From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's not the Higgs Boson, but it's still cool.

Physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have announced the discovery of a new particle, the excited state of the the neutral Xi_b.  This particle consists of up, strange, and bottom quarks and was predicted to exist from quantum chromodynamics, one of the most successful theories ever developed.

If you are so inclined, the paper submitted to Physical Review Letters can be found here.

Decay Mode of the neutral Xi*_b (from Symmetry Breaking)

Mass Data for the neutral Xi*_b (from original paper)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Making Fewer Babies

My regular readers may be familiar with the Making Babies post from February 2012 in which I examined teen pregnancies, and the follow-up You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means that explained the circumstances around the first post.  This will be an update to those posts.

Earlier this month, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a data brief that reports some significant findings.

1. For the year 2010, births from teen mothers were 34.3 per 1,000 women aged 15-19. This is a rate never before seen in the U.S.  This rate is a 9% decrease from 2009 and a 44% decrease from 1991.  For those who may think the 50s were a time of wholesomeness, the highest birth rate to teens was reached in 1957.  The rate then was 280% of what it is today.

2. There were 367,752 babies born to teen mothers in 2010.  This is fewer babies than at any time since 1946 when 322,380 were born.  If the teen birth rate had remained where it was in 1991, there would have been 3,400,000 additional babies.

3. The birth rate decrease is seen in all racial and ethnic groups, but there are some worrying variations.

4. There were significant decreases in the birth rate for teen mothers in every state except for Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia. These ten states have the lowest birth rate: New Hampshire (15.7), Massachusetts (17.1), Vermont (17.9), Connecticut (18.9), New Jersey (20.3), Maine (21.4), Rhode Island (22.3), Minnesota (22.5), New York (22.6), Wisconsin (26.2).

The states with the 10 highest rates are Mississippi (55.0), New Mexico (52.9), Arkansas (52.5), Texas (52.2), Oklahoma (50.4), Louisiana (47.7), Kentucky (46.2), West Virginia (44.8), Alabama (43.6), and Tennessee (43.2).

My conclusion?  We're doing something right -  education and consistent use of contraception.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tennessee Enacts Pro-Ignorance Law

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslem has neither signed nor vetoed HB 368/SB 893 guaranteeing it becomes state law.  [For more info, see my earlier post "Tennessee Didn't Learn Its Lesson In 1925: Another Anti-Science Law Passed".]

So now, Tennessee school boards, principles, and teachers are free to not teach science and replace science with denials of fact.  To my friends and family in Tennessee, you have my sympathy.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

James Bond, Earthquakes, and Fracking

In the 14th James Bond film, A View to a Kill, Nazi-created Max Zorin (played deliciously by Christopher Walken) plans to take complete control of the world's microchip market by destroying Silicon Valley.  His diabolical plot is to flood the valley by triggering a massive earthquake.  How does he cause this earthquake.  He sets out to lubricate both the San Andreas Fault and the Hayward fault by draining San Andreas Lake into the faults, and then set off a explosion that actually triggers the geologic event.

This movie is bad on many accounts - the only Bond film worse in my opinion is Moonraker, but I remember when I saw this movie in 1985, I thought the movie makers were taking much too much artistic license with the science.  Lubricating faults?  Bah!

Now comes conclusive evidence that fracking causes earthquakes.  From Wikipedia:
Hydraulic fracturing is the propagation of fractures in a rock layer caused by the presence of a pressurized fluid. Hydraulic fractures form naturally, as in the case of veins or dikes, and is one means by which gas and petroleum from source rocks may migrate to reservoir rocks. This process is used to release petroleum, natural gas (including shale gas, tight gas, and coal seam gas), or other substances for extraction, via a technique called induced hydraulic fracturing, often shortened to fracking or hydrofracking. This type of fracturing, known colloquially as a 'frac job', creates fractures from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations.
In August 2011, a scientist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey thought it reasonable to conclude that "the strong correlation in time and space as well as a reasonable fit to a physical model suggests that there is a possibility these earthquakes were induced by hydraulic‐fracturing."(1)

Then in November, the oil and gas company Caudrilla Resources reported that "most likely, the repeated seismicity [in Lancashire, England] was induced by direct injection of fluid into [the] fault zone."(2)

Just this past month, on the advice of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Gov. Jahn Kasich ordered an immediate moratorium on fracking operations.  This was after a 4.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Youngstown area.(3) 

The latest research by the United States Geological Survey to be presented at the April meeting of the Seismological Society of America indicates that "the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade," and that "a naturally-occurring rate change of this magnitude is unprecedented outside of volcanic settings or in the absence of a main shock."(4)


Aside from the earthquakes, flaming faucets in Pennsylvania are allegedly linked to fracking. You've probably already seen the video.

1. Austin A. Holland, Examination of Possibly Induced Seismicity from Hydraulic Fracturing in the Eola Field, Garvin County, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Geological Survey Open, File Report OF1, 2011.
2. C.J. de Pater and S. Baisch, Geomechanical Study of Bowland Shale Seismicity, Cuadrilla Resources Ltd, November 2011.
3. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Executive Summary: Preliminary Report on the Northstar 1 Class II Injection Well and the Seismic Events in the Youngstown, Ohi, Area, March 2012.
4. W.L. Ellsworth, et al., Are Seismicity Rate Changes in the Midcontinent Natural or Manmade?,  Seismological Society of America, April 2012.