TSI Friday 8 28/2/14

With apologies to Mike who sent me this report over two weeks ago, here’s a run down of the most recent #TSIFriday.

As we start to see more and more Lower sixth stepping up to the mark to give a TSI talks, we were honoured with a cool/hot (depending on your preferred pun) talk on temperature by first time speaker Katy Welsh followed by an excellent explanation of the rare phenomena of quantum tunnelling given by TSI veteran Mat Pardoe.

Now we are all familiar with the definition of temperature; essentially it is the average kinetic energy in a material, but temperature hasn’t always been about how shaky the particles are. Katy informed us of some of the more obscure scales including one which contained a healthy mans armpit and the hottest temperature someone could survive in a bath as notable points on it. Also some cooking temperatures of note were used including when butter melts and a fire hot enough to roast vegetables. But these seem fairly logical when you put them alongside the arbitrary units scale; It’s 10 outside right now! Enough of the nonsense, we want to know about Kelvin, Celsius and Fahrenheit. Well as a Brit, Fahrenheit may as well be one of those obscure scales as we would never use it here! In terms of scales to rule them all, Lord William Thomson Kelvin (the inventor of Kelvin would you believe) created a monster of a scale. It has no negative in it as it starts at absolute zero (≈-273.15oc) and is used in most scientific equations as it is the SI unit for temperature. The hottest temperature theorised is at about 1032K but apparently as humans are so feeble, we have only recorded temperatures of about 1012K. As long as we can cool helium to 4.22K and see that its super fluidity allows it to flow through glass I am happy with the lows of 1 trillion Kelvin.

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Mat chose to venture in to a slightly lesser known part of science, so few experiments have been successful that the phenomena still only occurs at a sub-atomic level, but it occurs none the less, no matter how silly it is. Now it relies on us forgetting classical physics as it is just too realistic to use; we have to look at general relativity which takes into account both wave and particle natures of things.  You may be wondering what quantum tunnelling is; it is when a particle passes through a barrier that previously was not possible to pass through, this does not include when police men kick down a door; that’s a different phenomenon. Quantum tunnelling is a probability accounted for in some big equations, that someone managed to ‘solve’ in 1928. It was somehow proven to work by a guy, Ivar Giaever, who won a Nobel Prize for it… wait… It’s been proven… to work? It must be true then! Quantum Tunnelling has many features that make it so awesome; part of radioactive decay, can be the cause of spontaneous DNA mutation, Cold Emission, Tunnel Junctions and Scanning tunnelling microscopes. It has been seen to complete a current when electrons that pass through insulators complete a circuit and Is a pretty impressive phenomena we should all appreciate. If you would like to give it a go, put a target up on a wall, run at it and if you pass through the wall without breaking it, you have quantum tunnelled! Good Luck!

(If anyone gets injured due to partaking in the last experiment they only have themselves to blame and no injury can be linked to or treated by the TSI talkers or Reigate Grammar School in general)

Mike

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