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Quantum Confusion

I’m going to let you in on a secret that I’ve learned as an undergraduate physicist at MIT. No one understands quantum mechanics. That seems odd, considering that most all of modern technology relies on it. Sure, physicists do the calculations (and do them spectacularly), but turning the crank on a machine doesn’t tell you why it does what it does. The problem is, science is really good at answering the question of “what happens,” but not so skilled at “why it does.” This leads physicists to uncomfortable situations when trying to tell people what in the blazes they’re talking about. The mathematical foundations of quantum physics are rock solid; indeed they are the most statistically accurate theory we’ve ever created when it comes to testing predictions. The odd part is, the math involved is incredibly different then anything we had used before. A series of rules, called “axioms,” are… Read More

Fireflies – Your Backyard Beacons

While sitting on the porch of a dainty New England cottage, you spot a Lampyridae and notice its bioluminescent abdomen. In other words, you’ve sighted a firefly! You sit back and marvel at the simple beauty of its illuminated flight. Feeling more adventurous, you might attempt to capture the blinking beetles in a jar. Whatever your reaction, you have rediscovered the endless entertainment of fireflies. Why not experience this entertainment all day as scientists and bug lovers come together at the Boston Museum of Science for Firefly Day? This day-long event, taking place on Saturday April 24th, will feature all things firefly. An entire day devoted to fireflies––sounds like a short day. After all, they are just beetles who fly around flashing at other beetles, right? Wrong! They are the capstone of natural selection, the product of evolutionary magnificence concentrated into one single blinking bug butt. These critters have evolved… Read More

The Light Fantastic: An Illustrated History of Laser Development

Hello, everybody! Welcome to the Cambridge Science Festival blog. My name is Amali, and this is the first part of a three-part Tuesday series about LASERS. I’m writing about lasers for two reasons: firstly because I like lasers, and secondly because the Cambridge Science Festival opens with a laser show on Saturday, April 24. I want you to be ready. This week’s topic: milestones in laser development. The answer’s under the cut… In the fifty years since Theodore Maiman’s first pulse of light, lasers have become ubiquitous. They read DVDs and scan barcodes. They’re in your pocket laser pointer. And on April 24, they’ll be lighting up the room at the Cambridge Science Festival’s laser show. Mark your calendars! What: Cambridge Science Festival Laser Show When: Saturday, April 24, Noon Where: Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway. Free shuttles run from the Harvard Square Red Line T stop. Next week: how… Read More