Browsing: Physics

As I peer into the cardboard box NIST researcher Amanda Forster holds out for me, I can’t help thinking that this mild-mannered materials scientist has an impressive collection of shivs. The handmade prison weapons include a ballpoint pen with a razor embedded in the shaft and a toothbrush — originally designed to be gentle on your gums — that’s been re-engineered to easily puncture flesh. They are vivid evidence of a scary fact of prison life: anything can be turned into a weapon. Corrections officers wear stab-resistant body armor that’s usually made from fibers of extremely strong material such as Kevlar, just like the ballistic body armor worn by police or military personnel. But because ballistic armor is designed to…

Legwarmers, preppies, yuppies, Molly Ringwald, nuclear paranoia … the 1980s were my favorite decade. I was in junior high school in New Jersey when I saw The Day After, a 1983 TV movie that depicted a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The focus of the movie, however, was not on the war but rather on the impact that the nuclear exchange had on everyday people. I remember watching the movie with my parents, being very scared, and thinking “Could this really happen?” Little did I know that 33 years later a series of interconnected events would have me answering related questions in nuclear forensics. In high school, I became interested in political science and international…

Right now, scientists all over the world are trying to understand how we get injured when our bodies are subjected to strong, dynamic loads – a hard body-check on the hockey rink, a tackle on the football field, a car crash, or even a bomb blast. Fortunately, I haven’t had any experience with bomb blasts, and I like to think I’m a great driver (don’t we all!), so I haven’t been in any car crashes (so far!), but what I do know something about is hockey. I grew up in Buffalo, New York. We Buffalonians love hockey, so it should come as no surprise that I’ve been playing hockey ever since I could skate under the crossbar. Like any good…

It was Monday, April 25, 2016, and I was going to meet mass experts Pat Abbott and Eddie Mulhern of NIST’s Mass and Force group as part of my frantic preparations for a 5:21 p.m. flight to Paris. Pat and Eddie were the appointed custodians of the four 1 kilogram masses that I was to transport to the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM) (that’s French for “International Bureau of Weights and Measures”) as part of the world’s first comparison among masses calibrated entirely in terms of fundamental constants of the universe. That’s right. These kilograms were calibrated in terms of fundamental constants of the universe and not in terms of some piece of metal enshrined in a vault…

This article was written in response to the March 14, 2016, death of John Cahn, one of the world’s foremost materials scientists, who worked at NIST from 1977 to 2006. Cahn received the National Medal of Science in 1998 and the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology in 2011. I first met John Cahn in the late 1960s when he visited our department of metallurgy at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. Already a famous thermodynamics-of-materials scholar, John was our most important visiting scientist at the time. During that period I was studying for my master’s and then Ph.D. degrees, and John and I were talking science. John was interested in my work and in particular in the microstructure of…