Science hackers and nuclear popcorn


(Image: commons.wikimedia.org)

Modern physics investigates phenomena so removed from everyday experience that even building a simplified, intuitive picture of what is happening is extremely challenging. But can one try and build analogies with common experience that help us grasp the underlying structure of an exotic phenomenon? Isn’t physics, after all, supposed to search for universal principles, applicable to the microscopic and macroscopic world alike?

This is just one of the questions that scientists, developers, designers and enthusiasts have tackled at the Science Hack Day Berlin last month. The answer? Popcorn Decay, a website and an app designed to record and quantify random processes (like radioactive decay, or corn popping).

Popcorn Decay will help you understand, visually, the physics of random processes. A random (or stochastic) process is any system whose behavior is unpredictable, due to inherent randomness or, more frequently, our ignorance of what causes the process to result in different outcomes (for instance, what makes a single corn kernel pop or not at any given point in time). Whilst the behaviour of a system like this is impossible to predict, that of a large collection of such identical systems is extremely easy to quantify. Where is the trick? Try it out and see if you can figure that out…

(Image: popcorndecay.weebly.com)