2017-10-23 (Monday)

Today, I learned that:

We were very lucky recently to catch the collision of two neutron stars, possibly forming a so called kilonova. It happened 130 million years ago. This kind of event typically happens less than once in a century, and if it had happened only one month later, then we would have missed its ripples completely! The reason for that is that the detector system will then undergo an upgrade which will result in a double precision in the measurements compared to the first generation.

Of course, this is all connected with the recent confirmation that gravitational waves, which were forecasted by Albert Einstein already in 1916, really exist. The first successful discovery was only announced in the beginning of 2016, and more about that event can be found in my post of 2016-02-12.

As you probably know, the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 has been awarded to the three main scientists behind the detection of gravitational waves, and thus this recent event, which occurred on 2017-08-17 and was announced to the public on 2017-10-16, came at a very good time. You can read (and hear, if you understand Swedish) more about this fantastic event in references #1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 below. In reference #6 there is also an interesting discussion on how the heaviest materials in the universe are formed.

NeutronStarMerger_Shot1_4KStill7_v01_print

This illustration shows the hot, dense, expanding cloud of debris stripped from the neutron stars just before they collided. This cloud produces the kilonova’s visible and infrared light. Within this neutron-rich debris, large quantities of some of the universe’s heaviest elements were forged, including hundreds of Earth masses of gold and platinum. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab

You have surely heard about “fake news”, but what about “fake food”? Currently, there is a heavy discussion going on in São Paulo, where the mayor, João Doria Jr., has declared that he wants to introduce a low-grade flour called ‘farinata’ to increase the volume of the school lunch in the public schools. Reference #5 below, in Brazilian Portuguese, published by O Estado de S. Paulo last Friday, claims that it is not a bad thing from a nutritional point of view, although there are so called ‘experts’ who argue about that.

This reminds me of a habit in the Nordic countries some centuries ago. If the crop failed, the poor had no alternative than to shred the trees from their bark and grind the material into a powder which was then added to the flour. Of course that was a measure which only served as landfill in the stomachs, without taste and nutrition. Reference #6 discusses that topic in detail and in references #7 and 8 you can listen to a tune which deals with that subject, both sung by Monica Thörnell and in an instrumental version by Kebnekaise.

That’s what I learned in school !

Refs.:

1: Doomed Neutron Stars Create Blast of Light and Gravitational Waves

2: In a First, Gravitational Waves Linked to Neutron Star Crash

3: GW170817

4: Tracking down a kilonova: The story of how thousands of scientists decoded the year’s biggest discovery

5: Ny astronomi såg den enorma stjärnsmällen som gav guld

6: Thanks to the biggest discovery of the year we finally know where all the elements of the periodic table get made

7: Verdades sobre a farinata

8: Bark bread

9: Monica Thörnell – Barkbrödslåten, 1972

10: Kebnekaise – Barkbrödslåten, 1973

*: What did you learn in school today ?

2016-02-12 (Friday)

Today, I learned that:

This year has only just started, but what a fantastic year for science it seems to be! My first blog post was on January 9, and since then I have already had the pleasure of presenting four new materials, the first flower grown in space, a possible ninth planet, etc.

And yesterday was the announcement of the discovery of the gravitational waves that Albert Einstein already predicted 100 years ago. I suggest that you listen to today’s podcast from Scientific American, see reference 2 below, where the co-founder of one of the teams that made the discovery, Kip Thorne, is interviewed. It was the confirmation of the crash of two black holes into each other that happened 1,3 billion years ago.

gwaves

NASA researchers simulated the gravitational waves that would be produced when two black holes merged. Photo by NASA/C. Henze

Updated 2016-02-13: Today’s edition of Radio National’s Sciene Show is a testamonial by David Blair about what really happened on September 14, 2015, when the first gravitional waves were detected in Livingston, Louisiana. See and listen to reference 3 below.

LIGO

The Advanced LIGO detector in Livingston Louisiana. Photo by LIGO

Today is also the day that we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the first penicillin treatment. Although Alexander Fleming had made the discovery in his London laboratory already in 1928, it was a team of scientists in Oxford that made the first drug out of the penicillin fungus. The first time it was tested on a real patient was exactly on February 12, 1941, to save the life of a heavily infected local policeman. They found that the drug had miraculous effects on him and so the scientists were really desperate when the small doses of penicillin they had were out after 10 days of use. They even tried to recover the drug from the poor patient’s urine, but the quantities were too small to have real effect and he eventually died after one month. But it led to that Alexander Fleming, who had not given his discovery too much thought before, started to reassess his feat. He was then awarded with the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1945, sharing the prize with two members of the Oxford team, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain.

I suggest you listen to the podcast in reference 3 below. It is a program from the Science Editors at Radio Sweden, and although the whole program is in Swedish, there are some interviews in English included, the last one from BBC in 1945, when Alexander Fleming was afraid that people would start to use the penicillin for automedication, but in too low doses to have the desired effect. He also forecasted that one day the bacteriae would be resistant to penicillin, which we now can see as a fact.

Finally, this leads me into asking you if you know from where and why the word ‘vaccin’ is derived? It is from the Latin word ‘vacca’ which means cow. In 1796, the English physician Edward Jenner used antibodies from cowpox to vaccinate against smallpox. Then in 1881, Louis Pasteur suggested the use of the term ‘vaccine’ in honour of Jenner’s findings. In 1980, the World Health Organization announced the first eradication of a disease, namely the smallpox.

… That’s what I learned in school!

Refs.:

1: The Detection of Gravitational Waves Is a Triumph for Physics

2: Gravitational Waves Found: Kip Thorne Explains

3: Gravitational waves to allow new observations of the universe

4: 75 år sedan första behandlingen med penicillin

5: Penicillin

6: Vaccine

+: What did you learn in school today ?