View All Physics in Action
Electrostatics help "bug bot" micro-drones cling to surfaces just like their biological counterparts!
Gamers are helping engineer the next generation of supercomputers—and you can, too!
Lasers and nanoengineering team up to take on one of the deadliest diseases
A new software algorithm promises fast, sensitive detection of small seismic events
Learn about 2015's Physics Nobel Prize winner!
Radiofrequency electromagnetic waves can power brain implants in mice
Lasers have enabled the creation of free-floating, interactive holograms!
By mimicking the structure of organisms like the Pollia condensata berry, researchers have invented an elastic fiber that changes color when stretched!
It’s flexible, fast, nontoxic, doesn’t catch on fire, and its materials are inexpensive.
The principle of complementarity remains upheld.
Uncovering ancient, charred texts with physics.
A potential low-energy alternative to air conditioning.
Tracking how strongly water pushes on the Earth's crust.
How do recent Mars missions compare to the popular Curiosity rover?
Creating art with stunning electric arcs
Holograms' uses range from practical to purely aesthetic.
New strides in explaining the arrow of time
A new particle discovery requires some rethinking in particle physics
One of the biggest discoveries in decades.
How scientists recently pushed closer to sustainable fusion
An unexpected application of the Coriolis effect
Pragmatic and beautiful light transmissive carpets
A Kuiper Belt object less dense than water has piqued scientists' interest
The Lycurgus Cup's optical mysteries inspire scientists
New research reveals the frictional nuances on the atomic scale
Ununpentium, the 115th element, has been confirmed
A twist on this physics principle can detect rotation in tornadoes, planets and more
These powerful particle accelerators can fit on a desk
Nuclear bomb tests have opened doors in neuroscience
Test your knowledge of gravity with this thought experiment.
Scientists can now identify people by their breath — just like a fingerprint
Scientists aim to "hide" buildings from seismic waves
Blurring the lines between man and machine with electronic implants
These inanimate crystals form colonies under UV-light, like bacteria
What does it mean?
Scientists try to strike a balance with glass
Bullet-proof material absorbs bullets and reseals itself
Fluid dynamics behind beautiful video of mixing patterns
Ladybug hairs inspire sensitive, flexible electronic sensors
Scientists analyze asteroid dust retrieved by spacecraft
Time-delayed voice recordings render you silent
Measuring charge in electric vehicles
With an adapted wireless router, you can see moving objects through walls
A new bus route will feature electric buses that wirelessly charge while waiting for passengers.
During the Olympic Games, gold takes center stage. Gold was chosen for first place awards because it symbolized the Golden Age of Mankind in Greek mythology. According to Greek mythology, the Golden Age ended long ago for mankind, but new research on gold indicates that we may now be in the "Golden Age of Gold."
Of the five different parasites that cause malaria, one type can cause death within hours. Current methods of detecting malaria take between 8 and 10 hours. A new technique, developed by an international group, analyzes the speckle patterns of laser light reflected off of a blood sample with detection times of 30 minutes.
Quantum dots can be used to stimulate cells, to probe them, and to trigger neuron firing with light!
New developments in asphalt pavement could dramatically reduce fuel consumption, environmental pollution, and the frequency and cost of maintenance.
Spacesuits are being developed to allow humans to survive a fall from thousands of feet in the sky.
Have you ever done the cup-in-hand walk, and spilled your drink? It's a common event. The Krechetnikov Fluid Physics Lab at the University of California Santa Barbara usually doesn't focus on this type of problem, but after seeing enough people spilling, they decided to look into it!
A new brain sensor developed by a team of researchers could represent a significant improvement in the ability to detect exactly where abnormal brain activity starts.
More than 100% efficient, these Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) put out more light energy than the electrical energy that they use!
Few physics experiments come with greater consequences than those done by a police crash reconstruction team.
Strong, springy, and ultralight, these lattices can sit atop a dandelion in seed without damaging it, and carry about 1000 times its weight without being damaged!
From the acidic digestive fluid in your stomach to the dry, cratered surface of Mars, rockets could soon make it possible to explore extreme environments as never before.
Physics enthusiasts aren't always the people you turn to for advice on the latest fashion trends, but it's impossible not to give physics at least partial credit for the recent nail craze--magnetic nail polish.
Quantum entanglement has been called “spooky action at a distance” by Einstein and has often been called spooky or weird since then. Recently two diamonds, big enough to see with your eye, were observed to have entangled quantum mechanical states.
A perplexing property of quantum mechanics could be allowing birds to see and navigate the planet’s magnetic fields
For a while carbon nanotubes have been a hot topic in science. Some of the latest research on nanotubes done at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, CO are fondly called Cupcakes,1,2 but you may only want a mental bite of these!
Sound may not be a normal cleaning product in your house, but it is just the thing for cleaning delicate jewelry, surgical instruments, lenses, and many other small, intricate objects. Soon, it could also make cleaning big objects like houses or machines much more efficient.
The Andromeda Galaxy, is one of the most distant objects that can be seen with the naked eye and it's on a collision course with our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
If you can dream it, you can print it! Learn how these 3D printers are changing the invention process.
It's been a year since Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their breakthroughs with graphene. What is graphene up to now?
In the next few years you might be able to buy a spray that could dramatically increase the energy efficiency of your house.
What's better than a diamond engagement ring? An entire planet made of diamonds!
Electronic sensors are used to gather all sorts of information. Perhaps you’ve seen some fitness monitors that look like arm bands, chest bands, or watches. There are brain monitors, some look like a swim cap with wires coming out. Mindball (a game using your brain waves) just has a single band you put around your head. Now imagine an electronic sensor that is wireless, flexible, and as inconspicuous as a temporary tattoo!
How do you design a mirror with a diameter of 6.5 meters that can survive a rocket launch into space, orbit the Earth at a radius of about one million miles for 5-10 years, and hold its shape at temperatures near -220˚C? And why would you want to?
Can lasers control your mind? Not exactly, but light can control the firing of neurons in the brain, and has been used to affect the behavior of mice.
When NASA’s next generation rover Curiosity reaches the red planet next summer, it will rely on an array of new technologies to slow itself down as it enters Mars’ gravity, survive the intense heat of falling through the atmosphere and then be dropped onto the surface by a futuristic floating “Sky Crane.” Any one error could easily result in a loss of the spacecraft, which represents $2 billion in taxpayer funds and years of hard work.
How many ways can you think of to detect a single particle or atom? What uses would a tool that could do this have? The nanoantenna can! Read on to find out how and what uses it might have.
Daniel Kish is the world's foremost expert on echolocation, and teaches the trick, learned from bats, to help the blind navigate like never before.
The Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source produces x-rays a billion times brighter than the sun by flinging electrons around at nearly the speed of light. Find out how and the ways that scientists use these brilliant flashes of invisible light to probe the world of the unseen.
Cloaking makes things appear to be invisible. What may seem like science fiction is really just science.
The average digital camera is great for taking embarrassing pictures of friends and capturing a couple’s first kiss, but taking pictures of really faint galaxies that are millions of light years away requires some serious modifications or the Dark Energy Camera.
Spring has sprung and the batters have swung. Baseball season has officially started. Although the games we watch in the big leagues could be drastically different by changing only one aspect; the bat.
Robert Frost concerned himself with which road to take, but in some cases the more important question may be which tires to use. Learn about the newest technology in tires.
In the wake of the Fukishima Nuclear Reactor incident, radiation is on the minds of many people, but did you know that people are exposed to radiation everyday? Ionizing radiation, like many things, isn’t bad unless a living organism is exposed to too much of it.
Physicists using modern spacecraft have observed storms all over the planet and discovered that lightning can generate energies far in excess of what was previously thought possible. What's even more alarming is that some of them can generate anti-matter.
At our nation’s ports, cargo ships from all over the world, carrying goods from granite to rubber duckies, enter the United States. But how do we know what’s really in each cargo box and if it is safe? One safety check requires trucks to pass through radiation monitors to see if there is any radioactive substance in the cargo entering the country.
As observation techniques of distant objects advance, so does our knowledge about the universe. One recent observational study led by Pieter van Dokkum (Yale) and Charlie Conroy (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) indicates that there may be three times as many stars as previously thought!
Our planet has long sheltered humanity from the harsh climates of outer space. The Earth's electromagnetic field protects us from a barrage of harmful particles and its atmosphere allows us to breathe freely while destroying small inbound space rocks.
fMRI’s might be the future technology to read your thoughts and emotions. There have been claims that fMRI can determine if you are telling the truth, what image you are looking at, and perhaps in the future, what you are thinking , feeling, or your intending.
Hologram applications are still futuristic, but advances in holography are bringing us closer than ever to capturing holographic images in real time.
Imagine walking into your bedroom and your cell phone starts charging immediately, you don't even have to bother plugging it in. These capabilities are being developed in scientists' labs around the country thanks to a technology known as inductive charging.
And the 2010 Nobel Prize goes to the André Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for graphene! Wait, isn’t that what’s in our pencils? Well, yes and no. See how the graphite in pencils and common adhesive tape lead these two to a Nobel Prize.
What does the speed of light have to do with the stock market? When stock market trading time is of the essence some financially savvy physicists proposed a solution.
The sun produces HUGE amounts of energy. In just five seconds, the sun gives off an amount of energy equal to the electricity used by the entire world’s population in one year! How does the sun make all of this energy? It makes it through fusion. This Physics in Action explores fusion and how scientists at MIT are getting closer to producing this great source of energy.
The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland created an ash cloud that disrupted air traffic throughout Europe. And as if the magma and ash violently spewing out of the volcano's crater wasn't scary enough, the eruption also generates lightning!
Flying kites and tumbling plastic bags show that wind carries kinetic energy. The purpose of a windmill is to harness that energy. From the earliest versions 2,200 years ago in Persia to the Megawatt turbines today, windmills use physics to harness nature's chaotic fiery for human benefit.
What do night vision goggles, land mine detectors, and studies of the universe have in common? In some way, all of them are connected to a small range of light sandwiched between visible light and microwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum—infrared light.
How do you find water that is frozen beneath the surface of the moon? Send a high-speed satellite to plunge into the lunar surface like a man-made meteor and then examine the debris. When it comes to finding water in an extraterrestrial desert, NASA doesn’t mess around.
Every popular explanation of particle physics is liberally illustrated with cartoon-like pictures of straight and wiggly lines representing electrons, photons, and quarks, interacting with one another. These so-called Feynman diagrams were introduced by Richard Feynman in the journal Physical Review in 1949, and they quickly became an essential tool for particle physicists.
Lithium-ion batteries already power your cell phone and your laptop, and they may soon power your car. What makes these batteries so great?
Physicists are using sophisticated recording equipment and computer models to probe how a violin makes its sound. Could they be on the verge of discovering the "secret of Stradivari"?
In 2006, an investigation of the Bullet cluster, which is composed of two colliding clusters of galaxies, provided important evidence for the existence of dark matter.
Pluto—now reclassified as a "dwarf planet"—was discovered after American astronomer Percival Lowell predicted that a "Planet X" was perturbing the orbits of Uranus and Neptune.
Unwind a chromosome to see how it’s put together? Sort cells with a light beam? Make a model of a molecular motor? All these and more—welcome to the world of optical tweezers, where cells and even individual molecules are manipulated with laser light.
The Milky Way is a vast spiral, similar to our neighbor the Andromeda galaxy.
How would you like to board a Maglev train and then speed off to your destination at more than 300 miles per hour? The magnets that levitate these trains are an application of superconductivity.
What limits the sharpness of an image? The answer has to do with the wave nature of light.
A millionth of a second after the Big Bang, the universe was an incredibly dense plasma, so hot that no nuclei nor even nuclear particles could exist.
Suppose you and a friend tried to measure the speed of light. You have a powerful flashlight and a stopwatch, and your friend has a mirror. You walk away until the two of you are 100 meters apart. You aim the flashlight at the mirror, turn the light on, and wait to see the reflection. How long do you have before the light gets back?
What’s inside an atom? What’s inside a proton? These are questions asked by physicists, who seek to understand matter on the most fundamental level.
Have you ever heard a sonic boom? Have you ever seen the shock waves that cause one?
In 1959 the physicist Richard Feynman gave a talk called "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom," on the possibility of microminiaturization. To encourage progress he offered a prize of $1,000 to anyone who could build an operating electric motor that fit into a 1/64th inch cube, and within months, someone had done it.
Nanotubes, discovered in 1991, are a new form of carbon. With four electrons available for bonding, the carbon atom can combine with others in a number ways and produce many useful materials.
Very large stars can end their lives in a cataclysmic explosion called a supernova. The photographs show a supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way located only about 160,000 light years away.
The neutrino is a ghostly particle that leaves hardly a trace of its passing. Most neutrinos go right through Earth without any deviation or interaction, and trillions harmlessly pierce your body each second.
How's the space weather today? Quiet enough for a safe trip to the moon? Quiet enough to operate your GPS navigation system accurately? So active that it would crash your power grid? Like our everyday weather, space weather can change suddenly, become violent, and interfere with our lives.
In the universe, we may or may not be alone, but at least there seem to be plenty of planets. Over the last decade, extra-solar planet-finding has become a growth industry, with some 100 already identified by their effect on the motion of their central star.
As residents of the Milky Way galaxy, we live in a huge spiral system of about 10 11 stars.
Are we alone in the universe? To begin to answer this question, we could first ask if Earth is unique in the universe.
We have all seen images, such as the one at the right, of astronauts floating inside a spacecraft. If these astronauts used a spring scale to weigh themselves, they would detect no weight at all. Does no weight mean no gravity?
Remote and beautiful, Antarctica is covered by an ice sheet averaging several kilometers in thickness that locks up some 70% of Earth’s fresh water—if it all melted, the oceans would rise about 70 meters.
In 1951, the astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer devised a way to contain a hot plasma—an ionized gas—with the hope of producing a sustained fusion reaction that could lead to electric power generation.
We know about solids, liquids, gases, and plasmas —these are the well-known states of matter. But now there’s another, called the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), and it’s been predicted for a long time.
Everyday objects can be classified into solids, liquids, and gases. However, the matter in a lightning bolt, a flame, and the Aurora Borealis are something quite different.
If systems "seek" the lowest possible energy, why don't atomic electrons all cascade down into the ground state?
Physicists like to explain a broad range of phenomena with a few simple mathematical laws.
In the controversy over global warming, some people have suggested that human-induced warming might be a good thing if it kept us out of the next Ice Age.
Physicists measure the values of basic quantities like the speed of light and the charge of the electron. Cosmologists use the results in studies of the origin of the universe, some 12 billion years ago, and they assume the numbers have not changed over this time.
A trio of recent findings on cosmic microwave background radiation lends strong support to the idea that the entire observable universe was once smaller than an atom and underwent a "super-charged" Big Bang.
Comets are relics from the origin of the solar system, carrying material about 4.5 billion years old.
William Roentgen made the first x-ray image in 1895, but the technology remained essentially the same until the late 1960s. These images were projected onto flat detectors, such as film or electronic sensors.
San Francisco and Los Angeles, home to about 7.5 million people and to much of the economy of California, lie close to the infamous San Andreas fault.
Of the forces in nature, gravity is by far the weakest.
Cosmology is one of the great success stories of contemporary physics. A few investigators began theorizing about the history of the universe in the 1940s, but there was precious little observational evidence to work with.
In 1665, Isaac Newton recognized that all matter attracts all other matter, but he also recognized that the gravitational attraction of everyday objects for each other was far too small to be measured in his time.
In our everyday world, we observe all sorts of waves, including sound waves, water waves, and radio waves. But what about gravitational waves?
A star exists in a delicate balance between the crushing force of gravity, on the one hand, and the push of incredibly hot gases on the other.
The thickness of a human hair is about 200 microns, 20 times the length of this guitar.
Matter and Antimatter: the cloud chamber track of an electron-positron pair
As StarTrek fans know well, the fuel for warp drive is antimatter.
Physicists have created a new form of water, one that stays liquid at hundreds of degrees C below zero.
Medical x-rays provide images of the body but utilize radiation that in large doses can damage cells. A completely different technology, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), emerged in the late 1970s.
What does it mean to see an atom? Suppose you tried to use the world’s strongest optical microscope to see an atom. What would happen?
Have you ever seen a liquid magnet? If magnetic material is ground into an extremely fine powder, with a particle size of about 10 nanometers, and suspended in a liquid, the resulting magnetic suspension is called a ferrofluid.
The first controlled nuclear reactor, built during World War II, was a great achievement, but it was not the first reactor to operate on planet Earth.
You may have seen the “northern lights” in the fall of 2003, even if you live as far south as Texas or Italy.
Sonoluminescence is a way to turn sound energy into light. When intense sound waves are created in a flask of water, a tiny air bubble in the water can give off flashes of light.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Newtonian mechanics was triumphant in its explanation of the solar system.
After crossing Florida, Hurricane Katrina headed into the Gulf of Mexico early on August 26, 2005 as a Category One hurricane.
At RHIC--the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, located at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York--gold nuclei traveling at nearly the speed of light smash into each other, destroying themselves and producing a spray of other particles.
To a star, size matters. The more massive the star, the higher the pressure and temperature in its core, the brighter it shines, and the sooner it exhausts the hydrogen fuel supply for its fusion reactions.
Absolute zero, as cold as it gets, resides at the very bottom of the temperature scale.
Joe McMaster, producer, director, and writer of Nova's The Elegant Universe, is not a physicist. Fortunately, he had the patient help of the show's star and narrator, physicist Brian Greene, as he put together the PBS production delving into String Theory.
Saturn’s rings have posed a big challenge ever since Galileo first laid eyes on them in 1610 through his 20-power telescope.
Nobel-prize-winning research led to the MP3 player and HDTV-on-demand.
It’s been hard to miss the publicity for LASIK, the laser surgery that reshapes the cornea to improve the eye’s ability to focus.
In our everyday world, matter is usually classified into solids, liquids, and gases. But what about dry sand?
An underwater telescope called AMANDA, frozen deep in Antarctic ice, peers down at ghostly neutrinos that pass through Earth from above the Northern Hemisphere.