Mocking Tricks

Caveat: I’m possibly having something like a Cassie-Willyard-Hubble-Moment here – in this case, I learn something new, don’t quite understand it but get all excited about it, and it’s, you know, wrong.  Never mind because I’m all excited anyway because science has found a new way of being confident that what you know is right.  […]

The Best Science to Write About and the Worst

As of yesterday, May 20, LWON has been alive for five years. LWON is a little surprised at this and pretty pleased with itself.  In celebration, two of our brilliant alumni wrote guest posts listing the Top Five Things They Wanted to List the Top Five Of.  Today, Five People of LWON announce the best […]

Charles Hard Townes Made Things Happen

Charles Hard Townes died a week ago, aged 99.  He was a physicist at Berkeley who came up with the principle of the laser; at age 98, he’d stopped coming into the office every day. His obituaries are thorough and their praise is justified.  I’d met him for reasons the obituaries don’t mention.  He helped […]

Picking Your Brains

Dear LWON readers, I’d like to ask you a question. Twice recently I’ve written about properties of black holes that blow my mind. In each instance, my inspiration was a detail from a movie. First was Interstellar. The great gravitational grip of the black hole in that movie, as is the case for all black holes, distorts […]


In the 1992 documentary A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking describes what we would see if we were observing an astronaut nearing a black hole’s event horizon—the barrier beyond which gravitation is so great that not even light can escape. He invites us to imagine that the astronaut is wearing a watch, and that […]

Debunking Hollywood: Falling!!!

Debunking Hollywood is LWON’s very occasional series that takes a hard science look at common TV and movie tropes.  Our hero is in dire trouble yet again. He stands on the rooftop, a villain in front of him, his feet inches from a seven-story fall. Sweat glistens on his brow as he fearlessly throws a punch but […]

Marvin Goldberger, Always Called “Murph”: Part 2

Part 1 is here. While Murph was still at Princeton, in his first years there, he was spending summers consulting, sometimes for defense contractors, sometimes for the Los Alamos National Laboratory.  (A lot of physicists did this: academic scientists’ salaries run for nine months; they needed summer money.)  Then a little later, during the post-Sputnik years, […]