Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Posts tagged ‘physics’

Football … and physics!

I’ve been meaning to write about the whole “Deflategate” thing with the New England Patriots, but I’ve been juggling a lot of other things the past couple of weeks. (See previous post about writing a feature article about a certain distinguished scientist who just died.)

Disclaimer: I am the daughter of a football fan who always rooted for the Patriots, but who passed away before the Patriots ever appeared in the Super Bowl, even that first appearance in January 1986 when the Pats got mashed to pieces by the Chicago Bears just two days before the Challenger disaster. I may not follow the NFL with my father’s intensity, but I’m a Massachusetts native to the core.

When the “scandal” first broke, I was going to write about the relationship between pressure, volume, and temperature, but then I did a Google News search on “ideal gas law” and found that a few other writers had beaten me to the PV = nRT punch. Here’s a link to one of those articles: had a more recent analysis of the situation, noting this:

Healy [a Carnegie Mellon grad student] also pointed out a few mistakes made by many scientists quoted in the press on the matter. In citing the ideal gas law, some of them failed to take into account that the air pressure inside a 12.5 psi ball is actually twice as high, because the measurement also reflects the surrounding atmosphere pushing back against the ball. When you account for that, the balls can drop by about 1 full psi from the temperature difference alone.

Additionally, the effect of moisture was often ignored. After the leather absorbed a bit of water, however, it expanded slightly, led to an additional 0.7 psi decrease in air pressure in his experiments.

This give me (hardly unbiased toward the Patriots) some assurance that the whole thing was an honest matter of game-day weather physics, not some nefarious cheat.

Ultimately, everything boils down to this: Haters are gonna hate and people like to put dynasties in the crosshairs. But the Patriots got to be a dynasty by being very, very good at what they do. Photonic Pat says: GO PATS!!! 🙂

Don’t bet against optics

Once I woke up, I couldn’t get back to sleep because I was curious about the Nobel Prize in physics. So I booted up the computer and, sure enough, learned that Serge Haroche and David Wineland are this year’s laureates for their work in quantum optics. Congratulations to them both!

I also did a quick search on OSA’s website and found that Wineland and Haroche have both won the society’s Herbert Walther Award for quantum optics. It’s a relatively new award, and these two guys were its first winners. Also, Haroche won the society’s 2007 Charles Hard Townes Award for quantum electronics. And Wineland won OSA’s 1990 William F. Meggers Award for spectroscopy, as well as the society’s highest honor, the Frederic Ives Medal with Jarus Quinn Prize Endowment, in 2004.

For more on the quantum world, I am following science writer Alexandra Witze’s tweet and commending you to a special issue of Science News from 2010. I think it’s time for breakfast.

But one final postscript: Here in America, lots of people say terribly disparaging things about “lazy government employees.” Well, gee, Wineland is the fourth fifth “government employee,” and the third fourth from NIST, to win the physics Nobel in the last 15 years.

EDITED TO ADD: I forgot one of the NIST laureates in my original post, although John L. “Jan” Hall held a joint appointment with JILA and the University of Colorado in addition to NIST. Four Nobel prizes in the span of 15 years is truly something for NIST to be proud of!

About those Nobel Prize predictions…

Wondering why I haven’t spent time noodling over the possibilities for next week’s Nobel Prize announcements? My friend at Slate, Laura Helmuth, asked some of her friends to assess the competition. I definitely recommend reading the resulting article.

Bottom line in physics: It’s too early to give the nod to the Higgs boson crowd. But there are plenty of other contenders, some of whom are female (and it’s been 49 years since a woman won a Nobel in physics, hint hint). Personally, I’m rooting for the folks in optics and astronomy. But you already knew that, right?