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From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"Nuclear Power"

Written by Paul Sutter on Friday, 23 June 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Deep space is a cold, empty, and lonely place. This makes it difficult for exploratory missions to the outer planets of the solar system. Within the asteroid belt - and Jupiter too if you play your cards right - solar panels provide enough electricity to power your sensors, communications gear, and computers.

But out at Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, or old forsaken Pluto, sun power is hard to come by. For those missions, space agencies turn to nuclear power. Specifically, a lump of some radioactive element stuck at the end of a long tube. The element decays, generating heat. But how to turn that heat into electricity?

The answer comes in the form of the thermoelectric effect. If you have two different metals glued together and heat them up, one will warm up in a slightly different way than the other, depending on the atomic properties of their elements.

So you've got one metal with hustling and bustling electrons, and another with more quiet participants. Like a party at your neighbor's, eventually the crowds start to migrate, looking for room to move. And electrons on the move = electricity.

"It's Time for Time Crystals"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 19 June 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

So, time crystals. They cropped up in the news a couple months ago, and I'm just now getting around to talking about them. Despite their horrendous name - implying that they might have something to do with healing powers, energy fields, talking to your deceased relatives, or who knows what nonsense - they're perfectly reasonable physics objects.

A "normal" crystal is a pattern that repeats in space. A time crystal is a pattern that repeats in time. While we have lots of things that repeat in time (e.g., clocks), what makes time crystals special is that they do it in the minimum-energy state of the system, meaning they could do it forever.

While that sounds like some sort of perpetual motion device, it's impossible to pull energy out of the system, so don't expect these to power your smartphones anytime soon. Still, that didn't stop some press outlets from writing all-caps headlines about time crystals rewriting known physics, revolutionizing our understanding of time, or even shining a light on dark energy.

The verdict: time crystals are interesting. But that's it.

"Send Me Scripts"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 12 June 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

One of my most important responsibilities at COSI is to ensure the correctness of our presented science, from descriptions on exhibits to scripts for shows. Granted, a large fraction of the material COSI presents to the public is not in my specific domain - they don't typically hand out Ph.D.'s in "All the Science" - but that's where my connections back to OSU come in handy. If something crops up beyond my expertise, then a quick call to campus can easily resolve the issue.

So with all that in mind, I encourage all COSI team members to send me scripts. Develop a new show? Send the script. Create a new outreach demo? Send the script. Have a question about a floor cart activity? Send the script.

I hope you get the point by now: send the script!

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