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The oldest scientific experiments still running...

The three longest-running scientific experiments are all located in the foyers of physics buildings. The oldest is the Oxford Electric Bell, which has been ringing continuously (over ten billion times!) since at least 1840, powered by batteries of unknown composition. In Dunedin, New Zealand, the Beverley clock has operated since 1864, without the need for winding, as it is powered by atmospheric changes. The relative youngster in the group is the Pitch Drop Experiment, which has been measuring the viscosity of pitch since 1927 by recording the time between drops of pitch from a funnel. The experiments has the world's most boring webcam, though the eighth, and most recent, drop fell in 2000, so the next is due any day now! Atlas Obscura has some additional candidates for long experiments, including the Rothemstead Plots, which have been used in agricultural experiments for 300 years.
posted by blahblahblah on Jun 6, 2011 - 33 comments

 

Meet aliens, create life, watch the polar ice melt

12 Events that Will Change Everything is an interactive article from Scientific American that offers rich information on potential major discoveries or cataclysms that could change the world, as well as their chances of happening. The list is a surprisingly sane look at future discontinuities as these sorts of lists go: it includes human cloning, artificial life, asteroid collisions, ice caps melting, and room temperature superconductors. For less sanity, see fifty or so ways the world could end at Exit Mundi.
posted by blahblahblah on Aug 13, 2010 - 50 comments

The most important thing you know

An old professor of mine used to ask graduating students, "What is the single most important true proposition or fact (not theory) that you learned in university?" This question has been aimed at many fields, and social scientists have long and famously struggled to find good answers, while scientists have had a large number of options, and those who study the humanities wonder if they can even answer similar questions. What is your most important (or interesting) fact?
posted by blahblahblah on Jun 19, 2008 - 98 comments

Breaking: Science fiction is fiction

Ruining science fiction: Not only are the science fiction cliches humorously skewered in the Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy, but the science itself is wrong. For example, despite the best efforts of SF writers, interstellar trade will never work, unless wine costs $11 billion a bottle. Slower-than-light travel is much harder than you think, and warp drives are far away. Space battles, if they happen, won't have fighters and dramatic dogfights, but instead involve vast distances and maneuvers lasting years. And you can ruin a whole lot more science fiction with real science (and wonderful examples) at Atomic Rocket. Don't follow the links if you want to read Heinlein or watch Battlestar Galactica with a light heart.
posted by blahblahblah on May 8, 2007 - 185 comments

A technological Hero

Leonardo is overrated: the steam turbine was invented two millennia ago by Hero of Alexandria who developed the aeolipile as a toy. Hero was also responsible for the first vending machine (for holy water) and hydraulic automatic temple doors, along with advances in areas as diverse as physics and mathematics. A translation of Hero's influential Pneumatics is available online, featuring illustrated examples of many of his inventions, many of which are related to clever devices for drinking or prayer, or both.
posted by blahblahblah on Jun 20, 2006 - 18 comments

Convert moon rocks to oxygen and other ways to earn $250,000

The NASA Centennial Challenges: Inspired by the X-Prize, NASA has begun a series of challenges to private inventors with cash prizes for things ranging from extracting oxygen from moon rocks to building better astronaut gloves to improving personal aircraft. Thanks to Congressional approval, NASA will be launching larger challenges of up to $50 million in value, including a new multi-million dollar lunar lander contest. With government space efforts criticized by private entrepreneurs, is this the right direction for NASA?
posted by blahblahblah on May 6, 2006 - 12 comments

Thermite and other memorable experiments

Unsafe-science-experiments-you-did-in-class-Friday: an advisory on dangerous chemistry experiments (they mention Nitrogen Triiodide, Chromate Volcanos, Whoosh Bottles, and Potassium Chlorate and Sugar), unwise microwave oven experiments, and, of course, thermite (and a great thermite video). I am amazed anyone survives high school, what other dubious but educational experiments did you do? Note: all pages are science education sites. Read the warnings. The awesome Chemistry Comes Alive site mentioned prev.
posted by blahblahblah on May 4, 2006 - 45 comments

e=mc^2*100

e=mc^2*100 It has been a hundred years since the date that Einstein's famous equation was first published, the last of his four annus mirabilis papers of 1905. In celebration, you can hear Einstein explain his formula (or listen to any of 10 other famous physicists do the same), or read an interesting site in celebration of his life and works, or, if physics isn't your thing, peruse his views on religion, or his exchange with Freud about war, or take a look at hundreds of his original manuscripts.
posted by blahblahblah on Sep 27, 2005 - 19 comments

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