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It is time to start writing again, even as my summer passes and fills with more activity, ushering in a most hectic academic year.

There is much worth discussing every week. For example, this past week saw the dissemination, then denial, the modification and further denial of rumors of rumors about the detection of the Higgs Boson at Fermilab. The sources of the rumors of rumors are responding to criticism with a discussion on the importance of engaging the public. I agree that engaging the nonscientific public in science is important, not in the least since they fund it. However, rumors? They chose a risky path. Still, if I heard a rumor, which I honestly believed to be true, about the discovery of the Higgs boson, I would have great difficulty in containing myself. My great excitement this week related to reading papers about dark stars, which I’ll discuss here at a later time.

Outside of science, a great discussion which came to my mind this week that I find worth discussing is the need for an annotated copy of Les Miserables. So many now obscure French references fill that book but when I take the time to seek out explanations of who Babeuf and Lacenaire and Quenisset (see September 13, 1841) were my experience becomes all the richer.


Cyryogenic Dark Matter Search Results Announced

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So the final results of the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search-II (CDMS-II),  have been announced to much anticipation.  There were rumors last week that they had found something big. After confirming that some of the rumors were most certainly false, the interested communities revised their speculations this week and turned out to be correct; CDMS-II have found two events of interest.  Two events is great but not enough for to announce a ‘discovery’ of dark matter. This is the result people should have expected, and indeed did–there may be something interesting but more data is needed and so the experiment will continue with improved detectors.

I’ll let the professionals do the explaining.

Get the summary (PDF) from the CDMS-II team.

Read about it at Symmetry Breaking from SLAC

Cosmology, Public Lectures, and Wonder.

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Last evening I attended a lecture at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History by Prof. Carlos Frenk of Durham University. His talk, ‘The Great Cosmic Gamble: Making Galaxies from Nothing,’ was the most crowded lecture of the Frontiers of Astronomy series the museum has been hosting. Why?

Astronomy does well in the public sphere. It’s easy to get people excited about stars and planets and comets and pretty things like nebulae. It is a science in which people can get involved. Bring a telescope to a public spot, point it at Saturn and they too can have the chance to observe its rings. There are numerous reasons for the suitability of astronomy to science outreach, enough for several posts. Cosmology more than any other field in astronomy, perhaps in science, captures our interest. Why shouldn’t it?

Cosmology is the study of the universe as a whole and its origins. It is the science of the ‘Big Picture,’ a field which overlaps with philosophy and theology. The questions cosmology addresses are some of those which strike at the core of wonder-the desire for knowledge: ‘What is the universe like?’ ‘How big is the universe?’ ‘How old is the universe?’ ‘What might its future hold?’.

Prof. Frenk is a proponent of Cold Dark Matter, one of several theories which seeks to explain the 21% of the universe which has mass, but for whatever reason does not interact with light, hence the moniker dark matter. There are several competing theories, as one audience member’s question about Modified-Netwonian Dynamics pointed out, but theories such as those which Frenk works with are the most accepted in the scientific community. Of course because this matter does not interact with light, it is quite difficult to figure out what it is, even if its gravitational effect tells researchers where it is. One hope researcher’s have for large particle colliers such as the Large Hadron Collider is they they may be able to produce particles which fit dark matter models.

Interestingly, dark matter and ‘everyday matter’ account for less than 30% of the ‘stuff’ in the universe. Leading cosmological theories call the remaining component of the universe, dark energy. Unlike matter, dark energy does not exert gravitational force. Indeed it seems as if dark energy is the cause of the accelerating expansion of the universe. One question I’ve always harbored is whether dark energy might be explained as a fifth fundamental force, joining the ranks of electromagnetism, gravity, weak nuclear, and strong nuclear. If not then why? I’m just a lowly undergraduate vying to go into observational astronomy, so I don’t know the answers to this.

Recently the Society of Physics student’s asked members a question close to my heart, ‘What makes you wonder?’ I think that I will make this a regular feature, maybe weekly so that I can kick myself into writing more regularly here. So this is the first installment of a hereto unnamed feature about things which make us wonder. This week I wonder, ‘Can dark energy be explained by adding a fifth fundamental force to physics?’

FRIB goes to MSU

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The Department of Energy has selected Michigan State University (MSU) as the site for the future Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB): press release from DOE. MSU is the current home to the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, one of the leading nuclear science facilities in the world. The research done at NSCL has helped expand our knowledge of the nature of atomic nuclei and brought insight into how the elements are formed in the interiors of stars and in cataclysmic events like supernovae. NSCL is currently undergoing upgrades to make it the only facility in the world which allows researchers to use stopped, accelerated, and reaccelerated beams. The upgrades are expected to be completed in 2010. In large part due to the presence of NSCL, MSU is ranked second in the nation for graduate programs in nuclear physics.

FRIB will take a decade to design and construct, at a cost of 550 million dollars. Hundreds of jobs are expected to directly result from its construction, with additional boosts to the local economy resulting from the presence of the facility which will attract visiting researchers from all over the world. Like NSCL, FRIB will be used for studying the nucleus of the atom. Insight into the origin of the elements, processes within stars, and possible applications in medical physics and stockpile control are expect results of research in this field.

This is incredibly exciting news. I spent three years working as an undergraduate assistant at NSCL (see my post on helping with an experiment). It was an experience which taught me more about science than any of my classes did. The presence of FRIB at MSU will continue to provide opportunities for students to participate in such research.

Back in October, students at MSU, I included, held a public awareness day about FRIB, educating the student body and local community about MSU’s bid for FRIB and of the implications of winning the bid.

Congratulations MSU and NSCL.


Michigan State has posted its press release later in the day.

NSCL has also posted information.

An extensive press release is on the DOE page.

More information about the impact of the decision on MSU.

LED Lighting?

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This is so cool.

LED lighting is something my Dad has been telling me about for years. In fact LEDs have long been one of the technological fascinations in my family. I remember when my Dad brought home a set of LED Christmas lights some years ago. They were so much brighter than the LEDs one finds on kids meal toys and such other places that one finds them. A couple of years ago in an intro Chemistry lab I worked with LEDs and made sure to save mine to bring home at the end of the semester. Thus, this is a bit of science news which touches close to home.

I wonder if the process will be economically competive to compact flouroscents? Supposing that they become feasible for mass-production, will companies make the investments required to make them? Certainly the lack of mercury is an advantage, but there is a lot going for compact flouroscents currently (legislation, consumer interest, ect.). I hope that manufactors really do step when the time comes. The moment these things become afordable I hope to have some in my house (or appartment I suppose if it really is two years). My compact floroscents have lasted three years through college, but I’d be happy to replace them with LEDs when they burn out.