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Archive for the 'Ancient Mysteries' Category

Weird Science

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

I’ve been thinking a about the days I spent at the IU cyclotron lately. On Mythbusters last night, they were making explosions by tossing sodium and potassium metal in water. We used to roll the metals into thin films to be used as targets. I remember Bill, (my boss), joking if you sneezed on them, it would blow your head off.

We worked with toxic, explosive, and radioactive materials. The pay was low, the work intense, and I think it was the best job I ever had. In a sense, it was like being the laziest traveler possible. Physicists from all over the world would come to run experiments. So even though you were staying in one spot, you got to meet fascinating people from many different cultures.

One day there was a solar eclipse. Suddenly everyone rushed out onto the sidewalk and constructed a bewildering array of devices to see the eclipse. It was like an instant science fair. If you don’t know what a cyclotron is, very simply, scientists bombard a substance with a beam of particles and see what happens. It’s like smashing something with a hammer and trying to decide what the thing was before you smashed it from looking at the broken parts. Here is an interesting article from National Geographic on the Large Hadron Collider due to come on-line soon.

My friend Matt was expressing disappointment yesterday when the forecast predicted cloudy weather for the lunar eclipse. I have seen a number of them so I wasn’t really fired up about it. However, stepping out into the bitterly cold, snow covered landscape and looking up, I was struck by both the beauty of the rose colored orb, and the sense of smallness which always comes up viewing an astronomical structure. I’m not sure I really believe this story about Columbus as I’m sure the native people had seen many lunar eclipses, but it makes a good story.

Talk about strange stories. The Antikythera Mechanism is an amazingly complex device built over 2000 years ago. Somehow, the technology required to build this thing disappeared or we could be 1000 years ahead of where we are today. I can’t help but wonder if we would have already overpopulated and destroyed the earth, maybe had a huge nuclear war, or maybe we could be living a Star Trek lifestyle.

Simply put, the first law of thermodynamics says you can’t get something for nothing. The second law says you can’t even break even. Couple that with the fact I love a good story and you can understand my fascination with all the so called ‘free energy devices’. From the hucksters of the past with perpetual motion machines to the conspiracy theories big corporations have suppressed technology which would save us from coal and oil, it’s such a colorful arena. Take this youtube video. The guy looks Amish which is ironic considering what he is showing off.

The laws of physics specifically state nothing like these devices can be possible. Yet, physicists don’t know everything. Reading about this guy it occurred to me, a well trained person would not even try something like this because they would ‘know’ it was senseless. The other striking thing about this article which sets it apart from many is the description of what he is doing is so complete you could pretty much try it at home.

Here are some quick fun links. Self healing rubber, a brain reading headset, and the steak toaster.

A Finnish patient gets a jaw from stem cells that were grown inside his abdomen.

A robot learns to recognize itself.

This is a cute game from the milk people. I just think they did a good job at representing a board game in 3D. Some of the puzzles are trivial and some are pretty difficult. You need to set the resolution of your monitor pretty high or you won’t be able to see what you need to complete the game. You have to do it before you start the game. It also seems to me to be representative of the future of advertising, an interactive way to push your product.

This is another of the TED Talks videos. This guy builds strange beach creatures. I like the part where he designs the ‘logic’ for the system out of bottles and tubes. It reminded me of when I first had to design circuits from logic gates and I realized people could have made computational devices out of common materials long ago.

Finally in the too cute department, just try to watch this video and not say awwwwwwe!