Saturday, July 24, 2010

On the Death of Karl Schwarzschild

Every once in a while, in the study of science, one comes across biographical snippets that momentarily breathe life into names that otherwise serve as shorthand for equations and eras.  As an obvious effect of the selection bias involved with including this superfluous information in technical books, they are bound to be pretty interesting.  Such stories range from the hilarious antics of Feynman [1] or Fermi [2], to the heartbreaking stories of Boltzmann and Oppenheimer, and even to the surprisingly scandalous life of Erwin Schrödinger.  But my all time favorite of all these historical "fun facts" is that of the man who provided the first exact solution to the Einstein field equations while fighting in the First World War:  Karl Schwarzschild (pictured left impersonating a surprised walrus [3]).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Something Bugging Me

Apparently July is a quiet month here at the Virtuosi.  We're busy with research, travel, vacation, etc.  I, myself, have been busy with only a few of those things, though I've also been studying for my qualifying exam, which is coming up in less than a month.  However, that's not the question before us today.  Today I'd like to think about the density of bugs in the air.  I was walking outside this past weekend, there was a fierce wind blowing, and twice in five minutes a bug hit my ear.  That seemed like a lot.  But for 1 hour of previous walking no bugs hit my ear.  How many bugs would there have to be per cubic meter of air to achieve that rate?

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Here at the Virtuosi, we're concerned. We are concerned that perhaps the world is really not ready for a zombie apocalypse. You know, the kind of zombie apocalypse that you may have seen in such classics as "Night of the Living Dead", "Shaun of the Dead", or perhaps the even more recent "Zombieland" (sweet cameo by the way). The kind of zombpocalypse that could leave major cities void of life and the country plagued with the undead.

Well, Alemi and I were curious as to how likely such a pandemic was to occur and what it would look like in the simplest of models. In typical Virtuosi fashion, we threw some physics at it and this is what we came up with.

The Impossibility of Why

So I think we've all been rather busy here.  Hence the lack of posts.  I'm going to try to keep this one short but sweet.  A lot of people think that physics tells us why things happen.  Why is the sky blue?  Why does the earth orbit the sun?  Why does copper transmit electricity so well?  These all seem like perfectly reasonable questions to ask.  Questions that we, as physicists can answer.  Yet, I entitled this post the impossibility of why.

In general, questions about why are not good questions for physicists   More accurately we answer questions about how.  Or what.  What phenomena causes use to see the sky as blue?  What forces cause the earth to orbit the sun?  How does copper transmit electricity so well?  In general, we can't answer a question of why.