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Quantumaniac is where it’s at - and by ‘it’ I mean awesome.

Over here I post a ton of physics / math / general interesting posts in an attempt to make your brain feel good. My aim is to be as informative as possible, all while posting fascinating things that hopefully enlighten us both a little to the mysteries of our truly wondrous universe(s?). Plus, how would you know if the blog exists or not unless you observe it? Boom, just pulled the Schrödinger’s cat card. Now you have to check it out - trust me, it said so in an equation somewhere.

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Pro Tip: Wear Black Clothes to Keep Cool, Not White
We’ve all heard the argument. “Wear white during hot, sunny weather because it will keep you cool.” Nope. In fact, the truth is found in the exact opposite - black clothing keeps you the coolest! 
What our eyes perceive as white is actually the combination of all possible visible light. The white clothing will inevitably reflect the great majority of wavelengths coming into it. Nothing groundbreaking here, that’s common knowledge. But it’s only half of the truth! 
Heat is not just coming from the sun, but also from our own sweating, hot (maybe in more ways than one) body. This heat source is also a hell of a lot closer than the sun. When wearing white clothing, all of the wavelengths of heat coming from one’s body are reflected right back! But when wearing black, it absorbs everything coming from the body. With the help of just a bit of wind to ‘clear’ the absorbed heat, black clothing (with identical conditions of course - thickness of clothes and what not) is the far better choice to keep cool! 

Pro Tip: Wear Black Clothes to Keep Cool, Not White

We’ve all heard the argument. “Wear white during hot, sunny weather because it will keep you cool.” Nope. In fact, the truth is found in the exact opposite - black clothing keeps you the coolest! 

What our eyes perceive as white is actually the combination of all possible visible light. The white clothing will inevitably reflect the great majority of wavelengths coming into it. Nothing groundbreaking here, that’s common knowledge. But it’s only half of the truth! 

Heat is not just coming from the sun, but also from our own sweating, hot (maybe in more ways than one) body. This heat source is also a hell of a lot closer than the sun. When wearing white clothing, all of the wavelengths of heat coming from one’s body are reflected right back! But when wearing black, it absorbs everything coming from the body. With the help of just a bit of wind to ‘clear’ the absorbed heat, black clothing (with identical conditions of course - thickness of clothes and what not) is the far better choice to keep cool! 

Hubble Watches Star Clusters On a Collision Course

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have caught two clusters full of massive stars that may be in the early stages of merging. The clusters are 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy to our Milky Way.

What at first was thought to be only one cluster in the core of the massive star-forming region 30 Doradus (also known as the Tarantula Nebula) has been found to be a composite of two clusters that differ in age by about one million years.

The entire 30 Doradus complex has been an active star-forming region for 25 million years, and it is currently unknown how much longer this region can continue creating new stars. Smaller systems that merge into larger ones could help to explain the origin of some of the largest known star clusters.

Lead scientist Elena Sabbi of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., and her team began looking at the area while searching for runaway stars, fast-moving stars that have been kicked out of their stellar nurseries where they first formed. “Stars are supposed to form in clusters, but there are many young stars outside 30 Doradus that could not have formed where they are; they may have been ejected at very high velocity from 30 Doradus itself,” Sabbi said.

She then noticed something unusual about the cluster when looking at the distribution of the low-mass stars detected by Hubble. It is not spherical, as was expected, but has features somewhat similar to the shape of two merging galaxies where their shapes are elongated by the tidal pull of gravity. Hubble’s circumstantial evidence for the impending merger comes from seeing an elongated structure in one of the clusters, and from measuring a different age between the two clusters.

According to some models, the giant gas clouds out of which star clusters form may fragment into smaller pieces. Once these small pieces precipitate stars, they might then interact and merge to become a bigger system. This interaction is what Sabbi and her team think they are observing in 30 Doradus.

Also, there are an unusually large number of high-velocity stars around 30 Doradus. Astronomers believe that these stars, often called “runaway stars” were expelled from the core of 30 Doradus as the result of dynamical interactions. These interactions are very common during a process called core collapse, in which more-massive stars sink to the center of a cluster by dynamical interactions with lower-mass stars. When many massive stars have reached the core, the core becomes unstable and these massive stars start ejecting each other from the cluster.

The big cluster R136 in the center of the 30 Doradus region is too young to have already experienced a core collapse. However, since in smaller systems the core collapse is much faster, the large number of runaway stars that has been found in the 30 Doradus region can be better explained if a small cluster has merged into R136.

Follow-up studies will look at the area in more detail and on a larger scale to see if any more clusters might be interacting with the ones observed. In particular, the infrared sensitivity of NASA’s planned James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will allow astronomers to look deep into the regions of the Tarantula Nebula that are obscured in visible-light photographs. In these areas cooler and dimmer stars are hidden from view inside cocoons of dust. Webb will better reveal the underlying population of stars in the nebula.

(Source: sciencedaily.com)

Photos of Curiosity on Mars and the Environment

These photos taken from space shows of Curiosity’s landing site and the stunning environment that the rover may explore over the coming year on Mars.

Ever since Curiosity landed last week, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been snapping pics ofthe rover from space. This latest shot, taken using the satellite’s HiRISE camera, is the first to capture Curiosity and the surrounding environs in vivid (false) color.

The northernmost part of the image, representing the area nearest to Curiosity, is fairly flat and uniform. The rover itself can be seen sitting in a discolored spot, surrounded by dust that was blasted when the sky crane’s rockets brought Curiosity down for a safe landing.

Farther south are enormous sand dunes and various geologic features that the rover may visit as it travels to the base of its eventual target: Mount Sharp. These colorful outcrops include hydrated minerals, clays, and sulfates that will help scientists unravel the complex watery history of Mars. Curiosity may be sitting atop similarly interesting features right now but dust obscures their view from orbit. With the rover on the Martian surface, geologists are eager to start probing that environment.

A person in orbit around Mars would not see this area in these colors — in reality the bluish regions are more of a gray color. HiRISE took the photo in infrared wavelengths, and the image was then enhanced to bring out subtle differences. Rocks tend to be bluer while dusty regions are redder. As well, rougher surface materials are redder, showing off the different textures that Curiosity may visit.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona [Full-resolution 1500 x 13400 pixels]

In gymnastics, the giant is a move gymnasts use on the high bar to increase their rotational speed. This allows the gymnast to do something else, usually an amazing release or dismount.

So, just how does this move work? Let me start with something other than a gymnast. Consider a stick that is hinged on one side so it can move in a circle like a gymnast. Since this is a rigid stick, certain things will happen. First, as it rotates down it will increase in rotational speed because energy is conserved. The lower the stick in its rotation, the lower its gravitational potential energy and the greater its kinetic energy (and speed).

If the stick starts from a rest, it will end at rest at the same height with the same amount of potential energy. Actually, it wouldn’t go quite as high because of frictional forces. Of course, this is not what you want as a gymnast. You want to go higher (or all the way around) and increase your angular speed. But how?

Let’s take a look at a giant. Here is Danell Leyva’s high bar routine from the 2012 Olympic Trials:

The nice thing about the men’s bar instead of the women’s bar is you don’t have a lower bar getting in the way. When women do the giant, they must adjust their legs so they don’t hit the lower bar. This makes it more complicated to explore just what is happening.

It should be clear that if you want to swing higher or faster, you must add energy to the system (in this case, the Earth and the gymnast). One way to add energy is to exert a force as the center of mass moves. In general, the work done on an object can be calculated as:

Here d is the distance over which the object (the center of mass in this case) moves and θ is the angle between the force and the direction of motion of the object.

As the gymnast moves up after reaching the lowest point, he bends his legs up just a bit. This moves the center of mass a bit closer to the center of rotation. Here are two images from Danell’s routine to illustrate:

Moving the center of mass closer to the bar isn’t easy. In this position, the gymnast doesn’t have to fight gravity so much since he is almost horizontal. However, because the center of mass is moving in a circle, there does need to be a force pulling it toward the center of rotation. If you want to get it closer, you need to pull even more. So, here is your increase in energy.

The gymnast has to do work (on himself — I know that sounds odd) to move the center of mass closer to point of rotation. This energy comes from the gymnast’s muscles and goes into the rotational kinetic energy of his motion.

Of course, if the gymnast stayed in this bent leg position, he would gain some rotation speed on that one giant. But what if he wants to continue to build up speed? He must “reset” his position. To reset and still add energy, he does this at the highest point. Here he again needs to do work on the system since he is raising the center of mass. Now he is back in the position he started in, only going a little bit faster.

Here is a plot of the magnitude of the velocity for the gymnast’s center of mass as a function of time.

For each successive time he gets to the bottom position in his giant, he is going just a little bit faster. This faster speed is just what Danell Leyva needs in order to do his double layout release move and still have time to catch the bar.

Incredible Images From Space Shows Curiosity on Surface of Mars

Images:

1) The full portrait of Curiosity and its components.

2) The Curioisity rover on the surface.

3) The rover’s parachute.

4) The crashed sky crane. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Stunning photographs from space shows NASA’s Curiosity rover sitting safely on the surface of Mars. Taken with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera, the picture captures incredible details of the surface along with the robotic components that helped Curiosity stick its landing.

“This is like the crime scene photo here,” said Sarah Milkovich, HiRISE investigation scientist during a NASA press conference Aug. 7.

Zooming in close, black streaks can be seen where the rover’s rockets disturbed bright surface dust, revealing darker soil underneath. Researchers have used these streak patterns to infer Curiosity’s orientation, which matches up nicely with information from the rover’s first pictures on the surface.

Down and to the right is the rover’s heat shield, which protected the probe as it plummeted through the Martian atmosphere. It is sitting about 4000 feet from Curiosity on the surface. The backshell and parachute — over to the lower left in the image — sit about 2000 feet from the rover while the sky crane, which gently lowered the rover to the ground, is above and to the left about 2100 feet from Curiosity. NASA engineers will continue poring over the photo for clues of exactly how Curiosity’s complex landing sequence unfolded.

How Much are Olympic Gold Medals Worth?

As far as the value of the raw materials in them, this varies from Olympiad to Olympiad.  For the current 2012 Olympics in London, the medals are the largest of any in Olympic history, weighing in at 400g for the gold medal.  Of this 400g, 394g is sterling silver (364.45g silver / 29.55g copper) with 6g of 24 karat gold plating.  At the current going rate for gold and silver, this means a gold medal in the London Olympics is worth about $624, with $304 of the value coming from the gold and about $320 coming from the sterling silver.

Of course, athletes can often get much more than this selling the medals on the open market, particularly for momentous medals, like the “Miracle on Ice” 1980 men’s U.S. hockey team gold medal.  Mark Wells, a member of that team, auctioned his medal off in 2012 and received $310,700 for it, which he needed to help pay for medical treatment.

Most auctioned medals don’t go for nearly this much, though.  For instance, Anthony Ervin’s 50 meter freestyle gold medal won in 2000, even with all proceeds going to the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, only sold for $17,100.  John Konrads’ 1500 meter freestyle gold medal won in 1960 only sold for $11,250 in 2011.  This is a great return in terms of what the raw value of the materials are worth, but certainly nowhere close to Mark Wells’ medal.

Gold medals in the Olympics weren’t always made mostly of silver.  Before the 1912 Olympics, they were made of solid gold.  However, they tended to be much smaller than modern medals.  For instance, the 1900 Paris gold medals were only 3.2 mm thick, with a 59 mm diameter, weighing just 53g.  For perspective, the London 2012 medals are 7 mm thick, with a diameter of 85 mm and, as mentioned, weigh 400g.  The 1900 Paris gold medals at today’s value of gold are worth about $2685.  For the 1912 games in Stockholm, the last year the gold medals were made of solid gold, the value of the gold medals at current prices of gold would be $1207.86.

If the current 2012 Olympic gold medals were made out of solid gold, they’d be worth about $20,266 each.  This may seem do-able, considering how much money the Olympics brings in, until you consider just how many medals are awarded during each summer Olympics.  For instance, in these 2012 Olympics, about 4,700 medals will be given out, so over 1500 gold medals. At $20,266 each, that would be just shy of $32 million dollars for the gold medal materials alone.

As it is, with the current gold medals having about $624 worth of materials, then $330 for the silver medals (93% silver, 7% copper), and $4.70 for the bronze (which are mostly made of copper, with a very small amount of zinc and tin), about $1.5 million is still being spent on the materials alone for the medals awarded, not to mention the cost of minting them.

Bonus Facts:

  • Strict guidelines are set for the minting of Olympic medals.  For instance, for gold medals the silver must be 92.5% pure silver (with 7.5% copper), and they must include at least 6g of gold for plating the medal.  They also must be at least 3mm thick and 60mm in diameter.
  • Nobel Prize gold medals really are made of mostly gold.  Today they are made with 24 karat gold plating and 18 karat green gold (gold with a small amount of silver) for the rest.  Before 1980, they were made from 23 karat gold.
  • The practice of giving out gold and silver medals is thought to have its origins with the military.  Before a standard set of military awards were created, it was common to reward soldiers (in a variety of militaries throughout the world) for special achievements by giving them gold and silver medals.  For instance, in the United States, special awards were given to commanding officers in the form of gold medals and the officers under that commander would receive silver medals.
  • The gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, being smaller than the current medals (Barcelona medals at 9.8 mm thick, 70 mm in diameter, weighing 231g) are only worth about $484 at the current price of gold and silver.

(Source: todayifoundout.com)

Do Sports Drinks like Gatorade Really Work? 

Just in time for the Summer Olympics in London, a top science journal has issued a blistering indictment of the sports drink industry. According to the series of reports from BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal), the makers of drinks like Gatorade and Powerade have spent millions in research and marketing in recent decades to persuade sports and medical professionals, not to mention the rest of us suckers, that a primal instinct—the sensation of thirst—is an unreliable guide for deciding when to drink. We’ve also been battered with the notion that boring old water is just not good enough for preventing dehydration.

I’ve been as susceptible to this scam as anyone else; I knew, or thought I knew, that if I’m thirsty after my half-hour go-round on the elliptical trainer, it means I was underhydrated to begin with. So for years I’ve been trying to remember to ignore my lack of thirst and make myself drink before working out. Not any more.

The BMJ's package of seven papers on sports performance products packs a collective wallop. The centerpiece is a well-reported investigation of the long-standing financial ties between the makers of Gatorade (PepsiCo), Powerade (Coca-Cola, an official Olympic sponsor), and Lucozaid (GlaxoSmithKline) with sports associations, medical groups, and academic researchers. It should come as no great surprise that the findings and recommendations that have emerged through these affiliations have tended to include alarming warnings about dehydration and electrolyte imbalance—warnings that conveniently promote the financial interests of the corporate sponsors. 

And who knew there was something called the Gatorade Sports Science Institute? According to the BMJ investigation, “one of GSSI’s greatest successes was to undermine the idea that the body has a perfectly good homeostatic mechanism for detecting and responding to dehydration—thirst.” The article quotes the institute’s director as having declared, based on little reliable evidence, that “the human thirst mechanism is an inaccurate short-term indicator of fluid needs.”

Another study in the BMJ package finds that the European Food Safety Authority, which is authorized to assess health claims in food labels and ads, has relied on a seriously flawed review process in approving statements related to sports drinks. A third study reports that hundreds of performance claims made on websites about sports products, including nutritional supplements and training equipment as well as drinks, are largely based on questionable data, and sometimes no apparent data at all. One overall theme emerging from the various papers is that much of the research cited was conducted with elite and endurance athletes, who have specific nutritional and training needs; any such findings, however, should not be presumed to hold for the vast majority of those who engage in physical activity.

Critics have long blasted sports drinks as being loaded with calories and unnecessary ingredients. (Not to mention concerns about the environmental costs of producing, shipping, and discarding all those millions of plastic bottles.) Yet the product category represents a lucrative and growing market, with US sales of about $1.6 billion a year, according to the BMJ. In fact, Powerade is the official sports drink of the London Olympics, and Coca-Cola is hyping the brand with a campaign featuring top-tier athletes.

The BMJ papers address two related but distinct questions: Should people who exercise seek to proactively replace fluids lost, or can they rely on thirst to guide them during and after physical activity? And when they rehydrate, do they need all the salts, sugars, and other ingredients dumped into sports drinks, or is water fine? The correct answers are: best to rely on thirst, and water is fine. All that stuff about replacing electrolytes and so on you’ve been hearing all these years? Never mind! The evidence doesn’t support it.

Overhydration presents a far greater risk of serious complications, and even death, than dehydration.

In a commentary accompanying the investigations in the journal, Timothy Noakes, chair of sports science at the University of Cape Town, points out that overhydration presents a far greater risk of serious complications, and even death, than dehydration. Moreover, he notes, the notion that fluid and electrolytes must be immediately replaced is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of our past as “long distance persistence hunters” in arid regions of Africa.

"Humans do not regulate fluid balance on a moment to moment basis," Noakes writes. "Because of our evolutionary history, we are delayed drinkers and correct the fluid deficits generated by exercise at, for example, the next meal, when the electrolyte (principally sodium but also potassium) deficits are also corrected…People optimize their hydration status by drinking according to the dictates of thirst. Over the past 40 years humans have been misled—mainly by the marketing departments of companies selling sports drinks—to believe that they need to drink to stay ‘ahead of thirst’ to be optimally hydrated."

(Source: alternet.org)

Chemistry On Mars

The Mars Science Laboratory will be seeking clues to the planetary puzzle about life on Mars, the Curiosity rover is one of the best-outfitted chemistry missions ever. Scientists say Curiosity is the next best thing to launching a team of trained chemists to Mars’ surface.

“The Mars Science Laboratory mission has the goal of understanding whether its landing site on Mars was ever a habitable environment, a place that could have supported microbial life,” says MSL Deputy Project Scientist, Ashwin Vasavada, who provides a look “under the hood” in this informative video from the American Chemical Society.

“Curiosity is really a geochemical experiment, and a whole laboratory of chemical equipment is on the rover,” says Vasavada. “It will drill into rocks, and analyze material from those rocks with sophisticated instruments.”

Curiosity will drive around the landing site at Gale Crater and sample the soil, layer by layer, to piece together the history of Mars, trying to determine if and when the planet went from a wetter, warmer world to its current cold and dry conditions.

The payload includes mast-mounted instruments to survey the surroundings and assess potential sampling targets from a distance, and there are also instruments on Curiosity’s robotic arm for close-up inspections. Laboratory instruments inside the rover will analyze samples from rocks, soils and the atmosphere.

The two instruments on the mast are a high-definition imaging system, and a laser-equipped, spectrum-reading camera called ChemCam that can hit a rock with a special laser beam, and using Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy, can observe the light emitted from the laser’s spark and analyze it with the spectrometer to understand the chemical composition of the soil and rock on Mars.

What Do Obama and Romney Know about Science? And Why It Matters
Scientific American is partnering with the folks at ScienceDebate.org and more than a dozen leading science and engineering organizations to try to inject more discussion about critical science issues into the U.S. presidential election campaign this year. As part of that effort, we will be asking the two main presidential candidates—Barack Obama and Mitt Romney—to respond to 14 questions (listed below) on some of the biggest scientific and technological challenges facing the U.S. in the near future. 
Why is Scientific American taking this step? If you look beyond the made-up controversies that seem to dominate political discussion these days to the real issues—the real challenges, threats and opportunities that the U.S. faces today, tomorrow and for the rest of the century—you’ll find that most of them require a better grasp of some key scientific question or research field. Sometimes the link is obvious—as with global climate change. Other times it becomes clear only upon reflection—as with creating new avenues of economic innovation (just what do you think has fueled a substantial amount of the growth in the US economy for the past sixty years?)
As a starting point, more than a dozen scientific and engineering organizations—ranging from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to the Union of Concerned Scientists—have come up with what they see as the top science questions facing the US in 2012. The questions are now being sent to the presidential campaigns. In addition, Scientific American will contact key leaders in Congress who play major roles in determining how scientific knowledge is translated into policy with a subset of these questions that are most applicable to the legislative branch of government for their response.
1. Innovation and the Economy. Science and technology have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?
2. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?
3. Research and the Future. Federally funded research has helped to produce America’s major postwar economies and to ensure our national security, but today the UK, Singapore, China, and Korea are making competitive investments in research.  Given that the next Congress will face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in research in your upcoming budgets?
4. Pandemics and Biosecurity. Recent experiments show how Avian flu may become transmissible among mammals. In an era of constant and rapid international travel, what steps should the United States take to protect our population from emerging diseases, global pandemics and/or deliberate biological attacks?
5. Education. Increasingly, the global economy is driven by science, technology, engineering and math, but a recent comparison of 15-year-olds in 65 countries found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 23rd, while average U.S. math scores ranked 31st.  In your view, why have American students fallen behind over the last three decades, and what role should the federal government play to better prepare students of all ages for the science and technology-driven global economy?
6. Energy. Many policymakers and scientists say energy security and sustainability are major problems facing the United States this century. What policies would you support to meet the demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?
7. Food. Thanks to science and technology, the United States has the world’s most productive and diverse agricultural sector, yet many Americans are increasingly concerned about the health and safety of our food.  The use of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, as well as animal diseases and even terrorism pose risks.  What steps would you take to ensure the health, safety and productivity of America’s food supply?
8. Fresh Water. Less than one percent of the world’s water is liquid fresh water, and scientific studies suggest that a majority of U.S. and global fresh water is now at risk because of increasing consumption, evaporation and pollution.  What steps, if any, should the federal government take to secure clean, abundant fresh water for all Americans?
9. The Internet. The Internet plays a central role in both our economy and our society.  What role, if any, should the federal government play in managing the Internet to ensure its robust social, scientific, and economic role?
10. Ocean Health. Scientists estimate that 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are in serious decline, habitats like coral reefs are threatened, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What role should the federal government play domestically and through foreign policy to protect the environmental health and economic vitality of the oceans?
11. Science in Public Policy. We live in an era when science and technology affect every aspect of life and society, and so must be included in well-informed public policy decisions.  How will you ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are fully informed by the best available scientific and technical information, and that the public is able to evaluate the basis of these policy decisions?
12. Space. The United States is currently in a major discussion over our national goals in space.  What should America’s space exploration and utilization goals be in the 21st century and what steps should the government take to help achieve them?
13. Critical Natural Resources. Supply shortages of natural resources affect economic growth, quality of life, and national security; for example, China currently produces 97% of rare earth elements needed for advanced electronics.   What steps should the federal government take to ensure the quality and availability of critical natural resources?
14. Vaccination and Public Health. Vaccination campaigns against preventable diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough depend on widespread participation to be effective, but in some communities vaccination rates have fallen off sharply. What actions would you support to enforce vaccinations in the interest of public health, and in what circumstances should exemptions be allowed?

What Do Obama and Romney Know about Science? And Why It Matters

Scientific American is partnering with the folks at ScienceDebate.org and more than a dozen leading science and engineering organizations to try to inject more discussion about critical science issues into the U.S. presidential election campaign this year. As part of that effort, we will be asking the two main presidential candidates—Barack Obama and Mitt Romney—to respond to 14 questions (listed below) on some of the biggest scientific and technological challenges facing the U.S. in the near future. 

Why is Scientific American taking this step? If you look beyond the made-up controversies that seem to dominate political discussion these days to the real issues—the real challenges, threats and opportunities that the U.S. faces today, tomorrow and for the rest of the century—you’ll find that most of them require a better grasp of some key scientific question or research field. Sometimes the link is obvious—as with global climate change. Other times it becomes clear only upon reflection—as with creating new avenues of economic innovation (just what do you think has fueled a substantial amount of the growth in the US economy for the past sixty years?)

As a starting point, more than a dozen scientific and engineering organizations—ranging from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to the Union of Concerned Scientists—have come up with what they see as the top science questions facing the US in 2012. The questions are now being sent to the presidential campaigns. In addition, Scientific American will contact key leaders in Congress who play major roles in determining how scientific knowledge is translated into policy with a subset of these questions that are most applicable to the legislative branch of government for their response.

1. Innovation and the Economy. Science and technology have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?

2. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

3. Research and the Future. Federally funded research has helped to produce America’s major postwar economies and to ensure our national security, but today the UK, Singapore, China, and Korea are making competitive investments in research.  Given that the next Congress will face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in research in your upcoming budgets?

4. Pandemics and Biosecurity. Recent experiments show how Avian flu may become transmissible among mammals. In an era of constant and rapid international travel, what steps should the United States take to protect our population from emerging diseases, global pandemics and/or deliberate biological attacks?

5. Education. Increasingly, the global economy is driven by science, technology, engineering and math, but a recent comparison of 15-year-olds in 65 countries found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 23rd, while average U.S. math scores ranked 31st.  In your view, why have American students fallen behind over the last three decades, and what role should the federal government play to better prepare students of all ages for the science and technology-driven global economy?

6. Energy. Many policymakers and scientists say energy security and sustainability are major problems facing the United States this century. What policies would you support to meet the demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?

7. Food. Thanks to science and technology, the United States has the world’s most productive and diverse agricultural sector, yet many Americans are increasingly concerned about the health and safety of our food.  The use of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, as well as animal diseases and even terrorism pose risks.  What steps would you take to ensure the health, safety and productivity of America’s food supply?

8. Fresh Water. Less than one percent of the world’s water is liquid fresh water, and scientific studies suggest that a majority of U.S. and global fresh water is now at risk because of increasing consumption, evaporation and pollution.  What steps, if any, should the federal government take to secure clean, abundant fresh water for all Americans?

9. The Internet. The Internet plays a central role in both our economy and our society.  What role, if any, should the federal government play in managing the Internet to ensure its robust social, scientific, and economic role?

10. Ocean Health. Scientists estimate that 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are in serious decline, habitats like coral reefs are threatened, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What role should the federal government play domestically and through foreign policy to protect the environmental health and economic vitality of the oceans?

11. Science in Public Policy. We live in an era when science and technology affect every aspect of life and society, and so must be included in well-informed public policy decisions.  How will you ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are fully informed by the best available scientific and technical information, and that the public is able to evaluate the basis of these policy decisions?

12. Space. The United States is currently in a major discussion over our national goals in space.  What should America’s space exploration and utilization goals be in the 21st century and what steps should the government take to help achieve them?

13. Critical Natural Resources. Supply shortages of natural resources affect economic growth, quality of life, and national security; for example, China currently produces 97% of rare earth elements needed for advanced electronics.   What steps should the federal government take to ensure the quality and availability of critical natural resources?

14. Vaccination and Public Health. Vaccination campaigns against preventable diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough depend on widespread participation to be effective, but in some communities vaccination rates have fallen off sharply. What actions would you support to enforce vaccinations in the interest of public health, and in what circumstances should exemptions be allowed?

(Source: blogs.scientificamerican.com)

Newly Discovered Mineral from Beginning of the Solar System
Hidden within a rock from space is a mineral previously unknown to science: panguite.
The new mineral was found embedded in the Allende meteorite, which fell to Earth in 1969. Since 2007, geologist Chi Ma of Caltech has been probing the meteorite with a scanning electron microscope, discovering nine new materials, including panguite.
Ma and his team have determined that panguite was one of the first solid materials to coalesce in our solar system, roughly 4.567 billion years ago. The mineral’s name is a reference to Pan Gu, a primitive, hairy giant from Chinese mythology who separated yin and yang with a swing of his enormous axe, thereby creating the Earth and sky.
Panguite’s primordial nature means that it was actually around before the Earth and other planets formed, meaning it can help scientists learn more about the conditions in the cloud of gas and dust that gave rise to our solar system.
Geology geeks can note that the mineral’s chemical name is (Ti4+,Sc,Al,Mg,Zr,Ca)1.8O3, meaning that it contains some familiar elements like oxygen, magnesium, and aluminum, but also some more exotic ones like zirconium and scandium. Zirconium in particular is a key element that can help scientists decipher the environment before and during the solar system’s formation.
The International Mineralogical Association’s Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature, and Classification has approved the new mineral and its name and a paper describing its properties was published online June 26 in American Mineralogist.

Newly Discovered Mineral from Beginning of the Solar System

Hidden within a rock from space is a mineral previously unknown to science: panguite.

The new mineral was found embedded in the Allende meteorite, which fell to Earth in 1969. Since 2007, geologist Chi Ma of Caltech has been probing the meteorite with a scanning electron microscope, discovering nine new materials, including panguite.

Ma and his team have determined that panguite was one of the first solid materials to coalesce in our solar system, roughly 4.567 billion years ago. The mineral’s name is a reference to Pan Gu, a primitive, hairy giant from Chinese mythology who separated yin and yang with a swing of his enormous axe, thereby creating the Earth and sky.

Panguite’s primordial nature means that it was actually around before the Earth and other planets formed, meaning it can help scientists learn more about the conditions in the cloud of gas and dust that gave rise to our solar system.

Geology geeks can note that the mineral’s chemical name is (Ti4+,Sc,Al,Mg,Zr,Ca)1.8O3, meaning that it contains some familiar elements like oxygen, magnesium, and aluminum, but also some more exotic ones like zirconium and scandium. Zirconium in particular is a key element that can help scientists decipher the environment before and during the solar system’s formation.

The International Mineralogical Association’s Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature, and Classification has approved the new mineral and its name and a paper describing its properties was published online June 26 in American Mineralogist.

(Source: Wired)