Typically it takes quite a few months before a submitted article in nature has passed the peer review process and has been accepted – and then until it is actually printed, it usually takes even more then a quarter of a year. So it is of course surprising when in the journal of 03/02/2011 an article was published which was filed on 13/12/2010 and was exactly a week later already accepted on 12/20/2010. The subject of the article was worth the journal an editorial and two further articles in the same issue, and furthermore an artistic representation of the article’s contents adorns the cover.
A big deal then, nature headlines “Six new worlds”. The article of the NASA research team  reports – in a sober tone, as it should be – the discovery of a solar system with 6 relatively light planets orbiting a star that is relatively similar to our sun. The name of the star is simply Kepler-11, its planets are simply called Kepler-11b and Kepler-11g. Continue reading
For decades, scientists mark animals in the wild in order to recognize and thus be able to observe the same individuals for a long time. They believe that they find out something about the nature by watching marked animals, but of course they learn only something about the marked nature which is disturbed by the research, by marking and observation, itself. That the findings that one gets in this way have something to do with nature itself is at least a bold conclusion.
In order to watch penguins, their migratory behaviour and their breeding habits, scientists tie ribbons around the bird’s wings. These bands must be so stuck on the wing, that they are not lost for years. They have the advantage that they can be observed from a distance, so the animals do not have to recapture for identification. Continue reading
With the technical advances in gene sequencing, the possibilities of their use are growing rapidly. Totally new scientific disciplines evolve – eg the paleogenetics. Gene sequences are produced from bones thousands of years old, and these are compared with each other and with the gene records of living people. So kinship relations shall be found and the path of modern man in the conquest of the continents will be traced.
New disciplines employ best practices that are accepted by the community to secure their scientific approach. This applies not only to the claims of the exact and transparent working in the laboratory, but also for the methods to set up theories and to derive conclusions from theoretical assumptions. Parts of this scientific method are developing theories and build models. But what does that really mean, and what distinguishes a theory from a model? Continue reading
These days the year of chemistry begins, and this is nature in the first issue from 06/01/2011 a number of contributions worth. For me the contribution of the chemist David Nichols on page 7 was of special interest. Nichols looks back on years of a successful research career, which was largely devoted to synthesize agents in the field of medicinal chemistry.
In recent years he has made the startling find that the results of his research were used not only for the healing of people, but also for creation of synthetic drugs, and thus as a means to harm people and kill them.
Nichols was horrified, and his text reveals that he has to bear heavily on this knowledge. “I have never considered my research to be dangerous, and in fact I hoped one day to develop medicines to help people” – that’s the key sentence. Continue reading
Before Galileo and Newton, the subject of physics was what has been found in nature, after them the object of investigation is more and more what the researchers have created in the laboratory. Previously physics described what is being, after the discipline began to describe what is possible, what can be. It has developed from a descriptive to a designing science, from a natural science in a narrower sense to an art of engineering. Chemistry was following this way a couple of decades later, and now, at least according to Elowitz and Lim in their commentary in nature of 12/16/2010, the third of the natural sciences, biology, will follow.
The two note that biologists and engineers collaborate better and better with each other, even if cultural differences are significant. The need of “conventional” biologists to understand the complexity of the particular individual living being found is difficult to understand for the engineers. They are more interested in describing systems that represent a necessary biological function in the most simple, controllable and reproducible manner. Not the way a creature actually expresses a function is interesting for them at first, but the feasible and possible ways to realize this function. In this way life functions can be designed and therefore – according to the engineers – they are also understood. The concept of “intelligent design” gets a real new meaning here. Continue reading
Dark matter and dark energy are typical examples of what is known in the philosophy of science as “theoretical entity”: elements of theories, whose existence is hypothesized and with assumed properties and behaviours that can be used for explanation of the observed phenomena. What is regarded as an observable phenomenon, and what as a hypothetically assumed theoretical entity, depends on the state of theory and the empirical degree of assurance. Most of the phenomena of modern physics or cosmological theories are themselves – at least in an everyday sense – not observable, but by the diversity of empirical evidence and experimental investigation of the existence of these phenomena is relatively certain. Continue reading
Phil Jones has put on weight again. He must also not take drugs anymore; he looks almost as healthy as a year ago. In general, he believes the worst is behind him. This you can read at the first anniversary of “Climate Gate” not in the Yellow Press, but in an article of the nature-publisher David Adams , who had spoken with the British climate researcher on this occasion. Continue reading
Research projects waste millions or billions of euros, so is it conceivable and possible for amateurs to operate serious scientific research in their garage or at their home desk?
Can you imagine that individual amateur scientists or small groups of people, bringing together the fun of science, may create new findings in scientific disciplines where yet professional teams of researchers have hundreds of members? Continue reading
One of the great metaphysical ideas of theoretical physics is the conviction that the forces that act between the things must be described somehow uniform. But just the force that we experience in everyday life and feel completely without the use of measurement devices or even small tools, the gravitational force, will simply not be forced into a single model. Nevertheless, the theorist can not stop to seek a unified description of all forces.
Before we get an actual step on this “road to unification” (as nature writes on the front page of its edition dated 04/11/2010), I will briefly outline once again what the so-called “fundamental forces”, which one day are to be placed on an even more fundamental mechanism, actually have to do with the experience: Continue reading
In nature from 28/10/2010 U.S. researchers report the development of the concentration of phosphorus over a period of 3-4 billion years (Planavsky NJ, Rouxel OJ, Bekker A, Lalonde SV, Konhauser KO, Reinhard CT, & Lyons TW (2010). The evolution of the marine phosphate reservoir. Nature, 467 (7319), 1088-90 PMID: 20981096). They found that there were, 700 million years ago, particularly high phosphorus concentrations.
Why is this newsworthy? First because at this time the the global glaciation decreased (Snowball Earth), and because the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere increased considerably, which should have led to a strengthening of the ozone layer. Consequently, it came to the spread of animal life on Earth, and this process is ultimately quite important for us humans. Continue reading