Archive for ‘Fun’

Fun Friday – COFFEE Edition!

0 Commentsby   |  08.02.13  |  Fun

“A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems”  Alfréd Rényi

Coffee, the greatest addiction ever, has been making the news recently.  Join me for a run-down of this greatest of the warm liquids:

1) How Coffee Affects Your Brain – PhD Comics

PhD Comics - How Coffee Affects Your Brain

PhD Comics – How Coffee Affects Your Brain

Short answer: very nicely, thanks.


2) This is your brain on coffee – NYT. From the story:

In one large-scale epidemiological study from last year, researchers primarily at the National Cancer Institute parsed health information from more than 400,000 volunteers, ages 50 to 71, who were free of major diseases at the study’s start in 1995. By 2008, more than 50,000 of the participants had died. But men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount had 13 percent less risk of dying during the study. It’s not clear exactly what coffee had to do with their longevity, but the correlation is striking.

Apparently coffee makes life worth living.


3) Correlation, causation, and a suicidal link with coffee – Improbable Research.  The highly improbable take on the above story:

This is one of the few reports to explicitly state that coffee seems to cause (“Drinking several cups of coffee daily appears to reduce”) a life-or-death effect in people who drink it. In so doing, this report may be a watershed (and/or coffeeshed) in the history of biomedical science, and in the field of biological psychiatry….
BONUS: The report also says, a few paragraphs later, “In spite of the findings, the authors do not recommend that depressed adults increase caffeine consumption…”

The obligatory insight from XKCD belongs here.


4)  We have the benefits from coffee, so what about the cost?  Well, DataGenetics has you covered.  Here you can calculate the cost of coffee (or any regular purchase) with surprising sophistication.  Of course, if you deduct the costs of premature suicide and lethargy then coffee always works out to be a surprising bargain.

Stay caffeinated, my friends.

-Dr. D

Fun Friday Links


0 Commentsby   |  07.26.13  |  Fun, Physics News

Time for another Fun Friday!  Here’s my list of stuff too good to throw away but not good enough to warrant its own post:

1)  Need a break from grueling research/summer classes/debugging dodgy code/perusing the course catalog to optimize your Fall schedule/simulating DoTA line-ups/or taking victory laps around the lab?  Play a few rounds of arXiv vs. snarXiv!

snarxivThe arXiv is a free repository of physics, math, and computer science papers.  This is an online manifestation of the traditions of the “pre-print”, instead of waiting for your paper to be published you sent around early copies to your colleagues at other institutions.  Now anyone can upload anything to the arXiv, including legitimate science from world experts, outlandish speculation, and gibberish.  Following up on the Sokal affair and other attempts to get randomly generated papers published, the snarXiv takes an ever-evolving list of buzzwords in a context-free grammar, and then lets you guess which title is actually real.  As you can see, my ability to pick the real paper is only slightly better than a monkey.

Fun snarXiv facts:

  1. The two fakest-sounding real papers are “Highlights of the Theory” and “Heterotic on Half-flat“.
  2. My favorite selections from the list of fake-sounding papers are “Charging Black Saturn” and “Baby steps beyond rainbow-ladder“.
  3. The average over 750,000 guesses is 59% correct, so (mostly) real science apparently sounds (mostly) like gobbledy-gook.
  4. The suggested uses for the snarXiv are:
  • If you’re a grad­u­ate stu­dent, gloomily read through the abstracts, think­ing to your­self that you don’t under­stand papers on the real arXiv any better.
  • If you’re a post-doc, reload until you find some­thing to work on.
  • If you’re a pro­fes­sor, get really excited when a paper claims to solve the hier­ar­chy prob­lem, the lit­tle hier­ar­chy prob­lem, the mu prob­lem, and the con­fine­ment prob­lem. Then expe­ri­ence pro­found disappointment.
  • If you’re a famous physi­cist, keep reload­ing until you see your name on some­thing, then claim credit for it.


2)  From the world of engineering (which, as of 1996, is no longer boring), AeroVelo wins the Human Powered Helicopter Competition from the American Helicopter association.  The flight must be longer than 60 seconds, higher than 3 meters, and stay within a 10×10 meter box.  Watch the really, really cool video here.

AeroVelo wins the Human Powered Helicopter Competition

AeroVelo wins the Human Powered Helicopter Competition


3)  Fox News reports that Neil deGrasse Tyson will host another follow-up to Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking documentary 33 years ago.  Watch the trailer here.

COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey

I really like the backstory from geek-movie-critic Movie Bob:

Fox Television gave Seth MacFarlane a big leeway for “whatever he wanted to do” in exchange for keeping ratings-juggernaut “Family Guy” on the air. He decided to spend that clout on two passion projects. One wasn’t too surprising: A new version of “The Flintstones,” which is still pending. The other? “COSMOS,” a 13-part science documentary – a sequel to the legendary Carl Sagan series of the same name – hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Yes. The creator of “Family Guy” is going to run a science documentary on a major network because he can.


4)  And the excellence in science journalism for outstanding headline goes to: “EU boffins in plan for ‘more nutritious’ horsemeat ice cream: ‘Disused’ animal products ideal for sick, elderly”


5) Finally, because science is awesome, here’s how we intend to build the largest digital camera in the world and launch it into space:



Happy Fun Friday!

-Dr. D

Summer 2013 – DANGO #1


0 Commentsby   |  05.27.13  |  Department, Fun, Research

Happy Memorial Day!

This year, I am spending mine in the PHENIX control room at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in New York along with Dr. Towell and 4 ACU students.  We have been responsible for running a $100 million experiment from 8 am – 4 pm since last Tuesday.  So far, the all-ACU crew has done a great job: no explosions, no fire balls, no oxygen masks, no black holes, and lots and lots of physics.

There is a real chance that this year we will record enough data to make the first W-boson measurement with the muon arms which will give a very important clue on the structure of the proton.  Simulations for this measurement were started in 2002. A grant from the NSF was awarded to ACU, UIUC, and two other universities in 2005. The detectors were constructed and installed in 2011. If this run is successful and we can fast track the analysis, then hopefully we will finally publish results in 2014–making this a 12 year project that has involved dozens and dozens of ACU students.

For the last 18 years we have a long-standing tradition of writing a summer department newsletter called DANGO (the Doings ANd Goings On).  Today, we continue this hallowed tradition:

DANGO 2013 Issue #1

-Dr. D


Spring Break Projects

0 Commentsby   |  03.16.13  |  Fun

Spring Break 2013 is winding down, but don’t panic.  There is still time to pull off one last epic Spring Break Project.  Here’s a few ideas from around the interwebs to help get you started.

1.  Build an Oreo Separator Machine

Oreo Separator Machine #1 by David Neevel

Oreo Separator Machine #1 by David Neevel

 Have a spare hatchet lying around?  Need more “creme” filling for that recipe?  Have enough energy to eat cookies but not enough to separate them on your own?  Then you need an Oreo Separating Machine.

2.  Paint with Maggots

How to paint with maggots by 6legs2many

How to paint with maggots by 6legs2many

That huge pile of mangled Oreo bits in your garage might attract some unwanted attention from the insect world, so go ahead and harness their awesome power for Art.  All you need is some tempera paint and a strong stomach.

 3.  Get your marriage proposal peer-reviewed

Two Body Interactions

Two Body Interactions

This has been going viral around certain parts of the internet for the last few weeks.  It just goes to show that everything, simply everything, looks better in LaTeX.

4.  Develop a bizarre performance art piece to introduce quantum mechanics

Why does poor judgement always lead to performance art?

Why does poor judgement always lead to performance art?

The Columbia Spectator article puts it best:

First-years in Frontiers of Science were supposed to hear a lecture on quantum mechanics from renowned physics professor Emlyn Hughes on Monday morning. But what they witnessed first was a bizarre performance from Hughes that left many of them baffled and confused.

As students filed into the lecture hall, all of the lights were off, except for two spotlights on stage where Hughes was sitting. With Lil Wayne’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” playing in the background, Hughes stripped down to his underwear, then proceeded to change into a black T-shirt and pants. Afterwards, he sat down on the chair, hugging his knees in a fetal position.

Then, as a jumbled video that included footage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11 continued to play on the screen, two figures dressed in black came on stage with long swords. One of them proceeded to chop a stuffed animal in half on a stool.

Students said they were shocked and confused by what was happening on stage.

Wow.  There are no words.  I think I will continue my firm no-performance-art policy from now on.

Well, I hope these help kickstart your project ideas.  Happy Spring Break!

-Dr. D

What If

0 Commentsby   |  08.01.12  |  Fun

Christmas has come early this year, but instead of Santa Claus we have Randall Munroe to thank.  He is a genius, a cartoonist, and interestingly enough, a physics major.  XCKD, his webcomic named by carefully choosing an unpronounceable four-letter name, is subtitled “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”   The warning at the bottom is also important: “Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).”  The comics are brilliant, and I’ve probably shown dozens and dozens of these in lectures over the years.  There’s plenty more I’d like to show, but are unsuitable for mixed company and un-tenured professors (the relativity of simultaneity joke comes to mind).  So how do we improve on ultra-geeky-and-funny web humor?  Why, with What If of course.


He has devoted every Tuesday to answering an interesting question with rock-solid physics.  His first post, Relativistic Baseball, explores a pitch at 90% the speed of light, and ends up with a fascinating result.  Yesterday’s post tackles a subject near to my heart (after just finishing a semester of Pattern Recognition), the Robot Apocalypse.

Have fun exploring!  If thinking about a mole of moles doesn’t get you through the week, then nothing will.

-Dr D

Fun Friday Links

0 Commentsby   |  07.06.12  |  Fun, Physics News

In all of my classes I take special effort to have a Fun Friday every week.  These classes are exactly like Mondays and Wednesdays except, you know… fun.  Here are some Fun Friday links from the Interwebs:

1.  Stephen Hawking loses $100 bet on the Higgs –


2.  My favorite Higgs predictions:

Fermilab scientists interrupt the announcement, saying, “Yo CERN, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish. But the top quark was one of the best particle physics discoveries of all time. One of the best of ALL TIME!”

Odds: 49 in 100

3. This cartoon by Walt Handelsman:

Quark's view of a RHIC collision


4. Published math paper retracted because it contains no scientific content:

The official notice says:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Publisher, as the article contains no scientific content and was accepted because of an administrative error. Apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.

The abstract reads: “In this study, a computer application was used to solve a mathematical problem.”  The authors give emails addresses at and   The conclusion ends with:

In brief an impossible proposition was proved as possible. This is a problematic problem. Further studies will give birth to a new branch of mathematical science.

Happy Fun Friday!

-Dr. D

The Art of Science

0 Commentsby   |  10.14.10  |  Fun, Physics News

What happens when 5 of the world’s leading particle physics laboratories open their doors to amateur photographers:  Particle Physics Photowalk.

A research lab can be an imposing place.  The fences, armed security guards, and radiation warnings are enough evoke fear in the public at what really goes on in these government facilities.  Are you conjuring up images of lab coats and death rays yet?

The truth is, the vast majority of scientists who work in particle and nuclear physics want the world to see what our research looks like.  We think our machines are cool, and we revel in playing with some of the world’s neatest toys.  The 200 Photowalk photographers did an amazing job of capturing life inside the lab.  Who knew that physics research could be so, well…, beautiful?

View the finalists on the InterAction Collaborations’s Flickr page.

-Dr. D

The Edge of Science, part 1: the system works


1 Commentby   |  09.02.10  |  Fun, Physics News

We spend a lot of time talking and writing about being on the cutting edge of science.  We tell colleagues, students, and (mostly importantly) funding agencies that we are dealing with the newest equipment, the biggest atom smasher, the latest technique, and the results hot off the press.  For various reasons I’ve been interested lately in the other edge of science.  For the next few posts I hope you’ll come with me on a journey to the backwaters, the murky regions, and some deep dark spooky places.  Let’s jump off the back edge of science and see what we find.

There is a recent article in the excellent physics magazine Symmetry (available free online, thanks to support from the Department of Energy and Office of Science) about the dismissal of a lawsuit in appeals court.  To get you interested, my favorite quote from last week’s article is:

Accordingly, the alleged injury, destruction of the earth, is in no way attributable to the U.S. government’s failure to draft an environmental impact statement.

More »

Kate and Daniel’s Grand Canyon Trip

0 Commentsby   |  07.29.10  |  Fun

[Contribution by Daniel Pamplin]

My wife and I traveled to Los Alamos National Laboratories for the summer because I was offered an interning position by the laboratory. The work at the lab is great, but what really excited me when I got accepted was the proximity of the Grand Canyon. I have wanted to visit it for some time now.

The opportunity arose on the Fourth of July weekend. My schedule has me off every other Friday and the government gave us that Monday off giving my wife and I a four-day weekend. We packed the car and drove the eight hours to get there. We set up camp, and then a little bit before sunset we struck off to see the canyon. Words really fail me here. It is hard to explain how immense the Grand Canyon is.

Daniel Pamplin at the Grand Canyon

Daniel Pamplin at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is about 4000 to 6000 feet deep with a 6-mile trail that leads down into it. While the temperature at the top is usually around 80 at the height of the day, inside the canyon it gets up to 115 degrees!

Sunset at the Grand Canyon

Sunset at the Grand Canyon

The rest of the time we were there we camped, hiked into the Grand Canyon, hiked around the edge, interacted with the very bold squirrels that live in and around the canyon (, and climbed out onto a peninsula of rock. This peninsula was only about 4 feet wide and there was a good 300 to 500 foot drop on either side of it.

I am a physics major at ACU and it has definitely made my life a little bit more exciting.


Live from New York

0 Commentsby   |  06.26.10  |  Fun

One of the perks of working at Brookhaven National Lab is the proximity to New York City.  We can hop on a train and get to Penn Station in Manhattan in an hour and twenty minutes (well… more like two hours this particular trip, largely thanks to someone who got arrested on board).  This trip centered around dear friend and ACU alum Lyndsey Goode, who has been a stage manager in New York City for quite some time.  With last-minute tickets and heroic babysitting we were able to see her current project, This Wide Night, as a desperate eight block dash got us to the theater two minutes before curtain.

The play was an intelligent, moving, and deeply psychological study of two women recently released from prison.  The entire show takes place in a brilliantly set shabby studio apartment, providing the backdrop for themes of brokenness and nearly impossible attempts of reconciliation.  The writing is such that this play rests entirely on the ability of the actors.  With lesser talents this could potentially devolve to be insurmountably slow-moving and dreary.  Fortunately this was not the case.  The acting was phenomenal with two of the highest caliber actors I have ever seen on stage: Edie Falco (yes, from the Sopranos) and Alison Pill.  (For a nice bonus win, this NYT review starts off with Einstein and the laws of physics.)  A truly remarkable experience overall.  Tomorrow is the last performance of the show, though it seems likely that it will be picked up for Broadway in the near future.

I didn’t intend to write a review of the show, instead I’m merely trying to convey the experience of temporarily leaving Abilene to work in New York.  As I’m off to Washington D.C. next week for a physics workshop (along with Dr. Head and Dr. Willis), I’ll be finding a few students to write about their own experiences of research labs in different parts of the country.  Assuming, of course, the 600 mile round-trip drive through the Northeast with two small children doesn’t kill me first.  Onward ho!

-Dr. D