Dr. Stephon Alexander is a theoretical physicist specializing in cosmology, particle physics and quantum gravity (String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity). He received his BSc from Haverford College and Ph.D. from Brown University. He also explores interconnections between music, physics, mathematics and technology though recordings, performance, teaching and public lectures.
Stephon tells his story about growing up in the Bronx amidst a very diverse group of students. Encouraged by his parents and teachers, he showed great curiosity and intelligence. Still, as person of color, he faced many challenges as he worked towards his Ph.D. We chatted about the mind of the physicist, physics intuition, music, the role of mathematics, String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity as well as events before the Big Bang. If you are a young student, dreaming of becoming a physicist, this show is a must – full of inspiration and insights.
Dr. Jim Gates is a theoretical physicist and currently the Brown Theoretical Physics Center Director, Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, Affiliate Mathematics Professor, and a Watson Institute for International Studies & Public Affairs Faculty Fellow at Brown University. He is known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory.
We opened the show with a discussion of Jim’s early career, a B.S. with a dual major in mathematics and physics at MIT and, later, his Ph.D. in physics, also from MIT. In the heart of the podcast, Jim explained Superstring theory—its successes, failures and issues with dark energy. He also explained supersymmetry and supergravity for us. We finished with what’s considered the hottest topic in theoretical astrophysics. Jim is an extraordinary teacher and science communicator, so tune in and get your science hat on!
Dr. George Sowers holds an undergraduate degree in physics from Georgia Tech and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Colorado in Quantum Field theory. He has worked for Lockheed Martin and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) where he was the chief scientist and vice president. Currently, he’s a professor of Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines.
We chatted about George’s evolving career, from geologic engineering to physics to rocket launches with Lockheed Martin to General Relativity (GR) and Quantum Mechanics (QM), life at the ULA and finally to lunar mining. We pondered the philosophical differences between GR and QM, and then we turned to the benefits of mining water ice at the poles of our own Moon. We finished with some great advice for young engineering and physics students.
Dr. Matt Stanley is a teacher and researcher in the history and philosophy of science. He holds degrees in astronomy, religion, physics, and the history of science and is interested in the connections between science and the wider culture. His Ph.D. is from Harvard in the history of science, and he is currently a professor at New York University.
We chatted about how Matt came to be immersed in physics as well as the history of science and religion. He found that a proper modern perpective depends on an understanding of how science evolved throughout history. We also briefly touched on how science and religion don’t really contradict each other. Matt told me about a very interesting class he teaches, his podcast “What the If,” and his new book EINSTEIN’S WAR: How Relativity Conquered the World.
An app created by CERN scientists lets you experience the Big Bang in AR. Narrated by Tilda Swinton, you’ll go back in time 13.8 billion years and discover how space, time and the visible universe came to be. See the universe form in the palm of your hand. Witness the formation of the very first stars, our solar system, and the planet we call home. Immerse yourself in the primordial mystery of the early universe in space and watch events unfold around you, in your own physical environment. Learn about the microscopic building blocks that make up everything – and everyone – we know, and find out if we really are made of stars. See the universe form as you stretch out your hand in front of your camera. Create the very first particles and atoms. Make a star explode, create a supernova and explore the nebula. See our solar system come together and hold the Earth in the palm of your hand.Find out how we are made from stars, take a #starselfie and share it with your friends. App Store: Free
I’ve always been a keen observer of weights and measures, so this interested me. Digital Trends writes: “On Friday, November 16, a 129-year-old tradition will likely come to an end. Nearly all the world’s weighted measurements have relied on a single standard since 1889 — the International Prototype Kilogram (IPK), a block of metal made of platinum and iridium locked in a subterranean vault in Paris.
“Rather than defined by a block of metal, weights will be expressed in terms of the Planck constant (h). The stated goal is to shift the standard toward a more reliable form, one that won’t be damaged or corrupted by environmental factors that cause it to slightly and inexplicably lose weight.”
In 2005, scientists confirmed that dry spaghetti noodles never break cleanly in half. Instead they tend to split into three or more pieces. If you’ve ever cooked spaghetti you’re probably familiar with having little bits explode all over the kitchen. But it turns out that there is a way to break spaghetti cleanly in half. Famous physicist Richard Feynman once spent a night with a friend snapping pasta to figure out what was happening. He never solved it, but it inspired French researchers to try, which earned them a 2006 igNobel prize. The secret? Twist the noodles hard like you’re wringing out a washcloth. To understand why, they used a high speed camera that recorded the shattering pasta at a million frames per second. The twist prevented the two bent strands flexing back quite as forcefully as an untwisted strand, and the untwisting motion released some of the stored energy in the spaghetti, further reducing the likelihood of a second fracture.
This video isn’t conventional computer tech. And yet’s immensely technical, invoking a principle of physics. Gotta love that. And so, if you’re camping, don’t have matches, can’t find a flinty rock and can’t get your campfire started for a cold night to come, here’s a really cool demo. What you need is some pulverized wood, a clear plastic sandwich bag, and some water from a nearby stream. Or your cooler. Sound impossible, Mr. MacGyver? Check it out.
Jennifer Ouellette is a freelance science writer, editor and book author. Her work has appeared in Physics World, Discover, New Scientist, Physics Today, Salon and Nature. In 2010, she published the book “The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse.” With a degree in English literature, Jennifer didn’t start out intending to be a science writer. But thanks to serendipity, she landed her first job with the American Physical Society who discovered she could write really well. The thinking was that it would be easier to teach her physics than teach physicists how to write! It opened her eyes to the field. So how does one become a famous science writer? Jennifer tells a great story.
Apple is a real company, producing real products and there are quantifiable facts about the company. How well we create a picture of Apple as a company depends on how we assess the reliability of our understanding. That means looking at certain facts with keen understanding and, more importantly, updating our estimations based on new facts. John, as you might expect, gets into physics and Bayesian logic. But don’t worry. It’s a fun ride.