Four friends/fledgling entrepreneurs, knowing that there’s something bigger and more innovative than the different error-checking devices they’ve built, wrestle over their new invention.
Tagged with “science” (493)
From boom bap to EDM, we look at the line between hip-hop and not, and meet a defender of the …
It’s a new Who’s Round, Toby Hadoke’s Doctor Who 50th anniversary quest to get an anecdote about every single episode of Doctor Who to date. In this 50th instalment, Toby makes quite a big dent in his task…
Frankly this guy has so little to do with Doctor Who he is barely worth talking to. It is, though, the only interview he gave about the show in its fiftieth year. The first sentence of this paragraph might also be a joke. Part one of a multi-part interview.
Discussing David Brin’s novel Existence (2012) with the author.
What’s the point of thinking? Brin sees the future as a pressing threat, and Existence speculates that the reason we don’t see evidence of life on other planets is that no species survives its technological adolescence. The solution? We need to be smarter than our parents and work to give our kids the tools to be smarter than we are. In the book, the ultimate hope comes from a concerted effort to develop and diversify the coalition of Earth’s intelligent life, to make “humanity” encompass more than just the biological humans that we currently are.
In our present political difficulties, Brin sees the solution as positive-sum games: institutions like science and markets that (are supposed to) result in everybody benefiting overall. We need to keep elites (whether corporate or governmental) from screwing these games up, and to use technology to foster reciprocal accountability. The government is illicitly spying on people? Spy back and call them out when power is abused! Instead of vainly trying to hold back technology, just make sure that it’s not restricted to elites, that there can be effective debate re. its uses.
The point of thinking for Brin is to “be a good ancestor.” Philosophy and science fiction can help through thought experiments that visualize the outcomes of our ideas and can help in developing scientific theories. Philosophy’s most Brin-approved task is to promote the critical argumentation needed for reciprocal accountability. The “examined life” is not just for navel-gazers, but for societies prone to catastrophic mistakes.
Space exploration is entering a new era. Dozens of aerospace companies have emerged in recent years, all with the goal of commercializing space as never before. From serving NASA’s cargo needs to sending tourists on space vacations to mining asteroids for profit, this next generation of entrepreneurs, and not NASA, may be the ones who transform space into our backyard, possibly creating the first-ever trillionaires.
In this podcast, listen in on this discussion between a panel of entrepreneurs and space historians, including panelists Wanda M. Austin, president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation; Michael Gold, director of DC operations and Business Growth at Bigelow Aerospace; John Logsdon, professor emeritus of Space Policy and International Affairs at George Washington University; Elliot Pulham, chief executive officer of the Space Foundation; Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures Ltd; and Robert Walker, executive chairman of Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates. Host and moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, led this lively conversation on what may be our real future in space.
The 2014 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate took place at the Museum on Wednesday, March 19, 2014.
Nightmarish stories of musical hallucinations, songs with the power to transcend language, & the triumphant return of the Elvis of …
In this Cosmic Queries episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson gets all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey as he answers fan questions about time travel with Colin Jost, Saturday Night Live’s new Weekend Update anchor.
Professor Richard Easther is head of physics at Auckland University, his work focuses on the physics of the very early universe.
I turned the tinted glass tablet over in my hands, looked at the perfectly ground edges, felt the silk-like quality of the cool surface and finally held it up and looked though it. The effect was astonishing, unreal, unexpected.
“I suppose you’re going to tell me that this is some sort of quantum shit?”
The suited executive at my side smiled a pained, corporate smile and looked around nervously — as though he expected the chaos of the kitchen to have suddenly sprouted thrusting microphones and whirring news cameras.
“I’m not going to tell you anything, John — and I advise you not to ask. The terms of this demonstration are clearly laid out in the agreement, and we are paying you after all …”
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Oh, yes — they were paying all right, a sudden windfall that had landed on my kitchen table like manna from a clear blue sky. Enough money to let me finish the book, buy in some kit for the next project and maybe even fix the chimney.
I gently placed the tablet back in its foam-padded case, it made me nervous just holding it. “Does this stuff at least have a name? I’ve got to call it something in the report.”
He gave me a sheepish look. “We’re calling it ‘OwlPlex’ … Sorry, marketing seemed to think the military would like it.”
Yes, I’m sure the military will like it. A sheet of glass, barely a centimetre thick, with no wires or power supply — yet it acted as the highest resolution, most powerful, colour-perfect image intensifier I’d ever seen. And I’ve seen a few, in a shadowy technical career that I no longer like to think about, let alone talk about. I still had some questions though — whether he wanted them or not.
“Where does the power come from? It can’t do this without any input.”
He smiled again and pointed out of the window, across the beach and towards the hills. “Sunshine. It soaks up energy when light falls on it, then releases it slowly as the light fades — augmenting the photons that are passing through it at the time. And before you ask, I really can’t say any more. Oh, but don’t drop it — it’s the only prototype …” He stood up, made some pointed comments about security and edged his way to the door. “I’ll be back next week. Remember, we are looking for insights here. Novel applications, things the kids in Development haven’t thought of.”
It stayed on the table for four days before I worked up the courage to test it fully. At nightfall I eased the tablet from the case, gripped it carefully in one hand, and turned off the light. One side of the glass glowed like a backlit laptop screen, bright but not too bright, showing me the litter on the floor under the table — including a half chewed mouse that the cat had left there. Making a mental note to clean up, I opened the back door and allowed myself a slow, tuneless whistle as the garden and hillside erupted on the screen into glorious deep autumn hues. The effect was startling, addictive — and I knew exactly what everyone was going to want for Christmas this year.
I awoke in full daylight, with the cat pointedly stropping the end of the sofa in a way that meant he was hungry and wanted feeding now. As he ate, I looked around the room wondering what novel ideas I could come up with to justify my fee. The wall next to the fireplace was home to some of my favourite photographs, shot on 5 × 4 film to get the maximum quality. Pictures of the surrounding countryside: the headland with its granite cliffs, the tranquil sweep of the beach where the seals haul out with their pups, the pattern of dry stone walls enclosing bog cotton and coarse grasses.
The old madness returned. It took only an hour to kludge together a holder for the tablet and secure it like a filter to the pin-sharp prime lens of the ancient technical camera. The fridge still held a box of slow, fine-grained monochrome film, so as darkness fell I loaded up the dark-slides, then hefted the tripod onto one shoulder, picked up the camera and set off.
My assumption was that the tablet would allow a constant exposure, but after the first few photos it was clear that the tablet was fading from a lack of daylight. Cursing, I increased the shutter timing to compensate — guesstimating a 30-second exposure to harvest a final image from the rapidly dimming tablet.
After development, the images were as sharp as I had hoped — with none of the raster artefacts I would have seen from a conventional system. The content of the last image was, like everything to do with the tablet, unexpected. After a few moments of silent thought I wandered out into the kitchen for tea and a long, long ponder — strongly regretting that I’d given up drinking.
As I looked out over the long-deserted beach in the dawn light, I tried to visualize it as the tablet had imaged it: wooden fishing skiffs hauled out on the shingle, nets drying on the close cropped turf beyond, a single row of whitewashed cottages with split-stone roofs and racks of drying fish. The scrunch of gravel told me that my executive friend was returning, and I was wryly pleased that I’d found his killer application.
I made a bet with myself that no one had taken a time exposure through the fading glow of dying OwlPlex before. Developers today are too hasty, you see — you need to take a long view, just as OwlPlex itself does in those crucial seconds as some weird internal field collapses. In retrospect though, a less distracted man wouldn’t have left the tablet so close to the edge of the table. It was all the opportunity the cat needed.
Thousands of scientists from around the world have dedicated decades of their lives to a single project: building a machine that may be able to recreate the conditions of the moments following the Big Bang. The Large Hadron Collider is the single biggest, most expensive science experiment conducted, focusing on something very, very small – The Higgs-Boson Particle – and something as big as human understanding.
“Particle Fever” is the acclaimed new documentary from Mark Levinson, a physics PhD himself, who left the science world to become a filmmaker. His dual background makes him well-suited to tell the dramatic stories that personalize what the scientists are doing at the Collider and explaining what it means for all of us.
Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s time for chattering class. This is the part of the show where we get schooled in a dinner party worthy topic. Today our subject is merely the origins of life itself and our expert is physicist turned director Mark Levinson.
His new documentary is called “Particle Fever” and it’s about the search for sub-atomic matter, specifically the Higgs-Boson aka the “God Particle.” This little clue to the origins of the universe was first theorized by Peter Higgs back in 1965, and it lead to the creation of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland.
You know what Mark, you do such a good job of clarifying complex topics in this documentary. Maybe you can explain what the Collider is and how it works?
Mark Levinson: Okay. So the Large Hadron Collider basically collides particles. It’s a 17 mile underground ring. It’s underneath Switzerland and France. It’s about 300 feet below the surface. In this tunnel, basically they are circulating beams of protons in opposite directions. So you accelerate these beams of proton in opposite directions at the speed of light and then you crash them together at four points. And at those four points are the experiments, the detectors, which is what we call the experiments. That’s where you’re looking at what comes out of these collisions.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And tell me more about the Higgs-Boson and why it’s so important.
Mark Levinson: We understand, at this point, that the universe is basically made up of particles and they have certain interactions. But at the beginning of the universe, the theory is that they didn’t have mass. They would have just been like light. There was no atom, nothing formed, because everything was just flying all over.
What the Higgs Mechanism does is explains how just a fraction of a milli-milli-milli-second after the Big Bang this so-called Higgs Field turned on. And it allowed electrons and certain other things to get mass. And once they had mass then they could be trapped into atoms, and so you could start to get structure. You could get atoms and then of course molecules and then eventually galaxies and everything else.
That theory essentially explains everything we see on earth. But we were missing this one central part of that theory.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And so they built the Large Hadron Collider to figure that out. It took decades to build, involved thousands of scientists from all over the world.
You’re there when it finally opens. So you knew you had a story there. However, theoretical physics is a long game. How did you know you were gonna have an ending? How did you know that you were gonna have a movie? Tell me a little bit about the premise.
Mark Levinson: I was always looking for “How this is gonna be a dramatic story?” As it turns out, I just barely got it organized to get over in time for the first test, the first beam test, the first big milestone in 2008. We didn’t know if it would start up. Luckily it did.
But then as it turns out, there was a huge explosion and there was a big accident just ten days after I started shooting. Of course I had to hang my head with the physicist because it was very depressing for them. But as a filmmaker I was thinking, “Yes!” But then, again, in classic screenwriting fashion, there ended up being other things that happened. False leads, and this and that.
It became more complex. But if I actually scripted what happened, people would have thought I was just really including all sorts of artifice.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So the trials and tribulations of the Hadron Collider are one source of tension in the movie. Another one is meeting these physicists who have spent their whole careers crafting theories which can be proven or disproven by one spin on this Collider. And it’s fascinating to think that one set of data could alter their entire careers.
Mark Levinson: We wanted to focus on people whose lives really had something that was incredibly at risk with the Large Hadron Collider. People like Nima Arkani-Hamed who has been working in the field for 30 years. He has many theories but it depends on seeing something at the Large Hadron Collider that is new. For the experimentalists it’s a little bit different.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Experimentalists are physicists who test theoretical physicists’ theories.
Mark Levinson: They have been working on this but they’ve been very actively building the machine for 20 years or something like that. But the stakes are also tremendous because if you, for instance, you look at a young woman, she was a post-doc at the beginning of this film, Monica Dunford. She spends all of her life building a machine that doesn’t find anything. That’s pretty frustrating.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So you ended the movie with the Stanford physicist Savas Dimopoulos saying, “Why do humans do science? Why do they do art? The things that are least important for survival are the very things that make us human.” Why did you end on that note?
Mark Levinson: For me, I had make the transition myself from physics to art in a certain sense. And people always ask me, “How did you do that? It seems like this completely continuous thing.” But I actually saw similarities in the process. We are all trying to make sense of the world around us. We represent it in some sense and we try to interpret it and, by representing it, try to understand how it works and our place in it.
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