Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Large Hadron Collider is at work!

The news is everywhere, and very exciting, indeed, as the world's largest atom smasher hurls proton beams at a mind-numbing energy level of 7 trillion electron volts.  I can't fathom what that really means. The announcement on NPR's Morning Edition was positively jubilant yesterday morning, and today's LA Times gives an account the day after. The discussion of dark energy, dark matter, Higgs Boson, and possibly teeny tiny black holes that will exist for mere fractions of a second is fascinating. 

If you'd like an easy to understand, very calm visual explanation of what is going on inside the 27 kilometer underground ring (big enough to encircle Chicago), take a few minutes to visit with Northwestern associate professor Michael Schmit [video]. 

We have books, too (of course!), that will teach much more.  Here are two to start with:
The quantum frontier : the large hadron collider / Don Lincoln ; foreword by Leon Lederman. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009

Deep down things : the breathtaking beauty of particle physics / Bruce A. Schumm. Baltimore, Md. : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring blooms outside the Science Center

Spring has arrived outside the science library south windows!  And nary a soul around to witness the cheerful blooms this week of Spring Break.

The laptop cabinet is full, the iMacs silent, the printer queues empty, not ONE reserve item checked out... we are well on our way to having the quietest day ever during an academic year.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Michael Moore publication in PNAS: phylogenetic analysis of plastid genes

A publication by Assistant Professor of Biology Michael Moore appeared in the March 9 issue of PNAS:
Moore MJ, Soltis PS, Bell CD, Burleigh JG, Soltis DE. 2010. Phylogenetic analysis of 83 plastid genes further resolves the early diversification of eudicots. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107(10):4623-8
This is an Open Access article.

abbreviated abstract:
Phylogenetic analyses of 83 protein-coding and rRNA genes from the plastid genome for 86 species of seed plants, including new sequences from 25 eudicots, indicate that soon after its origin, Pentapetalae diverged into three clades... Molecular dating analyses suggest that the major lineages within both superrosids and superasterids arose in as little as 5 million years. This phylogenetic hypothesis provides a crucial historical framework for future studies aimed at elucidating the underlying causes of the morphological and species diversity in Pentapetalae.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

America's Energy Future: Technology and Transformation

The full content of this report is now available online from the National Academies Press.

Also visit the new web site from the National Academies: What You Need to Know About Energy.

The Great Squeeze: Surviving the Human Project

Just ordered for the Science Library. Contact us if you'd like to be notified when it is available.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More volumes in the Animal series received, covering art, culture, history, biology and more.

We received 13 more volumes in Animal, which is such a delightful series of little books.  Not strictly biological in focus, though most of them are classified within the zoology area of the collection, "each book in the series takes a different animal and examines its role in history around the world. The importance of mythology, religion and science are described as is the history of food, the trade in animals and their products, pets, exhibition, film and photography, and their roles in the artistic and literary imagination."

They are just the antidote for anyone who needs a break from midterms!  Take one with you for Spring Break.  It will fit in any corner of your backpack or suitcase.  Find them all on OBIS with the Title search: Animal (Reaktion Books).  [see all the new books on display]

Friday, March 19, 2010

Zeb Page publication in Chemical Geology

Recent publication by Assistant Professor of Geology Zeb Page, as indexed in ISI Web of Science:

Page, F. Zeb; Kita, Noriko T.; Valley, John W.
Ion microprobe analysis of oxygen isotopes in garnets of complex chemistry.
CHEMICAL GEOLOGY 270 (1-4): 9-19 FEB 15 2010  [download the pdf from the OhioLINK EJC]

This study began while Page was a post-doctoral fellow at Univ. of Wisconsin, and continued with the use of the scanning electron microscope at Oberlin College.  The data suggest that the diffusion rate of oxygen in garnet at 750 °C, as determined by this method, indicate that the "peak of regional metamorphism in the NE Adirondack Highlands was significantly faster than has previously been assumed."
Publisher:  Elsevier

Friday, March 12, 2010

New Publication from the Oertel Lab: faculty and student co-authors

ISI Web of Science has just indexed this article, by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Catherine Oertel and three of her research students (Iliff and Moore graduated in 2009):

Tian, HF; Iliff, HA; Moore, LJ; Oertel, CM.  Structure and Polymorphism in M(ethylenediamine)(3)MoS4 (M = Mn, Co, Ni).  CRYSTAL GROWTH & DESIGN 10 (2): 669-675 FEB 2010

Authors' full names:
Tian, Hengfeng; Iliff, Hadley A.; Moore, Lee J.; Oertel, Catherine M.

[Table of Contents for the February issue, at American Chemical Society Publications site]

Drought in China Continues

This arrived today in my inbox, from SCIENCE News This Week:

Severe Drought Puts Spotlight on Chinese Dams
Richard Stone

"Southwest China's monsoon-driven climate doesn't bring much precipitation in autumn and winter. But this year's dry season—coupled with a late start and early end to last year's rainy season—has left the region parched. Environmental groups in Thailand and elsewhere lay at least part of the blame on China's doorstep. They claim that China's management of a series of dams on the Lancang River has aggravated the unfolding crisis. Yet Chinese engineers and some other scientists say the criticism is unfounded."

The news article concludes:
"Things may get worse due to climate change. After examining weather and tree ring data, Fan Ze-xin, a tree physiologist at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, has found that in the past 40 years Yunnan has grown warmer and drier—a trend that started long before the dams were built. In a nature reserve near the botanical garden, he grabs leaves from a seedling; dry as parchment, they disintegrate. "Some of these leaves are fresh," Fan says. "I haven't seen it as bad as this.""

Read more:
Science 12 March 2010. Vol. 327. no. 5971, p. 1311
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5971.1311
Sign up for the e-newsletter from Science.

Some relevant titles in the library's collection, each including information on drought or desertification in China:
Feb. 2009 News story from the BBC : Nearly 4 million people were said to suffer from water shortages in the prolonged drought, leading the government to declare a state of emergency more than a year ago.  More recently, 6 million people were reported as being affected by the drought [Straits Times, Singapore, March 3, 2010]

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Greatest environmental threat? Ocean acidification.

When asked what is the greatest single environmental threat worldwide, Director of the USGS Marcia McNutt paused for reflection and then answered unequivocally "ocean acidification."  Her response came after a thorough plenary address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, during which she had recounted alarming trends in ocean shoreline retreat, rising sea level and the drowning of shoreline wetland areas, expansion of hypoxia or dead zones where rivers meet the oceans, and the deleterious effects of mercury in oceanic environments.  Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are to blame for the increasing acidity of ocean waters, and the impact on living organisms is compounded by rising temperature, said McNutt. 

Why should you care?  The oceans cover 71% of earth's surface and are home to tens of thousands of species, a large percentage of which are still to be described.  The inter-dependencies of oceanic ecosystems make them especially vulnerable to negative inputs anywhere in the world's seas and oceans.  Scientists can hardly fathom the untold loss in biodiversity and the concomitant impact on species that rely on healthy oceans for food and breeding.  Increasing acidity has both biological and physical impacts, including altering sound and light propagation qualities of ocean water (Doney, et al., introductory essay to Oceanography, Dec. 2009)

Learn more with the freely accessible special issue of Oceanography (Dec. 2009).   For a compelling summary of why a healthy ocean matters, read Carolyn Thoroughgood's letter (The Oceanography Society President's Letter, a regular column of Oceanography).

More information:  The Ocean Acidification Network.
Recent book in the Main Library:  Seasick: ocean change and the extinction of life / Alanna Mitchell.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Interviews with Michael Mann and Judith Curry in Discover

The April issue of Discover includes personal interviews with Judith Curry, chair of the Georgia Tech School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Michael Mann, director of Pennsylvania State University's Earth System Science Center.  Most striking in my mind was Mann's observation, "Right now, there's the largest disconnect that has ever existed between the confidence that we have scientifically and where the public is, at least in the United States."  Ironically, just as public confidence in climatology is waning, Mann points out that climate scientists are now able to provide better assessments of current climate trends in perspective of what has happened in the past.  Scientists have more information on how climate systems are evolving in response to human impact, and more powerful supercomputers able to run more accurate climate models.  The science is more certain as public opinion swings toward uncertainty.

This is a frightening trend, says Mann, and reflects a reversal of significant factors that made 2006 a peak year in terms of public awareness in and acknowledgment that global warming was occurring and could be attributed, in part, to anthropogenic causes.  He noted, "Some people say that climate change became too closely associated with a partisan political figure and that polarized the debate.  We've had a cold winter.  We've got a bad economy.  It's a bad time to be talking about major changes in our energy economy that some argue could be costly."

Vacillating public opinion in matters of critical environmental threats presents a huge challenge for policy makers, scientists and those of us who want future generations to live peaceably in a healthy environment (and isn't that is all of us?).  As was emphasized in several sessions at the 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, the cultures of scientific researchers, economists, politicians and lobbyists operate with different expectations and values.  The three-legged stool of "Science, Politics, and the Public" is mighty unsteady if the public lacks scientific literacy, and adopts a debate mentality rather than informed and reasoned dialogue.  Debate is intended to press one's own point of view, while dialogue in intended to increase common understanding.  We could use much more of the latter.

Read the interviews with Mann and Curry on pages 56-62 of the April issue, now in the Science Library or your neighborhood bookstore. [Text of the interviews is not freely accessible at the Discover web site although other comments from Mann are available in the Discover blogs.] Mann also gives important context to the leaked emails to and from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia [more at RealClimate].
Discover Magazine archives

Friday, March 05, 2010

International Women's Day : Focus on Women Scientists

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research,will observe International Women's Day (March 8) by putting women in charge of nearly all operations of the world's largest physics laboratory.  You can watch live action in the control rooms on Monday March 8, as CERN celebrates the "progress of women in particle physics."  This celebration developed out of a proposal from a physicist at Indiana University [read the IU Press Release].

UNESCO will celebrate International Women's Day with a Roundtable on Women in Science: Challenges Ahead.

The National Institutes of Health will offer a panel discussion titled International Women Scientists at NIH: Their Research and Career Paths.

You can celebrate the achievements of international women in science from a historical perspective with this online biographical dictionary: 

International Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary to 1950 / Catharine M. C. Haines and Helen M. Stevens. ABC-CLIO, Inc.

and focus on just women scientists who were Nobel Laureates (as of 1998) with this title:
Nobel Prize women in science : their lives, struggles, and momentous discoveries / Sharon Bertsch McGrayne. Washington, D.C. : Joseph Henry Press, c1998.

The Nobel Prize web site offers biographies of all of the Nobel Laureates, and a compiled list of all women Nobel Prize winners.