Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

ACS: I fought the law…

Hello from Chicago!

I’m one of the editors attending the ACS, and arrived in Chicago last night. Actually, late last night, since my plane (and Josh Finkelstein’s – check out his post for more details on our flight crew) was 2 hours late. But, this turned out to be extremely important, because it allowed me to 1) have time to read the entire current issue of Nature and 2) see some additional experiments that are going on right here in Chicago firsthand. What am I talking about, you may ask? Let me explain (and let me also offer the disclaimer that I last took physics in 1997, so be nice):

One of the news items in this issue of Nature discusses Newton’s second law. In this piece, we learn that Alexander Ignatiev is trying to prove the existence of modified newtonian dynamics by observing whether a small piece of the world (literally, two spots at the north and south poles a few centimeters across) moves in the absence of external force. This is quite difficult because normally everything on the earth is moving due to the movement of the planet. While there are a multitude of challenges to overcome, it seems that Ignatiev is excited about the prospect.

So excited, perhaps, that it seems local Chicago folk have picked up on his enthusiasm. In particular, last night I was looking for some dinner and found a place that would give me a burger to go. After I finally got the enormously oversized bag, I was ready to head back to the hotel through the restaurant’s revolving door. Unfortunately, as I stepped into the space, apparently someone else on the other side was one moment ahead of me, and started pushing on the door before I could get all the way in. Once she saw me (and noticed that my hand, holding the burger bag, was close to being forever separated from the rest of me), she stopped her forward motion briefly, allowing me to think that I could at least get my hand and said bag out of the door before both were pulverized. Then, while I was still obviously fumbling to get the elephantine bag out of the door, she apparently noticed a unique opportunity to test Newton’s first law, which states:

An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force. An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force.

Upon this realization that she could actually be the first to demonstrate modified newtonian dynamics, she started pushing on her part of the revolving door again, no doubt expecting that the object at rest (the door on my side) would somehow stay at rest, even given the external and very unbalanced force being applied to it.

Alas, Newton wins again. And I ended up with burger salad.

But thanks, Chicago, for inviting me to take part in your scientific pursuits. I look forward to more scintillating experiments during the rest of the conference.

Catherine (associate editor, Nature Chemical Biology)


  1. Report this comment

    Uncle Al said:

    “moves in the absence of external force”

    Grab some atomic clocks (GPS satellites have four cesium or three rubidium clocks each) and observe if their atom flows skip some beats depending on location versus the boojum and time versus the equinox.

    a jump of about 2×10^(-17) m, (1/50 proton diameter) is predicted

    Not so good.