We Are Star Stuff

As a celebratory “I just moved my blog to a better format base than Blogger.com” post, I’m bring with it a double whammy of awesome in the Scientific Field…

It was 76 years ago today that the late Carl Sagan was born. For those that don’t know who Carl Sagan is, it might be better for you to do the following:

  1. Get a large rectangular piece of paper.
  2. Fold said paper into a conic shape.
  3. Place conic shaped paper upon head.
  4. Sit in corner and ignore the rest of the educated world.

Anyway, Carl Sagan is one of the most influential astronomers, astrophysicists, authors, and cosmologists in the last century. He has written numerous books, hosted a well-earning and popular science program called Cosmos, and was one of the key figures in the creation of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrail Intelligence). The list of greats he was involved in doesn’t stop there of course. He was THE pioneer of exobiology (also called astrobiology), advocate of skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, and his 1985 book Contact was later adapted on film.

Carl Sagan was a wonderful figure of his time. He successfully captured audiences and renewed faith in science to the general public. His voice was captivating and inspiring, as the following video shows.

He not only showed us the frailty of human life, but the minuteness of it. He showed us that everything we have accomplished is still so tiny in the vast expanse of time and space. He brought our attention to the world of nuclear war, and our possible extinction by it, and inspired us to find ways in which we might realize that this is our only planet, our only home, and to destroy it through nuclear arms would be the single greatest tragedy of our time. His words on nuclear arms still today rings a bell, though the threat may have lessened, it is echoed in nation’s vying for nuclear arms, and through environmental changes through human action. The following, is his words on Nuclear War.

Carl Sagan unfortunately died too soon for our time at the age of 62 on December 20, 1996 after a long fight with myelodysplasia, though the cause of death was actually due to pneumonia. His legacy still lives on in several ways. Symphony of Science, by John Boswell, a musical production featuring scientists auto-tuned to amazing songs, includes Sagan as the only scientist in everyone of the videos. There are at least three awards dedicated to his honor, including the Carl Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science.  More recently, in 2009, the first annual Carl Sagan Day was made in his honor; it will most likely be a yearly endeavor as they again held it in 2010.

So, Sagan, I wish you a happy birthday, and many more, perhaps billions and billions.

In a slightly related event and part two of the Double Whammy happening today (related in the idea that it has to do with the Cosmos), scientists at CERN, the organization responsible for the Large Hadron Collider, have successfully created a miniature big bang.

That’s right. Scientists at CERN have actually managed to reproduce the very thing that they believe started our own universe. This raises certain eyebrows from me; Did they in the process create a universe as well that was so tiny and minute that it popped into and out of existence too quickly to notice?

Probably not, but it does seem that whatever their findings are as of this moment they’re being very hush hush about it. All they’re willing to say is that they created the same starting conditions as our own universe at 0.00000000001 seconds after the Big Bang, an interval when “protons and neutrons can’t even stay whole.”

An anti-LHC organization called the Heavy Ion Alert also protested the experiment, stating it would cause a chain reaction that would destroy the planet. They were discounted, and as always nothing happen.

I’ll leave you with Symphony of Science – We Are All Connected.


Richard P. Feynman – Crazy as he is Genius

I’ve recently had a fixed interest into Richard P. Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics (along with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga) for his work in the development of quantum electrodynamics, because of some lecture videos I found on YouTube. He died exactly a year and one day after I was born (whether or not that had anything to do with it we’ll leave to speculation) on February 15, 1988.

I’ve come to discover that this guy is a genius, with every meaning of the word, but he’s also a little well… crazy. I just read his most recent book; “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” and this caused me to search the net for anything on him. It was via YouTube that I found this clever little video of the guy playing bongo’s and singing about how much he just needs to have his Orange Juice, seen here..

As you can see, Feynman obviously suffered from disturbed sleep, a side effect of ingesting far too much Vitamin C. And what fruit has such a whopping amount of Vitamin C…? Do you really need me to tell you? I’ll give you a hint…

In all seriousness though Feynman has done a lot of great things for scientific discovery, despite having a rather adequate IQ of 125(I mean jeez I have an IQ of 128 according to http://www.free-iqtest.com). He grew up not just knowing what something is, but more importantly what something isn’t. When confronted by a boy that his father “didn’t teach him anything” because Feynman couldn’t say what kind of bird a Brown Throated Thrush was, Feynman laughed knowing this to be opposite. You see, Feynman’s father had not only taught him the name of the bird in English, but also in Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, etc. and only through this process did his father teach Feynman that he knew nothing about the bird by knowing its name.

This is an example of the kind of man Feynman was raised into being. He didn’t do things through conventional or traditional means, but rather was eccentric, crazy, and went against the norms of society. He was an explorer of the deepest nature. He adopted at a young age the philosophy that you should never care what other people think, because everyone else is most likely wrong.

Richard Feynman when he was younger worked in Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project. While he had no desire at all to design a weapon of such magnitude that it can produce such frightening images as this…

He was adamant in realizing that it could very easily be done by Nazi Germany, which no one likes a bomb that is shaped like Hitler’s Mustache falling from the sky. So Feynman joined Los Alamos, not as one of the most important scientific figures there, but rather as one of the biggest wastes of space in the compound. Throughout his time there he practiced his art of safe cracking, had constant mathematical competitions with the guests, and practiced his philosophy by telling people exactly what he thought of a situation. He managed to afford a position of group leader in Hans Bethe’s theoretical division, and while there met some of the most prestigious names in Science such as; Niels Bohr, Hans Bethe, and Oppenhiemer. Bohr often would seek him out personally because all the other mathematicians were too captivated by Bohr to argue with him. He was so arrogant in his knowledge of nuclear physics that when they finally tested Gadget (the name of the bomb used in the Trinity test) he was the only one to not where radioactive glasses, knowing that his eyes would be safe from the UV rays behind a simple truck windshield. He was therefore the only person to actually witness the first man made nuclear explosion unaided.

Shortly after Los Alamos, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. Feynman is often quoted in saying that the people at Los Alamos, the men who worked on the bomb, eventually forgot their reasons for making it (himself included) and only focused on the fun of figuring out the problems. I suppose you can’t stop the Mathematician and Engineers problem solving disease. After the war, Feynman said himself that he couldn’t see the point in the creation of anything, knowing full well that the bomb was out there, ready to be used, and could at any moment destroy all we create.

Another important mess he was involved in was the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster of January 28, 1986. He was a part of the committee to investigate what went wrong with the launch, why it exploded, and how it could be prevented in the future. Feynman quickly realized that no one on the committee ever actually did anything to discover what happened, it was more like a big bureaucratic party, where there’s plenty of coke, insults and shouting, but nothing getting done, similar to what we see here…

So Feynman, in his realization that he was the only intelligent person on the committee started snooping around. He became rather like Dick Tracy, minus the fashionable yellow raincoat (probably so he didn’t scare little girls into thinking he was a child molester). He quickly discovered that there was a major miscommunication between the engineers at the bottom working on the shuttle and the managers at the top. He discovered that the managers had given the shuttle a 1/100000 chance of failure (which means a launch every day for 300 years without a mistake; which also means NASA is very very very very very unlucky.) while the engineers gave a more realistic 1/100 launch failure.

He also discovered on of the main proponents of the shuttle, the famous O-ring, could fail under certain temperatures during launch. It is often said that one of the engineers said that they shouldn’t have launched the shuttle because the temperatures were too low, and had we listened to little Joe Plumber at the bottom the disaster could have been prevented (This however, does not reflect on the election of 2008, as Joe Plumber 2008 is a pompous retard). Feynman demonstrated the failure of the O-ring under low temperatures live using only a glass of ice water.

Truly, Richard Feynman was pretty crazy. He didn’t hold still for anyone, and when he knew that he should act on something he did it with such precision and intelligence that people couldn’t help but let him get away with it. He revolutionized the world with his work in quantum electrodynamics, and thanks to a challenge to computer scientists he helped drive the world into Nanotechnology and Quantum Computing (we’re still kind of waiting for this one Feynman). Either way, his crazy antics and can-do attitude has truly turned the world on it’s head, and that’s why I’ve had this obsession with him recently.

And now for the nerds, an inspiring talk with Feynman on the beauty of a flower…

%d bloggers like this: