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bio website nathanielvirgo.com
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visits member for 3 years, 2 months
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I'm a post-doctoral researcher with a wide range of interests. My career is in complex systems science (or maybe cybernetics) and the origins of life, but I also have research interests in

  • the foundations of statistical mechanics and its relationship to information theory
  • Earth systems science
  • non-equilibrium thermodynamics in general

I'm also generally interested in the foundations of quantum mechanics and in black holes, though I wouldn't say I'm an expert on those things.

It's probably worth noting that despite the fact that my research is in physics-related areas, all my degrees are in other subjects. If I occasionally seem to start talking in an alien language, this is probably why.


18h
comment Can you die from a $250 \, \mathrm V$ broken cable?
"my dad taped it so it is safe now" - depending on exactly how it's broken, how it was fixed and what kind of tape was used, it may not be safe at all. E.g. if the frayed wire causes electrical arcing it could melt through the tape, and potentially it could still kill you. Please buy a new power supply.
2d
comment Can a discoverer give the name he wants to his finding?
To add a small point to Floris' good answer: in general, attempting to name something after yourself is considered a massive faux pas, and doing it would cause you to come across as unprofessional or a crank. The discoverer's name is always attached to the discovery by other people writing about it afterwards.
Dec
18
comment Why do physics students find vectors so difficult to deal with?
(I myself particularly like the second answer, by Vladimir Sotirov.)
Dec
18
comment Why do physics students find vectors so difficult to deal with?
This seems (at least tangentially) related to the "law of universal linearity" - you might find some of the comments there helpful.
Dec
17
comment Why Penrose's conjecture that consciousness is affected by quantum phenomenon too much of a stretch for Hawking
@CuriousOne Penrose has had various of these weird hypotheses about the brain over the years. I believe he remains an extremely smart guy, but he's fallen prey to the Lucas argument (a logical fallacy if ever there was one) and needs his equivalent of Descartes' pineal gland to make his world-view consistent.
Dec
16
comment How to measure the permittivity of a gas sensor?
Experimental physics questions are on topic.
Dec
14
comment How would night sky look like if the speed of light was infinite?
A slight correction: "The length of the period of time in which there are stars times the speed of light is infinite." If the stars were a relatively new phenomenon, that would also be a resolution to Olbers' paradox.
Dec
13
comment Will a bullet dropped and a bullet fired from a gun horizontally REALLY hit the ground at the same time when air drag is taken into account?
You're wrong in assuming you can calculate the force in the x and y directions independently. Your argument for it doesn't quite work, because the force in the horizontal direction is not $c|v|^2$. That's the magnitude of the total drag force applied to the bullet, but the direction of the force is always opposite to the bullet's direction of motion (relative to the air), so in the case of a dropped bullet, the vertical component is $-c|v|^2$, and the horizontal component is zero.
Dec
8
comment Energy Flux due to Diffusion
God work giving an excellent answer to your own question! This is more or less what I would have posted if you hadn't.
Dec
5
comment Quantum random numbers from a laser — simplest setup?
@DrCopyPaste thanks, fixed.
Dec
4
comment How can the Gallilean transformations form a group?
I've heard them called "Galilean boosts" before.
Dec
2
comment How would the universe be different if the electron mass was twice as large?
This is fascinating if true. Could you include a calculation showing that the neutron does indeed become stable under such conditions?
Nov
26
comment Why does sand stick to my shoes?
@Ruslan actually your comment makes me question my assumption. When I was a child we had a sand pit in the garden, and we used to make sand castles using fresh water from a hose pipe. They dried just as solid as beach sand, so the phenomenon either requires only tiny amounts of salt, or the sand itself had some salt content, or there's another explanation. (I suppose any of these are possible.)
Nov
26
comment Hourglass on the Moon
@Frédéric the correction due to general relativity will be of the order 0.02 seconds per year of measured time (quoting from Wikipedia because I'm lazy) - far smaller than the error involved in measuring time with an egg timer, so I think this is a perfectly acceptable answer!
Nov
26
comment Hourglass on the Moon
I hope you don't mind that I edited in the derivation of the $\sqrt g$ law from the other answer, since that's what I wanted to know.
Nov
24
comment Hourglass on the Moon
@WetSavannaAnimalakaRodVance interestingly, avalanches on a sand pile are one of the classic examples of self-organised criticality, so in the limit of an infinite pile they follow a power law distribution and don't have a characteristic size. (That's in theory at least; in practice many things can break the scale invariance, including the detailed shape of the grains.) But I'm not sure whether the dynamics of the avalanches are all that relevant to the time taken for all the sand to fall, since they happen far away from the neck where the flow is limited.
Nov
22
comment Hourglass on the Moon
@CarlWitthoft you're right about it probably not being constant - I've changed it to "reproducible".
Nov
18
comment If we traveled at almost light speed with a mirror in hand
I'm also voting to reopen, because the "duplicate" question has been closed as off-topic on the grounds that it's "non-mainstream" physics. As Rod Vance says, this one avoids that by asking about being near rather than at the speed of light.
Nov
17
comment How can anything ever fall into a black hole as seen from an outside observer?
@BenCrowell well thanks for the downvote then. In future when my knowledge is limited and from an unofficial source, would you prefer if I was less honest about it?
Nov
7
comment Is it theoretically possible to have a universe where sound travels faster than light $c$?
@RobJeffries that's very interesting, thank you.