Monthly Archives: August 2010

Q: How do surge protectors work?

Physicist: To control power in a house or an outlet you’d generally use a fuse.  But fuses are slow, they need time to heat up.  A surge (or the faster “spike”) happen too fast, so reacting to a surge is … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Engineering, Physics | 2 Comments

Relativity and Quantum Mechanics: the elevator pitch

Physicist: A woman on the subway, about two stations away from her stop, asked us “what are relativity and quantum mechanics?” So, this is a two-stop elevator pitch for the two most pivotal sciences since slicedbreadology. Relativity: Speed is just … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Quantum Theory, Relativity | 3 Comments

Q: Why are orbits elliptical? Why is the Sun in one focus, and what’s in the other?

Physicist: This question always bothered me too.  The short answer is: it falls out of the math.  Specifically, the math of first year physics and second year calculus.  The fact that the Sun is in one focus is just one … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Astronomy, Physics | 22 Comments

Q: What would happen if everyone in the world jumped at the same time?

Physicist: Sounds like a party! It would create a spherical wave that would descend through the Earth, focus at the core, and then expand again hitting the entire surface again, at more or less the same time, a little under … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Physics | 4 Comments

Q: How can electrons “jump” between places without covering the intervening distance?

Physicist: Frequently in quantum mechanics you’ll find that particles are restricted to only a certain set of states or locations, and yet somehow they can move from one to the next. It’s like moving between islands without crossing any water. … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Physics, Quantum Theory | 13 Comments

Q: Why do we only see one rainbow at a time?

Physicist: A rainbow is an angle-dependent illusion.  They don’t actually exist anywhere, they just appear to.  Since they can only exist at a particular angle (with respect to you and the Sun), you can never see them anywhere else in … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Physics | 14 Comments