The Hercules Number: How a Dimensionless Physical Parameter Got Its Name

I did not conceive or give birth to the Hercules Number. But I did name it. Here’s the story. In science and mathematics, we often get to name things. To help with exposition, sometimes we essentially have to name them, because it can help us do a better job of explaining things. In fact, we also enjoy […]

Pedestrian Potential-Collision Standoffs, and Symmetry Breaking

We’ve all experienced this phenomenon: you and someone else are walking towards each other in opposite directions, and you don’t want to collide. Do you shift to the left or to the right? And how should you shift to avoid a standoff? In a new paper on the arXiv, physicists Nickolas Morton and Shaun Hendy […]

Gilbert and Sullivan (and Cambridge, Condensed-Matter Physics, and The Elements)

Tom Lehrer once proclaimed, as part of the song “Clementine,” that songs from Gilbert and Sullivan (especially when it comes to a “rousing finale”) were “full of words and music and signifying nothing.” Of course, Gilbert and Sullivan often provide a great foundation to write a parody, as Tom Lehrer himself demonstrated in “The Elements” (and […]

First Rule of Ant Fight Club: Choose a Model for Ant Fight Club

Two ants enter; one ant leaves. (Well, the numbers are actually somewhat larger than that.) In the paper Modeling ant battles by means of a diffusion-limited Gillespie algorithm, biologist Giacomo Santini and his coauthors have proposed two modeling approaches for studying battles among ants. When developing theories (for animal behavior and in other complex systems), […]