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Everyday science

Everyday science

Physics versus superheroes, a cosmic landscape and a dress inspired by LIGO

04 Mar 2016 Hamish Johnston
A photograph of the Cosmic Multiverse

By Hamish Johnston

What to do with an abandoned mine? “Turn it into a neutrino and dark-matter detector” is probably what most physicists would say. But we have lots of those already, so how about “A cosmic landscape worthy of the ancients”? That’s how the artist Charles Jencks describes the Crawick Multiverse, which is located in a former open-cast coal mine in the Scottish countryside about 50 miles south of Glasgow. The “striking landscape of distinctive landforms” includes two mounds representing the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies and a Comet Walk that uses standing stones to emulate a comet’s tail. If the photograh above is any indication, it looks like a lovely day out.

I think it’s safe to say that the physics community has had a long and sometimes fraught relationship with superheroes. Many physicists grew up reading comics and science fiction, and remain avid fans of Wonder Woman, Superman and company. However, our understanding of concepts such as conservation of energy means that sometimes we find it difficult to suspend our disbelief regarding certain superpowers.

There’s a nice discussion going on at askreddit about the question “What superpower is ruined the most by real world physics?” One popular theme is the vexing issue of how a superhero can break the rules of physics selectively. Superman, for example, defies gravity by flying through the air but doesn’t absentmindedly float away when assuming his Clark Kent persona.

StrawberryR speculates “I always imagined that superpowers came with ‘secondary powers’ that, on their own, wouldn’t mean much, but also meant that they allowed the superpowers to function in the ideal manner”. The discussion thread also has lots of links to others who have pondered these questions, including the physicist James Kakalios author of The Physics of Superheroes.

Is your wardrobe crying out for a physics-related dress? Then the folks at Shenova have just the garment for you. The fashion house has unveiled a dress based on the first-ever detection of a gravitational wave, which was made by LIGO just three weeks ago. If LIGO doesn’t take your fancy, check out Shenova’s Women in STEM collection for dresses inspired by the Fibonacci sequence, the surface of Jupiter and more.

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