An Animated History of Physics Introduces the Discoveries of Galileo, Newton, Maxwell & Einstein

How can you present scientific ideas to an audience of all ages — scientists and non-scientists alike — so that these ideas will stick in people’s minds? Since 2012, BBC Two has been trying to answer this question with its series “Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club.” Irish stand-up comedian and TV presenter Dara Ó Briain invites experts to his show to tackle the biggest concepts in science in a way that is understandable to non-experts as well. Film clips and animations are used to visualize the ideas and concepts dealt with in the show.

In 2012, Åsa Lucander, a London-based animator originally from Finland, was approached by the BBC with the task of creating an animation about the history of physics. The result is as entertaining as it is instructive. The clip deals with the discoveries of four major scientists and the impact of their findings: Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein.

Bonus material:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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Fun with Quantum Levitation

Prepare to have your mind blown.

You may have seen levitation tricks performed by magicians, but rest assured that they can’t beat this: quantum levitation. The video above was captured at the 2011 ASTC conference, a gathering of scientists in Baltimore, Maryland, with the purpose of demonstrating “how science centers and museums are putting new ideas to practical use to serve their communities.” The School of Physics and Astronomy at Tel-Aviv University has put together this physics experiment showcasing quantum superconductors locked in a magnetic field.

While the video fails to explain the science of what is happening here, the complementary website is helpful. The white round disk (essentially a sapphire wafer coated with a thin layer of yttrium barium copper oxide) is cooled to below negative 185 degrees C. At that temperature (dubbed the critical temperature), the material becomes superconductive, meaning that it has zero electrical resistance. From the website:

Superconductivity and magnetic field do not like each other. When possible, the superconductor will expel all the magnetic field from inside. This is the Meissner effect. In our case, since the superconductor is extremely thin, the magnetic field DOES penetrate. However, it does that in discrete quantities (this is quantum physics after all! ) called flux tubes.

Inside each magnetic flux tube superconductivity is locally destroyed. The superconductor will try to keep the magnetic tubes pinned in weak areas (e.g. grain boundaries). Any spatial movement of the superconductor will cause the flux tubes to move. In order to prevent that, the superconductor remains “trapped” in midair.

And in case you’re wondering: are there practical applications for quantum levitation? The answer, of course, is yes!

Find free physics courses in our big collection of Free Courses from top universities — 400 great courses and growing.

Eugene Buchko is a blogger and photographer living in Atlanta, GA. He maintains a photoblog, Erudite Expressions, and writes about what he reads on his reading blog.

H/T Engadget

Richard Feynman on Beauty

After dismissing the popular notion that scientists are unable to truly appreciate beauty in nature, physicist Richard Feynman (1918 – 1988) explains what a scientist really is and does. Here are some of the most memorable lines from this beautiful mix of Feynman quotes and (mostly) BBC and NASA footage:

  • People say to me, Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics? – No, I’m not. I’m just looking to find out more about the world.
  • When we’re going to investigate [nature], we shouldn’t predecide what it is we’re trying to do, except to find out more about it.
  • I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. (…) I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose.
  • When you doubt and ask, it gets a little harder to believe.

Beauty is the first video in The Feynman Series, along with Honours and Curiosity. The sequence is a companion to The Sagan Series, which pays tribute to the late Carl Sagan. H/T Kottke

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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The Bohr-Einstein Debates, Reenacted With Dog Puppets

BoingBoing is running a piece this morning on Chad Orzel’s new book, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. It’s good stuff, and it reminds me that Orzel also recently released a video that re-enacts the famous Bohr-Einstein debates, with, yes, dog puppets. You can watch above. Or, alternatively, you can get it on YouTube in three parts: here, here and here.

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Physics in the Tiger Woods Scandal

Here’s the intellectual upside of the Tiger Woods kerfuffle: A copy of John Gribbin’s Get a Grip on Physics was spotted in Woods’ wrecked Cadillac. (Photo here.) And, ever since, the book has been in high demand. The Wall Street Journal reports that the book’s Amazon sales rank has jumped from 396,224 to 2,268. But, from what I can tell, the book actually seems to be out of print, and you’ll need to pay a minimum of $42 to buy a used copy online. (Here’s an instance where Google’s book digitization initiative would benefit an author.) If you’re looking to bone up on your physics, let me save you a few bucks. With Learning Physics Through Free Online Courses, we have pulled together free courses from MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Yale, plus a series of famous lectures by Richard Feynman that Bill Gates has put online. These and many other physics courses can also be found in our larger collection of Free Courses Online and on our Free iPhone App. Enjoy and remember to wear your seatbelt.

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