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Posts Tagged ‘news’

Fermilab Double-Checking CERN’s (and their own) Math

September 27, 2011 1 comment
Detector used in the MINOS experiment at Fermilab.

Of course the big news of the past week is the OPERA experiment’s measurement of neutrino’s travelling faster than light.

The paper is up on arXiv. I’ve gone through it and nothing jumps out as to what they could have possibly done wrong. Chad Orzel on his blog Uncertain Principles has written a really nice summary of the paper and what the group actually did.

(Aside: I just read How to Teach Physics To Your Dog by Orzel, and I would definitely recommend it to a reader with a budding interest in quantum mechanics.)

Now it looks like the US based Fermilab is going to go over some old data to see if they can support (or contradict) the results of the OPERA experiment.

It was back in 2007 that Fermilab announced the results of their MINOS (Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search) experiment. They also found neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light, however they had a much larger margin of error than the OPERA experiment, so they did not receive much attention.

Now, they are going to go back over their old data, as well as add some new data, to see what they find.

“The MINOS experiment has plans to update their original 2007 measurement with a number of improvements, including 10x more data,” wrote MINOS spokesperson Jenny Thomas, a professor of particle physics at University College London in an email to TPM’s Idea Lab.

“We should have a result in 4-6 months as the data is already taken. We just have to measure some of our delays more carefully,” she added. [TPM]

So in 6 months (I know, science is slow!) we will hopefully add another chapter to this fascinating story.

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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

Psychic Backing Away From $1 Million Psychic Challenge

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment

File:Psychic reading.jpgA prolific Toronto-area psychic named “Psychic Nikki” recently made headlines by saying that she would be interested in taking the ‘Psychic Challenge’ offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).

The JREF offers a $1 million prize to any person who can demonstrate psychic abilities. What is the catch? Well there is none, really.

You just have to demonstrate a statistically significant ability to predict future events (beyond that of chance) in a controlled scientific experiment. The terms of the experiment are agreed upon by both the “psychic” and the JREF and the experiment itself conducted by a third-party.

Easy, right?

Unfortunately, of the hundreds of people who have attempted the test, none have been able to demonstrate that they are, indeed, psychic.

Enter “Psychic Nikki”.

On August 31, 2011, the CBC reported that Psychic Nikki was considering taking the challenge,

“I would say yes, I would take [the] challenge because I have enough faith in my own abilities if I was available,” Toronto-based psychic Nikki told CBC News.

“I am the real thing so I don’t have to worry about this stuff.”

The statement came after a high-profile challenge by James Randi to famous psychics to come and prove their abilities.

Psychic Nikki was quite confident. She has, by her own claim, predicted

the Sept. 11 attacks, the Japan tsunami and the deaths of Michael Jackson, crocodile hunter Steve Irwin and Anna Nicole Smith.

Though despite predicting these events, she did not bother trying to prevent any of them. You can actually check out her Twitter feed to see some of her predictions, which include:

I’m pretty sure people riot/protest in Paris every week…

Been 10 days, nuthin’ yet on that  one…

And my personal favourite,

The predictions are rather vague (excepting the Mona Lisa one), which is odd considering her website states that

She is an audient clairvoyant – the ability to see and hear and come up with specifics.

Psychics use specialized strategies to appear like they are foretelling the future. For example, they will make a large number of vague predictions (called “Shotgunning”), and then claim victory when any individual prediction comes close to the truth. Predicting an earthquake in California at some point will probably end up being true, but it is hardly convincing evidence of psychic ability.

Now, as revealed on the JREF website, Psychic Nikki has started distancing herself from the challenge.

The JREF called Nikki on Sept. 2, requesting an email address to send her information about the Million Dollar Challenge. After CBC News published a followup story on Tuesday, Sept. 6, Nikki returned the JREF’s call, leaving a message in which she promised “I will try to contact you in the next couple of days for sure.” The JREF called her back within an hour, again offering to send information about the Challenge and answer her questions.

A full week after Nikki promised to call the JREF “in the next couple of days,” she still had not responded.

She also commented on the challenge on the Dean Blundell show on September 9th. Most notably she said that

This test is controlled, that’s why I don’t want to take it

Which is basically the point. Once “psychics” find out that the test will be fairly testing their abilities, they either back away or ultimately fail the test. That is bad for business.

This is not at all surprising, but it is a bit refreshing to see it get coverage in big news outlets like the CBC. I expect that attention to this story will slowly dissipate once Psychic Nikki stops talking about it, but the point as been made.

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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. 

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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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