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 […]

Guest Post: Thought’s First Draft

You cannot walk more than a dozen paces at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, a cloister of sorts for the more theoretically- and mathematically-inclined of the science community, without happening onto a chalkboard. Secured on at least one wall of each small office on the building’s two floors is a spacious chalkboard. Chalkboards run […]

Secret Satans: Physics

For the holiday season we here at LWON are giving ourselves the gift of confronting our fears. We are choosing our own most daunting science-related subjects and writing about why they scare us. Oh, physics. It’s flummoxed both Cassie and me.  First, you’ll see Cassie’s delightful video about a not-so-delightful experience that soured her on the […]

Physicist Makes Movie

As part of LWON’s unintended series on science and art, or maybe its focus on unexpected behavior in physicists, please meet David Kaplan.  He’s a Johns Hopkins theorist whose specialty is creating the theories beyond the theory that almost accounts for all the matter and energy in the universe.  As such, he was involved in […]

The Pursuit of Balance

My neighborhood, as I’ve mentioned, is an interesting place: At our weekly potlucks, we speculate on everything from the number and sex of the next batch of goat kids (money’s on two girls) to the efficacy of bourbon as mouthwash (not promising, sadly). Last week, a guest announced that he was on his way to a […]

Trust no one, and other lessons I learned from physics reporters

As I’ve been thinking about the challenges facing science journalism, a little voice in my head has been murmuring, “Yes, but isn’t all this navel-gazing a bit biology-centric?” Number one on my list of lessons from the “limits of DNA” story is that datasets are getting bigger, and few of us reporters are well-equipped to […]

Abstruse Goose: Stop the Massacre

Our boy, AG, is referring to a joke:  a dairy farmer asks a physicist how to estimate milk production.  The physicist begins the calculations with, “Assume a spherical cow,” and takes it from there. Physicists are famous for this.  They call it simplifying the model.  Sometimes they have a problem that’s too complicated to be […]

Science Metaphors (cont.): Degeneracy

I was helping an astronomer write a sentence.  It was about disentangling the color a supernova has intrinsically, from the reddening in its color caused by cosmic dust.  He wrote he wanted to “break the degeneracy” between the colors.  Break the degeneracy.  I got so excited.  I’d always thought degenerates were people who didn’t, for […]