Saturday, March 31, 2007

147)Finding the most fundamental particles that make up the universe is a pricey business.

Particle accelerators

Onwards and upwards

Mar 8th 2007
From The Economist print edition

Plans to build ever-grander particle-smashers collide with reality

NOT content with spending around $10 billion on a shiny new collider at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory in Geneva, physicists are now campaigning for its successor. The International Linear Collider (ILC), as the machine is dubbed, would cost a mere $8.2 billion, according to its backers. Ray Orbach, the head of America's Office of Science, gave a warning last month that, although he supports the project, it is too expensive to build rapidly. The first data to come from such a collider would probably not emerge until the mid- to late-2020s.

The machine would have two parts, each 12km (7.5 miles) long. One would accelerate electrons; the other positrons, their antimatter counterparts. The beams would collide at the centre of the device with far more energy than can be imparted by any other machine.

Two nearby detectors would record evidence of particles created by the impact. These could include Higgs bosons galore
(see article), or
and so-called supersymmetric partner particles that are too massive even for the new collider at CERN. Physicists would love to develop a way of unifying the forces of nature (electromagnetism, gravity and so on) to produce a Theory of Everything. A machine with the power of the ILC might provide clues about how to do this. It could also cast light on the mystery of dark matter, a substance that pervades the universe in vastly larger quantities than familiar, visible matter, but whose existence can be inferred only by watching its gravitational effect on visible matter.

Exactly where such a machine would be built is a moot point—though it would certainly go in an underground tunnel, in order to reduce the effect of vibrations. For diplomatic reasons, three designs have been drafted. One is tailored to geological conditions at Fermilab, near Chicago. The second is suitable for construction at CERN. A third would be appropriate for a mountainous area of granite in Japan. The winner will probably be whoever has the biggest chequebook.


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3

Friday, March 30, 2007

146)Miscellaneous scientific information from the back page of Canada's Globe and Mail Newspaper.

Globe and Mail
March 30th 2007


Dangers in space

Giant asteroids. "The risk that an asteroid capable of wiping out humanity will crash into Earth is minuscule, new calculations suggest, but the chances of a smaller one destroying a city or setting off a catastrophic tsunami remain unclear and may be higher than previous estimates," reports The Washington Post. NASA researchers have calculated the risk of "death by asteroid" to be about the same as dying in an airplane crash if you fly once a year. That estimate includes both the likelihood that the event will happen and the number of people who would be killed if it did.

Specks of dust

A study suggests the smallest particle in lunar dust might be toxic, if comparisons with dust inhalation cases on Earth apply. NASA has set up a working group to look into the matter ahead of its planned return to the moon by 2020.

The health effects of inhaling lunar dust have long been recognized since NASA's Apollo missions. Astronaut Harrison Schmitt, the last man to step onto the moon in Apollo 17, complained of "lunar dust hay fever" when his dirty spacesuit contaminated the habitation module.


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

145)Audio speech by as well as timeless sayings of Aga Khan III, combo delight.

This excerpt of an audio speech(see below) made by our 48th Imam, Mowlana Sultan Mohammed Shah, was posted recently on the Ismaili Mail website(see my suggested links section to check out this remarkable website). After listening to the voice of our 48th Imam, I made the following comment on Ismaili Mail:

"What a powerful speech by our 48th Imam, spoken in the simplest English but communicating the profoundest ideas. I must have heard the phrase “scientific knowledge and development” about 5 to 7 times in this speech. He certainly did not mince his words in this and other speeches when it came to the importance of not only paying homage to the scientists, philosophers and other intellectuals during Islam’s golden period but, more importantly, of re-establishing in a hurry the absolutely fundamental Islamic principle of learning about the universe, what it is made up of, how it operates and how this knowledge can also be used to the practical benefit of Muslim societies, something which is being more than amply demonstrated by our present Imam and the institutions he heads."

The speech can be accessed by clicking on the link provided:

An excerpt of an audio speech by Aga Khan III
March 25, 2007
Posted by ismailimail in Aga Khan Family, Aga Khan III, Speech. 2 comments
Click here to launch the audio file in your media player.

Here is a list of timeless sayings by Our 48th Imam, which I posted much earlier on Ismaili Mail as well as on this blogsite. I think these sayings match the speech quoted above very well:

Timeless sayings of Aga Khan III relating to the universe in which we live, move and have our being:

1) Quote from a letter written by Our 48th Imam to a friend in 1952 under the title: “What have we forgotten in Islam?”:

Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural religion. Throughout the Quran God’s signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon, the law and order of the universe, the exactitudes and consequences of the relations between natural phenomenon in cause and effect. Over and over, the stars, sun, moon, earthquakes, fruits of the earth and trees are mentioned as the signs of divine power, divine law and divine order. Even in the Ayeh of Noor, divine is referred to as the natural phenomenon of light and even references are made to the fruit of the earth. During the great period of Islam, Muslims did not forget these principles of their religion. Alas, Islam which is a natural religion in which God’s miracles are the very law and order of nature drifted away and still drifting away, even in Pakistan, from science which is the study of those very laws and orders of nature.

……Islam is a natural religion of which the Ayats are the universe in which we live and move and have our being……

…..The God of the Quran is the one whose Ayats are the universe……

2) About Hafiz, the renowned Iranian poet:

“Then came Hafiz - by far the greatest singer of the soul of man. In him we can find all the strivings, all the sorrow, all the victories and joys, all the hopes and disappointments of each and every one of us. In him we find contact, direct and immediate, with the outer universe interpreted as an infinite reality of matter, as a mirror of an eternal spirit, or indeed (as Spinoza later said) an absolute existence of which matter and spirit alike are but two of infinite modes and facets.”

-Inaugural Lecture Before the Iran Society by Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan, November 9, 1936 London, United Kingdom.

3) There is a fundamental difference between the Jewish idea of creation and that of Islam. The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will (Memoirs of Aga Khan, 1954).

4) Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God. (Memoirs of Aga Khan, 1954).

5) Thus there was an absolute need for the Divine Word’s revelation, to Mohammed himself, a man like the others, of God’s person and of his relations to the Universe which he had created. Once man has thus comprehended the essence of existence, there remains for him the duty, since he knows the absolute value of his own soul, of making for himself a direct path which will constantly lead his individual soul to and bind it with the universal Soul of which the Universe is, as much of it as we perceive with our limited visions, one of the infinite manifestations. Thus Islam’s basic principle can only be defined as mono-realism and not as monotheism. Consider, for example, the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer: “Allah-o-Akbar”. What does that mean? There can be no doubt that the second word of the declaration likens the character of Allah to a matrix which contains all and gives existence to the infinite, to space, to time, to the Universe, to all active and passive forces imaginable, to life and to the soul. Imam Hassan has explained the Islamic doctrine of God and the Universe by analogy with the sun and its reflection in the pool of a fountain; there is certainly a reflection or image of the sun, but with what poverty and with what little reality; how small and pale is the likeness between this impalpable image and the immense, blazing, white-hot glory of the celestial sphere itself. Allah is the sun; and the Universe, as we know it in all its magnitude, and time, with its power, are nothing more than the reflection of the Absolute in the mirror of the fountain (memoirs of Aga Khan, 1954).


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3

144)Harmonious mathematical reasoning and the Universe in which we live, move and have our being.

It is true that the universe in which we live, move and have our being is fashioned according to the principles of harmonious mathematical reasoning. In scientific, architectural as well as spiritual endeavour, this is true for many discoveries and creations. The Al-Hambra castle and gardens built in Islamic Spain are a major tourist attraction and many people are amazed at the positive and tranquilising psychological and psychic effect the buildings and structures inside seem to have on them. A recent documentary showed how the building was built according to precise structural and mathematical harmonics where the arc drawn from the diagonal of one rectangular piece served to become an anchor that defined an adjacent rectangular piece, and so on and so forth such that all the rectangular pieces used to build the structure, from the smallest to the largest pieces, were shown to have progressive and corresponding areas starting from the square root of 2 and ranging to the square roots of 3, 4, 5, 6, and so forth. The pure mathematical harmony and the symmetrical structures and calligraphy underlying the Al-Hambra is what makes it such a highly-visited tourist attraction and what gives many visitors their sense of well-being, pleasure and tranquility when they are within the structure.

Different structures in living systems also seem to follow certain ingrained mathematical patterns in their development, eg, the whorls and shapes of petals and other structures in flowers, etc. Isaac Newton had to develop his own type of mathematics(calculus) in order to properly describe his laws of motion. Mathematical symmetry depicted in Islamic art and architecture are symbols of transcendent divine knowledge.

During the 20th century there were many examples where discoveries in nature and the universe were predicted mathematically first before the actual physical discovery was made. Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist whose momentous discoveries in special and general relativity were made creating and solving mathematical equations, not doing experiments in the field. It was only after he put forward his theories that other people performed experiments to confirm his genius in what he was saying with his mathematical equations. In the early to mid-20th century a scientist studying the different particles and forces of matter that make up the universe predicted mathematically the presence of a new particle in nature that was only discovered in the late 1970s after the technological development of particle accelerators or "atom smashers" energetic enough to show the existence of this particle.

The structure and function of the universe, indeed, follows the rules of harmonious mathematical reasoning and there is clear evidence that early Islamic philosophers and scientists recognised this and made it a significant part in their quest for knowledge of all types. A good example of this would be the group of mostly Ismaili Muslim thinkers from around 750 AD, called the Ikhwan Al-Safa(Brethern of Purity) who compiled an Encyclopedia(Rasail) of 52 volumes describing every type of knowledge, from wordly to spiritual, that was available to man at that time. The mathematical and life sciences feature prominently in this compilation of books.

The following article from the Economist shows how the mathematical elucidation of a structure may once again, in the future, describe how our universe operates at its most sub-microscopic level:

Higher mathematics

Truth and Lies

Mar 22nd 2007
From The Economist print edition

Mapping the most complex known mathematical object

FOR more than a century mathematicians have known about Lie groups. These are families of shapes named after Sophus Lie, a Norwegian mathematician who discovered them. There are four “simple” families of Lie groups and five others—this being mathematics—that are not quite so simple.

The simplest member of the simplest Lie group is the circle, which looks the same however it is rotated. Its higher-dimensional cousin, the sphere, has the same properties, only more so, and is thus the second-simplest of the same family. The five non-simple groups—dubbed “exceptional” in their complexity and symmetry—are harder to envisage and, for almost 120 years, the details of the most intricate of these have lain beyond reach. This week a group of mathematicians led by Jeffrey Adams of the University of Maryland announced that they had completed a map of the largest and most complicated one, a structure known to mathematicians as E8.

Lie groups have two defining features: surface and symmetry. A sphere has two surface dimensions. In other words, any place on its surface is defined by just two numbers, the longitude and the latitude. But it has three dimensions when it comes to symmetries. A sphere can spin on an axis that runs, say, from north to south, or on each of two axes placed at right angles to this. E8 is rather more difficult to visualise. Its “surface” has 57 dimensions—that is, it takes 57 co-ordinates to define a point on it, and it has 248 axes of symmetry.

Grappling with such a structure is as tricky as it sounds. But Dr Adams's team decided to have a go. They want to create an atlas of maps of the Lie groups. This involves making a description in the form of a matrix for each structure. (A matrix is a multi-dimensional array of numbers, such as that found in a sudoku puzzle.)

Dr Adams and his colleagues began by writing a computer program that would generate such matrices, a task that took them more than three years. It transpired that they needed 453,060 points to describe E8 but that they also needed to express the relationship between each of these points. That meant they had to devise a matrix with 453,060 rows and the same number of columns. In total this gives 205 billion entries. To complicate things further, many of these entries were not merely numbers but polynomials—sequences in which a given number is raised to a series of different powers, for example its square and its cube.

Processing such a vast quantity of data was beyond the capacity of even modern supercomputers, so the team were forced to tinker with the problem to make it tractable. This tinkering led them to a piece of ancient maths known as the Chinese remainder theorem.

This theorem is contained in a book written in the late third-century AD by a mathematician called Sun Tzu (not to be confused with the military strategist of the same name). It is used to simplify large calculations by breaking them down into many smaller ones, the results of which can then be recombined to generate the answer to the original question.

One problem addressed in the original book concerns counting soldiers. Sun Tzu's solution was that the soldiers should first split into groups of three, then groups of five, then groups of seven, with the number unable to join a group (in other words, the remainder) being noted each time. The three remainders can then be used to calculate how many soldiers are present. For example, if two were left over from the groups of three, three left over from the groups of five and two left over from the groups of seven, there would have been 23 soldiers in the unit (or possibly 233, but the difference should be obvious to even the stupidest commanding officer).

The researchers worked out how to use the remainder theorem to bring their calculation within the capacity of a supercomputer called Sage, which spent more than three days crunching the numbers to generate the map of E8. Not content with letting the supercomputer do all the arithmetic, the mathematicians simultaneously jotted down some calculations of their own on the back of an envelope. They worked out that if each entry in the matrix were written on paper that was one inch square, the answer would cover an area the size of Manhattan.

And the point is:

Apart from the satisfaction of mapping E8 at long last, mathematicians are pleased because the structure keeps popping up in another branch of intellectual endeavour: string theory. This purports to be the best explanation of the universe beyond the Standard Model of physics that describes all known particles and forces, but which is generally acknowledged to be incomplete. String theory requires that the universe has many more dimensions than those that are obvious, but that most of these extra dimensions are too small to be discerned with today's equipment. One of the ways in which they can be hidden involves E8, so having a mathematical map of its structure could be handy. Cheaper, too, than building a particle accelerator the size of the solar system.


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3

Friday, March 23, 2007

142)Magnificent images of the partial solar eclipse during the Spring equinox and Norouz.

Recently I blogged about the total lunar(moon) eclipse by the earth and how we were able to learn about two very important properties of light, namely, its wave-like ability to bend(aka refraction) and its particle-like ability to be scattered(like billiard balls) by molecules of air and dust in our atmosphere.

Now we see the opposite(to a small extent) happening, ie, a partial eclipse of the sun by the moon. This is is all happening at the same time as the spring or vernal equinox and it is fitting that this first picture by NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website was taken yesterday by an imaginative Iranian astronomer(Babak Tafreshi) against the backdrop of the expansive Touran Wildlife Reserve in Northeastern Iran. It shows a decent-sized chunk of the sun covered(eclipsed) by the Moon in a stunning sunrise during the Persian New Year festival of Norouz or Navroz on the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere:

On March 19th 2007, the same partial solar eclipse was seen imposingly over Goa, India, the home of symmetric palm trees, pristine white sand beaches, spicy vindaloo curries and Ayurvedic massage therapists to die for:

This final picture shows a blue crescent Moon and is another example of the ability of light to be scattered by molecules in our atmosphere. In this picture both light from the Sun and light from the Moon are deflected by atmospheric molecules to give this composite picture of the Moon:

Knowledge about how our Universe operates is a key part of the link between science and religion as my two signature posts from our 49th and 48th Imams below clearly reveal. The Universe is seen as one component of the structure of Truth and acquiring knowledge about what it contains and how it operates can set one on a cascadingly increasing and deepening path leading to more profound truths.


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3

Thursday, March 22, 2007

141)Bigger and better telescopes to study the cosmos.

This was the 3rd artcle from post 116 whose link failed to work so I am posting the entire article here. It talks about telescopes coming in the future that will make the Hubble space telescope and all current land-based telescopes look like toys and will greatly enhance, beyond our wildest imaginations, our ability to study and interpret the cosmos:


The Argus eyes of stargazing

Dec 19th 2006
From The Economist print edition

Ever larger telescopes are planned to study the heavens in ever more detail, but with a twist.

SIZE matters, at least in astronomy. Large telescopes are able to detect fainter objects than their smaller counterparts can because they gather more light. They also produce crisper images because they can resolve smaller details of the objects they are pointed at. Although space-based telescopes avoid distortion caused by the atmosphere and can thus discern finer details than their Earthbound equivalents, they are doomed to have small mirrors because rockets can carry only so much weight into space. So, if the true nature of the universe—including the composition of dark matter and dark energy, the two great known unknowns of cosmology—is to be elucidated, bigger land-based equipment is needed.

Nearer to home, big telescopes would also be able to look for Earth-sized planets around stars other than the sun. Today's machines have identified more than 200 “extrasolar” planets, but these are all rather bigger than Earth. Not only might a suitable large telescope locate Earth's cousins, but it should also be able to study their atmospheres. That, in turn, would give clues as to whether they harboured life, since a chemically unstable atmosphere (such as one rich in a reactive gas like oxygen) is evidence suggesting biochemical activity.

The problem is that big telescopes are hard to make. The crucial component, the mirror that gathers the light, is more liable to distortion, the bigger it gets. The modern fashion, therefore, is to make telescope mirrors smaller, and then get them to collaborate.

Mine's bigger than yours

One way of doing this is to build a series of independent telescopes and point them all in the same direction. Such an arrangement provides a resolution (though not a light-gathering power) equivalent to a single mirror with a diameter equal to the distance between the two telescopes that are farthest apart in the array.

This technique has been applied for a while to radio telescopes. The problem with extending it to shorter wavelengths, such as visible light, is that the accuracy with which the instruments have to be pointed is related to the wavelength they are looking in. Radio astronomers, whose wavelengths are measured in metres, can afford to be sloppy. Optical astronomers, whose wavelengths are measured in billionths of a metre, cannot.

The compromise today is to look at microwaves—the part of the spectrum that lies between radio waves and light. Astronomers in America, Europe and Japan are collaborating on the biggest microwave array to be built so far, the Atacama Large Millimetre Array now under construction in Chile. It will have up to 64 “mirrors” (actually dish-like antennae that are large versions of the sort of thing used to receive satellite television). The advantage of microwaves, other than the ease of building large telescopic arrays to look at them, is that they can pass through the interstellar dust that obscures much of the universe, and thus illuminate processes invisible to optical-wavelength astronomers.

Though optical astronomers cannot yet manage this array-building trick, they, too, have worked out how to benefit from making small mirrors collaborate. The difference is that they put the small mirrors together to form a big one inside a single instrument.

Doing that allows them to build very big mirrors indeed. The largest single-element optical telescope at the moment—confusingly called the Large Binocular Telescope, but each of its two mirrors is made as a single piece—has mirrors 8.4 metres across. The two Keck telescopes on Hawaii and the South African Large Telescope, which use mosaics of hexagonal sub-mirrors, have systems up to 11 metres across.

Even these, however, are minnows compared with what is being planned. America's National Science Foundation is now evaluating two competing designs: the Giant Magellan Telescope, some 24 metres across, and the self-explanatory Thirty Metre Telescope. A European Extremely Large Telescope is also on the drawing board. Late last month a draft design for this, with a mirror size of between 30 metres and 60 metres, was unveiled. It is based in part on what was known as the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope, an earlier venture that was abandoned after it turned out to have overwhelmingly large costs, as well.

All these telescopes will be built atop mountains in dry areas, to get as close to outer space as possible, and thus minimise the layer of air and water vapour between the sensors and the stars. Even then, achieving high resolution requires “adaptive optics”—electronic wizardry designed to undo the distorting effects of the remaining atmosphere above the instrument in question. The idea is to monitor a reference star and, by subtly adjusting the shape of the mirror, to keep this star in focus no matter what the weather. One innovation to be tested by the European Extremely Large Telescope would be to create an artificial reference star by firing a laser into the night sky. That would be a boon to those wishing to study parts of the sky that are normally void of such objects.
The new generation of part-work telescopes would operate in collaboration with space-based astronomy, of course. Just a few weeks ago NASA, America's space agency, announced that it would upgrade the Hubble space telescope. It also has plans for a new device, dubbed the James Webb space telescope and due to be launched in 2013. But modern ground-based telescopes can complement such observatories, often achieving more and costing less. Mountaintop astronomy is entering a new golden era.


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3

140)The "Axion", a possible particle of dark matter, which makes up 25% of our known universe.

In post 116 I linked to 3 articles but links to the 2nd and 3rd articles do not work so I am posting the entire 2nd article relating to a possible new particle discovery that constitutes the invisible dark matter which makes up about 25% of our known universe:

Fundamental physics

Axion stations

Dec 19th 2006
From The Economist print edition

A possible particle of dark matter

WHEN Frank Wilczek, a Nobel laureate, proposed the existence of a new type of elementary particle in 1977 he named it an “axion”, after a type of detergent, because it cleaned up a profound physical problem.

This problem is that the amount of visible stuff in the universe is far smaller than is needed to account for the apparent effects of gravity. In particular, galaxies behave as though they are much heavier than they actually look.

One way of solving this conundrum is to invoke a type of matter that has a gravitational field, but cannot interact with light or other forms of electromagnetic radiation, and is therefore invisible. In other words, dark matter. Axions are the most popular proposal for what this dark matter might actually be.

Unfortunately, they have since created a mess of their own. Many experiments have looked for axions. Most have not found them. Indeed, they have proved so hard to detect that many physicists question whether they exist.

Earlier this year, though, an Italian experiment did see something that suggested their existence. Now a paper by Piyare Jain and Gurmukh Singh of the State University of New York, Buffalo, also offers some evidence that axions really do exist. It is published in the January edition of the Journal of Physics G: Nuclear and Particle Physics.

The pair had another look at some photographic plates from an experiment conducted a decade ago at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva. Though that experiment had not been intended to make axions, the two researchers wondered if it had created such particles as a by-product. After re-analysing the plates, Dr Jain and Dr Singh concluded that they may have found axions that exist so fleetingly that they are not noticed by the modern electronic methods of particle detection that have replaced the use of photographic plates.

If their interpretation is correct, that would be exciting, as it would establish the existence of a new class of matter. Unfortunately, it would not solve the dark-matter problem, since what the two researchers think they have found would be too short-lived to form the “missing” matter. But other particles in the class might plug the gap. An experiment under way at DESY, a laboratory in Hamburg, Germany, is seeking to make and detect axions that would fall into this longer-lived category. Should it succeed, scientists will have come closer to cleaning up the mystery.


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3

139)The elusive Higgs particle, which bestows the property of mass on matter, may have been found by American scientists.

I blogged about the Higgs particle before, in posts 17 and 116. This could be almost as fundamental as it gets: How does matter obtain the property of mass? As the article below states, without mass the universe would be a sea of particles zipping around at the speed of light(the natural condition of any massless object). Read on........

Particle physics

Higgs may fly

Mar 8th 2007
From The Economist print edition

Physicists in America may have scooped their counterparts in Europe in the hunt for the source of universal mass.

BUMBLEBEES cannot do it. Fly, that is. Or so physics is said to have shown. That the insects routinely become airborne demonstrates the shortcomings of some theoretical accounts of the world. Particle physics is in a similar state. The Standard Model that scientists have devised to describe the building blocks of nature is incomplete. One failing is the lack of a proven explanation for the existence of mass. Finding exactly what bestows this vital property on matter is the quarry of a global hunt.

Without mass the universe would be a sea of particles zipping around at the speed of light (the natural condition of any massless object). It would be hard for such particles to get together. Even molecules would be rare; galaxies, stars and planets would be impossible. So would life. So physicists want to find what enabled the universe to evolve in the way it has.

What they seek is a particle called the Higgs boson. Its existence was proposed in 1964 by Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh. He was trying to explain why some bosons (the particles that convey the fundamental forces which hold things together) have no mass whereas others have plenty of it. Photons, for example, transmit the electromagnetic force and are massless; W-bosons, which carry a short-range force in the atomic nucleus, are massive. So far, though, the Higgs has proved elusive.

To find it, scientists at the European particle-physics laboratory, CERN, in Geneva, are building what will, when it starts up later this year, be the world's most powerful particle smasher. This machine, known as the Large Hadron Collider, is designed especially to look for the Higgs boson. But the Europeans may be pipped at the post by rivals working at what is the highest-energy collider working today, the Tevatron, at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) near Chicago.

Mass action

Several interesting results have emerged from the Tevatron over the past few months. Last December physicists working on it announced that they had measured precisely the mass of the W-boson, which theory suggests is intricately linked to the mass of the Higgs. The W-boson turned out to be heavier than expected, which implies that the Higgs may be lighter than previously thought. A measurement of the mass of another particle, the top quark, also made by physicists working at the Tevatron, showed that this particle, too, is heavier than theory had predicted—again implying a light Higgs.

One way of modifying the Standard Model to accommodate these observations is to add an idea called supersymmetry. This decrees that each of the known types of particle the model describes has an as-yet-undetected partner type that serves to balance its properties in a mathematically pleasing way. Some versions of supersymmetry predict several Higgs bosons, each with a different mass—and one version, called the “minimal supersymmetric model”, also predicts a relatively light Higgs to be among them.

The heavier a particle is, the more energy is needed to make it (E=mc2). Hence the desire of physicists to build a more powerful machine than Fermilab's Tevatron. But a really light Higgs might be within the old workhorse's energy range.

In recent weeks a number of physicists have got excited about bumps in the data taken at two experiments at the Tevatron. A bump is usually a sign that something has gone awry, but if all possible sources of error have been eliminated, it can indicate the presence of a particle. That both experiments on the Tevatron ring have their new bumps at precisely the same energy is particularly intriguing.

Physicists are naturally cautious—at least in their public statements—and there are certainly not enough data to decide whether these bumps really are the first sighting of the Higgs. There is, nevertheless, a suppressed air of excitement at the laboratory. It still rankles among some American physicists that their own giant instrument-to-be, the Superconducting Super Collider, was cancelled for being too costly. If they have truly found the Higgs before CERN did, and have done so using a piece of fairly elderly kit, you may expect a few sardonic smiles on the lips of whomever it is from Fermilab that gets nominated to pick up the inevitable Nobel prize alongside Peter Higgs himself.


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3

Saturday, March 17, 2007

138)Another one of those off-topic posts: My visit to the City of Lights, Paris, and to the beachhead of my cherished freedoms, Normandy, France.

March 2007. It was an opportunity I just could not pass up. My wife and her 2 colleagues were off to Paris, France for 7 days to attend a work-related conference. She said to me why not come along, you can do your own thing during the days and we can paint the town red together in the evenings. It was the beginning of the March break, our 14 year-old daughter was away in Paris herself on an exchange program with her school("Neither of you come anywhere near me when I am with my friends, its just not cool, she barked at us; so don't phone me or try to meet me, I'll keep you updated by e-mail"). OK boss, we said. Our grown-up son now lives and works in Ottawa, the Nation's(Canada's) capital, so that was not a problem. It was an easy decision to make.

I was only able to get a plane ticket for a four-day visit but I figured that would probably be long enough. My wife was staying at the Hotel Lutetia, an upscale hotel whose main claim to fame(or infamy!) was that it was used by Nazi generals during the German occupation of France in WWII. I would not be surprised at all if the ghost of Herman Goering still visits and tries to find the hotel kitchen late at night, pig that he was. This was my third visit to Paris but I set specific objectives for this visit: I wanted to go right to the top of the Eiffel Tower(the third level), then eat lunch at the first level(at 'Altitude 95' restaurant) on the way down. I have memories of a photograph we had at home of my paternal grandparents visiting the Eiffel Tower during the 1950s; I would take the open-topped double-decker bus around the entire greater Paris area, get off wherever I wanted to spend more time touring and then get back on the bus. It was a perfect way for me to see the city. I saw the Notre Dame Cathedral with its famed gargoyles, the Louvre Museum and its glass pyramid of Da Vinci Code fame, the Musee D'Orsay, The Picasso Museum, The Hotel Les Invalides, where Napoleon Bonaparte was eventually re-buried; my wife and I walked along the wide boulevards of the Champs Elysees towards the Arc De Triomphe, saw the Place de La Concorde with its Egyptian Obelisk and the spot where Louise XVI and Marie Antoinette of the 'ancien regime' had their heads seperated from the rest of their bodies, and did many other things. One evening my wife and I took a lovely cruise along the snaking Seine river and saw many of the landmarks of this magnificent city. We then took in the show at the 'Moulin Rouge', an exquisite show where bevies of beautiful, bare-breasted women danced magical spells around us. I should mention that the show was my wife's idea and she bought the tickets. It is an eternal truth that if there is fun, entertainment and culture to be experienced, cyberwise included, your'e gonna 'wanadoo' it in Paris, France.

As magnificent as the City of Lights turned out to be for me, by far the highlight of my short trip to France was the one-day visit to Normandy in northwestern France to visit the D-Day Memorials, cemeteries and see the awful remnants of that defining chapter of World War II and, indeed, of recent world history in general.

I travelled in a minivan tourbus along with our knowledgeable Senegalese-French driver and tour guide, a family of three(husband, wife, daughter), a family of two(husband, wife) and an eighty year old woman, all Americans visiting France. Each of these three groups had family who had perished either at the Battle of Normandy or later in the European theatre of war. The elderly woman's husband flew B-17 bomber planes, the kind made famous by the movie 'Memphis Belle'. One person's father was part of the advance paratrooper team that parachuted into Normandy on the day or two before the actual D-Day landings. Another person's uncle was on one of those amphibious landing vehicles on Omaha Beach, the kind of landing vehicles we all remember from movies like 'Hell in Normandy', 'The Longest Day' and 'Saving Private Ryan'. Her uncle survived D-Day but died later at the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardenne Forest in Belgium. All the relatives of these American visitors had perished either in Normandy or Belgium, young men between the ages of 18 and 30 years. It has never been lost on me that these young, mostly white boys perished to uphold the kinds of cherished freedoms that allow me to practise today, with impunity, my own particular interpretation of my own vision of Islam, the religion of my birth. My American co-travellers thanked me for coming to pay respects to their fallen family members and I, in turn, reminded them of my gratitude for the cherished freedoms I enjoy as a result of their ultimate sacrifices.

The tour started at Utah Beach and moved to Omaha Beach, the sites of the American landings on D-Day, June 6th 1944: we saw large preserved craters made by the shells being shot by huge Allied destroyer ships over 12 miles away to 'soften' up the German positions. Remnants of German gun bunkers, the so-called 'pill boxes', along with large mangled guns, as well as the cramped sleeping quarters of the men who operated them, dotted the cliffs overlooking the beaches where the landing craft would discharge their men to certain death for many of them. We then moved on to the Omaha cemetery, in which about ten thousand American soldiers are buried. It was a sunny, 15 degree centigrade day and the arrays of marble crosses and stars of David looked stunning as they exuded a sense of tranquility around the cemetry. The sound of the Chapel bell ringing added to the ambience I experienced. We then moved along towards Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches, the site of the landings of mainly British but also Canadian and other troops of countries making up the British Commonwealth of Nations. In the town of Arromanche I saw large concrete breakwaters still lying half-submerged in the ocean and some on the sandy beach. The purpose of these was to calm the rough seas and waves so that the gargantuan man-made harbour and 'Mulberry B' bridge, the brainchild of Winston Churchill and built entirely in England and transported to Normandy, could be erected to allow over 130,000 troops, thousands of tanks and other materials of war to be transported onto the beachhead and into the European continent to stamp down the tyranny and fascist ideology of the Nazis and others. We also saw the Juno Beach Memorial, erected on the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, to commemmorate the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers in this epic battle. We ended our tour at the Caen Museum of Peace and saw a moving documentary(actual original footage) of the D-Day landings including the mowing down by German gunners and planes of the soldiers who had landed in the amphibious vehicles on the beaches we had just visited. The Museum paraphernalia reinforced my knowledge of World War II, especially with exhibits of the Battle of Britain and the Holocaust, which was a profoundly stirring experience for me. As we drove the two plus hours return trip to Paris, our emotions spent, we were all silent and occupied with our own thoughts of the day's momentous and meaningful experience. I learned later that my daughter's host family in her school exchange program had also taken her to visit the memorials in Normandy. I was very pleased by this: everyone who lives in the west should understand the clear connection between the storming of Europe in 1944 by young men and women and the kinds of freedoms we cherish today.

Thoughts about the present state of the world came to my mind. The spectre of a new kind of fascism, this one prefixed by the word Islamist, has been rearing its ugly head of late, represented by the most extreme elements of the wahhabi-salafi-muslim brotherhood-hamas-hezbollah-khumeinist conglomerate. And the burning question in my mind these days is: will it become necessary again for another generation of 18 to 30 year old mostly white boys, this time using the most horrendous weapons of mass destruction, to stamp down this new form of fascism characterised by unrelenting rigidity, belligerent ecumenism, rejection of pluralism and an exuberant willingness to assign the 'sin' of apostasy?

It is fitting to mention a couple of conniving crooks calling for callous coercion; fiends fomenting fratricide, full of fetid foulness and fulminating fecality; this youtube clip speaks for itself:


If there are 23,000 jihadist websites and blogsites out there in cyberspace, there is no reason why we should not create 100,000 non-jihadist websites and blogsites: easynash(2007)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

137)The bending and scattering of light in the recent total lunar eclipse.

The recent total lunar eclipse, seen very clearly in some parts of the world and not so clearly in others, provides for us an informative lesson on the properties and optics of light, an offspring of one of the four forces of nature discovered so far, the Electromagnetic Force. The force carrier for this fundamental force of nature is called a photon, which is a single unit particle of light.

In the scenario of a total lunar eclipse our moon and earth are aligned in such a way that the earth completely obstructs the sun's direct illumination of the moon: the earth is situated between the sun and the moon, completely blocking off the light of the sun shining directly on the moon; theoretically, one should not be able to see the moon at all in a situation like this. Nevertheless, despite this total blocking off, citizens of planet earth still saw the moon illuminated by a reddish-brown colour. This colour and phenomenon are caused by two properties of light: refraction and scattering.

Refraction is the bending of light as it passes from one medium to another: it is light showing the wave aspect of its dual wave-particle nature. In the case of the total lunar eclipse, sunlight, streaming from behind onto the earth, which has totally blocked off the light from directly reaching the moon, nevertheless is refracted by the earth's atmosphere and bends around the edge of the earth to shine on the moon. As the light comes around the earth and through our atmosphere, it is scattered by both air molecules and dust particles present in the atmosphere. However, only the short wavelength components of white light(violet and blue) are scattered away whereas the longer wavelength components of white light(yellow, orange and red) penetrate through the atmosphere and shine onto the other side, which is what gives us our lovely and colourful sunsets(and sunrises) and what gave the moon, during the totality of its eclipse, its reddish-brown colour.

Here are some marvellous pictures of the total lunar eclipse, courtesy of NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website, as well as an explanation of our glorious sunsets within the context of the scattering and refraction of light:


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3

Friday, March 9, 2007

136)Intellectual pluralism in 10th to 12th Century Egypt.

This is a rejuvenation post and is a replica of post no. 34 on my blogsite. I re-post it here to highlight that it is acceptable to have differences of opinion and allow both orthodox and unorthodox ideas into the mix of a discussion. This was also echoed by Mowlana Hazar Imam at a speech marking the tenth anniversary of the founding of The Aga Khan University:

"An institution dedicated to proceeding beyond known limits must be committed to independent thinking. In a university scholars engage both orthodox and unorthodox ideas, seeking truth and understanding wherever they may be found."

The cosmological doctrines that were developed by Ismaili dais during the peri-Fatimid period reveal a commitment to intellectual pluralism by the illustrious Imams of this dynasty that should inform our search for knowledge of all types during the current era:

What I find interesting and very illuminating is how the Imams of the Fatimid period(Al-Qaim to Al-Mustansirbillah) themselves encouraged pluralism of intellectual expression as well. Here you have, on the one hand, the eastern Iranian dais(Al-Nasafi, Al- Sijistani, Khusraw), enthralled by the infusion of Judeo-Christian monotheism into the lofty ideas of Plato(giving Neoplatonism)and incorporating some of it into their own unique Ismaili cosmological doctrines during the pre- and early years of the Fatimid Caliphate (Imams Al-Qaim to Al-Muiz). Then, on the other hand, you have Arab intellectuals like Alfarabi and Ismaili dai Al-Kirmani, operating during the Imamats of Imams Al-Hakim to Al-Mustansirbillah, preferring, instead, the Aristotelian idea of the ten intellects and incorporating some of those ideas into their cosmological doctrines. Clearly, the Imams of this illustrious period rolled out a fertile red carpet which provided the enabling environment for pluralism of intellectual expression to flourish.

While the the Al-Kirmani cosmological doctrine continued to be elaborated and promulgated by Caliphs of the later Mustelian period, it was the Al-Sijistani-Khusraw cosmological doctrine that became the ultimate preference of the Nizari Ismailis and my personal opinion is that our 48th Imam himself, Mowlana Sultan Mohammed Shah, in his Memoirs under the chapter on Islam, is partial to the doctrine of the Universal Soul, which is exclusive to the Al-Sijistani-Khusraw cosmology:

"Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state in all existence in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God."(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954).


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3

Friday, March 2, 2007

135)The uninterrupted thread of the search for knowledge of all types from the Prophet Mohammed right up to the 49th and present Imam, Aga Khan IV.

This post is a modification of an earlier post(no. 55) to highlight, once again, the great importance given by our Imams to the acquisition of knowledge of all types by their followers throughout the ages, something that makes Shia Ismaili Muslims distinct among interpretive communities in Islam.

The Shia Ismaili Muslims, as far as my readings tell me, have always taken a different course right from Islam's inception. Early Muslims took very seriously exhortations from the scripture(some have estimated that as much as 25% of the Quran talks about phenomena of nature, referring to them equivalently as 'ayats' or 'signs' just as the actual verses are known as 'ayats') as well as various well-authenticated utterances of the Prophet Mohammed, such has 'Seek knowledge, even in China', 'Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave' and 'One hour of contemplation on the works of the Creator is better than a thousand hours of prayer', and acted on them.

A close study of Ismaili Muslim history reveals that they have woven a rich tapestry of involvement around the acquisition of rational knowledge, in harmonious balance with that of the revelational, that has its original inspiration from both the scriptural and prophetic exhortations mentioned above. The record shows that, when the Ismaili Muslims were not trying to protect themselves from the genocidal impulses of others, they got busy building institutions of learning and wisdom to entrench this delicate, harmonious balance between knowledge that comes down from revelation and that which man acquires through the use of his own rational intellect. Hence we have the world's first ever university, Al-Azhar, built in Cairo by the Fatimid Ismaili Muslim Caliph-Imam Al-Muiz in 980AD(as opposed to the first ever university in the west, the University of Bologna in 1088AD). The Ismaili Muslim ethos has always placed the greatest emphasis on the development of intellect in both rational and transcendant realms of knowledge:

We can, in fact, trace a thread that begins with the Prophet Mohammed and the first Shia Imam Ali and it will take us first to the Mutazila, early proponents of rational knowledge:

then on to the Ikhwan Al-Safa, the original encyclopedists, who flourished predominantly during the times of the 4th and 5th Ismaili Imams Muhammad Al-Baqir and Jafar Al-Sadiq(around 750 AD) and later. These were a group of predominantly Ismaili Muslim thinkers, operating in secret, who wrote a 52-volume encyclopedia cataloguing all the types of knowledge available to man, ranging from the divine to the secular:

and they represented one of the first attempts to create a harmonious balance between revelation and reason in Islam. The thread continues onwards to the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt(909AD-1171AD) during the times of the 11th to 18th Ismaili Muslim Imams, during which flourished philosophers, cosmologists and scientists like Al-Sijistani:


Nasir Khusraw:

Ibn Sina, aka Avicenna:

among others, such as Ibn Rushd, aka Averroes, who was not Ismaili Muslim and flourished in Umayyad Islamic Spain along with Jewish Neoplatonic philosopher Moses Maimonides

Al-Shahrastani from Central Asia:

Nasir-ud Din Tusi, a theologian, philosopher and astronomer who flourished during the times of the 19th to 23rd Ismaili Muslim Imams(circa 1236AD) during the post-Fatimid Alamut period in the Elburz mountain fortresses of Northern Iran:

and the Ismaili Muslim Pirs, who travelled from Persia to the Indian Subcontinent during the times of the 29th to 32nd Imams(circa 1430AD) and taught about esoteric knowlegde of the highest order, exploiting commonalities between the gnostic traditions of Islam and Hinduism and using remarkable and unique compositions called ginans.

As the thread continues we eventually come into the modern era, typified by the mandates of the 48th and 49th Imams(the present Imam and his predecessor), occupying the period 1885 to the present, during which time they have spearheaded the creation of 3 universities(Aligarh University in India, The Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, with satellite campuses in East Africa, and the University of Central Asia, with campuses in Tajikistan, Kyrgistan and Kazhakstan, the latter university to serve the needs of high mountain societies in the region). There have been the creation of hundreds of elementary and secondary schools in the developing world as well as, recently, highly specialised academies of excellence along the eastern seaboard of Africa from South to East Africa, the Middle East and Asia. These academies of excellence are secondary schools that offer the International Baccalaureate(IB) Diploma and therefore have joined the academic sisterhood of IB Canadian high schools like Pearson College in Victoria, Upper Canada College and the Toronto French School in Toronto, among many others.

The tradition of the search for knowledge of all types in the Shia Ismaili Muslim interpretation, ranging from rationally acquired knowledge to the transcendental knowledge of the divine, reveals a history that goes back to the very beginnings of Islam.


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3