Monday, September 29, 2008

Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice

Just discovered this the other day. Check it out.

The Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP) aims to create an interdisciplinary community of scholars who approach the philosophy of science with a focus on scientific practice and the practical uses of scientific knowledge.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Humorous faux pox

"Science journal in doghouse after Obama and McCain upstaged by young pups"

Latest issue of Nature compares presidential candidates on science, technology - but has unfortunate advert on back cover

September 26th, 2008

Times Online

As weighty reads go, it doesn't get much more serious than the men vying to become the world's leading politician in conversation with the world's leading scientific journal.

And the latest issue of Nature has a front cover of suitable gravitas, evenly split between statesmanlike images of the US presidential contenders.

Pity no one told the advertising department. In an eerie mirror image, the magazine's back cover features two labrador pups, one black, one golden, in uncannily similar poses to Barack Obama, famously the first African American candidate for a major party, and his rival John McCain, looking bronzed by Arizona sun.

The journal swears they were not being deliberately cheeky. "We didn't know until the issue landed on our desks," Nature pleads. "It just goes to show that editorial and advertising aren't working in cahoots."

In which case it must be just the power of suggestion which makes the dog on the left look a little more hopeful, but a little less experienced. And which stirs up a strong desire to tickle John McCain behind the ears.

The journal promises to expore "how John McCain and Barack Obama developed their stances on science; who is advising them on technical issues; and where they might take the country if elected". Plus in-depth insights on the candidates' stances on evolution, stem-cell research and climate change. Nothing about cloning, though. Perhaps that's just as well.

Obama gleans many Nobel laureates' support

I am not sure if this is that significant for it may be a case of supporting the best of the worst. Furthermore, such approbation from the scientists will not sway that many people. The Obama science rhetoric is just that..."rhetoric". He has far too may more important issues, if elected, to address.

"US Nobel laureates: vote Obama"


Jon Cartwright

September 26th, 2008

On the eve of the first US presidential debate, a host of Nobel Prize winners in the sciences signed an open letter to "urge" the nation to vote for the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama.

Sixty-one US Nobel laureates, including 22 who won the prize for physics, made the stand yesterday after Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, published an 11-page policy document entitled, "Investing in America's future: Barack Obama and Joe Biden's plan for science and innovation". The plan builds on aspects of Obama's science policies that he drafted at the end of last month in response to 14 questions posed by the organization ScienceDebate 2008.

The letter signed by the laureates reads: "The country urgently needs a visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology and who can harness those strengths to address many of our greatest problems: energy, disease, climate change, security, and economic competitiveness."

"We are convinced that Senator Barack Obama is such a leader, and we urge you to join us in supporting him."

Phil Anderson, who shared the 1977 Nobel Prize for Physics and who was one of the signatories, told that voting for Obama in November would be a "no-brainer". Referring to why he would not choose John McCain, the Republican nominee, he added: "There are too many obvious reasons to pick one. Let me name three. 1. Torture; 2. Tax cuts for the rich; 3. A [running mate, Sarah Palin] who believes in the Apocalypse and not in evolution."
Five-point plan

In their plan, Obama and Biden herald a "new era" of scientific innovation that will, in essence:

* Restore integrity to US science policy by employing a presidential assistant who is well-versed in science. This assistant will be announced quickly to "signal the importance of science" and "participate in critical early decisions". Obama also vows to pick those with "unquestioned reputations for integrity and objectivity" when appointing managers who must consider scientific advice. Moreover, he intends to establish guidelines that will guarantee scientific results "are released in a timely manner and are not distorted by ideological biases".

* Double over 10 years federal spending on basic research to better understanding "from the size of the universe to the nature of subatomic particles". The Democratic candidate criticizes current under-investment in the sciences, promising greater support for high-risk, high-return research and for young scientists. But he notes that he will specifically push multidisciplinary research because "the challenges we face, such as the transition to a low-carbon economy, cannot be addressed by researchers from any single discipline".

* Make a commitment to science and education training by boosting numbers of K-12 (primary and secondary) maths and science teachers. Obama will offer a fully refundable, $4000 credit to tempt students into college in return for 100 hours of public service. He also promises to triple graduate research fellowships from the National Science Foundation from 1000 to 3000, while striving to educate other US citizens on science through the media and internet.

* Encourage US innovation to flourish by establishing a permanent tax credit for R&D, increasing patent quality to "reduce uncertainty and wasteful litigation", and improving visa programmes to attract overseas contributors to the technology industry.

* Address the "grand challenges" of the 21st century such as developing clean, affordable energy. The Illinois senator pledges double the current spending on clean energy R&D. In addition, he wants to "restore" the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in supporting technological breakthroughs, in particular areas such as microsystems, nanotechnology and information technology.

Cool with science

Obama beat McCain by more than two weeks to answering the questions posed by ScienceDebate — an organization formed last year that tried, and failed, to persuade the presidential candidates to attend a televised debate on science policy. On Wednesday, Obama again trumped the Republican by being the only candidate to answer 18 science-related questions asked by the journal Nature.

Now the decision to put those all of those answers on a surer footing will make the Democratic hopeful appear to take the opinions of scientists seriously.

Obama responds to science questions

NASA images @ Internet Archive

I am sure most web users are familiar with the Internet Archive website...the huge repository of of books, music, films, and old websites. Now the Internet Archive has joined NASA to archive thousands of NASA photographs.

Here is the press release from NASA:

David E. Steitz
Headquarters, Washington July 24, 2008

Paul Hickman
Internet Archive
415-462-1509, 415-561-6767

RELEASE: 08-173


WASHINGTON -- NASA and Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library based in San Francisco, made available the most comprehensive compilation ever of NASA's vast collection of photographs, historic film and video Thursday. Located at, the Internet site combines for the first time 21 major NASA imagery collections into a single, searchable online resource. A link to the Web site will appear on the home page.

The Web site launch is the first step in a five-year partnership that will add millions of images and thousands of hours of video and audio content, with enhanced search and viewing capabilities, and new user features on a continuing basis. Over time, integration of with will become more seamless and comprehensive.

"This partnership with Internet Archive enables NASA to provide the American public with access to its vast collection of imagery from one searchable source, unlocking a new treasure trove of discoveries for students, historians, enthusiasts and researchers," said NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale. "This new resource also will enable the agency to digitize and preserve historical content now not available on the Internet for future generations."

Through a competitive process, NASA selected Internet Archive to manage the NASA Images Web site under a non-exclusive Space Act agreement, signed in July 2007. The five-year project is at no cost to the taxpayer and the images are free to the public.

"NASA's media is an incredibly important and valuable national asset. It is a tremendous honor for the Internet Archive to be NASA's partner in this project," says Brewster Kahle, founder of Internet Archive. "We are excited to mark this first step in a long-term collaboration to create a rich and growing public resource."

The content of the Web site covers all the diverse activities of America's space program, including imagery from the Apollo moon missions, Hubble Space Telescope views of the universe and experimental aircraft past and present. Keyword searching is available with easy-to-use resources for teachers and students.

Internet Archive is developing the NASA Images project using software donated by Luna Imaging Inc. of Los Angeles and with the generous support of the Kahle-Austin Foundation of San Francisco.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

For more information about Internet Archive, visit:

The image repository

Deceased--Joel Bloom

Joel Bloom
August 5th, 1925 to September 23rd, 2008

"Joel Bloom, Science Exhibit Innovator, Is Dead at 83"


Dennis Hevesi

September 26th, 2008

The New York Times

Joel N. Bloom, who in his 21 years as director of the science museum and planetarium at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia transformed a lackluster exhibition space into a bright and appealing one with hands-on experiments and walk-through exhibits, including a giant, pulsing human cell, died Tuesday in Livingston, N.J. He was 83 and lived in Philadelphia.

The cause was respiratory failure, said his daughter, Margo Bloom.

Mr. Bloom was director and president of the museum and the planetarium, which are divisions of the 184-year-old Franklin Institute, from 1969 to 1990. Among other projects, he was a prime mover in the conception and development of a museum of the future.

Now called the Mandell Futures Center, the $71 million, 90,000-square-foot wing of the institute over the years has offered exhibits of experimental high-speed trains propelled by magnets, a computer microchip lodged in the brain of a robot woman that may some day help blind people to see, prototypes of high-definition television and global positioning systems, and displays of undersea gardening. Visitors can walk into a throbbing, sloshing human cell, magnified a million times to the size of a 30-foot dome.

For 12 years, a full-size Boeing 707 was part of the museum collection, until, under Mr. Bloom's direction, the space was taken over by an Imax theater.

Dennis M. Wint, the president and chief executive of the Franklin Institute, said in an interview on Thursday that Mr. Bloom "was a thought leader for the field back in the '70s."

"He embraced using new methodologies — some from science, some from show business — to engage visitors," Mr. Wint continued. "It was not the old encyclopedic approach, but a way to provide a hands-on, interactive experience."

When Mr. Bloom retired in 1990, The Philadelphia Inquirer credited him with "taking the lead" in transforming the institute "from a dusty bin of outmoded exhibits into what is probably the most advanced science museum in the world."

In 1993, the American Association of Museums presented him with its Award for Distinguished Service to Museums; and in 2002, the Franklin dedicated its renovated observatory as the Joel N. Bloom Observatory.

Joel Nachum Bloom was born in Brooklyn on Aug. 5, 1925, one of two sons of Phillip and Minnie Shainmark Bloom. His father held many jobs, including selling insurance, and his mother taught Hebrew.

As a boy, Mr. Bloom spent many Saturdays at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. One of his favorite exhibits, he said in a speech to the American Association of Museums in 1991, was a war canoe of the Haida tribe, described as the "Indian Vikings of the Northwest Coast."

"I would stand beside this canoe and think and dream," Mr. Bloom said. "I don’t know if I would have become a scientist and then a museum director if that canoe had not inspired me to ask questions."

After seeing combat as an Army sergeant in Europe during World War II, Mr. Bloom earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1949. Five years later, he received a master's degree in operations research from Columbia.

Mr. Bloom married Paula Yackira in 1948; she died in 2006. Besides his daughter, he is survived by his brother, Gabriel; two sons, Ron and Dan; and six grandchildren.

For several years, the Blooms lived in Israel, where Mr. Bloom worked for the defense ministry. Then, in 1958, he was hired by the Franklin Institute as director of its systems science division. In 1968, he was asked to draw up a plan to redesign the science museum, and a year later he was named director, to carry out that plan.

"People are primates; they learn by touching," Mr. Bloom said in 1990, just before the Futures Center opened. "We're showbiz, and there is no conflict between that and first-class content."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Anthrax, Ivins, FBI--more

Weakness in character assessment and a bungling FBI?

"Anthrax-Case Affidavits Add to Bizarre Portrait"


Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane

September 25th, 2008

The New York Times

A judge unsealed a new batch of court documents in the anthrax case on Wednesday, filling in further details of the bizarre behavior of Bruce E. Ivins, the Army scientist who the F.B.I. has said carried out the letter attacks of 2001.

Last September, according to a sworn statement from an F.B.I. agent, Dr. Ivins sent himself an exuberant e-mail message under the heading "Finally! I know Who mailed the anthrax!" He did not identify the perpetrator but said he was close to assembling the final proof.

"I'm not looking forward to everybody getting dragged through the mud, but at least it will all be over," Dr. Ivins wrote, adding, "I should have been a private eye!!!!" and signing the message "Bruce."

The documents do not speculate about his motive, though Dr. Ivins was aware by that time that he was under suspicion and might have believed that his e-mail — he maintained at least eight e-mail addresses — was being monitored.

Dr. Ivins, 62, an anthrax vaccine specialist at Fort Detrick, Md., killed himself with an overdose of medication in July after learning that he was likely to be charged in the death of five people exposed to the anthrax-laced letters. The F.B.I. has said he carried out the attacks alone, but friends, colleagues and lawmakers have said they remain skeptical about the evidence the bureau has made public.

The hundreds of pages of search-warrant affidavits made public on Wednesday, after a request by The New York Times, offer no major disclosures. Rather, the documents, unsealed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court here and posted online by the Justice Department, add to a portrait of Dr. Ivins's eccentric personality and threatening statements as he faced possible murder charges.

For instance, the documents give a fuller account of a group therapy session on July 9 where Dr. Ivins said that he was a suspect in the anthrax investigation and "that he was angry at the investigators, the government and the system in general."

"He said he was not going to face the death penalty but instead had a plan to kill co-workers and other individuals who had wronged him," an affidavit by a federal agent said, citing accounts of those present.

A search of Dr. Ivins's home in Frederick, Md., three days later found ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a homemade body armor plate, the documents say. F.B.I. agents had already taken guns and ammunition from the house in a search the previous November.

In a further development related to the case, an Army document released this week to The Frederick News-Post revealed that Dr. Ivins was placed on administrative leave and barred from all laboratory space at Fort Detrick in March after spilling anthrax on himself and failing to report the incident immediately. Before telling anyone, he walked home and washed and dried his clothes, the report said.

Earlier, after the November search of his home, he had been barred from the most secure laboratories. But until March, he had been allowed to use less secure areas, where, Army officials said Wednesday, he spilled a nonlethal strain of anthrax.

"Ivins claimed he knew who sent anthrax"

Unsealed documents indicate that the suspect was consumed with the criminal case closing in on him


David Willman

September 24th, 2008

Los Angeles Times

On Sept. 7, 2007, as investigators were building the case against him for the deadly anthrax mailings, Army scientist Bruce E. Ivins sent himself an excited e-mail titled, "Finally! I know Who mailed the anthrax!"

The e-mail -- along with other correspondence showing that Ivins more recently mused about how to blind or kill a reality TV participant -- was among previously confidential investigative documents unsealed on Wednesday by a federal judge.

Ivins, 62, a microbiologist who specialized in handling anthrax at the Army's biological warfare research facility at Ft. Detrick, Md., died July 29 in a suicide. Justice Department prosecutors were preparing to charge him in connection with the anthrax mailings, which in 2001 killed five people and sickened or injured 17 others.

The unsealed documents had originally been submitted by investigators last month to win the judge's permission to search seven e-mail accounts that Ivins had maintained. Federal officials declined to comment on the newly unsealed e-mails, which had remained under wraps while investigators combed through Ivins' correspondence.

At face value, the new e-mails reinforce the view that Ivins was consumed with the criminal case closing in on him and, in the final months of his life, behaved in a way that suggested madness.

By early September 2007, the FBI had determined with the help of outside experts that the anthrax used in the mailings originated in a flask of material maintained by Ivins at Ft. Detrick.

But the bureau had not yet done all of the investigative work necessary to exclude as suspects colleagues of Ivins at Ft. Detrick and scientists elsewhere who also had worked with or had access to the material, labeled RMR 1029.

It was against that backdrop that Ivins, at 5:49 p.m. EDT on Sept. 7, sent the e-mail to himself, proclaiming that he had solved the case. Sent from one of the addresses he had registered, KingBadger7@aol .com, Ivins wrote:

"Yes! Yes! Yes!!!!!!! I finally know who mailed the anthrax letters in the fall of 2001. I've pieced it together! Now we can finally get all of this over and done with. I have to check a couple of things to make sure ... absolutely sure . . . and then I can turn over the info. I'll probably turn it over to my lawyer, and then he'll turn info over to the authorities."

Ivins added -- in an apparent reference to his colleagues at Ft. Detrick:

"I'm not looking forward to everybody getting dragged through the mud, but at least it will all be over. Finally! I should have it TOTALLY nailed down within the month. I should have been a private eye!!!!"

Paul F. Kemp, a lawyer whom Ivins had hired to represent him, said that the e-mail "was a note with himself to discuss with me certain information that he wanted to pass on to the FBI. He did, and I passed it on. It was an attempt to say who might have had access to the beaker" containing the RMR 1029 anthrax.

Officials from the FBI and the Justice Department have said that their investigation determined that Ivins, alone, perpetrated the anthrax mailings. Kemp has said that he would have won Ivins' acquittal had the case gone to trial.

Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) introduced legislation Wednesday calling for a "9/11-style" commission to investigate the anthrax mailings.

Holt does not have any co-sponsors for his bill, an aide said.

As for the e-mails in which Ivins discussed the TV participant, federal officials said they brought these to the attention of the judge because they wanted to search for any evidence that Ivins had targeted witnesses in the anthrax case, according to the court documents. In the e-mails, Ivins focused on Kathryn Price, who appeared in 2001 in episodes of "The Mole," an ABC-TV reality series.

The FBI, after searching Ivins' trash outside his home, found mentions of addresses that enabled investigators to trace to him this e-mail, discussing how another participant in the "The Mole" could have detected Price's arranged role as the show's spoiler from within.

"He should have taken the hatchet and brought it down hard and sharply across her neck, severing her carotid artery and jugular vein," Ivins wrote in early July. "Then when she hits the ground, he completes the task on the other side of the neck, severing her trachea. . . . I personally would have paid big money to have do[n]e it myself."

Ivins also wrote, "The least someone could do would be to take a sharp ballpoint pin or letter opener and put her eyes out, to complete the task of making her a true mole!" error by the FBI?

"FBI did not analyze anthrax from biodefense lab"


Dan Vergano and Steve Sternberg



The FBI never examined anthrax samples from the 2001 contamination of a biodefense lab that was covered up by their lead suspect in the anthrax mailings — a decision that one of the FBI's leading anthrax experts calls "weird."

Researcher Bruce Ivins in 2002 confessed to cleaning up the office contamination without telling anyone during an Army investigation at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. Ivins became a suspect in 2005 in the mailings that killed five and sickened 17.

FBI investigators have not yet analyzed the genetic fingerprints of 25 anthrax samples supplied from the lab contamination investigation, says Vahid Majidi of the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate.

"They're still in my lab," says Paul Keim, a microbiologist at Northern Arizona University. Keim called the FBI's decision not to examine the contamination samples "weird" given the intensity of investigators' focus on biodefense researchers, which included polygraphs of Army institute researchers.

Keim, until June, retained duplicates of the FBI's repository of 1,070 anthrax samples collected from researchers worldwide after the mailbox attacks. Genetic fingerprints of those repository samples eliminated suspects other than Ivins by 2007, says FBI lab director Chris Hassell.

The investigation into the 2001 anthrax mailings has drawn harsh reviews from critics in recent Senate and House hearings, such as Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who questioned whether one person could have carried out the attacks. The Justice Department publicly named Ivins, 62, as their lead suspect in the attacks in August, days after his suicide.

Ivins' attorney, Paul Kemp, says his client was innocent and suggested many researchers had access to the anthrax identified by genetic fingerprints.

Before landing on the FBI's radar, Ivins emerged as the central figure in the separate investigation of anthrax contamination at Fort Detrick, where he confessed to cleaning up spilled anthrax in his office without telling superiors. "I had no desire to cry wolf," Ivins told an Army investigator at the time. The Army's investigation found samples of the type of anthrax used in the letter attacks on Ivins' desk and elsewhere in his office, according to a report May 9, 2002.

"Why didn't (the FBI) analyze it? One presumes this was pretty relevant evidence," says biodefense analyst Michael Stebbins of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., who was not part of the investigation. "It raises questions about systematic errors in the FBI investigation."

Majidi, an FBI scientist involved in the investigation, says the bureau viewed the 2002 contamination investigation as an Army matter. As a result, he says, the FBI never submitted samples from Ivins' office for the detailed genetic analysis that later tied a flask in his laboratory to the anthrax used in the attacks.

"I don't know" why the FBI never analyzed the 2002 anthrax in Ivins' office, says Debbie Weierman of the FBI's Washington Field Office. "Suspicion on him was immense, if you look at this in hindsight."

For Keim, the revelation in August that the FBI had shifted its focus to Ivins cast the omission in a new light. In 2002, he says, "I got the samples and thought, 'What a sloppy place.' But I'm starting to think Bruce was taking anthrax out of his lab and then covering his tracks."

FBI firm on conclusion on anthrax case

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Universities and money lenders...good idea?

I cannot say that I approve of this not illegal but somewhat unethical relationship between universities and money lenders. It is bad enough dealing with all of the high costs of higher education and now the temptation of convenience and status and being a victim of money lender's marketing schemes.

The USC Daily Trojan reported the following...

"For 'SC, cash windfall from credit card deal"

USC receives a cut of transactions made with affinity cards, can release student information


Daniel Doperlaski

September 23rd, 2008

Daily Trojan

As the nation grapples with its credit crisis, the agreements credit card companies make with universities - including USC - are highlighting the complex relationship between schools and these companies and the difficult time students can have navigating the credit game.

The deals allow banks and credit card companies to pay millions of dollars to universities in exchange for student and alumni information, exclusive rights to market on campus and access to school logos and trademarks.

USC has a similar agreement with Bank of America, which offers a USC-themed affinity card geared toward members of the USC community. In exchange for the right to use the USC name and logo, the university gets a share of the revenue generated from the card.

"There is compensation generated from the cards and their use, such as merchants who are charged fees to accept credit cards," said Elizabeth Kennedy, director of USC trademarks and licensing services.

Kennedy would not say whether USC gets a share of other fees, such as late fees or interest generated when cardholders spend beyond their means.

"[Transactions fees] are one example of a revenue stream. There are others," she said.

It is also unclear whether Bank of America paid a hefty premium for exclusive rights to the USC community.

"I can tell you that typically all the agreements USC has that use our name in products, there is some aspect of that," she said.

Kennedy stressed the card is geared toward alumni and fans, but she said Bank of America does have limited rights to market to students on campus as well as the right to request student addresses for promotional mailings.

"The affinity card is not geared toward students, but it is possible a student would sign up for a card at a football game," she said.

USC professor Raphael Bostic, an expert on fair trade and lending, explained that affinity cards are just one part of the long-term marketing strategies employed by credit card companies. But Bostic also said the deals raise questions about whether schools are encouraging students to obtain credit cards that could later land them in financial trouble.

"What credit card companies are trying to do is get students affiliated with their products early and they hope those relationships are enduring," Bostic said. "It is a question of, does this benefit the students as much as it benefits the company?"

Bank of America offers "premiums" or giveaways for students or alumni who fill out a card application. Last year's applicants received a free USC blanket. These giveaways are a point of contention for critics who say young people are easily lured by free merchandise but do not understand the risks associated with credit cards.

Last spring the USC chapter of CalPIRG ran a satirical campaign intended to educate students on the marketing tactics credit card companies use to attract new customers. One sign offered a fictitious credit card, called a FEESA card, with the headline, "Free gifts now. Huge fees later."

USC CalPIRG President Nelson Chen, a senior majoring in political science and environmental studies, said he has seen credit card companies using giveaways to market to students on campus.

"They used to give out free Subway sandwiches if you signed up for a card," Chen said.

Though promotions such as these have become less visible on campus, Bank of America is still allowed to market the affinity card at events with a large alumni following - such as football games and during homecoming.

Hannah Bayer, a senior majoring in business administration, said she understands the potential pitfalls that can occur if credit is misused. Last year she found herself low on spending money during the last week of school and decided to use her credit card to charge things she would normally have paid for with cash.

"Once I started spending money that I didn't have instead of spending like I would have, I would spend $5 or $10 here or there and pretty soon I owed $100."

Bayer was also forced to rely on her credit card when her identity was stolen. She used her card to buy necessities until the bank could sort out the charges on her debit card.

"I had to use my credit card after my identity got stolen. In that sense it helped me," she said.

Credit can help college students build up their credit score, said Lynn Strang, vice president for American Financial Services Association, a trade association that represents the interests of major credit card companies in Washington, D.C. But Strang also warned students to be careful about incurring bad credit so early in their financial careers.

"Once you get out of school, you are going to need a car and you may want to buy a house and take out a loan," she said. "Having access to credit as a young adult is an opportunity to establish a credit history and prove you can handle credit responsibly."

She does, however, advise students to be aware of their spending habits and recommends young adults keep a close eye on their credit score.

"If somebody files for bankruptcy, it can stay on your credit history for ten years. If it is other negative information it can stay on there for several years. If [the information] is accurate the only thing that is going to clear it up is time," Strang said.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

LHC shut down for maintenance

I suppose this will make some people happy.

"Hadron Collider halted for months"

September 20th. 2008

BBC News

The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva will be out of action for at least two months, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) says.

Part of the new collider was turned off for the weekend while engineers investigated a magnet failure.

But a Cern spokesman said the damage to the £3.6bn ($6.6bn) particle accelerator was worse than anticipated.

The failure, known as a quench, caused around 100 of the LHC's super-cooled magnets to heat up by as much as 100C.

The fire brigade were called out after a tonne of liquid helium leaked into the tunnel at Cern, near Geneva.

Cern spokesman James Gillies said the sector that was damaged will have to be warmed up well above absolute zero so that repairs can be made.

Cern would have to shut off the new particle collider do to the repairs, he added.


The first beams were fired successfully around the accelerator's 27km (16.7 miles) underground ring over a week ago.

The crucial next step is to collide those beams head on. However, the fault appears to have ruled out any chance of these experiments taking place for the next two months at least.

The quench occurred during final testing of the last of the LHC's electrical circuits to be commissioned.

At 1127 (0927 GMT) on Friday, the LHC's online logbook recorded a quench in sector 3-4 of the accelerator, which lies between the Alice and CMS detectors.

The entry stated that helium had been lost to the tunnel and that vacuum conditions had also been lost.

It added that the Cern fire brigade had been called to the scene.

he superconducting magnets in the LHC must be supercooled to 1.9 kelvin above absolute zero, to allow them to steer particle beams around the circuit.

As a result of the quench, the temperature of about 100 of the magnets in the machine's final sector rose by around 100C.

The setback came just a day after the LHC's beam was restored after engineers replaced a faulty transformer that had hindered progress for much of the past week.

"LHC loses liquid helium"


Jon Cartwright

September 19th, 2008

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has lost up to a tonne of liquid helium after some of its superconducting magnets inadvertently heated up this morning, has learnt.

A log entry written by the current LHC co-ordinator at 11:27 am CET (10:27 am BST) states that there has been a “massive quench” in sector 3–4. Quenches occur when superfluid helium in the magnets rises above its operating temperature of 1.9 K, and can be caused, for example, when a proton beam veers off course.

According to the entry, firefighters were dispatched to that area of the tunnel. It also says that the vacuum in that part of the beam pipe was lost.

A source at CERN, the European lab hosting the accelerator, says that the quench caused one tonne of superfluid helium — about 1% of the LHC’s total — to escape.

An official spokesperson was not available for comment. However, a message on the machine’s website states: "During the commissioning of the final LHC sector (sector 3–4) for 5 TeV operation, an incident occurred at 12:05 [am] today resulting in a large helium leak into the tunnel. Further details are not yet known. Investigations will continue over the weekend and more information will be made available as soon as possible."

An LHC status report on the same website shows that temperatures are now being brought down, implying that technicians have been able to replace the lost helium.

The problem will be a disappointment to the operations team, who had enjoyed a highly successful media day last week when they circulated beams of protons in both directions around the machine’s 27 km-long ring.

Must have been chaos...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

LHC and new technologies

Despite the "doomsday" rhetoric the technological possibilities from LHC science are much larger as well as obtaining a better cosmological understanding of the universe.

"Large Hadron Collider to Have "Practical" Spin-Offs?"


John Roach

September 12th, 2008

National Geographic News

A multibillion-dollar atom smasher on the Franco-Swiss border may help scientists treat diseases, improve the Internet, and open the door to travel through extra dimensions, according to physicists.

On Wednesday scientists cheered and champagne flowed as the first beam of protons lapped around the Large Hadron Collider's (LHC) 17-mile (27-kilometer) underground tunnel at the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

The collider, the world's largest particle accelerator, was designed to solve big mysteries in science, such as the nature of dark matter and what the universe was like just after the big bang.

The massive machine could also lead to medical and technological advances, some experts argue.

Such potential breakthroughs are often an "ancillary benefit" of big science projects like the LHC, said Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and author at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Still, Krauss said, these benefits are a misguided way to justify building the atom smasher.

"It's like trying to argue that manned space missions were useful for Tang," he said, referring to the powdered drink mix popularized in U.S. households by NASA in the 1960s.

"Our job as scientists is to explain that these esoteric things [such as dark matter] are not completely unrelated to humanity," he added. "Ultimately, we address the questions of how we got here and what we're made of."

Already Providing Benefits

In the months ahead, scientists will use the LHC to ramp up opposing proton beams to nearly light speed and smash particles together, breaking them into smaller components.

Monstrous detectors will pore through the detritus, helping scientists examine the conditions of the very early universe.

The computer network set up to process the mountains of data generated by each collision is already inspiring spin-offs, noted Andy Parker, a professor of high energy physics at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, who helped design the grid system.

Parker is also involved with a Cambridge-based company that is using the grid technology, which links together thousands of computers, to better index images on the Internet.

Such a system determines the task to be done, the processing power required, checks for availability, sends the task out, gets it done, and ships it back to the scientist—all while the person sits at a desk.

"I don't have to do anything to achieve [all] that," Parker said.

Technologies developed for earlier atom smashers—such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider that booted up in New York in 2000 and the Fermilab Tevatron started in 1987 in Illinois—are today ingrained in mainstream society, Parker noted.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans, for example, are common at most major hospitals to make images of the insides of patients' bodies, often to look for cancerous tumors.

The technique stems from general studies of antimatter and the use of particle detectors, Parker said.

And more medical professionals are turning to proton beams similar to those used in the LHC to blast away tumors deep inside bodies.

"What you can do there is send a beam of protons into the patient, which does essentially no damage at all to the tissues on the way in," Parker explained.

"All the damage is done at the point where the protons stop. And by tuning the energy of the protons, you can make them stop inside the tumor."

As scientists working with the LHC learn to better focus and control proton beams, the improvements will likely trickle down to the medical profession, he added.

Faster Than Light

Future spin-offs from the LHC are less certain.

"We don't know what we're going to find out," Parker said.

Though admittedly far-fetched, one sexy idea is that the LHC may find extra dimensions of space/time. If so, the discovery could open the door to technologies that allow people to travel faster than the speed of light.

In a sense, Parker explained, scientists may discover an ability to move chunks of space-time from one place to another through those extra dimensions, effectively bypassing the known laws of physics.

"If you went to the 23rd century and there were people flying around faster than the speed of light, you would say, What is it you found out that enabled you to do this?" Parker said.

"And the answer might be, It all started when we discovered there were these extra dimensions."

Krauss, of Arizona State University, said that even without such advances, curiosity-driven research is fundamental to maintaining our current standard of living for generations into the future.

"It will help create innovation and enhance the economic future of our children in ways that we don't know," he said, adding that the chance to work with machines such as the LHC often attracts students to the sciences.

Krauss added that the big science questions being probed with the LHC are also personally relevant and practical for all members of society.

He explained that just as people are made of stardust, the origins of those particles in stardust stretch back to the beginning of the universe.

"If it all works out, you'll get a better understanding of what you're doing here," he said. "And, to me, that is the greatest benefit of science."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

FBI firm on conclusion on anthrax case

Robert Mueller

[FBI director]



Kerry Waghorn

It still isn't clear and suspicion of FBI tactics will remain.

"FBI's Mueller tells Congress anthrax inquiry conclusive"


Kevin Johnson,

September 17th, 2008


FBI Director Robert Mueller on Tuesday defended the long federal inquiry into the 2001 anthrax attacks, expressing confidence that Army scientist Bruce Ivins was responsible for the assaults that killed five people.

Mueller, in his first appearance before Congress since Ivins was publicly identified last month as the lone attacker, also said the National Academy of Sciences is conducting an independent review of the FBI investigation.

Some congressional leaders have raised questions about the FBI's conclusions in the case against Ivins, who committed suicide in July as federal investigators built their case against him.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., publicly rebuked Mueller on Tuesday for what Conyers called a belated response to the committee's requests for additional information about the case and about the government's plans to expand the FBI's authority in national security investigations.

"When are we going to get some straight answers?" Conyers asked Mueller. "These are serious and important questions."

Mueller later told the panel that investigators had made a "clear identification," tracing the deadly anthrax contained in a series of letters to the substance found in a vial controlled by Ivins, an anthrax scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md.

The FBI director said investigators "eliminated every other person" who might have had the skills to produce the material.

Federal investigators initially focused largely on Ivins' colleague Steven Hatfill. Hatfill later sued the government for violating his privacy. In June, the Justice Department paid $5.8 million to settle the legal action.

Tom Daschle, one of two U.S. senators targeted in the attacks, has described the bureau's inquiry implicating Ivins as "complete and persuasive." Paul Kemp, Ivins' attorney, says the scientist was innocent.

Mueller is likely to face additional questions today in Senate testimony about new Justice Department guidelines that would allow FBI agents to conduct surveillance and interviews and use other methods without specific suspicions or suspects.

"These new guidelines open the door to using race and ethnicity in the name of national security," ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said. Mueller says the additional powers are needed to combat terrorism.

Congress desires answers from FBI on anthrax case

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Amateur scientist will collaborate with astronomers

David Gamey

Another example of a society of amateur scientists working with professionals.

"SCIENCE: Amateur astronomer gets access to space telescope"

MOST telescope to study Betelgeuse this December


Tamara Shephard

September 16th, 2008

The Guardian

When University of British Columbia astronomers focus their space telescope this December on Betelgeuse, one of the brightest stars in this country's winter night sky, David Gamey will be spellbound.

Scientists in charge of the MOST (Microvariability and Oscillation of Stars) space telescope recently named the Princess Gardens' resident one of two Canadian amateur astronomers who will trade in their backyard telescopes for one 820 kilometres up in space.

Pronounced "Beetlejuice," the star is a red supergiant in the shoulder of the constellation Orion the Hunter, about 800 times bigger than the Sun, and near the end of its life. Scientists expect it to die in a supernova explosion.

"It's very neat," Gamey, 49, an information security expert, said of his one-page proposal's approval. "(Betelgeuse) is a celebrity. As one of the largest, brightest and best-known stars in our sky, it holds a lot of fascination."

Betelgeuse bloats up and down, has giant spots, and is the first star outside our solar system to be seen as more than a dot by the Hubble space telescope, Gamey said.

The MOST team chose Gamey's Betelgeuse, and Gordon Sarty of Saskatoon's proposed target of a star called LS 5039 locked in an orbit with a black hole, from among 30 proposals nationwide.

"It's like a cosmic version of the Olympics. MOST means My Own Space Telescope," UBC astrophysics professor and MOST Mission Scientist Jaymie Matthews said of the competition.

Giving Canadians, including elementary and high school students, access to MOST was part of the team's initial proposal to its funder, the Canadian Space Agency.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to look up in the sky and wonder what's out there," Matthews said. "...It seemed natural to let Canadians have a chance to explore that through Canada's first space telescope."

MOST is nicknamed "The Humble" due to the modest $10-million price tag of the suitcase-sized space telescope. It launched into space in 2003.

The space telescope detects subtle rapid oscillations in stars and measures stars' brightness variations for four to six week to gain information about a star's age. Its role expanded to study planets around other stars, including the search for "exo-Earths" - alien counterparts to our world.

Betelgeuse is a "natural target" for MOST, Matthews said, in terms of both its brightness and its location in the sky.

"We will probe the internal structure of Betelgeuse to test the theories of what a star is like so close to its death via a supernova explosion," Matthews said, adding there is growing interest within the research community in the astrophysics of supergiant stars like Betelgeuse.

While the MOST team will do the actual observing of the star at UBC, Gamey will work with MOST scientists on the interpretation of Betelgeuse data. Matthews said Gamey will be the lead author in the eventual scientific publication on Betelgeuse, adding to the more than 20 scientific papers published by the MOST team in the past 18 months.

Gamey hopes to take his Humber West district 433rd Toronto Scouts and Cubs to a MOST ground station in Mississauga in December to take a peek at MOST's view of Betelgeuse.

It was his cubs and scouts' interest in astronomy, when he became a Scout leader eight years ago, that reignited his childhood passion for star-gazing, he said.

"Kids are fascinated by this bright star, asking me questions like: When will it explode? Will our Sun turn into a supergiant like Betelgeuse?" said Gamey, calling his cubs and scouts his "collaborators" on his winning proposal.

Last year, the kids made a full-scale model of MOST out of cardboard, tin foil and paint, and entered it into its annual 433rd hobby show.

To earn an astronomy badge, cubs need to be able to find north, find five constellations and know about the phases of the moon and tides, among other things.

To his cubs, Gamey is known as "Mang," a nod to the lesser-known bat character in the Disney film, The Jungle Book. Why Mang? "It was a good fit. Both astronomers and bats are nocturnal."

Gamey had given up astronomy when he sighted Haley's Comet with a pair of binoculars while vacationing in the Caribbean in 1986. Haley's Comet can be seen from Earth only once every 75 years.

But his best night of star gazing was Aug. 14, 2003. While a blackout plunged 50 million North Americans into darkness, Gamey gazed skyward, fascinated by what he saw.

"I was able to look at clusters of stars," he said. "There's the Globular Cluster, a ball of about 30,000 stars around Hercules. The Ring Nebular looks like a giant cosmic smoking. There's the Whirlpool Galaxy underneath the handle of The Big Dipper. It was the first time I found it myself."

Gamey star gazes at Scout camps, his cottage in Maine, on the front lawn of his central Etobicoke home, or in neighbouring Lloyd Manor Park or West Deane Park.

Last week, Gamey showed a reporter his astronomy toolbox. There's a 200mm Newtonian scope with a fast lens and wide field of vision, excellent for photography. But it's big. Gamey only takes the scope to Scout camp when he can drive it to the campsite.

"You can see planets, the stripes on Jupiter, the moons around Jupiter, the rings around Saturn," Gamey said of the Newtonian scope's capabilities. "All of a sudden, a dim satellite can pass through your line of vision."

Gamey also has a Sky-Watcher, a smaller, 80mm blue portable telescope that can be carried in a backpack.

Then there's his 11-power binoculars: "Your first telescope should be a good pair of binoculars."

For parents interested in getting their child started on astronomy, Gamey recommends they patronize either Eston Science or Khan Scope Centre, both on Dufferin Street: "You get good optics for the same money or less (than popular children's toy retailers)."

Gamey traces his own fascination with the world beyond to his childhood.

"I grew up with the space program, people strapped to the top of big fireworks, basically. There's the imagination aspect of it. Getting out on a really dark night away from the city. Just the beauty of it..."

Amateur scientists

Eden Prairie, Minnesota and their free telescope

New Book..."Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments..."

The home chemist...long gone

Value of amateur scientists--"Hanny's Voorwerp"

Woes of Scottish science

James Watt
January 19th, 1736 to August 25th, 1819

"We can't let our kids give up on science"

Physicists, chemists and biologists, not professional pedagogues, should be the ones to shape Scotland's science curriculum


Joan McAlpine

September 14th, 2008


The good news is we teach science better than England. The bad news is that England's performance is one of the worst in the developed world, so let's not rattle our test tubes in jubilation. Last week saw the world's most ambitious physics experiment conducted in Switzerland. It will test the theory of an Edinburgh University professor, Peter Higgs. But back home, we are not exactly reaching for the stars, or even those notorious black holes. Most school kids' knowledge of anti-matter comes from Doctor Who.

A report by the Royal Society last week into the state of the nation's science education found that 13% of 17- year-olds sat Scottish highers in biology and chemistry and 12% sat physics. This is much more than in the south. but it masks profound weaknesses. The recent Scottish survey of achievement — a snapshot of performance in a cross-section of schools — was shocking. Just 6% of pupils in primary seven achieve expected levels of science understanding — a figure that rises to just 17% in the second year of high school.

Sometimes it seems we have given up. The Home Office last week published a list of professions that we need filled by migrants. These included civil engineers, vets, speech therapists, maths and science teachers.

It is practical to plan for shortages. But we should also ask ourselves why we face such a brain drought. Our immigrant scientists are likely to come from India, where parents have dinner party conversations about their children's grades and their expectations of success are high. A survey conducted by Shell last week found Scottish children would rather be hairdressers than scientists. Just 5% of 9 to 14 year olds want to be a scientist, compared to 20% who want to be a footballer, 18% an actor, and 13% a hairdresser.

They had a poor understanding of what science actually is and where it could get you. Less than half realised you needed it to become a plastic surgeon. Children still think scientists are dome-headed boffins in labs.

It's little wonder. They learn almost nothing about Scotland's disproportionate achievements. Few children now celebrate James Watt's steam engine or Alexander Fleming's penicillin. They certainly would not know a Scotsman, James Clerk Maxwell, did as much for physics as Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton (chances are they’ve never heard of them either).

They will also be unaware that a Scottish company, Touch Bionics, has developed the world’s first bionic hand or that Europe's main testing centre for marine energy is in Orkney. It is unfashionable in Scotland to celebrate the achievements of great men. But we must provide kids with alternative role models and dreams for the future. Children with proactive families will do better. But pushy parents are unfairly maligned and thin on the ground. That leaves schools to raise expectations and spark imagination.

When the survey of achievement exposed poor performance earlier this year, it was suggested that few primary teachers had the confidence to teach science. While you need a good standard grade maths pass to work in Scottish primary schools, science is not obligatory. Nobody is suggesting we launch seven-year-olds on Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism. Fostering an interest in technology and the natural world, and exploring the basics of both, would be a start.

Most primary teachers are perfectly capable of this but there is no coherent, ambitious teaching programme for them to follow. There is no obligation to teach anything in Scottish schools other than religion and Gaelic in certain circumstances. It's very pick and mix. There is also open hostility among "experts" to fact-based education. Instead we have "projects" that cross subject areas. The emphasis is on learning processes — such as team work and individual initiative.

Educationalists believe "how children learn" is more important than what they learn. This is sensible up to a point — but like all theories it is damaging in the hands of zealots. There are some facts we need to know. A bias towards "creating confident learners" at the expense of real knowledge is worrying, particularly at secondary level. One consequence is the blurring of lines between subjects. In England many children in the upper years of secondary school study general sciences rather than individual subjects, which perhaps explains their appalling take up at A level.

Scotland was saved from this fate by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Its devastating report into our new "Curriculum for Excellence" said science and maths guidelines focused on the "philosophy of science" at the expense of core principles. The education minister Fiona Hyslop immediately invited subject specialists to improve things. She should also consider paying maths and science teachers more than their colleagues and building on Jack McConnell's initiative to attract scientists from industry into schools. This means challenging vested interests.

Hyslop's plans for a science baccalaureate have been welcomed. But we need significant numbers sitting it to ensure future prosperity. Science education must be shaped, not by professional pedagogues, but by physicists, chemists and biologists. They must then tell parents and the public what was being taught and why. At the moment most people are excluded from the debate by the impenetrable jargon of elitist "educationalists". Despite the failings in our science education, it’s still easier for the average Scot to explain the purpose of the Hadron Collider than the Curriculum for Excellence.