Friday, March 27, 2015

Waves and Dukes

(From Waikiki, 2006)

Duke Kahanamoku was an Olympic swimming champion and a hero to us islanders. He popularised our Hawaiian sport of surfing to the world. At age 20, in an amateur meet, he broke the world record for the 100-meter freestyle. This feat by an islander was so surprising that the athletic union didn't recognise it for years. He won Olympic medals for the US in 1912, 1920 and the Paris Olympics of 1924.

Between Olympics Duke Kahanamoku gave surfing displays around the world. His exhibition in Sydney on December 23, 1914 is regarded as the start of Australian surfing. A statue of Duke stands at Freshwater Beach north of Manly. Thanks to the Duke, Queensland's Coast is known as Surfer's Paradise. He worked as a film actor in Hollywood, like yours truly. While living in Newport Beach, he single-handedly rescued 8 people from a sinking boat using his board.

Future generations will wonder why this planet was called "Earth," since it is mostly covered by water. If one grew up on an island, it is obvious that we are surrounded by the sea. Pacific navigators colonised the islands from Asia to Hawaii in a process that took centuries. That is a natural model for exploring other solar systems.

As we have seen many times, waves are important to physics and astronomy. The imprint of waves in the CMB can determine whether inflation happened or a changing speed of light. Maxwell's equations show that visible light, infrared and gamma radiation are all electromagnetic waves. Contributor Nigel has explored the waves in nuclear explosions. Waves touch us in sound and in the tides. The effect of tides on the Moon is one more clue that c has changed.

Because sound waves travel in air and water waves through water, it was long assumed that light travelled through some medium. Since light travels throughout the Universe, this ether was presumed to be invisible and fill all Space, just like "dark energy." Maxwell himself believed that Earth travelled through ether like a ship through water. The inferrence of an invisible ether lasted until Einstein introduced Special Relativity.

In 1924, while Duke Kahanamoku was competing in the Paris Olympics, another duke was making waves nearby. A graduate student in Paris named Duc Louis de Broglie suggested that electrons also took the form of waves. Their wavelength is given by the relation h/p. De Broglie published this simple relation in an extremely short PhD thesis.

Like an equation about light, Duc De Broglie's thesis was short but revolutionary. His thesis would have been rejected outright except for the support of Albert Einstein, who recommended De Broglie for a PhD. Einstein also nominated De Broglie for the Nobel Prize in 1929--nice to have friends like that. Like Duke Kahanamoku's 100-meter record, Duc de Broglie's achievement almost went unrecognised. Thanks to supporters like Einstein, we enjoy both surfing and De Broglie waves.


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