I just finished reading a blog post that compares educational achievement across the globe (read it here). As an American, it initially troubled me, since the main thrust of the discussion was the U.S.’s failure in math and science education, compared to other countries. One of the points the author focused on was that textbooks in the U.S. tend to be extremely broad, but not particularly deep, in their coverage of a subject. Apparently this type of survey approach isn’t as effective as the methods used by better scoring countries (deeper dives into fewer subjects).
He then suggested a brilliant idea! Why not source textbooks from the most successful countries for a given discipline? There are, of course, plenty of problems with this approach. Textbooks exist in a wider pedagogical plan that spans years; they also are the products of, and supporting text for, particular cultures. There are also great advantages to a broad diversity of global study that would need to be preserved. Still, the fundamental notion of globally sourcing our educational materials and methods has extreme fundamental merit.
There seem to be two approaches to drawing value from this idea. One is a top-down approach which is centered around one or more NGOs, UN committees, etc. The other, and more fun, is a bottom-up approach of looking at centers of excellence around the world and drawing their resources into an informal global collaboration. When all is said and done, each text book has to be translated one at a time, and each school or person needs to make individual choices regarding participation. This is classic crowd sourcing applied to a highly educated and effective crowd.
I wonder how you feel about this. Please comment.
Tim Rohde is Co-founder/Publisher & COO of the-future.com.
By Prof. Paul Padley
Department of Physics and Astronomy
In order to make great scientific discoveries, it is important to build great experiments. Outside Geneva, Switzerland, the most complex experiment ever built will soon start collecting data, and it is worth asking why scientists are convinced that something new will be found with it. Let’s look at the history of Big Bang science and see what lessons we can draw from that.
In 1929, Edwin Hubble published his paper A Relation Between Distance and Radial Velocity among Extra Galactic Nebulae.
This is the paper which established that the universe is expanding, in a way consistent with there being a “big bang.” What is interesting to note is that Hubble was working at one of the greatest observatories of its day, Mt. Wilson. He was using the 100-inch telescope, which was a phenomenal instrument for its day and by having access to it, was able to collect the data that established what we now call the “Hubble Constant.”
This was a revolutionary observation that changed how we understand the universe.
Measuring the Hubble Constant is one of the fundamental cosmological measurements that can be made. Refining the precision of that constant is an important goal for science and was one of the motivating goals for building the Hubble Space Telescope. The name was no coincidence, it was a name not just in honor of Edwin Hubble, but in honor of one of its primary scientific missions — measuring the Hubble Constant.
More than just measuring the Hubble Constant, it turns out this telescope has completely upset our view of the universe. When I was a student, I was taught that there was a Big Bang and that the universe was expanding. Gravity was acting on the matter in the universe and the expansion was slowing down. An important question was whether the universe was open or closed, that is — would gravity cause the universe to collapse back in on itself, or not? Scientists were hoping to resolve that question with the Hubble Space Telescope.
What they found was completely unexpected: It appears that the expansion of the universe is not slowing down, in fact, it is speeding up. The expansion of the universe is accelerating! This was a completely surprising result. I remember sitting in the auditorium at CERN when Saul Perlmutter of the Supernova Cosmology Project (http://supernova.lbl.gov/) presented this result (which was simultaneously obtained by the High-z Supernova Search team (http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/supernova//HighZ.html). The auditorium was full of skeptical scientists ready to shoot down the claim. However, one by one, all the hostile questions were answered and the result has stood the test of time.
The accelerating expansion of the universe is now one of the greatest mysteries in science. What is clear is that the universe is not going to collapse down on itself — it is being blown apart. What is also clear is that it took a new facility such as the Hubble Space Telescope to make this amazing discovery possible. The scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN are anticipating that they are going to make amazing unanticipated discoveries it’s what happens when you build tremendous new facilities.
Electronics works by taking advantage of one of the properties of fundamental particles: electric charge. Particles have many other properties as well, and there is a real possibility that those properties can be harnessed in order to develop new technologies. One such property is called “spin” and harnessing spin could play a key role in the future of electronics.
Nobody really understands the spin of fundamental particles, such as the electron. However, we can routinely measure it and use it. The electron, and other basic particles in nature, act as if they were spinning tops. We can do measurements in which we calculate their angular momentum — or how much they are spinning. We can put electrons in magnets and flip their spins. Spin
So, why doesnt anybody really understand that? There are a couple of reasons: To the best of our knowledge, the electron is an infinitely small-point particle. In our current theories, the electron has zero size and, to date, nobody has been able to measure its size, experimentally. How is it that something without any size can be spinning? String-theory attempts to overcome this by postulating that particles are little bits of string in a multi-dimensional space but, to date, there is no experimental evidence that string theory is correct. In any case, I am not sure that a 10-dimensional string is any easier to think about than an infinitely small, spinning particle.
It gets event stranger. First, I have to explain how to describe the direction of spin. If something is rotating, I can wrap the fingers of my right hand in the direction of the rotation. If I then stick my thumb out from my hand, I say the direction of my thumb defines the spin. So, if I am riding my bicycle forward, and I describe the rotation of my wheels in this way, my thumb points to the left.
What is strange about the spin of the electron is that when I describe it this way, my thumb will only point up or down. It can’t point at an angle; it can’t be tilted.
[ Why cant the electron spin point at an angle? That is one of the mysteries of the universe. This weird spin of the electron was first measured in the 1920s (by Otto Stern and Walter Gerlach -- http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/spin.html ) and has been repeatedly confirmed by experiment, ever since. It makes my head hurt, and my students heads, too -- this exact question was being asked of me by my students last week (I teach quantum mechanics to junior physics majors).
One of the most important things that makes science different from other ways of knowing is that we have to use what we learn from experiment, whether we understand it or not. So we can write down equations that describe how electron spin will behave. We can use those equations to predict the electron's behavior so well that we can make electronic (or spintronic) devices, using this description. But we dont actually know how it comes about or why it is there. So I know the electron will always be measured to be spinning up or down, and not tipped at an angle, but I cant tell you why. Wish I could (it would get me a Nobel Prize) . ]
I always measure that the electron is spinning either up or down, no matter how I measure it. In fact, spin is predicted by relativistic quantum mechanics (the combination of quantum mechanics with Einstein’s special theory of relativity). So, perhaps I misspeak when I say nobody understands it – we can write down the math behind it but, unfortunately, our brains can not picture what it means.
That spin has this property, that it can only take definite directions, is what makes it interesting for electronics. We can use spin to record information and manipulate it to do calculations. There is a whole field of electronics research called “spintronics” that is pursuing this idea. The most likely first application is in memory chips — a technology referred to as “mram,” which is approaching commercialization. For example, IBM and Toshiba have announced that they are close to producing such chips.
There is an important lesson for the future, here. The concept of spin grew out of work in the 1920s in quantum mechanics. Without the basic science that was conducted almost 100 years ago, the new technologies being developed today would not be possible. The physicists who discovered this amazing property of fundamental particles were not trying to develop technologies, they were just trying to understand the smallest constituents of matter. Without speculative, basic scientific research, technological progress stops. However, it can be a long time until that basic research bears fruit.
Dr. Paul Padley is professor of physics at Rice University, and a lead physicist of experimental research for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried have now presented not one, but two studies introducing new indicator molecules which can visualize the activation of T cells. Their findings provide new insight into the role of these cells in the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis. The new indicators are set to be an important tool […]
A conference of 500 leading water scientists from around the world today issued a stark warning that, without major reforms, "in the short span of one or two generations, the majority of the 9 billion people on Earth will be living under the handicap of severe pressure on fresh water, an absolutely essential natural resource for which there is no substi […]
A new study, "Vegetable Cost Metrics Show That Potatoes and Beans Provide Most Nutrients Per Penny," published in the journal PLOS ONE, shows that potatoes are one of the best nutritional values in the produce aisle, providing one of the better nutritional values per penny than most other raw vegetables and delivering one of the most affordable sou […]
Two studies analyze whether there were atheists in WWII foxholes. The first shows that reliance on prayer rose from 32 percent to 74 percent as battles intensified. The second shows that soldiers who faced heavy combat and claimed the war was negative attended church 21 percent more often than non-combat vets -- even 50 years later. For families or for couns […]
Two mutations central to the development of infantile myofibromatosis -- a disorder characterized by multiple tumors involving the skin, bone, and soft tissue -- may provide new therapeutic targets, according to researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The findings, published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, may lead to new tre […]
In this issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers led by Ronald Levy at Stanford University found that regulatory T cells that infiltrate tumors express proteins that can be targeted with therapeutic antibodies. […]
New papers published in the June issue of Lithosphere cover the geology of Western Europe; the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica; the Norwegian Caledonides; the Central Asian Orogenic Belt; the Karakoram shear zone and Greater Himalaya Sequence, NW India; the Garlock fault and the southern Sierra Nevada-eastern Tehachapi Mountains, USA; and the Chinese Altai. The […]
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world
that has such people in ‘t!
- Shakespeare’s The Tempest
In the final scene of the film Quest for Fire, after learning how to harness the power of the flame, the first futurist gazes toward the silvery glow of the moon, and then afar, to the stars in the heavens, as [...]
Bill Gates said, “People always overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10.” While I half expect a letter from some poor Xerox PARC guy challenging the provenance of that statement, the truth of its content is undeniable. In the immediate rush of the present we can [...]
The Earth Pledge FutureFashion Textile Library online is the go-to source for eco-friendly fabrics. They promote renewable, reusable and nonpolluting materials and processes at every step of the supply chain and work to assist designers and brands in their sourcing. Since 2004, Theyve connected designers and suppliers in the sustainable design process, and have encouraged [...]