LHC

Two scientists think that the LHC may be doomed by time-traveling particles. Image from CERN.

In the history of science, there have been more than a few bizarre, wacky, or unintentionally hilarious theories and studies (a few recent examples: one research team found that herring communicate via underwater flatulence; French physicists explored the profound mystery of why spaghetti does not break in half; and a Spanish research team recently investigated the “ultrasonic velocity of cheddar cheese”). But few theories are as strange as that recently set forth by two theoretical physicists regarding the planned restarting of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in December. Holger Bech Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya postulate that the LHC, which scientists hope will answer some of physics’ most basic mysteries, may be doomed to disaster – by time-traveling particles produced by the LHC itself.

One of the major goals of scientists at the LHC is to find the elusive “Higgs boson” – a hypothetical particle which physicists believe may be responsible for giving all other particles mass. Nielsen and Ninomiya postulate that the Higgs boson may in fact be so abhorrent to nature that if it were created in the LHC, it would cause a ripple in time such that the collider would be rendered unusable before making the particle – sort of like a person traveling in time and killing his mother before she gives birth to him. They argue that in fact this may have already happened – twice. Last fall, the LHC had to shut down following a major mechanical malfunction that occurred just days after its first-ever run. And in 1993, production on the United States Superconducting Supercollider, which was also intended to find the Higgs, was abruptly cancelled after billions of dollars had already been spent on its development.

If this all sounds to you like something out of the Twilight Zone, you’re not alone – Nielson and Ninomiya’s research is already being criticized. Meanwhile, plans proceed for the LHC to come back online later this fall. If you’re interested in finding out more about the LHC and the research that will be done there, mark your calendars for MPSC’s next Current Science Forum, “Restarting the Big Bang Machine,” where Dr. Reyco Henning will be discussing the LHC and what its operation could mean for science. The forum will be held Thursday, November 5 at 7:00 pm.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.

math imageThere’s something for you and every member of your family at Saturday’s Family Math Game Fest.  Become a life-size game piece on a chess board.  Compete in the triMATHlon.  Construct a house of cards.  Catch a special showing of Flatland.  Investigate lasers.  Build a network.  Simulate the spread of a virus.  Find math in nature…  Doesn’t this sound like fun?

There will many, many activities that will inspire you to think about math – and the connections between math and science – in new ways.

This free event will be held from 11am-3pm.  We’ll have activities for all ages throughout the building.

A special thanks to Chris, Becca, Emily and the UNC Math Club and UNC Women in Mathematics members for supporting this event.

Please join us!

Denise

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning. She's been training for the triMATHlon for weeks - so watch out!

Light Pollution

Light pollution can drastically affect the number of stars visible in the night sky. Click on the picture to enlarge. Picture from http://stellarium.org.

Step outside the average suburban home at night, and you’re likely to see the fluorescent glow of streetlights, soft yellow light streaming from the windows of homes, and security floodlighting. One thing you may not be able to see is the night sky. The light sources around us at night can scatter photons upwards into our atmosphere, creating light pollution that blocks our view of the stars – particularly those stars that are smaller, farther away from Earth, or dimmer. For many urban and suburban dwellers, the only Milky Way they’ll ever see comes in a brown candy wrapper.

Astronomers try to monitor levels of light pollution, because it has serious consequences for scientists’ ability to study our universe (Earth-bound telescopes, just like our eyes, are hampered by light pollution). Astronomers can’t be everywhere in the world, though, so to effectively keep tabs on levels of light pollution around the world, they need the help of ordinary citizens.

From October 9th through the 23rd, you can participate in the Great World Wide Star Count along with thousands of other amateur observers around the world. The idea is simple – everyone will observe the same constellation (if you’re in the Northern hemisphere, you will observe Cygnus) and count the number of stars that are visible. Then, observers will post their results online, where they can also view the project’s results. To participate, simply visit the Star Count website and download an activity guide.

If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between light and astronomy, look for the Science 360 show “Bring the Universe to Light,” coming back on the schedule at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center later this fall.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.

Tom MarshburnI’ve got to admit it. I meet some pretty cool people in my job. About three years ago, we hosted Tom Marshburn as a guest speaker during the “Destination: Space” premiere weekend activities. Tom is a NASA astronaut who happens to be a North Carolinian. He’s a Statesville native and a Davidson graduate.

I remember thinking at the time what a great role model Tom is for kids. As well as being an astronaut, he’s a medical doctor and seems like an all-around nice guy. He was unfailingly gracious — even as the kids in the audience grilled him about going to the bathroom in space!

Well, yesterday on the 40th anniversary on the moon landing, Tom was living his dream and making headlines. He went space walking as part of current shuttle mission. Way to go, Tom!

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations

We made page one of the Triangle Business Journal this week in a story about our renovation plans. I have some mixed emotions about that. On one hand, there’s the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity (Alex Rodriguez might beg to differ about now). On the other, I always fear jinxing plans by talking too publicly about them too early.

For those of you who are long-time followers of Morehead, you know that these plans have been years in the works.  This year, the project has made its way to the top of UNC-Chapel Hill’s capital projects priority list. I’m certainly biased, but I think it’s a great project — renovating one of the University’s iconic buildings and creating an infrastructure that supports Morehead’s role as a leader in science education in the process.

Of course, the catch is the timing. We’ve reached the top of the priority list just as the state faces the most difficult budget year in most of our lifetimes.  While the university and state government face serious budget cuts and private supporters grapple with reduced investment portfolios, there is still a lot of talk about the value of capital projects like ours as a tool for stimulating the economy.

And it’s true. This project could result in jobs today as well as support science education across the state that could result in jobs tomorrow. How does this all play out for Morehead? I don’t know, but I can tell you that we’re sensitive to the economic situation, appreciative of the support that we receive from all quarters and ready to put people to work if and when this capital project receives funding.

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations

16 Feb 2009
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My colleagues and I are on a lot of listservs for science center and museum professionals. An interesting item came through a few weeks ago on one of them. Someone on Capitol Hill saw fit to put language into and early draft of the stimulus bill that specifically prohibits stimulus dollars from going to zoos and aquariums. The zoos and aquariums were lumped in with a few other items like casinos and golf courses. I found that odd.

One can only assume that the writer believes that zoos and aquariums don’t stimulate the economy. However, the existence of venues like the Georgia Aquarium tends to contradict that assumption. The Georgia Aquarium cost $320 million to construct (jobs), employs more than 400 full- and part-time employees (jobs) and has helped spur a new wave of tourism-related growth in downtown Atlanta (more jobs). A Georgia State University study concluded that the aquarium’s impact on Atlanta’s economy would total between $1 billion and $1.5 billion during its first five years after opening in 2005. In addition, the aquarium encourages interest in science, a cornerstone of America’s 21st century economy.

All in all, I think we’ll be lucky if the stimulus package can produce projects with those kinds of benefits. By the way, that draft language prohibiting aquariums and zoos from being eligible for funding stayed in the bill that the House and Senate approved over the weekend and awaits President Obama’s signature.

Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations

African-American scientists and mathematicians have made tremendous contributions in their fields of study, but you may not be familiar with their names and stories. For example, did you know that Daniel Hale Williams (1856–1931) was the first doctor to perform open-heart surgery in the United States? And that Garrett Augustus Morgan (1877–1963) invented both the gas mask and the traffic signal?

Just last month, Katherine Johnson (born 1918) received a Science Lifetime Achievement Award for her work with NASA, where — as a former Virginia schoolteacher who became a Langley Research Center mathematician — she worked on the teams that calculated flight paths for John Glenn’s mission in 1962 and Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk in 1969.

And Robert Satcher (born 1965), who earned his doctorate in chemical engineering, is an astronaut for NASA today. He has been assigned as a mission specialist for STS-129, which is scheduled for launch in October of this year. Dr. Satcher is featured in Morehead’s “Destination: Space” planetarium show — come see him on the Star Theater dome!

Karen Kornegay is Morehead's marketing manager.


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