June 09, 2011

Scotch tape X-rays

A fascinating lecture on sonoluminescence by UCLA's Seth Putterman, though it's more about several long-observed phenomena that have escaped scientific explanations based on "first principles." One notable example is static electricity, and how there still isn't a good theory for how scuffing your feet generates potentials of ten of thousands of volts. During the Q&A, he gives a tip of the hat to Philo Farnsworth, most famous for inventing television, but who also experimented with fusion.

Perhaps more than anything else, this lecture illustrates the joy a true scientist takes in saying "We don't know," never settling for second-rate explanations simply because the really smart people can't come up with anything better, or because "nine out of ten doctors agree." Science isn't a toothpaste commercial, and the only thing we know for certain is that we hardly know anything at all, except that there's always something more waiting to be discovered. And it's gonna be a blast finding out what it is.

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