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Simmering Hope

Hope is the expectation that something outside of ourselves, something or someone external, is going to come to our rescue and we will live happily ever after. – Dr. Robert Anthony

Archive for the ‘Science News’ Category

Sep 8, 2008

An idiot guide for understanding The Big Bang Experiment

“When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, ‘Let there be light.’ and there was light” – Genesis (The primeval history)

“The Universe has expanded from a primordial hot and dense initial condition at some finite time in the past and continues to expand to this day.”- The Big Bang Theory

There are two theories with regards to Universe creation:
– The religious one, telling us that God created heaven and earth and then he gave us the light
– The scientific one, telling us that The Big Bang was responsible for Universe creation. According to the big bang theory the known universe once had no dimensions at all—no up or down, no left or right.

Now, do you see the problem?
Religion can’t explain how God was created and won’t even try to do it, because it’s considered heresy. Scientists are trying to demonstrate that there is a tiny something capable of making matter out of energy. This something is the Higgs boson also dubbed as ‘God’s particle’, whose existence is the subject of the Wednesday big bang experiment.

This is what we know so far: molecules are made of atoms; atoms are made of particles called protons, neutrons, and electrons; protons and neutrons (dubbed ‘hadrons’) are made of quarks. The electrons are considered fundamental, meaning that no smaller particles have been identified yet as making an electron. But are quarks considered to be fundamental? Are they made of smaller particles?

Leptons and quarks are the basic building blocks of matter; they are seen as the “elementary particles”. In the present standard model used by physicists, there are six leptons: electron, muon, and tau particles and their associated neutrinos. As well, there are six quarks, which may account for all known mesons and baryons (over 200). The most familiar baryons are the proton and neutron. Quarks are observed to occur only in combinations of two quarks (mesons), three quarks (baryons), and the recently discovered particles with five quarks (pentaquark).
Gluons are the exchange particles for the color force between quarks, analogous to the exchange of photons in the electromagnetic force between two charged particles. The gluon can be considered to be the fundamental exchange particle underlying the strong interaction between protons and neutrons in a nucleus.

The Higgs particle, it’s supposed to be the key to explaining why matter has mass. And the big bang experiment is supposed to prove its existence. To look for Higgs particle, researchers must smash two beams of hydrogen protons at very high speeds (99.99999% of the speed of light) in a very cold environment, close to absolute zero (-271 degree Celsius). The stream of hydrogen protons are fed into accelerators of increasing size, the last one being the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS). From there it will be transferred to the LHC (Large Hadron Collider). The timing between the SPS and the LHC must be accurate to within a fraction of a nanosecond. After the beam is circulating around the machine in a stable fashion, another beam will be sent spinning in opposite direction. The final step will be to boost the energy of each beam to five tera electron volts (Tev). One Tev is equal to a trillion (1,000,000,000,000) electron volts. The first particle collisions are likely to take place within a few weeks. If the energy from that collision is high enough, it is converted into smaller bits of matter — particles — one of which could be a Higgs boson.
Data is going to be processed by the LHC Computing Grid (The Grid). The Grid is a worldwide meta-network of PCs, organized into large clusters and linked by ultra high-speed connections into a global computing service.

This could be one of the experiment’s spinoffs, because it could mark the evolution of the Internet from a communications network into a powerful computation network.

A second spinoff of the big bang experiment is to prove the supersymmetry theory. The supersymmetry theory states that every fundamental particle had a much more massive counterpart in the early universe. The electron might have had a selectron, the muon might have had the smuon and the quark might have had the squark. Many of those supersymmetric partners would have been unstable, but one kind may have been just stable enough to survive since the dawn of time. And those particles might, at this very second, be streaming through your body without interacting with your meat and bones. They might be dark matter.

The big bang experiment is absolutely amazing, no doubt about it. Think of it like the masterpiece of all experiments: creating a mini black hole. But that does not mean it’s safe.

Why do they (CERN) say it’s safe?
– Because the Higgs will only last for a small fraction of a second, and then decay into other particles
– Because the energy produced by the LHC is only a fraction of the cosmic energy that bombards our planet every hour of every day.

Why are we afraid?
-Because we don’t know what’s going to happen with ‘the other particle’. What are they? Would they have enough energy to gain the mass that eventually would destroy the Earth?
– Because the particle beam could drill a hole in just about anything.
– Because there was a minor calamity that happened in March 2007, when a magnet jumped out of its skin during a test. That happening after numerous ‘safety reports’ issued by CERN telling us how stupid we are to be worried about the experiment. Since that incident, 24 magnets have been retroffited to fix a design flaw.
– Because mini black holes grow exponentially rather than linearly inside the earth: “miniquasar principle“Hence the time needed by a resident mini black hole to eat the earth is maximally shortened – perhaps down to “50 months.“ This contrasts with the “50 million years“ obtained assuming linear growth by BBC-Horizon and CERN’s analogous “5 billion years“.
Black holes cannot evaporate because their horizon is effectively infinitely far away in spacetime according to a new theorem in the Schwarzschild metric
– According to Boyle, Alan (March 27, 2008). “Doomsday Fears Spark Lawsuit“. Cosmic Log. msnbc.
“Perhaps cosmic-ray collisions really are creating tiny black holes or strangelets, but those little bits of doomsday zip by too fast to cause any trouble. In the LHC, they say, the bad stuff could hang around long enough to be captured by Earth’s gravity and set off a catastrophe”

We are called ‘fear mongers’ because we don’t want to understand how secure this experiment is. Or is it? According to various declarations made by CERN’s scientists “The Higgs is believed to be related to the mechanism by which the matter particles get their mass, but there is no good theory yet as to why different particles have different masses.”

Hey, at least something will be watching over us. The launch of a Russian Rockot carrier rocket bearing Europe’s first GOCE satellite html has been scheduled for September 10, 2008 as well.
It is designed to provide unique models of the Earth’s gravity field on a global scale and with unprecedented accuracy and spatial resolution.

Sep 2, 2008

Update: Is the Big Bang experiment spelling doomsday for Earth?

Update: September 22, 2008
Setback due to a faulty electrical connection between two of the superconducting magnets in one section of the tunnel which has led to a major leak of helium, the LHC’s main coolant. So far I would say that the scientists who had the decency to blow the whistle were right.

Update: September 11, 2008
Yesterday some people were happy: LHC has been switched on and we are still alive.

To all of these people I have just a few words: one beam only!!!!
We have to wait a few weeks until the second one will be ready to collide with the first beam. Who is the idiot now?

Happy reading the original message.

I wonder if September 10, 2008 is going to mark the beginning of the end of our existence. This is the date when CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research will try to duplicate conditions that existed one-billionth of a second after the Big Bang that scientists believe, created the universe.

After 20 years of preparation, 10 billion dollars spent and more than 10,000 scientists from 70 countries involved, scientists will switch on something they call the Large Hadron Collider. The big kahuna has the size of a 30 story building and has been build underground, 100 meters below the Swiss/French countryside. (for once I am happy for not living in Europe).
When the Large Hadron Collider is switched on, two hadrons– beams of sub-atomic particles made up of either protons or lead ions – start to whiz around in opposite directions inside a giant ring-shaped tunnel 27 kilometers in circumference. The particles will be smashed together 600 million times per second (speed 99.99% of the speed of light), and the results recorded and observed by four huge detectors placed in chambers the size of cathedrals deep underground.

CERN Large Hadron Collider

The experiment will generate 40,000 gigabytes of data each day, which will be analyzed by a virtual supercomputer made up of 100,000 processors around the world linked by the internet.

Apparently not everything is nice and dandy and some scientists fear that the massive machine will destroy our planet. Faced with this prospect some people started making their own ‘bucket lists’ (as in things to do before we die). Others took a different route: trying to stop the experiment.

Professor Otto Rossler, from the Eberhard Karls University of Tubingen in Germany, is one of the scientists mounting the legal challenge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, against 20 countries that are funding the project. The group includes Swiss, German and Austrian professors, theorists and biochemists, who say the risks of firing up the Large Hadron Collider haven’t been considered properly. They say checks should be as stringent as they are for nuclear power stations and they agree with a lawsuit that was filed in Hawaii, which claims the experiment could create black holes which might swallow up the Earth.

And that would happen within four years. Doing a simple math, this will take us to the dreadful 2012 and Mayan calendar that marked it as the end of …. Fill in the blanks. The end of civilization as we know it, the end of Earth, it can be anything.

Scientists hope the experiment will help explain fundamental questions such as how particles acquire mass. They will also probe the mysterious dark matter of the universe and investigate why there is more matter than antimatter. Or so they say.

To me, this experiment is like a pissing contest between science and religion. The reason I am not comfortable with this particular experiment is that scientists have been proved wrong so many times. Look at the drugs signed off by companies as safe, only to be proved to have devastating effects on long term health or on newborns. Take thalidomide if nothing else. The sleeping aid for pregnant women considered safe. Only after its effects were so catastrophic did the manufacturer admit they did not test adequately. So we are not capable of understanding exactly how our brain or aspirin work but we are so vain to play with egos while trying to prove that God is a myth? Now more than ever we should take this type of experiments with a very healthy dose of skepticism.

While CERN is getting ready for this exercise, astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope managed to capture images of a powerful collision of galaxy clusters showing a clear separation between dark and ordinary matter. That pretty much answered a crucial question about whether dark matter interacts with itself other than via gravitational forces.

Some people call the skeptics ignorants. It may be so. Then I wonder why CERN had not developed some comprehensive explanations with regards to this experiment, in such a manner to make the tax payers (yeah, the ignorants paying for this fancy big bang experiment) understand what is going on. True, right now we don’t understand how a quantum black hole is different than a solar black hole, but hey, educate us!!!!

In conclusion, we have screwed up the planet anyway so we might as well go ahead and create a black hole to finish off the job quickly.
And some ammunition for the opposite site (religion): CERN has an interesting logo. Take a look and tell me if you see 666 or not?

Jul 31, 2008

Bee death- in search of the cause

“If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe, then man would have four years left to live.”- Quote attributed to Albert Einstein

If the above quote is really coming from Einstein or not, it does not matter. What matters is that the silent cataclysm is happening.
According to reports and studies, in the U.S and Canada the losses of domesticated bees are up to 90% and in U.K and the Netherlands wild bee population have declined 80%. Losses were reported as well in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Austria and Spain.
In many cases no bees were found dead, just gone from the hive. It’s called: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Searching for nectar, bees travel from blossom to blossom transferring pollen from plant to plant, thus fertilizing and enabling them to bear fruit.
Hence: no bee, no pollination of crops, orchards or home gardens. Affected will be: apples, blueberries, cantaloupes, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, beans, peas, strawberries and many other crops.

According to a study from Cornell University, the direct value of honey bee pollination to U.S. agriculture is more than $14.6 billion.

What is the cause of the death of bees?

– Some people came up with the theory that bees were being affected by the increased electromagnetic activity from mobile phones and wireless internet access, interfering with the bees ability to navigate.
– Others say it’s because of various pathogens, old and new
– The most popular hypothesis seem to blame it on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in combination with various insecticides
– Or all of the above

Genetically modified seeds seem to be the root of all evils. Watch the movie ‘We feed the world’ and you are going to discover lots of frightening aspects, not so well known, related to our food. The way I see it, our future is doomed.
It makes lots of sense.
Genetically modified seeds are produced and distributed by powerful biotech conglomerates (Monsanto being one of them), capable to manipulate government agricultural policy to support their agenda.
They came up with the modified seeds that must be used with their brand of fertilizers and pesticides in order to gain the maximum yield.
But the genetic modification of the plant leads to genetic modification of the flower pollen and the bees would potentially die of illness due to the lack of nutrients.
Another disturbing aspect related to modified seeds is that they are infertile meaning that the farmers can not replant.
Infertile seeds can not be good news for bees, don’t you think?

Of course you are going to find lots of studies (founded by whom I wonder) showing that there is no link between GMO and the death of the bees.
Personally, I trust these studies as much as I trust the TV commercials.

Jan 20, 2008

The First Documented Cloned Human Embryo

Motto: Every person begins as a single cell.

It looks like we have already the biggest scientific breakthrough of 2008: Stemagen Lab, a privately held embryonic stem cell research company, created the first cloned human embryo using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) or therapeutic cloning.

The embryo clones were created from mature eggs (oocytes) donated by egg donors and intended parents undergoing egg donation cycles for reproductive purposes at the Reproductive Sciences Center in La Jolla.
The genetic material was removed from the original donated eggs and replaced by a new genetic material coming from the skin cells of a different donor.
Of the original 29 oocytes resulted 5 blastocyts ( a blastocyst is an embryo between 5 and 10 days old), with three confirmed to be clones based on DNA fingerprinting demonstrating the presence of the skin cell donor DNA in the blastocys.
DNA fingerprinting is the scientifically accepted method for determining if an embryo is a true clone.
From the blastocyst are harvested stem cells, capable of forming any of the body’s 200 cell types. During the harvesting the embryo is destroyed.
Apparently the company did not create any stem cells and all blastocysts were destroyed after a few days.

The next important step will be to generate human stem cells from cloned embryos, step that seems to be the most complicated one.

According to stem cells specialists, human embryonic stem cells have been extracted before, from unused fertility clinic embryos, but stem cells from cloned embryos are likely to be more useful because they would be genetically matched to a patient whose DNA is used in the cloning process.

The procedure could open the door to the development of patient-specific embryonic stem cells for human therapeutic use, potentially including developing treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases.

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