One, Two, Many, Lots: Investigating the Start of Many-Body Physics

Two papers with a similar theme crossed my social media feeds in the last couple of days. You might think this is just a weird coincidence, but I’m choosing to take it as a sign to write about them for the blog. So, what are these papers, and what’s the theme? One is the final […]

Free, As In Energy

Via social media, John Novak cashes in a Nobel Betting Pool win from a while back, asking: Please explain to me the relationship between energy, entropy, and free energy. Like you would explain it to a two year old child. Why? There is a statistical algorithm called Expectation Maximization which is often explained in terms […]

When Is a Composite Object a Particle?

Through some kind of weird synchronicity, the title question came up twice yesterday, once in a comment to my TED@NYC talk post, and the second time on Twitter, in a conversation with a person whose account is protected, thus rendering it un-link-able. Trust me. The question is one of those things that you don’t necessarily […]

Things I’ve Never Quite Understood: Microscopic Picture of Blackbody Radiation

I’m putting together slides for a TED audition talk in a couple of weeks, about how the history of quantum mechanics is like a crossword puzzle. This involves talking about black-body radiation, which is the problem that kicked off QM– to explain the spectrum of light emitted by hot objects, Max Planck had to resort […]

Tools of the Cold-Atom Trade: Evaporative Cooling

In our last installment of the cold-atom toolbox series, we talked about why you need magnetic traps to get to really ultra-cold samples– because the light scattering involved in laser cooling limits you to a temperature that’s too high for making Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC). This time out, we’ll talk about how you actually get to […]

Few-Body Systems: Cooler Than You Might Think

Hey, dude? Yeah, what’s up? I’m not normally the one who initiates this, but I was wondering: When you were at DAMOP last week, did you see any really neat physics? Oh, sure, tons of stuff. It was a little thinner than some past meetings– a lot of the Usual Suspects didn’t make the trip– […]

How Good Is My Starbucks Cup?

It’s been a while since I’ve done a post over-analyzing some everyday situation, because I’ve been too busy to do any silly experiments. We’re on break this week, though, so I took a little time Monday to bring excessive technology to bear on the critically important scientific question: how good is my insulated Starbucks cup? […]

Direct and Indirect Heating: Why Don’t Power Plants Change Local Climate?

This past weekend, I was at Boskone, where I appeared on a few science-y panels. One of these was on the possibility of beaming power down from space: Energy From Space Beam me down some juice, Scotty? Let’s talk about the possibilities — and practicalities — of really long-distance power transmission. Tom Easton (M), Jordin […]

How Do You Make Negative Temperatures, Anyway?

Last week’s post talked about the general idea of negative temperature, with reference to this much-talked-about Science paper (which also comes in a free arxiv version from which the figures used here are taken). I didn’t go into the details of how they made a negative temperature gas, though, and as it’s both very clever […]