We like to think we are special and we live on the only planet. But astronomers have recently discovered thousands of weird and wonderful planets orbiting other stars – there may be billions more.
But Earth is still the most amazing planet – the reasons why will surprise you.
If an alien were to visit, they would be astounded. Earth is shrouded in a corrosive and unstable gas, oxygen. Water regularly falls from the sky in liquid and even solid form (rocks falling from the sky?!).
And there are bizarre organisms covering the land that are green: logically, plants should be purple!
Dr Phil’s songs and stories will take you on a trip around the cosmos and reveal the surprising things that make our world special.
An uplifting show that will thrill you, entertain you and wow you.
Dr Phil is a physicist, entertainer, pianist and singer. He’s performed shows in Science shows and festivals around the world including Glasgow, Sydney, and London. By day he’s a science writer for Cosmos Magazine, New Scientist, Australian Geographic and more, and was selected for the 2018 Anthology of Best Australian Science Writing.
Opening a bottle of champagne not only signifies the start of a celebration, but also uncorks a swathe of sophisticated physics phenomena that contribute to the special appeal of bubbly.
Just as the pop of a cork marks a change in mood, it also marks a sudden change for the champagne. Pressure that has been building for months during the fermentation process is quickly released and suddenly things are out of equilibrium. What makes champagne fun are the dynamic processes that bring the system back into balance – pops, bubbles and fizz.
But where did the pressure come from in the first place? The answer is micro-farts. The yeast introduced by the winemaker feeds on sugar in the wine, using its energy to power its life, and then ejects its waste: carbon dioxide.
In each bottle of sparkling wine, yeast microbes produce more than 10 grams of this gas. That equates, in the confines of the sealed bottle, to a pressure about three times that found inside a car tyre. Under these conditions most of the carbon dioxide dissolves in the wine.
As the cork is loosened the pressure of the gas in the bottle pushes it out. Cork speeds can reach more than 50 kilometres per hour, says Gérard Liger-Belair from University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France.
Liger-Belair has made a career of studying the physics of bubbly; for him a glass of champagne is “a fantastic playground”, although he insists he does not drink his experimental samples.
Instead, he enjoys a glass of champagne with laser tomography, infrared imaging, high-speed cameras and mathematical models.
His measurements show the speed of the cork depends on the temperature of the wine. The carbon dioxide is much less soluble at higher temperatures, which leads to a higher pressure inside the bottle and thus a faster launch speed.
At the perfect drinking temperature of eight to 10 degrees Celsius the corks pops out at around 40 kilometres per hour. His experiments extend only to 20 degrees Celsius, at which the speed is in the low fifties. Presumably, champagne warmer than that is inconceivable in France.
In the moments after the it pops, fleeting wisps of fog appear – another dynamic phenomenon. The sudden five-fold drop in the pressure of the gas in the neck of the bottle causes a temperature decrease of around 80 degrees Celsius. As it momentarily dips below minus-70, traces of water and alcohol in the gas condense into an evanescent mist that quickly evaporates as the gas approaches room temperature.
Next the fizz begins, as the carbon dioxide dissolved in the wine starts to escape. If one were to let the contents of the bottle go absolutely flat, it would take more than 10 hours and involve the release of more than six litres of gas.
A bad pour can let the fizz out too quickly, says Liger-Belair. He recommends a gentle stream into a tilted glass to preserve bubbles. Pouring into the middle of a vertical flute will stir up the wine and release too much carbon dioxide immediately.
Even with such precautions, there is an initial rush of bubbles. University of Tokyo physicist Hiroshi Watanabe was part of a team that used supercomputers to model how quickly bubbles of different sizes form in liquids, and how the different sizes interact.
“After many bubbles appear at the moment of uncorking a champagne [bottle], the population of bubbles starts to decrease,” Watanabe said in an interview with Smithsonian.com.
“Larger bubbles become larger by eating smaller bubbles, and finally only one bubble will survive.”
Bubbles are a vital part of the taste of champagne, say researchers from the Sorbonne University in Paris, France. As they burst, they throw droplets of wine into the air above the surface and enhance the drinking experience.
The scientists identified two mechanisms that produce droplets. First, as the surface of the bubble ruptures, it throws up dollops 50 times smaller than the radius of a hair. Then as the rounded bubble shape collapses, it sends up a jet of up to 10 slightly larger droplets.
“The tiny droplets ejected during bursting are crucial for champagne tasting as their evaporation highly contribute to the diffusion of wine aroma in air,” said Elisabeth Ghabache and her colleagues in a paper in the journal Physics of Fluids.
There’s been much debate about how champagne should be served. Some insist on a narrow flute, while others prefer a wide coupe.
Liger-Belair does not recommend the coupe, despite its claim to fame as being modelled on the left breast of French queen Marie Antoinette (or Napoleon’s wife Josephine, or model Kate Moss).
His gas chromatography and infrared images showed that flutes funnelled the aroma-carrying carbon dioxide more effectively into the headspace above the glass where the drinker can inhale it. But carbon dioxide’s acidic nature is actually an irritant if the concentration is too high, so Liger-Belair recommends the middle ground, a tulip shaped wine glass.
Exactly how the flavours interact with the nose and taste buds is a very individual thing. So the scientific thing to do – even if you don’t have infrared cameras and a gas chromatography set up – is to emulate Liger-Belair at your next celebration and perform your own experiments, one glass at a time.
Tom Lehrer’s Elements Song is 150 years out of date – the science and the music (The Major General’s Song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance) are both from late 1800s.
So it’s time for an update, to the tune of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Video coming soon… email me if you want to hear it live!
SMELLS LIKE STANDARD MODEL
A memory for elements, I’ll leave that for the elephants
A 4×4 explains it all, matter, forces, light as well.
hydrogen , helium, lithium, they’re all done
Atom, proton, neutron they’re all gone.
Hello boson, hello lepton, Hello quarks in 3 rows-
Drop the table, Mr Lehrer, Standard model it’s much clearer
The colliders smash up atoms, matter’s only quarks and leptons,
like neutrinoes yeah neutrinoes ….
Quarks in threes are nucleons, But you can’t get a quark alone
The quarks in me are downs and ups, electrons, small, can’t break em up,
Quark charge, one third and sometimes two
Baryon three quarks, meson only two
Electrons’re leptons, neutrinos too, and there are two more rows-
There’s an up quark and a down one,
strange and charm quarks, Top and butt quarks.
Tau & muons are fat electrons, and neutrinos come in three rows
Yeah neutrinos, mu neutrinos, tau neutrinos,
Antimatter, it’s no sin, just flip the charge and quantum spin
A photon’s light, waves of course, & carries electromagnetic force
Magnetic fields’re no magic trick, it’s just a boson swapping quick.
They’re virtual, too short to see. They bind the quarks in me-
Interactions, they’re all bosons, ‘lectromagnets are just photons,
there’s a strong one, it’s a gluon, weak force W and Z bosons.
In Geneva, found a big one, It’s not special, God’s no boson
An experiment with a cloud of ultracold atoms squashed into a quantum pancake has revealed never-before seen quantum effects that could lead to more efficient electronics, including high temperature superconductors.
A team at Swinburne University in Australia observed a quantum anomaly in lithium-6 gas cooled to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero and squashed between two laser beams.
“We’re seeing quantum mechanics that’s visible on a macroscopic scale – a large collection of tens of thousands of atoms all behaving quantum mechanically,” says project leader Chris Vale, a researcher at Swinburne’s Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies.
The team’s work is published in the journal Physical Review Letters, concurrently with that of a team from Heidelberg in Germany which reported similar results.
The Australian team used laser beams focused into a flat plane to create a pancake of lithium-6 gas with a radius of 200 microns and the thickness of a single atom – around 500 nanometers. Then the researchers compressed the gas slightly with a magnetic field, to set it vibrating. Shining another laser from below, they measured the vibration frequency of the gas cloud by watching the shadow of the cloud on a camera.
The frequency of this radial vibration, known as a breathing mode, gave the telltale sign of a quantum anomaly: it vibrated 2.5% faster than the classical model predicted.
Symmetry in the classical model dictates that gas properties such as pressure and density should scale in a straightforward way as the size of the gas cloud oscillates. But the full quantum analysis predicts a higher frequency: the classical theory breaks down because of strong interactions between the gas particles.
To further test the model, the scientists jammed more atoms between the laser beams, and turned the pancake from a two-dimensional crepe into a fatter flapjack. Its three-dimensional nature conformed to the classical model.
Vale says the interactions between the gas particles in the quantum crepe was mid-way between two well-known states of matter: Bose-Einstein condensates, in which atoms in a gas interact strongly and exhibit uniform quantum behaviour, and low temperature superconductivity, in which electrons in a material form weakly-bound pairs known as Cooper pairs that can carry electricity through a material with no energy loss.
“There’s a continuous crossover between these two limits, what happens in the middle is not well understood,” he says
“There’s a lot of interesting physics there. For example, this is where we find the highest superfluid transition temperatures, in the intermediate zone where the binding energy of the fermion pairs is similar to the natural energy scale for the system, the Fermi energy.”
By studying a two-dimensional system, Vale hopes to spark developments of new materials for the electronics industry, for example topological insulators or high-temperature superconductors.
In the current highest-temperature superconductors, ceramics based on copper oxide, the superconducting current is carried in two-dimensional layers within the material – although exactly how the electrons pair up is not fully understood.
The power of the experiments at Swinburne is their simplicity, says Vale – the microscopic properties of the lithium atoms and their interactions are precisely known, which is not always possible in more complex materials such as solids.
“In a sense, our cold atoms are acting as a quantum simulator, where we can test models of many-body physics with precisely known inputs that can be difficult to pin down in other materials,” he says.