My Photo


  • Jen-Luc Piquant sez: "They like us! They really like us!"

    "Explains physics to the layperson and specialist alike with abundant historical and cultural references."
    -- Exploratorium ("10 Cool Sites")

    "... polished and humorous..."
    -- Physics World

    "Takes 1 part pop culture, 1 part science, and mixes vigorously with a shakerful of passion."
    -- Typepad (Featured Blog)

    "In this elegantly written blog, stories about science and technology come to life as effortlessly as everyday chatter about politics, celebrities, and vacations."
    -- Fast Company ("The Top 10 Websites You've Never Heard Of")
Blog powered by Typepad
Bookmark and Share

« burn, baby, burn | Main | at play in the ivory tower »


I've always wondered why the guy who put the "nuclear" into physics never won the Nobel prize.

Actually, to torque Reeves a bit, we probably want presidents to be pygmies as compared with the great scientists. The "Man on the White Horse" -- the great leader -- is a very dangerous kind of person to put in charge of a three trillion dollar budget and all the state powers available to the man or woman (we'll see...) resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The job of a President is rather to find ways for people much more capable than him or her at any particular task to do their jobs well -- and feed the good stuff into the intense constraint of one brain trying to shape directions for that enormous machine. We've seen what happens over the last few years when the pygmy model gets rejected: intuition and shots from the hip replace real leadership.

It's a very tricky skill to be both in charge and able to make sure that the people you need to do well will do so; and it is very different from the kind of capacities for which we rightly reverence an Einstein or a Rutherford. It has also, sadly, been an increasingly distant memory for a while 'round these parts.

I'm even more in awe about the Millikan experiment, where via a microscope, he adjusted an electrical field so that really small droplets of oil sprayed into a chamber would float - meaning that the electrical and gravitational field forces balanced out. This way he determined the elemental charge e. But just image staring at small droplets for weeks at a time...
The worst experiment I had to do was the Michelson interferometer, where you had to count lines through a small lens, by turning a small wheel. You had to count 100 lines, but even a person moving outside the room would cause them to jump around...

Should be an interesting book.

I heard a colloquium by a retired professor who had been a post doc with Rutherford at the Cavendish and worked on similar experiments.

1) The source they used was preposterously radioactive by today's standards, even if you are a radiation worker wearing a dosimeter etc rather than the random journalist doing an experiment. The people doing the measurement work would go in a small broom closet to remain dark adapted while an assistant did any adjustments to the equipment or brought in a new source. The source itself was bright enough (from causing scintillations in the air) to ruin your night vision.

1a) They smoked their pipes in the closet with their eyes closed to stay dark adapted. Radiation wasn't the only pollutant they were exposed to.

1b) When asked about radiation hazards, he said Rutherford told them to get plenty of fresh country air when not in the lab.

2) If you have never done an experiment like this (say optical spectroscopy), you might not realize it takes at least a half hour or more to become dark adapted, and that the room needs to be totally dark. Even then, he said they needed several observers to take turns counting because you start to see things after concentrating for more than 10 or 15 minutes through the microscope. It is little wonder that Geiger invented an electronic counter!

reeves is still kicking.

i worked with him at nytimes; i was a copyboy he a reporter, so he'd never remember.
he was a good writer; i assume he is still, so i will buy the book

The comments to this entry are closed.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.