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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.

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Scientists create self-assembling metal rubber

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2011 at 00:14

Polymer chemists have found a way to make almost any material carry an electric current, through a process called self-assembly. The new technology can be heated, frozen or drenched in jet-fuel without loosing it’s conductivity and repair itself if damaged.

The metal rubber can be used to make malleable and electrically charged aircraft wings, artificial muscles or wearable computers.

The new tech can be applied to almost any material through a simple chemical process, dipping the substrate material into a negative and positive chemical solution, imprinting it with electric properties.

Wearable technology and artificial limbs will be subjected to extreme wear and tear, just the reason why English school-boys have always used short-trousers. Little boys’ knees repair themselves, trousers do not.

Metal rubber might make long trousers fashionable in English primary-schools for the first time in centuries. If the material is broken or deformed, just run an electric current through, and it bounces back to it’s original form.

Is speed irrelevant when thinking about faster than light neutrinos at Opera-Gran Sasso??

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2011 at 02:21

Albert, old boy. They can't touch you.

Albert, old boy. They can't touch you.

The Opera experiment at CERN has perhaps tickled the stress-hormones of the physics community. But they are probably not too worried, because they know they are the ones that are paid to figure it out anyway.

Traces of high-energy particles in a bubble-chamber.

Traces of high-energy particles in a bubble-chamber.

Perhaps velocity falls out of the context, following that velocity in the universe can only be determined by an objects’ relative motion to other objects in the same reference-frame (ie space-time.)

If one looks at the universe as a brane, then it may be so that these small elusive neutrinos can take a jump off the old brane and come back again shortly after. Thus departing for a few nano-seconds by our time, out of the space-time geometry and into a realm of physics that have been unobservable outside the confines of a piece of paper. Taking a geometrical shortcut outside the grasp of Einstein.

Einstein’s theories inherently admits not knowing the answer to this riddle. But he may very well be pointing us in the direction of it.

“I see far because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Isaac Newton

Albert Einstein did not live to see String Theory, and the world would most likely never seen it either if had not been for Einstein, and his revelations about energy – matter equivalence, and matter – space-time interactions.

On our particular layer in the Universe, Einstein is rock-solid.

Gravity, soup-bowls and solar fusion – The aesthetics of spacetime

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2011 at 12:18

Dense galaxy-cluster bends space and the light that flows through it

A typical morning, the alarm clock gives off it´s terrorizing chirp of awakening as the sun peaks in through the drapes, invoking a craving for coffee and the promise of another day on planet earth.

The sun has been glowing in the sky for about 5 billion years, and if all goes well it will keep doing just that for another 5 billion years. No immediate danger that the oh so bright rays of the sun will disappear and make us drink our coffees in extreme cold and darkness anytime soon, in other words.

The sun didn`t just pop up in the sky after some deity flicked the cosmic light-switch. (although there are those who might advocate this) Nature is more subtle than that. In it`s infancy the Universe consisted mostly of Hydrogen, the simplest of all elements. These atoms were spread out pretty evenly across the fledgling Universe, but in some places there was a little more of them. This caused space itself to curve as a soup-bowl because of the slightly more dense mass-concentrations in these places, as Einstein predicted them in the General Theory of Relativity. Or more commonly: Gravity. Under you can see a micro-wave picture taken by the WMAP satellite, from a time when the Universe was only 380.000 years old.

The biggest mother of all, at the infant age of only 380.000 years

The blue bits are the most empty, and the density of Hydrogen increases as the color goes towards green, yellow and red. These bright spots are where the most hydrogen, and hence the deepest soups-bowls in space was first formed, resulting in more hydrogen from the surrounding space to roll down and into them. Compacting the matter harder and harder together until the first stars sparked into existence, fueled by hydrogen fusion.

As our astronomical imaging techniques have gotten more and more advanced, astronomers have been able to capture more and more of this weird space-curvature that materialize when matter and space push on each-other.

Illustration showing the dynamics of gravity-lensing

What space really is, and why it acts in this way, is still something of a riddle for the physicists. But hopes are that the Large Hadron collider and the possible discovery of the Higgs-field might shed some light onto the “matter.” 🙂

When something that seemingly is not there, changes the direction of something that is there. Then the wonders of the imagination can play around a little in the morning, and the coffee might even taste a little better as I feel the rays of the Sun warming my face after traveling along the porcelain of our little gravitational soup-bowl.

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.

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.

How many roads must a particle go? Plants as the ultimate fuel-factories.

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2011 at 13:55

Photons from the sun hitting a leaf resulting in photosynthesis, the chemical process that feeds us all.

Scientists have discovered that plants can transport energy in it`s internal structure with unprecedented efficiency, making it possible to think of hyper-efficient biological solar cells for commercial use. A company called Joule Unlimited, claim they have developed a technology that allows them to convert sunlight, water and C02 from the air, into bio-fuels such as ethanol or diesel with much greater efficiency than ordinary bio-fuel processes such as fermentation. In the future, the company said they will be able to produce biofuel at $30 per barrel. A big difference from the $ 100+ per barrel we have seen during the last couple of years. And of course Carbon neutral.

The technology, dubbed as Helioculture, is based on genetically engineered algae that use photosynthesis as its energy-source. The process of photosynthesis will in esscence operate as normal, but instead of having sugar as its end product, the algae can be programmed to secrete biofuel. If this technology is made available, it could start to offer locally produced fuels in sun-rich locations, hopefully in the near future.

The key is to control the electron and its path in the biological system. Following the photoelectric effect discovered by Einstein in the early 20th century, photons from the sun will give off its energy to electrons when it hits them. Scientists have known for a long time that photosynthesis has the ability to capture solar energy at unprecedented efficency, but they had problems figuring out how. It`s not until the last few decades, when Quantum Physics appeared on the turf of bio-tech that a solution has emerged, explaining why the electrons in the plant have the ability to receive and transform solar energy so efficient.

Imagine the algae as containing vast amounts of little jiggling bouncy-balls of matter (electrons) . When photons from the sun hit the leafs, these balls start jiggling more and more. And the algae gets energy to convert CO2 and water into storable energy (bio-fuel) that we can fill in our cars. To produce the fuel, the algae has chemical factories in them.

The conundrum was how the plants transported the energy from the jiggling bouncy-balls to these chemical factories without almost any loss of energy.

The electrons in the algae can be imagined as incredibly long rows of particles. When an electron is hit by a photon and receive a quantum of energy, it has to nudge the whole row of electrons to send it`s energy to the chemical factory within the algea, as if the electrons were parts in an Abakus. Trouble is that there is trillions of trillions of photons hitting the electrons in the Abakus at the same time, so it is not easy to find a path into the chemical factory that is not obstructed by electrons moving some other way. Nature however, has solved the problem more cleverly than anyone could imagine.

One of the weird properties of Quantum Physics is a phenomena called Superpositionn. As a result the electron can “test” many different paths of energy-transfer at the same time, choosing the most efficient way through the giant Abakus. In classical science numbers like that is unheard of. In comparison, the most advanced commercial solar panels can use about 20% of the available energy.

Similar projects are currently being tested for the purpose of producing all kinds other organic compounds, with the sun as the working engine. It seems that in spite of all our advanced technologies. Nature in it`s simplicity, is still teaching us lessons.

The Cloud Chamber – Making elementary particles come alive.

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2011 at 18:37

The cloud chamber is an incredibly simple solution to a very difficult problem. Since electrons and photons exist in abstract numbers and sizes it is impossible to see their actual physical shape. This type of particle-detection is one of the main tools that scientists use in their search for new particles and how they are constructed and related to each other.

What we are seeing in this video is the natural background radiation, and radioactive atoms spitting out alpha/beta particles. Inside the chamber there is supersaturated gas. And when the particles brush against the gas-molecules it ionizes them so that a strip of condensation forms along the particles trajectory. Like when you see vapor trails from airplanes in the sky.

The cloud chamber has been instrumental in the search for the origin of the Universe, and the particles that everything it is made of. To understand the very large, such as the Big Bang and the formation of solar systems and galaxies, scientists look for clues in the realm of the very small. The quantum world of elementary particles such as Photons and Electrons. To unravel the mysteries of the large, science first has to uncover the properties of the very small.

The most important use of the Cloud Chamber is together with particle accelerators, where atoms are sped up to near the speed of light, just to be smashed into smaller bits of matter. This is how physicists search for new clues about how matter works, and hence new knowledge about how the Universe works at large. And when these collisions occur, the Cloud Chamber has helped us to see how the new particles actually behave, so they can be distinguished from one another.

The biggest such endeavor to date, is the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, on the border between France and Switzerland. It is the most powerful particle accelerator ever built. It smashes led-ions together at almost the speed of light, a feat that requires unprecedented accuracy. Scientists working at LHC compares it to shooting two pin-needles at each other from 10 km apart, and have them meet head on. It`s circumference is 26,7 km, it sucks up 120 mw of power, and has a total cost of $ 9 billion.

Best science image 2010 – The HIV virus in action.

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2011 at 17:18

HIV attacking cell
A Russian team led by Ivan Konstantinov won the prize for best science image in 2010, for constructing a 3-d model of the HIV virus attacking a human cell.

According to statistics there are about 35 million people living with this deadly disease in the world. To try and imagine the 16,8 million HIV/AIDS orphans, and 1,8 million dead in 2009 , shows how grim this usurping little virus is. The Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the most burdened by the virus, with an estimated number of 22,4 million people infected, and every single day the virus finds its way into 6800 new people across the globe. In the future, images like these might be helpful in making a better treatment. The award is given by the American National Science Foundation and the scientific journal Science

The model is made up of several hundred thousand individual molecule-models, and the team had to analyze data from over a 100 scientific papers to construct an accurate image of how the virus looks in real life. It is visualized using the models of 17 different viral and cellular proteins . The membrane incorporates 160 thousand lipid molecules, of 8 different types, in the same proportions as in an actual HIV particle. On the surface of the cell one can see the small red strains of molecules as the HIV, latching on to the cells receptors, releasing it`s deadly payload into the cell`s nucleus. Making it into a factory producing HIV, until the host cell burst into thousands of new viruses, ready to infect new cells.

Richard P. Feynman on how one might see science.

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2011 at 21:05

Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize winning physicist and one of the mad scientists that gave us Quantum Physics.