Winning Science June 19, 2014

Traffic is something that city dweller have accepted as a way of life. However, it seems that no matter how many new roads the Department of Motor Vehicles seems to build, it never does anything to help traffic.  As it turns out there is a one to one relationship between an increase in traffic and an increase in roads. As the number of roads increase, the more people feel they have the ability to travel and so they do, thus increasing traffic. It’s what economics professors call induced demand. To some extent, removing roads can actually help, as was done in Paris and Seoul, but there are obvious limitations to such a plan of action.

how-to-avoid-traffic-jams-35319_2

Despite my choosing to live fairly close to work, it still takes twenty five minutes for me to go only six miles.

It has been three years since the accident at Fukushima and still no one has a clear picture of what the area surrounding the reactor looks like. There is too much radiation to send in people, sending in cameras would risk further contamination leaks, and x-rays would be useless to penetrate the steel and concrete buildings.  However, an effort involving Los Alamos and Toshiba, a “new” form of detector will be utilized with relies on muons. Two billboard sized detectors will be placed on opposites sides and will measure muon strikes and use that to determine the arrangement and composition of materials between the detectors. Although it will take weeks to months to complete, this new mapping technology will provide an accurate picture of what’s going on in the damaged reactors.

One of Fukushima's three damaged reactors.

One of Fukushima’s three damaged reactors.

I say “new” because an early version of this technology was used in the 1960s to map the interior of the Great Pyramids.  Of course, this is a much more advanced version.

In recent years, most people have come to accept that space and time are actually one and the same–commonly referred to as spacetime. But what is spacetime? Well, researchers in Italy and Germany have been wondering the same thing. They’re proposing a fairly radical idea that perhaps it is a superfluid, which is a fluid with an extremely low viscosity. The whole idea of treating spacetime as a fluid came from an attempt to answer the problems between general relativity and quantum theory. Each is very good at accurately describing separate phenomena, but when you try to apply them together, they don’t seem to work. Treating spacetime like a fluid seemed to be a theory with promise, but in order to properly account from some behaviors, it was determined that it would need to be termed a superfluid.

Image from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Image from the Hubble Space Telescope.

While it is unlikely that the theory of spacetime as a superfluid answers all questions about the phenomenon, scientist point out that it is definitely within the realm of possibility, since no other proposed theory answers all questions either.

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