If you have spent time on a campus that has a physics department, you might have seen t-shirts that have this on them:
These equations are called Maxwell’s equations and they describe electromagnetism. Ok, ok, here is integral form:
Here is a brief history of how they came to be; as you may have guessed, the early version was messy and considered incomplete. You are seeing the result of a lot of work and polishing.
Not for a different kind of science: Jerry Coyne’s website has an interesting article about what appears to be mimicry in bird nestlings: they resemble a toxic caterpillar while they are still nestlings. Of course, the science jury is still out as scientists usually require a high standard of proof before they declare something to be “true”.
I admit it: when I think of “scientists”, I think of the big names that you see on television or on the internet; I think of Nobel Prizes, National Academies, MIT, Berkley and the top laboratories.
But the reality is different. I read a good New York Times article about the scientist who discovered francium and ended up dying from the radiation exposure that she encountered during her work. True, that happened to Marie Curie too. But Marie Curie is famous; the vast majority of scientists who toil for results are not:
Her sacrifice filled a hole in the periodic table, but it did not change cancer medicine, as she had hoped. And after francium, elements were no longer discovered first in nature but were increasingly made artificially. They became curiosities — though still significant to physicists — rather than insights that changed the world. Science moved on, as it does; in 20 years’ time, much of the work that makes headlines now — neuroscience, string theory — may have a totally different meaning from what it does today.
In general, scientists whose risks pay off in the ways they expect are the ones who become the most famous, who get their stories written in romantic and memorable terms. This is particularly true if those expectations are grandiose and the risks they take are tragic. But such people represent a vanishingly small part of those who dedicate their lives to science. “We have this selection bias on when it does work out in an extraordinary way,” Lynette Shaw, a sociologist who studies how we assign value to ideas, objects and people, told me. Perey’s story “gets to this deep question about what’s the value in doing things? Is it the end result? Or is it just because it has inherent worth to pursue them?”
We should celebrate scientists not solely for their accomplishments but also for their courage and the tenacity required to discover anything at all. There are brave people out there working right now. They are brave not because they are killing themselves slowly or leaping from airplanes or catching rare tropical diseases, although scientists have done all those things. They are brave because of the intense emotional risks of trying to do something no one has done before by following your own lead. Radiation is a potent allegory for human life. Everything is always, inevitably falling apart; we are all in arrested decay. Our greatest achievements may become at best footnotes; few people remember us; we can’t know what will eventually come of our work.
Physics Professor Mano Singham directs us to this Nature science video.
It is a good video; note that it appears that what is actually being detected is akin to a type of vector calculus curl.
Workout notes -3 F outside but sunny; still I ran inside.
First I went on treadmill 1: ran at mostly 0.5 incline and changed speed every 5 minutes. Then at 10:10 mpm I did 10 x (2 minutes 0 elevation, 2 minutes at elevation) going 1-2-3-3-3-3-3-3-3-3 and then 2 minutes to get to 1:01:55 (6 miles).
Switched treadmills then varied the speed to make 2 more miles (21:22).
the plan was to really gun the last 2 miles (at a tempo pace) but the hill repetitions took more out of me than I had anticipated. The intensity: what I call “projected marathon pace”: no I couldn’t actually run a marathon at 10:10 minutes per mile, but this is still a useful training intensity for me, especially for hill repetitions.
Note: I still have to focus; I almost stepped off of the treadmill surface when a nearby woman went into “child” pose (facing away from me, of course).
Stephen Hawking has some questions about black holes, with regards to the “event horizon”. Of course, it was known long ago that one could have some “Hawking radiation” from these; basically particles can materialize from the quantum vacuum (pair production) and then one of the newly created particles could get sucked into the black hole, leaving the other suddenly unpaired particle as radiation. (yes, this is grossly oversimplified)
But there are unsolved problems, and so Hawking’s new paper deals with these.
But the headlines read: “Hawking says that black holes don’t exist”. Uh…no. He didn’t say that.
But this is the idea: it took science a long, long time to accept Copernicus’ heliocentric astronomy. True, Galileo saw the phases of Venus and the moons around Jupiter which blew conventional geocentric astronomy out of the water, but there was a “every planet except the earth orbits the sun” model which kept earth fixed.
Why the fixation on keeping the earth fixed? Yes, there were religious objections, but there were scientific objections as well:
1. The earth was known to be massive and scientists at the time knew that it was difficult to move heavy objects. What in the world could move something as massive as the earth?
2. Instruments of the time couldn’t detect stellar parallax. This meant that the stars were a huge distance away. But notice that the stars appear to have a measurable width to them; in fact they should be a “point” of light but that light is smeared out into a disk. At the time, this effect was NOT understood. Hence, a star that was so absurdly far away (as to not show parallax) that appeared to be that wide would have to be absurdly huge, even when compared to our sun.
How do you resolve these two “facts”: great distance and huge size?
Even when heliocentric astronomy became accepted, scientists admitted that there were other problems that cropped up; these problems were not to be resolved until much later.
So, the push-back against Copernican astronomy was NOT entirely religious; scientists of the day had reasonable objections to the theory, and defenders of the then-new theory resorted to….well…appeals to the supernatural and to philosophy to explain away the difficulties.
RANT TO FOLLOW
I admit that I cringed when I saw the title of the article and started to read it. Yes, it was a well written, very intelligent article. And yes, I’ll gladly recommend it to my smarter, more scientifically minded and interested friends. But….there is this…..
“SEE, Science is wrong all of the time!”
(uh, on the whole, science eventually gets it right….you are seeing this on a computer, aren’t you? )
“Hey, they laughed at Einstein”
(uh, as a unknown graduate student, Einstein got his work published in a top flight peer reviewed physics journal; in fact he got 4 of them. Where are your peer reviewed publications? Besides those who came up with the big new ideas are intellectual outliers who completely understood science and the then current theories. You are not one of those, and no, having a good SAT score, passing an undergraduate course or even getting a Ph. D. doesn’t make you that sort of outlier.)
“My ideas are new and radical”
(yes, and most non-mainstream ideas are completely wrong; it is just that we never hear about the vast majority of the wrong ones. What reason have you given for anyone to take the time to listen to you?).
Bottom line: established scientific ideas are sometimes overthrown or superseded or modified, but only rarely and only after a LOT of difficult checking and cross checking by a LOT of smart people ….and they find the new idea promising enough to give in a thorough examination.
Economics Austerity: does it work? Evidence is scant.
We are adding jobs. All isn’t rosy but things are somewhat better:
Still, unlike some other months that presented decidedly contradictory signals, many of the underlying factors identified by government statisticians at least pointed in the right direction. Hourly earnings, as well as the length of the typical workweek, both increased. The overall labor participation rate, while still low by historical standards, rose two-tenths of a percentage point to 63 percent.
At the same time, jobs were added to a broad range of sectors, rather than restricted to a few, lower-paying areas.
Manufacturing, closely watched because its ups and downs serve as a bellwether of the overall economy, added 27,000 workers. Besides that jump, Mr. Gapen of Barclays said he was also glad to see that the construction sector gained jobs for the third month in a row, indicating that housing continues to rebound.
Protons, of course, are made up of subatomic particles. It turns out that the total mass of a proton doesn’t change over a superlong period of time. One might ask: “well, why would it?” But this is one of those fundamental questions that should be asked.
Lots of times, authors of pop-science articles and books will take a routine fact, loudly proclaim that this fact “kills well known theory/hypothesis/metaphor X” (even if all it does is kill a simplistic caricature of it) and then get blistered by other scientists. Here is such a case; here someone claims that the “Selfish Gene” metaphor is dead. Richard Dawkins says: “Really? I think not.”:
Over at Richard Dawkins’s own site, he’s responded to Dobbs’s misguided critique of the “gene-centered” view of evolution as described in The Selfish Gene. Richard’s piece is called “Adversarial journalism and the selfish gene.“ He’s remarkably polite for a man who’s been trashed in such an unfair (and erroneous) manner, and politely though firmly explains that, yes, he knows about regulatory genes and that, as we know, they’re simply selfish genes that regulate other selfish genes. He compares the toolbox of regulatory genes (a simile the biologist Sean Carroll also uses) to the subroutines of a Macintosh. and then notes:
Does Dobbs, then, really expect me to be surprised to learn from him that:
“This means that we are human, rather than wormlike, flylike, chickenlike, feline, bovine, or excessively simian, less because we carry different genes from those other species than because our cells read differently.”
Does Dobbs really think the existence of genes controlling the expression of other genes is either a surprise to me or remotely discomfiting to the theory of the selfish gene? Genes controlling other genes are exactly the kind of genes I have in mind when I speak of “selfish genes” as the “immortal replicators”, the “units of natural selection”.
Jerry Coyne (a biologist) says more here.
Larry Moran (a biochemist) mostly likes Coyne’s critique, but has some quibbles with it.
The upshot: a biochemist looks, of course, at the molecules and is apt to characterize evolution (a change in the frequency distribution of alleles with time) at the molecular level; the biologists tend to look more at the bodies, organs, etc.
In this case, Moran is more from what I’d call “pluralistic mechanisms for evolution” camp (assigning heavier weight to thinks like random genetic drift, in which neutral mutations (no effect on reproductive success) account for much of the variation) whereas Coyne has been called a neo-Darwinian (Natural Selection is the overwhelming factor, though other factors (such as drift) influence evolution).
This is the type of thing smart accomplished scientists argue about.
Speaking of evolution and biology This is an interesting result in cancer research.
The rough idea is this: cells use something called a “replication fork” when they reproduce. Sometimes this fork breaks. Healthy cells use one mechanism to repair a damaged “replication fork” whereas cancerous cells use a different one.
This might provide insight on how to fight some cancers.
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