Posts Tagged ‘Research’

Trojan atom

// January 27th, 2012 // Comments Off on Trojan atom // Recent Research

Rice University graduate student Shuzhen Ye used an ultraviolet laser to create a Rydberg atom in order to study the orbital mechanics of electrons.

What kind of control we can wield over atoms!

An electron orbiting an excited potassium atom has been confined with radio waves to mimic the movement of the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter.

The Trojan asteroids precede and follow Jupiter as it orbits the sun, like an entourage of bodyguards around royalty. Earth’s first Trojan asteroid was recently discovered, but it’s nothing to the group that Jupiter’s got, numbering over a thousand.

Resembling this comma-shaped group of asteroids, the electron was limited to a confined “wave packet”, say researchers from Rice University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Vienna University of Technology.

How’d they do it? Lasers, radio waves and supersized atoms.

Here’s a video, with my explanation below it.

First they created a Rydberg atom using ultraviolet laser. That’s a highly excited atom, where the outermost electron has jumped up from its normal orbit into a much, much higher one.

As the outer shell electron jumps outwards, the atom becomes bigger. In this case, an unimaginably small potassium atom grew as large as a full stop! Say wha? I mean, that’s HUGE!!! That’s bigger than a bacteria, than a skin cell – from ONE ATOM?! Get out!

Locating that electron, even in a supersized Rydberg atom, is no easy task. Electrons, I was told at uni, wink in and out of existence. They can act as a particle or a wave. Instead of pinning down an electron, you just predict where it’s most likely to be – called a wave function. It’s a fuzzy way of looking at things.

The team could collapse the wave function with a sequence of electric field pulses, which basically limited where the electron would be. That created the comma-shaped wave packet that resembled the Trojan asteroids.

Next job – make it move! They made the localised electron move in an orbit using radio waves, which rotated the nucleus.

Brilliant!

But how can you check where the electron is, and measure your results, when you can’t see it?

The answer was to do it in snapshots. Each snapshots of the wave packet was made using another electric field pulse. Unfortunately, the process destroyed the Rydberg atom, so they had replicate the experiment tens of thousands of times to get enough data to complete the picture.

Seems like a lot of work to make something extremely tiny and wavy move like you want it, but who knows where research like this might lead. To have this kind of control over electons could lead to new types of chemistry, and quantum computing.

Mind blown.

Source: The press release and paper, published in Physical Review Letters this week.

Future floating laboratory, prospectus of the HMS Beagle Project

// December 2nd, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Science Communication

Yesterday afternoon I went to a prospectus to the HMS Beagle Project while founder David Lort Phillips is in Adelaide.

It’s a CRAZY exciting project which plans to build a modern version of Darwin and FitzRoy’s tall ship the HMS Beagle, kitted out as a floating laboratory.

Marine biologists could benefit from getting much-needed ship time. As it’s a tall ship, it can get closer to land than large cruise vessels, giving it an extra bonus to people studying tidal areas. Groups into DNA barcoding might find it useful too, as it can be tricky to get high quality samples for DNA testing – most are set in formalin which ruins the info. More on DNA barcoding soon.

Climate research can be done from the boat, the connection between biodiversity and climate change could be exploited in the project. There’s a collaboration of the HMS Beagle with NASA, combining observations from space with water samples in the ocean.

Space shuttle before docking with space station. Image by NASA

In 2009 the Brazilian tall ship Tocorime with the International Space Station, and they ran live hook-ups between scientists on the boat, an astronaut above, and school children in Paraty. Looks like Keven Zelnio from Deep Sea News was there! The students had questions written in English on paper which they screwed into a sweaty ball with excitement, according to Karen James, involved with the HMS Beagle Project.

Most interesting for me is the prospect of science communication on the high seas. We can take high-tech science to ports around the world, including remote areas that often miss out on science engagement events.

I’d like to see the online aspect of the beagle able to webcast and tweet from the deck, setting up chat sessions with classrooms and the public. Maybe people could watch the Beagle’s progress through the ocean, and be updated with the science we on the way. Oh, I gots ideas!

At the moment they have blueprints and some collaborations sorted out, but are still looking for funding to get it built and in the water. The first five years it would retrace the first voyage of the Beagle, including along the South American coast.

Chile are planning to build their own ship in connection to the project, possibly named after the Beagle support ship, the Adventure.

Darwin was 22 when he signed on with the Beagle, an amateur with an interest in science – mainly geology. What he saw from the ship and at port, particularly in the Galapagos Islands, lead him to a world-changing hypothesis.

Maybe the new Beagle will have the same effect on some young scientists. Good heavens, I just really hope they build this tall ship, and when they do, that I’m on it helping to share their discoveries online, in ports, worldwide.

Modelling catastrophic dam collapse and natural disasters

// June 24th, 2011 // Comments Off on Modelling catastrophic dam collapse and natural disasters // Recent Research, Science Communication

One of the biggest dams in the world, Geheyan Dam in China holds more water than five Sydney Harbour’s, a massive 3.12 billion cubic metres worth.

What would happen if it failed?

Models of Geheyan town before and after dam collapse

Australian CSIRO scientists collaborated with China’s Satellite Surveying & Mapping Application Centre (SASMAC) to model the region and apply six different dam failure scenarios.

“Our simulations show where the water would go, how fast it would reach important infrastructure such as power stations and the extent of inundation in major townships downstream,” said Dr Mahesh Prakash from CSIRO in the press release.

Dam failure is a real possibility, as many parts of China are prone to earthquakes. We’ve seen plenty of natural disasters over the past year, highlighting the need to prepare for such events.

Modelling and data visualisation can inform emergency procedure development and ensure new infrastructure is built protected areas.

“The modelling technique we developed for this work is really powerful,” Dr Prakash said. “It gives us very realistic water simulations including difficult-to-model behaviours such as wave motion, fragmentation and splashing.”

This video shows a dam failure simulation, and explains how the model was created. I enjoyed the delicious hundreds and thousands demonstration to show how water acts as a group of particles. Yummy!

The same software has been used to model other catastrophic events, including tsunamis and volcanoes. They also modeled the 1928 St Francis dam break in California. The simulation was very similar to the real event, suggesting the technique is accurate.

Inspiring Australia and the barcode of life, conferences

// February 7th, 2011 // Comments Off on Inspiring Australia and the barcode of life, conferences // Science Communication

Couple of interesting conferences coming up this year. The first one is Inspiring Australia in Melbourne from March 28-29. ‘Tis a science communication conference, tackling topics like social media, politics, and a whole bunch of exciting sci-comm stuff. Registration opens today, and it will be good.

The second conference is the Consortium for the Barcode of Life which will be hosted in bonny old Adelaide in November this year. Adelaide Uni scored the gig after competition with 19 applicants from around the globe. Previously the event has been hosted in Mexico City, Taipai and London.

DNA code is a bit like a barcode to begin with: Information hidden in a mysterious pattern that only a computer can analyse. The barcode of life refers to specifically to a certain small section of DNA which can be used to compare species. The section changes between species, but stays the same within members of the same species, and is accurate for most mammals and bees.

The consortium is to discuss and co-ordinate how to take DNA samples from all the animals IN THE WORLD, and have them on a giant database. Then when future scientists find a weird animal, they can take a sample, scan it in and *beep*, one lemur for $9.99. It’s a neat idea, and totally exciting that Adelaide is hosting this International event.

Radioactive decay of teaspoons in the workplace

// January 30th, 2011 // 22 Comments » // Just for Fun, Recent Research, The Realm of Bizzare

missing teaspoonsHave you ever noticed a mysterious loss of teaspoons at your workplace? Maybe it’s not teaspoons, but some other cutlery item. At my old work it was forks, which dwindled even when I bought new replacement ones. At the Australian National University neither spoon nor fork were safe, causing some students to eat salad with two knives as chopsticks.

The same thing was happening at the Burnett Institute in Australia. Teaspoons were critically low, no matter how many new ones bought. Clearly it was time for science.

“Exasperated by our consequent inability to stir in our sugar and to accurately dispense instant coffee, we decided to respond in time honoured epidemiologists’ fashion and measure the phenomenon,” they said in the paper.

They numbered 70 teaspoons and placed them in tearooms around the institute. Lo and behold, they started to disappear. Every week they counted the remaining teaspoons, probably with a lot of suppressed giggling and delight.

After five months, 56 out of 70 teaspoons disappeared, that’s 80%. The half life of the teaspoons was 81 days.

Teaspoons in communal tearooms disappeared faster than those in tearooms specifically for certain projects. Expensive teaspoons disappeared no faster than cheap ones.

According to the study, “at this rate, an estimated 250 teaspoons would need to be purchased annually to maintain a practical institute-wide population of 70 teaspoons.” The cost? About $100. Extrapolate that to the workforce of Melbourne, some 2.4 million people, and you’re looking at quite a wad of cash.

Stapler sugarAnd it’s not just economic loss, it’s also workplace satisfaction. “Teaspoon displacement and loss leads to the use of forks, knives, and staplers to measure out coffee and sugar,” the study suggested. Staplers? You know it’s a bad day in the office when you’re measuring sugar with a stapler. Indeed, nobody in the office said they were “highly satisfied” with the number of teaspoons in a survey they conducted at the end of the study. Yes, they even did a survey.

But why are teaspoons such hot property?

The study gives a few possible theories. Perhaps there are so many teaspoons, people don’t think it will matter if they take one home. Over time the small acts of thievery add up until there are no teaspoons left.

Alternatively, and I can say this no better than the authors, “Somewhere in the cosmos, along with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, walking treeoids, and superintelligent shades of the colour blue, a planet is entirely given over to spoon life-forms. Unattended spoons make their way to this planet, slipping away through space to a world where they enjoy a uniquely spoonoid lifestyle, responding to highly spoon oriented stimuli, and generally leading the spoon equivalent of the good life.”

Their final theory is les choses sont contre nous “things are against us.” “Resistentialism is the belief that inanimate objects have a natural antipathy towards humans, and therefore it is not people who control things but things that increasingly control people,” says the study. Think of all the time you spend cleaning, buying, repairing, using and selling things. Do items really control our lives, sending us on some materialistic goose chase for reasons we cannot yet understand? I can only assume Yes.

I want to hear from anyone who has experienced this phenomenon, be it spoons, forks or knives. What goes missing in your workplace, and why do they constantly disappear. And what is the spoon equivalent of the good life?

ResearchBlogging.orgLim, M. (2005). The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute BMJ, 331 (7531), 1498-1500 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.331.7531.1498

Massive hat tip to James at Disease Prone, who said my posts had slowed down and suggested this paper.






Buy me a Beer!
    If you don't want me to mention your donation just check the box above.
  • $ 0.00
Twittarrr
Follow @CaptainSkellett (560 followers)
Find Me Writin’s