Notation notation notation

Physicists and engineers have a particular fondness for using symbols for things. Thus, the speed of light becomes 'c'. Planck's constant is 'h'. And so forth. Not content with the latin alphabet, they have commandeered the greek one too: The Stefan-Bolztmann constant is  'sigma', the permittivity of free space is epsilon0 (the greek letter epsilon […]

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My car is cold

The last couple of days have seen our Engineering Design Show. This is where our 2nd/3rd/4th year Engineering students get to talk about and show off the various projects they've been working on in the last year. It's very interesting to see the range of activities going on, and there are some 'competitive events' – […]

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Where in the world?

First, sorry for the lack of activity. Simply put, there’s been a lot going on. I’ve taken on the role of treasurer for the NZ Institute of Physics which has eaten up rather more time than I hoped for. I’ll get into the swing of things soon though.  In that role, here is a shameless […]

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Units – they just don’t go away

 One thing that’s become really clear to me in teaching physics is that dimensions and units are not straightforward concepts for students. I might hazard the assertion that they are ‘threshold concepts‘ – ones where grasping what they are about transforms you way of thinking. Most people at least half-understand the idea of units – […]

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Mega- and nano-everything

 While generally speaking I’m very pleased to hear physics words appear in everyday conversation, I would prefer for them to be used approximately correctly. ‘Exponentially‘ is a case in point – it gets used for something that keeps getting bigger, regardless of how exponential it really is.  So, while ‘nanotechnology’ is a good word to […]

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When inifinity isn’t infinite

I’ve been having some discussion with a collaborator in Sydney regarding a numerical model that we are developing. It concerns the response of the brain to pulses of magnetic field, but for the purposes of this blog entry, that is immaterial. One thing that we’ve been grappling with is ‘dealing with infinity’. Basically, in physical […]

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Static electricity

Static electricity is, above all, fun, but it also can be annoying at times. I was at a conference in Queenstown last week, and was haunted by static everywhere I went. I’m guessing that atmospheric conditions were pretty dry, meaning that electric charge didn’t leak away quickly. When you know that you are going to […]

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