Friday, January 30, 2015

Appalling Lack of Responsibility

DOE photo - degraded conditions at Y12

Frank Munger has reported on inexcusable neglect at Y-12, the nuclear weapons plant at Oak Ridge. Apparently there are buildings there that are being simply left to fall apart, with equipment contaminated by radioactive and other hazardous material sitting in standing water from roof leaks (see DOE photo above). These buildings are primed to release their contents into the groundwater.

Roof leaks!!! ?

What tiny fraction of the trillion dollars spent yearly on US defense would have sufficed to prevent roof leaks from happening?  Instead, like small children bored with new toys, we just ignore our past actions. We send our youth to foreign wars then neglect them when they return and are of no more use. We build nuclear weapons  then simply leave dangerous material unattended to leach into the groundwater,  willfully and negligently destroying the environment in doing so. Where on earth is our sense of responsibility?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

KTS - Think Beyond the Limits!

Klaus Tschira
SAP cofounder Klaus Tschira donated 7 million of his shares in 1995 to found the Klaus Tschira Foundation, a nonprofit established in Germany  to perform research in computational science and foster public understanding of mathematics, informatics and natural sciences (an amateur astronomer, Tschira has a small asteroid named after him). 

Last Friday was the 20th birthday party of KTS, entitled "Think beyond the Limits". KTS has funded projects to the tune of $300 million so far. I gave one of the two keynote lectures (Computational Science: Curing Disease and Saving the Environment) and the other was given by Mark Vogelsberger of MIT, who has used supercomputers to perform the most ambitious simulation yet of the evolution of the universe. Check his video out here!

Not all very rich people are greedy exploiters of the working class. Klaus Tschira - self made - a demonstration of  how some billionaires can be true forces for good for humanity. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cow Tipping

Let's go cow tipping in the Spring, shall we? That, of course, is when "rural citizens", for want of anything better to do, sneak up upon an unsuspecting cow and push it over. Apparently, it's been all the rage for decades down our neck of the woods in East Tennessee.

Udder chaos? A tiresome form of lactose intolerance? Disrepect for Sir Loin? ........Or simply impossible?

 A UBC student, Tracy Boechler, calculated a few years ago that  a cow of 1.45 metres in height pushed at an angle of 23.4 degrees relative to the ground would require 2,910 Newtons of force, equivalent to 4.43 people. That means ya can't do it alone, yer know. What's more cows have the annoying tendency to notice you coming and move away. And further complicating the task is that cow tipping protagonists must of course be uniformly plastered. Therefore, it must indeed be extraordinarily difficult.  

But it  really doesn't sound impossible to me. Earplug the cow, get a team of five,  start  drinking but plan on carving out  a moment of lucidity, concentration and coordination to creep up soundlessly and all push together simultaneously. Whaddaya think? Worth a try, worth a try....

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Save Us Some Day from Sauvadet

Francois Sauvadet
I want research in France to succeed; it's where I got my start as a principal investigator. But the guy above is not helping one bit.

When I first arrived there in 1989 I wished to hire a postdoctoral researcher, and was informed that such contracts had a maximum of 18 months due to  what the French call the fight against "precarious jobs". Conditions eased off, but now the screw is back with a vengeance with the "Loi Sauvadet" of 2012, the effect of which, as I found out from a chat with Chris Chipot,  is that there can be only one temporary employee for every three permanents in government-funded jobs. This, when allied with the quickly disappearing number of permanent contracts available, is a sure-fire prescription for killing off research in France and strangling opportunities in science for young people.

It's easy for me to preach, up here from my safe, tenured professorship, and I do understand the attraction of job security and the society-wide exploitation of low-paid workers. But young scientists are not like others - temporary jobs are an essential part of research training, giving experience in different labs and techniques. Moreover, the demand in society for trained scientists is such that most of these can get a job in industry. They're not like dead-end unskilled jobs. Permanent contracts given to scientists who are too inexperienced kills innovation - I saw that myself in France in the 1990s. The  relative success of research in the USA owes much to the element of competition, and a permanent job is basically simply part of the package that employers may offer candidates they are courting, if they have the means. In research, as elsewhere, the most important task to create jobs by creating ideas. The Loi Sauvadet is bad for France, and particularly bad for scientific research.

France: save us one day from Sauvadet.