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

News from the Front, XII: Simplicity

adding_cyclesOk, I promised to explain the staircase I put up on Monday. I noticed something rather nice recently, and reported it (actually, two things) in a recent paper, here. It concerns those things I called “Holographic Heat Engines” which I introduced in a paper two years ago, and which I described in some detail in a previous post. You can go to that post in order to learn the details – there’s no point repeating it all again – but in short the context is an extension of gravitational thermodynamics where the cosmological constant is dynamical, therefore supplying a meaning to the pressure and the volume variables (p,V) that are normally missing in black hole thermodynamics… Once you have those, it seems obvious that you can start considering processes that do mechanical work (from the pdV term in the first law) and within a short while the idea of heat engines in which the black hole is the working substance comes along. Positive pressure corresponds to negative cosmological constant and so the term “holographic heat engines” is explained. (At least to those who know about holographic dualities.)

So you have a (p,V) plane, some heat flows, and an equation of state determined by the species of (asymptotically AdS) black hole you are working with. It’s like discovering a whole new family of fluids for which I know the equation of state (often exactly) and now I get to work out the properties of the heat engines I can define with them. That’s what this is.

Now, I suspect that this whole business is an answer waiting for a question. I can’t tell you what the question is. One place to look might be in the space of field theories that have such black holes as their holographic dual, but I’m the first to admit that […] Click to continue reading this post

On Zero Matter

zero-matter-containedOver at Marvel, I chatted with actor Reggie Austin (Dr. Jason Wilkes on Agent Carter) some more about the physics I helped embed in the show this season. It was fun. (See an earlier chat here.) This was about Zero Matter itself (which will also be a precursor to things seen in the movie Dr. Strange later this year)… It was one of the first things the writers asked me about when I first met them, and we brainstormed about things like what it should be called (the name “dark force” comes later in Marvel history), and how a scientist who encountered it would contain it. This got me thinking about things like perfect fluids, plasma physics, exotic phases of materials, magnetic fields, and the like (sadly the interview skips a lot of what I said about those)… and to the writers’ and show-runners’ enormous credit, lots of these concepts were allowed to appear in the show in various ways, including (versions of) two containment designs that I sketched out. Anyway, have a look in the embed below.

Oh! The name. We did not settle on a name after the first meeting, but one of […] Click to continue reading this post

It Came from Elsewhere…

Reggie_Austin_and_cvj_interviewThis just in. Marvel has posted a video of a chat I did with Agent Carter’s Reggie Austin (Dr. Jason Wilkes) about some of the science I dreamed up to underpin some of the things in the show. In particular, we talk about his intangibility and how it connects to other properties of the Zero Matter that we’d already established in earlier episodes. You can see it embedded below […] Click to continue reading this post

A Big Reveal…

Hayley-Atwell-and-Reggie-Austin-in-Agent-Carter-S2

Alert: Agent Carter season 2 is currently airing. I talk about last week’s episode three in this post. You’ve been warned.

While I’ve been very pleased with the volume of scientific tidbits the Agent Carter writers have allowed me to sprinkle into the show (perfect fluids, Compton wavelength, an accretion disc around a spacetime rift… and you can see two of my boards, including bits of the Thomas-Fermi model**) – and there are many more to come! – the really great science reveal came this last episode, #3, (spoilers!): […] Click to continue reading this post

A Sundance Panel Report

Over on NPR’s 13.7 blog, Barbara J. King reported on what she took away from the panel at Sundance entitled “The Art of Getting Science Right”. The discussants were Ting Wu, Mike Cahill, myself, and Kerry Bishé moderated everything masterfully. (We also were the Sloan Jury, along with Shane Carruth, who was indisposed.) As you know from my writing here, I’ve long been advocating a lot for more focus on portraying the scientific process and the engagement and joy of science over worrying about getting every science detail right. This came up a lot in our conversation, and we […] Click to continue reading this post

Best Jury Duty Ever!

embrace_of_the_serpent_ceremonyWell, I’m back from the Sundance Film Festival, where (as you’ll recall from previous posts) I was serving on a jury for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation prize for science in feature film. It involved a lot of sitting and watching movies in theaters all over Park City, discussion and deliberation with fellow jurors (and what a wonderful group to hang out with!), and then a public panel discussion about the importance of science in film (and how to do it “right”) and then announcements, questions, photos, more photos, even more photos, press, etc.

As you may know (it is all over the corner of the press that cares about this sort of thing) we awarded the prize to the film “Embrace of the Serpent” (director/writer: Ciro Guerra*), which happens to also be Colombia’s Oscar-nominated entry in the Foreign Language film category. Here was our citation, read out during a reception on Tuesday:

“for its original and provocative portrait of a scientist and a scientific journey into the unknown, and for its unconventional depiction of how different cultures seek to understand nature.”

I recommend seeing the film because there’s excellent […] Click to continue reading this post

In Other Science meets Entertainment news…

sundance_logoVariety and other such entertainment news sites are abuzz with the news that Sundance has now announced its list of who’s on the various Juries for prizes at the festival this year. As you may know, the Sloan Foundation gives a prize there for science in feature film, and I’ll be on the Jury this year. It should be fun – watching all those films will be a bonus, but I’m most looking forward to talking with Kerry Bishé and Shane Carruth about science/engineering and film. Kerry plays a computer engineer character on AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire”, and in my view really helps set a new high standard for the level of depth and nuance you can bring to such a character while staying well away from every tedious engineer/scientist character trope that actors usually are expected to bring to […] Click to continue reading this post

WSJ Piece On Science and Entertainment

wall_street_journal_snapIt’s nice to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning when my mum is visiting me. But where does one go to actually buy a newspaper?!

The nice piece, by Erich Schwartzel, is about the work the Science and Entertainment exchange, working with scientists like myself does in the entertainment industry. It opens by reporting on a conversation I was having at that Back to the Future […] Click to continue reading this post

Another Digital Drill

not_batmans_sidekick_wideI found some time to do another practice digital sketch to get my skills back into shape. (Click for larger view.) I’ll admit I had fun with the three-color scheme for skin tones. For the three of you who recognize her, evidently there was another showbiz magazine article laying around for me to squint at. Yeah, her nose is too long. I’m not going to sweat it.

I figured the best way to stop me from further obsessing […] Click to continue reading this post

Gown Uses…

Well, finally since arriving here in 2003 I’ve found a good use for the academic gown that sits on a hook on the back of my door! It is a master’s gown from Durham University. I had it while I was on the faculty there as I’d joined the excellent University College (housed in the awesome Durham Castle) so that I could have dinner at high table there from time to time (largely because of the aforementioned Castle). Since leaving there and coming here, it has sat largely undisturbed. But today, while crossing campus in a wonderful downpour, my trouser legs got rather soaked (umbrellas and trenchcoats have their limitations), and so I’m now sitting in my office trouser-less while they dry. Needless to say, my door is closed, and just in case […] Click to continue reading this post

The New Space…

office_drawing_final copyI forgot to mention that (after a lot of delays and internal administrative nonsense that I will spare you the details of) I was finally able to move into my new office, toward the end of November, only several months after the move was first put into motion. In the first week of the holiday period I was able to do some unpacking of some of the books (etc) and setting up various things (like my kettle and coffee pot) essential for the kind of working space I want it to be. It’ll be an interesting space, from some points of view… perhaps unusually combining production of objects and ideas from both the science and the art worlds, and lots in between. As you know, I have several projects that involve both, and they’ll come together in this space.

I updated the drawing (click for larger view) to include some adjustments I made to the layout* (see […] Click to continue reading this post