In this episode of These Vibes, Stevie welcomes three members of the Prototype G girls’ robotics team to tell us about their work together on robotics. They get in to the details of how they build their robots and why! This is the Princeton, NJ area team, but there are groups all around the country. If you’re interested in joining them or starting a team in your area, check out their site!
In one of my favorite shows thus far, I discussed science education with one who practices it, and one who researches and documents the history of it. First, I spoke with Dr. Katerina Visnjic, senior lecturer in physics at Princeton University, and Ingrid Ockert, doctoral researcher in the history of science department. Ingrid’s research focuses on educational science television in the last century.
Dovetailing our conversation with Dr. Visnjic, Ingrid and I went in to her research on science educational television in the last century, beginning with the first program, the Johns Hopkins Science Review which aired from 1948 to 1955. Here’s a clip that aired in March 20th, 1951.
We discussed Watch Mr. Wizard! at length, like this clip from 1954:
Ingrid then took us through the years of science television and how they changed up to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and today. Among several suggestions, she recommends Emily Graslie’s The Brain Scoop:
Featured image above is from an article from 2013 where a group at Berkeley is working to make windows even smarter, in a different way.
In this special show for WPRB’s all-vinyl week, Brian covers the tunes and Stevie speaks to our guests, Princeton graduate researchers Nick Davy and Melda Sezen. It was beautiful chaos in the studio.
Nick and Melda work on Smart Windows, under Professor Lynn Loo in Chemical and Biological Engineering. “Smart Windows” refers to glass that can change colors (darken) when a current is applied. This happens due to the electrochromic (electro=electrical responding, chromic=color) material polyaniline. Polyaniline is magical. It dissolves in water, and is just green when no current is applied (see image), but when connected to an energy source, like a battery or a solar cell, it can be tuned to be varying shades of blue, and even transparent. Nick and Melda’s collaboration
works to improve this technology by introducing organic* solar cells as an extra varnish on the windows, producing both the energy needed to change the color of the glass and hopefully some excess to power your home, etc.
So, in the show we in to the nitty gritty of how smart glass works, and how Nick and Melda are fabricating and improving the technology. We then dive in to other applications of organic solar cells and polyaniline, for example wearable technology.
If you’re looking for something about smart windows that’s little higher level, take a look here.
At the very end of the show, Brian jumps on the mic to give us a little history of vinyl, including cylinder vinyl, and how LPs are made!
*In chemistry speak, “organic” = carbon based. In this case, think “plastic.”
Featured image is an artist’s conception of gravitational waves from a binary system. From LIGO.org.
Image with the recording is of the inside of the Tate Britain museum in London.
The main portion of this show is an interview with Dr. Lora Angelova – a chemist and researcher at the Tate Britain in London, England. What this means is, she uses chemistry, material sciences, physics, art history – and whatever else she needs – all towards the effort of conserving art. Currently, her research focuses on developing methods of surface cleaning artworks. Throughout our interview she takes us through some of the work involved to keep a piece of art in a state as close to its original as possible, and how much of an effort that takes. It’s truly a labor of love.
In the interview we discussed her work with NanoRestART, and micro-emulsions. Lora explained micelles, and that lead us to how soap works. Then we spoke a little on the surface of our cells – as it’s a similar concept.
After the interview, I spoke for a while about gravitational waves. Here’s approximately what I said on them:
If I were a betting woman, I’d say that you’re about to hear a lot in the news about these entities called “gravitational waves.” That is, if you keep up with science and tech news.
On Thursday, the LIGO experiment is having a press conference. BUT it’s been rumored for months that they might have seen something in their instrument. LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory. And what they search for is, you guessed it, gravitational waves.
From general relativity we know that gravity – the force that makes apples fall and keeps us here on Earth, and maintains the Earth orbiting the Sun – isn’t like the other forces. The other three forces: the electromagnetic, strong, and weak forces – all operate via particle interactions. So if two objects are attracted or repelled due to the electromagnetic force, this comes about because of particle exchange. But when two objects are gravitationally attracted to each other, this comes about due to the fact that massive objects actually warp the spacetime around them. Like when you sit on your bed with lots of stuff on it and everything falls in to you. Alternatively, think of a rubber sheet pulled taught with a bowling ball set on it. The bowling ball warps the sheet, causing any marbles
you throw on to the sheet to fall in to the ball. This is how gravity works.
And, in our sky, we can see gravity do this due to its effect on light. Light always takes the shortest path through spacetime, so if spacetime curves due to some massive object, then the light will curve. This effect creates these fascinating images on the sky called Einstein rings – these are absolutely gorgeous and dramatic and totally incredible. You can see one of these to the right of this page, but google for images. There’s many.
So what’s a gravitational wave? Well, if gravity is curvature of spacetime, then a gravitational wave is an oscillation in spacetime. Think of it like a stretching and compressing of a small bit of space – first vertically stretched and horizontally compressed, then horizontally stretched and vertically compressed, and again and again, back and forth – but that stretching and compressing action is traveling, at the speed of light, away from its source.
The LIGO instrument uses this property – and lasers – to try to measure gravitational waves. Essentially, they have VERY very precise lasers aimed across a distance, and if this light from the laser is stretched or compressed just a little tiny bit, then LIGO will pick it up. And if that stretching and compressing has the right signature, then it could be a gravitational wave.
A good next question is, where does the gravitational wave come from? What’s the source? Well, a gravitational wave is theorized to radiate out from just about any massive, moving source. So this could be, for example, two neutron stars spinning around each other at fantastic speeds, colliding black holes. Or you, driving in your car.
A key thing to note is that gravity is SO MUCH weaker than any of the other forces. This is why a magnet that you hold in your hand could attract a paperclip via the electromagnetic force, but could never really attract anything gravitationally. If you’re in to numbers, gravity is about 30 orders of magnitude – that’s a 10 with 30 zeros after it – weaker than the electromagnetic force.
And this is why LIGO is looking to observe gravitational waves from two neutron stars spinning around each other at fantastic speeds, but isn’t worried about picking up the waves from you driving in your car. And this is also why it’s so hard – and why it’s never been done before. But LIGO has been diligent…and there have been rumors of discovery for weeks now. So…watch this space.
And just so you know – gravitational waves have never been directly observed before, but
it’s on very very strong theoretical footing. First off, they come out of General Relativity, which has been tested time and time again. And second, they have been measured indirectly.
Here’s what we’ve seen. As a system – like binary neutron stars or black holes – radiate gravitational waves, they lose energy… this will cause the objects to spiral in towards each other and eventually collide. And this has been observed! Cue the Hulse-Taylor pulsar.
In the Hulse-Taylor system a…
…decrease of the orbital period [was observed] as the two stars spiral together. Although the measured shift is only 40 seconds over 30 years, it has been very accurately measured and agrees precisely with the predictions from Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. The observation is regarded as indirect proof of the existence of gravitational waves. Indeed, the Hulse-Tayor pulsar is deemed so significant that in 1993 its discoverers were awarded the Nobel prize for their work.
So, we are pretty sure they exist. And if we are able to observe gravitational waves directly from sources like black holes and dark matter, that would be totally revolutionary for astrophysics! It would show us the universe us in a whole, brand new way.
And with that, we’re all pretty pumped to hear what LIGO has to say on Thursday. And sometime soon I’ll try to get someone from the collaboration in here to talk about it.
Happy Christmas, listeners! In this rockin’ show Lucianne Walkowicz called in to WPRB from the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, where she works on NASA’s Kepler Mission as well as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (a telescope currently being built down in Chile). In this interview we focus on the Kepler mission’s search for exoplanets – these are planets outside of our solar system. We discuss questions such as: What makes a planet habitable? How does a star’s properties influence the planet’s habitability? How does Kepler go about finding these planets when they’re so much smaller and dimmer than their accompanying star? How could we know if there is life on these planets? And much more!
Quinn Gibson is a doctoral candidate in chemistry here at Princeton University where he works in a solid state chemistry group, the CavaLab. From what I gather, they’re all about looking for materials with new and interesting properties. First they make predictions based on physics and chemistry, then they synthesize the materials — metal crystals — and characterize them. In their lab, one edict is “don’t be a baby about blowing stuff up.” So, kids. If you want to blow stuff up without living a life of crime, chemistry may be for you.
Just how the invention of the transistor has revolutionized every aspect of our lives, the new materials that Quinn creates, like these weird things called topological insulators, could change everything. He explains it all right here in this show.
Also check out Quinn’s music at qfolk.bandcamp.com. We play a couple tunes on the air and he tells us how they came about.
P.S. Check out Jack on Fire’s new songs on their soundcloud (this show features the excellent tune, Beat the Rich)!
The featured image is from a scanning tunneling microscope. It’s used to image the surface of a 3D topological insulator in order to better get at its properties. From: http://wwwphy.princeton.edu/~yazdaniweb/
Music and interview with Princeton plasma physics doctoral student Brian Kraus. We talked about what is a plasma, the difference between fusion and fission, why fusion energy is so much cleaner than fission (what’s done in nuclear reactors), but also so much harder. We talked about the fusion reactor being built in France – ITER – as well as other things you can do with plasmas, like propelling satellites and space ships!
Full radio show, aired on WPRB 103.3 Princeton from 2 to 4am on Thursday, September 24th, 2015. The show features an interview with neuroscientist Sam McDougle (doctoral candidate at Princeton University). We discuss the cerebellum, how we learn things, and why that myth that we only use 10% of our brain is bullshit. We also play a few tunes he selected in addition to a song he’s released (on soundcloud) as Polly Hi. You can find more of his songs on his soundcloud site.
Everyone’s Gone to the Moon
Potty Mouth EP
White Men are Black Men Too
Ben Harper, Blind Boys of Alabama
Well, Well, Well
There Will Be a Light
Darling…It’s too late
Talk with Sam McDougle
Trouble in Minds Records
Sonny and the Sunsets
Talent Night at the Ashram
Done it again
Talk with Sam McDougle
Give it up
Grave Desecrator + 4
Heavens to Betsy
Kill Rock Stars
Pale Blue Eyes
The Velvet Underground (45th Anniversary Delux Edition)
This is my first show at my new time slot: 2-4am on Thursday mornings. I played about a half hour of tunes, then the first 15 minutes of my interview on quasicrystals with Princeton Professor Paul Steinhardt.
Featured image is of a two-dimensional organic quasicrystal. Source: Natalie Wasio et al., Nature, 2014 via Wired
Image accompanying the Mixcloud link below is an actual image of a “Real Decagonal Quasicrystal with Quasi-unit cell tiling superposed.” Source: Paul Steinhardt (website)
This is my full interview with Paul Steinhardt, Albert Einstein professor of physics at Princeton University. We spoke about the magnificent quasicrystal – what it is, why they’re special and fascinating, and their incredible discovery (both of the synthetic and natural varieties). This is a fast-moving and hot area of research, and there is surely more to come soon.
Update: This was one of my (Stevie’s) first science interviews on WPRB (read: first interviews ever), and Paul was gracious enough to come in and spend the time with me, nonetheless. Sitting at the mic in the mirror studio, he relayed the whole story of how he became fascinated by quasicrystals, a crystal with a quasi-periodic structure and ten fold symmetry that is both mathematically interesting and, it turns out, can have desirable physical properties, like as coating on airplane wings and non-stick frying pans. This eventually led Steinhardt and his team on a quest to the farthest reaches of Russia for a naturally occurring sample that scientists had previously thought couldn’t exist as it would be too fragile. (Though! Quasicrystals were accidentally made in a lab in 1982.)
Listen to the whole story by clicking on the link at the top.
Indeed, the first naturally occurring quasicrystal was found by Paul and his team in 2009, and the second just last year in March 2015. The origins of the crystal are unknown, but due to its atomic makeup and the conditions required for its formation, the best theory involves meteors colliding in space. Steinhardt explained the theory in this interview, and further in an excellent Scientific American article on the topic (emphasis added):
The ratios of isotopes of oxygen in silicate and oxide minerals around the quasicrystal grain are typical of minerals found in meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites, the team reports. This indicates that the rock is of extraterrestrial origin and very old: virtually all chondrites formed at the birth of the Solar System. It is likely, but not certain, that the quasicrystal grain within the meteorite is of roughly the same age. It was found entwined with a silica mineral that forms only at high pressures and temperatures—such as might be created by a collision with the chondrite body.