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Faster Than Light Particles! So, Warp Speed Ahead, Right???

September 22, 2011 3 comments

The OPERA detector at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy

I’ll have more to say about this story once I see the work on arXiv, but I feel I should comment now because this story is exploding.

The interwebs and blogospheres are abuzz with the news that researchers at CERN have measured the velocity of neutrinos which seem to be travelling faster than light.

Neutrinos are nearly massless  subatomic particles which have been known to travel near the speed of light. But, like all other things in the universe, they are not supposed to be able to travel faster than light.

Basically the experiment involves the creation of neutrinos at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and the neutrinos travelling 730 km to a laboratory 1,400 meters underground in Italy. There, an experiment called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) detects those neutrinos and measures how quickly it took them to make the trip.

The neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds sooner than they should have. This means they were travelling at a speed of about 299 800 km/s, which is slightly higher than the speed of light, which is about 299 792 km/s.

This discovery will rock the very foundation upon which modern physics is built. Seriously, this is like the discovery that the world is round or wave-particle duality; it’s a complete game-changer.

If it’s true.

Like a lot of folks out there, I am quite skeptical of this discovery. Think of it this way: which of these two scenarios is more likely,

  1. Particles can travel faster than light, completely re-writing modern physics and decades of previous research. Or,
  2. These guys made an innocent mistake.

Now, it is certainly possible that this discovery will turn out to be genuine. However, it is much more likely that there was some kind of error or misinterpretation which has led to this result.

I would like to point out that the researchers have revealed their work in the proper way. They are excited, but very skeptical themselves and are asking the academic community to review their work and try to find a flaw. Antonio Ereditato, a physicist at the University of Bern in Switzerland and OPERA’s spokesman said in an interview

Whenever you are in these conditions, then you have to go to the community

THIS is science in action, folks! A group of physicists think they have discovered something awesome. But they haven’t started trumpeting their results like they have been absolutely confirmed, no emails were leaked suggesting the discovery, and they didn’t go to some rogue publication to get their work in print prior to peer-review.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

I am very hopeful this turns out to be a genuine discovery. I can’t wait to read the papers and hear the response from the scientific community.

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Ryan

If Your Bandage is Glowing, That’s Bad…

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment
Polymer

A polymer and fluorescent dye work together to cause a bandage to glow in the presence of infection.

A team of researchers at the University of Sheffield has developed an interesting way of detecting bacteria in a wound (I know, gross).

The researchers found that a polymer attached to a fluorescent dye on bandage can detect when bacteria or other harmful organisms come into contact with the wound. The polymer changes shape when the bacteria are present, activating the dye and emitting ultraviolet light.

The technique was mainly developed with military applications in mind. Being able to easily and quickly identify infected wounds on the battlefield could help significantly reduce the severity of injuries.

“If you know you’ve got infection it’s going to change how you treat your soldiers, it’s going to change how you’re going to treat those patients in the home,” Sheffield researcher Sheila McNeil said. [UPI.com]

At the moment, the technique has only been applied to artificial tissues. However, it currently takes several days to confirm the presence of infection, so there is quite an interest in expanding the technique to human trials.

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Ryan

Don’t Eat This Jelly…

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment
a66c5  55257095 hamish Jelly batteries break the mould
A battery using a polymer jelly could make for cheaper, more efficient batteries.

Researchers from the University of Leeds have developed a new type of polymer jelly which could be used to make lighter, cooler (temperature wise) and more efficient rechargable batteries. They could be used in any application which currently uses a lithium battery, such as laptops, cell phones or tablets.

Professor Ian Ward from the University of Leeds went on BBC Radio 4 recently to discuss the new polymer jelly his research group has been working on.

This jelly, he says, could replace the current liquid electrolyte in most lithium batteries. The polymer jelly is supposed to be 10-20% cheaper but will not reach the high temperatures current batteries operate at during long usage times.

It would be regarded as safer because there is no excess solvent or electrolyte. All the solvents are bound into the polymer at a molecular level.

The group set out simply to make batteries safer. But as luck would have it, the design actually makes the batteries cheaper and more efficient.

It will certainly be cheaper because…the process of making batteries at the moment is generally rather laboruious. whereas we can do it in an instant step at a rather fast rate.

The batteries will also end up being lighter for doing similar applications as current electrolyte filled batteries, which will be particularly useful for military applications, says Ward.

This is one of those scientific advances which doesn’t seem too glamourous, but could directly affect all of us. Cell phones, tablets and laptops are ubiquitous now and battery life is a major consideration when buying a new device.

Anyone in the mood for PB&J now?

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REMINDER: This blog is moving! The new location is http://www.aquantumofknowledge.com/ 

Remember to update your subscriptions! This site will no longer be supported after September 30, 2011. 

Thanks! 

Ryan

Canada Finds Evidence of Failed 1845 Arctic Expedition

September 2, 2011 Leave a comment
File:John Franklin.jpg

Sir John Franklin

In 1845, the Franklin Expedition, led by John Franklin, set sail from England looking for the Northwest Passage.

Unfortunately, the expedition became stuck in the Arctic ice near King William Island and the entire expedition (128 people) was lost.

Just yesterday, Parks Canada announced that an archeological project in the Canadian arctic had found evidence of Franklin’s two lost ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror (now THAT’S a name for a ship!)

While they have not yet found the ships themselves, they did find evidence of the expedition,

“We found bottle glass — possibly from wine or spirit bottles — copper nails, tent canvas, twine, rope … we found some pieces of clay tobacco smoking pipes,” said Jonathan Moore of Parks Canada.

Finding the actual ships of the Franklin Expedition will be quite challenging, as detailed in the Parks Canada news release,

The search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror is made more challenging by the vastness of the Canadian Arctic and the harsh conditions that are frequently encountered in northern waters. It is also complicated by differing accounts of the fate of Franklin’s ships as preserved in Inuit traditional knowledge, and the many interpretations given to these accounts on the possible resting place of the wrecks.

The survey team uses a particularly cool technique called LiDaR (Light Detection and Ranging) to map the seabed to try to find the wrecks of these two ships.

LIDAR is often used in meteorological surveys to detect temperature and pressure changes in the atmosphere. It can also be applied to mapping the underwater landscape of an area, drastically increasing the efficiency of a search such as this one.

File:LIDAR-scanned-SICK-LMS-animation.gif

This animation shows a LIDAR (appearance based on SICK LMS 219) with a single beam scanned in one axis. The top image shows the scanning mechanism; the middle image shows the laser's path through a basic scene; the bottom image shows the sensor's output, after conversion from polar to Cartesian coordinates.

 

Just another example of sweet tools that physicists use that can be applied in other fields of science, like archaeology.

Florida Pastor Wants To Register Atheists, Just Like Sex Offenders

September 1, 2011 1 comment

I’ve honestly been staring at my computer screen for several minutes trying to figure out where to start with this one.

I guess we can start with the facts. The pastor of an online church called “Living Water Church” has proposed the creation of a “National Atheist Registry”, akin to those designed for sex offenders.

I can’t even begin to explain the reasoning behind this, so let’s just go with a direct quote.

Now, many (especially the atheists), may ask “Why do this, what’s the purpose?” Duhhh, Mr. Atheist for the same purpose many States put the names and photos of convicted sex offenders and other ex-felons on the I-Net — to INFORM the public! I mean, in the City of Miramar, Florida, where I live, the population is approx. 109,000. My family and I would sure like to know how many of those 109,000 areADMITTED atheists! Perhaps we may actually know some. In which case we could begin to witness to them and warn them of the dangers of atheism. Or perhaps they are radical atheists, whose hearts are as hard as Pharaoh’s, in that case, if they are business owners, we would encourage all our Christian friends, as well as the various churches and their congregations NOT to patronize them as we would only be “feeding” Satan.

Frankly, I don’t see why anyone would oppose this idea — including the atheists themselves (unless of course, they’re actually ashamed of their atheist religion, and would prefer to stay in the ‘closet.’).

Can you imagine! Someone admitting that they are an atheist?!? Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!

Or what about the “radical atheists”. Those troublemakers!

unholy_trinity

Indeed, their hearts must be as hard as Pharaoh’s! (Forgetting of course, that Pharaoh was the furthest thing from an atheist, but I digress).

And by buying things from an atheist store, why you are “feeding Satan”. It makes so much sense. Instead, let’s only buy things from Christian stores. Because that’s the right thing to do. We should perhaps put up signs in the windows of atheist businesses so that we can all identify them and blame them for our problems. It has worked so well in the past!

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-14468, Berlin, NS-Boykott gegen jüdische Geschäfte.jpg

Stormtroopers outside a Berlin store posting signs with the words "Germans! Defend yourselves! Do not buy from Jews" ("Deutsche! Wehrt Euch! Kauft nicht bei Juden!"). Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14468 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA

While I don’t think this “Pastor Mike” is nearly as bad as the Nazis, the idea of boycotting a business based on the faith (or lack-therof) of the owner certainly has some historical significance.

But nor do I think atheists are as bad as sex offenders. Nor would any other sane person.

But perhaps Pastor Mike has a good idea. We should start creating registries for all types of people we don’t like. That way, we can only deal with people who have the same views and opinions as ourselves.

That is a sure-fire way to promote tolerance and understanding which, as I understand, are main pillars of Christianity.

And The Award For “Weirdest Headline of the Day” Goes To…

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

All I can say is:

Ewwwwwwwww!

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Vaccines (once again) Found Safe. Not That Anti-Vaxxers Care…

August 26, 2011 1 comment

The Institute of Medicine has released a comprehensive report on the safety of vaccines. They looked at a wide range of vaccine types and various adverse affects known to be associated, and thought to be associated, with vaccines.

The report looked at claims which were submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which was setup in 1986 to compensate those who were injured by vaccines.

They then looked for a causal relationship between the administration of the vaccine and the adverse effect reported in the claim.

In short, the committee found that most issues with vaccines were rare and mild.

Additionally, evidence favors rejection of five vaccine-adverse event relationships, including MMR vaccine and autism and inactivated influenza vaccine and asthma episodes.

A summary of the report very aptly states:

Despite much media attention and strong opinions from many quarters, vaccines remain one of the greatest tools in the public health arsenal. Certainly, some vaccines result in adverse effects that must be acknowledged. But the latest evidence shows that few adverse effects are caused by the vaccines reviewed in this report.

Of course, this doesn’t sway the staunch anti-vax supporters. Age of Autism, a group which is hell-bent on rejecting any scientific evidence showing that vaccines do not cause autism, had this to say about the study:

The IOM report took two years to produce, mostly behind closed doors, and was paid for by the Department of Health and Human Services, the government agency which is also a defendant against the vaccine-injured in the government’s vaccine court

Their arguments are as predictable as the sun rising in the east. It is a government agency, therefore they don’t accept the research.

If people want to keep their heads buried in the sand that is one thing, but the problem is that it is children who end up suffering when people don’t accept the science behind one of the greatest medical advances in history.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Though that doesn’t mean I can’t be disappointed.