Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Adventures with America's Cup

 AC45 boats race during qualifying rounds this year 
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg; The Big Story)

In honor of all the America's Cup excitement here in the Bay Area, it's important to understand how these massive boats work.

One of the fundamentals of sailing is tacking into the wind. This translates into forward motion for a sailboat, when you might otherwise think that the boat would list or sail backwards. In fact, sailing ships have a keel that stops them from being just pushed sideways. Therefore, they can only go forwards or backwards.

When the ship faces into the wind at an angle instead of head on, it's possible to set the sails so that the force of the wind is pushing a little bit back and a lot sideways. So let's say the wind is coming from the north and the ship is facing northwest. A good sailor can set up the sail so that the force on the sails is a little bit south and a lot west.

Since the ship can only go forwards or backwards, the western force overcomes the southwards force, and the ship goes a lot west and a little north. If you then turn the ship northeast, you can go a lot east and a little north. Now you're farther north than you started, even though the wind is blowing from the north. If you turn your bow directly into the wind however, you will go backwards as your sails cannot catch the wind. This is an excellent way to cut your speed.

The sailors competing in America's Cup all possess incredibly precise intuitionbuilt from years of practiceregarding the degree they should be to the wind. It is thrilling to watch them compete and race towards their goal. Although the excitement is over for the year, they'll be back next year for an intense competition that promises to be exhilarating!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bay Area Science Festival

The Bay Area Science Festival is a week-long celebration of science that kicks off later this week. UC Berkeley and Science@Cal are involved in a number of exciting events, beginning with not one, but two star parties on Friday (one at the Lawrence Hall of Science for everyone, and a second teen-exclusive event at the YMCA Teen Center in downtown Berkeley).

You can also hike the Hayward Fault with UC Berkeley seismologists, explore what you eat at local farmers' markets, learn about the amazing things plants can do, enjoy the chemistry of brunch, investigate the intersection of art and science at a two-night exclusive gallery gala in downtown Berkeley, and join 25,000 others for the big finale at AT&T Park on November 3rd.

Many of these events are free. For a few of them, a small fee applies and / or registration is required.
Details of Science@Cal's participation in these events can be found on their website here.

The main festival webpage, featuring other events taking place across the Bay Area, is at Bay Area Science.

Also, save the date for the next Science@Cal lecture, November 17th, featuring Prof. Rosemary Gillespie, Director of the Essig Museum of Entomology, talking about evolution on remote islands.

Science Education Kickstarter

Wonderfest, the nonprofit San Francisco Bay Area Beacon of Science, has just begun a Kickstarter campaign to support a new, online, video series called "Radical Physics." Alex Filippenko, one of the world's most highly cited astronomers and a professor at UC Berkeley, will be part of the series.

You can take part by contributing as little as $1. And if you want a tangible reward, you can pledge $10 or more. All contributions (including big ones!) will be very welcome, and are tax deductible.

To appreciate this campaign -- and the educational need for Radical Physics -- please see the following web page. If you wish, watch the short-and-fun video and check out the various rewards of the Energy Radical Physics Video Series.