Sir Isaac Newton (p. II) – Quantum Tunnel Podcast

Front cover of "Philosophiae naturalis pr...
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In the previous episode we talked about Sir Isaac Newton being one of the most influential scientist of all times. We mentioned how in 1669 Newton had what can only be described as a genius burst and made some very important discoveries; however he was not always interested in making his discoveries known by publishing them.

Encouraged by criticisms from Robert Hooke, and diplomatically soothed by Edmund Halley, Newton turned his mind to write his greatest work, the Principia. The Principia was written in 18 incredible months of total concentration, and when it was published in 1687 it was immediately recognised as one of the supreme achievements of the human mind. In it he laid down the basic principles of theoretical mechanics and fluid dynamics; gave the first mathematical treatment of wave motion; deduced Kepler’s laws from the inverse square law of gravitation, and explained the orbits of comets; calculated the masses of the Earth, the Sun and the planets with satellites; accounted for the flattened shape of the Earth, and used this to explain the precession of the equinoxes; and founded the theory of tides.

In his dynamics and celestial mechanics Newton achieved the victory for which Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo had prepared the way. This victory was so complete that the work of the greatest scientists in these fields over the next two centuries amounted to little more than footnotes to his colossal synthesis.

After the mighty surge of genius that went into the creation of the Principia, Newton again turned away from science. In 1696 he left Cambridge for London to become Warden and later Master of the Mint, and during the reminder of his long life he entered a little into society and even began to enjoy his unique position at the pinnacle of scientific fame. These changes in his interest and surrounding did not reflect any decrease in his unrivalled intellectual powers. For example, late one afternoon at the end of a hard day at the Mint, he learned of Johann Bernoulli’s brachistochorne problem – posed as a challenge “to the most acute mathematicians of the entire world” – and solved it that evening before going to bed.

Newton has always been considered and described as the ultimate rationalist, as the embodiment of the Age of Reason. It is perhaps more accurate to think of him in medieval terms – as a consecrated, solitary, intuitive mystic for whom science and mathematics were means of reading the riddle of the Universe.


World’s smallest farmers

Researchers from Rice University in Houston., Texas reported in ScienceNOW the discovery of what can be described as the world’s smallest farmer- an amoeba that picks up bacteria, carries them to a new location and the harvest them like a crop.

T.Rex bites back at claims it was a scavenger

After much wrangling between palaeontologists over the predatory nature of Tyrannosaurus Rex. The latest findings point back towards the creature being a fearsome hunter rather than a pitiful scavenger as was suggested by some. The latest research from the Zoological Society of London has added more weight to the predator argument because the sheer number of smaller carnivorous scavengers around in the late Cretaceous period in North America would have sniffed out the carcasses of fallen creatures much quicker than the T.Rex would have, leaving hunting live food as the only option to sustain the animal.

Amazon dam gets the go-ahead

The ‘green’ light has been signalled for the commencement of the construction of the world’s third largest dam in Brazil. Situated on a tributary of the Amazon River, the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant will need 588 acres of land to be cleared and 190 sq. miles of land to be flooded. The impact of this could threaten the survival of indigenous groups and make up to 50,000 people homeless.

Kilogram adjustment controversy

During a conference at the Royal Society in London on 24–25 January 2011, Richard Davis, the former head of the mass division at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France, suggested a workaround that would allow a long-planned redefinition of the kilogram to move forward. According to his plan, the results of two types of experiments that don’t quite agree would be averaged, and the mean would be used to set the new standard.

Since 1889, the kilogram has been defined as the mass of a cylinder made of platinum and iridium that is locked in a vault at the France. The plan has been to replace the cylinder with a kilogram defined in terms of a fundamental constant. Scientist have used mainly two methods to achieve this. One is the “Watt balance” where the kilogram is defined in terms of Planck’s constant. The second method consists on counting the atoms in a sphere of crystalline silicon. We covered this in a previous episode of the podcast. In this case the kilogram is related to Avogadro’s constant. All in all, scientists are hopeful that the results of these two approaches can be reconciled in time for the General Conference on Weights and Measures in 2015.

RS President hits out at mistrust of science

Sir Paul Maxime Nurse, FRS (born 25 January 19...
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Sir Paul Nurse, the new President of the Royal Society has outlined his concerns over the levels of personal vilification and distrust shown towards.

He is now urging scientists to take on the critics who cast doubt on their research on topics ranging from climate change to GM crops. Rather than retreating to their ivory towers, they need to speak directly to the people who pay their wages.

Visceral: The Living Art Experiment

The exhibition  where the artworks are created from living tissue is being shown in the Science Gallery in Trinity College Dublin. The idea is to bring together science and fine art while provoking scientific and ethical questions about modern biotechnology. The exhibition was brought to Dublin by SymbioticA, the centre of excellence in biological arts at the University of Western Australia. Its lab encourages artists to come into a fully functional biological lab and find interesting ways to incorporate what they see into their works of art.

Visceral runs until February 25th, 2011

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Sir Isaac Newton – Quantum Tunnel Podcast

Quantum Tunnel Podcast – Sir Isaac Newton (Part I)

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Isaac Newton
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Sir Isaac Newton’s fame as the discoverer of the law of gravitation is widespread. It can be said that his achievements have had a great influence in the creation of modern physical science.

Newton was born in 1642 to a farm family in the village of Woolsthorpe in England.  In 1665, at the age of 23, an outbreak of the plague caused the universities to close, and Newton returned to his home in the country, where he remained until 1667. There, in 2 years of rustic solitude, his creative genius lead to discoveries unsurpassed in the history of human thought:

  • the binomial series for negative and fractional exponents;
  • the differential and integral calculus;
  • universal gravitation
  • the resolution of sunlight into the visual spectrum by means of a prism,

In his old age he reminisced as follows about this miraculous period of his youth: “In those days I was in the prime of my age for invention and minded Mathematicks and Philosophy more than at any time since”.

Newton was always an inward and secretive man, and for the most part kept his monumental discoveries to himself. Newton settled down in Cambridge; his mathematical discoveries were never really published in a connected form, and became known in a limited way almost by accident, through conversations and replies to questions put to him in correspondence.

It is interesting to see Newton’s correspondence with Leibnitz, through Oldenburg, in 1676 and 1677, where Newton discusses his binomial series but conceals in anagrams the ideas about calculus and differential equations, while Leibnitz freely reveals his own version of the calculus.

Not much is known about Newton’s life at Cambridge in the early years of his professorship, but it is certain that optics and construction of telescopes were among his main interests. He experimented with many techniques for grinding lenses using his own made tools, and about 1870 he built the first reflecting telescope.

In the next episode, we will continue this fascinating story, keep in touch!


Akatsuki failure

Japan’s fist space probe, Akatsuki, bound for Venus failed to enter the planet’s orbit. This failure seems to have happened after the probe passed Venus, but failed to slow down. Akatsuki is the second Japanese interplanetary probe whose mission ended in failure, the first happened in 1998 in a mission to Mars.

LHC plans extra year

The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest particle accelerator and it is used by scientist in their search for the Higgs particle, part of the mechanism that is thought to endow other particles with mass. CERN is preparing to run the LHC for an extra year in order to continue this search.

Arsenic bacteria not well received

At the beginning of December NASA announced in a well publicised press conderence that a strain of bacteria can apparently use arsenic in place of phosphorous to build its DNA, some scientists now are questioning the finding and taking issue with how it was communicated to non-specialists.

The authors of the Science paper in which the results were presented explain that the bacteria was found in Mono Lake in California and claim that this finding represents a new chemistry of life. However, other scientists such as Rosie Redfield consider these statements as premature. The big problem is that the authors have shown that the organism takes up arsenic, but they “haven’t unambiguously identified any arsenic-containing organic compounds”, says Roger Summons, a biogeochemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

California approves first US carbon-trading scheme

California has become the first US state to approve a carbon-trading plan aimed at cutting greenhouse emissions. State regulators passed a “cap-and-trade” framework to let companies buy and sell permits, giving them an incentive to emit fewer gases.

The scheme means that from 2012 California will allocate licences to pollute and create a market where they can be traded. A company that emits fewer greenhouse gases than its permits allow, could sell the extra capacity to a dirtier firm. By making over-polluting more expensive, the scheme aims to provide incentives to develop greener technology.

Brazilian rocket launch

Brazil has recently successfully launched into space a mid-sized rocket developed domestically. The rocket carried a number of experiments on weightlessness and it was recovered at sea after a short flight.

The VSB-30 rocket, developed with domestic technology by researchers at Instituto de Aeronutica e Espaço and it was launched from Alcantara, a spaceport that Brazil operates in the Amazon near the border with Ecuador.

350th Anniversary of the Royal Society – Quantum Tunnel Podcast

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The UK’s national academy of science, the Royal Society, is celebrating its 350th anniversary. The society held its first meeting on November 28, 1660 after a lecture by Sir Christopher Wren.

The Royal Society in London
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The Society was to meet weekly to witness experiments and discus scientific topics. The society became the “club” of Britain’s best brains: in 350 years, there have been just 8,000 members, ranging from Newton, Charles Darwin and Michael Faraday to the DNA pioneers Francis Crick and James Watson, Stephen Hawking and Tim Berners-Lee.
From the beginning, Fellows of the Society had to be elected, although the criteria for election were vague and the vast majority of the Fellowship were not professional scientists. In 1731 a new rule established that each candidate for election had to be proposed in writing and this written certificate signed by those who supported his candidature. This new professional approach meant that the Society was no longer just a learned society but also de facto an academy of scientists.

The society pioneered scientific publishing. Its Philosophical Transactions is the world’s oldest continuous scientific publication.

In this, its 350th anniversary, the Royal Society has organised a number of events throughout the year. A very interesting event was the exhibition “350 Years of Science” which presents us with a journey through the Royal Society’s building on Carlton House Terrace and shows us the fascinating history of the Society.

The Royal Society is a great institution and one which has a very important role in today’s World: It supports modern science, financing approximately 700 research fellowships both early and late career scientists, along with innovation, mobility and research capacity grants.

I am pretty sure that in the next 350 years much more history and many more stories will involve the Royal Society. Happy birthday!

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Science and the Coalition Government in the UK
UK Scientists have on-going concerns for the future of UK science over the Coalition Government’s ‘one size fits all’ plans to cap immigration.
With the new visa system overseas researchers are more likely to find it difficult to get access to the UK due to academic salaries and qualifications being expected to earn fewer visa points than those awarded to other workers. The new plans put a cap of 1,000 visas to the ‘exceptional talent’ tier one visas, which replaces the highly skilled category, while graduate scientists can also apply for 20,700 tier two visas if they already have a job offer.

Rhea’s atmosphere

A team of scientists for the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, US, have discovered an atmosphere of oxygen and carbon dioxide on Rhea, the second largest moon orbiting Saturn. The results have been published in the online version of the Science magazine.

Photon Bose-Einstein Condensate

Physicists from the University of Bonn in Germany have developed a Bose-Einstein condensate consisting of photons. Until recently, experts had thought this impossible. The scientists report their results in the journal Nature.
This photonic Bose-Einstein condensate is a completely new source of light that has characteristics resembling lasers. But compared to lasers, they have a decisive advantage, it could be possible to produce lasers with a very short wavelength.

Entrevista con Edgar García Treviño – Quantum Tunnel en Español

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El Quantum Tunnel podacast en Español les trae una interesante entrevista con Edgar García Treviño. Edgar se encuentra realizando sus estudios doctorales en Imperial College London en el área de inteligencia artificial. Casi siempre cuando se menciona la inteligencia artificial se nos viene a la mente la imagen de robots, sin embargo Edgar nos explica que hay varios niveles antes de llegar a este tipo de aplicaciones, además de ser de gran utilidad en otras áreas.


Video holográfico
Seguramente recuerdan aquella escena en la Guerra de las Galaxias – Episodio IV en el que la Princesa Leia graba un holograma en 3D suplicando a Obi-Wan Kenobi por su ayuda. Mandar este tipo de mensajes puede estar más cerca de lo que uno podría imaginar.
Científicos de la Universidad de Arizona publicaron recientemente un reporte en la revista Nature en el que describen la transmisión de imágenes en movimiento en 3D. Es cierto que la creación de hologramas no es nada nuevo, pero la generación de video ha sido más difícil de obtener.
Esta nueva tecnología es capaz de refrescar la imagen holográfica cada unos cuantos segundos y además los científicos demostraron el uso de color y de paralaje, es decir, gente que observa la imagen desde distintos ángulos tiene vistas diferentes.

Primer planeta fuera de la Vía Láctea
Astrónomos europeos han recientemente informado en la revista Science Express acerca del hallazgo por primera vez un planeta en una galaxia fuera de la Vía Láctea. El exoplaneta es ligeramente más grande que Júpiter orbita alrededor de una estrella que está a dos mil años luz de la Tierra. Los astrónomos pudieron localizar el planeta –bautizado HIP 13044b – al concentrarse en una pequeña perturbación en la estrella causada por el tirón gravitacional de un compañero orbital. Usaron un telescopio del laboratorio europeo en La Silla, en Chile.

Avance en México contra la tuberculosis
El Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (INSP) en México realizó un estudio para conocer el impacto de la resistencia a medicamentos que presenta la microbacteria causante de la tuberculosis. La investigación consistió en analizar a un grupo de pacientes de distintas comunidades del estado de Veracruz en un periodo de cinco años. El estudio mostró una reducción considerable y sostenible de la ocurrencia de enfermos que por primera vez padecían tuberculosis. De igual forma, la resistencia a los medicamentos de primera línea (izionazida, rifampicida y pirazinamida) se redujo en 84 por ciento de la muestra, y en cuanto a la tasas de decesos fue de 12 puntos porcentuales para los enfermos con tuberculosis multirresistente.

Interview with Dr Shashank Virmani – Quantum Tunnel Podcast

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You have probably heard about quantum information science – in other words, information science that depends on quantum effects. The ability to manipulate quantum information enables us to carry out tasks that in the classical contexts would not be possible. This time the Quantum Tunnel Podcast had the opportunity to talk to Dr Shashank Virmani, who is a lecturer in the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. Dr Virmani is an expert in quantum information theory and talks to us about correlated error affecting quantum information processing and spilling coffee over a book. Ah! He also explains to us some of the intricacies of the P versus NP problem.


Holographic video

We are all familiar with that famous scene in Star Wars – Episode IV A New Hope where Princess Leia records a 3D hologram appealing for Obi-wan Kenobi‘s help. R2 is then able to reproduce the holographic message and even Darth Vader himself gets to see it. You might think that it’s all science fiction, but it could be very soon that you might be able to transmit this kind of messages, independently of your alliances with the Empire.

Scientists from the University of Arizona published in the journal Nature a report for the transmission of moving 3D images. The creation of holograms is nothing new, but the generation of video has proved to be more challenging.

This new device is able to refresh a holographic image every few seconds and the scientist demonstrated the use of colour and parallax, that is, people looking at the image from different angles see different views.

Evolution of language linked to dexterity

One of the signatures of the dawn of civilisation is the ability of early humans to make tools. The development of ever more sophisticated tools is seen as a key moment in human evolution.

According to Aldo Faisal and colleagues the dexterity to make these sophisticated tools is not more intricate than that required to make simpler ones. This points out that early humans were limited by brain power rather than manual dexterity.

In the study published in the journal PLoS ONE, the scientists argue that their study reinforces the idea that toolmaking and languages evolved together as both required more complex thought.

Re-defining the Kilo

What is a kilogram? Well, you might say that it is a thousand grams, but that might not be too helpful. You might instead point to the mass of a 122-year-old cylinder of platinum and iridium, kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Paris.

Nonetheless, this might not be the ideal answer either as it seems that the cylinder is changing as it ages, prompting several groups of scientists to seek a replacement. They hope to define the kilogram by referring to a physical constant rather than an antique object.

The latest result from a team led by Peter Becker of the Federal Institute of Physical and Technical Affairs (PTB) in Braunschweig, Germany, published on the arXiv comes closer than ever to ending the cylinder’s reign. The team has measured the number of atoms in a sphere of silicon-28 to calculate Avogadro’s constant to nine significant figures. The constant refers to the number of atoms in a sample whose bulk mass in grams equals the relative atomic mass of the element. This general relationship makes Avogadro’s constant a fixed point from which to define mass.

Estudiando un doctorado en el Reino Unido – Quantum Tunnel en Español

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En esta ocasión el Quantum Tunnel en Español les trae una charla con un par de estudiantes de doctorado en el Reino Unido.

Ellos son Pável Ramírez y Ayari Fuentes. Ayari se encuentra realizando estudios de doctorado en biología en la Universidad de Bath y Pável realiza estudios de doctorado en física en Imperial College. Ambos nos cuentan acerca de su experiencia durante el doctorado en el extranjero, el comer pasta con pimienta y enfrentarse a la vida en otro país.


Premio Nobel en Medicina

Este año el premio Nobel en Fisiología o Medicina fue otorgado a Robert Edwards por el desarrollo de fertilización humana in vitro.  Los logros de Edwards han hecho posible el tratar la infertilidad al conseguir la fertilización de óvulos humanos en tubos de ensayo. Los esfuerzos de su investigación vieron nacer al primer “niño de probeta¨ el 25 de Julio de 1978. Se calcula que aproximadamente cuatro millones de individuos han nacido utilizando fertilización in vitro y gracias a los esfuerzos de Edwards se ha creado una nueva rama en la medicina.

Premio Nobel en Física

A veces le toma varias décadas al Comité del Premio Nobel el otorgar esta condecoración, tal es el caso de Edwards y la fertilización in vitro. Sin embargo, en otros casos el Comité es mucho más rápido, por ejemplo el Premio Nobel en Física este año ha sido otorgado en los primeros 10 años de los desarrollos que nos han dado al grafeno. El premio fue otorgado a Andre Geim y Konstantin Novoselov por la extracción de grafeno a partir de un pedazo de grafito. El grafeno es una forma de carbono con apenas un átomo de grosor. Este material tiene propiedades muy espectaculares: es mejor conductor de electricidad que el cobre, es transparente y es mucho más fuerte que el diamante. Por ceirto, Andre Geim ganó en 2000 el premio IgNobel, junto con Michael Berry, por usar imanes para levitar ranas.

Premdio Nobel en Química

Este año, el Premio Nobel en Química fue otorgado a Richard Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi y Akira Suzuki por el desarrollo de acoplamientos cruzados catalizados por paladio. Se trata de una herramienta química que ha permitido a los científicos la creación de compuestos sofisticados tales como moléculas complejas basadas en carbono. Como sabemos, la química basada en carbono es la base de la vida, sin embargo resulta que el carbono es un átomo estable y por tanto no reacciona fácilmente con otros átomos de carbono. Los acoplamientos cruzados catalizados por paladio han resuelto este problema. En las reacciones de Heck, Negishi y Suzuki, los átomos de carbono se encuentran por medio de átomos de paladio y su proximidad ayuda a iniciar la reacción.

Reviewing the Spending Review


You probably have heard that the spending review has finally been announced and it is very pleasing to see that the science research budget has been frozen. It is not the greatest of results.

As I mentioned in a previous post, fellow scientist here in the UK started the Science is Vital campaign and I am very pleased to say that it seems to have had some effect and here are some facts about the campaign which were announced by email by Jenny Rohn:

  • 33,000 names on a signature delivered to Downing Street, gathered in only 3 weeks
  • 2000+ (police estimate) scientists and their supporters demonstrating outside the Treasury
  • 100s of articles, radio interviews and TV films in national and international media
  • a 45-minute meeting with Science Minister David Willetts to discuss the issues
  • a question raised in Prime Minister’s Questions
  • a packed lobby in Parliament, including Prof. Adrian Smith, sent by Vince Cable to report back
  • 110 MPs from all main parties signing our Early Day Motion

So, what are some of the key announcements made in the spending review? Here is a summary:

  • From 2011/12 to 2014/15 there will be overall resource savings of 25 per cent from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) budget. This includes 40 per cent savings from higher education and an average 16 per cent savings from the other areas of the BIS budget.
  • This works out as a cut in overall BIS expenditure from £18.6bn in 2010/11 to 14.6bn in 2014/15. The higher education budget will fall from £7.1bn to 4.2bn, a £2.9bn reduction by 2014/15.
  • Lord Browne’s report into University Funding and Student Finance has been largely accepted by the Government. The review states that “subject to Parliamentary consent, universities will be able to increase graduate contributions supported by government loans, with a broadly offsetting reduction in the teaching grant, from the 2012/13 Academic Year.” In other words, we expect a large cut to the HEFCE Teaching Grant to be replaced by higher graduate contributions – it is expected that David Willetts will reveal the detail of this proposal in his speech tomorrow.
  • On a more positive note, the science budget will be maintained in cash terms over the Spending Review period at £4.6bn a year – which works out as a real terms cut of just under 10% over four years.
  • There will be reform of Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) “to incentivise universities to increase commercial interaction between the research base and business.”
  • A new National Scholarship fund of £150m a year by 2014/15 will be established to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds and protect those on the lowest incomes in higher education.
  • The Government is to provide £200M a year by 2014/15 to support manufacturing and business development, with a focus on supporting potential high growth companies and the commercialisation of technologies.
  • There will be an increase in funding of £250m a year by 2014/15 on new adult apprenticeships. Money for this scheme is coming from the train to gain budget, which is being abolished.
  • The Department of Health will increase spending on health research in real terms. Within this, additional funding will be made available to support the translation of research into practical applications, including the development of new medicines and therapies.
  • The state pension age will be raised to 66 in 2020 and £1.8bn will be saved from public sector pensions through higher individual contributions. Details of which, will be announced after the full review into pensions by Lord Hutton is published in the Spring.

Interview with Sam Stafford – Quantum Tunnel Podcast

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The Quantum Tunnel Podcast talks to Samuel Stafford. Sam has recently completed an MSc in Physics at Imperial College London. He has been working on Electron Paramagnetic Resonance or EPR, which is an analogous of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, but in this case it is the electron spins that are excited rather than the spins of atomic nuclei.


Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

This year the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Robert Edwards  for the development of human in vitro fertilisation or IVF.  Edward’s achievements have made it possible to treat infertility and accomplishing fertilization in human egg cells in test tubes. The efforts of his research saw the first “test tube baby” being born on July 25th, 1978. It is calculated that four million individuals have been born using IVF and with Edward’s efforts a new field of medicine has emerged.

Nobel Prize in Physics

Some times it takes the Nobel Committee several decades to award the Nobel Prize, a case in hand is that of Edward’s and IVF. However, in other cases the Committee is much quicker. This year, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded within 10 years of the developments that have brought to us graphene. The Nobel Prize was awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for the extraction of graphene from a piece of graphite. Graphene is a form of carbon with the thickness of just one atom. Graphene show amazing properties: it conducts electricity better than copper, it is transparent and it is stronger than diamond. Incidentally, Andre Geim was awarded the IgNobel Prize in 2000 together with Sir Michael Berry for using magnets to levitate a frog!

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Richard Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki for the development of palladium-catalysed cross coupling. Sounds complicated, so what is this? Well, we are talking about a chemical tool that has enabled chemists the creation of sophisticated chemicals such as complex carbon-based molecules. As we know, carbon-based chemistry is the basis of life, however it turns out that carbon is stable and thus carbon atoms do not react easily with one another. Palladium-catalised cross coupling solved this problem and provided chemists with a more precise and efficient tool to work with. In the so-called Heck reaction, Negishi reaction and Suzuki reaction, carbon atoms meet on a palladium atom, and their proximity jump-starts the chemical reaction.

El estado de la ciencia en México – Quantum Tunnel Podcast en Español

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El estado de la ciencia en México

En  la más reciente editorial de la revista Nature Materials  preparado, comisionado y editado por Joerg Heber y por mi se analiza el estado de la ciencia en México. La editorial incluye un comentario hecho por Arturo Menchaca Rocha, Presidente de la Academia Mexicana de Ciencias, así como una entrevista con Juan Ramón de la Fuente, Presidente de la Asociación Internacional de Universidades y quien fuera Rector de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

En términos de población, México es el país de habla hispana más grande en el Mundo y ocupa el segundo lugar en número de habitantes en Latinoamerica después de Brasil. México tiene una gran abundancia en recursos naturales, de los cuales el petróleo es uno de los más importantes. De acuerdo con el departamento de Administración de la Información sobre Energía de los Estados Unidos, en 2009 México ocupó el séptimo lugar en producción de petróleo y fue el segundo más grande proveedor de este recurso hacia los Estados Unidos. Es interesante contrastar el hecho de que aunque el país tiene una sustancial reserva de gas natural, México importa este recurso. Esto refleja un poco la situación energética en el país, pero este tipo de análisis puede extenderse a otras áreas, incluyendo educación, ciencia y tecnología.

No hay duda de que México ha mejorado el acceso a la educación así como los niveles de alfabetización en las últimas décadas. de acuerdo al reporte del 2007 del Banco Mundial, la inserción a nivel primaria es casi universal con un 97.9%, y más niños completan la educación primaria. Sin embargo, esto no es así al elevar el nivel de educación.

Para lograr un crecimiento económico robusto y un alto nivel de desarrollo humano es necesario incrementar la inversión en ciencia, tecnología e innovación, así como contar una estrecha colaboración entre el gobierno, el sector privado y las instituciones de educación superior e investigación. En el caso de México, para poder resolver el rezago en las estas áreas existen tres cosas que en mi opinión deben ser abordadas, y las cuales son analizadas en la más reciente editorial de la revista Nature Materials.

Uno de los principales problemas que enfrenta México es el lento desarrollo que se tiene en cuanto a ciencia básica, manifestado por ejemplo en el número de investigadores involucrados en investigación y desarrollo, el cual se encuentra entre los más bajos en el ranking de la Organización para el Desarrollo y Cooperación Económica. Como resultado la producción científica pone a México un una muy baja posición en comparación con otros países de la ODCE. Esta situación puede ser parcialmente explicada por la falta de inversión en infraestructura así como la ineficiencia en la gestión de recursos humanos, como lo menciona Menchaca Rocha en su comentario para Nature Materials.

Un segundo punto que requiere de atención es el contrarrestar las enormes asimetrías entre los estados de la federación, las instituciones y los sectores sociales, tal como lo indica de la Fuente en la entrevista que nos concedió.En términos de instituciones por ejemplo, en 2009 la UNAM recibió un presupuesto de 1.6 billones de dólares por parte del Gobierno Federal, una cantidad que es mucho mayor que el presupuesto de algunas entidades del país. Por otra parte, otras universidades publicas no tienen acceso a recursos similares, lo cual produce un agudo imbalance y sin embargo estas instituciones hacen importantes contribuciones a la generación de investigación a pesar de que su visibilidad se ve un tanto disminuida.

El tercer punto es el mejorar la transferencia tecnológica. En México el sector privado juega un papel mucho menor en el proceso de innovación que la educación superior. Como resultado México depende enormemente de la tecnología extranjera además de tener un nivel muy bajo en cuanto a registro de patentes por parte de nacionales mexicanos..

Para poder atacar de frente estos problemas es necesario crear una plataforma que coadyuve a la colaboración entre investigadores, académicos, directores y managers de las instituciones de educación superior, centros de investigación y legisladores para poder explotar las potencialidades de la ciencia y tecnología mexicana de una manera efectiva. Juan Ramón de la Fuente no deja pasar la oportunidad de mencionar la urgencia de una fuerte política de estado para la ciencia y tecnología y puntualiza que es momento para los legisladores de tomar el siguiente paso para la realización de un proyecto como este.

Hace doscientos años, México tomaba en serio la idea de ser un país independiente y en los últimos cien años de historia Mexicana, el país ha visto la creación de la gran mayoría de sus instituciones de educación superior así como la sistematización de la investigación como una actividad profesional. Creo que es tiempo de que México tome las medidas necesarias para sostener un eficiente desarrollo científico y tecnológico el cual permita al país tener nuevas oportunidades en un mundo cada vez más competitivo.

La editorial en Nature Material puede ser accedida libremente por usuarios registrados. El comentario de Arturo Menchaca Rocha así como la entrevista con Juan Ramón de la Fuente sólo pueden accederla los suscriptores de la revista.


Relatividad en la Tierra

La teoría de la relatividad de Einstein nos dice que la velocidad relativa así como la gravedad afectan el paso del tiempo. Efectos relativistas fueron medidos en los 70s utilizando relojes atómicos en jumbo jets . Sin embargo, recientemente investigadores del National Institute of Standards and Technology en los Estados Unidos han probado medir efectos relativistas a escalas más acordes con la vida diaria y sus hallazgos han sido reportados en la revista Science. Chin-wen Chou y sus colegas han mostrado que el tiempo pasa más rápido al estar a mayor altura, por ejemplo al subir un peldaño en una escalera, mientras que pasa más lento si se viaja a una velocidad de apenas 36 kilómetros por hora.

Margarita fosilizada

Una margarita fosilizada con 47 millones de años ha sido hallada en la ciudad argentina de Bariloche. Científicos argentinos y suizos encontraron también restos de polen y sus hallazgos fueron reportados en la revista Science. De acuerdo a los científicos la familia Asteracea, a la cual pertenecen las margaritas, es originaria de la región de la Patagonia, de donde posteriormente se dispersó al resto del planeta. El descubrimiento es bastante interesante, pues normalmente las flores no dejan registro fósil ya que por lo general se desintegran.

Cirugía a corazón detenido

Cirujanos cardiólogos utilizan enfriamiento extremo para poder detener el corazón de su paciente lo suficiente para poder intervenir y después resucitarlo. Suena un poco como trama de ciencia ficción, pero no lo es.

La técnica induce hipotermia en el paciente, cuyo cuerpo es enfriado hasta los 18 grados centígrados. Esto le da al cirujano una breve pero importante ventana para llevar acabo la cirugía que debe ser concluida antes de causar algún daño cerebral al paciente. Una vez que la intervención es completada, se brinda calor al paciente y el corazón es reiniciado con ayuda de un desfibrilador.

El secreto para bailar bien

No todos tenemos los movimientos de Tony Manero en Fiebre del Sábado por la noche, pero ¿cuál es el secreto para bailar bien? Investigadores de la Universidad de Northumbria en el Reino Unido han hecho un análisis riguroso de los movimientos de baile que hace ver como atractivos a los hombres en los ojos de las mujeres. Los resultados fueron presentados en la revista Biology Letters de la Royal Society. Los investigadores capturaron los mejores pasos de los participantes usando 12 cámaras. Posteriormente, usaron los movimientos para generar un avatar por computadora el cual era juzgado por las mujeres participantes en una escala del uno al siete. Los resultados indican que ellas ponen mucha más atención al torso, el cuello y la cabeza, además de que no sólo es importante la velocidad de los movimientos, sino también la variabilidad de estos. Los Movimientos que no gustaron para nada son los movimientos repetitivos y espasmódicos que todos podemos reconocer en aquel tío lejano durante la más reciente boda.

Revising the state of science in Mexico – Quantum Tunnel Podcast

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Science in Mexico

A focus editorial about science in Mexico appears in the most recent issue of Nature Materials. The editorial content was  prepared, commissioned and edited by Joerg Heber and myself. It includes a commentary by Arturo Menchaca Rocha, President of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and an interview with Juan Ramón de la Fuente, President of the International Association of Uniersities and former Rector of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

In terms of population, Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world and the second most-populous country in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico boasts an abundance of natural resources, all of which are important to its economy and oil being a very important one of them. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2009 Mexico was the world’s seventh-largest producer of crude oil, and the second-largest supplier of oil to the United States. In contrast, although the country has substantial natural gas reserves, Mexico is a net importer of this resource. This is of course a very brief assessment of the energy situation in the country, but one that can be extended to other areas, including education, science and technology.

There is no doubt that Mexico has improved access to education and literacy over the past few decades. According to a 2007 World Bank report, enrolment at the primary level is nearly universal (97.9% net), and more children are completing primary education. However, this is not the case at higher education levels.

Achieving a strong economic growth and a high level of human development requires increasing the investment in science, technology and innovation, as well as a close collaboration between government, private sector and higher education and research institutions. In the case of Mexico, in order to solve the current lag in the areas mentioned above there are three issues that need to be addressed, and which are analysed in the recent editorial inthe Nature Materials.

The first thing to tackle is to compensate the slow development in basic science, manifested for instance in the in the rates of Research and Development personnel and researchers which are among the lowest in those ranked by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which places Mexico in a low position compared to other OECD countries. This situation can be partly explained bu the lack of investment in infrastructure and the inefficiencies in human resource management, as pointed out by the commentary of Menchaca Rocha for Nature Materials.

A second point to address is to counter the enormous asymmetries between federal states, institutions and social sectors, as highlighted by Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez. For instance, in terms of institutions for example, in 2009 UNAM received a budget of 1.6 billion US dollars from the Federal Government, which is larger than the budget of some states in Mexico. However, other publicly funded Universities around the country do not have access to similar resources, producing an acute imbalance. Nonetheless, these other institutions make important contributions to the research output of the country, although their visibility might be reduced.

The third issue is to improve technological transfer. In Mexico the business sector plays a much smaller role in the innovation process than the higher education sector. As a result Mexico has an enormous dependence on foreign technology and a very low rate of registration patents from Mexican nationals.

In order to tackle these issues it is necessary to bring together researchers, academics, directors and managers of higher education institutions, research centres and legislators in order to harness the potential of science and technology more effectively. Juan Ramón de la Fuente brings up the urgency for a strong state policy for science and technology and hints at the need for legislators to take up the responsibility to make this a reality.

Two hundred years ago, Mexico embraced the idea of political independence and in the last hundred years of Mexican history, the country has seen the creation of the vast majority of its higher education institutions, as well as the systematisation of research as a professional activity. It is time now for Mexico to take the necessary steps to provide its scientific and technological development with a strong basis in order to allow the country to be fully engaged in an ever more competitive world.

The editorial is available to be seen freely to registered users, whereas the Commentary by Arturo Menchaca Rocha and the interview with Juan Ramón de la Fuente can only be accessed bu subscribers.


Testing Relativity on Earth

Einstein’s theory of relativity tells us that relative speed and gravity affect the passing of time. Relativistic effects have been measured using synchronised atomic clocks on jumbo jets back in the 70s. However, more recently researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have tested relativity at a more everyday-life scale, as reported in the journal Science. Chin-wen Chou and colleagues have shown that time speeds up if you raise your height for instance by going a rung up a ladder, and it slows down if you travel at just 36 kilometres per hour.

Daisy Fossil

A 47 million year old fossil of a daisy has been identified in the Argentinean city of Bariloche. The Argentinean and Swedish scientists also found traces of pollen and their findings have been reported in the journal Science. According to the scientists the Asteraceae family, to which daisies belong to, are originally from the Patagonian region and from here it aprese to the rest of the world. This discovery is quite interesting as usually flowers do not leave fossil records, they usually desintegrate.

Heart stopping surgery

Heart surgeons use extreme cooling to allow them to stop a patient’s heart long enough to carry out surgery and then revive them. Sounds a bit like science fiction, but it is not.

The technique induces hypothermia on the patient, whose body is cooled to 18 degrees centigrades. This provides the surgeons with a brief but important window to perform surgery, which has to be completed before any brain damage is caused to the patient. Once the surgery is finished, the patient is warmed up and their heart restarted with a defibrillator.

The secret of a good dancer

Not everoine has the dance moves of Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, but what is the secret if a good dancer? Scientists from Northumbria University have carried out a rigorous analysis of dance moves that make men attractive to women and their findings have been published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

The scientists captured the best moves of young men using 12 cameras. These movements were then converted into a computer-generated cartoon which women rated on a scale of one to seven. They found that women paid more attention to the torso, neck and head and that it was not just the speed of the movements, it was also the variability of the movement. Movements that went down terribly were twitchy and repetitive – so called “Dad dancing”.