Brainy Quote of the Day

Monday, November 30, 2015


Image Source: Ludd, drawn here in 1812, was the fictitious leader of numerous real protests. (Granger Collection, New York)
Topics: Alternative Energy, Climate Change, Economy, Jobs, Politics, Research, STEM

Researching the term Luddite was quite revealing. Ned Lud (or Ludd/Ludham) appears to have been a fiction concocted to coincide with the legend Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest and the "righteousness" of the protesters' cause 1. First of all, they weren't so opposed to technology as most have defined them over time. Their opposition to the technology of the stocking frame appeared to be what is angering swaths of humanity now: increased productivity that has not been - especially lately - proportional to increased wages or employment.

Thus everyone is taken aback at the impotence of self-governance, which is the hallmark of democratic republics. We do not salute a king, we essentially elect our leaders to do the will of the people who sent them to office, leaders often swayed more by the uber class that invest in their election campaigns; less by their "neighbors" they haven't lived next to in quite some time.

Free trade: most of them have been bandied as cause De Jure by some politicians and ignored by others. "Bring the jobs back" seems a simple solution that begs two questions: 1. Even if the jobs came back, would Americans line up and apply for them? 2. What if our modern "stocking frame" of convenient technology and mobile apps doesn't allow the previous jobs to come back?

I receive as member of the American Physics Society its newsletter. In the print issue of Inside the Beltway I read 2, Michael S. Lubell posits the question: "Does Science Bear Any Responsibility for Today’s Political Discontent?" He points out through science there's been an increase in productivity that up until recent history tracked well with wages and jobs. However, from the article:

A new Economic Policy Institute report provides a possible clue. Josh Bivens and Lawrence Mishel, the report’s authors, took a hard look at the impact of productivity, defined as economic output per unit input (e.g., labor and capital); on a typical worker’s compensation. What they detail is profoundly disturbing.

Bivens and Mishel trace the history of productivity and compensation from 1948 to the present. During the first 25 years, hourly compensation fairly tracked gains in productivity, rising 91.3 percent during that period while productivity, driven in large part by technological advances, rose 96.7 percent. But from 1973 through 2014, while productivity continued to soar, rising another 72.2 percent, compensation grew by a paltry 9.2 percent.

In short, during those four decades, the average worker stopped benefiting from science and technology’s largess. But corporations did not: their profits rose dramatically, and their stock prices soared. Between the beginning of 1973 and the end of 2014, for example, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, adjusted for inflation, rose 216 percent.

I do have concerns. Again from APS, the latest new report in the under-representation of African Americans in the Physical Sciences 3. There's concern with women 4 being in a fluctuating but representative small number. Both and other groups has to do with exposure and family income: if your parents are in STEM, you're more likely to follow them; in most cases, you are more likely to run experiments in your room if you can afford them and your neighborhood environment feels safe to do so.

We've gone from "Rosie the Riveter" to "Rosie the Robot Maintainer"; "Rosie the IT expert." We've gone from "I'm not college material," and that person joining a manufacturing firm and earning a living though out a lifetime to raise a family to that option no longer existing. The moribund testing industrial complex is only stressing out teachers and students alike at the K-12 levels, and is not preparing those students for more rigorous collegiate-level work, merely maintaining the inequality status quo 5,6,7. We have an opportunity to construct a future based on alternative energy solutions that could - generate a new level of employment that the nation could educate and prepare a future workforce to fulfill. Such gainful employment would relieve a host of - not ALL - social pressures that are in essence a competition for resources and an artificial, socially inequitable sequester/squandering of the same. We could lead on climate emissions reduction and reduce in-kind, stresses that are currently plaguing our society; that may have built a grievous foundation to the two spectacular attacks in Paris this calendar year, where current climate talks are happening this week. 

What essentially are we going to do with swaths of humanity not prepared for the jobs of the future...or now? Why aren't our elected representatives answering these substantive questions beyond soundbites, sloganeering and talking points or any science-based questions to "inherit the wind" of nuclear codes to possible species extinction?

Perhaps we need to ask them.

1. Smithsonian Institution: What the Luddites Really Fought Against, Richard Conniff

APS News Links
2. Does Science Bear Any Responsibility for Today’s Political Discontent? Michael S. Lubell
3. Underrepresentation of African Americans Persists in Physical Sciences, Emily Conover
4. Women in Physics Statistics
5. Fighting the Gender Gap:Standardized Tests Are Poor Indicators of Ability in Physics
6. Session L5. COM & CSWP: GRE/SAT Predictors of Graduate/Undergradute Performance for Women and Minorities.
7. Abstract: H12.00002 : Allocation of Wealth and Emergence of Inequality

Friday, November 27, 2015

SpaceX Crewed Mission...

SpaceX is modifying Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to adapt it to the needs of the company's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, which are slated to lift off from the historic pad in the near future. Credit: SpaceX
Topics: International Space Station, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

It's official: SpaceX will fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station a few years from now.

California-based SpaceX has secured its first astronaut taxi order under its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with NASA, agency officials announced Friday (Nov. 20).

"It's really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions," Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said in a statement. "It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its life span." NASA Orders 1st Crewed Mission from SpaceX, Mike Wall

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cyborg Roses...

Researchers in Sweden have used roses to create a number of basic electronic devices. (Courtesy: Eliot Gomez/Linköping University)
Topics: Bioengineering, Biology, Electrical Engineering, Photosynthesis

I have to admit: this would have been a better post around Valentine's Day! Enjoy your turkey, pheasant, Cornish hen (in my case) or vegan meal.

Researchers in Sweden have created electronic circuits and devices that are integrated within living plant material. The team introduced a conductive polymer into the vascular system of plants, which allowed the researchers to create the key components of an electrical circuit. They were also able to demonstrate transistor modulation, digital logic function and elements of a digital display. Plant-integrated electronics could enable us to monitor and regulate plant physiology and harvest energy from photosynthesis, the team says.

Organic electronic materials are polymers and molecules that can conduct and process both electronic and ionic signals. They can be shaped into almost any form and used to build devices that can convert electronic signals into chemical processes, and vice versa. The resulting electrochemical devices can then be used to regulate and monitor biological and chemical processes. Such technologies are currently being exploited in various medical settings, such as drug delivery, regenerative medicine, neuronal interconnects, and diagnostics.

Physics World: Cyborg roses become transistors and logic gates, Michael Allen

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Finding Field Equations...

Figure 1. Albert Einstein (1879–1955), in this 1916 photograph, poses in his study at Wittelsbacherstraße 13 in Berlin-Wilmersdorf. (Courtesy of the Leo Baeck Institute, New York.)
Citation: Phys. Today 68, 11, 30 (2015);
Topics: Einstein, History, General Relativity, Research

In his later years, Einstein often claimed that he had obtained the field equations of general relativity by choosing the mathematically most natural candidate. His writings during the period in which he developed general relativity tell a different story.

This month marks the centenary of the Einstein field equations, the capstone on the general theory of relativity and the highlight of Albert Einstein’s scientific career.1 The equations, which relate spacetime curvature to the energy and momentum of matter, made their first appearance in a four-page paper submitted on 25 November 1915 to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin and reprinted in TheCollected Papers of Albert Einstein (CPAE),2 volume 6, document 21. How did Einstein, shown in figure 1, arrive at those equations? He later insisted that the gravitational equations “could only be found by a purely formal principle (general covariance).”3 Such statements mainly served to justify his strategy in the search for a unified field theory during the second half of his career. As a description of how he found the field equations of general relativity, they are highly misleading.

The 25 November paper was the last in a series of short communications submitted to the Berlin Academy on four consecutive Thursdays that month (CPAE 6; 21, 22, 24, 25). In the first paper, Einstein replaced the field equations that he had published in 1913 with equations that retain their form under a much broader class of coordinate transformations (see figure 2). In the second, a highly speculative hypothesis he adopted about the nature of matter allowed him to change those equations to equations that are generally covariant—that is, retain their form under arbitrary coordinate transformations. In the fourth, he achieved the same end by changing the field equations of the first paper in a different and more convincing way, as shown in figure 3. In the third, based on the field equations of the second paper but unaffected by the modification of the fourth, he accounted for the 43 seconds of arc per century missing in the Newtonian account of the perihelion motion of Mercury.

Physics Today: Arch and scaffold: How Einstein found his field equations
Michel Janssen and Jürgen Renn

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Alpha Centauri Dreams...

Image Source: NASA - Imagine The Universe!
Topics: Exoplanets, NASA, Planets, Planetary Science, Space Exploration, Research

Physics Database: The famous alpha Centauri system — one of our nearest neighbors in space — happens to be one of the best targets for exoplanet search. In this talk Michael Endl, a research scientist at the University of Texas, will review past and current planet search efforts that targeted the alpha Centauri system. In addition, he will focus on his team’s program, an intensive multi-year observing campaign carried out at Mt John University Observatory in New Zealand. As always, for more high quality videos check out the links below.

Post title derived from the excellent site

Monday, November 23, 2015


Image source: MIT News
Topics: Exoplanets, NASA, Planets, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

It's a scant 39 light years away, but even if we developed a propulsion system to get us there in a human lifetime, the inhospitable weather would make me select another destination. Good candidate for LONG distance study...

Scientists have discovered a new exoplanet that, in the language of “Star Wars,” would be the polar opposite of frigid Hoth, and even more inhospitable than the deserts of Tatooine. But instead of residing in a galaxy far, far away, this new world is, galactically speaking, practically next door.

The new planet, named GJ 1132b, is Earth-sized and rocky, orbiting a small star located a mere 39 light-years from Earth, making it the closest Earth-sized exoplanet yet discovered. Astrophysicists from MIT and elsewhere have published these findings today in the journal Nature.

Based on their measurements, the scientists have determined that the planet is a roasting 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and is likely tidally locked, meaning that it has a permanent day and night side, presenting the same face to its star, much like our moon is locked to the Earth.

MIT News: New exoplanet in our neighborhood, Jennifer Chu

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sole Power...

Image GIF source: MIT Technology Review
Topics: Economy, Jobs, Materials Science, Metamaterials, STEM

Considering the obesity rate in the country and the FitBit craze, this could be a win-win for all of us.

Children have been harnessing energy from their steps ever since 1992, when L.A. Gear introduced sneakers that light up. For most adults, however, the ambient energy created by the simple act of walking is forever lost. Considering that the average person takes around 216 million steps in a lifetime, it’s a significant waste.

Inventor Laurence Kemball-Cook hopes to harness the lost energy at two points of contact: the shoe and the floor. In 2009, Kemball-Cook founded Pavegen, a company whose floor tiles can capture the power of footsteps. The technology uses compression to skim a tiny fraction of the energy created when a human steps on the tile. It’s been installed in more than 100 projects around the world, including a football stadium in Rio de Janeiro and a terminal in Heathrow Airport. The energy is stored in batteries inside the tiles, where it can then be used to power lighting, advertisements, and way-finding solutions, which guide people through an environment via directional arrows.

Now Kemball-Cook and his R&D team have turned their attention to the shoe itself, hoping to apply the same principles used in the tiles as a way to harness personal energy. “The idea is that the energy source would be readily available to the shoe wearer,” explains Kemball-Cook, who has been in discussions with major footwear manufacturers such as Nike and Reebok about ways the technology could be incorporated into consumer products. “You could walk from work and charge your phone en route instead of waiting to use a charger at home. Runners could charge their music players during a jog.”

MIT Technology Review: The Quest to Make Your Shoe a Power Source, Simon Parkin