Brainy Quote of the Day

Friday, November 17, 2017

Slaying Pollyanna...

Image Source: IMDB.com
Topics: Commentary, Diversity, Humor, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Women in Science

I finally used my Fire Stick - post the Kodi "jail break" for watching some well-deserved (and on-demand) escapist TV, especially appreciated while doing graduate school.

I'm glad the producers ignored the misogynist/racist rabid puppies/sad puppies/pound puppies (my add) with regards to a female Captain Philippa Georgiou, played by Michelle Yeoh and a female first officer that's the main focus of the series - Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green. I guess the need-of-neutering crowd missed all those female admirals in TNG, DS9 as well as Captain Katherine Janeway that probably rose up the ranks on their command and management skills* as well as knowing a few things theoretical and practical about their respective (fictional) warp cores. It's annoying that as a person of color, I cannot see or watch a science fiction (the operative word is "fiction") without commentary when the genre has been diversified and some get their panties in a wad. It's as if we're invisible and not credible (at least in their mindsets) in technical realms. Also note Thor: Ragnarök - Tessa Thompson; NK Jemisin (Google rabid puppies/sad puppies - they're a hoot!).

Klingons: uglier. Some have compared them to fans of our current POTUS (for however long that, or the species lasts). I'm not sure about the 24 houses thing, but I'm a little concerned in a hundred years, we're supposed to get Worf out of these guys! They remarkably improve their looks, apparently.

Vulcans: snootier. I mean we got they didn't like Sarek, his human wife Amanda (Pon Farr, dude?) and his half breed son Spock, but they threw a sister in the mix of an already unique family to reveal other than Sarek, Vulcans are xenophobic pricks! And isn't "logic extremist" an oxymoron? We're a far cry from T'Pring, Stan and the whole Pon Farr ritual mating, as in this reboot time line, Spock gave the middle finger to the Vulcan Science Academy and apparently has a ("it's complicated") thing with Uhura.

Humans: PTSD. That was a shocker, since Roddenberry left us with the impression science cured everything from the common cold to world hunger. Although, Captain Lorca sauntering about with a phaser in his back hip to his door is probably NOT a good look! (If he has an accident, you KNOW someone's going to post it on Galactic Facebook.) With the reintroduction of Harry Mudd, they obviously didn't eliminate money either, else the character has no motivation to be a smuggler and all-around jerk.

The Trek series are always influenced by the time periods the respective series are produced in. In the 1960s you had miniskirts, The Cold War (that's lately gotten chummy, picking our president for us and all); Sean Connery's James Bond, so William Shatner's James T. Kirk had to be his space cowboy equivalent (with the exception of green alien women). Worf on board the Enterprise and the United Federation of Planets' allegiance to the Klingon empire preceded the Berlin Wall coming down by four television years. TNG discovered quite late in the maturity of the series that Jean Luc Picard - a faux Frenchman who rarely spoke French, drank Earl Grey and said English colloquialisms like "shed-yule" - might have sex once in a while (can't let William T. Riker have all the fun). Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko on Deep Space Nine was during both terms of the Bill Clinton presidency (per Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, our "first black president" before we actually had one). Captain Janeway led Voyager through the Delta quadrant between an infamous blue dress and hanging chads with three powerful women that seemed clones of Hillary Clinton: Janeway, B'Elanna Torres (half Klingon) and former Borg 7 of 9. Enterprise brought up the rear with a short series that matched our shortened attention spans post 9/11, plus the future was here and our infatuation with it waned as we worried about explosive shoes and dwindling civil liberties in the War on Terror. This new series has an openly gay couple - a scientist, Lt. Stamets - played by Anthony Rapp - responsible for "spore drive" (using a macro-ripper, souped up five-dimensional tardigrade, because speeds > c on fungal power is so plausible) and the ship's doctor played by Wilson Cruz, something that would have gotten Roddenberry and company canceled in a fortnight (Exhibit A: the kiss between Kirk and Uhura wasn't broadcast in southern markets for years). Times have truly changed.

Tongue-in-cheek commentary: I'm taking umbrage with the openers for TOS and TNG:

(TOS) Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

(TNG) Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Sounds regal...noble, almost altruistic. I'm here to say it's pure hokum and futuristic political posturing. I'll explain.

Remember the growth formula?

N = N0ert, where N0 = initial number, r = 0.02 (for humans) and t = time.

As of 2017, we're roughly 7.6 billion people on the planet.

The fictional World War III on the Trek time line takes place in 2026 (eek) to 2053, shaving off 37 million souls - a lot, but assuming this subtraction is calculated AFTER the fictional war (27 years duration):

2026 - 2017 = 9 years, so that increases us to 9,098,851,960 at the beginning.

9,098,851,960*e0.02*27 - 37,000,000 = 1.55766924 x 1010, or 15.6 BILLION people, presumably after nuclear war, nuclear winter, eugenics, famine, drugs, etc before "first contact" with what we'd soon discover as Vulcan snobbery.

To get to Kirk's time 110 years later: 1.55766924 x 1010*e0.02*110 = 1.405798592 x 1011, or 140.6 BILLION people. I leave it to you to calculate the 24th century's burst at the seams. All it requires is a calculator with a "ln" (natural logarithm) function key. ex is usually the second function key option, or close by. It also requires places for all these people, who are being "fruitful and multiplying" to go, and a means to get there for cities, schools, industry, potable water, food, video games and procreation.

See how our future descendants' motivations might be a little less than altruistic?

You just might need force fields, phasers and photon torpedoes as you "boldy go" and "explore" real estate in somebody else's parsec. Humans - gotta love us - can get downright pushy when we colonize anything!

We've also got a history where that didn't work out well for the natives encountered.

And other sentient beings - Klingons, Vulcans, Romulans, Borg, et al despite space being the "final frontier" and a lot of it, might they consider our encroachment - and our prodigious human reproductive powers - at sub light (most likely) or warp speed - rude?

It boils down to the admitted grit and tensions designed in Star Trek: Discovery are simply the same we're experiencing over resources and politics on Terra Firma. It is the Trek for these times, and the most realistic thing about the fantasy franchise.

Thanksgiving next week. Blog vegging till the 27th. "Dif-tor heh smusma." \\//_

Related links:

[Article] – Star Trek: Discovery – The Sci-Fi We Need Right Now, Ronita Mohan, Film Debate, UK

Den of Geek - Star Trek: A History of Female Starfleet Captains on TV

Internet Movie Database - To "Boldly Go": The Women of Star Trek

*Memory Alpha:
Admiral Kat Cornwell
Captain (promoted to Admiral) Kathryn Janeway
Admiral Alynna Nechayev
Admiral T'Lara

Star Trek dot com's interactive database - you'll catch up quick.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Through a Glass, Darkly...

A simulation of the dark matter distribution in the universe 13.6 billion years ago.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY VOLKER SPRINGEL, MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR ASTROPHYSICS, ET AL, NatGeo

Topics: Astrophysics, Dark Matter, Neutrons, Research, Theoretical Physics

Alliteration source: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." 1 Corinthians 13:12

Scientists at the University of Sussex have disproved the existence of a specific type of axion - an important candidate 'dark matter' particle - across a wide range of its possible masses.

The data were collected by an international consortium, the Neutron Electric Dipole Moment (nEDM) Collaboration, whose experiment is based at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland. Data were taken there and, earlier, at the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble.

Professor Philip Harris, Head of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, and head of the nEDM group there, said:

"Experts largely agree that a major portion of the mass in the universe consists of 'dark matter'. Its nature, however, remains completely obscure. One kind of hypothetical elementary particle that might make up the dark matter is the so-called axion. If axions with the right properties exist it would be possible to detect their presence through this entirely novel analysis of our data.

"We've analyzed the measurements we took in France and Switzerland and they provide evidence that axions – at least the kind that would have been observable in the experiment – do not exist. These results are a thousand times more sensitive than previous ones and they are based on laboratory measurements rather than astronomical observations. This does not fundamentally rule out the existence of axions, but the scope of characteristics that these particles could have is now distinctly limited.

"The results essentially send physicists back to the drawing board in our hunt for dark matter."

Hunt for dark matter is narrowed by new research, Phys.org
More information: C. Abel et al. Search for Axionlike Dark Matter through Nuclear Spin Precession in Electric and Magnetic Fields, Physical Review X (2017). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevX.7.041034

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

10-Qubit Entanglement...

Illustration of the ten-qubit processor (Courtesy: Chao Song et al/ Physical Review Letters)

Topics: Nanotechnology, Quantum Computer, Quantum Mechanics, Superconductors

Physicists in China and the US have built a 10-qubit superconducting quantum processor that could be scaled up to tackle problems not solvable by classical computers. The performance of the device was verified using quantum tomography, which showed that the new approach can generate a true 10-partite Greenberger–Horne–Zeilinger (GHZ) state – the largest yet achieved in a solid-state system.

The field of quantum computing is in its infancy, and a genuinely useful, practical device that outperforms classical computers has not yet been built. At this stage of development, researchers do not even agree on the basics of implementation, but techniques employing superconducting circuits have an advantage over some other designs in that they are based on established and scalable microfabrication processes.

Superconducting quantum computer achieves 10-qubit entanglement
Marric Stephens, Physics World

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Gag Orders...

Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Topics: Climate Change, Ecology, Existentialism

A U.S. Forest Service scientist who was scheduled to talk about the role that climate change plays in wildfire conditions was denied approval to attend the conference featuring fire experts from around the country.

William Jolly, a research ecologist with the agency's Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Mont., was supposed to give a 30-minute presentation titled "Climate-Induced Variations in Global Severe Fire Weather Conditions" at the International Fire Congress in Orlando, Fla., next month. The event is hosted by the Association for Fire Ecology (AFE).

The travel denial follows reports last week that U.S. EPA blocked three scientists from making presentations at a conference in Rhode Island featuring climate change. Critics accused the Trump administration of stifling the dissemination of taxpayer-funded science.

"It's kind of weird that they would make it hard for a government scientist to take part in this because managing wildfire is a huge challenge logistically and financially on a vast array of federal lands," he said. "These scientists, by participating in these kinds of society meetings, share their thoughts and hear other people's thoughts, which is important because their work is supposed to form how these lands are managed and how we prepare for and adapt under climate change."

Government Scientist Blocked from Talking About Climate and Wildfires
Brittany Patterson, Scientific American, ClimateWire

Monday, November 13, 2017

Clams and Biofuel...

Penn researchers are collaborating to study how giant clams convert sunlight into energy, which could lead to more efficient production of biofuel. Photo credit: Malcolm Browne

Topics: Biochemistry, Green Energy, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Physics, Solar Power

Alison Sweeney of the University of Pennsylvania has been studying giant clams since she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara. These large mollusks, which anchor themselves to coral reefs in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans, can grow to up to three-feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds. But their size isn’t the only thing that makes them unique.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Anyone who has ever gone snorkeling in Australia or the western tropical Pacific Ocean, Sweeney says, may have noticed that the surfaces of giant clams are iridescent, appearing to sparkle before the naked eye. The lustrous cells on the surface of the clam scatter bright sunlight, which typically runs the risk of causing fatal damage to the cell, but the clams efficiently convert the sunlight into fuel. Using what they learn from these giant clams, the researchers hope to improve the process of producing biofuel.

​​​​​​​Sweeney, an assistant professor of physics in the Penn School of Arts and Sciences, and her collaborator Shu Yang, a professor of materials science and engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, refer to the clams as “solar transformers” because they are capable of absorbing bright sunlight at a very high rate and scattering it over a large surface area. When the light is distributed evenly among the thick layer of algae living inside the clam, the algae quickly converts the light into energy.

“What those sparkly cells are doing,” Sweeney says, “is causing light to propagate very deeply into the clam tissue and spread out.”

“What those sparkly cells are doing,” Sweeney says, “is causing light to propagate very deeply into the clam tissue and spread out.”

After coming across Sweeney’s work, Yang struck up a collaboration to see if they could mimic the system by abstracting the principles of the clam’s process to create a material that works similarly. She and Ph.D. student Hye-Na Kim devised a method of synthesizing nanoparticles and adding them to an emulsion — a mixture of water, oil, and soapy molecules called surfactants — to form microbeads mimicking the iridocytes, the cells in giant clams responsible for solar transforming. Their paper has been published in Advanced Materials.

Penn Researchers Working to Mimic Giant Clams to Enhance the Production of Biofuel
Ali Sundermier, Evan Lerner, University of Pennsylvania News

Friday, November 10, 2017

Caveats and Exodus...

Image Source: Education Exodus: Students are Fleeing the U.S. for Free Higher Education Abroad

Topics: Civics, Education, Existentialism, Politics

My wife and I exercised our right to vote in the Greensboro municipal elections. Our impact wasn't as sweeping as seen across the United States, nor was it a referendum/check on power to the current 140-character president.

As a graduate student, I do have my concerns on how politics affects personal outcomes:

The sweeping tax overhaul released by House Republicans Thursday would kill or limit key benefits for many colleges, students and borrowers paying off student loans.

House GOP leaders released this plan about half a year after President Trump issued a set of broad but vague principles for tax reform legislation. The proposal released Thursday slashes corporate tax rates, reduces the number of income tax brackets and repeals taxes on large estates.

To pay for revenue that would be lost, the plan would kill many tax breaks, some of them popular in higher education.

The plan would impose a 1.4 percent excise tax on college endowments at private universities valued at $100,000 or more per full-time student. The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities said Friday it estimated more than 150 institutions would be affected by the proposed tax based on 2014-15 endowment values.

The bill would double the standard individual tax deduction, meaning much weaker incentives for charitable contributions to colleges, higher education groups say. Phasing out the estate tax, they say, would also have a negative impact on charitable contributions.

The GOP plan would end student loan interest rate deductions and eliminate state and local income tax deductions, potentially encouraging spending cuts in states that are among the biggest supporters of public higher education.. 1

*****

Graduate students and their professors say their careers and programs are threatened by a provision of the House Republican tax bill that proposes tens of thousands of dollars in higher income taxes on American doctoral students.

Why it matters: The legislation, following a series of threats by the Trump administration that could reduce the number of foreign Ph.D students and their ability to stay in the country after graduation, could be another strike at U.S. dominance of global research and invention. Claus Wilke, chairman of Integrative Biology at University of Texas at Austin, said that should the proposal become law, he "could not in good conscience recommend a Ph.D. to anybody unless they were so rich they didn't care."

"I would tell them to see if somebody can offer you a slot in Canada or Europe where they don't make you pay for your Ph.D," Wilke said. 2

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

I am involved with mankind with regards to my family. We pursued student loans to pay for college for both of our sons. Now as I pursue a Masters and PhD in Nanoengineering, we've pursued those loans for me. It was to better myself; train in a related field and work at a higher level, hopefully in academia as an instructor and researcher. Those are two things - correct me if I'm wrong - I thought might "make America great." Apparently, exaggerating the already abysmal stratification is the only thing our legislators have in mind to make us "great"...like the 1950s, before Brown vs. Board of Education, before James Baldwin and "Giovanni's Room," before Gloria Steinem; before Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun." All dreams except the inept dreams of tiki-torch Nazis - in opposition to the eloquence and elocution of Langston Hughes - must be deferred.

Often, mostly out of frustration my wife and I postulate living in another country. One where politics isn't so polarized, consensus is pursued post election, not gridlock. We're the only nation on the planet where the election cycle starts a full 2 years before the actual elections. I believe most European countries get it done in about six weeks, but that doesn't make for good Nielsen Ratings and advertising dollars ALL the major networks pursue during presidential contests. A reality television star - clearly not in full control of his faculties, but has the nuclear keys to species extinction - is there because in the words of CBS chairman Les Moonves, he was "good for ratings."

I'm told by a friend from Denmark I study with currently I could command a good salary overseas.

Post my matriculation, I may have to consider the option.

..."good for ratings"... That will be a new Rome's epitaph.

1. Tax Benefits at Risk for Colleges, Student Borrowers, Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Education
2. The GOP tax plan could lead to a brain drain, Steve LeVine, Axios

Thursday, November 9, 2017

FAST Entanglement...

While quantum entanglement usually spreads through the atoms in an optical lattice via short-range interactions with the atoms' immediate neighbors (left), new theoretical research shows that taking advantage of long-range dipolar interactions among the atoms could enable it to spread more quickly (right), a potential advantage for quantum computing and sensing applications.
Credit: Gorshkov and Hanacek/NIST

Topics: Laser, Materials Science, Optical Physics, Quantum Mechanics

“It is these long-range dipolar interactions in 3-D that enable you to create entanglement much faster than in systems with short-range interactions,” said Gorshkov, a theoretical physicist at NIST and at both the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science and the Joint Quantum Institute, which are collaborations between NIST and the University of Maryland. “Obviously, if you can throw stuff directly at people who are far away, you can spread the objects faster.”

Applying the technique would center around adjusting the timing of laser light pulses, turning the lasers on and off in particular patterns and rhythms to quick-change the suspended atoms into a coherent entangled system.

The approach also could find application in sensors, which might exploit entanglement to achieve far greater sensitivity than classical systems can. While entanglement-enhanced quantum sensing is a young field, it might allow for high-resolution scanning of tiny objects, such as distinguishing slight temperature differences among parts of an individual living cell or performing magnetic imaging of its interior.

Gorshkov said the method builds on two studies from the 1990s in which different NIST researchers considered the possibility of using a large number of tiny objects—such as a group of atom—as sensors. Atoms could measure the properties of a nearby magnetic field, for example, because the field would change their electrons’ energy levels. These earlier efforts showed that the uncertainty in these measurements would be advantageously lower if the atoms were all entangled, rather than merely a bunch of independent objects that happened to be near one another.

Need Entangled Atoms? Get 'Em FAST! With NIST’s New Patent-Pending Method

Paper: Z. Eldredge, Z.-X. Gong, J. T. Young, A.H. Moosavian, M. Foss-Feig and A.V. Gorshkov. Fast State Transfer and Entanglement Renormalization Using Long-Range Interactions. Physical Review Letters. Published 25 October 2017. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.119.170503