From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"Calling all Experts"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 22 January 2018. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

There's a lot of expertise within the walls of COSI. Educational experience, life experience, professional experience. Things you were taught, things you learned on your own. Things you're still working on. With this many people in the COSI team, there's a lot of raw knowledge locked up in your brains.

And it's time to share!

It's easy. Send me a short (2-3 paragraph) writeup describing some interesting bit of science and I'll include it in future editions for the whole team to enjoy.

That's it. See, I told you it was easy.

"Supercool"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 15 January 2018. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

The recent below-freezing temperatures, while not the most pleasant to experience, do give us opportunities to explore some pretty interesting physics. One of my favorites is the phenomenon of supercooling a liquid.

We're used to the idea of dropping the temperature of water beneath its freezing point and it becoming ice. Normal routine so far. But if the water is especially pure then it can be cooled far lower while still maintaining is liquidy state. This is because phase transitions, when a material completely changes character, need a starting place to get the party going.

This starting point has a name, of course: the nucleation point. A tiny imperfection, like a mineral or a speck of dust, allows the water molecules to cling to something and start lining up in the familiar regimented order of a solid. Without that impurity water can stay as water.

But once the impurity is introduced the phase transition takes place as rapidly as it can (because the water is super cold) and before you know it you have a block of ice.

"An Adventurous 2017"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 08 January 2018. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

As the holiday festivities wind down and us in the northern hemisphere settle in for a few more months of pointing uncomfortably away from the sun, it's a good time to reflect on the scientific journey we've had in the past year. Perhaps most interesting was that of the most notable achievements and discoveries made in astronomy last year, almost all were surprises.

A family of Earth-sized exoplanets around a nearby red dwarf star; the serendipitous observation of colliding neutron stars using both gravitational waves and the more familiar electromagnetic ones; the brief encounter with an asteroid of definite interstellar origins. All unexpected, and all significant.

But then there was the Great American Eclipse. Astronomers have been able to predict solar eclipses with to-the-minute accuracy since 1715, so we pretty much knew that one was coming. And to be perfectly honest, I count August 21st as the most significant scientific moment of the year. While I personally didn't get to see totality due to an unfortunately placed cloud over Nashville, hundreds of millions of across the US, Canada, and Mexico got to enjoy at least some solar coverage.

For a brief moment, it seemed as if everyone's eyes looked skywards and all thoughts turned astronomical.

And then it was back to business as usual, as usual.

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