Monday, December 19, 2011

Nerdy Fun for the Holidays!

Since I am not sure that I will be posting again before the end of the year (I hope so, but I also have the feeling that you will be busy with your own holiday events), I wanted to make this a fun post that will make you smile.

Happy Helium Holidays

The APS Physics Buzz Blog team performed this wonderful rendition of Carol of the Bells using helium or sulfur hexafluoride to modify their voices and a harmonious, hilarious way!  Many people are familiar with the fact that if you inhale helium your voice becomes much higher pitched.  This is because the helium gas is so much lighter than air, it allows your vocal cords to vibrate at a higher frequency producing the high pitch.  Sulfur hexafluoride is sometimes known as the anti-helium since it is so much heavier than helium, if causes your vocal cords to vibrate much slower producing a deep, low pitch.

The beginning of this video features Becky Thompson-Flagg who is the Head of Public Outreach for the APS and is also the model for the Spectra superhero character comic books (read here about that).  She explains the physics behind the voice changes and the mild peril involved in this performance.  Then the concert begins :)

Interactive Relativity Tutorial - Al's Relativistic Adventures

Al's Relativistic Adventures is an animated tutorial on special relativity.  While this is appropriate for middle school students, I found the lessons to be very accurate and the authors are talented at communicating complicated concepts in easy to understand ways (I even learned how to better communicate some concepts from working through this activity).  Once you are done, you are even awarded a certificate - I printed mine out and hung it in my office :)

Play the GRB Lottery

Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) are the most luminous events to be observed in the Universe and their origins, other than that they are produce from extraordinary energetic events), are still not certain.  They play a vital role to LIGO since whatever produces them could have produced gravitational waves and observe these gravitational waves may uncover the cause of these explosions.

There are several satellites currently in orbit around the Earth detecting these GRBs.  One of these is the Swift satellite and they have a fun GRB Lottery to play on their website (free to play, of course).  You are presented a map of the sky that has locations of past detected GRBs (notice that there is no area on the sky that is favored over another so any guess is really as good as another).  You then click on an area that you would like to select as your own and if you are the closest guess to a GRB within the two weeks, you win!  "What do you win?" you say...  Well, you get a nifty certificate commemorating your good fortune and the Swift outreach staff will send you a small gift (I got a nice package of education materials including a poster).

I played the GRB Lottery once and I won!  I decided that I would retire from my glorious reign so that the rest of you can have a chance!  :P  Below is the certificate I earned which is hanging proudly in my office:

Physics Carols

This webpage ( has an amazing collection of covers to well known songs with physics lyrics.  They even have a special page of physics related carols!  I have to admit to getting lost on the page and chuckling to myself (and feeling even more nerdy than usual)!

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