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Planet Earth

Physics Fun-Hundred

InkfishBy Elizabeth PrestonJune 2, 2010 7:36 AM

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I was talking to my middle sister today and remembered how smart she is. She works in a theoretical physics lab at her college. I, on the other hand, don't know squat about physics. I could probably list all the things I know about physics right here.

1. If you are one of the smaller kids in your high school class, and you have a tendency to make little comments that your teacher doesn't necessarily find funny, you might discover one day that you've "volunteered" to lie on a bed of nails. This demonstrates something about surface area, or maybe that your teacher doesn't like you very much.

2. In high school physics, every lab and every word problem is about something falling down. Maybe if they changed that, people would enjoy the class more and not have to make little comments to lessen everyone's misery.

3. Not that I didn't enjoy drawing tiny pictures of stick men standing on top of moving trains and tossing tennis balls.

4. Did you know that the story about Isaac Newton being inspired by a falling apple is (maybe) true? Or at least this guy says he heard the story from Newton back in the 1700s.

5. Kids who work in college physics labs spend a lot of time in sub-basements adjusting lasers. If you work in a biology lab and you spend your days running through the woods sucking up fruit flies with a straw, you can gloat when you see the physics kids at lunch.

6. My sister, though, works in a theoretical physics lab. This means that instead of doing actual experiments, she sits in a room doing math and thinking big thoughts.

7. Her lab's research has something to do with "fractional dimensions." Or maybe it was "fractal dimensions." I'm not sure which sounds more terrifying.

8. Today she told me that a physics paper she was reading declared that "this theory is ghost free." She couldn't explain that, but I'd like to think it means, "For the sake of our model, we'll assume that all of these crazy quantum effects are not the result of a malicious poltergeist messing with us."

9. Of course, when I told my sister that, she pointed out in all seriousness that we'll never know if that's the case.

10. Since E is energy, m is mass, and c is a constant (the speed of light), Einstein's famous equation E = mc^2 means that energy actually has mass. Isn't that weird? You didn't think I knew any real physics, did you?

Photo: Objects in motion. Or, Whirlyball.

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