Monday, April 23, 2018

Talk today on evolution and 'Clash of Civilizations'

by Salman Hameed

If you happen to be in Western Massachusetts today, come to Union Station in Northampton at 6pm. I am giving a talk as part of Sci-Tech Cafe: A Scientist Walks in to a Bar... Here are the details:

…and decides to bring up a politically charged topic.

Monday, April 23rd, 6pm
***Union Station , Northampton***

Dawkins walks into a madrassa:
How evolution is used in promoting ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative
  • How does biological evolution sometimes feed into the ”clash of civilizations” narrative?
  • Do Muslims accept biological evolution?
  • Is evolution even taught in Muslim-majority countries?
  • How can scientists make positive contributions to discussions over biological evolution?
Salman Hameed, aka “Mr. Universe” on Monte Belmonte’s WRIS radio program, is Charles Taylor Chair and associate professor of integrated science & humanities in the school of Cognitive Science at Hampshire College. His primary research interest focuses on understanding the reception of science in the Muslim world and how Muslims view the relationship between science & religion.
SciTech Cafe events are open all those with curious minds regardless of age and background.  Our events, prizes and snack are free, but donations are appreciated.

I should mentioned that one of prizes is Uzma Aslam Khan's novel, The Geometry of God, which is about a Paleontologist growing up in Pakistani in 1980s. What even cooler is that Uzma will be at the talk and will give three signed copies of the book. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

New Open Access Journal for Research in Africa

by Salman Hameed

There are two big challenges in scientific publishing right now: 1) Global access to high quality journals, and 2) Predatory fake journals. This latter category has all the trappings of science sounding names, but when you closely look at them, it turns out to be a scam to get money and publish anything. In this context it is fantastic to know that researchers in Africa are getting an open-access "mega-journal", Scientific African, that will focus on scientific research in Africa and help build a strong research community there. Here are the aims and scopes of the journal:
Scientific African is a peer reviewed, open access, inter- and multidisciplinary scientific journal that is dedicated to expanding access to African research, increasing intra-African scientific collaboration, and building academic research capacity in Africa. The journal aims to provide a modern, highly-visible platform for publishing pan-African research and welcomes submissions from all scientific disciplines. 
The journal welcomes submissions of full text research articles, reviews but also publishes invited perspectives and critical policy papers.
The Guardian also wrote about the journal, and here is quote from the editor of Scientific African:
Its editor, Dr Benjamin Gyampoh, said the journal would address the problem of African scientists going unrecognised for pioneering work because they lacked access to quality publications. 
“There are many reputable journals but there is a low number of Africans publishing in them partly because the costs are so high,” Gyampoh said. “We are reducing these costs while providing a platform for world-class research, across different disciplines and on par with any published around the world.”
This is all excellent and I think these kind of efforts can have genuine positive impacts.

Not directly relates science in Africa, but NYT's weekly music highlights included a single from Ras G. & the Afrikan Space Program, called The Arrival. This is how NYT described it:
The Los Angeles-based producer Ras G makes futurism feel like comfort, especially on his new album, “Stargate Music.” The tracks here seem like they might’ve been built in a lab full of microscopes and mirrors: He zeros in on small elements, giving them a sharp clarity even in the darkest environment; beats and little patterns ricochet and build on each other, like a mosaic of reflections. An avowed Afrofuturist, Ras G is making music for your soul and for your imagination, inviting a combination of close inspection and expansive thinking.
This is pretty cool stuff. But I wanted to highlight their really cool 2013 track, BLAST-OFF! featuring Eagle Nebula. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Live telecast of Breakthrough Discuss conference on Astrobiology later today...

Salman Hameed

A quick note here to let you know that Breakthrough Initiatives - yes the same group that wants to send small unmanned spacecrafts to Alpha Centauri, is hosting its third annual conference on April 12-13. The theme of the conference is Alien Life - Diversity in the Universe. Better still, the whole conference will have a live telecast on YouTube: 

Day 1 here:

Day 2 here:

The lineup of speakers looks really good. In a timely manner, there is a paper that just published in the journal, Astrobiology, that looks at the possibility of life in the acidic clouds of Venus. And in the conference, David Grinspoon will be talking about this very possibility.

In any case, here is the program for this year's Breakthrough Discuss conference:

Day 1 Schedule: Presenters/Panelists

Live on YouTube:
Pacific Time USA
Welcome to Breakthrough Discuss 2018: Hosts Charles Alcock, Penelope Boston, Jamie Drew, Peter Michelson, S. Pete Worden
Keynote: Carolyn Porco, “Enceladus: Little Moon, Big Possibilities”
Session One: Search for Life in our Solar System: Chairs Penelope Boston, Chris McKay
David Smith, “Why Aren’t Clouds Green?”
David Grinspoon, “The Case for Venus: Life in Acid Clouds?”
Britney Schmidt, “Robots Under the Ice, and One Day, In Space?”
Alfonso Davila, “Search for Life Beyond Earth: Motive, Means and Opportunity”
Morgan Cable, “Dragonfly: In situ exploration of Titan’s prebiotic organic chemistry and habitability”
Penelope Boston, “Wherever You Go, There You Are: The Questions That Drive the Destinations”
Panel One: Search for Life in our Solar Systems: Chairs Penelope Boston, Chris McKay, Panelists Dale Anderson, Steven Benner, Nathalie Cabrol, Cynthia Philips, Carol Stoker
Session Two: Possibilities for Non-Terran Life in the Universe: Chairs Svetlana Berdyugina, Lisa Kaltenegger
Lynn Rothschild, “Universal Biology: Investigating Life as it Must Be”
Steve Benner, “Chemical Constraints on Non-Earth Life”
Sara Seager, “A New View of Life's Journey Through Chemical Space”
Charles Ofria, “Using Artificial Life to Uncover Universal Evolutionary Dynamics”
Emilio Enriquez, “Searching for lifeform-independent technosignatures
Lee Cronin, “The Evolution of Inorganic Life in the Universe

Day 2 Schedule: Presenters/Panelists

Live on YouTube:
Pacific Time USA
Welcome Remarks, S. Pete Worden
Keynote: Martin Rees, “Will SETI Detect Organic or Electronic Intelligence?”
Panel Two: Possibilities for Non-Terran Life in the Universe: Chairs Svetlana Berdyugina, Lisa Kaltenegger, Panelists Penelope Boston, Chris McKay, Anders Sandberg , Clara Sousa-Silva, Sara Walker
Session Three: Progress in Novel Space Propulsion: Chairs Sigrid Close, Zachary Manchester
Sonny White, “Pilot Wave Model for Impulsive Thrust from RF Test Device”
Ryan Weed, “Scaled Radioisotope Positron Propulsion for Interstellar Spacecraft”
Geoffrey Landis, “Sails: From the Solar System to the Stars”
Robert Zubri, “Dipole Drive for Space Propulsion”
Kevin Parkin “Progress in Beamed Energy Propulsion”
Les Johnson, “Solar and Electric Sailing: Stepping Stones to the Stars”
Panel Three: Progress in Novel Space Propulsion: Chairs Sigrid Close, Zachary Manchester, Panelists Elena Ancona, Harry Atwater, Heidi Fearn, Mateusz Józefowicz, Kelvin Long
Conference concluding remarks

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Morocco's giant Solar Farm Looks Promising

by Salman Hameed

If you are looking for natural resources, then an unblocked Sun is definitely a good one. Here in Massachusetts, we keep waiting for it. But Morocco is taking advantage of it. It has built a huge Solar plant called Noor Power Station near the city of Ouarzazate, located on a plateau in the Atlas Mountains. The Plant uses moveable concave mirrors to follow the Sun and to concentrate the light to central processing system. It is built for $9 billion and the question is how long will it take to pay it back? The project seems promising (they are on the 3rd stage of the project that involves a huge tower - the largest structure in Africa) and is part of a larger scheme to power not just North-Africa, but also Europe (the plant is built primarily by a Spanish company). Below is a nice short (seven minute) clip from PBS that covers the promise and perils of this project. Oh - and one of the many cool things about the city if Ouarzazate: You may already be quite familiar to it. It is a favorite spot for movies like The Last Temptation of Christ, Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, among many others, were shot here.

Even Daenerys Targaryen passed through the city. 

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