Search for the ghost particle of the universe


Moving Day 2006 – Click to enlargeMichael Latz/AFP

❝ On the outskirts of Karlsruhe, in south-west Germany, engineers have buried a giant, stainless steel device, bigger than a blue whale, inside the town’s institute of technology. The machine looks for all the world like a grounded zeppelin or a buried blimp.

In fact, the apparatus is one of the world’s biggest vacuum chambers. Air pressure inside it is lower than that on the surface of the moon and it has been installed to help solve a single, intricate problem: finding the mass of the universe’s most insignificant entity, the neutrino.

❝ “We have pushed technology to the limit in building Katrin,” says the project’s leader, Guido Drexlin. “Apart from creating a near perfect vacuum inside its huge chamber, we also have to keep the temperature of the tritium, which is the machine’s source of neutrinos, inside the device to a constant 30C above absolute zero. We have also had to take incredible care about the magnetic fields inside the machines. Essentially, we have had to demagnetise the whole building…”

❝ It has taken more than a decade of planning and construction to put Katrin together. Its price tag, just over €60m, has been met by the German taxpayer via the country’s state-funded Helmholtz Association, with a further €6m chipped in by US, Russian, Czech and Spanish scientists who will have a minor involvement with the project.

Final trials are now being completed and full operations are set to begin in June, though it will take a further five years of gathering data before scientists can expect to have enough information to make an accurate assessment of the neutrino’s mass.

“Even then, we may have to go to a second phase of operations to get our answer,” says Drexlin. “We are moving into unknown territory here.”

OK. Anyone here who believes Trump’s bullshit about government, nature or society may as well leave, now.

Here’s the link, again, to the article – for folks who appreciate government sponsorship of basic scientific research that brings more knowledge to our species.

Lessons from Germany’s Transition from Coal to Renewables

❝ Seventy-seven-year-old Heinz Spahn—whose blue eyes are both twinkling and stern — vividly recalls his younger days. The Zollverein coal mine, where he worked in the area of Essen, Germany, was so clogged with coal dust, he remembers, that people would stir up a black cloud whenever they moved. “It was no pony farm,” he says — using the sardonic German phrase to describe the harsh conditions: The roar of machines was at a constant 110 decibels, and the men were nicknamed waschbar, or “raccoons,” for the black smudges that permanently adorned their faces.

Today, the scene at Zollverein is very different. Inside the coal washery where Spahn once worked—the largest building in the Zollverein mining complex — the air is clean, and its up to 8,000 miners have been replaced by one-and-a-half million tourists annually. The whole complex is now a UNESCO world heritage site: Spahn, who worked here as a fusion welder until the mine shut down on December 23, 1986, is employed as a guide to teach tourists about its history. “I know this building in and out. I know every screw,” he says fondly.

Zollverein is a symbol of Germany’s transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy — a program called the Energiewende that aims to have 80 percent of the country’s energy generated from renewables by 2050. That program has transformed Germany into a global poster child for green energy. But what does the transition mean for residents of Essen and the rest of the Ruhr region — the former industrial coal belt—whose lives and livelihoods have been dramatically altered by the reduced demand for coal? The answer to that could hold some useful lessons for those undergoing similar transitions elsewhere…

The trade unions are stronger in Germany than in the United States. Progressive politicians are often voted into office – locally and nationally – in Germany. There has been legitimate, strong pressure exerted upon government and corporations alike in Germany. RTFA and see what a difference that has made in the transition away from the most polluting energy sources.

Germany to Put First Zero-Emissions Train Into Service This December

❝ Trains, buses and trucks are all vital to the modern world, but the vast majority of them use huge amounts of fuel and create tons of air pollution. What’s even worse is that they represent a (thus far) missed opportunity for making the world’s cities greener.

While buses reduce the need for cars, trains are capable of hauling huge amounts of goods, as are trucks, AND moving huge amounts of people. Imagine if we could convert all of these big vehicles to run on hydrogen, which is the most basic of all molecules…

❝ Many of the world’s advanced nations, namely Norway, Japan and Germany, are investing heavily in the technology in order to move away from their dependence on fossil fuels. The Norwegians, for instance, are going about implementing a new hydrogen-powered train network right now, saving $67 million a year in fuel in the process.

❝ Germany is going even further. It will launch the world’s first hydrogen-powered commuter rail service in December 2017. The hydrogen-powered trains will be used on smaller interurban routes initially, however it’s the first step towards a cleaner, zero-emissions future.

Nice to see some nations – like some cities and states here in the US – press ahead with technology combatting climate change. Something for the next administration [or Congress] to get to work on.

Trump Commerce Secretary’s speech cut off — German audience laughs, applauds!

❝ U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s video address to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political party’s business conference in Berlin was cut off on Tuesday after Ross went over his time limit, prompting conference attendees to laugh and cheer.

Ross’s video feed at the Christian Democratic Union conference was faded out after roughly 20 minutes for going over his time limit…

Attendees then began to applaud and laugh at the move.

❝ The episode comes as tensions have grown between the U.S. and Germany, especially on the issue of trade.

The commerce secretary echoed President Trump’s criticism of Germany’s trade surplus with the U.S.

❝ Ross’s address comes one week before the Merkel and Trump will meet with their international counterparts at the G-20 summit in Hamburg.

Ross is as boring as a Trump Conservative can be. Trying to explain the policies of an incompetent masquerading as US President is difficult enough on white bread-American network TV. Trying to make sense to an audience of worldly European conservative politicians is a lost cause.

The Power of Wind Revisits the North Sea Courtesy of G.E. and Germany


G.E’s DolWin3 floating wind power platform

❝ General Electric Co. said it’s ready to ship a 1.5 billion euro offshore wind platform destined for the North Sea, underscoring the industrial giant’s commitment to clean power.

The platform is a key part of the DolWin3 offshore project and will help transmit wind power generated in the North Sea, according to Alf Henryk Wulf, who heads GE’s power unit in Germany, which led construction of the unit. Wulf didn’t want to discuss U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to quit the Paris accord during an interview at a port in Rostock, Germany where the 900-megawatt high-voltage converter was built.

❝ Commissioned by grid builder Tennet Holding BV, Dolwin3 is undergoing final dry-dock tests before being floated around Denmark and into the North Sea. The platform will bundle power from three wind farms next year, transmitting high-voltage direct current onshore, where it can then be reconverted to alternating currents for use in homes.

“As offshore prices fall, the North Sea’s potential for offshore is shining even brighter,” Wulf said. “We all owe it to consumers to engage that potential.”…

And Trump’s favorite coal investors get little or nothing from their best pimp.

❝ Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the Group of Twenty nations, has sought to keep the U.S. on board the Paris treaty, wooing Trump with projections that a global shift from fossil fuel would create jobs and stimulate economic growth.

Just 1 percent of the North Sea’s offshore potential has been exploited, and billions of euros in future investment will be needed to tap the rest, Siemens said last month. Dong Energy SA and Energie Baden-Wuerrtemberg AG won Germany’s maiden auction of 1.49 gigawatts of offshore power in April offering to build parks free of subsidies.

I don’t think anyone holds out hope for reality, evidence-based investing or modern science to mean a damned thing to our so-called president.

Crooked stock market investor pretended to be Islamic “terror” bomber

❝ A 28-year-old German-Russian citizen took out a five-figure loan to bet that Borussia Dortmund shares would drop, then bombed the soccer team’s bus in an attack he tried to disguise as Islamic terrorism in a scheme to net millions…

The suspect, identified only as Sergej W. in line with German privacy laws, was arrested by a police tactical team early Friday near the southwestern city of Tuebingen…

❝ …Prosecutors’ spokeswoman Frauke Koehler told a news conference Friday…the man came to the attention of investigators because he had made “suspicious options purchases” for shares in Borussia Dortmund, the only top-league German club listed on the stock exchange, on the same day as the April 11 attack.

❝ W. had taken out a loan of “several tens of thousands of euros” days before the attack and bought a large number of so-called put options, betting on a drop in Dortmund’s share price, she said.

“A significant share price drop could have been expected if a player had been seriously injured or even killed as a result of the attack,” according to prosecutors…

❝ Investigators found notes at the scene claiming responsibility on behalf of Islamic extremists, which Germany’s top security official, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, said was a “particularly perfidious way to toy with people’s fears…”

“The fact that someone wanted to enrich himself by killing people to influence the stock market is particularly reprehensible,” he said.

Adds new meaning to “making a killing in the stock market”.

Germany prepares to fine Facebook €500,000 for every fake or hate-filled post

❝ Germany has lost patience with Facebook.

After years of asking, cajoling and threatening the US social network to work faster to tackle fake news and hate speech, Berlin has announced a new law hitting Facebook with a €500,000 fine for every problematic post that doesn’t vanish within 24 hours.

❝ A day after Facebook announced new procedures to tackle fake news, Berlin made clear it is no longer interested in self-regulation

…New legislation in the new year…will oblige all dominant internet platforms operating in Germany to have a legal contact, operating round-the-clock, for victims of hate speech and fake news. At present, German Facebook users complain that complaints are forwarded to its international headquarters in Dublin – with an unclear response and action time.

“If, after checking, Facebook doesn’t delete the post in question within 24 hours, it can reckon with severe fines of up to €500,000,” said Thomas Oppermann, Bundestag floor leader of Germany’s ruling SPD. In addition, he said, the person affected will be able to demand a “correction with the same reach” as the original post…

Keep an eye on this one. While there’s little chance of the GOUSA ever making hate speech illegal, laws affecting a portion of Facebook’s income stream as large as Germany and thenceforth the EU – laws applied in that marketplace may set standards for the larger communications entity.

Cartoon: same as it ever was

I had friends, kin, in the Allied force that invaded, confronted the German military ruling most of Europe till the crushing bonfire that was all that was left of Germany at the end of World War 2. They helped bring about an end to the Thousand-Year-Reich. Something much longer than anything Steve Bannon proposes for Trump and their white supremacist gang.

Along the way they were often reminded of what they could – and could not – fire upon. That latter category included anything with a sign that said Krupp.

Germany calls for Europe-wide ban on gas-powered cars by 2030


Click to enlarge

❝ After coming to the realization that they would need a mandate for all cars to be zero-emission by 2030 if they want to comply with the goals set by the Paris agreement to curb climate-warming emissions, Germany’s upper house of parliament gained approval for pushing a Europe-wide mandate to stop gas-powered car sales by 2030…

While nothing is made into law yet, the movement to stop new sales of cars equipped with internal combustion engines by no later than 2030 is starting to pick up steam.

❝ India recently confirmed that it is evaluating a scheme for all its fleet to be electric by 2030 and both the Dutch government and the Norwegian government are discussing the possibility to ban gas-powered car sales and only allow electric vehicle sales starting in 2025.

❝ Some governments are discussing actual bans on new gas-powered car sales that would virtually only allow all-electric vehicles to be registered, or potentially other zero-emission cars at the tailpipe like fuel cell vehicles, but most are discussing regulations that would gradually tax internal combustion engines and favor electric vehicles…

❝ The new push for a 2030 mandate comes as several German automakers announced important plans to accelerate their electric vehicle programs, including Volkswagen’s plan to build 2 to 3 million all-electric cars a year and unveil 30 new models by 2025 and Mercedes’ new all-electric brand: ‘EQ’.

VW has indicated recently that they’d probably start off their production of EVs exclusively in their United States facilities. Obviously, that will have to expand globally as this qualitative change takes hold.

American universities said “unqualified” – which a German university ignored – and he overturned 150 years of Biology


Click to enlargeConor Lawless

In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.

At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.

Thanks to his family background, he could speak German, and he had heard that many universities there charged no tuition fees. His missing qualifications were still a problem, but one that the University of Gottingen decided to overlook. “They said that under exceptional circumstances, they could enroll a few people every year without transcripts,” says Spribille…

Throughout his undergraduate and postgraduate work, Spribille became an expert on the organisms that had grabbed his attention during his time in the Montana forests — lichens.

You’ve seen lichens before, but unlike Spribille, you may have ignored them. They grow on logs, cling to bark, smother stones. At first glance, they look messy and undeserving of attention. On closer inspection, they are astonishingly beautiful. They can look like flecks of peeling paint, or coralline branches, or dustings of powder, or lettuce-like fronds, or wriggling worms, or cups that a pixie might drink from. They’re also extremely tough. They grow in the most inhospitable parts of the planet, where no plant or animal can survive.

Lichens have an important place in biology. In the 1860s, scientists thought that they were plants. But in 1868, a Swiss botanist named Simon Schwendener revealed that they’re composite organisms, consisting of fungi that live in partnership with microscopic algae. This “dual hypothesis” was met with indignation: it went against the impetus to put living things in clear and discrete buckets. The backlash only collapsed when Schwendener and others, with good microscopes and careful hands, managed to tease the two partners apart…

In the 150 years since Schwendener, biologists have tried in vain to grow lichens in laboratories. Whenever they artificially united the fungus and the alga, the two partners would never fully recreate their natural structures. It was as if something was missing — and Spribille might have discovered it.

He has shown that largest and most species-rich group of lichens are not alliances between two organisms, as every scientist since Schwendener has claimed. Instead, they’re alliances between three. All this time, a second type of fungus has been hiding in plain view.

“There’s been over 140 years of microscopy,” says Spribille. “The idea that there’s something so fundamental that people have been missing is stunning.”

RTFA, please. Follow Toby Spribille’s journey from a childhood suffocated in superstition – skipping over an American education system that considered him worthless because he didn’t qualify by the book – to school in Germany and eventually to a career rich in discovery in his love for science.