Lasers and Gravitational Waves

Today’s Nobel Prize in physics has an interesting wrinkle to it. I summarised it in the extract above from a certain forthcoming book*. Click for a larger view. Congratulations to the winners Rainer Weiss, Barry C Barish and Kip S Thorne! There are some excellent descriptions (either for layperson level … Click to continue reading this post

Viewing the Eclipse

It’s an exciting day today! Please don’t lock your kids away, which seems to be an alarmingly common option (from looking at the news – many schools seem to be opting to do that; I wish they’d use they use some of those locked classrooms as camera obscura). Instead, use this as an opportunity to learn and teach about the wonderful solar system we live in.

Actually, to enjoy the experience, you never have to even look in the direction of the sun if you don’t want to (or if you don’t have the appropriate eclipse glasses)… you can see crescents everywhere during the partial eclipse if you look out for them. You can make a safe viewing device in a minute or two if you take the time.

Here’s an NPR video that summarises the various viewing options: […] Click to continue reading this post

LIGO Does it Again!

I just got off the phone with an LA Times reporter about this new result (announced today in PRL and by LIGO directly), trying to get across some of the enthusiasm about this shared by a wide community of physicists and astronomers, and the reasons why. Here’s a nice New York Times article about the discovery, by Dennis Overbye. The graphic to the right is from the LIGO press release.

(Incidentally, according to Physics Today it is Kip Thorne’s birthday today. What an excellent birthday present for him!)

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

BBC CrowdScience SXSW Panel!

They recorded one of the panels I was on at SXSW as a 30 minute episode of the BBC World Service programme CrowdScience! The subject was science and the movies, and it was a lot of fun, with some illuminating exchanges, I had some fantastic co-panellists: Dr. Mae Jemison (the astronaut, doctor, and chemical engineer), Professor Polina Anikeeva (she researches in materials science and engineering at MIT), and Rick Loverd (director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange), and we had an excellent host, Marnie Chesterton. It has aired now, but in case you missed it, here is a link to the site where you can listen to our discussion.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

On Arrival…

Arrived at your (Thanksgiving) destination yet? I hope all went well. Now, here’s some exciting news… This year’s Thanksgiving episode of Screen Junkies is another Movie Science special! This means, as usual, that I sat down with presenter Hal Rudnick to talk about some science ideas and portrayal of scientists in the movies.
movie_science_screen_junkiesThis time, the film is Arrival. We actually had a great in-depth conversation, and a lot (not all) of it made it to the episode, so have a look. (Most of the episode assumes that you have seen the film since there are a lot of serious spoilers that will take away from the movies intended unfolding as you view… There are mild spoilers in the form of general discussion about the film to start, and then Hal stops and warns you that we’re going deeper into the details.)

The embed is below, and then after that I say a few spoiler-y things to end this post:

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Weekend Reminder

NHM_poster_April_1_2016_2While wandering with the family in the Natural History Museum this weekend, I spotted a reminder (click for larger view) for Friday’s event, which you might be interested in.

I’ll be on a panel about science (particularly space-related) and the movies, with fellow panelist Sean Carroll, and it is hosted by the awesome Patt Morrison! It’s part of the Natural History Museum’s First Fridays series, which you might recall me blogging about here before (actually, last time I was at one, I was a host so I imagine it’ll feel a bit different this time).

Here’s a website with all the details.

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Apparently I was on an episode of the BBC program Horizon a couple of hours ago over in the UK. I completely forgot that was coming up and forgot to mention it. Sorry! I’ve no idea what parts of the interview with me they used, or what the final thrust of the episode is, but I did have a lot of fun shooting the episode with the filmmakers over in Joshua Tree some time last year. See a post I did about it here. I spent some time explaining why negative mass is problematic, especially in the context of gravity… The program talks a lot about people who are trying to find anti-gravity of various sorts. I was reminded that the episode aired since I found myself tagged on social media, and wondered what the ruckus was about. Then I found the following tweet by @homeworkjunkie with a screen shot, and the caption “Nice reaction to runaway problem;zero cost energy proposed by some people in BBC Horizon”:
[…] Click to continue reading this post

What Fantastic News!

einstein_and_binary_atlantic_graphicThis is an amazing day for humanity! Notice I said humanity, not science, not physics – humanity. The LIGO experiment has announced the discovery of a direct detection of gravitational waves (actual ripples in spacetime itself!!), opening a whole new window with which to see and understand the universe. This is equivalent to Galileo first pointing a telescope at the sky and beginning to see things like the moons of Jupiter and the phases of venus for the first time. Look how much we learned following from that… so we’ve a lot to look forward to. It is 100 years ago since gravitational waves were predicted, and we’ve now seen them directly for the first time!

Actually, more has been discovered in this announcement:- The signal came from the merger of two large (stellar) black holes, and so this is also the first direct confirmation of such black holes’ existence! (We’ve known about them […] Click to continue reading this post

One Hundred Years of Certitude

Einstein_CentennialSince the early Summer I’ve been working (with the help of several people at USC*) toward a big event next Friday: A celebration of 100 years since Einstein formulated the field equations of General Relativity, a theory which is one of the top one or few (depending upon who you argue with over beers about this) scientific achievements in the history of human thought. The event is a collaboration between the USC Harman Academy of Polymathic Study and the LAIH, which I co-direct. I chose the title of this post since (putting aside the obvious desire to resonate with a certain great work of literature) this remarkable scientific framework has proven to be a remarkably robust and accurate model of how our universe’s gravity actually works in every area it has been tested with experiment and observation**. Despite being all about bizarre things like warped spacetime, slowing down time, and so forth, which most people think is to do only with science fiction. (And yes, you probably test it every day through your […] Click to continue reading this post

Gravity on the Horizon!

joshua_tree_shoot_horizon_2Had to nip over to Joshua Tree National Park yesterday, for my sins.

Why? Well, gravity, of course. I can’t tell you the full details, but I was helping out the folks from the BBC on a documentary program (for the series Horizon, which I loved watching back in the 80s when I was in school!) being made about topics connected to gravity, space travel, mass, energy, and all that good stuff.

You can see me mid-demo in the photo (click for larger view), standing upon a rock somewhere in the park, talking about Newton and Einstein. I also got to be a bit of a stunt driver for a while, being filmed bouncing an SUV along a dirt road several times, which was (I grudgingly admit) a lot of fun!

After the shoot […] Click to continue reading this post

Screen Junkies – The Martian, Science, and Problem-Solving!

screen_junkies_martianAs promised, the Screen Junkies episode we made is out. It is about The Martian! JPL’s Christina Heinlein (a planetary science expert) also took part, and I hope you find it interesting and thought-provoking. Maybe even funny too! As usual, there’s a lot that was said that was inevitably left on the (virtual) cutting-room floor, but a lot of good stuff made the cut. All in all, I’d say that this film (which I enjoyed a lot!) had a refreshing take on science and engineering for a big studio film, on several scores. (Remaining sentences are spoiler-free.) First, rather than hiding the slow machinations involved in problem-solving, it has a lot of it up front! It’s an actual celebration of problem-solving, part of the heart and soul of science and engineering. Second, rather than have the standard nerd stereotype […] Click to continue reading this post

Get ready for some “movie science” chatter…

hal_cvj_christina_bigYes, I’ve been hanging out with my Screen Junkies friends again, and this time I also got to meet JPL’s Christina Heinlein, who you may recall was in the first of the Screen Junkies “Movie Science” episodes last year. While we were both in it, I’d not got to meet her that time since our chats with host Hal Rudnick were recorded at quite different times. This time, however, schedules meant […] Click to continue reading this post