Dwarf Galaxies Brimming with Stars
Using its near-infrared vision to peer 9 billion years back in time, NASA's Hubble
Space Telescope has uncovered an extraordinary population of tiny, young galaxies
that are brimming with star formation. The galaxies are typically a hundred times
less massive than the Milky Way galaxy, yet they churn out stars at such a furious
pace that their stellar content would double in just 10 million years. By comparison,
the Milky Way would take a thousand times longer to double its population.
These newly discovered dwarf galaxies are extreme even for the young universe,
when most galaxies were forming stars at higher rates than they are today. The
universe is 13.7 billion years old. Hubble spotted the galaxies because the radiation
from young, hot stars has caused the oxygen in the gas surrounding them to light up
like a bright neon sign. The rapid star birth likely represents an important phase in
the formation of dwarf galaxies, the most common galaxy type in the cosmos.
"The galaxies have been there all along, but up until recently astronomers have been
able only to survey tiny patches of sky at the sensitivities necessary to detect them,"
said Arjen van der Wel of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg,
Germany. Van der Wel is the lead author of a paper that was published online Nov.
14 in The Astrophysical Journal. "We weren't looking specifically for these galaxies,
but they stood out because of their unusual colors."
The observations were part of the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep
Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS), an ambitious three-year survey to analyze
the most distant galaxies in the universe. CANDELS is the census of dwarf galaxies
at such an early epoch in the universe's history.
"In addition to the images, Hubble has captured spectra that show us the oxygen in
a handful of galaxies and confirm their extreme star-forming nature," said co-author
Amber Straughn at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Spectra
are like fingerprints — they tell us the galaxies' chemical composition."
The observations are somewhat at odds with recent detailed studies of the dwarf
galaxies that are orbiting as satellites of the Milky Way. (continued December 2011
Discovery of the Expanding Universe Lost in Translation
The greatest astronomical discovery of the 20th century may have been credited to
the wrong person. But it turns out to have been nobody's fault except for that of the
actual original discoverer himself.
Writing in the November 10th issue of the journal Nature, astrophysicist Mario Livio of
the Space Telescope Science Institute has put to bed a growing conspiracy theory
about who was fairly credited for discovering the expanding universe.
For nearly a century, American astronomer Edwin P. Hubble has held the fame for
this landmark discovery, which would recast all of 20th century astronomy. Hubble
reported that the universe is uniformly expanding in all directions. It solved Einstein's
dilemma of explaining why the universe didn't already collapse under its own gravity.
Ironically, Hubble never got a Nobel Prize for this discovery, though astronomers from
two teams who independently uncovered evidence for an accelerating universe won
the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. But Hubble did get the most celebrated telescope of
modern history named after him.
Hubble published his landmark paper in which he determined the rate of expansion
of the universe in 1929. This was based on the apparent recessional velocities
(deduced from redshifts) of galaxies, as previously measured by astronomer Vesto
Slipher, coupled to distances to the same galaxies, as determined by Hubble.
Hubble's analysis showed that the farther the galaxy was, the faster it appeared to be
receding. The rate of cosmic expansion is now known as the Hubble Constant.
But two years earlier, a Belgian priest and cosmologist, Georges Lemaître,
published very similar conclusions, and he calculated a rate of expansion similar to
what Hubble would publish two years later.
Lemaître based his analysis on Slipher's same redshift data, which he combined
with estimates of galaxy distances inferred from Hubble's 1926 published
But Lemaître's discovery went unnoticed because it was published in French, in a
rather obscure Belgian science journal called the Annales de la Société Scientifique
de Bruxelles (Annals of the Brussels Scientific Society).
The story would have ended there, except that Lemaître's work was later translated
and published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. When
published in 1931, some of Lemaître's own calculations from 1927, of what would be
later called the Hubble Constant, were omitted! (continued December 2011 issue)
During the 2001 California energy crisis Erica Mackie, P.E. and Tim Sears, P.E., two
engineering professionals who were implementing large-scale renewable energy
and energy efficiency projects for the private sector envisioned free, clean electricity
from the sun available not only to big businesses and wealthy environmentalists,
but to everyone. They developed a model to make clean electricity technology
practical and accessible for low-income communities where savings are most
necessary and where families often live in the shadow of polluting fossil-fuel power
GRID Alternatives operates on the belief that making energy choices that are good
for the environment can go hand-in-hand with improving the lives of those living in
low-income communities. The organization works collaboratively with communities
and local organizations to identify specific needs and to develop renewable energy
solutions that are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.
Solar Affordable Housing Program
Currently, GRID Alternatives' core program is the Solar Affordable Housing Program,
which trains lead community volunteers and job trainees from all walks of life to
install solar electric systems with low-income homeowners.
Every solar installation is a renewable energy ‘barn raising’ that brings together
environmental activists, advocates for low-income communities, green job trainees,
community volunteers, and the homeowners themselves to participate in a fun,
hands-on project that delivers immediate, tangible results: a fully installed solar
electric system that provides immediate economic benefits to a local low-income
family. (continued December 2011 issue)
Learning and Behavior: Neuroscientists Uncover How Instruction Influences Experience
Until now, most psychology and neural imaging research have focused on how humans
learn behavior through trial and error. However, Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientists
Matthew M. Walsh and John R. Anderson have found that this view is incomplete.
In a new study published in mid-November in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences (PNAS), Walsh and Anderson show how the brain uses both instruction and
experience to select actions. This identification of separate neural systems that control
behavior also suggests that damage to one may not impair the other.
"With most decisions that we make, we have access to both experience and instruction
sources of information, so it is overly simplistic to just consider one," said Walsh, a doctoral
student in the Department of Psychology within Carnegie Melon University’s (CMU), Dietrich
College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "By tapping different neural learning systems,
we can facilitate learning in patient populations. For example, Parkinson's disease is
associated with a loss of dopamine and an impaired ability to learn from experience.
Consequently, Parkinson's patients may more readily learn from instruction than
For the study, Walsh and Anderson used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure
participants' neural activity during experiments designed to explore how instruction
influences trial and error learning. The participants were shown two symbols that were
assigned different reward values. Their goal was to maximize their reward by selecting the
symbol that was more likely to be rewarded within each pair. One group received a
description of the rewards before choosing, while the other group only received feedback
about whether their choices were rewarded. (continued December 2011 issue)
The Tablet Revolution and the Future of News
Eleven percent of adults in the U.S. own a tablet computer. About half get news on it everyday,
and three-in-ten spend more time consuming news than they did before. A majority say they
are not willing to pay for news content on the devices according to a study conducted by the
Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism in collaboration with The
Results reveal that the vast majority (77%) of tablet owners use their tablet every day and spend
an average of approximately 90 minutes on them. The study found some striking differences in
tablet use versus other types of digital consumption. People, for instance, are highly likely to
read long articles on their tablets, not just get headlines. But the expectation that people would
gravitate to "apps" on their tablets -- which they would pay for and which would offer a richer
user experience -- has not come to pass, at least not yet. The study surveyed Americans at
three levels or phases of detail to probe how they use their devices.
Demographics and News Habits
Tablet users tend to be more highly educated and have a higher household income than U.S.
adults overall. More tablet users are in their 30s and 40s than the public overall, and they are
more likely to be employed full time. About half (51%) of tablet users have graduated from
college, compared with 28% of all U.S. adults; 62% are fully employed compared with 44% of
the population overall (and just 26% are not employed, including those who have never worked,
are retired or are currently out of work versus 41% overall). They are nearly twice as likely as U.
S. adults overall to have a household income of at least $75,000 per year (53% versus 28%).
The proportion of the youngest users-18-29 year olds—is on par with the population overall,
22%. Instead, the largest share of tablet users, 46%, are in their 30s and 40s, compared with
35% of the population overall. As is the case with other digital technologies, older people tend
to lag behind in terms of adoption (only 7% of tablet users are 65 and older, compared with
17% of the general public). (continued December 2011 issue)
For the last nine years Phil’s Phriends has participated in the Pan-Massachusetts Bike
Challenge (PMC) to raise money for the Jimmy Fund and the fight against cancer. We have
a team of dedicated riders who have come together for a common purpose. Each member
of our team has their own reasons why they’ve gotten involved in such a worthwhile cause.
Each one of us will also tell you that every year we participate we are amazed at the number
of individuals that cancer has affected. In addition, we are moved by the support and effort of
everyone who continues the fight to make a difference against this all too common disease.
Each year we pledge to commit ourselves to doing better, raising more money and getting
more people involved. We came together to show support for Phil & Mary Morin in their time
of need, the stories we see and hear each year have kept us together and motivate us to do
more. We will continue to grow and make a difference in peoples lives. We ask that you
help us along the way. We promise we’ll make your participation in our mission an
enjoyable and rewarding journey. (http://philsphriends.wordpress.com)
Walk in the Woods Leads to Nation's Most Successful Bike-a-Thon Pan-Massachusetts
Challenge Founder Billy Starr Sets Pace for Thousands
BOSTON - Surprisingly, it was a cold, wet, and often lonely walk in the woods that inspired
the philosophy behind the nation's original fundraising bike-a-thon for charity, the Pan-
"To reap the rewards, you have to do the work." In its Zen-like simplicity, this is what PMC
Founder and Executive Director Billy Starr took home from a 400-mile hike through the
northern and most challenging part of the Appalachian Trail. This knowledge, learned years
ago, has not only shaped his life but has enabled him to run what is today the single most
successful athletic fundraising event in the nation.
Physical adventures had always been second nature to Starr, an avid outdoorsman who
honed his skills while attending college in the Colorado Rockies. From rock climbing, to
biking, to backpacking, Starr's education was equally physical and academic; he graduated
from college with a thirst for physical challenges and the expectation of backpacking around
And then his mother, Betty Starr, just 49, died from melanoma.
It was soon after that a 25-year-old Starr set out with three friends to hike the infamous
Appalachian Trail. Since Starr was the instigator, he ended up doing all the work: He
planned the group's gear, food, and travel pace. He set up supply mailings to the
appropriate post offices.
He carried the heaviest load, both emotionally and physically. And when nature pelted the
young men with freezing rain for the first eight straight days of their trek, it was Starr who
encouraged the group to keep going no matter what, to keep focused on the challenge. Two
of Starr's three hiking mates diverted from the trail seeking respite from the elements in
quick journeys home; they returned to find Starr on the Trail as committed as he was the
day they left Katahdin, and as pure in his theory and methods. (continued December
Relational Art, Identification and the Social Bond
by Dr. Susan Best
I examine five artists whose work puts into play various ways of thinking about social
bonds, or social relations. They are: the French artist, Sophie Calle, and in particular
her recent work, Take Care of Yourself; the Australian artist Barbara Campbell and
her net-based work, 1001 Nights; the Danish artist, Jens Haaning, specifically his
works which involve exchange; the large scale spectacles of Belgian-Mexican artist
Francis Alÿs; and the cardboard box works of the Spanish artist also resident in
Mexico, Santiago Sierra.
Participation, or at the very least reliance upon others, is a key feature of all of these
works whether at the point of production, in the case of Calle, Alÿs, and Campbell, or
at the point of reception, in the case of Sierra and Haaning. My central concern,
however, is not with the participatory aspect of these works, rather I want to explore
the kinds of social ties or bonds that such relations of dependence produce.
This kind of art that stresses collaboration and participation has been described as
representative of a social turn, whereby situations, and the relationships they display
or engender, are the subject matter for art. Such art is most famously framed in this
way by the French curator and critic Nicolas Bourriaud. In his book Relational
Aesthetics (first published in France in 1998), he argues that art that concerns itself
with relations, what he calls “relational art” makes a small contribution to the social
bond. He states: “Artistic activity, for its part, strives to achieve modest connections,
open[s] up (One or two) obstructed passages, and connects levels of reality kept
apart from one another.”(1) Such art, he argues, has a remedial function: it offers
“small services” which aim to repair “the weaknesses in the social bond.”(2) This
description of relational art is very frequently cited in the literature on contemporary
art. For example, French philosopher, Jacques Rancière, in an article that identifies
key tendencies in contemporary art, argues that relational art (as characterized by
Bourriaud) addresses the “lack of connections” in contemporary society.(3)
Art historians and artists who are critical of relational aesthetics have pointed to a
number of problems and omissions in Bourriaud’s conception of social relations
and the social domain. For example, the artist Joe Scanlan argues that the social
situations created by artists associated with relational aesthetics, are far from
models of sociability or conviviality. He asserts that these situations actually bring
forth peer pressure and conformity, which is for him, the very antithesis of
challenging art.(4) I assume the kind of work he has in mind is that of Rirkrit
Tirivanjia which extends the institution of the art gallery opening to include more
substantial offerings of food, such as Thai green curry or the Thai noodle dish called
Pad Thai. A key work in this regard Untitled: Free (1992) emptied the office of the 303
Gallery in Soho, New York in order to make a rudimentary kitchen that could produce
such meals for visitors to consume. Versions of the work have been performed in
many countries, the work was also reprised in 2002 at David Zwirner Gallery in New
York. Tirivanjia perfectly summarizes Bouriaud’s view of the new importance of
relations when he states that: “It is not what you see that is important but what takes
place between people.”(5) (continued November 2011 issue)
Desperately Seeking Sensation: Fear, Reward, and the Human Need for Novelty
Neuroscience Begins to Shine Light on the Neural Basis of Sensation-Seeking
By Brenda Patoine
Why are some people drawn to intense, even fear-inducing thrills while others shun the mere
thought? How is it that the same horror movie can be entertainment to one person and tension-filled
torture to another? Is something different going on in the brains of these people?
Sensation-seeking, the tendency to seek out novel experiences, is a general personality trait that has
been extensively studied in psychological research, but neuroscience is just beginning to take aim at
it. Beyond understanding why one person relishes the fright factor while the next studiously avoids it,
scientists are asking how sensation-seeking relates to substance abuse, addiction, and anxiety
disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, areas where the clinical and public-health
implications are most clear.
Some studies suggest that people who seek out high-sensation experiences even at great personal
risk—so-called high-sensation seekers—are more vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse and more
likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as sex with multiple partners. The hope is that by
understanding the neural mechanisms underlying such behaviors, both at the molecular level and at
the systems level, it might be possible to develop pharmacological or behavioral therapies to prevent
or treat addiction or help people channel their taste for adventure toward safer pursuits.
Neuroscience is beginning to tease apart how the brain of a high-sensation seeker might be
different from that of someone who generally avoids risk. Recent brain imaging studies have offered
some intriguing clues, finding a direct link between the size of the hippocampus and experience-
seeking behaviori and shedding light on how the brain responds differently to intense or arousing
stimuli in highs vs. lows.
An Overactive ‘Approach’ System?
In a recent study using functional MRI,ii Jane Joseph, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of
Kentucky found that different brain areas are activated in high- vs. low-sensation seekers in
response to strongly arousing stimuli. The subjects viewed emotionally arousing pictures—some
intensely arousing, others more neutral—while researchers recorded their brain activity. Regardless
of whether the pictures were pleasant (e.g., mild erotica) or unpleasant (e.g., a snake poised to
strike), the high-sensation seekers showed early and strong activation in the insula. This brain
structure acts in part as a gateway where visceral signals from the body are first received and
interpreted by the brain, Joseph says, so it made sense to her team that it was active in high-arousal
states. (continued April 2012 issue)
New Report Presents Research Program for Solar and Space Physics
Over the Next Decade
WASHINGTON — A new report from the National Research Council presents a
prioritized program of basic and applied research for 2013-2022 that will advance
scientific understanding of the sun, sun-Earth connections and the origins of
"space weather," and the sun's interactions with other bodies in the solar system.
This second decadal survey in solar and space physics -- the product of a 18-
month effort by more than 85 solar and space physicists and space system
engineers -- lays out four scientific goals for the next 10 years along with guiding
principles and recommended actions.
Immediate recommended actions include completion of projects in the current
program of NASA and the National Science Foundation, creation of a new "mid-
scale" line of projects at NSF, augmentation of NASA and NSF "enabling" programs,
and acceleration and expansion of NASA's Heliophysics Explorer Program. The
report also recommends beginning later in the decade new moderate-size NASA
missions to address highpriority science targets, as well as a multiagency initiative
to address pressing needs for improved forecasts of space weather and
predictions of its impacts on society.
"The significant achievements of the past decade set the stage for transformative
advances in solar and space physics," said Daniel Baker, director of the Laboratory
for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and chair
of the committee that wrote the report. "In turn, these advances will support critical
national needs for information that can be used to anticipate, recognize, and
mitigate space weather effects that are adverse to human life and the technological
systems society depends upon," he said.
"The proposed strategy directed at NSF, NASA, and also NOAA is one that
recognizes the increased societal importance of solar and space physics, and how
important it is to tackle these new opportunities with a diverse set of tools -- from
miniature satellites like cubesats to moderate and large missions," said Thomas
Zurbuchen, a professor and associate dean for entrepreneurship at the University
of Michigan's College of Engineering and vice chair of the study committee.
(continued September 2012 issue)