Let's look at nuclear power. Part 1: Physics

Door mux op zondag 14 mei 2017 15:13 - Reacties (15)
Categorie: Techniek, Views: 3.363

Nuclear power is a contentious subject, for a bunch of reasons. But really, what are those reasons? Even if you have an opinion on the subject, more often than not that will mostly be based on qualitative arguments, not an in-depth understanding of the subject. Today I would like to start to change that.

We're not just talking about nuclear power

Before we start the technical discussion proper, I'd like to say a few words about the motivation behind and aims of this blog series.

There is quite a vocal - but small - group of vehemently pro-nuclear and massively anti-nuclear people on the internet. There is no real discussion between these groups; like most pro/anti-debates, the different camps tend to make straw men out of each other and fight those - or keep repeating the same, debunked or un-nuanced, points over and over again. Instead of indulging this catharsis, I think this energy is much better spent (2 intentional puns there) learning how nuclear power works. This also strongly aids in making sense of the torrent of information present in media streams.

This is a series of blog articles with in-depth treatment of the technology behind nuclear fission and nuclear fusion reactors. I believe there is no good way to understand the political and societal issues without having at least an elementary understanding of how nuclear reactors work. Don't worry though - there are almost no equations and it's generally enough to just follow along with the broad strokes of the articles. However, if you are interested in this subject, I highly recommend using this blog series as a springboard for further reading. I do employ a fair amount of simplifications and generalizations.

I also welcome any constructive criticism, corrections and so on.

Nuclear physics 101

Like rocket science, nuclear physics has a popular image of being fiendishly difficult. But as a qualified rocket scientist, I can tell you that nuclear physics is easy. Anyone can understand it in principle.

Nuclear physics revolve around the nucleus of atoms. Atoms consist of three types of subatomic particles: electrons (which we'll ignore for the time being), neutrons and protons. Neutrons and protons are very similar; they have very similar masses and respond to the same kinds of forces. The major difference is that protons carry a positive electric charge and neutrons do not have an electrical charge. Protons therefore like to repulse each other and need the neutrons as 'glue' to keep them all together and stable. This means that for a given number of protons (which determines what kind of atom you're dealing with - oxygen, carbon, iron) you need a certain number of neutrons to go with it. Too few or too many and the nucleus isn't stable.

Fundamental forces
So far for the TL;DR. Let's dive in! In order to really understand nuclear physics, you need to at least dip your toes in fundamental forces. You can think of fundamental forces as ways of interacting; seeing, hearing, smelling, etc. Not all particles can see, hear or smell the same way. Some can't see at all, or be seen for that matter. The four fundamental forces are:

- The strong nuclear force
- The weak nuclear force
- The electromagnetic force
- Gravity

https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/fundamental_forces.png

There are no other ways for any two things in the universe, regardless of its composition, to interact with anything else. Now, we have to understand what interacting means. When you see something, what actually happens is that the thing you're seeing has emitted a photon and your eye has detected that photon. Many photons actually. This *is* the electromagnetic force. We call them forces, but in layman terms that conjures up the wrong idea. They're really just ways of interacting, and seeing literally leverages the electromagnetic force.

The strong and weak nuclear force are very different. On the scale of humans, you don't experience these forces. Because whereas the electromagnetic force can reach all the way across the universe (we can literally see the edge of the observable universe - it's called the CMB), the nuclear strong and weak forces - as the name implies - only really works on the scale of atomic nuclei. The further away particles are, the weaker its influence becomes. And I'm not saying that the influence becomes half at twice the distance - it becomes one-millionth. At the scale of molecules, the influence of these forces is already infinitesimally small - let alone at human scales. But, much like with light (which is mediated by photons), the nuclear forces are also transferred by fundamental particles: bosons and mesons.

https://www-tc.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/education/activities/images/3012_elegant_fonffpart.gif

Gravity is a bit of a weird one. We're pretty sure it is a fundamental force, but it has some confusing properties. For instance, it is incredibly weak; you need to mass together millions of trillions of tons of rock to make the gravitational interactions even come close to the strength of interactions within nuclei. Also, we're not really sure if there are mediating particles that actually 'transfer' gravitational interactions between particles. There might be a 'graviton', but we haven't definitively discovered it yet. Also, contrary to all other fundamental forces, gravity acts on *everything*, not just a subset of all particles. Nothing escapes gravity.

Fundamental particles
Much like fundamental forces, there are fundamental particles. You might have heard of them: they are part of the Standard Model. These are particles that cannot be broken up into smaller parts. Each group of particles can interact with a certain subset of fundamental forces.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/00/Standard_Model_of_Elementary_Particles.svg/1200px-Standard_Model_of_Elementary_Particles.svg.png
Standard Model - Wikipedia

All matter is made from these fundamental particles. For instance, neutrons and protons are made from quarks, held together by, primarily, the strong nuclear force mediated by gluons. This is often depicted as the nucleons being made from quarks AND gluons, but that is a little bit of a misnomer; even though gluons mediate the strong force, you shouldn't think of them as literal bits of glue physically existing between the quarks, holding them together. For all practical purposes, these particles are virtual, i.e. they are a mathematical way to represent interactions, not actual physical things.

The valley (or bucket) model of nuclei
So, atoms are what we're really talking about in this article. Atomic nuclei, their cores, are made from protons and neutrons. Protons carry an electric charge and are thus subject to the electromagnetic force. Because they have like charges, they are repelled from each other. On the other hand, the strong nuclear force binds the nucleons together on very short distances. You can imagine that this is a little tug of war between fundamental forces.

The strong force really, REALLY wants to pull nucleons together. Imagine the strong force like a valley between two mountains. In order to pull two nucleons apart, you have to push them up the mountain. Let go of them, and they roll into the valley again. This energy you put in is actual energy and you can measure this! When you make an atom larger, for instance by adding more neutrons or protons, the nucleons will necessariy have to sit further apart (due to the Pauli Exclusion Principle or PEP that says that no two particles can occupy the same exact place and state). Them being further apart means they have to sit higher up the valley, and thus contain more energy and - because energy equals mass - they are heavier then you'd expect! This is called the binding energy. This leads to the interesting situation that free neutrons and protons actually weigh more than neutrons and protons within an atomic nucleus.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3521/3772864128_5ce7c80f86.jpg
In this valley, you can put protons and neutrons. Put more in, and they sit at higher energy levels (denoted by the horizontal lines, each line represents an energy level

The mountains surrounding the valley aren't infinitely tall. They have summits and if you manage to roll a nucleon up the mountain far enough, it will pass the summit and... roll down the other side! It's loose now. The height of the mountain is an analogy for the total binding energy, or conversely, the amount of energy you need to add to a nucleus to break it apart.

Of course, part of this energy exists in the form of that repelling force between protons. For small atoms, for instance hydrogen, the mountains really aren't much more than hills and just adding a second proton to its single proton nucleus already adds so much electromagnetic energy to the mix that the proton will spontaneously pop over the hill; it doesn't want to stay. You have to add at least one neutron to those 2 protons to increase the valley depth and push down those protons. You've just made Helium-3. 2 protons and 1 neutron.

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Nuclear/imgnuc/nucpot.gif
The potential well (i.e. valley) is 'pushed down' (from the clear outline to the red outline) by adding neutrons

This gets us into the territory of isotopes. We tend to give different names to atoms if they differ in the amount of protons: Hydrogen has one proton, Helium 2, Lithium 3, etc. We do this because regardless of the amount of neutrons, the chemical properties - what we're most interested in in everyday life - of atoms are purely determined by the amount of electrons. Because electrons naturally occur in equal numbers to protons in atoms, that's how we order atoms. But what about the neutrons? And what about the electrons for that matter?

Most types of atoms (which we usually call elements or species) can have two or more numbers of associated neutrons. We call these different configurations isotopes. For instance, Helium - atomic number 2, so 2 protons and 2 electrons - is stable with either 1 or 2 neutrons. Iron, atomic number 26, is stable with 28, 30, 31 and 32 neutrons. Notice that it's not stable with 29, even though that number is surrounded by stable isotopes. This really is where the bucket analogy fails, and where you should stop imagining atoms as buckets.

http://web.sahra.arizona.edu/programs/isotopes/images/iron.gif

By the way, aside from differing amounts of neutrons, there is also the phenomenon of unequal numbers of protons and electrons. Yes, this does exist; these are called ions. While the vast, vast majority of atoms at any time are neutrally charged - i.e., they have the same number of protons as they have electrons - chemical reactions can cause atoms to lose or gain a few electrons. Not too many, usually 1-6 even if the atom has many more protons. The process of stripping or adding electrons is called ionization. The field of studying interactions that have to do with electron exchange is called chemistry. It is therefore outside the scope of nuclear physics, that only has to do with the nucleus.

A better model for the nucleus
So, we're familiar and comfortable with the model that atoms are wiggling balls in a valley, or bucket, that - if you give them enough energy - they will be able to jump out. This model omits a couple of very important properties of atomic nuclei, though.

http://people.uwplatt.edu/~sundin/114/image/l1423a.gif

First of all, there is tunnelling. You see, there is this law called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP), which says that it's impossible to know with infinite precision where a particle is AND how much momentum it has. Or in other words, you HAVE to trade off positional accuracy with information about momentum. Try to pinpoint exactly where a particle is, and it can have any amount of momentum (energy). Try to determine its exact energy, and you can't know where the particle is.

Now, the HUP only really applies to incredibly tiny things like fundamental particles. The scales that we're talking about are infinitesimal to normal human eyes. But in a nucleus, they can mean very significant things. It should be quite intuitive to understand that particles aren't fixed points - they are more of a cloud of possible locations and energies. That cloud does not have a sharp boundary; the possibility that a particle is further away from its 'average' position simply drops off, but never to zero. This also means that particles have a tiny chance to suddenly find themselves outside of the bucket. They have overcome the potential barrier of the bucket walls not by climbing the walls, but by 'tunnelling' through them. This is not some wishy-washy mathematical thing; there is a measurable (hell, pretty high!) tunnelling ('leakage') current in the processor that powers the device you're reading this on. Electrons tunnel across atoms in your CPU all the time! You can even build microscopes that leverage tunnelling (scanning tunnelling microscopes, or STMs). And you can build nuclear power plants that use tunnelling as their main power source. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

https://qph.ec.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-674c5917220f56bbaa2d611bb8e1c78f-c

The second important nuance of the bucket model is the fact that nucleons aren't independent from each other. First of all, they don't have a super well-defined position within the nucleus; they are all little possibility clouds phasing through each other. But they don't just do this individually; you can imagine that certain arrangements of nucleons just don't work as well as others. You wouldn't expect lots of protons near each other surrounded by a shell of neutrons; the charge would rip apart such an arrangement. Really, the nucleus behaves like a lot of loosely interconnected groups of particles. Some, for instance, are really stable by themselves - the alpha particle (2 protons and 2 neutrons) is a very special case. It isn't just a helium atom, it also exists as a pretty solid subgroup of many other atomic nuclei. And a lot of atoms, when they fall apart, don't just randomly lose mass: they lose this specific type of particle all at once. That is called alpha radiation.

Energy
Whohoo, we're finally going to talk about nuclear energy! Well, sorry, no. We first need to understand, fundamentally, what energy means. As you might know, energy comes in many different forms; macroscopically energy is for instance the momentum of mass, the temperature of a thing, light, etc. This goes just as well for subatomic particles, but with a twist. By Einstein's famous equation E2 = m2c4 + p2c2, energy and mass are the same thing. So when we talk about the mass of some particle, we can say, with full equivalence, that that particle has an energy equivalent to its mass times the speed of light squared. We often express this in units of eV/c2 (electronvolt per light speed squared), which is a measure of energy (trust me on this). And this is an extremely profound thing.

Why? Because this determines exactly what kind of interactions you can expect. You see, like everything in the universe, energy (and thus mass) is always conserved. Every interaction that happens on the subatomic level has to observe this law of conservation of energy. Sort of, I'll get into that later. And interactions on subatomic levels all have associated energies and masses with them.

As a general rule, an interaction can only take place if the associated energy is greater than the rest mass of its gauge particle. Those are those fundamental particles I showed in the picture earlier. For instance, the weak nuclear force has the W and Z gauge bosons mediating its effects. These have a rest mass of 80-90 GeV/c^2. This means that in order to cause a weak nuclear interaction, you have to somehow scrounge together that amount of energy to create this particle.

So what happens if you have less energy than that? Well, you create other kinds of particles. There are rules to this. For instance, energy is not the only thing that is conserved; so are a few other fundamental properties of elementary particles like charge, spin, color (in the case of quarks) and so on. As long as your 'ingredients' of your interaction have the exact amount of these properties AND enough energy to surpass the rest mass of the particle you want to produce, there is a chance you'll create that particle!

A chance eh? What kind of lame excuse is that. See, the kinds of interactions that are possible are constrained mostly by the conserved properties, but not necessarily the energy. You can never produce a particle from just energy - you need its constituent properties at least - but you can produce a particle with just its fundamental properties and much less energy than its rest mass. What? You just said the opposite! Well, this is the HUP again: the location and energy of a particle can't be known with infinite precision, it's a trade-off. So if you have an interaction where a particle only exists for an incredibly short amount of time, i.e. its spacetime location is very well-defined, it can have any energy. So the actual energy you have to put in externally can be arbitrarily small, depending on your point of view the rest of the energy is either 'borrowed' from the void (for a small amount of time) or simply never existed in the first place.

The fact that this is how nature works on the quantum scale doesn't mean that nature is without rules. As I said, you still need to conserve fundamental properties. Also, perhaps most importantly, very out-of-whack interactions don't happen with the same probability as 'well-behaved' particle interactions. The more energy you need to borrow, the shorter the interaction time, the less likely it is to happen.



* Sidebar: This is for instance the reason why the weak nuclear force is so weak - the nominal rest mass of the W and Z bosons are very high, so either the chance of that amount of energy to be available all at once or the chance of a much lower-energy (mass) W/Z boson to be created is extremely small. Small chances of the mediating particle to arise means it doesn't happen very often, that means its effects on the whole are pretty weak. Hence, we call it a weak force.

Energy states
We should also really talk about energy states in a more formal manner. I've talked about the PEP already - it says that no two particles can be in the same state (within certain bounds, but that's another discussion entirely). For instance, a very often-used model for electrons around the nucleus of an atom is to imagine them as a little solar system, with different electrons all orbiting around the atom at different distances. Those differences in distance (=energy) are not arbitrary - they exist at well-defined intervals. We call this quantization, and it's what gives quantum physics its name. Further away means a higher energy state. Back in the day we even assigned names to each of those 'orbitals' - r, s, p, etc. Because electrons have more than just energy differentiating themselves (they also have spin), you can generally fit 2 electrons in one orbital, each with opposite spin.

This model is initially useful to get your head around the concept, but it falls apart when you really look into it. Like everything on this scale, you can't know the exact position and trajectory of an electron; it exists as a cloud of possible locations. This cloud does have a reasonably well-defined shape, though. We can see them here:

https://qph.ec.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-11d8cbaa18d2d5d23e78a080e9f7a667

So all electrons exist in a discrete energy state. The orbital model is sort-of accurate in one way: higher-energy electrons do tend to exist further away from the nucleus, and are thus more exposed to the 'outside world'. The innermost (sometimes called ground state or inner orbital) electrons are usually well-shielded from interaction with other particles. You can imagine where this is going: nucleons exhibit the same kind of energy quantization. Parts of the nucleus are 'more on the outside' (i.e. have a probability density function, or pdf, with a higher mean diameter) and others stay more on the inside.

All this is to say: there is, again, a method to the madness. Things are generally well-ordered and predictable to a large degree. For instance, if you fire a high-energy photon at an atom, in the overwhelming majority of cases the 'outermost' electron will take the hit and get excited. If the energy the photon imparts (plus the intrinsic energy of its orbital location) is more than the binding energy of that electron, the electron will become free from the atom and the atom has been ionized. Whatever excess energy was imparted beyond the binding energy will become the momentum of that electron (and the rest of the atom).

However, it's really more interesting to see what happens when the same thing happens, but the incoming energy source is not strong enough to ionize the atom. Instead of the electron flying away completely, it will 'ascend' an orbital (or rarely two or more). If more energy is available, it is either re-radiated as a lower-energy photon or converted to heat (momentum of the atom). However, the buck doesn't stop here - now we have an electron in an excited state. This configuration is not stable in the long term, and eventually the electron will fall back to its 'rest' state again, emitting a photon. Because the energy difference between orbitals is well-defined, the exact photon energy is always the same for the same transition type. You can imagine that these transitions depend on the type of atom this happens to. Conversely, you can look for photons with this exact energy (=wavelength, =color) and determine with fairly high accuracy that if you see a lot of light of that particular wavelength, you are looking at a specific element in the periodic table. This is how we know what stars are made of - they exhibit anomalous emissions at these particular wavelengths.

http://www.cas.miamioh.edu/~yarrisjm/F21_03.jpg

Nucleons work much the same way, although nucleons have much, much larger binding energies and excitation energies. So just firing a photon at a bare nucleon probably won't cause a proton or neutron to shoot away - but firing a fast neutron or other 'heavy' particle at it could.

Conclusion

We've just laid all the groundwork you need to discuss actual nuclear reactions in the next part of this blog series. Next time we'll talk about nuclear stability, reactions (transmutations), reaction chains and some important quantities in nuclear physics. But don't worry, after that we are all set to talk about nuclear reactor designs!

Volgende: Let's look at nuclear power. Part 2: Physics again 24-05 Let's look at nuclear power. Part 2: Physics again
Volgende: De verkiezingen waren prachtig 29-03 De verkiezingen waren prachtig

Reacties


Door Tweakers user ybos, zondag 14 mei 2017 21:04

Stomme vraag misschien, maar we zitten op een nederlandse site, waarom in het engels :? Of is het een copy-paste van een ander blog die je bijhoudt :?

Door Tweakers user mux, zondag 14 mei 2017 21:17

Sommige blogs zijn voor een breder publiek, vandaar in het Engels. Deze is specifiek gericht aan lezers van Reddit. Daarnaast kunnen de meeste Nederlanders wel Engels, maar niet omgekeerd.

Als je terugkijkt naar sommige eerdere blogseries in het Engels, zie je dat die gemakkelijk 50-100k views kunnen krijgen, terwijl de Nederlandse vrijwel altijd onder de 5k blijven hangen. Je bereikt simpelweg minder mensen in het Nederlands.

Door Tweakers user Patrick_P, maandag 15 mei 2017 00:13

Nice read on a Sunday evening!

I'm interested to find out in the next blogs if you believe that thorium, molten salt, WAMSR (I've seen Transatomic Power backing down from their claims) reactors etc. are hyped or they can be a valuable contribution to an energy transition. Of course safety aspects including how much and what kind of waste are a key part of the equation as well.

Looking forward to your next blogs.

Door Tweakers user mux, maandag 15 mei 2017 08:55

Those will definitely be mentioned and some - as far as possible - will be treated fairly in-depth. I will also certainly write down my opinions on these designs, although you'll have to wait until the last post in the series for that (I think, haven't written that yet)

Door Tweakers user DeerDitch, dinsdag 16 mei 2017 10:05

When you see something, what actually happens is that the thing you're seeing has emitted a photon and your eye has detected that photon. Many photons actually. This *is* the electromagnetic force.
I can imagine you took the easy route here, but most things we see are due to the photons of a lightsource (the sun or a lamp) reflecting off of objects.

Door Tweakers user mux, dinsdag 16 mei 2017 10:45

Those are still photons! The path they took doesn't matter, the reason you're seeing it is still because of the electromagnetic interaction mediated by photons.

Door Tweakers user DeerDitch, dinsdag 16 mei 2017 15:24

Agreed, I read it as if each atom 'radiates' photons constantly, without a photon source.

Furthermore, great blog! Most of it is familiar, but I also learned a thing or 2. Looking forward to the next one.

Door Tweakers user incaz, dinsdag 16 mei 2017 21:47

It's all very interesting, and I like physics, but the physics aren't really the problem here. It's a great technology. But at this moment, our global society has clearly proven itself unable to handle such responsibility. Oversight fails on many levels, repeatedly. (Not just nuclear stations, but on all kinds of subjects, from financial markets to labour protection to the origins of the meat we eat.)

That's not a context where science about the inner workings of nuclear physics are very important. It's the outside interactions where things are problematic. And that needs to be clear right from the start, because technological admiration and a focus on solving the technical problems is used too many times to overlook inherent problems on other levels.

If you'd put up this post just as an explanation of nuclear physics, I wouldn't have any problem with it. But you put it up in the context of facilitating a debate about nuclear energy, and that is framing the discussion. The assertion that "more often than not that will mostly be based on qualitative arguments, not an in-depth understanding of the subject" is far from neutral.

It sounds very objective and disconnected and therefore trustworthy - but it's not objective: it's your subjective choice how to introduce this, and on what parts of the debate to focus on first. And without disclosing that inherent subjectiveness.

(Also, the 'famous Einstein formula' is not 'E2 = m2c4 + p2c2' but "E=mc^2" and I'm trying to figure out why you made that more complicated without any reference?)

Door Tweakers user mux, dinsdag 16 mei 2017 22:37

First of all, let me preface this by saying you're getting way ahead of schedule for this coursework already ;-)
incaz schreef op dinsdag 16 mei 2017 @ 21:47:
It's all very interesting, and I like physics, but the physics aren't really the problem here. It's a great technology. But at this moment, our global society has clearly proven itself unable to handle such responsibility. Oversight fails on many levels, repeatedly. (Not just nuclear stations, but on all kinds of subjects, from financial markets to labour protection to the origins of the meat we eat.)
I'd like to say I agree with you, or disagree, but in my opinion the point you're making here is neither here nor there. It's quite obvious that we're monkeys with monkey brains and stupid ingrained behaviours. But with the aid of science and engineering we've come a heck of a long way to combat our stupid biology. I don't think we're nearly at capacity when it comes to learning and understanding things. Public perception and our ability to handle complex subjects is bound to improve with increased education and exposure to well-organized ideas. That is what I'm trying to accomplish here.

Also, this is not a blog series designed to push a certain narrative. I specifically target technically interested people who may or may not have opinions on the subject and may or may not have tangential knowledge, but would like to think a bit deeper about the subject. The only way to understand nuclear energy is to really just go through the motions: understanding nuclear physics 101, understanding nuclear reactions and radioactivity, understanding the engineering of past, present and future reactors and understanding all the other stuff that you need when building power infrastructure. Only with a decent, if nonacademic, appreciation of the entire field can you really make informed decisions. Think about the immense good this can do to society if just a couple thousand people will truly read and absorb this kind of information!
That's not a context where science about the inner workings of nuclear physics are very important. It's the outside interactions where things are problematic.
Don't worry, I will be going into a lot of the politics and the social/societal aspect of nuclear power as well. I am incredibly annoyed at the blind pro-nuclear people who see the walls around them collapse and say 'nothing wrong here' when it comes to this subject. If you ever want to see pure cringe on this subject, browse any headline talking about nuclear energy on reddit.com/r/energy. Specifically look for people like /u/greg_barton. I have just ruined your week.
If you'd put up this post just as an explanation of nuclear physics, I wouldn't have any problem with it. But you put it up in the context of facilitating a debate about nuclear energy, and that is framing the discussion. The assertion that "more often than not that will mostly be based on qualitative arguments, not an in-depth understanding of the subject" is far from neutral.

It sounds very objective and disconnected and therefore trustworthy - but it's not objective: it's your subjective choice how to introduce this, and on what parts of the debate to focus on first. And without disclosing that inherent subjectiveness.
This isn't an explanation of nuclear physics, this is part 1 of a series of posts on the subject. I have to start somewhere. As with all my recent blogs, I like to disclose up-front what the motivation and context of the series is, because as you say: these things aren't objective or neutral. I come from the philosophical stance that no possible written text is objective, and thus it's much more important to understand the writer's biases and circumstances than to ignore this and take the blog at face value. I feel like the sentence you quoted there is, even on the face of it, a very nuanced statement. I'm not talking in absolutes and I am not presenting the blog as an objective truth or foundational piece. You've attributed these qualities to it, but I implore you to re-read the sentence. It doesn't say that!

At least this is how I intended it to be read. As I said in that little subchapter, I'm happy to incorporate improvements. How can I better express my subjectivity?
(Also, the 'famous Einstein formula' is not 'E2 = m2c4 + p2c2' but "E=mc^2" and I'm trying to figure out why you made that more complicated without any reference?)
Because E=mc^2 is unacceptably simplified, especially when talking about this subject. p is significant, up to 10% of the energy in a reaction. I leave these things in for people to get tickled and google them. Maybe that is optimistic. This is not a blog to be passively read, I'm not intending to produce entertainment.

Door Tweakers user incaz, woensdag 17 mei 2017 09:28

First of all, let me preface this by saying you're getting way ahead of schedule for this coursework already ;-)
Well, one way would be prevent that would be to state your outline and conclusions up front. I feel without it, it's relevant to address those issues right away, because otherwise it's very easy (for readers and for you as writer) to fall into a technocratic perspective.
It's quite obvious that we're monkeys with monkey brains and stupid ingrained behaviours.
That sounds very negative. I don't think it's necessary at all, and it may even harmful, to see it that way.

The main thing is that we as humans don't cope well with scopes that are well beyond our immediate reach.
I don't think we're nearly at capacity when it comes to learning and understanding things. Public perception and our ability to handle complex subjects is bound to improve with increased education and exposure to well-organized ideas.
That's an interesting statement - do you have something to back that up? Is it really lack of understanding that makes people reckless?
Because E=mc^2 is unacceptably simplified, especially when talking about this subject. p is significant, up to 10% of the energy in a reaction. I leave these things in for people to get tickled and google them. Maybe that is optimistic. This is not a blog to be passively read, I'm not intending to produce entertainment.
Nice framing again :)

The problem is: the 'famous Einstein formula' is E=mc^2. Putting a different formula is simply wrong - not for the math-side but for the story. You apply the label of 'famous Einstein formula' to something that isn't. Without even acknowledging you did so, let alone why. That has nothing to do with entertainment, but everything with correctly narrating.

Also, your explanation isn't quite correct in light of your text. You write
By Einstein's famous equation E2 = m2c4 + p2c2, energy and mass are the same thing. So when we talk about the mass of some particle, we can say, with full equivalence, that that particle has an energy equivalent to its mass times the speed of light squared. We often express this in units of eV/c2 (electronvolt per light speed squared), which is a measure of energy (trust me on this).
The statement 'energy and mass are the same' is just as clear from the actual famous formula (or even more clear), you put the specialized case in words right after it, you never refer to p anywhere in the text, and you close with 'trust me on this'. Well no, I won't trust you on this. To be trusted, things need to be correct on all levels.

My objection mainly is that it can be used as a rhetorical trick that is used to come across more knowledgeable, and that's something that erodes trust, not build it. If you refer to the E^2 -case - fine, there are good reasons (not within the context of this text as far as I can see, but in the general structure, yes) but explain your choice with a clear reference, not with a label that isn't correct.

Door Tweakers user mux, woensdag 17 mei 2017 10:47

It seems like you have a very literal way of interpreting things and aim to argue things to death while losing the bigger picture. Again, this is not an academic work. I would not dare to submit any of this for peer review. This is a blog, aimed to appeal to laymen while simultaneously contributing something of value in an engaging fashion. This requires trade-offs between accuracy, writing style and longevity. I will be expanding on this in the following comments.
incaz schreef op woensdag 17 mei 2017 @ 09:28:
Well, one way would be prevent that would be to state your outline and conclusions up front. I feel without it, it's relevant to address those issues right away, because otherwise it's very easy (for readers and for you as writer) to fall into a technocratic perspective.
This is not a strong argument. I'm clearly labeling this as a series (the title has 'Part 1' in it), the conclusion speaks about the progression of the series and the motivation also hints at a broader perspective on the entire subject. I feel like you've, again, consciously or subconsciously implied that this is a technocratic piece when it's not. Again, re-read it, I feel like I've been sufficiently careful in my wording.
That sounds very negative. I don't think it's necessary at all, and it may even harmful, to see it that way. The main thing is that we as humans don't cope well with scopes that are well beyond our immediate reach.
Is that not just a more nuanced way of saying what I just said? I purposefully phrased it in the most blunt possible way to drive home the point. Obviously humans are not monkeys, it is a figure of speech.
That's an interesting statement - do you have something to back that up? Is it really lack of understanding that makes people reckless?
However you want to phrase it - lack of experience, lack of understanding, general ignorance. Knowing more about a subject and giving perspective, even if it's a biased or incomplete one, makes people better able to appreciate something instead of taking it at face value. I don't see the need for citations here, it's basically a truism. Of if you do not accept that, it's the fundamental operational thought behind publishing these kinds of blogs.
The problem is: the 'famous Einstein formula' is E=mc^2. Putting a different formula is simply wrong - not for the math-side but for the story. You apply the label of 'famous Einstein formula' to something that isn't. Without even acknowledging you did so, let alone why. That has nothing to do with entertainment, but everything with correctly narrating.
Oh, I understand what you have a problem with. You don't get the joke! That's fine, everybody has these whoosh moments. I'm not a particular comedic genius anyway.

I'm using a comedic juxtaposition: I'm starting the sentence with "the famous einstein formula', priming the reader for obviously thinking 'oh he's going to say E = mc^2, I know this'. Then I put something completely different in. Now, the reader is confused, re-reads the sentence, and if the reader operates at the level I'm aiming for, he/she will be tickled to either look up what the fuck I'm talking about or will simply recognize this is a rewritten form of E=mc^2 and operate on the understanding that this implies mass-energy equivalence. I'm reinforcing the salient point - mass-energy equivalence - by repeating that point afterwards, so that people who either aren't good with formulas or who were totally confused at this point can keep following the text.

Explaining a joke, dead frog, etcetera.

[hr]

I propose we leave the discussion here, unless you have something new to add. I will not be re-responding to the same points, if nothing else to keep the comment section at least a bit clean.

Basically all you are objecting to is writing style, and I get that. It may seem like we're disagreeing, but we are not - I am totally cognizant of the constructivist philosophical argument here: Writing style, selection bias, topic order, all these things influence the reader as much as the face-value written text. Hell, the language in particular (English) has a lot of shortcomings when it comes to accurately conveying these topics. But I'm taking a firm stance on this: I don't fucking care anymore. I will write in my own writing style with stupid dad-jokes, slightly flowery language, dutchisms and slightly authoritarian tone because trying too hard to sanitize this is so detrimental to my writing output that I won't be able to convey any useful information anymore. I do this stuff for fun, you know. And the more I learn, the more anyone knows, the easier it becomes to see the shortcomings and to feel like you're straying further and further from your idealized goals.

Of course I would like to write perfectly paced, incredibly eloquent yet still scientifically perfectly accurate, focus-tested educational material. I don't have time for that! Yet I still think that relatively low-effort blogs like this one are still worth it.

Door Tweakers user naftebakje, woensdag 17 mei 2017 12:30

mux schreef op dinsdag 16 mei 2017 @ 22:37:
[...]I leave these things in for people to get tickled and google them. Maybe that is optimistic. This is not a blog to be passively read, I'm not intending to produce entertainment.
Well, sorry to say this, but this is entertainment. Hearing (of reading) a clear and understandable explanation of a complex issue (wether politics, technology,...) is a pure joy for the mind (certainly mine, but seeing the reactions on your blogs I'm not alone on this).
mux schreef op dinsdag 16 mei 2017 @ 22:37:
[...]Of course I would like to write perfectly paced, incredibly eloquent yet still scientifically perfectly accurate, focus-tested educational material. I don't have time for that! Yet I still think that relatively low-effort blogs like this one are still worth it.
First things first: "Lies! All lies!" You obviously took great effort of not only gaining the knowledge, but also presenting it in a well-balanced (simplification <->elaboration, clear <-> "tickling", ...) and honest work of art.
Second, what you just described sounds to me as "I do not have the time to write up something boring, so I made something that you actually learn from". Maybe I've come across the wrong teachers, but what you do is what education should be about. For instance you make clear where you make a simplification (wether it is for keeping the pace, you do not have enough in-depth knowledge, ...) which keeps the mind open and active, as opposed to teachers not willing to explain out of fear that students will find out they have limits in their knowledge too.

To me, next to a joy to read and absorb knowledge, you accomplish the goal of letting readers expand their knowledge further. I do believe your blog can act as a startpoint of going further exploring with enough base knowledge to do that on an efficiŽnt way.

Keep it up, and don't forget patting yourself on the back for this. I respect the time and effort you put in this!

Door Tweakers user DeerDitch, woensdag 17 mei 2017 15:41

mux schreef op woensdag 17 mei 2017 @ 10:47:
It seems like you have a very literal way of interpreting things and aim to argue things to death while losing the bigger picture.
Tja...
incaz is karmakoning van 1 onderwerp:
karmakoningTweede kamer
Sorry, I will let myself out

Door Tweakers user AutCha, donderdag 18 mei 2017 08:19

Thank you spending your time into this topic Mux! I really enjoyed your "Hydrogen is the future! (but not)" articles and they are still very useful when someone is interested but still ignorant about the subject ("yeah, what Tesla is doing is great, but they say cars on hydrogen are the real future").

I like the level and your style of writing and I am looking forward for the other parts.

Door Tweakers user Khaine, vrijdag 19 mei 2017 21:50

Extremely well written piece. I actually feel a little smarter now :D

Also I found it easy enough to follow.

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