All posts by David Robertson

Philip E. Barnhart, 1930-2017


I regret to inform the Otterbein Physics community of the passing of Philip E. Barnhart on June 19, 2017.  Phil was a member of the physics faculty from 1959 until his retirement in 1995.  An astronomer by training, he was an energetic and popular teacher, as well as an outstanding mentor of students and junior faculty members.  He chaired the Physics Department for many years, and was instrumental in the development of its programs and faculty.  In addition, he was a leader in the original creation of the Integrative Studies program, as well as the Science Lecture Series, in collaboration with Prof. Jerry Jenkins of the Chemistry Department.

He was a founding member and Coordinator of the North American Astrophysical Observatory (NAAPO), an organization chartered to save and continue operation of the “Big Ear” Radio Observatory in Delaware, OH.

Phil was intellectually active until the end.  In 2012 he published Creative Science, an historical and philosophical survey of scientific discovery.  His last visit to Otterbein (in April 2013) was a talk about the book, and his ideas on how science should be taught and understood.

Gravity Waves Detected!

Computer simulation of gravitational waves produced by black holes spiraling together.
Computer simulation of gravitational waves produced by black holes spiraling together.

LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) has just announced the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves.  These are ripples in spacetime itself, propagating at the speed of light, and are a prediction of Einstein’s 1915 General Theory of Relativity.  They should be produced copiously in many astrophysical processes, but they are so difficult to detect that only waves produced in extremely energetic processes are detectable.  The signal seen by LIGO, for example, is from the collision of two black holes, of mass 29 and 36 times the mass of our sun, and resulting in about 3 solar masses being converted into gravity wave energy in a fraction of a second.  The peak power was about 50 times that of the entire visible universe!

This is a major discovery, not only for the confirmation of a long-standing prediction of general relativity, but because it opens a new window on the structure of the universe.  The era of gravity wave astronomy has dawned!

Nobel Winner Comes to Otterbein

This year’s Science Lecture Series at Otterbein features William Phillips of NIST, co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics for his pioneering work on laser trapping and cooling of atoms.  Phillips will give a public lecture entitled Time, Einstein, and the Coolest Stuff in the Universe, at 7pm On February 18, 2016, in Riley Auditorium (BFAC). The talk is free and open to the public.

On Friday, Feb 19, he will also give a more technical talk entitled The Coming Revolution in the Metric System, at 10:50am in Riley.

Operation Physics funded for 2016-17

The Ohio Department of Education has approved funding for a seventh year of OP2: Operation Physics for Middle Grades Science Teachers. This program brings to Otterbein a group of 30 (mainly) middle school physical science teachers for an intensive course in basic physics principles with lots of hands-on activities.

Static electricity supermodel Philip Kellogg '15 demonstrates the Van de Graaf generator in OP2.
Static electricity supermodel Philip Kellogg ’15 demonstrates the Van de Graaff generator in OP2.

Beautiful new experiment verifies (yet again) that quantum mechanics is weird

A new experiment carried out in the Netherlands has confirmed the “spooky action at a distance” that is a central feature of quantum mechanics.  There have been several such confirmations, going back to the early 1980s, but this is is the first one that simultaneously closes all the loopholes that might arise.  It may therefore be the final blow to the idea — championed by Einstein and Bell, among others — that quantum mechanics is incomplete and there might be local “hidden variables.”

The preprint version of the paper is available here.