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Journal Archives

Toon- Letters to Santa

Toon: High over Colorado

“Person of the Year” Nomination for Higgs Boson Riddled with Errors

Time magazine recently posted 30 nominations for its ever-popular “Person of the Year” award. Tucked in between President Barack Obama and the Korean rapper Psy is an unlikely candidate for the “Person of the Year”—a subatomic particle. As Scientific American readers are well aware, physicists at the Large Hadron Collider announced this summer that they had found something that looks much like long-elusive Higgs boson, causing a brief but wondrous worldwide bout of Higgsteria.

Under ordinary circumstances, we would be all for the elevation of the Higgs to “Person of the Year” status, if only to further honor the heroic efforts of thousands of scientists and engineers who made the discovery possible (more on that below). But Time’s nomination threatens to do more harm than good. Every single sentence in Time’s nomination contains at least one serious error. The magazine scores a perfect five for five. In the interest of clarity, let’s do a quick edit:

Sentence 1: Take a moment to thank this little particle for all the work it does, because without it, you’d be just inchoate energy without so much as a bit of mass.

Error: The common understanding of the Higgs is that it is responsible for all mass in the universe, but this is untrue, as my colleague Daisy Yuhas explained last week in an illuminating (and factually accurate!) post: “The Higgs field does not explain the origin of all mass. ‘Many uninformed physicists have been saying that for years,’ says theoretical physicist Chris Quigg of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. ‘We have actually understood the source of most of the mass in the proton [for example] for some time,’ Most mass—including your own—comes from the strong force, a force of nature that keeps the nucleus of atoms bound together.” The Higgs field does give rise to the masses of particles such as the W and Z bosons, as well as the electron. And it’s true that without it, the universe would be a very different place. “Without that mass, electrons wouldn’t hook up with nuclei to form atoms. ‘That would mean no valence bonding, so much of chemistry, essentially all, would vanish,’ Quigg says. ‘Therefore no solid structures and no template for life.’”



Barack Obama Is Turning the Oval Office Into a Man Cave

Noreen Malone
November 30, 2012 | 12:09 pm

On Thursday, Barack Obama invited Mitt Romney to the White House for lunch. The two shared white turkey chili and repaired to President Obama's man cave, formerly known as the Oval Office, for photo ops.

The transformation of the room became complete when, sometime in the past year, the president swapped out the fussy beige floral couches that formerly sat in the room for the possibly-velour tan behemoths you see before you. Though our sourcing is spotty on this, we suspect this is the only place Michelle would let the president put the furniture from his bachelor apartment. Or else they were the gift of an enthusiastic Ohio State fraternity, obtained during President Obama’s campaign travels in the state. The throw pillows, one can only assume, came free with a year's subscription to Sports Illustrated. The coffee table looks familiar: I could swear it's from the free section of Craigslist.

The couches simply make form follow function: the room is the most important bro-out zone in the nation. It's a place you've got to get in the right mindset before entering, as Obama's personal secretary demonstrates below.

It's a place where high fives are the coin of the realm.

more (pretty funny)

Florida Threw Out Christian Slater's Vote

Christian Slater really tried to vote in the election this year, but Florida turned him down. The Hollywood star tweeted his travails at the polling place on Election Day from his verified account, and today briefly posted and then deleted a picture of the rejection letter that Florida sent to him — misspelling his name "Christina D. Slater." Republicans in Florida enacted controversial laws making it more difficult to vote this year.


Watch for the tail

A telescope with a 128-foot diameter mirror...

When it is complete, the European Extremely Large Telescope in Chile will be the crown astronomical jewel of the European Southern Observatory, which celebrates its 50th birthday this year.

But construction of the world's largest telescope will take $1.4 billion (1.084 billion Euros), a decade of work and an iron will on the part of the countries participating.

Most of the 14 member nations of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) are countries stricken by money difficulties sparked by the global recession that began in 2007. This pushed back construction of the 128-foot (39-meters) telescope from an expected start date of this year.

The project was approved in June. Most of the member countries have now committed financially, with the final ones expected to make their approvals in late 2012 or early 2013, ESO officials said.


Nate Silver discusses politics, sports with Bill Simmons

B.S. Report: Nate Silver (Plus Video!)
By Bill Simmons on November 30, 2012 10:19 AM ET

Nate Silver talks to Bill Simmons about how politics compares to sports, the criticism he received this year, and how he spent Election Day.


Gulf of Mexico dispersant makes 2010 spill 52-times more toxic

(Phys.org)—If the 4.9 million barrels of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deep Water Horizon spill was a ecological disaster, the two million gallons of dispersant used to clean it up apparently made it even worse – 52-times more toxic. That's according to new research from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes (UAA), Mexico.

The study found that mixing the dispersant with oil increased toxicity of the mixture up to 52-fold over the oil alone. In toxicity tests in the lab, the mixture's effects increased mortality of rotifers, a microscopic grazing animal at the base of the Gulf's food web. The findings are published online by the journal Environmental Pollution and will appear in the February 2013 print edition.

Using oil from the Deep Water Horizon spill and Corexit, the dispersant required by the Environmental Protection Agency for clean up, the researchers tested toxicity of oil, dispersant and mixtures on five strains of rotifers. Rotifers have long been used by ecotoxicologists to assess toxicity in marine waters because of their fast response time, ease of use in tests and sensitivity to toxicants. In addition to causing mortality in adult rotifers, as little as 2.6 percent of the oil-dispersant mixture inhibited rotifer egg hatching by 50 percent. Inhibition of rotifer egg hatching from the sediments is important because these eggs hatch into rotifers each spring, reproduce in the water column, and provide food for baby fish, shrimp and crabs in estuaries.

"Dispersants are preapproved to help clean up oil spills and are widely used during disasters," said UAA's Roberto-Rico Martinez, who led the study. "But we have a poor understanding of their toxicity. Our study indicates the increase in toxicity may have been greatly underestimated following the Macondo well explosion."

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-11-gulf-mexico-clean-up-times-toxic.html

Taxpayer supported Ark

Michael Zovath and Patrick Marsh would prefer to not take quite as long. With a small team of designers and builders, they’re preparing to construct a colossal wooden ark per the directives presented in the Bible and in accordance with what they refer to as the “sound established nautical engineering practices” of Noah’s time. When completed, their 510-foot-long ark—the centerpiece of a biblical theme park to be called Ark Encounter—will take up about one and a half football fields. (There has been something of a global ark-building boom in recent years, but Zovath and Marsh’s structure promises to outstretch even its biggest competitors, including the concrete-and-glass-fiber ark built in Hong Kong in 2009, which is 450 feet long, and a similarly sized vessel constructed by a wealthy businessman in the Netherlands after he dreamed that the country had flooded.)

It turns out that erecting a massive ark based on a few lines of ancient verse raises some practical quandaries. Gopher wood, for example, is not a kind of wood recognized by modern arborists. Likewise, a cubit, the unit of measurement employed by God in Genesis, is not a standardized metric, although many people believe it refers to the length of a man’s forearm, from his elbow to the tip of his middle finger. Then there are the countless mysteries (scatological, sociological) about the interior, where Noah, his seven family members, and his herd of animals (“Of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort”) are said to have spent a year and six days.

Zovath is a senior vice president and co-founder of Answers in Genesis, a group of biblical literalists who believe that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago, over the course of six consecutive days. The ministry, which is spearheading Ark Encounter, has some experience with this sort of undertaking, albeit on a smaller scale: in 2007, in Petersburg, Kentucky, it opened the Creation Museum, a 70,000-square-foot complex consisting of a café, several movie theaters, a planetarium, and 160 exhibits elucidating events recounted in the book of Genesis.

Ark Encounter—which is to sit on an 800-acre plot of land in Williamstown, about 40 miles south of Cincinnati—will be filled with actors and animals (some real, some mechanical) and will also feature a Tower of Babel, a walled city, an aviary, a “first-century village,” and something called a “Journey Through Biblical History,” involving a boat ride down the Nile. Like all Kentucky tourist attractions, Ark Encounter is eligible for generous state tax incentives—in this case, controversially, up to $43 million over 10 years. The park also has the unequivocal support of Kentucky’s Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, who likes to boast that the complex could produce up to 900 jobs.

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