Category Archives: sciences

Weather Forecasting Far Beyond and Close to home

Berndnaut-Smilde

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus D’Aspremont, 2012

There is  a lot of talk on  a special kind of weather forecasting these last days fueled by Stephen Hawking and his recent paper published online about Black Holes titled “Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes“, which as they say claims that Black Holes and their surrounding Event Horizon are not what we used to think they were. I hardly understand anything  in this field but I am always intrigued. So I wait for scientists who are good at popularizing scientific thought to translate to people like me what this is all about. Here is a comprehensive article from the New Scientist. But there is another point that makes me interested in this development and it has to do with the will and frankness quality needed in the ability to change your mind. If I am not mistaken it is the 3rd time Stephen Hawking is changing his mind about the nature of Black Holes. At first he said that there is no information escaping a Black Hole. Then, he admitted there was (and paid off a bet), and now he strikes with another proposal saying that there is no event horizon at all or singularity in a black hole. I may be sooo mistaken in what I say here I have understood so I will stop at this point. But still the main point is that he feels his understanding of the world, of his field of research is always in process, is always evolving, therefore defending his theory contrary to his results is absurd. I hope I can be open enough in my life to be able to change my mind so profoundly if that is what I should do for the sake of honesty.

960px-Black_Hole_Milkyway

Sticking on the weather issue though, earth weather, on a rainy day like today in Corfu, I share here links to the Nimbus series, by Berndnaut Smilde. Smilde is a Danish artist working around the idea of weather, among other things. He created this beautiful series of clouds in indoor spaces, temporary creations that result in lasting photographs.

Nimbus-by-Berndnaut-Smilde-yatzer-6

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus Green Room, 2013

Here is a short BBC video interview on how Berndnaut Smilde makes his clouds.

Watching this video and works reminded me of visiting Olafur Eliasson‘s ‘The Weather Project‘ some ten years ago at the Tate Modern.

Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, Tate Modern, 2003

Olafur Eliasson, photo from The Weather Project, Tate Modern, 2003

This was a massive work made of so little and it had an effect equivalent I guess to a common hallucination. In the grim London weather some lights, mirrors and misty smoke in the Turbine Hall created a warm and safe environment for us visitors, for us sun missing people, to agree that the sun was real and warm, and that the sunset hour was soothing and cosy.

The work was commissioned for the Unilever Series and presented in Tate Modern in 2003.  Ten years later they made a Remember The Weather Project project and here is a video about the idea and impact of this work.

The term Weather Forecasting for Black Holes sounds to me as literal and as metaphorical as the creation of mini clouds and sunset atmospheres on earthly indoor spaces. Hence the post. One is chosen for the qualities attributed to its scientific relevance while the others for their aesthetic resonance. All three though grow in the prosperous lands of Wonder.

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X: The known Origin of an Unknown Factor

This is a short, fun and informative TED talk by Terry Moore about the origin of the symbol ‘x’ as the representation of the unknown (or variable) in algebra. Reminding us, thus, that it is through its use in mathematics that we took the ‘x’ to commonly mean ‘an unspecified or unknown thing or person’ in our (use of) life.

I thought, this mention on the Oxford Dictionary was also interesting:

“the introduction of xy, and z as symbols of unknown quantities is due to Descartes (Géométrie, 1637), who took z as the first unknown and then proceeded backwards in the alphabet”

Oxford Online Dictionary definition, under its dictionary entry for ‘x’ as a noun.

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In the Realm of Wonder

Mythology, art or science, all dwell in the realm of wonder…

The Birth of the Milky Way, by Peter Paul Rubens

The Birth of the Milky Way, by Peter Paul Rubens

The term Galaxy is an ancient Greek one.  It comes from the word milk, since the cluster of celestial material is such that colours the night sky with a white stripe, like a milk splash. What a beautiful image that is…. This image inspired so many more images, wordy, musical or visual, ever since…. This is what I love about wonder and curiosity! It gets imagination going to explore both the magic and the reality out there. It helps our growth with the nutritious elements of knowledge and beauty…

Similar to a previous post , where I was talking about the inspirational drive that mythology has put into the arts, here is another great  sample of human creativity par excellence, namely ‘The Birth of the Milky Way“, (ca. 1637), by Peter Paul Rubens. This work of art now belongs to and can be seen at the Prado Museum, Madrid.

But even the etymology of the terms ‘Galaxy’ and ‘Milky Way’ are poetic. Here is what Wikipedia says on the terms’ provenance:

The word galaxy derives from the Greek term for our own galaxy, galaxias (γαλαξίας, “milky one”), or kyklos (“circle”) galaktikos (“milky”)for its appearance as a lighter colored band in the sky. In Greek mythology, Zeus places his son born by a mortal woman, the infant Heracles, on Hera’s breast while she is asleep so that the baby will drink her divine milk and will thus become immortal. Hera wakes up while breastfeeding and then realizes she is nursing an unknown baby: she pushes the baby away and a jet of her milk sprays the night sky, producing the faint band of light known as the Milky Way.

In the astronomical literature, the capitalized word ‘Galaxy’ is used to refer to our galaxy, the Milky Way, to distinguish it from the billions of other galaxies. The English term Milky Way can be traced back to a story by Chaucer:

“See yonder, lo, the Galaxyë
Which men clepeth the Milky Wey,
For hit is whyt.”
—Geoffrey Chaucer. The House of Fame, c. 1380.

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Celebrating a year of blogging – Celebrating science

The other day WordPress sent me a birthday note, reminding me it’s been one year this blog is up’n’running and it is meant to be growing not ageing.

I wanted to celebrate this anniversary and when I saw these following two videos yesterday, which I really enjoyed, I felt that they really  communicated what I want to be doing with this site, so sharing them here would be a very appropriate bday gift to the blog!  Because through science and entertainment they celebrate the human thought, science, art, cooperation, wonder, passion and enjoyment – which is all I want this blog to be a celebration of!

Then I thought that it might scare some of you away since they are both long videos… but my beautiful company at dinner last night was so enthusiastic hearing about them that I think they are right, I should share them here as a gift to all!

So what are these videos? They really are one video divided into two parts. They are the full recording of an event titled The Origins Stories that took place in the Arizona State University as part of its Origins Project. This event was a panel presentation and discussion on the storytelling of science by a bunch of very interesting people: Bill Nye (science educator), Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist), Richard Dawkins (evolutionary biologist), Brian Greene (theoretical physicist), Ira Flatow (science journalist), Neal Stephenson (popular science fiction writer), Tracy Day (executive director of the World Science Festival) and Lawrence Krauss (Origins Project director).

Their point was to communicate how exciting science can be and they are truly inspiring, lively, intelligent and fun to watch!

The first video is their short presentations and the second is the QA session that followed their presentation.

Fun fun fun! Enjoy them !!!

1. The Storytelling of Science (the presentations)

2. The Storytelling of Science (QA session)

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Beauty in the sky

Every summer I cannot decide if I prefer full moon nights or the dark starry ones. The truth is I care not choose, I love both. In this sense I love August, a month with magical full moon(s) and star-dotted night skies.

This is an iphone (hipstamatic) pic I took of the full moon rising a couple of nights ago on the beach (almost) in front of my house in Kolymbithres, Paros.

And here is a video – guide for spotting celestial objects in the summer night sky (english with Greek subtitles.) Thank you Silina for sending me this video!

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Looking at how CERN is looking for Higgs

Excellent documentary by BBC on the research that goes on in CERN. Hearing people that either do research there or that their theories are being tried out in this mega-lab made me feel very appreciative of the commitment that has gone into CERN. A huge idea, a huge place, a huge cooperation existing in order to try out ideas (usually called ‘theories’).

This documentary was produced earlier this year, before CERN scientists announced that they have found something that could be the Higgs boson. But it is recent enough to give you the feeling that we are about to have news… and beyond that, it gave me an idea of how that huge organisation – (even logistically) on terms of research, budget, equipment and of course of scope – goes about trying to prove modern physics and mathematics.

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Natural Selection Theory in a nutshell

Darwin’s Natural Selection Theory changed the way we see life and the world for ever and so many discussions and books have been written about it since … Darwin wrote a book explaining it but needed just one paragraph to describe it. Here is Darwin himself describing Natural Selection in 1859 in a few words:

“If, during the long course of ages and under varying conditions of life, organic beings vary at all in the several parts of their organization, and I think this cannot be disputed; if there be, owing to the high geometric powers of increase of each species, at some age, season or year, a severe struggle for life, and this certainly cannot be disputed; then, considering the infinite complexity of the relations of all organic beings to each other and to their conditions of existence, causing an infinite variety in structure, constitution, and habits, to be advantageous to them, I think it would be a most extraordinary fact if no variation ever had occurred useful to each being’s own welfare, in the same way as so many variations have occurred useful to man. But if variations useful to any organic being do occur, assuredly individuals thus characterized will have the best chance of being preserved in the struggle for life; and from the strong principle of inheritance they will tend to produce offspring similarly characterized. This principle of preservation, I have called, for the sake of brevity, Natural Selection.”

Darwin, Charles (1859)On the Origin of Species in From So Simple a Beginning: The Four Great Books of Charles Darwin. Edited, with introductions, by Edward O. Wilson. W. W. Norton & Company. New York, 2006.

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The travels of knowledge

William Noel (curator, rare book scholar) makes this fascinating talk on TED about the recent discoveries lying under a byzantine manuscript. As we quickly understand from his speech, in the past it was quite common to re-use paper in order to make new manuscripts. In a byzantine manuscript which was re-discovered in 1906, its then owner found that on some pages, underneath the Christian prayers and illustrations, there was earlier text from… Archimedes! This manuscript was bought at the end of the 20th century by an, obviously wealthy, man whose ambition was to discover, preserve and share this barely surviving treasure.

So the travels of these binded pages in the millenia could be quickly described as various sheets of paper that carry ancient Greek texts by Archimedes and Hypereides, as well as Roman commentary on Aristotle, that manage to survive through the centuries to be reused (written over) and binded  into a prayer manuscript during the Byzantine times. In the 21st century this damaged by now book comes into the hands of scientists and scholars who photograph, x-ray, analyze, read through the layers and share the underlying ancient precious texts with the world through the website: Archimedes Palimpsest

William Noel: Revealing the lost codex of Archimedes

It is so beautiful hearing about a contemporary individual who buys a treasure not to store it away but to fund its conservation and its data distribution.

It is also beautiful to hear about such diverse people making up a team and use old & new technologies to bring to light parts of the archeology of human thought, knowledge and wit.

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“The Known Universe” by the American Museum of Natural History

A couple of years ago I bumped into this film about the universe that was created by the AMNH Museum, as part of an exhibition titled ‘Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe‘, at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan in 2010.

The film, titled ‘The Known Universe’, is based on precise scientific observations and research and that is what makes it so beautiful and almost incredible. I have watched it many times trying to make myself understand the size and scale of our universe. It is absolutely wonder(ful) that this is real and we are part of it! And to this day, hard as I may try I can hardly grasp the immensity of the known objects, space, events and territories we call cosmos.

As the Hayden planetary people say on the webpage they made a year after they first showed this film:

‘For scientists, those areas that appear blank, where we have yet to point our telescopes, offer more curiosity.’

Imagine that…

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