In 2019, the SI base units were redefined in agreement with the International System of Quantities, effective on the 144th anniversary of the Metre Convention, 20 May 2019. In the redefinition, four of the seven SI base units – the kilogram, ampere, kelvin, and mole – were redefined by setting exact numerical values for the Planck constant (h), the elementary electric charge (e), the Boltzmann constant (kB), and the Avogadro constant (NA), respectively. The second, metre, and candela were already defined by physical constants and were subject to correction to their definitions. The new definitions aimed to improve the SI without changing the value of any units, ensuring continuity with existing measurements. In November 2018, the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) unanimously approved these changes, which the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) had proposed earlier that year after determining that previously agreed conditions for the change had been met.:23 These conditions were satisfied by a series of experiments that measured the constants to high accuracy relative to the old SI definitions, and were the culmination of decades of research.
The previous major change of the metric system occurred in 1960 when the International System of Units (SI) was formally published. At this time the metre was redefined: the definition was changed from the prototype of the metre to a certain number of wavelengths of a spectral line of a krypton-86 radiation, making it derivable from universal natural phenomena. The kilogram remained defined by a physical prototype, leaving it the only artefact upon which the SI unit definitions depend. At this time the SI, as a coherent system, was constructed around seven base units, powers of which were used to construct all other units. With the 2019 redefinition, the SI is constructed around seven defining constants, allowing all units to be constructed directly from these constants. The designation of base units is retained but is no longer essential to define SI measures.
The metric system was originally conceived as a system of measurement that was derivable from unchanging phenomena, but practical limitations necessitated the use of artefacts – the prototype of the metre and prototype of the kilogram – when the metric system was introduced in France in 1799. Although it was designed for long-term stability, the masses of the prototype kilogram and its secondary copies have shown small variations relative to each other over time; they are not thought to be adequate for the increasing accuracy demanded by science, prompting a search for a suitable replacement. The definitions of some units were defined by measurements that are difficult to precisely realise in a laboratory, such as the kelvin, which was defined in terms of the triple point of water. With the 2019 redefinition, the SI became wholly derivable from natural phenomena with most units being based on fundamental physical constants.
A number of authors have published criticisms of the revised definitions; their criticisms include the premise that the proposal failed to address the impact of breaking the link between the definition of the dalton and the definitions of the kilogram, the mole, and the Avogadro constant.
- "2019 redefinition of the SI base units" | 2019-07-01 | 85 Upvotes 92 Comments
The Abelian sandpile model, also known as the Bak–Tang–Wiesenfeld model, was the first discovered example of a dynamical system displaying self-organized criticality. It was introduced by Per Bak, Chao Tang and Kurt Wiesenfeld in a 1987 paper.
The model is a cellular automaton. In its original formulation, each site on a finite grid has an associated value that corresponds to the slope of the pile. This slope builds up as "grains of sand" (or "chips") are randomly placed onto the pile, until the slope exceeds a specific threshold value at which time that site collapses transferring sand into the adjacent sites, increasing their slope. Bak, Tang, and Wiesenfeld considered process of successive random placement of sand grains on the grid; each such placement of sand at a particular site may have no effect, or it may cause a cascading reaction that will affect many sites.
The model has since been studied on the infinite lattice, on other (non-square) lattices, and on arbitrary graphs (including directed multigraphs). It is closely related to the dollar game, a variant of the chip-firing game introduced by Biggs.
- "Abelian sandpile model" | 2018-08-31 | 66 Upvotes 5 Comments
Airglow (also called nightglow) is a faint emission of light by a planetary atmosphere. In the case of Earth's atmosphere, this optical phenomenon causes the night sky never to be completely dark, even after the effects of starlight and diffused sunlight from the far side are removed.
- "Airglow" | 2018-11-24 | 79 Upvotes 8 Comments
The Alcubierre drive, Alcubierre warp drive, or Alcubierre metric (referring to metric tensor) is a speculative idea based on a solution of Einstein's field equations in general relativity as proposed by Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre, by which a spacecraft could achieve apparent faster-than-light travel if a configurable energy-density field lower than that of vacuum (that is, negative mass) could be created.
Rather than exceeding the speed of light within a local reference frame, a spacecraft would traverse distances by contracting space in front of it and expanding space behind it, resulting in effective faster-than-light travel. Objects cannot accelerate to the speed of light within normal spacetime; instead, the Alcubierre drive shifts space around an object so that the object would arrive at its destination faster than light would in normal space without breaking any physical laws.
Although the metric proposed by Alcubierre is consistent with the Einstein field equations, construction of such a drive is not necessarily possible. The proposed mechanism of the Alcubierre drive implies a negative energy density and therefore requires exotic matter. So if exotic matter with the correct properties cannot exist, then the drive could not be constructed. At the close of his original article, however, Alcubierre argued (following an argument developed by physicists analyzing traversable wormholes) that the Casimir vacuum between parallel plates could fulfill the negative-energy requirement for the Alcubierre drive.
Another possible issue is that, although the Alcubierre metric is consistent with Einstein's equations, general relativity does not incorporate quantum mechanics. Some physicists have presented arguments to suggest that a theory of quantum gravity (which would incorporate both theories) would eliminate those solutions in general relativity that allow for backwards time travel (see the chronology protection conjecture) and thus make the Alcubierre drive invalid.
- "Alcubierre drive" | 2018-08-12 | 166 Upvotes 125 Comments
An amplituhedron is a geometric structure introduced in 2013 by Nima Arkani-Hamed and Jaroslav Trnka. It enables simplified calculation of particle interactions in some quantum field theories. In planar N = 4 supersymmetric Yang–Mills theory, also equivalent to the perturbative topological B model string theory in twistor space, an amplituhedron is defined as a mathematical space known as the positive Grassmannian.
Amplituhedron theory challenges the notion that spacetime locality and unitarity are necessary components of a model of particle interactions. Instead, they are treated as properties that emerge from an underlying phenomenon.
The connection between the amplituhedron and scattering amplitudes is at present a conjecture that has passed many non-trivial checks, including an understanding of how locality and unitarity arise as consequences of positivity. Research has been led by Nima Arkani-Hamed. Edward Witten described the work as "very unexpected" and said that "it is difficult to guess what will happen or what the lessons will turn out to be".
- "Amplituhedron" | 2019-02-25 | 55 Upvotes 10 Comments
The angle of repose, or critical angle of repose, of a granular material is the steepest angle of descent or dip relative to the horizontal plane to which a material can be piled without slumping. At this angle, the material on the slope face is on the verge of sliding. The angle of repose can range from 0° to 90°. The morphology of the material affects the angle of repose; smooth, rounded sand grains cannot be piled as steeply as can rough, interlocking sands. The angle of repose can also be affected by additions of solvents. If a small amount of water is able to bridge the gaps between particles, electrostatic attraction of the water to mineral surfaces will increase the angle of repose, and related quantities such as the soil strength.
When bulk granular materials are poured onto a horizontal surface, a conical pile will form. The internal angle between the surface of the pile and the horizontal surface is known as the angle of repose and is related to the density, surface area and shapes of the particles, and the coefficient of friction of the material. Material with a low angle of repose forms flatter piles than material with a high angle of repose.
The term has a related usage in mechanics, where it refers to the maximum angle at which an object can rest on an inclined plane without sliding down. This angle is equal to the arctangent of the coefficient of static friction μs between the surfaces.
- "The Angle of repose" | 2008-09-29 | 16 Upvotes 5 Comments
Artificial photosynthesis is a chemical process that biomimics the natural process of photosynthesis to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. The term artificial photosynthesis is commonly used to refer to any scheme for capturing and storing the energy from sunlight in the chemical bonds of a fuel (a solar fuel). Photocatalytic water splitting converts water into hydrogen and oxygen and is a major research topic of artificial photosynthesis. Light-driven carbon dioxide reduction is another process studied that replicates natural carbon fixation.
Research of this topic includes the design and assembly of devices for the direct production of solar fuels, photoelectrochemistry and its application in fuel cells, and the engineering of enzymes and photoautotrophic microorganisms for microbial biofuel and biohydrogen production from sunlight.
- "Artificial Photosynthesis" | 2018-08-26 | 30 Upvotes 10 Comments
Banana equivalent dose (BED) is an informal measurement of ionizing radiation exposure, intended as a general educational example to compare a dose of radioactivity to the dose one is exposed to by eating one average-sized banana. Bananas contain naturally occurring radioactive isotopes, particularly potassium-40 (40K), one of several naturally-occurring isotopes of potassium. One BED is often correlated to 10−7 sievert (0.1 μSv); however, in practice, this dose is not cumulative, as the principal radioactive component is excreted to maintain metabolic equilibrium. The BED is only meant to inform the public about the existence of very low levels of natural radioactivity within a natural food and is not a formally adopted dose measurement.