Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Selected readings 9/28/10

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.


Convincing a Young Scientist that Dark Matter Exists
So I was in favor of dark matter, but I wasn't entirely convinced. I wanted a "smoking gun" piece of evidence for dark matter. Something that was an entirely new prediction that we could look for -- much like that 1919 eclipse was for general relativity -- and decide whether dark matter predicts what we're going to see. [Starts with a Bang, 6/24/10]

How blind to change are you?
This failure to notice what should be very apparent is something we unconsciously experience every day as our brains filter the barrage of visual information which we are flooded with. And apparently it has a name; it is called change blindness. [BBC News, 6/11/10]

New data suggest a lighter Higgs
New data offer evidence that the heft of the Higgs particle lies somewhere in the low end of the range being probed by particle colliders on two continents. The results also hint that the particle’s mass may be consistent with supersymmetry, a theory that gives every particle in the standard model of physics a much heavier partner. [Science News, 7/26/10]

Jellyfish eye genes suggest a common origin for animal eyes
Jellyfish may seem like simple blobs but some have surprisingly sophisticated features, including eyes. These are often just light-sensitive pits but species like the root-arm medusa have complex ‘camera’ eyes, with a lens that focuses light onto a retina. Not only are these organs superficially similar to ours, they’re also constructed from the same genetic building blocks. [Not Exactly Rocket Science, 7/27/10]

Astronomy and particle physics race to replace Standard Model
If energy issues seem to be attracting the attention of a lot of physicists, the Large Hadron Collider seems to be drawing the attention of many of the rest of them, including people in fields like cosmology, which deals with items on the opposite end of the size scale. In turn, the people working on the LHC and other particle detectors are carefully paying attention to the latest astronomy results, hoping they'll put limits on the properties and identities of the zoo of theoretical particles that need to be considered. [Nobel Intent, 7/28/10]

Genetics tells tall tales
Studies scanning the genomes of tens of thousands of individuals for gene variants associated with height have come up short: around 50 variants have been identified, but together they account for only 5% or so of height's heritability. ... This heritability may not be missing — it may simply be buried deeper than previously thought, in a multitude of genetic variants that have tiny effects individually. [Nature News, 6/20/10]

Dark matter eldorado
Observations confirm that a faint group of stars in the Milky Way’s backyard has the highest density of dark matter — the invisible material thought to account for 83 percent of the mass of the universe — of any galaxy known. [Science News, 7/30/10]

Searching through the LHC data flood for dark matter
Although the Standard Model has needed some minor tweaking to deal with recent observations, Gross said that there are three major issues that suggests it's due for a major overhaul. One of these is that we have convincing evidence that dark matter exists, and comes in the form of particles that are heavy and stable to at least the life of the Universe. Unfortunately, the Standard Model provides nothing that meets these requirements. [Nobel Intent, 8/1/10]

Two New Paths to the Dream: Regeneration
Animals like newts and zebra fish can regenerate limbs, fins, even part of the heart. If only people could do the same, amputees might grow new limbs and stricken hearts be coaxed to repair themselves. But humans have very little regenerative capacity, probably because of an evolutionary trade-off: suppressing cell growth reduced the risk of cancer, enabling humans to live longer. A person can renew his liver to some extent, and regrow a fingertip while very young, but not much more. [New York Times, 8/5/10]

Sponge genes surprise
A complete genetic catalog of the sponge Amphimedon queenslandica suggests that the first animals already had a complex kit of genetic tools at their disposal. Sponges harbor between 18,000 and 30,000 genes — roughly the same number as humans, fruit flies, roundworms and other animals. [Science News, 8/4/10]

Plentiful and Potential Planets
Two planet-hunting telescopes - CoRoT and Kepler - are keeping astronomers hard at work cataloging far-distant planets that orbit other stars in our galaxy. The search for distant planets is essential for astrobiologists who are hunting for habitable, Earth-like worlds beyond our solar system. [Physorg.com, 6/23/10]

World’s Most Intense X-Ray Laser Takes First Shots
The world’s most intense X-ray laser may soon be the fastest strobe-light camera ever. Two of the laser’s first experiments show the device will be able to take snapshots of single molecules in motion — without destroying them first. [Wired Science, 6/30/10]

The origin of life: putting chemistry inside a cell
In Szostak's view, interesting chemistry is easy. He also said that Darwinian evolution also makes things easy, since it's possible to take what you've got and radically improve it. So what's bugging him these days is the transition in between the two. How do you move from interesting chemistry to something that can evolve? He's doing this by trying to engineer a system that can make the transition. [Nobel Intent, 6/28/10]

Why weather != climate: the engine behind climate models
In this article I take a look at climate modeling and in particular why the comment "They can't predict the weather, therefore climate models are not good" is just plain wrong. It represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what climate modelers are trying to achieve, what is achievable and why the weather is unpredictable. [Nobel Intent, 7/9/10]

Does Your Language Shape How You Think?
The habits of mind that our culture has instilled in us from infancy shape our orientation to the world and our emotional responses to the objects we encounter, and their consequences probably go far beyond what has been experimentally demonstrated so far; they may also have a marked impact on our beliefs, values and ideologies. We may not know as yet how to measure these consequences directly or how to assess their contribution to cultural or political misunderstandings. But as a first step toward understanding one another, we can do better than pretending we all think the same. [New York Times, 8/26/10]

Stem Cell Biology and Its Complications
Stem cell biology turned out to be more complicated than they anticipated. Besides the stem cells from embryos, there are so-called adult stem cells found in all tissues but with limited potential because they can only turn into cells from their tissue of origin. And there are these newer cells made by reprogramming mature cells. [New York Times, 8/24/10]

Scientists Square Off on Evolutionary Value of Helping Relatives
For the past 46 years, biologists have used Dr. Hamilton’s theory to make sense of how animal societies evolve. They’ve even applied it to the evolution of our own species. But in the latest issue of the journal Nature, a team of prominent evolutionary biologists at Harvard try to demolish the theory. [New York Times, 8/30/10]

Think You're Operating on Free Will? Think Again
There may be few things more fundamental to human identity than the belief that people are rational individuals whose behavior is determined by conscious choices. But recently psychologists have compiled an impressive body of research that shows how deeply our decisions and behavior are influenced by unconscious thought, and how greatly those thoughts are swayed by stimuli beyond our immediate comprehension. [Time, 7/2/10]

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits
In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying. The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on. [New York Times, 9/6/10]

Gene networks underlie disease?
An international group of researchers have developed a novel method for identifying entire networks of genes and their association to disease, providing a more accurate picture of the genetic risks associated with specific diseases than single genes can provide. [The Scientist, 9/8/10]

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]

Under Pressure: The Search for a Stress Vaccine
Chronic stress, it turns out, is an extremely dangerous condition. ... While stress doesn’t cause any single disease — in fact, the causal link between stress and ulcers has been largely disproved — it makes most diseases significantly worse. The list of ailments connected to stress is staggeringly diverse and includes everything from the common cold and lower-back pain to Alzheimer’s disease, major depressive disorder, and heart attack. [Wired Magazine, 7/28/10]

Why some memories stick
A study published in Science this week indicates that reactivating neural patterns over and over again may etch items into the memory. People find it easier to recall things if material is presented repeatedly at well-spaced intervals rather than all at once. For example, you're more likely to remember a face that you've seen on multiple occasions over a few days than one that you've seen once in one long period. One reason that a face linked to many different contexts — such as school, work and home — is easier to recognize than one that is associated with just one setting, such as a party, could be that there are multiple ways to access the memory. This idea, called the encoding variability hypothesis, was proposed by psychologists about 40 years ago. [Nature News, 9/9/10]

DNA 'Volume Knobs' May Be Associated With Obesity
When it comes to our expanding waistlines, we usually blame either diet or genes. But a new study fingers a third culprit: chemicals that attach to DNA and change its function. A survey of millions of these modifications has uncovered a handful associated with body mass index, a measure of height and weight. [Science Now, 9/15/10]

Astronomy and particle physics race to replace Standard Model
If energy issues seem to be attracting the attention of a lot of physicists, the Large Hadron Collider seems to be drawing the attention of many of the rest of them, including people in fields like cosmology, which deals with items on the opposite end of the size scale. In turn, the people working on the LHC and other particle detectors are carefully paying attention to the latest astronomy results, hoping they'll put limits on the properties and identities of the zoo of theoretical particles that need to be considered. [Nobel Intent, 7/28/10]

Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits
Consciousness, Dr. Tononi says, is nothing more than integrated information. Information theorists measure the amount of information in a computer file or a cellphone call in bits, and Dr. Tononi argues that we could, in theory, measure consciousness in bits as well. When we are wide awake, our consciousness contains more bits than when we are asleep. [New York Times, 9/20/10]

Translating Stories of Life Forms Etched in Stone
The Ediacaran fossils tell us that Darwin was being too generous. Our earliest animal ancestor probably had no head, tail, or sexual organs, and lay immobile on the sea floor like a door mat. [New York Times, 7/26/10]


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