Category: News Posts

The Physics Behind Hitting A Home Run

On Monday night, some of Major League Baseball’s best sluggers will square off in the sport’s biggest annual display of brute strength: the home run derby.

Each batter has seven “outs” to hit as many balls as possible out of San Diego’s Petco Park.

To most fans, it’s just a fun spectacle. But to Alan Nathan, home-run hitting is a physics problem.

Given the distance between home plate and the outfield wall, what combination of ball speed, bat angle and external factors will send the ball out of the park?

By day, Nathan is a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, working to elucidate the structure and interactions of subatomic particles.

But the rest of the time, he’s watching baseball with an eye for the underlying physics of the sport. He’s even written several peer-reviewed papers on the subject, which are all available on his website.

At the most basic level, he said, there are just two elements to a well-hit home run: exit speed and launch angle.

If you were a freshman physics student calculating the path of a projectile, these two numbers would be all you needed to know to predict how far the ball would travel.

According to ESPN’s hit tracker, the fastest-hit home run of the season so far was a solo shot slugged by the Angels’ Mike Trout in April.

That ball was traveling 120.5 mph when it left Trout’s bat. The optimum launch angle, Nathan said, is between 25 and 30 degrees. A ball hit at a lower angle will become a line drive or a grounder; a higher angle gives you a pop-up.

These factors can balance one another. A slower ball may make it out of the park if it’s hit at the right angle; a batter can make up for a bad trajectory by hitting the ball super fast.

But astute students of baseball science should take other factors into account.

Those first four all boil down to the same thing: air density. The less dense the air is, the less resistance the ball will encounter as it soars through the stadium.

The thin air at high elevations helps balls travel farther — that’s part of how Denver’s Coors Field, which sits at an MLB-high of 5,200 feet above sea level, got its reputation as a pitcher’s nightmare.

On the other hand, humidity in the stadium can help a home-run ball — if only ever so slightly — by making the air less dense.

Air temperature also plays a part, Nathan said. A 1995 study found that fly balls travel a few feet farther for every 10 degree increase in temperature.

The average fly ball distance in above-90-degree heat was 320 feet; on sub-50-degree days, that distance fell to 304 feet.

But the effect of air density pales in comparison to that of wind.

How far a ball flies also depends on the ball itself.

The stitches on a baseball help it travel farther by reducing drag, but only to a degree — high, loose seams, like those of the repeatedly reused baseballs of the “dead ball” era, will slow it down again.

Then there’s how you hit the ball. Side spin — which happens when the batter is out in front of the ball or just a little bit late — can cause a line drive to curve foul.

But a small amount of back spin gives the ball lift, allowing it to seemingly defy gravity for slightly longer than it otherwise would.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Here’s How To Send Your Name Hurtling Into The Sun This Year

If you’ve ever wanted to send a part of you hurtling into the Sun, this is your lucky day. NASA is offering you the chance to send your name rocketing towards our favorite ball of gas aboard the Parker Solar Probe.

The $1.5-billion mission will be the first-ever probe to “touch” the Sun, traveling directly into its atmosphere later this year.

The mission will go seven times closer to the Sun than any other man-made object, in order to study its atmosphere.

It’ll go hurtling towards the center of our solar system at speeds of 700,000 kilometers per hour. “That’s fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, in one second,” NASA wrote.

Your name, if you fancy it, will be included on a memory card within the probe’s payload, traveling at speeds previously unknown to any of your nametags.

The mission will study how energy and heat move through the solar corona. By studying the Sun – the only star available for us to study up close – scientists also hope to learn more about stars throughout the Universe.

The probe will seek to discover what accelerates solar wind and solar energetic particles, which NASA says it has sought answers to for over 60 years.

Now with thermal engineering advances, NASA is finally able to send a probe that can withstand the immense heat.

At its closest approach, the probe will face temperatures of 1,370°C (2,500°F), but the probe’s solar shields will astonishingly keep the payload at around room temperature.

So your name will stay cool, don’t worry. Unless it’s something like “Nigel”, which has never been cool in the first place.

The initiative of sending your name along for the ride, dubbed “Hot Ticket“, was launched this week by Star Trek actor and musical legend William Shatner.

The first-ever spacecraft to the Sun, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, will launch this year on a course to orbit through the heat of our star’s corona, where temperatures are greater than 1 million degrees,” Shatner said in a video launching the project.

The spacecraft will also carry my name to the Sun, and your name, and the names of everyone who wants to join this voyage of extreme exploration.

In order to get your name aboard the probe, it really is as simple as applying. Just go to NASA’s Parker Solar Probe website and enter your details before April 27, 2018.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

GM Will Launch Robocars Without Steering Wheels Next Year

The future of driving doesn’t involve driving — at all.

That’s the big takeaway from a first peek inside General Motors new autonomous car, which lacks the steering wheel, pedals, manual controls and human drivers that have come to define the experience of riding inside an automobile for more than a century.

The means the Cruise AV — a fourth-generation autonomous vehicle based on the Chevy Bolt EV — is in total control.

GM submitted a petition Thursday to the Department of Transportation, asking for the government to let it roll out the new vehicle, which it says is safe.

GM plans to mass produce the vehicle as early as next year, the automotive giant announced Friday.

The manufacturer is touting the vehicle as the world’s “first production-ready vehicle” built with the sole purpose of operating “safely on its own with no driver,” a degree of independence known as “level 4 autonomy.”

GM is one of several companies testing level 4 vehicles. A California-based autonomous vehicle startup called Zoox and Alphabet’s Waymo have also tested level 4 cars.

GM is already testing second and third generation self-driving Cruise AVs on busy streets in San Francisco and Phoenix with a human engineer in the vehicle.

It relies on cameras, radar and high-precision laser sensors known as lidar for navigation.

Beginning in 2019, the fourth-generation of that vehicle will be used in a ride-sharing program in multiple American cities, where “the vehicles will travel on a fixed route controlled by their mapping system,” Bloomberg reported.

To improve safety, the vehicles will share information with one another and rely on two computer systems, which operate simultaneously so that if one computer encounters a problem, the second computer can serve as a backup, according to GM’s self-driving safety report.

The report says the Cruise AV was designed to operate in chaotic, fluid conditions, such as aggressive drivers, jaywalkers, bicyclists, delivery trucks and construction.

The company has access to vast dealership networks, nationwide influence and manufacturing prowess, potentially offering a GM-driven ride-hailing service the opportunity to supplant the Silicon Valley start-ups that have been seeking for years to disrupt the auto industry.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Google Discovers New Planet Which Proves Solar System Is Not Unique

The Kepler-90 star system has eight planets, like our own

Google has previously discovered lost tribes, missing ships and even a forgotten forest. But now it has also found two entire planets.

The technology giant used one its algorithms to sift through thousands of signals sent back to Earth by Nasa’s Kepler space telescope.

One of the new planets was found hiding in the Kepler-90 star system, which is around 2,200 light years away from Earth.

The discovery is important because it takes the number of planets in the star system up to eight, the same as our own Solar System. It is the first time that any system has been found to have as many planets ours.

Andrew Vanderburg, astronomer and Nasa Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Texas, Austin, said: “The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system.

You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer.

“There is a lot of unexplored real estate in Kepler-90 system and it would almost be surprising if there were not more planets in the system.”

The planet Kepler-90i, is a small rocky planet, which orbits so close to its star that the surface temperature is a ‘scorchingly hot’ 800F (426C). It orbits its own sun once every 14 days.

The Google team applied a neural network to scan weak signals discovered by the Kepler exoplanet-hunting telescope which had been missed by humans.

Kepler has already discovered more than 2,500 exoplanets and 1,000 more which are suspected.

The telescope spent four years scanning 150,000 stars looking for dips in their brightness which might suggest an orbiting planet was passing in front.

Although the observation mission ended in 2013, the spacecraft recorded so much data during its four year mission that scientists expect will be crunching the data for many years to come.

The new planet Kepler-90i is about 30 per cent larger than Earth and very hot.

Christopher Shallue, senior software engineer at Google AI in Mountain View, California, who made the discovery, said the algorithm was so simple that it only took two hours to train to spot exoplanets.

Test of the neural network correctly identified true planets and false positives 96 percent of the time. They have promised to release all of the code so that amateurs can train computers to hunt for their own exoplanets.

Machine learning will become increasingly important for keeping pace with all this data and will help us make more discoveries than ever before,” said Mr Shallue.

This is really exciting discovery and a successful proof of concept in using neural networks to find planets even in challenging situations where signals are very weak.

We plan to search all 150,000 stars, we hope using our technique we will be able to find lots of planets including planets like Earth.”

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Noise Pollution Is A Bigger Threat To Your Health Than You May Think

It’s almost impossible to find complete peace and quiet.

Even if you live deep in the countryside away from aircraft routes, traffic and building work, your home is probably filled with the buzz of computers and other modern appliances.

In some locations, there are even claims of mysterious low-pitched noises with no known origin.

For example, residents of Bristol in the west of England recently complained of a “hum”, which followed reports of a similar sound in the city in the 1970s.

Such sounds aren’t just annoying. There is increasing evidence that long-term environmental noise above a certain level can have a negative influence on your health.

These effects can be physical, mental and possibly even disrupt children’s learning.

Physical reaction

Recent research shows that road traffic and aircraft noise increase the risk of high blood pressure, especially noise exposure at night.

A study of aircraft noise around London’s Heathrow airport found that high levels of aircraft noise was associated with increased risks of hospital admission and death for stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease in the nearby area.

Another large study that looked at aircraft noise exposure over a much longer time period of 15 years found that deaths from heart attacks increased when the noise was louder and endured over a longer period of time.

The latest estimates suggest a ten decibel average increase in aircraft noise exposure was related to an increase in high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes of between 7% and 17%.

Your emotional response to noise pollution can also be significant, so much so that it has a specific name: noise annoyance.

This describes the negative feelings noise can create such as disturbance, irritation, dissatisfaction and nuisance, as well as a feeling of having one’s privacy invaded. Annoyance can vary widely between different people, however

As well as the type and volume of the sound, other factors include how much it interferes with your activities, the fear you feel associated with the source of the noise, your coping mechanisms and even your belief about whether the noise is preventable.

The impact of noise on children’s learning is less well understood.

It may be as simple as aircraft noise interfering with teachers communicating with pupils, or it may be that pupils focus their attention so narrowly in noisy conditions that they exclude useful speech as well as unwanted noise.

But we do know that it’s not just due to the fact that people living around airports are sometimes poorer because when researchers have taken this into account they’ve found their results still apply.

What is clear is that noise pollution does affect a large number of people and is a significant risk to their health.

Because of this, we need to think about interventions to reduce noise at source by masking or screening it using barriers or sound insulation, or even better by designing our society to be less noisy in the first place.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Japanese Scientists Use Egg Whites For Clean Energy

The new method will help “bring us closer to our ultimate goal of providing hydrogen from water, according to Yusuke Yamada, a professor at Osaka City University.


Hydrogen is currently mass-produced using natural gas or fossil fuels, which result in greenhouse gas emissions.

It can be produced in laboratories without fossil fuels and scientists have traditionally done this by creating a special interaction of the molecules in liquid.

But free-moving and randomly located molecules and particles in the fluid can interact with the process of producing hydrogen and scientists have for many years looked to find a way to immobilise these particles.

Rose Bengal

Yamada’s team used a protein found in egg whites to build crystals with lots of tiny holes to trap these particles. These lysozyme crystals have a highly ordered nanostructure and improve the efficiency of clean hydrogen production.

The molecular components within the crystals must be manipulated carefully. This is achieved by the application of Rose Bengal, which is commonly used in a dye in eye drops to identify damage.

If you use hydrogen as an energy source, it only releases water in the environment. It is extremely environmentally friendly.

We found protein was a useful tool” to generate hydrogen in a laboratory without using a fossil fuel, said Yamada.

The method was published in the February edition of the scientific journal Applied Catalysis B.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

5 Productive Ways To Spend Time On The Internet

Surprisingly, for us internet savvy generation, it is pretty easy to get myopic with the medium.

Given the sheer scale of the internet, there is so much to see, do and learn and yet most of us find ourselves going back to the same humdrum over and over again.

In this post, I will talk about how you can work on re-directing that passive, Facebook-consumed energy into something more productive.

So turn off that Facebook window and consider these following recommendations to make the best of internet and feel productive. Trust me, there is a lot more to the internet than narcissistic indulgences.

1. Learn something new

One is never too old to learn a new skill. And no skill ever goes wasted. Websites like Coursera and MIT Open Course Ware are excellent sources of knowledge, providing free courses on a multitude of topics and skill areas.

2. Develop opinions and world views

The only thing that is worse than being a person without opinions is being someone with pointless opinions.

Up your social quotient by juicing up on worldviews and perspectives by subscribing to interesting YouTube channels or catching some interesting talks on TEDTalks.

If you prefer reading something instead, my tops picks would be FastCompany, Entrepreneur and Goodreads.

3. Get organized

Instead of just whiling away your time on the internet, make an effort to organize your life. For starters, try organizing your computer files.

You may even want to empty your inboxes once in a while. Answer all those emails you have been putting on hold and get those out of the way. It’s a good feeling to wake up to an empty inbox.

Another productive thing to do is to use some free internet time to get your finances in order, pay your bills, and to look into your investments.

And if this last bit got you particularly interested, look up Investopedia for some good tips and lessons on personal financing and investments.

4. Update your personal and professional life

Use your free time to get back in touch with your family and friends. Make a Skype call instead of dropping a text message. Sometimes, a hearty chat with a dear friend is all it takes to get you feeling productive.

And even if you happen to completely love your job it doesn’t hurt to update your résumé (or a professional profile on sites like LinkedIn) once in a while.

It’s a good personal development check at times. Let this exercise be a reminder to you to get updated on skills and remain productive.

5. Shop smart

I am an avid online shopper and find shopping online (especially for high involvement products) as particularly enabling, given I have a dearth of helpful advisors in my physical space.

A recent discovery, for me, has been the concept of online coupons. Some of them are actually helpful in getting you some good deals and price-offs on products across certain websites.

I have looked up deals on CupoNation (available across multiple geographies) and Cupondunia (an Indian couponing portal). Look for a couponing company working around your geography and shop smart online.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Rare Blue Diamond Found In South Africa’s Cullinan Mine

The 29.6-carat stone was recovered by Petra Diamonds at its Cullinan mine, about 40km (25 miles) north-east of Pretoria.

This stone is one of the most exceptional stones recovered at Cullinan during Petra’s operation of the mine,” the company said.

Petra unearthed a 25.5 carat blue diamond which sold for $16.9m (£10.3m) in 2013. The latest discovery is also expected to sell for a high price.

The stone is an outstanding vivid blue with extraordinary saturation, tone and clarity, and has the potential to yield a polished stone of great value and importance,” Petra said in a statement on Tuesday.

Cullinan mine has produced hundreds of large stones and is famed for its production of blue diamonds – among the rarest and most highly coveted of all diamonds.

The mine was acquired in 2008 by Petra Diamonds, which also operates in Botswana and Tanzania.

A similar 26.6-carat blue rough diamond discovered by the company in May 2009 was cut into a near perfect stone and fetched just under $10m at a Sotheby’s auction.

The Cullinan mine is famed for the production of blue diamonds

Another deep-blue diamond from Cullinan was auctioned for $10.8m in 2012 and set a world record for the value per carat.

The largest ever rough gem diamond was discovered at the Cullinan mine in 1905 and was presented to the British monarch Edward VII.

The 3,106-carat stone was then cut, with two of the principal diamonds forming part of the British crown jewels – the 530-carat First Star of Africa and the Second Star of Africa at 317 carats.

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You’ll Never Dance Alone With This Artificial Intelligence Project

Your next dance partner might not be a person.

A new project from the Georgia Institute of Technology allows people to get jiggy with a computer-controlled dancer, which “watches” the person and improvises its own moves based on prior experiences.

When the human responds, the computerized figure or “virtual character” reacts again, creating an impromptu dance couple based on artificial intelligence (AI).

The LuminAI project is housed inside a 15-foot-tall geodesic dome, designed and constructed by Georgia Tech digital media master’s student Jessica Anderson, and lined with custom-made projection panels for dome projection mapping.

The surfaces allow people to watch their own shadowy avatar as it struts with a virtual character named VAI, which learns how to dance by paying attention to which moves the current user is doing and when.

The more moves it sees, the better and deeper the computer’s dance vocabulary. It then uses this vocabulary as a basis for future improvisation.

The system uses Kinect devices to capture the person’s movement, which is then projected as a digitally enhanced silhouette on the dome’s screens.

The computer analyzes the dance moves being performed and leans on its memory to choose its next move.

The team says this improvisation is one of the most important parts of the project. The avatar recognizes patterns, but doesn’t always react the same way every time.

That means that the person must improvise too, which leads to greater creativity all around. All the while, the computer is capturing these new experiences and storing the information to use as a basis for future dance sessions.

LuminAI was unveiled for the first time this past weekend in Atlanta at the Hambidge Art Auction in partnership with the Goat Farm Arts Center.

It was featured within a dance and technology performance, in a work called Post, as a finalist for the Field Experiment ATL grant. T. Lang Dance performed set choreography with avatars and virtual characters within the dome.

Post is the fourth and final installment of Lang’s Post Up series, which focuses on the stark realities and situational complexities after an emotional reunion between long lost souls.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Boston Children’s Hospital Announce VR Platform To Offer Customized 3D Tours Inside Their Bodies

Boston Children’s Hospital and Klick Health today unveiled the HealthVoyager™ medical education and patient experience platform – a Proof of Concept that uses Virtual Reality (VR) technology to bring patients’ individual medical findings to life in an immersive, 3D environment.

The first iteration of the tool, HealthVoyager™ GI, has been designed for pediatric gastrointestinal (GI) patients and is being used at Boston Children’s as part of a clinical study to validate its effect on patient and family understanding, engagement, and satisfaction.

By integrating into the clinical workflow of endoscopic procedures such as colonoscopies, HealthVoyager™ GI will enable Boston Children’s gastroenterologists to custom-configure life-like, 3D anatomical imagery and take pediatric patients with conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis on iPhone-based virtual tours of their GI tract.

Aimed at creating an impactful, engaging, and memorable experience, the platform leverages modern technology to communicate a patient’s personalized conditions and endoscopic findings.

Boston Children’s performs thousands of endoscopic procedures each year. Of the 1.6 million Americans with inflammatory bowel disease, as many as 80,000 of them are children, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.

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Pass it on: New Scientist