Day: August 4, 2012

Finally – A Higgs Boson Story Anyone Can Understand

“…[O]n July 4, the universe started to sound weird and unnecessarily complicated. Physicists worldwide were celebrating an elusive thing called the Higgs Boson, which had apparently made a brief appearance.

They kept repeating that it was important because it gives matter mass, but they didn’t say how such an important job can be done by a particle that needs an $8 billion device to coax it into existence for less than a nanosecond before it returns to oblivion.

The news sounded more like the twisted logic of credit default swaps than the rational progression of science. But now that the physicists have had time to catch up on their sleep and science reporters have recovered from their 4th of July hangovers, a coherent and even comprehensible picture is starting to emerge.

And who better to tell the story than Higgs the cat. I’ve decided to ask a few very simple questions to help Higgs spin the tale.” (

Dosimetric investigation of the solar erythermal UV radiation protection provided by beards and moustaches

World Beard and Moustache Championship - Rolan...

“An excess of electromagnetic radiation in the ultraviolet waveband can cause severe damage to skin cells and their DNA. Fortunately, various natural protection mechanisms exist, but until recently, one has been almost entirely overlooked in the dosimetric literature. New details are revealed in the latest (July 2012) edition of the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry, which features a paper from a cross faculty team at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia.” (Improbable Research)

[As someone who has shaved only three times in more than forty years, I knew this…]

Also see: Solar Ultraviolet Protection Provided by Human Head Hair (Photochemistry and Photobiology, Volume 85, Number 1, January/February 2009 , pp. 250-254)

BONUS (unrelated): Feline Reactions to Bearded Men

Greenland’s ‘Extreme Melt Event’

‘In a five-day period in July, Greenland experienced an “extreme melt event.” On July 8, about 40 percent of the ice cover had thawed a bit at the surface. Five days later, an estimated 97 percent of the surface area was thawing. Nearly the entire surface of the ice sheet, from the very edges to the very center, saw some thawing…

NASA says that it is normal for Greenland’s ice to melt a bit in the summer; what is abnormal is the extent. Normally, only about half of the ice sheet’s surface sees any melting. This year, that proportion just about doubled. NASA additionally said that its satellites were recording uncharacteristically high temperatures over the island. Those warmer temperatures were brought by a bubble of warm air (a “heat dome”), the latest in a series of such ridges that have moved over Greenland this year.’ (The Atlantic)

Blind Mice Temporarily Regain Vision After Chemical Injection

Blind Mice Temporarily Regain Vision After Chemical Injection | 80beats | Discover Magazine

“Our ability to see depends on two factors: light-sensitive rods and cones in the retina, and the nerves that transmit signals from these cells to the brain (along with the brain itself, of course). When the rods and cones die, which can occur as the eye ages or in the retina-damaging eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, the nerves can sometimes still function—if they have a new, working sensor for light. To replace the rods and cones, previous treatments have used electronic implants, which require surgery, or gene therapy, which relies on injections deep into the eye. But in a new technique, all it takes to restore vision—at least partially—is a much less invasive injection of the chemical AAQ.” (80beats | Discover Magazine)

“Music Was Better in the Sixties, Man”

‘Actually, popular music is arguably “better” today. But in the Sixties it was more creative — or at least more experimental. So says science. (Via Kevin Drum.)

The science under consideration was carried out by a group of Spanish scientists led by Joan Serrà, and appeared in Scientific Reports, an open-access journal published by Nature. They looked at something called the Million Song Dataset, which is pretty amazing in its own right. The MSD collects data from over a million songs recorded since 1955, including tempo and volume and some information about the pitches of the actual notes (seems unclear to me exactly how detailed this data is).

And the answer is … popular music is in many ways unchanged over the years. The basic frequencies of different notes and so forth haven’t changed that much. But in certain crucial ways they have: in particular, they’ve become more homogeneous.’ (Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine).

Eradicating Taste Buds and Poverty With Chili Peppers

Naga Jolokia

“In 2007, the bhut jolokia, 100 times hotter than the average jalapeño, made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s hottest chili…only to be dethroned in the book’s latest edition by the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T. Although the bhut jolokia has lost its world-record title, it’s recently found a more practical role: alleviating poverty in its home province of Assam.

At The Guardian, Helen Pidd describes how bhut jolokia, also known as the ghost chili, became a lucrative crop for impoverished Assamese farmers when its world-record status drove fans of spicy foods to offer enormous sums for the fiery chili.” (Discover Magazine)

Has anyone ever tried a jolokia? or a Scorpion?