Conversation with Sharon & Geoff: Starship Fusion

Last week, Lockheed announced it had a small team working on what it calls a Compact Fusion Reactor.  Fusion is the opposite of fission that’s used in nuclear plants today; it can produce enormous amounts of energy; the fuel for  itis cheap and plentiful; a small fusion engine would solve the world’s energy problems. I […]

The Writings on the Wall

    You’d think a wall panel in the Galileo gallery in the Galileo wing of the Galileo Museum would be a good place to get an accurate context for Galileo’s historical significance. You’d be wrong: “These astronomical discoveries heralded a revolution destined to demolish an image of the universe that had lasted for two thousand […]

Weapons-Grade Private Enterprise

Over the years, I’ve met a number of physicists who had direct or indirect connections with the Manhattan Project and who then spent the rest of their lives trying to get the nuclear weapons genie back into the bottle and the bottle corked.  I think of these physicists as the old arms-controllers. They’re impressive people. […]

Bad Science Poet

Please join LWON today in welcoming a new occasional contributor, Bad Science Poet. (Motto: “It’s not the science that’s bad—it’s the poetry!”™) MAYBE, MAYBE NOT Is that uncertainty I see? Its position known to only me? Is that uncertainty I hear? Echoing (or not) from ear to ear? Said Heisenberg, “Yes.” Niels Bohr said, “One guess.” And Einstein?  […]

Giving History the Finger

The middle finger of Galileo’s right hand is a satisfying sight. Not because the resemblance to an obscene gesture is unmistakable (though that’s pretty amusing). And not because such a gesture might suggest that in the end a scientist who suffered persecution for the sin of being correct had gotten the last word—well, two words (though that would be amusing, […]

Freezeproof a Fairy—With Science!

Tom Painter, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, studies snow hydrology in mountains around the world. He’s also a leading expert on the thermodynamics of fairies and princesses. Painter started his fairy-princess sideline a few years ago, when he was asked to lend his expertise to Tinkerbell: Secret of the Wings. In the movie—bear with […]

Repeat After Us

I was reading the end-of-semester student essays in the Science as Narrative course I teach when one phrase stopped me. Stopped me as in, I didn’t go on: “Darwin was happy to be tasked with telling a fire by its ashes.” Was it an actual thing, I wondered, this “telling a fire by its ashes”? I […]

Giant Stack of Spacecraft

On Saturday I went to the visitor’s center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, showed my driver’s license, and got a yellow paper badge to hang around my neck. The occasion: the friends and family day for MMS, the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission. MMS isn’t one of NASA’s better-known missions. When I googled […]