Sep 06, 2009 •
Recently I was asked by a scientific journal to review an article that had been sent to them. This is pretty standard procedure for journals, and every scientist will know what I am talking about. For those non-scientists, peer review is a way of ensuring (or rather, trying to ensure) quality in scientific publication. If someone writes an article and submits it to a scientific journal, the editors will send it to people reasonable competent in the field for them to comment on. For example, is the subject matter appropriate for the journal? is the method sound? are the results believable? are the conclusions backed up by the results? etc etc.
Sep 03, 2009 •
We've had our dishwasher for a couple of years, acquiring it after the one we inherited with the house went out with a bang (and shot sparks the entire length of the kitchen.) It's a nice dishwasher - that is, it washes dishes nicely, but it's got an annoying habit that I have just experienced for about the zillionth time. If I've got the kitchen sink full of water, and the dishwasher reaches a stage in its cycle where it pumps its water out, it pops the plug out of the sink and I lose my water. (The old dishwasher did this occasionally - the new one does it every time.)
Sep 01, 2009 •
I was reading in the New Zealand Herald at the weekend about a curious problem relating to electric cars. But it's not a technological problem - it's one of language.
My car runs on petrol. It's fuel economy is pretty easy to measure. Start with a full tank, take a note of the odometer, run it until the gauge gets low, fill it with fuel, noting carefully how much goes in, take another note of the odometer, and then divide your kilometres by number of litres for kilometres per litre, or divide your litres by your kilometres and multiply by 100 to get litres per hundred kilometres. (Or work out miles per gallon if that's what you want.)
Aug 31, 2009 •
I'm still working on the problem of why is the sky blue? Now, I've already told you its because the short-wavelength blue light is scattered more than the long-wavelength red light, but why are short wavelengths scattered more than longer ones? In words suitable for a blog.
I could do some maths to show you that's the case, but that's really a cop-out. (Plus most of you wouldn't follow it.) I think if a physicist has to resort to maths to explain something, it means he doesn't understand it himself. (That said, you will struggle to do physics without being reasonably competent at maths - since maths provides the language in which physics is often best expressed.)
Aug 28, 2009 •
This morning we had a school group visit us from Whakatane - about 30 year 10 students (14 and 15 year olds) - they carried out some activities in Chemistry, Earth Sciences and Physics. I led them (as two groups) in a physics activity involving catapults.
After doing the boring bit (talking about how energy is transferred from one form to another as the catapult is loaded and fired) we got to actually using the things. Our catapults have a metal arm, that can be bent back and locked in place. A projectile is placed on the arm, and then the arm is released. As it springs back into position, it throws the projectile about fifteen metres (if you get it right) across the room. Students can vary the release angle of the catapult, the mass of the projectile they put on it, and the effective length of the spring arm. They need to think through the best combination to get the projectile going the desired length.
Aug 27, 2009 •
Last night our cat failed to live up to the reputation of his species for executing four-footed landings when he lept off a perch in hot pursuit of a piece of string, landed on his front paws with too much forward rotation, performed a graceful flick-flack and thuded head first into the CD rack. After a couple of seconds looking very dazed he got to his feet again and decided (to our relief) he was still fit enough to teach that bit of string a lesson.
Aug 26, 2009 •
In the last few days I've had a couple of people ask what is happening with the Large Hadron Collider.
Well, if you want the latest news, you can grab the press releases from http://lhc.web.cern.ch/lhc/News.htm . In short, they are doing various tests, and finding and addressing various problems as they arise. It now looks like November before the collider is 'fired-up', (press release 16 July 2009) but initially it will only be running at a paltry 3.5 TeV energy (that's still a pretty mean machine) while the technicians gain practice with running it - it looks unlikely they'll take it up to its full 7 TeV until 2011 (press release 6 August 2009).
You'll see it hit the popular news again, I'm sure, as November approaches.