Brainy Quote of the Day

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Space, Time and Quanta...

Credit: Chris Gash
Topics: Astrophysics, Black Holes, Einstein, Quantum Mechanics, Relativity

Physicists believe that at the tiniest scales, space emerges from quanta. What might these building blocks look like?

People have always taken space for granted. It is just emptiness, after all—a backdrop to everything else. Time, likewise, simply ticks on incessantly. But if physicists have learned anything from the long slog to unify their theories, it is that space and time form a system of such staggering complexity that it may defy our most ardent efforts to understand.

Albert Einstein saw what was coming as early as November 1916. A year earlier he had formulated his general theory of relativity, which postulates that gravity is not a force that propagates through space but a feature of spacetime itself. When you throw a ball high into the air, it arcs back to the ground because Earth distorts the spacetime around it, so that the paths of the ball and the ground intersect again. In a letter to a friend, Einstein contemplated the challenge of merging general relativity with his other brainchild, the nascent theory of quantum mechanics. That would not merely distort space but dismantle it. Mathematically, he hardly knew where to begin. “How much have I already plagued myself in this way!” he wrote.

Einstein never got very far. Even today there are almost as many contending ideas for a quantum theory of gravity as scientists working on the topic. The disputes obscure an important truth: the competing approaches all say space is derived from something deeper—an idea that breaks with 2,500 years of scientific and philosophical understanding.

A kitchen magnet neatly demonstrates the problem that physicists face. It can grip a paper clip against the gravity of the entire Earth. Gravity is weaker than magnetism or than electric or nuclear forces. Whatever quantum effects it has are weaker still. The only tangible evidence that these processes occur at all is the mottled pattern of matter in the very early universe—thought to be caused, in part, by quantum fluctuations of the gravitational field.

Black holes are the best test case for quantum gravity. “It's the closest thing we have to experiments,” says Ted Jacobson of the University of Maryland, College Park. He and other theorists study black holes as theoretical fulcrums. What happens when you take equations that work perfectly well under laboratory conditions and extrapolate them to the most extreme conceivable situation? Will some subtle flaw manifest itself?

What Is Spacetime? George Musser, Scientific American

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Tea Leaves and Quantum Dots...

Image Source: EurekAlert!
Topics: Biology, Biomedicine, Cancer, Nanotechnology, Quantum Dots

We now have a clean, cheap way of manufacturing quantum dots, an advanced, microscopic tool that scientists are learning how to use to enhance everything from solar panels to cancer treatments. All they needed was green tea leaf extract, along with a couple other chemicals.

But let’s back up, because that’s a lot to take in. Quantum dots are a kind of nanoparticle that span from two to five nanometers.

In the past, synthesizing these quantum dots was cost and waste-intensive, but a team out of Wales’ Swansea University found a way to create quantum dots from Camellia sinensis leaf extract, which is the same plant from which green and black tea are brewed. Using tea leaf extract instead of conventional ingredients meant the manufacturing process was non-toxic and cost effective. The same team also found that their quantum dots could penetrate the tiny pores on the outer membrane of skin cancer cells and stopped the growth of 80 percent of the cancerous cells in a lab sample.

Quantum Dots Synthesized From Tea Leaves Could Be The Future Of Nanomedicine
Dan Robitzski, Futurism

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Graphene Mirabilis...

Illustration: Nanotools Bioscience

Topics: Biology, Cancer, Graphene, Nanotechnology, Research

See: "Annus mirabilis" at Wikipedia for the cultural reference.

Shine light on human heart cells cultured on graphene and they beat faster. Shine light on zebrafish embryos with graphene flakes injected in their hearts, and the contraction of that organ speeds up.

That’s what scientists at the University of California San Diego reported today in the journal Science Advances, in a discovery they say has implications for everything from drug testing to pacemakers.

“Sometimes discoveries happen due to serendipity,” says Alex Savchenko, a biophysics researcher at the university, who led the discovery with Elena Molokanova at the San Diego-based startup Nanotools Bioscience. “In this case we were controlling what we wanted to achieve all the way through the experiment.”

Graphene, the wonder material composed of single atom-thick sheets of carbon, has been a focus of excitement and feverish development ever since some of its properties were first demonstrated, in 2004, by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both now at the University of Manchester.

One of graphene’s many talents is that it can convert light into electricity. Savchenko and his colleagues hypothesized that the electricity generated by graphene could also stimulate human cells.

After honing the graphene formulation and trying out different types of light, Savchenko’s team managed to do what they set out to do: They built a gentle remote control for cell growth. Call it an opto-graphene stimulator.

Gif: Nanotools Bioscience
This video shows heart cells being manipulated by an optical graphene stimulator.

Graphene Stimulator Paves Way for Optical Pacemakers, Smart Opioids, and Electronic Cancer Killers
Emily Waltz, Spectrum IEEE

Monday, May 21, 2018

Kilauea Prognostication...

Debris came rocketing out of Kilauea during the steam eruption on 17 May.Credit: USGS-HVO

Topics: Geophysics, Earthquake, Research, Stochastic Modeling

After weeks of unleashing earthquakes and lava flows that have forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has finally blown its top. Because Kilauea is one of the best-monitored volcanoes in the world, scientists hope that data on the event will help them to better predict when similar volcanoes are about to erupt.

“We’ll be working on this set of data for our careers,” says Michael Poland, a geophysicist at the US Geological Survey (USGS) Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington.

The USGS says that the eruption began at 4:15 am local time on 17 May, when the volcano sent a plume of ash and steam more than 9,100 metres into the air.

The many instruments on and around Kilauea were watching. The volcano bristles with equipment that continuously measures signs of geological activity, such as ground movement, lava chemistry and seismic vibrations.

The first hint of an impending eruption came with a series of earthquakes on 3 May. Soon after, fissures opened up in the ground as far as 40 kilometres away from the volcano’s rim — oozing lava that forced about 2,000 people to evacuate. The openings also depressurized the network of underground channels beneath Kilauea, including its lava chamber. As a result, the lava level within the volcano's crater quickly dropped by more than 30 metres. It was, Poland says, “like someone pulled the plug in a bathtub”.

Hawaii volcano eruption holds clues to predicting similar events elsewhere
Sara Reardon, Nature

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Dark Calculus...

Comic Book dot com: Infinity War, Slide 9/11 (ominously)

Topics: Civil Rights, Commentary, Existentialism, History, Human Rights, Science Fiction

If you haven't read the comic, or seen Avengers: Infinity War, disengage now...


Thanos is a fictional villain in the Marvel Universe. He's a Titan, he apparently has an Infinity Gauntlet to harness the power of magic stones that thankfully don't exist, and from his making Hulk hide in his Bruce Banner persona (as in, not coming out after the EPIC beat down), he's one bad dude, especially with the whole snapping 50% of all life everywhere out of existence (you were warned).

Have no fear: some kismet gumbo-jumbo will bring most of the heroes back (especially the ones without expiring contracts and pending movies on the docks).

He's also apparently an intergalactic economist, as his beef is there are too many people in the universe (HOW he would come to know this is a mystery), and too few resources. It reminded me of a chap in our own terrestrial history.


Thomas Robert Malthus was an English cleric and scholar, influential in the fields of political economy and demography. In his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus observed that an increase in a nation's food production improved the well-being of the populace, but the improvement was temporary because it led to population growth, which in turn restored the original per capita production level. In other words, mankind had a propensity to utilize abundance for population growth rather than for maintaining a high standard of living, a view that has become known as the "Malthusian trap" or the "Malthusian spectre". Populations had a tendency to grow until the lower class suffered hardship and want and greater susceptibility to famine and disease, a view that is sometimes referred to as a Malthusian catastrophe. Malthus wrote in opposition to the popular view in 18th-century Europe that saw society as improving and in principle as perfectible. He saw population growth as being inevitable whenever conditions improved, thereby precluding real progress towards a Utopian society: "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man". As an Anglican cleric, Malthus saw this situation as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behaviour. From Wikipedia

Now note National Security Study Memorandum 200, often cited by anti-abortion rights activists as evidence of a global cabal to sacrifice children on Moloch's altar:

National Security Study Memorandum 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests (NSSM200) was completed on December 10, 1974 by the United States National Security Council under the direction of Henry Kissinger.

It was adopted as official US policy by US President Gerald Ford in November 1975. It was classified for a while but was obtained by researchers in the early 1990s.

The basic thesis of the memorandum was that population growth in the least developed countries (LDCs) is a concern to US national security, because it would tend to risk civil unrest and political instability in countries that had a high potential for economic development. The policy gives "paramount importance" to population control measures and the promotion of contraception among 13 populous countries to control rapid population growth which the US deems inimical to the socio-political and economic growth of these countries and to the national interests of the United States since the "U.S. economy will require large and increasing amounts of minerals from abroad" and the countries can produce destabilizing opposition forces against the US.

It recommends for US leadership to "influence national leaders" and that "improved world-wide support for population-related efforts should be sought through increased emphasis on mass media and other population education and motivation programs by the UN, USIA, and USAID."

Thirteen countries are named in the report as particularly problematic with respect to US security interests: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey, Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. The countries are projected to create 47 percent of all world population growth. Wikipedia

We have winnowed down from: too many people in the universe, to too many of lower classes - a "Malthusian catastrophe" - to finally, too many of a "certain type" of people (blessed with an abundance of Melanin). And when you've created a canopy economical system, you have to somehow differentiate yourselves from the riffraff on the forest floors of the world, especially when your group has all the diamonds, rubies, gold and land. Physical characteristics are a no-brainer: that gets the bewildered herds acting tribal, and not thinking about how the "system is [actually] rigged"...against them. Infighting, bickering; shouting slogans are all to the benefit of the uber-class that purchase politicians like we do laundry detergent pods, and comfortably get insanely richer than any caricature we've ever had of Scrooge McDuck.

"Occam’s razor, also spelled Ockham’s razor, also called law of economy or law of parsimony, principle stated by the Scholastic philosopher William of Ockham (1285–1347/49) that pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, “plurality should not be posited without necessity.” The principle gives precedence to simplicity: of two competing theories, the simpler explanation of an entity is to be preferred. The principle is also expressed as “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.”" Britannica online/Occam's razor

It may be why sensible gun control in the US is so elusive, and gun violence in Chicago is thrown in our faces, while gun violence at Parkland et al though tragic, only solicits "thoughts and prayers." It may be why the US invests in for-profit prisons; or now sees opioid dependence as crisis, and crack cocaine as criminal. It may be as simple as faux societal demarcations generated by a psychotic Politburo to manipulate a powerless Proletariat. It may be as simple as a crass, Malthusian distribution of resources upwards, not caring about the rest of the species, and no clear plan "B" when the ecosystem the selfish ones are also a part of, comes apart and reduces their wealth from the Law of Entropy, to meaningless rubble...

** ..."Snap"... **

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Fruits of Their Labors...

Topics: Civics, Commentary, Existentialism, Research

It has finally happened. The inevitable was likely to come. As we've celebrated stupidity as a virtue (hell, we somehow let a foreign power put an imbecile with the attention span of a gnat, and has taken pathological lying to Olympic levels in charge of the nuclear codes), it was most assuredly going to be reflected in the data:

The US’s dominance in scooping Nobel prizes for work in the natural sciences could be nearing an end, according to a new analysis of previous winners. Carried out by physicist Claudius Gros from the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, it also finds that the UK has won the most Nobel prizes per capita, with Germany coming second and the US a close third (R. Soc. Open Sci. 5 180167).

Since they were first awarded in 1901, scientists who are nationals of the US, the UK, Germany and France have won the most Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine. Around 120 laureates have been American, 40 British, 40 German and 20 French. To determine Nobel-prize productivity, however, Gros factored out population size, particularly given that the US population has more than quadrupled from 76 million in 1901 to 327 million today.

Of course, the laborers will deny it, pious and humble in their efforts to denigrate science, scandalize research, question reality, facts, data: try to morally equivocate between evolution and (not) "intelligent design." We have been on this anti-intellectual Primrose Path since the Scopes Monkey trials. A select segment of the species here in America made denial of facts a staple of membership to the cult, and find they have a political voice in a bipolar tweeting, carnival-barking avatar. As Dr. Gros continues:

Gros found that the US’s productivity peaked in 1972 at 0.83 Nobel prizes per year and per 100 million inhabitants. He says that the most striking element of the US data is the continued downward trend. Since 1972 its success rate has fallen by 60% to 0.34 Nobel prizes per year and per 100 million inhabitants, and it is still dropping. “On a per capita basis, the US’s era is definitively coming to an end,” Gros told Physics World. “Within 12 years the US science Nobel prizes productivity should fall by another 50%.”

That will put us down to 0.17 per 100 million inhabitants by 2030, when the population should be: 327,000,000*e0.02*18 = 468,698,719 (from the Growth Formula: N = N0ert, r = growth/death rate of 0.02, t = time).

That's going to be a lot of mouths to feed and employ with fewer and fewer minds to generate new ideas, industries and thus, employment of the masses. Our slide from "exceptionalism" will inevitably follow.

Is the end in sight for US Nobel prize dominance? Culture, History and Society
Michael Allen, Physics World, Bristol, UK

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

58 Years to the Blue Ray...

Bright prospect: the first International Day of Light will be celebrated on 16 May. (Courtesy: iStock/RichLegg)

Topics: Applied Physics, Laser, Optical Physics, Photonics

This month sees the first International Day of Light. Wednesday 16 May was chosen because it is the anniversary of the first successful operation of the laser, as demonstrated by the American engineer and physicist Ted Maiman in 1960.

It’s a good choice, because the laser is a perfect example of how a scientific discovery can yield revolutionary benefits to society in all sorts of areas, including communications, healthcare and manufacturing. However, when I read the words “first successful operation of the laser” on the International Day of Light website (, I had to look further, as it sounded like there might be more to the story.

I have spent most of my career working in photonics, optical communications and lighting, so I was already somewhat familiar with the laser’s history. However, the details still interested me. It turns out that although Maiman did indeed demonstrate the first working laser on 16 May 1960, he is not the only person with a reasonable claim to have “invented” the laser. The other is Gordon Gould, another US physicist who described “Some rough calculations on the feasibility of a LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation” in his lab notebook in November 1957.

A day of light, James McKenzie, Physics World