Fast away the light year passes



Mercury and Venus were bright in the evening sky during the first week of 2015. This International Year of Light 2015 ( has continued to offer spectacular astronomy events, including aurora displays and a solar eclipse in March; a supermoon lunar Eclipse in September; and Jupiter, Venus and Mars lined up for the December morning skies, and, for Christmas day, a full moon.

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Surely, you don’t expect this to be science?

easVisiting the EAS 2015 trade show in Göteborg last week made me reflect back on Supercomputing ‘95 in San Diego that I visited as part of the Swedish council for high-performance computing. There were large similarities: Byers, vendors and users getting together for a show of spectacularly large and expensive high-tech machines and also watch curiously to see what buyer is talking closely to what seller – although during SC95, the machines were supercomputers, not carousels and roller coasters. Both trade shows featured fast-driving cars or airplanes – the movie and gaming industry have a long tradition of using computing power, although at SC95, the cars or airplanes were likely to be accompanied by a visualization of the flow, e.g. in a numerical windtunnel.

The EAS ice sculpture in the entrance to the opening reception at Liseberg reminded also me of similar sculpture at a Cray party. During that party the guests wore blinking buttons showing the new hypercube T3E architecture – and in the EAS opening reception, the participants wore Liseberg rabbit ears.

Although there are many similarities, there are also differences that can probably be ascribed to the different characters of the relations to their user bases, but also to different relations to science, technology and education.

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From VR caves to augmented roller coaster reality

VRcoasterThe tradeshow floor of the Euro Attractions Show, EAS 2015, that took place in Gothenburg 6-8 October, featured many examples of how the 3D and Virtual Reality techniques have developed. Most easily visible were the large number of fast cars and shooting attractions. Gaming, weather forecasts and movies remain among the uses that push the requirements for computing capacity. The incredible increase in computing power, is illustrated e.g. in the TOP500 list of the world’s fastest computers. This development makes possible better and better calculations, e.g. for roller coasters, but also enables completely new applications, where creativity combines advanced technologies from very different fields, such as the VR coaster where Augmented Reality meets real roller coasters. Continue reading

20 Years of Amusement Park Physics

disk_kuling_platsDuring a few days, 10-15 of September 2015, I participated in, arranged and observed three different physics/science days in three parks: Gröna Lund, Liseberg and Tivoli Gardens – and realised that I could look back on 20 years of amusement park physics. These 20 years have involved a development from a small introductory activity for 35 students to a wide range of tasks of many levels of difficulty for most rides in Liseberg and Gröna Lund, as well as international collaborations. The student assignments have been presented in some detail in a number of articles. The evolving format has built on reflections and evaluations from students, teachers and collaborators, and been scaled up to special edutainment or physics days for thousands of students, and forms for teacher involvement as described in our paper about Teacher Roles in Amusement Parks.

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Pluto Fly By and other longterm projects

Pluto, from pluto.jhuapl.eduPluto FlyBy: A triumph of classical mechanics and modern technology. But no technological advance can make the transmission of images and data faster than the more than four hours required for light to travel from Pluto to Earth. And engineers and researchers have waited nine years for New Horizons to reach Pluto. For everyone following the #PlutoFlyBy, it is a vivid illustration of the patience and long time scales often involved in research, as well as of the intense collaboration bewteen many different experts.

Budding scientists and engineers are likely to be inspired by amazing projects, like the New Horizons Pluto Flyby – and last summer’s Rosetta rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – but like the travel to Pluto or a comet, there is a long delay before an outcome, such as a possible career choice.

Assessing the impact of various science communication efforts must take time and many other factors into account, as was discussed during many sessions during this year’s  Ecsite annual conference “Food for thought” in Trento. The tweets from the conference are summarized at


During one of the many exciting sessions Kevin Crowley talked about Caise – the Center for advancement of informal science education – and the aim for “a roadmap to place research in informal learning in learning sciences and ecosystems”. He emphasized that we need to do a better job of sharing and building on what we know, e.g. though the resources created, collected and shared at

The discussion of assessment of impact is also among those discussed in the relatively new, dedicated Journal of science communication.

How do you communicate “science communication”?

One of my tasks for today was to write a 1800 character text about Science communication for the professor installation booklet at Lund University. Or rather, about Vetenskapskommunikation, where “vetenskap” includes not only natural sciences, but also e.g. social sciences, that, in turn, includes research fields concerning science communication, public understanding of science and how science is communicated in schools and in informal settings. Many times, I have observed that the wide range of topics included in “Vetenskapskommunikation” leads to confused communications.

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Clockwise or Counter-Clockwise: On Carousels and Cats

Which way do carousels move?

"Finkarusellen" from Tusenfryd, reversed"Finkarusellen" from Tusenfryd, Oslo

As I walked towards UNESCO for the second day of the opening event of IYL2015, I discovered two carousels on different sides of the Seine, moving in opposite directions – counter-clockwise on the right bank and clockwise on the left bank, just northwest of the Eiffel tower.
It reminded me of spectacular quantum physics experiment where a beryllium ion was prepared in a superposition state with itself, with “50 percent probability of being in a “spin-up” state in its initial position and an equal probability of being in a “spin-down” state in a position as much as 80 nanometers away, a vast distance indeed for the atomic realm. In effect, the atom was in two different places, as well as two different spin states, at the same time” (Scientific American, 1996). This beryllium ion is such a spooky illustration of the quantum world, “an atomic analog of a cat both living and dead”, i.e. “Schrödinger’s cat”, and was part of the motivation for the Nobel prize in physics 2012, shared by Dave Wineland and Serge Haroche. Continue reading