What is symmetry in physics?

4 minutes

Einstein’s biggest blunder

6 minutes

Madagascar: a treasured island

5 minutes

Neurosymphony

2 minutes

Hunting for Hockney

3 minutes

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If life feels out of balance, don’t worry – there’s always symmetry below the surface

In 1915, the German mathematician Emmy Noether dramatically transformed how scientists think about the physical world when she revealed her theorem that wherever there is a symmetry in nature there is a corresponding conservation law. In essence, Noether proved that systems are not changed by shifting their location in time or space, which supports the idea that the total amount of energy in the Universe always remains the same, and explains why we live in a world that is not fully chaotic and unpredictable. The theorem has stood the test of time; even in the seemingly strange world of particle physics, where symmetry appears to break down, scientists continue to find ‘local symmetries’ lurking beneath the surface. This lively animated explainer from the the Royal Institution breaks down symmetry into its most basic parts, including how symmetries fit into the Standard Model – the leading theory of three of the Universe’s four fundamental forces.

Animator: Rosanna Wan

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Turns out that, even when Einstein was wrong, he was kind of right

Ever since Albert Einstein supplanted the Newtonian model with his general theory of relativity in 1915, his revolutionary work has been the bedrock of modern physics. Some six decades after his death, many of his ideas, including gravitational waves and spacetime’s curvature beyond our solar system, continue to be confirmed by physicists working at the limits of human understanding. And even when Einstein logged his most notorious calculating error – failing to account for the possibility of an expanding Universe in his field equations of general relativity – he would actually later be proven kind of, sort of right. This animated explainer from MinutePhysics breaks down the equation that became known as ‘Einstein’s biggest blunder’, including how the discovery in 1998 that the Universe was not growing consistently, but accelerating, brought it back to life.

Video by MinutePhysics

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What economics look like in resource-rich yet poverty-stricken Madagascar

A large island nation off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar is at once resource rich, highly biodiverse and poverty stricken. It has more endemic species than the whole of Africa, but according to USAID, it is also ‘the poorest non-conflict country on Earth, with 92 per cent of people living on less than $2/day’. In 2009, an uprising and subsequent military coup left the country in a state of disarray and largely isolated from the international community. While elections in 2013 relieved some political tensions, the country’s society and economy are still scarred by years of upheaval, with smuggling operations and other illicit trades operating largely unchecked. This innovative short made in 2013 by the UK filmmaker Toby Smith uses motion-tracking graphics to explore the legal and illegal corners of Madagascar’s economy, reflecting the entanglements between development and conservation, exploitation and luxury.

Via Labocine

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See and hear the human brain as you’ve never experienced it before

The Laboratory for NeuroImaging of Coma and Consciousness (NICC) at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston studies the process of recovering consciousness after traumatic brain injuries. Using more than 100 hours of MRI scans of a human brain unaffected by neurological disease or traumatic brain injuries, a team at the NICC compiled the highest-resolution rendering of a full human brain on record, detecting objects smaller than 0.1 millimetres. Neurosymphony, exclusive to Aeon, explores three distinct perspectives on the brain, using videos of the scans made freely available by the NICC. The video pairs the imagery with an excerpt from the album Chapel by the US electronic musician and music-cognition researcher Grace Leslie, in which she converts her brainwaves into music. Beyond providing an unprecedented glimpse into the intricacies of the human brain, the NICC team hopes that these images will assist other researchers in identifying abnormalities associated with complex brain conditions such as coma and depression.

Via Kottke

Editor: Adam D’Arpino

Composer: Grace Leslie

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A dreamy animated tale of grief, friendship and a road trip to David Hockney’s house

‘You were too young to lose your mum. And we were too young to be organising a funeral.’

When her friend’s mother died, the UK filmmaker Alice Dunseath and her friend set out on an unplanned road trip through Yorkshire, mostly because they didn’t know what else to do. The only destination they gave themselves was the house of the artist David Hockney, supposedly somewhere in the town of Bridlington. Dunseath’s brief animation echoes some of Hockney’s signature stylistic flourishes, including dreamlike landscapes and saturated colours, but her narration offers an arresting counterpoint to the images – a simple, aching account of how grief can both heighten and numb the senses, render words meaningful and meaningless, and make goals simultaneously important and absurd.

Video by Alice Dunseath

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

If life feels out of balance, don’t worry – there’s always symmetry below the surface

In 1915, the German mathematician Emmy Noether dramatically transformed how scientists think about the physical world when she revealed her theorem that wherever there is a symmetry in nature there is a corresponding conservation law. In essence, Noether proved that systems are not changed by shifting their location in time or space, which supports the idea that the total amount of energy in the Universe always remains the same, and explains why we live in a world that is not fully chaotic and unpredictable. The theorem has stood the test of time; even in the seemingly strange world of particle physics, where symmetry appears to break down, scientists continue to find ‘local symmetries’ lurking beneath the surface. This lively animated explainer from the the Royal Institution breaks down symmetry into its most basic parts, including how symmetries fit into the Standard Model – the leading theory of three of the Universe’s four fundamental forces.

Animator: Rosanna Wan

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