The Universe: Cool Cars, Hot Sand, and Fast Balls

flows in death valleyYou may recall my mentioning a desert trip to shoot something for TV, some time back. One done at precisely the wrong time of year. And to Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth, to boot. Well, I meant to mention that the episode of the History Channel’s The Universe that the shoot was for aired a week or two ago and it was really excellent. It was entitled “Liquid Universe” and it was a rather beautiful and thoroughly pleasant episode exploring the role of liquids in our universe, a matter not often raised in questions of astronomy except when it comes to matters of water from time to time. This was not about water per se, but rather the whole matter of material that flows and the role it plays in diverse areas of the solar system and perhaps the universe at large. I was using sand to demonstrate how sometimes there are surprising places where you can find fluid/liquid behaviour, and mentioned some of the new phases of matter found in the context, for example, of quarks and gluons at RHIC. (I’ve spoken about that here a number of times in the context of some of my research. See the archives.)

It was an excellent episode and another example of how one can take a topic under the “The Universe” heading and showcase lots of exciting science quite accessibly and engagingly. This one was written and produced by Savas Georgalis (who I’ve worked with before – see here about the Cosmic Apocalypse episode) and it was once again an enjoyable experience chatting with him about the ideas he wanted to explore, and we had a thoroughly fun time shooting footage. It was great to get to contribute a little bit on camera as well especially when an episode is so well done. And of course the trip out to the desert was hugely fun, along with experiencing the incredible heat and so forth. See the earlier post for the adventure.

This leads me to an amusing issue. Locations and demos. Explaining physics in the desert heat (you can see me sweating like I’ve just run a 4 minute mile in the episode, unwittingly showing off another aspect of the liquid universe) was I suppose the best of the locations/demos I managed for this season. And it was a good one. burbank_recylcingburbank_recylcing_2My smelliest was the Burbank recycling centre, (although it was fascinating at the same time), and another hot one was trying to get my type II supernova demo to work in a parking lot on the tarmac in almost 100 degree heat out in a state park up at Malibu. None of this can be said to be reaching the dizzying heights of glamour, comfort, or sheer fun cool stuff in the service of physics, it has to be said. Meanwhile, by contrast, I’ve been hearing that my colleagues (such as my friends Amy Mainzer and Laura Danly) have been up to all sorts things, such as shooting flaming arrows, firing high powered rifles at various members of the squash family, and so on and so forth. I think I’m drawing the short straw on some of the away mission assignments, don’t you? :)

The issue got especially funny when I was chatting to Amy at one point about one of my little demos and she mentioned that the following week she was going to be spending the whole day driving around in a Tesla. A Tesla!!!! Wow! This is, if you don’t know (see an earlier blog post) a wonderful electric car that is basically the beautiful body of a Lotus Elise with a huge number of batteries stuffed under the hood that gives it tesla electric carthe acceleration of a Ferrari. Well, better acceleration that most Ferraris, I’ve heard. This is the electric car I’m holding out for when I make my next car purchase, of course. (Assuming that there is a catastrophic drop in the price, which I don’t expect will happen any time soon.) Anyway, so Amy got to play with a Tesla for her demo for this episode. I don’t use this word often, but… Cool. (I offered to be a co-pilot if one was needed but somehow, er, never got the call. ;) )

She was doing the driving in the name of demonstrating issues to do with energy, and I believe that might be the name of the episode: Energy. It is on tonight at 9:00pm (check your local listings though), and will no doubt be repeated again if you missed it tonight. Oh… I just learned from a friend on the East coast* that I’m in the episode as well, to my surprise. No, I’m not in the Tesla. I’m hitting tennis balls. That was a fun shoot too, although… (looking over at the production company): Guys… next season, I’m holding out for at least one mildly enviable demo or location! :)

tennis balls

-cvj

*Thanks Justin P.!

Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):

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