In Lab’s High-Speed Collisions, Things Just Vanish

Kenneth Chang in the New York Times:

29blacThe bits and pieces flying out from the high-speed collisions of gold nuclei at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island have not been behaving quite as physicists had expected.

According to one theoretical physicist, the collisions have even been creating a sort of tiny, short-lived black hole – very, very tiny and very, very short-lived. It lasts less than one-10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000th of a second.

And it’s not even really a black hole.

The black holes known to astronomers form when a star (or something larger) collapses and the gravitational pull grows so powerful that nothing can escape, not even light.

The Brookhaven mini-black hole, if it existed, would have nothing to do with gravity. Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, RHIC (pronounced rick) for short, accelerates gold nuclei – atoms stripped of their surrounding clouds of electrons – to 99.995 percent of the speed of light and then slams them together, head-on.

More here.

The Human Cancer Genome Project

From The Boston Globe:

The proposed Human Cancer Genome Project would be greater in scale than the Human Genome Project, which has already mapped the blueprint of the human genetic structure. Its goal woudl be to determine the DNA sequence of thousands of tumor samples, the Times reported, Researchers would look for mutations that give rise to cancer or sustain it.

The project’s proponents say a data bank of mutations would be freely available to researchers.

More here.

The Bookshelf talks with Richard Dawkins

Cristopher R. Brodie in American Scientist:

Dawkins_2Richard Dawkins is the first holder of the newly endowed Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. He is best known for his award-winning popular science books, beginning with the best-selling The Selfish Gene in 1976 and including The Blind Watchmaker (1986), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996) and Unweaving the Rainbow (1998). An outspoken atheist, Dawkins is also a frequent participant in public discussions of science and religion. His latest book, The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, is a backward journey through four billion years of evolutionary history to the origin of life, drawing insights from the “tales” of 40 creatures met along the way.

Associate Editor Christopher Brodie spoke with Dawkins by telephone in December 2004.

I want to talk with you a bit about The Ancestor’s Tale. What made you want to write a book that was more general than your other works, that encompassed ground that you’ve previously covered?

It doesn’t really cover previous ground. I’ve never written about the actual detailed facts of evolutionary history before. My previous books have all been attempts to make evolution easier to understand, to make theory easier to understand. This is the first book that really lays out the detailed facts of evolutionary history.

More here.

Robert Creeley, 78, Groundbreaking Poet, Dies

Dinitia Smith in the New York Times:

01creeley184Robert Creeley, who helped transform postwar American poetry by making it more conversational and emotionally direct, died on Wednesday in Odessa, Tex. He was 78 and had been in residence at a writers’ retreat maintained by the Lannan Foundation in Marfa, Tex.

The cause was complications from lung disease, his wife, Penelope, said.

“Visible truth,” Mr. Creeley once wrote, quoting Melville, is “the apprehension of the absolute condition of present things.” That was the goal of his own work – emotion compressed in short, sparse sentences and an emphasis on feeling.

Mr. Creeley wrote, edited or was a major contributor to more than 60 books, including fiction, essays and drama. He belonged to a group of poets – beginning with Modernists like Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and continuing through the Beats and the Black Mountain poets like Charles Olson – who tried to escape from what they considered the academic style of American poetry, with its European influences and strict rhyme and metric schemes.

The critic Marjorie Perloff called Mr. Creeley an heir to Williams.

More here.  And here’s Creeley’s poem, “I Know a Man”:

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, – John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,
drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

QED: Just what does it mean to prove something?

From The Economist:

QUOD erat demonstrandum. These three words of Latin, meaning, “which was to be shown”, traditionally mark the end of a mathematical proof. And, for centuries, a proof was exactly that: showing something by breaking it down into readily agreed-upon steps. Proving something was a matter of convincing one’s peers that it has indeed been shown—no more, and no less. The rhetorical flourish of a Latin epigram also has served to indicate that the notion of proof is well understood, and commonly agreed. But that notion is now in flux. The use of computers to prove mathematical theorems is forcing mathematicians to re-examine the foundations of their discipline.

More here.