Posts Tagged ‘science’

pop goes the world: and a little child shall lead them

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today18 October 2012, Thursday

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

A 14-year-old girl was shot in the head for wanting to go to school.

Something that our children take for granted and even complain about – an education – is to another child who does not have it a precious thing to fight for and die for.

Malala Yousafzai was shot last week by Taliban assassins because she defied a Taliban ban against female education in the Swat Valley of Pakistan.

Also injured were her schoolmates Kainat Ahmed and Shazia Ramzan.

“I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I’m afraid of no one,” Malala has said before.

The young activist first came to public attention in 2009, in a documentary about the shutdown by the Taliban of the girls’ school she attended.

Her father operated one of the last girls’ schools in the area, and since then she and her family have been the target of Taliban ire.

The world erupted in indignation and anger after her shooting. Among the comments on Facebook were those of Curt Olsen – “Only a coward would shoot an unarmed child” – and Edward Clements – “She should be awarded the Nobel Prize for such bravery.”

Others pointed to the need to bring the Taliban to account for the human rights abuses they continue to perpetrate in the name of religion.

“A very brave girl,” Facebook commenter Andy Poljevka called her. “The world needs to rise up against this craziness.”

Sudhansu Jena lauded Malala’s courage: “No words to appreciate the ‘fight for right.’ The cowards who shot at her are highly condemnable.”

Roger Greatorex opined, “She could be the turning point in the struggle against the so-called ‘Taliban.’ How ironic that ‘Taliban’ means ‘students’ in Arabic.”

 Salt Lake Tribune editorial cartoon here.

The Pakistani government will pay for Malala’s treatment at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in the United Kingdom, where she arrived last Monday for the removal of a bullet lodged in her brain.

Meanwhile, as Malala was being airlifted to the United Kingdom for medical treatment, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from the edge of space to freefall down to earth, breaking his 24-mile fall with a parachute and, in a show of incredible skill, landing on his feet.

This, said some netizens, comparing the record-breaking skydive to the shooting of Malala, shows the difference between science and religion.

That is too simplistic a comparison. Islam condemns the murder of innocents. The Taliban are extremists and in no way represent the whole of the Islamic world. But what the two events do show are the triumph of science over religious fundamentalism, of curiosity and the quest for knowledge over intolerance and fanaticism, and of the human desire to explore new frontiers against the human need to cling to old traditions even when they are cruel and destructive.

Malala is the same age as my younger daughter, who is a high school sophomore, now taking her quarterly exams and preparing for the annual school play and cheerdance competition.

Halfway around the world, a girl who could have been her classmate and friend is on the Taliban hitlist for wanting and striving for what my daughter has, an education and a normal life, the chance to be what she can be, perhaps even a spacejumper like Baumgartner.

What is clear is that the abuse of women and children around the world must stop. Malala na ito. (This is at its worst.) This is a battle that must be waged, with constancy and vigilance, on the platform of public opinion so that people may be made aware and changes come about.

Activists denounce the attack on Malala. Image here. 

This is a fight, and those who care about the rights of women and children are all its defenders.

There are many cultural and political attitudes that were once thought to be ineradicable, such as apartheid and its policy of white supremacy in South Africa and totalitarian communism in Soviet Russia and East Germany. But both were slowly eliminated over time and through fervent struggle.

Religious intolerance will be harder to conquer. Hatred, one of its manifestations, will always lurk in a corner of the human heart.

The way to evolving into a better society that treats all its members with equality and respect is to prevent hatred and injustice from winning.

We need to be brave enough to keep on fighting for the rights of women and children, because if a child like Malala has the courage, then so must we.  *** 

Image of Malala here. Image of Felix’s record-breaking jump here.

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pop goes the world: science, not superstition

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today9 August 2012, Thursday

Science, Not Superstition

Early in the morning of August 6, the global scientific community celebrated the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s spectacular achievement of landing their Mars Science Laboratory in the Gale Crater on Mars.

Nicknamed “Curiosity,” the $2.6 billion MSL treads in the tire prints of other Martian NASA rovers, the last launched being Spirit and Opportunity in 2004. Twice as long, five times as heavy, and loaded with ten times the number of science instruments, Curiosity is a roving science robot that will send back data that will pave the way for future human exploration.

Technicians work on Curiosity in a “clean room” at NASA. Image here.

“Ad astra per aspera” – “to the stars through hardships” – indeed, but the hard work of NASA and mission control handler Jet Propulsion Laboratory will pay off through the invaluable knowledge that will be acquired about our neighboring planet.

Curiosity carries 17 cameras. Image here.

There are at least two Filipino-Americans working in space flight and exploration in the US  – Gregory Galgana Villar III and Lloyd Manglapus.

Manglapus studied at the University of Santo Tomas and the University of Southern California, and has been a senior software engineer with JPL for the past eight years.

Villar is one of the youngest engineers on the Curiosity mission. According to a Huffington Post article by Anna Almendrala, he “attended…St. Louis University Laboratory High School in Baguio City, where his parents are from [and] has been working for NASA since he was a junior at [California State Polytechnic University in] Pomona. After he graduated, his internships turned into a full-time engineering job.”

The young engineer was quoted as saying, “…these types of missions are essential to our progress as humans. And I hope the youth are inspired.”

Inspiration is not a problem; achievements like these that “dare mighty things” (the Twitter hashtag made popular by scientists on the Curiosity mission) set fire to the imaginations of young people that they too can explore the final frontier.

For Filipinos to do so, we need to support education in the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We have more than enough nurses who can’t find jobs – let’s develop engineers and scientists.

Mohawked NASA engineer Bobak Ferdowsi served as flight director of the Curiosity mission and became an Internet sensation. Image here.

Meanwhile, what where we doing at around that same time Curiosity landed on the Red Planet?

In the Philippines, fierce debates swirled in Congress when the date for voting on the ending of debates on the Reproductive Health bill was moved up to the 6th from the 7th.

Fresh from the anti-RH bill rally led by the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines the day before, anti-RH bill lawmakers urged their colleagues to resist terminating the plenary discussions on the controversial bill, with one of them questioning the propriety of the change of date because it was an unlucky number.

That’s the Philippines for you. Is it more fun yet?

Others have put forth arguments for and against the RH bill which I shall not go into here for lack of space and to avoid redundancy. What I present is my own conviction that the country needs not only the RH bill, but also a divorce bill and secularism in government.

We need to truly and seriously implement the laws about the separation of church and state. Not everyone in the Philippines is Catholic. Islamic, Protestant, and Iglesia ni Cristo church leaders have opined that their faiths have no problems with accepting the RH Bill.

We are behind many of the developed countries not only in economic and scientific aspects but also in societal attitudes. Where logic, reason, science, and the rule of just and fair laws should prevail, we are instead swayed by some irate priests clinging to the last vestiges of their medieval power, and guided by lucky numbers and supernatural forebodings – a contradiction in beliefs that boggles the rational mind.

“Where religion is, there is peace,” is a sometime truism; more often than not, where there is religion, there is strife, especially when churches and politicians prey on the masses’ religious fears to advance their own agenda.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas said, “Contraception is corruption.” Excuse me. Corruption is corruption. That means things like vote-buying, padding votes, extortion, bribery, and misuse of government funds.

Contraception is a personal choice that has to do with whether an individual wishes to have a child or not. It hinges on whether that person has the resources to properly support a child in comparative comfort and provide him or her basic needs including a life free from abuse and poverty, for I believe these are inalienable rights of humans.

Let us support hard science education to develop engineers like Gregory Villar and Lloyd Manglapus. Let us pass laws like the RH bill that will safeguard the welfare of women and children. Let us release our fear of the Church and irrational superstitions and dare mighty things for the Philippines.

Let us reach for the stars.  *** 

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pop goes the world: the higgs boson

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  12 July 2012, Thursday

The Higgs Boson

The announcement by Geneva-based CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) last July 4 about its latest accomplishment in its search for the elusive Higgs boson spawned searches and queries on what exactly this thing is.

Also called the “God particle” because physicists theorized that the universe would not exist without it, the Higgs boson is a proposed elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics.

A particle is, according to Wikipedia, “a small localized object to which can be ascribed several physical properties such as volume or mass,” while particle physics studies “the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as ‘matter’ or ‘radiation’.” Elementary particles “are the basic building blocks of the universe from which all other particles are made.”

CERN itself is cautious in the wording of its announcement, saying on their website that their ATLAS and CMS experiments “see strong indications for the presence of a new particle which could be the Higgs boson.”

The experiments “found hints of the new particle by analyzing trillions of proton-proton collisions from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2011 and 2012.”

The Standard Model of physics predicted that “a Higgs boson would decay into different particles – which the LHC experiments then detect.” The experiments gave a 5 sigma level of significance, which is counted as a “discovery” in terms of certainty.

The Higgs boson is named after British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs who with five others postulated its existence in 1964. If it and its associated Higgs field existed, the theory goes, it would explain “why some elementary particles have mass”, also giving an insight into how matter came into being. In other words, it gives other particles mass.

And as we know from elementary science, all things – living and non-living – are made of matter.

Knowing whether the Higgs boson exists or not helps scientists gain a better understanding of the origin of the universe – which could lead to more technological advancements that could benefit humankind. Warp drive, anyone? Terraforming? The conquest and occupation of space?

The CERN announcement spawned jokes on social media:

The Higgs boson is my co-pilot. (Clarke Kant, Twitter)

Did you hear about the dyslexic physicist who wasted his career searching for the Dog boson? (also Twitter)

What does the Philippines have to do with the Higgs boson?

On the Internet there’s a world map dated 10 July 2012 of countries whose scientists work for, collaborate with, or have linkages to CERN and its projects. This map presents the Philippines as one of 19 countries with which CERN has “scientific contacts”.

Perhaps, eventually, given more emphasis on the development and promotion of science in the country, we might even join the roster of 20 member states of CERN and directly participate in its groundbreaking projects.

It’s an exciting time to be alive, to witness the expansion and advancement of human knowledge in fashions that were only dreamt of before in science fiction, now coming to pass as reality.

This reality is something reconcilable with our mindsets. Adapting to scientific changes is a phenomenon we are used to – in just a few short decades, we have seen the birth of the portable music player, mobile telephone, and laptop computer, gadgets once only seen on Star Trek and other SF shows but that we have absorbed into our daily lives with surprising ease.

Not everyone was optimistic about finding the Higgs boson. Physicist Stephen Hawking lost a $100 bet with Michigan University’s Gordon Kane, having insisted that the particle would not be found.

According to The Economist, it took “five decades, billions of dollars, and millions of man-hours” to find the Higgs boson; “all worth it” in the “quest for knowledge for knowledge’s sake.”   *** 

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