Duality Of Light Explored By Revisiting The Double-Slit Experiment

We’ve all seen recreations of the famous double-slit experiment, which showed that light can behave both as a wave and as a particle. Or rather, it’s likely that what we’ve seen is the results of the double-slit experiment, that barcode-looking pattern of light and dark stripes, accompanied by some handwaving about classical versus quantum mechanics. But if you’ve got 20 minutes to invest, this video of the whole double-slit experiment cuts through the handwaving and opens your eyes to the quantum world.

For anyone unfamiliar with the double-slit experiment,  [Huygens Optics] actually doesn’t spend that much time explaining the background. Our explainer does a great job on the topic, but suffice it to say that when coherent light passes through two closely spaced, extremely fine openings, a characteristic pattern of alternating light and dark bands can be observed. On the one hand, this demonstrates the wave nature of light, just as waves on the ocean or sound waves interfere constructively and destructively. On the other hand, the varying intensity across the interference pattern suggests a particle nature to light.

To resolve this conundrum, [Huygens] jumps right into the experiment, which he claims can be done with simple, easily sourced equipment. This is belied a little by the fact that he used photolithography to create his slits, but it should still be possible to reproduce with slits made in more traditional ways. The most fascinating bit of this for us was the demonstration of single-photon self-interference using nothing but neutral density filters and a CCD camera. The explanation that follows of how it can be that a single photon can pass through both slits at the same time is one of the most approachable expositions on quantum mechanics we’ve ever heard.

[Huygens Optics] has done some really fascinating stuff lately, from variable profile mirrors to precision spirit levels. This one, though, really helped scratch our quantum itch.

Andrea Ghez Gazes Into Our Galaxy’s Black Hole

Decades ago, Einstein predicted the existence of something he didn’t believe in — black holes. Ever since then, people have been trying to get a glimpse of these collapsed stars that represent the limits of our understanding of physics.

For the last 25 years, Andrea Ghez has had her sights set on the black hole at the center of our galaxy known as Sagittarius A*, trying to conclusively prove it exists. In the early days, her proposal was dismissed entirely. Then she started getting lauded for it. Andrea earned a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008. In 2012, she was the first woman to receive the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Image via SciTech Daily

Now Andrea has become the fourth woman ever to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics for her discovery. She shares the prize with Roger Penrose and Reinhard Genzel for discoveries relating to black holes. UCLA posted her gracious reaction to becoming a Nobel Laureate.

A Star is Born

Andrea Mia Ghez was born June 16th, 1965 in New York City, but grew up in the Hyde Park area of Chicago. Her love of astronomy was launched right along with Apollo program. Once she saw the moon landing, she told her parents that she wanted to be the first female astronaut. They bought her a telescope, and she’s had her eye on the stars ever since. Now Andrea visits the Keck telescopes — the world’s largest — six times a year.

Andrea was always interested in math and science growing up, and could usually be found asking big questions about the universe. She earned a BS from MIT in 1987 and a PhD from Caltech in 1992. While she was still in graduate school, she made a major discovery concerning star formation — that most stars are born with companion star. After graduating from Caltech, Andrea became a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA so she could get access to the Keck telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

The Keck telescopes and the Milky Way. Image via Flickr

The Center of the Galaxy

Since 1995, Andrea has pointed the Keck telescopes toward the center of our galaxy, some 25,000 light years away. There’s a lot of gas and dust clouding the view, so she and her team had to get creative with something called adaptive optics. This method works by deforming the telescope’s mirror in real time in order to overcome fluctuations in the atmosphere.

Thanks to adaptive optics, Andrea and her team were able to capture images that were 10-30 times clearer than what was previously possible. By studying the orbits of stars that hang out near the center, she was able to determine that a supermassive black hole with four millions times the mass of the sun must lie there. Thanks to this telescope hack, Andrea and other scientists will be able to study the effects of black holes on gravity and galaxies right here at home. You can watch her explain her work briefly in the video after the break. Congratulations, Dr. Ghez, and here’s to another 25 years of fruitful research.

Weigh Your Car With Paper

Sometimes a problem is more important than its solution. Humans love to solve mysteries and answer questions, but the most rewarding issues are the ones we find ourselves. Take [Surjan Singh], who wanted to see if he could calculate the weight of his Saab 96. Funny enough, he doesn’t have an automobile scale in his garage, so he had to concoct a workaround method. His solution is to multiply the pressure in his tires with their contact patch. Read on before you decide this is an imperfect idea.

He measures his tires with a quality gauge for the highest accuracy and pressurizes them equally. Our favorite part is how he measures the contact patch by sliding a couple of paper pieces from the sides until they stop and then measures the distance between them. He quickly realizes that the treads didn’t contact the floor evenly, so he measures them to get a better idea of the true contact area. Once he is satisfied, he performs his algebra and records the results, then drives to some public scales and has to pay for a weigh. His calculations are close, but he admits this could be an imprecise method due to an n-of-one, and that he didn’t account for the stiffness of the tire walls.

This was a fun thought experiment with real-world verification. If you’re one of those people who treats brainstorming like an Olympic sport, then you may enjoy the gedankenexperiment that is fractals.

A Song Of Fog And Fire – Taking A Look Inside A Rubens’ Tube

The dark winter months are still a bit ahead of us, but with night returning even to the northernmost places, it might be a good time to get your next mood lighting project started. Despite the ubiquitousness of LED strips, cave-time nostalgia makes it hard to beat the coziness of an actual flame here — well, assuming it’s a controlled flame. While modern LED candles do a decent enough job to fool you from a distance, there’s one apparatus they’ll have a hard time to replicate though: the Rubens’ tube. Tired of their usual straight pipe construct, [RyanMake] added some twists and turns to the concept and created a flexible Ruben’s tube made from semi-rigid aluminum ducts.

If you’re not familiar with the Rubens’ tube, it’s a combination of science, fun, and danger to visualize standing waves with fire by attaching a loudspeaker to a pipe with equally spaced holes that’s filled with flammable gas, and light it up. As the resulting visual effect depends on the audio signal’s wavelength, and by that the length of the tube itself, [RyanMake]’s flexible duct approach adds some variety to the usual fixed-length pipe versions of it. But that’s not all he did. After seeing the flames in person, he got curious about what’s actually going on inside that tube and decided to build another one, this time using a clear plastic tube and a fog machine. While the fog escapes the tube rather unimpressively (and could hardly compete with fire anyway), it gives a nice insight of what’s going on inside those tubes. See for yourself in the videos after the break.

Of course, no experiment is truly conducted without failure, and after seeing his first tube go up in flames several times, you should probably hold on to building one as decorative item for indoors. On the other hand, if shooting fire is what you’re looking for, you might be interested in this vortex cannon. And for some more twists on a standard Rubens’ tube, check out the two-dimensional Pyro Board.

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Wolfram Physics Project Seeks Theory Of Everything; Is It Revelation Or Overstatement?

Stephen Wolfram, inventor of the Wolfram computational language and the Mathematica software, announced that he may have found a path to the holy grail of physics: A fundamental theory of everything. Even with the subjunctive, this is certainly a powerful statement that should be met with some skepticism.

What is considered a fundamental theory of physics? In our current understanding, there are four fundamental forces in nature: the electromagnetic force, the weak force, the strong force, and gravity. Currently, the description of these forces is divided into two parts: General Relativity (GR), describing the nature of gravity that dominates physics on astronomical scales. Quantum Field Theory (QFT) describes the other three forces and explains all of particle physics. Continue reading “Wolfram Physics Project Seeks Theory Of Everything; Is It Revelation Or Overstatement?”

ESP8266 And Sensors Make For A Brainy NERF Ball

For his final project in UCLA’s Physics 4AL program, [Timothy Kanarsky] used a NodeMCU to smarten up a carefully dissected NERF football. With the addition to dual MPU6050 digital accelerometers and some math, the ball can calculate things like the distance traveled and angular velocity. With a 9 V alkaline battery and a voltage regulator board along for the ride it seems like a lot of weight to toss around; but of course nobody on the Hackaday payroll has thrown a ball in quite some time, so we’re probably not the best judge of such things.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in refining your throw, there’s a lot of fascinating science going on in this project; complete with fancy-looking equations to make you remember just how poorly you did back in math class.

As [Timothy] explains in the write-up, the math used to find velocity and distance traveled with just two accelerometers is not unlike the sort of dead-reckoning used in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Since we’ve already seen model rockets with their own silos, seems all the pieces are falling into place.

The NodeMCU polls the accelerometers every 5 milliseconds, and displays the data on web page complete with scrolling graphs of acceleration and angular velocity. When the button on the rear of the ball is pressed, the data is instead saved to basic Comma Separated Values (CSV) file that’s served up to clients with a minimal FTP server. We might not know much about sportsball, but we definitely like the idea of a file server we can throw at people.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an instrumented football. Back in 2011 it took some pretty elaborate hardware to pull this sort of thing off, and it’s fascinating to see how far the state-of-the-art has progressed.

Retrotechtacular: Automotive Suspension Is All About Waves

In addition to driving home the need for Steadicam or Optical Image Stabilization, this eighty-year-old video illustrates some elegant solutions the automotive industry developed in their suspension systems. Specifically, this Chevrolet video from 1938 is aimed at an audience that values science and therefore the reel boils down the problem at hand using models that will remind you of physics class.

Model of a wheel with a leaf spring records the effect of a bump on a piece of paper above

The problem is uneven ground — the “waves in the Earth’s surface” — be it the terrain in an open field, a dirt road, or even a paved parkway. Any vehicle traveling those surfaces will face the challenge of not only cushioning for rough terrain, but accounting for the way a suspension system itself reacts to avoid oscillation and other negative effects. In the video this is boiled down to a 2-dimensional waveform drawn by a model which begins with a single tire and evolves to include a four wheeled vehicle with different suspension systems in the front and the rear.

Perhaps the most illuminating part of the video is the explanation of how the car’s front suspension actually works. The wheels need to be able to steer the vehicle, while the suspension must also allow the tire to remain perpendicular to the roadway. This is shown in the image at the top of this article. Each wheel has a swing arm that allows for steering and for vertical movement of the wheel. A coil spring is used in place of the leaf springs shown in the initial model.

You probably know what’s coming next. The springs are capable of storing and releasing energy, and left to their own devices, they’ll dissipate the energy of a bump by oscillating. This is exactly what we don’t want. The solution is to add shock absorbers which limit how the springs perform. The waveforms drawn by the model encountering bumps are now tightly constrained to the baseline of flat ground.

This is the type of advertising we can wholeheartedly get behind. Product engineers of the world, please try to convince your marketing colleagues to show us the insides, tell us why the choices were made, and share the testing that helps users understand both how the thing works and why it was built that way. The last eighty years have brought myriad layers of complexity to most of the products that surround us, but human nature hasn’t changed; people are still quite curious to see the scientific principles in action all around us.

Make sure you don’t bomb out of the video before the very end. A true bit of showmanship, the desktop model of a car is recreated in a full-sized Chevy, complete with “sky-writing smoke” to draw the line. I don’t think it’s a true analog, but it’s certainly the kind of kitsch I always look for in a great Retrotechtacular subject.

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