Category Archives: Science

Happiness – real or synthetic

Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong — a premise he supports with intriguing research, and explains in his accessible and unexpectedly.

Thus is the introduction to an article about the “scientific proof” that the current crop of gurus is right, that…

  • We create our own reality;
  • we attract to us what we put our attention on

I put together two interesting talks from TED in the article Synthetic Happiness on the Universal Serenity site.

How the Martians see us

There has been plenty of rumors, opinions, ideas and conspiracy theories that our government is not quite as honest with us as it could be. There is even the theory that the whole moon landing coverage was shot on a sound stage somewhere on good old earth.

But all this aside, let’s assume all our ventures out into space and to other planets is actually true, then this fascinating image of our Earth-Moon system as seen from Mars (actually from one of our space crafts up there) is in fact authentic.

Earth and Moon as seen from Mars

But unfortunately it is totally misleading. It tries to create this feeling of being this small twin system out there in the void – alone but still the moon so close that we can identify with it.

Still, let’s still assume that this image is not photoshopped, then it uses the treacheries of three dimensions to mislead us. The moon must be either much closer to the observer – the little green Martian – or much further away.

How come?

Let’s do some simple math. The Earth diameter is about 12000 km (OK, I think in metric – so what?) and the distance of Earth and Moon is about 360000 km, that would put the Moon at the distance of about 30 Earth radii. In the NASA image the distance seems to be 6 Earth radii – pretty big difference, don’t you think?

If we – or the Martians – would look at our system at a time when the real distance of the two heavenly bodies in one image would be shown, we would see two specs of light without any awe-inspiring effect.

What do you think why they do this manipulation?

The Big Bang in your Backyard

What is the image you get when you think of a scientist?

I bet it’s usually a middle aged guy, most likely wearing a lab-coat, probably classes and definitely not cool.

But we all know by now that TED does not promote the ‘normal,’ so, when they have somebody on to talk about the Large Hedron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland we do not necessarily expect a guy in a lab-coat.

I still was positively surprised by Brian Cox’s talk. There is a cool guy who not only makes it interesting to show what the LHC does but also represents a new breed of scientist that seem to be in awe of creation and taken by its extent.

When I turned my back to physics after I was all done with my degree, the scientific scene was immensely more arrogant. So, listening to Brian Cox made me happy because I think that science will succeed when it develops the right amount of humility and recognized that it, itself, is part of that creation and is searching for itself.

You want to know where the LHC actually is? Glad you asked because it has a some fascinating facts about its location. CERN, which is also the mother of the World Wide Web, is located in two countries, Switzerland and France. The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) is located close to Geneva, Switzerland and stretches across the Swiss-France border. So, you might cross the border between the two countries many times during the day while remaining in the CERN complex. Nowadays that has not much of a significance, but when I was there it was a fascinating fact, that you could go across the border without showing your papers.

So, here it is…

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Brian Greene explains Superstring Theory at TED

In 2005 Brian Greene explained superstring theory to the TED audience in laymen’s terms in a very engaging presentation.

Three years ago the Hadron collider at CERN, which has one if its goals to confirm string theory, was still a few year away from completion. But now we are nearly there. Interestingly the public is taking notice now as voices have been raised that this machine might be dangerous. Loud voices actually, so that the CERN website for the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) has to address these concerns and dispel them…

TGVs and mosquitoes

The total energy in each beam of protons in the LHC is equivalent to a 400 tonne train (like the French TGV) travelling at 150 km/h. However, only an infinitesimal part of this energy is released in each particle collision – roughly equivalent to the energy of a dozen flying mosquitoes. In fact, whenever you try to swat a mosquito by clapping your hands together, you create a collision energy much higher than the protons inside the LHC. The LHC’s speciality is its impressive ability to concentrate this collision energy into a minuscule area on a subatomic scale. But even this capability is just a pale shadow of what Nature achieves routinely in cosmic-ray collisions.

During part of its operation, the LHC will collide beams of lead nuclei, which have a greater collision energy, equivalent to just over a thousand mosquitoes. However, this will be much more spread out than the energy produced in the proton collisions, and also presents no risk.

Microscopic black holes will not eat you…

Massive black holes are created in the Universe by the collapse of massive stars, which contain enormous amounts of gravitational energy that pulls in surrounding matter. The gravitational pull of a black hole is related to the amount of matter or energy it contains – the less there is, the weaker the pull. Some physicists suggest that microscopic black holes could be produced in the collisions at the LHC. However, these would only be created with the energies of the colliding particles (equivalent to the energies of mosquitoes), so no microscopic black holes produced inside the LHC could generate a strong enough gravitational force to pull in surrounding matter.

If the LHC can produce microscopic black holes, cosmic rays of much higher energies would already have produced many more. Since the Earth is still here, there is no reason to believe that collisions inside the LHC are harmful.

By all probability these concerns are in the same category as the fears that people would die when going more than 50 miles an hour on this devil’s machine called train. But there have been experiments in the past that seemed rather harmless and turned out to be deadly. I am thinking of Pierre and Marie Curie,
who discovered radioactivity. They did not know that this new phenomenon they had discovered was poisoning them during their work and I remember the anecdote of demonstrating their discovery to friends at a party by circulating a vial with this new substance which you could see with your eyes closed.

So, there is a chance that this microscopic black hole that might be created by the LHC does indeed attract matter and energy from its surrounding, grows and swallows the universe as we know it.

I am actually sure that this will happen, at least in a number of parallel worlds. These parallel worlds are, as far as I know, also postulated by string theory, so we are really approaching the unified theory of life, the universe and everything, a theory that contains its own annihilation – cool!

I have worked at CERN for a little bit, being involved with the old myon-neutrino experiments and I have to admit that it would be a fascinating experience to be at CERN for the first activation of the LHC. I imagine a scene similar to the setting in Douglas Adam’s ‘Restaurant at the End of the Universe‘ – everybody is seated in an exquisite restaurant expecting a great show watching the universe to end.

And, you know what – in one of the parallel worlds according to the string theory to be tested – that will be so!

Space – the Final Frontier – – Today

I subscribe to some NASA’s podcasts in iTunes and today I watched a video called “A Postcard from Opportunity.” For all of you who are not quite up-to-date – Opportunity and Spirit are the two rovers that NASA has landed on Mars a while ago with the idea that these two vehicles could roam the Martian surface for some 90 days, giving us some photography and other scientific data.

Against all odds and expectations these rovers have now lasted a multitude of their life expectancy. If you are interested in the details, you can find them at the NASA JPL web site.

I am a space buff and science fiction fan for pretty much all of my life, but only today when I watched this postcard from one of the rovers, it suddenly  really sank in that these are pictures from a different planet. It might not sound very impressive, but for me it made a shift – and I really wanna go now!

Photoshop Exposes Optical Illusion

One of these optical illusions came across my desk again…

optical illusion

which claims that the fields marked A and B have the same gray level. Just looking at the image it is obvious that this could not possibly be. So, normally, the untrained non-scientific mind would push it aside, maybe say, wow, really?! and wander on.

But this is where I came in – a trained scientist! And this scientist now really had enough of this and went on the quest to look for himself.

I started up trusty photoshop, zoomed into an area that contained both the fields A and B, cut a bit out of field A and dragged it next to field B …

optical illusion demonstrated

And what do you know? When the cut out little square from A is right next to field B, it is very clear that they are the same shade of gray – quod erat demimonstrum!

And we still trust our eyes? A little shadow so that the eye ‘thinks’ that the field must be brighter, makes it brighter for the eye. Could not help contemplating how many things there are that I don’t see and how many things I see that are not there.


I was really surprised that there was so much discussion about this relatively irrelevant subject, but it went even further than somebody even accusing me of cheating. Somebody made a life-action demonstration this this little optical illusion and I just have to share this here: