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  • richardmitnick 2:31 pm on September 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NPR,   

    From NPR: “Quantum Physics And The Need For A New Paradigm” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    September 27, 2015
    Ruth E. Kastner

    1
    iStockphoto

    Quantum physics, celebrated for its predictive success, has also become notorious for being an inscrutable mass of paradoxes.

    One of the founders of the theory, Niels Bohr, stated that “those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it.” Nobel laureate Richard Feynman said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

    The shocking aspects of quantum theory can be summarized by three issues: uncertainty; nonlocality; and the measurement problem (or the problem of Schrödinger’s Cat).

    The first issue consists in the fact that the tiny objects described by quantum theory, such as the constituents of atoms — protons and electrons, for example — cannot be pinned down to definite locations and speeds at the same time. If one of these properties is definite, the other must be in a quantum superposition, a kind of “fuzziness” that we never see in the ordinary macroscopic world of experience.

    The second issue arises in certain kinds of composite systems, such as pairs of electrons, in a so-called “entangled” state. If you send two such electrons off to the opposite ends of the galaxy, quantum physics tells us that they are still somehow in direct communication, such that the result of a measurement performed on one of them is instantly known to the other. This seems to be in conflict with another very successful theory, [Albert] Einstein’s theory of relativity, which tells us that no signal can be transferred faster than the speed of light.

    The third issue comes from Erwin Schrodinger’s observation that quantum physics seems to tell us that measuring instruments become “entangled” with the quantum objects they are measuring in a way that dictates that even macroscopic objects, like cats, inherit the “fuzziness” of the quantum world. In this case, the famous unfortunate cat seemingly ends up in a superposition of “alive and dead” based on the superposition of a radioactive atom in an uncertain state of “decayed and undecayed.”

    3
    Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e., a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.

    It may come as a surprise to learn that there is a way to make sense of all three of these seemingly paradoxical features of quantum mechanics. However, there is, of course, a price to pay for that solution: a paradigm change as startling as the one that accompanied Einstein’s theory of relativity — which told us, despite our intuitions, that there is no such thing as absolute space or time. Quantum physics requires that we “think outside the box,” and that box turns out to be space-time itself. The message of quantum physics is that not only is there no absolute space or time, but that reality extends beyond space-time. Metaphorically speaking, space-time is just the “tip of the iceberg”: Below the surface is a vast, unseen world of possibility. And it is that vast, unseen world that is described by quantum physics.

    This is not a wholly new idea: Another founder of quantum theory, Werner Heisenberg, stated that a quantum object is “something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality.” Heisenberg called this potentia, a concept originally introduced by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It turns out that if we apply Heisenberg’s insight to an intriguing interpretation of quantum theory called the Transactional Interpretation (TI), we gain a unified understanding of all three paradoxical aspects of quantum theory.

    TI was originally proposed by John G. Cramer, professor emeritus at the University of Washington. Its key feature is that the process of absorption of a quantum state is just as important as the process of emission of a quantum state. This symmetry is nicely consistent with relativistic quantum theory, in which quantum states are both created and destroyed. But it comes with a counterintuitive feature: The absorption (or destruction) process involves quantum states with negative energy. For this reason, TI has generally been neglected by the mainstream physics community.

    However, it turns out that if you include this “response of the absorber,” you get a solution to the so-called “measurement problem” — the problem of Schrödinger’s Cat. A clear physical account can be given for why the cat does not end up in a “fuzzy” superposition of alive and dead. We even get a natural explanation for the rule used to calculate the probabilities of measurement outcomes (the so-called “Born Rule” after its inventor, Max Born).

    In TI, the “collapse of the quantum state” is called a transaction, because it involves an “offer” from the emitter and a “confirmation” from the absorber, much like the negotiation in a financial transaction. When these occur, we get a “measurement,” and that allows us to define what a measurement is — and explains why we never see things like cats in quantum superpositions. But, in the new development of TI, the offers and confirmations are only possibilities — they are outside the realm of ordinary space-time. In fact, it is the transactional processes that creates space-time events: “Collapse” is the crystallizing of the possibilities of the quantum realm into the concrete actualities of the space-time realm. So, collapse is not something that happens anywhere in space-time. It is the creation of space-time itself.

    The preceding is just the barest introduction to this new, updated version of TI that I call “possibilist TI” or PTI. (The details appear in peer-reviewed publications and in my books.) But if we accept the idea that quantum physics is describing possibilities that exist beyond space-time, then it can begin to make sense that those possibilities are “fuzzier” than the objects we experience in space-time and their correlations are not subject to relativistic “speed limit” that applies to the space-time realm only. And we gain a clear account of measurement that explains why Schrödinger’s Cat is never alive and dead at the same time.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:41 pm on May 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NPR   

    From NPR: “‘Playing Around With Telescopes’ To Explore Secrets Of The Universe” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    May 16, 2015
    Joe Palca

    1
    The 200-inch Hale Telescope, a masterpiece of engineering at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, was the world’s largest telescope until 1993. Scott Kardel/Palomar Observatory/Courtesy of Palomar Observatory/California Institute of Technology

    Shrinivas Kulkarni, an astronomy and planetary science professor at the California Institute of Technology, is a serious astronomer. But not too serious.

    “We astronomers are supposed to say, ‘We wonder about the stars and we really want to think about it,’ ” says Kulkarni — in other words, think deep thoughts. But he says that’s not really the way it is.

    “Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call ‘boys with toys,’ ” he says. “I really like playing around with telescopes. It’s just not fashionable to admit it.”

    2
    Shrinivas Kulkarni is one of the world’s foremost astronomers, but he also raises rabbits, is fascinated by the history of economic collapse — and dreams of being a bartender. Bob Paz/Courtesy of California Institute of Technology

    Make no mistake, Kulkarni says by “playing” with toys like optical telescopes, radio telescopes and space telescopes, astronomers have made measurements that reveal the age of the universe, the fact that it’s expanding and that there are lots of other solar system besides ours out there.

    Many of those fundamental discoveries — including measuring the rate at which the universe is expanding and determining the composition of stars — were made using telescopes at the Palomar Observatory, which Kulkarni now directs. He invited me to visit so I could get a sense of the wonder astronomers feel when working at the observatory.

    On a Wednesday morning earlier this year, I picked Kulkarni up from his home near Caltech’s Pasadena campus. The drive from Pasadena to Palomar in the mountains north of San Diego takes about 2 1/2 hours.

    Kulkarni was born in India in 1956. He has been an astronomer his entire professional life. But look at the whole person and you’ll see a man of contrasts. He loves Brazilian music. He raises bunny rabbits. And he says one of his deepest passions is the exact opposite of astronomy: It’s the history of great economic collapses.

    “Something like astronomy is terribly important because it’s about the universe,” he says. “We are learning something totally fundamental — how where we live comes about. But it’s not something immediate. It really doesn’t matter if the Big Bang happened 13.7 billion years ago or 13.75 billion years ago. On the other hand, economics, it sure is actually unimportant in the long run, but it surely matters today.”

    3
    The dome at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, shown in a long-exposure nighttime shot, houses the 200-inch Hale Telescope.
    Courtesy of Palomar Observatory/California Institute of Technology

    As we approach the observatory, the road starts climbing through a forest on the side of a mountain. A little farther ahead, a large dome appears, stark white against the blue sky.

    “Now you can see the 200-inch or sometimes called the ‘Big Eye,’ ” says Kulkarni.

    For nearly 50 years, the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar was the largest in the world. It’s a masterpiece of engineering. Even though it’s aging, Kulkarni says it can still be used for good science. Besides, he loves it here.

    When the dome slides open, the view of the sky is breathtaking.

    To stand here with Kulkarni is to bring together the past and the future. For as much as Kulkarni delights in this place, as inspiring as it is to be here, he says actually visiting a telescope is soon to be a thing of the past.

    “The best way to do astronomy is to get the astronomers out of the dome,” he says. “And the human in the loop becomes monotonous. If a machine can do it, honestly, I think everyone is happy.”

    Machines are good for studying the sky because they have no preconceived notions about what they’ll find. Astronomers, Kulkarni says, just don’t have the imagination to know what to look for.

    “The sky is so much richer and so much more imaginative than the imagination that you should always approach it with a certain sense of openness,” he says.

    Kulkarni says you look at the information the machines collect and try to figure out what it’s telling you. That’s the way you make discoveries.

    Kulkarni is 58. I asked him if he thought he’d ever get tired of playing with his toys. He said not really — but he knows someday he’ll have to try something different.

    “My wife’s been on me about what I’ll do after I retire. She said, ‘You’re always running around and doing things.’ And I want to be a bartender.”

    A bartender?

    Well, a man can dream.

    See the full article here.

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    We are NPR. And this is our story.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:55 am on February 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NPR   

    From NPR: “Hunting For Big Planets Far Beyond Pluto May Soon Be Easier” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    February 02, 2015
    Nell Greenfieldboyce

    temp
    Stars over the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Sheppard and Trujillo used the new Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on a telescope there to find the distant dwarf planet 2012 VP 113.

    On a mountaintop in Chile, excavators have just started work on a construction site. It will soon be home to a powerful new telescope that will have a good shot at finding the mysterious Planet X, if it exists.

    “Planet X is kind of a catchall name given to any speculation about an unseen companion orbiting the sun,” says Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Penn State University.

    2
    The discovery images of 2012 VP113, which has the most distant orbit known in our Solar System. The dwarf planet’s movement suggests its orbit. 2012 VP-113 Source: Carnegie Institution of Science
    Credit: Scott Sheppard

    For more than a century, scientists have observed various things that they thought could be explained by the presence of an unknown planet lurking at the edge of our solar system.

    “There’s a huge volume of space in the outer solar system,” says Luhman. “We know almost nothing about what might be out there.”

    Some conspiracy-minded folks even think that Planet X has already been discovered. “There are a lot of these people on the Internet,” says Luhman, “who think that, for instance, NASA knows about an unseen planet, but it’s on a collision course with Earth and it’s going to destroy us, but they don’t tell us about it.”

    Finding a major new planet would be big news. While dwarf planets like “Sedna” haven’t exactly become household names, a planet the size of Earth or Mars might get added to the list of planets students have to memorize.

    “If you put an object twice as far away, it becomes 16 times fainter. So things get very faint, very fast.”
    Scott Sheppard, astronomer, Carnegie Institution for Science

    Luhman recently went hunting for planet X using WISE, a NASA space telescope that detects infrared light.

    NASA Wise Telescope
    NASA/WISE

    It would have found anything the size of Jupiter or Saturn, because gas giants like these are big enough and warm enough that they produce a lot of infrared light. But last year, Luhman reported that they didn’t see any planet like that.

    3
    Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution of Science. Courtesy of Scott Sheppard/Carnegie Institution of Science

    Still, there may be smaller, cooler planets out there — until recently, scientists had no way to look for them. “Up until a year or two ago, we just didn’t have the technology to do this, because we didn’t have large cameras on large telescopes,” explains Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.

    Any planet that far away would be very faint, because light would have to travel billions of miles from the sun to the planet, bounce off, and then travel all the way back to our telescopes. “And because of that, if you put an object twice as far away, it becomes 16 times fainter,” Sheppard says. “So, things get very faint, very fast.”

    Sheppard and his colleagues have been searching for very faint objects using a massive camera on a powerful telescope in Chile. Last year, he and Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory, announced that they’d found a dwarf planet that they nicknamed “Biden,” since its temporary name is 2012 VP113. It’s a little pink ball of ice that’s far beyond Pluto.

    There’s a framed photo of the dwarf planet hanging on the wall of Sheppard’s office; if he has his way, there soon will be more photos up there.

    “Part of this search for these planets in the outer part of the solar system is trying to find out about the neighborhood. I think to find out more about our neighborhood is just really a cool thing.”
    Scott Kenyon, astrophysicist, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

    “We believe there are probably a lot of objects bigger than Pluto still out there,” Sheppard says, “and there could easily be objects as big as Mars or even Earth, out beyond in the very far distant solar system.”

    He’s already found hints of something big: When he looks at the orbits of his dwarf planet and some other small icy bodies, he sees a pattern. “And you wouldn’t expect that,” Sheppard says. “You’d expect the orbits to be completely random.”

    One possible explanation is that the array of objects are all being influenced by the force of a large, unknown planet. “I think, like all new discoveries, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Trujillo told NPR via email. “And it will probably be quite a while until someone can explain things and most people accept their explanation.”

    In Trujillo’s view, if a large planet is out there, astronomers are unlikely to find it until the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope comes online.

    LSST Exterior
    LSST Interior
    LSST Camera
    LSST

    The device is designed to scan huge swaths of sky for faint objects; the building site for it is already being prepared on top of a mountain in Chile, and construction will begin in earnest this year. The telescope is expected to start operations in the early 2020s.

    “But, we could get lucky,” Trujillo notes — somebody might find the distant planet sooner than that.

    Others agree that the chances of finding something sizable are good.

    “With the next generation of telescopes, or if we’re lucky with the current generation of telescope, it will be possible to detect the light from this planet,” says Scott Kenyon, an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. “If we can see it and pinpoint its position, then everybody will get excited.”

    Finding a big new planet would be like meeting a new neighbor, says Kenyon.

    “You like to know people on your street, or in your apartment building,” he says. “I think that part of this search for these planets in the outer part of the solar system is trying to find out about the neighborhood. I think to find out more about our neighborhood is just really a cool thing.”

    See the full article here.

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    We are reporters in Washington D.C., and in bunkers, streets, alleys, jungles and deserts around the world. We are engineers, editors, inventors and visionaries. We are Member stations around the country who are deeply connected to our communities. We are listeners and donors who support public radio because we know how it has enriched our own lives and want it to grow strong in a new age.

    We are NPR. And this is our story.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:57 pm on January 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NPR, ,   

    From NPR: “The Most Dangerous Ideas In Science” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    January 27, 2015
    Adam Frank, University of Rochester

    1
    Some physicists are pushing back against ideas like string theory and the multiverse. Here, we see a computer-generated image of a black hole, which might, ultimately, be explained by ideas like string theory.

    There’s a battle going on at the edge of the universe, but it’s getting fought right here on Earth. With roots stretching back as far as the ancient Greeks, in the eyes of champions on either side, this fight is a contest over nothing less than the future of science. It’s a conflict over the biggest cosmic questions humans can ask and the methods we use — or can use — to get answers for those questions.

    Cosmology is the study of the universe as a whole: its structure, its origins and its fate. Fundamental physics is the study of reality’s bedrock entities and their interactions. With these job descriptions it’s no surprise that cosmology and fundamental physics share a lot of territory. You can’t understand how the universe evolves after the Big Bang (a cosmology question) without understanding how matter, energy, space and time interact (a fundamental physics question). Recently, however, something remarkable has been happening in both these fields that’s raising hackles with some scientists. As physicists George Ellis and Joseph Silk recently put it in Nature:

    “This year, debates in physics circles took a worrying turn. Faced with difficulties in applying fundamental theories to the observed Universe, some researchers called for a change in how theoretical physics is done. They began to argue — explicitly — that if a theory is sufficiently elegant and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally, breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical.”

    The root of the problem rests with two ideas/theories now central for some workers in cosmology (even if they remain problematic for physicists as a whole). The first is string theory, which posits that the world is made up not of point particles but of tiny vibrating strings. String theory only works if the universe has many “extra” dimensions of space other than the three we experience. The second idea is the so-called multiverse which, in its most popular form, claims more than one distinct universe emerged from the Big Bang. Instead, adherents claim, there may be an almost infinite (if not truly infinite) number of parallel “pocket universes,” each with their own version of physics.

    Both string theory and the multiverse are big, bold reformulations of what we mean when we say the words “physical reality.” That is reason enough for them to be contentious topics in scientific circles. But in the pursuit of these ideas, something else — something new — has emerged. Rather than focusing just on questions about the nature of the cosmos, the new developments raise critical questions about the basic rules of science [scientific method] when applied to something like the universe as a whole.

    Here is the problem: Both string theory and the multiverse posit entities that may, in principle or in practice, be unobservable. Evidence for the extra dimensions needed to make string theory work is likely to require a particle accelerator of astronomical proportions. And the other pocket universes making up the multiverse may lie permanently over our “horizon,” such that we will never get direct observations of their existence. It’s this specific aspect of the theories that has scientists like Ellis and Silk so concerned. As they put it:

    “These unprovable hypotheses are quite different from those that relate directly to the real world and that are testable through observations — such as the standard model of particle physics and the existence of dark matter and dark energy. As we see it, theoretical physics risks becoming a no-man’s-land between mathematics, physics and philosophy that does not truly meet the requirements of any.”

    What they, and others, find particularly worrisome is the claim that our attempts to push back frontiers in cosmology and fundamental physics have taken us into a new domain where new rules of science are needed. Some call this domain “post-empirical” science. Recently, for example, the philosopher of physics Richard Dawid has argued that in spite of the fact that no evidence for string theory exists (even after three decades of intense study), it must still be considered the best candidate for a path forward. As Dawid puts it, such arguments include “no-one has found a good alternative to string theory. Another [reason to accept string theory is] one uses the observation that theories without alternatives tended to be viable in the past.”

    Sean Carroll, a highly respected and philosophically astute physicist, takes a different approach from Dawid. For Carroll, it is the concept of falsifiability, which was central to Sir Karl Raimund Popper’s famous philosophy of science, that is too limited for the playing fields we now find ourselves working on. As Carroll writes:

    “Whether or not we can observe [extra dimensions or other universes] directly, the entities involved in these theories are either real or they are not. Refusing to contemplate their possible existence on the grounds of some a priori principle, even though they might play a crucial role in how the world works, is as non-scientific as it gets.”

    Thus, for Carroll, even if a theory predicts entities that can’t be directly observed, if there are indirect consequences of their existence we can confirm, then those theories (and those entities) must be included in our considerations.

    Other scientists, however, are not convinced. High-energy physicist Sabine Hossenfelder called Dawid’s kind of post-empirical science an “oxymoron.” More importantly, for scientists like Paul Steinhardt and collaborators, the new ideas are becoming “post-modern.” They use the term in the sense that without more definitive connections to data, the ideas will not be abandoned because a community exists that continues to support them.

    This is the possibility that troubles Ellis and Silk most of all:

    “In our view, the issue boils down to clarifying one question: What potential observational or experimental evidence is there that would persuade you that the theory is wrong and lead you to abandoning it? If there is none, it is not a scientific theory.”

    String theory and the multiverse are exciting ideas in and of themselves. If either one were true, it would have revolutionary consequences for our understanding of the cosmos. But, as debates about post-empirical science and falsifiability demonstrate, critics of these untested theories fear they may be leading the field down a difficult — and ultimately damaging — path. That’s why, one way or another, they may be science’s most dangerous ideas.

    See the full article here.

    My indebtedness to Don Lincoln of FNAL for pointing out this article using a Facebook post. Thanks, Dr Lincoln

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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    We are reporters in Washington D.C., and in bunkers, streets, alleys, jungles and deserts around the world. We are engineers, editors, inventors and visionaries. We are Member stations around the country who are deeply connected to our communities. We are listeners and donors who support public radio because we know how it has enriched our own lives and want it to grow strong in a new age.

    We are NPR. And this is our story.

     
    • s7hummel 1:48 am on January 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      was a little empty without YOU! Welcome back!

      Like

    • richardmitnick 3:51 am on January 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I don’t understand your comment. I approved it just to ask you what you mean. I have been posting constantly.

      Like

    • s7hummel 2:03 am on January 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      seemed to me that a few days there was no your entries. But maybe i missed something. Indeed, what can YOU expect from a stupid Pole. Sorry!

      Like

    • richardmitnick 4:34 am on January 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Hey, no problem. I am glad to have you aboard. I hope that you continue to find articles interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  • richardmitnick 6:28 pm on August 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NPR,   

    From Stanford via NPR: “Biologists Choose Sides In Safety Debate Over Lab-Made Pathogens” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    August 13, 2014
    Nell Greenfieldboyce

    A smoldering debate about whether researchers should ever deliberately create superflu strains and other risky germs in the interest of science has flared once again.
    Some scientists think new types of bird flus should arise only in chickens, not in labs.

    bird
    Here a worker collects poultry on a farm in Kathmandu, Nepal, where the H5N1 virus was infecting animals in October 2011.

    Proponents of the work say that in order to protect the public from the next naturally occurring pandemic, they have to understand what risky infectious agents are capable of — and that means altering the microbes in experiments. Critics argue that the knowledge gained from making new strains of these germs isn’t worth the risk, because a lab-made pathogen might escape the laboratory and start spreading among people.

    Now, as scientists on both sides of the dispute have formed groups that have issued manifestos and amassed lists of supporters, it looks like the prestigious will step in to weigh the risks and benefits.

    “ I don’t think we have adequately involved the public so that they understand the possible consequences of mistakes, or errors, or misadventures in performing this kind of science.

    A representative of the National Institutes of Health, which funds this research, says that NIH, too, is “giving deep consideration to the many views expressed by various highly respected parties” about the best way forward.

    In a recent editorial in “mBio,” the journal’s editor-in-chief, Arturo Casadevall, M.D., Ph.D. , urged his colleagues to “lower the level of rhetoric and focus on the scientific questions at hand.”

    Scientists have passionate debates all the time, but it’s usually about the meaning of some experimental result, says Casadevall, a microbiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

    “What is different here is that we are facing a set of intangibles,” he says. “And because they involve judgment calls at this point, people are often weighing the risks and the benefits very differently.”

    Dr. David Rellman, a microbiologist at Stanford University, thinks the risks of making a new strain of flu virus that has the potential to cause a pandemic are very real.

    “I don’t think we have adequately involved the public,” Relman says, “so that they understand the possible consequences of mistakes, or errors, or misadventures in performing this kind of science — the kinds of consequences that would result in many, many people becoming ill or dying.”

    “ These viruses are out there. They cause disease; they have killed many, many people in the past. We bring them to the laboratory to work with them.

    • Paul Duprex, Boston University microbiologist

    Controversial work on lab-altered bird flu was halted for more than a year in a , voluntary moratorium after two labs generated new, more contagious forms of the bird flu virus H5N1. Eventually, after federal officials promised more oversight, the experiments started back up and the controversy quieted down. But key questions were never answered, Relman says.

    “One of the big issues that has not been advanced over the last two years is a discussion about whether there are experiments that ought not to be undertaken and, if so, what they look like,” he says, noting that scientists keep publishing more studies that involve genetically altered flu viruses. “You know, every time that one of these experiments comes up, it just ups the ante a bit. It creates additional levels of risk that force the question: Do we accept all of this?”

    Last month, Relman met in Massachusetts with others who are worried. They formed the Cambridge Working Group and issued a statement saying that researchers should curtail any experiments that would lead to new pathogens with pandemic potential, until there’s a better assessment of the dangers and benefits.

    By coincidence, they released their official statement just as the public started hearing news reports of various , such as a forgotten vial of smallpox found in an old freezer, and mishaps involving anthrax and bird flu at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    What’s more, the unprecedented Ebola outbreak has reminded the public what it looks like when a deadly virus .

    All of this led a different band of scientists to also form a group — to publicly defend research on dangerous pathogens.

    “There are multiple events that have come together in a rather unusual convergence,” says Paul Duprexa microbiologist at Boston University.

    He sees the recent reports of lab mistakes as exceptions — they don’t mean you should shut down basic science that’s essential to protecting public health, he says.

    “These viruses are out there. They cause disease; they have killed many, many people in the past,” Duprex says. “We bring them to the laboratory to work with them.”

    Duprex helped form a group that calls itself Scientists for Science. The group’s position statement emphasizes that studies on already are subject to extensive regulations. It says focusing on lab safety is the best defense — not limiting the types of experiments that can be done.

    Whenever questions about safety are raised, Duprex says, scientists have one of two options. They can keep their heads down, do their experiments and hope it will all go away. Or, he says, they can proactively engage the public and provide an informed opinion.

    His group has taken the latter approach, “because ultimately we’re the people working with these things.”

    Each of these two groups of scientists now has a website, and each website features its own list of more than a hundred supporters, including Nobel Prize winners and other scientific superstars.

    One thing that almost everyone seems to agree on is that, to move forward, there needs to be some sort of independent, respected forum for discussing the key issues.

    The American Society for Microbiology has called on the prestigious National Academy of Sciences to take the lead. A representative of the Academy says NAS does plan to hold a symposium, later this year. The details are still being worked out.

    Tim Donohue, a microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison who is president of ASM, says a similar kind of debate happened back in the mid-1970s, when brand-new technologies for manipulating DNA forced scientists and the public to tackle thorny questions.

    “And I think that is a productive exercise,” Donohue says, “to have scientists and the public, sitting around the table, making sure each one understands what the benefits and risks are, and putting in place policies that allow these types of experiments to go on so that they are safe and so that society can benefit from the knowledge and innovation that comes out of that work.”

    See the full article, with links, here.

    Great storytelling and rigorous reporting. These are the passions that fuel us. Our business is telling stories, small and large, that start conversations, increase understanding, enrich lives and enliven minds.

    We are reporters in Washington D.C., and in bunkers, streets, alleys, jungles and deserts around the world. We are engineers, editors, inventors and visionaries. We are Member stations around the country who are deeply connected to our communities. We are listeners and donors who support public radio because we know how it has enriched our own lives and want it to grow strong in a new age.

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  • richardmitnick 1:36 pm on April 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NPR, ,   

    From NPR: “Are Physicists Ready To Give Up The Chase For SUSY?” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    April 26, 2014
    Marcelo Gleiser

    Is physics in crisis? An article in the May issue of Scientific American by physicists Joseph Lykken, from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and Maria Spiropulu, from the California Institute of Technology, lay bare an issue that is keeping a growing number of physicists up at night. Will supersymmetry — the hypothetical symmetry of nature proposed some 40 years ago — be proved out? Or should it be archived to history as just another clever idea that didn’t prove true?

    A lot is at stake: the lifework of many eminent physicists, both theoretical and experimental; our understanding of how matter behaves at high energies; a possible solution to the dark matter problem, the mysterious particles that cloak ours and other galaxies in the universe; a deeply ingrown faith that nature has an underlying simple structure, somehow coded in an overarching “super”-symmetry; the realist philosophical position that the universe is, in its essence, comprehensible by reason.

    Lykken and Spiropulu do a wonderful job of explaining why so many want supersymmetry (affectionately called SUSY by its supporters) so badly.

    There are many questions that we would like to have answers to, questions that cannot be addressed by our current description of particle physics, the wonderfully successful Standard Model.

    sm
    The Standard Model of elementary particles, with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.

    The Standard Model encapsulates all we know so far of the material world: that there are 12 matter particles (the electron being the most familiar) and 12 kinds of particles that transmit the forces between these matter particles (the photon being the most familiar). To these, we must add the most recent particle celebrity, the Higgs boson, found in 2012, and the hypothetical graviton, the particle that supposedly transmits the gravitational force.

    However, we don’t know why the 12 matter particles are arranged in three families of four members each. Why not six families? Or 23? Physicists like to understand numbers, as opposed to taking them for granted. Also, we don’t understand the vast differences in the masses of these particles; for example, the electron is about 252,000 times lighter than the Higgs. Is this just a coincidence? Or is there a deeper mechanism that can explain it?

    The other class of problems has to do with the interactions between the particles. The way we picture it, particles interact by exchanging other particles, like two ice skaters throwing tennis balls at one another. However, according to quantum mechanics, all kinds of particles could take part in this exchange, including very heavy ones. This would quickly turn interactions into major warfare, causing effects that are not seen in experiments. So, either these super-heavy particles don’t exist, or there is a mechanism to suppress their presence.

    This is where supersymmetry makes a triumphal entrance: it has the power to suppress these heavy exchanges, acting like a sort of tamer of quantum effects.

    In its simpler version, (called “natural” supersymmetry) the theory does a great job of answering many of the questions the Standard Model leaves open. The problem is that in order to be a true symmetry of nature, effects from supersymmetric theories must be seen. In particular, one of its most dramatic predictions is that the number of particles must be doubled: every particle must have a supersymmetric cousin. Of these, most, or even all but one, are unstable and decay very quickly. But the lightest of them should be stable and should be around, with a mass not very different from that of the Higgs. In this case, machines like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland should find it.

    LHC Grand Tunnel
    Grand Tunnel at the LHC

    CERN LHC New
    LHC at CERN

    So far, not a trace of supersymmetry has graced the amazing detectors at CERN.

    ATLAS
    The Large Hadron Collider’s ATLAS detector under construction in 2005. ATLAS is one of the tools physicists are using to try and understand how the universe works.

    Or the dozens of other experiments spread around the globe hunting for supersymmetric particles raining down from the heavens, something that should happen if they are, indeed, dark matter. Things are not looking good for SUSY.

    The LHC has a new run planned for 2015 with substantially higher energy. As the energy of the collisions increase, heavier particles can be “made,” out of the conversion of motion energy into matter, as described by the E=mc2 formula. If no supersymmetric particle is found then, physicists will have to make a very difficult decision, not unlike letting go of something you have loved deeply and committed to for a long time but that now is causing more harm than good.

    Lykken and Spiropulu give an excellent illustration of the struggle, quoting noted physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed, from the Institute for Advanced Study:

    “What if supersymmetry is not found at the LHC?” he asked, before answering his own question. “Then we will make new supersymmetric models that put superpartners just beyond the reach of the experiments. But wouldn’t that mean that we would be changing our story? That’s OK; theorists don’t need to be consistent; only their theories do.”

    The question, though, is how long can you keep on changing your story before you realize the story is just wrong? This is the hardship (and the excitement) of research; we don’t have a path ahead, we need to forge one. And we are not sure of which direction to take, having only inklings that it could go this or that way.

    Of course it may be that supersymmetry is a symmetry of nature, but realized at energies well beyond the reach of our current machines. This is what Arkani-Hamed was saying. But if this is the case, we need to change the story quite a lot and redefine what it is that we want supersymmetry to answer. Clearly, it won’t do much to help as understand the Standard Model.

    Theories need to be consistent. But they also need to be falsifiable: this is where theorists do need to be consistent. If you can’t test a scientific hypothesis, what are you doing, exactly?

    Supersymmetry, beautiful as it is, has the annoying feature that it can always be hidden from testing, a slippery fish you can’t hold on to. Of course, the ultimate judge of all this is nature itself. But a theory that is always hiding from us serves very little purpose as an explanatory scientific device.

    Great storytelling and rigorous reporting. These are the passions that fuel us. Our business is telling stories, small and large, that start conversations, increase understanding, enrich lives and enliven minds.

    We are reporters in Washington D.C., and in bunkers, streets, alleys, jungles and deserts around the world. We are engineers, editors, inventors and visionaries. We are Member stations around the country who are deeply connected to our communities. We are listeners and donors who support public radio because we know how it has enriched our own lives and want it to grow strong in a new age.

    We are NPR. And this is our story.


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  • richardmitnick 6:33 pm on April 4, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Fresh Air, NPR, ,   

    From Fresh Air at NPR: “The High Probability Of Finding ‘Life Beyond Earth'” 

    i1

    Life Beyond Earth on Fresh Air this is an audio link

    i3
    The Crab Nebula

    April 4, 2011

    “Scientific interest in extraterrestrial life has grown in the past 20 years. The field of astrobiology now includes researchers from a wide variety of disciplines — microbiologists studying bacteria that survive in the most extreme conditions on Earth; astronomers who believe there may be billions of planets with conditions hospitable to life; chemists investigating how amino acids and living organisms first appeared on Earth; and scientists studying rocks from Mars are seeing convincing evidence that microbial life existed on the Red Planet.

    In First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth, Marc Kaufman, a science writer and national editor at The Washington Post, explains how microbes found in some of Earth’s most inhospitable environments may hold the key to unlocking mysteries throughout the solar system…”

    Listen to this engrossing interview at the audio link above.

    Read the full article here.

    Then, think about helping in this quest by giving the free CPU cycles on your computer(s) to the Public Distributed Computing project SETI@home. Visitthe web site, take a look around. SETI@home was the original project which resulted in the software from Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network ComputingBOINC on which now run some of the most important scientific projects anywhere on the globe. Visit the BOINC site and see what it is all about.

     
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