Posts Tagged ‘physics’

Guest hosting Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour with Greg Gbur

For the next few weeks I will be guest host of Dr. Kiki’s Sci­ence Hour on Leo Laporte’s TWiT net­work. Dr. Kiki is out on mater­ni­ty leave, hav­ing just given birth to a beau­ti­ful baby boy 20 days ago! Pre­vi­ous guest hosts have includ­ed Phil Plait, David Har­ris, and Jeri Ellsworth.

The show streams live every Thurs­day on TWiT at 4pm Pacific/7pm East­ern. For oth­er time zones, do the math! You can also watch or down­load it lat­er.

For first-time vis­i­tors: in addi­tion to my science-flavored stand up com­e­dy, I also make sci­ence videos for Time Magazine’s web­site. That link will send you to my vids on, or you can click the VIDEO tab above and see them on this site. Quite a vari­ety of top­ics in sci­ence and sci­ence fic­tion. I am also a con­trib­u­tor to Neil de Grasse Tyson‘s radio show StarTalk Radio.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter: @sciencecomedian
Sub­scribe to my YouTube videos:

“Let There Be Light!” – my first show will be about light and weird sci­ence facts. My guest is Greg Gbur, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Physics and Opti­cal Sci­ence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Char­lot­te, spe­cial­iz­ing in research on the­o­ret­i­cal clas­si­cal optics. Since August of 2007 he has blogged as “Dr. SkySkull” at Skulls in the Stars, where he cov­ers optics, the his­to­ry of physics, his­tor­i­cal weird fic­tion, and the inter­con­nec­tion of the­se sub­jects. Greg also co-founded the his­to­ry of sci­ence blog car­ni­val The Giant’s Shoul­ders. He has over 60 peer-reviewed pub­li­ca­tions and is the author of the upcom­ing text­book, “Math­e­mat­i­cal Meth­ods for Opti­cal Physics and Engi­neer­ing”.

– Fol­low Greg on Twit­ter: @drskyskull
– Skulls in the Stars blog
– Go direct­ly to the Weird Sci­ence Facts cat­e­go­ry on Greg’s blog
– Greg’s recent invis­i­bil­i­ty arti­cle on Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can
– Read his very in-depth post The Saga of the Sci­en­tific Swindler! (1884-1891)

When the show is avail­able, I will post the video here and per­haps some addi­tion­al notes and links. Please fol­low me on Twit­ter, sub­scribe to my YouTube chan­nel, and get on my Email list.

Next week my guest will be sci­ence writer extra­or­di­naire Carl Zim­mer!

Thanks for stop­ping by! 

Bad Science in Star Wars has a short video of me per­form­ing at the recent Won­der­fest sci­ence fes­ti­val in Berke­ley.  I’m talk­ing about bad sci­ence in sci­ence fic­tion movies, and the exam­ple in the clip is a clas­sic moment from Star Wars…

Link to video on YouTube

Link to video on


Sun­day, Novem­ber 7, 2010. Once again I am thrilled to be per­form­ing at Won­der­fest – the Bay Area’s long-running fes­ti­val of sci­ence.  This is their 12th annu­al event – and my third time par­tic­i­pat­ing.

As always, it’s a 2-day event – Sat­ur­day on the Stan­ford cam­pus and Sun­day on the Berke­ley cam­pus.

I am only attend­ing Sun­day, Novem­ber 7, at UC Berkeley’s Stan­ley Hall.  I will per­form and then mod­er­ate a dia­logue:

3pm:  Sci­ence Laughs with Sci­ence Come­di­an Bri­an Mal­ow

4pm:  Mod­er­a­tor for  “Do We Under­stand the Struc­ture of the Uni­verse?” – a dia­logue between Lloyd Knox, a physics pro­fes­sor from UC Davis, and Chung-Pei Ma, an astron­o­my prof from Berke­ley

And, in between my two slots, you can enjoy a live pod­cast of “This Week in Sci­ence” with my friends Dr.Kiki and Justin! 

Helium – So Long and Thanks for all the Balloons!

Some­how this didn’t make it into the blog ear­lier – our video about heli­um.  A flight in a zep­pelin, a vis­it with the Bal­loon Lady, and the end of an era?…

Relat­ed Post:
Sci­ence Come­di­an Riffs on Hydro­gen and Heli­um at Ignite

Year of Science – JetBlue and Cell Phones

In con­junc­tion with the COPUS Project’s Year of Sci­ence – and the March the­me of Physics and Tech­nol­o­gy – I offer up a bit of humor on bad web­site usabil­i­ty on the Jet Blue web­site and also a cou­ple thoughts on cell phones – loud users and shrink­ing sizes.

Do you think we’ll live to see implantable cell phones?…  or the end of obnox­ious­ly loud cell phone talk­ers?  When will they real­ize that tech­nol­o­gy is here to relieve the strain on their voic­es?

Astronomy in Science Fiction

When I attend­ed the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tex­as, in Austin, back in the last cen­tu­ry, I took a few astron­o­my class­es and the most inter­est­ing one was called “Astron­o­my in Sci­ence Fic­tion.”

Through the fog of mem­o­ry that sits like inter­stel­lar dust between me and Total Recall, I can only say with a lev­el of cer­tain­ty lim­it­ed by more than just Heisenberg’s equa­tions that we read at least one nov­el for the class – Tau Zero by Poul Ander­son – and numer­ous short sto­ries,Tau Zero by Poul Anderson includ­ing the clas­sic “Night­fall” by Isaac Asi­mov and a few Lar­ry Niven sto­ries.  I’m pret­ty sure “There is a Tide” was one of them, and per­haps “The Hole Man.”  I rec­om­mend them all.

We read the sto­ries and then we dis­cussed the astron­o­my and sci­ence con­cepts con­tained in them.  It was fun and edu­ca­tion­al, a great way to teach and learn sci­ence.

Mike Broth­er­ton had a sim­i­lar idea, which is not ter­ri­bly sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing he’s both an assis­tant pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of physics and astron­o­my at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wyoming, and a sci­ence fic­tion author him­self.  He’s writ­ten two hard-SF nov­els – Star Drag­on and Spi­der Star – and some short sto­ries, one of which is fea­tured in his new anthol­o­gy (one of the perks of being the edi­tor of a book is the increased odds of being includ­ed in it).

Dia­monds in the Sky is avail­able for free online and was fund­ed with a grant from the Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion.  How cool is that?

Accord­ing to Mike’s web­site, its pur­pose is…

“to provide sto­ries with ample and accu­rate astron­o­my span­ning a range of top­ics cov­ered in intro­duc­to­ry cours­es.  Instruc­tors in high school and col­lege may the­se sto­ries use­ful, as some stu­dents may learn con­cepts more eas­i­ly through sto­ry than from lec­ture.  Fans of sci­ence fic­tion with good sci­ence should also enjoy the­se sto­ries.  Con­tri­bu­tions include both orig­i­nal sto­ries and reprints from some of the top sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers work­ing today.”

One of the sto­ries, “Plan­et Killer,” is co-written by my friend, Kev­in Gra­zier, who is a plan­e­tary sci­en­tist at JPL and the edi­tor of The Sci­ence of Michael Crich­ton, The Sci­ence of Dune, and the upcom­ing The Sci­ence of Bat­tlestar Galac­ti­ca (he’s also sci­ence advi­sor to Bat­tlestar).

I men­tioned Dia­monds in the Sky in the new arti­cle about me at The Man­i­to­ban Q&A: Bri­an Mal­ow, sci­ence come­di­an.

Ear­ly in the inter­view, stu­dent jour­nal­ist Trevor Beko­lay asked about the role of sto­ry­telling in teach­ing sci­ence and we talked a bit about sci­ence fiction’s influ­ence.  It was cer­tain­ly a big influ­ence in my life – and con­tin­ues to be.  I cred­it Isaac Asi­mov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Lar­ry Niven, in par­tic­u­lar, with cap­ti­vat­ing me ear­ly on with their cre­ative use of real sci­ence con­cepts in their sci­ence fic­tion.

It’s a great way to get acquaint­ed with sci­ence – in the con­text of an engag­ing sto­ry.

Check out Dia­monds in the Sky for free online.

Dia­monds in the Sky

Q&A: Bri­an Mal­ow, sci­ence come­di­an

Relat­ed post: 
Sci­ence Come­di­an in The Man­i­to­ban

Mike Brotherton and the Science Comedian

Mike Broth­er­ton has a real­ly nice blog post about me.  Mike is a sci­ence fic­tion writer who also hap­pens to be an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wyoming in the depart­ment of Physics and Astron­o­my.  Quasars are his spe­cial­ty!  And there’s a lot of great con­tent in his blog.  Check it out.

I’m ecsta­t­ic that, of the two jokes he sin­gled out for men­tion, one is an anal­o­gy that rarely gets the laugh I wish for it.  It’s about the abil­i­ty of a virus to take down a human.  We must out­weigh them by a fac­tor of a bil­lion or more.  It’s the ulti­mate David and Goliath…  “It’s like Luke Sky­walk­er tak­ing out the Death Star in a lit­tle X-Wing Fight­er.”

Well, it is, isn’t it?

He also says this about the embed­ded video:

Next time I teach an intro­duc­to­ry sci­ence class, I’m going to show some of the­se. I might be able to deliv­er a cou­ple of the sim­pler jokes and fit them into lec­tures. I’m a good lec­tur­er, but not great, and wak­ing peo­ple up with a smart joke that has some real sci­ence in it isn’t pan­der­ing, it’s edu­cat­ing.

Too often I think thatI just get depressed about the nev­er end­ing bat­tle with igno­rance and sci­ence illit­er­a­cy, with the folks who reject our best knowl­edge because it con­tra­dicts their polit­i­cal or reli­gious beliefs.  Get­ting peo­ple to laugh and want in on the joke is prob­a­bly a bet­ter method of doing some­thing oth­er than preach­ing to the choir and bring­ing in some peo­ple who want to chuck­le, too.

Thanks, Mike!

I haven’t read his two nov­els yet – Star Drag­on and Spi­der Star – but they’ve been praised by David Brin and Paul Di Fil­ip­po.  They are hard SF and have been com­pared to the books of Lar­ry Niven and Robert L. For­ward.  Sounds good to me! 

Year of Science – January – Why is the sky blue?

If you don’t already know, let me be the first to tell you: 2009 is the Year of Sci­ence!

It’s the 150th anniver­sary of the pub­li­ca­tion of On the Orig­in of Species and the 200th anniver­sary of the birth of Charles Dar­win. Abra­ham Lin­coln was also born on the exact same day (and year) as Dar­win, and Lin­coln would found the Acad­e­my of Sci­ences.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Galactomatic-1000 (TM) Basement Universe

…Base­ment Uni­vers­es aren’t just for base­ments any more! The Galactomatic-1000 comes with an attrac­tive imi­ta­tion wood-grain negative-matter case that makes it per­fect­ly at home in your den or fam­i­ly room. The case reduces its total mass to zero, so you won’t have to wor­ry about implod­ing your house into a black hole, or dis­col­or­ing the walls with unat­trac­tive grav­i­ta­tion­al red­shifts (**)…

(**) Although the Galactomatic-1000 has no mass, it still has vol­ume, so a ship­ping and han­dling charge will apply.

– Carl Feyn­man,
Extropy #13

Once upon a time there was a lit­tle tran­shu­man­ist mag­a­zine called Extropy.  I prob­a­bly still have an issue or two around here some­where. Most of the con­tent was seri­ous but I remem­ber this one fake adver­tise­ment for The Galactomatic-1000 (TM) Base­ment Uni­verse.  It was hys­ter­i­cal.  Sci­ence com­e­dy at its best!

Writ­ten by Carl Feyn­man, com­put­er engi­neer and son of Richard Feyn­man, the piece appeared in Extropy #13 (6:2), Third quar­ter 1994, page 39.

The mag­a­zine and the Extropy Insti­tute itself are now defunct.  But god bless the inter­net for its archival uses.

Wit­ness the glo­ry of…  The Galactomatic-1000 (TM) Base­ment Uni­verse!

Science Foo Camp 2008: Chapter 1 – The Wiki & What I Missed

[I’ve made one pre­vi­ous Sci­Foo post, in antic­i­pa­tion (and trep­i­da­tion) of the approach­ing week­end.]

Where to begin? How to cap­ture the essence of such an over­whelm­ing expe­ri­ence? Nature! O’Reilly! The Google­plex! 200 cer­ti­fied sci­ence genius­es! No less than four (4) Nobel Lau­re­ates! And oth­er incom­plete sen­tences!

By design, Sci­ence Foo Camp has no real agen­da until we get there and cre­ate it, and even then, it’s com­plete­ly flex­i­ble. But, about three months in advance, a wiki was estab­lished for every­one to post to with descrip­tions of our­selves and ideas for ses­sions we’d like to see or lead. This was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn a lit­tle bit about our fel­low campers and to be that much more pre­pared by the time we got there, since time would be so pre­cious.

[Note to Lee Smolin: I’m not sure about the rest of the Uni­verse but, at Sci­Foo, the flow of time is very real and very fast.]

If you ever get the chance to attend Sci­Foo, take advan­tage of the wiki. Start ear­ly. Most of the campers post­ed brief bios with their areas of research and inter­ests and links to home­pages, blogs, com­pa­nies, and orga­ni­za­tions.  For the ones that didn’t, there’s Google.  If they’re at Sci­Foo, you won’t have any trou­ble find­ing ’em. Most of them have Wikipedia entries.

My only wish for “improv­ing” the amaz­ing crea­ture that is Sci­Foo would be to length­en it just a bit. I want more!  Per­haps extend the Fri­day and Sun­day to full days. Give us just a lit­tle extra time to take it all in. There are so many fas­ci­nat­ing peo­ple, so many intrigu­ing ses­sions.  There’s no way to meet every­one or attend every ses­sion you’d like. With as many as four­teen (14!) simul­ta­ne­ous ses­sions in each hour time slot, no mat­ter how much you expe­ri­ence, there’s still a sense that you missed out on a lot of cool stuff.

Of course, even if it were a week long, I’m sure I’d feel the same.

Betsy Devine\'s morning session

For the first ses­sion of the week­end, I missed Carl Diet­rich’s “Ener­gy for Long Dis­tance Trans­porta­tion” because I want­ed to catch Bet­sy Devine’s “5-minute Talks by Smart Peo­ple About Web 2.0 Tools for Sci­ence” (fea­tur­ing Tim O’Reilly, Esther Dyson & Anne Woj­ci­cki, Chris Ander­son, Barend Mons, and Vic­to­ria Stod­den).

And I missed Carl again, for the last ses­sion of the week­end, when he talked about his fly­ing car, because I want­ed to see Broth­er Guy Con­sol­mag­no explain why the Pope has an astronomer (and a mete­orite col­lec­tion!).

I real­ly should’ve been at “Trans­form­ing Edu­ca­tion – Mak­ing Sci­ence Fun and Rel­e­vant for Kids and Stu­dents,” but I want­ed to hear Aubrey de Grey, Chris Patil, and Atti­la Csor­das talk about Aging and Life Exten­sion.

After a fas­ci­nat­ing chat Sat­ur­day morn­ing with Eric Wasser­mann on the 15-minute shut­tle ride from the hotel to the Google­plex (about the expe­ri­ence of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and the illu­sion of con­scious­ness), I would’ve loved to have sat in on his ses­sion a few hours lat­er about the ethics and impli­ca­tions of brain enhance­ment. But I also want­ed to con­tribute to “Seduc­ing the Pub­lic with Sci­ence” (ini­ti­at­ed – on the wiki – by John Gilbey and Jen­ny Rohn – and includ­ing Tim O’Reilly,Seducing the Public - Tim O'Reilly, Marc Hodosh, Kevin Grazier, et al Ann Druyan, Marc Hodosh, Ben Goldacre, Euge­nie Scott and oth­ers). And, at the exact same time, I was miss­ing NASA Ames Direc­tor Pete Wor­den’s ses­sion on Set­tling Mars, and “LHC: The Uni­verse and All That” with Bri­an Cox, Max Tegmark, Mar­t­in Rees, and Betsy’s hus­band, Nobel Lau­re­ate Frank Wilczek!

Impos­si­ble choic­es that have to be made!

I missed Paul Stamets’ ses­sion on How Fungi Can Save the World, as well as Paul Davies’ ses­sion on Mul­ti­ple Ori­gins of Life and a “Shad­ow Bios­phere” on Earth, and ses­sions on the World­Wide Tele­scope and brain read­ing neu­ral pros­thet­ics, the future of quan­tum com­put­ing, 23andMe, build­ing bet­ter cli­mate mod­els, and sev­er­al more – all in the Sat­ur­day 4pm time slot – because I want­ed to sit in on a ses­sion with Lee Smolin, Max Tegmark, and Gar­rett Lisi called “Incu­bat­ing Adven­tur­ous Sci­ence and the FQXi.”

It wasn’t until Sun­day morn­ing, when I got into a great con­ver­sa­tion with the won­der­ful Dan Janzen about cater­pil­lars and moths, that I real­ized I shouldn’t have missed his pre­sen­ta­tion the day before on DNA bar­cod­ing the world’s species – all 10,000,000 of them.

But what could I do?  I was up to my ears in dark mat­ter – pick­ing the brain of Patri­cia Bur­chat, head of the Physics depart­ment at Stan­ford, who helped me final­ly under­stand how we could know – from our nar­row van­tage point – that the expan­sion rate of the Uni­verse has increased.

I could go on. And on. Expand­ing like the Uni­verse. And that’s what the week­end was real­ly about.

Look­ing over the list of campers, I fig­ure I had sub­stan­tial, inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions with at least 50 dif­fer­ent peo­ple, on prob­a­bly 50 dif­fer­ent top­ics – plus, I attend­ed about a dozen ses­sions, ask­ing ques­tions or con­tribut­ing com­ments dur­ing quite a few.

And I enter­tained per­haps the smartest crowd I’ve ever played with 45 min­utes of sci­ence humor at my own sur­pris­ing­ly well-attended ses­sion, Sat­ur­day night after din­ner (while, just down the hall, Mar­t­in Rees and Nick Bostrom led a somber dis­cus­sion called “Exis­ten­tial Risks & Glob­al Cat­a­stroph­ic Risks.”)

There was some­thing for every­one.

In the end, there were some peo­ple – like Jim Hardy and Chris Patil and Bri­an Cox and his wife Gia Mili­novich and John Gilbey and Nick Bostrom and David Bauer and Lars Jeppe­sen and Simon Quel­len Field – with whom I had mul­ti­ple chances to chat. And, yet, there are scores of peo­ple I nev­er met. I had no idea (until I was back home in San Fran­cis­co) that there were four Nobel Lau­re­ates among us; I met only one. On the final day there were some faces that didn’t even look famil­iar to me… had they real­ly been here all week­end?

[more to come]