Explaining the Higgs Boson Particle Again
Posted on March 10, 2014 Comments (0)
Excerpt from Piled Higher and Deeper by Jorge Cham – go see the entire illustration.
Related: 5% of the Universe is Normal Matter, What About the Other 95%? – At the Heart of All Matter – The god of small things – CERN Pressure Test Failure – Ninja Professors – Friday Fun, CERN Version
Math Education Results Show China, Singapore, Korea and Japan Leading
Posted on March 4, 2014 Comments (0)
The most comprehenvise comparison of student achievement in math and science around the globe undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) focuses on math understanding of 15 year olds (the 2014 report will focus on science). The 2009 report focused on the results of science education student achievement around the globe.
2012 results for the math portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):
- 1 – Singapore – 573
- 2 – Korea – 554
- 3 – Japan – 536
- 5 – Switzerland – 531
- 6 – Netherlands – 523
- 7 – Estonia – 521
- 8 – Finland – 519
- 9 – Canada – 518
- 12 – Germany – 514
- 24 – UK – 494 (this is also the OECD average)
- 34 – USA – 481
- 49 – Malaysia – 421
- 50 – Mexico – 413
All 34 OECD member countries and 31 partner countries and economies participated in PISA 2012, representing more than 80% of the world economy. Portions of China participated and did very well including Shanghai-China (highest mean score of 613 points – if you ranked that as a country, I ignored these “regional results” in the ranks I shown here), Hong Kong-China (561, 3rd if including countries and regions together), Chinese Taipei [Taiwan] (560, 4th), Macao-China (538, 6th).
Boys perform better than girls in mathematics in 38 out of the 65 countries and economies that participated in PISA 2012, and girls outperform boys in 5 countries.
Related: Playing Dice and Children’s Numeracy – Numeracy: The Educational Gift That Keeps on Giving – Mathematicians Top List of Best Occupations – The Economic Consequences of Investing in Science Education – Country H-index Ranking for Science Publications – Economic Strength Through Technology Leadership
How Wolves Changed the Yellowstone Ecosystem
Posted on February 22, 2014 Comments (0)
A great short video explaining the dramatic changes to the Yellowstone ecosystem with the re-introduction of wolves. Even the rivers changed.
Related: Light-harvesting Bacterium Discovered in Yellowstone – Fishless Future – The Sea Otter story – Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps – Polar Bears Playing with Huskies – Curious Cat travel photos of Yellowstone National Park
Do It Yourself Solar Furnace for Home Heating
Posted on February 15, 2014 Comments (2)
“Just mount it on the side. If you touch the side of the house, even at —20 C, it’s still hot. We should be gathering that heat and driving it inside as quickly as possible.”
It is great to see do it yourself solutions that easily tap the energy provided by the sun to heat your house.
I had a friend that had a south facing greenhouse (attached to her house) that had 2 huge water tanks. They would heat up in the sun and give off heat all night (the stone floor would do the same thing).
Related: Brian’s Pop Can Solar Heater – Solar DIY Space Heating Projects – How to Build a Soda Can Heater – Pay as You Go Solar in India – Soda-can furnaces powered by solar energy heat Denver neighborhood – Green Building with Tire Bales – Cost Efficient Solar Dish by Students (2008)
Why Don’t All Ant Species Replace Queens in the Colony, Since Some Do
Posted on February 8, 2014 Comments (1)
My response to: There are other species of ants that do replace the queen, so why did some species not do this?
Basically the method they evolved copes well with losing the queen. Out of various ways of dealing with having a dominant Queen some may lead to replacement if she dies.
There are lots of examples of method is very effective at creating lots of successful offspring but happens to be less than ideal in some situations. Natural selection is pretty amazing and awesome at creating effective genes but we certainly can look at the results sometimes and see improvements that would be useful.
Likely if losing the queen was very common a good way of dealing with that would be found (or that species would be disadvantaged and at risk). If the queen happens to evolve to being very reliable coping with her death becomes less important. If they produce lots of useful offspring but have a less than ideal method of coping with their home colony losing her it is entirely sensible to imagine that species could flourish.
I would imagine species with queens that had shorter lifespans, that invested more in the home colony, that were less effective at setting up new colonies… would be more likely to have better queen replacement strategies/results.
Pedal Powered Washing Machine
Posted on February 4, 2014 Comments (7)
It is very easy to forget billions of people alive today do not have access to electricity, clean water and things like washing machines at home. As I have said before I love appropriate technology. Even more than that I love to see successful deployments of appropriate technology that make people’s lives better.
It is also great to see kids with the perseverance to make these products to meet needs they see around them. We need to do what we can to encourage these types of kids. They are the future engineers and entrepreneurs that will make lives better for the rest of society.
Remya Jose, a 14 year school girl from Kerala, India created this wonderful machine. Another version of it, has the normal bike pedals (closer together, instead of spread out, on opposite sides of the machine, like in the video).
As far as I can tell the original video was from 2008 (and Remya created the machine in 2005). I haven’t been able to find the current status of the product, this is the best I could find (from 2008). Turning these innovations into products that succeed commercially is very hard.
If I had control of a national development program (or if I just become super rich and have millions to devote to making the world better, I think an effort like this would be something I would try) I would put working with these kids to make the products work very high on my list of priorities. The learning process and creation of engineers and entrepreneurs would be extremely valuable on top of any success the products had.
Related: Appropriate Technology: Washing Clothes by Machine Instead by Hand – Washing Machine Uses 90% Less Water – Engineering a Better World: Bike Corn-Sheller – another bicycle washing machine – Automatic Dog Washing Machine
How Our Brains React to Sugar
Posted on January 23, 2014 Comments (4)
The dopamine reaction to sugar leads us to seek out that good feeling. Sugars can lead us astray by encouraging us to seek more than is good for us.
A sensible explanation is that sugars provide high calories and were rare and so the more we could find the better. Evolution takes a long time to adjust though (and of course misses things that don’t affect passing on successful genes) so long (in our human timeframe, short in evolutionary timeframe) after we have far too much sugar available our brains our encouraging us to eat all we can find. This of course, at best, is a very oversimplified view.
Battery Breakthrough Using Organic Storage
Posted on January 16, 2014 Comments (3)
The mismatch between the availability of intermittent wind or sunshine and the variable demand is the biggest obstacle to using renewable sources for a large fraction of our electricity. A cost-effective means of storing large amounts of electrical energy could solve this problem.
Flow batteries store energy in chemical fluids contained in external tanks, as with fuel cells, instead of within the battery container itself. The two main components — the electrochemical conversion hardware through which the fluids are flowed (which sets the peak power capacity) and the chemical storage tanks (which set the energy capacity) — may be independently sized. Thus the amount of energy that can be stored is limited only by the size of the tanks. The design permits larger amounts of energy to be stored at lower cost than with traditional batteries.
This looks like a very interesting field of research. Storing power remains one of the challenges for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. This is especially true if the use is disconnected from the grid, but is even true for grid-connected uses. Especially as increasing the amount of wind and solar energy make it increasingly likely that surplus energy is created at certain times.
The research seems to allow for sensible size home storage setups. At the commercial level the volume needed is very large. Another concern to be addressed is how many cycles the “battery” is good for before it degrades; current experimentation show no degradation after 100 cycles but consumer/commercial usage will need thousands of cycles.
Related: Battery Breakthrough (solid sodium metal mated to a sulphur compound by an extraordinary, paper-thin ceramic membrane) – Energy Storage Using Carbon Nanotubes (2006) – Chart of Wind Power Generation Capacity Globally 2005-2012 – Recharge Batteries in Seconds
Country H-index Ranking for Science Publications
Posted on January 9, 2014 Comments (1)
The SCImago Journal and Country Rank provides journal and country scientific indicators developed from the information contained in the Scopus database (this site also lets you look at these ranking by very specific categories (I think 313 categories), for example biotechnology #1 USA, #2 Germany, #3 UK, #4 Japan, #9 China or Theoretical Computer Science #1 USA, #2 UK, #3 Canada, #6 China). I posted about this previously (in 2008 and 2011) and take a look at the updated picture in this post.
I like looking at data and country comparisons but in doing so it is wise to remember this is the results of a calculation that is interesting but hardly definative. We don’t have the ability to have exact numbers on haw the true scientific knowledge output by countries are. I think you can draw the conclusion that the USA is very influential, and along with other data make the case even that the USA is the leading scientific publication center.
The table shows the top 6 countries by h-index and then some others I chose to list.
|% of World
|% of World GDP||total cites|
|Additional countries of interest|
|19) South Korea||343||161||.7||1.8||4,640,390|
80% of the Antibiotics in the USA are Used in Agriculture and Aquaculture
Posted on December 31, 2013 Comments (0)
Citing an overabundance in the use of antibiotics by the agriculture and aquaculture industries that poses a threat to public health, economics professor Aidan Hollis has proposed a solution in the form of user fees on the non-human use of antibiotics.
In a newly released paper published (closed science, sadly, so no link provide), Hollis and co-author Ziana Ahmed state that in the United States 80% of the antibiotics in the country are consumed in agriculture and aquaculture for the purpose of increasing food production.
This flood of antibiotics released into the environment – sprayed on fruit trees and fed to the likes of livestock, poultry and salmon, among other uses – has led bacteria to evolve, Hollis writes. Mounting evidence cited in the journal shows resistant pathogens are emerging in the wake of this veritable flood of antibiotics – resulting in an increase in bacteria that is immune to available treatments.
If the problem is left unchecked, this will create a health crisis on a global scale, Hollis says.
Hollis suggest that the predicament could be greatly alleviated by imposing a user fee on the non-human uses of antibiotics, similar to the way in which logging companies pay stumpage fees and oil companies pay royalties.
“Modern medicine relies on antibiotics to kill off bacterial infections,” explains Hollis. “This is incredibly important. Without effective antibiotics, any surgery – even minor ones – will become extremely risky. Cancer therapies, similarly, are dependent on the availability of effective antimicrobials. Ordinary infections will kill otherwise healthy people.”
Bacteria that can effectively resist antibiotics will thrive, Hollis adds, reproducing rapidly and spreading in various ways.
“It’s not just the food we eat,” he says. “Bacteria is spread in the environment; it might wind up on a doorknob. You walk away with the bacteria on you and you share it with the next person you come into contact with. If you become infected with resistant bacteria, antibiotics won’t provide any relief.”
While the vast majority of antibiotic use has gone towards increasing productivity in agriculture, Hollis asserts that most of these applications are of “low value.”
“It’s about increasing the efficiency of food so you can reduce the amount of grain you feed the cattle,” says Hollis. “It’s about giving antibiotics to baby chicks because it reduces the likelihood that they’re going to get sick when you cram them together in unsanitary conditions.
“These methods are obviously profitable to the farmers, but that doesn’t mean it’s generating a huge benefit. In fact, the profitability is usually quite marginal.
“The real value of antibiotics is saving people from dying. Everything else is trivial.”
While banning the use of antibiotics in food production is challenging, establishing a user fee makes good sense, according to Hollis.
Such a practice would deter the low-value use of antibiotics, with higher costs encouraging farmers to improve their animal management methods and to adopt better substitutes for the drugs, such as vaccinations.
Hollis also suggests that an international treaty could ideally be imposed. “Resistant bacteria do not respect national borders,” he says. He adds that such a treaty might have a fair chance of attaining international compliance, as governments tend to be motivated by revenue collection.
Hollis notes that in the USA, a move has been made to control the non-human use of antibiotics, with the FDA recently seeking voluntary limits on the use of antibiotics for animal growth promotion on farms.
Related: Raising Food Without Antibiotics – Our Dangerous Antibiotic Practices Carry Great Risks – What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working? – Antibiotics Too Often Prescribed for Sinus Woes
Study After Study Find No Benefits to Multivitamins
Posted on December 23, 2013 Comments (3)
The largest study of its kind concludes that long-term multivitamin use has no impact on the risk of common cancers, cardiovascular disease or overall mortality in postmenopausal women.
“Dietary supplements are used by more than half of all Americans, who spend more than $20 billion on these products each year. However, scientific data are lacking on the long-term health benefits of supplements,” said lead author Marian L. Neuhouser, Ph.D., an associate member of the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center.
The study focused the effects of multivitamins because they are the most commonly used supplement. “To our surprise, we found that multivitamins did not lower the risk of the most common cancers and also had no impact on heart disease,” she said.
The study assessed multivitamin use among nearly 162,000 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative, one of the largest U.S. prevention studies of its kind designed to address the most common causes of death, disability and impaired quality of life in postmenopausal women. The women were followed for about eight years.
Nearly half of the study participants – 41.5 percent – reported using multivitamins on a regular basis. Multivitamin users were more likely to be white, live in the western United States, have a lower body-mass index, be more physically active and have a college degree or higher as compared to non-users.
The study found no significant differences in risk of cancer, heart disease or death between the multivitamin users and non-users.
These findings are consistent with most previously published results regarding the lack of health benefits of multivitamins, Neuhouser said, but this study provides definitive evidence. Since the study did not include men, Neuhouser cautions that the results may not apply to them.
So what advice do Neuhouser and colleagues offer to women who want to make sure they’re getting optimal nutrition? “Get nutrients from food,” she said. “Whole foods are better than dietary supplements. Getting a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains is particularly important.”