Physical Sciences

Here's another twist on the problematic trend to hire more temporary/part-time/adjunct faculty at universities. It's a disgraceful abuse of skilled academics and good teachers — would you believe that some schools hire adjuncts to teach four courses a semester (a brutal load, let me tell you) and pay them $16,000 per year? Who would be insane enough to accumulate all that college debt, then invest 4+ years in an advanced study program to get a Ph.D., for a poverty-level income? But that's where we stand. Here's the other ugly side of the problem. The University of Idaho needed someone to…
By Shawn Flaherty The first ever X-STEM: Extreme STEM Symposium—presented by Northrop Grumman Foundation and MedImmune—kicks-off the 3rd USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo and Book Fair, hosted by founding and presenting sponsor Lockheed Martin.  Being held on April 24th at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in DC, X-STEM is a “TED-style” event for kids with talks by 50 of the nation's most noted science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals representing top universities, corporations, non-profits, and governmental agencies. “X-STEM is the perfect…
I'm sure that a lot of you, like me, are watching the rebooted version of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, with Neil deGrasse Tyson taking over the hosting duties originally handled so ably over 30 years ago by Carl Sagan. I definitely enjoyed the first episode and am looking forward to additional episodes. The only thing that annoys me is that Cosmos is on at the same time as The Walking Dead, but that's what DVRs were made for. The first episode, which is all I've seen thus far at this writing, was quite impressive, and the segment at the end in which Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about the time he…
In which we move out of the original trilogy, and into J.J. Abrams territory. Cue the lens flare! This week's random assortment of topics includes travel, airports, physics models of loading and unloading planes, uses and abuses of curve fitting, odd stuff we get sent to review, and high-speed video cameras. Miscellaneous links: -- Rhett's Atlanta airport post. -- The airplane loading study I was thinking of is Optimal boarding method for airline passengers, by Jason Steffen, from 2008. --The Slo Mo Guys, Smarter Every Day, Veritasium. --Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn by Amanda Gefter. That'…
The following is also found HERE on the White House web site. I provide it here without comment because it speaks for itself. But if you want more, check out "Global warming action: good or bad for the poor?" by John Abraham, and "Keeping The Carbon In The Ground Elsewhere: Developing Nations" by me. Drought and Global Climate Change: An Analysis of Statements by Roger Pielke Jr John P. Holdren, 28 February 2014 Introduction In the question and answer period following my February 25 testimony on the Administration’s Climate Action Plan before the Oversight Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate’…
Researchers observed tiny voids forming in silicon used for solar panels; these voids provide physical evidence of the Staebler-Wronski effect, "which reduces the solar cell efficiency by up to 15 percent within the first 1000 hours." Using an online avatar with a skin color other than your own makes you less racist in real life; playing a hero makes you less cruel, and playing a villain less benevolent. Old mouse muscles exhibit "elevated levels of activity in a biological cascade called the p38 MAP kinase pathway" which prevents stem cells from dividing and repairing muscle damage.  By…
By Stacy Jannis The Kavli Science in Fiction Video Contest challenges Gr 6-12 students to examine the science in fiction, including science fiction movies, TV shows, and games. Our contest advisors include science educators , scientists, and Hollywood scifi visual effects experts. Follow #SciInSciFi on twitter  for contest updates. Jeff Kleiser is president and co-founder of the visual effects studio Synthespian Studios. His pioneering work in computer animation has spanned the history of the medium. He has contributed to films with groundbreaking visual effects including Tron, Stargate, …
One of the more annoying points of contention back in the days of the Sokal hoax and the "Science Wars" was an argument over social construction. This is, loosely speaking, the idea that our understanding of the world is not strictly rational and objective, but is heavily influenced by interactions with other people, and the culture in which we live. The idea originally arose in literary academia, but expanded to be applied to basically everything, including science. At bottom, this is probably the best and most useful idea to come out of whatever collective "-ism" you want to use to refer…
Following the brilliant success of my attempt to explain peer review I thought I'd have a go at explaining Science next. Why restrict myself to a small canvas? Lacking confidence in such a large project, I started this post then abandoned it, but have now picked it up again, encouraged in part by ATTP's light-hearted look and also VV on peer review. And by my own unconquerable belief in the value of my opinions. Explaining Science is difficult, to people that don't do it, because its, like, totally multi-faceted, maaan. And I suspect that explaining it to people that do it would be difficult…
Ashutosh Jogalekar has a response to my post from yesterday complaining about his earlier post on whether multiverses represent a philosophical crisis for physics. I suspect we actually disagree less than that back-and-forth makes it seem-- he acknowledges my main point, which was that fundamental theoretical physics is a small subset of physics as a whole, and I don't disagree with his point that physics as a discipline has long been characterized by a reductionist sort of approach-- always trying to get to smaller numbers of fundamental principles. Our real point of disagreement, I think,…
Apparently, Martin Cothran believes that there is no life elsewhere in the universe, and that this unimaginably vast emptiness is evidence that a god created us. I don't understand the logic, but then I don't understand most of his weird leaps in this post on how life on other planets is like believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. First, there is the naive scientific oversimplification. We are told by many New Atheist scientists in particular (who like to mark their territory) that a belief can only be scientific if it is falsifiable. This is their demarcation criterion of choice and they…
The very last section of the book-in-progress (at least the draft that's with my editor right now...) is titled "Science Is Never Over," and talks about how there are a nearly infinite number of phenomena that you can investigate scientifically. The universe is a never-ending source of amazement and wonder, with surprisingly rich dynamics in the simplest of things. I mean, look at the thousands of words I've gotten out of talking about sticky tape... This is why I sigh heavily whenever I see a title like Ashutosh Jogalekar's "Should Physicists Stop Looking for Fundamental Laws. This is, at…
Having spent a lot of time solving equations related to sticky tape models, including trying to work solutions in my head while driving to Grandma and Grandpa's with the kids, and making some measurements of real tapes, there was only one thing left to do: try simulating this problem in VPython. Because I'm a physics nerd who knows just enough about programming to be dangerous... Finding the full solution to the real sticky tape scenario is kind of a miserable process, because it involves a long continuous tape with charge all down its length, which is kind of complicated, and then there's a…
When I wrote about Benjamin Bratton's anti-TED rant I only talked about the comment about the low success rate of TED suggestions. That was, admittedly, a small piece of his article, but the rest of it was so ludicrously overheated that I couldn't really take it seriously. It continues to get attention, though, both in the form of approving re-shares on my social media feeds, and in direct responses such as a rebuttal from Chris Anderson himself and most recently a long piece by Christiana Peppard at Medium, which are getting their own collection of approving re-shares. So I guess I ought to…
As you know, Bill Nye has agreed to engage in a debate about evolution with Ken Ham at the Kentucky Creation Museum. You may also know that I suggested that this debate was a bad idea, not so much because it is Bill Nye doing it (he’s a great spokesperson for science and science education) but because the whole idea of a debate is questionable for a number of reasons (discussed here). Bill recently made a few comments on the debate on CNN. Here, I’d like to list a handful of the points I’d make if I was doing this debate. It is not necessary or even possible to argue against “creationism…
As a follow-up to yesterday's post about liberal education and the failure modes thereof, I thought I should try to do something constructive and make suggestions regarding how you might go about a "poetry for physicists" kind of thing. After all, one of the things I find intensely frustrating about a lot of "crisis in ____" discussions is the lack of specific suggestions, so throwing out a "here's a problem, good luck with that" post would be suboptimal behavior on my part. This required some reflection on the question of just what I got out of my "liberal arts" classes back in the day--…
One of the many ancillary tasks associated with my job that I wish I was better at is the advising of students. More specifically, the advising of students who aren't like I was at that age. What I mean by that is that when I was a student, I didn't need to be convinced of the utility of liberal arts education. I had specifically chosen to go to williams in part because of the small size (having grown up in a small town, I found it more congenial), but also because I was never only interested in science. I always enjoyed reading books and discussing history and politics, so I didn't need a…
Welcome to the rebooted science interview series here at Confessions of a Science Librarian! The previous incarnation mostly concentrated on people in the broadly defined scholarly communications community, like Mark Patterson of eLife, Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt of PeerJ or author Michael Nielsen. The series has been extremely irregular for the last few years so I thought my more recent involvement with Canadian science policy advocacy presented an interesting opportunity to start over. In particular, my participation in the recent iPolitics science policy series presented itself as a…
Proponents of intelligent design make a large number of arguments regarding the inadequacies of evolution, and the shortcomings of current scientific practice. All of these arguments are wrong. That, however, is not the end of the problems besetting ID. There is also the fact that there really is no theory of intelligent design. For all their nattering about how ID has the makings of a scientific revolution, they are stuck nonetheless with a “theory” that actually asserts very little. There is ultimately nothing more to their argument than the claim that at some point in natural history,…
"To be is to be the value of a variable." -Willard Van Orman Quine It's the end of the week once again, and the very end of our Year In Space 2014 Wall Calendar giveaway! So for this week's Ask Ethan column, after dipping into our question/suggestion box, I'm very pleased to let Vera from Italy know that her question was the winning one, as she asked: I saw the video you posted about  the variable star RS Puppis, by the Hubble Space Telescope, and I really would like a post about what exactly are variable stars. Thank you very much Ethan!! :-) So -- no burying the lede here -- there was a…