Brainy Quote of the Day

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Down a Long Ladder...

Flooding in Bangladesh could become more common as global temperatures rise.Credit: Mamunur Rashid/NurPhoto/Getty

Topics: Climate Change, Economics, Human Rights, Politics, Star Trek

A change of two words from a 2nd season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Up the Long Ladder" involving cloning and differences in cultures: clones versus agrarians, the sophisticated versus the barbaric. This plot is not too far from the mark, just without fantastic starship warp drives. It is peering down a long ladder from Asgard to Hades; from the Third Heaven to Purgatory. It is the aftermath of centuries of stratification of humanity. To invoke Jeanine Hill Fletcher from Friday's post (quoting Perkinson), it is: "a great grinding witch tooth, sucking blood and tearing flesh... without apology."

Nations such as Bangladesh and Egypt have long known that they will suffer more from climate change than will richer countries, but now researchers have devised a stark way to quantify the inequalities of future threats.

A map of "equivalent impacts", revealed at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) this month in Vienna, shows that global temperatures would have to rise by a whopping 3 °C before most people in wealthy nations would feel departures from familiar climate conditions equal to those that residents of poorer nations will suffer under moderate warming.

The Paris climate agreement, adopted by 195 countries in 2015, aims to limit the rise in global mean temperature to 1.5–2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The world has already warmed by one degree or so — and since 1900, the mean number of record-dry and record-wet months each year has also increased.

But the effects of global warming are uneven, and poor regions in the tropics and subtropics are thought to be most vulnerable, for several reasons. They have limited financial resources with which to prepare for shifts in temperature and precipitation, and they are expected to face bigger changes in climate than countries in the mid-latitudes. Researchers have had difficulty quantifying those inequalities because the impacts of climate change depend on many factors, such as future economic growth and technological progress, which are hard to forecast.

Clear signs of global warming will hit poorer countries first, Quirin Schiermeier, Nature

Monday, April 23, 2018

Feynman Century...

Image from Science ABC dot com
"The Feynman Technique: How-to Learn Anything New in Four Easy Steps"
Topics: Quantum Computer, Richard Feynman, Nanotechnology, Nobel Prize, Quantum Mechanics

The theme of this year’s April Meeting of the American Physical Society is the “Feynman Century” because the iconoclastic, Nobel-prize-winning physicist was born in 1918. This morning at a special session devoted to Feynman, quantum computing expert Christopher Monroe of the University of Maryland spoke about early contributions to quantum computing that were made by Feynman before his untimely death in 1988.

That theme continued in an afternoon session at the conference where nuclear and particle physicists discussed how quantum computers could be applied to their work. A huge challenge to those studying the physics of quarks (quantum chromodynamics or QCD) is that it takes vast amounts of computing power just to calculate the properties of relatively simple systems.

Low barrier to entry
Quantum computers, which (at least in principle), can solve certain problems much more efficiently than conventional computers could offer a way forward. Earlier this year we reported what is probably the first-ever nuclear physics calculation done using quantum computers – the binding energy of the deuteron. Thomas Papenbrock of the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Lab explained how commercial cloud quantum-computing services from IBM and Rigetti had made this calculation possible, pointing out that the barrier to entry to quantum computing is very low thanks to these services.

Quantum computing could revolutionize nuclear and particle physics, Hamish Johnston, Physics World

Friday, April 20, 2018


Image source: AZ Quotes
Topics: Civil Rights, Commentary, Existentialism, History, Politics

The tornado that struck Greensboro Sunday was categorized as an EF2, but the damage it inflicted reached biblical proportions. Power was out at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering from that day until late Tuesday evening. Classes were canceled and arrangements to make them up emailed to students. The irony of the storm is the neighborhood that surrounds JSNN is predominately African American and/or people of color. In comparison to the rest of the city - power lines above ground vs. buried - it would be one of the latter locations to come back online first. Where my apartment is, power lines are buried and lights merely flickered. It was Katrina in miniature, as natural disasters likely or not likely inspired by climate change tends to pull the mask off the disparities inherit in our society we typically think egalitarian.

During a very stressful time at work during the 2016 electoral campaign, I wrote a cathartic essay about my foreboding at what was soon to become our country's 45th president*. He didn't just "happen." The GOP and Barry Goldwater made a Faustian compromise with their traditional principles after the passage of the '64 Civil Rights Act, the '65 Voting Rights Act and the '68 Fair Housing Act as disaffected Dixiecrats would use the refrain the former FBI director Jim Comey now uses to refer to his former membership with the Republican Party: "I didn't leave the Democratic Party (re: Dixiecrats) - the Democratic Party left me." Starbucks didn't just "happen" and "the talk" didn't just happen.

Systemic (Merriam-Webster):

: of, relating to, or common to a system: such as
a : affecting the body generally
b : supplying those parts of the body that receive blood through the aorta rather than through the pulmonary artery
c : of, relating to, or being a pesticide that as used is harmless to the plant or higher animal but when absorbed into its sap or bloodstream makes the entire organism toxic to pests (such as an insect or fungus)

Bowling for Columbine took a humorous look at the love affair this country has always had with violence: first the slaughter of Native Americans, then the kidnap and systematic debasement of the African Diaspora, soon reluctantly referred to as African Americans as would be established in our founding documents, which took courage to craft and break away from being a colony to becoming a nation. This is fear.

It's the fear that makes a neighborhood watch cop-wanna-be kill a child guilty of getting the munchies for ice tea and skittles. It's the fear that causes NYC cops to choke a man to death for selling loose cigarettes: "I can't breathe." It's the fear that slaughtered Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland and a growing list of recent ancestors that would fill this post. It is a body count born of fear.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Donald Yacovone writes:

After reviewing my first 50 or so textbooks, one morning I realized precisely what I was seeing, what instruction, and what priorities were leaping from the pages into the brains of the students compelled to read them: white supremacy. One text even began with the capitalized title: "The White Man’s History." Across time and with precious few exceptions, African-Americans appeared only as "ignorant Negroes," as slaves, and as anonymous abstractions that only posed "problems" for the supposed real subjects of history: white people of European descent.

The assumptions of white priority, white domination, and white importance underlie every chapter and every theme of the thousands of textbooks that blanketed the country. This is the vast tectonic plate that underlies American culture. And while the worst features of our textbook legacy may have ended, the themes, facts, and attitudes of supremacist ideologies are deeply embedded in what we teach and how we teach it.

Scholars often bemoan their lack of influence: embarrassing book sales figures and the like. Yet my review of American textbooks revealed that historians of the 20th century exerted an enormous impact on the way Americans have come to understand their history. The results are painfully evident. Their work either filtered down into schools, as interpreted by educators, administrators, and popular authors, or appeared directly: Ph.D.-trained scholars wrote many of the textbooks I read. To appreciate why white supremacy remains such an integral part of American society, we need to appreciate how much it suffused our teaching from the outset.

Very soon in the founding of a new nation, however, White Christians began to establish their well-being by using the resources, bodies, and lives of others. Through their own "witchcraft," European Christians employed a mysterious and threatening potency that was the practice of using the other for their own gain. In [James W.] Perkinson's description, through the projects of modern Christian empire "a witchery" of heretofore unimaginable potency ravaged African and aboriginal cultures...For Perkinson, the witchcraft of White supremacy was conjured through racial discourse as an ideological and practical frame that he identifies as the 'quintessential witchery of modernity.'... In Perkinson's chilling words, "Whiteness, under the veneer of its 'heavenly' pallor, is a great grinding witch tooth, sucking blood and tearing flesh without apology."

Excerpts: The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism & Religious Diversity in America," by Jeanine Hill Fletcher, CH 2: The Witchcraft of White Supremacy, 47, 48.

On the Stephen Colbert Show, actor Will Smith made the poignant observation "racism is not getting worse, it's getting filmed." This mirror into our collective cultural psyche must be jolting to those that could depend on "the system" reinforcing and replicating itself; giving both intellectual and spiritual justifications to a hierarchy and status quo that requires a pariah, an underclass: an "other." It makes eight years being governed by an "other" fraught with peril. A fear of retribution if the former slugs of society suddenly found themselves empowered. A fear that has never been realized.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." US History: The Declaration of Independence

These words from the Declaration of Independence are among the most influential ever put on paper. The countless pleas for liberty and equality that have used the Declaration as a model are proof of its lasting power. The original Declaration challenged the authority of the British crown. Just within the United States, subsequent declarations have targeted capitalism, land owners, white supremacy, and the patriarchy. Time and again, those unhappy with the status quo have invoked the Declaration. Tyranny has meant different things to different people since 1776, but the search for liberty, however defined, goes on.

"All Men Are Created Equal" : The Power Of An Idea by Bob Blythe.

There is history for every current event; every modern crisis. There is a scaffolding we've built a facade over, and whitewashed. We've made ourselves Winthrop's mythological "city upon a hill," because we admire the poetry of the statement, but fail to live up to the ideals. Painting over a dung heap only makes it a less ugly, less acrid dung heap. It would be better to plow the feces beneath a compost pile, and let the stench fertilize something anew, a better republic without its current revealed blemishes, lies, and scars. We will never heal or have true equality, invoking Dr. Fletcher, until we do two things respecting our history demands: repentance and reparations. Any other empty apologies would be symbolic cowardice to a real, brutally savage system.

Dr. King said: "The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence." Paraphrased, we could evolve or devolve as a nation; we could be boldly courageous, or paralyzingly afraid. We can all march forward to a more hopeful future, or crawl backwards to a hierarchical, segregated and bigoted past.

What if...we had never had slavery?
What if...we actually lived up to our loftier ideals?
What if...we treated our fellow women and men as equals?
...What IF?..

Related Link:

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward E. Baptist, Amazon

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Illustration shows the nanoresonator coating, consisting of thousands of tiny glass beads, deposited on solar cells. The coating enhances both the absorption of sunlight and the amount of current produced by the solar cells.

Credit: K. Dill, D. Ha, G. Holland/NIST

Topics: Alternative Energy, Green Energy, Green Tech, Nanotechnology, NIST, Solar Power

Trapping light with an optical version of a whispering gallery, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a nanoscale coating for solar cells that enables them to absorb about 20 percent more sunlight than uncoated devices. The coating, applied with a technique that could be incorporated into manufacturing, opens a new path for developing low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells with abundant, renewable and environmentally friendly materials.

The coating consists of thousands of tiny glass beads, only about one-hundredth the width of a human hair. When sunlight hits the coating, the light waves are steered around the nanoscale bead, similar to the way sound waves travel around a curved wall such as the dome in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. At such curved structures, known as acoustic whispering galleries, a person standing near one part of the wall easily hears a faint sound originating at any other part of the wall.

Whispering galleries for light were developed about a decade ago, but researchers have only recently explored their use in solar-cell coatings. In the experimental set up devised by a team including Dongheon Ha of NIST and the University of Maryland’s NanoCenter, the light captured by the nanoresonator coating eventually leaks out and is absorbed by an underlying solar cell made of gallium arsenide.

Psst! A Whispering Gallery for Light Boosts Solar Cells, Ben P. Stein, NIST

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


A cutaway rendering of the ADMX detector.
Image: ADMX collaboration
Topics: Dark Matter, Particle Physics, Theoretical Physics, Quantum Mechanics

Forty years ago, scientists theorized a new kind of low-mass particle that could solve one of the enduring mysteries of nature: what dark matter is made of. Now a new chapter in the search for that particle has begun.

This week, the Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX) unveiled a new result, published in Physical Review Letters, that places it in a category of one: It is the world’s first and only experiment to have achieved the necessary sensitivity to “hear” the telltale signs of dark matter axions. This technological breakthrough is the result of more than 30 years of research and development, with the latest piece of the puzzle coming in the form of a quantum-enabled device that allows ADMX to listen for axions more closely than any experiment ever built.

ADMX is managed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and located at the University of Washington. This new result, the first from the second-generation run of ADMX, sets limits on a small range of frequencies where axions may be hiding and sets the stage for a wider search in the coming years.

“This result signals the start of the true hunt for axions,” said Fermilab scientist Andrew Sonnenschein, the operations manager for ADMX. “If dark matter axions exist within the frequency band we will be probing for the next few years, then it’s only a matter of time before we find them.”

ADMX announces breakthrough in axion dark matter detection technology, Fermilab

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


Simplifying the complex: some of the mathematical constructions at G4G13; Bjarne Jesperson’s “Knotted Cube” is second from right. (Courtesy: Robert P Crease)

Topics: Education, Mathematics, Logic, Philosophy, Physics, STEM

When Roxana started to juggle balls with her feet it was proof, if any were needed, that G4G is the most disciplinarily diverse conference around.

G4G, or “Gathering for Gardner”, is a biennial event in honor of the recreational mathematician Martin Gardner (1914–2010). As a columnist for Scientific American, Gardner inspired generations of physicists, mathematicians, philosophers, puzzle-makers, logicians, magicians and others, including me. The 13th gathering this past weekend was called G4G13.

The conference began last Wednesday in the usual fashion: early-bird registrants flocked to the bar at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Atlanta to show their favourite mathematics, physics, logic and magic tricks. These are called “bar bets”, for their only practical purpose is to give you cool ways to try to win money off sceptical strangers. I saw some classics on Wednesday, such as the challenge to guess whether a red wine glass is taller than its circumference – as a stranger is likely to think – or shorter, as it almost always is. The events of the next four days shared the same spirit, combining learning about the world with a spirit of playfulness – linked wherever possible to the number 13.

Gardner’s special skill was to get people to enjoy maths by acquainting them with the pleasure of solving problems in areas that ranged from physics to card playing and magic. About 120 talks were given – almost all a mere six minutes long, and each delivered to the entire gathering. We learned about such things as mathematical knitting, hyperbolic tiling patterns, the physics of dice and tops, fine points of logic, and pseudoscience. One celebrity participant was the 2014 Fields medallist Manjul Bhargava. Another was Erno Rubik, the Hungarian inventor of the eponymous cube that in the 1980s became the bestselling toy of all time.

Martin Gardner would have smiled, Robert P Crease, Physics World

Related link:

Home website: Martin Gardner dot org

Monday, April 16, 2018

Quod Erat Demonstrandum...

March for Science, Washington DC, 2017 Credit: Becker 1999 Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Topics: Education, Politics, Research, Science, STEM

Greek: ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι, "what was to be demonstrated," QED.

The March for Science in April 2017 was a unique demonstration of concern about the role of science and engineering in society and government. More than a million people in cities and towns around the world gathered in streets, made placards and banners, and heard speakers extoling the relevance and beauty of science—and also warning of diminished influence of science in policymaking. Some have dismissed the marchers as just another interest group advocating for more government funding for their work.

But the March, as I saw it and took part in it, represented something more: a significant change in how scientists see themselves and their work. This change had been slowly developing over recent decades and is now reaching a crescendo. Plans for another March for Science tomorrow indicate that the change among scientists is real, and that last year’s march was not simply a flash in the pan.

Scientists and friends of science are excited about recent progress in almost every scientific discipline. Whether it be observations of neutron star collisions, new findings on intergenerational epigenetic changes, macroscopic quantum entanglements, or human behavior, unprecedented scientific advances abound that will improve our future. Science marchers point to science as central to improving the human condition. At the same time, they are concerned about weakening public understanding and support of scientific research and the widespread neglect of scientific evidence. These concerns brought marchers to the streets in 2017 as much as pride in scientific accomplishments.

The March for Evidence:
Scientists and many others are frustrated by public decisions based on ideology or wishful thinking
Scientific American
Russ D. Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)