Baguette Dropped From Bird’s Beak Shuts Down The Large Hadron Collider

Not from The Onion. I said NOT from The Onion:

The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, just cannot catch a break. First, a coolant leak destroyed some of the magnets that guide the energy beam. Then LHC officials postponed the restart of the machine to add additional safety features. Now, a bird dropping a piece of bread on a section of the accelerator has, according to the Register, shut down the whole operation.

The bird dropped some bread on a section of outdoor machinery, eventually leading to significant over heating in parts of the accelerator. The LHC was not operational at the time of the incident, but the spike produced so much heat that had the beam been on, automatic failsafes would have shut down the machine.

Court Says Vaccine Not to Blame For Autism

From MSNBC:

WASHINGTON – Vaccines aren’t to blame for autism, a special federal court declared Thursday in a blow to thousands of families hoping to win compensation and to many more who are convinced of a connection.

The special masters who decided the case expressed sympathy for the families, some of whom have made emotional pleas describing their children’s conditions, but the rulings were blunt: There’s little if any evidence to support claims of a vaccine-autism link.

The evidence “is weak, contradictory and unpersuasive,” concluded Special Master Denise Vowell. “Sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding” of autism.

Kip Thorne on Stephen Hawking

From Cosmic Variance:

He arrives with an entourage of five care givers to tend to his physical needs, one or two family members, several graduate students, and a “graduate assistant” who handles logistics and serves as general fixit-person for his computer system and mechanized wheel chair. His current chair is new and sophisticated. At the flick of a switch, its hydraulics can lift him up to a standing person’s eye level or slide him down near ground level for high-speed chases — he has been known to take pleasure from running over the toes of university presidents.

Hawking’s Pasadena sojourns are rather like Einstein’s in the 1930s. Caltech is an intellectual magnet – a crossroad for ideas about the cosmos and the fundamental laws of nature, which are Hawking’s passion. He contributes mightily to the ferment, and partakes. Our California night life (LA, not Caltech!) is also pretty good; and Hawking, like Einstein, is a party animal, only more so. During his annual month here, my own social life intensifies five-fold just from being his closest California friend. He loves opera, theater, jazz clubs, barbecues that he hosts in the patio of his Pasadena home, and dinners with fine wine – especially an Indian Feast prepared for him by Caltech undergraduates. Yes, we geeks can cook up a storm – well, not me, but the younger generation.

Conversation with Stephen is slow, about 3 words a minute, produced by Stephen moving a muscle in his face (imaged by a lens and photodetector) to control a cursor on his computer screen. It’s slow, but rewarding. You never know, until his sentence is complete, whether it will be a pearl of wisdom or an off-the-wall joke. Faster speeds are on the horizon: computer control via brane waves, without drilling a hole in his head (he’s opposed to that). But he resists changing technology, even without drilling, until forced to. “I can’t believe it’s as good as what I have.” (It actually is; my wife has a friend with ALS who proves it so.)

And if you don’t know who Kip Thorne is, you need to read Black Holes and Time Warps which is an incredible read.

Yesterday & Today: The Top Women Scientists

From Hypatia of Alexandria to Mae Carol Jemison:

It’s no news that women were historically excluded from the “boys club” of science but women scientists date as far back as Ancient Greece, and perhaps further. In more recent years, they have become essential to the scientific community.

Several of the women listed here are sisters or wives of scientific men. During their times, women were forced onto the backburner but, given equal rights and freedoms, might have overshadowed their masculine counterparts. Some even disguised themselves as men and most, if not all, faced tremendous adversity. They have been chosen for this list because their contributions to science cannot be ignored, nor forgotten.

Every burgeoning young scientist ought to know their names and something of their achievements, as these women have laid fine foundation for the advancements that came later. So let’s get started.

The Bad Astronomer on Obama’s Science Policy

From DiscoverMagazine’s Bad Astronomy blog:

Both Senators Obama and McCain have made cursory statements about various aspects of science, but that’s not enough. Science is critical, absolutely critical, to the health of the US, so we need better and more in-depth answers. To get them, a group of six citizens created Science Debate 2008 to “… restore science and innovation to America’s political dialogue.”

They asked each candidate a series of science questions. As of this moment, Obama is the only one who has answered, though McCain says he will.

Obama’s answers to these questions are, to me, very heartening. He has been accused of giving no specifics when answering questions, but that is misleading at best (the noise machine is very good at making noise). In these answers he does indeed give many specifics, and to my eye is taking the right road to scientific progress and innovation in this country.

I won’t detail all his answers, but I do want to point out some specific things he wrote.

Some really good answers on this list. Here’s what Obama has to say about Stem Cell research:

I strongly support expanding research on stem cells. I believe that the restrictions that President Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations. As president, I will lift the current administration’s ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.

I am also aware that there have been suggestions that human stem cells of various types, derived from sources other than embryos, make the use of embryonic stem cells unnecessary. I don’t agree. While adult stem cells, such as those harvested from blood or bone marrow, are already used for treatment of some diseases, they do not have the versatility of embryonic stem cells and cannot replace them.