Friday, August 29, 2014

Once Again...

I'll be in the state of Texas eating good barbecue and visiting with family and friends. Though it is where this blog was "born" and I will have access to the Internet and email, in the words of my character namesake, it is quite logical for me to take a respite from work-related and recreational usage of URLs, and actually read books made of papyrus near a pool.

Please enjoy all the previous posts. I will see you back online 8 September.


"Dif tor heh smusma."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Quantum Physics and Breathing...

Image source: Renewing All Things

(Inside Science) – Why don't we suffocate whenever we try to take a breath? An international team of scientists has used quantum mechanics – the science that usually deals with events at the level of the ultra-small – to solve this human-sized mystery.

Quantum mechanics has long proved its value in understanding such phenomena as the behavior of electrons and in classifying subatomic particles. But in recent years theorists have increasingly shown how it applies to all facets of life, large and small.

The new research, led by Cédric Weber of Kings College, London and reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms that point.

"This work," said team member David O'Regan, a physicist at Ireland's Trinity College, Dublin, "helps to illustrate the fact that quantum-mechanical effects, which may sometimes be viewed as somehow very exotic or only relevant under extreme conditions, are at play in the day-to-day regimes where biology, chemistry, and materials science operate."

The paper's titled: "Renormalization of myoglobin–ligand binding energetics by quantum many-body effects." That's a mouthful, I know but you're a sharp crowd knowing you've read this far.

Side note: this is the National Academy of Sciences, started March 3, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln.

They use a technique - Density Functional Theory, or DFT, which won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1998, and its extension Density Mean-Field Theory. Some excerpts:

"DFT has been the standard tool for simulating electronic properties of materials and molecules for a number of years," O'Regan said.

The team used the technique to study reactions between the iron atom inside myoglobin and a molecule of oxygen or carbon monoxide. These reactions involve electrostatics, the arrangement of electric charges in atoms and molecules. When the iron atom transfers negative electric charges to an oxygen or carbon monoxide molecule, it enables the molecule to attach itself to the entire myoglobin protein.

Unfortunately, the theory consistently predicted that carbon monoxide should bind to myoglobin much more readily than oxygen.

"Using DMFT, we showed that, in fact, close to one electron is transferred to the oxygen molecule," Cole explained. "This provides much greater electrostatic stabilization than previously thought. It means that our estimate of the relative binding of oxygen and carbon dioxide is now in excellent agreement with experiment."

The analysis revealed that an effect called entanglement plays a critical role in binding oxygen molecules to the protein. Entanglement is a quintessential characteristic of quantum mechanics that links pairs of electrons so strongly that they no longer act independently. The process also involves Hund's exchange, another quantum-mechanical property that previous simulations had ignored.

The research has potential uses beyond understanding the molecular basis of breathing. According to Cole, the better understanding of how molecules bind to iron-containing proteins could help the drug-development process and possibly facilitate the design of artificial photosynthesis devices that would capture and store energy from the sun.

Impact: Supplying oxygen to the International Space Station would be a good low-orbital beta test platform. We could terraform our own planet, that we seem determined to do with the burning of fossil fuels anyway - our photosynthesis devices could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and supply us with oxygen as its byproduct - we kind of need that. If we could do that, settling the Moon, Mars or any other planet would be a lot simpler once we engineer faster propulsion systems than we have currently. On Earth, "Green Tech" could literally mean converting solar energy into chemical energy useful to us as farmed (as in food) or mined resources. These are inevitably a dwindling supply and the basis for our current inequality hierarchy and scarcity economics. Please read the rest of the article at the link for more information.

Inside Science: How Quantum Mechanics Helps Us Breathe, Peter Gwynne

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The EmDrive That Wasn't...

The EmDrive produces propulsion without propellant, according to its inventor. (Credit: SPR, Ltd)
Physicist John Baez has another, more colorful word to describe the spate of recent reports about a breakthrough space engine that produces thrust without any propellant. The word starts with “bull–.” I won’t finish it, this being a family-friendly web site and all. Baez himself has softened his tone and now calls it “baloney,” though his sentiment remains the same: The laws of physics remain intact, and the “impossible” space drive is, as far as anyone can tell, actually impossible.

The story begins several years back with a British inventor named Roger Shawyer and his EmDrive, a prototype rocket engine which he claimed generated thrust by bouncing microwaves around in an enclosed metal funnel. Since no mass or energy emerged from the engine, Shawyer’s claim was another way of saying that he’d found a way to violate the conservation of momentum. In Baez’s words, “this is about as plausible as powering a spaceship by having the crew push on it from the inside.” Shawyer argued that he was exploiting a loophole within general relativity. Baez calls his explanation “mumbo jumbo.”

I'd read about the EmDrive, and didn't blog about it, thankfully. Something about it didn't "smell right," and it put me in the mind of the whole "cold fusion" boondoggle of the late 80's - early 90's. Plus, I ran into some links that gave a "404" error, which if you're trying to convince someone to fund your project is probably not a good sell! Surprisingly, a few courageous ones are still doing work in the area. As my Air Force JROTC instructor was apt to say to disavow responsibility or knowledge in any subject: "not the kid!"

This is not to be confused with warp drive. That science is actually being done painstakingly, and the reporting as accurate as possible. Meaning: as science goes, one must report the failures as well as the successes and subject your study to ruthless peer review. It's the science equivalent of a gauntlet at a bar fight. Even 1/10th the speed of light would be a significant accomplishment, and get us to at least Alpha Centauri in a human lifetime. It would at least reduce Mars to a matter of minutes (I'll leave space tourism to the visionary).

The author, Corey S. Powell, ends his article with an appropriate Latin metaphor. The rest of the article is at the link below:

"Ad astra per aspera: through hardship, to the stars."

Discovery: Did NASA Validate an “Impossible” Space Drive? In a Word, No.
Cory S. Powell

Monday, August 25, 2014

Spin Symmetry...

Illustration of symmetry in the magnetic properties—or nuclear spins—of strontium atoms. JILA researchers observed that if two atoms have the same nuclear spin state (top), they interact weakly, and the interaction strength does not depend on which of the 10 possible nuclear spin states are involved. If the atoms have different nuclear spin states (bottom), they interact much more strongly, and, again, always with the same strength.
Credit: Ye and Rey groups and Steve Burrows/JILA
Just as diamonds with perfect symmetry may be unusually brilliant jewels, the quantum world has a symmetrical splendor of high scientific value.

Confirming this exotic quantum physics theory, JILA physicists led by theorist Ana Maria Rey and experimentalist Jun Ye have observed the first direct evidence of symmetry in the magnetic properties—or nuclear “spins”—of atoms. The advance could spin off practical benefits such as the ability to simulate and better understand exotic materials exhibiting phenomena such as superconductivity (electrical flow without resistance) and colossal magneto-resistance (drastic change in electrical flow in the presence of a magnetic field).

The JILA discovery, described in Science Express,* was made possible by the ultra-stable laser used to measure properties of the world’s most precise and stable atomic clock.** JILA is jointly operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Spin symmetry has a very strong impact on materials science, as it can give rise to unexpected behaviors in quantum matter,” JILA/NIST Fellow Jun Ye says. “Because our clock is this good—really it’s the laser that’s this good—we can probe this interaction and its underlying symmetry, which is at a very small energy scale.”

Sunday, August 24, 2014

If You Meet The Buddha...

Source: Ha Ha! Funny! LOL!

I have heard the phrase “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” many times. Can you explain this?


It actually comes from an old koan attributed to Zen Master Linji, (the founder of the Rinzai sect). It’s a simple one:

“If you meet the Buddha, kill him.”– Linji

I’m sure you already realize that it’s not being literal. The road, the killing, and even the Buddha are symbolic.

The road is generally taken to mean the path to Enlightenment; that might be through meditation, study, prayer, or just some aspect of your way of life. Your life is your road. That’s fairly straightforward as far as metaphors go.

But how do you meet the Buddha on this “road?” Imagine meeting some symbolic Buddha. Would he be a great teacher that you might actually meet and follow in the real world? Could that Buddha be you yourself, having reached Enlightenment? Or maybe you have some idealized image of perfection that equates to your concept of the Buddha or Enlightenment.

Whatever your conception is of the Buddha, it’s WRONG! Now kill that image and keep practicing. This all has to do with the idea that reality is an impermanent illusion. If you believe that you have a correct image of what it means to be Enlightened, then you need to throw out (kill) that image and keep meditating.

Most people have heard the first chapter of the Tao, “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.” (So if you think you see the real Tao, kill it and move on).

Source: Bryan Schell

Science: "the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment" (Oxford); also defined succinctly with subject examples here.

For the record: I am not a Buddhist. My fascination in this quote stems from the old "Kung Fu" series with David Carradine, (who was great, but I think in all fairness should have been the show's concept originator - Bruce Lee, oh well). It's also how this "Buddha murder" coincides with the scientific enterprise, and may explain the stress felt by this contradiction in other human endeavors.

This statement, however captures the "messiness" and disturbing protocol of science: what was a scientific accepted norm, theory or "truth" can with further (and, hopefully better-controlled) experimentation can be thrown away, discarded like previous theories regarding the speed of light (the Michelson-Morley Experiment). Science in the 19th Century looked at the universe as a mechanical, physical balance. Thus, Michelson and Morley tried to measure this balance, the stationary luminiferous aether: waves were transmitted in water; sound in air; light must be in the "aether wind." They "failed" to find it, but found something else; they "killed the [previous] Buddha."

From the site of Sci-Fi writer Peter Watts, he writes:

Science follows the creed of disproof, after all. The whole edifice is founded on the admission that everything we know might be wrong, that any of today’s "facts" might tomorrow be tested and found wanting. Science is pretty straightforward as a concept; in practice it’s messy as hell, full of arguments and counterarguments, noise and statistical filters. It’s a perfect target to those who crave certitude and simplicity: every dispute over detail can be twisted into an indictment of the entire process,...

Part of the enterprise is to learn something today you didn't know yesterday. If it is written down, and you want to refer to it as "science," then you have to lend the subject to scrutiny, criticism, relentless peer review and if found in error: disproving. If you require "steadiness," science can be a little disturbing, especially if its discoveries "kills" sacred Buddhas.

Michelson-Morley set the foundation for Einstein: first the Special Theory of Relativity (speed of light), then the General Theory (gravity). Einstein reluctantly contributed to Quantum Mechanics, which leads to modern micro-to-nano electronics and the laptops, flat screens, I-pads et al we now all enjoy. This set the stage for François Englert and Peter Higgs. They have hopefully, set the stage for those who will inevitably follow, making still new discoveries in their intellectual wake.

I watched the following TED Talk from Naomi Oreskes a while back. I initially didn't quite know then where to place it for a blog that promotes science curiosity and literacy - not that I didn't agree with it, but I now see as an appropriate denouement. Sourced from Physics Database, ending this discourse (and I am off to, of course "killing Buddhas"):

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Source: Fan Pop
For Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, of course! I was introduced to The Doctor in the 80's by fellow Air Force Lieutenant Beth Richards: she hooked me on it. (If you're reading this Beth, I'm still a big fan.) The eleventh Doctor appears tonight, I think it's the same actor as in the other BBC series I follow, The Musketeers. I need to visit England again. Haven't been since 2000.

Although, "freezing" the TARDIS chameleon circuit in the shape of a London phone box/booth in the age of I-phones is complete nostalgia...most kids probably wouldn't know it if it materialized in front of them, landing on their foot! It used to make sense, trust me.

Found this Dr. Who special on Daily Motion. Enjoy!

Doctor-Who-7x98-Special-The-Science-of-Doctor-Who by jose-hita-9

BBC America: Doctor Who
Twitter: #newtowho

Tomorrow: If You Meet The Buddha