Keep America’s Nuclear Power Plants Working For 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.”

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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

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


Original photography by the author

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.

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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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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Particles and waves: The central mystery of quantum mechanics – Chad Orzel

Thank you to Ted-Ed for this lesson on the dual nature of light.

“One of the most amazing facts in physics is that everything in the universe, from light to electrons to atoms, behaves like both a particle and a wave at the same time. But how did physicists arrive at this mind-boggling conclusion? Chad Orzel recounts the string of scientists who built on each other’s discoveries to arrive at this ‘central mystery’ of quantum mechanics.”

Incorporating Computer Models into Traditional Physics Labs

Students collecting motion data.

Photo: Students collecting motion data.

In an effort to achieve consistency with current expectations of university physics students in rigorous science and engineering programs, I have implemented laboratory investigations that seek to provide students with opportunities to explore real world motion using modern tools and techniques that are grounded in fundamental physics principles. My goal is for the students to be able to:

  • Observe and video everyday motion and then analyze the video to extract motion data.
  • Apply fundamental physics principles to analyze and describe the motion and then to develop computer models that explain and predict motion based on these principles.
  • Effectively communicate results (the observations, the models, and comparisons between them).
  • Critique their own work and the work of their peers.

My students have completed their first assignment that required that they explore the effects of air resistance by observing the motion of an object dropped from rest and allowed to fall straight down. The students were instructed to choose an object that would be noticeably affected by air resistance. The students selected objects such as coffee filters, Styrofoam lunch trays, crumpled paper, etc., and the adventure began. The students posted their final results on YouTube to allow for peer assessment of their final products.

I was very pleased and impressed with my students’ motivation and ability to meet this challenge. At first, some of them were intimated by working with computer code but quickly became comfortable with this new method of analyzing motion. Some sample student projects are provided below:

This Is The Physics Lesson Of The Future, And It Looks Insanely Fun (FastCoDesign)

Open Matters

A child playing on a playground Photograph by Celine Grouard for Fast Company.

An afternoon at the playground might be the perfect time to introduce kids to physics. SciPlay, part of the New York Hall of Science, is working to develop an app to teach middle school students the Newtonian mechanics of the playground. FastCoDesign reports:

The SciPlay app is essentially an annotated video: Using an iPad, you film motion–running, jumping, swinging, sliding, throwing a ball, etc.–and the app visualizes the basic science at work, pinpointing moments and levels of velocity, acceleration, energy, and force. Through manually tracing the arc of motion of the ball or person, or by using sensor data from the iPod attached to a ball or a kid’s belt, it superimposes the force diagrams that make up the backbone of any classroom physics lesson on real-life situations. Continue reading…

According to the article, the developers plan to…

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