Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Armchair Science" old British popular science magazine



Volume 1

Number 1


"Armchair Science" was a British monthly journal of topical and popular science articles published from 1929 to 1940; it ceased publication because of wartime paper shortages. The first editor was A. Percy Bradley, a mechanical engineer associated with Brooklands, then Professor A. M. Low. Issue one included: “Wonders of the Night Sky”; “How Flowers Breed and How they Fade”; “We Eat Bad Cheese, and why not Bad Meat?”; and “What is Noise?”. It cost one shilling, later reduced to sixpence. The publisher was Gale & Polden Ltd, London.

It reported the splitting of the atom, the chemical identification of Vitamin C, the finishing of the Dutch dam around the Zuyder Zee and developments in television. Looking to the future it asked “Are Whales Doomed?”, discussed the possibility of stereoscopic cinema, and reported biofuels and power from the sea.

It would be great to have some issues at the  Internet Archive .

Some book and pulp covers featuring robots

Okay, some could be be considered cyborgs, etc., but let's just classify them as robots. These are some of the best I found.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The colors of Spring...Easter egg dyeing

"Easter Science: The chemistry of egg dyeing"

Before you dunk those eggs, learn why the color sticks to the shell


Keith Shaw

March 28th, 2013


Easter is right around the corner, and I'm sure you're thinking, how does the Paas dye tablet (like you would use any other type) make those wonderful colors on my Easter Eggs?

Wonder no longer! The YouTube channel Bytesize Science has your answer. Check out this handy 5-minute explanation about the chemical composition of eggs, vinegar and dye tablets.


If you really want to geek up your Easter Eggs, get some inspiration from this cool slideshow -  "Geekiest/Techiest Easter Eggs" .

Gender discrimination in philosophy

"Handling the Harassers"


Carl Straumsheim

March 29th, 2013


With men still outnumbering women in philosophy departments and reports of sexual harassment blemishing the field, the American Philosophical Association has announced it will assemble a committee to explore how to tackle and prevent gender discrimination in the workplace.

The committee will spend six months researching and debating how to address the issue, culminating in a report due out in November that will lay out a set of best practices.

“[U]nfortunately, sexual harassment continues to be a problem in the profession, and we feel it is our responsibility to take action to address it,” Amy Ferrer, executive director of the APA, said in an email. “Without knowing what kinds of best practices the committee will recommend, I can't say specifically how we will implement them. That said, we are committed to putting the work of the committee on sexual harassment into practice to improve the climate for women and other underrepresented groups in philosophy.”

Ferrer has championed diversity in philosophy since becoming executive director in August 2012.

Philosophers have previously attempted to raise awareness about the gender gap in their field by boycotting conferences with all-male speakers, rooting out accepted practices female philosophers have found uncomfortable and examining hiring and tenure processes.

The history of male dominance in the philosophy discipline is well-documented, and even today, the APA estimates male faculty members in philosophy outnumber women four to one -- an unusually high ratio in the humanities. Some professionals in the field have pointed to the misogyny rampant in the subject matter to explain the gender gap -- for example, Aristotle stating in his Poetics that “Even a woman may be good, and also a slave; though the woman may be said to be an inferior being, and the slave quite worthless.”

But refining the canon and its tendency to rely on the musings of “great white dead men” is not the committee’s job -- a process already at work in classrooms around the world, said Scott A. Anderson, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia who will serve on the committee.

According to Anderson, the committee will work to move the conversation about sexual harassment beyond the wealth of anecdotal evidence that exists about the issue.

“I wouldn’t deny it, but I would hate to say we know as much about the situation that we’d like to at the time,” Anderson said. “The anecdotes ... are, I think, representative, but it is hard to say whether everyone who is a woman in philosophy has those experiences, or most, or some.”

Other committee members are researching how associations in other disciplines have tackled sexual harassment. Laurie Shrage, professor of philosophy at Florida International University, said in an e-mail that she has so far identified policies adopted by the American Academy of Religion and the Southern Historical Association.

Female philosophers have recently found outlets through blogs like “Feminist Philosophers” and “What Is It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy?" the latter of which lists sexual harassment as its most popular category.

"[Y]ou just see account after account," said Peggy DesAutels, who leads the APA Committee on the Status of Women and helped pick the members of the sexual harassment committee. "It’s much more pervasive than even I would have thought.”

In addition to the committee, the APA will be conducting about five site visits per year to institutions where faculty members have reported poor work climates. The reports from these visits will be shared with administrators, but they will not be made public.

Five institutions voiced their interest before the program had even been announced, DesAutels, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Dayton, said. She noted there are “pockets” where male instructors tend to behave inappropriately, but added, “I do want to emphasize that there are many, many departments that do not have a problem."

Recently, the conversation has moved past documenting sexual harassment to discussing responses. A spin-off blog, "What We're Doing About What It's Like," features stories about instructors who have confronted sexual harassment and departments seeking to diversify their faculty bodies.

"I have urged my colleagues that due to stereotype threat and implicit bias they are not reaching women students in the way they might," an anonymous entry reads. "I may sound naive, or excessively optimistic, but one colleague, J, expressed to me that he appreciated the prompt to make his educational practice consistent with his political (and philosophical) commitments."

Members of the committee said the online conversation about the problems women face in the discipline has helped spur the APA into action.

“I think that it is part of a many-part movement that is at work in philosophy to look at ourselves critically and try to figure out why things have not progressed as far as they have in other disciplines,”
Anderson said. “There are now more channels for people to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo,” which he said “are allowing people to make it clear that we have a problem and that we are not yet where we ought to be in terms of absolute equality."

Society for Women in Philosophy

Society for Women in Philosophy UK

Will the "cultural barriers" be overcome in philosophy departments too?

Deceased--Ruth Barcan Marcus

Deceased--Marjorie Grene

Emilie du Ch√Ętelet...ties to Newton and Voltaire


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Religion in the construction of the models of the Universe between the 11th and 17th Centuries in the Ukraine


Cosmology, whose object is the Universe, is in contact with the religion closer than any other science. We will try to trace the historical change of views on the universe in Ukraine from XI to XVII centuries and show the influence of religion in the construction of the models of the Universe in that time. In the early XIth century, a great authority, and the spread had a Byzantine texts.  In Ukrainian chronicles were described the structure of the world. The astronomical interpretation of cosmological ideas, a system of Ptolemy, was stated in treatise ‘Izbornik’ (in 1073 and 1076). In the XV century in Ukraine were spread ‘Cosmography’ De-Sakrabosko and ‘Shestokryl’ Immanuel bar-Jakob.

The first course of Nature Philosophy that was read in Ukraine and studied the system of Copernicus was Gizel’s philosophy course ‘The work of the whole philosophy’ (1645-1647).

Th. Prokopovich was also the first who gave an explanation of Copernicus’s theory (early XVIIIth century). Despite the fact that in his course taught various systems of the world, but he believed that the world had been created by God. Until the end of the XVIIIth century a key role in explaining the origin and structure of the Universe had a religion and the Bible text.

TO XVII CENTURY) by Koltachykhina Oksana Yu

American Astronomical Society not happy about cutbacks

"American Astronomical Society Decries Impact of Federal Travel Restrictions on Science"

March 27TH, 2013

American Astronomical Society

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) today expressed deep concern about the U.S. government's new restrictions on travel and conference attendance for federally funded scientists. Enacted in response to the budget sequestration that went into effect on March 1st, the policies severely limit the ability of many researchers to meet with collaborators and to present their latest results at professional meetings. The leadership of the AAS is especially worried about the restrictions' deleterious effects on scientific productivity and on scientists' and students' careers.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memo on February 27th offering guidance to federal agencies on how to manage the significant reductions in their fiscal-year 2013 budgets mandated by the sequester. In a letter on March 13th, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden described the space agency's response, which caps the number of NASA employees and contractors who can attend domestic conferences and prohibits travel to most international meetings. Because NASA funds the lion's share of astronomy and related sciences, the new restrictions hit members of the AAS and its divisions quite hard.

"We understand the need to live within the limits of the budget sequestration," says Joel Parriott, AAS Director of Public Policy, "but it seems 'pennywise and pound foolish' to respond to a short-term fiscal problem with actions that could further reduce the scientific output of already restrained programs for many years to come."

The full text of the AAS statement, adopted 27 March 2013 by the AAS Executive Committee and the chairs of the six AAS subject-specific divisions, follows:

American Astronomical Society Statement on the Impact of Federal Agency Travel Restrictions on Scientific Conferences

The American Astronomical Society and its six divisions (Planetary Science, High Energy Astrophysics, Solar Physics, Dynamical Astronomy, Historical Astronomy, and Laboratory Astrophysics) are deeply concerned about the impact of the Administration's new conference travel restrictions on the scientific productivity and careers of researchers who are Federal employees and contractors.

Scientific meetings and conferences are a principal mechanism for researchers, students, and educators to facilitate and strengthen their interaction and collaborations with peers in their field, thereby advancing the state of knowledge in that field. Scientists who are Federal employees or contractors play a critical role in all fields of science and engineering, so the Federal agency mission suffers when they, and any students collaborating with them, are unable to travel to relevant conferences.

In response to guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget on implementation of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 sequestration, many agencies have issued new travel restrictions for employees, contractors, and grantees for the rest of FY 2013. For example, NASA has effectively capped conference attendance at 50 employees and contractors and prohibited all attendance at foreign conferences. Given the mission need for NASA personnel to regularly meet with international collaborators, we believe our international leadership in space will be undermined by this prohibition.

While conferences occurring in the remaining six months of FY 2013 will be severely impacted by these new directives, our deeper concern is the likelihood that the restrictions and reduced conference travel spending will become standard policy going forward. We agree that all government travel expenditures should be subject to vigorous review and oversight, but we urge the Administration to consider carefully the harm that these top-down restrictions could cause the U.S. research enterprise and our international standing.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 7,500 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe. Among its many activities, the AAS publishes three of the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field: The Astrophysical Journal, The Astronomical Journal, and Astronomy Education Review.

Craters on Mercury named "after famous deceased artists, musicians, or authors or other contributors to the humanities"

"Newly Named Craters on Mercury"


Keith Cowing

March 27th, 2013


The International Astronomical Union (IAU) - the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919 - recently approved a proposal from the MESSENGER Science Team to assign names to nine impact craters on Mercury. In keeping with the established naming theme for craters on Mercury, all of the newly designated features are named after famous deceased artists, musicians, or authors or other contributors to the humanities.

The newly named craters are:

* Alver, for Betti Alver (1906-1989), an Estonian writer who rose to prominence in the 1930s, toward the end of Estonian independence and on the eve of World War II. She published her first novel, Mistress in the Wind, in 1927. She also wrote several short stories, poetry, and translations.

* Donelaitis, for Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714-1780), a Lutheran pastor who was considered one of the greatest Lithuanian poets. He is best known for The Seasons, considered the first classic Lithuanian poem. It depicts the everyday life of Lithuanian peasants. His other works include six fables and a tale in verse.

* Flaiano, for Ennio Flaiano (1910-1972), an Italian screenwriter, playwright, novelist, journalist, and drama critic especially noted for his social satires. He became a leading figure of the Italian motion-picture industry after World War II, collaborating with writer Tullio Pinelli on the early films of writer and director Federico Fellini.

* Hurley, for James Francis "Frank" Hurley (1885-1962), an Australian photographer and adventurer. He participated in several expeditions to Antarctica and served as an official photographer with Australian Imperial Forces during both world wars. The troops called him "the mad photographer," because he took considerable risks to obtain photographs.

* L'Engle, for Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007), an American writer best known for young-adult fiction, particularly the award-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. Her works reflect both her Christian faith and her strong interest in modern science.

* Lovecraft, for Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937), an American author of horror, fantasy, and science fiction regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th Century. He popularized "cosmic horror," the notion that some concepts, entities, or experiences are barely comprehensible to human minds, and those who delve into such topics risk their sanity.

* Petofi, for Sandor Petofi (1823-1849), a Hungarian poet and liberal revolutionary. He wrote the Nemzeti dal (National Poem), which is said to have inspired the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 that grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire.

* Pahinui, for Charles Phillip Kahahawai "Gabby" Pahinui, (1921-1980), a Hawaiian guitar player considered to be one of the most influential slack-key guitar players in the world. His music was a key part of the "Hawaiian Renaissance," a resurgence of interest in traditional Hawaiian culture during the 1970s.

* Roerich, for Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), a Russian painter and philosopher who initiated the modern movement for the defense of cultural objects. His most notable achievement was the Roerich Pact of 1935, an international treaty signed by India, the Baltic states, and 22 nations of the Americas (including the United States), affirming that monuments, museums, scientific, artistic, educational, and cultural institutions and their personnel are to be considered neutral in times of war unless put to military use.

Ray Espiritu, a mission operations engineer on the MESSENGER team, submitted Pahinui's name for consideration. "I wanted to honor the place where I grew up and still call home even after many years away," he says. "The Pahinui crater contains a possible volcanic vent, and its name may inspire other scientists as they investigate the volcanic processes that helped to create Mercury, just as investigation of Hawaiian volcanoes helps us understand the volcanic processes that shape the Earth we know today."

These nine newly named craters join 95 other craters named since the MESSENGER spacecraft's first Mercury flyby in January 2008.

"We are delighted that the IAU has once again assigned formal names to a new set of craters on Mercury," adds MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "These names will make it easier to discuss these features in the scientific literature, and they provide a fresh opportunity to honor individuals who have contributed to the cultural richness of our planet."

More information about the names of features on Mercury and the other objects in the Solar System can be found at the U.S. Geological Survey's Planetary Nomenclature Web site: .

MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet and entered orbit about Mercury on March 17, 2011 (March 18, 2011 UTC), to begin a yearlong study of its target planet. MESSENGER's extended mission began on March 18, 2012, and ended one year later. A possible second extended mission is currently under evaluation by NASA. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, the Director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, leads the mission as Principal Investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Some novelty tunes about flying saucers and UFOs

Host Jerry Modjeski [KFAI] plays music from the 1940s to the present about flying saucers and UFOs.

"We're Going UFOing" by Jimmy Durante

"Flying Saucer Polka," by Brave Combo

"Take Me to Your Leader Cha-Cha" by Sam Space and the Cadets

"Martian Hop" bynThe Ran-Dells

"UFO" by Nina Hagen

"Motorway" by The Pixies

And many more...

Broadcast on July 7th, 2001.

Part One

Part Two

And finally these two classics...

Santa and The Satellite

Parts 1 and 2 


Buchanan and Goodman

The Flying Saucer

Parts 1 and 2


Buchanan and Goodman

Buchanan & Goodman [Wikipedia]

The Flying Saucer [Wikipedia]

Mind over matter...Kurt Vonnegut's "Report on the Barnhouse Effect"


"Report on the Barnhouse Effect" is the first short story written and published by Kurt Vonnegut. It originally appeared in the February 11, 1950 issue of Collier's Weekly.


The story takes the form of a report written by an ex-student of the story's protagonist, Professor Arthur Barnhouse. A year and a half before the writing of the report the professor develops the ability to affect physical objects and events through the force of his mind; he comes to call this power 'dynamo-psychism', while the press adopts the term 'the Barnhouse effect'. When Barnhouse makes the mistake of informing the US government of his newfound abilities, they try to turn him into a weapon. The program is successful, but Barnhouse, declaring himself the world's 'first weapon with a conscience', flees and goes into hiding. While in this reclusive state Barnhouse uses his dynamo-psychic powers to destroy all nuclear and conventional weapon stockpiles, along with other military technologies. However, he realizes that because he is mortal, the world will revert to its warlike tendencies after he dies. Barnhouse passes on the secret of his abilities to his ex-student, who goes into hiding after he begins to manifest them as well.

Audio presentation...

"Report on the Barnhouse Effect" [Dimension X]

Report on the Barnhouse Effect


Kurt Vonnegut

Let me begin by saying that I don't know any more about where Professor Arthur Barnhouse is hiding than anyone else does.  Save for one short, enigmatic message left in my mailbox on Christmas Eve, I have not heard from him since his disappearance a year and a half ago.
    What's more, readers of this article will be disappointed if they expect to learn how they can bring about the so-called "Barnhouse Effect." If I were able and willing to give away that secret, I would certainly be something more important than a psychology instructor. 
    I have been urged to write this report because I did research under the professor's direction and because I was the first to learn of his astonishing discovery.  But while I was his student I was never entrusted with knowledge of how the mental forces could be released and directed.  He was unwilling to trust anyone with that information. 
    I would like to point out that the term "Barnhouse Effect" is a creation of the popular press, and was never used by Professor Barnhouse.  The name he chose for the phenomenon was "dynamopsychism,” or force of the mind.
    I cannot believe that there is a civilized person yet to be convinced that such a force exists, what with its destructive effects on display in every national capital.  I think humanity has always had an inkling that this sort of force does exist.  It has been common knowledge that some people are luckier than others with inanimate objects like dice.  What Professor Barnhouse did was to show that such "luck" was a measurable force, which in his case could be enormous.
By my calculations, the professor was about fifty-five times more powerful than a Nagasaki-type atomic bomb at the time he went into hiding.  He was not bluffing when, on the eve of "Operation Brainstorm," he told General Honus Barker: "Sitting here at the dinner table, I'm pretty sure I can flatten anything on earth—from Joe Louis to the Great Wall of China."
         There is an understandable tendency to look upon Professor Barnhouse as a supernatural visitation.  The First Church of Barnhouse in Los Angeles has a congregation numbering in the thousands.  He is godlike in neither appearance nor intellect.  The man who disarms the world is single, shorter than the average American male, stout, and averse to exercise.  His I.Q. is 143, which is good but certainly not sensational. He is quite mortal, about to celebrate his fortieth birthday, and in good health.  If he is alone now, the isolation won't bother him too much.  He was quiet and shy when I knew him, and seemed to find more companionship in books and music than in his associations at the college.
            Neither he nor his powers fall outside the sphere of Nature.  His dynamopsychic radiations are subject to many known physical laws that apply in the field of radio.  Hardly a person has not now heard the snarl of "Barnhouse static" on his home receiver.  The radiations are affected by sunspots and variations in the ionosphere.
           However, they differ from ordinary broadcast waves, in several important ways.  Their total energy can be brought to bear on any single point the professor chooses, and that energy is undiminished by distance.  As a weapon, then, dynamopsychism has an impressive advantage over bacteria and atomic bombs, beyond the fact that it costs nothing to use: it enables the professor to single out critical individuals and objects instead of slaughtering whole populations in the process of maintaining international equilibrium.
       As General Honus Barker told the House Military Affairs Committee: "Until someone finds Barnhouse, there is no defense against the Barnhouse Effect." Efforts to "jam" or block the radiations have failed.  Premier Slezak could have saved himself the fantastic expense of his "Barnhouseproof' shelter.  Despite the shelter's twelve-foot-thick lead armor, the premier has been floored twice while in it.
        There is talk of screening the population for men potentially as powerful dynamopsychically as the professor.  Senator Warren Foust demanded funds for this purpose last month, with the passionate declaration: "He who rules the Barnhouse Effect rules the world!" Commissar Kropotnik said much the same thing, so another costly armaments race, with a new twist, has begun.
        This race at least has its comical aspects.  The world's best gamblers are being coddled by governments like so many nuclear physicists.  There may be several hundred persons with dynamopsychic talent on earth, myself included.  But, without knowledge of the professor's technique, they can never be anything but dice-table despots.  With the secret, it would probably take them ten years to become dangerous weapons.  It took the professor that long.  He who rules the Barnhouse Effect is Barnhouse and will be for some time.
         Popularly, the "Age of Barnhouse" is said to have begun a year and a half ago, on the day of Operation Brainstorm.  That was when dynamopsychism became significant politically.  Actually, the phenomenon was discovered in May, 1942, shortly after the professor turned down a direct commission in the Army and enlisted as an artillery private.  Like X-rays and vulcanized rubber, dynamopsychism was discovered by accident.
          From time to time Private Barnhouse was invited to take part in games of chance by his barrack mates.  He knew nothing about the games, and usually begged off. But one evening, out of social grace, he agreed to shoot craps.  It was either terrible or wonderful that he played, depending upon whether or not you like the world as it now is.
            "Shoot sevens, Pop," someone said.
            So "Pop" shot sevens—ten in a row to bankrupt the barracks.  He retired to his bunk and, as a mathematical exercise, calculated the odds against his feat on the back of a laundry slip.  His chances of doing it, he found, were one in almost ten million!  Bewildered, he borrowed a pair of dice from the man in the bunk next to his.  He tried to roll sevens again, but got only the usual assortment of numbers.  He lay back for a moment, then resumed his toying with the dice.  He rolled ten more sevens in a row.
           He might have dismissed the phenomenon with a low whistle.  But the professor instead mulled over the circumstances surrounding his two lucky streaks.  There was one single factor in common: on both occasions, the same thought train had flashed through his mind just before he threw the dice.  It was that thought train which aligned the professor's brain cells into what has since become the most powerful weapon on earth.
        The soldier in the next bunk gave dynamopsychism its first token of respect.  In an understatement certain to bring wry smiles to the faces of the world's dejected demagogues, the soldier said, "You're hotter'n a two-dollar pistol, Pop." Professor Barnhouse was all of that.  The dice that did his bidding weighed but a few grams, so the forces involved were minute; but the unmistakable fact that there were such forces was earth-shaking.
       Professional caution kept him from revealing his discovery immediately.  He wanted more facts and a body of theory to go with them.  Later, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, it was fear that made him hold his peace.  At no time were his experiments, as Premier Slezak called them, "a bourgeois plot to shackle the true democracies of the world." The professor didn't know where they were leading.
       In time, he came to recognize another startling feature of dynamopsychism: its strength increased with use.  Within six months, he was able to govern dice thrown by men the length of a barracks distant. By the time of his discharge in 1945, he could knock bricks loose from chimneys three miles away.
        Charges that Professor Barnhouse could have won the last war in a minute, but did not care to do so, are perfectly senseless.  When the war ended, he had the range and power of a 37-millimeter cannon, perhaps—certainly no more. His dynamopsychic powers graduated from the small-arms class only after his discharge and return to Wyandotte College.
        I enrolled in the Wyandotte Graduate School two years after the professor had rejoined the faculty.  By chance, he was assigned as my thesis adviser.  I was unhappy about the assignment, for the professor was, in the eyes of both colleagues and students, a somewhat ridiculous figure.  He missed classes or had lapses of memory during lectures.  When I arrived, in fact, his shortcomings had passed from the ridiculous to the intolerable.
         "We're assigning you to Barnhouse as a sort of temporary thing," the dean of social studies told me.  He looked apologetic and perplexed.  "Brilliant man, Barnhouse, I guess.  Difficult to know since his return, perhaps, but his work before the war brought a great deal of credit to our little school."
         When I reported to the professor's laboratory for the first time, what I saw was more distressing than the gossip.  Every surface in the room was covered with dust; books and apparatus had not been disturbed for months.  The professor sat napping at his desk when I entered.  The only signs of recent activity were three overflowing ashtrays, a pair of scissors, and a morning paper with several items clipped from its front page.
          As he raised his head to look at me, I saw that his eyes were clouded with fatigue. "Hi," he said, "just can't seem to get my sleeping done at night." He lighted a cigarette, his hands trembling slightly.  "You the young man I'm supposed to help with a thesis?"
           "Yes, sir," I said.  In minutes he converted my misgivings to alarm.
           "You an overseas veteran?" he asked.
           "Yes, sir."
           "Not much left over there, is there?" He frowned.  "Enjoy the last war?"
           "No, sir."
           "Look like another war to you?"
           "Kind of, sir."
           "What can be done about it?"
           I shrugged. "Looks pretty hopeless."
           He peered at me intently.  "Know anything about international law, the U.N., and all that?"
           "Only what I pick up from the papers."
           "Same here," he sighed.  He showed me a fat scrapbook packed with newspaper clippings.  "Never used to pay any attention to international politics.  Now I study them the way I used to study rats in mazes.  Everybody tells me the same thing—'Looks hopeless.' ”
           "Nothing short of a miracle—" I began.
           "Believe in magic?" he asked sharply.  The professor fished two dice from his vest pocket.  "I will try to roll twos," he said.  He rolled twos three times in a row.  "One chance in about 47,000 of that happening.  There's a miracle for you." He beamed for an instant, then
brought the interview to an end, remarking that he had a class which had begun ten minutes ago.
           He was not quick to take me into his confidence, and he said no more about his trick with the dice.  I assumed they were loaded, and forgot about them.  He set me the task of watching male rats cross electrified metal strips to get to food or female rats—an experiment that had been done to everyone's satisfaction in the nineteen-thirties.  As though the pointlessness of my work were not bad enough, the professor annoyed me further with irrelevant questions. His favorites were: "Think we should have dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima?" and "Think every new piece of scientific information is a good thing for humanity?"
          However, I did not feel put upon for long.  "Give those poor animals a holiday," he said one morning, after I had been with him only a month.  "I wish you'd help me look into a more interesting problem—namely, my sanity."
          I returned the rats to their cages.
          "What you must do is simple," he said, speaking softly.  "Watch the inkwell on my desk.  If you see nothing happen to it, say so, and I'll go quietly—relieved, I might add—to the nearest sanitarium.
          I nodded uncertainly.
          He locked the laboratory door and drew the blinds, so that we were in twilight for a moment.  "I'm odd, I know," he said.  "It's fear of myself that's made me odd."
          "I've found you somewhat eccentric, perhaps, but certainly not—"
          "If nothing happens to that inkwell, 'crazy as a bedbug' is the only description of me that will do," he interrupted, turning on the overhead lights.  His eyes narrowed.  "To give you an idea of how crazy, I'll tell you what's been running through my mind when I should have been sleeping.  I think maybe I can save the world.  I think maybe I can make every nation a have nation, and do away with war for good.  I think maybe I can clear roads through jungles, irrigate deserts, build dams overnight."
          "Yes, sir."
          "Watch the inkwell!"
          Dutifully and fearfully I watched.  A high-pitched humming seemed to come from the inkwell; then it began to vibrate alarmingly, and finally to bound about the top of the desk, making two noisy circuits. It stopped, hummed again, glowed red, then popped in splinters with a blue-green flash.
           Perhaps my hair stood on end.  The professor laughed gently.  "Magnets?" I managed to say at last.
           "Wish to heaven it were magnets," he murmured.  It was then that he told me of dynamopsychism.  He knew only that there was such a force; he could not explain it.  "It's me and me alone—and it's awful."
             "I'd say it was amazing and wonderful!" I cried.
             "If all I could do was make inkwells dance, I'd be tickled silly with the whole business." He shrugged disconsolately.  "But I'm no toy, my boy.  If you like, we can drive around the neighborhood, and I'll show you what I mean." He told me about pulverized boulders, shattered oaks, and abandoned farm buildings demolished within a fifty-mile radius of the campus.  "Did every bit of it sitting right here, just thinking—not even thinking hard."
           He scratched his head nervously.  "I have never dared to concentrate as hard as I can for fear of the damage I might do.  I'm to the point where a mere whim is a blockbuster." There was a depressing pause.  "Up until a few days ago, I've thought it best to keep my secret for fear of what use it might be put to," he continued.  "Now I realize that I haven't any more right to it than a man has a right to own an atomic bomb."
           He fumbled through a heap of papers.  "This says about all that needs to be said, I think." He handed me a draft of a letter to the Secretary of State.
Dear Sir:
I have discovered a new force which costs nothing to use, and which is probably more important than atomic energy.  I should like to see it used most effectively in the cause of peace, and am, therefore, requesting your advice as to how this might best be done.
                                               Yours truly,
                                       A. Barnhouse.

"I have no idea what will happen next," said the professor.
        There followed three months of perpetual nightmare, wherein the nation's political and military great came at all hours to watch the professor's tricks.
         We were quartered in an old mansion near Charlottesville, Virginia, to which we had been whisked five days after the letter was mailed.  Surrounded by barbed wire and twenty guards, we were labeled "Project Wishing Well," and were classified as Top Secret.
         For companionship we had General Honus Barker and the State Department's William K. Cuthrell.  For the professor's talk of peace-through-plenty they had indulgent smiles and much discourse on practical measures and realistic thinking.  So treated, the professor, who had at first been almost meek, progressed in a matter of weeks toward stubbornness.
          He had agreed to reveal the thought train by means of which he aligned his mind into a dynamopsychic transmitter.  But, under Cuthrell's and Barker's nagging to do so, he began to hedge.  At first he declared that the information could be passed on simply by word of mouth.  Later he said that it would have to be written up in a long report.  Finally, at dinner one night, just after General Barker had read the secret orders for Operation Brainstorm, the professor announced, "The report may take as long as five years to write." He looked fiercely at the general.  "Maybe twenty."
           The dismay occasioned by this flat announcement was offset somewhat by the exciting anticipation of Operation Brainstorm.  The general was in a holiday mood.  "The target ships are on their way to the Caroline Islands at this very moment," he declared ecstatically.  "One hundred and twenty of them!  At the same time, ten V-2s are being readied for firing in New Mexico, and fifty radio-controlled jet bombers are being equipped for a mock attack on the Aleutians. Just think of it!"  Happily he reviewed his orders.  "At exactly 1100 hours next Wednesday, I will give you the order to concentrate; and you, professor, will think as hard as you can about sinking the target ships, destroying the V-2s before they hit the ground, and knocking down bombers before they reach the Aleutians!  Think you can handle it?"
           The professor turned gray and closed his eyes.  "As I told you before, my friend, I don't know what I can do." He added bitterly, "As for this Operation Brainstorm, I was never consulted about it, and it strikes me as childish and in insanely expensive.”
      General Barker bridled.  "Sir," he said, "your field is psychology, and I wouldn't presume to give you advice in that field.  Mine is national defense.  I have had thirty years of experience and success, Professor, and I'll ask you not to criticize my judgment."
           The professor appealed to Mr. Cuthrell.  "Look," he pleaded, "isn't it war and military matters we're all trying to get rid of? Wouldn't it be a whole lot more significant and lots cheaper for me to try moving cloud masses into drought areas, and things like that?  I admit I know next to nothing about international politics, but it seems reasonable to suppose that nobody would
want to fight wars if there were enough of everything to go around.  Mr. Cuthrell, I'd like to try running generators where there isn't any coal or water power, irrigating deserts, and so on.  Why, you could figure out what each country needs to make the most of its resources, and I could give it to them without costing American taxpayers a penny."
           "Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom," said the general heavily.
           Mr. Cuthrell threw the general a look of mild distaste.  “Unfortunately, the general is right in his own way," he said.  "I wish to heaven the world were ready for ideals like yours, but it simply isn't.  We aren't surrounded by brothers, but by enemies.  It isn't a lack of food or resources that has us on the brink of war—it's a struggle for power.  Who's going to be in charge of the world, our kind of people or theirs?"
           The professor nodded in reluctant agreement and arose from the table. "I beg your pardon, gentlemen. You are, after all, better qualified to judge what is best for the country.  I'll do whatever you say." He turned to me.  "Don't forget to wind the restricted clock and put the confidential cat out," he said gloomily, and ascended the stairs to his bedroom.
           For reasons of national security, Operation Brainstorm was carried on without the knowledge of the American citizenry which was paying the bill.  The observers, technicians, and military men involved in the activity knew that a test was under way—a test of what, they had no idea.  Only thirty-seven key men, myself included, knew what was afoot.
           In Virginia, the day for Operation Brainstorm was unseasonably cool.  Inside, a log fire crackled in the fireplace, and the flames were reflected in the polished metal cabinets that lined the living room.  All that remained of the room's lovely old furniture was a Victorian love seat, set squarely in the center of the floor, facing three television receivers.  One long bench had been brought in for the ten of us privileged to watch.  The television screens showed, from left to right, the stretch of desert which was the rocket target, the guinea-pig fleet, and a section of the Aleutian sky through which the radio-controlled bomber formation would roar.
           Ninety minutes before H-hour the radios announced that the rockets were ready, that the observation ships had backed away to what was thought to be a safe distance, and that the bombers were on their way.  The small Virginia audience lined up on the bench in order of rank, smoked a great deal, and said little.  Professor Barnhouse was in his bedroom.  General Barker bustled about the house like a woman preparing Thanksgiving dinner for twenty.
           At ten minutes before H-hour the general came in, shepherding the professor before him.  The professor was comfortably attired in sneakers, gray flannels, a blue sweater, and a white shirt open at the neck.  The two of them sat side by side on the love seat.  The general was rigid and perspiring; the professor was cheerful.  He looked at each of the screens, lighted a cigarette and settled back.
           "Bombers sighted!" cried the Aleutian observers.
           "Rockets away!" barked the New Mexico radio operator.
           All of us looked quickly at the big electric clock over the mantel, while the professor, a half-smile on his face, continued to watch the television sets.  In hollow tones, the general counted away the seconds remaining.  "Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . Concentrate!"
           Professor Barnhouse closed his eyes, pursed his lips, and stroked his temples. He held the position for a minute. The television images were scrambled, and the radio signals were drowned in the din of Barnhouse static.  The professor sighed, opened his eyes, and smiled confidently.
           "Did you give it everything you had?" asked the general dubiously.
           "I was wide open," the professor replied.
           The television images pulled themselves together, and mingled cries of amazement came over the radios tuned to the observers.  The Aleutian sky was streaked with the smoke trails of bombers screaming down in flames.  Simultaneously, there appeared high over the rocket target a cluster of white puffs, followed by faint thunder.
           General Barker shook his head happily.  "By George!" he crowed.  "Well, sir, by George, by George, by George!"
           "Look!" shouted the admiral seated next to me.  "The fleet-it wasn't touched!"
           "The guns seem to be drooping," said Mr. Cuthrell.
           We left the bench and clustered about the television set to examine the damage more closely.  What Mr. Cuthrell had said was true.  The ships' guns curved downward, their muzzles resting on the steel decks.  We in Virginia were making such a hullabaloo that it was impossible to hear the radio reports.  We were so engrossed, in fact, that we didn't miss the professor until two short snarls of Barnhouse static shocked us into sudden silence.  The radios went dead.
       We looked around apprehensively.  The professor was gone.  A harassed guard threw open the front door from the outside to yell that the professor had escaped.  He brandished his pistol in the direction of the gates, which hung open, limp and twisted.  In the distance, a speeding government station wagon topped a ridge and dropped from sight into the valley beyond.  The air was filled with choking smoke, for every vehicle on the grounds was ablaze.  Pursuit was impossible.
             “What in God's name got into him?" bellowed the general.
        Mr. Cuthrell, who had rushed out onto the front porch, now slouched back into the room, reading a penciled note as he came.  He thrust the note into my hands.  "The good man left this billet-doux under the door knocker.  Perhaps our young friend here will be kind enough to read it to you gentlemen, while I take a restful walk through the woods."
         "Gentlemen," I read aloud, 'as the first superweapon with a conscience, I am removing myself from your national defense stockpile.  Setting a new precedent in the behavior of ordnance, I have humane reasons for going off. A. Barnhouse."
         Since that day, of course, the professor has been systematically destroying the world's armaments, until there is now little with which to equip an army other than rocks and sharp sticks. His activities haven't exactly resulted in peace, but have, rather, precipitated a bloodless and entertaining sort of war that might be called the "War of the Tattletales." Every nation is flooded with enemy agents whose sole mission is to locate military equipment, which is promptly wrecked when it is brought to the professor's attention in the press.
          Just as every day brings news of more armaments pulverized by dynamopsychism, so has it brought rumors of the professor's whereabouts.  During last week alone, three publications carried articles proving variously that he was hiding in an Inca ruin in the Andes, in the sewers of Paris, and in the unexplored lower chambers of Carlsbad Caverns.  Knowing the man, I am inclined to regard such hiding places as unnecessarily romantic and uncomfortable.  While there are numerous persons eager to kill him, there must be millions who would care for him and hide him. I like to think that he is in the home of such a person.
           One thing is certain: at this writing, Professor Barnhouse is not dead.  Barnhouse static jammed broadcasts not ten minutes ago.  In the eighteen months since his disappearance, he has been reported dead some half-dozen times.  Each report has stemmed from the death of an unidentified man resembling the professor, during a period free of the static.  The first three reports were followed at once by renewed talk of rearmament and recourse to war.  The saber-rattlers have learned how imprudent premature celebrations of the professor's demise can be.
           Many a stouthearted patriot has found himself prone in the tangled bunting and timbers of a smashed reviewing stand, seconds after having announced that the arch-tyranny of Barnhouse was at an end.  But those who would make war if they could, in every country in the world, wait in sullen silence for what must come—the passing of Professor Barnhouse.
           To ask how much longer the professor will live is to ask how much longer we must wait for the blessings of another world war.  He is of short-lived stock: his mother lived to be fifty-three, his father to be forty-nine; and the life-spans of his grandparents on both sides were of the same order.  He might be expected to live, then, for perhaps fifteen years more, if he can remain hidden from his enemies.  When one considers the number and vigor of these enemies, however, fifteen years seems an extraordinary length of time, which might better be revised to fifteen days, hours, or minutes.
           The professor knows that he cannot live much longer.  I say this because of the message left in my mailbox on Christmas Eve.  Unsigned, typewritten on a soiled scrap of paper, the note consisted of ten sentences.  The first nine of these, each a bewildering tangle of psychological jargon and references to obscure texts, made no sense to me at first reading.  The tenth, unlike the rest, was simply constructed and contained no large words—but its irrational content made it the most puzzling and bizarre sentence of all.  I nearly threw the note away, thinking it a colleague's warped notion of a practical joke.  For some reason, though, I added it to the clutter on top of my desk, which included, among other mementos, the professor's dice.
           It took me several weeks to realize that the message really meant something, that the first nine sentences, when unsnarled, could be taken as instructions.  The tenth still told me nothing. It was only last night that I discovered how it fitted in with the rest.  The sentence appeared in my thoughts last night, while I was toying absently with the professor's dice.
           I promised to have this report on its way to the publishers today.  In view of what has happened, I am obliged to break that promise, or release the report incomplete.  The delay will not be a long one, for one of the few blessings accorded a bachelor like myself is the ability to move quickly from one abode to another, or from one way of life to another.  What property I want to take with me can be packed in a few hours.  Fortunately, I am not without substantial private means, which may take as long as a week to realize in liquid and anonymous form.  When this is done, I shall mail the report.
           I have just returned from a visit to my doctor, who tells me my health is excellent.  I am young, and, with any luck at all, I shall live to a ripe old age indeed, for my family on both sides is noted for longevity.
           Briefly, I propose to vanish.
           Sooner or later, Professor Barnhouse must die.  But long before then I shall be ready.  So, to the saber-rattlers of today and even, I hope, of tomorrow—I say: Be advised.  Barnhouse will die.  But not the Barnhouse Effect.
            Last night, I tried once more to follow the oblique instructions on the scrap of paper.  I took the professor's dice, and then, with the last, nightmarish sentence flitting through my mind, I rolled fifty consecutive sevens.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Death Warrant for the Hubble Telescope

"Hubble has 3 more years to make amazing discoveries, NASA says"


Karen Kaplan

March 23rd, 2013

Los Angeles Times

Scientists and space junkies got some good news from NASA on Friday: The space agency announced it would keep the Hubble Space Telescope in operation through at least April 30, 2016.

The three-year extension will cost NASA $76 million, according to the announcement. Hubble is operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore through a contract with the Assn. of Universities for Research in Astronomy.

Launched in 1990 from the shuttle Discovery, Hubble has contributed to many scientific breakthroughs. My personal favorite is the 1998 discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate, pushed apart by a mysterious force called dark energy. Cosmologists deduced this by measuring the strength of light from dozens of distant type 1a supernovae and realized that these exploding stars were farther away than had been expected. The scientists behind this discovery (including my college friend Adam Riess) won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

A measurement of the Hubble constant. This is a number that takes the speed at which a distant  galaxy appears to be receding from us and compares it to its actual distance. If you know this, you can figure out how fast the universe is expanding – and thus, how old it is. In 1999, a team of astronomers used Hubble to figure out that the universe is between 12 billion and 14 billion years old. In 2002, another group narrowed the range to 12 billion to 13 billion years. (This week, researchers using the European Space Agency’s Planck space telescope came out with a new estimate of 13.8 billion years based on measurements of the cosmic background radiation, a remnant of the Big Bang.)

How galaxies evolve. The telescope has zeroed in on a tiny region of space known as the Hubble Deep Field, which contains galaxies that were born when the universe was still very young. By examining these smaller galaxies – some as old as 10 billion years – scientists have found important differences between their structures and the spiral and elliptical galaxies near the Milky Way, which are younger. The observations have led scientists to theorize that these early galaxies became the building blocks for the ones that came after, perhaps through mergers and other collisions.

Confirming the existence of supermassive black holes. Hubble’s observations of dozens of galaxies have convinced scientists that such black holes are common in the centers of galaxies, and that their mass is proportional to the mass of the bulge of stars in a galaxy's middle.

Figuring out how planets are formed. Scientists had believed that planets – including those in our own solar system – formed out of the disk of dust and other material that surrounded young stars. In 1994, Hubble provided visual evidence to support this theory, observing that such disks were common around young stars in the Orion Nebula.

Detecting the atmosphere of an exoplanet. When a Jupiter-like planet passed directly in front of its home star, the light from the star was filtered by the planet’s atmosphere. By analyzing the resulting changes, scientists were able to figure out the composition of the exoplanet's atmosphere.

Though still going strong after nearly 23 years, Hubble has a replacement on which scientists are working hard. The James Webb Space Telescope will have a mirror that’s six times bigger, with more than 100 motors to focus it. The new telescope is way over budget and way behind schedule, but NASA officials expect it will launch in 2018.

For a “brief” history of how Hubble came to be, check out this write-up  from NASA. The story begins way back in 1946.

Socializing physicists?...why not

"Are Physics Conferences A Waste ? An Ethical Issue"



March 25th, 2013

Science 2.0

The number of conferences held every year around the world to present and discuss topics in frontier particle physics is surprisingly large: over a hundred per year. Just look at the following list of conferences scheduled in the last three weeks for a proof (and no, March is not very different from other months).

Now, let me straighten out a thing at the outset: I am fully corresponsible, have lived and thrived in the system for twenty years, and so I am in no position to cast stones; on the contrary, I have benefitted from the chance of going to conferences as much as I could in the past, presenting experimental results over once a year on average.

Also, I need to specify that in a way my behavior is not incoherent: in general I am all in favor of as much exchange of information and discussion of scientific results as possible. However, I am struck by the volume of this activity, which forces me to sit back and ponder: can we justify the amount of human resources spent, the infrastructures and money invested, all the gallons of fuel burnt to bring physicist A to exotic place B, etcetera, with the scientific return that we get out of it ? Cannot physicists find less costly ways to communicate and popularize (yes, because in some measure these conferences have also some outreach and "advertising" potential) their results, in an era of global economic crisis and diminishing funding for basic research ?

The answer is quite easy. Of course we cannot justify this plethora of gatherings and we would have easier, time-effective, and completely free ways to discuss our physics results.

A high-energy physics conference usually lasts one week, involves long-distance travel (not infrequently intercontinental one), requires serious organizational efforts and money expenditures (auditoriums, infrastructure, social events and dinners, conference excursions), and takes the largest share of four to six months of work to a group of 6-10 individuals (physicists and administrative staff) to properly organize. Every physicist attending the conference will typically spend 500-600 dollars of registration fee (which includes dinners and excursions), plus some 500 more for travel, plus some 500-1000 more for lodging. This money is usually spent by the University or research institute the physicist belongs to.

Being lazy I much prefer back-of-the-envelope calculations to weeks of accounting, when I am anyway only looking at the orders of magnitude involved. So taking >100 conferences a year, with 250 participants to each, I estimate a total expense of about 40 million dollars per year. In this rough estimate I may be off by a factor of two, but not by a factor of 5.

Now, in principle 40M$ are not a huge sum - we are talking of the whole community of particle physics in the world after all. But if we consider that 80% of these conferences are a surplus -we could well do with a fifth of them without any real consequence to our science- we must conclude that the conference system wastes money, and raises ethical issues.

[ Other fields of research of course are in similar situations, but I cannot discuss the general picture since I do not know it well enough. I only know that in Medicine, for instance, the cost of the (usually huge) conferences is largely born by farmaceutical companies. So there we are in the realm of business, and the ethical issues are of an entirely different kind. Let's leave them alone here. ]

Pros and Cons

I can hear a number of objections to my blaming the multiplication of HEP conferences. I know them all - I have been on both sides of this argument in the past ! Here are a few:

1 - Conferences are important because they bring together people that do not know each other and who can establish useful connections, exchange ideas, create collaborations.

Answer: that is true, but it is doubtful that the average physicist going to a conference benefits from these possibilities. Mostly I see people working on their laptops and caring more for visiting the surroundings (or skiing, or trekking, or sunbathing) than carefully following every presentation and interacting with their peer as much as possible. When they are giving their talk they receive no questions from the audience. Poster sessions go deserted (many conferences have stopped offering a poster session given the zero interest of the participants in reading them).

2 - Conferences are still important because they give young participants the chance to represent their collaboration, gaining credit in their curricula vitae, the chance to publish a proceedings, and experience with presentation skills.

Answer: That is also true, but there would be no need whatsoever of the section "Talks given at conferences" in the resume of a particle physicist, if we used other metrics to judge a candidate for a post-doctoral position or a professorship application. We seem to have created a situation where we need to give presentations at conferences to get recognition, but the recognition is rather useless since everybody - both the smart and the very dumb - has fat chances to represent their collaboration at a physics conference every once in a while.

A LHC experiment with 3000 members must supply of the order of a thousand speakers per year at physics conferences: since many are senior members who do not care to give talks (they can go to the conference and enjoy the benefits regardless of whether they have something to talk about or not, since they usually are funded anyway), even the dumbest, laziest, and least meriting colleague will get to represent the collaboration every year or two.

In fact, when the members of the conference committee of your experiment have to take a decision on whether to accept your application to give a talk at a conference, they will decide based on your self-declared contribution to the experiment, but they will also need to keep an eye on the number of conferences you have attended to in the past, the total number of talks given to members from your institution, etcetera. In other words, merit is not so important in the decision: much more is e.g. your statement that you need the talk in order to enrich your resume since you are about to apply for a job !

Who is to blame?

Conference committees cannot be blamed for basing their decision on those factors: they have been put there exactly to do that. Can collaboration boards be blamed ? Well, they must establish a mechanism by means of which the requests of conference organizers are met. And conference organizers need lots of presentations, since it does not matter whether everybody knows already of result X already, having browsed the slides or watched the streaming of conference Y already held two weeks ago: X fits the program, so it must be in there.

Are conference organizers to be blamed ? Well, their goal is different: they want to create a product (the conference) which they can boast about with their funding agents. Bringing together a large number of scientists from around the world, possibly making headlines in local newspapers and publicizing their institutes, is a good deliverable for them.  As a matter of fact, in some cases conferences bring a lot of good to the science potential of the whole country.

Any way we turn it, it seems like we are left with Clinton's infamous "because I could" answer. We organize conferences because we can, and we go to conferences (possibly held in exotic places or ski resorts) because we can.

I personally am quite happy of having the chance of going to a conference every once in a while. In fact, I attended to one just two weeks ago, although in that case I did not waste a single gallon of fuel since the conference was at walking distance from my home (and I think I well repaid the eur 500 registration fee that INFN paid for me, since with my 50+ articles in the conference blog I practically produced single-handedly a mini-proceedings in real time); but am already planning to attend to another one (in beautiful Crete) in six months. Regardless of my personal gain, the ethical issue remains: we could make better use of those 35 extra million dollars that get burnt in largely unnecessary high-energy physics conferences.

So, one suggestion to Fernando Ferroni, president of the Italian Institute of Nuclear Physics which pays my (ridiculous, but that's not his fault) salary as well as that of 2000 other researchers and administrative staff, and which -using a budget of less than 270 million euros per year, which has been steadily declining by about 3% or so per year in the last ten or so- funds the participation of italian researchers and the construction of apparata for dozens of physics experiments around the world: in a situation where the INFN budget might this year for the first time close in passive, wouldn't it be a sensible thing to do if we applied some self restraint and reduced by, say, 50% our funding for conferences ? There are some technical issues (there are no "conference funds" in the budget but rather travel funds to experiments etc.) but I believe it could be done...

Francis Crick's Nobel Medal up for sale

"Francis Crick's Nobel Prize medal to be auctioned"

The family of Francis Crick, one of three men who received the Nobel Prize for discovering DNA structure, announced a plan to auction his 23-carat gold medal. Part of the proceeds are to be offered to research institutions.


Wynne Parry

February 26, 2013

The Christian Science Monitor

Sixty years after the discovery of DNA's spiraling, ladder-like structure first hinted at the mechanism by which life copies itself, one of the Nobel Prize medals honoring this achievement is up for sale.

Three men who played crucial roles in deciphering DNA's double helix in 1953 later received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The family of one of those men, Francis Crick, plans to sell his medal, the accompanying diploma and other items at auction with a portion of the proceeds set to benefit research institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom.

"It had been tucked away for so long," said Kindra Crick, Francis Crick's 36-year-old granddaughter, of the medal. "We really were interested in finding someone who could look after it, and possibly put it on display so it could inspire the next generation of scientists." Francis Crick passed away in 2004 at the age of 88. 

There is little precedent for this sale. Nobel medals appear to have changed hands publicly in only a couple of instances. This particular medal, like others made before 1980, is struck in 23-carat gold, and recognizes a particularly high-profile accomplishment in biology, one fundamental to modern genetics.

The auction house handling the sale, Heritage Auctions, has valued the medal and diploma at $500,000, which is "an educated guestimate," said Sandra Palomino, Heritage Auctions' director of historical manuscripts. Estimates by Heritage's in-house coin experts went as high as $5 million, Palomino said.

The April auction will also include Crick's award check with his endorsement on the back, the scientist's lab coat, his gardening logs, nautical journals and books. Separately, the family hopes to sell a letter Crick wrote in 1953 to his then-12-year-old son Michael, who is Kindra's father, describing the discovery's meaning. The auction house Christies, which Kindra Crick said is handling the sale, declined to confirm plans to sell this letter.

The medal was not displayed much within Crick's family. Kindra remembers that the Nobel, which she has yet to see herself, was locked in a room with her grandfather's other awards and other family heirlooms after he moved to California at the age of 60. After the scientist's wife, Odile, passed away in 2007, the medal was sequestered in a safe deposit box. Crick's children, including Kindra's father, Michael, attended the award ceremony in 1962, but saw almost nothing of the medal afterward.

Kindra plans to get a look at the medal before the auction.

"My grandfather was not the type of personality to show off," she said. "His conversation tended to be on what's next as opposed to reminiscing about the past … I guess he always thought there was more to come."

Crick's family hopes to see the medal displayed publicly after its sale; however, Kindra Crick acknowledged that a public auction offered no guarantee a buyer would display the award. But she is optimistic, saying those individuals or institutions with enough interest in science to bid on the medal are also likely to display it publicly. [Creative Genius: The World's Greatest Minds]

Crick's family and Heritage Auctions plan to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the medal and the other items to The Francis Crick Institute, a medical research institute scheduled to open in London in 2015. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the letter will go to benefit the Salk Institute in California, where Francis Crick studied consciousness later in his career, Kindra said.

On Feb. 28, 1953, according to legend, Crick and his colleague James Watson announced that they had discovered the "secret of life" in a pub frequented by other Cambridge University scientists.

This followed Watson's realization that the molecular bonds between the two types of base pairs in DNA — adenine with thymine and cytosine with guanine — were identical in shape, suggesting a double helix with complementary halves, Watson recounts in "The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix" (Simon & Schuster, 2012).

This discovery was the result of a combination of approaches; Watson and Crick built models, trying to determine how the molecules known to make up DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) fit together. Meanwhile, two of their colleagues, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, created images by bouncing X-rays off DNA crystals.

One of Franklin's images, called Photograph 51, provided key evidence of a helical shape.

Crick, Watson and Wilkins received the Nobel Prize in 1962. Franklin did not because she passed away in 1958, and the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.
Form means function

In the years prior to this discovery, scientists knew of the existence of DNA (a type of molecule known as a nucleic acid), but not what it looked like or its true function. They also knew genes carried traits from generation to generation, but many scientists believed genes to be made of proteins, said Jan Witkowski, executive director of the Banbury Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

The discovery of the structure of DNA was key to understanding the molecule's function as the code for genes. Watson and Crick understood this, but when they described their discovery in a paper in the journal Nature in April 1953, they wrote coyly of the implications: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for genetic material."

However, in the letter to 12-year-old Michael, dated March 19, 1953, Crick drew a diagram spelling out the scientists' theory of how DNA replicated: the double helix and its base-pair rungs separated to create templates for new strands.

"In other words, we think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life," Crick wrote to his son. The scientists signed the letter, which appears in "The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix," "lots of love, Daddy."

A geneticist himself, Witkowski lists the discovery of the structure of DNA as one of the three most pivotal accomplishments in biology, along with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and Gregor Mendel's principles of inheritance. 

"Of course, it wasn't so much what each discovery was in itself, but what avenues it opened up and what it led on to," said Witkowski, who with Alexander Gann, edited the "Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix."

"Francis Crick's Nobel Prize gold medal heading to auction"


Paul Gilkes

March 13th, 2013

Coin World

British scientist Dr. Francis Harry Compton Crick’s gold 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, for co-discovering the structure of DNA, will cross the auction block April 11 in New York City.

The medal, accompanied by Crick’s Nobel diploma and medal presentation case, is one of 11 lots consigned by Crick’s heirs to be included in Heritage Auctions April 10 and 11 Historical Manuscripts Signature Auction.

It is the second Nobel Prize medal to be offered at public auction in six months. The Danish auction house Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers in November 2012 sold the 1975 Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to Danish physicist Aage Niels Bohr. Bohr was one of three Nobel laureates recognized for Physics. He was the son of Niels Henrik David Bohr, also a 1922 Nobel Prize winning physicist.

The Bohr medal realized 280,000 Danish kroner or the equivalent of about $47,755 in U.S. funds at auction. The Crick medal has an opening bid of $500,000.

The Crick items consigned to the Heritage Auctions sale include Crick’s endorsed Nobel Prize check, dated Dec. 10, 1962, for his one-third share of the prize money, and one of his lab coats.

Also being offered are nautical logbooks, gardening journals and books from Crick’s personal collection.

The sale is being held by Heritage at the Ukrainian Institute of America at The Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, 2 E. 79th St., New York.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the consigned Crick items will be used to promote scientific research at the new Francis Crick Institute in London, set to be completed in 2015.


Dr. Crick and two of his fellow researchers — Dr. James Dewey Watson and Dr. Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins — received their medals from the hand of King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall on Dec. 10, 1962.

Rosalind Franklin, who also contributed to the DNA discovery, died in 1958 before the Nobel was awarded. It is not awarded posthumously.

“The whole family went to the grand ceremony in Stockholm where the Nobel Prizes were awarded by the King of Sweden,”
said Michael Crick, Dr. Crick’s son, continuing, “My Dad dressed for the occasion, gave a speech and danced with my sister, Gabrielle. It was a great honor to be there.”

After receiving the medal, however, Dr. Crick — never one to rest on his laurels — went right back to work, Michael Crick said of his father.

“We know he deeply appreciated the recognition by his peers,”
Michael Crick said, “but he did not talk much about winning the medal after the event. That was the thing about my Dad; he was a very focused scientist and after DNA he went on to work on the mechanism of protein synthesis, deciphering the three-letter nature of the genetic code and determining the origins of life on earth. He was a driven scientist his whole life.

“At 60, he turned his attention to theoretical neurobiology and for the next 28 years helped advance the study of human consciousness.”

The medal

Dr. Crick’s medal has been secured in a safe deposit box in California since Dr. Crick’s widow, Odile, passed away July 5, 2007, according to Heritage officials. Dr. Crick died July 28, 2004, in San Diego, Calif.

Dr. Crick’s medal is one of the three Nobel Prize medals presented to the researchers “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material,” according to, the official Nobel Prize website. It was a discovery that launched a scientific revolution and forever changed man’s understanding of life, according to the website.

Designed by Swedish artist Erik Lindberg, the 65-millimeter medal weighs 198.6 grams.

Struck in 23-karat gold, the obverse features a side portrait of Alfred Nobel with the dates of his birth and death in Roman numerals. The reverse “ ... represents the Genius of Medicine holding an open book in her lap, collecting the water pouring out from a rock in order to quench a sick girl’s thirst,” according to the auction lot description.

An inscription appears above the figures, reading: INVENTAS VITAM JUVAT EXCOLUISSE PER ARTES. Taken from the sixth song, verse 663, of Virgil’s Aeneid, it is translated as “Inventions Enhance Life Which Is Beautified Through Art.”

The lower outside section of the medal bears a second inscription, REG. UNIVERSITAS MED. CHIR. CAROL (“The Karolinska Institutet”).

The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet, a medical university in Europe, is responsible for choosing the laureates for the award for Physiology or Medicine.

Dr. Crick’s initials and surname are engraved on the reverse of his Nobel Prize medal, along with the year of the prize, 1962, presented in Roman numerals: F. H. C. CRICK/MCMLXII. The second piece of the prize, the Nobel diploma — on two vellum pages, 9.5 inches by 13.5 inches, handwritten in Swedish, dated Stockholm, October 18, 1962 — is also included.

Anniversary of discovery

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the historic discovery of the structure of DNA and 50 years have passed since Francis Crick was awarded the Nobel Prize,” said Kindra Crick, Dr. Crick’s granddaughter. “For most of that time, the Nobel Prize and the unique personal diploma have been locked up. By auctioning his Nobel, it will finally be made available for public display and be well looked after. Our hope is that, by having it available for display, it can be an inspiration to the next generation of scientists.”


Francis Harry Compton Crick was born on June 8th, 1916, at Northampton, England, being the elder child of Harry Crick and Annie Elizabeth Wilkins. He has one brother, A. F. Crick, who is a doctor in New Zealand.

Crick was educated at Northampton Grammar School and Mill Hill School, London. He studied physics at University College, London, obtained a B.Sc. in 1937, and started research for a Ph.D. under Prof E. N. da C. Andrade, but this was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. During the war he worked as a scientist for the British Admiralty, mainly in connection with magnetic and acoustic mines. He left the Admiralty in 1947 to study biology.

Supported by a studentship from the Medical Research Council and with some financial help from his family, Crick went to Cambridge and worked at the Strangeways Research Laboratory. In 1949 he joined the Medical Research Council Unit headed by M. F. Perutz of which he has been a member ever since. This Unit was for many years housed in the Cavendish Laboratory Cambridge, but in 1962 moved into a large new building - the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology - on the New Hospital site. He became a research student for the second time in 1950, being accepted as a member of Caius College, Cambridge, and obtained a Ph.D. in 1954 on a thesis entitled «X-ray diffraction: polypeptides and proteins».

During the academic year 1953-1954 Crick was on leave of absence at the Protein Structure Project of the Brooklyn Polytechnic in Brooklyn, New York. He has also lectured at Harvard, as a Visiting Professor, on two occasions, and has visited other laboratories in the States for short periods.

In 1947 Crick knew no biology and practically no organic chemistry or crystallography, so that much of the next few years was spent in learning the elements of these subjects. During this period, together with W. Cochran and V. Vand he worked out the general theory of X-ray diffraction by a helix, and at the same time as L. Pauling and R. B. Corey, suggested that the alpha-keratin pattern was due to alpha-helices coiled round each other.

A critical influence in Crick's career was his friendship, beginning in 1951, with J. D. Watson, then a young man of 23, leading in 1953 to the proposal of the double-helical structure for DNA and the replication scheme. Crick and Watson subsequently suggested a general theory for the structure of small viruses.

Crick in collaboration with A. Rich has proposed structures for polyglycine II and collagen and (with A. Rich, D. R. Davies, and J. D.Watson) a structure for polyadenylic acid.

In recent years Crick, in collaboration with S. Brenner, has concentrated more on biochemistry and genetics leading to ideas about protein synthesis (the «adaptor hypothesis»), and the genetic code, and in particular to work on acridine-type mutants.

Crick was made an F.R.S. in 1959. He was awarded the Prix Charles Leopold Meyer of the French Academy of Sciences in 1961, and the Award of Merit of the Gairdner Foundation in 1962. Together with J. D. Watson he was a Warren Triennial Prize Lecturer in 1959 and received a Research Corporation Award in 1962. With J. D. Watson and M. H. F. Wilkins he was presented with a Lasker Foundation Award in 1960. In 1962 he was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Fellow of University College, London. He was a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, in 1960-1961, and is now a non-resident Fellow of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, San Diego, California.

In 1940 Crick married Ruth Doreen Dodd. Their son, Michael F. C. Crick is a scientist. They were divorced in 1947. In 1949 Crick married Odile Speed. They have two daughters, Gabrielle A. Crick and Jacqueline M. T. Crick. The family lives in a house appropriately called «The Golden Helix», in which Crick likes to find his recreation in conversation with his friends.