sciencehabit writes: Physicists have developed a tiny device in which the index of refraction for visible light is zero—so that within it, visible light travels infinitely fast. The gizmo won't lead to instantaneous communication—the famous speed limit of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity remains in force—but it could have a variety of pretty cool uses, including serving as an element in a type of optical circuitry.
sciencehabit writes: Frozen water droplets take on a whole new shape when they freeze: Instead of staying round, they form a pointy tip, and eventually sprout a tiny forest of ice crystals on their surface. In order to observe these effects, researchers dripped tiny beads of water on a plate kept at a chilly -20C. In the 18 seconds that it took the 4-millimeter-diameter droplets to solidify, researchers snapped photos of the water freezing from the bottom up. During the final stage of freezing, the ice drops developed a pointy tip, which continued to grow and eventually formed delicate ice crystals on the surface. Researchers believe the unusual pointy tip is caused by the vertical expansion of the ice combined with the surface tension on remaining liquid. Once frozen, the sharp tip of the drop attracts water vapor from the air, and produces treelike ice crystals.
sciencehabit writes: Researchers assembled a mound of staples and subjected it to fast, 30-Hertz vibrations. They then repeated the experiment for staples of the same width but different leg sizes. Staples with a length-to-width ratio of about 0.4—that's a bit stubbier than your typical office staple—stayed piled up the longest. This ratio appears to balance the number of entanglements—interlocked legs, that is—that staples have with their neighbors with the staple density, both of which make the mounds more stable. The results suggest that the limbs and jaws of species such as the fire ant, which interlock to create floating bridges and shelters, also exploit optimal length-to-width ratios.
sciencehabit writes: The big bang created a lot of matter—along with the same amount of antimatter, which wiped out everything and brought the universe to an untimely end. That's what accepted theoretical physics tell us—though things clearly didn't work out that way. Now, results from a U.S. particle smasher are providing new evidence for a subtle difference in the properties of matter and antimatter that may explain how the early universe survived.
sciencehabit writes: Students and researchers alike have long understood that physics is challenging. But only now have scientists managed to prove it. It turns out that one of the most common goals in physics—finding an equation that describes how a system changes over time—is defined as "hard" by computer theory. That's bad news for physics students who hope that a machine can solve all their homework problems, but at least their future jobs in the field are safe from automation.
sciencehabit writes: Researchers have created the world's thinnest pane of glass. The glass, made of silicon and oxygen, formed accidentally when the scientists were making graphene, an atom-thick sheet of carbon, on copper-covered quartz. They believe an air leak caused the copper to react with the quartz, which is also made of silicon and oxygen, producing a glass layer with the graphene. The glass is a mere three atoms thick—the minimum thickness of silica glass—which makes it two-dimensional. The team notes that the structure "strikingly resembles" a diagram drawn by a glass theorist attempting to unravel its structure back in 1932. Such ultra-thin glass could be used in semiconductor or graphene transistors.
sciencehabit writes: Two years ago, physicists fired up the world's first laser to shine out hard x-rays—the high-energy, short-wavelength particles of light needed to probe atomic-scale structure. Shining 10 billion times brighter than any previous x-ray source, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) can determine the structure of crystals from samples a few nanometers across and probe changes in materials that take place in a millionth of a nanosecond. But the $410 million LCLS doesn't look anything like a laser pointer, as it relies on a 3-kilometer-long particle accelerator to generate x-rays. Now, physicists have made a much smaller x-ray laser that works much more like the conventional one you might carry around in your pocket.
sciencehabit writes: Last month, physicists working with the world's highest-energy atom-smasher reported possible evidence of the long-sought Higgs boson, the last missing piece of scientists' standard model of fundamental particles and the key to physicists' explanation of how all particles get their mass. Today, however, the same two teams reported that, with more data, those signs appear slightly weaker, suggesting that they could be a statistical fluctuation in the "background" produced by decays of familiar particles. Still, the curious excess of possible Higgs bosons remains.
sciencehabit writes: Ocean's Eleven has nothing on this. A robber breaks into a bank safe and returns home, where he activates a device that conceals his earlier burglary, making it look like he never entered the bank in the first place. Such a "time cloak" is still a long way from reality, but researchers have now made an important first step, demonstrating a cloaking device that can hide for a fraction of a second an event that occurs at a specific point in time.
sciencehabit writes: Known as "Jack the Dripper," Jackson Pollock created his signature paintings of overlapping curls and streaks by dipping a stick or trowel into a container of paint and letting the paint stream onto canvas or paper spread on the floor. His iconic paintings appear to be manifestations of pure creativity. Yet Pollock was a bit of a physicist, exploiting fluid dynamics and the interplay between viscosity and gravity to achieve the effects he wanted, according to an analysis of his work by an art historian, a physicist, and a mathematician.
sciencehabit writes: Scientists working with a massive subterranean particle detector in Japan have directly observed a hoped-for phenomenon in which particles called muon neutrinos transform into others called electron neutrinos. In itself, that preliminary observation tells physicists nothing new about the relationship between matter and antimatter. However, the effect appears to be so large that it suggests future experiments now in the planning may have a far easier time spotting other phenomena. That includes a possible asymmetry between the behavior of neutrinos and antineutrinos that could explain why the universe evolved to contain so much matter and so little antimatter.
sciencehabit writes: Toy boats beware! For the first time, physicists have created a rogue wave in a laboratory tank. Although the 3-centimeter-tall wave would topple only a tiny model ocean liner, the observation lends credence to the idea that a simplified theory of water waves can explain freak waves, which have been blamed for sinking real ships.
sciencehabit writes: Lab rats, watch your back. Scientists have found a way to make simple droplets of oil navigate complex labyrinths with the same skill as laboratory rodents. The advance could help researchers devise better ways to solve other mazelike problems, from rooting out cancer in the body to mapping paths through traffic jams.
sciencehabit writes: ScienceNOW reports a rumor making the rounds on the physics blogosphere: the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS), a small array of particle detectors lurking in the Soudan mine in Minnesota, has uncovered direct evidence of dark matter. This is the mysterious stuff whose gravity appears to hold galaxies together, making the discovery — if it is confirmed — potentially one of the most important of all time. But given the same team's previously published negative results and the relatively modest increase in the size of their data set, experts think a true signal is unlikely. We will find out in ten days, when the results are published in Nature.