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Monday, April 25, 2011

Watching Science in Action

In this day and age of instant news, and a non-stop 24/7 news cycle, with so many news sources trying to rush 'scoops' to print without verification, multiple sources and all the former 'rules of journalism' being followed, we can watch science in action. A great example is a story that was leaked today, about an internal memo of an experimental collaboration at CERN that claims discovery of the Higgs boson. This, by the way, is the most sought-after particle there is in present-day particle physics.

Now, that makes for a cool headline, as it certainly grabbed my attention when I checked in at Yahoo news. The trouble is, the memo was leaked by someone. The collaboration did not make it public. So is this a true memo? Is it a fake or edited version of an actual memo, or completely made up? But it got a headline.

In science, one must be absolutely thorough and careful before publishing any type of result. Once public, any result you have will be fair-game for the full force of scrutiny and criticism the scientific world can muster. A collaboration in particular has real sets of rules that are followed by all members, especially when it comes to 'discovery' claims of any have the reputation of every single scientist associated with the collaboration at risk. Something does not go public until the collaboration says so collectively. This is why popular journalists can cause issues for groups working on high-profile analyses, because they will take any information they get and run with it. The scientific process is more heavily geared towards accuracy than the modern journalist. Now the general public will see this headline and think some great discovery has been made, which may in fact be the complete opposite of reality.

The morale of the story is to be careful with what you read and what you are supposed to learn, and make sure to have legitimate sources with any type of research you may do in school or elsewhere. Stick with opinions and papers from experts in that particular field, and be aware of possible relevancy and accuracy issues in popular press arrticles.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Science of Tornados

Scientific American has a set of videos and articles about tornadoes, which are in the news after killer storms hit the south. Of course, there is a good deal of physics in these storms, with conservation of angular momentum playing a role as the 'twister' forms.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Possible New Particle Discovered at Doc V's old Stomping Ground

This link was found by Judah:

Well, Nature never sits still, and a possible new particle was found at the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF), my old experiment. A bump in the data suggests a new particle, one that, if real, no one yet has a clear understanding of what it is. It is almost certainly not the Higgs boson that has been searched for for decades. Some suggest it could be a new type of force-carrying particle, for some new interaction that occurs in nuclei. It is also a '3-sigma' event, where there is a fraction of a percent uncertainty that it could be a statistical fluctuation in the data. At 3 standard deviations from the mean, there is a 99.9% chance of being an actual discovery, and a 0.1% chance of being a random blip in the data...but that is still large enough to be skeptical when doing research at the professional level.

What is next? More data is needed to continue to reduce the size of the uncertainties (i.e. to reduce the error bars) to see if the bump either is enhanced, or if it smooths out, which would mean a likely random fluctuation. A second part of this is, ideally, to have a second, independent group check and see if they find the same bump at the same mass. Either D0 at Fermilab or the CERN experiments would be able to do this. We will hear more about this over the next months, but it is exciting nonetheless to see the scientific process in action!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Squishy Circuits using materials like Playdoh

Check out this short TED talk about squishy circuits, ideal for younger kids to introduce electricity concepts. This is what I would love to see happen on a regular basis in elementary schools and middle schools, so we do not lose the interest of so many students in science and math by doing worksheets and memorizing science facts. Let kids create and explore and have some fun doing so!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fractals, fractals, Everywhere!

Thanks to Elliot for this one:

Fractals can be used to describe the world. With Benoit Mandelbrot's breakthrough geometric study, secrets of the world have been revealed. I found this website especially cool because of all the examples of magnificent fractals in the world. Fractal geometry has been vital to new forms of art and computer graphics and areas of science and technology, and will continue to change the world.