When possible, I try to find a theme for the Wednesday Wow posts. Last time, for instance, the theme was aviation and fireworks (two things you wouldn’t normally think went together, but in one case they delightfully did).
The problem is that I’m jaded and have seen a lot, so I can be hard to impress. Not lots of things raise to my highest rating, Wow! Fortunately, I’m not so far gone I can’t still see a world filled with wonder, some of which drops my jaw.
The theme, such as it is, concerns measurements, especially tiny and precise ones. Like, for instance, Planck Length tiny.
I suppose I could try to tie this in to, for example, a tiny virus, but the idea is to think about other things once in a while, so I won’t. (And a virus is pretty gigantic compared to the Planck Length.)
In fact, there is something of a wow factor in the comparison. I posted a while back about how the Planck Length compares to the size of a hydrogen atom the same way an amoeba compares to the Milky Way galaxy.
If the Planck Length is that small compared to the smallest atom, imagine how small it is compared to a virus that has (depending on the virus) many tens of thousands of atoms. It takes the comparison up to amoeba and galactic super-cluster.
Which makes the first two entries here all that more awesome.
This first one involves the five best measurements in science (according to these guys, and I don’t see any reason to disagree):
I got a big kick out of the notion about how many times humanity has tested the belief “the sun rises in the morning.” (In epistemology, that’s almost a canonical exercise — justifying that true belief about the sun’s rising.)
(The video also touches on the important notions of accuracy and precision, which caught my eye. I posted about those recently, too.)
It’s also fascinating to me to think about that in context of justifying the Standard Model. In some sense, every moment of every day for everyone justifies it, but the LHC tests are rather more precise.
(In fact, they’re currently chasing down what appears to be an anomaly.)
What gets me is that we know the Standard Model is, at best, incomplete. And yet that incomplete model works amazingly well. (But then, so did Newton until we looked really closely at Mercury. On the other hand, we spotted Mercury’s “misbehavior” pretty early. But so far, except for that possible weak force anomaly, the Standard Model works extremely well.)
Ironically, after introducing the Standard Model, the video pivots to General Relativity, our other extremely well-tested science theory, and so far we haven’t found the slightest hint that GR might be wrong. We’ve now measured stars orbiting very close to black holes — and extreme gravity regime — and they behaved exactly as expected.
In any event, when I watched this video, I knew immediately it could be the centerpiece of a Wednesday Wow post. If you watch only one of the videos today, watch this one.
This next video takes us to Planck’s constant (from which we get the Planck Length, the Planck Energy, the Planck Mass, etc.) and demonstrates an interesting and easy way that just about anyone can measure it:
It spends the first few minutes on a really good explanation of what Planck’s constant is and how it first came about. That alone is worth watching.
Granted, the technique illustrated probably isn’t something one would do at home just for fun (unless maybe, as some of us do, one happens to have that sort of gear lying around). It’s probably more something for high school science class.
(I even used to have a diffraction grating, although I don’t recall any label specifying its resolution. I definitely have some colored pens.)
I thought it was very cool how we can use physics knowledge to fairly casually measure something so tiny and fundamental.
In this video, a guy with an electron microscope (now there’s a nice piece of home gear) creates an animation of a record stylus tracking a vinyl record groove:
Keep in mind it is an animation — he stitched a series of still images together.
I also wonder if removing the stylus from the assembly made its movements too free. Do the magnets being in coils restrict the movement more?
In comparison, he also shows some digital media, a CED, a CD-ROM, and a DVD. You can’t see the sound waves in those. (Comparing the track size of the CED with a record stylus was impressive.)
[Switched-On Bach. Ha! I (still!) have that record album.]
The first two songs didn’t get me all that lit (although it was interesting how she used completely different side players and instruments on each).
It’s the thing with the VR gloves that blew me away (there are other videos available of Heap using the gloves).
She explains how they work starting at the 9:15 minute mark, and the performance itself begins at 12:45. I’ve watched this several times now, and it blows me away every time. (Part of the fun is trying to figure out exactly what she’s doing with the gestures.)
The thing that struck me was: How long until we see this technology in common play? How long until there’s a group on stage — with no instruments except the gloves — making gestures to play “drums” and “guitars” and so on?
The technology (and theory) of music has long fascinated me. It’s one of our oldest traits; it may even predate language. (Think of all the animals that “sing” but have no real language.)
Music speaks to us on a very primal level — hence its power.
So there was some stuff about the tiny that hopefully entertained you as you “shelter in place” during these strange times.
The whole thing does provide an excellent opportunity to catch up on whatever you need catching up on. Read those books you’ve been putting off. Binge on shows you always meant to get around to watching.
(Clean the house? Nah. It’ll just get dirty again.)
Stay tiny, my friends!