SMC Heads-Up: The big Higgs discovery
SMC Heads-Up: The big Higgs discovery, Ag and the ETS, PeerJ and the Sciblogs podcast
In This Issue
The Higgs is here! Or at least close enough for the layman to call.
After 50 years of searching, physicists revealed this week that tell-tale traces from the Higgs boson have been glimpsed (and validated) inside the world's largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
A long-awaited announcement of results from two massive, independent experiments (CMS and ATLAS) at the LHC combined to offer compelling evidence for a new, massive particle at roughly 125 GeV, filling in a long-standing gap in the Standard Model of particle physics.
The result is a triumph and a clear vindication for the unprecedentedly large scientific collaboration at the LHC, which was designed to find the Higgs boson or else rule out its existence definitively.
"Without doubt, CERN has delivered us a new particle that looks every bit like the long-sought-after Higgs boson," Jeff Forshaw, a physicist at Manchester University, told the Guardian," which is absolutely central to our understanding of how the universe works at its most elemental level. I have waited over 20 years for this moment and am thrilled by the news. The excitement will continue now, as we all try to figure out just how this thing behaves."
Closer to home, several New Zealand physicists expressed their deep excitement over the news:
"The news from CERN marks a huge
step forward for particle physics. We are definitely seeing
a new class of particle for the first time in 30 years,"
said Prof Richard Easther, Head of Physics at University of
Auckland, "and this new particle looks like the long-sought
Higgs boson. If this identification holds up we will
understand why subatomic particles have mass, a breakthrough
that would rank with Rutherford's discovery of the atomic
"We are tantalizingly close to a discovery of the Higgs boson at the LHC accelerator," Prof Tony Signal, Professor of Physics at Massey University, commented. "The New Zealand physicists involved in the CMS experiment are very proud of the small part we have played in this discovery, and hope to continue to play our part in future discoveries at CERN. "
Kiwi and international physicists will discuss the implications of the LHC's findings in a conference next week in Auckland, featuring a talk for the general public by visiting Kiwi expat Prof Mark Krause.
Close enough for the layman
CMS and ATLAS
Upcoming Auckland physics conference
Health, hype and omega 3 fish oils
The purported health benefits from omega 3 fatty acids are often discussed in the media, but what does the scientific research actually say about the positive impact of these nutrients - or the perils of deficiency?
As part of symposium organized by Massey University, researchers and health professionals met in Auckland this week to put omega-3 fatty acids under the stethoscope and examine their relationship to health. Attendees explored issues such as supplements versus food sources, considered current recommendations and put forward evidence for best practice.
The Science Media Centre contacted a number of speakers at the symposium to get their views on the latest omega 3 research.
Dr Alex Richardson from the University of Oxford researches the role of omega 3 in children and commented:
"The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood play critical roles in normal brain development and function, but are relatively lacking from modern, western-type diets.
"Increasing evidence indicates that relative deficiencies in these omega-3 are unusually common in children with ADHD and/or related behavioural and learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism, and controlled treatment trials have shown that dietary supplementation with omega-3 can be of benefit in these conditions."
At the other end of the age spectrum is Dr Natalie Parletta from the University of South Australia who researches the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on cognitive function and mood in the elderly. She explained to the SMC:
"Of interest here are the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Their consumption has become alarmingly low in western diets considering that they comprise critical components of our brain structure and function,"
"Accordingly, low levels have been associated with poorer mental health across the lifespan, including depression and dementia with aging."
Read more expert commentary on the role of omega 3 in human health across the life span on the SMC website.
Agriculture's inclusion in ETS delayed
The government has announced a number of changes to the current Emissions Trading Scheme, including delaying the inclusion of the agricultural sector under the scheme for several years.
The proposed legislation is puts off of the start date for the scheme to include biological emissions from agriculture, to be revisited in a review in 2015.
The decision to delay the inclusion of agriculture aims to soften the economic blow of carbon costs for emitters but comes at an environmental price, weakening incentives to lower emissions in the sector.
Climate Change Minister Tim Groser refused to be drawn on whether agricultural emission will ever be included in the scheme. "We will have to wait and see what the government does," he told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report, "We're not going rule it out, we're not going to rule it in."
Changes to the structure of the scheme have disappointed 'carbon farmers' invested in forestry. The proposed revisions would see investors in New Zealand carbon credits left out of pocket due to cheap European carbon credits flooding the international market, and now a lack of stimulus in the domestic market.
"The government is making sure the carbon price doesn't get too high, in order to protect jobs and exports at a time of global economic turmoil." Forest Owner Association chief executive David Rhodes said in a statement. "But what about those who invest in low carbon technologies or plant carbon forests? They need protection from the price getting too low."
More information and fact sheets on the ETS changes are available here.
On the science radar...
Power-generating windows, Palestinian polonium poisoning, ouija board psychology, cat lady suicides?
MPI mea culpa following Psa-V report
An independent review of the Psa-V kiwifruit canker outbreak has highlighted major shortcomings in New Zealand plant import and border controls.
Among the problems noted in the report released this week was a lack of specific controls on pollen and plant material imports, which have been speculated to be the cause of the outbreak.
The commissioned report was released alongside an action plan from the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) aiming to address the issues raised.
While there was no definite proof that lax regulations led to the outbreak, MPI Director-General Wayne McNee accepted controls could have been more rigorous, stating in a media release, "The review has found shortcomings in the way MPI's (then MAF) systems and processes were applied to the importation of kiwifruit, kiwifruit pollen, kiwifruit nursery stock, kiwifruit seeds and horticultural equipment, prior to the Psa outbreak.
Mr McNee said the review had found that although the biosecurity risks could never be entirely mitigated, protections could be improved by MPI, industry and Crown Research Institutes working more closely to understand emerging risks.
Psa-V was first identified in New Zealand in 2010 and has since infected 1231 orchards. It is estimated that it will cost the industry $400 million.
The review findings and MPI's action plan to address those findings is available here.
Quoted: SMC UK
"I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge."
Prof Peter Higgs
reacts to the confirmation of the Higgs boson, the existence
of which he postulated in the 1960's
Podcast: Higgs, I think we have it!
On the Sciblogs podcast this week we look the international reaction to the news that a Higgs-like particle had been discovered by the teams working on the Large hadron Collider.
We hear from an experimental physicist about the potential for quantum communication based on experiments in entanglement of atoms.
And we talk to Dr Cameron Neylon and Sciblogger Professor Fabiana Kubke about the recent Finch Report into open access science publishing and also PeerJ, the new open access journal.
You can stream the
podcast by clicking here, or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.
You can even listen to the podcast on your phone via
New from the SMC
Omega 3: Scientists attending an Auckland symposium give their expert views on the latest scientific evidence in relation to omega-3 fatty acids and health.
GSK admits fraud: Read reaction to the announcement that pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKlinehas agreed to a US$3bn settlement over unapproved drug marketing.
Higgs: Physicists from around the globe respond to the CERN announcement that a new subatomic particle - likely the Higgs boson - has been identified.
In the News:
Alpine data shakeup: New
research on the rupturing of the Alpine Fault, published
last week in Science, has garnered widespread media
Reflections on Science:
Russell Brown on Higgs: Fun, finances and fonts feature in media commentator Russell Brown's blog post on the CERN announcement.
Some of the highlights from this week's posts:
Cost of scientific
research - and political naivity - Ken Perrott defends the
cost of science and "blue skies" research.
Maintaining quality edge major focus of axe
maker - You have to stay sharp in the axe-making business or
you'll get the chop, warns Peter Kerr.
is molten - "Extreme weather events are where the climate
change rubber hits the road", declares Gareth Renowden as
watches the heatwave unfolding in the US.
Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.
Fur trade won't save forests: Can possum trappers earn a
living and achieve conservation goals at the same time? A
new study from LandCare Research says, 'no'. Researchers
interviewed fur trappers and measured catch rates to find
the optimum strategy for sustaining an income of NZ$30,000
from harvesting possums. They found that once catch rates
drop below a certain level, trappers must move on and wait
for possum numbers to bounce back.
Bad news: Maori news in English-language
bulletins on television is relatively rare, and prioritises
violence and criminality, Nga Pae o te Māramatanga
researchers say. Maori stories made up less than 2 percent
of the news items in the English-language newscasts and the
majority of these items encouraged viewers to think about
Māori in terms of violence towards and abuse of babies and
children in their care.
in US: Almost 30% teenagers surveyed in a Texas study
admitted to sending nude photos of themselves to others via
electronic means. While the practice was evenly split
between male and female teens, females were more bothered by
requests from others to send naked pics.The authors note,
"If our findings were extrapolated nationally, under most
existing laws several million teens would be prosecutable
for child pornography or other sexual crimes." An editorial
and interview clip with researchers are also
Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine
Obesity linked to childhood abuse: A study of
over 33,000 women has found that the rate of obesity is
approximately 30 percent greater among women who experienced
severe physical or sexual abuse than in women who reported
no abuse. While the research cannot explain why the abuse is
linked with obesity, the authors hypothesis that abuse might
lead to eating as a coping strategy or metabolic and
hormonal disruptions that impact on weight
How to win friends: Researchers have
compiled at least 24 ways to use the science behind social
networking to stimulate behaviour changes in the field of
public health. Tools such as Facebook and Twitter have made
it easier to collect data and spread information. The
scientists explain why some strategies work better than
others, whether they are trying to curb teenage smoking or
to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted
Jumping at shadows: Scientists have
photographed the shadow cast by a single atom. Researchers
pushed their technology to the limit to trap single ions of
the element ytterbium and shine light onto them in a way
that effectively allowed them to record the shadow cast by
the ion. Such experiments help confirm understanding of
atomic physics and may be useful for quantum
Some of the policy highlights from this week:
Psa Report: The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has released the findings of an independent review of import requirements and border processes following an outbreak of the kiwifruit vine disease, Psa-V, in New Zealand.
After-hours doctor visits rollout: The Ministry of Health has announced that over 90 per cent of New Zealand children aged under-six now have access to free after-hours doctors' visits.
ETS Changes: The Government has announced a number of changes to the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme, to be implemented through legislation to be passed this year. A key revision is the deferment of including agricultural emissions under the scheme.
Upcoming sci-tech events
• Pests in a dynamic landscapes -
NETS2012 - NZ Biosecurity Conference - 9-11 July,
• Translating Knowledge into Maori Health Gains - Hui Whakapiripiri 2012 - 10 July, Auckland.
• Life with Oxygen - a Battle against Free Radicals - 2012 Rutherford Lecture from Prof Christine Winterbourn - 10 July, Nelson; 11 July, Christchurch; 12 July, Wanaka.
• Auckland Business and Science Meetup- inaugural meeting inspired by the Transit of Venus forum - 11July, Auckland.
• Why we care about the Large Hadron Collider - Public lecture from Kiwi Mark Kruse (Duke University, USA) - 12 July, Auckland.
• The LHC, Particle Physics and the Cosmos - Phsyics conference - 13-15 July, Auckland.
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.