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The Eagleman Stag

15 May

I first saw this incredible animation a few months ago and I’ve been wanting to post it up here ever since. Last week, the film’s director Mikey Please (who, quite fabulously, recently changed his middle name to ‘Yes’) finally released it onto the interweb.

I won’t say too much about it, save that it tells the story of a scientist who’s obsessed with the speeding up of time as he gets older. It features the vocal talents of the actor David Cann and backing music by Mikey’s brother Benedict Please, and it won gazillions of awards last year, including the BAFTA for Best Short Animation and the top prize at the Imagine Science Film Festival, .

So find yourself a spare 9 minutes, hit the maximise button, sit back (but don’t fall off your chair), and soak up the animated loveliness.

If you repeat the word ‘fly’ for long enough it sounds like you’re saying ‘life’. This is of no help to Peter. His answers lie in the brain of a beetle.


Cosmology meets The Beatles

9 Nov

The amusing tale of four scientists who tried to shoehorn The Beatles into their cosmology paper:

This is from the Sixty Symbols collection of physics videos filmed by Brady Haran, a video journalist based in Nottingham, UK.

These videos have been going down a treat on YouTube, and it’s easy to see why – it’s pretty rare to see physics explained in such a personable, engaging way. I’m also probably a little bit biased, as I spent my halcyon undergraduate days in the Nottingham Uni physics department.

If physics isn’t your bag, Brady has also filmed video series on chemistry (Periodic Table of Videos), theology (Bibledex), food (Foodskey), language (Words of the World), and, erm, trees! He also recently launched two new projects about maths (Numberphile) and astronomy (Deep Sky Videos). Phew! To call this man prolific wouldn’t do him justice…

I can haz physicz videos?

10 Oct

Every quantum physicist’s favourite feline, Schrödinger’s cat, used to make about as much sense to me as this photo:

Philippe Halsman's 1948 photo of Salvador Dalí, some flying cats, and a chair

But things are now a great deal clearer, thanks to this excellent “Minute Physics” animation:

And here’s an explanation of the science behind this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, won by Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess for their mind-bending discovery that the expansion of the universe is speeding up.

Lots of other equally awesome animations can be viewed over on the Minute Physics YouTube channel.

Science films galore

28 Jun

I stumbled upon SciCast a few weeks ago – a treasure-trove of short, homemade films about science; a bit like YouTube with more Petri dishes and less cats on treadmills.

Every year, SciCast runs a competition to encourage new entries from anyone who fancies flexing their creative muscles. Nominees for the 2011 awards will apparently be announced soon. In the meantime, here’s my favourite film so far: an off-the-wall celebration of time which won a SciCast award in 2009.

'It's About Time' by Andrew Hanson

The king of maths documentaries

17 May

Back in 1997, Simon Singh – science writer extraordinaire and occasional Uncaged Monkey – directed a documentary about Fermat’s Last Theorem that went on to win the ‘Best Documentary’ award at the BAFTAs and an Emmy Award nomination in the States.

The documentary tells the story of the British mathematician Andrew Wiles, who devoted the best part of 10 years of his life to solving this theorem and fulfilling his childhood dream. One particularly moving passage sees Wiles on the verge of tears as he recounts the moment that the proof finally clicked:

For those who are yet to be acquainted with Monsieur Fermat (rhymes with ‘grandma’, not ‘cat’), he was a French lawyer and mathematician who lived during the 17th century. Although Fermat did a lot of other very useful maths during his lifetime, his most enduring legacy is his ‘Last Theorem’, which states that no three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two.

This means that there are solutions for a2b2c2 (otherwise known as Pythagoras’ theorem, that stalwart of GCSE maths), but that there are no solutions for a3b3c3, or a4b4c4, or a5b5c5, and so on until infinity. The theorem itself is therefore remarkably simple – the proof less so. Scribbling in the margin of one of his textbooks, Fermat claimed that he had found the proof but that it was too lengthy to write down, unwittingly banishing his theorem to the Dingy Dungeons of Unsolved Problems.

Andrew Wiles presenting his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem during a lecture in 1993

Andrew Wiles’ proof came 358 years after the theorem was first conjectured by Fermat. Interestingly, because Wiles used mathematical techniques developed in the 20th century, his proof must have been different from that of Fermat. In fact, most mathematicians today doubt that Fermat had a full proof of his theorem (i.e. for all values of n).

The story of Wiles, his colleagues, and their relentless drive to understand one of math’s greatest mysteries is worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, encompassing heroes, rivals, treasure, a suicide, and plenty of (non-evil) geniuses. The full 45-minute documentary can be viewed online here, and if anyone knows of any equally awesome maths-themed documentaries/books out there, I’m all ears!

[Watch] Fermat’s Last Theorem (1997 documentary)


13 May

I’m breaking away from the supposed science theme of my blog here, but I saw this stunning film tonight and it deserves at least a quick mention.

‘Pina’ is Wim Wenders’ documentary about the German dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of either of them before reading some reviews of the film, though I had unknowingly seen one of Pina’s works in the opening to Pedro Almodóvar’s 2002 film ‘Talk to Her’.

A dancer and a very big rock (still from Wim Wenders' 'Pina')

‘Pina’ is essentially a series of dance performances, ranging from one-minute sketches to longer chunks of her more famous works (e.g. ‘Rite of Spring’). These are interspersed with clips of the dancers remembering Pina (she died shortly before the filming started), and everything is beautifully threaded together by Wenders. The film is also in 3D, so expect to get pretty intimate with the dancers (and, thanks to the 3D glasses, you also get to look like Robocop for an evening…bonus!).

Some of my favourite scenes were the more surreal moments in locations around Pina’s hometown of Wuppertal: a woman frolicking in a river with a hippopotamus; a tutu-sporting man being transported along an underground railway; a dancer inexplicably placing slices of veal in her shoes before performing en pointe. You can obviously get away with the silliest things when you have the grace and poise of a dancer (take note, Thom Yorke).

Anyway, I’d highly recommend this film to anyone who’s even a tiny bit intrigued. The trailer does it more justice than I ever could…

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