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21st January 2014

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When Tesla was experimenting

Tesla’s Colorado Springs base looked like a movie designer’s idea of a mad scientist’s lair. At its heart was a 200-foot tower with a great copper globe on top, which would be charged up to millions of volts. When Tesla was experimenting, the air around the site seemed to crackle with electricity — sparks flew from faucets in nearby houses and horses were said to be electrocuted as they stood in the fields. Lightbulbs placed hundreds of yards from the transmitter glowed eerily without any visible connection, picking up the massive electrical field that Tesla was producing.

Brian Clegg, Build Your Own Time Machine: The Real Science of Time Travel (2011)

Tagged: TeslaphysicsscienceelectricitybooksresearchBrian CleggNikola Teslaelectromagnetismelectrical engineering

18th January 2014

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God runs electromagnetics on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday by the wave theory, and the devil runs it by quantum theory on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
— William Lawrence Bragg

Tagged: physicssciencequantum physicslightphotonswave–particle duality

15th January 2014

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String paradox

Those string theories we know how to study are known to be wrong. Those we cannot study are thought to exist in such vast numbers that no conceivable experiment could ever disagree with all of them.

Lee Smolin, The Trouble With Physics (2006)

Tagged: sciencephysicsparadoxresearchstring theoryLee Smolin

11th November 2013

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Einstein’s question about light

At the age of sixteen, while in Aarau, Albert [Einstein] asked himself what a light wave would look like to someone keeping pace with it.

Compared with the other incident, this one seems inconsequential. It appears to be no achievement at all but merely an unanswered question. But this question that Albert asked himself at the age of sixteen haunted him for years. It strikingly reveals his ability to go to the heart of a problem. For the question contains the germ of the theory of relativity, and at the time no one in the world could have given a satisfactory answer. Einstein found an answer himself, but it took him ten years.

Banesh Hoffmann, Einstein (1973)

Tagged: sciencephysicsbooksrelativitylightEinsteinBanesh Hoffmann

16th June 2013

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To-day there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.
— Sir James Jeans

Tagged: sciencephilosophycosmologyphysicsJames Jeans

10th January 2013

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How many seagulls would lift a giant peach?

Could 501 seagulls really airlift a peach that large? The answer: No. To make it work, James would have needed approximately 2,425,907 seagulls.

Boing Boing: Great Moments in Pedantry: James and the Giant Peach needs moar seagulls

Tagged: Roald Dahlsciencephysicsbirdsseagullsthought experimentbookspeachesresearch

15th December 2012

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Wingtip vortex with coloured smoke (NASA Langley Research Center).

Wingtip vortex with coloured smoke (NASA Langley Research Center).

Tagged: aviationphotographyvortexspiralflightphysicsfluid dynamicsaerodynamicsaeronauticssmokescienceNASAcolour

25th October 2012

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Something unknown is doing we don’t know what
— Sir Arthur Eddington describing the uncertainty principle in The Nature of the Physical World, 1928

Tagged: physicsscienceArthur Eddingtonquantum physicsmysterylifephilosophyuncertaintyelectrons

4th September 2012

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Why Richard Feynman declined honorary degrees

After winning the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics, Richard Feynman received a letter from Dr. George Beadle at the University of Chicago offering him an honorary degree.

This was his reply:

Dear George,

Yours is the first honorary degree that I have been offered, and I thank you for considering me for such an honor.

However, I remember the work I did to get a real degree at Princeton and the guys on the same platform receiving honorary degrees without work—and felt an “honorary degree” was a debasement of the idea of a “degree which confirms certain work has been accomplished.” It is like giving an “honorary electricians license.” I swore then that if by chance I was ever offered one I would not accept it.

Now at last (twenty-five years later) you have given me a chance to carry out my vow.

So thank you, but I do not wish to accept the honorary degree you offered.

Sincerely yours,

Richard P. Feynman

From: Don’t You Have Time to Think? (Penguin Books, 2005)

Tagged: bookslettersRichard FeynmansciencephysicsNobel Prizehistory

17th July 2012

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The fate of our universe

All the evidence now points to the likelihood that our Universe will keep on expanding forever, at an accelerating rate. The process is exactly like a slower version of the inflation that produced the bubble of space we live in. Eventually — and it doesn’t matter how long it takes since we have eternity to play with — all the stars will die and all the matter of the Universe will either decay into radiation or be swallowed up in black holes. But even black holes do not last forever. Thanks to quantum processes, energy leaks away from black holes in the form of radiation. This happens at an accelerating rate, and eventually they disappear in a puff of gamma rays. So the ultimate fate of our Universe is to become an exponentially expanding region of space filled with a low density of radiation. This is exactly the situation described by the solution to Einstein’s equations found by de Sitter, and known as de Sitter space.

John Gribbin, In Search of the Multiverse

Tagged: physicssciencecosmologyastrophysicsbooksJohn Gribbinfutureblack holes