The Journal of Special Topics (Vol. 10)
Posted by Pete Hague on 19 Apr 2012
Following on from the last post, I'm going to review some selected papers from the current volume of the Journal of Special Topics, the University of Leicester Physics Department's undergraduate journal. Each group publishes in a group, and the authors listed in order of contribution. For space, I shall only name the first author of each paper.
As mentioned before, the topics themselves are not subject to assessment, so the Journal gives students an opportunity to have a little fun with the science.
After the previous volume's extensive coverage of Superman, Marshall et al. present an analysis of the gliding capabilities of Batman in the movie Batman Begins. The caped crusader's ultimate velocity of ~80km/hr would cause his impact with the ground to be highly dangerous. Presumably, he has something in his utility belt to kill that speed.
Not every paper is so fantastical. Smith et al. investigate the effectiveness of cooling a cup of tea by blowing on it (it works), and Bettles et al. try to work out if you can power the city of Leicester entirely by rooftop solar panels (doesn't work, but its a fairly close thing, and their model of the city's rooftops is fairly simple.)
More exotic sources of home energy are also considered. Edgington et al. wants to power a home using an RTG (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) - a device which uses the heat produced by the alpha emissions of plutonium-238 as a source of power. Such a device would require over 13kg of the substance, which is so radioactive that it glows red hot from the energy of its emissions. The notion is dismissed on the basis of cost, legality, and efficiency (although not, apparently, safety)
Bayliss et al. take on a claim made by a high profile creationist website - that the Sun is contracting by 5ft per hour and thus cannot have existed for as long as science indicates that it has (in order to then support the idea of literal biblical creation.) Turns out, that if you apply a little physics to the problem, such a contraction would make the Sun into a far more luminous body with a spectrum peaking in the ultraviolet and enough output to heat the surface of the Earth to 650°C. This goes to show that it doesn't take much formal training in science to be able to debunk even the best the creationists have to offer.
Sticking with the theme of space, West et al. consider what the star Betelgeuse would look like if it were seen to go supernova, and conclude that it would be brighter (magnitude -8.7) than the planet Venus and clearly visible during the day. The star could possibly explode in our lifetime, and its nice to know that it will give us something nice to look at (rather than sear all life from the surface of our planet, which it could do if the star were a lot closer.)
There were plenty of other papers that were fun and enlightening to read, but that is all I've got space for here. Something I did notice was that there seemed to be more multiple-paper topics this year: railguns, the possibility of liquid water on Europa (perhaps thawed by the conversion of Jupiter into a star), the terraforming of Mars, and rather bizarrely, the physics of the Greek titan Atlas was covered twice. I encourage readers to browse the index.
There are currently plans being made to bind and publish this years volume of the Journal of Special topics, and I shall post a link to where it can be purchased from when that happens. In the meantime, I wish all the final year students good luck with their upcoming exams.
Posted by Freddie on 20 Apr 2012
It's nice to see that an independent group have come to roughly the same conclusion as me in regards to solar power http://fredtilley.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/solar-britain/
It's interesting that the calculation in the Solar contraction paper is almost identical to the calculation in the article they were trying to disprove. In my day we only accepted original work :-)