Archive for category Periodic Table
Oft upon a spacetime,
a red star gets the blues
and puffs up like a superstar
with nothing left to fuse.
Pushing hot and heavy,
it finds its stellar rise
affords a new and rapid way
Squirts new heavy ions
to interstellar dust
then collapses in and pulls some back
and into stellar crust.
compressed by weight of all
our star invites its nearest friends
to join the neutron ball.
neutron star where mass of more
than one Earth Sun is bound.
Heart a seething chaos,
skin so smooth and hard,
beneath the skin, too densely packed
to tell each piece apart.
Love-crossed star starts dancing
with friend who heard the call:
another star-crossed lover,
another neutron ball.
They pull each other closer,
spin fast, and by and by,
they kiss in bursts of gamma rays
and heavy nuclei.
Once upon a planet
of star-fused chemistry
some humans sought to learn of how
their atoms came to be:
Made their own large nuclides
used traps to measure mass,
then calculated where they’d fit
in star’s electron gas.
Nuclides so unstable
they fall apart on Earth,
at pressure, they survive in dead
star hotbed’s upper berth:
Isotopes of nickel,
and lots of iron too,
zinc-80 (deeper than we thought)
But no zinc-82.
Once upon a line graph,
those data points could show,
a hint of where and when and how
big elements may grow.
Is it supernovas,
or casanovas’ kiss?
Is it neither? Some of both?
And what else did we miss?
Probed big atoms’ origins,
but all their parents knew:
My daughter works in science labs;
don’t ask me what they do!
Tried to tell the physicists
but all that students knew:
zinc-80 (deeper than they thought)
and no zinc-82.
This is my understanding (as a mere mathematician/code monkey) of the cover story of this month’s CERN Courier. I picked up a copy on Friday evening on the way out of work, and decided I could interview people I know in ISOLDE and write an article about it in 400 words or fewer in order to apply for an editorial trainee scheme at New Scientist magazine, since applications weren’t due until Monday and I needed a writing project for the weekend anyway. Once I’d read the article and enough supporting material to understand it, I realised I probably wouldn’t end up writing the article. I wasn’t sure I really understood the significance of it, I didn’t have access to the original paper from home, and what’s more, the result was a month and a half old, which is far too old, according to New Scientist’s freelancing guidelines. It might work for getting an internship at Old Scientist, but I probably wouldn’t like that because I’m the editor-in-chief at Old Scientist and I’d probably treat my interns poorly.
Anyhow, I decided I’d just appoint myself New Scientist’s, or maybe the CERN Courier’s, unofficial contributing troubadour, and write poems about their feature articles. If Popular Science can have a contributing troubadour, so can New Scientist. So, certain I couldn’t adequately explain ISOLTRAP’s result in 400 words or fewer, I set about writing a poem about it, which came out at 302 words. I tackled it rather longitudinally though; it doesn’t go much into the specifics (or even mention the r-process or ISOLTRAP by name) and occasionally I may sacrifice clarity for rhythm or puns, but I tried to give all the context needed to have some kind of understanding of the final result. This article is probably easier to understand than the CERN Courier one. One of the many interesting things I learnt while researching this is that stars actually get the blues before going supernova.
But of course, it all depends on what you mean by cause:
But, although it may be in poor taste, when I think about that comic I can’t help thinking of this song by The Arrogant Worms (note that the lyrics on their website seem to have been transcribed by an automatic speech-to-text program or non-native English speakers on Mechanical Turk. Listen to the song if you want to know what it says.)
This was another week when I didn’t even deal out all of the cards, and started working on something on Saturday that I’d been thinking about for a while. The card which I figured gave me an excuse to do it was Lutetium, which is used in cancer fighting.
Do you know what else is used in cancer fighting? Protons and carbon ions, accelerated to high energies. I work on control systems for an accelerator that will do that. Here you can find slides and video of a CERN summer student lecture about that from 2011. There’s a more recent one from this year, but it looks like there’s only a video from part 2 and not part 1.
The font is Humor Sans (not Comic Sans! I never worked for the ATLAS experiment) and the harsh straight lines in my first remix were a bad idea.
Jim was a respectable middle-aged man who suddenly became a pirate. He didn’t just start downloading art in ways contrary to the artists’ wishes. He actually became a pirate. One minute he was looking at cat pictures on the internet at work, the next he was standing on an enemy ship, with a cutlass in one hand and a hook on the other, sporting a peg leg and eyepatch, and plundering the booty of the crew he’d just murdered.
“What on Earth is going on?” he said. What came out was, “Shiver me timbers, I’ve lost me bearings!”
The parrot on his shoulder mocked him with echoes of “I’ve lost me bearings! I’ve lost me bearings!” The dead bodies surrounding him did not respond.
Jim figured he may as well get back to business. He staggered around the ship, swearing like a sailor at the lack of peg-leg-accessible spaces.
In one of the berths was a naked dead man. Jim was about to congratulate himself for having been so thorough at the crew-murdering when a sneeze came from the top bunk.
“P… pl… please don’t kill me!” pled the young, fully-dressed and clean-shaven pirate on the top bunk.
Jim instinctively waved his cutlass at him. “Who are you, ye lily-livered mast mugger?” he growled, putting far more emphasis on the ‘arrrre’ than he had intended.
“I’m…, I be uhh… bl… yarr, I be Cap’n Toothbeard. If ye spare me I’ll be swabbin’ yer decks twice a day ‘n’ barely touchin’ yer wenches.”
Jim let out a pensive arrr. He wasn’t sure how many of his crew had been lost in the battle, nor whether he had any wenches. But without remembering any specifics, he felt as though he’d already killed and swabbed enough for the day.
“Arrright, matey. But if I catch ye in any monkey business, ye’ll be keelhauled.” He extended his right arm to shake on it. Toothbeard cowered from the sharp hook.
Jim contented himself with touching elbows with his new crew member. “I’m Jim.” He suddenly panicked at having revealed such an un-piratey name as ‘Jim’, until he realised that the name that actually came out of his mouth was ‘Cap’n Stede Bonnet’. A pretty funny-sounding name, in Jim’s opinion, but convincing enough. So that was his name then.
What with the missing hand, leg and eye, and the lack of any real knowledge of how to be a pirate, ‘Stede’ was glad to have help. The two of them gathered up all the gold from the vessel and swung from a stray rope onto Stede’s ship. There were no wenches, no surviving crew, no food, and a mess of spilt blood, grog and urine under the tattered threads of a Jolly Roger. They swung back to grab some more useful supplies.
Toothbeard was true to his word. Before long, the decks, walls and cannons gleamed, the meticulously-restitched Jolly Roger flapped proudly in the wind, and colourful semaphore flags spelling out motivational messages complemented the tasteful off-white of the sails. Stede and Toothbeard got along fabulously.
Piracy was difficult with only two crew, but Toothbeard turned out to be excellent at sneaking around disabling cannons and stealing treasure while Stede parleyed with a rival captain. Once or twice the friendly chat didn’t go so well and he had to slice someone open and swing back to his own ship before the rest of the crew retaliated. If anyone invaded their ship, Toothbeard would make sure the flags were rearranged to balance out any browning blood patches.
Without the aid of a GPS, Stede steered the ship mainly on instinct, until the day they arrived at a tiny deserted island with a single coconut palm growing out of a mound of white sand. Toothbeard wasted no time in suspending a large, sparkly red hammock between the ship and the palm and relaxing in it with a tot of rum, while Stede dug idly into the sand.
“Well, blow me down!” Stede exclaimed when his shovel hit something hard.
“That I will!” boomed a voice from above. No actual blowing occurred, but Stede was so shocked by the sight of a woman in a bright olive leotard and sparkly red cape hovering in the sky that he fell backwards anyway. His parrot flew from his shoulder screeching “Pretty birdy! Pretty birdy!” at the lady.
Jim was quite used to being Stede Bonnet the pirate by this time, but it was moments like this that reminded him how very strange it was. “Ahoy thar!” he called. “Thar be no flyin’ wenches on my ship! Against the pirate code, it is!”
“May I remind you, sir, that you are on land, and the law of the land says no piracy is allowed, and the stolen gold and love letters in that chest you’re digging up belong to me and my partner Agent Chlorine,” said the woman, with a stern look.
Love letters? Agent Chlorine? In all his time pretending to really be Stede Bonnet, Jim had never been at this much of a loss before. But there was gold, so the obvious thing to do was keep digging.
The flying woman’s booming voice had woken up Toothbeard, who had spilled rum on his chest in his sleep. He ran to Stede and stared bewildered at the flyer. After a few moments he seemed to recognise her, and started to go pale.
“Thank you for your service, Agent Chlorine,” said the woman.
“Y… you’re welcome?” said the whitening agent.
“You salty moose. A secret agent?” yelled Stede.
“It’s not like that! I mean yes, I am a secret agent, sent to cleanse the waters of piracy, but I… I like you! I don’t even know what she’s doing here! And I’m not Agent Chlorine. My real name’s Agent Chlorine!” Agent Chlorine looked as confused as the rest of them at the last remark.
“He knows you’re not a pirate now,” said the flying lady. “You may as well admit to the rest. You hung out my spare cape to signal me because he led you to where he’d hidden what he stole from us.”
Agent Chlorine looked back at his hammock, and back up at the woman. “Uh… yes, yes, of course, Flying Thulium, I hung up the cape to signal you. I knew he was digging up our letters because…”
“Because what else would it be?” she said confidently. “I can read them from here with my x-ray vision.”
Before Stede had a chance to wonder whether x-rays were known about in the age of piracy, the Flying Thulium swooped down toward him. In an instant, her cape was tangled in the branches of the palm tree, and she dangled by her neck, strangling herself a little every time she tried to fly away. “You’ll live to regret this!” she asserted. As if to emphasise her point, a coconut fell and hit Stede’s spade, whose digging motion propelled it into the water. The parrot flew after it, but was unable to lift a coconut without the help of a second parrot and a piece of string.
Stede turned his attention to Agent Chlorine, formerly known as Toothbeard. “Th’wench says this be my treasure, looted from you. We split it?” he tried to lift the treasure chest from the hole, but couldn’t grip it well enough with his hook, and fell onto it. He cleared room for his legs and made himself comfortable sitting on the chest.
“Those are our love letters, you filthy pirate!” said the Dangling Thulium. She shot laser beams from her eyes and melted the sand around him. When the melted sand cooled, his peg leg was stuck fast, and he was surrounded by walls of vitrified sand. Not for the first time, he wondered why the peg leg was not removable.
Agent Chlorine tried to pull him out, but slipped on the glass and found himself lying over the hole, arms on one side, feet on the other. The parrot left a dropping on his back while echoing, “You filthy pirate! You filthy pirate!”
Stede stood up, headbutting Agent Chlorine’s stomach. Agent Chlorine slid forward on the glass and his feet fell into Stede’s face. Agent Chlorine pulled himself up and slid on his belly toward the unmelted sand, defeated. Stede nursed his bloody nose, and the parrot came and sat on his head.
Stede let forth a stream of insults which are not suitable for a general audience, but which came out as “You scurvy yellow-bellied scallywags!” Being a pirate was no fun any more. “I be nay e’en a real pirate. I work on thems bewitch’d boxes.”
“The path to understanding,” began the Dangling Thulium authoritatively, “begins with an open heart and ends with proper English.”
“I think he said he’s not a real pirate,” said Agent Chlorine, who had learnt quite a bit of pirate lingo during his time as a spy. “Which suits me fine, because I’m not a real secret agent. I’m an interior decorator, as you should know, Flying Thulium. I just found myself in a pirate’s bunk one day, wearing a smart black suit with a lot of secret pockets. Next thing I knew, there was a big commotion outside and I had to give my bunkmate a cyanide pill and and take his pirate clothes before Captain Bonnet found me.”
“You too?!” exclaimed Stede and Thulium in chorus. The parrot on Stede’s head perked up and repeated after them.
“You’re not alone,” said Thulium heroically. “I was once trying to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem while mourning the anniversary of my heart being broken, when I found myself rescuing a princess from a pirate crew.” She said it in a way that inspired all of them to try to become heroes. “I didn’t know Agent Chlorine was here until I saw the cape.”
“Aye, but how d’ye know Cap’n T… Agent Chlorine?”
“Sometimes,” she said, “the answer you seek is directly beneath your derrière.”
Stede snickered until Thulium’s heroic glare caught him. He stood up and tried to turn towards the treasure chest, twisting his pegged leg as far around as he could before falling backwards, ending up parallel to the chest with his back against the side of the hole. He undid the clasp with his hook, and watched as the chest sprang open and a golden glow lit the space where the lid had been. Stede pushed himself upward with his good leg so he could see into the chest.
Stede’s confused arrr for some reason reminded him of Scooby Doo. There was no gold, just letters. He fished them out with his hook, and tried to get himself upright to close the chest, but fell and ended up sitting in it. That would have to do.
“Read to us” commanded Thulium, who was levitating as comfortably as she could next to the top of the palm tree.
So he did. They were love letters between childhood sweethearts: a lass studying mathematics and her beau studying interior decorating on the other side of the country. Jim had never heard such a touching love story, having been raised in an orphanage, left there by unmarried girl who had been impregnated by a passing sailor, and then been sent to an asylum for telling crazy stories about spies or something. He was almost in tears, but Levitating Thulium and Agent Chlorine were in stitches hearing their words read in his unintentional pirate dialect.
Stede was so absorbed in the letters he didn’t notice Agent Chlorine climbing up the palm to reminisce with Thulium. When he finished the letter he was reading and saw them, he couldn’t help chanting, “Chlorine and Thulium, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” The parrot, who was not so good at spelling, echoed only the ‘aye aye!’ as it flew up toward them. Surprised, Thulium lost her grip on Agent Chlorine, who fell into the hammock. The force of the falling agent caused the hammock to come untied from the tree, and without its makeshift tether, the ship began to float away. Agent Chlorine hung onto the hammock and tried to pull the ship back, but before long he was drifting with it out to sea while Thulium tried desperately to untangle her cape from the tree.
Meanwhile, Stede read the last letter silently. Things had not ended well. Agent Chlorine had had some kind of existential crisis and couldn’t continue his relationship with Thulium. He hinted that he’d met someone else at design school.
Well, Thulium and Chlorine had seemed pretty friendly moments ago. Stede wanted the love story to continue, even if it meant losing his first mate. He stood up in his glassy sand hole and tried to free his peg leg. Thulium hovered at the top of the palm tree and tried to free her cape. Agent Chlorine clung to the sparkly cape-hammock for dear life as the ship pulled it away from shore.
Stede moved to close the chest so he would at least have somewhere comfortable to sit while everything went wrong. At the bottom of the chest, he saw the source of the golden glow: a diamond ring with a small note attached from the Flying Thulium. “I shan’t keep this, then.”
“Yo ho!” called Stede, waving the ring in the air.
“Yo ho!” answered the parrot as it grabbed the ring from his fingers.
“Oh no!” gasped Thulium as the parrot flew off with the ring. Then “Oh!” as the ring landed in her hand. Her cape was almost indestructible, but diamond can cut through anything.
“Noooo!” Agent Chlorine completed for her, as he lost his grip on the cape-hammock.
Thulium quickly cut her cape free with the diamond and flew to Agent Chlorine’s rescue. She boarded the boat with him, and they sailed off into the sunset.
Stede sat back down inside the treasure chest with a dejected arrr, unsure if he could call this a loss or a win. After some time, he discovered a false bottom in the chest. Underneath it was some gold jewellery, and one last note, which he recognised as being in Thulium’s handwriting. It was a note he’d seen once before when he was a little boy, but been forced to throw away. “Please call my baby Stede, after the pirate who helped bring his daddy and me back together.”
Jim was glad the orphanage staff had not obeyed. Stede was a pretty funny-sounding name.