Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dr. Rosalyn Yalow...

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Topics: Diagnostic Techniques, Diversity, Diversity in Science, Endocrinology, Metabolism, Nobel Prize, STEM, Women in Science

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1977

Born: 19 July 1921, New York, NY, USA

Died: 30 May 2011, New York, NY, USA

Affiliation at the time of the award: Veterans Administration Hospital, Bronx, NY, USA

Prize motivation: "for the development of radioimmunoassays of peptide hormones"

Field: diagnostic techniques, endocrinology, metabolism

jointly to Roger Guillemin and Andrew V. Schally "for their discoveries concerning the peptide hormone production of the brain" and the other half to Rosalyn Yalow "for the development of radioimmunoassays of peptide hormones".

Perhaps the earliest memories I have of being a stubborn, determined child. Through the years my mother had told me that it was unfortunate that I chose to do acceptable things, for if I had chosen otherwise no one would have deflected me from my path.

My mother, nee Clara Zipper, came to America from Germany at the age of four. My father, Simon Sussman, was born on the Lower East Side of New York, the Melting Pot for Eastern European immigrants. Neither had the advantage of a high school education but there was never a doubt that their two children would make it through college. I was an early reader, reading even before kindergarten, and since we did not have books in my home, my older brother, Alexander, was responsible for our trip every week to the Public Library to exchange books already read for new ones to be read.

By seventh grade I was committed to mathematics. A great chemistry teacher at Walton High School, Mr. Mondzak, excited my interest in chemistry, but when I went to Hunter, the college for women in New York City's college system (now the City University of New York), my interest was diverted to physics especially by Professors Herbert N. Otis and Duane Roller. In the spring when I was in college, physics, and in particular nuclear physics, was the most exciting field in the world. It seemed as if every major experiment brought a Nobel Prize. Eve Curie had just published the biography of her mother, Madame Marie Curie, which should be a must on the reading list of every young aspiring female scientist. As a junior at college, I was hanging on nuclear fission - which has resulted not only in the terror and threat of nuclear warfare but also in the ready availability of radioisotopes for medical investigation and in hosts of other peaceful applications.

"Rosalyn Yalow - Facts". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 25 Mar 2015.

See-Through Solar...

New York City Skyscrapers as Seen Through High-Performance SolarWindow™ Module
Topics: Alternative Energy, Green Energy, STEM, Solar Power, Materials Science

Science TIME: It’s called SolarWindow, and it involves spraying clear windows with transparent, electricity-generating coatings. The breakthrough, according to developers New Energy Technologies Inc., comes because previously “the collection of electricity was possible only through use of a metal contact, which blocked visibility and limited transparency.” The coatings use the world’s smallest functional solar cells, which measure less than a quarter the size of a grain of rice.

W-I-I-T-F-M -- What this means for you:

  • Your smart phone charging from its face in a matter of minutes in the sunlight.
  • Office buildings generating and storing their own power, greatly reducing the cost of operation.
  • Ditto for your homes and thus, your heating and cooling expenses.
  • Your electric car, bus, train or plane could be self-sustaining.
  • It would make camping out in the woods rather interesting indeed.
What's exciting is reducing what has become a ubiquitous term: carbon footprint. Even if you're not a tree-hugging member of Greenpeace, I've never seen an instance where anyone went to war over sunlight.

Company Site: SolarWindow
Bloomberg: See-Through Solar Is Tomorrow’s Threat to Oil
JD Markman:
Why solar eclipsing oil may first cause a year-long crash, then a 17-year bull market

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Future We Cannot Avoid...

At City College of San Francisco, student Daniela Cardenas prepares DNA for analysis during the biotechnology module of Bio 11: Introduction to the Science of Living Organisms. This course was developed with funding from the NSF-ATE grant titled, "Incorporating Molecular Biology into the Undergraduate Curriculum."

Credit: City College of San Francisco, Biology Department
Topics: African Americans, Diversity, Hispanic Americans, Jobs, STEM, Women in Science

In the U.S., almost half of all undergraduate students are educated at community colleges. The most recent data show that about 40 percent of community-college students represent the first generation in their family to attend college. Eighteen percent are Hispanic, 15 percent are Black, and 12 percent are students with disabilities.

The community college environment reflects not only demographic changes in the population, but also changes in the economy. As less-skilled jobs are less available, there is a need for more education and training in specialized fields to build or rebuild a career path toward a secure future.

This microcosm of students is key to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) commitment to support high-quality educational experiences in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the STEM fields) while recruiting underrepresented groups into STEM and building the STEM workforce.

In 1992, Congress presented NSF with its first-ever mandate for program creation, known as the Scientific and Advanced Technology Act. In response to this legislation, the NSF established the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, with the overall goal of increasing the knowledge and skills of technicians who are educated at associate-degree-granting colleges.

In funding community colleges, the program gives them a leadership role in strengthening the skills of STEM technicians. The community colleges work in partnership with universities, secondary schools, business and industry and government agencies to design and carry out model workforce development initiatives in fields as diverse as biotechnology, cyber security and advanced manufacturing.

"Those in America with the most favorable view of science tend to be young, well-to-do, college-educated white males. But three-quarters of new American workers in the next decade will be women, non-whites, and immigrants. Failing to rouse their enthusiasm - to say nothing of discriminating against them - isn't only unjust, it's also stupid and self-defeating. It deprives the economy of desperately needed skilled workers."

National Science Foundation:
Preparing high-tech workers, meeting needs of employers
US Courts: Brown vs. Board of Education re-argued today, 1953
First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School, Alison Stewart

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan, Chapter 19: "No Such Thing as a Dumb Question"

Seeing Enterprise...

Relativistic spacecraft must interact with the cosmic microwave background in a way that produces a unique light signature.
Topics: CMB, Einstein, NASA, Relativity, SETI, Quantum Cosmology, Spaceflight, Spacetime

TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: Interstellar travel may be the stuff of science fiction but it’s straightforward to calculate that it should be possible given the ability to travel at a significant fraction of the speed of light. These kinds of speeds may even be achievable with near future technologies and the tax dollars to make them work.

There are significant challenges, of course. And today, Ulvi Yurtsever and Steven Wilkinson at the defense contractor Raytheon in El Segundo, California, outline another that seems to have been overlooked until now.

These guys point out that any object traveling at relativistic speeds will interact with photons in the cosmic microwave background. This interaction should create a drag that imposes specific limits on how fast spacecraft can travel, they say.

The movement of a relativistic spacecraft will have another effect. It should scatter the cosmic microwave background in a way that produces a unique signature. “As a baryonic spacecraft travels at relativistic speeds it will interact with the CMB through scattering to cause a frequency shift that could be detectable on Earth with current technology,” say Yurtsever and Wilkinson.

They go on to calculate the properties of this signature. They say the scattering should generate radiation in the terahertz to infrared regions of the spectrum and that this signal should move relative to the background. “The salient features of the signal are a rapid drop in temperature accompanied by a rapid rise in intensity, along with the motion of the source with respect to a reference frame fixed to distant quasars, which should be observable,” say Yurtsever and Wilkinson.

In other words, if relativistic spacecraft are zipping across interstellar space, this kind of signature should be visible using the current generation of astrophysical observatories.

That’s an interesting piece of work that takes the analysis of relativistic space travel to a new level. Other researchers have explored the possibility of observing relativistic spacecraft using the optical emissions that their engines must generate. But Yurtsever and Wilkinson go further.

Physics arXiv: Limits and Signatures of Relativistic Spaceflight
Ulvi Yurtsever, Steven Wilkinson

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dr. Barbara McClintock...

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Topics: Biology, Genetics, Diversity, Diversity in Science, Nobel Prize, STEM, Women in Science

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1983

Born: 16 June 1902, Hartford, CT, USA

Died: 2 September 1992, Huntington, NY, USA

Affiliation at the time of the award: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, USA

Prize motivation: "for her discovery of mobile genetic elements"

Field: genetics

Relatively few students took this course and most of them were interested in pursuing agriculture as a profession. Only twenty-one years had passed since the rediscovery of Mendel's principles of heredity. ... The results of these studies provided a solid conceptual framework into which subsequent results could be fitted. Nevertheless, there was a reluctance on the part of some professional biologists to accept the revolutionary concepts that were surfacing. This reluctance was soon dispelled as the logic underlying genetic investigations became increasingly evident.

When the undergraduate genetics course was completed in January, a telephone call came from Dr. Hutchinson. He must have sensed my intense interest in the content of his course because the purpose of his call was to invite me to participate in the other genetics course given at Cornell. It was scheduled for graduate students. His invitation was accepted with great pleasure and great anticipations. Obviously, this telephone call cast the die for my future. I remained with genetics thereafter. [1]


To paraphrase George Orwell, every person is unique, but some are more unique than others. There has never been anyone like Barbara McClintock in this world, nor ever will be. She was not simply a representative of a type. Some have considered her as an eccentric, others as a heroine of Science, and still others as a model to be imitated. I would like to tell you how I think of her.

Barbara McClintock was a woman who rejected a woman's life for herself. She began to do it as a small child and never deviated. Her childhood was not a happy one, and perhaps this provided the force, the moral tension that was so strong in her and so necessary for the life she lived. And we must not forget that at the foundation of every creative life there lies a sense of personal inadequacy that energizes the struggle. This sense was strong in Barbara.

Barbara deliberately chose a solitary life without encumbrances, but she did not reject womanhood. In a feminine way, she once said to me "I cannot fight for myself, but I can fight for others." In a time of confusion about such matters, it is important to note that Barbara did not fight against herself by choosing a path that was inconsistent with her nature or her capacity. This is why she could, at the end, say "I have lived a wonderful life and I have no regrets about it." This does not mean that Barbara's life of isolation protected her from inner storms and passions. On the contrary, she was familiar with periods of depression, sense of futility and, yes, tears of frustration and rage. Yet her final judgment on her life was strongly affirmative. [2]

1. "Barbara McClintock - Facts". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 23 Mar 2015.
2. In Memoriam - Barbara McClintock

Yotta-eV and ET...

Artist's impression of a black hole. Could an advanced alien civilization create a cosmic collider using such an object? (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Topics: Black Holes, Neutrinos, Particle Physics, Space, SETI

Has an advanced alien civilization built a black-hole-powered particle accelerator to study physics at "Planck-scale" energies? And if such a cosmic collider is lurking in a corner of the universe, could we detect it here on Earth?

Brian Lacki of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, has done calculations that suggest that if such an accelerator exists, it would produce yotta electron-volt (YeV or 1024 eV) neutrinos that could be detected here on Earth. As a result, Lacki is calling on astronomers involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) to look for these ultra-high-energy particles. This is supported by SETI expert Paul Davies of Arizona State University, who believes that the search should be expanded beyond the traditional telescope searches.

Like humanity, it seems reasonable to assume that an advanced alien civilization would have a keen interest in physics, and would build particle accelerators that reach increasingly higher energies. This energy escalation could be the result of the "nightmare scenario" of particle physics in which there is no new physics at energies between the TeV energies of the Standard Model and the 1028 eV Planck energy (10 XeV) – where the quantum effects of gravity become strong. "The nightmare of particle physics is the dream of astronomers searching for extraterrestrials," says Lacki.

An important problem facing alien physicists would be that the density of electromagnetic energy needed to reach the Planck scale is so great that the device would be in danger of collapsing into a black hole of its own making. However, Lacki points out that a clever designer could, in principle, get round this problem and "reaching [the] Planck energy is technically allowed, if extremely difficult".

Physics World: Have alien civilizations built cosmic accelerators from black holes?
Hamish Johnston is editor of

Monday, March 23, 2015


ERA: History
Topics: Bullying, Diversity in Science, Equal Rights, Internet, Trolls, Women in Science

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

A moment to discuss this related topic: Yesterday, the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by congress in 1972 (a rare time congress actually worked in our behalf). It would ultimately be defeated from becoming law by Phyllis Schlafly, using fear tactics and some homophobia.

Even the actress Ashley Judd is not immune to cyber-bullying, subjected to the vilest and violent responses to a somewhat off-color remark at a sporting event, that most are thinking anyway as their team is losing, but didn't openly share on social media as we do now (as it didn't exist before). The double-standard is quite apparent as no male sharing such disappointment is assaulted in such a manner.  What used to be done in-person by the muscular bully on the playground is done by the cowardly troll on the Internet, usually before there moms call them down for dinner.

As a survivor of trolls: you have the ability to respond in protecting yourselves from bullying, cyber or otherwise. Most social media has a method of blocking them from commenting on your stream. The FBI has a podcast on cyber-bullying as well as an official PSA. My bullying usually has been the response to something said innocuously in a science post that offended a particular troll's view of the universe. After a spirited back-and-forth that eventually went nowhere, I either used the aforementioned blocking settings, or in one severe case, I went here where I found this:

The IC3 (Internet Criminal Complaint Center) was established as a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) to receive Internet related criminal complaints and to further research, develop, and refer the criminal complaints to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement and/or regulatory agencies for any investigation they deem to be appropriate. The IC3 was intended, and continues to emphasize, serving the broader law enforcement community to include federal, as well as state, local, and international agencies, which are combating Internet crime and, in many cases, participating in Cyber Crime Task Forces. You can file a complaint here.

Like Ms. Judd, it stops when you stand up and say "no more!" Social media has done wonderful things, but has revealed homophobes, misogynists, racists, sectarians and sociopaths. NONE of you with the ambition, drive and intelligence can be good scientists or engineers if you don't feel safe, on or offline. Sadly, by accident or incident, these Neanderthals will one day be someone's father, dealing with the seeds they have sown to the wind they will inherit. Let their mothers deal with them now when the authorities come to their doors. They deserve neither your power, your protection nor your respect.