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Methods of Research

April 19, 2012 4 comments

Wikipedia (not a scholarly source) defines research as “the systematic investigation into existing or new knowledge. It is used to establish or confirm facts, reaffirm the results of previous work, solve new or existing problems, support theorems, or develop new theories”

I’m sure everyone is either deep in the research process, or have already found what they have been looking for to make writing their final paper a bit easier. I know that my project has been specifically hard to do research for. It seems that the question we are asking has simply never been asked before. But I have also heard opposite complaints, that some people have found an excess of information, and have to rethink their thesis to be more specific. So I ask, where do you stand? Are you finding/have you found the research process to be hard? Easy? Have you found too much? Too little? Is there anyone out there who found something perfect on the first try?

Research can also take many forms. For one of my classes, I frequented the National Archives to do my research, and rarely used the internet. For this class, on the other hand, I am using mostly the internet. I have gone to Gelman once to get a book that seemed interesting, and was surprised to see that we actually have a nice section of books on Science Communication. How has everyone else been doing their research? Am I the only one who went to Gelman? Or is it the other way round? And has anyone done anything else?

Well, time to go do some more research. I hope the little comic there cheered some of you up! Good Luck!

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How the airplane changed the world

April 19, 2012 1 comment

ImageInvented in 1903, it is hard to imagine what life would be like without the airplane. Not only did it form as a catalyst for science to advance in the aerospace field, but the airplane also made the world a bit smaller, as we as the human race inched closer to a globalised community. The first powered aircraft, as we are all taught in middle school, was the brain child of the Wright brothers in 1903. What is interesting is how fast science progressed beyond that. By 1914, just 11 years later, airplanes became militarised. 5 years after that, planes had begin to cross the Atlantic Ocean and commercial flights between Canada and the US operated frequently.

It is amazing to see how just one invention changed the world in such a major way. Thanks in part to the airplane, it is possible for someone in America to order something made in China and receive it within 24 hours. Items can be shipped around the world for little cost in a blink of the eye. Airplanes have reduced the distance between cities, Europe and America used to be days away, now it is possible to travel to Paris for the weekend.

Most of us have probably flown somewhere, and I know that all of us have been affected directly by the airplane. Have you ever ordered something? Chances are the parts were flown or shipped in to the factory that assembled them, and the product was then flown to you. Need something delivered fast? Next day air.

How has the airplane changed your life? What do you think the world would be like without the plane? Would it be a better place, without the threat of armies arriving within minutes? Or would countries be more isolated? What do you think, does the plane have many drawbacks?

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Can recycling become obsolete before it becomes mainstream?

March 19, 2012 3 comments

Everyday we are told another way in which we are destroying our Earth, and everyday we are greeted with thousands of ways to help stop the human impact on the planet. “RECYCLE” “TURN OFF LIGHTS WHEN NOT IN USE” “BRING YOUR OWN BAGS” These signs are ones we probably see everyday. I know this is true at least for the GW community.

And instead of humanity as a whole improving how we live with the planet, we do what we do best: innovate. Lights are now LED; are so much more energy efficient, and only need to be replaced every 100 or so years, reducing waste. Bags and bottle caps are being made with less plastic, and certain districts *ahem* are charging you for ever bag you use.

But what about recycling? Certainly there is no better way to do what is already being done. Paper gets turned into new paper, and efficiently too. This article thinks otherwise.  The new “unprinter” does exactly what it does on the box. It unprints. And while now I see a red underline under the word when I type it, unprinting seems to have what it takes to become mainstream.

It is more efficient than recycling, is certainly more faster, and just seems cooler. The toner on the paper is super heated until it vaporises off the paper, leaving a brand new blank piece of paper to now be printed on.

I can see this becoming the norm. There is definitely an opportunity to capatalise on this. Imagine a unprinter-printer combo if you will. If you want to print something off, you just slip in any piece of paper, blank or with something on it. The printer will then unprint the paper and print whatever your want on it, right then and there. The waste of homes might be smaller, I don’t normally print off more than ten pages a week; but for corporations the potential could be huge.

What do you think? Is this the future of paper recycling? Or are the blue/green bins the way to go?

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Does Science Have a Limit?

March 15, 2012 2 comments

I was searching through the journals provided to us by GW is search of something to write about when I came across this one : http://prl.aps.org.proxygw.wrlc.org/pdf/PRL/v108/i7/e078101. This article discusses the science of ponytails. In the article, they propose “a [scientific] theory on the basis of a continuum theory for the spatial distribution of hairs in a bundle.” At first this sparked my interest. It’s something different to what is normally found in a physics journal.

The article discusses the physics of hairs, the statistical probability of certain hair lengths, the elasticity of a ponytail, and many more variables that could affect the way a ponytail is shaped as well has how it would fall. It was clear that a lot of work went into making sure this was as accurate as possible. Equations such as this: were used to calculate the “energy of an asymmetric fiber bundle.” Such an equation is not easy to come by and must have taken some time to derive.

This got me thinking… what are these scientists doing? Why on Earth do we care about how a ponytail falls? Is it going to help humanity in anyway? Probably not. Is it going to further our knowledge in anything useful? Again, probably not. In my opinion, this is the limit of what can be called scientific. I think science is some sort of knowledge, and is this really knowledge. This is more of a pointless waste of time. Scientists are a sort of tool. There are a limited amount of them in the world, and normal people can’t do what they can. So why are they wasting their time figuring out the physics and statistics of a ponytail. There are more important things that can be theorized… global warming… world hunger… deseases… all of these are important to the advancement of the human race. Ponytails are not. So my question is, who holds scientists accountable? Is there any accountability? Or are they just free to do what they want…

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How did we forget about MAD?

March 5, 2012 1 comment

I recently came across an article on BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17026538?ref=nf) about Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD. Back in the Cold War era, MAD was all across the news. There was a time when combined, the US and Russia had almost 70,000 nuclear warheads. School children would learn what to do in case of a nuclear attack and there were survival guides published in case of a nuclear winter. The possibility of an attack was all too real. MAD was a strategic doctrine adopted by the US. It stated that since neither of the attacking countries had adequate defenses against a nuclear attack, and both has means of detecting a warhead before it exploded, neither country would attack. If one were to fire off a warhead, the other would immediately do the same, and both countries would smolder.

Nowadays, however; we have almost completely forgotten about MAD. The thought that there is a chance that the US would succumb to a nuclear attack from another country has been labeled as crazy. We are more concerned with terrorist attacks, pandemic diseases (such as the bird flu), and the state of our economy. There has been some recent talk about Iran developing a nuclear warhead, but such talks have yet to escalate to the level they were 50 years ago.

The reality is this:

The US and Russia, right now, have several hundred devices primed and ready to be launched within minutes. While there are policies  in place to prevent a nuclear war, there are certain people who still have the power to, in the time it took you to read this post, decimate a country. But what if the US and Russia don’t fire off any nukes? Why should we be concerned with MAD now?

Two decades after the cold war, and there are still 17,000 nuclear devices scattered around the world. Iran is thought to be close to developing a nuclear bomb, and Saudi Arabia has been thought to be next. Israel has control of over 100 warheads, and North Korea has around 10. The most worrying standoff would be between India and Pakistan. If that were to happen; tens of millions of people would die. And there is always the possibility that the US would somehow get involved.

I think that the chance of a nuclear war happening tomorrow is very slim, but I can’t help but think what might happen in a few years down the line. Nuclear power is coming to countries that haven’t had it before. Iran is a very politically charged country, and if they manage to develop a nuclear device, I’m not sure I would be as comfortable living in the nations capital city.

 

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