Nobel Prize Betting Pool

It’s that time of year again– the Swedes will be handing out money to famous scientists, with the announcements of who’s getting what starting one week from today. Thus, the traditional Uncertain Principles Nobel Prize Picking Contest: Leave a comment on this post predicting the winner(s) of one of this year’s Nobel Prizes. Anyone who […]

Why I’m Skeptical About the Changing Fine-Structure Constant

Not long ago, a new preprint on the fine structure constant got a bunch of press, nicely summed up by the Knight Science Journalism Tracker last week. I meant to say something about this last week, but what with it being the first week of classes and all, I didn’t find the time. I still […]

How to Read Scientific Papers Without Reading Every Word

Over at, Jo Walton is surprised that people skim over boring bits of novels. While she explicitly excludes non-fiction from her discussion, this immediately made me think of Timothy Burke’s How to Read in College, which offers tips to prospective humanities and social science majors on how to most effectively skim through huge reading […]

Counterfactual Physics: Lorentz Variance?

The theory of relativity takes its name from a very simple and appealing idea: that the laws of physics should look the same to moving observers as to stationary ones. “Laws of physics” here includes Maxwell’s equations for electricity and magnetism, which necessarily means that moving observers must see the same speed of light as […]

What Uncertainty Means to Me– And You, and the Universe

In chapter 2 of How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, there’s a footnote about the ubiquity of uncertainty principle analogies in the mass media: To give you an idea of the breadth of subjects in which this shows up, in June 2008, Google turned up citations of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in (among others) […]

The ABC’s of AMO Physics

Over at Confused at a Higher Level, Melissa offers an alphabetical list of essential supplies for a condensed matter experimentalist at a small college. This is a fun idea for back-to-school time, so I’ll steal it, and offer the following alphabetical list of essentials for Atomic, Molecular, and Optical physics at a small college, kind […]

What to Tell Your Dog About Einstein

“Hey, dude, whatcha doin’?” “Signing these contracts. I’m not sure why they need four copies, but they do.” “Contracts for what?” “The new book. Remmeber, the one we’ve been talking about these last few weeks? Sequel-of-sorts to How to Teach Physics to Your Dog? About relativity?” “Oh, yeah, that’s right! We’re doing another book! Where […]

Without Experiment, There Is No Theory

A lot of people have been blogging and Twittering about this subway map of science, which puts various branches of science in the place of the lines on the London Underground map, showing connections between them. It’s a huge graphic, but a kind of cool image. I do, however, have a problem with it, which […]

Backyard Fluid Dynamics Revisited

Back in July, I did a post looking at how the fountain in our ornamental backyard pond shoots higher when the level of the pond drops. I set up a simple model of the process, which worked surprisingly well, but I said at the time that I really needed more data to say whether that […]

Indirect Excitation Control: Ultrafast Quantum Gates for Single Atomic Qubits

Last week, John Baez posted a report on a seminar by Dzimitry Matsukevich on ion trap quantum information issues. In the middle of this, he writes: Once our molecular ions are cold, how can we get them into specific desired states? Use a mode locked pulsed laser to drive stimulated Raman transitions. Huh? As far […]