The (Quantum) Birds and Bees

flickr/Thierrry

Quantum science is hard for most people to wrap their head around (me included).  What I gather from my limited knowledge is that uncertainty reigns, a lot of it is very weird, and it involves lots of big maths to do it.  Also, it deals with really, really, really tiny things.  As in the tiniest.

One thing I did not expect is that animals might be interacting with quantum mechanics.  And they might be doing it better than our best scientific equipment.  For example, that European robin in the picture above might be able to ‘see’ the Earth’s magnetic fields via quantum entanglement.  Tiny particles in the bird’s eye react to photons, moving electrons to higher energy levels.  This movement creates tiny magnetic fields that the bird is able to use to sense the Earth’s magnetic fields.  And it does all this 20 percent better than the best laboratory equipment we have.

 

While the possibility of quantum birds is still being studied, it is being suggested that another animal could have an even more profound interaction with quantum mechanics.  No, it’s not Schrödinger’s cat, but buzzing little bees.  There is the remote possibility you recognize the picture above as something more than vaguely looking like a coffee bean.  That is one of the two dance patterns that bees use to communicate the location of nectar to the rest of their hive.  The dance language is extremely intricate and capable of communicating complex locations.  Scientists have studied it for years, but have yet to find an explanation for how bees with brains the size of pin heads are capable knowing and using such a nuanced language?  Well in line with the topic of this post, the secret may lie in quantum mechanics.  For an extremely detailed and interesting read, you should head over to this website, but here’s the gist of it: that strange-looking coffee bean dance is eerily similar if not a downright match for what happens when you take a six-dimensional object and draw it in two dimensions.  This particular 6D object is important for understanding quarks (a building block of particles and something very important to quantum mechanics).  Variances in the objects 2D version correspond to particular changes in the 6D version, changes that match the very nuances of the bees dance language.  The implications of the bees dance matching up with a mathematical equation important to quantum mechanics is that bees are somehow able to perceive changes in the quantum world.

But here’s where this goes from harmless theory to paradigm shifting: nothing, not even our best equipment, is supposed to be able to do that.  When ever we observe the quantum something like a quark or an electron, our instruments actually change its state.  These particles exist in a ‘quantum field’ where at any one time they effectively exist in all places that they could possibly exist.  When our instrument tries to find its position in space at one moment in time we are disrupting the quantum field and changing its state, thus disrupting its true nature.  But if bees are able to perceive the quantum world without disrupting it, then parts of quantum theory might possibly have to be entirely re-written.

All of this talk of quantum animals is in its early, theoretical state.  But its certainly making a lot more quantum physicists talk about the birds and the bees.

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F#&king Particle Accelerators, How Do They Work?

You’ve probably heard some vague information about Particle Accelerators. You’ve probably heard that they smash atoms together and make science happen, but have you ever wondered how exactly they accelerator particles to near light speed?  With the video above, you can have the process demonstrated to you step-by-step by a very intelligent sounding man.  And in case the video doesn’t make it clear, that giant magnetic ring is massive.  Or maybe just large, seeing as they called it the Large Hadron Collider (pictured below).  The diameter of the larger circle is 17 miles.

Still curious about these atom obliterating magneto-donuts?  Perhaps wondering just what would happen were a person to come into contact with one of these high energy particle beams?  Well, as it turns out, there is one man who could answer that question: Anatoli Bugorski.

This unlucky Russian scientist had what could be called one of the worst days in history when he went to fix some malfunctioning equipment in the Soviet Particle Accelerator, also known as the U-70 Synchrotron (which I think is a way cooler name than Large Hadron Collider).  Apparently all of the built in safety mechanisms were malfunction as well, because when Anatoli stuck his head into the part of the accelerator where particles are moved to a faster part of the contraption, he got blasted by a beam of super fast protons.  He reported feeling no pain, but did see a flash ‘brighter than a thousand suns’.  Anatoli was incredibly lucky to survive the 200,000 Rads of radiation that pulsed through his skull (500-600 is supposed to be lethal).  His health problems were many, but surprisingly minimal considering he was struck by particles moving near the speed of light.  Immediately after the accident the left side of his face swelled up considerably.  That side also hasn’t aged since the accident after becoming paralyzed from nerve damage.  He also lost hearing in his left ear, becomes much more fatigued by mental work, and now suffers from a rare type of seizure.  He is still alive to this day and lives with his wife and son.

The accident never game Anatoli Bugorski the super powers he needed to become Proto-Man, smasher of atoms.

Snowstorm

Satellite picture of yesterdays friggin’ gigantic blizzard.  You can click on that image to see it full sized and look at more pictures of the storm here.

I Didn’t Even Know These Animals Could Exist

Here on planet earth, we have a pretty diverse biosphere.  I’m always interested in learning about newly discovered animals.  But despite how new and unusual animals like a bat that resembles Yoda and neon pink millipedes are, I never would have thought they couldn’t exist.  Like that slug pictured above.  It’s unlike any other animal we’ve discovered on Earth because it practically sits in two taxonomic kingdoms.  That green hue isn’t just camouflage: it’s chlorophyll, the stuff that plants use to synthesize energy from sunlight.  Technically, baby slugs of the species must consume at least one meal of algae in order to carry out photosynthesis, but it’s still the closes I’ve heard to an animal/plant hybrid.  Read can read more about it here.

Speaking of hybrids, the above goat is also a one-of-a-kind mix.  Like all mammals, goats are normally warm-blooded creatures.  But warm-bloodedness requires quite a bit of energy to keep up with constant growth rates and this dwarf goat species found itself on a little island in the Mediterranean (see the map below). With little food to eat, the entire species had to either drastically alter its metabolism or face extinction.  And for a few thousand years, that worked. By aping reptiles’ ability to slow down metabolism until food was actually available, the goats could survive on the limited food supply.  Of course, this also meant they had small brains and moved sluggishly, making them very easy prey for the humans who eventually made their way to the island.

Wikipedia’s List of Common Misconceptions

I really enjoyed reading this list of common misconceptions over at Wikipedia, even if a couple of them were depressing to learn.  For instance, there’s no evidence to suggest that Viking’s ever wore helmets with horns on them.  Well then what exactly makes them Viking?!? Just pillaging and discovering America first?  Some other interesting misconceptions:

  • Cooking alcohol doesn’t evaporate all of it.  Up to 25% can remain after an hour of baking or simmering.
  • Black Holes don’t ‘suck’ anymore than stars do.  In fact, when a star turns into a black hole it actually has less mass than the star originally did.  Only the event horizon has different gravitational properties than a star of equal mass.
  • Bats are not blind.
  • It is not harmful to baby birds to pick them up and return them to their nests, despite the common belief that doing so will cause the mother to reject it.
  • Humans have more than 5 senses, anywhere from 9 to 20 depending on the definition of a sense.
  • Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.
  • Nowhere in the Bible is Satan described as ruling over or being in Hell.

New York Blizzard Devourers Backyard

I had to drive all the way from Philadelphia to Topeka (took a train from NYC to Philly), so I’m really glad I missed this all by about a week.

(Via Boing Boing)

Math Sure Can Be Cool Lookin’

This is a really long mandelbrot fractal.  I’m not entirely sure what the is or how it works, but it’s really cool lookin’.  I hated the music though and suggest you play the full HD Youtube video and mute the music, subsituting it for your own (I choose Lemon Jelly).