physics Archive



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img July 04, 20124:30 pmimg 7 Comments


While we in America celebrate the signing of some yellowed document, physicists around the globe are engaging in a less nationalistic, but equally historic celebration: the elusive Higgs Boson, the “missing piece” in our current understanding of the subatomic world, has been confirmed to five standard deviations of significance. This discovery was made using the most expensive scientific apparatus in human history: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

Despite the overwhelming statistical likelihood of the LHC’s discovery, ever-skeptical scientists still wonder whether the observed particle displays all of the characteristics of the Higgs as predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics. If it does, this discovery will definitively confirm over fifty years of theoretical development; if it doesn’t, it will alert physicists to the existence of particles beyond those described by the Standard Model, paving the way for a new era in fundamental physics (and more expensive experiments).

If you’re not into grilling in Central Park, it’s something to celebrate alone, in front of your computer.



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img January 22, 201212:00 pmimg 8 Comments

Discovered in a graduate-level animal physiology physics textbook (Fishbane’s Physics for Scientists and Engineers). For those of you who’ve always had a place in your heart for giraffes, know that they evidently have one for you in theirs as well. Bwog uses our well-rounded liberal arts education to analyze it in this interdisciplinary exercise, while exercising all of our will-power not to use the phrase “heteronormativity.”

Bernoulli was a fantastic zoo companion.

Bwog’s analysis got an A/A- in Art Hum: This is a clear example of a post-modern minimalist piece with hints of inspiration from Magritte.  The abstracted paper with three straight edges and a torn lower side represents the indecision found in modern America, especially in terms of politics and the race for the GOP nomination.  The labeled heart and artery, in addition to the neck and head, are demonstrably phallic, with the internal organ resembling a sperm.  The sperm travels away from the head and toward the heart and rear, indicating a turn from pragmatism and rebirth of the sexual revolution.  The flaccidity of the neck recalls the inadequacy found in 95% of men ages 14-58 reported by women, after viewing Crazy Stupid Love.  The striking, curvy Mondrian outline of the animal is without any breaks or smudging, a symbol that the artist is keeping passion bottled inside, an unrequited, self-destructive love (reiterated by the concealed arrow pointing at the heart).  Finally, the lack of ears on the figure is reflective of the artist’s call for the viewer both to listen rather than speak and to contemplate for herself rather than to take opinions from 24-hour news stations and Jon Stewart.

In conclusion, the giraffe is a social construct.



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img December 12, 20119:17 amimg 1 Comments


She obviously doesn't care, so why should you?

During the course of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, do you often find that you don’t really have any idea what he’s talking about? You’re not alone, and Slate is here to help.

Meanwhile, Gingrich’s pal Rick Perry has pulled off an impressive feat: his latest campaign video, “Strong,” has already made the list of the top 5 most hated YouTube videos, with an impressive 600,00+ dislikes within about a week of being posted. Both he and Gingrich want to be in charge of our country, but like, whatever. (Gizmodo)

Tomorrow at 8 am scientists from CERN are scheduled to give an update on their hunt for the God Particle, and the world is abuzz with speculation. All it will determine is whether or not our current theory of how the universe works is correct, so not really a big deal. (NYT)

In much more surprising news, the 1% tend to be above a little stingier than the rest of the city when it comes to tipping deliverymen. (Gothamist)

Thinking about getting someone a Kindle Fire for Christmas? Maybe you shouldn’t. Or, maybe you should. I mean, it’s totally up to you, bro. (NYT)

Acting like it’s nbd via Flickr/SelenaBrooke




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img November 03, 20112:30 pmimg 7 Comments

Last night, Miller Theater was transformed yet again into a realm of mystique and wonder, courtesy of PBS, and Bwog’s favorite physicist, Brian Greene. A sizable crowd assembled to watch the premiere of the new NOVA special, The Fabric of the Cosmos, based on Greene’s book of the same title. The real treat, however, was a live webcast (jointly hosted by the World Science Festival) with Brian Greene after the showing as he answered questions about physics, space, and nearly everything else. Brian Wagner, Bwog’s passionate spacetime enthusiast, was on hand.


The NOVA special is based on Greene's book of the same name

Amber Miller, the Dean of Sciences, opened the evening on behalf of PrezBo, who was unable to attend due to his European vacation. After more remarks by folks from the World Science Festival and PBS’s obligatory five minutes of donor-thanking, the show actually began.

Episode 1 of the sciencey special is entitled “What is Space?” The show first asks you to consider all the “stuff” surrounding us in the world. Now what happens if you take away all the “stuff?” What are you left with? If you guessed nothing, you’re kind of right. But mostly wrong. You’re left with space. And though we don’t really know what space is, it’s definitely…something. It can bend and twist (but not shout). Taking a chronological tour (oh, by the way, time might not be real, but you’ll have to wait for Episode 2 for that one) through the history of scientific explanations of space, Fabric explains that space is not a passive “stage,” as Newton conceived of it. In the last century, Einstein discovered that space actually bends and stretches in order to keep the speed of light constant, and this is where gravity comes from. With the help of some fancy CGI Brian Greene explained that space is kind of like a pool table with a stretchy, elastic surface. When you put something heavy on it (i.e. a planet), it creates an indentation. Then when something smaller (like a moon) comes rolling by, it falls into the indentation and begins rolling along the edge of the curve, in effect rotating around the planet.

So space can bend. Got it. What’s actually bending then? At the subatomic level, space is a pretty crowded place, full of elementary particles whizzing around, with pairs appearing and then annihilating each other at an alarming rate. The interesting part is that these little guys have different masses, and we don’t really know why. Actually, we don’t really know what mass is. The current theory, proposed by Peter Higgs, is that space contains a “field,” which particles move through and pick up mass. Fabric invites you to picture it like a crowd of paparazzi. Lesser-known actors, in this case representing lighter particles, are able to move through the crowd without much effort. The George Clooneys of the particle zoo, however, attract rampant attention, and move slower and slower as they progress through the field, picking up more and more “mass.” But what makes some particles Alec Baldwins and others nameless part-time waiters is still unknown.




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img October 05, 20119:30 amimg 6 Comments

Columbia’s Professor Stiglitz, who’s been making the rounds recently, published a commentary on the economic recession in Slate and, well, the headline says it all. (Slate)

Apple announced the iPhone 4S yesterday, and, along with it, their new Siri app; part voice-recognition, part artificial-intelligence, all HAL-9000.  It’s a shame the name is destined to be the butt of many jokes in Japan. (CNet, WSJ)

Turns out Apple themselves predicted this kind of technology in one of those futuristic advertisements from the 80’s—creepy coincidence or full-blown conspiracy?  You decide (see video below!). (TechCrunch)

Even without Steve Job’s prophetic vision, was anyone really blindsided by this?  It’s official: Chris Christie isn’t running for President.  Let’s be honest, he probably has to deal with enough problems as it is. (NYT)

In case you’re worried Dark Energy, expanding universes and the like might come in conflict with Einstein’s theories and all we hold dear, rest assured; this year’s Nobel Laureates in Physics—winning for research into the Universe’s expansion—are confident that Eintsein remains the golden standard for physicists. “Every test we have made has come out perfectly in line with Einstein’s original cosmological constant in 1917.” (NYT)



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img September 30, 20113:49 pmimg 3 Comments

Liquid nitrogen: it's like getting iced, but... much worse.

The physics community’s collective world was recently rocked by the latest results from CERN, with some now claiming that they have measured neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. While the discrepancy is small (only 60 nanoseconds), it could force physicists to reconsider Einstein’s theory of relativity. Columbia’s go-to physics rock star, Brain Greene, remains skeptical: “I would bet just about everything I hold dear that this won’t hold up to scrutiny.” Ouch.

One million Americans suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but researchers have yet to understand its causes. Earlier studies suggested that the condition might stem from the XMRV virus or one of the related mouse leukemia viruses. However, recent data from patient blood work finds no correlation between XMRV and chronic fatigue syndrome. Mailman School of Public Health Professor W. Ian Lipkin is conducting his own study, though other faculty members such as Vincent Racaniello agree that “it’s clearly time to move on.”

The blood-brain barrier makes it impossible for doctors to intravenously deliver drugs to the brain. Or at least it was impossible until Columbia professor Elisa Konofagou developed a method using short ultra sound pulses to safely open the blood-brain barrier. Konfagou believes this method will lead to treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Cue an updated Frontiers curriculum.

Graphene has already established a reputation as an incredibly versatile material, but things might just get even better—a new paper published by a large collaboration of Columbia professors and graduate students hints at an unplumbed frontier in the nitrogen doping of graphene. The embedded nitrogen atoms profoundly change the electrical properties of the graphene, albeit only in a two-atom radius, making it highly tunable and useful for electronics. That’s all well and good, but could it possibly be worth all those Girl Scout cookies?

IcyHawt image via Wikimedia Commons.



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img September 28, 20119:00 pmimg 17 Comments

If you give a mouse a Tevatron, and that mouse is an experimental physicist, it will ask for more money to build an enormous super collider beneath Switzerland and France, telling you that it needs more energy to confirm its theory on what makes the Universe do its thing. At least, that’s roughly how it works. On Monday, physicists, grad students, and particle lovers of all shapes and rest masses gathered in Pupin to discuss the Large Hadron Collider’s findings up to this point. Lepton lover Zach Kagan was in attendance.

Bwog didn’t quite know what it had gotten itself into—all these professors and graduate students gathered to hear the exciting new results from the LHC! This must be what a cocktail party at Brian Greene’s house feels like.

As the talk got underway, Bwog found it a lot more technical than we expected. Still, some it was recognizable: quarks, photons, antimatter, nuclear forces, atomic collisions… But this was just the beginning, and we were still waiting for the secrets of the universe to be unlocked before our eyes!

As the data began to emerge on slides for the audience to view, all that we could really distinguish was a jumble of lines. A LOT of lines. But our wonderful physics faculty came to the rescue and translated. So the Higgs Boson doesn’t exist…or maybe it does. But it probably doesn’t. But, if we try at higher energies we may find it. But most experts don’t think so. Except for the ones that do. So that clears that up.

Then the talk moved back to quarks. Wait, no, squarks. Bwog started wondering where the speaker’s sudden accent had come from. But then we definitely heard the words “stop squark.” At that point, we were pretty convinced we were being punk’d. What the hell is a squark? Who names these particles anyway?

Then we spotted a sleeping grad student. Oh dear; if he doesn’t get this stuff what hope do the rest of us have? But towards the end of the meeting, a sense of relief flooded over us. It all made sense. The standard model of particle physics is fundamentally flawed without the Higgs Boson to provide mass. Through the analysis of thousands of PP hadron collision events at 7 TeV through myriad detectors, an intimate picture of nature is created. Gluons, leptons, Z bosons, muons, pions, interweave through supersymmetry, reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, quantum entangling you and me and everything in the universe. THIS IS HOW WE SEE INTO THE MIND OF GOD.

…At least, it made sense until the graphs came back. And the acronyms. Oh, the acronyms. We pined for a fully-spelled-out word. Was the text even supposed to be read left to right anymore? We wouldn’t know. So, in summary: If the Higgs Boson doesn’t exist, does that mean I don’t exist? Does anyone exist even? Oh, it’s over… well that was… insightful, yes, fascinating. It’s time to go lie down now.



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img April 14, 201110:00 amimg 11 Comments

Dark times, like the one in which this elusive photo was taken.

Brace yourselves for The (Less) Social Network Part II: Gratuitous Hashtags. Some allegations about Twitter’s beginnings have been made and it doesn’t look like it’ll play out in less that 140 characters. #SoMuchDrama (Business Insider, NYMag)

Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 over a homophobic slur he made to a ref during a game on Tuesday. We’re not going to beat around the bush—this fining for swearing thing already happened on 30 Rock, and it didn’t go so well. (CNN)

Columbia professor Elena Aprile leads the search for dark matter. But wait—it gets darker. The hunt has netted almost nothing so far. Participants remain optimistic, though. Aprile says, “when we are searching for the unknown, the more we probe the closer we get to truth.” (NYT)

Barring any snark, we were shocked and saddened to read that a Yale senior died in a chem lab accident after her hair got caught in a machine. Our thoughts are with the Yale community and the student’s family. (Yale Daily News)

Sketchy selfie photo via Wikimedia Commons.



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img January 30, 201110:11 amimg 2 Comments


Columbia’s own Brian Greene has just released his 4th book of popular science, titled The Hidden Reality. In it, Greene provides the latest theory surrounding the multiverse. Wait… do you ever think like, in another world, you are writing Bwoglines and I am reading them? (WSJ)

So like, you saw the blizzard on Wednesday from your window, but- have you seen it from space? (Ouramazingplanet)

Dude, there are now whales among us. (NYDaily)

A physicist from the University of Southern Queensland predicts earth will temporarily have two suns during the supernova of a nearby star. Maybe then my ‘rents will finally understand my deep, like, spiritual, connection to StarWars. (

On a more serious note, what’s going on in Egypt is worth talking about. Bwog recommends these three sources. (Reuters, NYTimes, Al Jazeera)

Image via wikimedia.



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img November 16, 20092:30 pmimg 13 Comments

Bwog reader and Punny Physicist Steve Ma sent in this sign found in Pupin:


Somewhere, in his non-relativistic afterlife, Newton is smiling.



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img June 02, 200911:06 amimg 15 Comments

A tipster has forwarded us a notice that “as a cost-saving measure,” Columbia will be closing the physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology libraries a full year early. According to Physics Department Chair Andrew Mills, who sent the email, “I have received two conflicting reports of the closing date: July 1, 2009 and July 31, 2009.”

As for course reserves and other in-demand books, Mills wrote, “our [Physics] course reserve materials will be held either in the Engineering library or in the Mathematics library until such time as the Science Library in the new science building opens. Some non-reserve books will be moved to the Mathematics library, others to an off-site repository. If you wish to access a book you will need to go to one of the remaining libraries (e.g. math or engineering) and check it out or request that it be extracted from the off-site storage facility.” Bwog is checking on the new locations for other majors’ reserves.

In related news, there does appear to be progress on the new science building: as seen above, workers have begun adding outer skin to the building. Until it opens, affected majors, bone up on your offsite-ordering skills.

– JCD, photo by JYH



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img May 09, 20094:31 pmimg 12 Comments

Image via Parsons’ home page

Columbia physics professor John Parsons lectured Thursday night about the science behind the upcoming film Angels and Demons.  Bwog sent our Fu Foundation Bureau Chief Sean Zimmerman, who actually understands these sorts of things, to observe and report.

Hollywood and science aren’t known to be fast friends, and explanations of “the science behind” often devolve into appopleptic panegyrics decrying popular conceptions of, say, cloning, or invisibility. Professor John Parsons, however, drily admired the whiz-bang world of the movies.  Showing the trailer for Angels and Demons at the start of his talk Thursday night in Havemeyer, Parsons explained that the explosions and intrigue shown were part of any physicist’s “typical day.”

To summarize Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons: Antimatter is stolen from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) run by CERN (that’s the European Organization for Nuclear Research) and hidden in the Vatican City during the selection of a new Pope. The antimatter will soon explode if it is not found, and Robert Langdon, the hero from Dan Brown’s other novel, The Da Vinci Code, is the man called in to do the job right. (more…)



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img April 16, 20093:17 pmimg 4 Comments

 -Photo via YouTube

Kurt Hinterbichler, a grad student in the Columbia physics department, joined 95 other musicians from around the world to play in a multimedia concert sponsored by YouTube. About 3,000 musicians submitted audition videos to the site, and YouTube patrons, with their refined taste, selected the winners from the top 200 submissions. Given the musicians, hailing everywhere from South Korea to Reno, had only two days to practice together, the show seems to have gone pretty well.

Hinterbichler, who has a website displaying his scribbles (which seem to be fodder for heated debate), his musical compositions and his theory of the universe, filmed an introductory video played during the concert. He, as did the Prime Minister of South Korea, also starred in second video to promote the event. According to the concert’s website, there is going to be a documentary about the YouTube orchestra, and since Hinterbichler appears in the trailer, he will probably appear in the movie as well. 

Kudos to Hunterichler, who joins the pantheon of kick-ass Columbia grad students.




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img February 25, 20079:29 pmimg 84 Comments

Last night, Bwog reporter Karen Leung went to the Chinese Student Club’s annual culture show, and returned both entertained and bemused. Her dispatch follows.

kjhGive people an excuse to talk about mass, and it’s only a matter of time before the fat jokes come. At last night’s Lunar Gala, the Chinese Students Club’s annual culture show, the theme was Momentum, in honor of the Year of the Boar and that noble animal’s “persistence to motivate himself as well as those around him.” The theme invited physics jokes – for the uninformed, emcee Kenny Liu declared that momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. His partner, Monnica Chan, asked whether she looked nice in her dress. The collision of physics and the female body prompted a fat joke. It was the beginning of a beautiful evening.

It was hard for most of the acts to fail. People are fascinated by men balancing wooden bobbles on a piece of string, and they laugh when people in lion suits throw lettuce (and rightly so). The hip hop group was cool, of course; Radiance, the classical Chinese dance troupe, was beautiful, of course; the vocal performances were uneven but ultimately successful, of course. The only exception was an interminable performance by Hsu-nami, an Asian rock fusion group which the program told me has the sensibility of “the osmosis of oriental pastime + the tenacity of modern rock.”   (more…)

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