Episode 52: Through The Mirror With Patrick McHale

If you could pass through the mirror into the mirror world

CPT symmetry. Bear with us.  (image from "Over The Garden Wall")

CPT symmetry. Bear with us.
(image from “Over The Garden Wall”)

would the laws of physics differ at all from our own?

Do the laws of physics differ going forwards in time from backwards in time?

Do the laws of physics work differently for matter and antimatter?

Today on the Titanium Physicists Podcast, we answer these questions as best we can. The topic is CPT symmetry!

Our guest this week is exceptional! It’s Patrick McHale, the creator of my favourite cartoon ever “Over the Garden Wall“.  Follow Patrick on Twitter, or on Tumblr.

this episode is SUPER LONG and SUPER AWESOME!

Physicists: Tia Miceli, Ryan Martin

Intro Music: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists 

Exit Music: John Vanderslice 

Episode 51: Tabled Tops with Noah Zimmerman

Mr. Noah Zimmerman joins us to talk about nuclear

this is a visual metaphor for how Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Works... apparently.

this is a visual metaphor for how Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Works… apparently.

magnetic resonance. you know MRIs? “Magnetic resonance Imaging” is what it stands for, “Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging” is what it actually stands for. Essentially, magnets are used to make the nuclei in your atoms stand up and dance.

This is actually one of my favourite episodes to date! We actually manage to explain how NMR works!!


Physicists: Abby Shockley, Fiona Burnell

Intro Music: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists 

Exit Music: John Vanderslice 


Me and Ryan Haupt and Kelly Weinersmith are gonna make a live podcast at the nerd nite block party. In San Fransisco , october 24. 

630 PM, Piston & Chain, 1285 Folsom St (at 9th St.)



Episode 50: The Death of Spirals with Kat Griffiths

Oh man.
Galaxies are totally amazing.

why are there two types of galaxies? Why are they different colours?

the answer is simple: elliptical galaxies don’t have any baby stars in them.

Because all the gas got blown away or melted.


Today’s guest is Kat Griffiths!

Kat is one of the cohosts of the Verity Podcast (about doctor who), and she’s also a fangirl of epic import.

So much fun.

Also, Sean and Laura are back. it’s fun times.

Physicists: Sean Moran, Laura Hainline


Intro Music: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists 

Exit Music: John Vanderslice 


Episode 49: Parallel Philosophies with Christopher Reynaga

Imagine you go back in time with a couple measuring cups. And you give it to some premathematical cave men. And you give them time to play with the cups. And suppose that, as a result, the cave men have learned the mathematical laws of addition before they know how to count. Plato_and_Aristotle_in_The_School_of_Athens,_by_italian_Rafael

What incredible stories do you think they would come up with about why 2+3=5 and 3+2=5 but 2+5=7?

The mathematical laws of quantum mechanics were discovered (informed by the mathematical laws of classical mechanics, which dictate things like energy conservation) without an underlying physical model. That is to say, we know how to do the math, and we know how to use the math to make predictions, but we’re not exactly sure what the math is describing.

Today, on the Ti-Phy, we’re going to talk about the schools of philosophy for interpreting quantum mechanics. It’s pretty great.

Our guest is an author named Christopher Reynaga. The author of my favourite story ever “I only am escaped alone to tell thee” where Captain Ahab is obsessed with hunting Cthulhu.  It has a line in it that is so marrow-chillingly good: “He is the Christ come to try and deliver us all, and there’s not enough blood in him to save us” ha.

 If perhaps you would like to listen to a pocast version, it has been masterfully read by Graeme Dunlop on the DrabbleCast.

Physicists: Tia Miceli, Ken Clark


Intro Music: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists 

Exit Music: John Vanderslice 

Episode 48: Domains of Influence with Brent Knopf and Matt Sheehy

To welcome in the summer, it’s a SUPER EPISODE!

Quoth the bards of rage:

I see miracles all around me
Stop and look around, it’s all astounding
 Water, fire, air and dirt
Fucking magnets, how do they work?



"magnets, how do they work?" any first year physics student knows that magnets never do any work. so the simple answer is "badly". oh, hoh hoh hoh hoh.

“magnets, how do they work?” any first year physics student knows that magnets never do any work. so the simple answer is “badly”. oh, hoh hoh hoh hoh.

lets talk about magnets.

We talk about how magnetic fields work, where they come from, how they interact with things, how they can be used to levitate things (like frogs), magnetic fields in the sun and the earth, and where they come from. This show is rad.

Note that we’ve talked devoted entire episodes to some of the topics we mention in passing, like Aurora (episode 19), Sunspots and Magnetic fields in the sun (episode 17, and 46), Superconductors (episode18), the Dirac Sea (episode 8 ), Lightning (episode 22), and maybe others? Anyway. If you want to know more, the back catalogue will help.

Our guests today are totally amazing.

Matt Sheehy has a band called “LOST LANDER” , and they are AMAZING!

and Brent Knopf has a band called Ramona Falls. and THEY ARE ALSO AMAZING.

also, i found a video of Brent Knopf giving a TEDX talk!

Physicists: Brian Sullivan, Fiona Burnell


Intro Music: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists 

Exit Music: John Vanderslice 

Episode 47: The Song of Falling Stars With Robot Hugs

If two things are attracted to each other, their initial speeds might keep them from colliding, they might circle each other endlessly. But nothing lasts forever… It’s inevitable that they’ll collide!

Binary In-spiral image, taken from here.

Binary In-spiral image, taken from here.

I’m not talking about two of the characters on Supernatural… no, I’m talking about binary systems made of stars, neutron stars and black holes. The Trick is that Gravitational Waves are Emitted.

What fun!

Today’s Guest is Robot Hugs , author and artist of the Robot Hugs Webcomic. It’s a comic about feelings and stuff. pretty great! They are pretty clever and it’s a great show!
Physicists: David Tsang, Jocelyn Read


Intro Music: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists 

Exit Music: John Vanderslice 



What happens when you’re wrong

Hi everyone,

planning on recording the next episode this sunday. really looking forward to it.

but I thought it was worth making a note…

A lot of people are talking about BICEP2.

We spoke about their tentative findings on episode 45: gravitational waves from the inflationary epoch were causing light in the cosmic microwave background to twist and spiral and curl in a detectable way.  a very big deal, for reasons we discuss on the show.

the new news is that maybe the BICEP2 people will have to scale back their claims. It turns out that they didn’t have a very sophisticated picture of where the dust around our galaxy was (it was still being mapped at the time) so when we apply the more sophisticated picture of dust, it *looks* like most of the pinwheel light comes from dust instead of gravitational waves.

the question I am here to answer is: what am I going to do about it. Take the episode down? Add a blerb at the start of the episode about how everyone sucks?

I am not going to do anything about it.

  1. First off, Dr. Katie Mack mentioned this possibility during the episode. Dr. Mack is a lot more diligent and restrained with her public expressions of exuberance than I am, and it has served her well. Do you want to know why professional scientists never go on the tv news, trumpeting their victories? Do you know why you’ll never be able to pin a physicist down and get them to tell you that something is “impossible”? It’s because stuff like this happens sometimes, and you don’t want to get caught with your pants down.
  2. Science is all about revision, and that means that people will make incorrect arguments sometimes, and that we will catch it whenever we can. It would have been glorious if the revised galactic dust map said “Yes BICEP2 Was RIGHT!”, but BICEP2′s analysis attempted to account for the dust as best it could at the time, and sometimes better data says that you’re not as right as you thought you were.
  3. Is it not  EXTRAORDINARY  that we live in times like these, where the data is coming in at such an amazing rate and at such high quality?
  4. The physical mechanisms we described on the show were all fascinating, and were all more or less correct. I mean, we’re not (as) sure if (that) inflation happened (as we were a month ago), but if it DID happen, our episode 45 discussed WHY it would cause swirlo patterns in the sky.  it was still a fascinating show AND it was kind of awe inspiring how sophisticated our theoretical understanding of the event is!

So yeah, I’m not going to do anything. In 100 years, all our episodes will be outdated. This particular one just went sour 10 or 20 years before I expected it to. Science is like that.


p.s. There is a trend (is it a trend?) in science outreach to rely heavily on news to bring in and hook science aficionados. String theory? naming the higgs boson the “god particle”? I like revolutions in theory and experiment as much as the next guy, but science isn’t a horse race. It’s slow, and sometimes researchers get ahead of themselves, and other research drags them back to their place.

So when I choose my shows, I *usually* only choose topics which are part of the well established canon of explanations. That is to say, If you asked physicists in the field how something worked, they would mostly agree. The kind of thing that gets printed in undergraduate textbooks, you know? I have been deliberately staying *away* from the forefront of physics, because it’s a tree where branches are constantly being pruned away or dying of old age. Not that it’s not exciting, or that the people involved are not super clever… It is and they are… but from the audience perspective, finding out that a topic you heard about is not true.. it’s kind of disheartening? it makes you want to give up on paying attention, you know?

And that’s why we stick to topics which are pretty well established both theoretically and experimentally. As I said above, I expect most of our explanations to be usurped in the next 100 years… but that’s plenty of time.

So why did I break with my pattern and cover BICEP2? it’s because the inflation model IS ALMOST canon in cosmology. It’s ubiquitous and *pretty much* accepted, theoretically. Like the Higgs boson, there’s still theoretical room for it NOT to exist, but less work would be involved for everyone if it DID.  I have resisted, since the start of the show, doing inflation as a topic because it had  not been verified experimentally. The BICEP2 results gave Inflation the observational verification it needed. (also, it involved a lot of great physics!)

TL:DR “Meh. that’s science for ya.”

Episode 46: Burning Twice as Bright with Alasdair Stuart


This is what a Hertzprung-Russel diagram looks like in real life. Look at all those peas on that placemat. wouldn't it be great if this podcast wasn't pure audio? OH WELL!

This is what a Hertzprung-Russel diagram looks like in real life. Look at all those peas on that placemat. wouldn’t it be great if this podcast wasn’t pure audio? OH WELL!

I’m pretty happy because Alasdair Stuart (from Pseudopod) has returned to the show, and we get to tell him about STARS!

We talk about the different kinds of stars, and what happens on the insides and different kinds of fusion, and the lifecycle of stars and just ALL SORTS OF FASCINATING JAZZ.

Physicists: Vicky Scowcroft, James Silvester


Intro Music: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists 

Exit Music: John Vanderslice 


Episode 45: The Thumbprint Of Creation With Ryan North

the cosmic microwave background polarization

the cosmic microwave background polarization`

LOOK AT THIS FRIGGING THING ABOVE ME! it’s a photo of the cosmic microwave background, and the lines are the polarizations measured by the BICEP2 telescope at the south pole.

note how the lines swirl.

This effect is being caused by primordial gravitational waves: gravitational waves which were generated during the INFLATION epoch when the universe was less than a trillionth of a second old.

up until now, no one was sure if Inflation occurred. There was circumstantial evidence in favour of it, but no one was sure. Well we’re pretty sure now! LOOK AT THAT.

this is what we’re talking about in today’s show and it’s SO AWESOME.


The guest today is Ryan North. are you reading his comics? Because you probably should, because they’re amazing.

you should probably also look up Dr. katie mack, she is a twitterer , and a science blogger and also a mini podcast of her own.

Physicists: Katie Mack, Mike Zemcov


Intro Music: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists 

Exit Music: John Vanderslice 


Good news! I was wrong and now we’ll eat cake and make a show!


So on a recent show with Taylor Mali, he asked us… essentially, why scientists thought they knew everything? I suppose from an outsider perspective we act like we do. And indeed, we understand SO MUCH. But we were quick to correct him: we make no claims for universal understanding, nor is the joy of science the smugness of knowing a ton. No, the joy of science is in exploring that which is NOT known. the frontier of our understanding is vast, and being wrong (and occasionally right) about our guesses are the reason we get out of bed.

anyway. I’m super happy, because today I WAS WRONG. and wrong in a big way.

I am sure that you’ve read the headlines. 

the deal is that I would put (a small amount of) money on two things, up until last week:

1. Inflation is a cosmological solution to an aesthetic/philosophical problem, and that it probably didn’t happen. and EITHER WAY, we would never know because there aren’t any detectable signals which would be distinguishable.

2. Primordial gravitational waves will never be detected, directly or indirectly.

Indeed, part of my PhD thesis involved some simulations which spat out spectra for primordial gravitational waves. So part 2. was RATHER PESSIMISTIC on my part. nevertheless…

I WAS WRONG on both points!


now listen, nothing is certain, and everything should be taken carefully and conservatively…

but it’s amazing. I’m amazed.

Also, up until now, many of my experts had suggested a show on Inflation, and I’d always said no… because there were no observational verifications.

so. I’m happy to say that the next episode of the titanium physicists podcast, we’ll be talking about inflation, and the exciting news.

but tonight? CAkE!