Physics

Nine Crazy Ideas in Science: A Few of Them Might Even be True

One of the goals of a course I teach in our Honors College is to provide non-science majors with the tools they need to differentiate authentic science from material that has merely been provided a "scientific" dressing. Physicist Robert Ehrlich has provided nine case studies that are ideal for this purpose. Do more guns in the hands of citizens decrease crime? Is AIDS really caused by HIV?

Off the Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir

The word "Surviving" should probably be underlined in the title of this first-hand account by an American astro/cosmonaut of his experiences aboard Mir. There is precious little science in this book, but a great deal about living at the mercy of technology and Russian bureaucracy.

The Shaken-Soda Syndrome

Try this! Take two identical cans of soda (or some other beverage). Roll then down a slight incline to confirm that they roll at about the same speed. What do you think will happen if you shake up one can and roll them again? Make a prediction. Then try it. Have your students do it. Develop hypotheses and test them. This is a terrific experiment that anyone can do.

The Physics of Gridlock

How is automobile traffic like a gas? No, it's not because the collisions are inelastic. Researchers in chaos theory, especially Dirk Helbing and Boris Kerner, both theoretical physicists, have been working on traffic flow, using models similar to those of particle dynamics.

The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist

In 1963, Richard Feynmann gave three lectures at the University of Washington. This short book (only 133 pages) is a transcript of those talks. The lectures were not really physics, but were a very informal (virtually extemporaneous) view of what the results of modern physics means to everyman.

A Fresh Look at Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Lieb and Yngvason describe in this article how the concept of entropy can be explained without resorting to heat engines or statistical mechanics, and without even the a priori imposition of temperature.

Sport: Extreme Stargazing

For anyone who has tried unsuccessfully (like me) to find familiar stars in well-known constellations through a telescope, the competition that David Freedman describes sounds impossible. The "sport" is to see how many of the 110 celestial objects in the Messier catalog you can locate and identify during a single night of observation.

Medicine on Mars

I'm not a big fan of science fiction. I find "real" science to be generally more interesting; the fictionalized kind usually requires me to pretend that the universe is far different than what I believe to be the case. In fiction, travel between planets (or even solar systems) is accomplished quite easily, by suspension of the speed limit imposed by relativity.