Archive for April, 2011

Read All About It: Piled Higher and Deeper

Nature has a special edition out on the future of the PhD

I will admit that I have not read all of the articles/editorials, but in my sampling, I see they fall into the familiar and perhaps comfortable view that the sole purpose of a PhD is to get you a job in academia. My familiarity, of course, in physics, and perhaps things are different for the varied flavors of chemists and biologists (biology and life sciences are seeing the largest uptrend in degrees awarded), but only around a third of physics doctorates go into academia. I can’t seem to dredge up the statistics from historical data for physics (the keepers do not seem to have committed it to being readily available online, or perhaps my Google-fu just sucks ATM) but I suspect this has been true for a while; research professors have been churning out multiple graduates for a number of years. If academia were the only market, a professor would be limited to two or three: his/her replacement, and one or two for institutions that do not have graduate students. The data from 1990-2206(pdf alert) for all STEM fields in OECD countries shows that it’s around half for the US and perhaps a little larger in that grouping; it varies by country. But the notion that a STEM PhD necessarily leads to an academic position is a fiction perpetuated and persists within the community.

One also might wonder, in the US, why we issue H-1B visas to bring in people with PhDs, if there is this glut of people with doctorates on the market.

Rube-y Goldberg Tuesday, World Record Edition

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The 2011 Purdue University Rube Goldberg machine shattered the world record for most steps ever successfully completed by such a machine. In 244 steps the “Time Machine” traces the history of the world from Big Bang to the Apocalypse before accomplishing the assigned everyday task of watering a flower

Snake-Oil Science: The Romance of Empty Symbolism

Quantum Entanglement: A New Way to Be Married

In other words, when two or more particles are entangled, they behave as if they were one and the same, and any change to one instantaneously and identically changes those entangled with it even if they’re a universe apart. “Just try doing that in a marriage contract,” Mr. Keats says.

That’s quoted text but there’s no link to the source, which led me to Google and find a press release which says something similar

According to quantum mechanics, when two or more particles are entangled, they behave as if they were one and the same. Any change to one instantaneously and identically changes those entangled with it even if they’re a universe apart.

Unfortunately, Mr. Keats is wrong. This is the oft-reperated canard of the pop-sci version of quantum entanglement. Any measurement of one will tell you the state of the other, but that breaks the entanglement, and it means you cannot know the state of the particle beforehand. So this gesture means having to forget who you are. As soon as you remember, or someone recognizes you, that’s gone.

What the quote should really say is

According to people who don’t understand quantum mechanics, when two or more particles are entangled, they behave as if they were one and the same. Any change to one instantaneously and identically changes those entangled with it even if they’re a universe apart. In real quantum physics, this isn’t the case.

You can still turn this into a romantic gesture, but please, don’t mangle the science to do so.

"Will That Be on the Test?" Spoiler Alert Edition

Physics and Physicists: “What Is The Most Important Thing You Learned In Becoming A Scientist?”

Let’s cut to the chase:

[L]earning how to learn is the most important thing I learned in becoming a scientist.

Why Humanities People Should Care About Math

Guest Post: Why Humanities People Should Care About Math

Anyone in the traditionally “humanistic” fields (what a dumb term) would see this as a great instance of why it’s awesome to know foreign languages: you can’t be left out of the conversation. No one can pull the wool over your eyes. You can’t be the butt of a joke perpetrated right in front of your face. By knowing a foreign language, you remove an invisible barrier between you and the rest of the world.

One of my colleagues (with kids, and very involved in their education) has made the point that if more effort were made to point out that math is a language, then there might be less of a tendency to let people slide in learning it.

Campaign claims, legislation, environmental movements… even the weather — they’re all conducted with copious references to mathematics, usually in the form of statistics. And the simple fact is, I can convince you of just about anything if I whip out the right statistics and you’re not sure what I’m doing.

Not everything, of course, as it’s been recently observed (again). But convinced of a lot.

This Movie is One Egg Long

If it’s a three-minute egg

How an hourglass is made

Director Philip Andelman traveled to Basel, Switzerland, to document the designer’s modern take of the classic hourglass inside the Glaskeller factory. Each hand made hourglass comprises highly durable borosilicate glass and millions of stainless steel nanoballs, and is available in a 10 or 60 minute timer.

I like glassblowing/fashioning. I went to the Corning Glassworks several times when I was a kid and never got tired of the tour, especially the part where the guy would make the little glass animals.

via Kottke

And Al Saw That it was Good

For this to make sense, you need to see the xkcd cartoon “Heaven” (as usual, click to go there so you can see the hover tag)

This being the internet (thank you, Al Gore), someone went and made this into a real game (hey, what were the odds?) Every so often, a large piece comes along and fits into the existing landscape. The cartoon is basically the opposite of Hell, of course, which also has a “playable” version

Things That Go Chomp in the Night

Just When You Thought Velociraptor Couldn’t Get Scarier

Randall Munroe, the creator of the webcomic XKCD, isn’t going to like this one bit.

That was my first thought, too.

Dinosaurs around the clock, or how we know Velociraptor hunted by night

Spheropalooza

A couple of twitter posts showed up close together that wouldn’t seem to be related at first blush: earthquakes and water droplets in space. But they are, because they’re both showing vibrational effects on liquid spheres. The earth is more like a fluid on time scales longer than when you fall and take a tumble.

Here’s a normal mode animation, depicting the earth (and exaggerated by a factor of about a gazillion) showing the various ways it might ring after an earthquake

But as far as vibrational modes go, there’s nothing special about the earth. I know I’ve posted the Alka-Seltzer video, but this video has extra demonstrations and I can’t recall if I’ve linked to it as well

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The first bulk oscillation looks something like a (0,6,0) mode, or something close.

With the bubbles inside the drop, and droplets inside of that, it’s neat how the combining of droplets (~1:35) gives you more ringing; the total amount of energy in the surface tension goes down as the drop gets bigger — the volume increases faster than the surface area or, put another way, bigger spheres have less curvature per unit area, so they store less energy. That energy has to go somewhere , and that’s into a bulk vibration of the drop. There are a couple of instance of this effect in the video.

Into the Great Wide Open

Hyperbole and a Half: Wild Animal (The Simple Dog Goes for a Joy Ride)

No one expects their dog to instantaneously develop an extremely specific fear of horse statues, and I was unprepared for her reaction, which was to sprint powerfully in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, what the simple dog lacks in cognitive capacity, she makes up in ground speed, and her sudden fleeing yanked the leash from my hand.

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