Finding Dark Matter

Posted on November 30, 2006  Comments (2)

Dark matter hides, physicists seek

Scientists don’t know what dark matter is, but they know it’s all over the universe. Everything humans observe in the heavens—galaxies, stars, planets and the rest—makes up only 4 percent of the universe, scientists say. The remaining 96 percent is composed of dark matter and its even more mysterious sibling, dark energy. Scientists recently found direct evidence that dark matter exists by studying a distant galaxy cluster and observing different types of motion in luminous versus dark matter. Still, no one knows what dark matter is made of.

The experiment is the most sensitive in the world aiming to detect exotic particles called WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles), which are one of scientists’ best guesses at what makes up dark matter. Other options include neutrinos, theorized particles called axions or even normal matter like black holes and brown dwarf stars that are just too faint to see.

WIMPS are thought to be neutral in charge and weigh more than 100 times the mass of a proton. At the moment these elementary particles exist only in theory and have never been observed.

Shuttle Computer Not Designed For New Year While in Flight

Posted on November 30, 2006  Comments (1)

Shuttle Discovery to launch at night:

If the launch does not happen on Dec. 7, NASA can keep trying through Dec. 17. After that, the agency will re-evaluate its options and may call it quits until January.

NASA wants Discovery back from its 12-day mission by New Year’s Eve because shuttle computers are not designed to make the change from the 365th day of the old year to the first day of the new year while in flight.

The space agency has figured out a solution for the New Year’s Day problem, but managers are reluctant to try it since it has not been thoroughly tested.

I heard this on the radio this morning. Am I the only one that finds this fairly amazing?

Misleading headline of the week

Posted on November 30, 2006  Comments (0)

Misleading headline of the week:

But armed with an author name, Christine Born, I could do a Google search, and found many more articles — for example, this one from the Washington Post. Of course, I still want to know more about the study, which brings me to another pet peeve of mine: mainstream media reports on research that hasn’t yet been peer reviewed. This article doesn’t appear to have been published, just presented at a conference. We don’t know how the group defines “better-known” brands, or even what brands were used. We don’t even know if this research is actually publishable.

There is a conflict between publishing news and properly vetting the science (this conflict is pretty simple to manage I believe but exists nonetheless). I wish, at least, news stories made it clearer when the ideas are speculation, when they are very early research with some evidence in support of the contentions… And online news site should link to original research, more information, related information… That is one big problem with non-open access material. No simple way to share the material online. Links provide a big step toward providing an easy way for the reader to learn more themselves.

Commercial Carbon Nanotubes

Posted on November 30, 2006  Comments (0)

Method Could Help Carbon Nanotubes Become Commercially Viable:

Researchers worldwide are striving to apply these nanostructures in electronics, high-resolution displays, high-strength composites and biosensors. A fundamental problem relating to their synthesis, however, has limited their widespread use.

Current methods for synthesizing carbon nanotubes produce mixtures of tubes that differ in their diameter and twist. Variations in electronic properties arise from these structural differences, resulting in carbon nanotubes that are unsuitable for most proposed applications.

carbon nanotubes first are encapsulated in water by soap-like molecules called surfactants. Next, the surfactant-coated nanotubes are sorted in density gradients which are spun at tens of thousands of rotations per minute in an ultracentrifuge. By carefully choosing the surfactants utilized during ultracentrifugation, the researchers found that carbon nanotubes could be sorted by diameter and electronic structure.

Ancient Greek Technology 1,000 Years Early

Posted on November 29, 2006  Comments (3)

Antikythera Mechanism - Ancient Greece

Ancient Moon ‘computer’ revisited

Although its origins are uncertain, the new studies of the inscriptions suggest it would have been constructed around 100-150 BC…

Writing in Nature, the team says that the mechanism was “technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterwards”.

the Moon sometimes moves slightly faster in the sky than at others because of the satellite’s elliptic orbit. To overcome this, the designer of the calculator used a “pin-and-slot” mechanism to connect two gear-wheels that introduced the necessary variations.

“When you see it your jaw just drops and you think: ‘bloody hell, that’s clever’. It’s a brilliant technical design,” said Professor Mike Edmunds.

Larger image via Hellenic Ministry of Culture

Related: An Ancient Computer Surprises ScientistsHigh tech helps solve mystery of ancient calculator

Cool Mechanical Simulation System

Posted on November 29, 2006  Comments (4)

Cool device from MIT: A Shrewd Sketch Interpretation and Simulation Tool.

We aim to create a tool that allows the engineer to sketch a mechanical system as she would on paper, and then allows her to interact with the design as a mechanical system, for example by seeing a simulation of her drawing. We have built an early incarnation of such a tool, called ASSIST, which allows a user to sketch simple mechanical systems and see simulations of her drawings in a two-dimensional kinematic simulator.

via: Back to the Drawing Board

Designed Experiments

Posted on November 28, 2006  Comments (4)

One-Factor-at-a-Time Versus Designed Experiments by Veronica Czitrom:

The advantages of designed experiments over [One Factor at a Time] OFAT experiments are illustrated using three real engineering OFAT experiments, and showing how in each case a designed experiment would have been better. This topic is important because many scientists and engineers continue to perform OFAT experiments.

I still remember, as a child, asking what my father was going to be teaching the company he was going to consult with for a few days. He said he was going to teach them about using designed factorial experiments. I said, but you explained that to me and I am just a kid? How can you be teaching adults that? Didn’t they learn it in school? The paper provides some examples showing why OFAT experimentation is not as effective as designed multi-factor experiments.

Related: Design of Experiments articlesStatistics for Experimenters (2nd Edition)Design of Experiments blog posts

NSF: Girls in Science and Engineering

Posted on November 28, 2006  Comments (0)

via: Girls in Science and Engineering – NSF book. The 2003 book from NSF on Girls in Science and Engineering offers advice on improving k-12 engineering education for girls.

Girls who are overly protected in the lab or on the playground have few chances to assess risks and solve problems on their own. In SMART classes, once-dreaded mistakes become hypotheses. Girls are urged to go back to the drawing board to figure out why their newly assembled electric door alarm doesn’t work or why their water filter gets clogged. Supported by adults instead of rescued, girls learn to embrace their curiosity, face their fear, and trust their own judgment.

I must admit most of the advice I read for how to improve education for girls is really about doing a better job of science and engineering education for anyone. There is also some good advice (in this booklet and elsewhere) that is specifically about how to improve education for girls. And those practices have been shown to lead to increased desire by girls to to pursue more education, and and achieve future success, in science and engineering fields.

Improving Elementary Science Education

Posted on November 28, 2006  Comments (0)

Experts Combine Efforts to Improve Elementary Science:

“We want to address ways to make science education more interesting for the students, and incorporating engineering and technology into elementary science programs often motivates the students to learn the science,” explains Tufts University Professor of Mechanical Engineering Chris Rogers, who is also the director of CEEO. Research on how people learn suggests that weaving engineering and technology into basic science curricula can deepen students’ understanding of and interest in science, which can be especially critical for young girls.

Good advice.

Improvements compared with conventional instruction Researchers expect that including engineering in science instruction in this way will help students deepen their understanding of the material. The curriculum design will also be informed by the “theory of triarchic intelligence,” developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts and director of the PACE Center. Sternberg’s work indicates that course instruction that builds a combination of analytical, practical and creative skills to improve student achievement compared with conventional instruction.

Related: Center for Engineering Educational Outreach at Tufts UniversityMiddle School EngineersMiddle School Science Teacherk-12 Engineering Education

NASA Tests Robots at Meteor Crater

Posted on November 27, 2006  Comments (1)

John Hunter at Meteor Crater

NASA Auditions Robots for Lunar Exploration Missions

Arizona’s famous Meteor Crater is a long way from the Moon. But for a menagerie of intelligent robots hoping to earn supporting roles in NASA’s lunar exploration plans, the massive impact crater west of Flagstaff is center stage.

In September, several such robots and an autonomous Moon buggy called Scout were put through their paces in the rough desert terrain. During a two-week campaign conducted by NASA’s Desert Research and Technology Studies team — a collection of government, university and industry scientists and engineers known as the Desert Rats — the robots demonstrated their ability to work side-by-side with space-suited researchers, helping with the kinds of tasks that actual astronauts will have to perform as they begin exploring the Moon and establishing outposts.

The photo shows me at Meteor Crater. I visited it, and some other sites in Arizona, a few years ago. It is interesting but hardly seems that amazing to me More travel photos: Glacier National Park, Kenya, Rocky Mountain National Park, New York City.

13 things that do not make sense

Posted on November 27, 2006  Comments (0)

13 things that do not make sense by Michael Brooks discusses such things as dark matter, the horizon problem and the placebo effect:

Don’t try this at home. Several times a day, for several days, you induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the pain away.