Browsing: Physics

First, let me say that I’m totally energized by the good press my dear acquaintance Wonder Woman has been receiving lately. It’s absolutely electrifying to see a strong woman get good publicity! And she has done some wonderful things, what with defending the world from evil-doers and all. Maybe with her around, superheroes like me will get a little more recognition. For those of you who haven’t heard of me, I’m Ms. Ampere of the Measurement League. My fellow superheroes and I make sure that the basic measurements that make modern life possible—time, temperature, length, amount of substance, mass, brightness, and electric current—are as accurate and precise as they can be. Without us, you’d have a tough time describing the…

Right now, the NIST museum in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is displaying a glass globe the size of a large beach ball. When visitors first come upon it, they’re not sure what to make of it. Is it a giant lightbulb? A highly impractical fishbowl? Thankfully, they can quickly quench their curiosity by reading the identifying sign that accompanies the object. (This particular artifact is actually for collecting gas samples.) NIST’s museum collection includes hundreds of artifacts that tell the story of NIST, and its predecessor NBS, that reflect the larger history of American scientific research. But not every item in our collection has been identified. In fact, we’re in the possession of quite a few … thingamajigs. Knowledge of these things’…

NIST/JILA Fellow Debbie Jin died of cancer on Sept. 15, 2016, at the age of 47. One of the most prominent researchers at NIST, she won many science awards, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur (“Genius”) Fellowship in 2003 and a L’Oreal/UNESCO “For Women in Science” Award for North America in 2013. Jin is perhaps best known for producing and characterizing the world’s first fermionic condensate. It is similar to Nobel-prize-winning Bose-Einstein condensates, the world’s first quantum gas (for which Jin played a crucial early role) but much more challenging to produce and characterize, with very different physical behavior and applications. Debbie Jin was a treasured friend and colleague for many years. I am one of many people who have…

One of my favorite things about being a condensed matter physicist is how broadly defined the subject is. There are lots of interesting phenomena begging for scientific attention, so it’s never boring. One of my favorite topics lies at the crossroads of magnetism and superconductivity. Magnets have been with us for millennia, and we’ve known about superconductors for a century. Magnets are everywhere: inside refrigerators, computers, cellphones, audio speakers, cars, and compasses, which are what people used together with a map to get around before we all had GPS. Superconductors, materials that conduct electricity without resistance, are also everywhere, though not as many places as we might like. If you have ever had an MRI, you were inside a supercooled…

Here’s a surprising fact: We don’t know what makes up 80 percent of the matter in the universe. I don’t mean that the matter is made of atoms, and we just don’t know which kind of atoms. What I mean is that four-fifths of the universe appears to be made of something that isn’t atoms at all, or more to the point, it’s not made from any of the fundamental particles that we know of. Why do we think that this mystery matter exists? The short answer is that Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity, general relativity, has painted us into a corner. When we look through telescopes at stars and galaxies moving through the universe, something we can’t see is…

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