Our staff and volunteers nerd out on everything from from airplanes to ziggurats.

The Kilogram is Getting Heavier

Kilogram of ConservatoireAccording to a group of scientists from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the original kilogram may getting heavier. The International Prototype Kilogram (IPK or Le Grand K, as it is also known), a platinum and iridium cylinder, is the standard kilogram against which all other measurements of mass are set. It was built in 1875 and is stored in the International Bureau of Weights and Measurements in Paris.

Now, Peter Cumpson and Naoko Sano, two investigators from Newcastle University, believe that it may gaining weight. The team of scientists have performed a series of x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy in surfaces similar to the IPK, trying to determine the amount of carbon-based contaminants they contain. The investigators concluded that the contamination caused a slight increase in the surfaces’ weight. The same phenomenon is probably happening to the IPK, the scientists believe. Over time, the IPK may have gained a few micrograms.

Although this may seem insignificant, the truth is that only a few micrograms can have a significant impact in many fields. Besides, the replicas (40 replicas of the IKP where made in 1884 and stored in different locations around the world) may also be suffering from the same phenomenon but at different rates. Because of that, it is probable that currently the kilogram and its replicas have slightly different weights.

The scientists believe that it is possible to remove the contaminants from the IPK by giving it a suntan. They where successful at removing the carbonaceous contaminants from the surfaces they analyzed by exposing them to a mixture of UV and ozone Using the Theta-probe XPS machine.

The article describing the investigation is available in the Journal Metrologia.

Creative Commons Love francisco.j.gonzalez at Flickr.com

NERD ALERT! Canadian Researchers Debunk IQ Myth

digital-drugs-binaural-beatsA large online intelligence study tested the myth that intelligence quotient (IQ) accurately measures one’s intelligence. According to the results, researchers argue that they have debunked the myth. IQ tests do not accurately measure an individual’s level of intelligence. In fact IQ tests only measures a single component of an individual’s brain, without taking into account other functions of the brain.

A team from the University of Western Ontario, Canada released the study in the journal Neuron, in an article entitled, “Fractionating human intelligence.” There were 100,000 participants from all around the world who were tested in 12 cognitive tests. They measured memory, reasoning, attention, and planning abilities. A brain-scanning technique, known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), was used while the participants took the tests. Researchers found that each cognitive component was related to distinct circuits in the brain. This means that the brain has multiple specialized brain systems. In other words, specific regions of the brain specialize on a certain function of the body such as speaking, moving, and remembering.

A survey which followed the test measured an individual’s ability to perform different tasks. It showed that people’s performance was related to different traits such as anxiety.

“When we looked at the data, the bottom line is the whole concept of IQ – or of you having a higher IQ than me – is a myth,” said Dr. Adrian Owen, the study’s senior investigator of the research. “There is no such thing as a single measure of IQ or a measure of general intelligence.”

Creative Commons Love:  digitalbob8 on Flickr.comv

Nerd Alert! NASA: Voyager 1 Headed towards Interstellar Space

Saturn's "Hexagon"Looks like the future is closer than we thought. NASA announced early this month that its spacecraft, Voyager 1, has entered a new region at the edge of our solar system. This is known as the magnetic highway due to the charged particles from our sun’s magnetic field lines. This is believed to be the final region in our solar system before the Voyager reaches interstellar space, which is the space between stars, from the farthest end of our solar system to the edge of another solar system.

The Voyager is still within our solar system. Once the direction of the magnetic field lines changes, it can be assumed that it will have broken through to interstellar space. When it does, the Voyager 1 will be the first manmade object to leave our solar system.

“Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun’s environment, we now can taste what it’s like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway,” said Edward Stone, a Voyager project scientist. “We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it’s likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn’t what we expected, but we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Voyager.”

Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, along with its sister, Voyager 2. Voyager 1 is currently the most distant human-made object, located about 11 billion miles away from our sun.

When the Voyager does leave our solar system, what will it discover? A solar system similar to ours? A new planet with new life forms? One can only wait to find out!

Creative Commons Love:  Lights In The Dark on Flickr.com

Super Telescope will Explore the Edge of Space

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the world’s largest radio telescope, capable of detecting faint radiation from the Milky Way along with hundreds of millions of distant galaxies.

Here’s the run down. The SKA:

– Combines signals from 3,000 dishes across 1,900 miles, with a collection area of one square kilometer.
– Surveys the sky 10,000 times faster and with 50 times more sensitivity than ever before.
– Processes more data streams per week than the entire global Internet per year (that’s enough to fill 15 million 64 GB iPods every day) and computes 1,018 operations per second.

The telescope may help unveil mysteries about the evolution of galaxies and magnetic fields, shed light on black holes and dark matter, and allow astronomers to explore the universe as it was 13 billion years ago. The SKA is even expected to answer the question: do aliens truly exist?

Very Large Array telescopesThe two-billion-dollar project includes the South African MeerKAT, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP), and the Murchinson Widefield Array (MWA). Distant stations are located in New Zealand and nine African countries, including Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, and Zambia.

Some may argue that such a lavish science project has no relevance to developing countries.  However, many see it as a growth opportunity and an inspirational factor for youth, especially in South Africa.

“We’re trying to excite them–show them that math is easy; science is easy–so that, eventually, they could take up a bursary with us and become professional astronomers or engineers,” said SKA South Africa outreach leader Daphne Lekgwathi.

And that’s exactly what’s begun to happen. With the project recruiting over 700 scientists to work across multiple survey teams, funding has extended bursaries to 400 students so far.

Others are positive that the SKA could help propel the open access movement, since radio astronomy has been known to support “open skies” and open access policies. According to SKA SA site bid manager Adrian Tiplady, the telescope would “not only provide free access to research material…but it can also help to facilitate collaborations between researchers in developed and developing countries.”

Although the Square Kilometer Array will take a decade to complete, it’s already gearing up to be the most exciting project of this century.

Creative Commons Love: Karen and Brad Emerson on Flickr

A Diamond Planet: A Discovery that May Change the Way We See Planets

55 Cancri A recent study conducted by a team of investigators from Yale University in the US and from the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in France suggests the existence of a planet in the Milky Way made mostly out of carbon.

The planet, known as 55 Cancri e, has twice the Earth’s size and eight times its mass. It is located 40 light years away from Earth in the constellation of Cancer. It is one of the five planets orbiting the star 55 Cancri, which is visible to the naked eye from our planet.

The planet has a hyperspeed orbit, only 18 hours, and a temperature of 2,150 degrees Celsius (13,900 degrees Fahrenheit).

The scientists conducting the investigation believe the planet has a unique constitution, very different from the Earth’s. They believe the planet is made mostly by iron, silicon carbide, carbon, and other silicates. They estimate that with such an amount of carbon in the planet, at least one-third of its mass could be diamond (one of the forms of stable carbon)

This discovery may change the way astrophysicists understand planetary systems and their evolution. According to the lead author of the research, Nikku Madhusudhan, “This is the first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth’s,” and this means that the distant rocky planets can no longer be assumed to have chemical constituents and atmospheres similar to Earth’s. A carbon-rich composition could also influence the planet’s thermal evolution and plate tectonics with several implications to its eventual life forms.

The study has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Creative Commons Love: Forsetius at Flickr.com

Particle Physics Bares All, Publishers Blush

OpenCourseWare All Grown Up: Hal Abelson at the RIT GCCIS Dean's Lecture SeriesThe Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) announced last week that 90% of particle physics articles will soon be available for free. Publication costs will be covered by a collection of libraries, library consortia, research institutions, and funding agencies, making this a big move towards throwing off the yoke of academic publishing costs.

For some time now, the academic world has been quietly frustrated by the costs that surround publishing scientific findings. Earlier this year, Harvard sent a letter to publishers stating, “Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive.” A full 10% of Harvard Library’s acquisition budget goes entirely to journals; “Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices.”

An annual subscription to the chemistry journal Tetrahedron will cost your University $20,269 and Journal of Mathematical Sciences rings up at $20,100. Those are for one institution to access one journal for one year. The authors don’t get paid for the articles. The “peers” who make the magic of peer review don’t get paid. Printing costs surely make up some of the cost, but those haven’t gone up by 145% in the last 6 years and could probably be cast aside in the wake of the pdf. So then, where does all this money go?

Well, it turns out those subscription costs serve the invaluable service of making publishers rich. In 2011, the world’s largest publisher of academic journals, Elsevier, made a profit of $1.2 billion off of only $3.38 billion in revenues, a profit margin of over 35 percent. Compare that with Apple’s 2011 profit margins which hovered around 25 percent.

The Large Hadron Collider/ATLAS at CERN

The most compelling argument against open content is that artists (or researchers, in this case) need revenue from their creations to support them to create more. This argument is utterly hollow in respect to academic publications where researchers write for free — even more so now that we can largely replace the role of publishing companies with a bit of teamwork and HTML.

What makes matters worse is that restricting articles actually hurts the researchers who write them. Academics don’t measure their value by counting the zeroes in their bank account but by the citations on their CVs. High cost of access means fewer readers. Fewer readers means fewer citations. Fewer citations means smaller CVs, not to mention a blockage of knowledge and progress.

SCOAP3 has made a big move for the academic world. While there are currently options available for academics to publish their articles openly, such as the PLOS ONE, the publication expense usually falls on the shoulders of the researcher. Costs can be high, anywhere from $1350 to $2900 depending on the subject, which seems to change the problem rather than fix it. The current deal has the money coming from the same places — institutions that would likely be buying access to the articles anyway – -but provides it upfront, allowing the articles to be shared openly, for free.

We like that.

Creative Commons Love: Opensourceway and Image Editor at Flickr.com

NERD ALERT! New Record for World’s Largest Crocodile

In the Philippines, a monster crocodile named Lolong is the world’s biggest croc, beating out the previous Guinness Book of World Records holder by more than two feet and clocking in at a super-scary  20.24 feet (6.17 meters) long. Lolong weighs 2,370 pounds (1,075-kilograms).

The stuff of b-grade horror movies (Lake Placid, anyone?), Lolong is suspected of having killed two people and of having injured several others. But not to worry! The massive saltwater reptile was taken into custody in September 2011 and is no longer running wild.

For the Guinness Book of World Records title, Lolong beat out an Australian saltwater croc who was only 17.97 feet (5.48 meters) long.

Check out Lolong’s Capture:

Creative Commons Love: William Warby at Flickr.com

NERD ALERT! Plagiarized Dissertation Turned Into Artsy Map

Following our recent article on the ghostwritten essay boom, I’d like to share this awesome graphic.  It looks like bar codes or a super-expensive area rug, but it’s actually the visualization of completely and secondarily plagiarized text from the body and footnotes of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s doctoral dissertation. In March 2011, Guttenberg resigned as the Defense Minister of Germany due to allegations that he copied passages in his analysis of U.S./E.U. constitutional law at the University of Bayreuth. Although the ex-minister initially claimed the striking resemblance between his paper and others was “unintentional,” a crowd-sourced effort proved him dishonest. Then, visualization architect Gregor Aisch was inspired to create a map showing which parts of his dissertation were lifted. More power to the people!

For the meaning of the colors and numbers above, check out FlowingData.

Nerd Alert! First Ever Intercontinental Journey By Sun-Powered Airplane

Visit to Solar Impulse, the Zero Fuel Airplane

Look! No Fuel Tanks!

On May 31, 2012, the solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse completed its first manned intercontinental journey, flying 19 hours from Spain to Morocco, a distance of 830 kilometers.

The plane’s next big trip? Flying around the world in 2014.

The aircraft was designed by André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard.

For more info, continue reading here.

Creative Commons Love: European Parliament on Flickr.com




Nerd Alert! Once in a Lifetime Chance to See Venus Pass Before the Sun

Venus transitDepending on where you are in the world, on June 5th or 6th, you might get to see Venus pass between Earth and the Sun. The planet will look like a “tiny” (in comparison) black dot against our very own star. The last time this celestial event took place was more than a century ago, and the occurrence is so rare that it’s only happened 53 times since the year 2000 BC. The next scheduled viewing? December… 2117.

To see the event, you’ll want some protective eye gear and to check here for more details about when to look up and for how long.

Creative Commons Love: alwaysmnky at Flickr.com