Stories tagged Physical Science


Why, it's Lil' Scotchie!: His original motto was "Don't use me in a vacuum, or I'll give you cancer!" I never understood it until now.
Why, it's Lil' Scotchie!: His original motto was "Don't use me in a vacuum, or I'll give you cancer!" I never understood it until now.Courtesy Roadsidepictures
It’s a monumental day, Buzzketeers, a monumental day. Not only will y’all shortly have your cerebral cortexes blown like Kleenex, but I will also soon have the great honor of presenting the “Hey, Scientist, That’s Funny!” Award.

Physics, it seems, is everywhere. It’s like glitter, really—you use it once, for a craft project, or something, and then it’s in your clothes and on your skin for the rest of your life. And, as with glitter, sometimes I think I could really do without physics.

How did physics corner the market on awe? Seriously, what can physics do that I can’t? Light up a room? Please—I’ve got that. You practically have to scrub the charm out of the carpet after I smile. What else you got, physics? Gravity? Um, I can pop, lock, and drop, so it’s going to take more than a falling apple to impress me.

So I say to physics, “Physics, give me something good! Give me something I can bring to show and tell!”

And physics does. Physics delivers, and I remember how it got to be the top dog.

Scotch tape emits x-rays when it’s unrolled. When you grab a little piece of tape to stick your Ben Affleck magazine clippings back next to your J-Lo clippings (where they belong), you are toying with the same radioactive energy that can see through your clothes and give you cancer of the everything.

But you don’t have to worry about that, because unrolling Scotch tape only produces x-rays when it’s done in a vacuum chamber.

Scientists found that tape, as it’s being unspooled, actually releases kind of a lot of x-rays, enough that one of the researchers was able to create an x-ray image of one of his fingers.

When tape is coming unstuck from thee spool, electrons jumped about two thousandths of an inch from the non-sticky outside of the spool to the sticky underside of the tape. When the electrons hit the tape, they are forced to slow down very quickly, and they release energy in the form of x-rays. But, again, it only works in an airless chamber.

Juan Escobar, a graduate student who worked on the research, believes that the process could be refined to create cheap x-ray machines for use in areas where electricity is expensive or hard to get.

When asked whether or not x-rays from everyday tape peeling posed any sort of hazard he said, “If you're going to peel tape in a vacuum, you should be extra careful. I will continue to use Scotch tape during my daily life, and I think it's safe to do it in your office. No guarantees.”

And for that Juan Escobar has earned the Hey, Scientist, That’s Funny! Award. Because, hey, scientist, that’s funny. And you’ve got this bizarre discovery about Scotch tape emitting X-rays! What a day!


A long shot: This goose hunter had plenty of success using the Quiet Gun on a hunt. The extended shaft of the shotgun includes vents that slowly release gases that cause loud sounds of typical shotguns.
A long shot: This goose hunter had plenty of success using the Quiet Gun on a hunt. The extended shaft of the shotgun includes vents that slowly release gases that cause loud sounds of typical shotguns.Courtesy The Quiet Shotgun
I used to live in a small town along the Mississippi River. Each fall, on the opening day of every waterfowl-hunting season, I’d be rattled awake at sunrise with the booming of shotguns of hunters getting in their first shots of the season. To put in mildly, I was never enthused to hear the start of another hunting season.

With increased housing development of rural areas, the noise of hunting is encroaching on the quiet and relaxation of people wanting to live in the country. But Wendell Diller, a Twin Cities area hunter and inventor, has come up with a device to reduce those conflicts. Here's a link to his website about his latest invention: the Quiet Shotgun.

I saw a report on his quiet gun on a recent episode of Minnesota Bound. While the main focus of the report was on hunting mentorships for urban kids, the guns they were using in the goose hunt were Diller’s Quiet Gun shotgun. Click here to see the guns in action in the video report.

Here’s how the shotgun works.

The Quiet Gun reworks gun technology to reduce a shot gun’s usual boom to the “whoof” similar to an air-rifle. Diller likes to describe the sound as “an air-rifle on steroids.”

To do this, a barrel extension is put on to the shotgun. Along the extension are port holes that allow the high-pressure gases of the shooting action explosion to leak out along the chamber rather than erupting out in one loud belch at the end of the gun.

Buck luck: This hunter used the Quiet Gun to bag a deer.
Buck luck: This hunter used the Quiet Gun to bag a deer.Courtesy The Quiet Shotgun
The extension also greatly reduce the amount of kick a shotgun fires back into the shoulder of a hunter. How effective are these guns? Quiet Guns are being used with the group Capable Partners – a group for disabled hunters who’ve been proficient in both hunting trips and trap shooting events.

So far, the Quiet Gun is not commercially available yet. And for safety concerns, Diller strongly discourages anyone from experimenting with this new shotgun technology on their own.

So what do you think? Is this a good application of science for easing a growing problem with the outdoors sports? Will the Quiet Gun be featured in a upcoming Coen Brothers’ film? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.


Yer outta here!: Physics play a big role in the National Pastime.
Yer outta here!: Physics play a big role in the National Pastime.Courtesy Mark Ryan
With the baseball play-offs and World Series coming up, I’m sure lots of folks out there (especially in Chicago and not so much in Minnesota) are agonizing over the question: What is more effective, sliding into base head-first or feet-first?

Well, as usual, science has solved the problem. Using physics and mathematics, David A. Peters, an engineer from Washington University in St. Louis, has figured out which of the two ways is more advantageous. Peters is a huge baseball fan, and a mechanical engineer to boot. He explains it this way:

"There's momentum— mass of the body times how fast the player is moving. There's angular momentum (mass movement of inertia times the rotational rate). If it's feet-first and you're starting to slide, your feet are going out from you and you're rotating clockwise; if it's head-first, as your hands go down, you're rotating counterclockwise. On top of this is Newton's Law: Force is mass times acceleration. Then moments of inertia times your angular acceleration."

So which method gives ballplayers a better chance of making it safely to the bag? Center of gravity seems to be the key.

"It turns out your center of gravity is where the momentum is. This is found half way from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes. In the headfirst slide, the center of gravity is lower than halfway between your feet and hands, so your feet don't get there as fast. It's faster head-first."

Regardless of the science, Dr. Peters figures preference for one way or the other among ballplayers is about 50/50. And the whole argument goes out the window when talking about first base. Usually, players are much better off running through first rather than sliding into it at all.

"Mathematically, you might think there's an advantage, but leaving your feet is actually a detriment because you're no longer pulsing (pumping your legs) and you start to decelerate," he says. "When you're running, your get your feet out in front of the center of gravity, so you're getting maybe three or four steps of an advantage."

Dr. Peters was also involved in a previous baseball study covered by the Buzz back in July.

Washington University story


Were you a fan of the Mentos and Diet Coke fountains that EepyBird created? If so, you might tune in to "Samurai Girl" tonight (7pm, ABC) to see EepyBird's experiments with more than 250,000 sticky notes. You can also check out an extended version of the video, complete with how-tos, at

Here's a sneak peek, but definitely check the EepyBird site tonight for more.


Proposed power grid for wind and solar: clipped from American Electric Power document
Proposed power grid for wind and solar: clipped from American Electric Power documentCourtesy U. S. Dept. of Energy

Is our power grid ready for wind and solar?

Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal show promise for breaking our addiction to oil. One big problem, though, is moving this new energy to energy users. According to a recent New York Times article,

many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them.

The grid today is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Upgrading our power grid faces multiple obstacles

Our power grid, with about 200,000 miles of power lines, is divided among about 500 owners. Upgrading transmission lines often involves multiple companies, many state governments and numerous permits. Property owners often fight new power lines saying "not in my back yard".

"Modernizing the electric infrastructure is an urgent national problem, and one we all share,” said Kevin M. Kolevar, assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability, in a speech last year.

Dept. of Energy recommendation

I recommend reading the Department of Energy report titled, "20% wind energy by 2030" (30 pg pdf). The United Sates plans to add 300 GW of wind power by 2030 (I figure that equals about 200,000 1.5 MW wind generators). They recommend an interstate power grid to carry electricity similar to how our interstate highway system carries cars and trucks.

American Electric Power also has recommendations

In an 8 page pdf document titled, "Interstate Transmission Vision for Wind Integration" American Electric Power, working at the request of, and in partnership with, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), presents a "high-level, conceptual interstate transmission plan that could provide a basis for discussion to expand industry infrastructure needs in the future".


A motorcycle race...: In the future!
A motorcycle race...: In the future!Courtesy Private Custard
A student in the transportation program of the < a href=>Art Center College of Design has invented a brand new paradox: a concept-motorcycle that is somehow simultaneously totally awesome and utterly, hopelessly dorky.

It’s a mega future tri-moto electro cyber transporto THX laser blade runner terminatrix rideable machine.

I guess they call it the conceptual exoskeleton motorcycle, Deus Ex Machina. But I think my name for it is still less dorky.

What? You want an actual description of the vehicle? Well, you could just click on the long link above, and leave Science Buzz forever, but we like you here. So at least read the rest of the post before you go.

The Deus Ex Machina is sort of a wheeled tripod, with straps and an integrated helmet to secure the rider. It parks in an upright position, but once it starts moving, the “arms” of the tripod extend forward, so the rider is in a sort of superman position. The motorcycle steers according to the rider’s body position, translating movement to 36 pneumatic muscles. Like, um, Robocop, I think.

The whole vehicle is powered with electricity, using fancy lithium ion batteries and ultracapacitors (check out ARTiFactor’s post for more on ultracapacitors), and is capable of reaching speeds of around 75 mph.

The Ultra Deus Mega Electromachina motorcycle is still very much conceptual, however. That is to say, while all the technological components exist (in some form) the vehicle itself only exists as a computer rendering at the moment. So it’s probably not very fun to ride. The designer maintains that it’s not a fantasy: “It’s a green vehicle,” he says, “and all of the numbers are based in the real world.”

The design itself seems more based in the Minority Report world, but whatev.

There’s a video here, too.


Ask not...: It tolls for thee, bro, it tolls for thee.
Ask not...: It tolls for thee, bro, it tolls for thee.Courtesy carl.jones
Just messin’, y’all!

Only some of us will die on September 10th! And that’s only because we were going to die anyway. There will be sudden heart attacks, tragic car accidents, hilarious full-body prolapses, and possibly some mysterious cases of spontaneous combustion, and none of that will have anything to do with the Large Hadron Collider turning on on the tenth of September.

That’s right, everyone, you can stop holding your breath, and start crossing your fingers, because the LHC now has a date for its first proton collision.

Some people have raised concerns that turning on the LHC could lead to the destruction of the earth in one of several very sciencey ways. Other people have shouted down these jokers, however, because they are very, very, very probably wrong.

And if the world doesn’t end, well, we’ll probably learn all sorts of rad things about the nature of the universe. We might even get some visitors from the future. But I might put a larger bet on the destruction of the solar system (but, you know, fingers crossed).

So, Buzzketeers, on September 10, do your best to protect yourself from the everyday dangers of existence. Wrap your head in packing foam, fill your tummy with starch-based peanuts, and keep yourself wet and/or naked to prevent sparks catching in your clothing and hair, because you probably won’t want to miss what’s coming out of the LHC.


Hey, wait a second...: How could you ever balance one of those on a pencil? Bad science!
Hey, wait a second...: How could you ever balance one of those on a pencil? Bad science!Courtesy Matthieu ::
All y’all up on graphene?

I knew you were. You’re Buzzketeers, the best of the best, the biggest of the brains, the coolest of the cids.

There’s no need to explain graphene to this team (the Lil’ Professors), so it would be totally unnecessary for me to point out that graphene is a fancy material made of a single layer of carbon atoms attached to each other in a honeycomb pattern. It’s about as flat as can be, and when you roll it up you get those little things Science Buzz is so crazy about: carbon nanotubes.

Nanotubes are awesome, and if you click on the link above you can learn about all the awesome things they can do. But graphene…graphene itself may be pretty awesome too. The problem with testing just how awesome graphene is is that it has been exceptionally difficult to a) make a piece of graphene so small that it hasn’t got any of the imperfections that naturally come in large chunks of things, and b) make a device to actually hold the itty bitty graphene well enough to really test the stuff out.

But science has now done those things! Using a tiny sheet of perfect graphene (about 1/100s the width of a human hair) and a really tiny diamond…poker-thing (about 10 billionths of a meter wide), scientists have finally been able to find out exactly how strong graphene is.

So, how strong is it? It’s the strongest! That is to say, the strongest material measured so far. It’s about 200 times the strength of structural steel, or, says Columbia Professor James Hone, “It would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap.”

This statement, of course, wins professor Hone July’s “Awesome explanation, Scientist” award. That’s a good mental image, and it shows a non-scientist like me how strong graphene is.

So…awesome explanation, Scientist! More of that, please!


Standing wave on 2D surface
Standing wave on 2D surfaceCourtesy Oleg_Alexandrov
The mixture of corn starch and water literally stands up in the video below because of standing waves. If you want to try this, place a mixture of corn starch and water on cookie sheet. Hold the cookie sheet down over a bass speaker with some of your fingers. The speaker should be playing music with low frequencies. By varying the distance an position of your fingers you can alter the standing wave patterns within the cookie sheet.


Ancient wall art at Cave at Lascaux, France: Was music used here to soothe the savage breast?
Ancient wall art at Cave at Lascaux, France: Was music used here to soothe the savage breast?Courtesy Thag the caveman
Do you enjoy hearing your favorite rock group perform their ear-splitting music in a huge cavernous concert arena with flashing colored lights and giant video imagery? Or listening to hymns and spirituals bounce off the vaulted ceiling of a church full of colorful stained-glassed windows and religious icons? Well, I’ve got news for you. It could be you’re attracted to such things by a deep-seated urge to mix echoing music and art; a practice mankind has apparently been doing since the Stone Age. At least according to a new theory coming out of the University of Paris.

Professor Iegor Reznikoff, a specialist in the resonance of building and spaces, theorizes that the most resonant areas of prehistoric-era caves are also the locations where most of the cave wall paintings appear.

Reznikoff stumbled upon the idea by accident.

"The first time I happened to be in a prehistoric cave, I tried the resonance in various parts of the cave, and quickly the question arose: Is there a relation between resonance and locations of the paintings?"

Reznikoff tested his theory inside various well-known French caves where prehistoric art adorned the walls. As he moved about each space, singing and humming, Reznikoff measured where the optimum resonance occurred.

To his surprise, the most resonant areas of each cave were usually spots where most of the cave art was concentrated. And where the resonance was the greatest, the artwork was the densest. In smaller spaces, such as narrow passages between larger cavern rooms where painting would have been difficult, the walls were marked with red lines.

Bear Bone Flute: Neanderthal-aged flute made from bear's femur
Bear Bone Flute: Neanderthal-aged flute made from bear's femurCourtesy Wikipedia
It occurred to Reznikoff that perhaps a cave’s acoustics was important to prehistoric culture, and may be the reason why primitive musical instruments, such as a Neanderthal flute made out of the femur of a bear, have been found in similar caves.

"The [prehistoric] tribes could make sounds with stones, pieces of wood, different types of drums and so on," Reznikoff says. "Of course the Paleolithic tribes did sing, as do all cultural groups from other regions. That they did so in the caves is shown by my studies. The ritual purpose appears very convincing."

This may explain why the popularity of cavernous concert halls, and large arena music performances, or even subterranean music clubs continue to be popular to this day. Perhaps the ancestral effects of long ago cave rituals still resonate in us.

Story at ScienceDaily
Listen to the Bear Bone Flute