Keep America’s Nuclear Power Plants Working For US

From: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov//petition/keep-americas-nuclear-power-plants-working-us

“America’s nuclear energy plants are a vital asset providing reliable, carbon-free electricity to tens of millions of households and businesses around the country. Nuclear energy plants supply nearly 20 percent of America’s electricity—and 63 percent of the nation’s carbon-free electricity.

Despite their value, a combination of factors place these plants in economic jeopardy. As a result, a half dozen of the 100 in the nation will close in the coming years to be replaced by natural gas.

Respectfully request that the federal government institute policies that recognize the special and unique benefits of nuclear power. The federal government regulates their licensing and operation, but leaves it to the individual states to determine the value of their carbon neutral electricity.”

Click here to help: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov//petition/keep-americas-nuclear-power-plants-working-us

The Soltice

The June solstice will fall on June 20 or June 21 this year, depending on where you are in the world. It is the longest day in the northern hemisphere and the day when the Sun is at its highest in the midday sky (see note). The origin of the word solstice is from the Latin words sol, […]

via June 20- The Solstice — The Science Geek

Golf: Physics in Action

by Claire Roop, AP Physics C: Mechanics student

I will admit that I am not the most physics-savvy student, but I am much more familiar with the concepts of AP Physics C: Mechanics than I realized. I have played golf for 12 years, improved my swing to the point of the 4 handicap I have today, and taught young juniors the basics of golf. As someone who is well-versed in the golf swing, I know many of the fixes for common problems among amateur golfers. To my surprise, that ability also means I understand physics. I am just now learning to put a name with the concepts I have been using.

The golf swing applies to many of the major concepts I have learned in class: kinematics, force and Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, Conservation of Energy, Conservation of Momentum, rotational motion, and torque. While I will not incorporate all of the above in this discussion, the three most important to the success of a golf swing are the double pendulum effect, centripetal force, and torque.

The Double Pendulum Effect

Claire1

Original photograph by the author

A pendulum, a weight hung from a fixed point that freely swings under the influence of gravity, can be found in two parts of the golf swing, hence the name double pendulum effect. A golfer’s arms pivoting around the fixed point of his shoulders represent the first pendulum. The wrists are the pivot point for the golf club, the second pendulum. The two pendulums can best be seen as the golfer returns the club back to the ball in the forward swing. As the golfer begins the forward swing, the arms first pivot around the shoulders, then the club simultaneously pivots around the wrists as the golfer’s arms and club line up vertically to hit the golf ball.

Centripetal Force

For all objects in circular motion, the net force (the centripetal force) is in the same direction as the acceleration which is toward the center of the circle. The motion of a golf swing can be thought of as a large circle with the lower body anchored as the wrists pull inward and the golf club swings outward. The further the end of the golf club is from the center of rotation (the golfer), the more speed is created. This effect can be seen in the relationship between angular and translational velocity: v = r ω where v is translational velocity, r is the radius of the circle, and ω is the angular velocity. Translational velocity and the radius share a direct relationship which means an increase in the radius will result in an increase in translational velocity. Put in a golf context, the translational velocity of the golf club head and the slower angular velocity of the golfer’s wrists create tension in the golf club. The force of tension minus a weight component of the golf club represents the centripetal force of the golf swing. An increase in distance from the center of rotation also results in an increase in centripetal force (FC = mω2r).

Claire2a

Original photograph by the author

Torque

Claire3

Original photograph by the author

Torque, which measures how much a force causes an object to rotate, may be the most integral part of the golf swing. There are two main areas of torque in a golf swing: wrist torque and shoulder torque. Represented as force times radius, a force applied by the hands on the golf club creates torque as the club is released down to the golf ball. More specifically, for a right-handed golfer in the forward swing, the right hand pushes (force) on the grip of the golf club as the left hand works against that motion (pivot); the distance between the right and left hands is the radius. As the right hand applies force on the club in attempt to release the club head, positive torque is created.  Similarly, the force of the wrists in the forward swing in opposition to the pivot point of the shoulders creates shoulder torque.

While several other physics concepts govern the motions of the golf swing, the double pendulum effect, centripetal force, and torque are essential to mastering the swing. Though I have used these ideas throughout my golfing history, it is helpful to back it with scientific explanations rather than trial-and-error. Any change in the mechanics of a golf swing could be the difference between hitting the ball on the putting green versus hitting it in the water. It is a common saying among golfers that golf is a mental game…well, I think it is also a game of physics.

Works Cited

Gwynne, P. (2015, December 09). In Search Of The Perfect Golf Swing. Retrieved May 11, 2016, from https://www.insidescience.org/content/search-perfect-golf-swing/3471

Mgrdichian, L. (2006, December 18). Physics Reveals the Key to a Great Golf Swing. Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://phys.org/news/2006-12-physics-reveals-key-great-golf.html

USGA (Producer). (2014, May). Science of Golf [Video file]. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from http://www.nbclearn.com/science-of-golf/cuecard/64728

White, R. (2008, December). Golf Swing Physics. Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://www.tutelman.com/golf/swing/golfSwingPhysics3a.php#wristtorque

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Original photographer by the author

Ode to Gravity

An original poem by Houston McClurkan, AP Physics 1 student
Featured image is an original photograph by the author

Gravity_river

Original photography by the author

Gravity
A relentless force,
You bind us together,
We cannot find you because you are not visible,
But we can capture you in many earthly visuals,

Where did you come from we will never know,
Your strength and power cause rivers to flow,

Though we cannot see you we know you’ll come through,
Your relentless force will always reign true,

The night sky seems still,
We know that’s not real,
You cause the stars in the sky,
To appear as if they fall like a hill.

Gravity,
A relentless force,
Causing the orbit of our earthy orb.

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Beautiful Music and the Laws of Physics

by Rebecca Guerreso, AP Physics 1 Student

Ludwig van Beethoven once proclaimed, “Music is … A higher revelation than all Wisdom & Philosophy.” Music plays an important role in many people’s lives, yet few know that the basis of music and its sound derive from the laws of physics. Upon hearing a stirring piano solo, one may wonder what is occurring inside the piano that results in such a beautiful sound; the mysteries of sound within a piano originate from basic physics principles. Physics phenomenon regarding waves and oscillations result in the piano creating music.

Understanding the cause of the diverse sounds a piano produces, requires knowledge of the different parts inside the instrument. When a key is pressed on the piano, a sound is heard; when the key is pressed with a larger amount of force, the sound becomes louder. This sound and its amplitude are caused by four major components of the piano: the hammer, the damper, strings, and the soundboard. Every key has a damper, hammer, and either one, two, or three strings. Each of these parts has a different function; the damper stops the string from vibrating to ensure that when a key is pressed, only that key makes a sound. The hammer strikes the string, resulting in vibrations. The soundboard amplifies the string’s vibrations to make the sound louder. When a key is pressed, the damper is released so that the string can make a sound, the hammer strikes the string, and the string vibrates to make a sound.

A typical piano contains eighty-eight keys and has a range of seven different octaves. Starting from the right side of the piano, the first key has the highest pitch, and the pitch of each key after it decreases. The properties of the string for each key determine the pitch that the key will produce. Physics principles have determined that a longer string results in a lower pitch because the fundamental frequency is equal to the quotient of the velocity and two times the length, f = v/(2L). Inside the piano, the strings increase in length for keys with lower pitches, but if only the length were changed for each string, then the strings would exceed the height of the piano. Therefore, to lower a pitch of a key, the length is increased along with the diameter of the string. This concept holds true for all keys to the right of middle C; the keys to the left of middle C must be adjusted differently. If the diameter and length continued to increase, the string would not be able to vibrate regularly after a certain point, which would result in the production of an irregular sound. The keys to the left of middle C have a very low pitch; to accommodate this low pitch, the normal steel wires are wound with a copper wire. By winding the strings together, the total mass of the string increases, allowing the string to vibrate properly because if the mass is increased then the frequency of the string decreases. These physics principles result in octaves on musical instruments; physics has proven that doubling the length of the string decreases the resulting sound by an octave.

Typically, the frequency of each string on a piano ranges from sixteen hertz to seven thousand and nine hundred hertz, while wavelength varies from four centimeters to two thousand and one hundred centimeters. The ranges in frequencies and wavelengths cause each key to produce a different sound. A piano contains seven octaves and these seven octaves repeat throughout the eighty-eight keys on the piano (first key on far left is A; last key on far right is C). Each note on the piano has a fundamental frequency; to increase the note by one octave, the fundamental frequency must be doubled; to increase the note by two octaves, the fundamental frequency must be quadrupled (or the first level frequency must be doubled). The changed frequency creates different tones for each note.

Another factor that affects the piano’s sound are the three pedals. On a standard upright piano, the pedal farthest to the right is called the damper pedal, and is the most commonly used pedal. This pedal allows the notes to be played much more smoothly. When the damper pedal is pressed, the dampers are released from the strings. Consequently, when a note is played all the strings vibrate since there are no dampers to inhibit vibrations. The celeste pedal is the middle pedal; it drops a felt pad onto the tops of the strings in order to lower the amount of vibrations on the string, and in effect, make the sound much quieter. The pedal to the far left is the una corda pedal; it shifts the hammers so that it strikes fewer strings than usual, creating a softer sound because there are less vibrations.

The piano and the sounds it produces utilize many physics principles. The strings within the piano operate at different frequencies, which result in different wavelengths; this is why the piano has the ability to produce such a vast range of notes. Pianos go “out of tune,” meaning the keys produce incorrect sounds, throughout the year because the temperature fluctuates, which slightly changes the speed of sound in air. The sounds the piano creates is a language that everybody in the world can understand—sounds created by manipulating laws of physics. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once marveled, “Music is the universal language of mankind,”and I could add physics makes music possible.

Works Cited

Joyner, Lauren, Erika Littman, Emily Massey, and Johanna Robertson. “Piano Physics.” String Vibration. N.p., 2009. Web. 09 May 2016.

Rack, C. Mckinney And Nsf. “Physics of the Piano.” Physics of the Piano N Giordano — Purdue University (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 9 May 2016.

Suits, B. H. “Frequencies of Musical Notes, A4 = 440 Hz.” Frequencies of Musical Notes, A4 = 440 Hz. Michigan Technolgical University, 1998. Web. 09 May 2016.

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Cochlear Implants: applying physics to improve hearing

by Kate Williams AP Physics 1 Student

Most Americans who have the ability to hear cannot fathom the lifestyle changes that come with deafness or profound hearing loss. In the United States, twelve thousand babies are born partially or completely deaf every year. Conservative ways to support deafness are Sign Language, mouth reading, or just living life in complete silence. However, throughout the past few years, physics has allowed cochlear implants to become the first medical device used to replace a human sense.

Although cochlear implants have not been around for a very long time, physicists have been trying to invent a hearing device since the early 1800s. Physicist Alessandro Volta conducted an experiment in which he connected a battery to electrodes in his ear. Through this experiment, Volta heard “unpleasant noises” and started the phenomenon of artificial hearing. The first surgically implanted cochlea was designed by Williams House and passed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1984.

To fully understand the brain’s reaction to sound, scientists use physics and the study of sound waves. There are two different types of waves: longitudinal and transverse. Transverse waves move perpendicularly to the direction of motion (as shown in the bottom part of the diagram). Longitudinal waves are the opposite; their waves move parallel with the direction of motion (as shown in the top portion of the diagram). Before creating the cochlear implant, physicists had to fully understand that sound is a longitudinal wave. Mechanical longitudinal waves must have a medium in which to travel. This characteristic of longitudinal waves is an important principle of the implant that allows sound to always go through the skin and into the device.

A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids simply use vibrations to reach the remaining hair follicles in the cochlea. However, profoundly deaf people may not have much, if any, hairs left in the cochlea which is why the cochlear implant is surgically placed and is constructed of an inner and outer part. The inner part of the implant has a small soft wire that is placed within the ear and wrapped around the inside of the cochlea. The outer part of the implant is constructed of a microphone and a speech processor. The processor must be with the user at all times for the device to work; although, it may be taken off to shower or sleep. This processor is important because it picks up the nearby noises and converts them using a transmitter that is attached to a magnet that connects the internal and external parts of the device. The transmitter sends the signals to the internal part of the implant and then on to the brain.

Even though this discovery has helped thousands of deaf people, it does not come without risks. One major risk of the surgery is that it just may not work. The human ear is a very sensitive area and sometimes the surgery is not successful for certain people. A common misconception about cochlear implants is that the effect on hearing is immediate; however, six weeks are required for the surgical site to heal and be ready for the external portion of the implant. When the audiologist first attaches the outer piece, the recipient may not hear anything at first. It is the doctor’s job to then adjust the frequency of the implant until sound is heard. Once sound is heard, deaf people do not automatically understand what they are hearing. Most of the recipients have spent the majority of their lives using Sign Language and staying completely mute to outside sounds. So, although they hear sounds, the recipient must then go through long months of speech therapy to learn how to speak and understand spoken words. Many deaf adults who get the implant end up never wearing it because their brain has gotten so used to hearing no sounds that tiny noises such as the sound of a dishwasher or the starting of a car cause them a great disturbance. There is also the concern in the deaf community that cochlear implants are taking away the use of Sign Language and a culture that has been around for a very long time. In the deaf community, the appropriateness of cochlear implants is still a controversial issue, but in the physics community, it is a discovery worth sharing.

Works Cited

Cochlear Implant. Digital image. Kids Health. Nemours, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

“Cochlear Implants.” Cochlear Implants. NIH Publications, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

“How It Works.” Hearing with a Cochlear Implant. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.

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The Physics of Skydiving

by Ashley Hazel AP Physics 1 Student

Every one has heard of the extreme sport of skydiving, yet does everyone know the physics involved with it? Physics plays a monumental role in every aspect of our lives, and for this intense hobby, physics dishes up a major dose. So let’s break things down.

The first jump.

Once you leave that plane, your heart is racing, your palms are sweating, and probably the only thing on your mind is “Ahh!.” But, have you ever stopped to think about what’s going on around you as you joyfully plummet towards the ground? As you are capturing those Instagram-worthy Go-Pro selfies, there are two forces acting on you: gravitational pull and friction with the air. As you leave the plane, Earth’s gravitational pull will carry you straight towards the ground, and you’ll gain speed with each second. While you begin to travel, the resistance from the air around you begins to increase and pushes up in the opposite direction of your fall (luckily it’s not as strong as gravity). Thanks to the relationship between gravity and air resistance, you won’t keep falling at a rapidly increasing speed, but as your speed increases, so does air resistance. The air resistance will keep increasing until it reaches the magnitude of the force of gravity. Once this happens, the forces become balanced, and you’ll no longer accelerate.

Body Position

Ever heard of the term aerodynamics? Well, it plays a major role in skydiving, as well. The position and shape of your body dictate your speed as you fall. For example, say you and your friend decided to race down. You go with the method of tucking your arms and legs in as tight as you can into your body. Your friend, on the other hand, decides to go full flying squirrel. You’ll notice that as you fall, like the graceful armadillo you embodied, your friend will lag behind you because of the difference in body positions. Your stretched-out friend has more surface area than you do. Air resistance has a greater surface to work on, thus slowing the body down. However, while you might be the speedy one of the group, stretching out while falling is actually a better skydiving technique because this position creates dynamic stability – keeping you more stable as you descend.

The Parachute

Now comes the moment of truth: the parachute. This simple little device holds the most important job of all-SLOWING YOU DOWN. But how? The answer is simple, air resistance. Just as your body position controlled your speed, the parachute’s broad surface area works to keep you from regretting your spontaneous skydiving adventure. The parachute’s huge size proves vital and is the sole reason you can significantly slow down to a speed that promises safety. This significant change in speed is why you always see the huge snap up once the parachute has been released. The huge amount of air being trapped by the parachute causes a dramatic slowdown.

Skydiving is no joke and neither is the physics involved with it. These forces that so many of us remain unaware of are responsible for so many great things in the world. Physics allows us to jump out of planes safely. I mean what else can do that, right?!? So maybe if you ever work up the nerve to go skydiving you can stop and think about what’s really going on around you. Maybe even share it with your diving instructor. Your extensive and intriguing knowledge might even make up for that full face of hair you gave him during the jump.

Sources:

http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae536.cfm

http://www.physicsclassroom.com/mmedia/newtlaws/sd.cfm

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Exploring the Possibility of Time Travel

by Paige Harriss AP Physics 1 student

“A civilized man…can go up against gravitation in a balloon, and why should he not hope that ultimately he may be able to stop or accelerate his drift along the Time-Dimension, or even turn about and travel the other way?” H.G. Wells encapsulated popular interest in time travel through this quote and others in his novel The Time Machine written in 1895. Believed to be the first novel written about time travel, The Time Machine has been in print continuously since its initial publication and reveals our national intrigue in this extraordinary concept. More recently, time travel has been studied by physicists as a plausible theory – one that may or may not be within the bounds of modern physics. Albert Einstein, Nathan Rosen, and later Kip Thorne contributed to the idea of a black hole providing a portal to the past. Other recent theories also support the idea of time travel; however, an opposing viewpoint based on the grandfather paradox refutes the notion entirely.

The theory of a black hole providing a mode of time travel has long been suggested. Black holes have the ability to bend the space and time surrounding them to the point of breaking, creating a small rip. In 1935 Nathan Rosen and Albert Einstein theorized that this small rip could connect to a rip in another black hole, creating a bridge; the Einstein-Rosen bridge, that would provide a passage through which a time traveler could be transported into another dimension. However, there are disparages with the bridge. Too small for even an atom to fit through, these “wormholes” are unusable for a time traveler, and close so quickly even light would not have the ability to pass through to the other side. In the 1980s, Kip Thorne elaborated on the Einstein-Rosen bridge and theorized a way to use anti-gravity to hold the portal open long enough for a person to pass through. Anti-gravity, pushing apart the space around the wormhole, would be channeled in large amounts to hold the portal open. To supply these large reserves of anti-gravity energy, Thorne hypothesized the Casimir effect; that two metal plates in close proximity could eventually generate enough negative energy to hold open the portal. Lastly, to create a true time portal, Thorne theorized a way to desynchronize the two black holes so that time would run differently in each. By containing one of the holes in negative energy and somehow transporting it around the universe at the speed of light, the two holes would desynchronize, with one black hole existing in a different era than the other, but in the same location. True time travel would thus be achieved. Although one of the first extensive approaches toward time travel put forth, this elaborate theory has been doubted by some physicists.

Numerous alternative approaches have permeated modern time travelling physics research. In 1991 Princeton astrophysicist J. Richard Gott proposed the idea of a shoestring. These cosmic strings, formed since close to the beginning of the universe, would pass each other in anti-parallel directions, running at the speed of light. A time traveler would thus be able to wait nearby and enter in between these strings which have twisted space-time due to their infinitely long and incredibly dense structure. Edward Witten is at present developing his super-string theory, while Stephen Hawking has even proposed lining up infinite parallel universes to achieve time travel. It seems that even if such theories prove viable, the mathematics behind each is nearly impossible to solve. Physicist Michio Kaku, commenting on the superstring theory, stated, “At present, superstring theory is the leading candidate for such a theory (in fact, it is the only candidate; it really has no rivals at all). But superstring theory…is still too difficult to solve completely. The theory is well-defined, but no one on earth is smart enough to solve it.” Theories abound, and deeply committed physicists are convinced that eventually the mystery will be solved, though perhaps, not in their lifetime. There are also those who reject all propositions of time travel, doubting the possibility that even a future generation might find the key to a parallel universe.

The Grandfather Paradox presents an argument silencing any notion of time travel. Described as early as 1931 in various science fiction novels including Ancestral Voices by Nathaniel Schachner, published in 1933, and Future Times Three by René Barjavel in 1943, this paradox seems irreconcilable with the notion of travelling through time. The Grandfather Paradox presents the idea that if a person were able to travel to the past and then kill his/her parents, then that person would never have been born and thus it would be impossible to travel back in time in the first place. There have been responses to this paradox, such as the idea that the individual “would fail for some commonplace reason…her gun might jam, a noise might distract her, she might slip on a banana peel…” or that travelling in the past “merely creates a parallel universe.” So we are changing someone else’s past by saving, perhaps, Abraham Lincoln from being assassinated at the Ford Theater, but our Lincoln is still dead. A concrete answer to this fundamental complexity still has not been established. Clearly, modern mathematics must be more advanced before we are able to answer such paradoxes, or the disparagement between quantum mechanics and gravitational relativity; the fact that they “dominate in disparate domains, and…seem to converge only in enormously dense, quantum-size black holes,” must be resolved.

Even with the abundance of theories including the Einstein-Rosen bridge and superstring theory, numerous paradoxes still remain unanswered. The Grandfather Paradox will continue to discourage many from the seemingly irrational research of time travel, and, even in the event that time travel becomes possible, many will question the morality of attempting to change events of the past. However, current research on the topic has become more plausible, and it is clear that “our heirs, whatever or whoever they may be, will explore space and time to degrees we cannot currently fathom…creating new melodies in the music of time.”

Works Cited

Kaku, Michio. “The Physics of Time Travel.” Explorations in Science Official Website of Dr Michio Kaku RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Koks, Don. “What Is the Casimir Effect?” The Casimir Effect. N.p., 2002. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Moyer, Michael. “The Physics of Time Travel.” Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation, 19 Feb. 2002. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Person, and Annalee Newitz. “Are We about to Reconcile Gravity with Quantum Mechanics?” Io9. I09, 07 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Pickover, Clifford. “Traveling Through Time.” PBS. PBS, 12 Oct. 1999. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Smith, Nicholas J.J. “Time Travel.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

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The Magic of the Ocean and the Moon

Bree

Original artwork by the author

by Bree Gerold, AP Physics 1 Student

Perhaps it is the oh so exciting thought of spring break quickly approaching, or maybe it is my constant fascination with the ocean, but recently I have found myself in a daydream about the beach.  Ever since I was a little girl, I have always been fascinated by the rising and the falling of the ocean waves.  I remember that it always baffled me how the ocean could get bigger, then shrink back up again, like clockwork.  I didn’t understand it.  I didn’t understand gravity, I didn’t understand physics.  Perhaps there is a bit of magic to that; to the complete innocence of a child who is so easily mesmerized by something as simple as the ocean’s tides.  That’s what it was to me.  It was magic.

Now as a senior in high school, I have been through many physics classes and have managed to gain at least enough knowledge to understand how the moon and the ocean create the tides.  Ocean tides are created by combining the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun, combined with the rotation of the earth. The moon’s gravitational pull is stronger than the sun’s which makes it the most important factor in creating tides. The tides are really long-period waves that appear as the rise and fall of the sea as they reach the coastline. High tide is the crest of the long-period wave and low tide is the trough of the long-period wave. The earth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours and the moon rotates around the earth once every 28 days. The moon pulls upward on the ocean while the earth pulls down. This causes tidal movement. The tidal troughs are separated by about 12 hours. Because the moon rotates around the earth, it’s not in the same place at the same time every day.  So the high and low tide times change every day by about 50 minutes.

Even now, after understanding the physics of it all, it still seems like magic.  It is magical how the moon, that is so far away, can have such a compelling effect on the little girl I once was.

Works Cited

“Ten Cool Facts About Ocean Tides.” Oceans52. WordPress, 05 Apr. 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.

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