Category Archives: Physics

“If you want to be successful, you have to be fast. But you also have to be first.”

Quanta Magazine: Three Major Physics Discoveries and Counting. “Sau Lan Wu spent decades working to establish the Standard Model of particle physics. Now she’s searching for what lies beyond it.”

“In 1963, Maria Goeppert Mayer won the Nobel Prize in physics for describing the layered, shell-like structures of atomic nuclei. No woman has won since.

One of the many women who, in a different world, might have won the physics prize in the intervening 55 years is Sau Lan Wu. Wu is the Enrico Fermi Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an experimentalist at CERN, the laboratory near Geneva that houses the Large Hadron Collider. Wu’s name appears on more than 1,000 papers in high-energy physics, and she has contributed to a half-dozen of the most important experiments in her field over the past 50 years. She has even realized the improbable goal she set for herself as a young researcher: to make at least three major discoveries.

Wu was an integral member of one of the two groups that observed the J/psi particle, which heralded the existence of a fourth kind of quark, now called the charm. […] Later in the 1970s, Wu did much of the math and analysis to discern the three “jets” of energy flying away from particle collisions that signaled the existence of gluons — particles that mediate the strong force holding protons and neutrons together. […] Wu later became one of the group leaders for the ATLAS experiment, one of the two collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider that discovered the Higgs boson in 2012, filling in the final piece of the Standard Model.”

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Flight by electrostatic repulsion

The Atlantic: Spiders Can Fly Hundreds of Miles Using Electricity. “Scientists are finally starting to understand the centuries-old mystery of “ballooning.””

“The upper reaches of the atmosphere have a positive charge, and the planet’s surface has a negative one. Even on sunny days with cloudless skies, the air carries a voltage of around 100 volts for every meter above the ground. In foggy or stormy conditions, that gradient might increase to tens of thousands of volts per meter.

Ballooning spiders operate within this planetary electric field. When their silk leaves their bodies, it typically picks up a negative charge. This repels the similar negative charges on the surfaces on which the spiders sit, creating enough force to lift them into the air.”

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“Are you sure there isn’t something else we could calculate?”

XKCD What if: Earth-Moon Fire Pole. “My son (5y) asked me today: If there were a kind of a fireman’s pole from the Moon down to the Earth, how long would it take to slide all the way from the Moon to the Earth? – Ramon Schönborn, Germany”

I loved this and am tempted to use it in one of my next physics lessons…

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