Big Waves and Big Ideas

The surf at Schoodic was some of the wildest Pamelia and I have seen in this area.

The surf at Schoodic was some of the wildest Pamelia and I have seen in this area.

Surf, scientists and students were out in force at yesterday’s invigorating Acadia National Park Science Symposium at the  Schoodic Institute campus. Among the more than 130 participants and speakers were Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (below, who invented the term citizen science in 1995 and later helped create ebird), Mark Chandler of the Earthwatch Institute (which is launching a seven-year citizen-science partnership with the institute and Acadia to study ocean acidification and other environmental issues), the MDI Bio Lab’s Jane Disney (also below, explaining  links between the rise of green crabs and the decline of eelgrass near MDI), College of the Atlantic’s Catherine Clinger (science and art), Maine Sea Grant’s Catherine Schmitt (science communication), the University of Maine’s Sarah Nelson (mercury contamination in dragonfly larvae in Acadia), MDIBL geneticist Karen James (biotrails and DNA barcoding) and others.

Bravo to Abe Miller-Rushing, Seth Benz, Mike Soukup, Sheridan Steele and the whole forward-thinking Acadia-Schoodic team, which is striving to put Acadia and Schoodic at the forefront of science research in the national park system and on the frontier of knowledge. We’ve worked with them for several years. Pamelia is now part of a dynamic group of Dixon Schoodic Scholars, about whom I’ll write more soon.

Abe, Seth, Mike, Sheridan and Co. put on a world-class event. If you missed it, you can watch the talks at livestream.com (http://new.livestream.com/accounts/4350281).

The Cornell Lab's Rick Bonney, and yes, the title of his talk was Citizen Science Is Just Like Bartending. You'll have to watch it on lifestream.com.

Yes, the talk by the Cornell Lab’s Rick Bonney was entitled Citizen Science Is Just Like Bartending. If you’re intrigued, watch it on livestream.com.

Jane Disney was one of many researchers who discussed their projects with the help of large posters between lectures.

Jane Disney was one of many researchers who discussed their projects with the help of large posters.

More of those wild waves!

More of those wild waves. If you’ve never made the drive to Schoodic, which is one peninsula up the coast from Mount Desert Island, you should. Pamelia has made trips there her whole life.

 

 

13.8 Billion Cheers to a Notebook Friend Who Just Helped Explain the Universe

Pamelia and I met up with astrophysicist Brian Keating three times, in three places, last year. We first chatted with him in his office at the University of California at San Diego, where we talked about his East Coast connections and what we do at The Naturalist’s Notebook and he pulled out an inflatable model that helped explain the birth of the universe. A few weeks later, at his invitation (he wanted us to better understand his research), we hooked up with him at Dartmouth and MIT, where we sat in on lectures he gave to select groups of professors and graduate students.

Little did we know at the time that Brian and a team of other top researchers were on the verge of making what could be one of the most significant discoveries in the history of cosmology. That discovery—a confirmation of the super-high-speed expansion of the newly born universe in the instant after the Big Bang (“cosmic inflation”), as evinced by the detection of a specifically polarized type of cosmic microwave background radiation emitted 13.8 billion years ago and gathered by a South Pole telescope called BICEP 2—was officially announced today.

Brian (center) met with Pamelia and me in his office at the University of California at San Diego.

Brian (center) met with Pamelia and me in his office at the University of California at San Diego.

BIG BANG DISCOVERY: PHYSICISTS HAIL COSMIC ‘HOLY GRAIL’ AS NOBEL PRIZE BECKONS, declared the Huffington Post. A NEW WINDOW ON THE BIG BANG HAS BEEN OPENED, added NPR. I will let another Naturalist’s Notebook friend, Gary Robbins, who covers science and technology for the San Diego Union-Tribune and introduced us to Brian, explain the discovery in more detail. Here is a piece that Gary just posted under the headline SCIENTISTS SEE ‘FINGERPRINT’ OF BIG BANG:

http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/Mar/17/bigbang-universe-UCSD/?#article-copy

brian keating

As Gary puts it, Brian “helped design, build and analyze data from the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP2) telescope…[and] also created its predecessor, BICEP1.”  In other words, he was crucial to the discovery. As were many other people, of course—science nowadays is often a big-team game, and the squad involved in this project also included experts from Harvard, Stanford, Caltech, the University of Minnesota and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (which Pamelia and I will be visiting two weeks from now, by the way, though that’s a story for another day).

As Brian's slide explains, Antarctica is the best spot on Earth for detecting Cosmic Microwave Background emissions from space.

As Brian noted in one of the slides from his MIT talk, Antarctica is the best spot on Earth for detecting Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) emissions from space. Yes, Brian has a sense of humor too.

This is the BICEP array in Antarctica.

This is the BICEP array in Antarctica.

 

The BICEP project flexed its scientific muscle with this week's announcement.

I like the BICEP project logo Brian came up with for his presentations.

 

In detecting gravitational waves from the Big Bang, Brian and the BICEP team also proved an almost century-old prediction by Albert Einstein.

In detecting evidence of gravitational waves from the Big Bang, Brian and the BICEP team also appear to have proved an almost century-old prediction by Albert Einstein.

Brian is just 42. In 2007 he received a U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists, the nation’s highest honor for a young scientific researcher. He is part of an amazing group of physicists and astrophysicists whom Pamelia and I have been fortunate enough to meet in building our own team of collaborators for our art-and-science educational installations at The Naturalist’s Notebook and our 13.8-Billion-Year HueStory of Our Life Project. That list includes, among others, Cal’s Alex Filippenko, UC-Irvine’s James Bullock, Dartmouth’s Stephon Alexander and Miles Blencowe and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ Jonathan McDowell.

We think that people who work at the frontier of knowledge, like those just mentioned, deserve more recognition than they usually receive (which can be close to none in the mass media). They are the explorers of today. When we get a chance to celebrate one of them or all of them, we do. So huge congratulations, Brian. Onward and upward!

If you had walked upstairs at The Naturalist's Notebook last year, you would have seen our Brian Keating display in the Big Bang Room.

If you had walked upstairs at The Naturalist’s Notebook last year, you would have seen the beginning of our Brian Keating display in the Big Bang Room, to be continued season 2014, 2015……..

P.S. Here’s a link to a CBS segment from a few years ago on Brian’s work: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/studying-space-from-antarctica/

 

Day 21 in Russia

The polar bear mascot was sad after Russia lost to Finland in hockey.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I’m now in my seventh week on the road. It’s not quite a personal record—as an SI writer I once was gone for three months on assignments that took me to a dozen countries—but it’s plenty long to be living out of a suitcase. And so I will happily take a bus to the Sochi airport around midnight on Sunday (just two hours after the Closing Ceremony ends) for more than 24 hours of travel back to New York. After a day back in the office at SI, I’ll head home to Maine.

Ignore the foreground; looking out at that beautiful backdrop for the last three weeks has been a treat. I've tried to burn the image of the Caucasus Mountains into my mind, since I don't know if or when I'll get to see them again.

Ignore the foreground; looking out at that beautiful backdrop for the last three weeks has been a treat. I’ve tried to burn the image of the snowy Caucasus peaks into my mind. I don’t know when or if I’ll get to see them again.

For the last three weeks, every time I’ve tried to type the words “Main Press Center” I have involuntarily typed “Maine Press Center.” It has made me smile each time. As of next week, I’ll be back at my true Maine Press Center—our house and The Naturalist’s Notebook. The next blog you read will likely be posted from there. I hear that much snow has fallen in Maine since I left in early January.

I tried my best to gain access to the Black Sea, but all I found were fences—and dogs who obviously were smarter than I.

I tried my best to gain access to the Black Sea in my final days here, but all I found were fences—and dogs who obviously were smarter than I at getting through them.

For now, two busy days are left here in Sochi. We are setting up an SI cover shoot for tomorrow morning (I can’t reveal who’s involved). Stories are being written and pages laid out. I’ll be editing right up until the time I go to the airport, where the scene will be, at best, chaotic; on the morning after the Salt Lake City Games, I stood in a check-in line that was almost 100 yards long and snaked out of the terminal into a parking lot. The small Sochi airport is going to be overwhelmed with Olympic humanity.

The next Winter Games will be in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018. I sat at the Opening Ceremony with a member of the Pyeongchang organizing committee, who was here observing what did—and did not—work at the Sochi Games.

The next Winter Games will be in Pyeongchang, South Korea. I sat at the Opening Ceremony with a member of the Pyeongchang organizing committee, who was here observing what did—and did not—work. He was optimistic about how the Olympics will unfold four years from now. I hope to send you more blog reports from there in February 2018.

By noon on Monday, our office here in the Maine—I mean Main—Press Center will be dismantled. Imagine a big box store going out of business and being stripped down to bare shelves, and the shelves then sold off, in the span of 18 hours. That’s how the Olympics end. Yes, the Paralympics will roll into Sochi in a few weeks, but the Olympics will vanish. Sochi will fall back into its former life. This politicized, palm-treed, winter sports wonderland that was our whole world for three weeks will become mere history and memories.

I will admit: Better memories than some of us expected. Thanks for sharing in the journey.

My final Olympic pin of the Games:  The Russian cartoon equivalent of Tom and Jerry. Someone translated the words on the pin as, Oh, wait...

My final Olympic pin of the Games: The Russian cartoon equivalent of Tom and Jerry. Someone translated the words on the pin as, Oh, wait…

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