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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Job Option for Physicists and Other Scientists: Hollywood Movie Making!

Think of the skills scientists, engineers and mathematicians are trained to develop: high-level problem solving, mathematical modeling, careful observation and experimental designs, use of trial and error to troubleshoot experiments and theoretical structures, high-end technology use, innovation and creativity in both hardware and software design, computer programming and computational thinking skills, and so on. These obviously are what is necessary to becoming a productive and contributing STEM professional. But these skills have, over the past two decades, become transferable to many other areas of study and work. Back when I was in graduate school (early to mid-1990s), several graduate students who I knew and received their PhD's in high energy physics, actually left the field and went to Wall Street, where they use Monte Carlo modeling techniques to try and predict the market, both in the near and long-term timeframes. Another student at the time, who stayed in particle physics and is now on faculty at Berkeley, is a consultant for the hit comedy series, "Big Bang Theory." And now, here is an article outlining physics professors who are now working for some of the major Hollywood studios to help improve special effects and the artistic side of movies, using advanced physics theories and simulations, which are making the most realistic computer graphics we have ever seen! So if you have a fancy for hard core science and math and computer applications, along with a love of art and/or movies, there is yet another different type of career that is possible, along with many others in this new technology and information driven age.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Clever Way of Thinking About Gravity, Gen. Relativity Style

Thanks to Jack C. for sending me the link to this video - I had never seen it, but it is a clever way of thinking about and picturing how gravity works according to Einstein's masterpiece, general relativity. The essence of this theory is gravity is not a true force at all, but rather the consequence of warped space-time, in the presence of mass and energy (technically, mass-energy density). Check it out!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Magnetic Field of Earth Weakening

Here is a topic we will study during the E&M portion of our AP Physics C course - the magnetic field of the Earth. Over the past few centuries, scientists know the magnetic field, created from the motion of the molten iron core of the planet, has been weakening. New data from the Swarm satellite show the field is declining about 10 times more rapidly than previously thought, or perhaps it has been happening at an accelerating pace over the past century of measurements. Either way, this declination of strength suggests the possibility of the Earth moving into another episode of magnetic pole reversal.  Computer simulations show that a decline begins prior to when a reversal takes place, and the Earth has not seen a reversal for some 800,000 years - this is quite a bit longer than the 200,000 year average over geologic time, so some would say we are 'overdue' for a reversal.  So, perhaps within the next 500-1000 years, a reversal will occur.

We do not know the full consequences for civilization, since the last time it happened we have no witness accounts or accurate data. We would expect higher doses of cosmic radiation, but it is not clear (as far as I can tell) what the health and biological consequences of this would be. Other concerns would be the effect of higher radiation rates on the electronics on the ground, such as telecommunications networks, wireless technologies, and the power grid.

Check out the Scientific American article.