Category Archives: science

The science of chocolate chip cookies

I’ve always thought baking and cooking have not been fully appreciated as applied science so it’s good to see the American Chemical Society (ACS) has addressed that shortsightedness, from a Sept. 26, 2015 ACS news release on EurekAlert,

Chocolate chip cookies are nearly universally adored. People like them in all sorts of textures, sizes and tastes. So how can you make your perfect cookie? Using science, of course. October 1 is National Homemade Cookies Day, so for this week’s Reactions episode, we partnered with Science News magazine’s Bethany Brookshire (@scicurious) to take a bite out of baking with the scientific method. …

We’re also celebrating the 10th anniversary of ACS ChemClubs. ChemClubs are high school clubs that provide students an opportunity to experience chemistry beyond the classroom. The ACS ChemClub program will be hosting a special live nationwide event on November 16 [2015] with the theme “Chemistry – Hacking Your Taste Buds.” For more information, visit

Here’s the video,


Beakerhead’s Big Bang (art/engineering) Residency in Alberta, Canada

I am sorry for the late notice as the deadline for submissions is Oct. 9, 2015 so there’s not much time to prepare. In any event, here’s more information about the Big Bang Residency Program call for proposals,

Every September, Beakerhead erupts onto the streets and venues of Calgary with cultural works that have science or engineering at their core. This is a call for proposals to build a creative work through an initiative called the Big Bang Residency Program. The work will be built over the course of a year with a collaborative team and will premiere on September 14, 2016, at Beakerhead in Calgary, Canada.

About the Big Bang Residency Program

The Big Bang Residency Program is funded by the Remarkable Experience Accelerator; a joint initiative of Calgary Arts Development and the Calgary Hotel Association. The program is led by Beakerhead with partnership support from the internationally renowned Banff Centre.

The program will support the creation of a total of three major new artworks over three years that will premiere internationally in Calgary during Beakerhead each year. This residency program will support:

  • One team per year each consisting of no less than four and no more than five individuals (additional support members are possible; however, the maximum size of the core team in residence will be five).
  • Two weeks in residence total; one week in the late fall and one week the following summer, with exact dates to be arranged with The Banff Centre and the selected team in residence. The production of the work is expected to take place in-between these two residency periods in Calgary.
  • Call for Proposals

    Beakerhead and The Banff Centre will support the design and build of a work to be shared with the world during Beakerhead, September 14 to 18, 2016. It will be created over the course of the year, which will include two weeks in residence at The Banff Centre with an interdisciplinary team of collaborators.

    Who is Eligible?

    This Call for Proposals is open to international artists, engineers, architects, designers, scientists and others. In addition to meeting the requirements for team composition below, the team must have a connection to Calgary so that the building of the work takes place in Calgary, the work is developed in Banff, the work premieres in Calgary and calls Calgary its home base. The proposal need not be submitted by a complete team: individuals may apply. The team can be assembled with support from The Banff Centre and Beakerhead to ensure that the collaboration of artists and engineers will result in a project that is created in Calgary/Banff over the course of the year.

    Team Composition 

    Each team must include:

    1. At least one individual who has received specialized art training (degree from a recognizing art institution) and has developed and exhibited a body of work;
    2. At least one individual who has received specialized engineering training (degree from an accredited engineering school), and previous experience in any artistic medium;
    3. Other members of the team should bring additional art and design skills, technical skills and project management skills. They may include emerging and professional roles.

    Staging and Exhibition

    The engineered artworks produced during the residency will be presented during Beakerhead in an unprecedented spectacle of performance and public engagement. The staging of the premiere may be developed in partnership with other venues, as dictated by the artworks. Many Beakerhead events take place in partnership with existing venues, such as theatres, galleries, public spaces, business revitalization zones, universities and libraries. The artistic disciplines may include installation, performance, visual art, music or any other media.

    The Details

    Design Criteria

    The successful proposal will meet the following criteria.

    • Location: The installation will be in a public location or available venue in Calgary, Alberta, from September 14 to 18 2016, and can be toured afterwards. Park-like settings and public roadways may be possible.
    • Dimension: There is no limit on dimension. However, proposals for works that can engage larger numbers of people at the scale of public art will be given preference.
    • Scope: Preference will be given to works that are both arresting to view and interesting to experience first-hand.
    • Install and De-install: Up to four days can be provided to install and de-install. The successful team must be capable of completing this work with volunteer crews.
    • Material: All materials must meet North American and European building and fire safety codes.


    A budget of CAD 24,000 is available for materials and supplies. The artist/collaborator fee is CAD 5,000 per team member up to CAD 25,000. Two weeks in residence will be provided for a five-person team, including accommodation and meals at The Banff Centre. Support for venue rental over the winter for build space will be provided, as well as heavy equipment costs.

    The budget may include:

    • All additional materials costs
    • Equipment services/rental for installation and de-installation
    • Contracted labour for specialized services
    • Documentation expenses
    • Stipend per team member (CAD 5,000 per member up to CAD 25,000)
    • Workshop and fabrication space rental in Calgary

    The budget may not include:

    • Travel costs
    • Salaries and wages

    If the budget proposed exceeds the amount of funding available, please detail your plans for acquiring additional funds to make up any projected shortfall.


    Preference will be given to projects that consider:

    • Delightful and thought-provoking experiences at the crossroads of art and engineering
    • Use of public space
    • Assembly, strike and touring ability
    • Engagement of a large volume of viewers
    • Durability for multiple days of high volume public interaction


    Important 2015/16 Dates

    • Aug 6, 2015:  Call for proposals
    • Oct 9: Deadline for submissions
    • Nov 6: Announcement of the successful proposal
    • Dec 6: Presentation of the successful team at the annual Beakerhead partners meeting
    • Dec 7-12*: Residency Week 1 in Banff: Detailed production plan completed
    • Jan 20, 2016: Concept unveiled to public and build volunteers engaged
    • Feb-August: Build period in Calgary
    • Aug 22-27*: Residency Week 2 in Banff: Presentation planning and rehearsals
    • Sept 14 – 18: International premiere at Beakerhead!

    *dates may change

    Timeline Details

    The program will lift off with an announcement in August 2015, and the first major artworks premiered in September 2016. A second round will be announced in the summer of 2016, and a third in the summer of 2017.

    Interested applicants are encouraged to attend Beakerhead 2015 (September 16 – 20), or have an associate attend, to fully understand the presentation opportunities. The final team will be announced in the fall, and will commence the term with a one-week period “in residence” at the Banff Centre (a week to work full-time on the project) to develop the detailed design and production plan. The partnership with The Banff Centre will support the development of design drawings and a business strategy.

    The build will then take place over the winter and summer in Calgary. Beakerhead will support the successful team by making introductions to local resources and facilities.

    The team in residence will be strongly encouraged to engage an expanded team of volunteers in the building process to create a community of support around the spectacle element.

There are more details here including the information on how to make a submission.

D-Wave upgrades Google’s quantum computing capabilities

Vancouver-based (more accurately, Burnaby-based) D-Wave systems has scored a coup as key customers have upgraded from a 512-qubit system to a system with over 1,000 qubits. (The technical breakthrough and concomitant interest from the business community was mentioned here in a June 26, 2015 posting.) As for the latest business breakthrough, here’s more from a Sept. 28, 2015 D-Wave press release,

D-Wave Systems Inc., the world’s first quantum computing company, announced that it has entered into a new agreement covering the installation of a succession of D-Wave systems located at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. This agreement supports collaboration among Google, NASA and USRA (Universities Space Research Association) that is dedicated to studying how quantum computing can advance artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the solution of difficult optimization problems. The new agreement enables Google and its partners to keep their D-Wave system at the state-of-the-art for up to seven years, with new generations of D-Wave systems to be installed at NASA Ames as they become available.

“The new agreement is the largest order in D-Wave’s history, and indicative of the importance of quantum computing in its evolution toward solving problems that are difficult for even the largest supercomputers,” said D-Wave CEO Vern Brownell. “We highly value the commitment that our partners have made to D-Wave and our technology, and are excited about the potential use of our systems for machine learning and complex optimization problems.”

Cade Wetz’s Sept. 28, 2015 article for Wired magazine provides some interesting observations about D-Wave computers along with some explanations of quantum computing (Note: Links have been removed),

Though the D-Wave machine is less powerful than many scientists hope quantum computers will one day be, the leap to 1000 qubits represents an exponential improvement in what the machine is capable of. What is it capable of? Google and its partners are still trying to figure that out. But Google has said it’s confident there are situations where the D-Wave can outperform today’s non-quantum machines, and scientists at the University of Southern California [USC] have published research suggesting that the D-Wave exhibits behavior beyond classical physics.

A quantum computer operates according to the principles of quantum mechanics, the physics of very small things, such as electrons and photons. In a classical computer, a transistor stores a single “bit” of information. If the transistor is “on,” it holds a 1, and if it’s “off,” it holds a 0. But in quantum computer, thanks to what’s called the superposition principle, information is held in a quantum system that can exist in two states at the same time. This “qubit” can store a 0 and 1 simultaneously.

Two qubits, then, can hold four values at any given time (00, 01, 10, and 11). And as you keep increasing the number of qubits, you exponentially increase the power of the system. The problem is that building a qubit is a extreme difficult thing. If you read information from a quantum system, it “decoheres.” Basically, it turns into a classical bit that houses only a single value.

D-Wave claims to have a found a solution to the decoherence problem and that appears to be borne out by the USC researchers. Still, it isn’t a general quantum computer (from Wetz’s article),

… researchers at USC say that the system appears to display a phenomenon called “quantum annealing” that suggests it’s truly operating in the quantum realm. Regardless, the D-Wave is not a general quantum computer—that is, it’s not a computer for just any task. But D-Wave says the machine is well-suited to “optimization” problems, where you’re facing many, many different ways forward and must pick the best option, and to machine learning, where computers teach themselves tasks by analyzing large amount of data.

It takes a lot of innovation before you make big strides forward and I think D-Wave is to be congratulated on producing what is to my knowledge the only commercially available form of quantum computing of any sort in the world.

ETA Oct. 6, 2015* at 1230 hours PST: Minutes after publishing about D-Wave I came across this item (h/t Quirks & Quarks twitter) about Australian researchers and their quantum computing breakthrough. From an Oct. 6, 2015 article by Hannah Francis for the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald,

For decades scientists have been trying to turn quantum computing — which allows for multiple calculations to happen at once, making it immeasurably faster than standard computing — into a practical reality rather than a moonshot theory. Until now, they have largely relied on “exotic” materials to construct quantum computers, making them unsuitable for commercial production.

But researchers at the University of New South Wales have patented a new design, published in the scientific journal Nature on Tuesday, created specifically with computer industry manufacturing standards in mind and using affordable silicon, which is found in regular computer chips like those we use every day in smartphones or tablets.

“Our team at UNSW has just cleared a major hurdle to making quantum computing a reality,” the director of the university’s Australian National Fabrication Facility, Andrew Dzurak, the project’s leader, said.

“As well as demonstrating the first quantum logic gate in silicon, we’ve also designed and patented a way to scale this technology to millions of qubits using standard industrial manufacturing techniques to build the world’s first quantum processor chip.”

According to the article, the university is looking for industrial partners to help them exploit this breakthrough. Fisher’s article features an embedded video, as well as, more detail.

*It was Oct. 6, 2015 in Australia but Oct. 5, 2015 my side of the international date line.

ETA Oct. 6, 2015 (my side of the international date line): An Oct. 5, 2015 University of New South Wales news release on EurekAlert provides additional details.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

A two-qubit logic gate in silicon by M. Veldhorst, C. H. Yang, J. C. C. Hwang, W. Huang,    J. P. Dehollain, J. T. Muhonen, S. Simmons, A. Laucht, F. E. Hudson, K. M. Itoh, A. Morello    & A. S. Dzurak. Nature (2015 doi:10.1038/nature15263 Published online 05 October 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

What’s in your DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)? an art auction at Christies

For this item, I have David Bruggeman’s Sept. 24, 2015 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog to thank,

As part of a fundraising project for a building at the Francis Crick Institute, Christie’s will hold an auction for 30 double-helix sculptures on September 30 (H/T ScienceInsider).

David has embedded a video featuring some of the artists and their works in his posting. By contrast, here are a few pictures of the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) art objects from the Cancer Research UK’s DNA Trail page,

For our London Art trail, which ran from 29 June – 6 September 2015, we asked internationally renowned artists to design a beautiful double helix sculpture inspired by the question: What’s in your DNA? Take a look at their sculptures and find out more about the artists’ inspirations.

This one is called The Journey and is by Gary Portell,

DNA_The Journey

His inspiration is: “My design is based on two symbols, the swallow who shares my journey from Africa to England and the hand print. The hand print as a symbol of creation and the swallow reflects the traveller.

This one by Thiery Noir is titled Double Helix Noir.


The inspiration is: For this sculpture, Noir wanted to pay tribute to the memory of his former assistant, Lisa Brown, who was affected by breast cancer and who passed away in July 2001, at the young age of 31 years old.

Growing Stem is by Orla Kiely,


The inspiration is: I find inspiration in many things, but especially love nature with the abundance of colourful flowers, leaves, and stems. Applying our multi stem onto the DNA spiral seemed a natural choice as it represents positivity and growth: qualities that are so relevant for cancer research.

Double Dutch Delftblue DNA is by twins, Chris and Xand van Tulleken.


The inspiration is: The recurrent motifs of Delft tiles reference those of DNA. Our inspiration was the combination of our family’s DNA, drawing on Dutch and Canadian origins, and the fact that twins have shared genomes.  (With thanks to Anthony van Tulleken)

Ted Baker’s Ted’s Helix of Haberdashery,


Inspiration is: Always a fan of spinning a yarn, Ted Baker’s Helix of Haberdashery sculpture unravels the tale of his evolution from shirt specialist to global lifestyle brand. Ted’s DNA is represented as a cascading double helix of pearlescent buttons, finished with a typically playful story-telling flourish.

Finally, What Mad Pursuit is by Kindra Crick,


Inspiration is: What Mad Pursuit explores the creative possibilities achievable through the intermingling of art, science and imagination in the quest for knowledge. The piece is inspired by my family’s contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA.

Aparna Vidyasagar interviewed Kindra Crick in a Sept. 24, 2015 Q&A for ScienceInsider (Note: Links have been removed),

Kindra Crick, granddaughter of Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA’s structure, is one of more than 20 artists contributing sculptures to an auction fundraiser for a building at the new Francis Crick Institute. The auction is being organized by Cancer Research UK and will be held at Christie’s in London on 30 September. The auction will continue online until 13 October.

The new biomedical research institute, named for the Nobel laureate who died in 2004, aims to develop prevention strategies and treatments for diseases including cancer. It is a consortium of six partners, including Cancer Research UK.

Earlier this year, Cancer Research UK asked about two dozen artists—including Chinese superstar Ai Weiwei—to answer the question “What’s in your DNA?” through a sculpture based on DNA’s double helix structure. …

Q: “What’s in your DNA?” How did you build your sculpture around that question?

A: When I was given the theme, I thought this was a wonderful project for me, considering my family history. Also, in my own art practice I try to express the wonder and the process of scientific inquiry. This draws on my backgrounds; in molecular biology from when I was at Princeton [University], and in art while going to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

I was influenced by my grandparents, Francis Crick and Odile Crick. He was the scientist and she was the artist. My grandfather worked on elucidating the structure of DNA, and my grandmother, Odile, was the one to draw the first image of DNA. The illustration was used for the 1953 paper that my grandfather wrote with James Watson. So, there’s a rich history there that I can draw from, in terms of what’s in my DNA.

Should you be interested in bidding on one of the pieces, you can go to Christie’s What’s in your DNA webpage,

ONLINE AUCTION IS LIVE: 30 September – 13 October 2015

Good luck!

David Bruggeman has put in a request (from his Sept. 24, 2015 posting),

… if you become aware of human trials for 3D bioprinting, please give a holler.  I may now qualify.

Good luck David!

Access (virtual) to a quantum lab for everybody

I love the idea behind this project “find a way to make research equipment available to everyone” and that’s what the researchers at the University of Vienna (Austria) hope they have achieved according to a Sept. 16, 2015 University of Vienna press release (also on EurekAlert),

Topical research experiments are often too expensive or too complex to be rebuilt and incorporated in teaching. How can one, nevertheless, make modern science accessible to the public? This challenge was tackled in the research group Quantum Nanophysics led by Markus Arndt at the University of Vienna. For the first time, two research laboratories were created as complete, photorealistic computer simulations allowing university and high-school students as well as the general public to virtually access unique instruments. “One could describe it as a flight simulator of quantum physics”, says Mathias Tomandl who designed and implemented the essential elements of the simulation in the course of his PhD studies.

The press release goes on to describe the process for using the laboratory and some real life events promoting the lab,

A learning path guides the visitors of the virtual quantum lab through the world of delocalized complex molecules. A series of lab tasks and essential background information on the experiments enable the visitors to gradually immerse into the quantum world. The engaging software was developed together with university and high-school students and was fine-tuned by periodic didactic input. The teaching concept and the accompanying studies have now been published in the renowned scientific journal Scientific Reports.

Wave-particle dualism with large molecules

The virtual laboratories provide an insight into the fundamental understanding and into the applications of quantum mechanics with macromolecules and nanoparticles. In recent years, the real-life versions of the experiments verified the wave-particle dualism with the most complex molecules to date. Now, everyone can conduct these experiments in the virtual lab for the first time.

The quantum lab on tour through Austria

Currrently, a light version of the virtual lab can be experienced as an interactive exhibit in the special exhibition “Das Wissen der Dinge” in the Natural History Museum Vienna. In the travelling exhibition “Wirkungswechsel” of the Science-Center-Netzwerk the exhibit will be available at various locations throughout Austria.

Here’s a video produced by the researchers to demonstrate their virtual quantum lab,

For more information about the exhibitions,

Special exhibition “Das Wissen der Dinge”:

Travelling exhibition “Wirkungswechsel”:

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Simulated Interactive Research Experiments as Educational Tools for Advanced Science by Mathias Tomandl, Thomas Mieling, Christiane M. Losert-Valiente Kroon, Martin Hopf, & Markus Arndt. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 14108 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep14108 Published online: 15 September 2015

This paper is open access.

Structural memory of water and the picosecond timescale

Water is a unique liquid and researchers from Germany and the Netherlands can detail at least part of why that’s so according to a Sept. 18, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz, Germany and FOM Institute AMOLF in the Netherlands have characterized the local structural dynamics of liquid water, i.e. how quickly water molecules change their binding state. Using innovative ultrafast vibrational spectroscopies, the researchers show why liquid water is so unique compared to other molecular liquids. …

With the help of a novel combination of ultrafast laser experiments, the scientists found that local structures persist in water for longer than a picosecond, a picosecond (ps) being one thousandth of one billionth of a second ((1012 s). This observation changes the general perception of water as a solvent.

A Sept. 18, 2015 Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, details the research,

… “71% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. As most chemical and biological reactions on earth occur in water or at the air water interface in oceans or in clouds, the details of how water behaves at the molecular level are crucial. Our results show that water cannot be treated as a continuum, but that specific local structures exist and are likely very important” says Mischa Bonn, director at the MPI-P.

Water is a very special liquid with extremely fast dynamics. Water molecules wiggle and jiggle on sub-picosecond timescales, which make them undistinguishable on this timescale. While the existence of very short-lived local structures – e.g. two water molecules that are very close to one another, or are very far apart from each other – is known to occur, it was commonly believed that they lose the memory of their local structure within less than 0.1 picoseconds.

The proof for relatively long-lived local structures in liquid water was obtained by measuring the vibrations of the Oxygen-Hydrogen (O-H) bonds in water. For this purpose the team of scientists used ultrafast infrared spectroscopy, particularly focusing on water molecules that are weakly (or strongly) hydrogen-bonded to their neighboring water molecules. The scientists found that the vibrations live much longer (up to about 1 ps) for water molecules with a large separation, than for those that are very close (down to 0.2 ps). In other words, the weakly bound water molecules remain weakly bound for a remarkably long time.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the study,

Strong frequency dependence of vibrational relaxation in bulk and surface water reveals sub-picosecond structural heterogeneity by Sietse T. van der Post, Cho-Shuen Hsieh, Masanari Okuno, Yuki Nagata, Huib J. Bakker, Mischa Bonn & Johannes Hunger. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8384 doi:10.1038/ncomms9384 Published 18 September 2015

This is an open access paper,

Science knowledge in the US circa 2014/15

The Pew Research Center has released a new report on the state of science knowledge in the US general public. From a Sept. 10, 2015 news item on,

There are substantial differences among Americans when it comes to knowledge and understanding of science topics, especially by educational levels as well as by gender, age, race and ethnicity, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

The representative survey of more than 3,200 U.S. adults finds that, on the 12 multiple-choice questions asked, Americans gave more correct than incorrect answers. The median was eight correct answers out of 12 (mean 7.9). Some 27% answered eight or nine questions correctly, while another 26% answered 10 or 11 items correctly. Just 6% of respondents got a perfect score.

You can test yourself if you like by taking the Pew Research Center’s online Science Knowledge Quiz.

Getting back to the study, a Sept. 10, 2015 Pew Research Center news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides more detail including general results and demographic breakdowns by education, race and ethnicity, gender, and age.

  • Most Americans (86%) correctly identify the Earth’s inner layer, the core, as its hottest part, and nearly as many (82%) know uranium is needed to make nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.
  • Americans fare well as a whole when it comes to one aspect of science history: Fully 74% of Americans correctly identify Jonas Salk as the person who developed the polio vaccine from among a list of other scientists that included Marie Curie, Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.
  • And most Americans can distinguish between astronomy and astrology. Seventy-three percent of adults recognize the definition of astrology as the study of how the position of the stars and planets can influence human behavior. By comparison, 22% of adults incorrectly associate this definition with astronomy, while another 5% give some other incorrect response.
  • But other science-related terms and applications are not as well understood. Far fewer are able to identify the property of a sound wave that determines loudness. Just 35% correctly answer amplitude, or height. Some 33% incorrectly say it is frequency and 23% say it is wavelength. And just 34% correctly state that water boils at a lower temperature in a high-altitude setting (Denver) compared with its boiling point near sea level (Los Angeles).

“As science issues become ever-more tied to policy questions, there are important insights that come from exploring how much Americans know about science,” said lead author Cary Funk, an associate director of research at Pew Research Center. “Science encompasses a vast array of fields and information. These data provide a fresh snapshot of what the public knows about some new and some older scientific developments – a mixture of textbook principles covered in K-12 education and topics discussed in the news.”

The data show that adults with higher education levels are more likely to answer questions about science correctly. In this survey, education proves to be a major factor distinguishing higher performers. While the questions asked relate to a small slice of science topics, there are sizeable differences by education on all 12 multiple-choice questions. This pattern is consistent with a 2013 Pew Research Center report on this topic and with analysis of the factual knowledge index in the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators.

  • Adults with a college or postgraduate degree are more than twice as likely to get at least eight out of 12 questions right, compared with adults with a high school diploma or less (82% vs. 40%). Those with a postgraduate degree score an average of 9.5 correct answers out of 12, while those with a high school education or less get an average of 6.8 correct.
  • Fully 57% of adults with a postgraduate degree get 10 to 12 correct answers, whereas this is true for 18% of those with a high school diploma or less.
  • On all 12 questions, there is at least a 13 percentage point difference in correct answers between the highest- and lowest-educated groups. The largest difference is found in a question about the loudness of a sound. A 62% majority of those with a postgraduate degree correctly identify the amplitude (height) of the sound wave as determining its loudness, as do 52% of those with a four-year college degree. By contrast, 20% of those with a high school education or less answer this question correctly.

In addition to educational differences, gender gaps are evident on these science topics. The survey also finds differences in science knowledge between men and women on these questions, most of which connect to physical sciences. Men, on average, are more likely to give correct answers, even when comparing men and women with similar levels of education.

  • Men score an average of 8.6 out of 12 correct answers, compared with women’s 7.3 correct answers. Some 24% of women answer 10 or more questions correctly, compared with 43% of men who did this.
  • The largest difference between men and women occurs on a question asking respondents to select from a set of four images that illustrate what happens to light when it passes through a magnifying glass. Some 55% of men and 37% of women identify the correct image showing the lines crossing after they pass through a magnifying glass, a difference of 18 percentage points.
  • Men (73%) and women (72%) are equally likely to identify the definition of astrology from a set of four options, however. And on the question about which layer of the Earth is hottest, there are only modest differences, with 89% of men and 84% of women selecting the correct response.
  • Past Pew Research Center studies found women were at least equally likely than men to answer several biomedical questions correctly such as that resistant bacteria is the major concern about overuse of antibiotics. And, women were slightly more likely than men to recognize a more effective way to test a drug treatment in one previous Pew Research Center survey.

The survey also found differences in science knowledge associated with race and ethnicity. Overall, whites know the correct answer to more of these questions than Hispanics or blacks. Whites score a mean of 8.4 items out of 12 correct, compared with 7.1 among Hispanics and 5.9 among blacks. The pattern across these groups and the size of the differences vary, however. These findings are consistent with prior Pew Research Center surveys on this topic. Racial and ethnic group differences are also found on the factual science knowledge index collected on the General Social Survey, even when controlling for education level.

  • One of the largest differences between blacks and whites occurs on a question about the ocean tides: 83% of whites compared with 46% of blacks correctly identify the gravitational pull of the moon as one factor in ocean tides. (Hispanics fall in between these two groups, with 70% answering this question correctly.)
  • On one of the more difficult questions, a roughly equal share of whites (36%) and blacks (33%) correctly identify a difference found in cooking at higher altitudes: that water boils at a lower temperature. A quarter (25%) of Hispanics answered this question correctly.

Generally, younger adults (ages 18 to 49) display slightly higher overall knowledge of science than adults ages 65 and older on the 12 questions in the survey. The oldest adults – ages 65 and up – score lower, on average 7.6 out of 12 items, compared with those under age 50. But adults under age 30 and those ages 30 to 49 tend to identify a similar mean number of items correctly.

  • Fully eight-in-ten (80%) adults ages 18 to 29 correctly identify radio waves as the technology underlying cell phone calls. By contrast, 57% of those ages 65 and older know this.
  • On some questions there are no differences in knowledge across age groups. And, when it comes to one aspect of science history, older adults (ages 65 and older) are more likely than younger adults to identify Jonas Salk as the person who developed the polio vaccine. Fully 86% of those ages 65 and older correctly identify Salk as the vaccine’s developer, compared with 68% of adults ages 18 to 29.

The findings are based on a nationally representative survey of 3,278 randomly-selected adults that participate in Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel. The survey was conducted Aug. 11-Sept. 3, 2014 and included 12 questions, some of which included images as part of the questions or answer options. …

Cary Funk and Sara Kehaulani Goo wrote the report titled, “A Look at What the Public Knows and Does Not Know About Science.”

US National Institute of Standards and Technology and molecules made of light (lightsabres anyone?)

As I recall, lightsabres are a Star Wars invention. I gather we’re a long way from running around with lightsabres  but there is hope, if that should be your dream, according to a Sept. 9, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

… a team including theoretical physicists from JQI [Joint Quantum Institute] and NIST [US National Institute of Stnadards and Technology] has taken another step toward building objects out of photons, and the findings hint that weightless particles of light can be joined into a sort of “molecule” with its own peculiar force.

Here’s an artist’s conception of the light “molecule” provided by the researchers,

Researchers show that two photons, depicted in this artist’s conception as waves (left and right), can be locked together at a short distance. Under certain conditions, the photons can form a state resembling a two-atom molecule, represented as the blue dumbbell shape at center. Credit: E. Edwards/JQI

Researchers show that two photons, depicted in this artist’s conception as waves (left and right), can be locked together at a short distance. Under certain conditions, the photons can form a state resembling a two-atom molecule, represented as the blue dumbbell shape at center. Credit: E. Edwards/JQI

A Sept. 8, 2015 NIST news release (also available on EurekAlert*), which originated the news item, provides more information about the research (Note: Links have been removed),

The findings build on previous research that several team members contributed to before joining NIST. In 2013, collaborators from Harvard, Caltech and MIT found a way to bind two photons together so that one would sit right atop the other, superimposed as they travel. Their experimental demonstration was considered a breakthrough, because no one had ever constructed anything by combining individual photons—inspiring some to imagine that real-life lightsabers were just around the corner.

Now, in a paper forthcoming in Physical Review Letters, the NIST and University of Maryland-based team (with other collaborators) has showed theoretically that by tweaking a few parameters of the binding process, photons could travel side by side, a specific distance from each other. The arrangement is akin to the way that two hydrogen atoms sit next to each other in a hydrogen molecule.

“It’s not a molecule per se, but you can imagine it as having a similar kind of structure,” says NIST’s Alexey Gorshkov. “We’re learning how to build complex states of light that, in turn, can be built into more complex objects. This is the first time anyone has shown how to bind two photons a finite distance apart.”

While the new findings appear to be a step in the right direction—if we can build a molecule of light, why not a sword?—Gorshkov says he is not optimistic that Jedi Knights will be lining up at NIST’s gift shop anytime soon. The main reason is that binding photons requires extreme conditions difficult to produce with a roomful of lab equipment, let alone fit into a sword’s handle. Still, there are plenty of other reasons to make molecular light—humbler than lightsabers, but useful nonetheless.

“Lots of modern technologies are based on light, from communication technology to high-definition imaging,” Gorshkov says. “Many of them would be greatly improved if we could engineer interactions between photons.”

For example, engineers need a way to precisely calibrate light sensors, and Gorshkov says the findings could make it far easier to create a “standard candle” that shines a precise number of photons at a detector. Perhaps more significant to industry, binding and entangling photons could allow computers to use photons as information processors, a job that electronic switches in your computer do today.

Not only would this provide a new basis for creating computer technology, but it also could result in substantial energy savings. Phone messages and other data that currently travel as light beams through fiber optic cables has to be converted into electrons for processing—an inefficient step that wastes a great deal of electricity. If both the transport and the processing of the data could be done with photons directly, it could reduce these energy losses.

Gorshkov says it will be important to test the new theory in practice for these and other potential benefits.

“It’s a cool new way to study photons,” he says. “They’re massless and fly at the speed of light. Slowing them down and binding them may show us other things we didn’t know about them before.”

Here are links and citations for the paper. First, there’s an early version on and, then, there’s the peer-reviewed version, which is not yet available,

Coulomb bound states of strongly interacting photons by M. F. Maghrebi, M. J. Gullans, P. Bienias, S. Choi, I. Martin, O. Firstenberg, M. D. Lukin, H. P. Büchler, A. V. Gorshkov.      arXiv:1505.03859 [quant-ph] (or arXiv:1505.03859v1 [quant-ph] for this version)

Coulomb bound states of strongly interacting photons by M. F. Maghrebi, M. J. Gullans, P. Bienias, S. Choi, I. Martin, O. Firstenberg, M. D. Lukin, H. P. Büchler, and A. V. Gorshkov.
Phys. Rev. Lett. forthcoming in September 2015.

The first version (arXiv) is open access and I’m not sure whether or not the Physical review Letters study will be behind a paywall or be available as an open access paper.

*EurekAlert link added 10:34 am PST on Sept. 11, 2015.

Photograph 51 (about Rosalind Franklin and the double helix) in London, UK, Sept. – Nov. 2015

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s August 27, 2015 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for this news featuring a new theatrical production of Anna Zeigler’s play about Rosalind Franklin titled: Photograph 51,

Photograph 51 will be at the Noël Coward Theatre in the West End of London starting on September 5, with Nicole Kidman playing Franklin.  It marks the first London stage performance by Kidman since 1998, and is scheduled to run through November 21 [2015].

There has been at least one attempt to turn this play into a movie as per my Jan. 16, 2012 posting (scroll down about 75% of the way),

… from the news item on Nanowerk,

A film version of third STAGE Competition winner Photograph 51 is being produced by Academy Award-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz, and Ari Handel. [emphases mine] Playwright Anna Ziegler will adapt her play for the screen. Photograph 51 was featured at the 2011 World Science Festival in New York City; the play has also enjoyed prestigious productions in New York City and Washington, D.C.

To my knowledge this play has not yet become a movie and sharp-eyed observers may note that Darren Aronofsky and Rachel Weisz, listed as producers for the proposed film, were married at that time and have subsequently divorced, which may have affected plans for the movie.

Here’s more about the upcoming theatrical production in London (UK), from the Photograph 51 webpage on the website,

The Michael Grandage Company has today [July 27, 2015] announced the full company for the UK première of Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51. Nicole Kidman who leads the company as Rosalind Franklin is joined by Will Attenborough (James Watson), Edward Bennett (Francis Crick), Stephen Campbell Moore (Maurice Wilkins), Patrick Kennedy (Don Caspar) and Joshua Silver (Ray Gosling). Photograph 51 opens at the Noel Coward Theatre on 14th September, with previews from 5th September, and runs until 21st November, 2015.

Photograph 51 also sees the return of Michael Grandage Company to the West End following their immensely successful season in 2013/14, also at the Noel Coward Theatre. The company is committed to reaching as wide an audience as possible through accessible ticket prices across their theatre work, and are offering over 20,000 tickets at £10 (including booking fee and restoration levy), which is 25% of the tickets for the entire run, across all levels of the auditorium. In addition, the company will stage access performances – with both captioned and audio described performances.

“The instant I saw the photograph my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race”

Does Rosalind Franklin know how precious her photograph is? In the race to unlock the secret of life it could be the one to hold the key. With rival scientists looking everywhere for the answer, who will be first to see it and more importantly, understand it? Anna Ziegler’s extraordinary play looks at the woman who cracked DNA and asks what is sacrificed in the pursuit of science, love and a place in history.

Nicole Kidman makes her hugely anticipated return to the London stage in the role of Rosalind Franklin, the woman who discovered the secret to Life, in the UK première of Anna Ziegler’s award-winning play. The production reunites Kidman and Grandage following their recent collaboration on the forthcoming feature film Genius [this film is about the literary world].

You can see a trailer where Kidman is seen briefly as Rosalind Franklin in the upcoming theatrical production. It is embedded in David Bruggeman’s August 27, 2015 posting. Here’s one of my all time favourite productions of the Rosalind Franklin story, from an Aug. 19, 2013 posting, (scroll down about 65% of the way to the part about Tom McFadden and science raps for school children),

For a description of the controversies surrounding Photograph 51 and Rosalind Franklin’s contributions, there’s this Wikipedia entry.

ETA Sept. 3, 2015: Nick Clark has written a Sept. 3, 2015 article for The about how Kidman’s got involved with the play,

It took four years for Michael Grandage to find a play that would tempt Nicole Kidman back to the London stage for the first time in 17 years, and he discovered it in an unlikely place: the slush pile.

After turning down the chance to headline a classic revival of Ibsen or Tennessee Williams, the Australian superstar plumped instead for Photograph 51, a play about a “scientific injustice” that had been sent to the director unsolicited, and had only ever been staged in minor productions in the US.

I think there’s a little self-aggrandizement taking place here. More importantly, Grandage and Kidman are turning the spotlight on a story that isn’t as well known as it should be and for that they should be thanked. (h/t Lainey Gossip)

One final comment, James Watson seems to have an interesting relationship with the now dead Franklin. As noted in the Clark article and elsewhere, she’s mentioned (quite briefly) in Watson’s book, The Double Helix, which helped keep her name in the history books as an obscure footnote. More interestingly, David Bruggeman notes in his August 27, 2015 posting that Watson was present at one the play’s productions (2011 World Science Festival in Ireland) and participated in a public discussion (The secret behind the secret of life: facts and fictions) with the playwright Ziegler and other biologists,

In the 1950s, three labs raced to unravel the structure of DNA. Five decades after the Nobel Prize was awarded for the breakthrough, the contribution of one scientist—Rosalind Franklin—remains controversial. The event was a riveting performance of The Ensemble Studio Theatre Production of Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51, directed by Linsay Firman, a historical drama that explores Rosalind Franklin’s electrifying story, followed (in Friday’s performance) by a discussion among three of the men whose lives the play dramatizes—Nobel laureate James Watson, Raymond Gosling, who worked closely with Franklin at King’s College and co-authored one of Franklin’s 3 papers published in ‘Nature’ in 1953, and emeritus professor of biology Don Caspar—illuminating one of science’s most remarkable, influential, and controversial discoveries. [emphases of names mine)

Fascinating, oui?