Tag Archive: Science


The Underlying Beauty

The Underlying Beauty

  This post will be unlike the previous ones I’ve published. Unlike the previous ones, it will not have the scientific explanations. Contrarily, it will be filled with assumptions and speculations. And unlike the previous ones, it will lack the organization that must necessarily characterize any post that is found on a blog. For this, I ask for forgiveness. This post will be about a flow of ideas that “clicked” in my mind at a certain time while I was thinking. Thus, I must present these in a rather crude way.

       During my small time off blogging, I happen to have had the most enriching experiences. Science is often said to be the result of a sequence of thought logically followed and strongly tested with experiment. However, it so happens, just very rarely, when one has to shut the eye of reason to appreciate the underlying verities that just require a discerning eye to see. It is the feeling of the mysterious. For this purpose, I’ll term it “the underlying beauty.”

       Have you ever wondered why water, arguably the most important substance on the planet, behaves abnormally. Abnormally meaning unlike any other known substances. And apart from the fact that we would probably not be able to enjoy an ice tea if this was not the case, life-form would be very much jeopardised. See, it is this peculiar fact that ice floats on water that helps life thrive at bearable temperatures below the ice. Had ice been denser than(meaning it sunk in) its liquid form(like normal substances), life in such waters would have been impossible. Nature has a way of doing things that transcends our normal reasoning abilities. If I may not have been able to make you see what I wanted to here, I assure you, the fault lies in my inability to “convey this way of doing things” by nature rather than the “way of doing things” as it happens in nature.

       Perhaps another example is appropriate here. It has been found that there is a certain “peak”, if I may say, in the way we see(known as our visual sensitivity) the spectrum of colors(i.e red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). And guess where in the spectrum does this peak appear? What exactly is the color that nature depicts so profusely in front of our eyes? Whatever the reason for this “peak”, I have no idea why it’s there. It just is and I doubt that it’s a coincidence.

       Scientists are strange characters. We consider them as authoritative figures in whatever is concerned with explaning nature. If we ask them why the sky is possibly blue or how the earth rotates or how this happens or that, they will readily answer with their complex explanations for refraction, curvature of space-time and so on. Yet if we said, “that’s very nice what you just explained but why?”, that they cannot possibly answer.

       Nature does things in a way only she understands. And that we can explain the how of some of her depictions should make us humble enough to acknowledge her beauty as a whole. She uses only the longest threads to weave her pattern so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.

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Mathematicians, Physicists and Others

 Mathematicians and Physicists are curious characters. Sometimes you find them voicing out their opinions in such a way about others, their colleagues and themselves that may be very enjoyable to hear(and read about). 

   Having written enough explanations(for now), I guess a bit of “mathematician and physicists” jokes can be added at this point. So, in this post, there will be no wormholes, no paradox, no “atomos”, just what these people, on whom we all depend immensely, think about stuff. Beware though, after reading this, you may develop an excessive interest in science.

     

How can you know what experiment is being conducted?

                                           If it is green and it wiggles, it’s biology;
                                                      If it stinks, it’s chemistry;
                                                 If it doesn’t work, it’s physics.

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Little Fact: Men are 4 times more likely than women to be struck by lightning.(Careful out there Guys!)

     A physics student was hit by a brick falling from a house. He fainted, but came to after a while and started smiling. The onlookers were worried, so they asked him why the smile. “I just realized how lucky I am because the kinetic energy is only half m v squared.”

“Philosophers write so as not to be understood.”Richard Feynman

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                                   Why was Heisenberg’s wife unsatisfied?

When he had the time he didn’t have the energy, and when he had the position, he didn’t have the momentum.

Little Fact: LA is moving north towards San Fransisco at the same rate as your fingernails are growing!

QED:Quite Easily Done!

This one is from someone I met:
       An engineer, a mathematician and a physicist are locked inside three separate rooms. They are each given a can of soft drink to open without using the seal. They all agree and are locked inside.The physicist calculates the exact center of gravity of the can and pierces a hole through it and gulps down the drink. The engineer frantically throws the can at the wall until it bursts. When you enter the mathematician’s room, you find him in a complete mess, his hair is messed up and his clothes almost torn. He is looking intensely at the can and saying : “Assume the can is open, Assume the can is open…”
 

An angry human female develops an acceleration of about 100g’ at the foot when stalking off in high heels.

They can’t fire me,SLAVES HAVE TO BE SOLD. (On the wall of a graduate student’s lab)

                      British Politician: “What good is electricity?”                              
                     Michael Faraday: “I don’t know but one day, you’ll tax it.”

The more questions we answer, the more answers we end up questioning.

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A “potpourri” of mindbenders

A “potpourri” of mindbenders!

        These are various brainbenders that I happened to have crossed while reading. They consist of a panopli of questions from physics to mathematics, from simple to complex and from solved to “still being researched”. Some of the sources are from Mathematics Problem Books, others from the “Mad About Physics” series while the sources of the remaining are still a mystery!

       I will add new puzzles and the previous answers in due time. Again, some of the questions have yet to be answered fully(we’ve got a bunch of crazy looking mathematicians and physicists still scratching the heads over them!). So, the answer may not always be so clear. Take your time and enjoy the ride into the unknown world that surrounds you.

1.      Okay, for starters, I’ll just ask you a simple question-one that most are well-acquainted with. If you take one pound of feathers and one pound of iron(or gold or anything metallic), which one weighs the most? (They weigh the same is, of course, not acceptable!) [reference: Mad about Physics-the classical edition]

2.     Now, for a bit of math.To number the pages of a bulky volume, the printer used 1890 digits. What’s the number of pages in the book?(simple algebra does the job!)[reference:The Stanford Mathematicians Problem Book]

3.     This one requires a bit more abstract thinking. The Green-Eyed dragons. So, you happen to visit a remote desert island inhabited by one hundred very friendly dragons(they won’t eat you),all of whom have green eyes. They haven’t seen a human for centuries and are very excited about your visit. The courteous D.s show you around and even talk to you about stuffs(Let’s say they can talk).

     Everything’s fine till now until you find something very strange. If a dragon finds out that he/she has green eyes, then at precisely midnight on the day of this discovery, he/she turns into a parrot after abandoning all powers. But, the dragons never talk to each other about eye color and there are no mirror on the island. So, everything’s been just fine.

     As you prepare to leave, all dragons come to see you off and you thank them for being so kind. You then tell them something they all already know(since they can all see the eyes of other dragons). You tell them that atleast one of them has green eyes(you really shouldn’t have done that). Then you leave, not thinking about the consequences. Assuming that the dragons are infallibly logical, what happens? And, if something does happen, what is this new information that you gave the dragons?[reference:Harvard Physics]

4.     How about a physics classic? This one is known the Newton’s Cradle(the toy in the picture). So, this is a popular toy consisting of five steel balls of the same size and mass, hanging side by side in contact in a row on bifilar support. Pull one back at one end and release it, one ball moves off the other end,…If two are pulled back at the same end and dropped together, two move out together at the other end. Pull back three, release together, and three move out at the other end. Pull back four and…Five and…How do they do that?! The balls can count, right? How do they know?[reference:Mad about physics]

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               “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Sir Issac Newton

        For those who may have forgotten, Alice(The Wonderland one) travels through a portal into a parallel Universe. Although talking about the movie would be very interesting. I would, however, like to focus on this “portal” that Alice travels through. To be more specific, the “portal” is a theoretical concept in physics known as a “Wormhole”.(Yes, it’s real!)

        There are two different concepts that require a bit of clarification here- Time-Travel(as the name suggests) and Space-Travel(that is travelling through large distances in a relatively short time). In this post, I’ll focus more on space travel. Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity(there’s no need to know more than the name here) seemed to have imposed a serious constraint on our ability to space travel. And, since we cannot travel faster than light, that would imply 8 years if we tried to travel near Proxima Centauri(the other star that is closest to us). And 80 years to the galactic center. I seriously doubt we would find any volunteers for this.

        That should, however, not dampen our enthusiasm about Space-Travel. A small thought experiment is worthwhile here(the same Einstein used to do). Alright, so if I asked you what is the smallest distance between two points on a surface, you would most probably answer: “that’s pretty simple, it’s a straight line between these two points!” At this point, you would probably want to laugh at my stupidity. But, I would then humbly answer- ‘Nope’. You see, this straight line is the same restraint that the limit of light imposes on us(and prevents us from finding any volunteers). The answer is to warp the surface. You fold the surface(like a paper) so that the two points touch or are aligned to each other and Ta-Dah!, away goes all the limits that once existed. Distance is annihilated. This also implies the possibility of space-travel.

        This warping of space is real-physics(we’ve all heard about curved spacetime!- that was what made Einstein so famous).We can actually observe this when light ‘bends’ a bit as it  travels close to the sun-‘Gravitational Lensing‘(just another name) caused by the sun’s mass.(shown on the picture). Remember how the rocket from Apollo 13 was rescued by going round the moon.  Same stuff.

        What we just need now is to ovecome the energy constraint of several billion billion(and many more billions) Terajoules. No hard stuff!

        Space-Travel, Time-Travel and Wormholes sound pretty fascinating when related as such but all these are still pretty much virgin territory. You wouldn’t find many researchers working on Time-Travelling because of all the ethical issues that are portrayed in Steven Spielberg’sBack To The Future”(that’s what the “spacetime-continuum” dilemma that “Doc” continuously rambled about in the movie). But science has “a way” of doing things and who knows what may happen? Who could have guessed there would be people reading a blog about space-travel written by a deranged blogger who thinks “science can be fun”.

Almost forgot- What did Alice tell Einstein? I haven’t got the faintest idea!!(I just thought it would make a Great Title!) 

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Mom: Alice, can you go to Pluto and bring me those delicious Plutonian-flavored ice cubes.

Alice: Not again, Mom! I went there just yesterday.Besides, there are still some ice-cream left in our fridge on Mars.

Mom: Alice, this is for your Grandma. I want you to go to 1960 and give it to her.

Alice: Mom, Time-Travel makes me sick!

(Mom frowns)

Alice: Okay, okay, I’m going!

//Short Story By Vasish//

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For anyone interested in deeper “Travelling”, I suggest reading Stephen Hawking‘s lecture.

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We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” Stephen Hawking.

 

    This post is (partly) an answer to the puzzle that I posted here (Why’s the sky dark at night?).                                                                                                            Did I say partly? The reason is that this “paradox”(The Olber’s Paradox as it is [in]famously known) has yet to be completely answered.

 According to Henrich Olber, the   sky should look something like the image that I found on Wikipedia(and found particularly apt for this post). But that’s not the case, right? Several explanations have been proposed for this somewhat ‘strangeness.’

Theory 1: Dust present between the stars and the galaxies veils the light that we should be seeing.

What’s wrong with it? The dust from the stars would eventually heat up and start radiating the light.(that’s one theory that eats the “dust”)

Add-fact: Even if all the matter in the Universe were converted to Energy(the famous e=mc^2), given the immensity of the Uni., the   energy would be just enough to raise the temperature of the Uni. to 20 kelvin(that’s about -253 deg.Celcius- not very much, huh!)

Theory 2: Let’s bring some “Big-Bang” to this paradox. Galaxies are dispersing, always running(or flying) away from each other(that’s the Big-Bang Theory!). So, a phenomenon known as the redshift occurs. As a sidenote, redshift is the same phenomenon that occurs  when the pitch of a siren increases when it approaches you and lessens as it moves away(here’s an audio). The main difference here is that it’s light. As another sidenote, light consists of a spectrum, there is the visible region(made up of the colors), there is the microwave region(the name says it all), the radio region and a host of other. The difference is the frequency with which vibration occurs. Returning to our paradox now.

So, according to the theory, the visible part gets shifted to the invisible infrared part(are you still with me?) and that’s why we do not see the light(literally).

Something’s wrong, again!! : The problem with this explanation is that if there is a shift in the visible region, then, there should also a shift from the other Ultraviolet region to the Visible one and we are (again) at square one.

What, another theory(3)?: Yep. This one’s a little tricky. The dark sky is due to the large distance light has to travel to reach us. It is, more scientifically speaking, attenuated as it reaches us.

Triple Trouble:Let’s take a concentric layer on which stars are uniformly spaced. If we decrease the distance from the centre, the ellipse formed will be shorter and thus, there will be lesser stars on this one. Now, we would be right if we said that the light from the distant stars gets attenuated by a certain factor f when it reaches the other stars. However there is a factor f  more stars on the larger ellipse. The net effect is a cancellation!

What’s Generally Accepted: Today’s most apt explanation is “The Universe NOT being infinitely old although infinitely large”. Light has a finite velocity(~300000 kpsecond) and light from the distant galaxies takes some time to reach us. For e.g light from the sun takes about 8 minutes to reach the Earth, so we’re seeing the sun as it was 8 min. ago. As it stands, our Universe is approx. 13 billion years old. So, we cannot see light beyond that! Galaxies, on the other hand, do not live infinitely, their emitted light dim. These two conditions prevent a fully blazing night sky to be seen.

The Trouble: Just Jokin’, I leave it to you to find it and possibly gain International fame!

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“He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.” -Leonardo da Vinci

                        Whenever he is alone at night, Henrich likes to watch the beautiful stars in the sky. It so happened that, one day, as Henrich was sitting at his usual spot, a seemingly innocuous thought flashes across his mind- “why is the sky dark at night?”- he asks. Being rather proficient with Science, Henrich is able to determine that if the Universe is uniformly filled with stars, the whole of the night sky should be blazing with lights from these stars, but that isn’t the case. “Why?”, he asks. Why, indeed?

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The answer to this question is perhaps one of the most famous paradoxes known in science!

You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it in himself.” -Galileo

Here’s the answer!

 
 

      Trying to combine quantum physics and blogging may sound very strange (well, it is!)  and is possibly the fruit of a deranged mind(well, that also is!). This a simply a post for bloggers (and future bloggers) out there.Ever wondered what bloggers will be like in, say, 50 or so years. What will be the most important tool they would be using (classically called the computer).The title’s the answer- they could be Quantum Bloggers(…or maybe not!)

     So, what’s all the fuss about being a Quantum Blogger? Or, more importantly what will be the tool that our future GrandBloggers (that means the grandchildren of bloggers) would be using? The answer may be Quantum Computers (Of course, that doesn’t mean that all our GrandBloggers will have to be Quantum Physicists!).

      The salient thing here is the Quantum Computer. Allow me to add a bit of historical perspective. Long ago (that’s in the 50s), computers were fat (even that is euphemistically speaking). With the advent of better tech, computer parts shrunk (and with the advent of more tech, parts shrunk even more). So came a little dilemma (a theoretical one) posed by the thinking people- we cannot possibly shrink these parts infinitely, there’s got to be a limit to it, right? (we have yet to reach that limit though). Fact is, there is (classically speaking). So came our very dear Quantum Computers (atleast in concept).

     Very strangely, though, the concept of quantum computing dates back to the 1960s. It is the brainchild of Richard Feynman(he crops up everytime, doesn’t he?). Now, before you start accusing our scientists of indolence and ‘not doing anything’, allow me to clarify, it is the strange Quantum World that we’re talking about here and by the time I explain, you’ll see how strange everything is!

      The Quantum computer is a hybrid of Quantum Physics and Computing. And when these two combine..These computers will have the computing efficiency of many classical computers put together(exponentially) and will have the ability to toy with as many figures as there are atoms in the Universe (phew!) instantly. They operate on Qubit(that’s quantum bits). While we are familiar with the 1s and 0s of classical computers, quantum computers use both at the same time(that’s the strange world of quantum physics and superposition).

      Now, let’s address the question of whether our GrandBloggers would be Quantum Bloggers? The answer(quite unfortunately or… not) is a NO! At present, the most that Quantum Computers could do is like looking up a name [very fast] in a phonebook or doing prime factorisation. That does not make them very useful (and that’s why we do not see them today on our tables)

      But let’s not just be negative about this. There might be a generation of Quantum Bloggers one day. For now, let’s just enjoy a good old Beatles song on our Macs. Who knows when these might become obsolete? Cheers to that!

                         “I, a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.” Richard P. Feynman
 
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As an endnote, for those interested in the strange world of Quantum Computing, see:
http://arstechnica.com/science/2010/01/a-tale-of-two-qubits-how-quantum-computers-work/ or
http://computer.howstuffworks.com/quantum-computer.htm
 
 

“Alienated”

An Alien Poll:

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“Where are they, anyway?”Enrico Fermi

The title that I have chosen for this post may sound wrong or somewhat ridiculous. I mean, how can I possibly write a history of EVERYTHING in about 200 words or so when whole books cannot do it?!

Allow me to clarify:”what does “everything” mean? Everything as in the whole human history, wars, planet Earth perhaps. How about everything as in everything that makes up everything else- the ATOM!

It all began in Ancient Greece. Democritus called it ATOMOS (modern man has removed the ‘OS’ from it). An interesting question immediately arises: “Are you kidding me, if “Atomos” was known for so long, how come my books say it was the 19th century or so that the Atom was discovered?” My humble answer to this question is this:”it was merely re-discovered, only this time, people believed in it!

Look at it this way: “ever wondered why our credulous ancestors thought that they were the center of the Universe or that it was the Sun that revolved around the Earth?” Because they saw the Sun moving in the sky everyday? Come on!(of course that may be a reason but it’s secondary). Rather because that ‘s what they were made to believe!

The same goes for Atomos except this time, it was Aristotle that everyone believed in. Fast forward some centuries later and we have the pioneer of the Atomic field- Dalton(another ‘non-believer’, if I may say). He laid the general outline of the atomic hypothesis(though most of his ideas were later abandoned for their inaccuracies)…To be Continued

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(To keep this post brief, I have to stop- “A Brief History…of EVERYTHING is not yet ended-I’ll write more about Higgsy, how Bohr nearly eradicated the most resilient idea in science and much much more….So that’s all folks!…for now)

“What matters in Science is Physics, the rest is STAMP-COLLECTING!” ERNEST RUTHERFORD

The One!

As a first poll, I would like to keep it rather “open”.  For this poll, it does not matter how much you know about science. Actually, it’s way better if you do not know anything about it. Just choose the one you think is right,that’s it. And do not forget to leave a comment to let us know you’ve been here.

Ready:

Thanks for participating. Don’t forget, more posts on the way soon!