• A Better Alphabet

    I still retain the personal, anecdotal memory of my first encounter with the spelling of people. I was learning to read, and I got catmatpat. I got lotpotdot. But I did not get people. Why the o, and why the le instead of el? I had discovered the Latin alphabet’s historical irregularity (which may have contributed to my later focus on the regularity of natural laws studied by physics).

    Shavian is a better English alphabet created in the mid twentieth century by Kingsley Read for a competition funded by the will of Nobel-Prize-winning Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. In contrast to Latin’s 2 × 26 = 52 letters, Shavian’s 48 letters uniquely represent 48 English sounds. The letters can be drawn with single gestures and are rotations or reflections or compounds of companion letters. Often the shapes of the letters suggest their pronunciations; for example, most unvoiced letters are tall, and their voiced counterparts are deep. Different letter pronunciations can accommodate different English accents with the same spelling. Shavian has no capital letters, but a leading center dot denotes proper names.


    Swift examples
  • Chemical Black Hole Horizons and Light-Matter Interactions at the APS EGLS Spring Meeting

    I had a blast this weekend traveling with three Wooster students to the spring meeting of the Eastern Great Lakes section of the American Physical Society, at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan.  Two students (Junior Tali Lansing and Senior Kelsey McEwen) presented research there performed by them while at Wooster.  Tali presented her work done with professor Niklas Manz using a chemical wave system to model phenomena that occur near the event horizon of a black hole.  Kelsey, my senior independent study student, presented her work modeling the trajectory of small transparent particles illuminated by strong laser beams. Yohannes Abateneh also attended, and is making good progress on his own research extending Kelsey’s work, which I expect he may present at the next EGLS meeting this fall!  

    We snapped a group photo with some branches we found, while we were feeling in a goofy mood.

    A highlight of the meeting for me was seeing Wooster Physics alum Joseph Smith ’15, who is now a professor at Marietta College, receive a region-wide American Physical Society award: the Doc Brown young investigator award. Professor Smith brought four undergraduate presenters to the conference from Marietta!

    Our students also reported back to me with their own highlights:

    Tali:  I chose to attend the talks about biological, chemical, and medical physics. It was interesting to hear about all of the different research going on, but I was most interested in Mahsa Servati’s presentation. She discussed the importance of diagnosing every mutation that can be present in one GBM because it impacts the chemotherapy and radiation treatment plan.

    I appreciated meeting undergraduate students from all over our region. There was a great sense of community and support within our group.

    Kelsey:  I really liked the talk about lasers damaging dielectrics. The speaker explained it really well, so I understood what he was talking about despite knowing nothing about the subject.  [Note from Dr. Leary –  that was Prof. Smith ’15’s talk!]

    Yohannes: I mostly attended the Nuclear and Particle Physics talks. The first one was concerned with Deriving Doppler’s effect using Maxwell Equations by assuming a relative velocity between light and an observer. The second talk was concerned with correcting measurements made on the terms on the emission sources from the collision of nuclei material. Last from this section was concerned with correcting deviations between predictions made by the standard model and measurements in hadronic B decays. I wasn’t really able to follow much of this talk since I haven’t taken particle physics. The last talk I attended was concerned with a condensed matter representation of the solar core. It was concerned with trying to explain things like the perihelion precession through a model of a lattice structure that was asymmetric.

    If you are a Wooster student reading this and are interested in attending a future physics conference, just reach out to us and we will work to make it happen!

  • Measuring the Solar System

    Thousands of years ago, ancient astronomers like Aristarchus and Eratosthenes combined careful observations with simple mathematics to measure the solar system, especially the diameters D of Earth, Luna (Earth’s moon), Sol (Earth’s star, the sun), and the radii r of their orbits. You too can do this, but it helps to observe an eclipse or two.

    Step 1: Diameter of Earth

    Measure how shadow lengths vary with latitude. No need to pace the distance between Alexandria and Syene, just use your favorite map software! Assume Sol is far from Earth (and check in Step 3), so Sol’s rays are nearly parallel.

    Step 2:  Distance to Luna

    Measure the duration of a lunar eclipse.

    Step 3:  Distance to Sol

    Measure the angle  between Sol and Luna at first quarter moon, when Luna appears to be ahead of Earth in its orbit, like a signpost to a car on a road. This is the most difficult step, as the angle is nearly but not quite ninety degrees, but the result is the astronomical unit. (Alternately, measure the ratio of time Luna is crescent to gibbous.)

    Step 4:  Diameter of Luna

    Measure the time for Luna to enter Earth’s shadow during a lunar eclipse. Consistent with Step 3, again assume Earth is far from Sol, so Earth’s shadow is nearly uniform.

    Step 5:  Diameter of Sol

    Note that Sol and Luna have about the same apparent angular size (both subtending about half a degree). This is most spectacularly evident during a solar eclipse, where Luna just barely covers Sol — if you were ever fortunate enough to experience a solar eclipse.

  • Wooster’s Time Crystals

    Saturday, March 8, 2008. A heavy snow, one of the heaviest I remember, shuts down the city of Wooster. Streets are undriveable, so I walk to Taylor Hall, getting snow in my boots.

    Taylor is deserted, as the College has begun Spring Break, but like yesterday, Kelly and I work all afternoon and evening in the Physics Shop, me with wet socks. We’re leaving tomorrow, weather permitting, for the New Orleans American Physical Society meetingwhere Kelly will present her senior thesis research, but with just hours until our departure, and just days until her I.S. is due, the apparatus is still not working.

    Todd brings us sandwiches, which we eat for dinner in the empty Reading Room. Then, just after dinner, back in the shop, the apparatus works for the first time, just as in our computer simulations. But simulation is one thing, reality is another! With no time to celebrate, we video record the dynamics, and move upstairs to the intro physics lab. On one computer, Kelly steps through the video frame-by-frame recording the motion, while at another, I work on the APS poster, which we output with the Taylor large-format printer shortly before midnight.

    Next morning is sunny and white, a winter wonderland. The roads are plowed but still snowy. We cautiously drive to the airport and fly to New Orleans via Houston. Kelly’s poster presentation goes well, but I have a fever, sore throat, and stuffy nose. I blame the wet socks.

    Wooster Physics at the March 2008 APS meeting in New Orleans. Kelly is on the right, and I am next to her. Todd is on the left.

    Kelly’s work spawned three publications in refereed journals, two in the Physical Review and one in Chaos, involving many other undergraduates, as we gradually refined the apparatus over the next decade. The final version is on a shelf in my living room beside me as I write this 16 years later.

    We designed and constructed a mechanical array of bistable pendulums coupled one-way in a topological ring, so each element affected the next one, but not vice versa, simultaneously violating Newton’s third law of action and reaction, momentum conservation, and energy conservation. Nevertheless, we achieved this by powering the device with a constantly flowing fluid, first water and later air. Each element directed the fluid flow on the next element to rotate it from one stable state to the other.

    In this way, solitary waves or solitons of see-sawing elements propagated in one direction along the array, each soliton undoing what the previous one had done. Periodic boundaries enabled solitons to annihilate pairwise in arrays with an even number of elements, but solitons propagated indefinitely in arrays with an odd number of elements, where the oddness frustrated pairing and forbade a “ground state” of alternating elements. The frequency of motion depended continuously on the fluid speed and discretely on the number of elements.

    We called them one-way arrays, although today we’d probably call them time crystals, as they are not only periodic in space, but periodic in time, for as long as the constant fluid flow continues.

    3D printed final design after a decade of development. Wind blows down, solitons move right. Deflector of one element selectively shields the wing of the next, causing wind torque to rotate the next’s tail to the opposite (red) stopping rod. Periodic boundary element, shown in motion, is split into two (cyan) pieces connected coaxially via (gray) rod and (cyan) gears.

    REFERENCES (* indicates undergraduate coauthor)

    “Experimental observation of soliton propagation and annihilation in a hydromechanical array of one-way coupled oscillators”, J. F. Lindner, K. M. Patton*, P. M. Odenthal*, J. C. Gallagher*, B. J. Breen, Physical Review E, volume 78, pages 066604(1-5) (2008)

    “Electronic and mechanical realizations of one-way coupling in one and two dimensions”, B. J. Breen, A. B. Doud*, J. R. Grimm*, A. H. Tanasse*, S. J. Tanasse*, J F. Lindner, K. J. Maxted*, Physical Review E, volume 83, pages 037601(1-4) (2011)

    “A wind-powered one-way bistable medium with parity effects”, T. Rosenberger*, G. Schattgen*, M. King-Smith*, P. Shrestha*, K. J. Maxted*, J. F. Lindner, Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science, volume 27, pages 023114(1-5) (2017)

  • Venus’s Supercritical Ocean

    The pressure and temperature near the surface of Venus are so high that its carbon dioxide atmosphere is a global ocean of a remarkable state of matter, a supercritical fluid, which fills any container like a gas but is as dense as a liquid.

    I created a carbon dioxide pressure versus temperature phase diagram using Mathematica and its curated computable data. Phase transitions separate single-phase regions. Moving along the boiling-condensing curve from the triple point, the liquid and gas densities converge at the critical point, beyond which carbon dioxide can transition between liquid and gas without boiling or condensing! I added points representing the near-surface atmospheres of Earth and Venus, with the latter being in the supercritical region above both the critical temperature and pressure.

    Only the Soviet Union‘s Venera spacecraft have landed on Venus’s alien surface, and only between 1975 and 1982. Their cameras provided us our first and so far only glimpses of Venus from beneath its supercritical “ocean”.

    Carbon dioxide pressure versus temperature phase diagram, created in Mathematica. Carbon dioxide is a gas near Earth’s surface (blue dot) but is a supercritical fluid near Venus’s surface (white dot).

    At the bottom of a supercritical “ocean”, the surface of Venus (top) reconstructed by Don Mitchell based on Venera 14 panoramas (bottom) processed by Ted Stryk.
  • Percy & Ginny

    A chill went through the spaceflight community last week as NASA reported that it had lost contact with the Ingenuity Mars helicopter. Delivered to Mars underneath the Perseverance rover and intended as a 5-flight 30-sol tech demo, it had vastly exceeded expectations, including the first successful powered flight off Earth, a true Wright brothers moment, and more than two hours cumulative flying time in 72 flights over 1000 sols.

    Although Perseverance (nicknamed Percy) was able to reestablish communication with Ingenuity (nicknamed Ginny), NASA reports today that one of Ginny’s rotors is broken, and the first Mars helicopter will not fly again. Like the Apollo 11 lunar lander Eagle, Ginny carries a swatch from the original Wright flyer, and just last month the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum added one of Ginny’s prototypes to its collection.

    Flying Ingenuity helicopter photographs grounded Perseverance rover (left) and vice versa (right) -- on Mars! (NASA photos.)
    Flying Ingenuity helicopter photographs grounded Perseverance rover (left) and vice versa (right)
    — on Mars! (NASA photos.)

    Ginny and Percy selfie. (NASA photo.)
    Ginny and Percy selfie. (NASA photo.)
  • Summer of ’19

    Due to the pandemic, the summer of 2019 was regrettably and unexpectedly my last Wooster summer research program, but the team was amazing. Niklas Manz and I obtained Sherman-Fairchild funding to work with Margaret McGuire ’20, Yang (Fish) Yu ’21, and Chase Fuller ’19 to computationally study reaction-diffusion phenomena.  All three of their projects have now been published, with them as lead authors. Fish was lead on Disruption and Recovery, published in Physica A; Margaret was lead on Geographic Tongue, published in Chaos; and Chase was lead on Diffusion Diodes, published today in the International Journal of Unconventional Computing.

    Summer 2019 Sherman-Fairchlld scholars taking a break in the beautiful
    Summer 2019 Sherman-Fairchlld scholars taking a break in the beautiful Taylor 111 computational physics lab.

    With important later contributions by co-author Daniel Cohen-Cobos ’23, Chase used the Tyson-Fife model of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction to numerically investigate the propagation of reaction-diffusion waves through narrow, quasi-one-dimensional channels. He created “soft” obstacles where the inhibitor’s diffusion was larger than the activator’s diffusion, so the system exhibited unidirectional or one-way propagation – a diffusion diode. Furthermore, he discovered a nonlinear compensation relationship between higher activator diffusion (causing increased wave speed) and light illumination (causing decreased wave speed) that enables normal propagation. This effect should facilitate the creation of very energy efficient on-off switches for chemical computation circuits, where small changes in light levels cause the diffusion diodes to pass or block waves.

    Schematic time-space plots of periodic reaction diffusion waves with variable diffusion $D_v/D_u$ and illumination $\phi$ illustrate light switches. Leftward (red) and rightward (blue) waves are independent experiments. Left: Faint light increase creates a diode. Middle: Strong light pulse destroys the diode and creates a 2-way barrier. Right: Faint light decrease destroys a diode and creates a 2-way opening.
    Schematic time-space plots of periodic reaction diffusion waves with variable diffusion and illumination illustrate light switches. Leftward (red) and rightward (blue) waves are independent experiments. Left: Faint light increase creates a diode. Middle: Strong light pulse destroys the diode and creates a 2-way barrier. Right: Faint light decrease destroys a diode and creates a 2-way opening.

  • Chemistry Does General Relativity

    I hired Kiyomi from Hawai’i for our NSF REU summer program in spring 2020 amidst fears of the pandemic that eventually postponed the program two years. When she finally arrived in summer 2022, I had already retired from Wooster, where my last year was completely remote, classes via Teams, but several of those included Daniel. Despite the pandemic, I was fortunate to collaborate with both Daniel and Kiyomi — as well as colleagues in Chemical Physics, Physics, Astrophysics, and Computer Science — on an article just published in Frontiers in Physics. Based on Daniel’s senior thesis and Kiyomi’s summer research, the article is the very-Wooster, very-interdisciplinary Chemistry Does General Relativity: Reaction-Diffusion Waves Can Model Gravitational Lensing.

    Gravitational lensing is a general relativistic (GR) phenomenon where a massive object redirects light, deflecting, magnifying, and sometimes multiplying its source. In the research, we used the chemistry of Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BΖ) reaction-diffusion (RD) waves to model this astronomical effect in a table-top experiment. We began by experimentally passing BΖ RD waves through non-planar quasi-two-dimensional molds. We next reproduced the waveforms in computer simulations of planar RD waves with variable diffusion. We then varied the diffusion parameter so the effective wave speed of planar waves matched the GR predictions for light deflection near a massive object. We thereby recovered Einstein’s famous light deflection formula, as summarized by the figure below.

    Article summary. (a) General relativity predicts the observed gravitational deflection of light near stars with mass M . The deflection angle α depends on the impact parameter b, the perpendicular distance between the initial ray and the star’s center. (b) Experimental reaction-diffusion (RD) over spherical cap obstacles vets our (c) simulated RD over a plane with variable diffusion. (d) Planar RD with variable diffusion can match the effective light speed near a star or black hole and (e) well approximate the famous angle deflection relation α ~ M / b.
  • Magic Scroll

    When I bought my house, I knew I would soon need to replace its heat pump, which was almost 20 years old. Earlier this month, with my old pump laboring under a cold snap, I upgraded to a new version, which boasts a history of elegant inventions.

    Powered by electricity, heat pumps circulate a low-boiling-point hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant between two heat exchangers, one inside the house and one outside it, separated by a compressor and an expansion valve, cycling the refrigerant between liquid and gas phases. When the refrigerant flows one way, it evaporates in the inside heat exchanger, absorbing energy and cooling the interior (while it condenses in the outside heat exchanger, liberating energy). Alternately, when the refrigerant flows the other way, it condenses in the inside heat exchanger, liberating energy and heating the interior (while it evaporates in the outside heat exchanger, absorbing energy).

    The heart of my heat pump is its scroll compressor, invented by Léon Creux over a century ago, where one interleaved scroll orbits another, channeling and squeezing the injected fuel, as in the 2D animation below. What a wonderful and unexpected use of spiral curves! With less moving parts than a traditional reciprocating compressor, a scroll compressor can be more efficient, smoother, quieter, and more reliable.

    Scroll compressor intakes low pressure fluid (left), smoothly compresses it, and exhausts high pressure fluid (center). Rainbow colors suggest pressures, increasing from red to violet. (You may need to click to see the animation.)
    Scroll compressor intakes low pressure fluid (left), smoothly compresses it, and exhausts high pressure fluid (center). Rainbow colors suggest pressures, increasing from red to violet. (You may need to click to see the animation.)
  • All Engine(s) Running

    I asked Siri to wake me at 7:15 this morning so I could watch SpaceX’s second Integrated Flight Test of Super Heavy Starship, the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built. Unfortunately, my house suffered a rare power outage an hour or two earlier, so I found myself lying in bed watching the coverage on my iPhone.

    The sunrise launch was truly spectacular, a major improvement over the first test earlier this year, when multiple engines failed at launch. This morning, for the first time in any test, all 33 Raptor methalox engines ignited together and ran throughout the boost phase! With a thrill and a shiver, I recalled the excited “Voice of Apollo” Jack King announcing a good start to Apollo 11 with inspiring words that have reverberated throughout my life, “All engine(s) running” (without the “s”).

    All engines running! The largest and most powerful rocket ever made under full power, 2023 November 18. (Photo credit: SpaceX.)
    All engines running! The largest and most powerful rocket ever made under full power, 2023 November 18. (Photo credit: SpaceX.)
    Sunrise, Boca Chica, Texas, 2023 November 18. (Photo credit: SpaceX.)
    Sunrise, Boca Chica, Texas, 2023 November 18. (Photo credit: SpaceX.)

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