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An Ideal Polling Booth?

Have you ever thought about the design process behind a polling booth? If you haven’t, it’s completely understandable since most polling booths are not very sophisticated or aesthetically appealing. Then again, there’s only one requirement: to protect the privacy of the voter, and this can be done simply with curtains. When I tried to find the history of the architectural design behind polling booths and how they’ve changed with the addition of new voting technology, I couldn’t find anything. Even with Google. I couldn’t even find anything about famous polling booths. The closest site I could find to the history of polling booths discusses the mechanics behind how voting data has been collected (e.g. paper ballots, mechanical level machines, etc.)The Internet cares more about the nearest polling booth than the actual design behind the booth. Then again, the designs aren’t usually memorable. Can you remember what the last booth you… Read More

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

How Harvard women cut the keys to the Universe

“I’ll bet you that my HOUSEKEEPER can do a better job!” This – or something like this – was apparently the line yelled at a male assistant by Edward Pickering, head of the Harvard Observatory, in 1877. No one knows what blunder sparked the outburst, though we can bet that it was a whopper, given that women weren’t allowed even to operate a telescope at the time. But we do know that Pickering made good on his bet – first hiring his housekeeper, and then many other women, to measure the brightness of stars – and that winning it would prove to be probably his greatest contribution to science. Two of “Pickering’s harem” would devise entire new and efficient ways to classify the stars, while a third – Henrietta Leavitt – would do nothing less than revolutionize the way humans measured and understood their universe. (Edwin Hubble would simply use… Read More

The “Coolest” Way to Make Ice Cream

What is the secret to delicious and quick homemade ice cream? Liquid nitrogen. Don’t believe me? Stop by the Cambridge Public Library between noon and 4pm on Saturday April 24–the Science Carnival is hosting an event called “Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Making!” where YOU not only get to witness the amazing spectacle of making liquid nitrogen ice cream, but also get to consume the delicious final product. It’s a pretty cool looking process. Here’s a photo from the first time I made liquid nitrogen ice cream: Nitrogen is readily found in our atmosphere, but only in its gaseous state (incidentally, nitrogen gas makes up 70% of our atmosphere). Liquid nitrogen, on the other hands, does not occur naturally on Earth. Liquid nitrogen only exists under super-cold conditions. I’m talking -321°F cold, way colder than any place on Earth. By comparison, room temperature is around 70°F, and the coldest recorded air… Read More

Famous Scientists in Five Minutes

In what ways do our friends influence us? How do our minds think about other people’s minds? Where is the universe from – did it just come from nothing? They’re big questions, certainly. They can’t exactly be figured out in an afternoon. But the Cambridge Science Festival is holding an event called “Big Ideas for Busy People” where these questions, and more, will start being answered. In Big Ideas for Busy People, top scientists will talk about these ideas in the context of their own research at an evening event preceding the start of the Festival. Ten leading researchers from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will present their work in precisely five minutes each, with five minutes available for questions from the audience. Ever wanted to know what will power cars in the next ten years? To get an idea of the event, one of the speakers is… 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

Lunch With a Laureate: Dr. Eric Chivian

The rich intellectual environment of Cambridge has so many Nobel Laureates, and soon you’ll have the unique opportunity to meet one (or more) of them! Next month, from Monday, April 26 through Friday, April 30, is the Cambridge Science Festival’s week-long Lunch With a Laureate series, and the MIT Museum will host free daily lunchtime discussions with Nobel Laureates from 12-1 pm. Thursday’s lunch will be with Dr. Eric Chivian, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry who co-founded the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for its efforts to prevent nuclear war. In addition to his attempts to prevent nuclear warfare, Chivian founded Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment to increase awareness of environmental change and its effects on people. The Center champions the idea that people are an essential part of the environment… Read More