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Posts Tagged ‘Science

“Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it”*…


Feynman and Dirac

Two of Marek Holzman’s photographs of Feynman and Dirac together in Warsaw in 1962


Beloved late physicist Richard P. Feynman (1918–1988) first met his hero Paul Dirac (1902–1984) during Princeton University’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1946 and then again at least twice, in 1948 and 1962. Most notably, the two came to heads during the so-called Pocono Conference when Feynman gave a lecture on a nascent “Alternative Formulation of Quantum Electrodynamics”, reformulating the theory which had earned Dirac the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933. A star-studded audience of 28 of the world’s leading physicists attended the conference, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe and of course, the inventor of the theory himself, Paul Dirac.

Feynman’s reformulation of Dirac’s theory was not well received at Pocono, as Bohr, Teller and Dirac all raised objections. Feynman’s disappointment from the audience’s reaction motivated him to write up his work for publication instead. He did so, and in the next three years went on to publish four major papers describing his now well-developed theory and its implications…

Feynman and Dirac [met for the last] time, at the International Conference on Relativistic Theories of Gravitation in Warsaw, Poland in 1962… Their conversation, as overheard by a nearby physicist, was so remarkable that he jotted it down:

F: I am Feynman.
D: I am Dirac.
F: It must be wonderful to be the discoverer of that equation.
D: That was a long time ago.
D: What are you working on?
F: Mesons.
D: Are you trying to discover an equation for them?
F: It is very hard.
D: One must try.


Another of Holzman’s photographs from Warsaw

Feynman’s work earned him a share of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.

Paul Dirac died in 1984 at the age of 82 years old. Two years later, Feynman was invited to give one of three Dirac Memorial Lectures. He did so, with a lecture entitled “Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics”, which he opened as follows:

When I was a young man, Dirac was my hero. He made a new breakthrough, a new method of doing physics. He had the courage to simply guess at the form of an equation, the equation we now call the Dirac equation, and to try to interpret it afterwards.


How Paul Dirac, Richard Feynman’s hero-turned-opponent, motivated a life’s work which not only altered the trajectory of modern physics, but also erected Feynman’s legend as one history’s finest scientist: “When Feynman met Dirac.”

* Richard Feynman


As we chase after clarity, we might send very tiny birthday greetings to Wolfgang Paul; he was born on this date in 1913.  A physicist, he developed the non-magnetic quadrupole mass filter which laid the foundation for what is now called an ion trap— a device (also known as a Paul trap) that captures ions and holds them long enough for study and precise measurement of their properties.  During the 1950s he developed the so-called Paul trap as a means of confining and studying electrons.  He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1989 for his work.

He humorously referred to Wolfgang Pauli as his imaginary part.

220px-Wolfgang_Paul source


“One person’s data is another person’s noise”*…



A drop in seismic noise from humans could help scientists track volcanic tremors in places like Auckland, New Zealand. Credit: Wikipedia/DXR, CC BY-SA 3.0


Seismic noise has dropped by half during coronavirus lockdown measures, giving scientists a rare lull to search for hidden signals usually drowned out by human activities.

Researchers measure seismic waves coming from natural sources, like earthquakes and volcanoes, as well as human activities. Trucks, cars, factories, and even shopping can create high-frequency seismic waves radiating out from population centers, and most scientists filter out human noise to seek for natural signals.

But seismic noise has been unusually quiet lately, in what scientists are calling the “anthropause.”

“If it’s quieter now and we can pick up some of the smaller signals, that improves our seismic risk analyses,” said Paula Koelemeijer, a lead author on a study published today in the journal Science.

Tracking smaller earthquakes can help scientists understand larger, more dangerous quakes and monitor how faults move. When a magnitude 5.0 earthquake struck Petatlán, Mexico, on 4 July, a station 380 kilometers away was able to detect the quake from raw data. Normally, the station would have missed the small quake without filtering out noise.

“This is likely to become a landmark article in the fields of seismic monitoring and ambient noise tomography,” said volcanologist Jan Lindsay at the University of Auckland who was not involved in the study. “The ‘2020 seismic noise quiet period’ will likely become something that Earth science students of the future will learn about in textbooks.”

Globally, seismic noise dropped by a median average of 50% during the coronavirus lockdowns from March through May. The measurement includes all seismic signals, but scientists attribute the drop to human activity by comparing changes in seismic noise with mobility data from Google and Apple.

The drop in noise varied by location: It decreased by 33% in Brussels, Belgium; 50% in Sri Lanka; and 10% in Central Park, New York. Rural areas grew quieter too—noise at a station at Rundu, Namibia, dropped by over 25%. (Koelemeijer attributed the drop to fewer tourists at a popular hippo-watching spot nearby.) The study pulled data from 185 seismic stations across the globe in both urban and rural locales…

“This study impressively demonstrates just how much man-made noise there actually is,” said research associate Carolin Böse at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences who was not involved in the research. “Seismologists around the world now have a chance to make good use of the data presented in this study and hunt for otherwise ‘hidden signals’ in the seismic recordings.”…

Taking advantage of the “anthropause,” scientists are listening for faint natural signals during the quiet of coronavirus lockdowns: “The Seismic Hush of the Coronavirus.”

* K. C. Cole


As we celebrate (relative) silence, we might recall that one of the primary man-made sources of seismic “sound” got a boost on this date in 1870: America’s first asphalt pavement was laid in front of City Hall in Newark, N.J.  Edmund J. DeSmedt, the Belgian chemist who oversaw the work, had received a U.S. patent for this asphalt paving method two months earlier.  Later that year, DeSmedt became the inspector of asphalt and cements for the District of Columbia, and oversaw wide application there.

DeSmedt’s crews at work in D.C. in 1876



Written by LW

July 29, 2020 at 1:01 am

“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other”*…




The prevailing belief in a separation between humans and everything else is an essential function of a contemporary global economy which has permitted unprecedented levels of unsustainable resource extraction. The increasingly complex challenges human beings face in relation to the non-human world call for a paradigm shift: it is becoming ever more urgent to embrace new stories about ourselves and our relation to each other. This is the aim of ‘Stories on Earth’, Failed Architecture’s project for the parallel program of the Dutch Pavilion for the Venice Biennale 2021. Stories on Earth is an experiment which brings together spatial designers and writers to devise new spatial narratives that accommodate the inherent interrelationship between humans and the non-human. We selected three designers whose works challenge humans’ relationship with nature, and three writers with personal and professional connections with Caribbean storytelling…

Six designers and writers participating in FA’s project for Venice Biennale 2021 speak with one composite voice about nature, humanity, and storytelling at: “Stories on Earth: A Collective Voice for the Human and Non-Human.”

On this same topic, check in with musician and humanitarian Peter Gabriel, ecologist Carl Safina, technologist and novelist Jonathan Ledgard, prominent author and speaker on animal behaviour, Temple Grandin, and others…

We are pleased to announce the Interspecies Conversations Public Event 2020 in collaboration with the Coller Foundation, Google and MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. We would be delighted if you could join us and contribute to the conversation!

Interspecies I/O’s mission is to encourage, explore and facilitate interfaces for interspecies communication and approaches for deciphering the communication of non-human animals. With the aim to positively impact species conservation, welfare, empathy, compassion, enrichment, sustainability and understanding. It brings together a multidisciplinary group drawn from the sciences, arts and humanities in a rich collaborative forum, to advance the understanding and appreciation of the mental lives and intelligence of the diverse species with which we share our planet…

… at “Interspecies Conversations Public Conference 2020.”

And to complete the hat-trick, Matt Webb’s “On speaking with dolphins.”

* “If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.”  – Chief Dan George


As we “Talk to the Animals,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1983 that the first “test-tube baboon” was born; as The New York Times reported

A female black baboon, believed to be the first nonhuman primate conceived in a laboratory dish, has been born at the Southwest Foundation for Research and Education in San Antonio. The baby, named E. T., for embryo transfer, was born July 25, six months after its ”test-tube” fertilization and, coincidentally, on the fifth birthday of Louise Brown, the first human conceived ”in vitro.”…

Screen Shot 2020-07-21 at 11.17.16 AM source



“Every time you learn you can do something, you can go a little bit faster next time”*…


Screen Shot 2020-07-15 at 11.59.50 AM

Joey Chestnut set a new world record by eating 75 hotdogs in 10 minutes at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4


… at least, up to a point.  Readers will know that (Roughly) Daily has checked in on the competitive eating circuit before (e.g., here), with special attention to the the event hosted by the iconic Nathan’s.  So imagine your correspondent’s surprise to learn that the era of dramatic new records year after year might be coming to a close…

The four-minute mile and the two-hour marathon were once believed impossible: now a new gauntlet has been thrown down for the world of elite competition. A scientific analysis suggests competitive eaters have come within nine hotdogs of the limits of human performance.

The theoretical ceiling has been set at 84 hotdogs in 10 minutes. The current world record, set by Joey “Jaws” Chestnut earlier this month, stands at 75.

James Smoliga, a sports medicine specialist at High Point University in North Carolina who authored the research, described 84 hotdogs as “the maximum possible limit for a Usain Bolt-type performance”.

The analysis is based on 39 years of historical data from Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, an annual spectacle of gluttony held on Coney Island, New York, combined with the latest sports science theory, which uses mathematical modelling to project trends in performance.

Hotdog composition and size have, reportedly, remained unchanged at Nathan’s Famous in the fast food company’s 104-year history, allowing for valid comparison between competitors across years.

Improvement curves in elite sports ranging from sprinting to pole vaulting tend to follow a so-called sigmoidal curve, featuring an initial slow and steady rise, followed by an era of rapid improvement and finally a levelling off. “Hotdog eating has definitely reached that second plateau,” said Smoliga…

The limit of progress? The end of history? “Competitive hotdog eaters nearing limit of human performance.”  See also “Scientists Have Finally Calculated How Many Hot Dogs a Person Can Eat at Once.”

* Joey Chestnut, competitive eating champion [pictured above]


As we chow down, we might recall that it was on this date in 1762 that Catherine II– better known as Catherine the Great– became the Empress of Russia after the murder of her husband (in a coup that she’d helped arrange).  While her personal habits (largely her love life) tend to dominate popular memories of her, scholars note that her reign (through 1792) was a “Golden Age,” during which she revitalized Russia, which grew larger and stronger, and became one of the great powers of Europe and Asia.

Catherine enthusiastically supported the ideals of the Enlightenment; and as a patron of the arts, presided over the age of the Russian Enlightenment, including the establishment of the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, the first state-financed higher education institution for women in Europe.

503px-Catherine_II_by_J.B.Lampi_(1780s,_Kunsthistorisches_Museum) source


“Last time I checked, the digital universe was expanding at the rate of five trillion bits per second in storage”*…


Oz in DNA


… and rising.  Happily, technologists are keeping up:

The intricate arrangement of base pairs in our DNA encodes just about everything about us. Now, DNA contains the entirety of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” as well.

A team of University of Texas Austin scientists just vastly improved the storage capacity of DNA and managed to encode the entire novel — translated into the geek-friendly language of Esperanto — in a double strand of DNA far more efficiently than has been done before. DNA storage isn’t new, but this work could help finally make it practical…

The full story at “Scientists Stored “The Wizard of Oz” on a Strand of DNA.”  The UT release, here.

* George Dyson


As we reconsider Kondo, we might send carefully-stowed birthday greetings to Jay Wright Forrester; he was born on this date in 1914.  A pioneering computer engineer and systems scientist, he was one of the inventors of magnetic core memory, the predominant form of random-access computer memory during the most explosive years of digital computer development (between 1955 and 1975).  It was part of a family of related technologies which bridged the gap between vacuum tubes and semiconductors by exploiting the magnetic properties of materials to perform switching and amplification.

And close to your correspondent’s heart, Forrester is also believed to have created the first animation in the history of computer graphics, a “jumping ball” on an oscilloscope.

Jay_Forrester source



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