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Extraterrestrial games - Aug 27, 2010 at 9:59PM
Society of Physics...
293 Posts

Here's a reply I got after seeing the planet-skimming satellite thing from one of my favorite people, Chris Gould at NC State...a take on the issues of jogging on small planetoids, lots of fun....

anybody else know of some interesting physics commentary on possible space games?

Attached File: Extraterrestrial Games by Chris Gould.docx

NSF Program Director (on assignment from the AIP and the Society of Physics Students to serve as the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program Director at the National Science Foundation)

Planet-skimming satellites orbit in about an hour! - Aug 27, 2010 at 9:55PM
Society of Physics...
293 Posts

I've taught astronomy lots of times but only recently noticed that the orbital time was about the same for most surface-skimming terrestrial planets, approximately an hour-and-a-half, the space shuttle time...physics is an amazing thing! For details and commentary see the attached document...

Attached File: Planet Skimming Satellites.docx

NSF Program Director (on assignment from the AIP and the Society of Physics Students to serve as the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program Director at the National Science Foundation)

This just in! LHC problems due to sabotage by time travelers! - Oct 14, 2009 at 2:41PM
50 Posts

Best explanation yet!


Women Geniuses - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:32PM
50 Posts


I had a discussion the other day with a friend about the question of "If their have been women geniuses"  and if so, who are then and if not, then why?  The discussion revolved mostly around sociology. For me, it's more of an issue of why women haven't been given the chance to express their genius.  It was (is?) generally frowned upon by society to be an intelligent career/science driven female.  Only in the past 100ish years have women even be able to attend college and get an education...and early on it was only the wealthy. With all this against them,  is it any wonder there have been few past women geniuses?  Or maybe its due to biology.  I've heard it argued that men are characterized by extremes - either very low IQ or very high, while its more favorable for women to be 'moderate' in intellect.  

It's interesting that we are still having these conversations   - because both views are completely missing the FACT that there have existed and currently exist many examples of female geniuses. What we should have been talking about instead of playing biological/sociological head games is of all the KNOWN EXAMPLES of women that are geniuses!  The two that come to mind that are without question 'geniuses' are:

Madame Curie - Curie was the first person to win or share two Nobel Prizes (chemistry, physics). She is one of only two people who have been awarded a Nobel Prize in two different fields, the other being Linus Pauling (Chemistry, Peace). Nevertheless in 1911 the French Academy of Sciences refused to abandon its prejudice against women and she failed by two votes to be elected to membership).  

Lise Meitner -This story always makes me sad. Lise Meitner was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission, an achievement for which her colleague Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize. Meitner is often mentioned as one of the most glaring examples of women's scientific achievement overlooked by the Nobel committee.  Also an example of the shear force of society trying to keep women from working with their minds (Max Planck allowed her to attend his lectures, an unusual gesture by Planck, who until then had rejected any women wanting to attend his lectures... she also worked without salary).  She was offered a job on the Manhattan Project. Meitner refused an offer to work on the project at Los Alamos, declaring "I will have nothing to do with a bomb!"  Wow...

Marilyn vos Savant.  She is the person with the highest measured IQ and creator of the Monty Hall problem.

From here I did a bit more research and came up with:

Judit Polgar - the youngest Grandmaster chess player in 1991 at the age of 15.  This girl was defeating grandmasters at age 11!!  Can you imagine a grown man grandmaster chess player getting beaten by an 11 year old girl??  Haha what would you give to see the look on his face...

Emilie du Chatelte -  A forgotten favorite of mine!  She was described by Voltaire as "a great man whose only fault was being a woman" (wow what a moron... can we take him off the genius list).  I remember I was in my intro college physics class and the professor told us the tale of how she is the one that discovered that energy is proportional to the velocity squared.... not linearly proportional to velocity...as Newton himself had believed.  Her translation of Principia (oh ya...she was fluent in Latin, Greek, German and Italian at age 12)  is still the standard one we use today.   E=1/2 mv^2 is a huge discovery in physics... I don't not understand why her name isn't sung like Newton and Leibniz.

Ada Lovelace - The first programmer!!  The daughter of Lord Byron, she is mainly known for having written a description of Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. She is today appreciated as the "first programmer" since she was writing programs--that is, encoding an algorithm in a form to be processed by a machine--for a machine that Babbage had not yet built. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities

Obviously I could go on.  In my search I found so many women I've never heard of that seemed to be utterly extraordinary.  Why aren't these women more famous?  Perhaps one way to get more girls interested in science is to educate them on the fact that so many women have been genius scientists.... and there is no reason why they can't be next!

Post edited October 7, 2009 at 10:35 PM EST.

Post edited October 7, 2009 at 10:35 PM EST.

Current Replies - View all
Re: Women Geniuses   (Gary - Aug 27 2010 at 4:44PM)
Chemistry Fail - Sep 14, 2009 at 10:46AM
50 Posts

I thought you guys might enjoy this... hehe


Hubble is back and better then ever! - Sep 10, 2009 at 5:27PM
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New spectra and images from a refurbished HST came out yesterday and they are beeeeautiful!  


Current Replies - View all
Re: Hubble is back and be...   (Gary - Sep 11 2009 at 10:16AM)
Re: Hubble is back and be...   (Ajay Narayanan - Oct 15 2009 at 12:36PM)
Magnetic Fields in the Universe - Aug 19, 2009 at 3:58PM
50 Posts

Sadly, the IAU conference in Rio de Janeiro is now over.  I'm about to head home to Wisconsin and start my second year of graduate school.  In addition to learning all kinda of cool science, I realized how lucky we are as astronomers to be part of such an international community.  We get to travel all over the world to meet new people, make new friends, and learn about the universe in a beautiful international city.  These conferences are certainly just as important for networking as they are for attending talks and looking at posters.  

The joint discussion on magnetic fields that I was apart of was extremely interesting.  It was composed of observers and theorist all working on studying the role magnetic fields play in molecular clouds and galaxies as well as  studying the magnetic fields that penetrate the inter cluster medium to even more exotic phenomena such as magnetic reconnection.  I presented two posters on statistical studies of finding characterizing parameters of magnetohydrodyanmic turbulence in the interstellar medium.  I apply these statistics on simulated data and then on observational data and compare to estimate sonic and Alfven (magnetic field parameter)  Mach numbers.  So for me, interactions with both theorist and observers are critical since my research connects both.  

Astronomy is a very small community with less then 10,000 astronomers world wide.  Physics is much larger, but subfields can be even smaller.  If you get a chance to go to one of these international conferences ...go!  The NSF and other funding agencies in your subfield may provide very generous funding to attend these conferences.   My plane ticket was paid for by the American Astronomical Society and the IAU gave me money on top of that.  I highly encourage everyone to attend conferences to make more connections in your field and meet future collaborators.  It is a really valuable career experience an also a hell of a lot of fun!


In front of one of my posters at IAU in Rio de Janeiro

Post edited August 19, 2009 at 4:00 PM EST.

Post edited August 19, 2009 at 4:01 PM EST.

Current Replies - View all
Re: Magnetic Fields in th...   (Gary - Aug 24 2009 at 4:54PM)
Re: Re: Magnetic Fields i...   (Alan Brown - Aug 24 2009 at 5:08PM)
Re: Re: Magnetic Fields i...   (Blay - Sep 03 2009 at 6:36PM)
IAU Thoughts - Aug 11, 2009 at 1:56PM
50 Posts

Hello from the IAU in Rio de Janeiro!

It's the start of the second week of the conference!  There have been many good talks on a variety of topics from dark matter to star formation to astronomy education!  The conference has 3000+ people...so you can imagine it's impossible to see/do it all!  This problem is also compounded by the fact that the conference is held in beautiful Rio...with beaches, hanglidng, surfing, crazy soccer games, snorkeling, good food, and great night life.  It makes sitting inside at a conference center rather difficult!

This week is my session Magnetic Fields in Diffuse ISM.  I am presenting two posters on my research in magnetic turbulence.  Many of my collaborators are giving talks and posters.  There is also a meeting on the galactic ISM that will be really fascinating.  Any plasma physicist could appreciate these sessions...the ISM is full of almost any type of plasma environment you can think of!  

There are also several special event lunches going on here.  Thursday I attended the Young Astronomer lunch where we discussed issues affecting graduate students and postdocs in astronomy.  More interesting (to me!)  was the lunch I attended today on Women in astronomy.  Women and men broke out into groups and discussed issues affecting women in astronomy.  I was a physics undergraduate at Univ. of Louisville and was one of the only girls.  However, in grad school I've seen the ratio of men/women go up to almost 50-50.  This is due to the fact that UW astro is VERY progressive in terms of gender equity. For some reason I thought that this was the norm in astronomy (UW's physics department is grossly low in terms of numbers).  However, this luncheon opened my eyes to the fact that, while astronomy is better then physics...its only very slightly so.  The USA's average percent women in graduate level astronomy is only ~30% and this number falls off dramatically at every professional step and is usually lower in other countries with a few exceptions ( like in countries where being a scientists is a LOW status LOW paying job....).  

So, apparently UW Madison's astro isn't the real world of astronomy at all and is instead a happy little bubble where gender imbalance and discrimination is almost broken.  The more senior women at the table always seem more bitter and jaded about their experiences with discrimination then the graduate students.  I hope this is because things have improved over time....and it is not just an issue of having more experience and thus having more negative experiences.  I left the lunch a little sadder about the world we live in as physicists and astronomers.  Despite our intelligence we still fall prey to petty stereotypes about gender and race.   Forging a career in physics/astronomy is not at all easy for anyone...but women and minorities face an even more difficult time as they have to go against all sorts of social tides.   I left the meeting feel a bit distressed, but also glad to have some insight into challenges to come...

On a happier note, I'm getting excited for my session.  Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be very busy for me...but I hope to squeeze in some hangliding before I leave!

Happy IYAing!

International Astronomical Union in Rio de Janeiro - Aug 3, 2009 at 9:45PM
50 Posts

I'm on my way to the IAU meeting in Rio.  You know those jerks that demoted Pluto...yup..that's the one!

I say I'm on my way...but I've been on my way for almost 40 hours...and I'm still in the States.

I propose that after Obama solves the economic crisses and gets working health care he then fix our totally crappy airliners.  My plane ( see  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8181765.stm ) had some problems...and the plane before that had weather issue delays.  Ah the joys of travel...

I'm sure it will be great when I get there...I'll tell you all about the cool science on display...hopefully soon!

Post edited August 11, 2009 at 1:51 PM EST.

Dark Side of Einstein - Jul 26, 2009 at 6:31PM
50 Posts

It should be no mystery to anyone that Einstein was a 'jerk' when it comes to the way he treated his wife, several loves, and children.   What is interesting is that his first wife was also a physicist and almost certainly provided support for his works in 1905.  How much support is a topic of debate:


Check it out!

Post edited July 26, 2009 at 6:22 PM EST.

Arecibo: Day 3-6 - Jul 20, 2009 at 8:48PM
50 Posts


I'm in my second week at the Arecibo telescope attending the Single Dish Summer School and the GALFA conference. The summer school consists mostly of astronomy graduate students, postdocs, and professors (as well as a handful of REU students) that are interested in learning about the GBT and Arecibo telescopes.  I have to say, I have been the living definition of 'Work Hard, Play Hard!'  Which is why I haven't posted an update since Monday...or been getting more then 6 hours of sleep a night!  I have so much to blog about...but I'll start with the main attractions

I went observing with Arecibo on Tuesday night.  My group was doing a project for the summer school on observing the 21 cm emission line of neutral hydrogen in low redshift galaxies.  It was really amazing to be at the helm of this telescope, with so much history and discovery! It's also very impressive how automated observing can be.  We simply looked up our sources ahead of time, making sure they would be up and that Arecibo, with its limited Declination range, could observe them.  We imput them into the system and clicked go!  I observed at night...so it was really cool to hear the sounds of the rainforest combined with the grinding of the telescope slewing to my targets.  We picked galaxies with different morphologies (different spirals and ellipticals) in order to see how HI content related to this.  Essentially it is telling if the galaxy is able to still form stars or if it has used up all its star forming potential.  All in all, the observing went really well and we got some nice data, which we presented at the end of the school.

The next morning I got to walk on the platform..500ft above the dish!  To be honest, it was a bit scary!  We went up in a cable car and walked back on a rickity walk way...totally suspended in mid air.  It's where they filmed the final dramatic scene in the James Bond film Goldeneye.  I got to tour the Gregorian dome and see the ALFA instrument, a 7 beam feed that takes the data for the group that provides me with some of the data I use to study interstellar plasma turbulence.  It was certainly one of the coolest tours I've ever been on..although we were almost kissing the ground when we got back!

Most of my days have been 9+ hours of lectures on the ins and outs of radio telescopes.  I've also got to meet many of the most famous radio astronomers in the world.  I've given one poster and two talks (one on the project and one on my research).  So, I've been busy!  But astronomers love to party!  Arecibo has a pool and there have been pool parties nightly!  We even went into town the last day of the school for some late night beach fun!  We also went to a local Samba festival and danced to local Puerto Rican samba music.  Arecibo is a really amazing town and the telescope is only a 50 minute drive through the rainforest...so if you ever come to Puerto Rico it is a MUST visit.

Tomorrow is the last day....I'll have a week and a half to prepare for the IAU conference in Brazil...yikes!!!

Arecibo: Day 2 - Jul 13, 2009 at 9:14PM
50 Posts

Today was my first day at the conference.  It was very long and very informative!  8am-7pm of non stop lectures...with food and coffee injected into us in a few intervals.  Wow...its going to be intense for the next 4days.  The good news is it is a total blast!  After the conference I got to walk around the dish and explore a bit in the rainforest around the telescope site.  Pictures do not do this telescope justice...it is huge!!  I will definatly upload some pictures to the site but it won't be till next week when I am back home.

A few of the lectures that really stood out to me were the ones that went beyond the nitty gritty of radio astronomy and got into the really mind expanding science that can be done or how truly innovative astronomy is when it comes to engineering.  While Arecibo might be the largest telescope in the world, it's literally stuck to the ground!  You can only see objects that are passing overhead because the dish is stationary.  This is unlike the GBT, the largest fully steerable telescope (100m in diameter).  GBT is also fairly unique in that the receiver  is off to the side so there is zero blockage of your signal.  The unique thing about Arecibo is that reciever moves along a platform above the dish. This allows the telescope to observe any region of the sky within a forty degree cone of visibility about the local zenith (between -1 and 38 degrees of declination). This in it self is pretty cool since the collecting area you observe with is constantly changing and it's alot less money and worry then moving a giant 100m dish.  Some optical telescopes have even employed the Arecibo concept (see the South African Large Telescope or SALT, for an example).  

Single dishes aside, a telescope that is creating a lot of buzz in the astronomical community is ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array).  ALMA is a  interferometer designed to see wavelengths of millimeter lengths being built in the Atacama desert in north Chile.  I recommend you google images of the ALMA site....it looks exactly like the surface of Mars!  In fact, NASA ran the same test on the soil at the site as they did for the soil on Mars and concluded that the soil was indicative of a place that could not support life.  It is here where the worlds most advanced millimeter interferometer will be built...promising a revolution in astronomy not seen since Hubble first went up.  It will be able to resolve structures at 0.01 arcseconds For you non astronomers  this is really small!! Image you are 1 parsec (3x10^16m) away and looking back at the earth-sun system.  If you had a telescope that could resolve 1 arcsecond...then you could see  objects that are of the size of the distance between the earth and the sun (1 AU or 1.5x10^11m).  With ALMA you can go 100 times further or 100 times smaller! There is definent potential to do some real astrobiology and astrochemistry with this badboy! :D

Tomorrow night is my night to observe with this telescope! I'll probably not be able to blog live from the control room...but I certainly will want to collect my thoughts afterwords.  For now its time to go enjoy a beer at the observatory pool!

Till tomorrow..!

Post edited July 13, 2009 at 9:07 PM EST.

Post edited July 13, 2009 at 9:10 PM EST.

Live from Arecibo! - Jul 12, 2009 at 11:18PM
50 Posts

Hola everyone!

I'm blogging live from Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico - the largest single dish radio telescope in the world!  It's been a busy day today so I won't have much time  for writing today, but I promise to have a full post up tomorrow. There are over 70 astronomers from all over the world here participating in the 5th Single Dish Summer School.  It's 6 days of intensive class and hands on projects using either Arecibo or the 100m Green Bank Telescope in Virginia.   My project is on studying extragalactic HI.  My group spent most of tonight picking out some galaxy sources that looked particularly interesting (different morphologies and compositions) for the big observing night on tuesday.  I'm super excited to use Arecibo for the first time!



IYA summer! - Jul 5, 2009 at 10:35AM
50 Posts

Hey everyone!

I'm excited to be blogging again for the summer.  This is a particularly special summer because this year is the International Year of Astronomy, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo using the telescope and Kepler's publication of Astronomia Nova.  2009 is also the anniversary of many other historic events in science, including Huygen's 1659 publication of Systema Saturnium. This will be modern astronomy's quadricentennial, and the 2009 Year of Astronomy will be an international celebration of numerous astronomical and scientific milestones.

In light of this, I will be blogging about astronomy internationally!  In a week I will be at the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico blogging about my experiences at the Single Dish Radio Telescope Summer School and at the GALFA (Galactic Arecibo L-band Feed Array) consortium meeting.

Then in August I will head to Rio de Janiero, Braizl for the International Astronomical Union (IAU) conference, which happens once every 3 years.  At the last IAU meeting, Pluto was demoted from planet status...so who knows what will be voted on this year!  I'll be bringing you live coverage of IAU, right from Rio, as well as updating you all on whatever adventures/shenanigans I come across in Brazil.

See you in Puerto Rico!


For the ladies - Jun 25, 2009 at 11:18AM
50 Posts

I thought I'd start this blog off right!


Sometimes... there are no words....hahah!