A new podcast! This one is the world-famous* “Thermostat” story, about my apartment broker, Carl Sagan, a pen, and David Bowie.
* My world, anyway.
Introducing The Story Collider.
I’ve teamed up with Brian Wecht, from Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study and Ninja Sex Party, to present evening of true stories. Researchers who think about statistical inference 24/7, comedians who haven’t thought about ecology since frog dissections in high school, and everyone in between will tell stories, live on stage, about the times when, for good or ill, science happened.
Cheers, laughs, heckling — drunken heckling. That’s right, it’s a science lecture.
Deep in The Bell House, near Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, the Secret Science Club meets. By “secret” and “club” they mean that several hundred people paid the cover and packed the converted warehouse to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Pluto neé The Ninth Planet, now first among equals in the Kuiper Belt.
With so many scientists and technophiles in the audience it was entirely predictable that the computer and projector wouldn’t talk to each other for the first few minutes. It was also a given that during the Q&A people would ask for validation of crackpot theories of cosmology, or if the world will end in 2012. Everything else was unlike anything I’ve seen before.
Here’s something cool. Physicist Brian Foster and violinist Jack Liebeck have teamed up to produce a lecture series on physics, punctuated by recitals — either simple demonstrations of the concepts, or pieces beloved by the physicists involved. They have video clips (which wordpress apparently won’t let me embed).
They’ve been doing this since 2005, and seem to still be going strong, with a performance at Oxford this weekend. I couldn’t find a complete recording, which makes me sad.
One of the more exciting ideas for how to get stuff up into space is a Space Elevator. Basically, you stretch a rope from the ground to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, and then ferry stuff up and down the rope.
A few weeks ago the BBC published a story about a new technique to lift things up the elevator. In a nutshell, you have someone standing at the bottom of the rope vibrating it up and down sending waves all the way up to the satellite; the elevator has a clamp which closes when the upward-moving part of the wave is passing, and releases when it’s moving down. Presto! The elevator goes up.
What’s cool about this technique is not particularly its application to space elevation — which currently suffers from the problem that no known material has the strength to serve as the “rope”. Nor is it the fact that it could be used in ordinary elevators in some of the newer skyscrapers. No, the really fascinating bit is that it seems so simple, yet only just appeared. It’s borderline platitudinal to say something like “In this era of increasingly complicated technology there are still very simple ideas that can make an impact”, but it’s still impressive to see it in action.
The other neat thing is that this is basically the same principle that’s used in particle accelerators. There the waves are electromagnetic, and the “elevator” is a million or so electrons or protons, but it still works on the idea of catching the right part of the wave.