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  Mobile version   RSS   Subscribe   Unsubscribe   Archive   Media Kit Sep. 22, 2012
Volume: III
Number: 33

National Society of Black Physicists    African Physical Society   South African Institute of Physics   African Astronomical Society  


How NSF allocates billions of federal dollars to top universities
Sunlight Foundation    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
Each year, the National Science Foundation bestows more than $7 billion of taxpayer money on about 12,000 research proposals, chosen out of about 45,000 submissions. An analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes open access to government data and increased transparency and accountability of political and regulatory processes, has found a clear correlation between the universities with the most employees serving on the NSF advisory committees and the universities that receive the most federal money. Even when controlling for other factors, the authors found that for each additional employee a university has serving on an NSF advisory committee that university can expect to see an additional $125,000 to $138,000 in NSF funding.

The NSF "strives to conduct a fair, competitive, transparent, merit-review process for the selection of projects," based on intellectual merit and broader impacts. To make funding decisions, the NSF relies on tens of thousands of expert reviewers, though program officers make the final decisions. Although the 144 NSF advisory committees do not make funding decisions directly, they do "review and provide advice on program management, overall program balance, and other aspects of program performance," according to the NSF.

Commenting on this story for Waves and Packets, a senior researcher with experience both inside and outside of NSF remarked that serving on NSF panels and committees gains you information that you can use in your own proposals; not so much in the intellectual content, but in avoiding mistakes in form, format, and nuances that scuttle so many proposals. But it also gains you familiarity and engenders comfort in you by program officers at the agency. "NSF is mostly fair, but real people work there, and they like people and institutions they are comfortable with." Another researcher concurred, adding that "...conscious and unconscious biases undoubtedly are playing a role here. They do in who is admitted to and employed by the elite institutions, and thus who is invited to be on NSF panels and committees."

2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress
The 2012 Quadrennial Physics Congress will be hosted by Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society, in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 8-12. It will center on the theme Connecting Worlds Through Science & Service. Undergraduates, practicing physicists and physics alumni from a broad spectrum of career paths will gather together to address the interconnectivity of the modern world and what it means to science. More

Important dates
Oct. 15 — Registration Deadline, Artwork Submission Deadline, Abstract Submission Deadline

Increase your options for graduate or REU program admissions
NSBP    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
The NSBP GradApps and REUApps services are open to all students and allows them to upload all the elements of an admissions application, including academic and work history, transcripts, letters of recommendation and a personal statement. Graduate and REU programs can subscribe to these databases to increase the programs' applicant pool, while at the same time allowing students can put their credentials in front of more programs than to which they would otherwise apply. More

The physics of rankings
American Physical Society    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
The world is addicted to ranking: everything, from the reputation of scientists, journals and universities to purchasing decisions is driven by measured or perceived differences between them. Whenever we use Google's search engine, shop for bargains on Amazon or evaluate a colleague through citation measures such as the h-index, we are relying on rankings to bring order into large and complex datasets. In Physical Review Letters, a team of researchers apply theories rooted in statistical mechanics to show how the volatility of rankings modeled by the Langevin equation is controlled by two key parameters. One that captures a ranked aptitude to increase it rank. The other represents Gaussian random noise that determines stochastic score fluctuations. More

On the ubiquity of power laws in rankings
Eurekalert    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
Rankings are ubiquitous in human endeavors, and perhaps we are inundated with sports related rankings most of all. But in sports, economics and politics there may be powerful mathematics to explain the outcome of events between ranked participants. A group of physicists has investigated 40 data samples spanning 12 different sports, and found that the distributions of scores and/or prize money follow universal power laws, with exponents nearly identical for most sports. In the case of tennis players for example, for any pair of players, the probability that the higher-ranked player tops the lower-ranked opponent is proportional to the rank difference between the pair. Such a dependence can be well fitted to a sigmoidal function. In their New Journal of Physics paper, the authors also report that sport rankings agree with the Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule. The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. Vilfredo Pareto noticed this in 1906 when he found that in Italy and a variety of other countries he analyzed, 80 percent of the land was owned by 20 percent of the population. In all of the sports analyzed, 20 percent of the players possessed 80 percent of the total scores of the whole system. More

New award emphasizes how federal science funding boosts the economy
Ars Technica    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
A bipartisan group of members of the U.S. House of Representatives along with several scientific societies has created a new award to highlight the often unexpected or serendipitous nature of basic scientific research by honoring federally funded researchers whose work may once have been viewed as unusual, odd or obscure but which has produced important discoveries that have benefited society in significant ways. The first Golden Goose Awards were bestowed in Washington, D.C., to Nobel Laureates Charlie Townes, Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien, as well as to Jon Weber, Eugene White, Rodney White and Della Roy, who serendipitously used scanning electron microscopy to determine that coral reefs could be excellent sources of bone graft materials. The name of the awards are a rebut to the Golden Fleece Awards, which were a rhetorical device used by a former member of Congress to ridicule federally funded scientific research. More

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"I have to say, @BlackPhysicists put[s] out some of the most fascinating science in the Twitterverse!!," @LSlayden

How many water molecules does it take to make ice?
Physics World    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
New results reported in Science indicate that it takes 275 water molecules to make crystalline ice. To make this determination a team of researchers used two clever tricks that lower the ionization potential of water clusters. The sizes of the manipulated clusters can then be determined via time-of-flight mass spectrometry, and their structure can be determined by IR spectroscopy. Crystalline ice has an absorption maximum at wavenumbers around 3200 cm–1, whereas amorphous ice and liquid water have maxima at approximately 3400 cm–1. Plotting cluster size vs. absorption maximum exhibits a clear phase transition beginning around 275 molecules, with the first crystalline ice occurring in the center of the cluster, forming a ring of six hydrogen-bonded water molecules in a tetrahedral configuration. By 475 molecules, the infrared spectrum was dominated by the ice structure: the formation of the ice crystal was all but complete. This behavior matched theoretical predictions made by a different group of researchers in 2004. More

Physicists create flat lenses that focus light without distortion
Nanotech Web    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
A team of physicists has made the first ultrathin flat lens. Because the lens is flat, it eliminates optical aberrations, typical of conventional lenses with spherical surfaces, and it produces a well defined focal spot. The focusing power of the lens also approaches the ultimate physical limit set by the laws of diffraction. The new flat ultrathin lens has a nanostructured "metasurface" made of optically thin and sub-wavelength-spaced beam-shaping optical antennas. These nanoantennas, each being a V-shaped gold filament fabricated by electron-beam lithography, act as resonator that stores light and then releases it after a short time delay. The metasurface can be tuned for specific wavelengths of light by simply changing the size, angle and spacing between the nanoantennas. The work is reported in Nanoletters. More

365 Days of Astronomy Podcast
365 Days of Astronomy Podcast publishes daily podcasts, five to 10 minutes in duration. They are written, recorded and produced by people around the world. We are looking for individuals, schools, companies and clubs to provide five to 10 podcasts. You can do as few as one episode or up to 12 episodes (one per month, subject, of course, to our editorial discretion). Our goal is to encourage people to sign up for a particular day (or days) of the year. For more information, see the 365 Days of Astronomy website.

Quantum information technology may lead to optical interferometers with arbitrarily long baselines
American Physical Society    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
Physicists at Canada's Perimeter Institute have proposed via a paper in Physical Review Letters an interesting approach to increasing the resolving power of optical interferometers. Current optical interferometers have limited baseline lengths, and thus limited resolution, because of noise and loss of signal due to the transmission of photons between the telescopes. They suggest that since the signal from astronomical objects is so faint that it arrives as single photons at a time. The table is set therefore for applying quantum information science and technology to increase baselines, hence resolution of telescope arrays. Success of their proposal depends on the technology of quantum repeaters, which have the potential to overcome limits caused by photon signal loss. If this technical challenge can be overcome, interferometers with arbitrarily long baselines would in principle be possible.

This result has intrigued several quantum scientists and astronomers. In an interview with Waves and Packets, Daniel Gottesman, the paper's lead author, indicated that his group is in touch with some astronomers who are possibly interested in implementing the scheme. Francesco Petruccione, a research chair in quantum information processing and communication at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa also commented to Waves and Packets that it would be really great to start a research project for the experimental implementation of the proposal. Such a project could bring together the astronomical and quantum communities in South Africa, and indeed around the world.

Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
Designed as a unique and much-needed resource for educators, managers and policymakers, the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering publishes original, peer-reviewed papers that report innovative ideas and programs for classroom teachers, scientific studies and formulation of concepts related to the education, recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups in science and engineering.

Access now available to NSBP members at

Astrochemistry enters a bold new era with ALMA
National Radio Astronomy Observatory    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
Combining the cutting-edge capabilities of the ALMA telescope with newly-developed laboratory techniques, scientists are opening a completely new era for deciphering the chemistry of the Universe. A research team has reported in the Journal of Molecular Spectroscopy their methodological breakthrough. Like rotational-vibration spectrometers used in undergraduate chemistry labs, radio telescopes like ALMA can do spectroscopy of molecular gas clouds, but with much great sensitivity and at the great distances required by astronomers. Astrophysical spectra contain large numbers of unknown spectral lines, many of which are presumably due to unanalyzed rotational spectra in excited vibrational states of a relatively few molecules, as well as the temperature variations within telescope beams. Using broadband complete experimental spectra obtained from the analysis of several hundred intensity calibrated spectra taken over a range of temperatures, the authors were able to fingerprint ethyl cyanide (CH3CH2CN) gas in a star-forming region in the constellation Orion. ALMA is a new start of the art telescope, but the spectroscopic technique can be applied to older but still capable telescopes like Green Bank to really change the way astrophysicists do business. More

Algerian National Festival of Popular Astronomy
The Sirius Astronomy Association is organizing its 11th National Festival on Popular Astronomy, Oct. 4-6 in Constantine, Algeria. It is the largest multinational gathering of its kind in North Africa. The festival is both an astronomy exposition and a series of seminar and workshops geared to the general public. It has the strong institutional support of both the Societé Astronomique de France, which traditionally participates with a large delegation and the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space Sciences.

Members of the African Astronomical Society, astronomy educators and amateur astronomers are invited to apply for support to attend. The Sirius Astronomy Association will provide for full local accommodation in Constantine and will take care of the participants from Constantine airport. Letters of invitation to help with visa applications will be provided for those wishing to attend. More

NRAO leaders: United States must rejoin the Square Kilometer Array
Nature    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
Last year the U.S. SKA Consortium voted to dissolve itself as the result of disillusionment with the project's planning process and budget pressure from the National Science Foundation. Though individual American scientists are involved with the SKA, the deputy director of the astronomy division at NSF was involved in the site selection process for instance, the United States government is not formally involved in the project. But two influential leaders in the American radio astronomy community say that the U.S. must eventually officially rejoin the SKA.

Earlier this year, the SKA Governing Board voted to split the site of telescope array between Africa and Australia with the largest portion going to Africa. In a prior interview with Waves and Packets, South Africa's Justin Jonas said that using the existing infrastructure and telescopes at both sites may speed up and reduce the cost of SKA phase 1 deployment, resulting in science results being available earlier. Also Australia's Lisa Harvey-Smith commented that the dual-site approach will allow astronomers to carry out extremely large surveys of neutral hydrogen, both for the study of galaxy evolution and for carrying out large-scale cosmology. Splitting the SKA across two continents opens the door for more regular monitoring the same area of sky to discover transient or variable radio sources from gamma-ray bursts, supernovae, rapid gravitational lensing events and other objects. The time domain is a hugely exciting and largely unexplored parameter space in astronomy.

In addition to the telescope array itself, South Africa is developing the African VLBI Network (AVN) using repurposed communications dishes. VLBI is a global endeavour, and the and the AVN itself will be used in conjunction with other VLBI networks, such as the European VLBI Network, the American Very Long Baseline Array and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Inducing superconductivity in a semi-conductor with Scotch tape
University of Toronto    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
An international team led by University of Toronto physicists has developed a simple new technique to induce high-temperature superconductivity in a semiconductor for the first time — using Scotch tape. The proximity effect in superconductors — wherein the superconductivity in one material generates superconductivity in an otherwise normal semiconductor — has been difficult because the fundamental quantum mechanics requires the materials to be in nearly perfect contact. Junctions between semiconductors and superconductors are especially difficult and usually require complex material growth procedures. As reported in Nature Communications, the team was able to observe proximity-induced superconductivity in Bi2Se3 and Bi2Te3 bonded to the cuprate superconductor, Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ, persisting up to at least 80 K with a superconducting gap reaching values of 10 mV. More

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Spitzer and Hubble spot most distant galaxy ever seen
NASA    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
With the combined power of NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes, as well as a cosmic magnification effect, astronomers have spotted the cluster MACS J1149+2223, which could be the most distant galaxy ever seen. Light from the young galaxy captured by the orbiting observatories first shone when our 13.7 billion-year-old universe was just 500 million years old. The far-off galaxy — 13.2 billion light-years away, or redshift z = 9.6 — existed within an important era when the universe began to transit from the so-called cosmic dark ages. In the dark-ages period of the universe after the Big Bang the universe consisted of neutral hydrogen gas formed from cooling particles. But 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the epoch of reionization began where energy released by the earliest galaxies is thought to have caused the neutral hydrogen throughout the universe to ionize, a state that the gas has remained in since that time. During this period, the universe went from a dark, starless expanse to the luminous stars and galaxy we see today. Understanding the properties of galaxies, like what is likely contained in MACS J1149+2223, is critical to identifying the source of the radiation that re-ionized the intergalactic medium. The research finding is reported in Nature. More

Electric fields can introduce clinically useful defects in cell membranes
Medical Physics Web    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
Electrochemotherapy, or ECT, is a clinical application of electroporation in which locally applied electric fields are used to create reversible nanoscale defects in cell membranes. The defects increase membrane permeability and allow the increased transport of chemotherapy drugs into the cells. In new research reported in Physics in Medicine and Biology, ECT treatment planning technology has been extended to irreversible electroporation, or IRE, a tissue ablation method where stronger fields induce permanent membrane defects and cell death, and gene electrotransfer for gene therapy and gene vaccination, or GET, where DNA is transported into cells.

Rational planning of electroporation has three major components, a good geometrical model of the patient anatomy created using CT or MRI data, a mathematical model that calculates the extent of reversible and irreversible electroporation generated by a given treatment configuration, and an iterative optimization algorithm that tunes the treatment parameters and identifies the optimum treatment plan for a given case. Effective and safe electroporation requires the careful selection of several parameters, including the electrode geometry used to apply the electric field and the amplitude of the electric pulses. In the new research the authors demonstrate how different clinical objectives, IRE vs. GRE for example, can be achieved by devising new weighting factors in the optimization scheme.

National Society of Black Physicists jobs board postings
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Tenure-Track Assistant Professor - University of Maryland Baltimore County
Assistant Professor in Department of Physics & Center for Computational and Integrative Biology
Assistant Professor — Experimental Relativistic Heavy-Ion Nuclear Physics — Univeristy of Kansas
Assistant Professor — Biophysics
Tenure-track Assistant Professor Position in Experimental Condensed Matter Physics at Rice University
Assistant Editor, Physical Review Letters
2 Tenure-track Faculty Positions in Astronomy/Astrophysics at Ohio University
Postdoctoral Positions in Cosmology at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Faculty Positions in Science, Technology, and Innovation
Tenure Track Assistant Professor in Evolution
Tenure Track Assistant Professor — Denison University
Assistant Professor Position in Experimental Nuclear Physics at Duke University
Assistant Professor in Experimental Condensed Matter Magnetism — Miami University of Ohio
Tenure Track Assistant Professor in Evolution
Faculty Opening Carnegie Mellon University McWilliams Center for Cosmology
Tenure-Track Faculty Position, Department of Physics, Emory University
Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society and Physics
NASA Postdoctoral Fellowships
Assistant or Associate Professor — Gravitational wave and particle astrophysics / elementary particle physics
Faculty position in LCLS Science
Assistant Professor of Physics, tenure track
2-Year Full-Time Postdoctoral Fellowship in Acoustics
National Astrophysics and Space Science Program
Postdoctoral Research Associate Positions

Latest research from Laser Physics Letter
IOP Publishing and Astro Ltd    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
Efficient high-pulse-energy eye-safe laser generated by an intracavity Nd:YLF/KTP optical parametric oscillator: role of thermally induced polarization switching

Injection-seeded Ho:YAG laser at room temperature by monolithic nonplanar ring laser

Role of lens to sample distance during laser-induced damage in zinc targets

Tunable and switchable SOA-based multiwavelength fiber laser using twin-core photonic crystal fiber

Suppression of the intensity noise in distributed feedback fiber lasers by self-injection locking

Latest research from Solar Energy Materials & Solar Cells
Elsevier    Share    Share on FacebookTwitterShare on LinkedinE-mail article
Polyviologen derivatives as an interfacial layer in polymer solar cells

Pinhole treatment of a CdTe photovoltaic device by electrochemical polymerization technique

Preparation of halogen-free flame retardant hybrid paraffin composites as thermal energy storage materials by in-situ sol–gel process

Selection of materials for high temperature latent heat energy storage

Crystallization of supercooled PCMs inside emulsions: DSC applications

Organic — inorganic hybrid solar cells: A comparative review

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