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Science I and Science II

How Did We Get To this place?

Why Is The Climate So Hard To Understand?

What Do We Have To Do To Avoid Catastrophe?

Science. A little detour for anyone suspicious of science. Science is not a bunch of scientiests, a university, it is simply what is but organized, if possible by math. It is reality that is true. Science is a way of describing things. Science does not change the world (like some politicians think), but in a sense it is the world, clarfied.

You are likely sitting down and doing a scientific experiment: seeing if the chair you are sitting in is strong enough to hold you. Usually you don’t worry about this because experience tells you these particular chairs are safe.

However, if you asked a scientist if the chair was safe he would do a more serious experiment probably with a bunch of weights starting with say 50 lbs and then adding more in hunks of 10 lbs. If he were interested in the chair design or the materials used, he might put a dial indicator guage (a fancy, accurate ruler) to measure how much the seat sags as he loads it up.

So, he has a nice neat note book, writes down a description of everything, perhaps takes a picture and starts testing.

At first nothing much, but at some point (say 300 pounds) you can see sagging (he actually saw it right away on his guage). And further on we all start to hear noises and, say at 453.7 pounds, the chair collapses and he makes a graph of deflection vs. weight. Now if someone asks how much weight the chair can support he can give an answer. Does he say 453.7 pounnds. No. This is really an engineering problem and he must build in a safety factor. So, let us do what Boeing does with an airplane wing: 150% of the biggest load on a wing. The wing must pass that test. If we did that here we would rate the chair at 300 pounds since 1.5 times 300 is 450. Close enough.

Now it will seem like I am making a big deal out of something very simple, but it is not the chair but the attitude and the process.

We now KNOW the TRUTH about the “load capacity” of the chair. Sort of. If want to know with greater certaainity, we would test perhaps 10 chairs selected at random. If we wanted still more certainity we would order another batch from the factory and test those. And still more we might have someone else do the test with their own weights.

I think you get the idea.

Serious Science

I will tell you just a bit about one of the greatest (if not the greatest) scientific experiments every done.

Albert Einstein predicted that if something really big happened in the universe (like two black holes massing together) it would created “gravity waves,” or in other words there would be tiny changes in the force of gravity in the form of a wave.

This is a tangent we don‘t want to get off on. The man who first proposed trying to measure gravity waves was Prof. Rainer Weiss of MIT. In 2015 he got one half of a Nobel prize for accomplishing this. Prof. Weiss and I, it turns out, worked in the same part of an old WW II building at MIT at the same time in the 1960s. And I had read a book, Gravity’s Kiss about the whole 50 year experiment and then found he was lecturing at a privite club in Boston (lots of artists, writers, scientists, etc.). So we met and chatted and he was wonderful and full of energy (and in his 80s) and we both spent a lot of time at Walden Pond.

The point of mentioning this, is in order to be sure they detected the motion of some mirrors, where the motions was about one millionith the size of an atom, they had to go to ridiculous extremes. The biggest part of the extremes was building two sites of 1.5 km long vacuum tubes in an L shape, isolating everything from the tiniest vibrations and havinhg one site in Lousiana and the other in the state of Washington, so if they detected something the detection had to be the same at both sites.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what it took to make this happen, amoung which was 1000 or so scientists and one billion dollars. The stunning part of the story is a few hours (after 50 years) after they turned it one, before it was even officially operational, they got the biggest signal they could imagine, at both sites. It turned out that two black holes, one 24 times the mass of the sun and the other 36 times had been circling each other a few light years away finally coalsed (merged). It turns out you could actually hear the signal since it was in the baritone range.

SERIOUS SCIENCE II takes the chair example in another direction, namely a real world application of breaking something, in the case the wing of a Boeing 787. The bogey (target) is still 150% of the strongest force ever expected to be applied to the wing. If you watch the video you will see some very tense engineers at the meter moves toward 150 and then passes it and they start to breathe again. It broke at 154% which was just fine. Wings do not come off comercial aircraft. Pilots know that thunder storms are a no-no.

I was once flying to Disney World in Florida and there was lightening off in the distace. Everthing was pretty informal so I asked the pilot if he ever would fly through a thunderstorm (which he can see clearly on radar). His answer was "an act of congress couldn’t make me fly through a thunder storm." So I asked him if he were suddenly boxed, storms front, left and right. He said “I would just turn around.”

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