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Dr. Strangelove…

Atomic bombing of Nagasaki

Atomic bombing of Nagasaki - via wikipedia.org

Today’s post is about nuclear bombs.  Big boom.  Mushroom clouds.  Yep, those bombs.  In our last post, we discussed the basic mechanism behind the uranium fission chain reaction.  We also briefly talked about the difficulties involved in making it a continuous, feasible reaction.  In this post, I’ll talk about the basic principles behind the design of a nuclear fission bomb.  We’ll see two classic designs – the designs of the Hiroshima and the Nagasaki bombs, known as Little Boy and Fat Man.  I assume that you have read the previous posts, or are familiar with basic scientific terminology related to nuclear reactions.

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Nuclear Fission: A ‘Critical’ Inquiry

Fission of U-235

Fission of U-235 - wikipedia.org

In the previous post, I described the basic principles behind radioactivity.  In today’s post, I will describe nuclear fission reactions – the technique through which we can deliberately induce heavy atoms to break apart into smaller fragments, releasing energy in through radiation.  In the previous post, we talked about half-lives and what happens to radioactive atoms if one were to leave them alone and let them naturally decay.  As it turns out, there are other ways to make atoms break apart; one can slam atoms with proton and neutrons to make them more unstable, causing them to fragment.  The energy released from this fragmentation can be harnessed in a controlled manner in nuclear reactors, or can be deployed destructively in the form of a nuclear fission bomb. Read More…

“Paging Dr. Freeman”: What Radioactivity Is

Radioactivity - Image via wikipedia

Radioactivity - wikipedia.org

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the subsequent crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plants have propelled nuclear reactors and nuclear energy to the top of every media outlet across the world.  In light of this increased interest in nuclear energy, I have decided to write about radioactivity.  Radioactivity is a natural physical phenomenon that is a consequence of the weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force and the electromagnetic force – three of the four fundamental forces of nature.  It commonly refers to the process by which an unstable atom decays or transmutates to one or more atoms with an accompanying release of energy.  In this article, I will try to explain what radioactivity means and what natural phenomena it describes, why some atoms are radioactive, what radiation is and how it relates to radioactivity.
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Wishful Thinking: A Critical Analysis of Homeopathy Part II

Homeopathic 1 gram globules

Homeopathic 1 gram globules

This is a continuation of my post on homeopathy in which I talked about the history of homeopathy and how it is scientifically tested.  I ended the post wondering why there was so much public acceptance for such an ineffective product.  In this post, I will discuss the various cognitive biases that allow well-intentioned individuals to falsely believe that homeopathic interventions have positive effects.

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No Free Lunch: A Critical Analysis of Homeopathy Part I

Homeopathic medicine

Homeopathic remedy

Usually, when I write one of these posts, I write a short, snappy introduction using an interesting hypothetical situation.  I shall not do so for this post.  In this post, I will discuss homeopathy – an “alternative” medical intervention that is entrenched or gaining traction in a number of countries around the world such as India, Germany, the UK and the United States.  This is quite a serious topic and I wish to go over it in a reasonably serious way.  This post of for those who have heard about homeopathy during a television commercial (flu remedies, Zicam etc.) or knows of a family member who uses it but doesn’t quite know what it is.  I will go over the history, the underlying principle behind homeopathy, and a scientific examination of it.  I will also discuss some of the current explanations that homeopaths provide that attempt to explain or justify the efficacy of homeopathic medicine.  This is going to be a pretty detailed post – so hang in there!


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An Offer You Cannot Refuse

Currency - by bradipo

Imagine that you are on a game show.  Consider the following two scenarios:

The host has given you $2000 to begin with.  You are now given a choice – you can stay with your money or participate in the “Double or Nothing”.  Should you choose the event, the host would flip a fair coin.  Should the coin land heads, you will get an extra $2000.  Should it land tails, you lose the $2000 you have.

The host has given you $4000 to begin with.  You are now given a choice – you can participate pay a fine of $2000 or participate in the “Trap of Doom” event.  Should you choose the event, the host would flip a fair coin.  Should the coin land heads, you get to keep all $4000.  Should it land tails, you loose all $4000 to the “Trap of Doom”.

Would you participate in the “Double or Nothing” event?  Would you participate in the “Trap of Doom”?  Are your answers different?

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Ciphers: Hiding in Plain Sight

Icon from Nuvola icon theme for KDE 3.x.

Image via Wikipedia

My last post talked about cryptography, its motivation and its primitive techniques.  In this post, we shall learn about modern security techniques and how they keep us secure.  We will touch upon the mathematical basis behind modern cryptography, talk about symmetric key cryptography and talk about a technique for exchanging secrets out in the open known as the Diffie-Hellman key exchange.  To start off the discussion, I would like you to consider the following situation.  Alice is a diplomat in a foreign country and has some sensitive information that she would like to communicate to Bob, her superior.  The only means of communication available to Alice is a phone line that she and Bob knows is constantly being monitored and eves dropped on.  How could Alice and Bob communicate a message in a secure manner starting from this state?  We saw in the last post how, with some pre-decided shared secret (such as a codebook when using a substitution cipher), one could attempt to obscure a message and make it hard (but not too hard) to guess.  More curiously, starting with no secret state between the two parties, is it possible to establish a secret codebook?  In other words, sharing no secrets beforehand, is it possible to begin sharing a secret?

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