When Life Hands You…

When life hands you tomatoes, red onions, a little bit of garlic, ginger, some cardamom pods, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, and a pinch of paprika… make chutney! (It’s about as easy as lemonade, actually.)


Oddly, a carmello tomato plant that had been struggling a bit during the Summer took rather well to the late Fall and Winter months, loved the rain, and kept producing more and more tomatoes. They were all green on the plant for a long while, and then we had a return to some long stretches of sun that Click to continue reading this post

Visualizing Zero Matter

zero-matter-in-actionWired has a video piece about the VFX work done on Agent Carter to bring the substance known as “zero matter” to your screens. They very kindly mentioned me, which is a pleasant surprise. There was a lot of conversation early on with the writers, show runners, and the head of VFX (Sheena Duggal), discussing what it might look like, and what kind of aesthetic drivers were in play for the look of the show overall (less ZAP! and more ooze and flow), and what you see on screen is the result of a lot of that conversation. It’s really great to see so much of what we brainstormed make it up on screen. The main physics input I wanted to use as a guide was the idea that this is some sort of special fluid from “elsewhere”, in a very special physical phase (inspired by various super fluids and perfect fluids in actual physics from our world, which I explained a bit about to them…Sheena was also very taken with ferrofluids, which was a very smart design input to use as reference). We also talked a lot about the idea that zero matter manifests itself in different ways depending upon the biology of the host. (See a post I did about other aspects of zero matter here, including the naming of it, and “elsewhere”.)

The amazing company Double Negative played a huge role overall, doing the rendering and bringing all sort of techniques to bear to make it all work. You’ll maybe recognize that name since they were the people who worked with physicist Kip Thorne to do the visual work Click to continue reading this post

BPS Panel on Science and Entertainment

BPS_panel_1Yes, I’ve been panelling again, down at the LA Convention Center. It was a fun conversation, moderated by Rick Loverd the Program Director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, entitled “The Science of Hollywood” as part of the 60th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society*. With me were Amy Berg, who is a Film/TV Writer and Executive Producer, Jessica Cail, Professor of Psychopharmacology, Pepperdine University, and Mike Ireland, Senior Vice President, Production, 20th Century Fox.

Despite the title, we were not trying to put observations of, experiments done on, or theories constructed about Hollywood on any firm scientific footing! We did engage in a lot of discussion about the connections we work on between science and Film and TV. We spoke about why we do it, how we try to do it, and Click to continue reading this post

Yellow Arrows

I’ve been looking for a good way to photograph these. Most angles have distracting background elements. Decided that the sky was best. (Click for larger view.)


I remembered that this all started as a tiny plant (the name of which I’ve forgotten) that I bought in a Huntington Gardens sale probably more than a decade ago.


Secret Pie

Yesterday’s secret pie. I tried to make it secretly over the course of the day while making a batch of bread at the same time, but my cover was blown when rolling out the pastry in the evening, which is too hard to hide. (Click for larger view.)


It’s a large (so hopefully will last for a few days) pie of primarily steak, carrots, mushrooms and onions, flavored with herbs (bay leaves*, rosemary, thyme) and tomatoes from the garden. I wonder if this is one of the nine kinds favored by the wielder of the purple crayon? (Yes, children’s book references riddle my discourse these days…)

Roughly finished, but very delicious (I’m happy to report), it reminds me very 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

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

Suited Up!

war_gear_smYes, I was in battle again. A persistent skunk that wants to take up residence in the crawl space. I got rid of it last week, having found one place it broke in. This involved a lot of crawling around on my belly armed with a headlamp (not pictured – this is an old picture) and curses. I’ve done this before… It left. Then yesterday I found a new place it had broken in through and the battle was rejoined. Interestingly, this time it decided to hide after some of the back and forth and I lost track of it for a good while and was about to give up and hope it will feel unsafe with all the lights I’d put on down there (and/or encourage it further to leave by deploying nuclear weapons to match the ones it comes armed with*).

In preparation for this I left open the large access hatch and sprinkled a layer Click to continue reading this post

It Came from Elsewhere…

Reggie_Austin_and_cvj_interview[Warning! Agent Carter Season 2 Episode 3 Spoilers]:

This 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…


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, and 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