Sunday, November 30, 2008

FREE: "Physics World" 20th year anniversary issue

Here is an opportunity to download a complete ".pdf" copy of Physics World's 20th year anniversary issue.

Celebration...20 years of "Physics World"

Canadian November 20th meteorite

University of Calgary graduate student Ellen Milley poses with a fragment of a meteorite in a small pond near Lloydminster, Sask., Canada Friday, Nov. 28, 2008. Scientists said Friday they had found remains of a meteor that illuminated the sky before falling to earth in western Canada earlier this month. University of Calgary scientist Alan Hildebrand and Milley found several meteor fragments near the Battle River along the rural Alberta-Saskatchewan border, near the city of Lloydminster late Thursday.

"Scientists find meteor debris in Canada"

November 29th, 2008

The Associated Press

University of Calgary scientist Alan Hildebrand and graduate student Ellen Milley found several meteor fragments near the Battle River along the rural Alberta-Saskatchewan border, near the city of Lloydminster late Thursday.

They said there could be thousands of meteorite pieces strewn over a 7-square-mile area of mostly flat, barren land, with few inhabitants.

Residents in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have been buzzing about the huge fireball that lit up the night sky over the three provinces on Nov. 20. Witnesses reported hearing sonic boom rumblings and said the fiery flash was as bright as the sun.

Hildebrand, who also coordinates meteor sightings with the Canadian Space Agency, estimated the meteor could have been seen from as far as 434 miles away, into the northern United States.

Widely broadcast video images of the meteor showed what appeared to be a speeding fireball that became larger and brighter before disappearing as it neared the ground.

The meteor contained about one-tenth of a kiloton of energy when it entered the earth's atmosphere, roughly the equivalent of 100 tons of the chemical explosive TNT.

"It would be something like a billion-watt light bulb," said Hildebrand.

The meteor has captured the imagination of sky watchers around the world.

Robert Haag, a space rock collector from Arizona, offered up to $9,700 for the first one-kilogram chunk of the meteor that is found.

Humbleness on November 20th, 2008

Meteorites--losing their value?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tom Lehrer's "The Elements"

"The Elements"


Tom Lehrer

Think it is easy?

The Elements

Try it...


[NOTE: I don't believe that these are the ones Tom Lehrer used. Nevertheless, give it a try.]

Deceased--Edwin E. Salpeter

Edwin E. Salpeter
December 3rd, 1924 to November 26th, 2008

"Edwin E. Salpeter, Leader in Astrophysics Study, Dies at 83"


The Associated Press

November 29th, 2008

ITHACA, N.Y. (AP) — Edwin E. Salpeter, an astrophysicist widely known for his studies of chain reactions in stars and as a developer of the "Salpeter-Bethe equation" describing how helium changes to carbon, died Tuesday at his home here. He was 83.

His death was announced by Cornell University, where he was an emeritus professor of physical sciences.

Along with Hans Bethe, a theoretical physicist at Cornell who won a Nobel Prize in physics in 1967, Dr. Salpeter introduced an equation in 1951 showing how helium nuclei fuse to form carbon in the interiors of ancient stars. Until then, the origin of elements beyond helium in the periodic table was unexplained.

From that work, Dr. Salpeter determined the formation rates of stars of different masses. The process remains the basis of today’s studies into the rates of stellar births and deaths.

In 1964, while working independently, Dr. Salpeter and a Soviet physicist, Yakov Zeldovich, were the first to propose that a stream of gas falling toward a black hole could in principle be heated to very high temperatures, where it would produce detectable X-rays. Thirty years later, data from the Hubble telescope confirmed his idea.

"It's good to finally win the bet," Dr. Salpeter said at the time.

In 1997, Dr. Salpeter and Sir Fred Hoyle, the British scientist who coined the term "Big Bang," shared the $500,000 Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for "their pioneering contributions involving the study of nuclear reactions in stars and stars' development."

The prize is given annually to honor accomplishments in scientific fields not covered by the Nobel Prizes in science, whose winners are also chosen by the academy.

Born in Austria, Dr. Salpeter moved to Cornell in 1949 as a postdoctoral student and spent his career there. Although he retired in 1997, he kept publishing papers and moved into new arenas of research, including explorations of neuromuscular disorders and the epidemiology of tuberculosis.

A self-deprecating man, Dr. Salpeter described his mind as "quick but sloppy," saying he preferred the challenge of tackling a contentious new problem to undertaking mathematical calculations.

Late in his career, research by Dr. Salpeter and his wife, Miriam Salpeter, an expert in cell biology and a neurobiologist at Cornell, contributed to the understanding and treatment of neuromuscular disorders like myasthenia gravis. She died in 2000 at the age of 71.

Dr. Salpeter remarried and is survived by his wife, Lhamo; two daughters, Judy and Shelley; and four grandchildren.

Edwin Ernest Salpeter

Book review-- "Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe"

Credit where credit is due--"Big Bang"

Fred Hoyle--cosmologist

Philip Morrison...physicist

Rudi Peieris...physicist's physicist

Sir Hermann Bondi--steady state universe

The astronomy/cosmology debates of the 1930's & 1940's

Friday, November 28, 2008

"A is for Atom"

Just six years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki we had begun the "atomic age" here represented by A Is for Atom in animated format and complete with sophomoric atomic physics. Have to start somewhere I guess. This 1953 film is a John Sutherland Productions film and sponsored by the General Electric Company. It is till enjoyable even if just for the cell blandishments.

A Is for Atom

John Sutherland worked with Walt Disney on several Disney productions including Sleeping Beauty and opened John Sutherland Productions in 1944.

Tom Oreb's creation for Destination Moon [1956] at John Sutherland Productions

Here are an assortment of films by John Sutherland Productions

"Nobel Prize Women in Science..."--worthy book

Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries


Sharon Bertsch McGrayne

ISBN-10: 0806520256
ISBN-13: 978-0806520254

Publishers Weekly:

Only nine of the more than 300 Nobel prizes awarded in science since 1901 have been won by women, notes science writer Bertsch as she sets the context for the biographical essays that follow. Examining the careers and lives of 14 women scientists "who either won a Nobel Prize or played a crucial role in a Nobel winning project," she movingly depicts their battles against gender discrimination for recognition and respect and she describes the self-conflict about their roles. Subjects range from Marie Curie (1867-1934) to such contemporaries as Rosalyn Yalow, awarded a Nobel Prize in 1977 for her work as a medical physicist, and Jocelyn Bell Burnell, an astrophysicist credited, at the age of 24, with the 1968 discovery of pulsars, who made large personal sacrifices for her science. Bertsch introduces the small pantheon of women leaders in science whose careers and words offer advice and inspiration, if small comfort, to women in science today.

Library Journal:

As the subtitle suggests, this book describes the lives and struggles of 14 women who were either awarded the Nobel Prize or played a critical part in the work of the men who received it. And the "struggles" were horrendous. From the nonadmission policies of most graduate schools, even as late as 1960, to the restrictive admission policies even at the undergraduate level, simply obtaining an adequate education in the sciences was a battle for women. And, with few exceptions, most of them had to take unpaid or lowly paid jobs if they wanted to do science. Tenured positions might be offered after the Nobel Prize was won! Bertsch is a former newspaper reporter, and her background is reflected in her terse, dramatic treatment of each woman. There is an excellent set of references, as well as a thoughtful introduction and conclusion. At the outset, Bertsch asks "Why so few?"--at the conclusion, given the trials and tribulations, one wonders how so many endured. Highly recommended for all science collections.-- Hilary D. Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

I found used copies as low as $3.13 at amazon. com .

Edna Parker, "supercentenarian", has died

Edna Parker
April 20th, 1893 to November 26th, 2008

Edna is at far left, second row, with her hands crossed.
Copyright © 2007-2008 Kirk Curnutt
[Edna Parker is Kirk Curnutt's great-grandmother]

The Today Show on Monday, April 28th, 2008:

A big greeting going out from Willard Scott: Happy birthday, Edna Parker! A week ago Sunday, Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Indiana, celebrated a very special birthday. She turned 115, cementing her lead in the oldest living person sweepstakes. It's truly a remarkable milestone. Edna was born on April 20, 1893, just a few weeks after Grover Cleveland was inaugurated as president of the United States (for the second time). She has lived in three centuries and was 21 years old when the United States became involved in World War One (what she probably stubbornly still refers to as "the Great War"). Edna’s husband died of a heart attack in 1938 at the age of 45, and she has been a widow for 70 years. In fact, she lived on their family farm until 15 years ago when she finally moved in with her son, who is now deceased.

The world's oldest person [certified by Guinness Book of Records] passed away on Wednesday [November 26th, 2008] at the age of 115 at a nursing home in Shelbyville, Indiana southeast of Indianapolis. Edna was one of those anomalies of life that mystifies explanation. Some wish longevity by manipulation via medication and or physical regimen--Edna did it naturally.

"World's oldest person, Edna Parker, dies at 115"


Hannah Strange

November 28th, 2008

Times Online

A great-great-grandmother who was the world's oldest person has died at the age of 115.

Indiana woman Edna Parker, who assumed the mantle more than a year ago, passed away on Wednesday at a nursing home in Shelbyville. She was 115 years, 220 days old.

Mrs Parker was born April 20, 1893, in central Indiana and had been recognised by Guinness as the world's oldest person since the 2007 death of Japan's Yone Minagawa, who was four months her senior.

Dr Stephen Coles, the UCLA gerontologist who maintains a list of the world's oldest people, said Mrs Parker was the 14th oldest validated super-centenarian in history. Maria de Jesus of Portugal, who was born September 10, 1893, is now the world’s oldest living person, according to the Gerontology Research Group.

Mrs Parker became a widow in 1939 - the year Judy Garland starred in The Wizard of Oz - when her husband, Earl Parker, died of a heart attack. She was 48. She remained alone in their farmhouse until age 100, when she moved into a son’s home and later to the Shelbyville nursing home.

Though she never drank alcohol or smoked and led an active lifestyle, she didn't credit this for her advanced years.

A teacher, her only advice to those who gathered to celebrate when she became the world's oldest person was to get "more education."

Mrs Parker outlived both her sons, Clifford and Earl Jr. She also had five grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great-grandchildren.

Don Parker, 60, said his grandmother had a small frame and a mild temperament. She walked a lot and kept busy even after moving into the nursing home, he said.

"She kept active," he said yesterday. "We used to go up there, and she would be pushing other patients in their wheelchairs."

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who celebrated with Mrs Parker on her 114th birthday, said it had been a "delight" to know her. She must have been a remarkable lady at any age, he added.

Mrs Parker graduated from the state's Franklin College in 1911 and went on to teach in a two-room school for several years.

She married Earl, her childhood sweetheart and neighbour, in 1913.

As was usual at the time, her career came to an end with her marriage and Mrs Parker became a farmer's wife, spending her days tending the home and preparing meals for the dozen men who worked on the farm.

Last year, she noted with pride that she and her husband were one of the first owners of an automobile in their rural area.

Coincidentally, Mrs Parker lived in the same nursing home as Sandy Allen, whom at 7ft 7¼ was officially the world's tallest woman until her death in August.

Edna Parker


Thursday, November 27, 2008

XUMP--online "science toys"

I have searched the Internet and have found a wide selection of "science toys" at XUMP covering astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. Many novelty items including posters. And there are holiday sale prices. There is a handy search engine for search selections. Check out XUMP.



I will assume that this is the beginning of several online bulletins regarding the 150th anniversary next year of Charles Darwin's birth. Michael D. Barton has provided a lot of effort and valuable material at his website. Do check it out for more detailed information and bookmark.

the Dispersal of Darwin

S. Hawking to Canada

Is this publicity or real research?

"Hawking Plans Research at Center Started by BlackBerry Founder"


Greg Quinn

November 27th, 2008

Stephen Hawking, a U.K. physics professor known for his work on black holes, plans to study at a Canadian center started by Research In Motion Ltd. co-Chief Executive Officer Mike Lazaridis.

Hawking will fill the first of 40 visiting research positions at the Waterloo, Ontario-based Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Lazaridis founded the center in 1999 in the city where the BlackBerry maker is based.

"The institute’s twin focus, on quantum theory and gravity, is very close to my heart and central to explaining the origin of the universe," Hawking said in a statement today.

Hawking is a mathematics professor at the University of Cambridge, and has spent his life studying gravity and black holes. The author of the bestseller "A Brief History of Time" will make regular visits to the institute in the next few years and build links with Cambridge.

Hawking--England or Canada...makes no difference

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wooly Mammoth could make a comeback

Expensive, may not work, might not be ethically sound.

"Resurrection Science"


Olivia Judson

November 25th, 2008

The New York Times

Last week, the woolly mammoth came back.

Into the news, that is. For it has had its genome sequenced, and is the first extinct animal to have done so.

The sequence is a draft — for technical reasons, parts of it are likely to be inaccurate — and it is not yet complete. But that didn't stop joyous speculations about the prospects for the mammoth’s resurrection.

And I have to say, I love this stuff. I adore thinking about the science that would need to be done to bring back an extinct species, be it a mammoth or a glyptodon, a dodo or a Neanderthal. (Glyptodons were boulder-sized mammals related to armadillos, and are a particular favorite of mine. They used to live in South America, and they went extinct at about the same time as the mammoths, around 10,000 years ago.)

The outline of how to stage a resurrection is clear. In essence, it's a matter of cross-species cloning — using an egg from one species to host the genome of the other. The procedure is more or less the same as for regular cloning. First, you make a "blank" egg by removing the egg's nucleus — this contains the egg's genome. You then insert the genome of the animal you want to clone.

In regular cloning, the genome is from the same species as the egg. In cross-species cloning, the genome and egg are from different species. So, for mammoths, you'd put mammoth DNA into a blank elephant egg, and transplant the egg into an elephant surrogate mother. For Neanderthals, you'd put Neanderthal DNA into a blank human egg, and have a human surrogate mother (or, one day, perhaps, an artificial womb). For a bird like a dodo, you'd put dodo DNA into a blank pigeon egg (dodos were essentially big flightless pigeons), and pop the egg into an incubator. Easy peasy.

Or not. In the decade since Dolly the Sheep was cloned, enormous progress has been made on regular cloning. To date, more than 10 different species of mammal have been cloned, including ferrets, rabbits, horses, cows and pigs. Nonetheless, success rates are still extremely low. Even for cows, the animals that have been cloned the most, fewer than 5 percent of embryos transferred to surrogate mothers result in offspring. A recent report on dog clones illustrates the problem: of 358 embryos transplanted into 20 females, two pregnancies became established, and only one puppy was born.

The reasons for the failures are many and various. Sometimes the embryos don't grow. Sometimes the placenta goes wrong. Many clones are stillborn, or born with gross abnormalities. In short, despite the successes, cloning is still far from being reliable or routine.

Given the difficulties of normal cloning, it's surprising that cross-species cloning has been tried, let alone had any successes. But it has. For example, two African wildcat kitten clones have been born from domestic cats, and three gray wolf clones have been born from domestic dogs. Again, though, the failure rates have been high. To get the three wolves, 372 embryos were transferred into surrogate mothers. The wildcats were even worse: 1,552 embryos were transferred, but only two healthy kittens were born (in all, 17 were born, but 7 were born dead and 8 died shortly after birth).

Cloning a mammoth would be even more difficult. For one thing, elephants and mammoths are less closely related to each other than cats and wildcats or dogs and wolves, so the difficulties would likely be greater in any case. And elephants have a 22-month pregnancy — so you'd have to wait a long time to find out whether the experiment had worked.

But there's a far more profound problem, as well. The normal way to get a new genome into a blank egg is to take a single cell from the animal you want to clone, and fuse it with the egg. The nucleus of that single cell then becomes the nucleus of the egg. But with a mammoth, this almost certainly won't work. Because mammoth carcasses have been lying around for 10,000 years or more, their cells aren’t in good shape and their genomes are shattered. Instead of being neatly arranged in chromosomes, as ours are, mammoth genomes are in tiny pieces. So before we could put a mammoth genome into an egg, we would have to build one — something we are nowhere close to being able to do. Woolly mammoths will not be coming soon to a zoo near you.

All the same, research in this direction would surely yield astonishing discoveries. Our efforts to clone have opened up immense vistas of new research questions, and advances in the field have already shed light on fundamental aspects of how an embryo grows. During growth, cells become committed to being one type of tissue or another — heart muscle, say, or skin cells. Through cloning, we are learning how to reverse those commitments, something that may, one day, lead to revolutionary medical treatments. Likewise, learning to build a genome, whether of a mammoth or anything else, will certainly be interesting, and will probably be important in ways that we can't foresee.

And yet. No matter how much I enjoy thinking about the science of resurrection — and I do — I have to admit that the absence of mammoths isn't exactly a pressing problem. What is pressing is the number of species we are currently in danger of losing. It would be a shame if, in 200 years, our descendants were wondering whether to try and resurrect the elephant or the polar bear, the albatross or the mourning dove.

Let's get our act together. Let's prevent that first.


For the genome of the woolly mammoth, see Miller, W. et al. 2008. "Sequencing the nuclear genome of the extinct woolly mammoth." Nature 456: 387-390. For a discussion of the technical challenges in mammoth sequencing, see Hofreiter, M. 2008. "Mammoth genomics." Nature 456: 330-331.

For examples of mammals that have been cloned, see Meissner, A. and Jaenisch, R. 2006. "Mammalian nuclear transfer." Developmental Dynamics 235: 2460-2469. For cloning (in)efficiency in cows, and for a discussion of some of the difficulties, see Oback, B. 2008. "Climbing Mount Efficiency — small steps, not giant leaps towards higher cloning success in farm animals." Reproduction in Domestic Animals 43 (Supplement 2): 407-416. For the particular example I gave of low success rates in dog cloning, see Jang, G. et al. 2008. "A cloned toy poodle produced from somatic cells derived from an aged female dog." Theriogenology 69: 556-563.

For a detailed discussion of some of the problems in cloning, see Loi, P. et al 2007. "Asymmetric nuclear reprogramming in somatic cell nuclear transfer?" BioEssays 30: 66-74 and Loi, P. et al. 2006. "Placental abnormalities associated with post-natal mortality in sheep somatic cell clones." Theriogenology 65: 1110-1121.

For the cloning of African wildcat kittens in domestic cats, see Gómez, M. C. et al. 2004. "Birth of African wildcat cloned kittens born from domestic cats." Cloning and Stem Cells 6: 247-258. For cloning gray wolves in dogs, see Oh, H. J. et al. 2008. "Cloning endangered gray wolves (Canis lupis) from somatic cells collected postmortem." Theriogenology 70: 638-647.

Many thanks to Dan Haydon and Jonathan Swire for insights, comments and suggestions.

Italo Calvino's Mr. Palomar and cosmology

Italo Calvino
October 15th, 1923 to September 19th, 1985

Cosmological perspectives of Italo Calvino's Mr. Palomar as expressed by Orfeu Bertolami.


The character Mr. Palomar, the alter-ego of the Italian author Italo Calvino, appeared for the first time in 1975 on the pages of the "Il Corriere della Sera", and then more or less regularly till its debut as a book in 1983. Through illuminating thoughts and reflections based on observations, for instance, of sea waves, Mr. Palomar discovers that they induce a peaceful and inspirational state of mind that prevents coronary and mental illnesses, and also holds the key to capturing the complexity of the world reducing it into its most elementary mechanisms. In this contribution I will survey some of Mr. Palomar’s thoughts while he observes the sky and speculate on others that he might have explored
if he shared our contemporary knowledge of the cosmos. I will also discuss the thoughts of other authors on how, cosmological thinking affects the human condition.

Some new reflections on Mr. Palomar

Mr. Palomar [on line]

ISBN-10: 0156627809
ISBN-13: 978-0156627801


Here, Calvino, probably Italy's leading novelist before he died, focuses a probing eye on one man's attempt to name the parts of his universe, almost as though Mr Palomar were trying to define and explain his own existence. Where the Palomar telescope points out into space, Mr Palomar points in: walking the beach, visiting the zoo, strolling in his garden. Each brief chapter reads like an exploded haiku, with Mr Palomar reading an universe into the proverbial grain of sand.

Italo Calvino

Far Eastern...University of Tokyo & Kyoto University

University of Tokyo

University of Tokyo/Hongō Campus

We are all aware of the prestigious universities in the United States and many in England, but few are aware of the offerings of the far east...the two top ones being the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University.


As of 2008 some 30,000 students [2,100 of them are foreign] occupy campuses in Hongō, Komaba, Kashiwa, Shirokane and Nakano

The university was founded by the Meiji government in 1877 under its current name by amalgamating older government schools for medicine and Western learning. It was renamed "the Imperial University" in 1886, and then Tokyo Imperial University in 1887 when the Imperial University system was created. In 1947, after Japan's defeat in World War II, it assumed the original name again. With the start of the new university system in 1949, Todai swallowed up the former First Higher School (today's Komaba campus) and the former Tokyo Higher School, which henceforth assumed the duty of teaching first and second-year undergraduates, while the faculties on Hongo main campus took care of third and fourth-year students.

The University of Tokyo has since 2004 been incorporated as a "national university corporation" under a new law which applies to all national universities.

While nearly all academic disciplines are taught at the University, it is perhaps best known for its faculties of science, law, and literature (i.e., faculty of letters).

The University of Tokyo is widely thought of as being one of the most prestigious schools in many academic areas. Its rival schools are the other six of the Seven Universities, which were Imperial Universities before World War II. Its primary rival is considered to be Kyoto University, which has, in fact, produced more Nobel Prize winners.

University of Tokyo

Kyoto University


Kyoto University is a major national university in Kyoto, Japan. It is the second oldest university in Japan, and formerly one of the Imperial Universities of Japan. The university has a total of about 22,000 students enrolled in its undergraduate and graduate programs.

The university has three campuses in Yoshida, Kyoto; in Gokashō, Uji; and in Katsura, Kyoto.

Yoshida Campus is the main campus, with some laboratories located in Uji. The Graduate School of Engineering is currently under process of moving to the newly-built Katsura Campus.

Kyoto University has historically advocated a "spirit of freedom" in its academic activities. The university established itself as a premier research university with six Nobel Laureates and two Fields Medalists among its faculties and alumni. The university is also known as the home of the Kyoto School group of philosophers.

Kyoto University was ranked as the 22nd best university in the world in 2007 according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The Times Higher Education Supplement ranked Kyoto University as the 25th in the world and the 3rd in Asia in 2007.

The forerunner of the Kyoto University was the Chemistry School founded in Osaka in 1436, which, despite its name, taught physics as well. Later, the Third Higher School was established in the place of Seimi-kyoku in 1886, it then transferred to the university's present main campus in the same year.

Kyoto Imperial University as a part of the Imperial University system was established in June 18, 1897, using the Third Higher School's buildings. The higher school moved to a patch of land just across the street, where the Yoshida South Campus stands today. In the same year of the university's establishment, the College of Science and Technology was founded. The College of Law and the College of Medicine were founded in 1899, the College of Letters in 1906, expanding the university's activities to areas outside natural science.

After World War II, the current Kyoto University was established by merging the imperial university and the Third Higher School, which assumed the duty of teaching liberal arts as the Faculty of Liberal Arts. The faculty was dissolved with the foundation of the Faculty of Integrated Human Studies in 1992.

Kyoto University has since 2004 been incorporated as a national university corporation under a new law which applies to all national universities.

Despite the incorporation which has led to increased financial independence and autonomy, Kyoto University is still partly controlled by the Japanese Ministry of Education.

Kyoto University

Yogiro Hama

Paul Kazuo Kuroda

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"The Itsy-Bitsy Spiders" @ the ISS

For years I have been critical of the ISS and an efficacy justification on the science being done vs the cost factor and risks, but this is somewhat of a breakthrough and I could soften a little if this policy persists along with revelations of exactly what they are doing in Earth's orbit. Perhaps it is the influence of the Internet. Nevertheless, a K12 experiment concerning arachnids in zero gravity and being broadcast to the world is significant. Web formation would be very interesting.

Itsy-Bitsy Spiders @ the ISS


A University of Colorado at Boulder payload of web-spinning spiders and wannabe butterflies delivered to the International Space Station by the space shuttle Endeavour Nov. 14 has generated a buzz among scientists, astronauts, the news media and has even spawned an Internet video set to the music of "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider."

The story began Nov. 14 when a payload containing two orb-weaving spiders and six butterfly larvae was launched to the space station by CU-Boulder's BioServe Space Technologies. The project was designed to allow K-12 students to chart the behaviors of the creatures in the near-weightless environment of space and compare them with their earthbound counterparts.

Colorado and Texas students have their own spiders and butterfly larvae in their classrooms and are playing along at home, so to speak, comparing the differences using video and images beamed from the space station back to Earth by NASA.

The story literally "got some legs" following a news item in the Times of London Nov. 16 with a headline reading "NASA Loses Spider on the International Space Station." The report wasn't quite accurate -- the astronauts knew both spiders were in the payload compartment -- but could not see one of them because it was hidden from view.

The spider activity grabbed the attention of the public, appearing in national wire stories, on the MSNBC news Web site and on the Web site headquartered in San Francisco with regional links to dozens of large U.S. cities. The Examiner site posted a video featuring "space" spiders spinning weightless webs as NASA scientists described the behaviors in low gravity and a child's choir sings "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider."

"Don't forget about the butterflies," said Stefanie Countryman, BioServe's payload mission manager. The larvae -- some anchored to the habitat, others free-floating -- should enter the chrysalis, or pupa, stage by Thanksgiving, then emerge as full-fledged butterflies that hopefully will be flapping about in micro-gravity in about 10 days.

For more information on the project go to University of Colorado at Boulder .

Hubble's seasonal greeting cards

Some cool Holiday Greeting Cards from the Hubble Telescope's images. There is a lot to choose.

This year, say it in stars! Send your friends and relatives best wishes for the season with our printable holiday cards. Messages of joy and peace are illuminated by the natural splendor of the universe. The cards are designed to be printed out at photo stores or online photo labs, though you can also use a home printer.

Season's Greetings from Hubble

Astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper--GUILTY

Astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper

Just a few problems this year for shuttle astronauts and ISS citizens: First the toilet broke, then just this week the urine conversion apparatus failed, and now fumble fingers Stefanyshyn-Piper and the slippery tool bag. Next...the thawing device for the frozen Thanksgiving meals malfunctions and yields burnt offerings? I think Heidemarie should pay for the tools.

A backpack-sized tool bag inadvertently dropped from the International Space Station last week is orbiting Earth and has been sighted from the ground. The tool bag is surprisingly bright, about 6th or 7th magnitude, which makes it an easy target for binoculars or a small

In this image from NASA TV, a tool kit bag, center, as seen through the helmet camera of astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, floats away from the International Space Station after she lost hold of it during a procedure during a 6 1/2-hour scheduled space walk outside the space station, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008.

In this image from NASA TV, the hand of astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper is seen at left, through her helmet camera, reaching for a tool kit bag that was lost from her grasp during a procedure during a space walk outside the International Space Station, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008.

Urine conversion?:

Jay Leno, November 17th, NBC:

NASA now says their $154 million machine that converts urine into drinking water is not working properly. How would you like to be the astronaut that found that out?

David Letterman, November 17th, 2008, CBS:

NASA has developed a urine machine that will convert urine into water. Well, guess what? It’s on the blink. And you thought the coffee was bad where you work.

Conan O'Brien, November 17th, 2008, NBC:

Astronauts on board the International Space Station are trying to fix the machine that turns urine into drinking water. Well, actually, the urine converter was fixed days ago, but the astronauts keep saying, "You try it. No, you try it."

ISS has a serious problem--a broken toilet

"Happy Days Are Here Again"...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dirty Al's Surplus could be in "hog heaven"

Discarded goods have a home...maybe to be recycled and used again. Nerd's heaven?

"Where old physics stuff goes to live"

The Fermilab boneyard is no burial ground; it’s a place where unwanted parts find new homes and lives. They're matched with scientists who can put them to good use, donated to local schools and parks, or sold for recycling.


Jennifer Lee Johnson

November 2008


Hidden from view by old willow trees, the cast-off tools of high-energy physics are strewn across 11 acres: rejected cables, tables with missing limbs, and computers that couldn't keep pace. Swallows nest in rusty magnet frames, raccoons pillage through buckets of bolts, and coyote pups hide from the wind under a metal plate painted with the American flag.

Many laboratories and universities lack the space to store old equipment and scrap, so Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory takes it in. "I just hate to see stuff get melted down when it doesn’t have to be," Todd Wagner says. "Sooner or later, somebody is going to come out here and need it. There’s enough talent at this lab here that we can find a use for anything."

Wagner oversees the Fermilab boneyard—a recycling center for experimental components that might otherwise end up in a landfill. Scientists adapt these pieces for other experiments—some for short terms, others permanently. Sometimes, to his dismay, Wagner can't find a good home for a part and must recycle it for a new life in consumer goods.

"The name of the yard—boneyard—is misleading," Wagner says. "You hear 'bone' in the title and you think it's where stuff comes to die. I like to think the opposite—that it’s where items get reborn."

Playing matchmaker

The goods on display range from giant copper coils and van-sized chunks of particle detectors to small pieces of equipment Wagner rescues by hand during his weekly tour of the lab. Back at the yard, he sorts scraps into bins of copper, aluminum, brass, steel, and iron. Discards from other US laboratories— and even from foreign countries—come in by rail.

Before setting aside materials to sell to private industry, Wagner checks to make sure they are free of radioactive contamination caused by the particle beam. "Everything gets surveyed twice so there's no chance of any activity," he says, sweeping the wand of a Geiger counter over a piece of metal.

Once he knows what he has, he can match a displaced item with a scientist or contractor who needs it. "They’ll say, 'Do you have any steel drums?' or 'Do you have a rivet so-and-so size?' and I’ll go and get it for them," Wagner says.

Sometimes scientists want to pick their own parts.

Physicists with the neutrino experiment SciBooNE scoured the boneyard to find a dozen 9-by-10-foot steel plates from a calorimeter last used at Fermilab in the early 1980s. Scientists with the NOνA neutrino experiment recently claimed three stainless steel drums.

Other discards find new lives outside of physics, where old sections of tunnel become tornado shelters and steel scaffolding has been crafted into a staircase. Parking medians in a local park used to be wooden power poles, designed by Fermilab's founding director Robert Wilson in the shape of the Greek letter π.

Strolling through history

Walking through the boneyard provides a glimpse into the evolution of particle physics. There are bins of circuit boards pushed aside by smaller, faster models and a 61-year-old synchrocyclotron magnet that might never turn on again. The magnet, conceived by Enrico Fermi following his work on the Manhattan Project, once drew crowds to its former home at the University of Chicago. In the early 1950s it pushed particles to the highest energy in the world, 450 MeV. Now a flower sprouts at its base, looking as out of place as a mouse at the foot of an elephant.

"That magnet got a lot of use," Wagner says. "I bet it could get even more at an art museum."

What Fermilab can't reuse or donate to local schools and parks is sold to scrap contractors, raising more than $1.5 million since 2001.

Fermilab also collects and sells about 200,000 pounds of electronic waste each year, including discards from nearby Argonne National Laboratory. This earned the lab a US Department of Energy environmental award in 2006.

"Some of this scrap will become a toy or a car part," Wagner says. "If it came back, I wouldn’t recognize it."

As Wagner walks through the yard, he tidies up random pieces of cable blown by the wind. "It all counts," he says, tossing the cable into a giant bin. "It doesn't go to a landfill. That’s the good thing."

Giordano Bruno--conference of 2003 now in print

The American Academy in Rome held a conference in May 2003 in Rome concerning increasing interest in Giordano Bruno entitled Alchemia degli Estremi [The Alchemy of Extremes]. Now, the conference is in print:

The Alchemy of Extremes: The Laboratory of the Eroici Furori of Giordano Bruno


Eugenio Canone and Ingrid D. Rowland [editors]

ISBN: 978-88-8147-449-3.

Reviewed by Arielle Saiber of Bowdoin College as received from The Medieval Review.

Co-edited by Eugenio Canone and Ingrid D. Rowland, The Alchemy of Extremes. The Laboratory of the Eroici Furori of Giordano Bruno, is a wonderful and welcome addition to recent Bruno studies, which continue to flourish. Both Rowland and Canone have been quite active in this Bruno revival, with Rowland's 2008 publication of GiordanoBruno: Philosopher/Heretic (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a biography that is sure to join Frances Yates' renowned Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition as important reading on Bruno; and Canone's numerous studies, as well as directorship of the Istituti
Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali--the publisher of this present volume and of the journal Bruniana & Campanelliana since 1995. Soon, the University of California Press will begin releasing as a series of six volumes, under the direction of Brian Copenhaver and
David Marsh, the first critical English edition of Bruno's Dialoghi italiani.

The Alchemy of Extremes is the proceedings of a conference dedicated to Bruno's 1585 dialogue, De gli eroici furori [The Heroic Frenzies] held May 9-10, 2003 at the American Academy in Rome and co-hosted by the Istituto del Lessico Intellettuale Europeo. The
thirteen contributors are among the leading Bruno scholars residing in Italy, England, the US, and Germany, and, as is often the case in gatherings of Bruno scholars, they approach Bruno's work from various disciplinary orientations: philosophy, literary studies, history, religion, and art history.

The word "laboratory" chosen by the editors is an apt term to describe Bruno's Furori. Reading the text is, in fact, like entering a busy workshop and seeing before you numerous individuals (the interlocutors: ten, to be exact) crafting an amalgam of dialogue,
prose, poetry, mottos, and verbally-depicted emblems. Placed by Bruno as the final dialogue of six that he wrote while in England, and his last published text in Italian, the Furori is, arguably, an important text to investigate in light of his early and mid-production
thought. While, as a sort of road map or recipe book for the true, "heroic" seeker of wisdom/the Divine the Furori is unique in Bruno's oeuvre, it contains, as these essays show, more than a few echoes and anticipations of topics associated more directly with his earlier and later works.

In their preface, Canone and Rowland offer a concise overview of Bruno as an historical figure (special attention is given to his "loner" and "knight errant" status) and subject of study. They point to how the many interpretations elicited by Bruno's work (and in this particular case, his Furori) seem to echo his theories of a universe of infinitely many centers and possible entities, as well as his theory of vicissitudes in the human and natural worlds. The "extremes" of Bruno's "alchemy" is, in fact, precisely about this: navigating the dynamic interactions of multiples, binaries, differences, and opposites in the world around us and within us. It is this very principle underlying Bruno's universe and language that makes the meanings of his works so eminently debatable and, at times, so elusive to one's grasp.

The editors acknowledge straight off that many of Bruno's works were not easily understood by his contemporaries; in some cases, this was precisely the author's intention. Subsequently, his writings are even more challenging for modern readers, complicated as they are by the frequent difficulty with which scholars are faced in identifying Bruno's sources as well as the "basic unity of [his] thought" (10). Given the academic forum in which the essays in this volume were first presented, these studies are primarily geared toward scholars of Bruno and Renaissance Studies, not a general readership. That said, anyone interested in Bruno's thought could certainly benefit from perusing this volume, which engages a great many issues central to Bruno's works and Bruno criticism.

The essays (eight in English and four in Italian) are not organized into thematic sections, but rather arranged in alphabetical order by the author's last name. Luciano Albanese opens the collection with a study on the "tripartite" (Anima, Intelletto, e Intelletto superiore, 17-18) apophatic theology in the Furori, strongly influenced, he submits, by the so-called Chaldaic Oracles in its manner of speaking about the journey to the Divine, that is, through speaking about all that it is not.

Also looking at Bruno's Furori with a theological lens, Angelika BÜnker-Vallon discusses the Christian Neoplatonism in the Furori in terms of the gnoseological and aesthetic principles informing Bruno's concept of being and the self-consciousness of the subject. She traces elements of Bruno's theology and use of metaphoric language back to Pseudo-Dionysius, Scotus Eriugena, and Cusanus, and investigates the paradox of the visualization of God in a paradigm in which God is meant to remain hidden and invisible.

Two essays contemplate "endings." One is Hilary Gatti's "The Sense of an Ending in Bruno's Eroici furori." She begins the essay speaking broadly about endings in Bruno, pointing to Bruno's vision of time and space as endless, and phenomena such as death as a transition. The bulk of her essay engages Bruno's stance on the Christian notion of Apocalypse, looking especially at Joachim of Fiore and the Protestant Jacopo Brocardo, whose writings on the subject may have influenced images in the Furori's final canto.

The other essay on "endings," the longest essay in the volume, is Eugenio Canone's piece entitled "The Two Lights: The Final Concert of the Eroici Furori". By "the final concert" Canone refers to the enigmatic song of the nine illuminati with which Bruno ends the Furori. Often citing water metaphors, Canone explores the song's prophetic, liberatory nature and its representation of the eschatological and soteriological interpretations one can extract from the poem's nod to the vicissitudes of nature. He also notes symbolic and numerological connections between Bruno and Dante, and between the mysterious Signora Morgana B. of the Candelaio, Beatrice, Queen Elisabeth, and Diana.

Three authors in the collection look at Bruno's relation to an important historical figure. Ingrid Rowland discusses Bruno's debts to poet Luigi Tansillo, interlocutor for the first five cantos/dialogues, and outlines why Bruno wove Tansillo--an author of love sonnets not dissimilar to those of Petrarch, for whom Bruno's spares no harsh words--so closely into the fabric of the Furori.

Elisabetta Tarantino looks at elements in Bruno's Furori that may have be of interest to Shakespeare and even inspired him, acknowledging, however, that the jury is still out as to whether Shakespeare and Bruno ever met, or whether Shakespeare read or even
knew much about Bruno's work. She looks primarily at Shakespeare's Hamlet, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Tempest, King Lear, and Timon of Athens, turning often to Philip Sydney as the possible link between Bruno and Shakespeare.

Michael Wyatt's essay fortuitously follows that by Tarantino, investigating why Bruno chose to dedicate the Furori to friend Philip Sydney. He points out similarities in their intellectual strategies, their issues with "imitation" in writing, and a "shared sense of the potentiality of language" (p. 157).

Two essays focus on passions in the Furori. With regard to the "erotic" origin and nature of the frenzied hero in the Furori, Delfina Giovannozzi considers the doctrine of love-sickness--in particular, the confusion between ÉrÖs and erÖs drawn from Plato's Cratylus, as well as links between "hero," love, and the concept of the mediating demon in the Symposium; and Ficino's El libro dell'Amore.

And with regard to a Brunian theory of "emotion" (which, as contributor Leen Spruit points out, Bruno never explicitly developed in his writings) Spruit looks at how Bruno portrays passions (affect, affection, and bodily arousal) in the Furori, as well as in De vinculis in genere, addressing issues such as the rational/cognitive aspects of emotion, the psychomachia that can occur between emotion and reason, and the peace that can result from emotion that is guided by the intellect.

Armando Maggi's essay is the only one to speak directly to the numerous and central emblems--the "hypothetical imprese" (95)--of the Furori. Maggi analyzes them in a variety of ways: noting the centrality of the rhetorical structure and force of these verbal images; considering the ways in which Bruno's emblems are "signs" and "indices"; noting the presence of antithetical elements in the emblems (and comparing them to various Renaissance emblem books); and perceiving the frenzied hero as someone who himself becomes an emblem through searching for the Divine. His essay is followed by nineteen figures.

Simonetta Bassi's piece traces Bruno's interest in magic since the time of the Candelaio and how his thoughts on magic--as a delicate subject that requires discipline, humility, great knowledge, and care--developed over the course of his production. Central to
Bruno's writing on magic is love: the connector between all things (soul-body, eyes-heart, individual-cosmos, etc.). In the Furori, which is not, as Bassi notes, a work on magic, magic is, in fact, present in the portrayal of the love that is fundamental to the hero on his journey.

Paul Richard Blum's study, "La caccia di Atteone" [The Hunt of Actaeon], illuminates what is comic and painfully human in discussions of the Divine, drawing connections between Bruno's Spaccio de la bestia trionfante and the Furori in terms of the oft humorous, oft self-inflicted dangers in encountering mysteries and searching for answers.

As a side note, and not by any means a problem, there are no essays in this collection that take as their primary subject the possible links between the Furori and his art of memory, or the Furori and his cosmology.

If there are any lacks in this marvelous volume of excellent essays, they are small and few: the preface does not include an overview of the contributions in the volume; and despite the rich bibliography in the footnotes accompanying each essay, a volume of this sort would have been well-served by a bibliography on the Furori that includes all scholarship to date. Another bit of discussion the preface might have addressed is why the editors hold that not only is the Furori unique within Bruno's opus, but within Renaissance literary and philosophical production as a whole.

And finally, a bit more elaboration on the references the editors make to Bruno's "antitheological," "antimetaphysical," "anti-Christian," and "anti-Platonic" positions would have been helpful. While Bruno engaged in a great deal of polemics with most doctrines he encountered, these are strong terms, and it is not clear how the editors are using them.

There is no question that The Alchemy of Extremes constitutes essential reading for anyone interested in the Furori and Bruno's thought in general. The essays gathered here are both innovative and in conversation with centuries of Bruno scholarship--they demonstrate Bruno scholarship at its very best.

Giordano Bruno--visionary?...a new book