Sunday, July 25, 2010

Selected readings 7/25/10

Interesting reading and news items.

Please leave some comments that indicate which articles you find most interesting or that identify topics you would like to read about, and I will try to include more articles of a similar nature in the future

These items are also bookmarked at my Diigo account.

The Muon Guys: On the Hunt for New Physics
The experiment will search for a phenomenon so incredibly rare that, according to the Standard Model of physics, humans could never build a machine sensitive enough to actually see it. Which is exactly why scientists want to build this experiment. Mu2e is on the hunt for new physics. [Symmetry Magazine, 6/1/10]

SLAC’s new X-ray laser peels and cores atoms
The first published scientific results from the world’s most powerful hard X-ray laser, located at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, show its unique ability to control the behaviors of individual electrons within simple atoms and molecules by stripping them away, one by one—in some cases creating hollow atoms. [Symmetry Breaking, 7/2/10]

Antiaging protein also boosts learning and memory
Aging and wisdom are supposed to go together, but it turns out that a molecule that prevents one may actually play a role in the other. Researchers have discovered a new role for the famous antiaging protein SIRT1. It not only fends off aging, but also aids in learning and memory, a new study published online July 11 in Nature shows. [Science News, 7/12/10]

Galaxies weigh in on neutrinos
Neutrinos are infamously lightweight particles that are near impossible to detect, let alone place on a scale. Yet our most basic model for understanding the symmetries of matter and particles rests on an accurate measure of the neutrino masses. Over the past decade, observational cosmology has taken a leading position in providing an upper bound on these masses. Now, in a paper appearing in Physical Review Letters, Shaun Thomas, Filipe Abdalla, and Ofer Lahav at University College London in the UK predict that the total neutrino mass, summed over the three neutrino families, is smaller than 0.28 eV—the tightest upper bound yet. Their prediction is based on a new mapping of the distribution of density of surrounding galaxies. [Physics, 7/12/10]

Neutrino quick-change artist caught in the act
Physicists have for the first time found direct evidence that a neutrino, a ghostly elementary particle that barely interacts with matter, morphs from one type into another. The finding provides additional support for the notion that neutrinos have mass, a property that requires an explanation beyond the realm of the standard model of particle physics. [Science News, 6/1/10]

Magic quantum wand does not vanish hard math
They conclude that NP-complete problems are just as hard on an adiabatic quantum computer as on a classical computer. And, since earlier work showed the equivalence between different variants of quantum computers, that pretty much shuts down the possibility of any quantum computer helping with NP-complete problems. [Nobel Intent, 6/3/10]

An unpaleontological lament for lost molecules and shattered cells and the cruelty of time
These were almost certainly colonial organisms that took advantage of the higher concentration of oxygen to build denser mats on top of the sea floor. They probably weren't true multi-cellular organisms; they were a step up from a colony of bacteria that you might see growing on a petri dish, but with additional molecular features that permitted greater coordination and the development of more elaborate spatial patterning. [Pharyngula, 7/15/10]

Cosmology forum: Is dark energy really a mystery?
The Universe is expanding. And the expansion seems to be speeding up. To account for that acceleration, a mysterious factor, 'dark energy', is often invoked. A contrary opinion — that this factor isn't at all mysterious — is here given voice, along with counter-arguments against that view. [Nature, 7/14/10]

How to read a genome-wide association study
As any avid follower of genomics or medical genetics knows, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have been the dominant tool used by complex disease genetics researchers in the last five years. There’s a very active debate in the field about whether GWAS have revolutionized our understanding of disease genetics or whether they were a waste of money for little tangible gain. [Genomes Unzipped, 7/18/10]

Brain's bubble wrap may be lots more
They have long been dismissed as the brain’s Bubble Wrap, packing material to protect precious cells that do the real work of the mind. But glial cells — the name literally means “glue’’ — are now being radically recast as neuroscientists explore the role they play in disease and challenge longstanding notions about how the brain works. [Boston Globe, 5/31/10]

Collider gets yet more exotic 'to-do' list
As if the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) didn't have enough to look for. It is already charged with hunting for the fabled Higgs boson, extra dimensions and supersymmetry, but physicists are now adding even more elaborate phenom­ena to its shopping list — including vanishing dimensions that could explain the accelerating expansion of the Universe. Some argue that signs of new and exotic physics could show up in the LHC far sooner than expected. [Nature News, 7/20/10]

Shock and Age
The accumulation of misfolded protein marks the accrual of years as the body ages. Could heat shock proteins be used to reduce the effects of aging and diminish the risk of disease by untangling improperly folded proteins? [The Scientist, 6/1/10]

Quantum mechanics flummoxes physicists again
Weihs and colleagues aimed a source of single photons (which, like electrons, exhibit wave–particle duality) at a mask containing various open and closed combinations of three slits. The authors fired photons repeatedly through the mask, while building a probability distribution of photons arriving on a detector beyond it. From the probabilities of each combination, they could calculate a crucial interference term, which would highlight any three-path interference. [Nature News, 7/22/10]

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