Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Selected readings 12/8/09

Interesting reading and news items.

These items are also bookmarked at my Diigo account.

How epigenetics is changing our fight with disease
Sequencing the human genome was supposed to answer our questions about the genetic origins of disease but the burgeoning science of epigenetics is telling us it's a whole lot more complicated. [ABC Science, 10/1/09]

Humans wonder, anybody home?
Many people (some scientists among them) would like to believe that consciousness sets the human mind apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. But whether in humans or other creatures, behavioral signs of cognizance all arise from the tangled interactions of neurons in the brain. So a growing number of scientists contend that animals with brain structures and neural circuitry similar to humans’ might experience something like human awareness, even if a bit less sophisticated. [Science News, 10/20/09]

Discovery of Higgs at Large Hadron Collider might not make all physicists happy
Discovery of the Higgs at the LHC would not necessarily be a cause for unrestrained celebration, though. “Many of us are terrified that the LHC will discover a Higgs particle and nothing more,” Weinberg said. That would just confirm the standard model, which everybody believes already. It would not point the way to further progress in solving a deeper problem that physics faces — how to add gravity to the unified theory of the other forces. [Science News, 12/19/09]

Better living through plasmonics
First named in 2001, the field of plasmonics has become popular among physicists and engineers only recently, as scientists have developed tools to create nanosized structures that can guide and shape these light-and-electron waves. Now the field of plasmonics is taking off, possibly leading to new kinds of miniature lasers, better cancer treatments and faster computers. [Science News, 11/7/09]

Windows on the Universe
Already, the year-old Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has extended the range and sensitivity with which scientists can scan the high-energy universe for violent interactions and signs of dark matter. In the infrared, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has given astronomers a more complete picture of galaxy and star formation, much of which happens behind a veil of dust. And new radio telescopes will soon probe the cosmic dark ages—the era just before the very first stars and galaxies illuminated the universe. [Science News, 10/10/09]

It seems biology (not religion) equals morality
Where I intend to be divisive is with respect to the argument that religion, and moral education more generally, represent the only — or perhaps even the ultimate — source of moral reasoning. If anything, moral education is often motivated by self-interest, to do what's best for those within a moral community, preaching singularity, not plurality. Blame nurture, not nature, for our moral atrocities against humanity. And blame educated partiality more generally, as this allows us to lump into one category all those who fail to acknowledge our shared humanity and fail to use secular reasoning to practise compassion. [Edge, 12/4/09]

Measuring (almost) zero
The electron's electric dipole moment is unimaginably tiny – and may not even exist. But as Chad Orzel explains, that has not stopped experimentalists from trying to measure it, since a non-zero result could imply the existence of new physics. [Physicsworld.com, 12/1/09]

Recipes for planet formation
Observations of extrasolar planets are shaping our ideas about how planetary systems form and evolve. Michael R Meyer describes what's cooking elsewhere in our galaxy – and beyond. [Physicsworld.com, 11/2/09]

Mysterious "strange" stars may rival black holes for weirdness
Think black holes are strange? ... But maybe they're not "strange" enough, suggest some astrophysicists. "Stellar" black holes, ones only a few times heavier than the sun, may actually be something even weirder called a quark star, or "strange" star. [USA Today, 12/4/09]

Big Hope for Tiny Particles
Nanotechnology-based drug delivery offers new treatment options for deadly pancreatic cancers. [Technology Review, 11/30/09]

Psychological Science: Measurement, Uncertainty, and Determinism – Part 1
In the minds of many, including scientists from the more successful sciences, the field of psychology is not a science and may never be a science. The Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman, was kind in his criticism of psychology as a science when he said that we have the form [of science] down, but we are not producing any laws of nature. In my view, psychology as a science has made some important contributions to describing mental life and behavior in animals and humans, but, on the whole, I tend to agree with Feynman. [3quarksdaily, 12/7/09]

This year we give thanks for one of the bedrock principles of classical mechanics: conservation of momentum. ... There are analogous notions once we include relativity or quantum mechanics, but for our present purposes the version that Galileo and Newton would have recognized is good enough: in any interaction between bodies, the total momentum (mass times velocity of each body, added together vectorially) remains conserved. [Cosmic Variance, 11/26/09]

Lose Genes, Gain Weight
Obesity is a disease of excess, but a new study suggests that a few obese patients are actually lacking something--a piece of one of their chromosomes. The loss might remove a gene that helps the body manage blood sugar and appetite. [ScienceNOW, 12/7/09]

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