This is Jeremy Smith's blog about life in Tennessee, local science and other topics of interest. Is not endorsed by and does not, of course, represent the opinion of UT, ORNL or any other official entity.
My favorite time of the year in East Tennessee is June, around dusk, when the male Photinus pyralis fireflies execute their J-shaped flight motifs, flashing on the upswing. Females, near the ground, respond a couple of seconds later. [Marvellous chemistry that, as somehow the breaking of a chemical bond is transformed into an electronically excited state]. But there is much intrigue, back-stabbing and derring-do going on among the fireflies in my back yard. Photinus beware! The evil femme fatale, Photuris, lurks! The female of this species mimics the flashes of Photinus females, attracting the eager male Photinus. To their doom! Once a male is close enough, the stronger Photuris female pounces on him and devours him.
She gets a good meal containing chemicals that protect her from Phidippus jumping spiders. Ok, then, say the male Photinus : we'll approach and land, but cautiously, quite a way away, and we'll very slowly crawl towards her, signaling. The problem with that, though, is that it gives time for one of the other Photinus males to get to her first. Sissies! Throw yourselves at her, guys! You may get eaten but it'll all be over quickly and you only live for two weeks, anyway.
So the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is about to start looking for "dark matter"; that is, apparently, the 85% of the matter in the universe that exists but is, err, NOWHERE TO BE SEEN. I think that is a very good idea indeed. Moreover, I know 85% is about the right figure because that is about the percentage of the things I have owned that have, over the years, mysteriously disappeared.
So I have sent an e-mail to the LHC guys, asking them to please locate that pair of spectacles that inexplicably went missing on a flight from Bangalore to Hyderabad a few years ago. I mean, I looked in the seat pocket and under the chair and everywhere, and there they were - just GONE! After that I am asking the LHC wizards if they could kindly return the about 20 sweat shirts that have mysteriously disappeared in various trains, buses and restaurants. Then, finally, there's that lamb chop that was on the dinner plate last week that vanished into thin air when I had to pop out to answer the phone. I would be so grateful to get it back intact. Grady (our lemon beagle) did happen to be in the room at the time but insists he had absolutely nothing to do with it.
The bucolic view from the summit of Charmant Som in the Chartreuse, to which Didier, Fabienne and I hiked up early this morning. In the red square, nestled in the head of a valley, is the Grand Chartreuse (Carthusian) Monastery. The monks in there are vowed to silence, "a way of attaining internal solitude" according to Father Dom Benoit. He is one of only two people who know the recipe of Green Chartreuse, that the monks distill, the "elixir of eternal life" that "cures all ills". Accompanying the reclusive monastic silence, then, is a booze production machine working at full tilt: Chartreuse Diffusion SA; 2013 turnover - 13M Euros. The Carthusian motto is "stat crux dum volvitur orbis", or "the Cross is steady while the world turns". Hopefully, this spinning refers to astrophysical insight rather than pastoral overindulgence. Chartreuse Verte is supposedly made of 130 herbs. I wonder whether anyone has done any high resolution mass spec on it?