Science Books 2007

Posted on November 30, 2007  Comments (0)

Some science books published this year.

Related: Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development by Christiane Nusslein-Volhard (2006) – Science booksGadgets and Gifts

Ethanol: Science Based Solution or Special Interest Welfare

Posted on November 29, 2007  Comments (6)

I believe the way to deal with the need for energy resources should be primarily science and economics based. I do not think it should be based on who can best reward politicians for giving them a bunch of federal dollars. Ethanol Craze Cools As Doubts Multiply by Lauren Etter, Wall Street Journal

A recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that biofuels “offer a cure [for oil dependence] that is worse than the disease.” A National Academy of Sciences study said corn-based ethanol could strain water supplies. The American Lung Association expressed concern about a form of air pollution from burning ethanol in gasoline. Political cartoonists have taken to skewering the fuel for raising the price of food to the world’s poor.

A study coauthored by Nobel-prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen said corn ethanol might exacerbate climate change as the added fertilizer used to grow corn raised emissions of a very potent greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide. The ethanol industry replies to that one with an Energy Department study concluding that use of ethanol reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by 18% to 28% on a per-gallon basis, provided that coal isn’t used to run ethanol plants.

Mr. Dinneen, who has been lobbying on ethanol so long he’s known as the “reverend of renewable fuels,” says he’s “reasonably confident” Congress will raise the ethanol mandate. He says he’s talking with the military, labor groups, Southern black churches and others about how ethanol can help them. “We’ve got to build the biggest, baddest coalition we can.”

I am skeptical of claims that mainly focus on getting the government to subsidize your production and erect trade barriers to foreign supplies to the USA. I don’t mind a few $Billion even (quite a lot of money) to be invested in research on biofules but just creating a massive payment, taxation and regulation scheme to funnel money to special interests is not a good idea.

Related: Peak SoilEthanol Demand Threatens Food PricesFarming Without Subsidies in New ZealandMIT’s Energy “Manhattan Project”posts on energyIs alcohol the energy answer?Biofuels: Green energy or grim reaper?Farming Washington for HandoutsWashington Waste – Paying Money it Doesn’t Have to Special InterestsChina and the Sugar Industry Tax ConsumersStudy Slams Economics Of Ethanol And Biodiesel

Amazing Science: Retroviruses

Posted on November 28, 2007  Comments (3)

One of the great things about writing this blog is I find myself more focused on reading about interesting science. Retroviruses are very interesting and frankly amazing. Darwin’s Surprise by Michael Specter, The New Yorker:

A retrovirus stores its genetic information in a single-stranded molecule of RNA, instead of the more common double-stranded DNA. When it infects a cell, the virus deploys a special enzyme, called reverse transcriptase, that enables it to copy itself and then paste its own genes into the new cell’s DNA. It then becomes part of that cell forever; when the cell divides, the virus goes with it. Scientists have long suspected that if a retrovirus happens to infect a human sperm cell or egg, which is rare, and if that embryo survives – which is rarer still – the retrovirus could take its place in the blueprint of our species, passed from mother to child, and from one generation to the next, much like a gene for eye color or asthma.

When the sequence of the human genome was fully mapped, in 2003, researchers also discovered something they had not anticipated: our bodies are littered with the shards of such retroviruses, fragments of the chemical code from which all genetic material is made. It takes less than two per cent of our genome to create all the proteins necessary for us to live. Eight per cent, however, is composed of broken and disabled retroviruses, which, millions of years ago, managed to embed themselves in the DNA of our ancestors. They are called endogenous retroviruses, because once they infect the DNA of a species they become part of that species. One by one, though, after molecular battles that raged for thousands of generations, they have been defeated by evolution. Like dinosaur bones, these viral fragments are fossils. Instead of having been buried in sand, they reside within each of us, carrying a record that goes back millions of years. Because they no longer seem to serve a purpose or cause harm, these remnants have often been referred to as “junk DNA.” Many still manage to generate proteins, but scientists have never found one that functions properly in humans or that could make us sick.

How amazing is that? I mean really think about it: it is incredible. The whole article is great. Related: Old Viruses Resurrected Through DNADNA for once species found in another species’ GenesNew Understanding of Human DNARetrovirus overview (Tulane)Cancer-Killing Virus
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Google Investing Huge Sums in Renewable Energy and is Hiring

Posted on November 27, 2007  Comments (12)

Towards more renewable energy posted to Google’s blog by Larry Page, Co-Founder and President of Products:

Promising technologies already exist that could be developed to deliver renewable energy cheaper than coal. We think the time is ripe to build rapidly on the tremendous work on renewable energy. For example, I believe that solar thermal technology provides a very plausible path to generating cheaper electricity. By combining talented technologists, great partners and large investments, we have an opportunity to quickly push this technology forward. Our goal is to build 1 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic that this can be done within years, not decades. If we succeed, it would likely provide a path to replacing a substantial portion of the world’s electricity needs with renewable energy sources.

To lead this effort, we’re looking for a world-class team. We need creative and motivated entrepreneurs and technologists with expertise in a broad range of areas, including materials science, physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, land acquisition and management, power transmission and substations, construction, and regulatory issues. Join us. And if you’re interested, read about our previous work toward a clean energy future

Very cool. And I think something Google might be able to pull off well. It is also true this may be a distraction and not work well. For many companies that would be my guess for how it would play out. Google has done an exceptional job of allowing engineers to do what they do best. And I think there is a chance they can translate that into effectively managing such a project as this. Google continues to try what they believe even if that is not the conventional path. Good for them.

Related: posts on energyposts on Google managementGoogle’s cheaper-than-coal targetWind PowerLarge-Scale, Cheap Solar Electricity12 Stocks for 10 Years UpdateLarry Page and Sergey Brin Interview WebcastGoogle’s Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (press release)

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Full Body 3-D CT Scan in Under a Minute

Posted on November 26, 2007  Comments (1)

Pretty cool new gadget, though probably out of the range of most people’s budget – ‘Super’ scanner shows key detail

The new 256-slice CT machine takes large numbers of X-ray pictures, and combines them using computer technology to produce the final detailed images. It also generates images in a fraction of the time of other scanners: a full body scan takes less than a minute.

Because the images are 3D they can be rotated and viewed from different directions – giving doctors the greatest possible help in looking for signs of abnormalities or disease.

At present, it is only being used in one hospital: the Metro Health medical centre in Cleveland, Ohio, which has been using it for the past month.

the first commercially viable CT scanner, which was invented by Sir Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield in Hayes, United Kingdom at the company’s laboratories and unveiled in 1972. At the same time, Allan McLeod Cormack of Tufts University independently invented a similar machine, and the two men shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Medicine. “This is a quantum shift from the first CT scanners as it gives a lot more detail,” says Dr Keith Prowse, Chairman of the British Lung Foundation.

Gates Foundation and Rotary Pledge $200 Million to Fight Polio

Posted on November 26, 2007  Comments (3)

Did you think polio was cured decades ago? Well in the rich world is largely has been but it has not been eradicated everywhere. Gates Foundation, Rotary pledge $200 million to fight polio:

Scientists and public health professionals have been debating whether eradication is possible. Some have argued that resources should be directed at trying to contain the disease, which would be far less costly than trying to eliminate it entirely. That idea was dismissed at today’s announcement. “Eradicating polio is an achievable goal,” said William Gates Sr., co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said: “We have very few opportunities to improve the world in a permanent way. And this is one.” Polio has stricken untold millions around the world. In 1952, its peak year in the U.S., it paralyzed more than 20,000 Americans. But it became a disease of the past in this country after the discovery of a preventive vaccine in the 1950s and universal immunization.

The Gates grant comes at a critical time for the global initiative, which faces a funding shortfall of $650 million, officials said. Most of the initial $100 million will be spent on mass immunization campaigns, poliovirus surveillance activities, and community education and outreach in polio-affected countries.

In recent years, importation of the disease from affected areas into countries where the disease had been eliminated has set back eradication efforts. But last month the World Health Organization released data indicating that the last four polio-endemic countries were within reach of wiping out the disease. The health authority said significant progress had been made in India and Nigeria, which together account for 85 percent of the world’s polio cases.

Related: Indonesian Polio EpidemicRiver Blindness Worm Develops Resistance to DrugsGates Millennium ScholarsInternship with Bill GatesBill Gates Interview from 1993

Why is the Sky Blue?

Posted on November 26, 2007  Comments (5)

Here is a a nice post explaining why we see blue when we look at the sky, Why Is The Sky Blue?:

Most of the atmospheric gases are transparent to visible light. They don’t filter the Sun’s light and make it yellow, as a yellow filter would. Besides, if colored gases made the Sun appear yellow, where does the blue come from? The part of the atmosphere that changes the Sun’s light is the molecules and tiny particles that are floating in it.

There are particles of water–tiny droplets too small to be seen as clouds. There are particles of organic material–smog or haze, condensed from volatile organic chemicals that have gotten into the air. There are particles of sulfuric acid from volcanoes and power plants. There are molecules of gases in the atmosphere.

These tiny particles, much smaller than the wavelengths of sunlight, scatter the sunlight as photons from the Sun interact with the particles. This is called Rayleigh scattering after the British physicist who described how it works. (Larger particles, like the water droplets in clouds, are closer to the wavelengths of sunlight, and they scatter it differently. This is why clouds are not blue.)

Science explained – quick overviews of scientific concepts: How Does That Happen? Science Provides the AnswerIncredible Insects10 Science Facts You Should KnowWhat Everyone Should LearnScience Summary: PhotosynthesisString Theory in 1 pageHow do antibiotics kill bacteria?

Evidence of Short DNA Segment Self Assembly

Posted on November 25, 2007  Comments (0)

Tiny DNA Molecules Show Liquid Crystal Phases, Pointing Up New Scenario For First Life On Earth, University of Colorado:

CU-Boulder physics Professor Noel Clark said the team found that surprisingly short segments of DNA, life’s molecular carrier of genetic information, could assemble into several distinct liquid crystal phases that “self-orient” parallel to one another and stack into columns when placed in a water solution. Life is widely believed to have emerged as segments of DNA- or RNA-like molecules in a prebiotic “soup” solution of ancient organic molecules.

Such DNA polynucleotides had previously been shown to organize into liquid crystal phases in which the chains spontaneously oriented parallel to each other, he said. Researchers understand the liquid crystal organization to be a result of DNA’s elongated molecular shape, making parallel alignment easier, much like spaghetti thrown in a box and shaken would be prone to line up in parallel, Clark said.

The CU-Boulder and University of Milan team began a series of experiments to see how short the DNA segments could be and still show liquid crystal ordering, said Clark. The team found that even a DNA segment as short as six bases, when paired with a complementary segment that together measured just two nanometers long and two nanometers in diameter, could still assemble itself into the liquid crystal phases, in spite of having almost no elongation in shape.

Structural analysis of the liquid crystal phases showed that they appeared because such short DNA duplex pairs were able to stick together “end-to-end,” forming rod-shaped aggregates that could then behave like much longer segments of DNA. The sticking was a result of small, oily patches found on the ends of the short DNA segments that help them adhere to each other in a reversible way — much like magnetic buttons — as they expelled water in between them, Clark said.

“In essence, the liquid crystal phase condensation selects the appropriate molecular components, and with the right chemistry would evolve larger molecules tuned to stabilize the liquid crystal phase. If this is correct, the linear polymer shape of DNA itself is a vestige of formation by liquid crystal order.”

Related: One Species’ Genome Discovered Inside Another’sGalactic Dust with the Ability to Reproduce?DNA Repair ArmyOld Viruses Resurrected Through DNA

Engineering Education Study Debate

Posted on November 25, 2007  Comments (8)

Engineering education study draws industry fire by George Leopold, EE Times:

In a radio debate with Salzman on the NPR program “Science Friday,” Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett blasted Salzman’s “backward-looking analysis.” Said Barrett: “The U.S. cannot be successful if we are only ‘average’ ” in math and science. “[S]aying we’re ‘OK’ because we’re average just can’t be right. That’s backward looking. That’s not looking ahead at competition with India, China, Russia and others that are putting heavy emphasis on education.”

Salzman did, however, conceded one point to his critics, acknowledging that the engineering field in the U.S. isn’t what it used to be. As a profession, “engineering is not a field that has a bright future,” he said. Quoting an engineer interviewed for the Urban Institute study, Salzman said, “It was a great ride, but it’s over.”

Previous posts on the study (The Importance of Science EducationMath and Science Education Assessment). I doubt the engineering ride is over – but everyone is entitled to their opinion. As I have said many times the economic future will be greatly influenced by science and engineering. Those countries that succeed in creating a positive economic climate for science and engineering development will find economic rewards those that fail to do so will suffer. The USA has come through a period where they received great economic benefit from science and engineering supremacy. There is little doubt other centers of excellence will emerge and gain the benefits. But if the USA were to actually fall backward (not just see the relative position decline as other countries gained ground) that will be a serious problem and one I think is unlikely.

Related: Top Degree for S&P 500 CEOs is EngineeringHighest Pay for Engineering GraduatesThe Future is EngineeringScience, Engineering and the Future of the American EconomyChina’s Economic Science ExperimentBrain Drain Benefits to the USA Less Than They Could BeBest Research University Rankings (2007)Economic Strength Through Technology LeadershipEngineers: Future ProspectsEngineers in the Workplace

New Triceratops Ancestor

Posted on November 25, 2007  Comments (1)

Alberta palaeontologists discover new dino genus

Scientists from the Royal Tyrrell Museum and the Canadian Museum of Nature have [discovered]… Eotriceratops xerinsularis (pronounced EE-OH-try-sair-ah-tops ZEER-in-soo-lair-iss)… The dino may be an ancestor of the well-know triceratops, and at the very least, is the group’s earliest known member; researchers say the Eotriceratops lived in southern Alberta 68 million years ago.

It is the largest type of horned dinosaur ever discovered in Alberta, and possibly the world.

According to researchers, Eotriceratops likely reached eight or nine metres from nose to tail. It had a massive skull that featured a solid frill (this alone was three metres in length), and three horns – two above each eye, and another, shorter one, perched on its nose.

Judging by its teeth, the Eotriceratops was a plant-eater, but one that would have been able to ward off predators.

Related: NigersaurusMost Dinosaurs Remain Undiscovered100 Dinosaur Eggs Found in IndiaFossils of Sea Monster

Programming Ruby

Posted on November 24, 2007  Comments (2)

Why I Program In Ruby (And Maybe Why You Shouldn’t):

Harmony and balance make you feel good. American Rubyists frequently take up all the points of Ruby’s power, expressiveness, and efficiency, but they don’t seem to register the point that Ruby was designed to make you feel good. Even Rubyists who want to explain why Ruby makes them feel good often fail to mention that it was expressly designed for that exact purpose.

Don’t program in Ruby because you want power or efficiency. Don’t program in Ruby because you think you “should”, either. Program in Ruby because you like it. And if you don’t like it, don’t program in it.

Very nice article discussing the importance of joy in work. I enjoy programming in Ruby on Rails.

Related: Neal Ford on what JRuby has that Java doesn’t (podcast)posts on improving software developmentA Career in Computer ProgrammingHiring Software DevelopersProgramming Grads Meet a Skills Gap in the Real WorldWant to be a Computer Game Programmer?High School Students Interest in Computer ProgramingDonald Knuth (Computer Scientist)IT Operations as a Competitive Advantage