Whew! It's been a busy week, filled with tons of cool science stories pouring out of the Internet firehouse. Here's some of my favorites from the last five days, for your weekend enjoyment. If you'll excuse us, Jen-Luc Piquant is in need of some spirited refreshment, in the form of a nice glass of wine. Salut! [UPDATE: Now with corrected typos! Also: Yes, it is April 1, but the links here all point to actual science. Some of them just sound like we made them up.]
Almost Like Being There. If you're like me and missed this year's APS (American Physical Society) March Meeting in Dallas, you'll enjoy the first in a series of videos capturing some of the highlights -- courtesy of a multimedia crew from the Institute of Physics.
Physicists Suck at Nomenclature. Particle physics junkies may recall the BaBar experiment at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, which made one last final run in 2008. They've been analyzing those data sets ever since, and just recently found a fresh twist on a type of particle that goes by the less-than-mellifluous moniker bottomonium. Really, physicists? That's the best you can do? The Time Lord informs me this -"onium" suffix has been around for quite some time now; it's used to describe a "particle and antiparticle bound state." The first such object was the "positronium," and since what showed up in the BaBar data was a variant of a bottom quark bound to a bottom anti-quark -- well, there you have it. According to Symmetry Breaking, "Several variants of bottomonium ... have been predicted and a number have now been observed.... But many of the predicted states remain unobserved. Each one discovered offers a valuable window into quantum chromodynamics, or QCD." Whatever. It still needs a better name.
Cars as Sedimentary Particles. Classic Detritus has an original twist on ongoing coverage of the Japanese tsunami, namely, looking at how cars in the wake of the flooding sea behave just like sedimentary particles.
"These cars were parked in a lot ready for shipment when the rising waters pushed them together — stacking them in an overlapping pattern like shingles on a roof. This pattern — called imbrication — is commonly seen in sedimentary deposits that are the product of moving water. Pebbles and cobbles will roll, bounce, and flip along the bottom of a river until they find a stable position resting up against the ‘back’ of another particle."
Look Out World, It's MC Squared! A rap-off between Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking? Yeah, why not?
There's Physics in That Chocolate Molten Lava Cake. One reason to want to go to Harvard is to take David Weitz's "Science of Cooking" course, whereby students learned about science through cooking in an unused Harvard chemistry lab. Physics in chocolate cake? You betcha!
Students baked molten chocolate cake during one lecture to get a better understanding of heat transfer. The students used equations for heat transfer for the diffusion of heat to calculate how long the cakes needed to be baked, filling in variables like volume of the batter, heat of the oven (initial temperature) and the desired temperature. They were also able to use this equation to calculate how long a Thanksgiving turkey should bake and then verify their results on the turkey's packaging.
Get the Lead Out. Over at Last Word on Nothing, Heather Pringle has a saddening piece on why skeletons from the Samurai class during the Edo Period (1603-1867 AD) showed very high concentrations of lead. Blame vanity: Japanese women wore thick white paste makeup during that era. "Then they applied the paint–thin charcoal lines for eyebrows, delicate crimson for mouths, and a dark black tint for their teeth." Those cosmetics contained high levels of lead, absorbed through skin pores and inhaled through the nose and mouth. Afflicted women then passed that poisoning to their nursing babies, resulting in a number of young samurai offspring with severe developmental disabilities. For another take, Deborah Blum also wrote about this issue over at Speakeasy Science last year.
Let There Be Light. Archaeology professor Ruben Mendoza of CSU Monterey Bay specializes in studying a unique effect common to California's missions, in which "churches, windows and altars were laid out in relation to the sun's position on a particular day of the year" -- usually on a solstice, equinox, or feast day mornings. So far, he's documented illuminations at 14 of California's 21 missions. Among the most complicated "solar geometries" can be found at Mission San Miguel, illuminations occur as progressions in five-day intervals, beginning with the Oct. 4 illumination of the statue of St. Francis, the illumination of the tabernacle, the statue of St. Michael the Archangel, and the statue of St. Anthony on Oct. 19.
Beware of "Anecdata": As a writer, I am well aware of the power of story -- or anecdote -- to convey a scientific concept. The best science writing inevitably comes down to character, story, dialogue, scene-setting and other classic narrative techniques. But as Hanna Waters points out over at Culturing Science, what makes for good writing is, well, bad science: you don't want to rely on what she calls "anecdata."
[Anecdata] describes information from compiled from a number of agreeing anecdotes, stories, or items of hearsay — “psuedo-data [sic] produced from anecdotes” in the words of urban dictionary. Hearing that multiple people have made similar observations or had similar experiences can clue you into a trend, but hearing a lot of stories doesn’t prove anything. Storytelling is subjective and malleable, not the qualities of good data.
Snails in SPAAAAACE! Okay, Scicurious wins the Internet this week for digging up this awesome paper studying the effects of microgravity on the ability of snails to re-orient themselves after being sent to space. "It is time...TO TIP THE SNAILS." After all, as she says, "everything is funnier when you use the word snails."
Answering the "Size Question" Once and For All. Remember last Friday's link to the map of global penis sizes? Most of us chuckled, retweeted and moved on, but not Christie Wilcox (a.k.a. "Nerdy Christy"). She channeled her inner scientist and set out to answer a few burning questions: "Is this just a stochastic distribution?" "Is there any reason why this pattern would occur?" And of course, "Does penis size even matter from an evolutionary perspective?!" Follow the link to find out if size really matters.
DIY Of The Week. Don't mess with badass inventor Jörg Sprave, who runs The Slingshot Channel on YouTube. His latest contraption: the Machete Slingshot, basically a crossbow that shoots a machete instead of an arrow. (h/t: Wired's Gadget Lab.) For a more historical perspective on wartime creativity, check out this slideshow of Civil War technological innovations. Still not as cool as this souped-up crossbow.
Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut. Among the burning questions of everyday science is this: why do Brazil nuts always rise to the top of the can when you shake it? io9 has an explanation for the riddle.
DaVinci's Mathematical Boo-Boo. Not even the great Leonardo da Vinci can escape the nitpickers, according to this piece over at Scientific American. Dutch mathematician and artist Rinus Roelofs found an error in one of Leonardo's drawings. The problem is in his rendering of a rhombicuboctahedron (see image, below): "a polyhedron with an equilateral triangle that is always surrounded by squares." To wit: "A triangular pyramid is always surrounded by six quadrangular pyramids. But in da Vinci's drawing this isn't the case: The pyramid at the bottom of his rendering has four upright ribs, although it should have three."
Guys: Don't Be Patronizing. Jezebel highlights the findings of a new study out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee called Stemming The Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering. Their conclusions will not surprise women, but hey, cue the Mansplainers in 3, 2, 1.... Fully one third left because of the chilly climate: "Women engineers who were treated in a condescending, patronizing manner, and were belittled and undermined by their supervisors and co-workers were most likely to want to leave their organizations." Ya think?
It's Not Wrong to Love a Lamp Post. Steve Silberman has a fantastic Q&A this week with the director of a documentary called Loving Lampposts, about his autistic son, and the various viewpoints surrounding this mystifying phenomenon. Definitely worth a read.
Chemistry in Film and TV. I weighed in this week on SF Signal's Mind Meld Question: How important is plausible science to science fiction? But the American Chemical Society mounted an entire panel discussion at its annual meeting (kicking off the International Year of Chemistry in the process), with TV writers from Breaking Bad, Eureka, and House. Watch the video of the news briefing here.
Of Chemistry and Cocktails. Where there's chemistry, there's cocktails, and NPR has the scoop on the secrets of the perfect bloody mary. And via LA Weekly comes this handy recipe for a classic Prohibition-era cocktail called The Bees Knees -- because back then they used honey to hide the smell of alcohol.
Note: The orange juice is optional.
1/2 jigger of gin
1 spoonful of freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 spoonful of freshly-squeezed orange juice
1 spoonful of honey
1. Combine all the ingredients and shake well with ice. Strain into a glass.
Note: The honey often forms into a giant ball in the middle of the shaker. To avoid this, combine three parts honey to one part hot water and stir together until completely mixed, then continue with the recipe.
Pour yourself a stiff one and sit back and relish this amazing short film featuring B-boy Daniel Cloud Campos, discovering his new digs is just one big musical instrument (h/t: The Daily What.