Is the Large Hadronic Collider going to end the world by making black holes or strangelets?
Gratuitous ramblings from Rob Knop about astronomy, cosmology, virtual worlds, or whatever he feels the need to rant on about
The Meta Institute for Computational Astrophysics is a new venture being spearheaded by Piet Hut, also known as Pema Pera in Second Life. Piet and collaborators have already done some actual scientfic collaboration a virutal world, through Qwaq. However, he— and others, to the point that I can start using the pronoune “we”— are starting to do more in Second Life in an attempt both to bring in more astronomers, professional and amateur, as well as interested community members. Activities are going to include a regular journal club, as well as a monthly outreach talk at the popular level. I will write more about MICA later.
Right now, though, I want to (at the last minute) publicize that I will be giving tomorrow’s in-world popular talk. I’ll be talking on the title “The Power of the Dark Side: How Dark Matter and Dark Energy dominate our Universe”. This talk will be in The Galaxy Dome in the ISM’s Spaceport Bravo. This is going to be a version of a talk that I’ve given before, last Spring when I was still at Vanderbilt and going around giving AAS
Seyfert Shapley Lectures. (I think I gave five of those last year.) The talk will be in-world using Second Life Voice, and will be at a level accessible to all (although I always do try to challenge your minds when I give these sorts of talks).
Time has their own personal list of the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2007. Seven out of the ten are in biological related fields— although a couple are paleontology, that is related to the history of life on earth. One is chemistry, and two are astronomy. Of the two in astronomy, one was really just continuing discoveries that have been ongoing for more than the last decade (the discovery of hot jupiters).
The other astronomical “top discovery” is about Supernova 2006gy, the most luminous supernova ever recorded, and the supernova of a star that was more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. Stars this massive are extremely rare. Your routine supernova (which only happens about once per century per galaxy) comes from a supernova more like 8-10 times the mass of the Sun.
As I was browsing through these, though, I hit this story and realized: hey, I know about that one! And here’s what bugs me about this a little bit. We live in a culture where hero-worship is key. Individual scientists win Nobel Prizes, even though huge numbers of them contribute to the discovery. Name recognition in the media and amongst your colleagues is of tremendous value and import, especially as resources to fund science get more scarce. University administrations will be in love with scientists who pull lots of positive press to themselves, but (as I know from personal experience and watching Vanderbilt’s administration suffer rectal defilade when thinking about other groups in the Physics department) members of collaborations who aren’t seen as “the leader” are highly undervalued by administrations and (at least in astronomy) funding agencies alike.
As such, it was sad to me that no names were attached to this. The original paper has a list of authors including some (Craig Wheeler, Alex Filippenko) who are not at all suffering for any kind of public recognition. However, the first author (Nathan Smith) is a post-doc… and post-docs are in a truly vicious world where any lost opportunity for recognition is a slight. I’m also personally familiar with Robert Quimby, who was a “post-bach” working with the Supernova Cosmology Project between undergraduate and graduate school, and who went on to graduate school at the University of Texas. The discovery of this supernova came out of searching related to his thesis work. So while it may sound great to say that the Chandra Space Telescope observed (allowing the reader to infer “discovered”) this, in fact there was effort from a lot of people, including people at the low end who are going to be fighting for recognition and resources in a vicious world of individual hero worship.