Physics / Quantum Mechanics / Relativity / etc.

The Holometer

Figure 1. A member of the holometer team works on the device. Image due to Fermilab.

You may have heard the buzz about the holometer, shown in figure 1, before. It’s a giant laser interferometer, much like those used to search for gravitational waves, designed to detect quantum fluctuations in the fabric of spacetime. At least, that’s the claim. The holometer just released a preprint of their first science paper. And of course,  a Fermilab press release appears in Symmetry Magazine. The article is good, and I recommend you read it. And the holometer experiment is good, interesting science. But I have to say, I’m extremely annoyed by how much the holometer team is overselling their

Physics / Quantum Mechanics / Science And Math

Bruno Maddox and the Magnet: A Story of Misconceptions

Insane Clown Posse certainly wonders how magnets work.

This week the ever-inquisitive Gary Matthews pointed me to a 2008 article for Discover Magazine by Bruno Maddox, claiming that physicists cannot explain how magnetism works, and that they are in denial about it. I encourage you to read the article. Maddox is wrong—dead wrong—but his argument displays a number of common misconceptions about science. And I’d like to address some of them. The most important misconceptions Maddox displays are that of first cause, of classical intuition, and of distrust of the abstract. Let’s get started. (DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this article are my own. I will be describing

Astrophysics / Geometry / Mathematics / etc.

Speculative Sunday: Can a Black Hole Explode?

Cassiopeia A Spitzer Image

Nothing can escape the gravitational pull of a black hole, not even light. That’s why they’re, well, black. (Of course, as I’ve described before, black holes can glow very brightly, thanks to all the in-falling matter. Sometimes they even produce gamma rays. I’m also ignoring the negligible amount of Hawking radiation that black holes theoretically produce.) Once you pass the event horizon of a black hole, you cannot ever escape. Escape is simply forbidden by the laws of physics. That is, of course…if there actually is an event horizon, not just something that looks like one. Carlo Rovelli ,

Physics / Quantum Mechanics / Science And Math

Aharonov-Bohm Effect

Since I was busy last week and I’m feeling ill this week, my good friend Michael Schmidt has agreed to write a guest post for me this week. Mike has a masters degree in physics from the University of Colorado, an interest in teaching, and a passion for math and physics.  You can find out more about him on his personal website or read more on his blog, So, without further ado, here’s Mike’s article. Force Vs. Energy When we teach physics, usually force is one of the first concepts. Force is easy to understand. I can have

History / Physics / Quantum Mechanics / etc.

Spin and the Stern-Gerlach Experiment

The word “quantum” means a single share or portion. In quantum mechanics, this means that energy comes in discrete chunks, or quanta, rather than a continuous flow. But it also means that particles have other properties that are discrete in a way that’s deeply counterintuitive. Today I want to tell you about one such property, called spin, and the experiment that discovered it: the Stern-Gerlach experiment. (The goal of the original experiment was actually to test something else. But it was revealed later, after the discovery of spin by Wolfgang Pauli, that this is in fact what Stern and Gerlach were

Physics / Quantum Mechanics

Sometimes a Particle Isn’t Possible

Last time, I showed you how you could construct a photon, a light particle, in a configuration of mirrors called a ring cavity. This time I’ll show you that sometimes, you can’t make just one particle—they only come in pairs. And sometimes, the notion of a particle doesn’t make any sense at all. (This post relies heavily on last week’s post, so if you haven’t read that, I recommend you do so.) Disclaimer: What I’m about to describe is only the simplest case, and I make simplifications for the sake of exposition. It is possible to capture and manipulate

Physics / Quantum Mechanics / Science And Math

What’s in a Particle?

If you’ve read or heard anything about quantum mechanics, you’ve heard the phrase “particle-wave duality.” The common wisdom is that this means that particles sometimes behave like waves and sometimes behave like particles. And although this is right, it’s a bit misleading. The truth is: Everything is always a wave. It’s just that waves can be made to behave like particles. To see what I mean, let’s actually show how one can make a set of waves behave like a particle. Specifically, let’s show how a set of light waves can be made to behave like a photon, a light particle.

Condensed Matter / optics / Physics / etc.

The Graphene Electro-Optic Modulator

Say we have a beam of light—maybe we made it with a laser. We’d like be able to change the intensity of the beam so that we can alternately brighten and dim it. Moreover, we’d like to be able to do so quickly. Physically blocking and unblocking the beam just isn’t fast enough. So what do we do? The solution is to make an electric switch so we can change how the light behaves via electrical signals. This is an electro-optic modulator (EOM). Two weeks ago, I introduced graphene to you all. And last week, I described some of

Condensed Matter / optics / Physics / etc.

Graphene and Me: My Brush with the Wonder Material

Graphene, a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms, has made waves in science and technology circles. Last week, I gave a brief overview of the history of the stuff and why it’s special. This week, I’d like to continue the story by talking about applications. Unfortunately for us—and fortunately for society as a whole—graphene has spawned so many new technologies that it’s impossible for me to discuss them all. So instead, I thought I’d talk a single application that has personal value to me. As an undergraduate student, I spent two years in a laser lab studying graphene’s applications

Condensed Matter / optics / Physics / etc.

Graphene: The Story of the Wonder Material

I call our world Flatland, not because we call it so, but to make its nature clearer to you, my happy readers, who are privileged to live in Space. ~A. Square In the past few years, you’ve probably heard something about graphene—whether as a replacement for silicon, as the next generation of organic solar cell, as the material in fast-charging batteries, or as one of the strongest materials ever discovered. There’s been so much hype that people have begun calling the flood of research and investment the graphene gold rush. In this post, I’ll give you a brief primer