Friday, January 15, 2010

Selected readings 1/15/10

Interesting reading and news items.

These items are also bookmarked at my Diigo account.

Crashing the size barrier
Over the past 50 years, the most common method of increasing the energy of a particle accelerator has been to increase its size. Yet that tactic is reaching a breaking point. While even higher energies are needed to answer many of science's most pressing questions—such as the origin of mass and the identity of dark matter—simply scaling up the current technology is becoming prohibitively expensive. Scientists need less costly, more efficient means of accelerating particles to ever-greater energies. [Symmetry, 10/1/09]

Are Black Holes the Architects of the Universe?
Black holes are finally winning some respect. After long regarding them as agents of destruction or dismissing them as mere by-products of galaxies and stars, scientists are recalibrating their thinking. Now it seems that black holes debuted in a constructive role and appeared unexpectedly soon after the Big Bang. “Several years ago, nobody imagined that there were such monsters in the early universe,” says Penn State astrophysicist Yuexing Li. “Now we see that black holes were essential in creating the universe’s modern structure.” [Discover, 1/4/10]

Genome advances promise personalized medical treatment
Six years after scientists finished decoding the human genome -- the genetic instruction book for life -- they're starting to take their new knowledge from the research laboratory to the doctor's office and the patient's bedside. ... Researchers are seeking ways to tailor treatments to individuals -- they call it "personalized medicine" -- in order to improve patient outcomes and to lower costs in the overburdened U.S. health care system. [, 11/18/09]

Hunting for Planets in the Dark
In Europe, the Euclid mission is a proposed space telescope for characterizing dark energy, but some believe that it might be more attractive to funding agencies if it included an exoplanet survey. [, 11/19/09]

Dark Energy Search Could Aid Planet Hunters
The search for dark energy might help in the search for life in the universe. That's because planet hunting through a technique called microlensing requires a similar sort of instrument as a dark energy mission. [, 11/19/09]

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. [, 11/2/09]

The Americanization of Mental Illness
We have for many years been busily engaged in a grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of mental health and illness. We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad. This unnerving possibility springs from recent research by a loose group of anthropologists and cross-cultural psychiatrists. [New York Times, 1/8/10]

What Life Leaves Behind
The search for life beyond our pale blue dot is fraught with dashed hopes. Will the chemical and mineral fingerprints of Earthly organisms apply on other worlds? [Seed, 11/9/09]

3 Questions: Sara Seager on searching for Earth-like planets
MIT planetary scientist Sara Seager has been studying exoplanets — planets circling stars other than the sun — for many years. The first such planet was discovered just 15 years ago, and now more than 400 others are known. This week, a paper co-authored by Seager and NASA scientist Drake Deming in the journal Nature reviews what we know about exoplanets so far, what we can expect to learn about them in the next decade or so, and the chances for finding a twin of our own planet. She has also just published an online book to answer questions about exoplanets and the lessons they hold. [, 11/23/09]

Quest for the Holy Grail: Sara Seager Seeks to Complete a Revolution
Sara Seager is fascinated by stories of explorers visiting uncharted places. From her groundbreaking work on the detection of exoplanet atmospheres to her innovative theories about life on other worlds, Seager has been a pioneer in the vast and unknown world of exoplanets. Now, like an astronomical Indiana Jones, she's on a quest after the field's holy grail - another Earth-like planet. [NASA, 10/6/08]

Two-qubit quantum system used to model the hydrogen molecule
Even though quantum computers are still in their crawling phase, computer scientists continue to push their limits. Recently, a group of scientists used a two-qubit quantum system to model the energies of a hydrogen molecule and found that using an iterative algorithm to calculate each digit of the phase shift gave very accurate results. Their system, while not directly extensible, has the potential to help map the energies of more complex molecules and could result in significant time and power savings compared to classical computers. [, 1/13/10]

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