Sandra Bullock in Gravity, a film that demonstrates how vulnerable humans are to the forces of nature outside of their natural environment. AP Photo
Sandra Bullock in Gravity, a film that demonstrates how vulnerable humans are to the forces of nature outside of their natural environment. AP Photo

Science is scary when it works



If you are planning to see Gravity, the latest Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster that opened in the UAE on Thursday, be warned. You will be spending 90 minutes immersed in a nightmarish environment we humans cannot handle well.

You will not be joining the astronauts – played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney – out in space. You will be somewhere much weirder: the terrifying realm where the basics you learnt in physics class really hold true.

One of the trailers gives a hint of just how scary that can be. One moment novice astronaut Dr Ryan Stone, played by Bullock, is working at the end of a mechanical extension arm attached to the Space Shuttle.

The next, something has gone very wrong and she is sent into a spin.

Which does not sound too awful – until you ponder just how she would stop spinning. Because this is not like being on a roundabout on Earth, where something such as friction will always bring you to a halt. This is airless, frictionless space, where there is pretty much nothing to help you.

No amount of waving or flailing around is going to help. Unless you can get access to an external source of force, you are just going to keep on spinning. Forever.

Many filmgoers have said how disturbing they found Gravity, but without being able to say exactly why. After all, it is not like it is the first movie set in space.

Yet few films have gone to so much trouble to portray what being in space is really like. And that holds the key to why Gravity has such an unnerving effect.

The film is doing more than taking us away from Earth: it is putting us in the perplexing, pure, Platonic world ruled by school physics.

Many of us sensed there was something not quite right about school physics even as we were forced to learn it.

Our teachers claimed we would understand how the world around us worked by learning laws about forces, energy, angular momentum and so on.

But hints that this was not entirely true emerged the moment we did experiments to confirm laws about, say, falling bodies.

Sure, the time taken for dropped objects to hit the floor was close to what the formulas predicted – but never spot on.

Then there were those silly questions asking for the speed of objects rolling downhill or falling through the air – all carrying caveats such as “neglecting friction” or “assuming zero air resistance”.

We were even told that a feather and a hammer would strike the ground at the same moment – but the only evidence for this was some footage of an Apollo astronaut larking around on the Moon.

For many, this says everything you need to know about academic science: it is clever, but until you get to the most advanced levels a lot of it just does not apply in the real world.

But it also shows that up in space, things are different. Those simple laws work all too well. Start moving in one direction, and you will find that –just as Newton’s first law of motion states – you will keep on moving in a straight line forever, until you are acted on by an external force.

This simplicity is what has now propelled Nasa’s Voyager 1 out of the Solar system without needing constant help from a rocket engine.

The deep-space probe got its one big blast of rocket power at its launch in 1977, taking it out of Earth orbit. Then, apart from grabbing some free energy through fly-bys of sundry celestial bodies, Voyager 1 has just kept sailing on through the more or less frictionless vacuum of space for 30-odd years.

And it will carry on doing just that, unless it passes too close to a star or other object supplying a reasonable “external force” in the form of gravity.

And that is the problem facing Dr Stone in Gravity. She too needs an external force if she is to stop moving sometime in the next few million years.

With no air to push against, all the instinctual tricks such as waving one’s arms and legs will not work.

She could make things more bearable using some school science anyone can experience in a spinning office chair. Stick your arms and legs out, and you will spin a lot slower.

It has nothing to do with air resistance. It is the law of conservation of angular momentum and it works anywhere – even in space.

It states that, in the absence of any external forces, an object’s spin rate multiplied by its so-called moment of inertia is always the same.

So if you want to decrease your spin, you must increase your moment of inertia, which is most easily done by changing your shape. It is what ice-skaters are doing when they want to speed up or slow down their pirouettes.

To see how Dr Stone gets out of her predicament, watch the movie. Along the way, you will witness a host of other unnerving demonstration of school physics “in the raw”, such as collisions, free-fall and explosions.

Inevitably, the makers of Gravity have come in for some criticism from experts pointing out factual errors.

These seem largely deliberate, having been introduced for dramatic reasons. But they certainly serve to demonstrate why people find physicists tiresome.

In any case, scientists have not always covered themselves in glory when it comes to understanding basic physics in space.

Back in the mid-1960s, an American graduate student named Gary Flandro discovered that the planets were coming into a rare alignment during the 1970s, making them especially easy to visit by space probe.

He even came up with a clever way of doing it, using the gravity of each planet to hurl the probe on to its next destination like a slingshot.

Mr Flandro found himself derided by experts, who pointed out that while the probe would be accelerated as it approached each planet, it would be slowed down as it moved away, eliminating any advantage.

He had no choice but to point out something the experts had missed: the planets move around the sun. His idea amounted to simply having the probe coattail each planet on trajectories that allowed it to benefit from energy extracted from their orbital motion, and be hurled on to the next planet like a stone in a slingshot.

Fortunately, the experts admitted their goof – and made plans to exploit Mr Flandro’s brilliant idea. The result was a series of spectacular deep space missions, among them Voyager 1.

As Gravity shows, sometimes simple science can achieve spectacular things.

Robert Matthews is visiting reader in science at Aston University, Birmingham, England

Blue Beetle

Director: Angel Manuel Soto
Stars: Xolo Mariduena, Adriana Barraza, Damian Alcazar, Raoul Max Trujillo, Susan Sarandon, George Lopez
Rating: 4/5 

'Shakuntala Devi'

Starring: Vidya Balan, Sanya Malhotra

Director: Anu Menon

Rating: Three out of five stars

Company profile

Company name: Leap
Started: March 2021
Founders: Ziad Toqan and Jamil Khammu
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Funds raised: Undisclosed
Current number of staff: Seven

SPEC SHEET: APPLE M3 MACBOOK AIR (13")

Processor: Apple M3, 8-core CPU, up to 10-core CPU, 16-core Neural Engine

Display: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina, 2560 x 1664, 224ppi, 500 nits, True Tone, wide colour

Memory: 8/16/24GB

Storage: 256/512GB / 1/2TB

I/O: Thunderbolt 3/USB-4 (2), 3.5mm audio, Touch ID

Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3

Battery: 52.6Wh lithium-polymer, up to 18 hours, MagSafe charging

Camera: 1080p FaceTime HD

Video: Support for Apple ProRes, HDR with Dolby Vision, HDR10

Audio: 4-speaker system, wide stereo, support for Dolby Atmos, Spatial Audio and dynamic head tracking (with AirPods)

Colours: Midnight, silver, space grey, starlight

In the box: MacBook Air, 30W/35W dual-port/70w power adapter, USB-C-to-MagSafe cable, 2 Apple stickers

Price: From Dh4,599

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

The six points:

1. Ministers should be in the field, instead of always at conferences

2. Foreign diplomacy must be left to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation

3. Emiratisation is a top priority that will have a renewed push behind it

4. The UAE's economy must continue to thrive and grow

5. Complaints from the public must be addressed, not avoided

6. Have hope for the future, what is yet to come is bigger and better than before

Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Kinetic 7
Started: 2018
Founder: Rick Parish
Based: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Industry: Clean cooking
Funding: $10 million
Investors: Self-funded

Mia Man’s tips for fermentation

- Start with a simple recipe such as yogurt or sauerkraut

- Keep your hands and kitchen tools clean. Sanitize knives, cutting boards, tongs and storage jars with boiling water before you start.

- Mold is bad: the colour pink is a sign of mold. If yogurt turns pink as it ferments, you need to discard it and start again. For kraut, if you remove the top leaves and see any sign of mold, you should discard the batch.

- Always use clean, closed, airtight lids and containers such as mason jars when fermenting yogurt and kraut. Keep the lid closed to prevent insects and contaminants from getting in.

 

The Roundup : No Way Out

Director: Lee Sang-yong
Stars: Don Lee, Lee Jun-hyuk, Munetaka Aoki
Rating: 3/5

Why does a queen bee feast only on royal jelly?

Some facts about bees:

The queen bee eats only royal jelly, an extraordinary food created by worker bees so she lives much longer

The life cycle of a worker bee is from 40-60 days

A queen bee lives for 3-5 years

This allows her to lay millions of eggs and allows the continuity of the bee colony

About 20,000 honey bees and one queen populate each hive

Honey is packed with vital vitamins, minerals, enzymes, water and anti-oxidants.

Apart from honey, five other products are royal jelly, the special food bees feed their queen 

Pollen is their protein source, a super food that is nutritious, rich in amino acids

Beewax is used to construct the combs. Due to its anti-fungal, anti-bacterial elements, it is used in skin treatments

Propolis, a resin-like material produced by bees is used to make hives. It has natural antibiotic qualities so works to sterilize hive,  protects from disease, keeps their home free from germs. Also used to treat sores, infection, warts

Bee venom is used by bees to protect themselves. Has anti-inflammatory properties, sometimes used to relieve conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, nerve and muscle pain

Honey, royal jelly, pollen have health enhancing qualities

The other three products are used for therapeutic purposes

Is beekeeping dangerous?

As long as you deal with bees gently, you will be safe, says Mohammed Al Najeh, who has worked with bees since he was a boy.

“The biggest mistake people make is they panic when they see a bee. They are small but smart creatures. If you move your hand quickly to hit the bees, this is an aggressive action and bees will defend themselves. They can sense the adrenalin in our body. But if we are calm, they are move away.”

 

 

Why your domicile status is important

Your UK residence status is assessed using the statutory residence test. While your residence status – ie where you live - is assessed every year, your domicile status is assessed over your lifetime.

Your domicile of origin generally comes from your parents and if your parents were not married, then it is decided by your father. Your domicile is generally the country your father considered his permanent home when you were born. 

UK residents who have their permanent home ("domicile") outside the UK may not have to pay UK tax on foreign income. For example, they do not pay tax on foreign income or gains if they are less than £2,000 in the tax year and do not transfer that gain to a UK bank account.

A UK-domiciled person, however, is liable for UK tax on their worldwide income and gains when they are resident in the UK.


Latest
Most Read
Top Videos

The UAE Today

The latest news and analysis from the Emirates

      By signing up, I agree to The National's privacy policy
      The UAE Today