Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Engineer's Pulse 2012 Year in Review

With the year coming to a close, I'd like to thank my growing number of readers for joining me here during this, the second full year of operation of this blog. 

Longtime readers may have noticed the gradual increase in what can be described as educational content.  Indeed, my favourite aspect of the blog is how the "For Physics Students" page is beginning to get filled up with content.  This site, which began as a place for me to put some science and technology ideas into words, has become an educational resource that I can refer my physics students to.

Monday, December 17, 2012

I'm Starting to Like Chemistry... But Only a Bit

Sir Ernest Rutherford's most enduring quote is: "In science there is only physics; all the rest is stamp collecting."  This may appear bizarre given Rutherford's numerous contributions to the field of chemistry, including his discovery of the tiny nucleus that resides within every atom.  The statement, as I understand it, is less of an insult to chemistry, and more of a declaration of physics as the fundamental branch of science.  Physics lay atop the hierarchy, its laws governing all.  This does not mean that chemistry is useless; it merely asserts that molecular behaviour, for example, obeys the laws of physics (if not, the laws of physics are incorrect).

The usefulness of chemistry is that it conglomerates a lot of physics into one step.  For example, the occurrences during a chemical reaction involve work done by the electromagnetic force, but it is not necessary to analyze such forces in order to predict the outcome of such phenomena.  Making use of trends within the periodic table allows the physics to take place behind the scenes, and saves much time.  One can study the periodic table without regard to why the elements exist as they do (quantum mechanics) and how particular atoms come to be (nuclear physics).  Indeed, stamp collecting is a suitable analogy for the discovery of the elements; like anything else, it is exciting if you think it is.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

NASA Aims for Faster than Light Space Travel

Perhaps you have heard that NASA has recently set its sights on building a spacecraft that can traverse space at a rate greater than 300,000 km/s - the speed of light.  The final product may well arrive a century from now, but at first glance, the very prospect of a spacecraft exceeding the speed of light seems to violate special relativity.  One of the first things we learn when studying relativistic physics is that 300,000 km/s is a cosmic speed limit.

Before investigating this apparent violation of physical law, let us examine what a faster than light speed spacecraft really means in the context of current space travel standards.