Are YOU ready?

Posted by barb on Mar 11, 2008 in Science Musings

It’s coming!!!

On Friday, everyone can talk like a physicist. Not sure how to do that? Check out the FAQ on the Talk Like a Physicist blog. And for those of you physicists who do not think you talk like a physicist (like me), rest assured, you do.



Dr. Who WTF?

Posted by barb on Nov 18, 2006 in Random Thoughts

We’re currently watching Dr. Who from last night, the episode titled <cringe> The Impossible Planet. All I can say is that the science is gawd-awful. Whoever is giving them astronomy information should be fired (or the person who decided to ignore any good astronomy device). Fired and slapped. Fired, slapped, and kicked in the pants.

Let’s just say that I threw my newspaper at the screen within ten minutes of the show beginning. The science has only gotten worse since then.

Astronomers have enough trouble getting people to believe that black holes are not the giant vacuum cleaners of the Universe without respectable shows (sort of) getting the the basic details of black holes clearly wrong. For example, it is not impossible for a planet to be in orbit around a black hole – stuff can certainly orbit black holes, just so long as they don’t cross inside the “innermost stable orbit”. It might be unlikely for a planet to remain in orbit after a black hole forms, but not impossible for a black hole to capture a planet.

And don’t give me this “nothing can escape the gravity of a black hole” crap. There’s a huge caveat to that statement. Nothing can escpae the gravity of a black hole once it has crossed the event horizon. Black holes don’t just “suck up” everything in the Universe – there is nothing special about their gravity.

Give me a fracking break. And if you can’t get it even in the vicinity of right, then just shut up on the science. We have enough trouble with science literacy in this world without introducing crap science.

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Dark Energy…

Posted by barb on Nov 8, 2006 in Random Thoughts

…on Gilmore Girls? How weird.

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Doing the Happy Dance

Posted by barb on Dec 20, 2005 in Science Musings

Judge rules against “intelligent design”

Pharyngula has excerpts from the ruling, or the whole text can be found here (PDF file; I haven’t read the whole thing yet).

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

A voice of reason!



Relativity in History

Posted by barb on Aug 12, 2005 in Science Musings

Last weekend I started researching the history of relativity — how was it recieved when it was first presented to the world? who were the dissenters? how was it presented to the general public? I can’t say much about the project that I’m working on (but, trust me, it’s really cool — afterall, I was working on a Saturday and I was excited about it).

I found a few fun things:

  • When Einstein’s lectures and book were advertised in Japan, the title was translated to “The Relations of Man to Woman”. There were large crowds, especially women, at the first few lectures and hundreds of the books were sold. After a few days, the tour sponsors were inundated with requests for refunds. (From “Einstein’s Theory Not Exactly What Japanese Expected”, Washington Post, January 14, 1923, p 25.)
  • A US Naval astronomer, Captain See, denounced Einstein and relativity after Lick Observatory published results on the bending of starlight which supported relativity.

    “I value highly the work of the Lick Obseravatory,” said Captain See, “but I regret to see it issue statements to the press which lend support to the discredited doctrine of relativity than which a greater piece of humbuggery has not appeared in any age.”

    (From “Astronomer Calls Einstein Plagiarist”, Christian Science Monitor, April 13, 1923, p 3.)

  • In a gossip-like column, Einstein’s ability to figure change is questioned. He and his wife had boarded a street car, and he paid the conductor. The conductor returned his change while Einstein was talking with his wife. Einstein distractedly counted his change, and belived the conductor had given him the wrong change.

    The [conductor] recounted the change deliberately, explaining the to professor that it was correct and then turned to the next passenger with a shrug of his shoulders and the remark, “His arithmetic is weak.”

    (From “Relativity Author Weak at Figuring, Car Man Declares”, The Washington Post, July 13, 1924, p ES9)

Not related to relativity, but way too entertaining not to include here:

The women of the future may have longer beards than the beared women of the circus today, in the opinion of Dr. Adolph Heilbron, if they continue the invasion of man’s doman of activities.

“As woman exercises more and more the functions formerly belonging to men,” Heilbron writes in the Berlin Morgenpost, “she also begins to assume a masculine growth of hair.”

(Also from “Relativity Author Weak at Figuring, Car Man Declares”, The Washington Post, July 13, 1924, p ES9)



On Doing Physics

Posted by barb on Jul 22, 2005 in Thesis/Grad Life

For the past two years I have focussed the entire of my thesis work on writing scripts and running data through a data pipeline, while losing sight of the underlying physics. All along I’ve kept telling myself that I really need to read more journal articles and that I really need to explore the physics of the sources that I’m studying, but the allure of getting my data through the pipeline quickly has taken over. I’ve used the excuse that I only work half-time on my thesis to justify my tunnel vision.

Over the past month, Andrew and I have been attempting to carve out one night per week where we go to Starbucks and I read journal articles. If I sit at home, it’s too easy to get distracted by other things — the cats, tweaking my data pipeline, watching tv or a movie, reading a book, cleaning, anything. So, at Starbucks, I have only my articles and a frappuccino (or iced tea, if I’m trying to be healthy). While I read, Andrew works on writing that he’s been neglecting. It seems to be a good system.

However, I need to do more than just read the articles.

Read more…

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Google Moon

Posted by barb on Jul 20, 2005 in Science Musings

Be sure to check out Google today, and click on today’s logo. (Or, click here, if you’re here after July 20.)

[Thanks, JD, for pointing this out!]



Astro-E2 Lanches!

Posted by barb on Jul 10, 2005 in Science Musings

Astro-E2 successfully launched last night! This is a Japanese X-ray astronomy satellite, and on-board is a NASA instrument, XRS. When I first came to Goddard 7 years ago, I was a grad student working with the original XRS team. When Astro-E failed to achieve orbit, Astro-E2 was born. The Japanese and instrument collaborators rallied for funding and support for a new satllite.

XRS is the first microcalorimeter X-ray spectrometer to be flown on a space mission, and represents a giant leap forward in spectral sensitivity. It will be exciting to see the results from XRS in the coming months and years.

Upon the success of launch, Astro-E2 has been renamed Suzaku. Suzaku represents the red sparrow, is the southern point of the compass, and is
symbolic of renewal. What a great name!



The Process of Science

Posted by barb on Jul 4, 2005 in Science Musings

Science Magazine has published a list of the 125 Questions: What We Don’t Know. How cool is that?

One issue that I’ve been discussing with colleagues is the public’s lack of understanding of the process of science. In classrooms, science is taught as though we have all of the answers: gravity holds us to the Earth and sets the planets’ orbits around the Sun, the Earth’s surface is in constant motion as the techtonic plates move on top of the matle, the diversity of life that we see comes from processes of evolution, etc. And while these theories are well-supported, and accepted among all of the science community, by teaching students only the end-product of decades or centuries of debate, discussion and development, the process of science gets lost.

In the teacher focus group that I was involved with, we found that high school science teachers are hungry for cutting-edge science in their classrooms. Such science is not typically included in textbooks, because science doesn’t have all of the answers yet, so that textbook writers can’t summarize the results in a nice, neat package. Such cutting-edge science would require updates to the textbooks on timescales that most schools couldn’t afford, or supplements that schools are unwilling to pay for.

By not including this cutting-edge, not-neatly-packaged science in the high school classroom, students don’t get to see that science is very much alive. They don’t get to see what they might be able to contribute to science if they decided to pursue science. Most importantly, they don’t get to see science as a process.

One hundred years ago, the concept of “other galaxies” had not been considered, because astronomers did not have the techniques to measure distances to objects that far away. Eighty years ago it was thought that the Universe was static — not expanding, not contracting; then, Hubble showed that the Universe was expanding. Ten years ago, astronomers assumed that the expansion rate of the Universe was decelerating, but then astronomers made observations of very distant supernovae that indicated that the rate of expansion was accelerating. What will change in the next 10 years? This is Science Magazine’s #1 question.

I’m working with a group to develop a classroom activity that would use dark energy or gravitational waves to show their students the process of science — to help the students understand that science evolves as technology develops and as scientists wrap their minds around new concepts, and that healthy debate is a large part of the science process. Perhaps we aren’t going to change the world with our one small activity, but maybe other scientists and science educators will follow suit. It is imperative that we enlighten the public on the process of science. We aren’t just throwing around hunches that we hope fit the data — we are developing well-supported and well-debated theories to understand the world, and Universe, around us.




Posted by barb on Jul 4, 2005 in Science Musings

Deep Impact Bullseye!


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