Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nickel Gnomes

Perhaps Step 2 was to steal copper?
While flipping through a CRC Handbook whose days in the United States are dwindling, I came across a section that described the naming conventions of each chemical element.  Most of the names made sense to me.  For example, Nobelium is named after Alfred Nobel (surprise!).  However, the Nickel entry was the following:

Nickel: Named after Satan or Old Nick

This confused me greatly.  What the heck is Santa Claus doing hanging out with Satan [1]?

After a bit of poking around on the internet, I found an article from 1931 by a guy named William Baldwin called The Story of Nickel,  How "Old Nick's" Gnomes were Outwitted.  Needless to say, this did not allay my confusion.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blown Away

I was reading a discussion on green energy recently, in particular wind power, where the following claim was made
enough wind turbines to power the world would cover the surface of the world.
Now, this was quickly decried by supporters of wind power, but the claim has stuck with me. The question on my mind today is: How much of the earth's surface would have to be covered to power the earth with wind turbines?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Physics Challenge Award Show

In an emergency, Richard Dean Anderson's mullet can
be used as a flotation device and/or standard kilogram.
Welcome to the First Physics Challenge Problem Award Show!  We received an integer number of solutions to our challenge problem and at long last and after much deliberation, we have chosen our winner.

We had before indicated vaguely that there may be some sort of prizes involved in this competition.  After consultation with our financial advisors and breaking Alemi's piggy bank, we have decided on the following prizes:

First Place:  A brand new CRC Handbook!

Second Place: An autographed [1] picture of Scott Bakula!

Honorable Mention:  Nothing! [2]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan Nuclear Crisis

Though I know that two posts in one day is recently unprecedented, I've been meaning to post about the Japan nuclear crisis for a few days. The various major news outlets are doing a good job, or so it seems, of keeping us informed of the events going on over there. However, I found myself rather puzzled over the physics of what was happening. From the news articles I was unable to figure out what was actually causing the meltdown, beyond some problem with the cooling. As a postdoc in my lab asked, "Isn't all they have to do drop the control rods and the reaction ends?" So I decided to do a little digging. I've found a couple of places that do a nice job of explain some of the physics of what is actually happening, nature news (not sure if the nature blogs are behind a paywall), and scientific american (not up on current events, but a nice summary of what can/might go wrong). I'm sure there are many other places doing a good job of explaining things, but these are the ones and I found, and hopefully they help clarify what is actually happening.

Apologies + Saturn!

Hello, again!  Remember us?  I don't.  Anyway, apologies for the lack of activity here.  There are plenty of people* to blame for this lack of activity, but I don't want to name names.  The real purpose of this pseudo-update is to SUPER DUPER promise that the winners of our first Monthly Physics Challenge problem will be announced tomorrow.  Thanks for your patience!

In the meantime, there's a totally rad video-ification of photos of Saturn (and moons) taken by the Cassini spacecraft that was Astronomy Picture of the Day yesterday and will (presumably) be part of an IMAX movie in the future.  You can check it out here.

Saturn.  It's a planet!

See you tomorrow!