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December 2008 Archives

If there's one thing that is likely to promote disharmony amongst the physics community, its the use for the f-word. That's 'f' as in 'fugal', as in centrifugal.  Now, part of me thinks I should reconsider before writing this entry, but I have recently read a particularly unhelpful  piece on the internet written by a well meaning but misguided physics teacher that rather concerns me. So I shall wade precariously into the mire of physics controversy and say why I think there shouldn't be any controversy at all

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Yes, I know the answer is an awful long way (i.e. to some quite distant galaxies), but I specifically mean in the context of how far can I see as I go up in altitude? From my third-floor office window in Hamilton I can easily see the 50 km to the top of Te Aroha (the mountain, not the town) on a clear day, but from 37000 feet altitude on a plane, just how far can I potentially see?

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I read in a popular physics magazine that a guy has had an image of Stephen Hawking tatooed on his leg, and it has won an award for the tatooist. Oh dear.

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When you think of solar power, you probably think of solar panels on your roof, or those little solar cells on your calculator. But it doesn't have tp be that high-tec. In concentrated solar power schemes, you simply find a large area of land in the middle of a sunny area (e.g Arizona, Spain, Australia...) and equip it with lots of mirrors that focus the sun's light ono the top of a tower, through which you pipe water. The heat converts the water to steam, which drives a turbine, and generates electricity.

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One of the best and worst duties of a scientist is to go to international conferences. It’s one of the best duties because you get to go overseas at relatively little cost to yourself (in my immediate case Adelaide) and enjoy lots of freebies (such as hotel swimming pools, shiraz, expenses-paid meals, more free pens than you can imagine…). It’s one of the worst because the price you pay for the freebies is sitting through hours and days of some of the most tedious talks you can imagine.

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Instead of enduring hours sitting at airports and in aeroplanes (complete with passengers in front of you who recline their seats forty-eight milliseconds after the fasten seatbelts sign goes out, grrrr), wouldn't it be nice if Star Trek transporter technology actually existed. Just step onto the pad, select your destination (better check it carefully first), and their you are, assuming no flies jump onto the pad at the same time (link for those who don't get the joke.)

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