Nature: When Fermilab’s Tevatron particle accelerator shuts down in September it will have collected a staggering 20 petabytes of data. But, as Eugenie Samuel Reich of Nature reports, Fermilab is only now developing plans for preserving that data hoard and for making it available to future researchers. The archival challenge is exacerbated by the impending diversion of computational resources away from the Tevatron’s two principal experiments D0 and CDF. What’s more, some of the oldest data from the Tevatron’s 26-year lifespan reside on old magnetic tapes. Historically, particle physicists have been less ready than astronomers to archive data, but that situation is changing. In contrast to Fermilab, CERN developed an archive plan for the LHC before the accelerator came on line in 2009.
BBC: The International Energy Agency, an independent watchdog established by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, has estimated that the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide from energy generation amounted to 30.6 gigatons in 2010. That annual total is the highest on record. The agency had detected a drop in emissions in 2008 and 2009 that it attributed to the global recession. According to Fatih Birol, the agency’s chief economist, the renewed upward trend jeopardizes the goal of the most recent climate summit to limit the global rise in temperature to 2°C by 2020.
Science: Starting on 1 June, the next director of Los Alamos National Laboratory will be Charles McMillan, a former nuclear weapons designer who has more than 28 years of scientific and leadership experience in weapons science, stockpile certification, experimental physics, and computational science. McMillan, who has a PhD in physics from MIT, has spent most of his career at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he managed nuclear weapons research. He joined Los Alamos in 2006 and was principal associate director for weapons programs when he was picked for the laboratory’s top job. McMillan replaces the current director, Michael Anastasio, who announced in January his intention to retire.
Chronicle of Higher Education: Biophysicists Herbert Levine, José Onuchic, and Peter Wolynes are leaving their positions at the University of California, San Diego, to join a research center at Rice University in Houston, Texas. All three researchers are members of the National Academy of Sciences. At Rice they’ll work on elucidating the basic science of cancer as part of a $10-million initiative funded by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. In an interview with the Chronicle‘s Josh Keller, Levine acknowledged that the financial troubles of the University of California played a role in his decision to take up the Rice offer.
BBC: Mars grew to its present size in about three million years, which may explain why it is about one-tenth the mass of Earth, writes Jennifer Carpenter for the BBC. It probably stayed relatively small because it avoided colliding with planetary building material during the development of our solar system. Nicholas Dauphas of the University of Chicago and Ali Pourmand of the University of Miami in Florida used the ratio of the radioactive elements hafnium-176 and hafnium-177 to estimate how long it took Mars to form: between two million and three million years—a short time compared with the tens of millions of years it took Earth to reach its current size. They think that Mars was already at its current size before dissipation of the nebular gas, when Earth was just beginning to form.
Science: Long thought to be the reason behind Spain’s crippling inflation in the 16th and 17th centuries, the massive amounts of silver shipped in from the Americas may not even have entered Spain’s currency until at least 100 years later, according to a study conducted by a group at the University of Lyon in France and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Anne-Marie DeSaulty and colleagues used mass spectrometry to measure the ratios of several metal isotopes in 91 old coins from ancient Greece and Rome, medieval Europe, 16th–18th century Spain, and Latin America, writes Sara Reardon for Science. The ratio of the silver-109 isotope to silver-107 was much higher in New World coins than in the European coins. That suggests that even though American silver arrived in Spain in 1550, the Spanish waited well over 100 years before using it for their own currency. DeSaulty believes instead that the Spanish probably used the imported silver for trade. Some people have questioned, however, whether her sample of coins was large enough to support her conclusions and whether the importation of all that silver could have caused the inflation even if it weren’t minted into coins.
New York Times: Yesterday Governor Chris Christie announced that New Jersey would become the first state to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 10-state trading system, reports Mireya Navarro for the New York Times. Under RGGI, 10 Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states ranging from Maine to Maryland set a ceiling on carbon dioxide emissions and require power plants to purchase credits that allow them to emit specified amounts of carbon dioxide. According to Christie, the initiative “does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernible or measurable impact upon our environment.” Environmental advocates called the decision a serious blow to the state’s efforts to reduce emissions from power plants and foster a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Nevertheless, Christie says that New Jersey would continue to work to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by increasing the proportion of electricity generated by natural gas, the Sun, and the wind.
Guardian: The president of the Royal Society, Nobel laureate Paul Nurse, believes that freedom of information laws need to provide for both transparency and protection from harassment, writes Alok Jha for the Guardian. Climate scientists have been targeted by aggressive and organized campaigns of requests for data and other research materials, including unpublished drafts of papers later published in journals—with annotations explaining every change in each successive version of the paper. Complying with one such request is cumbersome. Complying with many of them can prevent much else from getting done, and that appears to have been the intent in some cases. The situation is made more difficult by the relative anonymity of the people filing requests; usually, not much is known about their sources of funding or the context from which they are making the request.
Telegraph: Physicists at Imperial College London’s Centre for Cold Matter have made the most accurate measurement yet of the shape of an electron and have confirmed that it is almost a perfect sphere, writes Murray Wardrop for the Telegraph. They found that the subatomic particle differs from being perfectly round by less than 1.0 x 10-29 m. If an electron were magnified to the size of the solar system, it would still appear spherical to within the width of a human hair. During experiments spanning more than a decade, the researchers studied the motion of electrons inside ytterbium fluoride molecules by sending them through the narrow gap between two electrically charged plates. No telltale wobble in the signal appeared, indicating that the electron has no detectable departures from perfect roundness. Understanding the shape of electrons could help researchers understand how positrons—electrons’ antimatter version—behave, and, hence, how matter and antimatter differ. Edward Hinds and his coauthors published their results today in Nature.
Chronicle of Higher Education: Duke University is building a branch campus in Kunshan, a city of 1.6 million people in East China’s prosperous Jiangsu province. Although Kunshan is footing most of the bill, some members of Duke’s faculty are skeptical of the prospects for the joint venture. As the Chronicle‘s Ian Wilhelm reports, doubts have arisen about how Duke will pay for its share of the campus, given that the current recession has forced the university to trim its budget. Also in doubt is whether Duke Kunshan University, as the campus is known, will be able to attract both international faculty and elite Chinese students, who prefer to study in the West. Under the current plan, Duke Kunshan University will begin offering MBAs in 2012 followed by a comprehensive range of graduate and undergraduate degrees.