Invisibility Becomes More than Just a Fantasy

[div class=attrib]From Discover:[end-div]

Two years ago a team of engineers amazed the world (Harry Potter fans in particular) by developing the technology needed to make an invisibility cloak. Now researchers are creating laboratory-engineered wonder materials that can conceal objects from almost anything that travels as a wave. That includes light and sound and—at the subatomic level—matter itself. And lest you think that cloaking applies only to the intangible world, 2008 even brought a plan for using cloaking techniques to protect shorelines from giant incoming waves.

Engineer Xiang Zhang, whose University of California at Berkeley lab is behind much of this work, says, “We can design materials that have properties that never exist in nature.”

These engineered substances, known as metamaterials, get their unusual properties from their size and shape, not their chemistry. Because of the way they are composed, they can shuffle waves—be they of light, sound, or water—away from an object. To cloak something, concentric rings of the metamaterial are placed around the object to be concealed. Tiny structures—like loops or cylinders—within the rings divert the incoming waves around the object, preventing both reflection and absorption. The waves meet up again on the other side, appearing just as they would if nothing were there.

The first invisibility cloak, designed by engineers at Duke University and Imperial College London, worked for only a narrow band of microwaves. Xiang and his colleagues created metamaterials that can bend visible light backward—a much greater challenge because visible light waves are so small, under 700 nanometers wide. That meant the engineers had to devise cloaking components only tens of nanometers apart.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

Why I Blog

[div class=attrib]By Andrew Sullivan for the Altantic[end-div]

The word blog is a conflation of two words: Web and log. It contains in its four letters a concise and accurate self-description: it is a log of thoughts and writing posted publicly on the World Wide Web. In the monosyllabic vernacular of the Internet, Web log soon became the word blog.

This form of instant and global self-publishing, made possible by technology widely available only for the past decade or so, allows for no retroactive editing (apart from fixing minor typos or small glitches) and removes from the act of writing any considered or lengthy review. It is the spontaneous expression of instant thought—impermanent beyond even the ephemera of daily journalism. It is accountable in immediate and unavoidable ways to readers and other bloggers, and linked via hypertext to continuously multiplying references and sources. Unlike any single piece of print journalism, its borders are extremely porous and its truth inherently transitory. The consequences of this for the act of writing are still sinking in.

A ship’s log owes its name to a small wooden board, often weighted with lead, that was for centuries attached to a line and thrown over the stern. The weight of the log would keep it in the same place in the water, like a provisional anchor, while the ship moved away. By measuring the length of line used up in a set period of time, mariners could calculate the speed of their journey (the rope itself was marked by equidistant “knots” for easy measurement). As a ship’s voyage progressed, the course came to be marked down in a book that was called a log.

In journeys at sea that took place before radio or radar or satellites or sonar, these logs were an indispensable source for recording what actually happened. They helped navigators surmise where they were and how far they had traveled and how much longer they had to stay at sea. They provided accountability to a ship’s owners and traders. They were designed to be as immune to faking as possible. Away from land, there was usually no reliable corroboration of events apart from the crew’s own account in the middle of an expanse of blue and gray and green; and in long journeys, memories always blur and facts disperse. A log provided as accurate an account as could be gleaned in real time.

As you read a log, you have the curious sense of moving backward in time as you move forward in pages—the opposite of a book. As you piece together a narrative that was never intended as one, it seems—and is—more truthful. Logs, in this sense, were a form of human self-correction. They amended for hindsight, for the ways in which human beings order and tidy and construct the story of their lives as they look back on them. Logs require a letting-go of narrative because they do not allow for a knowledge of the ending. So they have plot as well as dramatic irony—the reader will know the ending before the writer did.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

The LHC Begins Its Search for the “God Particle

[div class=attrib]From Discover:[end-div]

The most astonishing thing about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the ring-shaped particle accelerator that revved up for the first time on September 10 in a tunnel near Geneva, is that it ever got built. Twenty-six nations pitched in more than $8 billion to fund the project. Then CERN—the European Organization for Nuclear Research—enlisted the help of 5,000 scientists and engineers to construct a machine of unprecedented size, complexity, and ambition.

Measuring almost 17 miles in circumference, the LHC uses 9,300 superconducting magnets, cooled by liquid helium to 1.9 degrees Kelvin above absolute zero (–271.3º C.), to accelerate two streams of protons in opposite directions. It has detectors as big as apartment buildings to find out what happens when these protons cross paths and collide at 99.999999 percent of the speed of light. Yet roughly the same percentage of the human race has no idea what the LHC’s purpose is. Might it destroy the earth by spawning tiny, ravenous black holes? (Not a chance, physicists say. Collisions more energetic than the ones at the LHC happen naturally all the time, and we are still here.)

In fact, the goal of the LHC is at once simple and grandiose: It was created to discover new particles. One of the most sought of these is the Higgs boson, also known as the God particle because, according to current theory, it endowed all other particles with mass. Or perhaps the LHC will find “supersymmetric” particles, exotic partners to known particles like electrons and quarks. Such a discovery would be a big step toward developing a unified description of the four fundamental forces—the “theory of everything” that would explain all the basic interactions in the universe. As a bonus, some of those supersymmetric particles might turn out to be dark matter, the unseen stuff that seems to hold galaxies together.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib] Image courtesy of Maximillien Brice/CERN.[end-div]

What is art? The answer, from a little bird?

I’ve been pondering a concrete answer to this question, and others like it for some time. I do wonder “what is art?” and “what is great art?” and “what distinguishes fine art from its non-fine cousins?” and “what makes some art better than other art?”

In formulating my answers to these questions I’ve been looking inward and searching outward. I’ve been digesting the musings of our great philosophers and eminent scholars and authors. I’m close to penning some blog-worthy articles that crystallize my current thinking on the subject, but I’m not quite ready. Not yet. So, in the meantime you and I will have to make do with deep thoughts on the subject of art from some of my friends…