science news

Time Machine Possible in New Particle Accelerator

In recent years, time traveling has been not only a scenario in science fictions and Hollywood blockbusters, but also a scientific possibility due to the rapid developments of quantum theory. Tidbits on the possibility of achieving time traveling has sprouted up in news in the past couple of weeks.


The soon to be available Large Hadron Collider (LHC, pictured above) of CERN utilizes several superconducting magnets (kept at just 1.9 K) to guide charged particles to a desired projectile. Scheduled to be in operation by May of this year, it is the largest and highest energy particle accelerator in the world.[1] Using the LHC, a special run is scheduled for April 2008 in attempt to recreate the Big Bang.

By colliding charged particles at high velocity, researchers hope to reproduce the first billionth second after the Big Bang. By successfully doing so, this exercise would further validate the theory–some claim as the origin of life–since the Nobel win of Professor George Smoot in 2007.

However, the public hype of the launch of LHC isn’t all for the recreation of the mysterious Big Bang. Much of its attention is the possibility of creating a time machine as a side product of this exercise. As mathematicians Irina Aref’eva and Igor Volovich of Moscow’s Steklov Mathematical Institute pointed out, Einstein’s theory of general relativity suggests that particle collisions at such high energy level would distort the space-time fabric surrounding it. This distortion can create a wormhole, or “time tunnel,” allowing time traveling.[2] A related interview with Irina Aref’eva is available on YouTube.

Such claim sounds little more than a scene out of some scifi movie; and many in the scientific community agrees. Most remains skeptical of the production and application of the man-made wormhole. Surely, arguments like the lack of “time travelers” from the future still echo every time machine idea is brought up. Since what will happen inside the particle accelerator is still largely unknown, its secondary consequences also remain unpredictable.


[1] Large Hadron Collider, Wikipedia

[2] The world’s first time machine? Tunnel to the past could open door to future within three months, say Russians

By February 19, 2008 9 comments nuclear chemistry, science news

Explosion: Grad student looses both hands, face burned

Sad news coming out of Warsaw today. A 27-year old graduate student at Wojskowa Akademia Techniczna (Military University of Technology) suffered severe injuries while performing experiments towards his thesis. He lost both hands and received severe burns on his face. The explosion did not cause a fire. Apparently, his research was on explosive materials. Link to article: here (Sorry, Polish only)


If I had to guess, I would point my finger at a shock sensitive material (peroxides?). Hopefully, the mainstream press will pick-up and follow-through with the story so we can learn from this incident.

Note 1: Thanks to Borek, the ChemBuddy guy, for the tip.


By February 15, 2008 4 comments science news

IG Nobel Prizes

So after the Physics Nobel Prize Post, I felt it would be necessary to point these out as well. For those of you who don’t know what the IG Nobel Prizes are…well, I think you’ll figure it out.

Oh, one last thing. These are all awarded by The Annals of Improbable Research, which is an institution like (heh, sort-of) The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences which awards the Chemistry and Physics Nobels, or the The Norwegian Nobel Institute which awards the Peace Nobel.

Here we go:

Brian Witcombe of Gloucester, UK, and Dan Meyer of Antioch, Tennessee, USA, for their penetrating medical report “Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects.”
REFERENCE: “Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects,” Brian Witcombe and Dan Meyer, British Medical Journal, December 23, 2006, vol. 333, pp. 1285-7.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Brian Witcombe and Dan Meyer

L. Mahadevan of Harvard University, USA, and Enrique Cerda Villablanca of Universidad de Santiago de Chile, for studying how sheets become wrinkled.
REFERENCES:”Wrinkling of an Elastic Sheet Under Tension,” E. Cerda, K. Ravi-Chandar, L. Mahadevan, Nature, vol. 419, October 10, 2002, pp. 579-80.
“Geometry and Physics of Wrinkling,” E. Cerda and L. Mahadevan, Physical Review Letters, fol. 90, no. 7, February 21, 2003, pp. 074302/1-4.
“Elements of Draping,” E. Cerda, L. Mahadevan and J. Passini, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 101, no. 7, 2004, pp. 1806-10.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, and Enrique Cerda Villablanca’s sister Mariela.

Prof. Dr. Johanna E.M.H. van Bronswijk of Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, for doing a census of all the mites, insects, spiders, pseudoscorpions, crustaceans, bacteria, algae, ferns and fungi with whom we share our beds each night.
REFERENCES: “Huis, Bed en Beestjes” [House, Bed and Bugs], J.E.M.H. van Bronswijk, Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde, vol. 116, no. 20, May 13, 1972, pp. 825-31.
“Het Stof, de Mijten en het Bed” [Dust, Mites and Bedding]. J.E.M.H. van Bronswijk Vakblad voor Biologen, vol. 53, no. 2, 1973, pp. 22-5.
“Autotrophic Organisms in Mattress Dust in the Netherlands,” B. van de Lustgraaf, J.H.H.M. Klerkx, J.E.M.H. van Bronswijk, Acta Botanica Neerlandica, vol. 27, no. 2, 1978, pp 125-8.
“A Bed Ecosystem,” J.E.M.H. van Bronswijk, Lecture Abstracts — 1st Benelux Congress of Zoology, Leuven, November 4-5, 1994, p. 36.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Dr. Johanna E.M.H. van Bronswijk

Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan, for developing a way to extract vanillin — vanilla fragrance and flavoring — from cow dung.
REFERENCE: “Novel Production Method for Plant Polyphenol from Livestock Excrement Using Subcritical Water Reaction,” Mayu Yamamoto, International Medical Center of Japan.
PRESS NOTE: Toscanini’s Ice Cream, the finest ice cream shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, created a new ice cream flavor in honor of Mayu Yamamoto, and introduced it at the Ig Nobel ceremony. The flavor is called “Yum-a-Moto Vanilla Twist.”

Juan Manuel Toro, Josep B. Trobalon and Nuria Sebastian-Galles of Universitat de Barcelona, for showing that rats sometimes cannot tell the difference between a person speaking Japanese backwards and a person speaking Dutch backwards.
REFERENCE: “Effects of Backward Speech and Speaker Variability in Language Discrimination by Rats,” Juan M. Toro, Josep B. Trobalon and Nuria Sebastian-Galles, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, vol. 31, no. 1, January 2005, pp 95-100.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: The winners could not travel to the ceremony, so they instead delivered their acceptance speech via recorded video

of Blaxland, Blue Mountains, Australia, for her study of the word “the” — and of the many ways it causes problems for anyone who tries to put things into alphabetical order.
REFERENCE: “The Definite Article: Acknowledging ‘The’ in Index Entries,” Glenda Browne, The Indexer, vol. 22, no. 3 April 2001, pp. 119-22.

Brian Wansink of Cornell University, for exploring the seemingly boundless appetites of human beings, by feeding them with a self-refilling, bottomless bowl of soup.
REFERENCE: “Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake,” Brian Wansink, James E. Painter and Jill North, Obesity Research, vol. 13, no. 1, January 2005, pp. 93-100.
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink, Bantom Books, 2006, ISBN 0553804340.

Kuo Cheng Hsieh, of Taichung, Taiwan, for patenting a device, in the year 2001, that catches bank robbers by dropping a net over them.
REFERENCE: U.S. patent #6,219,959, granted on April 24, 2001, for a “net trapping system for capturing a robber immediately.”

If that crap can get patented…Mitch, I think we need to revist that patent.

Patricia V. Agostino, Santiago A. Plano and Diego A. Golombek of Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Argentina, for their discovery that Viagra aids jetlag recovery in hamsters.
REFERENCE: “Sildenafil Accelerates Reentrainment of Circadian Rhythms After Advancing Light Schedules,” Patricia V. Agostino, Santiago A. Plano and Diego A. Golombek, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 23, June 5 2007, pp. 9834-9. WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Diego A. Golombek

And My Personal Favourite (remember, this is for the PEACE prize):

The Air Force Wright Laboratory, Dayton, Ohio, USA, for instigating research & development on a chemical weapon — the so-called “gay bomb” — that will make enemy soldiers become sexually irresistible to each other.
REFERENCE: “Harassing, Annoying, and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals,” Wright Laboratory, WL/FIVR, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, June 1, 1994.

So take off your hats and raise your glasses to these brave and ignobel scientists, wasting our hard won funding, and pushing the very edge of our understanding of useless crap. Cheers.


By October 13, 2007 0 comments science news

Caffeine in Soda

This was originally covered by Bethany Halford in C&EN. But there is a paper in The Journal of Food Science (J. Food Sci. 2007, 72, C337) that lists caffeine content in all the major/minor soda manufacturers. A table of their data is shown below for your viewing pleasure. Go Vault Zero!

Article DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00414.x

Note 1: Link to Bethany Halford’s article:


By October 12, 2007 0 comments science news