chemistry, Experiments, Together with sis

MEL Chemistry Experiments: Foil Etching, Magnetizing Magnesium, Metal Contest

In the Foil Etching experiment we had copper burn a whole in the aluminium foil.

This is the reactivity chart from the MEL science website, as you see aluminium is a lot more reactive than copper

As you can see, aluminum Al is much more reactive than copper Cu, but nothing happens when aluminum foil comes into contact with the copper sulfate CuSO4 solution! How come? Unfortunately, it’s all a bit more complicated than it first looks. Being quite an active metal, aluminum Al  reacts with oxygen O2 in the air, forming a very strong film of aluminum oxide Al2O3 on its surface . This film protects the metal from reacting any further.

When you add some sodium chloride NaCl, a vigorous reaction starts as Cl ions are able to compromise the otherwise-strong Al2O3 shield. Once Cu2+ is face-to-face with the aluminum Al itself and not its Al2O3 shield, the reaction can proceed, and quite spectacularly!

the hole in aluminium foil as active aluminium atoms have fled

In the next experiment, we obtained a magnetic substance from two non-magnetic ones, magnesium Mg and iron sulfate FeSO4, via a simple chemical reaction! The Fe2+ from the FeSO4 solution turned into metallic iron Fe on the surface of the magnesium particles, so we ended up with magnesium shavings covered with a thin layer of iron! The picture below shows how the magnesium shavings actually hold a heavy neodymium magnet in the air!

a heavy magnet hanging on the bottom of a glass beaker thanks to electromagnetism

And lastly, we did what MEL Chemistry calls a “Metal Contest”, because here too, three metals (zink, copper and tin) were competing in reactivity. “If you arrange metals from more active to less active, you’ll see that zinc Zn is a more adventurous fellow than tin Sn and copper Cu. That’s why, when you put a zinc rod into a solution containing, say, copper ions Cu2+, the latter are happy to settle inside the comfortable cloud of electrons, forming metallic copper Cu on the surface of the rod. Zn ions Zn2+, in turn, go swimming in the solution. The reaction with the tin chloride SnCl2 solution is essentially the same”, MEL Science website explains.

copper and tin on the surface of the zink rods

Experiments, Geography, Milestones, Physics, Together with sis, Trips

CERN Open Days September 14 – 15, 2019

The most important experience was actually simply to see how huge the Large Hadron Collider is. We totally didn’t expect the site of every experiment on the 27km ring to resemble an industrial town in its own right, scattered miles across a desert-like terrain with the Mont Blanc and the Jura mountains as the scenic back drop. It was a challenge to walk between the activities we had carefully planned in advance only to find out that some of the were full or required an hour of waiting in line. But the kids have withstood these challenges heroically and were rewarded with a few unforgettable impressions.

In front of the CMS experiment
A schematic of the LHC
It all begins with simple hydrogen protons…
the waiting
Magnet levitation above superconductive material used at CERN to create strong magnetic field to bend the path of the particles
Cloud chamber: we have actually seen energetic charged particles leave traces in the alcohol vapor in real time, in the form of a trail of ionized gas! What we saw were mainly alpha particles and electrons, we were told, judging by the character of the trail they left. Cloud chamber detectors used to play an important role in experimental physics, this is how the positron was discovered! Simon was a bit sad he didn’t get to actually build a cloud chamber as part of a workshop (they didn’t allow anyone younger than 12 to do the workshop), but he was lucky to get a personal tour at another site, where a couple of cloud chambers were available for exploration.
Our wonderful guide computer scientist George Salukvadze showing us around at DUNE, the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. George told us the detectors they are building will be employed at Fermilab in the U.S. Among other things, George has done the programming for the live website (screen with liquid Argon).
Playing the particle identity game
Electronics, Engineering, Experiments, Milestones, Notes on everyday life, Physics, Trips

Supersymmetry: Why do we need the Future Circular Collider?

This is the text of the mini-lecture on Supersymmetry that CERN Research Physicist, CMS supersymmetry group convener and Deputy LHC Programme Coordinator Filip Moortgat kindly gave us during our visit to CERN and the Large Hadron Collider last week.

Filip Moortgat: Supersymmetry stands out among all the other Beyond Standard Model theories (like extra dimensions and so on). It’s particularly interesting because it answers multiple things at the same time. I would say that most other extensions of the Standard Model solve one problem but not five like supersymmetry.

The first problem: because it connects the internal property of a particle to spacetime, it actually opens a way of gravity entering the Standard Model. As you know, the main problem with the Standard Model is that gravity is not in there. So one of the major forces that we know exists is not in there. Nobody has succeeded to make gravity part of it in a way that is consistent. People hope that supersymmetry can do it, although we’re not there yet.

The second problem is called the hierarchy problem. What that means is that you have a base  mass for a particle and then you have corrections to it from all the other particles. What happens is that if you don’t have any other particles beyond the Standard Model particles you get corrections that become gigantic. What you need to do is tune the base mass and these corrections so that you get the mass that we measured for the Higgs Boson or for the w and z bosons. It’s like 10^31 minus 10^31 is a 100 type of tuning, and we find it unnatural. It’s ugly mathematics. In supersymmetry, you get automatic cancelation of these big corrections: You get a big one and then you get minus the big one (the same correction but with a minus in front of it), it cancels out and it’s pretty, it’s beautiful.

The third thing is dark matter, a big problem. 85 procent of the matter in the universe is dark matter (if you also include the energy in the universe, you get different numbers). And the lightest stable supersymmetry particle is actually a perfect candidate for dark matter, in the sense that it has all the properties and if you compute how much you expect it’s exactly what you observe in the universe. It works great. It doesn’t mean that it’s true, it would work great if you could find it.

And then there’re more technical arguments that make things  connect together in nicer ways than before. Normally, the electric symmetry is broken in the way that everything becomes zero. All the masses would be zero, the universe would just be floating particles that wouldn’t connect to each other, it would be very boring. But that’s not what happened. To show what actually happened you need to drive one mass squared term negative, which is kind of weird but that is what supersymmetry does automatically! Because the top quark mass is so heavy. Heavier than all the other quarks. For me it’s the most beautiful extension of the Standard Model that gives you a lot of solutions to problems in one go.

The problem is that we haven’t seen anything, yet! We have been looking for it for a long time and we have absolutely zero evidence. We now have reasons to believe that it’s not as light as we have originally thought, that it’s a little bit heavier. Which is not a problem. The LHC has a certain mass range, for supersymmetry it’s typically up to a couple of TeV. But it could be 10 TeV and then we couldn’t get there, we can only get up to 2 or 3 TeV. It could be factor 10 heavier than we think!

This why we are starting to discuss the planning of the Future Collider that will be able to go up the spectre of 10 TeV in mass, for supersymmetry and other theories. There’re several proposals, some of them are linear colliders, but my favourite one is a 100 km circular collider which will connect to the LHC, so that we have one more ring. That ring will actually go under the lake and that would be quite challenging, but in my opinion – although we don’t have any guarantee – we will then have a very good shot, at least in terms of supersymmetry. At the LHC we also have a good shot but don’t have enough reach that we need to really explore the supersymmetry. 

When we use conservation of energy and momentum at the collision point, what we do is we measure everybody, we sum it all up and what we need is we need to get the initial state. If something is lacking, then we know there’s something invisible going on. It could be neutrinos, or neutralinos, or it could be something else. So we have to look at the properties and the distributions to figure out exactly what we’re seeing. It’s not a direct detection but it’s a direct derivation if you want, from not seeing something, from lacking something, that we can still say it is consistent with neutralinos. 

How do you know if it’s neutrinos or neutralinos?

Neutrinos we know well by now so we know what to expect with neutrinos. Otherwise it could be neutralios but it could be something else. And then to actually prove that it’s neutralinos we have a long program of work. 

And is that mainly math?

No, it’s everything. It needs all the communities to work together, because we need to measure certain properties, distributions with the detector and we will need the theoretical ideas on how to connect these measurements to the properties of the particle. So we will need both the mathematical part and the experimental part. Translating the mathematics into the particle predictions, we will need all of that.   

Astronomy, Experiments, Geography, history, Milestones, Notes on everyday life, Physics, Space, Together with sis, Trips

We’ve found the real 0° meridian!

And it turned out to be a that little path next to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, not the Prime Meridian line. The 0° meridian is what the GPS uses for global navigation, the discrepancy results from the fact that the Prime Meridian was originally measured without taking it into consideration that the Earth isn’t a perfect smooth ball (if the measurements are made inside the UK, as it it was originally done, this does’t lead to as much discrepancy as when vaster areas are included).

Simon standing with one foot in the Western hemisphere and the other one in the Eastern hemisphere
The GPS determines the longitude of the Prime Meridian as 0.0015° W
Simon tried to use JS to program his exact coordinates, but that took a bit too long so we switched to the standard Google Maps instead
The Prime Meridian from inside the Royal Observatory building
Looking for the real 0° meridian: this is an open field next to the Royal Observatory. At this point, the SatNav reads 0.0004° W.
And we finally found the 0° meridian! Some 100 meters to the East of the Prime Meridian
The 0° meridian turned out to intersect the highest point on the path behind Simon’s back!
Simon and Neva running about in between the measurements of longitude
Astronomer Royal Edmond Halley’s scale at the Royal Observatory
Halley’s scale is inscribed by hand
Experiments, Group, Milestones, Murderous Maths, Physics, Together with sis, Trips

All Nerds Unite: Simon meets Steve Mould and Matt Parker in London

Hilarious, inspirational and loaded with cosmic coincidences, this was one of the best evenings ever! Many of our currently favourite themes were mentioned in the show (such as the controversy of Francis Galton, the BED/ Banana Equivalent Dose, sound wave visualizations, laser, drawing and playing with ellipses, Euler’s formula). Plus Simon got to meet his teachers from several favourite educational YouTube channels, Numberphile, StandUpMaths and Steve Mould.

With Steve Mould
With Matt Parker
Codea, Coding, Experiments, Math Tricks, Murderous Maths, Simon's Own Code, Simon's sketch book

Chaos Game and the Serpinski Triangle

Monday morning Simon showed me the Chaos Game: he created three random dots on a sheet of paper (the corners of a triangle) and was throwing dice to determine where all additional dots would appear, always half-way between the previous dot and one of the corners of the triangle.

Very soon, he found it too much work to continue and I though he gave up. Later the same day, however, he suddenly produced the same game in Codea, the points filling in much faster than when he did it manually, yet following exactly the same algorithm. To my surprise, what resulted from this seemingly random scattering of dots was a beautiful Serpinski triangle.

How come a dot never happens inside one of the black triangles in the middle? – I asked.
Sometimes you start there, but the next dot (half-way towards one of the corners) is already outside the black triangle, Simon showed. (The screenshot above is of such an occurance. If you look carefully, you will see a dot in the middle).
Exercise, Experiments, Notes on everyday life, Physics, Simon teaching, Together with sis, Trips

A lot of fluid dynamics at Technopolis

Today we celebrated my 40th birthday with a family trip to Technopolis, a mekka for science-minded kids in the Belgian town of Mechelen. (Technically, my real birthday is in two days from now, but I have messed with the arrow of time a little, to speed things up).
The entrance to the museum is adorned with a red lever that anyone can use to lift up a car!
Simon and Neva lifting up the car
The beautiful marble run and math and physics demo in one
Galton’s board and Gaussian distribution
Simon explaining the general relativity demo, which is part of the marble run
This was probably the winner among all the exhibits: a wall to climb with a mission (Simon figured it out rather quickly – one had to turn “mirrors” to change the direction of light (green projection) and have the light rays extinguish the targets.
Simon tried to explain this to other children, but they only seemed to want to climb. It was sad to see how no one cared to listen (well, except for Neva of course).
Simon was already familiar with this optical illusion. Later he saw another version of this on an Antwerp facade.
The logic gates were too easy.
the center of gravity
Huge catenaroids! Something Simon had already demonstrated to us at home, but now in XXL!
And huge vortices! Another passion.
Hydrodynamic levitation! Hydrodynamic levitation!
Look! A standing wave!
And another standing wave!

Here Simon explains one more effect he has played with at home, the Magnus effect.