Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Anatomically Correct Brain Cake

For the KITP brain program participants, here's a nifty how-to guide for baking your very own anatomically correct "brain cake," courtesy of Wikihow.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The man behind the particle

Peter Higgs, the theoretical physicist who first postulated the existence of the elusive Higgs boson, is nicely profiled in this week's TIME. As one might expect, he is eagerly awaiting the start-up of the LHC in hopes of having his little particle confirmed as a bona fide member of the Standard Model.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Rush Limbaugh saw the TIME article, and the obligatory media reference to to "the god particle" (yeah, yeah, particle physicists hate the moniker), and promptly used it to mock Higgs, telling Higgs to look out his window at all the pretty trees and flowers in Nature if he wants to "see" god.

This is why the god particle moniker sucks. But it seems we're stuck with it. And with Limbaugh.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Kobe Does Einstein

Perhaps you've noticed the latest in a series of Nike commercials centered around a "genius" theme, in which star athlete/hoopster Kobe Bryant appears as various historical figures associated with brilliant innovation. Physics gets a nod in this new incarnation: Kobe appears as none other than Albert Einstein! (h/t: Clifford at Asymptotia)

You can see the complete video here. And check out various still photos and some of the other "Genius" Kobe commercials at the main site

Let's get critical!

Since there's currently a KITP program-in-progress on the anatomy, development and evolution on the brain, I thought I'd post a few links on some recently reported brainy news.

* First, there's an article in Nature on "Noise in the Nervous System," by a group of Cambridge University scientists. Science writer Carl Zimmer (who also blogs at The Loom) gives a nice rundown of the work in Wired.

* Second, the pseudonym-y KFC at the arXiv blog writes about an intriguing new paper posted at arXiv by researchers at Northwestern University: "The Brain: What is Critical About It?" The basic hypothesis is that the "brain is spontaneously posed at the border of a second-order phase transition, just like the transition a ferromagnetic material undergoes as it switches from a nonmagnetic phase." KFC points out that this is a cool-sounding idea that probably needs some additional development/supporting experimental evidence. But it's a nice example of physics and neuroscience working together at the cutting edge.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers..."

That timeless quotation from Shakespeare's Henry VI adequately expresses my current frustration at the news of a lawsuit that's just been filed in Hawaii's US District Court seeking a temporary restraining order against CERN and its partners in building the LHC. They want to postpone start-up preparations for "at least" four months in order to "reassess" the collider's safety. Because, you know, it could destroy the word by creating mini-black holes, magnetic monopoles, or convert all the matter in the universe into exotic strangelets. 

*Cue exasperated eye-rolling* Oh, give me a break. It's basically the latest round of fear-mongering that always seems to accompany the start-up of a new accelerator. In fact, one of the co-plaintiffs is none other than "former nuclear safety officer" Walter Wagner, who spearheaded the attempt to create panic surrounding Brookhaven's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. News flash to Wagner: RHIC has been operating for a few years now. The world has not yet ended.

Wagner's concerns are nothing new to anyone who has followed the development of the LHC's design and construction over the last decade or more. They have been fully and fairly considered by the best scientific minds in the high-energy physics community, who take their responsibility for safety very seriously. And, in fact, an updated safety assessment (the last document was released in 2003) has already been completed. Why bring the courts into it at all? Because Wagner refuses to accept the scientific consensus on the issue.

The LHC has enough problems to overcome this year. The last thing it needs is a frivolous lawsuit.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008