Tag: Physics

Study reveals why so many met a sticky end in Boston’s Great Molasses Flood

In 1919, a tank holding 2.3m gallons of molasses burst, causing tragedy. Scientists now understand why the syrup tsunami was so deadly

It may sound like the fantastical plot of a childrens story but Bostons Great Molasses Flood was one of the most destructive and sombre events in the citys history.

On 15 January 1919, a muffled roar heard by residents was the only indication that an industrial-sized tank of syrup had burst open, unleashing a tsunami of sugary liquid through the North End district near the citys docks.

As the 15-foot (5-metre) wave swept through at around 35mph (56km/h), buildings were wrecked, wagons toppled, 21 people were left dead and about 150 were injured.

Now scientists have revisited the incident, providing new insights into why the physical properties of molasses proved so deadly.

Presenting the findings last weekend at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston, they said a key factor was that the viscosity of molasses increases dramatically as it cools.

This meant that the roughly 2.3m US gallons of molasses (8.7m litres) became more difficult to escape from as the evening drew in.

Speaking at the conference, Nicole Sharp, an aerospace engineer and author of the blog Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics said: The sun started going down and the rescue workers were still struggling to get to people and rescue them. At the same time the molasses is getting harder and harder to move through, its getting harder and harder for people who are in the wreckage to keep their heads clear so they can keep breathing.

As the lake of syrup slowly dispersed, victims were left like gnats in amber, awaiting their cold, grisly death. One man, trapped in the rubble of a collapsed fire station, succumbed when he simply became too tired to sweep the molasses away from his face one last time.

Its horrible in that the more tired they get its getting colder and literally more difficult for them to move the molasses, said Sharp.

Leading up to the disaster, there had been a cold snap in Boston and temperatures were as low as -16C (3F). The steel tank in the harbour, which had been built half as thick as model specifications, had already been showing signs of strain.

Two days before the disaster the tank was about 70% full, when a fresh shipment of warm molasses arrived from the Caribbean and the tank was filled to the top.

One of the things people described would happen whenever they had a new molasses shipment was that the tank would rumble and groan, said Sharp. People described being unnerved by the noises the tank would make after it got filled.

Ominously, the tank had also been leaking, which the company responded to by painting the tank brown.

There were a lot of bad signs in this, said Sharp.

Sharp, and a team of scientists at Harvard University, performed experiments in a large refrigerator to model how corn syrup (standing in for molasses) behaves as temperature varies, confirming contemporary accounts of the disaster.

Historical estimates said that the initial wave would have moved at 56km/h [35mph], said Sharp. When we take models … and then we put in the parameters for molasses, we get numbers that are on a par with that. Horses werent able to run away from it. Horses and people and everything were all caught up in it.

The giant molasses wave follows the physical laws of a phenomenon known as a gravity current, in which a dense fluid expands mostly horizontally into a less dense fluid. Its what lava flows are, its what avalanches are, its that awful draught that comes underneath your door in the wintertime, said Sharp.

The team used a geophysical model, developed by Professor Herbert Huppert of the University of Cambridge, whose work focuses on gravity currents in processes such as lava flows and shifting Antarctic ice sheets.

The model suggests that the molasses incident would have followed three main stages.

The current first goes through a so-called slumping regime, said Huppert, outlining how the molasses would have lurched out of the tank in a giant looming mass.

Then theres a regime where inertia plays a major role, he said. In this stage, the volume of fluid released is the most important factor determining how rapidly the front of the wave sweeps forward.

Then the viscous regime generally follows, he concluded. This is what dictates how slowly the fluid spreads out and explains the grim consequences of the Boston disaster.

It made a difference in how difficult it would be to rescue people and how difficult it would be to survive until you were rescued, said Sharp.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/feb/25/study-reveals-why-so-many-met-a-sticky-end-in-bostons-great-molasses-flood

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8 Animals Who Cant Even Begin To Comprehend Relative Velocity

Sure, maybe most of us humans dont understand relative velocity, and thats fine, but these creatures of the animal kingdom dont even have the capacity to understand any scientific concept at all. Pathetic.

1. This rhino

Heres an African rhino who knows nothing of the complex relationship between mathematics and theoretical physics. What a complete waste of time this thing is.

2. This elephant

The elephant is, by all accounts, a smart creatureone of the smartest creatures on Earth, in fact. But how smart could she be if she doesnt understand that an object moving at a speed of 55 miles per hour enclosed in a vehicle traveling through space is also moving at a relative speed even if it appears stationary?

3. This sloth

This adorable sloth has no concept of the fact that friction acts as a variable to the constant of a cars momentumassuming, of course, that a cars momentum is constant. But this sloth cant assume that, or assume anything of any scientific consequence. So, we pretty much have no way of evaluating the effect of friction on a car. Thanks a lot, dummy.

4. This panda

We dont want to call this panda ignorant, but how else would you describe an animal who cant comprehend elementary things like language, objective reasoning, and physics?

5. This otter

Hey, otter, whos a good boy? Are you a good boy? Are you a good boy who understands that acceleration impacts velocity? Are you accelerating right now? Are you? Are you, boy?

6. This lion

The African lion is one of historys most ancient, fabled animals, with legends dating back thousands of years, and in all that time, it hasnt learned anything about displacement vectors.

7. This fox

This fox cant fathom force, energy, velocity, or Newtons second law. Can we ask you something, fox? Do you even know where you are right now? What are you even doing here?

8. This polar bear

What a moron.

Read more: http://www.clickhole.com/article/8-animals-who-cant-even-begin-comprehend-relative–2789

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Breakthrough prize awards $25m to researchers at ‘Oscars of science’

Researchers in life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics share awards from prize founders Yuri Milner, Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin

It is not often that a scientist walks the red carpet at a Silicon Valley party and has Morgan Freeman award them millions of dollars while Alicia Keys performs on stage and other A-listers rub shoulders with Nasa astronauts.

But the guest list for the Breakthrough prize ceremony is intended to make it an occasion. At the fifth such event in California last night, a handful of the worlds top researchers left their labs behind for the limelight. Honoured for their work on black holes and string theory, DNA repair and rare diseases, and unfathomable modifications to Schrdingers equation, they went home to newly recharged bank accounts.

Founded by Yuri Milner, the billionaire tech investor, with Facebooks Mark Zuckerberg and Googles Sergey Brin, the Breakthrough prizes aim to right a perceived wrong: that scientists and engineers are not appreciated by society. With lucrative prizes and a lavish party dubbed the Oscars of science, Milner and his companions want to elevate scientists to rock star status.

The Silicon Valley backers paid out $25m in prizes at Sundays ceremony at Nasas Ames Research Center in California. It brought the total winnings for researchers in physics, life sciences and mathematics to $175m since the prizes were launched in 2012.

Huda Zoghbi, a Lebanese-born medical scientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, was discussing her postdoctoral researchers latest data when a prize judge called to tell her she had won. Sworn to secrecy, Zoghbi asked her postdoc, Laura, to leave the room while she took the call. I was totally stunned, she said. After the call, I invited Laura back in to continue our meeting, but can you imagine trying to concentrate?

Zoghbis work is a masterclass in scientific investigation. In one branch of research, she set out to understand the genetic causes of a rare condition called spinocerebellar ataxia. She ran tests on families affected by the disorder and found that a mutation in a gene called SCA1 was the sole cause of the disease. She then bred mice with the same mutation so she could study the disorder as it progressed from first symptoms.

Tests on the mice revealed that when SCA1 was mutated, the protein the gene helps to make could not be cleared from the animals cells properly. And just as rubbish builds up in the house when the bins are not emptied, so levels of the protein, ataxin1, built up in mice with the mutation. These cells may have only 10 to 20% more protein, but that little bit extra is enough to wreak havoc in the brain cells, Zoghbi said.

Having teased out the mechanism underlying the disease, Zoghbi went on to find an enzyme that when suppressed caused ataxin1 levels to fall. Her team is now searching for drugs that can block the enzyme. If they find one, it could become a treatment for the devastating disease.

Spinocerebellar ataxia affects one in 100,000 people. But Zoghbis work on the condition, and on another called Rett syndrome, led her to study the most common neurodegenerative diseases, Parkinsons and Alzheimers. In both groups of patients, abnormal proteins build up in the brain and potentially kill off neurons. In her latest work, Zoghbi showed that blocking an enzyme called Nuak1 stopped a protein called tau building up in the brains of mice. High levels of tau have long been linked to Alzheimers disease. What we have is a potential druggable target for dementia, she said.

Zoghbi, who received one of the five Breakthrough prizes in life sciences, plans to set up a mentorship award; a fund to help young postdocs pursue their own ideas; and scholarships at her alma mater, the American University in Beirut.

The prizes may give scientists a glimpse of fame, but celebrity has little appeal, Zoghbi said. Material things and limelight are fleeting, they come and go. You could give me all the money in the world to do another job and I wouldnt do it, she said. I am working on something that will help people, and that reward is with you every day. She sees her colleagues as an extended family: her lab members call themselves Zoghbians.

Among the other awards handed out on Sunday was the Breakthrough prize in mathematics, won by Jean Bourgain at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton for work that ranges from extensions to Schrdingers equation, to the unification of maths itself. The Breakthrough prize in fundamental physics was shared by three academics for work on string theory and black holes. Joe Polchinski at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has studied the baffling question of what happens to information that tumbles into black holes, plans to use the winnings for the betterment of science, but said he was terrified at what the next US administration might mean for research.

Morgan Freeman was invited to host Sundays ceremony, where others on the guest list included Alex A-Rod Rodriguez, the former Nasa astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly, will.i.am, and Bryce Dallas Howard, who as Claire Dearing in Jurassic World justified the creation of the troublesome Indominus rex with the line: We needed something scary and easy to pronounce. The celebrities, however, might find they are as unknown to the scientists as the scientists are to the them. My nieces and nephews will know more about them then I do, said Polchinski.

Another life sciences prize winner on Sunday was Stephen Elledge, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School. I wasnt expecting it, he told the Guardian. What can you say when someone tells you they are going to give you $3m? Im not used to that, I can tell you.

Elledge discovered how cells respond to DNA damage. The mechanism can kill off the most tattered cells and put others into a state of suspended animation called senescence. The process prevents cancer by shutting down abnormal cells, but senescence also triggers inflammation that drives ageing. Elledge is now looking for ways to turn off the inflammation, or wipe out senescent cells completely. That could impact all kinds of diseases in the ageing population, he said.

He is still working out what to do with his winnings, but one hope is to set up scholarships for disadvantaged kids from his hometown of Paris, Illinois. He also wants to support institutions that could come under pressure in the next administration. Now that the political terrain has shifted in the US there are going to be a lot more places that will need help, he said. In the US there is pressure against science. People deny the validity of science and facts. These are dark days. And as scientists we have to push back. We have to stand up to the challenge.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/05/breakthrough-prize-awards-2016-25m-to-researchers-at-oscars-of-science

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Stephen Hawking Opens Up About Teacher Who Changed His Universe

Stephen Hawking may never have become a renowned physicist if his school teacher Dikran Tahta hadn’t inspired him to become a math professor.

In a new video (below) that the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize released on Tuesday, Hawking remembers how his life changed when he met Tahta as a student at St. Albans School in Hertfordshire, England.

“Many teachers were boring,” Hawking says in the video. “Not Mr. Tahta. His lessons were lively and exciting. Everything could be debated.”  He mentions that he and Tahta built his first computer together, made with electromechanical switches.

“Thanks to Mr. Tahta, I became a professor of mathematics at Cambridge, in a position once held by Isaac Newton,” Hawking says. “When each of us thinks about what we can do in life, chances are, we can do it because of a teacher.”

YouTube/Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize
Dikran Tahta, Stephen Hawking’s teacher at St. Albans School.

Hawking admits to being a lazy student with bad handwriting, but he praises Tahta for igniting a sense of wonder and curiosity in him — and inspiring him to pursue a career in math and science.

Tahta died at age 78 on December 2, 2006.

When each of us thinks about what we can do in life, chances are, we can do it because of a teacher.” Stephen Hawking

The heartwarming video is part of the Varkey Foundation’s effort to recognize exceptional teachers with its annual Global Teacher Prize, which is awarded to instructors around the world. The inaugural prize was presented last year.

This year’s $1 million award will be presented to a winning teacher during a ceremony at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai on Sunday. The top 10 finalists for the prize were announced last month.

“I count my teachers as among the most influential people in my life,” said United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in a statement. “Teachers are entrusted with nurturing the potential of the young and helping them blossom as productive and responsible members of society. It is hard to underestimate their value. … I applaud the launch of the Global Teacher Prize, which recognizes their worth.”

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2016/03/10/stephen-hawking-favorite-teacher-video_n_9429396.html

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Robot Recreates The First Vertebrate To “Walk” On Land

Sometime around 360 million years ago, our early ancestors made animportant leap in evolution by transitioning from water to land. Although partsof this moment still remain a mystery to biologists, robots are now helping us understand how it might have happened.

Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Clemson University, and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis have developed a robot to replicate the movement of the African mudskipper. This amphibious fish is one of the few living species believed to be anatomically similar to the first vertebrates thatstepped foot on land.

Just like our first terrestrial vertebrates, the “MuddyBot” needs to climb up mudflats or sandy riverbanks, which for a finned creature is rather difficult to perform.

Even this ridiculously seemingly simple little crutching motion with coordinated tail use confronts our ignorance in three or four different disciplines: biology, paleontology, robotics, and mathematics, said Daniel Goldman, an associate professor in the Georgia Tech School of Physics, in astatement. Thats a summary of how far away we are from really understanding it.

Watch this majestic, yet fairly ungraceful, robotic recreation of evolutionary history below.

[H/T:Popular Science]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/technology/robot-recreates-the-first-vertebrate-to-walk-on-land/

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Does Math really Exist?

Here’s an interesting idea – is math really real or a creation of our human brain?

Check out this video about math as we know it – the relevant part goes up to the six minute mark.

Is Math a Feature of the Universe or a Feature of Human Creation? | Idea Channel | PBS
Math is invisible. Unlike physics, chemistry, and biology we canĀ“t see it, smell it, or even directly observe it in the universe. And so that has made a lot …

So what do you think about this? Does math really exist?

Have a great day!


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