WBEZ | physics http://www.wbez.org/tags/physics Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Huge magnetic ring coming to Chicago’s suburbs via the long road http://www.wbez.org/news/huge-magnetic-ring-coming-chicago%E2%80%99s-suburbs-long-road-107145 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Magic%20Ring%202_130513_LW.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="The muon ring at Brookhaven National Laboratories. The 50-foot ring will be removed from its casings and separated from many attachments, but cannot be dismantled for transport to Fermilab. (Brookhaven National Laboratory)" /></div><p>Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory in west suburban Batavia has a very unusual shipment coming this summer: an electromagnetic ring so wide its journey will shut down whole highways.</p><p>The ring, which looks like a huge hula-hoop, currently resides at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, where it&rsquo;s been used to conduct high-level experiments on tiny subatomic particles called muons.</p><p>&ldquo;We use them to probe the basic underlying structure of particle physics,&rdquo; said Chris Polly, a Fermilab physicist. &ldquo;What are the particles out there, how do they interact at the most fundamental level?&rdquo; But after being created by high-energy interactions between particles, they only exist for about two millionths of a second.</p><p>&ldquo;Right now, there&rsquo;s muons passing through you,&rdquo; Polly said. Those muons sometimes come to earth in &ldquo;showers&rdquo; produced by high-energy particle collisions in the earth&rsquo;s atmosphere; countless invisible muons shower down over wide areas. &ldquo;We sometimes build experiments that are a mile underground just because we&rsquo;re trying to get away from the muons.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite being common, muons are elusive and difficult to study. Because the miniscule particles exist so briefly before decaying into electrons and neutrinos, they have to be carefully suspended in a magnetic field for observation. That&rsquo;s where the magic muon ring comes in: the latest in muon experiments requires a very strong magnetic field, and the way to create that field is through a ring that&rsquo;s fifty feet in diameter, or about four highway lanes wide.</p><p>The muon ring&rsquo;s massive metal casings can be removed, but the ring itself has to stay in one piece and can&rsquo;t be tilted more than a few degrees. That means its journey to the western suburbs of Chicago this summer will begin with a barge trip down around the tip of Florida, through the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River to get to Chicago&rsquo;s waterways. The ring will then get off the boat at Lemont Port to be<a href="http://www.fnal.gov/pub/presspass/press_releases/2013/images/Muon-g-2-201305/Muon5-map-hires.jpg" target="_blank"> transported to the Batavia lab</a> using high-tech remote control carts. Between the carts, the ring and the entourage of police officers and scientists, the process is expected to shut down stretches of I-88 and I-355 overnight in July. <a href="http://www.fnal.gov/pub/presspass/press_releases/2013/images/Muon-g-2-201305/g-2_MoveMap_US-hires.jpg" target="_blank">The entire trip</a> is about 3,200 miles.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Magic%20Ring_130513_LW.jpg" style="height: 191px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="A model of the special cart that will transport the muon ring. The ring is taking a 3,200-mile trip from Long Island to Chicago’s Fermilab in summer of 2013. (Fermilab)" />Polly&rsquo;s excited about the ring&rsquo;s arrival because the previous Muon g-2 (pronounced &ldquo;g-minus-two&rdquo;) experiment at the Brookhaven Lab found inconsistencies not predicted by physicists. These anomalous observations could suggest the existence of a previously unknown particle; in other words, the Standard Model of physics could be proven to be incomplete.</div><p>The results of the Brookhaven experiment are suggestive but uncertain, mainly because a definitive answer would require 20 to 25 times more data than Brookhaven&rsquo;s researchers were able to gather with the technology available to them. Fermilab&rsquo;s advanced accelerator technology, some of which is left over from the now-defunct Tevatron, will allow the the lab to produce the necessary amount of muons for the experiment.</p><p>Fermilab broke ground last week on a new experimental lab to accompany the ring, and the ring won&rsquo;t be ready to experiment with until 2016. At that point, Polly says the experiment is expected to take three to four years to complete. But he says it&rsquo;s worth the wait.</p><p>&ldquo;It could be a harbinger of new physics,&rdquo; said Polly. &ldquo;There could be new particles in the universe.&rdquo;</p><p>The shipping cost for the magnetic donut is 2.5 million dollars, but Fermilab says that&rsquo;s just a tenth of what it would cost to build a new one.</p><p>You can watch a demonstration of the ring&rsquo;s mode of transportation and follow its actual movement this summer on the <a href="http://muon-g-2.fnal.gov/" target="_blank">Muon g-2 website</a>.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 13 May 2013 16:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/huge-magnetic-ring-coming-chicago%E2%80%99s-suburbs-long-road-107145 The Kelly O'Connor McNees Interview http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2012-10/kelly-oconnor-mcnees-interview-103071 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/KellyAuthor%20%283%20of%2032%29.jpg" style="height: 579px; width: 620px; " title="Kelly O'Connor McNees (Photo by Kate Emerson)" /></p><p>Today&rsquo;s interviewee is a Chicago author, teacher and editor who is celebrating the recent release of her second historical novel.&nbsp;<em><a href="http://kellyoconnormcnees.com/books/in-need-of-a-good-wife">In Need of a Good Wife</a></em>&nbsp;tells the story of mid-19th century mail-order brides who are shipped off to Nebraska, and follows up on&nbsp;<em><a href="http://kellyoconnormcnees.com/books/the-lost-summer-of-louisa-may-alcott">The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott</a>.&nbsp;</em>Kelly brought me Taco Bell Doritos&reg; Tacos Loco shortly after my son was born, so she is also my hero. You can learn much more about her, and find information about her readings and appearances,&nbsp;<a href="http://kellyoconnormcnees.com/">here</a>.</p><p><strong>Which of your two books was more difficult to write and edit?</strong><br />They were both hard in different ways. With the first novel, I was writing it for myself alone, at my own pace, with no hope that it would ever be published. I was afraid to tell anyone I was doing it &mdash; it seemed like such a ridiculous thing for a person to attempt, as if I were trying to build a hovercraft in my garage. So it was hard to keep going sometimes. The second time around, I had a little more faith that things would work out, but I had to write it much faster and with the sense that people were looking over my shoulder. I&rsquo;m thinking the seventh novel or so is probably where it&rsquo;s at. I&rsquo;ll let you know.</p><p><strong>What&rsquo;s a historical period you&rsquo;d love to write about?</strong><br />I&rsquo;ve been on this 19th century kick (my next book is set in 1835), but 1920s Chicago seems like it could be fun. In general I find a good strategy for fixing a boring scene in any work-in-progress is to take away the characters&rsquo; booze and see what happens.</p><p><strong>What&rsquo;s the difference between good and bad historical fiction?</strong><br />Bad historical fiction happens when an author decides to &ldquo;teach&rdquo; readers about a particular period or historical event, or when he feels he must prove how much research he did by including a massive amount of historical detail that is irrelevant to the story. If you are writing a novel, your job is to tell a story. You might set that story in the past, or that story might be inspired by a real person or event, but researching till the cows come home will not give you a novel on its own. Good historical fiction evokes an era&mdash;its zeitgeist, its particular food and clothing, perhaps&mdash;but, as in all good fiction, the narrative must be driven by well-developed characters who are in trouble.</p><p><strong>What are some of the most fun ways you&rsquo;ve researched your books?</strong><br />Most of the research involves locating books that are out of print. I am going to nerd out here and say that I totally love how it takes 15 minutes to take the escalator to the upper floors at the Harold Washington Library, because you get to read all the quotes on the walls that remind you why well-funded public libraries are absolutely crucial to a democracy. You feel you are on a mission, like you are participating in something. Of course, many historical societies and libraries have digitized texts, and you can find them online very easily. This saves a lot of time, but you don&rsquo;t really get to feel as virtuous.</p><p><strong>If you ordered a bride by mail, what qualities would you want her to possess?</strong><br />I would like her to be good with children, particularly babies; be willing to get up for all night feedings; change diapers, do laundry, cook, grocery shop and vacuum. Oh, wait &mdash; that&rsquo;s the maid/cook/live-in nanny I&rsquo;ve been meaning to get from the Imaginary Store where they don&rsquo;t cost anything.</p><p><strong>What advice do you have for writers with new babies on how to find the time and the brainpower to write?</strong><br />Live-in maid/nanny. Seriously, I think that you just have to accept that there is going to be a lot of crying (mostly your own) and a lot of stress and exhaustion and insatiable hunger and rage and laundry, but also tremendous love and exhilaration, and all of that fuels your writing in the long run. It&rsquo;s just that in the short run it is going to be a miracle if you get a couple sentences down. So keep your expectations low, and go easy on yourself. I&rsquo;d happily lie down in traffic for my daughter, but I&rsquo;d probably do it with slightly more enthusiasm if she would consider sleeping through the night sometime soon. Someday (I&rsquo;m told) the world will right itself again.&nbsp;</p><p><strong><a href="http://www.wordbirdedits.com/Home.html">You help other writers with their manuscripts and query letters.</a> At what point in your career did you realize that you could help other writers with their books?</strong><br />I worked as an editorial assistant and then a freelance copyeditor (while doing other jobs too) and through the work learned some things about how books can be put together, what makes a book work, and how to figure out what&rsquo;s wrong with a book that isn&rsquo;t working. I am also a voracious reader and a writer myself who thinks about these things all day long. In days gone by, writers found agents and the two of them worked together to hone just the right project for submission. But now agents are so busy that most of them feel a project must be close to perfect before they will take it on. That developmental work interests me. I should say too that not all the writers I work with are pursuing traditional publishing. Some just love to write and want to improve their craft. Some will self-publish or publish with a small press. There are many more options now than ever before. For my purposes, the end goal doesn&rsquo;t really matter. It&rsquo;s the work itself.</p><p><strong>Of the characters you&rsquo;ve written, which do you think you&rsquo;d dislike most if they were a real life person?</strong><br />Well, Bronson Alcott would be kind of a drag to live with. He didn&rsquo;t drink and he was a vegan. He didn&rsquo;t even eat root vegetables because he was afraid a few worms might get killed in the process of digging them out of the soil. Which means he would probably be cowering in the corner sipping tepid water or something while I had to kill those giant centipedes we have in Rogers Park. <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scutigera_coleoptrata">Do you know the ones I&rsquo;m talking about</a>?&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Are there any everyday practical applications that come from being&nbsp;married to <a href="http://jacobi.luc.edu/">a physicist</a>?</strong><br />Well, he gets all the jokes on <em>Futurama</em>, so there&rsquo;s that. He also once engaged in a physics/math throwdown to prove to our landlord that it was impossible our electric bill had doubled in one month. Our rent was supposed to include utilities, but the guy was trying to pass on an increase he claimed was caused by the fact that in the fall the water in the pipes is colder, and therefore the water heater uses more energy to heat it up. Bonkers, right? My husband wasn&rsquo;t having it. He did the calculations and mailed them in with the rent check because, as he says, &ldquo;the thermal properties of water are well established.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>What was your first rejection letter for?</strong><br />This is a sad story, actually. When I was in middle school, a kid in my class was shot and killed when he was mistaken for his father, who was a heroin dealer. The kid was the class clown &mdash; we weren&rsquo;t close friends or anything, but everybody loved him, and it was deeply upsetting when, one day, he just wasn&rsquo;t there anymore. But since I wasn&rsquo;t close with him, it didn&rsquo;t seem appropriate that I should feel grief, exactly. So I didn&rsquo;t know what to do with what I felt, and that led me to write an essay about it. And submit it to the fiction editor at <em>Seventeen</em>, who said, &ldquo;This is not fiction!&rdquo; Which is how I learned to follow submission guidelines.</p><p><strong>How does it feel to be the 329th person interviewed for Zulkey.com/WBEZ?</strong><br />Like I&rsquo;ve placed some serious pressure on #330.</p></p> Fri, 12 Oct 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2012-10/kelly-oconnor-mcnees-interview-103071 Leon Lederman's offer: 'Ask a Nobel Laureate' http://www.wbez.org/story/leon-ledermans-offer-ask-nobel-laureate-95918 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2012-January/2012-01-27/leon lederman_US dept of energy_wikipedia.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-27/leon%20lederman_US%20dept%20of%20energy_wikipedia.jpg" style="width: 630px; height: 473px;" title="Dr. Leon Lederman won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1988. (U.S. Department of Energy)"></p><p>On a rainy day in September, a crowd gathered outside the Wrigley Building in downtown Chicago. They were waiting in line to take advantage of a rare opportunity: A chance to ask a Nobel Laureate anything and everything they ever wanted to know about science.</p><p>In this case, the Nobel Laureate was Leon Lederman. Lederman won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1988 for his role in using particles called neutrinos to expand scientific research about the structure and dynamics of matter. His many accomplishments and accolades include time spent as the head of Fermi Lab and his status as the founder of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora.</p><p>For two hours Lederman tackled all kinds of questions from impressively smart, curious and science-savvy passersby. (Their questions were especially impressive if you believe what the media tends to say about how none of us are interested in science.)</p><p>An engineer in his late 70s asks for advice on how he could best use science to fight for social justice.</p><p>A gamer asks for help understanding how <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/19/aids-protein-decoded-gamers_n_970113.html">recent discoveries on the structure of a protein in the AIDS virus</a> would help other scientists develop a cure.</p><p>A 7<sup>th</sup> grader asks for input on what kind of experiment she could conduct for her school science fair. She is, she says, “interested in cats.” Perhaps Lederman could suggest a cruelty-free experiment she might conduct with her furry friends?</p><p>Unfortunately, for a man who has dedicated much of his life to science education, Lederman seemed to have trouble connecting to some of the answer-seekers that day.</p><p>A question from a woman who wanted to know whether we’ll ever see far enough in space to catch a glimpse of the Big Bang went unanswered, as did the request from the 7<sup>th</sup> grade cat-lover.</p><p>But what became clear from many of Lederman’s answers that day was that at age 89 he remains as committed as ever to a scientific method rooted in skeptical inquiry, evidence-based conclusions, and results that can be duplicated. Whether it’s verifying <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/09/110923-neutrinos-speed-of-light-particles-cern-physics-einstein-science/">new research that suggests some particles can move faster than the speed of light</a> (Lederman very much doubts these findings) or atheists seeking rebuttals to attacks from their God-fearing friends, Lederman emphasized the need to be suspicious - and to provide your proof.</p><p>You can hear him argue on behalf of the scientific method in the audio above.</p><p><a href="../../series/dynamic-range">Dynamic Range </a><em>showcases hidden gems unearthed from </em>Chicago Amplified’s <em>vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Leon Lederman appeared on behalf of </em><em><a href="http://www.sciencentral.com/video/2008/08/21/street-corner-science-with-leon-lederman/"><em>Street Corner Science </em></a></em><em>and the </em><em><a href="http://c2st.org/programs"><em>Chicago Council on Science and Technology </em></a></em><em>in September of 2011. Click <a href="../../story/street-corner-science-ask-nobel-laureate-93472">here </a>to hear the event in its entirety.</em></p></p> Sat, 28 Jan 2012 09:54:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/leon-ledermans-offer-ask-nobel-laureate-95918 New microscope gives clearest view of atoms http://www.wbez.org/story/new-microscope-gives-clearest-view-atoms-95672 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2012-January/2012-01-19/UIC JEOL JEM-ARM200CF Image-3.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Scientists and engineers at the University of Illinois at Chicago can now train their sights on individual atoms. The school is dedicating a new microscope Friday, said to be the most powerful of its kind in the nation.</p><p>The machine, already in operation, can produce some of the clearest pictures yet of so-called nanoscale structures.</p><p>“You can clearly see that the images are significantly sharper,” said UIC physics professor Robert Klie, whose lab oversees the new scanning transmission electron microscope.</p><p>It’s rare to have this sort of microscope in an urban setting, because magnetic fields can distort its accuracy. Klie said he worried about the antennas on the Willis Tower and even the nearby El tracks.</p><p>“All of this caused me some distress, because it wasn’t clear that we can achieve those levels of quietness,” he said.</p><p>Klie and his team added shielding to the room and even replaced the metal chairs with all-wooden furniture to keep the facility pristine. The $3 million dollar microscope is expected to help researchers fine-tune high-tech materials, peer into cells and advance clean-energy technology. The university will rent out time on the instrument to outside users.</p></p> Fri, 20 Jan 2012 04:37:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/new-microscope-gives-clearest-view-atoms-95672 A ghostly sighting, but no clear sign of mystery particle http://www.wbez.org/story/ghostly-sighting-no-clear-sign-mystery-particle-94860 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-December/2011-12-13/Higgs event.gif" alt="" /><p><p>Scientists have caught a <a href="http://press.web.cern.ch/press/PressReleases/Releases2011/PR25.11E.html">faint whiff of the Higgs boson</a>, the most sought-after prize in particle physics. But the findings are sketchy, dashing rumors that the particle has actually been found. If the Higgs boson were Bigfoot, today’s announcement would be like that grainy X-Files picture: worth a closer look, but maybe just a trick of the light.</p><p>Two teams at the European lab CERN say they’ve narrowed down the area where the Higgs could be hiding, and each team has seen a flash of data that could be the particle’s calling card. They’re about 97 percent confident, which is actually pretty low in physics terms.</p><p>West suburban Fermilab is sifting data from its own particle collider, which shut down this fall. Rob Roser, spokesman for the Fermilab team CDF, says the Fermilab data could partially corroborate CERN’s findings from the Large Hadron Collider, or rule them out.</p><p>“Between the LHC and the Tevatron, within a year I think we will know. It will run out of places to hide,” says Roser.</p><p>Roser says, for him, today’s most significant takeaway is confirmation that the LHC is working better than expected. CERN and Fermilab were in a race to discover the Higgs, until the European lab finally eclipsed its competitor this year. The Higgs is the last undiscovered building block predicted by the leading theory of the makeup of the universe.</p></p> Tue, 13 Dec 2011 16:41:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/ghostly-sighting-no-clear-sign-mystery-particle-94860 Clever Apes #21: Secret lives of nuclear scientists http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-11-08/clever-apes-21-secret-lives-nuclear-scientists-93868 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-08/thumbnail.png" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" height="589" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-08/secret lives blog.png" title="Marius Stan and Dan Pancake lead double lives on top of their scientific pursuits. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer/Michael De Bonis)" width="604"></p><p>In pop culture, we tend to pigeonhole scientists into a few stereotypes: out-of-touch nerds (<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DUkGjWVOlc">Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor</a>), bumbling head-in-the-clouds types (<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5cYgRnfFDA">Doc Brown</a>) or obsessed madmen (<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8H3dFh6GA-A">Dr. Frankenstein</a>/<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZCIPb2XTms">Moreau</a>/<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqkeemU7fyk">Jekyll</a>/<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iesXUFOlWC0">Strangelove</a>). In truth, research shows that the <a href="http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2010/05/reconsidering_the_image_of_sci.php">picture is a bit more nuanced</a>, but scientists still have to work uphill to convince people they are three-dimensional people.</p><p>Which is what makes it so much fun to pull back the curtain on the secret identities of a couple of local players in nuclear science. It would be one thing if their after-hours passion was playing in a cover band or tap dancing (both noble pursuits). But in the case of Marius Stan and Dan Pancake, these guys are entitled to some serious hipster cred.</p><p><strong><span style="font-size: 8px;">Listen to the episode: </span></strong></p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483814-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Secret lives mix for web.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p><a href="https://blogs.anl.gov/expertsguide/marius-stan/">Marius Stan</a> is a chemist, physicist and computational materials scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, doing theoretical work and computer modeling on materials for nuclear reactors and such. He also has a <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2256387/">recurring role </a>on what might be the best show on television, <em>Breaking Bad</em>.</p><p>Dan Pancake runs <a href="http://www.anl.gov/Media_Center/News/2009/news090908.html">nuclear cleanup projects </a>at Argonne, spearheading the technically complex work of removing radioactive uranium and plutonium from the lab. He’s also a chef and restaurateur, owner of a new (and <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-08-11/features/ct-dining-0811-vettel-autre-monde-20110811_1_berwyn-tuttaposto-dining">well-reviewed</a>) fine-dining <a href="http://autremondecafe.net/">Mediterranean restaurant in Berwyn</a>.</p><p>On this edition of Clever Apes, we reveal the secret lives of nuclear scientists. Just think of what other hipness lurks below the surface in labs and biology departments across our region.</p><p>As always, don’t forget to subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p></p> Tue, 08 Nov 2011 22:18:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-11-08/clever-apes-21-secret-lives-nuclear-scientists-93868 Clever Apes: Uncanny slime http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-11-02/clever-apes-uncanny-slime-93711 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-03/oobleck_aaron cahan.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-03/oobleck_aaron cahan.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 333px;" title="Clever Apes whipped up some oobleck to show how you can recreate a physics mystery in your kitchen. (Aaron Cahan)"></p><p>In the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-10-19/clever-apes-20-reimagining-robots-93254">last installment of Clever Apes</a> we visited a <a href="http://jfi.uchicago.edu/%7Ejaeger/group/JaegerLab/Projects/Projects.html">unique physics lab </a>at the University of Chicago that studies the properties of granular materials. One area they’re investigating is the behavior of “<a href="http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryhowtoguide/ht/oobleck.htm">oobleck</a>,” which is nothing but cornstarch and water. The stuff is considered a “non-Newtonian fluid,” because it behaves as both a solid and a liquid. Dip your hand in it, and it acts like goopy liquid. Smack it, and it’s like a brick.</p><p>This little phenomenon, so simple that it could be demonstrated in most kitchens, is actually pretty poorly understood by science. The crew at the Jaeger physics lab is <a href="http://jfi.uchicago.edu/%7Ejaeger/group/Dense_Suspensions/Dense_Suspensions.html">trying to get to the bottom of it</a> – they whip up 20-gallon batches using a cement mixer. That made me happy. It also made me jealous. And so Clever Apes decided to do our own investigation, which we submit for your enjoyment.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/31548521?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=b30000" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="550" frameborder="0" height="309"></iframe></p><p>I spoke with <a href="http://jfi.uchicago.edu/%7Ejaeger/group/JaegerLab/People/People.html">Scott Waitukaitis </a>about the oobleck work – he’s a doctoral student at the lab who’s often elbow deep in this muck. He says it seems to be connected to <a href="http://jfi.uchicago.edu/%7Ejaeger/group/Soft_Robotics/Soft_Robotics.html">the jamming effect </a>that makes a vacuum packed bag of loose coffee grains hard as a brick. In this case, compressing the oobleck makes the individual cornstarch particles couple to one another. That means when you compress it quickly, you essentially make a big, if fleeting, solid object in your container of cornstarch goop. The size of the object is proportional to how hard you hit it.</p><p>It’s not clear why cornstarch is nearly unique in showing these properties (there are other materials that do it, but none so elegantly). Waitukaitis says it likely has to do with the particles being a particular size and weight in relation to water, and having no electric-charge interaction with one another. Whatever it is, makes a heck of a stiff solid when you sock it. He says some researchers are delving into applications for it, including a <a href="http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-07/british-designed-%E2%80%98bulletproof-custard%E2%80%99-better-kevlar-vest">cornstarch (or custard) bullet-proof vest.</a></p><p>Meanwhile, the Jaeger lab is deep into the basic science of this uncanny slime. Waitukaitis shared the brief clip below of some of the fun they have. It’s taken on a high-speed camera.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/31549267?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="550" frameborder="0" height="309"></iframe></p><p>There’s lots more fun with oobleck on the internet, including <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zoTKXXNQIU">this trick with a speaker </a>that we unsuccessfully tried to replicate. If any apes out there manage to do it, please share the secret with us.</p><p>Meanwhile, don’t forget to subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p></p> Thu, 03 Nov 2011 02:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-11-02/clever-apes-uncanny-slime-93711 Clever Apes #20: Reimagining Robots http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-10-19/clever-apes-20-reimagining-robots-93254 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-18/Jaeger.JPG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Heinrich Jaeger demonstrates the jamming effect, which led to a soft robot. (WBE" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-18/Jaeger.JPG" style="width: 600px; height: 450px;" title="Heinrich Jaeger demonstrates the jamming effect, which led to a soft robot. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)"></p><p>From industry to pop culture to the military, we’ve long been captivated by robots. We tend to imagine them as our mechanical mirror images – reflections of our most efficient, coldest selves. But some modern robots look more like a sack of flour than a person.</p><p>In the latest installment of Clever Apes, we visit an accidental roboticist who’s reimagining the most basic concepts of robotics. He’s taken the same principle that makes a vacuum-packed bag of coffee hard and bricklike, and <a href="http://jfi.uchicago.edu/%7Ejaeger/group/JaegerGroupPapers/granular/SPIE_final.pdf">translated it into a robot </a>that might one day pick up your toddler’s toys or collect intelligence from an enemy bunker.</p><p><strong><span style="font-size: 8px;">Listen to the episode: </span></strong></p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483802-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Robots episode WEB.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbqHERKdlK8">The concept is called jamming,</a> and it’s really simple. Suck the air out of a bag of granular material, and you reduce the room around each grain just enough that it can’t move past its neighbors. The whole thing seizes up, and behaves like a solid. Let out a little air, and it liquefies again. This works for ground coffee, ball bearings, molecules, even big objects like cars in a traffic jam.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Heinrich Jaeger's mushy robot can crumple, bulge and ooze. (Jaeger Laboratory, U" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-18/iRobot_JSEL.gif" title="Heinrich Jaeger's mushy robot can crumple, bulge and ooze. (Jaeger Laboratory, University of Chicago)" width="598" height="473"></p><p><a href="http://jfi.uchicago.edu/%7Ejaeger/group/JaegerLab/People/People.html">Heinrich Jaeger </a>at the University of Chicago recognized the power of that phenomenon. You can effectively change a material from solid to liquid and back again without having to melt or freeze it. And it’s dirt cheap: indeed, you could use actual dirt. This probably has a ton of applications no one has thought of, but one of them that’s now underway is a <a href="http://jfi.uchicago.edu/%7Ejaeger/group/Jamming_Apps.html">soft robot</a>. Jaeger, along with the company iRobot and colleagues at the University of North Carolina and Cornell University, are developing prototypes of a squishy soccer ball that can move, change shape, and may soon be able to pick up almost anything. It’s a fundamental change in thinking about robots. Instead of using “smart” components (like little nanobots equipped with microprocessors), Jaeger is making a shapeshifting robot with dumb particles of sand or plastic beads. The smarts emerge when all those particles work together.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Al Shilling looks after his robot, Rocket Al. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-18/ChiBots 1 - Al Shilling with his robot Rocket Al.png" title="Al Shilling looks after his robot, Rocket Al. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)" width="500" height="417"></p><p>After dropping in on Jaeger’s <a href="http://jfi.uchicago.edu/%7Ejaeger/group/JaegerLab/Projects/Projects.html">lab </a>(one of the more fun, freewheeling physics labs you’re likely to encounter), we pay a visit to the <a href="http://www.chibots.org/">Chicago Area Robotics Club</a>. There, robot enthusiasts are trying to harness robots’ inherent awesomeness to promote science and technology among young people. They’re also working on a curriculum for Boy Scouts looking to earn the new <a href="http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/BoyScouts/AdvancementandAwards/MeritBadges/mb-ROBO.aspx">robotics merit badge,</a> which was just introduced last spring. Great idea, Scouts … but maybe some clever ape can help you redesign the patch, eh?</p><p>As always, subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-18/Scout badge.jpg" title="" width="500" height="500"></p></p> Wed, 19 Oct 2011 10:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-10-19/clever-apes-20-reimagining-robots-93254 Clever Apes #19: Godspeed, Tevatron http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-09-27/clever-apes-19-godspeed-tevatron-92526 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-September/2011-09-28/AP03072905770.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="(WBEZ / Michael De Bonis)" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-27/Tevatron%20Memorial%20USE%20THIS%20ONE%20%282%29.png" style="width: 550px; height: 480px;" title="(WBEZ / Michael De Bonis)"></p><p>The <a href="http://www.fnal.gov/pub/science/accelerator/">Tevatron particle collider </a>shut down in September of 2011. Once the highest-energy collide in the world, it is survived by its descendants, the <a href="http://www.bnl.gov/rhic/">Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider </a>at Brookhaven, and the <a href="http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/LHC/LHC-en.html">Large Hadron Collider </a>at CERN. The Tevatron was 28.</p><p>If ever a machine was deserving of an obituary, it is the Tevatron. Housed at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, the Tevatron spent decades at the frontier of science. Its collisions offered glimpses into nature’s secret places, on the tiniest scales and highest energies ever probed.</p><p><strong><span style="font-size: 8px;">Listen to the episode: </span></strong></p><p><span class="filefield_audio_insert_player" href="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever_Apes_19_Godspeed_Tevatron.mp3" id="filefield_audio_insert_player-117208">Clever_Apes_19_Godspeed_Tevatron.mp3</span></p><p>But last year the frontier moved off the Illinois prairie, over to Europe, where the LHC has dwarfed the Tevatron into obsolescence. Nearly anything the Tevatron could do, the LHC can do better. And so the government pulled the plug, with the Tevatron going dark on Friday, September 30. In this installment of Clever Apes, we take a moment to <a href="http://www.fnal.gov/pub/tevatron/milestones/interactive-timeline.html">remember the good times </a>– the <a href="http://www.hep.princeton.edu/mumu/nuphys/072100sci-atoms-neutrinos.html">tau neutrinos</a>, the <a href="http://tomato.fnal.gov/ops/records.php">luminosity records</a>, the <a href="http://today.slac.stanford.edu/feature/matter-antimatter-oscillations.asp">strange-B oscillations</a> … and of course, the one thing normal people may have actually heard of, the <a href="http://www.symmetrymagazine.org/cms/?pid=1000085">top quark</a>. That was the Tevatron’s high water mark, discovering the linchpin of the <a href="http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/Science/StandardModel-en.html">Standard Model </a>– a kind of periodic table of fundamental particles and forces.</p><p><img alt="The control room crew runs all of Fermilab's big machines. (WBEZ / Gabriel Spitz" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-27/Control room.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 450px;" title="The control room crew runs all of Fermilab's big machines. (WBEZ / Gabriel Spitzer)"></p><p>And we consider the real value of basic science. Quarks don’t end recessions. Neutrino oscillations aren’t going to solve global warming. But there are a few benefits that belong on the balance sheet in the Teavtron’s favor. One is that, like NASA, pushing at the boundaries of our knowledge tends to bring ancillary benefits. In Fermilab’s case, <a href="http://scienceinsociety.northwestern.edu/content/articles/2008/schellman/from-a-physicists-mind">magnetic resonance imaging </a>(MRI) and <a href="http://www.protons.com/proton-therapy/">specialized radiation therapy </a>for cancer are part of the accelerator’s lineage.</p><p>But more basic than that, is that this kind of research into the nature of nature seems like part of the human condition – lab director Pier Oddone calls it the “inquiry gene.” Another Fermilab director – founder Robert Wilson – said it incredibly eloquently in 1969. He was <a href="http://history.fnal.gov/testimony.html">testifying before Congress, </a>and it feels so appropriate for this week that I include it here in its entirety:</p><p>SENATOR PASTORE. Is there anything connected in the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?</p><p>DR. WILSON. No, sir; I do not believe so.</p><p>SENATOR PASTORE. Nothing at all?</p><p>DR. WILSON. Nothing at all.</p><p>SENATOR PASTORE. It has no value in that respect?</p><p>DR. WILSON. It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things. It has nothing to do with the military. I am sorry.</p><p>SENATOR PASTORE. Don't be sorry for it.</p><p>DR. WILSON. I am not, but I cannot in honesty say it has any such application.</p><p>SENATOR PASTORE. Is there anything here that projects us in a position of being competitive with the Russians, with regard to this race?</p><p>DR. WILSON. Only from a long-range point of view, of a developing technology. Otherwise, it has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about. In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country, but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.</p><p><img alt="Fermilab's Wilson Hall rises above the Illinois prairie. (WBEZ / Gabriel Spitzer" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-27/IMG_1245.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 450px;" title="Fermilab's Wilson Hall rises above the Illinois prairie. (WBEZ / Gabriel Spitzer)"></p></p> Tue, 27 Sep 2011 22:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-09-27/clever-apes-19-godspeed-tevatron-92526 Fermilab will chase supposed faster-than-light particles http://www.wbez.org/story/fermilab-will-chase-supposed-faster-light-particles-92433 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-25/Rameiks.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Scientists at west suburban Fermilab are already working to scrutinize a potential scientific discovery widely believed to be impossible. European physicists announced last week <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/24/science/24speed.html">they clocked something traveling faster than the speed of light. </a>If true, the observation from the European lab CERN would turn much of physics inside out, as the speed of light is thought to be an absolute limit on how fast anything in the universe can travel.</p><p>The <a href="http://www-numi.fnal.gov/">MINOS experiment at Fermilab </a>may be the best equipped in the world to test CERN’s results, and its spokesman says they’re hopping to it.</p><p>“Obviously it’s a very high priority,” said Robert Plunkett. “Anything that makes a statement about the foundations of Einstein’s theory of special relativity, that’s one of the two underpinnings of all 20th century physics. So it has to be scrutinized and of course it’s urgent to attempt to reproduce the results as soon as possible.”</p><p>Plunkett said his team is already at work refining some of their old results to see if they agree with the CERN findings. Then, upgrades should allow the Fermilab scientists to get much more precise measurements within two or three years.</p><p>The CERN results concern neutrinos, an extremely light particle that passes right through most matter. Scientists say there are lots of uncertainties around the creation of these particles in the lab, making it difficult to keep accurate time in a race between neutrinos and light. Plunkett and others say they are withholding judgment until someone verifies the observation.</p></p> Mon, 26 Sep 2011 02:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/fermilab-will-chase-supposed-faster-light-particles-92433