstein never accepted quantum mechanics, but the reason was much more nuanced than a flat-out rejection of the theory. After all, Einstein won a Nobel Prize in 1921 for describing the photoelectric effect — a phenomenon that led to the development of quantum mechanics.

The reason for the quote is to express how bizarre quantum mechanics is as a theory. While most of the universe is deterministic and measurable, quantum mechanics says there's a world of tiny particles behind everything that's governed by total randomness.

For example, a major part of quantum theory, called the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle, says it's impossible to know both the speed and position of a single particle at the same time. So in quantum mechanics nothing can be certain, and we can only describe things in terms of probabilities.

Einstein didn't like this one bit. He believed there must be some underlying laws of nature that could define particles and make it possible to calculate both their speed and position.

There's no evidence of the law Einstein hoped for, and all experimental evidence suggests that quantum mechanics is real. So Einstein was probably wrong to reject the idea.

However, when you try to join quantum mechanics to any other major theory in physics, like Einstein's general theory of relativity, it doesn't work. Quantum mechanics may be correct, but it's a total mystery as to how it fits in with the rest of physics.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: This 3-minute animation will change your perception of time