Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What will you do with your "leap second"?

There will probably be little thought given to a free gift on the 31st of December, 2008 as one celebrates consuming Friskies on a cracker and washing it down with vintage wine [from the week of December 22nd to December 26th] and ushering in a hopefully better year in 2009. The gift?...ONE EXTRA SECOND. Spend it wisely.

"Happy New Year, But Wait a Second"

December 29th, 2008

Dulcinea Media, Inc.

The U.S. Naval Observatory, the world's official timekeeper, announced that it will add an extra second on Dec. 31 to match the world's atomic clocks to the Earth's rotation on its axis, reports Reuters. The extra second will be inserted at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, or 6:59:59 p.m. EST (23:59:59 GMT).

An international agreement in 1970 created two time scales: UTC, based on highly precise atomic clocks that are accurate to about one-billionth of a second per day, and another based on the Earth's observed rotation, which gets slower over time. Leap seconds are used so that the difference between atomic clocks and Earth's rotation does not exceed 0.9 seconds. This year's extra second will be the 24th in history; the first leap second was inserted into UTC on June 30, 1972.

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service determines whether or not to add or remove the second based on its observations of the Earth's rotation, which slows for a variety of reasons, including the actions of tides, the amount of snow at the polar ice caps, solar wind, space dust and magnetic storms.


This year's "leap second" could be the last one ever, if a proposal by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is implemented. The group of timekeeping experts suggests that leap seconds should be abandoned in favor of a "leap hour" that would occur about every 600 years. The proposed change would mean that official time would no longer be linked to the Earth's rotation, and it would have wide-ranging effects, including reducing the importance of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), requiring changes to astronomical telescopes, and making sundials more inaccurate. "It would be a change with profound cultural implications," said Robert Massey, of the Royal Astronomical Society, to the Times of London. "We'd be decoupling our clocks from what the Sun is telling us."

The thought of being given an extra second may not be that exciting to many people, but The New York Times reminds readers that much can be accomplished in just one second. "If that doesn't sound like a big deal, consider that in one second a cheetah can dash 34 yards, a telephone signal can travel 100,000 miles, a hummingbird can beat its wings 70 times, and eight million of your blood cells can die. As the saying goes, every second counts. In the case of leap seconds, that is especially true."

More on Isaac Newton's birthday

"The Ten Days of Newton"


Olivia Judson

December 23rd, 2008

The New York Times

Some years ago, the evolutionist and atheist Richard Dawkins pointed out to me that Sir Isaac Newton, the founder of modern physics and mathematics, and arguably the greatest scientist of all time, was born on Christmas Day, and that therefore Newton's Birthday could be an alternative, if somewhat nerdy, excuse for a winter holiday.

Think of the merchandise! Newton is said to have discovered the phenomenon of gravity by watching apples fall in an orchard. (His insight came after pondering why they always fall down, rather than upwards or sideways.) Newton's Birthday cards could feature the great man discovering gravity by watching a Christmas decoration fall from a tree. (This is a little anachronistic — Christmas trees didn’t come to England until later — but I don't think we should let that get in the way.)

All very jolly — but then, 'tis the season. Yet things are not so simple. It turns out that the date of Newton's birthday is a little contentious. Newton was born in England on Christmas Day 1642 according to the Julian calendar — the calendar in use in England at the time. But by the 1640s, much of the rest of Europe was using the Gregorian calendar (the one in general use today); according to this calendar, Newton was born on Jan. 4, 1643.

Rather than bickering about whether Dec. 25 or Jan. 4 is the better date to observe Newton's Birthday, I think we should embrace the discrepancy and have an extended festival. After all, the festival of Christmas properly continues for a further 12 days, until the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6. So the festival of Newton could begin on Christmas Day and then continue for an extra 10 days, representing the interval between the calendars.

The reason the interval became necessary is that the Earth, inconveniently, does not orbit the sun in an exact number of days. Instead, the Earth's orbit is 365 days and a bit. The “bit” is just under a quarter of a day.

It wasn't always thus. Some 530 million years ago, when animals like the trilobites were skittering around, days had less time. Back then, a day was only 21 hours, and a year was about 420 days. In another 500 million years, perhaps a day will be 27 hours, and a year fewer than 300 days. Because of the friction exerted by the moon, the Earth is slowing down. Indeed, already the days are a tiny bit longer than they were 100 years ago.

Because the orbit isn't an exact number of days, our calendars get out of sync with the seasons unless we correct for the fractional day. The Julian calendar, which was put in place by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C., was the Romans' best effort at making a systematic correction. Before that, the Roman calendar gave 355 days to the basic year, and every other year was supposed to include an extra month of 22 or 23 days.

But over a period of 24 years, that gave too many days; so in some years, the extra month was supposed to be skipped. This didn't always happen. By the time the Julian calendar was introduced, the Roman calendar was so far out of sync with the seasons that the year before the first Julian year had to include a massive correction; that year, referred to as "the last year of confusion," was 445 days. Talk about a long year.

The Julian calendar, which is broadly similar to the one we have now, divided the year into 365 days and a quarter. To implement this practically, three out of four years were given 365 days, and the fourth, 366. But this still wasn’t precise enough: by the 16th century, the calendar had fallen 10 days out of sync with the solar year. By introducing a couple of extra fiddles to do with leap years at the ends of centuries, the Gregorian calendar fixed that. Again, however, changing calendars meant introducing a one-off correction to bring the dates back in line with the seasons. Rather than having a year with an extra 90 days like the Romans, Europeans “lost” 10 days as the calendar skipped forward. Hence the interval between the contending dates of Newton's Birthday.

It's strangely suitable that the length of the festival should be due to human efforts to describe the orbit of our planet. For planetary orbits were the subject of one of Newton's key works, "De Motu Corporum in Gyrum," ("On the Motion of Bodies in an Orbit"), which he sent to the astronomer Edmond Halley (of Halley’s comet fame) in November of 1684. The proofs and insights contained here were revolutionary, and allowed the calculation of the orbit of any object, from planet to comet or asteroid, moving through a gravitational field.

Shortly after sending "Motion" to Halley, Newton began work on the treatise for which he is most famous, "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica" ("Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy") usually known simply as the Principia. This is where, among many other insights and discoveries, he articulated his three laws of motion, which students still learn in high school physics. He explained that gravity causes tides, and that the gravitational force of Jupiter perturbs the orbit of Saturn. The basis of many of his insights rested in a kind of mathematics he had invented as a private tool for himself years before: calculus.

Newton was not merely a thinker of abstract and complex thoughts, however. He had a gift with mechanical objects. As a child, he built a miniature working model of a windmill. As an adult, he built the first reflecting telescope.

He was also an experimenter. For example, his experiments with prisms showed that white light is composed of light of other colors. Although it had been known before Newton that shining a beam of sunlight through a prism would produce a rainbow, no one knew why: it was as though the prism created colors. Newton discovered the real reason: light is composed of different wavelengths that are refracted differently by the glass of the prism. The prism doesn’t create colors, it reveals them.

Physics was only one of his interests. He was deeply religious, though a heretic — he did not believe in the Holy Trinity — and he wrote more about religion than he did about physics, mathematics or his other great interest, alchemy. Though he never managed to turn base metal into gold in an experiment, later in life he became Warden of the Mint — the man in charge of making the country’s money. Here, he oversaw the production of gold and silver coins, and ensured that they were made more exactly than they had ever been made before. He also went after counterfeiters, several of whom were hanged.

Newton does not seem to have been a pleasant man. He feuded with several of his professional colleagues, most famously Robert Hooke and Gottfried Willhelm Leibniz; he was reclusive and secretive and seems to have formed few lasting friendships. But he was also a genius, and his work laid the foundations of our modern understanding of the world. He is a man to celebrate.

In honor of Newton’s Birthday festival, I therefore propose the following song, to be sung to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." For brevity, I include only the final verse. All together now!

On the tenth day of Newton,
My true love gave to me,
Ten drops of genius,
Nine silver co-oins,
Eight circling planets,
Seven shades of li-ight,
Six counterfeiters,
Four telescopes,
Three Laws of Motion,
Two awful feuds,
And the discovery of gravity!

Happy Newton, everybody!



I have drawn my account of the Roman calendars from the entry on "calendar" in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. For days having been shorter when the trilobites were about, see Ravilious, K. "Wind-up." New Scientist: 23 November 2002. The details of Newton’s discoveries and life can be found in any biography; I drew on two, Berlinski, D. 2001. "Newton’s Gift." Duckworth; and Gleick, J. 2003. "Isaac Newton." Fourth Estate.

Many thanks to Thomas Levenson for insights, comments and suggestions.

December 25th--1642--Isaac Newton

[Thanks to POSP stringer Tim.]

Rio De Janeiro and 2009 International Year of Astronomy

Better than watching a ball drop in New York city. Take a trip to Rio [not Natal] and celebrate the new year with the detonation of more than 24 tons of explosives. The theme: "The traditional New Year fireworks show at Rio's famous Copacabana Beach will promote the 2009 International Year of Astronomy...."

"New Year fireworks show in Rio to promote year of astronomy"


Wang Hongjiang

December 30th, 2008

Xinhua News Agency

The traditional New Year fireworks show at Rio's famous Copacabana Beach will promote the 2009 International Year of Astronomy, said Rio's Tourism Company (Riotur) Monday.

The date was set to pay homage to Italian astronomer Galileo Gallilei.

According to Riotur's Operations Director Bruno Matos, the show will stage fireworks in several astronomy-related shapes, such as stars, comets and planets.

The show, which is set to last 20 minutes, is expected to spend over 24 tons of explosives and 19,600 bombs

"It will be the most beautiful fireworks display ever seen at Copacabana Beach," said Matos.

Some 2 million people are expected to watch the show at the Copacabana Beach. They will also enjoy concerts and samba school performances.

According to Matos, three emergency spots and 24 mobile Intensive Care Units (ICU) will be placed at the beach to offer help in case anyone gets injured.

Some 4,000 police officers will be deployed there, local media reported.

Five other fireworks shows will be also staged in the city, and a total of 15,000 police officers will be deployed during the New Year festivities.

International Year of Astronomy 2009...gaining momentum

"Doctor Atomic"...revisionism of science history

Oh my, I don't think opera will be same again. It is a delight to see the tremendous ethical issues involved in the production and deployment of a nuclear weapon. Atonement for such decisions is inevitable and this particular event will be debated forever with no resolution..The sets were...simplistic as counter posed to the dilemma suggested. It is worth a second viewing.

Doctor Atomic Libretto

"Doctor Atomic"...a reminder

Monday, December 29, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ethics or lawsuits--the hazardous snow globe

Hallmark has recalled their $100 snow globe for the potential of causing a fire. This is so bizarre. I frankly don't see how this trinket could focus sun rays strong enough and long enough to ignite surrounding combustible items. Nevertheless, Hallmark has recalled all of the snow globes.

"Jumbo snow globes + sunlight = consumer hazard"

Decemeber 23rd, 2008


Some 7,000 jumbo-sized snow globes were recalled by Hallmark Cards Inc. because the holiday decorations can act as a magnifying glass when exposed to sunlight and ignite nearby combustible materials, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said on Tuesday.

The snowman-shaped snow globes were sold in October and November at Hallmark Gold Crown stores nationwide for about $100 each.

The consumer agency said Hallmark has received two reports of the snow globes igniting nearby materials but no injuries have been reported.

Consumers who bought the snow globes, which measure 11 by 12 by 17 inches (28 by 30 by 43cm), should immediately remove them from exposure to sunlight and return to a Hallmark Gold Crown store for a full refund.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


December 25th--1642--Isaac Newton

Well, sort of a birthday, for it depends on which calendar is observed. There is no harm in celebrating the birth dates of two great men...a man of philosophy and a man of science.

During Newton's lifetime, two calendars were in use in Europe: the Julian or 'Old Style' in Britain and parts of northern Europe (Protestant) and eastern Europe, and the Gregorian or 'New Style', in use in Roman Catholic Europe and elsewhere. At Newton's birth, Gregorian dates were ten days ahead of Julian dates: thus Newton was born on Christmas Day, 25 December 1642 by the Julian calendar, but on 4 January 1643 by the Gregorian. By the time he died, the difference between the calendars had increased to eleven days. Moreover, prior to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in the UK in 1752, the English new year began (for legal and some other civil purposes) on 25 March ('Lady Day', i.e. the feast of the Annunciation: sometimes called 'Annunciation Style') rather than on 1 January (sometimes called 'Circumcision Style').

Isaac Newton [1642-1727]

English physicist and mathematician who was born into a poor farming family. Luckily for humanity, Newton was not a good farmer, and was sent to Cambridge to study to become a preacher. At Cambridge, Newton studied mathematics, being especially strongly influenced by Euclid, although he was also influenced by Baconian and Cartesian philosophies. Newton was forced to leave Cambridge when it was closed because of the plague, and it was during this period that he made some of his most significant discoveries. With the reticence he was to show later in life, Newton did not, however, publish his results.

Newton suffered a mental breakdown in 1675 and was still recovering through 1679. In response to a letter from Hooke, he suggested that a particle, if released, would spiral in to the center of the Earth. Hooke wrote back, claiming that the path would not be a spiral, but an ellipse. Newton, who hated being bested, then proceeded to work out the mathematics of orbits. Again, he did not publish his calculations. Newton then began devoting his efforts to theological speculation and put the calculations on elliptical motion aside, telling Halley he had lost them. Halley, who had become interested in orbits, finally convinced Newton to expand and publish his calculations. Newton devoted the period from August 1684 to spring 1686 to this task, and the result became one of the most important and influential works on physics of all times, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) (1687), often shortened to Principia Mathematica or simply "the Principia."

In Book I of Principia, Newton opened with definitions and the three laws of motion now known as Newton's laws (laws of inertia, action and reaction, and acceleration proportional to force). Book II presented Newton's new scientific philosophy which came to replace Cartesianism. Finally, Book III consisted of applications of his dynamics, including an explanation for tides and a theory of lunar motion. To test his hypothesis of universal gravitation, Newton wrote Flamsteed to ask if Saturn had been observed to slow down upon passing Jupiter. The surprised Flamsteed replied that an effect had indeed been observed, and it was closely predicted by the calculations Newton had provided. Newton's equations were further confirmed by observing the shape of the Earth to be oblate spheroidal, as Newton claimed it should be, rather than prolate spheroidal, as claimed by the Cartesians. Newton's equations also described the motion of Moon by successive approximations, and correctly predicted the return of Halley's Comet. Newton also correctly formulated and solved the first ever problem in the calculus of variations which involved finding the surface of revolution which would give minimum resistance to flow (assuming a specific drag law).

Newton invented a scientific method which was truly universal in its scope. Newton presented his methodology as a set of four rules for scientific reasoning. These rules were stated in the Principia and proposed that (1) we are to admit no more causes of natural things such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances, (2) the same natural effects must be assigned to the same causes, (3) qualities of bodies are to be esteemed as universal, and (4) propositions deduced from observation of phenomena should be viewed as accurate until other phenomena contradict them.

These four concise and universal rules for investigation were truly revolutionary. By their application, Newton formulated the universal laws of nature with which he was able to unravel virtually all the unsolved problems of his day. Newton went much further than outlining his rules for reasoning, however, actually describing how they might be applied to the solution of a given problem. The analytic method he invented far exceeded the more philosophical and less scientifically rigorous approaches of Aristotle and Aquinas. Newton refined Galileo's experimental method, creating the compositional method of experimentation still practiced today. In fact, the following description of the experimental method from Newton's Optics could easily be mistaken for a modern statement of current methods of investigation, if not for Newton's use of the words "natural philosophy" in place of the modern term "the physical sciences." Newton wrote, "As in mathematics, so in natural philosophy the investigation of difficult things by the method of analysis ought ever to precede the method of composition. This analysis consists of making experiments and observations, and in drawing general conclusions from them by induction...by this way of analysis we may proceed from compounds to ingredients, and from motions to the forces producing them; and in general from effects to their causes, and from particular causes to more general ones till the argument end in the most general. This is the method of analysis: and the synthesis consists in assuming the causes discovered and established as principles, and by them explaining the phenomena preceding from them, and proving the explanations."

Newton formulated the classical theories of mechanics and optics and invented calculus years before Leibniz. However, he did not publish his work on calculus until afterward Leibniz had published his. This led to a bitter priority dispute between English and continental mathematicians which persisted for decades, to the detriment of all concerned. Newton discovered that the binomial theorem was valid for fractional powers, but left it for Wallis to publish (which he did, with appropriate credit to Newton). Newton formulated a theory of sound, but derived a speed which did not agree with his experiments. The reason for the discrepancy was that the concept of adiabatic propagation did not yet exist, so Newton's answer was too low by a factor of , where is the ratio of heat capacities of air. Newton therefore fudged his theory until agreement was achieved.

In Optics (1704), whose publication Newton delayed until Hooke's death, Newton observed that white light could be separated by a prism into a spectrum of different colors, each characterized by a unique refractivity, and proposed the corpuscular theory of light. Newton's views on optics were born out of the original prism experiments he performed at Cambridge. In his "experimentum crucis" (crucial experiment), he found that the image produced by a prism was oval-shaped and not circular, as current theories of light would require. He observed a half-red, half-blue string through a prism, and found the ends to be disjointed. He also observed Newton's rings, which are actually a manifestation of the wave nature of light which Newton did not believe in. Newton believed that light must move faster in a medium when it is refracted towards the normal, in opposition to the result predicted by Huygens's wave theory.

Newton also formulated a system of chemistry in Query 31 at the end of Optics. In this corpuscular theory, "elements" consisted of different arrangements of atoms, and atoms consisted of small, hard, billiard ball-like particles. He explained chemical reactions in terms of the chemical affinities of the participating substances. Newton devoted a majority of his free time later in life (after 1678) to fruitless alchemical experiments.

Newton was extremely sensitive to criticism, and even ceased publishing until the death of his arch-rival Hooke. It was only through the prodding of Halley that Newton was persuaded at all to publish the Principia Mathematica. In the latter portion of his life, he devoted much of his time to alchemical researches and trying to date events in the Bible. After Newton's death, his burial place was moved. During the exhumation, it was discovered that Newton had massive amounts of mercury in his body, probably resulting from his alchemical pursuits. This would certainly explain Newton's eccentricity in late life. Newton was appointed Warden of the British Mint in 1695. Newton was knighted by Queen Anne. However, the act was "an honor bestowed not for his contributions to science, nor for his service at the Mint, but for the greater glory of party politics in the election of 1705".

Newton singlehandedly contributed more to the development of science than any other individual in history. He surpassed all the gains brought about by the great scientific minds of antiquity, producing a scheme of the universe which was more consistent, elegant, and intuitive than any proposed before. Newton stated explicit principles of scientific methods which applied universally to all branches of science. This was in sharp contradistinction to the earlier methodologies of Aristotle and Aquinas, which had outlined separate methods for different disciplines.

Although his methodology was strictly logical, Newton still believed deeply in the necessity of a God. His theological views are characterized by his belief that the beauty and regularity of the natural world could only "proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being." He felt that "the Supreme God exists necessarily, and by the same necessity he exists always and everywhere." Newton believed that God periodically intervened to keep the universe going on track. He therefore denied the importance of Leibniz's vis viva as nothing more than an interesting quantity which remained constant in elastic collisions and therefore had no physical importance or meaning.

Although earlier philosophers such as Galileo and John Philoponus had used experimental procedures, Newton was the first to explicitly define and systematize their use. His methodology produced a neat balance between theoretical and experimental inquiry and between the mathematical and mechanical approaches. Newton mathematized all of the physical sciences, reducing their study to a rigorous, universal, and rational procedure which marked the ushering in of the Age of Reason. Thus, the basic principles of investigation set down by Newton have persisted virtually without alteration until modern times. In the years since Newton's death, they have borne fruit far exceeding anything even Newton could have imagined. They form the foundation on which the technological civilization of today rests. The principles expounded by Newton were even applied to the social sciences, influencing the economic theories of Adam Smith and the decision to make the United States legislature bicameral. These latter applications, however, pale in contrast to Newton's scientific contributions.

It is therefore no exaggeration to identify Newton as the single most important contributor to the development of modern science. The Latin inscription on Newton's tomb, despite its bombastic language, is thus fully justified in proclaiming, "Mortals! rejoice at so great an ornament to the human race!" Alexander Pope's couplet is also apropos: "Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night; God said, Let Newton be! and all was light."--scienceworld.wolfram.com

Newton and 2060

Robert Hooke's "Micrographia..."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Doctor Atomic"--Great Performances at the Met

PBS on Monday evening [December 29th] will offer Great Performances at the Met's opera "Doctor Atomic"..."John Adams's contemporary masterpiece explores a momentous episode of modern history: the creation of the atomic bomb. Movie director Penny Woolcock makes her Met debut with this production. Baritone Gerald Finley plays J. Robert Oppenheimer, the title character, in this gripping adaptation of a story that changed the course of world history. Alan Gilbert conducts...."

"Doctor Atomic"

BUBL LINK--specialized search engine

000 Generalities
Includes: computing, Internet, libraries, information science
500 Science and mathematics
Includes: physics, chemistry, earth sciences, biology, zoology

100 Philosophy and psychology
Includes: ethics, paranormal phenomena
600 Technology
Includes: medicine, engineering, agriculture, management

200 Religion
Includes: bibles, religions of the world
700 The arts
Includes: art, planning, architecture, music, sport

300 Social sciences
Includes: sociology, politics, economics, law, education
800 Literature and rhetoric
Includes: literature of specific languages

400 Language
Includes: linguistics, language learning, specific languages
900 Geography and history
Includes: travel, genealogy, archaeology

This is like a link repository for a variety of subjects...from the humanities to the sciences referencing organizations, university departments, journals, articles, images, etc.


Nobel Foundation rebukes ethics violation allegation

"Nobel official defends disputed China trips"


Malin Rising and Louise Nordstrom

December 23rd, 2008

The Associated Press


The head of the Nobel Foundation on Tuesday rejected criticism against all-expenses-paid trips that prize jurors made to China and said it was "normal" for them to accept such invitations.

Michael Sohlman, executive director of the foundation that manages the prestigious awards, told The Associated Press he welcomed a bribery investigation into the trips, adding he didn't see anything wrong with the visits.

"When you invite a lecturer it is normal to pay for travel and board," Sohlman said in a phone interview. "The Nobel Foundation cannot finance such trips."

An anti-corruption prosecutor opened a bribery probe last week following a Swedish Radio report that said three jurors from the medicine, chemistry and physics committees were invited to China in 2006 and 2008 to explain the selection process and what it takes to win a Nobel Prize. Chinese authorities paid for their plane tickets, hotels and meals, the report said.

"It happens very often that someone who is linked to the Nobels goes abroad and then they are often asked to talk about the system of awarding the Nobel Prize," Sohlman said.

The 10 million kronor ($1.2 million) Nobel awards are handed out annually in six disciplines: medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, economics and peace. Each award has its own prize committee.

The committees are famously tightlipped about their work — deliberations are kept secret for 50 years — and purport to resist outside pressure or public campaigns for or against a certain candidate.

With that in mind, critics say the China visits were inappropriate even if they don't lead to any criminal charges.

"It is insane to let oneself be invited on trips of this kind," said Anders Barany, a former nonvoting secretary of the physics prize committee, and a current voting member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

He was a vocal critic of a similar trip in 2002 in which he and other Nobel officials traveled to Japan to attend the opening of a traveling exhibit from Stockholm's Nobel Museum. Letting the hosts pay for the visit was problematic, he said, because Japan had a stated goal of winning more Nobel Prizes.

"I don't think there's direct link in the sense that someone feels that we have to thank Japan and give them a laureate," he said. However, he added that if committees must choose between several equal candidates, "small psychological effects" can influence the decision.

"I've repeated this constantly, but the Nobel system doesn't want to listen to me yet, and I think it's a scandal," Barany said.

Sohlman said it would be an "absurdity" to suggest that the Japan visit would have an effect on the prizes.

Two Japanese scientists won Nobel Prizes in 2002. No Chinese scientist has won a Nobel Prize since 1957.

Prosecutor Nils-Erik Schultz told AP his probe would focus on the China trips and not the Japan visit because there is a five-year statute of limitations for bribery investigations in Sweden. He said he expects to contact Chinese authorities to find out more about the purpose of the visits.

Chinese media reports at the time said the three Nobel jurors gave lectures on the process of nominating and selecting Nobel winners.

One of them — Sven Lidin of the physics committee — said in a speech that "China and the Nobel Prizes are not far apart" and that it would not take very long for a Chinese scientist to win a Nobel, according to a report by the state-run China News Service, posted on the Zhejiang university's Web site.

Lidin declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. But he said he welcomed the probe "so that this is cleared up."

Schultz said his investigation would also examine whether drug maker Astra Zeneca had any inappropriate links to the prizes. Swedish Radio reported that the company sponsors Web site producer Nobel Web and Nobel Media, which manages the television rights for the awards, and that one of the medicine prize committee members also is a board member at Astra Zeneca.

The key is to find out whether there had been any attempts to influence the decision-making process because "one expects that this is handled objectively to 100 percent," Schultz said.

If charged and convicted, the jurors would face fines or up to two years in prison.

Gunnar Oquist, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prizes in physics, chemistry and economics, expressed regret about the China trips, noting that they were not organized by the academy.

Oquist said he only knew about the 2006 trip and that he had thought it was to focus on scientific prizes in general, not just the Nobels.

"The only thing I wanted to make sure was that it wouldn't become a Nobel trip, so to speak. Now, that's what it turned into anyway because the Chinese made a very big deal about it," Oquist said. "There was more of a Nobel focus than one had expected."

The academy has a verbal policy on not getting into situations representing a conflict of interest, but Oquist suggested it was time to lay down more specific guidelines "after what has happened."

In Oslo, Nobel Institute Director Geir Lundestad said members of the peace prize committee have also accepted trips to attend conferences and give lectures.

"I do not think it is right to have an absolute ban on letting the organizers pay such trips," he said. "That would be impractical and expensive."

Lundestad said the Nobel Foundation decided at a board meeting last Friday how the Nobel Prize committees should handle financing for their trips in the future.

Sohlman confirmed there was a regular board meeting on Friday in Stockholm, but declined to say what was discussed because the foundation is private.

He called the extensive media coverage of the trips "ridiculous" and said that he himself has accepted several invitations to give lectures about the awards in France, the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Nobel Prize jurors and ethics

NOVA's "Absolute Zero"--repeated

Most PBS stations are rebroadcasting "Absolute Zero" and worth watching.

Deceased--David Lyon

NOVA's "Absolute Zero"

Grete Henry-Hermann--early quantum theory interpreter

Grete Henry-Hermann was one of those few individuals that truly blended philosophy and science--a genuine philosophy of science.

C. L. Herzenberg's preprint paper...

"Grete Hermann: An early contributor to quantum theory"

Grete Henry-Hermann

Grete Henry's "The Significance of Behaviour Study for the Critique of Reason," Ratio, Volume XV, No. 2, December 1973

Monday, December 22, 2008

Saturn loses rings on Christmas morning--NAW

A Christmas treat via compliments of Saturn. So get up before sunrise and with the aid of a telescope [which might be under the tree] view a Saturn with nearly no rings. And, at that early hour, you might meet "the man".

"Saturn's Crazy Christmas Tilt"


Dr. Tony Phillips

December 22nd, 2008


You look through the telescope. Blink. Shake your head and look again. The planet you expected to see in the eyepiece is not the one that's actually there. Too much eggnog? No, it's just Saturn's crazy Christmas tilt.

All year long, the rings of Saturn have been tilting toward Earth and now they are almost perfectly edge-on. The opening angle is a paper-thin 0.8o. Viewed from the side, the normally wide and bright rings have become a shadowy line bisecting Saturn's two hemispheres--a scene of rare beauty.

Amateur astronomer Efrain Morales Rivera of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, has been monitoring Saturn and he created this composite image to show how the geometry has changed.

Astronomers call the phenomenon a "ring plane crossing." As Saturn goes around the sun, it periodically (once every 14 to 15 years) turns its rings edge-on to Earth. Because the rings are so thin, they can actually disappear when viewed through a backyard telescope. At the precise moment of crossing, Saturn undergoes a startling metamorphosis. The ringed planet becomes a lonely ball of gas, almost unrecognizable....

(Historical note: Shortly after Galileo discovered Saturn's rings in 1610, they disappeared in precisely this fashion. Galileo didn't understand the nature of the rings and the vanishing act confused him mightily. Nevertheless, his physical intuition prevailed. "They'll be back," he predicted, and without ever knowing why, he was correct.)

We're not quite there yet. The opening angle won't be precisely 0o until Sept. 4, 2009. Don't bother marking your calendar, though. Saturn will be so close to the sun, no one will be able to see the rings wink out.

The best time to look is now.

The 0.8o opening angle of Christmas 2008 is the minimum for some time to come. In January 2009 the rings begin to open up again, a temporary reversal caused by the orbital motions of Earth and Saturn. By the time narrowing resumes in summer 2009, Saturn will be approaching the sun; looking through a telescope then could actually be dangerous. The next ring plane crossing that's easy to watch won't come until 2038.

So wake up before sunrise on Dec. 25th, point your telescope at the golden "star" in Leo, and behold Saturn's crazy Christmas tilt....

Double star observations--Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei Demonstrates His Astronomical Theories to a Monk

This is somewhat unusual...that earlier observations of double stars negated the conclusions written in Galileo Galilei's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems [1632]...such is the hypothesis in Christopher M. Graney's "Regarding the Potential Impact of Double Star Observations on Conceptions of the Universe of Stars in the Early 17th Century".


Galileo Galilei believed that stars were distant suns whose sizes measured via his telescope were a direct indication of distance -- fainter stars (appearing smaller in the telescope) being farther away than brighter ones. Galileo argued in his Dialogue that telescopic observation of a chance alignment of a faint (distant) and bright (closer) star would reveal annual parallax, if such double stars were found. This would provide support both for Galileo's ideas concerning the nature of stars and for the motion of the Earth. However, Galileo actually made observations of such double stars, well before publication of the Dialogue. We show that the results of these observations, and the likely results of observations of any double star that was a viable subject for Galileo's telescope, would undermine Galileo's ideas, not support them. We argue that such observations would lead either to the more correct idea that stars were sun-like bodies of varying sizes which could be physically grouped, or to the less correct idea that stars are not sun-like bodies, and even to the idea that the Earth did not move.


Signores Salviati, Sagrfdo, and Simplicio--cosmology debate by Galileo

Anastasia Volovich--Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers

Congratulations to Anastasia Volovich.

"Brown physics professor wins prestigious White House award"


Richard Lewis

December 19th, 2008

Brown University Press Release

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University]

Anastasia Volovich, the Richard and Edna Salomon Assistant Professor of Physics, has been named one of this year's winners of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. She was honored at a White House ceremony Friday, Dec. 19, 2008.

The PECASE award recognizes outstanding scientists and engineers who, early in their careers, show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of knowledge. It is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.

"I am very honored to have received this award, and I am especially excited that my research and my research group have been acknowledged in this way," Volovich said.

Volovich joined the Brown faculty in 2006, after earning her Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Harvard University. She works in theoretical physics, string theory and related areas in particle physics and general relativity. String theory is the search for a single explanation that describes all the laws in the known universe. The theory's main idea is that all matter and forces are made of tiny strands of energy that vibrate in different patterns.

Physicists have never seen these strands in nature, but they hope that they may see a hint that string theory is correct when the Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest particle accelerator, is fired up this summer.

Volovich said her work with a calculational tool known as quantum chronodynamics will help scientists interpret the stream of experimental results expected from the super collider, which is located outside Geneva, Switzerland. The award committee recognized her role in analyzing the data from the LHC as well as for organizing a science Olympiad for high school students.

Chung-I Tan, chair of the physics department at Brown, praised Volovich's selection as a PECASE recipient.

"Anastasia has demonstrated not only impressive skills as a physicist but also enthusiasm and talent in teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels," Tan said.

Volovich joins 19 young scientists nationwide nominated by the National Science Foundation and chosen as winners in the PECASE competition. (There are 48 others nominated by various federal agencies.) Each winner receives agency support for five years. Last year, Brown professors Odest Chadwicke (Chad) Jenkins, computer science, and Pradeep Guduru, engineering, won the award.

"We take great pride in the PECASE winners," said Kathie L. Olsen, NSF's deputy director. "It is important to support the transformational research of these beginning scientists, and to foster their work in educational outreach and mentoring."

"The Atom: A Closer Look"

This film is nearly 30 years old and as many others represents an old method of reaching the public [especially school age children] regarding atomic energy. The Disney touch is obvious...have to capture children's interest somehow. [I am not certain why this film is prefaced with the KCPL (Kansas City Power and Light Company) data other than that they may have been a corporate underwriter in the production of the film or involved in local distribution.]

"The Atom: A Closer Look"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

President-Elect Obama's science team

The primary players of Obama's science team: Steven Chu, John Holdren, and Jane Lubchenco. Will it make a difference?

Remarks of the President-Elect Barack Obama

Science Team Rollout Radio Address

December 17th, 2008

Chicago, Illinois

Over the past few weeks, Vice President-Elect Biden and I have announced some of the leaders who will advise us as we seek to meet America’s twenty-first century challenges, from strengthening our security, to rebuilding our economy, to preserving our planet for our children and grandchildren. Today, I am pleased to announce members of my science and technology team whose work will be critical to these efforts.

Whether it’s the science to slow global warming; the technology to protect our troops and confront bioterror and weapons of mass destruction; the research to find life-saving cures; or the innovations to remake our industries and create twenty-first century jobs—today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. It is time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America’s place as the world leader in science and technology.

Right now, in labs, classrooms and companies across America, our leading minds are hard at work chasing the next big idea, on the cusp of breakthroughs that could revolutionize our lives. But history tells us that they cannot do it alone. From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way: leaders like President Kennedy, who inspired us to push the boundaries of the known world and achieve the impossible; leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process.

Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States—and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work.

Dr. John Holdren has agreed to serve as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. John is a professor and Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, as well as President and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center. A physicist renowned for his work on climate and energy, he’s received numerous honors and awards for his contributions and has been one of the most passionate and persistent voices of our time about the growing threat of climate change. I look forward to his wise counsel in the years ahead.

John will also serve as a Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology—or PCAST—as will Dr. Harold Varmus and Dr. Eric Lander. Together, they will work to remake PCAST into a vigorous external advisory council that will shape my thinking on the scientific aspects of my policy priorities.

Dr. Varmus is no stranger to this work. He is not just a path-breaking scientist, having won a Nobel Prize for his research on the causes of cancer—he also served as Director of the National Institutes of Health during the Clinton Administration. I am grateful he has answered the call to serve once again.

Dr. Eric Lander is the Founding Director of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard and was one of the driving forces behind mapping the human genome—one of the greatest scientific achievements in history. I know he will be a powerful voice in my Administration as we seek to find the causes and cures of our most devastating diseases.

Finally, Dr. Jane Lubchenco has accepted my nomination as the Administrator of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is devoted to conserving our marine and coastal resources and monitoring our weather. An internationally known environmental scientist and ecologist and former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Jane has advised the President and Congress on scientific matters, and I am confident she will provide passionate and dedicated leadership at NOAA.

Working with these leaders, we will seek to draw on the power of science to both meet our challenges across the globe and revitalize our economy here at home. And I’ll be speaking more after the New Year about how my Administration will engage leaders in the technology community and harness technology and innovation to create jobs, enhance America’s competitiveness and advance our national priorities.

I am confident that if we recommit ourselves to discovery; if we support science education to create the next generation of scientists and engineers right here in America; if we have the vision to believe and invest in things unseen, then we can lead the world into a new future of peace and prosperity.

Thank you.

Atypical?...no...pervasive in higher education

Is this an atypical scenario? No, I don't think so. University department's funding is shrnking for the most part and comfortably staffed and supplied departments are feeling the pinch. I suspect that times of "fat" are being relaced by "lean" times and I don't think that university departments will disappear but focus on strteamling of functions.

"Tough times for UT Physics Dept."

Soren Sorensen, head of the UT Department of Physics and Astronomy, wrote a wonderfully informative column in the current issue of "Cross Sections" -- the department's newsletter. He discusses the economic situation in the context of his department, but the insights apply to the state of Tennessee, the University of Tennessee and science education in general.

With his permission, I'm sharing a copy of the column, titled, appropriately enough, "Tough Times."


Frank Munger

December 19th, 2008

Atomic City Underground


These are tough times. The stock market has plummeted, stores and factories are closing, and many people are losing their jobs. Here in Tennessee the tax revenues have been decreasing for the past 12 months and will probably continue to do so for some time to come. As a direct consequence of these decreasing revenues, state funding for the University of Tennessee was cut by 5% for this fiscal year, and during the recent budget hearings in Nashville Governor Bredesen predicted budget cuts for higher education at the 10-15% level for next fiscal year.

So how do these budget cuts influence our department? Profoundly! We now have 25.5 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) faculty members in our department. This is two less than just a year ago, since we lost two positions as a result of the budget cuts in June. We have to go all the way back to around 1960 to find fewer faculty members in our department. We have partly compensated for this loss in FTEs by having more Joint Faculty positions with ORNL, so the 25.5 FTE correspond to 33 actual living beings!

Our department used to have a large group of lecturers and adjunct teaching staff, who would be responsible for many of our large service courses and general education courses. Over the past several years we have lost many of them and have not had any funds to replace them, so we are now down to only 3 lecturers. This has placed a strong teaching responsibility on our faculty and they have responded extremely well. Our physics faculty is now teaching more student credit hours than any other department at the university, because our faculty members have been willing and have had the skills to teach general education astronomy and physics for biologists, engineers, and architects. In many other departments the students do not meet a real professor before classes at the 200 or 300 level!

This high efficiency, however, is coming at a cost. There is no more "slack" in the system in the form of professors that can teach more courses. If we have to implement additional budget cuts, we will have to cancel classes. This will result in much higher student dissatisfaction and, more importantly, longer graduation times for our majors, since many students will not be able to schedule 15 credit hours each semester.

We have also had to reduce our staff in the department. We are now operating our Electronics Workshop with only two people instead of three, and our Mechanical Workshop will now be run by only four people after the untimely death of our workshop supervisor, Jodie Millward, since we do not have any funds to replace his position. Our administrative and financial staff now consists of only five people, who manage to run a "business" with approximately 200 employees.

We are not the only department or university facing tough times. The trend all over our nation has been that state universities get less and less support from public funds. At some universities like Washington and Virginia the state support is now less than 10% of the total revenue. I expect that the University of Tennessee will be following the same trend, so even when the financial situation for the state of Tennessee hopefully gets better in a few years, I do not expect we will be able to fully recover what is now being lost.

The problem is being enhanced by the state control of the tuition. Private universities have been able to increase tuition to unprecedented levels over the last decade, but UT will not be allowed substantial tuition increases, even if most of our students now are covered by the HOPE scholarship funded by the state lottery.

However, in all this doom and gloom there is one bright spot. Here in the department we have been blessed by wonderful alumni and donors, who over the past 8 years have increased our endowment from $100,000 to nearly $2,000,000. This has enabled us to provide scholarships and support for many of our students at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Increasingly we will have to offset the diminishing state support by relying on the proceeds from our endowment to provide a meaningful educational experience for our students. Many of our donors have graciously made the stipulations of their donations very broad, which has enabled us to use the funds to support a range of activities that used to be state supported: research participation for undergraduate students during the summer semester, support for students on foreign exchange programs, support for equipment used by students in our educational labs, and even in a few cases for research equipment benefitting our graduate students (and their advisors!).

We will also increasingly be using our endowment proceeds as payment/scholarships for our junior and senior physics majors, when they work in our tutoring center. This tutoring center has been a great success and we need to expand that service. Every day many students in the lower-division physics courses come here to get help with homework and help with understanding difficult concepts in physics (like the difference between centripetal and centrifugal acceleration). We would also like to expand this valuable service to cover our astronomy courses.

In the future, it is also my hope that we will be able to cover other activities through our endowment. We have a wonderful astronomy outreach program that we would like to grow by having a planetarium in the high-bay room Nielsen 108. We would also like to grow our physics outreach program, so more of the middle- and high-school children (and their parents) in Tennessee will be excited about physics and might choose a carrier in our field or at least in science or technology. In the past I had hopes of having a physics outreach coordinator funded by university funds, but as explained above we cannot anymore count on state support for this. So this would be another great donation opportunity.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Latin Revival

Well, this is certainly a good idea...in principal anyway. This will extend an academic profession for sure. It is really beneficial to read the original document in the original written language. I cannot recall Latin being offered when I was in college but I did take basic German and Technical German...that did help. But there is only so much time to devote to Latin, French, German, or other foreign language before one turns 30.

"The Latin Revival"


Morven McCulloch

December 19th, 2008


It seems Latin isn't dead anymore. It's in the spells of Harry Potter books and on the screens in movies such as "Gladiator" and "300." In Columbia and nationwide, the language is drawing new breath.

Renewed interest in the language is evident in the fairly steady Latin class numbers at Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools and Columbia Independent School. Instructors and students say it's worth taking Latin because of the language's culture and history as well as for the academic benefits.

Jim Meyer, the Latin teacher at Rock Bridge High School, said since he began teaching the language at the school three years ago, enrollment for Latin has risen from 40 students to 70.

Meyer, who also teaches mythology and humanities classes at Rock Bridge, put the increase down to a number of factors, including his arrival and students' newfound interest in the cultural and linguistic roots of English. This interest in Latin, he said, increases an overall understanding of other languages for which Latin is a common starting point.

It doesn't hurt that in the past decade or so, those roots have been prevalent in Western society through popular culture such as books and movies.

"Today, there are kids that are interested in the ancient world, which Latin is very much a part of. For example, the popular movies '300' and 'Gladiator.' J.K. Rowling majored in Latin and Greek when she was in college," he said. "When you tell kids that, it shows you can really focus on the areas you’re interested in and see what you are going to do with them later on in life."

Why learn a "dead" language?

Denise Turner, who has been teaching Latin, French and mythology at Hickman High School for 11 years, said the culture that comes with Latin is crucial to acknowledge in its interest.

Turner said she focuses on the history and tradition of the language and how it connects to other subjects to motivate the students in class.

"I try to tie it in with other subjects they are going to study in school like history and science classes," Turner said. "If we can make some kind of connection to other subjects and their relationship to Latin, they can engage. For example, the Latin word for 'head' is 'caput,' and we get some cool and interesting words in English that come from it, such as 'per capita' and 'decapitate.'"

Unlike Rock Bridge, Hickman's numbers stay about the same every year, Turner said.

"My numbers have always been pretty much the same," she said. "Spanish classes might have 30 students in it, and my Latin classrooms would have 20. There are probably a few more students that take French, but German, Latin and Japanese all have about the same numbers."

Turner, who has a master's degree in classical studies from MU, said more schools in Missouri are offering Latin.

"Latin is growing, and you can see that evidence in the number of schools in Missouri and throughout the country that are starting Latin and Greek programs," she said.

Beyond the language: academic perks

The academic benefit of Latin is another reason for the return of the language.

At Columbia Independent School, all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are required to take Latin. The head of the foreign language department, Sue Ann Moore, who has been teaching the language for 38 years, said requiring Latin in these grades reinforces the school's traditional college preparatory image.

"When founding the school in 1998, the trustees discovered that the private preparatory private schools throughout the state and in neighboring states that did better academically put a strong emphasis on Latin," Moore said.

Madison Berry, a junior at CIS, said she likes how Latin connects to other romantic languages. "It's fun to see a word, and if you don't know exactly what it is, you can connect it to other languages like in English and Spanish and French and try to figure it out," Berry said. "I think that’s really cool."

Berry said she also has an interest in Latin because of the way it ties the past to the present.

"I think learning this base language will universalize what everyone knows," she said, "and it’s really interesting to know the history and translating things that happened hundreds of years ago, to see how it connects the past to now."

Jerri Jeffries, whose two daughters have taken Latin at Columbia Independent School, said the language has educational benefits.

"My husband and I both have a medical background, which Latin helps with, and it seems to be very beneficial in all languages, getting that base knowledge of Latin first," Jeffries said. "It really helped my eldest daughter with her Spanish."

Latin and test scores

Research shows a strong positive correlation between a student’s academic achievement and enrollment in Latin. Ginny Lindzey, Latin teacher at Dripping Springs High School in Texas, is the webmaster for the National Committee for Latin and Greek's Web site. She said research based on the SAT II and language test scores showed students who take Latin generally do significantly better on the verbal section than students who take any other language.

According to the Web site for Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers Inc., students who take Latin not only have a higher grade point average than students who take any other language, but in 2007, the average SAT verbal score for Latin students was 678 — about 40 to 50 points higher than students enrolled in French, Spanish, Hebrew and German. The verbal score for students who did not take a language at all was 502. The same correlations have been evident since 2000.

Richard LaFleur, a professor of classics at the University of Georgia, said Latin continues on a steady upward trend in America’s schools.

"Overall, there are circa half a million Latin students in America's schools and colleges both public and private, with some of the largest growth in the elementary and middle school levels," LaFleur said.

LaFleur, former president of the American Classical League, an organization that aims to promote "the study and teaching of the Classical Greek and Latin world," said the number of National Latin Exam participants has continued to increase from fewer than 10,000 students in 1978 to about 150,000 today.

As for Latin's benefits in the academic sphere, LaFleur echoed what Columbia teachers said: Latin teaches students about the roots of Western culture and the roots of their language, too.

"The advantages to the students are a heightened understanding of the ancient Mediterranean world that were all part of the Roman Empire in all of its rich diversity," LaFleur said, "and, at the same time, singularly improved verbal skills, particularly increased vocabulary and reading comprehension skills derived from the fact that 60 to 70 percent of English comes directly or indirectly from 'the mother tongue.'"

LaFleur also said the ancient Roman empire was a cultural "melting pot" before the term became used to describe America.

"Thanks to the almost limitless influences Greco-Roman civilization has exerted upon our own," he said, "we have countless lessons to learn from its study."