Saturday, August 23, 2008

This and That

  • A group of reasearchers around Lynn Sykes from Columbia University claims the earthquake risk in the greater New York City area is higher than previously assumed. In their recent publication in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (Aug. 2008, 98; no. 4; p. 1696-1719), they come to conclude “The probability of an earthquake the same size as the 1884 event during a 50-yr period is about 22%.” They add that the Indian Point nuclear power plant is unfortunately located:

    “Indian Point is situated at the intersection of the two most striking linear features marking the seismicity and also in the midst of a large population that is at risk in case of an accident to the plants. This is clearly one of the least favorable sites in our study area from an earthquake hazard and risk perspective. ”

    [Via Spiegel Online, see also SciAm 60 Seconds Science]

  • A note in the recent SciAm Mind issue titled “Call me Sleepless” claims (once again) that researchers have shown electromagnetic radiation from cellphones influences brain activity: “Neuroscientist Rodney Croft and his col­leagues at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia strapped a Nokia 6110 cell phone to the heads of 120 men and women and then monitored their brain waves. When the re­search­ers switched on the phone without the subjects’ knowledge, they saw a sudden power boost in the volunteers’ alpha brain waves.”

    Since I recently had an argument with a friend about the issue (after I read Madonna sleeps with her BlackBerry under the pillow), I looked up Croft's website to find the relevant publication (not cited by SciAm), and found that his most recent study on the topic listed there (“The Sensitivity of Human Event-Related Potentials and ReactionTime to Mobile Phone Emitted Electromagnetic Fields” , Bioelectromagnetics 27:265-273 (2006)) explicitly states “As previous positive findings were not replicated, it was concluded that there is currently no evidence that acute mobile phone exposure affects [certain investigated indices] of brain activity.”

    So you can leave the BlackBerry under the pillow. Anyway, warning of cancer risks, whether backed up by research finds or not, is always sure to get you into the headlines.

  • Magnetic Movie: “The secret lives of invisible magnetic fields are revealed as chaotic ever-changing geometries.” Awarded Best Film at Cutting Edge at the British Animation Awards 2008.

  • I'm on my way to the Emergent Gravity Conference at MIT which is certain to be a very interesting meeting, and after I'm back PI will host “A Debate in Cosmology - The Multiverse”, the second 'Debate' in that series after last year's on the Arrow of Time at NYAS. This means however, I am unfortunately missing the SciBlog conference in London, which is too bad.

  • Quotation of the week

    “Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no
    account be allowed to do the job.”
    ~ Douglas Adams


  1. My cellphone is my alarm clock, and it's close to my head all night, but I still manage to sleep through it when it goes off. I guess I need to strap it *to* my head to get brain activation.

  2. What a bizarre film. Really cool and authentic soundtrack, but the visuals are like lolphyics.


  3. Hi Eva,

    I am also currently using my cellphone as my alarm clock, since the actual one is still in one of the moving boxes, and I do not know in which one. I should find it tomorrow, as i hope I will get rid of the last bunch of boxes... But at least I do not keep the phone under the pillow.

    Dear Bee, rillian,

    yeah, the visuals in the magnetic movie look very impressive, but the explanations are a bit scarce. I wonder if they are based on any real magnetic fields measured in the lab, or just visualisations of the huge magnetic fields of the Sun and Earth, copied into the lab setting? And I didn't quite get what these things swirling around in the large jar were supposed to be - but it looks nice ;-)..

    Cheers, Stefan

  4. Me too, I use my BlackBerry as an alarm clock. One can turn it off for that purpose though (it will turn on automatically for the alarm). Anyway, since I don't have a landline and most of my friends and family live in Europe, I often leave the cellphone on at night.

    I don't know either exactly what that movie was supposed to show, but it visualizes nicely how many fields we walk through and live in that we can't normally see with our eyes.



  5. Interesting magnetic field movie, but I did not understand whether the field animations were produced from some realistic simulations based on actual fields computed in the labs or just fictitious ones. Could someone clarify this? Thanks.

  6. Hi Christine,

    I think this is mostly an "artist's impression", the scientific value remains rather unclear to me. As far as I am concerned it doesn't make much sense that the field lines would be growing, neither did I understand the idea that they would 'end' somewhere (maybe I'm being dumb but I thought magnetic field lines don't just 'end'). Best,


  7. Hi Bee,

    like you implied there is often a problem with the 'news'. I think people very often trust more what they have red somewhere. Since people become aware of that I am a physicist, a lot of them ask me about theories, mainly Relativity (most of them don't know that there are actual two) or QM of course and I often sense some 'distance', when we start discussing. Big issue are actually also the LHC experiments. People trust very often what they've red somewhere, it seems because either it is written somewhere or because it fits in how they see the world. The latter seems on the first view not that bad, but often the 'way the world is' is not a very scientific view.

    By the way, are you reporting from the Emergent Gravity conference ? Would be interesting.


  8. Hi Stefan,

    I don't think they lines we saw were real field data. The artists' statement talks about being inspired by observations and and simulations of the earth's ad sun's magnetic fields. But they don't move like field lines, or interact with the environment.

    At the point where we first see the dots forming in the dessicator, the narration is talking about how the suns magnetic field lines have to emerge at the boundaries between convection cells or so, and one has north and south polarized spots that move around, repel and annihilate as vortexes do. So I think that was the inspiration there.

    Christine, I agree it's not clear. At least some of of the sound track components are radio recordings of the ionosphere. And there are real scientists speaking. The rest is well done match-move animation, which conveys a great feeling. I think they did succeed in conveying an impression of what it was like for the artists visiting the lab and seeing one unfamiliar environment within another.

    This is a great example of how what you know about what you're looking at affects what you see.

  9. magnetic field lines don't just 'end'

    Yes, neither start nor end (div B = 0). I guess they have omitted some segments of the lines in order to get some effects, like some parts inside materials or whatever.

  10. Bee

    Great quote from the late great Douglas Adams.

    American presidential elections select for the following personality traits in presidential candidates:megalamania, a lust for power-I suppose this is the defintion of megalamania- and greed. These three traits describe a psychopath. These traits also describe Barack Obama and John McCain.

    Will Apophus take the species out first or John McCain or Barack Obama?

  11. "Yes, neither start nor end"

    Aha! Magnetic field is God. It has no beginning and no end.

  12. Hi rillian,

    thanks for the explanations!

    Concerning this other point, make visible the electromagnetic fields that are allways around us now, that would really be interesting. And I have a very specific reason why it's interesting for me right now:

    I have just moved the sender of my WLAN out of the corner of the room by about one metre, and now the WLAN connection is much more stable. I wonder whether there has been some interference pattern before, or if this improvement is just by chance...

    Cheers, Stefan

  13. "Anyway, since I don't have a landline and most of my friends and family live in Europe, I often leave the cellphone on at night."

    Um, what do those two factors have to do with your phone being left on? You mean you want it to be possible to be disturbed? I sure don't, I don't care who's calling, generally.

    "People trust very often what they've red somewhere, it seems because either it is written somewhere or because it fits in how they see the world."

    Certaintly is an issue for humans in general.

  14. Bee - you'll hopefully be as amused as me, the first link on the 'in this issue of mind' insert on the linked SciAm article regarding the cell phone sleep research is 'The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn'

    Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, as I always say!

  15. Hi Dylan,

    I read that article, it was actually quite good. Best,



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