THE GHOST OF COMET ISON: This morning, Dec. 6th, leading researchers from the Comet ISON Observing Campaign (CIOC) held an informal workshop at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. One of the key questions they discussed was, Did Comet ISON survive? It might seem surprising that anyone is still asking. After all, the “comet” that emerged from the sun’s atmosphere on Thanksgiving day appeared to be little more than a disintegrating cloud of dust. This movie from the STEREO-A spacecraft (processed by Alan Watson) shows the V-shaped cloud fading into invisibility on Dec. 1st:
The answer hinges on the contents of that cloud. Is it nothing more than a cloud of dust–or could there be some some fragments of the disintegrated nucleus still intact and potentially active?
A key result announced at the workshop comes from SOHO, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. According to the spacecraft’s SWAN instrument, the comet stopped producing so-called Lyman alpha photons soon after its closest approach to the sun. Karl Battams of the CIOC explains what this means: “Without getting technical, Lyman-Alpha is a consequence of sunlight interacting with hydrogen, and if we are not seeing that interaction then it means that the levels of hydrogen (and hence ice) are extremely low. This is indicative of a completely burned out nucleus, or no nucleus at all.”
“The evidence appears strong that at some point approaching perihelion – whether days or hours – Comet ISON likely began to completely fall apart,” he continues. “What remains of ISON now is going to be either just a cloud of dust, or perhaps a few very depleted chunks of nucleus. Either way, it’s not going to flare up at this point and we should assume the comet’s show is over.”
“However, we do need to verify this,” says Battams. “Hopefully the Hubble team can come to the rescue! In mid-December, Hubble will be pointed in the direction of where ISON should be and they’ll try and image something. If no fragments are surviving, or they are tiny, then Hubble will not be able to find anything, but that negative detection will tell us something: namely that ISON is indeed gone for good.”
A real quick note for the lecture this Thanksgiving Weekend:
From Our friends at SpaceWeather.com
COMET ISON LIVES (UPDATED): Cancel the funeral. Comet ISON is back from the dead. Yesterday, Nov. 28th, Comet ISON flew through the sun’s atmosphere and appeared to disintegrate before the cameras of several NASA and ESA spacecraft. This prompted reports of the comet’s demise. Today, the comet has revived and is rapidly brightening. Click to view a SOHO coronagraph movie of the solar flyby (updated Nov. 29 @ 1800 UT):
Before the flyby, experts had made many predictions about what might happen to the comet, ranging from utter disintegration to glorious survival. No one predicted both.
Karl Battams of NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign says, “[colleague] Matthew Knight and I are ripping our hair out right now as we know that so many people in the public, the media and in science teams want to know what’s happened. We’d love to know that too! Right now, here’s our working hypothesis:
“As comet ISON plunged towards to the Sun, it began to fall apart, losing not giant fragments but at least a lot of reasonably sized chunks. There’s evidence of very large dust in the long thin tail we saw in the [SOHO coronagraph] images. Then, as ISON plunged through the corona, it continued to fall apart and vaporize, losing its coma and tail completely just like sungrazing Comet Lovejoy did in 2011. What emerged from the Sun was a small but perhaps somewhat coherent nucleus that has resumed emitting dust and gas for at least the time being.”
Battams emphasizes that it is too soon to tell how big the remnant nucleus is or how bright the resurgent comet will ultimately become. “We have a whole new set of unknowns, and this ridiculous, crazy, dynamic and unpredictable object continues to amaze, astound and confuse us to no end. We ask that you please be patient with us for a couple of days as we analyze the data and try to work out what is happening.”
Astrophotographer Babak Tafreshi has edited an HD video that compares views of ISON from both of SOHO’s coronagraphs. “It seems the comet could become a naked eye object with several degrees of scattered tail by Dec 2nd or 3rd,” he predicts. “It’s not the comet of the century for sure, and fainter than the Lovejoy sungrazer in Dec. 2011, but an interesting imaging target is just a few nights away!”
KPC-Oxa 48? Yep. Good morning all and Welcome to Grand Rounds here at Blogmocracy General Hospital. The Doc’s downstairs in the Infectious Disease Lab wanted you to get out ahead of these dangerous bacteria. What makes this bacteria so dangerous is that it is immune to any and all antibiotics that we have in the arsenal.
Class D OXA β-lactamases are characterized as penicillinases that can hydrolyze oxacillin and cloxacillin and are poorly inhibited by clavulanic acid and EDTA. OXA-48 is one of the few members of this family to possess notable carbapenem-hydrolyzing activity (1). First described in 2004 in Turkey, OXA-48 has recently started to spread in Europe and the Middle East (2). We report the recent emergence of the plasmid-encoded blaOXA-48 gene in multidrug-resistant Enterobacteriaceae recovered from patients in Dakar, Senegal, in hospitals and in the community.
From November 2008 through October 2009, 11 Enterobacteriaceae isolates (8 Klebsiella pneumoniae, 1 Escherichia coli, 1 Enterobacter cloacae, and 1 Enterobacter sakazakii) with reduced susceptibility to imipenem were identified at the Institut Pasteur (Dakar, Senegal). Antibacterial drug susceptibility was determined by the disk diffusion method and interpreted according to the European Committee on Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing guidelines (www.eucast.org). Nine isolates were resistant to expanded-spectrum cephalosporins and also to other antibacterial drug classes.
What is happening here is that the bacteria has found a way to either render the antibiotic molecule useless or to absorb the ring that the antibiotic uses to disrupt the RNA/DNA of the bacteria reproductive cycle.
Antibiotic resistance can be a result of horizontal gene transfer, and also of unlinked point mutations in the pathogengenome at a rate of about 1 in 108 per chromosomal replication. The antibiotic action against the pathogen can be seen as an environmental pressure. Those bacteria with a mutation that allows them to survive live to reproduce. They then pass this trait to their offspring, which leads to the evolution of a fully resistant colony.
The four main mechanisms by which microorganisms exhibit resistance to antimicrobials are:
Drug inactivation or modification: for example, enzymatic deactivation of penicillin G in some penicillin-resistant bacteria through the production of β-lactamases
Alteration of target site: for example, alteration of PBP—the binding target site of penicillins—in MRSA and other penicillin-resistant bacteria
Alteration of metabolic pathway: for example, some sulfonamide-resistant bacteria do not require para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), an important precursor for the synthesis of folic acid and nucleic acids in bacteria inhibited by sulfonamides, instead, like mammalian cells, they turn to using preformed folic acid.
Reduced drug accumulation: by decreasing drug permeability and/or increasing active efflux (pumping out) of the drugs across the cell surface
There are three known mechanisms of fluoroquinolone resistance. Some types of efflux pumps can act to decrease intracellular quinolone concentration. In Gram-negative bacteria, plasmid-mediated resistance genes produce proteins that can bind to DNA gyrase, protecting it from the action of quinolones. Finally, mutations at key sites in DNA gyrase or topoisomerase IV can decrease their binding affinity to quinolones, decreasing the drug’s effectiveness. Research has shown the bacterial protein LexA may play a key role in the acquisition of bacterial mutations giving resistance to quinolones and rifampicin.
Antibiotic resistance can also be introduced artificially into a microorganism through laboratory protocols, sometimes used as a selectable marker to examine the mechanisms of gene transfer or to identify individuals that absorbed a piece of DNA that included the resistance gene and another gene of interest. A recent study demonstrated that the extent of horizontal gene transfer among Staphylococcus is much greater than previously expected—and encompasses genes with functions beyond antibiotic resistance and virulence, and beyond genes residing within the mobile genetic elements.
For a long time it has been thought that for a microorganism to become resistant to an antibiotic, it must be in a large population. However, recent findings show that there is no necessity of large populations of bacteria for the appearance of antibiotic resistance. We know now, that small populations of E.coli in an antibiotic gradient can become resistant. Any heterogeneous environment with respect to nutrient and antibiotic gradients may facilitate the development of antibiotic resistance in small bacterial populations and this is also true for the human body. Researchers hypothesize that the mechanism of resistance development is based on four SNP mutations in the genome of E.coli produced by the gradient of antibiotic. These mutations confer the bacteria emergence of antibiotic resistance.
A common misconception is that a person can become resistant to certain antibiotics. It is a strain of microorganism that can become resistant, not a person’s body.
Combine the above with airplanes and you get this:
Brian Pool’s twin sister Maureen Dunn said they were not even able to take him outside. Photo / File
A Wellington teacher is believed to be the first New Zealander to have contracted a superbug resistant to every antibiotic.
Brian Pool died in July from complications caused by a stroke, but doctors say his immune system was weakened from fighting the bacteria, Fairfax reported.
It was believed the 68-year-old picked up the bug while travelling overseas.
In January, while he was teaching English in Vietnam, Mr Pool suffered a brain haemorrhage and was operated on in a Vietnamese hospital.
He was flown to Wellington Hospital where tests found he was carrying the strain of bacterium known as KPC-Oxa 48 – an organism that rejects every kind of antibiotic.
Wellington Hospital clinical microbiologist Mark Jones told Fairfax: “Nothing would touch it. Absolutely nothing.
“It’s the first one that we’ve ever seen that is resistant to every single antibiotic known.
“This man was in the post-antibiotic era, and this is why so many agencies over the world are raising alarm bells.”
After the diagnosis, Mr Pool spent that last six months of his life in quarantine unable to leave his room.
His twin sister Maureen Dunn said they were not even able to take him outside.
“He just wanted to get out in the sun, and we couldn’t take him out.”
Ms Dunn said the family was frightened, and even doctors did not seem to know how the bug would affect others.
“They were s**t scared, to put it bluntly, in case these bugs were transferred to another patient or taken out into the community.”
Earlier this year, British chief medical officer Sally Davies described resistance to antibiotics as a “catastrophic global threat” that should be ranked alongside terrorism.
Wellington Hospital infectious disease physician Michelle Balm said Mr Pool’s superbug could have been contracted when he was in hospital in Vietnam, or a few years earlier when he had hernia surgery in India.
We are down to the drugs of last resort unless the Pharma industry can come up with something new.
Adrug of last resort is a common name for a pharmaceutical agent that is tried after all other treatment options have failed to produce an adequate response in the patient. Such an alternative may be outside of extant regulatory requirements or medical best practices. It can also refer to situations in which only a single medication exists to treat a particular condition.
The use of a drug of last resort may be based on agreement among members of a patient’s care network, including physicians and healthcare professionals across multiple specialties, or on a patient’s desire to pursue a particular course of treatment and a practitioner’s willingness to administer that course. Certain situations such as severe bacterial related sepsis or septic shock can more commonly lead to situations in which a drug of last resort is used.
Therapies considered to be drugs of last resort may at times be used earlier in the event that an agent would likely show the most immediate dose-response related efficacy in time-critical situations such as high mortality circumstances. Many of the drugs considered to be of last resort fall into one or more of the categories of antibiotics, antivirals, and chemotherapy agents. These agents often exhibit what are considered to be among the most efficient dose-response related effects, or are drugs for which few or no resistant strains are known.
With regard to antibiotics, antivirals, and other agents indicated for treatment of infectious pathological disease, drugs of last resort are commonly withheld from administration until after the trial and failure of more commonly used treatment options to prevent the development of drug resistance. One of the most commonly known examples of both antimicrobial resistance and the relationship to the classification of a drug of last resort is the emergence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) (sometimes also referred to as multiple-drug resistant S. aureus due to resistance to non-penicillin antibiotics that some strains of S. aureus have shown to exhibit). In cases presenting with suspected S. aureus, it is suggested by many public health institutions (including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States) to treat first with empirical therapies for S. aureus, with an emphasis on evaluating the response to initial treatment and laboratory diagnostic techniques to isolate cases of drug resistance.
Due to the possibility of potential severe or fatal consequences of resistant strains, initial treatment often includes concomitant administration of multiple antimicrobial agents that are not known to show cross-resistance, so as to reduce the possibility of a resistant strain remaining inadequately treated by a single agent during the evaluation of drug response. Once a specific resistance profile has been isolated via clinical laboratory findings, treatment is often modified as indicated.
Vancomycin has long been considered a drug of last resort, due to its efficiency in treating multiple drug-resistant infectious agents and the requirement for intravenous administration. Recently, resistance to even vancomycin has been shown in some strains of S. aureus (sometimes referred to as vancomycin resistant S. aureus (VRSA) or vancomycin intermediate-resistance S. aureus (VISA)) often coinciding with methicillin/penicillin resistance, prompting the inclusion of newer antibiotics (such as linezolid) that have shown efficacy in highly drug-resistant strains. There are also strains of enterococci that have developed resistance to vancomycin referred to as Vancomycin resistant enterococcus (VRE).
Agents classified as fourth-line (or greater) treatments or experimental therapies could be considered by default to be drugs of last resort due to their low placement in the treatment hierarchy. Such placement may result from a multitude of considerations, including: greater efficacy of other agents, socioeconomic considerations, availability issues, unpleasant side effects or similar issues relating to patient tolerance. Some experimental therapies might also be called drugs of last resort when administered following the failure of all known and currently accepted treatments.
Despite the fact that most of the notable drugs of last resort are antibiotics or antivirals, other drugs are sometimes considered drugs of last resort, such as cisapride.
THIS COMET IS BRIGHTER THAN ISON: Comet ISON is getting all the press, but another comet is outshining the media-favorite by nearly an order of magnitude. Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) is almost 10 times brighter than Comet ISON as it passes just outside the orbit of Earth in mid-November: 3D orbit. Rolando Ligustri took this picture of Comet Lovejoy on November 12th using a remotely-controlled telescope in New Mexico:
The comet’s pale green atmosphere is almost twice as wide as the planet Jupiter, and there are no fewer than three tails streaming behind the comet’s nucleus. Sky watchers in dark sky sites say that can now see this lovely comet as a faint smudge using averted vision–no optics required. A telescope is, however, recommended.
Comet Lovejoy is one of four comets now rising in the east before dawn. The other three are exploding Comet LINEAR X1, sungrazing Comet ISON, and short-period Comet Encke, and the brightest of them all. All four are easy targets for backyard optics. Dates of special interest include Nov. 15-18 when Comet LINEAR X1 passes by the bright star Arcturus, Nov 17-18 when Comet ISON has a close encounter with Spica, and Nov. 18-20 when Comet Encke buzzes Mercury. These stars and planets make excellent naked-eye guideposts for finding the comets. Meanwhile, bright Comet Lovejoy is approaching the Big Dipper; if you can’t see it with your unaided eye, a quick scan with binoculars will reveal it. Sky maps:Nov. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19.
By Ray Villard and UCLA Newsroom November 07, 2013
Asteroid spouts six comet-like tails
Astronomers have discovered a “weird and freakish object” resembling a rotating lawn sprinkler in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The find, reported online in the Nov. 7 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters, has left them scratching their heads and searching for an explanation for the strange asteroid’s out-of-this-world appearance.
Normal asteroids appear simply as tiny points of light. This bizarre asteroid has six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it like spokes on a wheel.
“It’s hard to believe we’re looking at an asteroid,” said lead investigator David Jewitt, a professor in the UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences and the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy. “We were dumbfounded when we saw it. Amazingly, its tail structures change dramatically in just 13 days as it belches out dust.”
One interpretation is that the asteroid’s rotation rate increased to the point where its surface started flying apart, ejecting dust in episodic eruptions, starting last spring. The team has ruled out a recent asteroid impact scenario because a large quantity of dust would have been blasted into space all at once. This object, designated P/2013 P5, has ejected dust for at least five months, Jewitt said.
The asteroid was first seen as an unusually fuzzy-looking object with the Pan-STARRS survey telescope in Hawaii. Its multiple tails were discovered in images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope on Sept. 10, 2013. When Hubble returned to the asteroid on Sept. 23, its appearance had totally changed; it looked as if the entire structure had swung around.
“We were completely knocked out,” said Jewitt.
The tails could have been formed by a series of “impulsive dust-ejection events,” modeling by team member Jessica Agarwal revealed. Agarwal, of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Lindau, Germany, calculated that the first ejection event occurred on April 15 and the last one on Sept. 4. The intervening eruptions occurred on July 18, July 24, Aug. 8 and Aug. 26.
Radiation pressure from the sun smears out the dust into streamers. The asteroid could possibly have been spun up if the pressure of sunlight exerted a torque on the body, Jewitt said.
If its spin rate became fast enough, he said, the asteroid’s weak gravity would no longer be able to hold it together. Dust might avalanche downslope toward the asteroid’s equator and eventually drift into space to make a tail. So far, only a small fraction of the asteroid’s main mass — perhaps 100 to 1,000 tons of dust — has been lost, Jewitt said. The 700-foot-radius nucleus is thousands of times more massive.
Follow-up observations may reveal whether the dust leaves the asteroid in the equatorial plane; if so, that would indicate a “rotational breakup,” Jewitt said.
This must be a common phenomenon in the asteroid belt, Jewitt said, and may even be the main way in which small asteroids die.
“In astronomy, where you find one, you eventually find a whole bunch more,” he said. “This is an amazing object and almost certainly the first of many more to come.”
The object may be a piece from an asteroid collision that occurred roughly 200 million years ago, Jewitt noted. The resulting collision fragments, known as the Flora asteroid family, are still following similar orbits. Meteorites from these bodies show evidence of having been heated to as much as 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Jewitt, who is a faculty member in the UCLA College of Letters and Science is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He played an instrumental role in the 1993 discovery of the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune. The discovery of the Kuiper Belt, which contains more than a billion objects and was once believed to be empty space, has fundamentally changed the modern perception of the solar system.
Co-authors of the current research are Jessica Agarwal (Max Planck Institute), Harold Weaver (Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory), Max Mutchler (Space Telescope Science Institute) and Stephen Larson (University of Arizona).
The research is funded by NASA.
For images and more information about P/2013 P5, visit http://hubblesite.org/news/2013/52.
For information about the Hubble Space Telescope, visit http://www.nasa.gov/hubble. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. STScI conducts Hubble science operations and is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc., in Washington, D.C.
Now, after a sabbatical it’s back to the friendly environs of Prof Weber’s lecture hall for The Western Tradition. Again I remind the readers: Weber’s main focus as an historian is France. This is his specialty and this lecture is a fine delineation between ideals and mores in Colonial America and Revolutionary side by side in a doctrinal framework. I urge you to pay very close attention to this and the previous lecture. They are timeless and pertinent. Now France’s revolution goes from Democracy to dictatorship.
Good morning! Today’s Lecture comes from the Blogmocracy’s Fat Beagle Brewery and Observatory . Looks like our friends in Texas have been busy. Texas @ Austin and TAMU working together! It’s the end times!
We are looking back to the first 5% of the age of the universe.
Of several dozen galaxies observed spectroscopically that are candidates for having a redshift (z) in excess of seven, only five have had their redshifts confirmed via Lyman α emission, at z = 7.008, 7.045, 7.109, 7.213 and 7.215 (refs 1, 2, 3, 4). The small fraction of confirmed galaxies may indicate that the neutral fraction in the intergalactic medium rises quickly at z > 6.5, given that Lyman α is resonantly scattered by neutral gas3, 5, 6, 7, 8. The small samples and limited depth of previous observations, however, makes these conclusions tentative. Here we report a deep near-infrared spectroscopic survey of 43 photometrically-selected galaxies with z > 6.5. We detect a near-infrared emission line from only a single galaxy, confirming that some process is making Lyman α difficult to detect. The detected emission line at a wavelength of 1.0343 micrometres is likely to be Lyman α emission, placing this galaxy at a redshift z = 7.51, an epoch 700 million years after the Big Bang. This galaxy’s colours are consistent with significant metal content, implying that galaxies become enriched rapidly. We calculate a surprisingly high star-formation rate of about 330 solar masses per year, which is more than a factor of 100 greater than that seen in the Milky Way. Such a galaxy is unexpected in a survey of our size9, suggesting that the early Universe may harbour a larger number of intense sites of star formation than expected.
Posted by Vimal Patel-Texas A&M on October 23, 2013
This image from the Hubble Space Telescope CANDELS survey highlights the most distant galaxy in the universe with a measured distance, dubbed z8_GND_5296. The galaxy’s red color alerted astronomers that it was likely extremely far away and, thus, seen at an early time after the Big Bang. (Credit: V. Tilvi, Texas A&M University; S.L. Finkelstein, University of Texas at Austin; C. Papovich, Texas A&M University; CANDELS Team and Hubble Space Telescope/NASA)
Astronomers say they’ve detected the most distant galaxy and estimate it’s roughly 30 billion light years away.
“It’s exciting to know we’re the first people in the world to see this,” says Vithal Tilvi, a Texas A&M University postdoctoral research associate and co-author of the paper in Nature. “It raises interesting questions about the origins and the evolution of the universe.”
The galaxy, known by its catalog name z8_GND_5296, fascinated the researchers.
This image from the Hubble Space Telescope CANDELS survey highlights the most distant galaxy in the universe with a measured distance, dubbed z8_GND_5296. The galaxy’s red color alerted astronomers that it was likely extremely far away and, thus, seen at an early time after the Big Bang. (Credit: This image from the Hubble Space Telescope CANDELS survey highlights the most distant galaxy in the universe with a measured distance, dubbed z8_GND_5296. The galaxy’s red color alerted astronomers that it was likely extremely far away and, thus, seen at an early time after the Big Bang. (Credit: V. Tilvi, Texas A&M University; S.L. Finkelstein, University of Texas at Austin; C. Papovich, Texas A&M University; CANDELS Team and Hubble Space Telescope/NASA)
Whereas our home, the Milky Way, creates about one or two Sun-like stars every year or so, this newly discovered galaxy forms around 300 a year and was observed by the researchers as it was 13 billion years ago.
That’s the time it took for the galaxy’s light to travel to Earth. A single light year, which is the distance light travels in a year, is nearly six trillion miles.
Because the universe has been expanding the whole time, the researchers estimate the galaxy’s present distance to be roughly 30 billion light years away.
“Because of its distance we get a glimpse of conditions when the universe was only about 700 million years old—only 5 percent of its current age of 13.8 billion years,” says Texas A&M astrophysicist Casey Papovich, who is second author of the study.
Hidden distant galaxies
Papovich notes that researchers are able to accurately gauge the distances of galaxies by measuring a feature from the ubiquitous element hydrogen called the Lyman alpha transition, which emits brightly in distant galaxies.
It’s detected in nearly all galaxies that are seen from a time more than one billion years from the Big Bang, but getting closer than that, the hydrogen emission line, for some reason, becomes increasingly difficult to see.
“We were thrilled to see this galaxy,” says Steven Finkelstein, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the study’s lead author. “And then our next thought was, ‘Why did we not see anything else? We’re using the best instrument on the best telescope with the best galaxy sample.
“We had the best weather—it was gorgeous. And still, we only saw this emission line from one of our sample of 43 observed galaxies, when we expected to see around six. What’s going on?’”
The researchers suspect they may have zeroed in on the era when the universe made its transition from an opaque state in which most of the hydrogen is neutral to a translucent state in which most of the hydrogen is ionized. So it’s not necessarily that the distant galaxies aren’t there. It could be that they’re hidden from detection behind a wall of neutral hydrogen fog, which blocks the hydrogen emission signal.
Tilvi notes this is one of two major changes in the fundamental essence of the universe since its beginning—the other being a transition from a plasma state to a neutral state. He is leading the effort on a follow-up paper that will use a sophisticated statistical analysis to explore that transition further.
“Everything seems to have changed since then,” Tilvi says. “If it was neutral everywhere today, the night sky that we see wouldn’t be as beautiful. What I’m working on is studying exactly why and exactly where this happened. Was this transition sudden, or was it gradual?”
The Nature paper is the result of raw data gleaned from a powerful Hubble Space Telescope imaging survey of the distant universe called CANDELS, or Cosmic Assembly Near-Infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey.
A REAL Nobel to Scotland and Professor Higgs…ya know, a Nobel for actual important work.
University of Edinburgh professor Peter Higgs, who predicted the ‘god particle’, has won the Nobel prize for his work on particle physics.
The 84-year-old emeritus professor was awarded the prize jointly alongside Belgian theoretical physicist Francois Englert for their work on the Higgs Boson particle, which enables other elemental particles to acquire their mass.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which decides the winners in a majority vote on the day of the announcement, named the two scientists for the “theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles”.
Prof Higgs was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1929 and first proposed the concept of the so-called ‘God particle’ in 1964, after coming up with the idea while walking in the Cairngorms.
Scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, recently confirmed the existence of the particle through experiments in its Large Hadron Collider.
Professor Higgs said: “I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy. I would also like to congratulate all those who have contributed to the discovery of this new particle and to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support.
“I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.”
Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, principal of the University of Edinburgh, said: “We are delighted at the news of this Nobel Prize
award and congratulate Professor Peter Higgs on his achievement.
“The discovery of the Higgs particle will underpin the next generation of physics research, and this accolade is worthy recognition of its significance. Professor Higgs’ work will continue to inspire scientists at Edinburgh and beyond.”
Be glad you don’t also stink in said 10 dimensions as well! Some math to describe how you smell, it makes sense….
From our friends at The University of Pittsburgh:
Working with a standard set of olfactory perception data, Andrew Dravniek’s 1985 Atlas of Odor Character Profiles, Castro and colleagues applied a mathematical method called non-negative matrix factorization (NMF) to achieve “dimensionality reduction”—the simplification of information into coherent categories.
The process is similar to the way compressing a digital audio or image file reduces the file’s size without, ideally, compromising its usefulness.
“What NMF is good at,” says Chakra Chennubhotla, assistant professor of computational and systems biology, “is dividing a dataset into its constituent parts. You have to give hints for how many parts you may expect to find, but otherwise you let the data decide. NMF has been successfully used in many other areas including the financial world and the processing of still images and videos.”
In contrast to most other sensory modalities, the basic perceptual dimensions of olfaction remain unclear. Here, we use non-negative matrix factorization (NMF) – a dimensionality reduction technique – to uncover structure in a panel of odor profiles, with each odor defined as a point in multi-dimensional descriptor space. The properties of NMF are favorable for the analysis of such lexical and perceptual data, and lead to a high-dimensional account of odor space. We further provide evidence that odor dimensions apply categorically. That is, odor space is not occupied homogenously, but rather in a discrete and intrinsically clustered manner. We discuss the potential implications of these results for the neural coding of odors, as well as for developing classifiers on larger datasets that may be useful for predicting perceptual qualities from chemical structures.
Our understanding of a sensory modality is marked, in part, by our ability to explain its characteristic perceptual qualities , . To take the familiar example of vision, we know that the experience of color depends on the wavelength of light, and we have principled ways of referring to distances between percepts such as ‘red’, ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’ , . In olfaction, by contrast, we lack a complete understanding of how odor perceptual space is organized. Indeed, it is still unclear whether olfaction even has fundamental perceptual axes that correspond to basic stimulus features.
Early efforts to systematically characterize odor space focused on identifying small numbers of perceptual primaries, which, when taken as a set, were hypothesized to span the full range of possible olfactory experiences –. Parallel work applied multidimensional scaling to odor discrimination data to derive a two-dimensional representation of odor space , , and recent studies using dimensionality reduction techniques such as Principal Components Analysis (PCA) on odor profiling data have affirmed these low-dimensional models of human olfactory perception –. A consistent finding of these latter studies is that odor percepts smoothly occupy a low dimensional manifold whose principal axis corresponds to hedonic valence, or “pleasantness”. Indeed, the primacy of pleasantness in olfactory experience may be reflected in the receptor topography of the olfactory epithelium  as well as in early central brain representations .
Here, we were interested in explicitly retaining additional degrees of freedom to describe olfactory percepts. Motivated by studies suggesting the existence of discrete perceptual clusters in olfaction ,  we asked whether odor space is amenable to a description in terms of sparse perceptual dimensions that apply categorically. To do so, we applied non-negative matrix factorization (NMF) – to the odor profile database compiled by Dravnieks  and analyzed in a number of recent studies –. NMF and PCA are similar in that both methods attempt to capture the potentially low-dimensional structure of a data set; they differ, however, in the conditions that drive dimensionality reduction. Whereas basis vectors obtained from PCA are chosen to maximize variance, those obtained from NMF are constrained to be non-negative. This constraint has proven especially useful in the analysis of documents and other semantic data where data are intrinsically non-negative ,  – a condition that is met by the Dravnieks database.
Applying NMF, we derive a 10-dimensional representation of odor perceptual space, with each dimension characterized by only a handful of positive valued semantic descriptors. Odor profiles tended to be categorically defined by their membership in a single one of these dimensions, which readily allowed co-clustering of odor features and odors. While the analysis of larger odor profile databases will be needed to generalize these results, the techniques described herein provide a conceptual and quantitative framework for investigating the potential mapping between chemicals and their corresponding odor percepts.