These are the articles and videos from the previous week I found most interesting.
- Sunset Solar Eclipse
- How to Make Quark Soup
- Michio Kaku Warning on the Decline of Science in America
- Earth From Space
- Danny Macaskill: The Ridge
- Nuclear Catastrophe: How Much Risk are You Willing to Accept?
- Cave art in the tropics
- 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
- Blue LEDs and Nobel Prize
On October 23rd, the Moon will pass in front of the sun, off-center, producing a partial solar eclipse visible in most of the United States.
You don’t need a time machine to marvel at the hot broth of quarks and gluons that made up all matter a microsecond after the Big Bang. You just need a ticket on the Long Island Railroad. Using massive feats of engineering, Brookhaven National Laboratory has devised a recipe for cooking up tiny ephemeral batches of this quark-gluon soup, a fluid which physicists Paul Sorensen say is the most “perfect” fluid ever discovered.
In the United States, the best scientific minds are often absorbed by the Pentagon, which uses their talents on new generations of weapons. Even redirecting a tiny percentage of the military budget to pure science could have a profound effect on the development of technology.
Michio Kaku, while remembering a conversation he had with the famous physicist Freeman Dyson, comments on how Dyson noticed that America, in the 21st century, is in a state of scientific decline in the same fashion to how Britain declined in the early 20th century, whereby it no longer was the global scientific power, as reflected in the number of discoveries, inventions and Nobel Prizes won by British scientists in the 1800s and early 1900s and instead declined to a kind of “junior partner” to the much more scientifically dominant United States from the 1940’s to 1990’s.
However, since most funding in America was connected to the Pentagon, who had an abundance of funding during the cold war to build atom smashers, spacecraft projects, electronics, laser research, computer and high speed communications technology (such as the ARPANET and eventually the Internet) this generated a very unsustainable way to generate a constantly replenishing high tech economy.
Hence when the cold war ended many science, maths and engineering graduates had to fund their own education with grants becoming more and more sparse and therefore became very dependent on financial institutions for loans. The best way to pay off these loans was to enter the financial workforce itself and all too often these are only jobs science, engineering and math graduates can get in the western world. Such jobs do not create wealth as much as they do redistribute it, with most of the work being in the field of credit default swaps, investment risk analysis or trend prediction.
Michio also reminds us that in the meantime, China and India are becoming more and more developed and see science and engineering as a meal ticket into the growing high tech economy which may easily outperform America in the not too distant future, reducing it to a “junior partner” or service sector as Britain was to America in the 1930’s and through much of the late 20th century.
Such predictions are worth thinking about in considering how the debate of distributing wealth for short term gains is debated in the United States, often in a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” type of fashion which is very short sighted given that lack of funding for science now may result in a country being a scientific backwater 20 years from now, unable to catch up with competitors and even nations which were once behind and creating an economy and workforce that is very skewed towards the service sector, creating huge unemployment in the skilled workforce which only leads to brain-drain and decline.
The groundbreaking two-hour special that reveals a spectacular new space-based vision of our planet. Produced in extensive consultation with NASA scientists, NOVA takes data from earth-observing satellites and transforms it into dazzling visual sequences, each one exposing the intricate and surprising web of forces that sustains life on earth.
For the first time in one of his films Danny climbs aboard a mountain bike and returns to his native home of the Isle of Skye in Scotland to take on a death-defying ride along the notorious Cuillin Ridgeline.
Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser describes the terrifyingly close calls we’ve had with nuclear weapons and the incredibly high odds that such a disaster will occur. (It’s 100%). Schlosser is the author of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (http://goo.gl/kb3yZO).
Transcript – Eric Schlosser: Well I was spending time with the Air Force because I was interested in writing about the future of warfare in space. And most people don’t realize but we have an Air Force Space Command and we have a United States Space Command. This sounds like something out of science fiction but we have them and we have them because someday we’re planning to use laser beams and directed energy weapons in space to attack enemy satellites. So I was spending time with the Air Force Space Command visiting bases, looking at all this new high tech weaponry and the guys who I was hanging out with started telling me stories of the Cold War. Many of them had served as launch officers in intercontinental ballistic missile control centers during the Cold War. And it was a natural career path. If you knew a lot about missiles to go into the Space Command, and they told me some extraordinary stories about accidents involving our nuclear weapons that I just had never heard before.
And one of the stories that they told really stuck in my mind and it was the story of an accident in Damascus, Arkansas in September of 1980. And it just so happens that, you know, we’re doing this interview on September 18 and it was on September 18, 1980 that this accident happened. There were workers working in a missile silo doing routine maintenance, the kind of thing that, you know, they did all the time without thinking about it. And the missile in the silo was a Titan II missile, the biggest intercontinental ballistic missile the United States ever built. It was taller than a ten story building. And while they were doing this routine maintenance they were standing on a steel work platform near the top of the missile. And one of the guys reached over with a wrench handle with a socket on it to unscrew a pressure cap on the missile and as he reached over the socket fell off of the wrench handle and the socket fell in between this narrow gap between the missile and the steel work platform and it dropped about 80 feet, it hit the side of the silo, ricocheted and then hit the missile.
And when it hit the missile it tore a hole in the missile’s metal skin and suddenly thousands of gallons of highly flammable, highly explosive rocket fuel were filling the silo. And the Air Force literally had no idea what to do. No accident like this had ever happened before and they had to figure out what to do very quickly because on top of this missile was the most powerful nuclear warhead that the United States ever built. This one warhead on this one missile had more than three times the explosive force of all the bombs used by all the armies in the Second World War combined including both atomic bombs. So I was told this story by this Air Force officer and I just – I became obsessed with it. I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard about this before. I couldn’t believe how close we came to a major nuclear catastrophe that would have consumed much of the state of Arkansas in firestorms. So I started researching this one accident and I thought I’d write a fairly short book, a minute by minute retelling of this one nuclear accident. [transcript truncated].
In this Nature Video, we explore a cave in Indonesia that’s home to some of the oldest paintings in the world. The hand stencils and paintings of animals were created between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago – making them at least as old as similar artwork in Europe.
The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner.
The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics goes to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura for work on blue light emitting diodes (LEDs).