Tag Archives: big

This artist’s impression depicts the formation of a galaxy cluster in the early Universe. The galaxies are vigorously forming new stars and interacting with each other. Such a scene closely resembles the Spiderweb Galaxy (formally known as MRC 1138-262) and its surroundings, which is one of the best-studied protoclusters.


ESO/M. Kornmesser

Syracuse Physicists Closer to Understanding Balance of Matter, Antimatter

Physicists in the College of Arts and Sciences have made important discoveries regarding Bs meson particles—something that may explain why the universe contains more matter than antimatter. Distinguished Professor Sheldon Stone and his colleagues recently announced their findings at a workshop at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Titled “Implications of LHCb Measurements and Their Future Prospects,” the workshop enabled him and other members of the Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) Collaboration to share recent data results. The LHCb Collaboration is a multinational experiment that seeks to explore what happened after the Big Bang, causing matter to survive and flourish in the Universe. LHCb is an international experiment, based at CERN, involving more than 800 scientists and engineers from all over the world. At CERN, Stone heads up a team of 15 physicists from Syracuse. “Many international experiments are interested in the Bs meson because it oscillates between a matter particle and an antimatter particle,” says Stone, who heads up Syracuse’s High-Energy Physics Group. “Understanding its properties may shed light on charge-parity [CP] violation, which refers to the balance of matter and antimatter in the universe and is one of the biggest challenges of particle physics.” Scientists believe that, 14 billion years ago, energy coalesced to form equal quantities of matter and antimatter. As the universe cooled and expanded, its composition changed. Antimatter all but disappeared after the Big Bang (approximately 3.8 billion years ago), leaving behind matter to create everything from stars and galaxies to life on Earth. “Something must have happened to cause extra CP violation and, thus, form the universe as we know it,” Stone says. He thinks part of the answer lies in the Bs meson, which contains an antiquark and a strange quark and is bound together by a strong interaction. (A quark is a hard, point-like object found inside a proton and neutron that forms the nucleus of an atom.) Enter CERN, a European research organization that operates the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. In Geneva, Stone and his research team—which includes Liming Zhang, a former Syracuse research associate who is now a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China—have studied two landmark experiments that took place at Fermilab, a high-energy physics laboratory near Chicago, in 2009. The experiments involved the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) and the DZero (D0), four-story detectors that were part of Fermilab’s now-defunct Tevatron, then one of the world’s highest-energy particle accelerators. “Results from D0 and CDF showed that the matter-antimatter oscillations of the Bs meson deviated from the standard model of physics, but the uncertainties of their results were too high to make any solid conclusions,” Stone says. He and Zhang had no choice but to devise a technique allowing for more precise measurements of Bs mesons. Their new result shows that the difference in oscillations between the Bs and anti-Bs meson is just as the standard model has predicted. Stone says the new measurement dramatically restricts the realms where new physics could be hiding, forcing physicists to expand their searches into other areas. “Everyone knows there is new physics. We just need to perform more sensitive analyses to sniff it out,” he adds.

Source: Syracuse University


Big Science, Funding and Commercialization. In the context of Pakistan (Survey)

We are conducting a survey on the topic of “Big Science, Funding and Commercialization”. The subject is aimed at the big science research and commercialization in the Pakistani context.

Please take part in the survey and encourage your friends to take part as well (especially working in academia, tech industry or government sector)

In today’s economic realities, the question of funding big science projects is often discussed in political circles, academia, industry, media and other parts of society. On one hand we see people take interest in big questions related to our universe like it’s origin, accelerated expansion or what gives mass to the particles? But on the other hand there are many critics who question spending so much money on doing big science especially when there is so much poverty in many parts of the world. The idea is to find some solution and one possible way is to use spin-off technologies and knowledge base for commercial purposes in order to fund the big science projects without relying heavily on tax payers’ money.

Questions are available at:


An article on our website discussed the related issues 



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.




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:


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.


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.


  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/‎


Visual control of big data

Data-visualization tool identifies sources of aberrant results and recomputes visualizations without them.

By Larry Hardesty


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – In the age of big data, visualization tools are vital. With a single glance at a graphic display, a human being can recognize patterns that a computer might fail to find even after hours of analysis.

But what if there are aberrations in the patterns? Or what if there’s just a suggestion of a visual pattern that’s not distinct enough to justify any strong inferences? Or what if the pattern is clear, but not what was to be expected?

The Database Group at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has released a data-visualization tool that lets users highlight aberrations and possible patterns in the graphical display; the tool then automatically determines which data sources are responsible for which.

It could be, for instance, that just a couple of faulty sensors among dozens are corrupting a very regular pattern of readings, or that a few underperforming agents are dragging down a company’s sales figures, or that a clogged vent in a hospital is dramatically increasing a few patients’ risk of infection.

Big data is big business

Visualizing big data is big business: Tableau Software, which sells a suite of visualization tools, is a $4 billion company. But in creating attractive, informative graphics, most visualization software discards a good deal of useful data.

“If you look at the way people traditionally produce visualizations of any sort, they would have some big, rich data set — that has maybe hundreds of millions of data points, or records — and they would do some reduction of the set to a few hundred or thousands of records at most,” says Samuel Madden, a professor of computer science and engineering and one of the Database Group’s leaders. “The problem with doing that sort of reduction is that you lose information about where those output data points came from relative to the input data set. If one of these data points is crazy — is an outlier, for example — you don’t have any real ability to go back to the data set and ask, ‘Where did this come from and what were its properties?’”

That’s one of the problems solved by the new visualization tool, dubbed DBWipes. For his thesis work, Eugene Wu, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science who developed DBWipes with Madden and adjunct professor Michael Stonebraker, designed a novel “provenance tracking” system for large data sets.

If a visualization system summarizes 100 million data entries into 100 points to render on the screen, then each of the 100 points will in some way summarize — perhaps by averaging — 1 million data points. Wu’s provenance-tracking system provides a compact representation of the source of the summarized data so that users can easily trace visualized data back to the source — and conversely, track source data to the pixels that are rendered by it.

The idea of provenance tracking is not new, but Wu’s system is particularly well suited to the task of tracking down outliers in data visualizations. Rather than simply telling the user the million data entries that were used to compute the outliers, it first identifies those that most influenced the outlier values, and summarizes those data entries in human readable terms.

Best paper

Wu and Madden’s work on their “Scorpion” algorithm was selected as one of the best papers of the Very Large Database conference last year. The algorithm tracks down the records responsible for particular aspects of a DBWipes visualization and then efficiently recalculates the visualization to either exclude or emphasize the data they contain.

If some of the points in the visualization suggest a regular pattern, the user can highlight them and mark them as “normal data”; if some of the points disrupt that pattern, the user can highlight them and mark them as “outlier data”; and if the pattern is surprising, the user can draw the anticipated pattern on-screen.

Scorpion then tracks down the provenance of the highlighted points, and filters the provenance down to the subset that most influenced the outliers. Their paper introduces several properties about the specific computation that can be used to develop more efficient algorithms for finding these subsets.

Scorpion, Madden says, was partly motivated by a study conducted by a researcher at a Boston hospital, who noticed that a subset of patients in one of the hospital’s wards was incurring much higher treatment costs than the rest. Any number of factors could have been responsible: the patients’ age and fitness, the severity of their conditions, their particular constellations of symptoms, their health plans, or perhaps something as banal as their proximity to the hospital — nothing could be ruled out.

After six months of work, the researcher concluded that most of the variance in patients’ treatment costs could be explained by a single variable: their doctors. It turned out that three doctors on the hospital staff, in an effort to leave no stone unturned, simply prescribed more interventions than their peers.

As an experiment, Wu and Madden turned Scorpion loose on the researcher’s data. Within five minutes, it had concluded that the data point most strongly correlated with the increase in patients’ treatment costs was the names of their doctors. Because it was combing through a massive data set and, like all big-data search algorithms, had to sacrifice some precision for efficiency, it couldn’t pinpoint just the three doctors identified by the six-month study. But it did produce a list of 10 doctors most likely to be responsible for cost variance, and those three were among them. “You would at least know where to begin looking,” Madden says.

Source:  MIT News Office