Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Best. Comic Book. Superhero. Ever.

Many years ago, when I was still working at Ohio State, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Steven Weinberg.  For those of you not familiar with his work, Weinberg is one of the towering figures of 20th century physics.  He shared the 1979 Nobel Prize for his role in the development of the unified theory of electromagnetism and the weak force, a key component of what is now known as the Standard Model of particle physics (yes, it's capitalized).

During lunch, the conversation turned, as it so often does among Nobel laureates, to the subject of comic books.  Weinberg opined that when he was young, parents wouldn't let their kids read comic books, because they were "trash," but these days most parents would be thrilled if their kids read anything at all, including comic books.

So are comic books a form of science fiction?  Of course they are, because they draw on many of the same ideas and themes as mainstream science fiction.  And of course they're not, because a science fiction snob like me will never admit that books with pictures and conversation bubbles should be placed among the pantheon of science fiction.  Yes, I know that comic book conventions regularly outdraw science fiction conventions by factors of 10 or 100 in attendance  Let's not talk about that.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Random Thoughts on The Martian (the Movie, not the Book)

I saw The Martian over the weekend and enjoyed it a lot. I particularly appreciated the fact that the plot did not lurch from one heart-stopping crisis to another. I won't belabor the science issues in the movie, since those have already been widely discussed on the Internet. The biggest one has to do with the Martian "storms." The atmosphere on Mars is so thin that it wouldn't be capable of the kind of death and destruction you see at the beginning of the movie.

Also, the gravity on Mars is much lower than on Earth, but this only becomes apparent near the end of the movie, when Matt Damon begins bouncing around a lot more. Or maybe he just lost a lot of weight from his starvation rations.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fantasy Physics League

Fantasy sports leagues have been in the news lately, and not in a good way. There have been scandals involving "insider trading," and Nevada is in the process of classifying fantasy sports as gambling. So what should you do if the Feds shut down your fantasy sports league? Try fantasy physics instead!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

College Admissions: A Story

I have an Op-Ed out in today's Wall Street Journal on the subject of college admissions -- I was driven to write it by my experiences with the admissions process as child number three has reached that stage. When my oldest child applied for college, my exasperation took the form of a short story, "The Common App", that was published in Nature.  If you'd like to read it, follow this link.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Physics Nobel Prize Trivia

The Nobel Prize in physics was announced today, so this is a good time for Nobel Prize trivia.

What Nobel laureate was sentenced to prison for war crimes?  Hint: he has an "effect" named after him.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Gregory Benford Talk at Vanderbilt this Thursday

I wanted to remind those of you in the Nashville area that noted science fiction writer and scientist Gregory Benford will be presenting our physics colloquium this Thursday, Oct. 8, at 3:00 in Stevenson 4327. The title of his talk is "Our Next Century in Space." The talk is free and open to the public.  Parking at Vanderbilt, however, is very much not free and barely open to the public. There are pay parking spots on the ground floor of the 25th Avenue Garage, and also metered parking on the street in front of the VA hospital (both a short walk to Stevenson Center). The metered parking has a two-hour limit. I believe that there is also free on-street parking once you get far enough east of campus, but I don't know how far east you have to go. Maybe Knoxville.