April 27, 2011

The world's most powerful laser.

The EU’s Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) project will be developed in the Czech Republic with findings likely to help high-tech industry.

The website CzechPosition reports that the European Commission gave the green light for the plans of three lasers. The three superlasers will be completed by 2015, and will be the first lasers to operate on the exawatt scale - 1000000000000000000 watts!

Besides, a fourth superlaser is said to be forthcoming, with beams twice the power of the aforementioned three. The implications of this technology will reach into the disposal of nuclear waste and cancer diagnosis and treatment, and furthering man's insights into nanoscience and chemical molecular research.

The three lasers will be built in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania, and will each fire pulses that reach the equivalent of the total power received by the earth from the sun.


The pulses only last 1.5 x 10-14 seconds. But during that instant, the Extreme Light Infrastructure pulses will deliver 20 times the power of the laser pulses at the National Ignition Facility in California, which last 2.0 x 10-8 seconds.

 Each laser costs approx. US$400 million.

If all goes well, the construction of the fourth laser will be approved, which contains 10 lasers, and each of them having twice the power of the superlasers.The director of the Institute for Extreme Light in France, hopes that system could eventually reach intensities that might be able to make "virtual" particles real.

As New Scientists report:

The uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics implies that space can never be truly empty. Instead, random fluctuations give birth to a seething cauldron of particles, such as electrons, and their antimatter counterparts, called positrons.

These so-called "virtual particles" normally annihilate one another too quickly for us to notice them. But physicists predicted in the 1930s that a very strong electric field would transform virtual particles into real ones that we can observe. The field pushes them in opposite directions because they have opposite electric charges, separating them so that they cannot destroy one another. Lasers are ideally suited to this task because their light boasts strong electric fields.

If this goes on, we might finally have the ability to build our own Death Star.

Read more:

April 23, 2011

Physicists at a Party

 This is an exceptionally good physics joke, taken shamelessly from the web.

 At the Party with the Physicists

One day, all of the world's famous physicists decided to get together for a party (ok, there were some non-physicists too who crashed the party). Fortunately, the doorman was a grad student, and able to observe some of the guests...

  • Everyone gravitated toward Newton, but he just kept moving around at a constant velocity and showed no reaction.
  • Einstein thought it was a relatively good time.
  • Coulomb got a real charge out of the whole thing.
  • Cauchy, being the mathematician, still managed to integrate well with everyone.
  • Thompson enjoyed the plum pudding.
  • Pauli came late, but was mostly excluded from things, so he split.
  • Pascal was under too much pressure to enjoy himself.
  • Ohm spent most of the time resisting Ampere's opinions on current events.
  • Hamilton went to the buffet tables exactly once.
  • Volta thought the social had a lot of potential.
  • Hilbert was pretty spaced out for most of it.
  • Heisenberg may or may not have been there.
  • Feynman got from the door to the buffet table by taking every possible path
  • The Curies were there and just glowed the whole time.
  • van der Waals forced himeself to mingle.
  • Wien radiated a colourful personality.
  • Millikan dropped his Italian oil dressing.
  • de Broglie mostly just stood in the corner and waved.
  • Hollerith liked the hole idea.
  • Stefan and Boltzman got into some hot debates.
  • Everyone was attracted to Tesla's magnetic personality.
  • Compton was a little scatter-brained at times.
  • Bohr ate too much and got atomic ache.
  • Watt turned out to be a powerful speaker.
  • Hertz went back to the buffet table several times a minute.
  • Faraday had quite a capacity for food.
  • Oppenheimer got bombed.
  • The microwave started radiating in the background when Penzias and Wilson showed up.
  • After one bite Chandrasekhar reached his limit.
  • Gamow left the party early with a big bang while Hoyle stayed late in a steady state.
  • For Schrodinger this was more a wave function rather than a social function.
  • Skorucak wanted to put everybody on his web site.
  • Erdos was sad no epsilons were invited.
  • Born thought the probability of enjoying himself was pretty high.
  • Instead of coming through the front door Josephson tunnelled through.
  • Groucho refused to attend any party that would invite him in the first place.
  • Niccolò Tartaglia kept stammering throughout the evening.
  • Pauling wanted to bond with everyone.
  • Keynes was keen to question the marginal utility of this party.
  • Shakespeare could not decide whether to be or not to be at the party.
  • John Forbes Nash wanted to play a n-person zero sum game.
  • Pavlov brought his dog; which promptly chased after Schrodinger's cat.
  • Zeno of Elea came with two friends - Achilles and the tortoise.
  • Bill Gates came to install windows.
  • Bertrand Russell kept wondering if the cook only cooks for the guests, who cooks for the cook?
  • Witten bought a present all tied up with superstrings.
  • The food was beautifully laid out by Mendeleyev on the periodic table.
  • Riemann hypothesised about who would arrive next; to which Newton retorted, ' hypotheses non fingo.'
  • Chadwick was handing out neutrons free of charge.
  • Everyone was amazed at Bell's inequality.
  • Watson and Crick danced the Double Helix.
  • While Fermat sang, 'Save the Last Theorem for me.'
  • Maxwell's demon argued with Dawkin's friend, the selfish Gene.
  • Russell and Whitehead insisted on checking the bill for completeness and consistency. Godel said it was incomplete and it can never be proved otherwise.
  • Epimenides the Cretan announced that only non-Cretans spoke the truth.
  • Rontgen saw through everybody.
  • Descartes cogitated, 'I think I am drunk. Therefore I am at the party.' 
Source: www.physlink.com

Oh yeah.

April 20, 2011

Vanishing Water Trick

Go on, finish the video. You need to~

Aw, isn't he nice? He seems like a very likable person, charming, and very charismatic. He'd make a perfect insurance salesman.


So, what we've just seen in the video was that the water apparently disappears. To the common, untrained person, this magic trick is almost impossible to crack. However, we have the power of science on our side.

The key ingredient in this trick are chemicals known as Super absorbent polymers. These cross-linked acrylic polymers are referred to as "Super Absorbents" and "Water Crystals", and are used in baby diapers. From our findings, we can infer that the magician laced his cup with super absorbent crystals, and naturally, due to its ability to hold lots of water (sodium polyacrylate holds 800+ml of water per gram!) the water apparently disappears.

Sodium Polyacrylate can be extracted from baby diapers, or purchased from your local garden store. You might need a few extra cups though.

Also, magically, the reaction can be reversed with a few spoons of sodium chloride.

April 18, 2011

Dehydration of Sugar


What happens in the above video is an exothermic reaction involving the monosaccharide and a strong acid. In this case, we witnessed the action of Sulphuric Acid + Sucrose.

When the acid is added to the sugar, the sugar transforms, expands and an effervescence of steam is observed. This reaction is clearly exothermic since the acid and the sugar were originally at room temperature.

Dehydration reactions are reactions where the H2O molecule is removed from the carbonyl compound and in balancing the equation, the acid is hydrated. This water transfer is the source of the heat in this reaction. The water and the acid create very strong hydrogen bonds, which in turn give off energy in the form of heat. When bonds break, and new bonds are formed, some bonds are easier to form than others, so often the excess energy that doesn’t go into making bonds, gives off heat as the product.

In this reaction when hydrogen and oxygen are removed from sugar, all we have left is graphite(carbon). The water escapes mostly as steam, and like most reactions, not everything is able to react, so we often have the leftover, unreacted acid evaporating with the water.

Note: This is a very dangerous experiment. Only proceed under proper supervision.

The full equation is actually pretty simple:
C12H22O11 (Sucrose) + H2SO4 (Sulphuric Acid) → 12C (Graphite) + 11H2O (Water)

Oh, if you insist on doing this experiment, kindly check your insurance policies on scientific accidents coverage, or whatever they say.

April 14, 2011

Student Loan Insurance

What happens when a student drops out of college without finishing his/her degree?

Well, nothing. However, there is a high percentage that said student will have to pay back thousands of dollars in student loans. This prospect is daunting even for those with decent jobs, let alone a college dropout. Student debts- a long term financial burden with no utility that is almost impossible to shed.


The link above is from Inside Higher Education. The columnist proposed a possible solution to the growing number of people who drop out after taking student loans. He proposed for a change in public systems: that they charge less for the earlier semesters and more for the later ones.

Statistically, one-third of all college students drop out eventually. Some find it unenjoyable, others find it simply not worth the effort and also, commitment issues.

The possible solution: The creation of an insurance market that rewards students every year that they return to school to finish their degrees. A student loan insurance market would increase the number of undergrads finishing their degree by 3.8%, with greater effects for students who are currently more likely to drop out.

Now, there is a catch to this. It has the same problems that affect every insurance market, that is, people don't buy insurance unless they think they need it.

(Source: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1532391
Satyajit Chatterjee at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and Felicia Anamaria Ionescu at Colgate University)

The authors acknowledge as much, writing:
Optimal insurance never encourages anyone who was putting in effort in college to stop putting in effort. Indeed, it encourages people who were not putting in effort to put in effort. The friction is simply that some students who were choosing to drop out may choose to continue on in college without putting in effort (there is no change in their college effort decision). Thus, insurance attracts students whose failure probability is 1.
 i.e. Insurance encourages people who were not putting in effort to put in effort, however some students who originally chose to drop out may continue their 'studies' without putting in any effort.


Insurance is a form of risk management to defend against the risk of a loss. Agreeing to the terms of an insurance policy creates a contract between the insurer and the insured. Insurance is designed to protect the financial well-being of an individual or a corporation in a case of unexpected events.

April 12, 2011

Sweet Poison -Part 2-

In America, because of the high price of cane sugar, manufacturers use fructose extracted from corn, which is better known industrially as HFCS(High Fructose Corn Syrup). The price of corn is cheaper due to it being subsidised by the government of America. Although HFCS is commonly called fructose, in reality it is a fusion of fructose and glucose in the approximate ratio of 50:50.

The excessive intake of HFCS in America is said to be the leading cause of obesity in the realm. According to the American Medical Association, HFCS contributes more to obesity than sucrose or normal cane sugar.

Obesity is among the effects of excessive intake of sugar. This phenomenon is much clearer in the United States, the country where the people enjoy carbonated drinks with high sugar content. According to research, in the 1970s, Americans take 9 teaspoons of sugar daily, which is elevated to 14 teaspoons by the '90s.
C12H22O11 Sucrose

Research is being carried out for the search of alternative sugars to reduce the intake of cane sugar by the people of the world. Curculin is an alternative sugar that is extracted from the Lumbah plant only found in Malaysia. The Lumbah tree is a herbal plant with fruits in bunches. The fruit of the Lumbah tree is white and is bland in taste. However, miraculously, after eating one of the fruits, the taste of everything else is altered drastically. This taste-modifying activity is also exhibited in miraculin. Curculin is a high intensity sweetener with a reported relative sweetness of 430-2070 times sweeter than sucrose on a weight basis.

Sugar is amongst the essentials of life. However, the sweetness of sugar, in excess, may turn into poison. Diabetes is a silent killer, ever waiting in the shadows, and has taken many lives to its name.

Please, reduce your sugar intake. Moderation is the answer.

April 9, 2011

Sweet Poison. -Part I-

After having something spicy or oily, our bodies crave for dessert, demanding something sweet like pastries, ice-cream or even just mere fruits. The keyword here is 'addiction'. Yes, my friend, all of us are addicted to the taste of sweetness.

Like all other drugs, when digested in the body, sugar activates the receptors in the body, thus triggering the release of dopamine. Dopamine increases blood pressure and heartbeat rate, creating a happiness sensation and the feeling of ecstasy.

However, this creates a sort of addiction towards this release of dopamine, therefore we take in more sweets than we should have to satisfy the addiction. We need to resist the urge, the crave for monosaccharides, disaccharides, or oligosaccharides. The discovery of the effect of the sugar is discussed in detail in the research of Dr. DesMalsons in her book Potatoes not Prozac: Solutions for Sugar Sensitivity.

There are quite a number of other research projects that warn us regarding the addiction to sugar. Scientifically, sugar gives a neurochemical reation which lights the way- opens the door for other, more severe drugs.

The sweetness of sugar is comparable to the high one gets off cocaine. (Bordeaux University, France) The lab rats are given a choice: Sugar, or Cocaine? Surprisingly, all of them picked sugar, which releases more dopamine and the feeling of euphoria.

The intake of sugar as cocaine brings about a plethora of negative effects on the body. To satisfy the needs of the flesh, one takes more and more sugar, leading to an over-excessive intake of sugar and is potentially lethal.

April 7, 2011

Sources of error.

Previously we discussed about the importance of precautions in scientific process. Now, we look at the factors that deny us from obtaining the most accurate result possible.

Like a game of chess, mere knowledge of the openings are not enough. A friend of mine once told me that he never thought endgame knowledge was necessary because he never got to one. I think that the reason he never got to one was because he didn't know anything about the endgame.

Similarly, in an experiment, identifying the sources of error is of paramount importance as it allows you to learn from your mistakes.

(Note: Systematic errors are too easy to identify and therefore will not be covered.)

Now, amongst the common sources of errors we have:

-Uneven heating. This might be caused by a flickering flame, or failing to ensure that all sides get heated evenly. This can be averted by using a water bath, or removing the factors that cause the flame to flicker. (i.e. air movement)
-Overheating. To a minor degree, after the flame is switched off, the temperature of the reactants might get heated further due to the heated apparatuses.
-Limiting factor of labeled mass/weights. This is when a weight's actual mass differs from what that is stated. I'm afraid this factor lies out of our hands. Therefore it is important to get the highest quality weights for maximum accurancy.
-Resonance. In every oscillating system, students tend to overlook resonance. Engineers themselves learned their lesson the hard way when resonance resulted in the 1940 collapse of "Galloping Gertie," the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge. (This example is not 100% accurate, please view the source for more info.)
-Electromagnetic interactions between equipment.
-Calibration. Instruments must be checked against a known, precise, standard and adjusted to be as accurate as possible.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resonance#Failure_of_the_original_Tacoma_Narrows_Bridge

April 6, 2011

Expermental Precautions.

Today we're going to take a look at the fundamentals of any scientific experiments - precautions.

Precautions are necessary to obtain the most consistent and accurate result in whatever scientific experiment you're doing, and therefore it would be handy to prepare a list of them before you even begin the experiment.

That said, the precautions below are fundamentals and must be observed at all time. By that I mean that they are general enough to be used in any experiments. It's a rough list, but I suppose it's passable.

1. Close all windows to simulate a closed environment.
2. Switch off all fans to reduce air movement
3. All instruments are checked for parallax errors before the experiment
4. Care is taken not to disturb the instruments while the experiment is ongoing
5. All readings are taken at eye level to avoid parallax errors
6. Multiple readings are taken and the mean is used to obtain a more accurate value.

That said, precautions vary according to the type of experiment. Exercise logic combined with a little scientific knowledge and you'll do fine.

The more precautions you have, the more likely your result will be accurate.

April 3, 2011

A rainbow.

While I was strolling down the exhibits of the Ikeda Photography Exhibition, something caught my eye. 
We weren't allowed to bring cameras, so no, no pictures to show here. 

It was a picture of a rainbow. A photograph of a rainbow.

The tour guide explained to us that the purpose of the photograph was to celebrate the magnificence of the rainbow. The rainbow is a reflection of human life force. Forever Vibrant.

My words will do the rainbow no justice. I lack the skills to share with you the grandeur of the rainbow. Perhaps this excerpt here will... light the way.

Faust, Part II, Act II

But see how, rising from the turbulence,
the rainbow forms its changing-unchanged arch
of Human striving it's a perfect symbol
ponder this well to understand more clearly
that what we have as life is a many-hued reflection.

I had my breath taken away.