Street-Fighting Physics! - Professor Kevin Kimball, BS, U.S.N.- retired
What physics phenomenon do Jimi Hendrix and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster have in common?
We'll do a lab on this !
How does the physics used
by a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion
aircraft to monitor Soviet submarines  during the Cold War relate to calculating the age of the universe?
. . . and why are
"warp drive", "hyperdrive"
and the like a staple of
science fiction ?
It has to do with the physical impossibility
of exceeding the speed of light ("c"). 
The arithmetic that explains this is actually
pretty simple once you understand the
underlying concept!
Here are results from a class assignment several semesters back.
The assignment was to come up with an "Andy Rooney" question
("Didja ever wonder...?") 
Interesting questions, and I'm finally getting around to taking some stabs at 'em.
23 September 2011
  • How many galaxies hold planets with life on them?
- The short answer is "all of em," according to widely held opinion. That said, the answer is a bit misleading because of the way the question is framed. A better way to start on this road would be to examine the now-famous "Drake Equation" (named after astronomer Frank Drake) which attempts to quantify the number of planetary systems within the Milky Way Galaxy that could potentially harbor intelligent life.
  • Is it possible to travel at or faster than the speed of light? If so, what would be possible?
- Big Al (as in "Albert Einstein") says "No." Nearly a century's worth of experimental evidence supports this. BU-U-U-T NOW . . . we got a wrinkle on that one. Go to the "Geekin Out" page for more info.
  • If we are seeing light beams from 500 yrs ago, I wonder if other lifeforms will (finally) receive our messages in 500 years?
- On one hand, the answer could be a pretty straightforward "yes,"  insofar as the radio waves will indeed arrive at the locations specified in the question. The practical problem is something called the "inverse square law" which, in a nutshell, tells us that the radio waves will be so diluted, so weak at that distance as to be virtually undetectable by any known (or imagined)technology.
  • Assuming a maximum of 10^18 water molecules in a snowflake, how many snowflakes are necessary before two identical flakes become statistically possible? Also, how many flakes are in a cubic meter of snow?
- Without getting into an eye-glazing, mind-numbing bit of probability arithmetic, I'm going to go out on a limb and bet a Confederate ten-dollar bill along with a good jackknife that we'd wind up with a set of odds that shake out to "One-in-More-Water-Molecules-Than-We-Have-in-the-Whole-Universe," making it a moot point.
As to how many flakes are in a cubic meter of snow, that'll depend on whether they're big flakes or little ones, and how much we squish 'em. What we can do, though, is come up with a pretty good approximation on how many water molecules would be contained in a cubic meter.
  • How is physics used in radiation therapy?
- Let me count the ways: RT folks need to be able to know things like "rest mass" (special relativity), energy levels (Planck's constant), "characteristic" and "Bramstralung" radiation (atomic structure and behavior of elemental particles), just to name a few.
Deep stuff, lots of number-crunching, and yeah, it's a deal-breaker.
Stay tuned . . . I'll eventually get to these, too.
31 December 2011
  • Where do we go when we die? And what does it feel like?
- Yikes! Better get with your priest, rabbi, or whoever on that one. This is pretty much a "hand-off" topic for science, and for good reason: this goes to how we define "science" vis-a-vis "faith."
Now there are some folks out there who want to blur the lines between the two, but I think that gets us into dangerous territory, whether it's "intelligent design" or the "anthropic principle." Yeah, there are tons of accounts regarding "near death," "out-of-body" experiences, and they even made a sci-fi movie about a scientific approach to the same ("Flatliners"), but I still think we should be minful about mixing apples and oranges.
  • Why don’t they have a machine that can stitch a baseball? I mean, they can send a guy into space!
  • When you’re on a roller coaster, and it goes upside down through a loop, is there a certain speed the coaster has to be going in order to make it around the loop? Also, if you have to take into factor the amount of people on the car?
  • Why are there only twenty eight days in February?
  • Did you ever wonder how they make seedless fruit if there are no seeds?
  • Why do electrical wires make a humming noise?
  • Why haven’t we traveled to another planet?
  • Why are flowers different ? (colors/shapes)
  • What is the probability that a super volcano will erupt such as the one in Yellowstone Park, and what impact will it have on weather and climate as result of ash and smoke released into the atmosphere?
  • What gravitational effects does dark matter (dark energy) have on visible matter?
  • How does a rattlesnake rattle?
  • Is it possible to freeze a living person and keep them alive?
  • Can the atmosphere of Venus be terraformed by sending man-made organisms to convert the gasses and replicate while surviving the harsh environment, thus making it usable for humans?
  • How does light travel through space when it’s a wave?
  • Why is it that people who have broken their nose have a sharper sense of smell?
  • What causes the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis to appear in the sky?
  • What is the relationship between terminal velocity and mass and surface area of a falling object?
  • I know RPM stands for rotations per minute but what part of the vehicle turns at that certain RPM?
  • Is time travel possible?
  • What makes up the colors and how do people see them?
  • I’ve always wondered how all the different types of cheeses are made. The process of what it takes to make different kinds, how cheese is aged, etc.
  • I’ve always wondered why we don’t eliminate the penny.
  • I’ve always wondered if we are the only planet with life.
  • How do stealth planes work?
  • I’ve always wondered if parallel universes exists. Also, which came first, the chicken or the egg?
  • I have always wondered whether or not the moon’s gravitational pull has an effect (not mood but weight) on humans? If so, is this just an irrelevant piece of information?
  • I’ve always wondered where mountains come from/why + how they exist?
  • Did you wonder why stars blink?
  • How can the tides change so much by gaining or losing so much water?
  • I have always wondered how they can figure out all the different galaxies, and how they look when they are so far away
  • I have always wondered how the Mayan calendar works and if we are going to die in 2012.
  • Who thought of developing the computer, and why?
  • Why does π r^2 work?
  • I have always wondered if time travel is possible, and if so, how?
  • How do dogs perceive time?
  • "Physics": Who came up with that? What were they thinking about, to all of a sudden be like, "PHYSICS! That’s it!" Why were they wondering about all these things came to the conclusion that it belonged in the category,"Physics"; why did it not belong in Math or just plain old Science? Who came up with the word "Physics" in the first place?
  • I have always wondered how the liquid crystal display works in an HD television and computer screen.
  • Why isn’t Pluto a planet? Or, barring that, why is that other one a planet?
  • How do the different muscle groups get used in your baseball swing?
  • Where is all the virtual information on the internet stored?
  • You ever wonder how it’s possible for a building to fall when a plane hit it? i.e., World Trade Center Towers!!
  • You ever wonder how many degrees the Earth moves in an hour if it rotates fully in a 24 hour period?
  • Who discovered and how was the speed of light’s velocity discovered?
  • Do other particles other than light particles reach the speed of light?
  • What causes lightning to be visible?
  • I wonder why some civilizations progress while others remain "barbaric" and use basic forms of technologies.
  • I wonder why I get the chills and no one else does?
  • What is the force that gives clouds their shape?
  • I wonder how all the planets are sphere-shaped when they are all made up of different materials. How do they rotate around the sun in the same line and not drift off in separate directions?
  • What causes black holes?
  • I wonder if there is actually life on other planets?
  • How do you see a rainbow through a mist of water?
  • Why are power tools so loud when in use, i.e., "Skill saw cutting wood"
  • I wonder why the ocean is blue?
  • You ever wonder why people’s eyes are different colors?
  • I wonder how the picture on the television comes to the screen?
Here's a Hubble photo
of the Cone Nebula.
This beautiful object is over 2.5
light- years
in length!
Note the stars in the foreground to get a sense of scale !
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