Tag: physics

Our Favorite Baltimore Genius Just Keeps Winning Awards


adam riess

I imagine it’s a pretty amazing feeling to win a Nobel prize. But then where do you go from there? Well, if you’re Johns Hopkins physicist Adam Riess, Baltimore Fishbowl’s official physics crush, you just keep raking in the awards.

Johns Hopkins Physicist Receives (Possible) $1 Million Prize



No one goes into theoretical physics for the money. If you’ve got the brains to handle those kinds of abstract, fundamental questions, you may win yourself a nice professorship, but since your ideas can’t be easily converted into medicines or weapons, you’re not likely to bring home the really big bucks.

That’s why the Simons Investigator program was launched in 2012: it provides support to mathematicians, theoretical computer scientists, and theoretical physicists — $100,000 per year for five years, with an optional five-year renewal after that. Hopkins physics professor Marc Kamionkowski is one of the six recipients of this year’s award.

Johns Hopkins Scientists Didn’t Win Nobel, But They Know Some Guys Who Did



So the actual recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics — the ones who get to get up on stage and shake the King of Sweden’s hand and collect that big check — are Francois Englert of the  Université Libre de Bruxelles and Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh. But that doesn’t mean that Johns Hopkins scientists don’t get at least a little credit for the discovery that snagged Englert and Higgs their prize; call it a partial Nobel, perhaps.

This Week in Research: Death Valley Mystery Stones Solved!



For years, Death Valley’s “sailing stones” attracted visitors and puzzled scientists. In a remote area of the national park, large stones move across an arid playa leaving tell-tale tracks behind, some as long as a football field — and no one could explain what force propelled them. Some blamed “magnetism”; others, aliens. Previous experiments ruled out dust devils and powerful winds as the cause. For decades, the rocks’ movement seemed like one of those natural mysteries that would never be solved. But now, a Johns Hopkins physicist has finally figured it out.

Why is the Weather So Weird on Game of Thrones? Johns Hopkins Grad Students Have a Complicated Answer…


In HBO’s gory, sword-porn epic Game of Thrones (based on the novels by George R.R. Martin), the seasons are all out of whack:  summer lasts a decade, and everyone’s always ominously intoning that winter is coming. Most fans just shrug and accept the rules of the fantasy universe, but one dedicated group of Johns Hopkins graduate students has taken things a bit farther:  they’ve come up with an astronomical justification for the weird weather, complete with charts, equations, and footnotes.

The Higgs boson Is Confirmed (Again)! Who Wants to Throw a Theme Party?

This image of a particle collision from CERN should give you some  costume inspiration.
This image of a particle collision from CERN should give you some costume inspiration.

How embarrassing:  I threw my Higgs boson party last year, when physicists (including a number of Johns Hopkinites) determined that the so-called “God particle” existed. But apparently I was way too early. This week, CERN finally announced a “tentative confirmation” of the particle in question. In scientist-speak, that counts as extreme enthusiasm. So now we can throw a party.

This Week in Research: Death, Terrorism, and a Really Cool Video


In this series, we look at the newest findings coming out of our area’s top research universities. We’ve got some great minds in Baltimore — let’s learn what they’re learning!

Okay, this one is less “research” and more “cool experiment”:  what happens to a glass of water in space? Would it freeze? Would it boil? Would it kind of… float there creepily? Well, one cool thing about Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Lab is that they have all sorts of cool equipment with which to simulate space. So if that question is still bothering you (hint:  it’s kind of a trick question), just watch the video above to find out what happens.

According to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, 69 percent of lung cancer patients and 81 percent of colorectal cancer patients didn’t understand that their chemotherapy wasn’t likely to cure their cancer. That’s because physicians aren’t forthright enough with their patients, says Johns Hopkins oncologist Thomas Smith. “We do a fair job of communicating to patients that their terminal illness is incurable, but only one-third of doctors tell patients their prognosis at any time during their care.” Smith, who’s also the director of palliative medicine at Hopkins, recommends the ask-tell-ask method:  “asking patients what they want to know about their prognosis, telling them what they want to know, and then asking, ‘What do you now understand about your situation?’ ”

Although the central branch of al-Qaida may have been pummeled into submission by strategic assassinations/drone attacks/other methods — only one of the 5000 terrorist attacks in 2011 is attributed to the group — but that hardly means they’re not a danger. The real issue now, according to recent research out of the University of Maryland, is al-Qaida linked groups, like al-Shabaab in Somalia (which killed 70 and injured 42 last year) and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen (110 killed; 45 injured). More than a quarter of 2011’s terrorist attacks happened in Iraq, while the U.S.’s ten attacks amounted to less than .2 percent of global terror attacks.

What is This “God Particle,” Anyway?


So the Higgs boson (probably) exists. But, um, what does that mean exactly? When talk at your weekend barbecues turns to the God Particle, you could always mutter something about dark matter before escaping to get some more cole slaw — or you could listen to Johns Hopkins physicist David Kaplan‘s seven-minute nutshell explanation of particle physics’ newest family member below the jump, and have at least three smart things to say to impress your friends and neighbors.

Johns Hopkins APL Names Best Inventions of 2011


The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab is sort of like a playroom for really smart people, but instead of Legos they use microminature motors and undersea acoustic technologies. This is physics in action, folks, and it’s dramatic.

Last year, 460 scientists at the APL disclosed 259 inventions — an all time high! — but only two get honored at the Invention of the Year Award Reception (yes, trophies were provided).

The top invention of 2011 was the Ultra-Compact Multitasking Motor Controller, which is — well, it’s kind of exactly what it sounds like. By “ultra-compact,” the device’s inventors (Harry Eaton and Douglas Wenstrand) mean “the size of a dime.” Which is, indeed, ultra-compact. The controller is designed to coordinate movement in a state-of-the-art prosthetic arm, which features movements so nuanced that each individual finger can move independently. Previously, most similar controllers were three times the size of this one — and it’s able to coordinate with the 10 motors within the prosthetic arm, to boot.

This Week in Research: Love, Scientifically; Tiny Flying Robots


“Love is not a psychiatric disorder, but people that are in love are kind of crazy,” says Dr. Sandra Langeslag, an expert in biological psychology at the University of Maryland. And while the creative among us rhapsodize about love in poems and paintings, more rational types, like Langeslag, prefer to look at love through MRIs and EEGs. “I want to understand how the brain works when humans are attracted to one another,” Langeslag says, presumably beyond vague formulations like “Oh, you just know.” Langeslag’s research tries to bridge the gap between research on emotion (which depends on present circumstances) and cognition (which depends on thought and experience). Langeslag and her colleague, Luiz Pessoa, don’t believe that the two brain processes are as separate as they’re often portrayed. Langeslag’s research has shown that the brains of people in love show a specific pattern of what she calls “motivated attention” when shown images of their beloved. In other words, normal human propensity for distraction (a TV show in the background? an attractive stranger walking by?) is minimized when a person is gazing at the one they love. Isn’t that sweet?

If you want to know what the U.S. Air Force is up to these days, forget about watching Top Gun. Instead, consider the butterfly. No, not because they’re pretty, but because they’re able to fly through complex environments despite obstacles, wind, and narrow spaces. To that end, the Air Force is funding research at Johns Hopkins to help develop insect-sized robots for reconnaissance, search-and-rescue, and environmental monitoring missions — all without risking human life. To help develop the robots’ maneuverability, Johns Hopkins undergrad (!) Tiras Lin is taking high-speed video of butterflies and other flying insects. Designing successful, agile micro aerial vehicles (MAVs) requires an intimate understanding of the mass distribution of insects’ flapping wings, and how their bodies shift and distort as a response to the requirements of flight. So far, Lin and his fellow researchers have collected approximately 6,000 images — and used 600 frames to capture as little as one-fifth of one second of flight. “Butterflies flap their wings about 25 times per second,” Lin points out. “That’s why we had to take so many pictures.”