Monthly Archives: September 2014

Magnetic states at oxide interfaces controlled by electricity. Top image show magnetic state with -3 volts applied, and bottom image shows nonmagnetic state with 0 volts applied. Credit: University of Pittsburgh

New Discovery Could Pave the Way for Spin-based Computing

Novel oxide-based magnetism follows electrical commands

PITTSBURGH—Electricity and magnetism rule our digital world. Semiconductors process electrical information, while magnetic materials enable long-term data storage. A University of Pittsburgh research team has discovered a way to fuse these two distinct properties in a single material, paving the way for new ultrahigh density storage and computing architectures.

Whilephones and laptops rely on electricity to process and temporarily store information, long-term data storage is still largely achieved via magnetism. Discs coated with magnetic material are locally oriented (e.g. North or South to represent “1” and “0”), and each independent magnet can be used to store a single bit of information. However, this information is not directly coupled to the semiconductors used to process information. Having a magnetic material that can store and process information would enable new forms of hybrid storage and processing capabilities.Such a material has been created by the Pitt research team led by Jeremy Levy, a Distinguished Professor of Condensed Matter Physics in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and director of the Pittsburgh Quantum Institute.

Magnetic states at oxide interfaces controlled by electricity. Top image show magnetic state with -3 volts applied, and bottom image shows nonmagnetic state with 0 volts applied. Credit: University of Pittsburgh
Magnetic states at oxide interfaces controlled by electricity. Top image show magnetic state with -3 volts applied, and bottom image shows nonmagnetic state with 0 volts applied. Credit: University of Pittsburgh

Levy, other researchers at Pitt, and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison today published their work in Nature Communications, elucidating their discovery of a form of magnetism that can be stabilized with electric fields rather than magnetic fields. The University of Wisconsin-Madision researchers were led by Chang-Beom Eom, the Theodore H. Geballe Professor and Harvey D. Spangler Distinguished Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Working with a material formed from a thick layer of one oxide—strontium titanate—and a thin layer of a second material—lanthanum aluminate—these researchers have found that the interface between these materials can exhibit magnetic behavior that is stable at room temperature. The interface is normally conducting, but by “chasing” away the electrons with an applied voltage (equivalent to that of two AA batteries), the material becomes insulating and magnetic. The magnetic properties are detected using “magnetic force microscopy,” an imaging technique that scans a tiny magnet over the material to gauge the relative attraction or repulsion from the magnetic layer.

The newly discovered magnetic properties come on the heels of a previous invention by Levy, so-called “Etch-a-Sketch Nanoelectronics” involving the same material. The discovery of magnetic properties can now be combined with ultra-small transistors, terahertz detectors, and single-electron devices previously demonstrated.

“This work is indeed very promising and may lead to a new type of magnetic storage,” says Stuart Wolf, head of the nanoSTAR Institute at the University of Virginia. Though not an author on this paper, Wolf is widely regarded as a pioneer in the area of spintronics.

“Magnetic materials tend to respond to magnetic fields and are not so sensitive to electrical influences,” Levy says. “What we have discovered is that a new family of oxide-based materials can completely change its behavior based on electrical input.”

This discovery was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Army Research Office.

Source: University of Pittsburgh News

Figure 1 (left) Exclusion limits for production of Higgsino production as a function of Higgsino mass and branching fraction. (right) Most sensitive search channel as a function of Higgsino mass and branching fraction. Credit: CERN

Recent results in the search for supersymmetry : CERN CMS

By Frank Wuerthwein, Keith Ulmer and Guillelmo Gomez Ceballos.


Among the leading candidates to describe physics beyond the standard model of particle physics is Supersymmetry, a new symmetry that posits the existence of a partner particle for each known particle in the standard model. Supersymmetry, or “SUSY” as it has come to be known, may help explain the nature of dark matter and the large difference in strength between the fundamental forces of nature. Each year, new experimental results and theoretical developments are reported in the “SUSY” conference series, with the 2014 edition (SUSY2014) happening this week in Manchester, England[1].

Figure 1 (left) Exclusion limits for production of Higgsino production as a function of Higgsino mass and branching fraction. (right) Most sensitive search channel as a function of Higgsino mass and branching fraction. Credit: CERN
Figure 1 (left) Exclusion limits for production of Higgsino production as a function of Higgsino mass and branching fraction. (right) Most sensitive search channel as a function of Higgsino mass and branching fraction. Credit: CERN

Experimental evidence for SUSY has been sought for many years at multiple colliders, including a vast array of search results from the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. With data from Run 1 of the LHC collected through the end of 2012, the full set of results thus far has not revealed any striking signs of physics beyond the standard model [2]. New searches presented at SUSY2014 have begun to probe increasingly complicated potential decay chains and to combine multiple searches to access more challenging new physics scenarios. Below we highlight some of the most recent results first presented this summer at SUSY14 and ICHEP 2014 [3].

Figure 2: Exclusion limits versus gluino and neutralino masses for a variety of gluino decay branching fractions from the “razor” search. Credit: CERN
Figure 2: Exclusion limits versus gluino and neutralino masses for a variety of gluino decay branching fractions from the “razor” search. Credit: CERN

Search for new physics in the final states hh, Zh, and ZZ plus MET

After its discovery only two years ago, the Higgs boson is already a powerful tool in the search for new physics. Earlier this year, CMS submitted for publication [4] a set of searches for associate production of W, Higgs, and missing transverse energy (“MET”, indicative of particles escaping the detector). At ICHEP this summer, CMS presented the first combined searches for hh, Zh, and ZZ plus MET. No excess above standard model backgrounds is observed. Figure 1 shows the interpretation of the results in terms of limits on higgsino pair production as a function of the higgsino mass and decay branching fraction. Within the framework of Gauge Mediated Supersymmetry Breaking (GMSB), the neutral higgsino decays to a gravitino and either a higgs or Z boson. The left plot in Figure 1 shows that CMS excludes higgsino production up to ~ 300GeV when the higgsino decays at equal rate to either of these two decays. The right plot in Figure 1 indicates that four different final states dominate the sensitivity in different parts of the 2D parameter space, clearly demonstrating that searches for new physics with one or two higgs bosons in the final state benefit greatly from combining many different decay channels.

Figure 3: Dilepton invariant mass distribution for “same flavor” events, compared to the background prediction from “opposite flavor” events. Credit:CERN
Figure 3: Dilepton invariant mass distribution for “same flavor” events, compared to the background prediction from “opposite flavor” events. Credit:CERN

Search for gluino pair production via the decays to top pairs, bottom pairs, or top and bottom plus MET

Up to now, CMS searches for gluino pair production inspired by “natural SUSY” (i.e. SUSY in which the masses of the SUSY partners are not much higher than those of the Higgs boson) have focused on final states with either four top or four b-quarks plus MET. In contrast, theoretically any combination of MET plus 4 quarks, top or bottom, is well justified. At ICHEP, CMS presented the first complete exploration of sensitivity across the full set of possible final states and branching fractions. Figure 2 shows the corresponding exclusion curves in the gluino vs neutralino mass plane. This search employs the so-called “razor” variables, and its sensitivity is dominated by all-hadronic final states. The more top quarks there are in the final state for a given gluino mass, the less momentum is left for all the decay products, and the harder it is thus to distinguish signal from background. Accordingly, the sensitivity decreases as the number of top quarks per event increases.

Figure 4: MSSMvsSM limit in the MSSM mmod+h scenario. At each mA - tanβpoint a Hypothesis test is performed testing the MSSM (A+H+h+BKG) hypothesis against the SM (hSM+BKG) hypothesis. Credit: CERN
Figure 4: MSSMvsSM limit in the MSSM mmod+h scenario. At each mA – tanβpoint a Hypothesis test is performed testing the MSSM (A+H+h+BKG) hypothesis against the SM (hSM+BKG) hypothesis. Credit: CERN

Searching for SUSY with an “Edge”

The dilepton invariant mass distribution for leptons from the decays χ20 to l+l- χ10, or similar decays via a slepton as an intermediate state, display the striking feature of a kinematic “edge” [5, 6]. As these decays conserve lepton flavor, this edge is present only in same-flavor events, i.e. ee and μμ, and is completely absent in the “opposite flavor” lepton sample, i.e. eμ events. In contrast, backgrounds for which each of the two leptons come from a different W decay, e.g. top pairs, WW, etc., will have identical dilepton distributions for same and opposite flavor. Thus, the eμ sample in data provides a perfect model of the background dilepton mass distribution – modulo effects from the trigger and lepton reconstruction. The kinematic edge is a sufficiently striking signature to reveal new physics even at relatively modest hadronic activity, HT and MET, i.e. in the presence of sizeable top and Z backgrounds.

CMS presented a search for such an “edge” in dilepton events with jets and MET at SUSY2014 using the full 8TeV data sample [7]. Figure 3 overlays the dilepton mass distribution in ee plus μμ (data points), with the corresponding one from eμ (pink histogram). The blue shaded region depicts the systematic error envelope for the background prediction. A small excess is visible below the Z peak. A signal region of 20GeV < mll < 70GeV was chosen before data taking. Within this region, 860 events are observed with an expected standard model background yield of 730 ± 40. The small excess is consistent with a 2.6 sigma fluctuation of the standard model background. For more details see [8].

Search for additional neutral MSSM Higgs bosons in the H→ττ decay channel

Another highlight among the CMS results presented at the SUSY2014 conference is the search for additional neutral Higgs bosons decaying to τ leptons, which is the most promising channel to search for such Higgs bosons in the context of the minimal SUSY extension of the standard model, the MSSM. Following the release of a preliminary result based on the full data set of the 2011/2012 data taking period [8], additional results based on a new interpretation of the data have been presented at this conference for the first time [9]. While the data selection has not changed, extensive work has set the ground for a new interpretation of the data in the context of modern benchmark models. In particular, the new models take into account the presence of the recently discovered Higgs boson with a mass of 125 GeV, as proposed in [10]. Also for the first time the model-dependent exclusion contours as a function of the mass of the CP-odd Higgs boson, A, and the ratio of the vacuum expectation values of the two SUSY Higgs doublets, tanβ, have been derived, taking the presence of the newly discovered Higgs boson properly into account in the test statistic. As recently demonstrated by CMS [11], all observations of the new boson are so far compatible with the SM expectation within ~10% accuracy, which justifies the standard model hypothesis to be the better choice for the test statistic. The hypothesis test now becomes a search based on a model with three Higgs bosons compared against the standard model with only one Higgs boson. Traditional limits, based on the test statistic excluding the Higgs boson from the standard model hypothesis have also been made public on the CMS web-pages [12]. Also made available to the public is an extended database of results based on a model-independent single-resonance search model, which will be extremely valuable to theorists engaged in model building. Figure 1 shows the exclusion contour in a modified mh,max scenario, also referred to as mh,mod+ exploiting the new statistical treatment for the statistical inference.

By Frank Wuerthwein, Keith Ulmer and Guillelmo Gomez Ceballos.


[1] http://www.susy2014.manchester.ac.uk

[2] https://twiki.cern.ch/twiki/bin/view/CMSPublic/PhysicsResultsSUS

[3] http://ichep2014.es

[4] https://twiki.cern.ch/twiki/bin/view/CMSPublic/PhysicsResultsSUS13006

[5] http://cds.cern.ch/record/1194507/files/SUS-09-002-pas.pdf

[6] https://twiki.cern.ch/twiki/bin/view/CMSPublic/PhysicsResultsSUS11011

[7] https://twiki.cern.ch/twiki/bin/view/CMSPublic/PhysicsResultsSUS12019

[8] CMS Collaboration, “Search for Neutral MSSM Higgs Bosons Decaying to Tau Pairs in pp Collisions”, (2013), CMS-PAS-HIG-13-021.

[9] CMS Collaboration, “Search for Neutral MSSM Higgs Bosons Decaying to Tau Pairs in pp Collisions”, to be submitted to JHEP.

[10] M. S. Carena et al, “MSSM Higgs boson searches at the Tevatron and at the LHC: Impact of different benchmark scenarios” Eur. Phy. J C 73, 2552 (2013) (arXiv:hep-ph/0511023).

[11] CMS Collaboration, “Precise determination of the mass of the Higgs boson and studies of the compatibility of its couplings with the standard model”, (2014), CMS-PAS-HIG-14-009.

[12] https://indico.hep.manchester.ac.uk/contributionDisplay.py?contribId=288….

Source: CERN CMS

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Science, Economy and Peace: A study focusing Pakistan

Syed Faisal ur Rahman


 

 Abstract: A key difference between the first world and the third world is their progress in the fields of science and technology. Pakistan is mainly known as an agricultural economy but agriculture sector does not contribute much in shaping the modern global economy. We will analyze how science and technology helped in improving the lives of people but also will see its role in the economic development of countries. In the age of conflicts, war and economic rivalry, it is often hard to find common grounds for humanity to proceed for common goals. Fortunately, some big science projects have proved to be a beacon of hope for humanity in pursuing a better peaceful and prosperous future for this world.We will give an overview of some of the projects pursued by countries who are normally rivals at military and economic fronts, but for pursuing science goals they have to join hands, giving a better hope for peace and economic development. We will also see how Pakistan can learn from the experiences of other countries and regions to build a better future for it’s people.

 


 

Introduction

Last century saw enormous developments in the field of science and technology, which also helped countries to rapidly develop their potential in industry, medical sciences, defense, space and many other sectors. Countries which made science and technology research and education as priority areas emerged as stronger nations as compared to those who merely relied on agriculture and the abundance of natural resources.

We can also see that big science projects, involving one or more than one country, have served our society through spin-off technologies, human resource development, boosting up economic activity and cooperation. Also, we will study the role of some big science projects in promoting peace and stability in the world.

Global Economy and Pakistan

According to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) world factbook public data [14], global economy has a size of 71.3 trillion dollars if we look at Gross Domestic Product (GDP) based on official exchange rate and 83.12 trillion dollars based on GDP purchasing power parity (PPP).

The contribution of different sectors based on CIA world fact book 2012 estimates, is as:

Agriculture- 5.9%

Industry -30.2%

Services- 63.9%

Pakistan which comprises of ~2.5-2.7 (2011 World Bank Data) percent of world population, only has 230.5 billion dollars GDP (official exchange rate) and 514.6 billion dollars GDP (PPP) which makes it around 0.32 % of the world economy based on GDP (official exchange rate) and 0.62% based on GDP(PPP). This shows a serious gap in income scales of some of the developed countries of the world and a relatively poor economy like Pakistan. This high population and low GDP mean less money available to individuals living in the country. GDP per capita (PPP) of the world is 12,400 dollars based on CIA world factbook 2012 estimates and for Pakistan the figure is 2,900 dollars.

Pakistan is also relatively more dependent on the agricultural sector. Pakistan’s labor composition is estimated in 2012 CIA world fact book as:

Agriculture- 20.1%

Industry- 25.5%

Services- 54.4%

If we look at the labor distribution, then according to 2007 estimates, Pakistan’s ~45% population is involved in the agricultural sector, which is more than industry (~21%) and services (~34%).

 Science, Technology and Global Economy

Below is plot of World Bank 2011 data [13] for countries with highest Gross National Income (GNI) per capita:

gnipercapita

Fig. 1: GNI per capita for 2011 based on World Bank Data

If we look at figure 1 then we can clearly see that most countries in top 20 GNI are knowledge based economies and some represent natural resource or energy based economies. In comparison with these economies, Pakistan’s GNI is 1,120 dollars based on the same criteria.

A more direct comparison can be given between GDP and science output is the table below showing top scientific and technical journal producers and their GDP rankings:

Rank(based on column 3) Country Scientific and Technical Journal Articles (2009, World Bank Data)[13] GDP Ranking ( based on 2011, World Bank Data) Human Development Index(HDI, based on 2012 UNDP Data) [11] Category
1 United States 208,601 1 Very High
2 China 74,019 2 Medium
3 Japan 49,627 3 Very High
4 United Kingdom 45,649 7 Very High
5 Germany 45,003 4 Very High
6 France 31,748 5 Very High
7 Canada 29,017 10 Very High
8 Italy 26,755 7 Very High
9 South Korea 22,271 14 Very High
10 Spain 21,543 11 Very High
11 India 19,917 8 Medium
12 Australia 18,923 12 Very High
13 Netherlands 14,866 16 Very High
14 Russia 14,016 9 High
15 Brazil 12,306 6 High
16 Sweden 9,478 20 Very High
17 Switzerland 9,469 18 Very High
18 Turkey 8,301 17 High
19 Poland 7,355 21 Very High
20 Belgium 7,218 22 Very High
46 Pakistan 1,043 45 Low

Table 1: Pakistan and the top 20 Sci-tech journal articles producing countries and their GDP rankings (based on the World Bank data). Also we have presented the Human Development Index (HDI) categories of these countries based on the 2012 United Nations Development Program’s HDI data.

Figures in table 1, clearly shows some relation between scientific output and the size of the overall economy. There are few exceptions like Saudi Arabia, which makes regularly into the top 20 economies and is not one of the top producers of scientific and technical journal articles. We can find such inconsistencies as there is more than one factor which contributes to the size of the economy like exploitation of energy resources, minerals, large size of populations and various other factors.

Also we can see that most sci-tech journal articles producing countries are in very high HDI countries with 3 in high and 2 in medium categories. We can see two medium category countries are two of the largest populations on earth i.e. China and India. HDI of a country depends on the access to health, income, access to education and living standard of the citizens of that country. This indicator provides a more realistic picture as compared to GDP for measuring quality of life as countries with large populations like China and India can have high GDP despite lower average income or can have a higher number of sci-tech publications or output despite not doing well in per person averages. In comparison to these countries, Pakistan is in the low HDI category which shows the low quality of life for the citizens of Pakistan.

Pakistan and comparison with India and China

We further narrow our comparison with countries having similar regional and economic history. For this we select India and China. India and China reside in the same region as Pakistan and got independence in the same time period of the late 40s. China has the largest population in the world and India has the second largest population having relatively high population density.

If we look at the historical comparisons after the separation of the East Pakistan from the federation, we can see we were well ahead of both China and India, in terms of GNI per capita and the economic freedom, for a good part of our history. Apart, from being relatively free market economy, Pakistan also did well in the development of techno-industry. Almost all major scientific organizations related to heavy industries, space, nuclear, agricultural and other areas developed in earlier decades of Pakistan. In later years, Pakistan was left behind in development by the two countries. One of the main reasons behind this is Pakistan’s lack of interest in the science and technology sectors and the inability to keep up with the pace of science and technology development in India and China. We can see historical GNI comparisons between Pakistan, China and India.

China adopted a focused techno-industrial development approach. According to Campbell, 2013 [3] paper, China developed its industrial base on Soviet lines till 1959 focusing on heavy industries. After that, till 1976 ideological domination of economic projects and economy didn’t progress much.  Then China adopted a more independent technology research policy with a relatively liberal economic agenda and in 2001 with further Chinese shift towards a market economy from a controlled economy, these policies started to give results as the involvement of private sector in such projects ensured the translation of technology research into commercial success.

Similarly, India focused strongly on science and technology from its early days and also started to initially focus on heavy industries on Soviet lines. Later, especially in early 1990s, with the liberalization of the economy and the policy shift towards more market economy, India started to promote small technology based industries. A good focus of India was on software industry which not only helped India in bringing more export revenues, but also helped improve corporate governance in India (Arora et al, 2002)[1]. This led to more productivity in many industries of India and with gradual shifts towards a market economy India also saw rapid economic growth.

Fig. 2: GNI comparison between Pakistan, China and India (World Bank 2013 Data)

Collaboration in Science and World Peace

Apart from economic development, science projects have also contributed in promoting peace and collaboration among many countries including many rival countries. The lead in promoting scientific collaboration for peace was taken by Europe. After the World War II, Europe learned to promote economic cooperation instead of unnecessary rivalry. This cooperation in economic areas grew further and expanded in other areas like science and technology. Launch of The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN[4] in 1954 was a huge step in promoting scientific collaboration among European countries in post-World War II scenario. This spirit continued even in Cold War days (Gillies, 2011) [6] as the idea of exploring the nature of matter and energy proved to be bigger than the prejudices and blind nationalism.

This spirit continued further in other big sciences and we now see countries like USA, China, Russia, UK and others doing collaborations in space sciences, particle physics, astronomy, medicine and many other areas. Some of the examples in this regard are Square Kilometer Array (SKA), Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME), Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), International Space Station (ISS) and other projects are forwarding such spirit.

Apart from this many countries are involved in other collaborative projects as well. These projects are always welcomed in civil society and the scientific community as a way to promote peace.

Pakistan is also involved in some of these projects like CERN and SESAME. Pakistan’s collaboration with CERN formally started in past two decades. Pakistan’s connection with CERN is even older than Pakistan’s formal entry in this collaboration. This connection was established through Pakistan’s Nobel Laureate, Dr. Abdus Salam. Still a lot is needed to be done by Pakistan to get the best out of these collaborations with CERN.

In SESAME, Pakistan played a key role by becoming a founding member. The idea is a brain child of Dr. Abdus Salam and Middle East based MESC (Middle East Scientific Cooperation) group headed by Sergio Fubini, a theoretician at CERN, who aspired for a synchrotron radiation source in the Middle East (Historical highlights, SESAME website) [10]. SESAME shares the same spirit of science for peace with CERN as it is helping to bridge the gap between historically rival nations and in improving people to people relations between countries like Pakistan, Iran, Israel, Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Turkey and others who are often involved in heated conflicts in the region. The project was shown full support by 45 Nobel Laureates in a joint declaration which also demanded friends of science and peace to support the project (Declaration, PETRA VI meeting, June 2008) [5].

Pakistan is still behind many countries of the world in space sciences despite being among the first few countries to launch a space rocket in the 1960s. Similarly, Pakistan has not played a significant role in any significant collaboration related to the promotion of astronomy. Our neighboring countries are playing key roles in projects like SKA (skatelescope.org, participating countries) [8] and are also expected to join ISS in the future (Spacenews, 2010) [9].

Big Science and Economic Development

Big science projects have not only played a crucial role in bringing peace or satisfying human curiosity to know more about the nature and origin of matter, energy and the universe, but the path to achieve such scale of science has led to many spin-off technology developments.

Development of World Wide Web (WWW) is a result of data sharing architecture designed for CERN (webfoundation.org, history of the web) [7], Wi-Fi is a result of CSIRO’s efforts to develop better techniques for radio astronomy (csiro.au, outcomes)[12], research in radio astronomy has also played a key role in developing techniques for locating cellular telephones, location for faulty transmitters (Bout, 1999)[2] and various other technologies.

The key here is to understand the importance of basic and fundamental sciences, and understanding the importance of adopting the right strategy for using the resulting science and technologies for economic and social development.

 Pakistan and Suggestions to Develop Science and Technology for Economic Development

The purpose of presenting various examples, data and figures is to show the necessity of developing a solid foundation for science and technology in Pakistan. We are a country with significant potential in minerals, energy and agricultural resources. Also, we have developed some advanced technology base in the defense sector. We also have a small but energetic Information Technology industry, which is growing well despite difficulties due to law and order situation, and electricity crisis in the country.

Below are some of the steps we can take to promote science and technology in Pakistan and then use it for developing Pakistan’s economy.

a) We need to improve basic science education in the country. The school level curriculum is way behind as compared to other parts of the world. We need to produce students who can think big and even if they do not pursue science as their career, they should be at least educated enough to appreciate the importance of fundamental research. Even if students end up pursuing management studies or end up as key decision makers in government or private sector offices then they will be better equipped to realize the importance of science and technology research in the progress of our country or to come up with business idea which will exploit scientific knowledge.

b) We need to promote research and development in the universities by encouraging industry-academia linkages by providing tax incentives for industries involved in promoting research and development in the universities of Pakistan.

c) We need to share the technology base developed in defense sector with the private sector so that it can be used for peaceful commercialization of technology.

d) We need to give tax and reward incentives to the private sector for contributing in fundamental sciences.

e) We need to promote collaboration between universities and strategic national organizations like SUPARCO and NESCOM.

f) The most important thing which is needed to be done is to give the leading role in policy making to the civilian scientists with sound academic and research background. Currently, institutions like SUPARCO, NESCOM and other institutions are under the direct or indirect control of military personnel who usually do not have enough academic and research background to make the right decisions and set the right priorities in the key areas of science and technology.

g) Another thing lacking in Pakistan is active inter-university and intra-university collaboration for science projects related to interdisciplinary sciences.

h) We also need to give priority to the science and technology collaboration in academic and fundamental research areas when planning our foreign policy. Currently, our foreign policy is security focused with no serious efforts to strengthen academic ties with other countries. Our embassies are needed to be run by people who understand how important it is to interact with the academia of the country they are serving in and how important it is to help our universities in making right relationships in foreign countries for scientific research. This will again be dependent on how good we will do in producing non-science graduates who understand the importance of science and technologies as most foreign office employees come from the arts departments, the business schools etc.

i) We finally need to start playing an active role in major areas of science and technology like particle   physics, astronomy, high performance computing, quantum computing, nano-technology and other areas where we have a potential to go ahead but lacking any serious progress due to lack of proper policy making and interest.

We also need to identify our strengths and weaknesses in various areas of technology and divide our science and technology base in:

a)      Commercial

In this category we can place technologies like information & communication, agricultural, pharmaceutical etc.

b)      Defense

Pakistan has done a significant investment over the past few decades in the development of nuclear, missile, fighter jets and other technologies. We can use these technologies for commercial purposes like producing energy or developing civil aeronautical industry.

c)       Strategic

Not all science and technology research produces immediate results but, their long term impact can be seen in other developed countries and some of them are mentioned above. In this category we can place big sciences like space, radio astronomy and high energy physics or even areas like quantum computing, geophysics etc.

d)      Fundamental or Basic

Fundamental or basic sciences help in creating the grounds for developments in other area mentioned previously. Physics is considered as the most fundamental science and in relative broader terms special sciences like chemistry and biology are also often made part of this category. In more liberal definitions, people also include mathematics, statistics and economics in this area as well. We need to improve research in this area and also we need to improve the teaching quality of these subjects in primary, secondary, higher secondary and tertiary level education systems.

This categorization will help Pakistan in better prioritizing the areas based on need and capacity.

Conclusions

We discussed the importance of science and technology in the economic development. We also presented a comparison between Pakistan and other countries, including neighboring China and India. We also discussed the role of science and technology in promoting peace and collaboration. We also discussed how big sciences can contribute to the economy through spin-off technologies. In the end, we also discussed some  suggestions for developing science and technology in Pakistan.

References

  1. Arora A. and Athreye A.,2002. The Software Industry and India’s Economic Development. Information Economics and Policy 14 (2002) 253-273.
  2. Bout P. V., April, 1999. Recent Examples of Technology Fostered by Radio Astronomy (Document).
  3.  Campbell J.R.,2013. Becoming a Techno-Industrial Power: Chinese Science and Technology Policy. Issues in Technology Innovation 23 (2013).
  4. CERN official website – http://home.web.cern.ch/
  5. Ely Wiesel Foundation Declaration, June, 2008. Declaration accepted by the Plenary Meeting of the Nobel Laureates at the PETRA IV Meeting on 19 June 2008 and released by Ely Wiesel Foundation.
  6. Gillies J., 2011, CERN can be model for global co-operation, http://www.publicserviceeurope.com/article/477/cern-can-be-model-for-global-co-operation
  7. History of web-Web foundation website http://www.webfoundation.org/vision/history-of-the-web/
  8. Participating Countries, SKA website- http://www.skatelescope.org/the-project/history-of-the-organisation/participating-countries-2/
  9. Seilding P.B. , Feb. 3, 2010, http://www.spacenews.com
  10. SESAME official website- www.sesame.org.jo
  11. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) HDI http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/hdi/
  12. Wireless LANs, CSIRO website- http://www.csiro.au/en/Outcomes/ICT-and-Services/People-and-businesses/wireless-LANs.aspx
  13. World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI) – http://data.worldbank.org/indicator
  14. World Fact Book, CIA-https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/‎

 

Carolina’s Laura Mersini-Houghton shows that black holes do not exist

Carolina’s Laura Mersini-Houghton shows that black holes do not exist

 

The term black hole is entrenched in the English language. Can we let it go?

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Sept. 23, 2014) Black holes have long captured the public imagination and been the subject of popular culture, from Star Trek to Hollywood. They are the ultimate unknown – the blackest and most dense objects in the universe that do not even let light escape. And as if they weren’t bizarre enough to begin with, now add this to the mix: they don’t exist.

By merging two seemingly conflicting theories, Laura Mersini-Houghton, a physics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill in the College of Arts and Sciences, has proven, mathematically, that black holes can never come into being in the first place. The work not only forces scientists to reimagine the fabric of space-time, but also rethink the origins of the universe.

“I’m still not over the shock,” said Mersini-Houghton. “We’ve been studying this problem for a more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about.”

For decades, black holes were thought to form when a massive star collapses under its own gravity to a single point in space – imagine the Earth being squished into a ball the size of a peanut – called a singularity. So the story went, an invisible membrane known as the event horizon surrounds the singularity and crossing this horizon means that you could never cross back. It’s the point where a black hole’s gravitational pull is so strong that nothing can escape it.

The reason black holes are so bizarre is that it pits two fundamental theories of the universe against each other. Einstein’s theory of gravity predicts the formation of black holes but a fundamental law of quantum theory states that no information from the universe can ever disappear. Efforts to combine these two theories lead to mathematical nonsense, and became known as the information loss paradox.

In 1974, Stephen Hawking used quantum mechanics to show that black holes emit radiation. Since then, scientists have detected fingerprints in the cosmos that are consistent with this radiation, identifying an ever-increasing list of the universe’s black holes.

But now Mersini-Houghton describes an entirely new scenario. She and Hawking both agree that as a star collapses under its own gravity, it produces Hawking radiation. However, in her new work, Mersini-Houghton shows that by giving off this radiation, the star also sheds mass. So much so that as it shrinks it no longer has the density to become a black hole.

Before a black hole can form, the dying star swells one last time and then explodes. A singularity never forms and neither does an event horizon. The take home message of her work is clear: there is no such thing as a black hole.

The paper, which was recently submitted to ArXiv, an online repository of physics papers that is not peer-reviewed, offers exact numerical solutions to this problem and was done in collaboration with Harald Peiffer, an expert on numerical relativity at the University of Toronto. An earlier paper, by Mersini-Houghton, originally submitted to ArXiv in June, was published in the journal Physics Letters B, and offers approximate solutions to the problem.

Experimental evidence may one day provide physical proof as to whether or not black holes exist in the universe. But for now, Mersini-Houghton says the mathematics are conclusive.

Many physicists and astronomers believe that our universe originated from a singularity that began expanding with the Big Bang. However, if singularities do not exist, then physicists have to rethink their ideas of the Big Bang and whether it ever happened.

“Physicists have been trying to merge these two theories – Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum mechanics – for decades, but this scenario brings these two theories together, into harmony,” said Mersini-Houghton. “And that’s a big deal.”

-Carolina-

Mersini-Houghton’s ArXiv papers:

Approximate solutions:http://arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:1406.1525

Exact solutions:http://arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:1409.1837

Source: UNC News

A plot of the transmission spectrum for exoplanet HAT-P-11b, with data from NASA's Kepler, Hubble and Spitzer observatories combined. The results show a robust detection of water absorption in the Hubble data. Transmission spectra of selected atmospheric models are plotted for comparison.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

NASA Telescopes Find Clear Skies and Water Vapor on Exoplanet

Astronomers using data from three of NASA’s space telescopes — Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler — have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapor on a gaseous planet outside our solar system. The planet is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest planet from which molecules of any kind have been detected.

A plot of the transmission spectrum for exoplanet HAT-P-11b, with data from NASA's Kepler, Hubble and Spitzer observatories combined. The results show a robust detection of water absorption in the Hubble data. Transmission spectra of selected atmospheric models are plotted for comparison. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI
A plot of the transmission spectrum for exoplanet HAT-P-11b, with data from NASA’s Kepler, Hubble and Spitzer observatories combined. The results show a robust detection of water absorption in the Hubble data. Transmission spectra of selected atmospheric models are plotted for comparison.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

“This discovery is a significant milepost on the road to eventually analyzing the atmospheric composition of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories.”
Clouds in a planet’s atmosphere can block the view to underlying molecules that reveal information about the planet’s composition and history. Finding clear skies on a Neptune-size planet is a good sign that smaller planets might have similarly good visibility.
“When astronomers go observing at night with telescopes, they say ‘clear skies’ to mean good luck,” said Jonathan Fraine of the University of Maryland, College Park, lead author of a new study appearing in Nature. “In this case, we found clear skies on a distant planet. That’s lucky for us because it means clouds didn’t block our view of water molecules.”
The planet, HAT-P-11b, is categorized as an exo-Neptune — a Neptune-sized planet that orbits the star HAT-P-11. It is located 120 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. This planet orbits closer to its star than does our Neptune, making one lap roughly every five days. It is a warm world thought to have a rocky core and gaseous atmosphere. Not much else was known about the composition of the planet, or other exo-Neptunes like it, until now.
Part of the challenge in analyzing the atmospheres of planets like this is their size. Larger Jupiter-like planets are easier to see because of their impressive girth and relatively inflated atmospheres. In fact, researchers already have detected water vapor in the atmospheres of those planets. The handful of smaller planets observed previously had proved more difficult to probe partially because they all appeared to be cloudy.
In the new study, astronomers set out to look at the atmosphere of HAT-P-11b, not knowing if its weather would call for clouds. They used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, and a technique called transmission spectroscopy, in which a planet is observed as it crosses in front of its parent star. Starlight filters through the rim of the planet’s atmosphere; if molecules like water vapor are present, they absorb some of the starlight, leaving distinct signatures in the light that reaches our telescopes.
Using this strategy, Hubble was able to detect water vapor in HAT-P-11b. But before the team could celebrate clear skies on the exo-Neptune, they had to show that starspots — cooler “freckles” on the face of stars — were not the real sources of water vapor. Cool starspots on the parent star can contain water vapor that might erroneously appear to be from the planet.
The team turned to Kepler and Spitzer. Kepler had been observing one patch of sky for years, and HAT-P-11b happens to lie in the field. Those visible-light data were combined with targeted Spitzer observations taken at infrared wavelengths. By comparing these observations, the astronomers figured out that the starspots were too hot to have any steam. It was at that point the team could celebrate detecting water vapor on a world unlike any in our solar system. This discovery indicates the planet did not have clouds blocking the view, a hopeful sign that more cloudless planets can be located and analyzed in the future.
“We think that exo-Neptunes may have diverse compositions, which reflect their formation histories,” said study co-author Heather Knutson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Now with data like these, we can begin to piece together a narrative for the origin of these distant worlds.”
The results from all three telescopes demonstrate that HAT-P-11b is blanketed in water vapor, hydrogen gas and likely other yet-to-be-identified molecules. Theorists will be drawing up new models to explain the planet’s makeup and origins.
“We are working our way down the line, from hot Jupiters to exo-Neptunes,” said Drake Deming, a co-author of the study also from University of Maryland. “We want to expand our knowledge to a diverse range of exoplanets.”
The astronomers plan to examine more exo-Neptunes in the future, and hope to apply the same method to super-Earths — massive, rocky cousins to our home world with up to 10 times the mass. Although our solar system doesn’t have a super-Earth, NASA’s Kepler mission is finding them in droves around other stars. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2018, will search super-Earths for signs of water vapor and other molecules; however, finding signs of oceans and potentially habitable worlds is likely a ways off.
“The work we are doing now is important for future studies of super-Earths and even smaller planets, because we want to be able to pick out in advance the planets with clear atmospheres that will let us detect molecules,” said Knutson.
Once again, astronomers will be crossing their fingers for clear skies.

Source: NASA

ISRO's facebook page inviting their members to witness the history.

ISRO and India all set for MOM’s Mars Insertion|Update: MOM successfully completes Insertion Phase

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is all set to make a history when their Mars Orbital Mission (MOM) or Mangalyan will enter the orbit of Mars.

Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) is scheduled on 24th of September 2014.

MOM  was launched into the Earth’s orbit on 5th November 2013 from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, using a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket C25 at 09:08 UTC (14:38 IST) . The mission will not only help in gathering useful information related to the atmosphere of Mars or the Red Planet and planetary astrophysics in general but will also be remembered as a great milestone achieved by Indian scientists and is expected to boost the interest in science and technology education and research in India.

The live webcast for MOI will be available on ISRO’s website. Webcast will be available on Sep 24, 2014 from 06:45 hrs (IST):

http://webcast.isro.gov.in/

We wish best of luck to MOM!

ISRO's facebook page inviting their members to witness the history.
ISRO’s facebook page inviting their members to witness the history.

Update 7:35 am: MOM successfully complete’s Insertion phase.

Narendra Modi, PM of India announced the success by saying,

“Aaj Mangal ka MOM sai milan hogiya.” [Today, Mangal (Mars or Mangalyan) and MOM have met]

 

Congratulations India and ISRO!

Computer-generated drawing of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).

Credit: NASA

Particle detector finds hints of dark matter in space

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer detects positrons in cosmic ray flux that hint at dark matter’s origin.

By Jennifer Chu


Researchers at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science have released new measurements that promise to shed light on the origin of dark matter.

Computer-generated drawing of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). Credit: NASA
Computer-generated drawing of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).
Credit: NASA

The MIT group leads an international collaboration of scientists that analyzed two and a half years’ worth of data taken by the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) — a large particle detector mounted on the exterior of the International Space Station — that captures incoming cosmic rays from all over the galaxy.

Among 41 billion cosmic ray events — instances of cosmic particles entering the detector — the researchers identified 10 million electrons and positrons, stable antiparticles of electrons. Positrons can exist in relatively small numbers within the cosmic ray flux.

An excess of these particles has been observed by previous experiments — suggesting that they may not originate from cosmic rays, but come instead from a new source. In 2013, the AMS collaboration, for the first time, accurately measured the onset of this excess.

The new AMS results may ultimately help scientists narrow in on the origin and features of dark matter — whose collisions may give rise to positrons.

The team reports the observed positron fraction — the ratio of the number of positrons to the combined number of positrons and electrons — within a wider energy range than previously reported. From the data, the researchers observed that this positron fraction increases quickly at low energies, after which it slows and eventually levels off at much higher energies.

The team reports that this is the first experimental observation of the positron fraction maximum — at 243 to 307 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) — after half a century of cosmic ray experiments.

“The new AMS results show unambiguously that a new source of positrons is active in the galaxy,” says Paolo Zuccon, an assistant professor of physics at MIT. “We do not know yet if these positrons are coming from dark matter collisions, or from astrophysical sources such as pulsars. But measurements are underway by AMS that may discriminate between the two hypotheses.”

The new measurements, Zuccon adds, are compatible with a dark matter particle with mass on the order of 1 teraelectronvolt (TeV) — about 1,000 times the mass of a proton.

Zuccon and his colleagues, including AMS’s principal investigator, Samuel Ting, the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Physics at MIT, detail their results in two papers published today in the journal Physical Review Letters and in a third, forthcoming publication.

Catching a galactic stream

Nearly 85 percent of the universe is made of dark matter — matter that somehow does not emit or reflect light, and is therefore invisible to modern telescopes. For decades, astronomers have observed only the effects of dark matter, in the form of mysterious gravitational forces that seem to hold together clusters of galaxy that would otherwise fly apart. Such observations eventually led to the theory of an invisible, stabilizing source of gravitational mass, or dark matter.

The AMS experiment aboard the International Space Station aims to identify the origins of dark matter. The detector takes in a constant flux of cosmic rays, which Zuccon describes as “streams of the universe that bring with them everything they can catch around the galaxy.”

Presumably, this cosmic stream includes leftovers from the violent collisions between dark matter particles.

According to theoretical predictions, when two dark matter particles collide, they annihilate, releasing a certain amount of energy that depends on the mass of the original particles. When the particles annihilate, they produce ordinary particles that eventually decay into stable particles, including electrons, protons, antiprotons, and positrons.

As the visible matter in the universe consists of protons and electrons, the researchers reasoned that the contribution of these same particles from dark matter collisions would be negligible. However, positrons and antiprotons are much rarer in the universe; any detection of these particles above the very small expected background would likely come from a new source. The features of this excess — and in particular its onset, maximum position, and offset — will help scientists determine whether positrons arise from astrophysical sources such as pulsars, or from dark matter.

After continuously collecting data since 2011, the AMS team analyzed 41 billion incoming particles and identified 10 million positrons and electrons with energies ranging from 0.5 to 500 GeV — a wider energy range than previously measured.

The researchers studied the positron fraction versus energy, and found an excess of positrons starting at lower energies (8 GeV), suggesting a source for the particles other than the cosmic rays themselves. The positron fraction then slowed and peaked at 275 GeV, indicating that the data may be compatible with a dark matter source of positrons.

“Dark matter is there,” Zuccon says. “We just don’t know what it is. AMS has the possibility to shine a light on its features. We see some hint now, and it is within our possibility to say if that hint is true.”

If it turns out that the AMS results are due to dark matter, the experiment could establish that dark matter is a new kind of particle, says Barry Barish, a professor emeritus of physics and high-energy physics at the California Institute of Technology.

“The new phenomena could be evidence for the long-sought dark matter in the universe, or it could be due to some other equally exciting new science,” says Barish, who was not involved in the experiments. “In either case, the observation in itself is what is exciting; the scientific explanation will come with further experimentation.”

This research was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Source: MIT News Office

 


Each of the colourful objects in this image illustrates one of 30 merging galaxies. The contours in the individual galaxies show the signal strength from carbon monoxide while the colour represents the motion of gas. Gas that is moving away from us appears red while the blue colour shows gas that is approaching. The contours together with the transition from red to blue indicate a gaseous disc that is rotating about the centre of the galaxy.

Credit:

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/SMA/CARMA/IRAM/J. Ueda et al.

Violent Origins of Disc Galaxies Probed by ALMA

New observations explain why Milky Way-like galaxies are so common in the Universe

 


For decades scientists have believed that galaxy mergers usually result in the formation of elliptical galaxies. Now, for the the first time, researchers using ALMA and a host of other radio telescopes have found direct evidence that merging galaxies can instead form disc galaxies, and that this outcome is in fact quite common. This surprising result could explain why there are so many spiral galaxies like the Milky Way in the Universe.

Each of the colourful objects in this image illustrates one of 30 merging galaxies. The contours in the individual galaxies show the signal strength from carbon monoxide while the colour represents the motion of gas. Gas that is moving away from us appears red while the blue colour shows gas that is approaching. The contours together with the transition from red to blue indicate a gaseous disc that is rotating about the centre of the galaxy. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/SMA/CARMA/IRAM/J. Ueda et al.
Each of the colourful objects in this image illustrates one of 30 merging galaxies. The contours in the individual galaxies show the signal strength from carbon monoxide while the colour represents the motion of gas. Gas that is moving away from us appears red while the blue colour shows gas that is approaching. The contours together with the transition from red to blue indicate a gaseous disc that is rotating about the centre of the galaxy.
Credit:
ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/SMA/CARMA/IRAM/J. Ueda et al.

An international research group led by Junko Ueda, a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science postdoctoral fellow, has made surprising observations that most galaxy collisions in the nearby Universe — within 40–600 million light-years from Earth — result in so-called disc galaxies. Disc galaxies — including spiral galaxies like the Milky Way and lenticular galaxies — are defined by pancake-shaped regions of dust and gas, and are distinct from the category of elliptical galaxies.

It has, for some time, been widely accepted that merging disc galaxies would eventually form an elliptically shaped galaxy. During these violent interactions the galaxies do not only gain mass as they merge or cannibalise each-other, but they are also changing their shape throughout cosmic time, and therefore changing type along the way.

Computer simulations from the 1970s predicted that mergers between two comparable disc galaxies would result in an elliptical galaxy. The simulations predict that most galaxies today are elliptical, clashing with observations that over 70% of galaxies are in fact disc galaxies. However, more recent simulations have suggested that collisions could also form disc galaxies.

To identify the final shapes of galaxies after mergers observationally, the group studied the distribution of gas in 37 galaxies that are in their final stages of merging. The Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) and several other radio telescopes [1] were used to observe emission from carbon monoxide (CO), an indicator of molecular gas.

The team’s research is the largest study of molecular gas in galaxies to date and provides unique insight into how the Milky Way might have formed. Their study revealed that almost all of the mergers show pancake-shaped areas of molecular gas, and hence are disc galaxies in the making. Ueda explains: “For the first time there is observational evidence for merging galaxies that could result in disc galaxies. This is a large and unexpected step towards understanding the mystery of the birth of disc galaxies.

Nonetheless, there is a lot more to discover. Ueda added: “We have to start focusing on the formation of stars in these gas discs. Furthermore, we need to look farther out in the more distant Universe. We know that the majority of galaxies in the more distant Universe also have discs. We however do not yet know whether galaxy mergers are also responsible for these, or whether they are formed by cold gas gradually falling into the galaxy. Maybe we have found a general mechanism that applies throughout the history of the Universe.”

Notes

[1] The data were obtained by ALMA; the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy: a millimeter array consisting of 23 parabola antennas in California; the Submillimeter Array a submillimeter array consisting of eight parabola antennas in Mauna Kea, Hawaii; the Plateau de Bure Interferometer; the NAOJ Nobeyama Radio Observatory 45m radio telescope; USA’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory 12m telescope; USA’s Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory 14m telescope; IRAM’s 30m telescope; and the Swedish-ESO Submillimeter Telescope as a supplement.

More information

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan. ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

These observation results were published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement (August 2014) as Ueda et al. “Cold Molecular Gas in Merger Remnants. I. Formation of Molecular Gas Discs”.

The team is composed of Junko Ueda (JSPS postdoctoral fellow/National Astronomical Observatory of Japan [NAOJ]), Daisuke Iono (NAOJ/The Graduate University for Advanced Studies [SOKENDAI]), Min S. Yun (The University of Massachusetts), Alison F. Crocker (The University of Toledo), Desika Narayanan (Haverford College), Shinya Komugi (Kogakuin University/ NAOJ), Daniel Espada (NAOJ/SOKENDAI/Joint ALMA Observatory), Bunyo Hatsukade (NAOJ), Hiroyuki Kaneko (University of Tsukuba), Yoichi Tamura (The University of Tokyo), David J. Wilner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Ryohei Kawabe (NAOJ/ SOKENDAI/The University of Tokyo) and Hsi-An Pan (Hokkaido University/SOKENDAI/NAOJ)

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning the 39-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

Source: ESO

How to hide like an octopus : Researchers create materials that reproduce cephalopods’ ability to quickly change colors and textures

By David Chandler


CAMBRIDGE, Mass– Cephalopods, which include octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish, are among nature’s most skillful camouflage artists, able to change both the color and texture of their skin within seconds to blend into their surroundings — a capability that engineers have long struggled to duplicate in synthetic materials. Now a team of researchers has come closer than ever to achieving that goal, creating a flexible material that can change its color or fluorescence and its texture at the same time, on demand, by remote control.

The results of their research have been published in the journal Nature Communications, in a paper by a team led by MIT Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Xuanhe Zhao and Duke University Professor of Chemistry Stephen Craig.

Zhao, who joined the MIT faculty from Duke this month and holds a joint appointment with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says the new material is essentially a layer of electro-active elastomer that could be quite easily adapted to standard manufacturing processes and uses readily available materials. This could make it a more economical dynamic camouflage material than others that are assembled from individually manufactured electronic modules.

While its most immediate applications are likely to be military, Zhao says the same basic approach could eventually lead to production of large, flexible display screens and anti-fouling coatings for ships.

In its initial proof-of-concept demonstrations, the material can be configured to respond with changes in both texture and fluorescence, or texture and color. In addition, while the present version can produce a limited range of colors, there is no reason that the range of the palette cannot be increased, Craig says.

Learning from nature

Cephalopods achieve their remarkable color changes using muscles that can alter the shapes of tiny pigment sacs within the skin — for example, contracting to change a barely visible round blob of color into a wide, flattened shape that is clearly seen. “In a relaxed state, it is very small,” Zhao says, but when the muscles contract, “they stretch that ball into a pancake, and use that to change color. The muscle contraction also varies skin textures, for example, from smooth to bumpy.” Octopuses use this mechanism both for camouflage and for signaling, he says, adding, “We got inspired by this idea, from this wonderful creature.”

The new synthetic material is a form of elastomer, a flexible, stretchable polymer. “It changes its fluorescence and texture together, in response to a change in voltage applied to it — essentially, changing at the flip of a switch,” says Qiming Wang, an MIT postdoc and the first author of the paper.

“We harnessed a physical phenomenon that we discovered in 2011, that applying voltage can dynamically change surface textures of elastomers,” Zhao says.

“The texturing and deformation of the elastomer further activates special mechanically responsive molecules embedded in the elastomer, which causes it to fluoresce or change color in response to voltage changes,” Craig adds. “Once you release the voltage, both the elastomer and the molecules return to their relaxed state — like the cephalopod skin with muscles relaxed.”

Multiple uses for quick changes

While troops and vehicles often move from one environment to another, they are presently limited to fixed camouflage patterns that might be effective in one environment but stick out like a sore thumb in another. Using a system like this new elastomer, Zhao suggests, either on uniforms or on vehicles, could allow the camouflage patterns to constantly change in response to the surroundings.

“The U.S. military spends millions developing different kinds of camouflage patterns, but they are all static,” Zhao says. “Modern warfare requires troops to deploy in many different environments during single missions. This system could potentially allow dynamic camouflage in different environments.”

Another important potential application, Zhao says, is for an anti-fouling coating on the hulls of ships, where microbes and creatures such as barnacles can accumulate and significantly degrade the efficiency of the ship’s propulsion. Earlier experiments have shown that even a brief change in the surface texture, from the smooth surface needed for fast movement to a rough, bumpy texture, can quickly remove more than 90 percent of the biological fouling.

In addition to Zhao, Craig, and Wang, the team also included Duke student Gregory Grossweiler. The work was supported by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Army Research Office, and the National Science Foundation.

Source : MIT News Office

Laser system

Physical constant is constant even in strong gravitational fields

An international team of physicists has shown that the mass ratio between protons and electrons is the same in weak and in very strong gravitational fields. Their study, which was partly funded by the FOM Foundation, is published online on 18 September 2014 in Physical Review Letters.


The idea that the laws of physics and its fundamental constants do not depend on local circumstances is called the equivalence principle. This principle is a cornerstone to Einstein’s theory of general relativity. To put the principle to the test, FOM physicists working at the LaserLaB at VU University Amsterdam determined whether one fundamental constant, the mass ratio between protons and electrons, depends on the strength of the gravitational field that the particles are in. Laser system

Laboratories on earth and in space 
The researchers compared the proton-electron mass ratio near the surface of a white dwarf star to the mass ratio in a laboratory on Earth. White dwarfs stars, which are in a late stage of their life cycle, have collapsed to less than one percent of their original size. The gravitational field at the surface of these stars is therefore much larger than that on earth, by a factor of 10,000. The physicists concluded that even these strong gravitational conditions, the proton-electron mass ratio is the same within a margin of 0.005 percent. In both cases, the proton mass is 1836.152672 times as big as the electron mass . 

Absorption spectra 
To reach their conclusion, the Dutch physicists collaborated with astronomers of the University of Leicester, the University of Cambridge and the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne. The team analysed absorption spectra of hydrogen molecules in white dwarf photospheres (the outer shell of a star from which light is radiated). The spectra were then compared to spectra obtained with a laser at LaserLaB in Amsterdam. 

Absorption spectra reveal which radiation frequencies are absorbed by a particle. A small deviation of the proton-electron mass ration would affect the structure of the molecule, and therefore the absorption spectrum as well. However, the comparison revealed that the spectra were very similar, which proves that the value of the proton-electron mass ratio is indeed independent of the strength of the gravitation field. 

Rock-solid 
FOM PhD student Julija Bagdonaite: “Previously, we confirmed the constancy of this fundamental constant on a cosmological time scale with the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Now we searched for a dependence on strong gravitational fields using the Hubble Space Telescope. Gradually we find that the fundamental constants seem to be rock-solid and eternal.”

Contact information Prof.dr. Wim Ubachs, LaserLaB VU University Amsterdam, +31 (0)20 598 79 48

Images The astronomical spectra were recorded with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. For a picture of the COS, please visit the NASA website.

Reference Limits on a Gravitational field Dependence of the Proton-to-Electron Mass Ratio from H2 in White Dwarf Stars, Physical Review Letters, 18 September 2014.
Paper on ArXiv.  

Source: FOM