Today is one of those celebratory days important only to the biggest nerds: Pi Day. Yes, that’s right, happy 3.14, or 22/7, or however you prefer to approximate it.

Pi is of course a mathematical concept, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, but it is used quite frequently in physics as well, so we’ll help our mathematician friends celebrate today.

Do you need some geeky swag? Here’s your link. Celebrate your geekiness, and embrace your inner nerd. You know you want to, so don’t fight it.

A quick extra point for anyone on Monday who tells me a way to measure pi besides using a ruler and a circle.

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I found an interesting blog post today, explaining and talking about the physics of a treadmill, and specifically why it takes more energy (and therefore you burn more calories) if it’s inclined rather than flat. An interesting read!

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This is a very cool simulation: build your own solar system. Choose the number of bodies, set the mass and initial position and velocity of each, and see what happens when you let it go. It’s almost endlessly entertaining, as both Mr. Wahlgren and Mr. Strahler can tell you.

If you find an interesting scenario, please post it in the comments for others to try out.

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There is tremendous uproar in the media these days over the impact that we humans have over the environment. Some claim that the planet is getting warmer as a result of human activities, some claim that the planet is getting warmer as part of a natural process, and some claim that it’s not getting warmer at all.

I’d like to start a discussion about this topic, so add your comments with your opinion. Tell us what you think is going on, and your reasons for thinking it. Feel free to comment on others’ replies as well, but remember keep it civil and intelligent.

There are no penalties for sharing your opinion, so any comment you post here will have no impact on your grade. I might offer some comments on your comments, but I won’t post my opinion until we have a good discussion going on here.

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As we resume classes after February vacation, the Winter Olympics in Vancouver enters the second week of competition. So many of the competitive events involve quite a bit of science (like curling), and the National Science Foundation has produced a series of video explaining some of the science involved.

This video offers an explanation of some of the physics of figure skating, focusing on 17-year old Rachael Flatt. She is an AP Physics student in Colorado who is the current national champion and is vying for a gold medal.

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I hope everyone has been enjoying the week off, and is ready to get back to work on Monday.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time off watching the Olympics, and one of the most covered sports on TV here in the U.S. is curling. It doesn’t seem to have much of a following in non-Olympics times (I mean seriously, do you know anyone who does this? Oh wait, I do. Nevermind.), and I don’t remember this much coverage the last time around, but I’ve been able to watch about two games a day.

As I’ve been watching all this curling, I’ve been thinking about the physics of the sport, and apparently I’m not the only one. That link it to a blog post at Built on Facts, a blog written by a physics graduate student at the University of Texas. He has an interesting estimate of the coefficient of friction between the stones and the ice, and it’s well within the competence of FA’s physics classes. Or at least it should be, if you’ve been paying attention since September.

I was thinking more about the collisions between the stones, and it would be interesting to see an article about that aspect of the game.

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As promised, here is a link to the spring animation demonstrated in class. By adjusting the sliders, you can see the effects of changing the spring constant, gravity, friction, etc. It’s neat to play around with it.

I’ll offer three points of extra credit on the next homework assignment for the first of my honors students who is able to design an experiment and accurately measure the mass of the red, green, and gold weights.

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I showed this video to most (maybe all?) of my classes, but it never gets old. This is a trip through the known universe, starting in the Himalaya Mountains and going out as far as we have been able to observe.

The Known Universe

The cool thing here is that every planet, star, galaxy, and nebula is presented to scale and as currently located by astrophysicists, so it really is the known universe.

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In our physics classes we usually talk about things that are sizes we can comprehend: a ball, a block, a box, a vehicle. The realm of physics goes far beyond that though; particle physics deals with things on a very small scale (molecules and atoms), and astronomy and astrophysics with things on a very large scale (stars, galaxies, and the distances between them).

This nifty animation allows you to fly through the entire scale of the universe, from yoctometers (ym) to yottameters (Ym); that’s 10-24 to 1024 meters. Surprisingly, atoms are not as close to the small end as you might think; there are many things tinier than atoms. Some of those things are only theoretical and have never been observed, so we don’t know if they really exist.

Neat stuff though; enjoy your flight.

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In studying gravitation and Kepler’s Laws, we learn that the time it takes a planet to orbit the sun depends on the radius of its orbit; specifically T2 is proportional to r3. Saturn and Jupiter take longer than Earth’s 365 days to complete an orbit because they’re farther away; Mercury and Venus take less time because they’re closer.

This website will calculate your age on each planet in the solar system; just a fun little app to start off the semester. In case you were wondering, Wahlgren is only 44.6 days old on Venus, and won’t celebrate another birthday on Neptune until the year 2145 on Earth!

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