Category Archives: Hubris

Is the Standard Model Wrong?

Science is based on doubt. One of its greatest strengths is self-checking assumptions. It is never one hundred percent correct. Woe to those who blindly follow it as a religion.

Electron-Positron Collision

An electron and positron collide. The resulting decay happens more often than predicted by the Standard Model of physics.

In the last posting, I briefly described what the Standard Model explains, and what it doesn’t.

Now a recently discovered problem with the model may open the door to new discoveries and a better model.

If a globe is a model of the Earth, then it is an improvement over a flat map model of the Earth. Both models show India’s relative position to Australia, but the flat model gives the false impression that sailing far enough east plunges one into the abyss.

In the same way, the standard model describes how sub-atomic particles interact, but it seems to give false impressions. Technically speaking, there is a particular decay process where B-bar mesons decay into three other particles:

  • a D meson (a quark and an antiquark, one of which is “charm” flavored ),
  • an antineutrino (the antimatter partner of the neutrino), and
  • a tau lepton (a cousin of an electron).

The problem is, this happens more than the Standard Model predicts — a false impression.

“Big deal, right?” she said, laden with sarcasm.

Well it is if you’re trying to explain how the universe works or are using these principles to create the iPhone 16. In the same way, a flat model of the Earth is good enough as long as you’re not a sailor.

While the findings are more sensitive than previous studies of these decays, they are not statistically significant enough to claim they present a clear break from the Standard Model. Michael Roney of the University of Victoria in Canada said in a statement, “Before we can claim an actual discovery, other experiments have to replicate it and rule out the possibility this isn’t just an unlikely statistical fluctuation.”

“If the excess decays shown are confirmed, it will be exciting to figure out what is causing it. We hope our results will stimulate theoretical discussion about just what the data are telling us about new physics.” ~  BaBar physics coordinator Abner Soffer of Tel Aviv University.

Sources: 
Misbehaving Particles Poke Holes in Reigning Physics Theory and
Experiment Raises Doubt over Standard Model of Physics
 
 

FDA Proposes Rules for Nanoparticles

On Friday, April 20, 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued tentative guidelines for food and cosmetic companies interested in using nanoparticles.

“This is an emerging, evolving technology and we’re trying to get ahead of the curb to ensure the ingredients and substances are safe.” — Dennis Keefe, director of FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety

Nanosphere

SOURCE: Chad Mirkin, Northwestern University

The FDA is “an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products” (Source: FDA Press Release).

Nanoparticles are nanoscale materials generally less than 100 nanometers (a billionth of a meter) in diameter.  To put the size in perspective, 100 nm is about 500 times smaller than the diameter of human hair.  Something so small that they can’t be seen with a standard microscope.

But materials enhanced with nanoparticles can have physical, chemical, and biological properties that differ from those of their larger counterparts as the video below illustrates.

According to the FDA Press Release: “The submicroscopic particles are increasingly showing up in FDA-regulated products like sunscreens, skin lotions and glare-reducing eyeglass coatings. Some scientists believe the technology will one day be used in medicine, but the FDA’s announcement did not address that use.”

So are American consumers safe?  The FDA does its best, but it’s limited in resources and scope.  For example, it has less authority over cosmetics than food additives.   Nanotechnology has been used in cosmetics since the 1990s. “Generally, the FDA does not review cosmetics before they launch, and companies are responsible for assuring the safety of their products” (Source: AP News: FDA proposes rules for nanotechnology in food).  In addition, it’s limited testability.  How do you test for a problem you never knew existed?  How do you test for dangers that don’t show symptoms for ten or twenty years? What happens to the stuff when you’re done with it?  What impact does it have on the environment?  When it “decays,” what does it turn into?

I was a test engineer in the medical industry, and I was astonished by how sloppy some of the regulatory tests were handled.

In our rush for better products and profits, we may be endangering ourselves.  Time for additional testing and thinking is worth the cost.

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In my science fiction short story, Death Has no Shadow, a nanotechnology accident releases swarms of microscopic robots called forger nanites into the environment and a science intern finds that her lab is their target.

Where Are All the Flying Cars?

I thought by now we would have flying cars, jet backpacks, and servant robots. This is almost 2012. I mean, come on.

1950s House of the Future from http://www.plan59.com

Futurists of the 1950s and 60s painted the new millennium as a place where mindless toil would be a thing of the past, a pristine environment where we’re all smiling and physically fit. Is that true? We’re not living in a utopia now. We have “eradicated” polio, but now have diabetes at epidemic levels. Physical toil such as walking has decreased, but in proportion to an increase in obesity. More social networking venues are available, yet we live in social decay. What’s wrong with this picture?

I believe our expectations have let us down. The expectation that the troubles we have today will be solved by better devices tomorrow: technology. If we can just get the next gadget, life would be so much better. We have the expectation that those better devices will have no unintended negative consequences such as pollution or causing another need such as longer battery life.

Is technology evil?

Although I have Amish neighbors, I am a techno-geek: an electrical engineer, computer programmer, and lover of all things cool and gadgety. I speak their language … eh, the language of the gadgets, not the Amish. I get down to the chip level and program FPGAs. (Those are Field Programmable Gate Arrays. Don’t ask what they are, I’ll bore you to death.) I have shepherded WIFI electronic products from inception to the EOL (End of Life) grave yard. I have run a software company and have dealt first hand with customer complaints. So, I have some understanding of what gadgets do … and don’t get us.

Technology hasn’t failed us, but our unrealistic expectations of it have failed us.

The future is the road ahead of us. We may never have flying cars, but there is at least one thing for sure down that road: us, with more expectations.