themadscientists

Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Talking bacteria line up in microscopic phalanx to fight enemies

In science, Uncategorized on December 18, 2011 at 04:12

In modern warfare coded messages are an important tool to ensure that units on the battlefield can co-ordinate their actions against the enemy and win the fight.

Scientists at UC Davis have found that bacteria use tiny protein messengers to co-ordinate their actions against victims and enemies.

In a study on bacteria feeding off rice-plants, a protein a called ax21 was found, enabling the bacteria to talk to each other in the event of an attack against the bacterial colony. The molecule is produced inside the bacteria and secreted, to tip off the other bacteria so they can line up in a phalanx, creating a bio-film surrounding the colony, protecting it against drying out or succumbing to antibiotics.

Tuberculosis colony

Tuberculosis colony

By working together and making individual sacrifice, they increase the survival-rate of the entire colony.

The standard model of everything – new particle at Fermilab may change physics

In physics, quantum physics, science, Uncategorized on April 21, 2011 at 15:38

Particle map of gold-aroms colliding at the speed of light.


Physicists from Fermilab, USA, working on the origins of matter and the Universe have found anomalies in the standard model of particle-physics while conducting high energy particle collisions in their Tevatron.

Strong evidence for a new particle have been found in recent experiments showing that this new piece of the puzzle behaves in a manner that does not fit into the current picture we have of the standard model.

Christopher Hill, one of the physicists that worked on the experiment said to popsci that “If it is real, it would be the most significant discovery in physics in half a century.” What happened was that the particle in question, an energy-carrying particle called a boson, did not behave as it was believed to. It did not separate into the right bits of matter and energies quite simply. That made the brows of many a scientist curl, and forced a fresh look at the drawing-board. To check where the current models are wrong, and what this means for our understanding of the Universe and it`s existence. Physicists are still decoding what this entails for Life, the Universe and everything, but if the observations are right, they will change our understandings of the Universe.

The modus operandi for particle hunters is to speed up a couple of thousand of atoms to 99,9 % of the light-speed and crash them into something, to make them explode into a nano-second particle dance that we can detect in a bubble-chamber or something similar. Before they vanish into the great unknown. The dancers are point-like pieces of matter with exotic names such as the K-meson, Tau-neutrino and gluons, to name but a few.

What scientists are hoping to achieve is nothing less than a complete and proven story of how the Universe sparked into existence, how it came to be the way it is today. What it`s going to be like in the future and why humans evolved out of all this, as the proverbial cherry on top of the cake. The way they hope to do this is to rewind the Universe to where it started.

Why do this by crashing innocent small particles together, you say?

Well, as far as we know the Universe started with a Big Bang. In the beginning it was very hot and just a mash of a few particles and a lots of energy crammed into a rather small space. As it expanded and cooled down with time, things got quiet and cold enough for the first hydrogen atoms to come into existence. Forming stars and all the rest of it. So smashing particles is a way of increasing the energy to levels close to the Big Bang, thereby rewinding the clock back about 13,7 billion years.

There are three fundamental classes of particles in the standard model. First up are the quarks, the elusive small buggers that make up the nucleus of all atoms in the Universe. Next are the leptons, of which the best known is the electron, the one that whizzes around the nucleus and make our light-bulbs shine. Within the lepton family we also find the neutrinos, one of the most elusive particles in the model. These particles are very very small and have no electric charge, so that detectors have a very hard time catching them. The last class of particles are the ones that really make us tick, the force carrier particles like the photon. That streams down from the Sun and heats us up so we can live and enjoy life in a velvet sea of photon-waves.

An overview of The Standard Model

Particle physics is perhaps not the most enticing of subjects for everyone, but when one looks at how nature has balanced out the smallest constituents of existence, the beauty of physics really shines. Computing numbers that will always balance each-other out in the end. The interesting and beautiful bit here, is the number of different elementary sub-atomic particles that exist. There are six types of quarks, constructing every atomic nucleus in the Universe, and correspondingly there are six different leptons that make up electrons.

So six.. What is so special about that then?

It`s a perfect number. A perfect number is when the sum of all the positive divisors is the number itself. 1+2+3=6 which goes on to 1x2x3=6. You can also equate it like this : 6×1=2×3

It is good to know that there is something perfect about every last one of us after all.

Japanese Crisis and Nuclear Particles in the Air and Foodchain

In physics, quantum physics, science on March 17, 2011 at 18:28

Patterns of wind from Japan across the Pacific

As I have touched upon in the preceding post, it is compounds like Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 that pose the real danger to the general population down-wind of the Fukushima-plant. These gases or particles emit beta-radiation and energetic gamma-rays. The latter capable of penetrating clothes and walls if there is enough of it in the air.

Nuclear power and radioactivity has a big potential for death and destruction, so the media are sounding the the alarm. But lack of knowledge on what ionizing radiation is and how it may be harmful is leading to a lot of speculation that might cause unwarranted fear.

Things are not “just” radioactive, it depends on how much of it is in the air or water. For example there are tons and tons of highly radioactive particles from the cold war in the atmosphere. But there is a lot of air and water here on Earth, so it does not cause very much harm. Not to say that it is smart to fill up the biosphere with more though.

It might be interesting to see how radiation actually looks and operates, and how it is the driving force for nuclear energy. The first part of the video shows natural background radiation, and towards the middle you can see Radium-radiation. The radiation you can see in the second half of the video would be harmful to you if you got it into your lungs, but apart from that its not more dangerous than a good tan.

It is basically the same processes that you see here that drives a nuclear reactor, but at much higher intensities. Atoms with an uneven numbers of neutrons in comparison to the number of electrons, are unstable. And when they decay as we see here, they spit out a couple of particles and a photon or two. When these photons have high energies they can go trough walls and protective clothing and be dangerous to your cells.

Ionization can happen if you get alfa or beta radiation particles inside your body, or if you are hit by high-energy photon radiation from outside it.

Japanese nuclear fuel much more dangerous than in Chernobyl

In physics, quantum physics, science on March 15, 2011 at 22:14

Explosion due to Hydrogen build-up in the Fukushima plant.

A very serious situation situation may now be emerging in Japan. Despite repeated tabloid inflation of the dangers, it is`t until recently that the dangers really have started to increase. According to news-sources the radiation in the air around the reactor is 100-400 milli sieverts. Which could be deadly with only a few hours of exposure. This is serious enough, but are most likely from gases that will decay into harmless elements quite quickly. This has at least been the situation the last few days.

So far it is only moderately radioactive gases from inside the concrete container that have been vented into the air. If radioactive material from the core leaks out into the air directly, the disaster is pretty much a fact. There has been a lot of comparisons with Chernobyl in the aftermaths of the Japan Earthquake, but there are several important differences between the two.

First of all, the reactor in Chernobyl used slightly enriched Uranium-235 rods. While the Japanese plant uses a mixture of different fuels (MOX) from weapons grade plutonium and re-processed nuclear waste, partly put into civilian use to prevent proliferation of radioactive materials to terrorists. This fuel is much more radioactive and toxic than the U-235 rods used in Chernobyl. It releases far higher doses of gamma and neutron radiation than Uranium,and according to a paper released by the Japanese Atomic Energy Institute the release of radioactive gases and the deformation of fuel rods can be expected to be much higher than it was in the Chernobyl-accident.

Secondly, the Chernobyl-plant was designed to produce power in a much more aggressive and yielding way than the Japanese plant is. This gives the Japanese more time to control the situation, but given a complete cooling failure, the accident may be of a bigger magnitude than Chernobyl, due to the higher energies that are stored in the fuel used at the Fukushima plant. Possibly much bigger.

Contrary to popular belief, Plutonium is not very dangerous in its solid form. You could very well hold a piece of it in your hand without it causing you any damage. Since the radiation that comes from it can`t penetrate your skin. If it gets into your lungs on the other hand, you are in deep trouble. The Plutonium will stick in your lungs, and spread to your lymph-nodes and bone marrow. And stay there, bombarding your cells with alpha particles that ionize your tissue and DNA. And depending on the dose, it may cause radiation sickness and possibly a very painful death. If plutonium is spread into the air and sea it will cause widespread death of wildlife and plants and any humans exposed to the particles

However the Plutonium oxide that may leak from the core, is not very reactive, and will not burn or mix into air or water easily. So these particles are most dangerous in the vicinity of the plant. It is noteworthy on the other hand, that these radioactive particles, some with a half-time of 24.000 years or more. Can be re-activated into the air or water during forest-fires or later tsunamis, making them dangerous for future generations.

Alexander Litvinenko, former KGB spy, before and after radiation poisoning.

The most likely and dangerous culprit is Cesium-137. This was the compund that increased the radiation levels across the world after the Chernobyl accident, and subjected millions of Europeans to abnormally high doses of radiation. It it is very reactive and can create a wide variety of chemical derivatives that are radioactive and transportable in the food-chain. Cesium emits beta particles and strong gamma radiation, the latter being very penetrative, going through skin, clothes and walls. Making it more dangerous to the general population even with a limited degree of protection. If C-137 gets into the air from a reactor core breach, it could reach Tokyo in a matter of hours, and possibly USA within 36 hours. C-137 has a half-time of 30 years, so it is not so bad as certain Plutonium or Uranium isotopes, but still a silent killer if there is enough of it. Strontium-90 is an isotope that carries similar properties to C-137 in case of a meltdown, the main difference may be that the strontium mimics calcium in your body, and is therefor deposited in bone-structures.

Quantum Computing – An arms race of the 21st century

In physics, quantum physics, science, Uncategorized on March 9, 2011 at 00:21

Across the world physicists and computer scientists are taking part in government funded projects to realize the first working quantum computer, possibly unleashing computers so powerful they can communicate across space and time, or crack all conventional computer encryption in a heartbeat or two. Making your secure internet traffic totally exposed, as well as providing the one that has the technology, with supreme information security. Leaving us with the question about who is going to be the next information superpower?

One government agency that is heavily involved in the funding and development of Quantum Computers is the shadowy american DARPA, or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Their web-page states:

“DARPA’s mission is to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security by sponsoring revolutionary, high-payoff research bridging the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use”.

It is the agency that the american government turns to when the going gets tough or the study is just so weird that no-one will touch it. DARPA is no small fish in the world of technology. It kick-started the american space-program, developed Stealth technology and gave us GPS, as well as making what was to become the Internet. During the past few years, DARPA has issued several funding opportunities to the best scientists in the field of quantum computing, and results are as always, classified. And they will probably continue to be just that for many years to come.

But like all defense agencies, there is a catch. All efforts will in the end sum up to helping the state kill it`s enemies more effectively. The 2010 US defense budget amounted to 664 billion dollars, which means that they probably have some dollars left over to spend on scientists starved for funding in the years to come.

Nick Turse, a graduate student writing about war-crimes, lists a few inventions in his article about DARPA :

The projects are often some of the most lethal ever conceived. Over the years, DARPA research has led to a plethora of products designed to maim and kill, among them the: M-16 rifle, Hellfire-missile-equipped Predator drones, stealth fighters and bombers, surface-to-surface artillery rocket systems, Tomahawk cruise missiles, B-52 bomber upgrades, Titan missiles, Javelin portable “fire and forget” guided missiles and cannon-launched Copperhead guided projectiles, to name but a few”

China is one country that has ambitions to stay in the race for quantum military technologies. Especially in the field of quantum entanglement have they made considerable progress. Albert Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance,” because it seems to defy both time and space. In theory this technology makes it very hard to tap into communications without destroying the message and thereby making the eavesdropping official. In terms of intelligence and military uses, these kinds of technologies are wet dreams for global powers like USA and China, and they will most likely not give in before they are realized. The government files intercepted and cracked by Wikileaks last year would have been nigh impossible if these technologies had been operational.

There are also many civilian projects going on at Universities in many countries, like Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford or the Centre for Quantum Computing at Cambridge, both in the UK. Civilian efforts have a hard time matching the funding resources that states like America possess, and cannot do research with the same intensity. They are however a peek-hole into technologies and powers to look out for in the future.

The most common way to secure internet traffic today, is the RSA encryption algorithm. Most people that shop or send emails over the internet have used this method to secure the information sent, often automatically and without the user having to press any buttons. It operates by using a specific key or pattern that codes the information in a specific manner, for example by reducing every word with 5 letters to 3 letters and substituting the letters with numbers in a given sequence. The receiver has the same key and only needs to reverse the encoding sequence, and he/she has the original message securely on the computer. If one were to break the most advanced RSA encryptions today, it would take about 1,500 years on a desktop computer, or a couple of years with hundreds of the most powerful computers in the world. Not practical in other terms.

Working quantum computers have been built, but not big enough to take on any real challenges like decrypting secret messages just yet. But when the technology is completely operational it will completely trash classical computers, and make computer security an entirely different ball-game. Scientists have predicted a wait of about 10-20 years before we have a quantum computer for civilian use.

Computers are basically calculators, they turn all kinds of information into numbers and can then manipulate the information by changing their numeral values in a predetermined way. The letters on this page has various numeral values imbedded in the software on our computers. Ordinary computers calculate these numbers in a linear way. They take one value and adds it together with another. 1+2=3 is a simple example of this, the classical computer takes two separate numbers and adds them together producing an answer. Here we basically have five pieces of information, including the + and the = signs. The Quantum computer basically operate using the exact same principles, apart from the fact that the latter uses single molecules instead of the tiny little electrical switches that ordinary computers use.

The molecules that Quantum technology uses have two properties that makes them beat any classical computer in terms of power and speed. The first is that the molecules can be in a state of Superposition, being in two places at the same time. The other is quantum entanglement, that connects these superpositions together so that what happens to the first, also happens to the second, instantly and with no computation needed to operate the entanglement. This means that we can make the molecule “carry” both numbers at the same time because of the fact that it can be in two places at the same time, each position reflecting one value. The quantum computer can feed both the 1 and 2 into the calculator at the same time, making it vastly more powerful than an ordinary computer.

What makes it so extremely powerful is the power of the square. Two quantum bits (qbits) can operate 4 values at the same time, three operates 8 and so on. Before 50 qubits you have trillions of values at the same time.

The most modern commercial computers today have about 600-700 million electrical switches it can use to calculate numbers with. In comparison one gram of hydrogen gas, has 6,022 000 000 000 000 000 000 00 0 atoms in it. One gram..

Imagine computers capable of calculating how virus is going to evolve in the future, simulations of global warming and weather forecasts would be much much more detailed. Medical, Social and Physical sciences would gain a very powerful tool in having new levels of resolution in data for research.

Seth Lloyd, a leading scientist in the field of quantum computing at MIT, said that if we some day could turn all the molecules in the computer that you are typing on, into information processing bits, it would be much much more powerful than the human brain in terms of raw computing power, potentially being capable of computing tasks so immense that a classical computer the size of the Universe could not repeat it. The technology is however hard to harness, atoms and molecules are not very cooperative and tend to whizz away at the smallest touch. The technology is widely regarded as being the next step in computing, who is able to control it first, remains to see.