History of physics, in four minutes

November 22, 2014

Isaac Newton and a friendly bird, on the verge of discovery; still from the film,

Isaac Newton and a friendly bird, on the verge of discovery; still from the film, “Physics,” by Asa Lucander.

History teachers, physics teachers, you should use this film.

In amusing animation — perhaps a throwback to earlier animations, but good and amusing — produced by Åsa Lucander @ 12foot6, for the television Science Club series on BBC2, hosted by Dara O Briain (who does the narration).

Credits:

Physics – Short animation, which was part of the Science Club series on BBC2 hosted by Dara O Briain,
© BBC

Directed by: Åsa Lucander @ 12foot6
Produced by: 12foot6
Art&Design: Åsa Lucander
Additional Art: Marc Moynihan
Stop Motion & Compositing: Julia Bartl
Animation: Kim Alexander, Marc Moynihan, Anna Fyda, Barry Evans, Lucy Izzard, Simon Testro, Phoebe Halstead, Michael Towers
Sound: Laura Coates

For my money, this should be a valuable classroom tool.  In four short minutes the film covers most of the really great advances in physics, suitably for world history or U.S. history.  It’s clear enough in its presentation that physics students should find it a useful review.  Or more likely, they’ll understand what we’ve been trying to teach them, for the first time.

Science gets left out of history courses way too easily.  Here’s a quick way to stick it back in.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Fast Company, where I found the film and details.  Fast company also created this 3 second excerpt, in MP4 format, which you may find useful somewhere:


You won’t believe this double rainbow at Crater Lake National Park

August 4, 2014

U.S. Department of Interior said: Our most popular photo on social media last week: this pic of a double #rainbow over @CraterLakeNPS.

Technically a rainbow can form anytime there are water droplets in the air, and sunlight to shine through them. Pragmatically, there’s a better chance of the sunlight getting the right angle in the earlier morning and late afternoon.  Since most summer rainstorms happen in the afternoon, most rainbows probably get formed in the afternoon, too.

If the field of droplets is thick enough, a vantage point may get more than one rainbow.

So there’s a good deal of chance in this photo.  A good photographer is ready, when the chance presents itself.

Did you notice the colors are reversed in the secondary rainbow?

More:


Atomic Age enters with a bang, July 16, 1945 – Trinity test, world’s first atomic bomb

July 16, 2014

Another good reason to follow the National Archives on Twitter, Tumblr and other media:  Great updates.

Like this one on the explosive arrival of the Atomic Age:

 Atomic Age Begins

"Trinity" atomic device being positioned at White Sands, New Mexico - National Archives

Trinity atomic device “Jumbo” being positioned at White Sands, New Mexico – National Archives

Atomic Age Begins

On July 16, 1945 the United States tested a nuclear device, code named “Trinity”, for the first time in White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico.

Left: [“Jumbo” atomic device being positioned for “Trinity” test at Alamogordo, New Mexico.], 1945

Right: [“Trinity” explosion], 07/16/1945

Source: research.archives.gov

English: Rare color photograph of the first nu...

Rare color photograph of the first nuclear test at Trinity site, July 16, 1945. Blurriness is in the original photograph (done when color photography was still fairly new). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is based on an earlier post, and is mostly an encore post.

This is based on an earlier post, and is mostly an encore post.


Feynman Day comes Sunday; celebrate with your mother, and fly the flag!

May 9, 2014

No, we’re not joking.

May 11 is the anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman (born 1918, died 1988).

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman. Borrowed from Luciano’s Tumblr, LikeaPhysicist

In 2014, his birthday falls on Sunday, Mothers Day.  Mothers Day is one of the designated-by-law days to fly the U.S. flag — so fly your flag!  You can tell your mother it’s for her — but it’s also for Richard Feynman.

Why Feynman Day?  To celebrate invention, physics, interesting characters, and that essential, American quality of je ne sais quoi.

In addition to his winning the Nobel Prize for Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), Feynman popularized the critique of science and other enterprises with what we now call Cargo Cult science, or education, or whatever, where people follow the dance steps, but without the rhythm and music.

Those two things alone would make him a remarkable man.  But, like a product offered for $19.95 as a good buy in a 2:00 a.m. infomercial, with Feynman, there’s more.  With Feynman, there is always more.

I got alerted to Feynman in the first days of the old Quality Paperback Book Club, when they featured his new memoir, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!  QPBC was hot on the book, and with a title like that, how could I resist?  When I got the book a week or so later, I read it within two days, while attending law school and working full time.  I remember Feynman.

Norton published the book — and their description, alone, should make you want to read it:

A New York Times bestseller—the outrageous exploits of one of this century’s greatest scientific minds and a legendary American original.

In this phenomenal national bestseller, the Nobel Prize­-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman recounts in his inimitable voice his adventures trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek, painting a naked female toreador, accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums and much else of an eyebrow-raising and hilarious nature.

All true, and that’s not even the half of the outrageousness, all done with great good humor, about a life lived in great good humor through what should have been a memorable age, but often was just terrifying.

I think sometimes that Feynman’s calm, alone, borne of that great good humor and insatiable curiosity,  may have gotten us through the birth of the atomic age and the Cold War.

Feynman was a giant, and we don’t revere him enough.  Consider:

  • Feynman’s high school sweetheart, Arlene, came down with tuberculosis.  He married her, and took her with him to New Mexico to make the atom bombs.  The stories of her confinement to a hospital, and the laborious trekking he had to make between Los Alamos and her bedside in Santa Fe, are touching, and heartbreaking.  It is one of the great love stories of the 20th century, certainly, and perhaps for all time.  It also provided the title for his second memoir, What Do You Care What Other People Think?
  • Every single, college-age man should read Feynman’s stories of how to date, and how to seduce women.  His approach was unique, and endeared him to women — in legend, to many women.  Feynman’s dating must have been part of the inspiration for the comedy series, “Big Bang Theory.”  Feynman’s stories are better.  (Heck, it’s even the subject of a popular, classic XKCD comic — probably only Feynman and Einstein among Nobel-winning physicists have made so much money for so many cartoonists.)
US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

  • Yeah, he’s already been featured on a postage stamp, see at right.  That’s not good enough for Feynman, though — the U.S. Postal Service created a special cancellation stamp for Feynman, featuring a version of his Feynman Diagrams.

    A special postal cancel was authorized by the USPS (United States Postal Service) to honor the 80th birthday of Richard Feynman. This cancel was used in Lake Worth, Florida. For this special day the post office was renamed “Feynman Station.”

    Feynman Commemorative Cancel Feynman Diagram

    The Feynman Diagram used for the postal cancel on this envelope depicts what is known as a “bubble process.” It shows a high energy particle, for example, a cosmic ray (a) from a distant supernova, which emits a high energy photon, for example, a gamma ray (b). The photon, in turn, creates a particle (c) and an anti-particle (d) that exists for a brief moment and then recombines.

    As Feynman liked to point out, an anti-particle is the same thing as a particle with negative energy traveling backward in time (which is why the arrow at (d) points backwards, i.e. to the left). So you could say the photon created only one particle that, at first, traveled forward in time (the bottom semi-circle) and then reversed and went back in time (the top semi-circle) and annihilated itself! By inventing diagrams like this, Richard Feynman made it much easier to understand what is going on in the interactions between sub-atomic particles without getting lost in tremendous amounts of tedious math

  • Working at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, Feynman developed a keen appreciation for bureaucracy and all its follies.  His vexations for the security managers are also legendary.  Here’s a quick version of one story — he asked friends and family to write to him in code, but to not include a key to the code, so he’d have to crack the code to read the letter.  Feynman could do it, but the security people couldn’t.  Hilarity ensued.
  • Feynman developed a love for the still-relatively unknown, landlocked Asian nation of Tannu Tuva.  It’s just the sort of place to appeal to a character like Feynman — so obscure most atlases didn’t, and don’t, show it at all — seemingly consumed by the Soviet Union, but held in a special status.  Home of throat singing — and almost impossible to get to.  During the Cold War, Feynman struck up correspondence with people in Tuva, to the concern of Soviet and American intelligence agencies, who seemed not to understand someone might do such thing out of curiosity.  Feynman hoped to travel there to visit new friends, but his final bouts of cancer took him before it was possible.  Tuva, famous among philatelists only, perhaps, honored Feynman with postage stamps and postcards.
  • Just try to find a photo of Feynman not smiling. The man was a joy to be around, for most people, most of the time.
  • Quantum electro dynamics?  No, I can’t explain it, either — but his work had a lot to do with how particles wobble.  I remember that because, according to Feynman, he got the inspiration for the work for which he won the Nobel while spinning plates, like a Chinese acrobat on the Ed Sullivan Show, to the delight of students in the Cornell University cafeteria, and the shock and horror of the food service people.  Who else has yet confessed to such an inspiration for a Nobel?

There’s more — a lot more.  Feynman outlined our current generation of computer memory devices — in 1959.  No, he didn’t patent the idea.  He did patent an idea for a nuclear-powered spacecraft.  Another delightful story.

Feynman in an Apple ad

Feynman was featured in print and broadcast ads for Apple — not one, but two (did anyone else get that honor from Apple?). “Think Different.” This is one of Apple Computer’s most successful advertising campaigns. The theme of the campaign is one that celebrates figures in history who changed the world by thinking differently. Richard Feynman was among the chosen figures.

Feynman served on the board that approved science books for the California school system — his stories of that work will shock some, but it will make others shake their heads as they recognize the current crop of cargo-cultists and political bullies who dominate textbook approval processes, knowing nothing at all about what they are doing, or why.

No, I didn’t forget his brilliant work on the commission that studied the Challenger disaster, for NASA. There’s so much stuff to glorify!

In history, Feynman should be remembered much as we remember Thomas Jefferson, as a renaissance man in his time, a man who put great intellect to great work for his nation and all humanity.

Feynman's second Apple ad

The second Apple ad featuring Richard Feynman. An excerpt from Apple Computer’s campaign commercial: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them… about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward; and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

The sages say we shouldn’t have regrets, but I do have one.  When the Challenger Commission was meeting in Washington, D.C., I was working on another commission up the street.  I knew Feynman was ill, but our work was important, and we’d heard his disease was in remission.  I didn’t goof off a day and go to any of the hearings to see him, to get an autograph, to meet the man.  I though I’d have other opportunities to do that.  Now I regret not having met him in person.

In print, and in film, I know him well.  In our family, reading Feynman is something everybody does.  Feynman’s memoir was one of the last books I read to our son, Kenny, as he was growing up, and growing into reading on his own.  Even reading about Feynman, together, was an adventure.  Our son, James, took us into the real physics of Feynman, and though I struggle with it more than James, we still read Feynman, for humor, and physics.

What would be appropriate ways to mark Feynman’s birth?  At some future date, I hope we’ll have public readings of his books, showings of the documentaries about him, recreations of his lectures, perhaps.  And then everyone can get in a circle, beating drums and singing about getting some orange juice, before sending postcards to our friends in Tuva.

Richard Feynman, we still need you, and miss you dearly.

Tannu Tuva

Tuva’s capital is the delightfully-named Kyzyl. From this map, can you figure out where Tuva is, or how to get there — without Google, or Bing?

Tuva postcard honoring Richard Feynman

Tuva postcard, in honor of Richard Feynman — who loved to drum.

There will always be “More” about Richard Feynman, if we’re lucky:

Have a great Feynman Day!

Much of this is an encore post.

 


Feynmanmobile

April 8, 2014

Richard Feynman had a van.  It was decorated with Feynman Diagrams.

And now, it’s been restored.

Which of the diagrams would the Physics Commissioner have used to flash onto the clouds to summon Feynman, do you suppose?  Would Feynman ever have a sidekick?  What would the sidekick’s name be?

From a Tweet by Michael Shermer:  Feynman's van with quantum diagrams restored thanks to Seamus Blackley Ralph Leighton Edward Tufte. RF would approve! pic.twitter.com/L5vOPHLRw0

From a Tweet by Michael Shermer: Feynman’s van with quantum diagrams restored thanks to Seamus Blackley Ralph Leighton Edward Tufte. RF would approve! pic.twitter.com/L5vOPHLRw0

More:  

Full Tweet below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Happy birthday, Albert Einstein! 135 years, today

March 14, 2014

How many ways can we say happy birthday to a great scientist born on Pi Day?  So, an encore post.

E=mcc - logo from AIP

E=energy; m=mass; c=speed of light

Happy Einstein Day! to us.  Albert’s been dead since 1955 — sadly for us.  Our celebrations now are more for our own satisfaction and curiosity, and to honor the great man — he’s beyond caring.

Almost fitting that he was born on π Day, no? I mean, is there an E=mc² Day?

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein. 26 years later, three days after his birthday, he sent off the paper on the photo-electric effect; that paper would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics in another five years, in 1921. In that same year of 1905, he published three other papers, solving the mystery of Brownian motion, describing what became known as the Special Theory of Relativity and solving the mystery of why measurements of the light did not show any effects of motion as Maxwell had predicted, and a final paper that noted a particle emitting light energy loses mass. This final paper amused Einstein because it seemed so ludicrous in its logical extension that energy and matter are really the same stuff at some fundamental point, as expressed in the equation demonstrating an enormous amount of energy stored in atoms, E=mc².

Albert Einstein as a younger man - Nobel Foundation image

Albert Einstein as a younger man – Nobel Foundation image

Any one of the papers would have been a career-capper for any physicist. Einstein dashed them off in just a few months, forever changing the fields of physics. And, you noticed: Einstein did not win a Nobel for the Special Theory of Relativity, nor for E=mc². He won it for the photo electric effect. Irony in history.

106 years later Einstein’s work affects us every day. Relativity theory at some level I don’t understand makes possible the use Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which revolutionized navigation and mundane things like land surveying and microwave dish placement. Development of nuclear power both gives us hope for an energy-rich future, and gives us fear of nuclear war. Sometimes, even the hope of the energy rich future gives us fear, as we watch and hope nuclear engineers can control the piles in nuclear power plants damaged by earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.

English: Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp

Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Albert Einstein was a genius at physics, he was more dedicated to pacifism. He resigned his German citizenship to avoid military conscription. His pacifism made the German Nazis nervous; Einstein fled Germany in the 1930s, eventually settling in the United States. In the U.S., he was persuaded by Leo Szilard to write to President Franklin Roosevelt to suggest the U.S. start a program to develop an atomic weapon, because Germany most certainly was doing exactly that. But while urging FDR to keep up with the Germans, Einstein refused to participate in the program himself, sticking to his pacifist views. Others could, and would, design and build atomic bombs. (Maybe it’s a virus among nuclear physicists — several of those working on the Manhattan Project were pacifists, and had great difficulty reconciling the idea that the weapon they worked on to beat Germany, was deployed on Japan, which did not have a nuclear weapons program.)

English: USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einste...

Everybody wanted to claim, and honor Einstein; USSR issued this stamp dedicated to Albert Einstein Русский: Почтовая марка СССР, посвящённая Альберту Эйнштейну (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Einstein was a not-great father, and probably not a terribly faithful husband at first — though he did think to give his first wife, in the divorce settlement, a share of a Nobel Prize should he win it. Einstein was a good violinist, a competent sailor, an incompetent dresser, and a great character. His sister suffered a paralyzing stroke. For many months Albert spent hours a day reading to her the newspapers and books of the day, convinced that though mute and appearing unconscious, she would benefit from hearing the words. He said he did not hold to orthodox religions, but could there be a greater show of faith in human spirit?

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

When people hear clever sayings, but forget to whom the bon mots should be attributed, Einstein is one of about five candidates to whom all sorts of things are attributed, though he never said them. (Others include Lincoln, Jefferson, Mark Twain and Will Rogers). Einstein is the only scientist in that group. So, for example, we can be quite sure Einstein never claimed that compound interest was the best idea of the 20th century. This phenomenon is symbolic of the high regard people have for the man, even though so few understand what his work was, or meant.

A most interesting man. A most important body of work. He deserves more study and regard than he gets.

More, Resources:


December 30, Hubble Day 2013: Look to the stars for our future

December 30, 2013

[Today is actually the day!  You may fly your flag if you choose.  This is the traditional Millard Fillmore's Bathtub Hubble Day post.]

Lift a glass of champagne today in tribute to Edwin Hubble and his great discovery. Not sure what to call it — Hubble Day, Looking Up Day, Endless Possibilities Day — whatever, this is the anniversary of Edwin Hubble’s announcement that he had discovered the universe is much, much larger than anyone had imagined, containing far more stars than anyone had dared guess.

It’s a big universe out there.

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy, first known to be a galaxy by Edwin Hubble on December 30, 1924 - Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy, first known to be a galaxy by Edwin Hubble on December 30, 1924 – Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA

So, today is a good day to celebrate the universe in all it’s glory – December 30.

On December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced he’d discovered other galaxies in distant space. Though it may not have been so clear at the time, it meant that, as a galaxy, we are not alone in the universe (whether we are alone as intelligent life is a separate question). It also meant that the universe is much, much bigger than most people had dared to imagine.

I keep trying to get people to celebrate.

In 2008 for Hubble Day, Wired picked up on the story (with a gracious link to 2007′s post here at the Bathtub). Wired includes several links to even more information, a good source of information. See Wired’s 2009 post here.

Hubble was the guy who showed us the universe is not only bigger than we imagined, it’s probably much bigger and much more fantastic than we can imagine. Hubble is the guy who opened our imaginations to the vastness of all creation.

How does one celebrate Hubble Day? Here are some suggestions:

  • Easier than Christmas cards: Send a thank-you note to your junior high school science teacher, or whoever it was who inspired your interest in science. Mrs. Hedburg, Mrs. Andrews, Elizabeth K. Driggs, Herbert Gilbert, Mr. Willis, and Stephen McNeal, thank you.
  • Rearrange your Christmas/Hanukkah/Eid/KWANZAA lights in the shape of the Andromeda Galaxy — or in the shape of any of the great photos from the Hubble Telescope (Andromeda Galaxy pictured above; Hubble images here)
    A few of the images from the Hubble Telescope

    A few of the images from the Hubble Telescope

  • Go visit your local science museum; take your kids along – borrow somebody else’s kids if you have to (take them along, too); this year, in Dallas, you can visit the Perot Museum of Nature and Science – it’s a doozy
  • Spend two hours in your local library, just looking through the books on astronomy and the universe
  • Write a letter to your senators and congressman; tell them space exploration takes a minuscule portion of our federal budget, but it makes us dream big; tell them we need to dream big, and so they’d better make sure NASA is funded well.  While you’re at it, put in a plug for funding Big Bird and the rest of public broadcasting, too.  Science education in this nation more and more becomes the science shows on NPR and PBS, watched by kids who learned to read and think by watching Big Bird.
  • Anybody got a good recipe for a cocktail called “The Hubble?” “The Andromeda?” Put it in the comments, please.  “The Hubble” should have bubbles in it, don’t you think?  What was it the good monk said?  He was working to make great wine, but goofed somewhere, and charged the wine with another dose of yeast.  When he uncorked the very first bottle of what would come to be called champagne, Benedictine Monk Dom Pierre Perignon said “I am drinking stars!”  Only in French.  In any case, a Hubble cocktail should have bubbles, some of Perignon’s stars.

The encore post, from 2007:

December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced the results of his observations of distant objects in space.

PBS

Edwin Hubble


In 1924, he announced the discovery of a Cepheid, or variable star, in the Andromeda Nebulae. Since the work of Henrietta Leavitt had made it possible to calculate the distance to Cepheids, he calculated that this Cepheid was much further away than anyone had thought and that therefore the nebulae was not a gaseous cloud inside our galaxy, like so many nebulae, but in fact, a galaxy of stars just like the Milky Way. Only much further away. Until now, people believed that the only thing existing outside the Milky Way were the Magellanic Clouds. The Universe was much bigger than had been previously presumed.

Later Hubble noted that the universe demonstrates a “red-shift phenomenon.” The universe is expanding. This led to the idea of an initial expansion event, and the theory eventually known as Big Bang.

Hubble’s life offered several surprises, and firsts:

Hubble was a tall, elegant, athletic, man who at age 30 had an undergraduate degree in astronomy and mathematics, a legal degree as a Rhodes scholar, followed by a PhD in astronomy. He was an attorney in Kentucky (joined its bar in 1913), and had served in WWI, rising to the rank of major. He was bored with law and decided to go back to his studies in astronomy.

In 1919 he began to work at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, where he would work for the rest of his life. . . .
Hubble wanted to classify the galaxies according to their content, distance, shape, and brightness patterns, and in his observations he made another momentous discovery: By observing redshifts in the light wavelengths emitted by the galaxies, he saw that galaxies were moving away from each other at a rate constant to the distance between them (Hubble’s Law). The further away they were, the faster they receded. This led to the calculation of the point where the expansion began, and confirmation of the big bang theory. Hubble calculated it to be about 2 billion years ago, but more recent estimates have revised that to 20 billion years ago.

An active anti-fascist, Hubble wanted to joined the armed forces again during World War II, but was convinced he could contribute more as a scientist on the homefront. When the 200-inch telescope was completed on Mt. Palomar, Hubble was given the honor of first use. He died in 1953.

“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.”

That news on December 30, 1924, didn’t make the first page of the New York Times. The Times carried a small note on February 25, 1925, that Hubble won a $1,000 prize from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

(Does anyone have a suitable citation for that video? Where did it come from? Who produced it? Is there more somewhere?)

Happy Hubble Day! Look up!

Resources:

Hubble Space Telescope - NASA image

Hubble Space Telescope, working homage to Edwin Hubble – NASA image

Even More Resources:


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