Tag Archives: Science

Don Walsh Describes the Trip to the Bottom of the Mariana Trench

The Virgin Oceanic adventurers currently vying to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench are following in the path of two trailblazers who took the plunge in a peculiar underwater vehicle 52 years ago. IEEE Spectrum recently interviewed Don Walsh, who was a U.S. Navy lieutenant and a submariner when he made the journey down with Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard in 1960. To date, those two men are the only human beings who have laid eyes on the Mariana Trench seafloor—and in an ironic twist, they didn’t see much of anything.

They made the trip in a vehicle called a bathyscaphe, which looked something like an underwater dirigible. The crew cabin, a cramped steel sphere, was suspended from a massive tank holding about 130 000 liters of gasoline—which, with less density than water, would provide the buoyancy necessary to lift the craft from the chasm. Piccard and his father designed the vehicle together and sold it to the U.S. Navy in 1958.

Continue reading this incredible story (with multiple sound clips from an interview) on ieee spectrum.

Marie Curie: Why her papers are still radioactive

Many library collections use special equipment, such as special gloves and climate-controlled rooms, to protect the archival materials from the visitor. For the Pierre and Marie Curie collection at France’s Bibliotheque National, it’s the other way around.

That’s because after more than 100 years, much of Marie Curie’s stuff – her papers, her furniture, even her cookbooks – are still radioactive. Those who wish to open the lead-lined boxes containing her manuscripts must do so in protective clothing, and only after signing a waiver of liability.

Marie Curie: Why her papers are still radioactive

Here’s a really interesting story about how naive the early pioneers of radiation were. Amazing work that these pioneers had accomplished.

IBM Research and MRFM

 IBM scientists, in collaboration with the Center for Probing the Nanoscale at Stanford University, have demonstrated magnetic resonance imaging MRI with volume resolution 100 million times finer than conventional MRI.  

For more than a decade, IBM scientists have been making pioneering advances in
MRFM. Now, the IBM-led team has dramatically boosted the sensitivity of MRFM and combined it with an advanced 3D image reconstruction technique. This allowed them to demonstrate, for the first time, MRI on nanometer-scale biological objects. The technique was applied to a sample of tobacco mosaic virus and achieved resolution down to four nanometers. (One nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a tobacco mosaic virus is 18 nanometers across.)

via IBM Press room – 2009-01-13 IBM Research Creates Microscope With 100 Million Times Finer Resolution Than Current MRI – United States.

Our world may be a giant hologram

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time – the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into “grains”, just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. “It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,” says Hogan.

If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: “If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.”

The idea that we live in a hologram probably sounds absurd, but it is a natural extension of our best understanding of black holes, and something with a pretty firm theoretical footing. It has also been surprisingly helpful for physicists wrestling with theories of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard 't Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.

The “holographic principle” challenges our sensibilities. It seems hard to believe that you woke up, brushed your teeth and are reading this article because of something happening on the boundary of the universe. No one knows what it would mean for us if we really do live in a hologram, yet theorists have good reasons to believe that many aspects of the holographic principle are true.

Susskind and 't Hooft's remarkable idea was motivated by ground-breaking work on black holes by Jacob Bekenstein of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and Stephen Hawking at the University of Cambridge. In the mid-1970s, Hawking showed that black holes are in fact not entirely “black” but instead slowly emit radiation, which causes them to evaporate and eventually disappear. This poses a puzzle, because Hawking radiation does not convey any information about the interior of a black hole. When the black hole has gone, all the information about the star that collapsed to form the black hole has vanished, which contradicts the widely affirmed principle that information cannot be destroyed. This is known as the black hole information paradox (re: What happens when you throw an elephant into a black hole?). …

Continue reading on Our world may be a giant hologram – space – 15 January 2009 – New Scientist.


Edwin Abbott Abbott wrote a science fiction story in 1884 called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions that was an allegory to social hierarchy of Victorian culture. The story is about a two-dimensional world referred to as Flatland. The unnamed narrator, a humble square (the social caste of gentlemen and professionals), guides us through some of the implications of life in two dimensions. The Square has a dream about a visit to a one-dimensional world (Lineland), and attempts to convince the realm’s ignorant monarch of a second dimension, but finds that it is essentially impossible to make him see outside of his eternally straight line. (Source: Wikipedia).

The book is out of copyright and is available in its entirety here: Google Books: Flatland.

A movie version was made in 2007. Here’s its trailer.

Phoenix Mars Lander

Today I watched the live feed from NASA of the exciting successful landing of the Phoenix Mars Lander. Since the people at NASA, JPL, etc made it look easy, it’s even more impressive considering that only half of the attempts at landing robots/equipment on Mars have been successful. Hopefully this lander will provide the science that we need to continue our quest to put Man on Mars. My parent’s generation saw the Moon landing “live.” It will be very exciting when in 20-30 years we have a fully working Moon colony and are making the first steps on Mars. It will be expensive, but, considering all the technological advancement that NASA has given us in the past, I believe that the rewards in the future will be far greater. Plus, innovation will only continue to accelerate now that private enterprise is getting involved in space travel.

Latest photos from the Phoenix Mars Lander. They are only black and white now (5/25/2008) but will be in color once the Robotic Arm Camera is operating.


So Google Web History has a feature called Interesting Items. Google saves your search history (only when logged into your Gmail/Google account) and then analyzes it to determine the “recent top queries related to your searches.” I must have been doing a lot of searching for medications, diseases, and science-related stuff (explanation: medical school) because coming in at #4 in top queries related to my searches is esthesioneuroblastoma, an “uncommon malignant neoplasm of the nasal vault, believed to arise from the olfactory epithelium.” What an interesting and unusual thing to learn! Interesting video is also offered and a few months ago I was shown a video of cataract surgery.

Homeopathy – Quackery Or A Key To The Future of Medicine?

Remember my post entitled “Diluting medicine: Homeopathy“? In it I linked to a number of videos refuting the practice of homeopathy. A few days ago I found a 2-hour video of a debate held at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. The debate alternates between both viewpoints. It can be watched fairly quickly because the video is cued up with a Powerpoint slide. Advancing the flash Powerpoint slide also advances the video. It’s quite interesting. The Canadian homeopathic doctor at the end makes the very radical point that the healthcare crisis would be completely solved if everyone switched over to homeopathy…ahh, yeah right. The moderator mentioned that more such debates would be happening in 2008. I wished the format is more of an actual debate. The video was just 4-5 different people talking with little discussion occurring. I feel the best part of the video could have been the question and answer session that occurred after the online webcast ended. Here’s hoping that the format will be different for their future debates.

Advertisement for the debate:

A Debate: Homeopathy – Quackery Or A Key To The Future of Medicine?
Donald Marcus M.D. (Baylor)

An international forum to explore the facts around this controversial modality in an attempt to determine whether it has any place in medical care.

Participants to include Donald Marcus M.D. (Baylor), Iris Bell M.D., Ph.D. (University of Arizona), Rustum Roy Ph.D. (Penn State) and others.

You are invited to watch a debate between six internationally renowned experts as they examine the basic science as well as the clinical and epidemiological evidence around this 200 year old system of medicine.

Link to video

Nature vs. nurture: Identical Twins Raised Apart

Here are some pretty incredible stories that I found in my clinical psychiatry book:

1) Jim L. and Jim S. were first reunited at age 39. They were genetically identical twins, reared apart since infancy by different adoptive families in Ohio and unaware of each other’s existence. As children, each twin had had a dog named Toy. Each bit his fingernails and, since age 18, had suffered from mixed headache syndrome, a combined tension and migraine headache. Each had been married twice, first to a Linda and then to a Betty. One twin had named his son James Alan, and the other, James Allen. Each had put a circular bench around a tree in his garden. Each had worked at a gas station and later part-time in law enforcement as a sheriff. Each chain-smoked Salems and preferred an occasional Miller Lite beer. Each scattered love notes to his wife around the house. Every summer, unbeknownst to the other, each had driven his family in a light blue Chevrolet from Ohio to the Pas-Grille Beach in St. Petersburg, Florida, for their summer vacation. They had similar voices, hand gestures, and mannerisms.

2) Jerry L. and Mark N., identical twins separated in infancy, were first reunited at age 30. Each was nearly bald and had a bushy mustache. Each was a volunteer firefighter and made his living installing safety equipment. Each wore aviator glasses, big belt buckles, and big key rings. Each drank Budweiser with his pinky hooked on the bottom of the can and crushed the can when he finished.

3) Jack Y. and Oskar S., identical twins born in Trinidad in 1933 and separated in infancy by their parents’ divorce, were first reunited at age 46. Oskar was raised by his Catholic mother and grandmother in Nazi-occupied Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. Jack was raised by his Orthodox Jewish father in Trinidad and spent time on an Israeli kibbutz. Each wore aviator glasses and a blue sport shirt with shoulder plackets, had a trim mustache, liked sweet liqueurs, stored rubber bands on his wrists, read books and magazines from back to front, dipped buttered toast in his coffee, flushed the toilet before and after using it, enjoyed sneezing loudly in crowded elevators to frighten other passengers, and routinely fell asleep at night while watching television. Each was impatient, squeamish about germs, and gregarious.

4) Bessie and Jessie, identical twins separated at 8 months of age after their mother’s death, were first reunited at age 18. Each had had a bout of tuberculosis, and they had similar voices, energy levels, administrative talents, and decision-making styles. Each had had her hair cut short in early adolescence. Jessie had a college-level education, while Bessie had had only 4 years of formal education; yet Bessie scored 156 on intelligence quotient testing, while Jessie scored 153. Each read avidly, which may have compensated for Bessie’s sparse education; she created an environment compatible with her inherited potential.

Kaplan & Sadock’s “Synopsis of Psychiatry.” Ninth Edition.
Segal NL. Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us about Human Behavior. Plume: New York; 1999:116-151.