Tag Archives: science

Seen any good tables lately?

The periodic table fad has gone meta, not only with The Periodic Table Table at (Wake Forest University, in North Carolina):

But also with this periodic table of periodic tables1 by keaggy.com:

Before the Periodic Table of the Elements, elements were a chaotic collection of substances with seemingly random and unpredictable masses, melting and boiling points, electrical, chemical, and material properties, and so on. Not only did the periodic table organize the known elements in a way that explained these properties, but it correctly predicted the existence and the properties of undiscovered elements.

All these parodies of periodic tables2 are only funny because this tendency towards scientific organization has totally permeated popular culture. And that’s pretty encouraging.

  1. For those of you who hate your web browser and want it to crash, there’s also a version of the Periodic Table of Periodic Tables that uses an off-the-shelf Flash app and 217% of your CPU to make a zoomable interface that could be done in about ten lines of CSS & JavaScript, and 0% of your CPU. []
  2. My very own Periodic Table of the Europeans is at “Eu,” (number 63), smack dab in the middle of the “Awesomeoids” (the green row). Thanks, keaggy. []

What remains to be discovered

Sci Du Jour asks:

What technological/scientific advances/discoveries are you most looking forward to in the next 25 years?

A few years ago I read John Maddox’s What Remains to Be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, the Origins of Life, and the Future of the Human Race (Amazon link). It’s an amazingly broad survey of all the bleeding edges of science and tech today. I most remember the bits about materials tech—all sorts of new materials, super sticky glue, super strong lightweight materials, materials with memory and self-healing properties, are just on the horizon.

Empirical debugging

Steve Hazel‘s Debugging Science puts the science back in computer science by pointing out the deep similarities between the empirical/scientific method and the best debugging practices.

From this point of view, the open-source call to arms “with enough eyes, every bug is shallow” even turns out to be a similar kind of parallel “processing” as modern academia’s “multiple camps in support of divergent theories.”

Plastic seas

There’s a huge trash field floating in the North Pacific gyre (E on the map):


A segment on NPR about the same trash field noted that it does not show up on satellite photos because most plastic floats just under the surface of the water, where it is invisible unless you are close to the surface.

The other side of the race to the moon

After watching From the Earth to the Moon and In the Shadow of the Moon, I wondered whatever happened to the threat of a “red moon” that so motivated the US to land on the moon before 1970. Turns out the Soviet lunar program was very real. It never achieved real success largely due to interpersonal rivalries and bureaucratic territoriality, and was canceled as the Soviets lost interest in the program after Khrushchev (Хрущев) was ousted in 1964.

Update 2008-01-03: Red Moon Rising by Matthew Brzezinski is about the Soviet space program. Read the first chapter here.

Update 2008-01-18: Air & Space has some more lunar landers that never were.

An Incrediby Simple Theory of Everything?

Garret Lisi, A PHD physicist with no university affiliation, who allegedly spends most of his time surfing in Hawaii or snowboarding in Tahoe, has submitted a 31-page paper for preprint titled “An Incrediby Simple Theory of Everything.” (The poor guy’s webpage is down, but Google’s cache indicates that he’s a burner too.) The paper departs from string theory, the TOE du jour in theoretical physics, and it’s got physicists talking. The inimitable Lee Smolin calls it “one of the most compelling unification models I’ve seen in many, many years,” and the press is branding Lisi a new Einstein.

This brings up the usual brouhaha about the mainstream media picking up scientific papers before peer review, but this time it seems that the blame is on the press, not the scientist.

Sounds like an interesting guy, and I hope for his sake he’s right, because how on earth could he ever live it down if he’s not?