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Robert CooperRSS Feed of this column.

I have given up on categories. I did a BA in physics, a PhD in molecular biology, and now a postdoc in a bioengineering department. So call that what you will, I'm interested in using a quantitative... Read More »

You may have heard of superfluids and superconductors, so why not supersolids?  In 2004 Moses Chan and Eunseong Kim thought they had discovered that super-cooled helium ice could essentially walk through walls – a defining characteristic of a supersolid.  

The experiment was to make a cylinder with tiny nanopores in its walls, fill the pores with solid helium ice, suspend the cylinder from a torsional spring, and then give it a little twist.  Like a kid on a swing set, the cylinder started rotating back and forth, with a frequency depending on its mass.  As they supercooled the cylinder even further, they saw that the oscillation frequency changed, as if it had less mass!  
Imagine, if you will, that your computer screen (or iThingie, or DroidDevice) were to suddenly explode, driving a shard of shrapnel deep into your shoulder.  Very quickly, your white blood cells would sense the intruder and rush to the site of the insult, hunt down invading bacteria, and just generally do what they do.  But if you think about it, these are single cells!  How does a single cell sense where to go, and then keep moving in that direction?
While perusing the news last night, I was horrified to come across a set of articles telling me that less sleep is better for academic performance.  If that’s the case, I should be in tip-top mental shape right now, because the reporting on that study was bad enough to keep me tossing and turning in scientific consternation.
A note to bird flu virologists: Not all of you have been approaching of this whole engineered flu pandemic controversy quite optimally.  It’s understandable that you weren’t prepared for all the attention.  After all, you were only answering calls from both the NIH and World Health Organization to better understand the deadly H5N1 bird flu.  
Last week I was introduced to an intriguing little brain game that could very well prevent Alzheimer's disease, with the nice side effect of helping to save the world.  The game was demonstrated no less than three times by a commenter on a previous article reading between the lines of some recent science-related news.
The Wall Street Journal published an excellent case study in denialism on Friday, in the form of a letter from sixteen scientists seeking to perpetuate gridlock in climate policy.  While nothing they have to say raises any scientific issues about climate change, the letter is interesting to peruse simply to see what arguments they use, and what that says about their motivations.

The letter uses several denialist tactics, including,
1) Cherry-picked examples placed out of context,
2) Unsupported claims
3) Irrelevant distractions
4) Implications of conspiracy, and
5) Self-portrayal as stubborn heroes fighting against the odds.