Black History Month…

Illustration of Anthony M. Johnson working in an ultrafast laser lab; Ronald McNair playing the saxophone aboard the Challenger; Mercedes Richards in front of a computer.
Illustration by Abigal Malate, American Institute of Physics

Topics: African Americans, Diaspora, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

Former First Lady, Secretary of State, and Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said “women’s rights are human rights.” Comparatively, Black History is American History. The insurrection at the Capitol wasn’t just white privilege on-steroids, it was ignorance writ large. Not that the information isn’t in their face for twenty-eight days, twenty-nine on leap years, but an ignorance born of willfulness, arrogance, hubris, and mental deficiencies.

The Middle Passage. December 7, 1941. The Holocaust. September 11, 2001. January 6, 2021. All is a part of our history, days that shall live in infamy. Days we commemorate in ceremony, observance, remembrance, and a commitment within our souls: never again.

You don’t forgive anything by shrugging, and the victims of violence never forget. We’ve all been experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder for four years we would LIKE to forget, but we’d rather heal from, in the light of science, and truth.

The American Psychiatric Association has never officially recognized extreme racism (as opposed to ordinary prejudice) as a mental health problem, although the issue was raised more than 30 years ago. After several racist killings in the civil rights era, a group of black psychiatrists sought to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder. The association’s officials rejected the recommendation, arguing that because so many Americans are racist, even extreme racism in this country is normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.

The psychiatric profession’s primary index for diagnosing psychiatric symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), does not include racism, prejudice, or bigotry in its text or index.

Therefore, there is currently no support for including extreme racism under any diagnostic category. This leads psychiatrists to think that it cannot and should not be treated in their patients.

To continue perceiving extreme racism as normative and not pathologic is to lend it legitimacy. Clearly, anyone who scapegoats a whole group of people and seeks to eliminate them to resolve his or her internal conflicts meets criteria for a delusional disorder, a major psychiatric illness.

Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness? Yes. It can be a delusional symptom of psychotic disorders. Alvin F Poussaint, Professor of psychiatry.

When astronaut Mae Jemison saw actress Nichelle Nichols portray Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, her life was changed forever. Seeing an African-American role model helped steer Jemison toward a goal – she was determined to join NASA and become an astronaut. Years later, Jemison achieved her goal when she made history as the first African-American woman to go into space with the U.S. space program.

Jemison’s accomplishment had positive ripple effects, and now she is cited as a source of inspiration for so many African-American students who are themselves reaching for the stars, but Jemison is not alone. There are many African-American physical scientists, such as Jedidah IslerHakeem OluseyiChandra Precod-WeinsteinSylvester James GatesTabbetha DobbinsJC Holbrook, and so many others, who are doing important scientific work and also influencing countless students.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential components to the success of our fields. In recognition of that fact, the American Institute of Physics adopted a Strategic Framework in 2019 that aims to “advance the physical sciences with a unifying voice of strength from diversity.” Further, we are committed to becoming an institution that “leads the physical sciences community toward an impactful understanding of how to be more welcoming to, and supportive of, the full diversity of physical scientists throughout their [education and] careers.”

Black History Month, American Institute of Physics

Rocket Science…

The Fusion Rocket Concept. ITER

Topics: Mars, Nuclear Fusion, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Women in Science

A physicist has come up with a new rocket engine thruster concept that could take people to Mars ten times more quickly.

The physicist in question, Fatima Ebrahimi, is the concept’s inventor and is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).

Ebrahimi’s study was published in the Journal of Plasma Physics.

An engine thruster based off solar flares

One of the main differences between Ebrahimi’s new rocket thruster concept and other space-proven ones is that hers uses magnetic fields to boost particles of plasma out of the back of the rocket. So far, space-proven ones use electric fields to boost plasma.

Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter, and made of gas ions and free electrons. Our Sun is a burning ball of plasma that uses a fusion reaction, for instance.

New Rocket Thruster Concept to Take Humans to Mars 10 Times Faster, Fabienne Lang, Interesting Engineering

Physicists Look Like Me…

Image Source:

Topics: African Americans, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

The National Society of Black Physicists stands with those that fight against systemic racism and for freedom, equality, liberty, and justice to become a reality for all of America’s citizens. Click the button below to read the statement from our president.

National Society of Black Physicists, Dr. Stephon Alexander, President

The Genesis of the National Society of Black Physicists, Dr. Ronald E. Mickens, Clark Atlanta University Department of Physics, NSBP Spring 1999

The Lethality of Magical Thinking…

Echo and Narcissus

Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Existentialism, Fascism, Human Rights

“The human understanding is no dry light, but receives infusion from the will and affections; whence proceed sciences which may be called ‘sciences as one would.’ For what a man had rather were true, he more readily believes. Therefore, he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride; things not commonly believed, out of the deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and infect the understanding.” Sir Francis Bacon, NOVUM ORGANON (1620)


The GOP today is a tale of two parties. One of them, the gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself, and unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.

Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. States in which our presidential candidates used to win, such as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida, are increasingly voting Democratic. We are losing in too many places.

It has reached the point where in the past six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 211 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to Democrats’ 113.

Our job as Republicans is to champion private growth so people will not turn to the government in the first place. But we must make sure that the government works for those truly in need, helping them so they can quickly get back on their feet. We should be driven by reform, eliminating, and fixing what is broken, while making sure the government’s safety net is a trampoline, not a trap.

The Republican Party must be the champion of those who seek to climb the economic ladder of life. Low-income Americans are hardworking people who want to become hardworking middle-income Americans. Middle-income Americans want to become upper-middle-income, and so on. We need to help everyone make it in America.

America is changing demographically, and unless Republicans are able to grow our appeal the way GOP governors have done, the changes tilt the playing field even more in the Democratic direction.

In 1980, exit polls tell us that the electorate was 88 percent white. In 2012, it was 72 percent white. Hispanics made up 7 percent of the electorate in 2000, 8 percent in 2004, 9 percent in 2008, and 10 percent in 2012. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2050, whites will be 47 percent of the country while Hispanics will grow to 29 percent and Asians to 9 percent.

If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity.

Excerpts: “Growth, and Opportunity Project” (popularly, the GOP Autopsy, 2012)

Magical thinking is the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, wishes, or actions can influence the course of events in the physical world. It is something people all over the globe engage in, and many religious and folk rituals center around it. While magical thinking can be a very normal human response, and there are aspects of it that can have psychological benefits, it can also be counterproductive at times and even be a sign of a mental health concern.

Very Well Mind: Magical Thinking Benefits and Concerns, Lisa Fritscher, Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD

The “Growth and Opportunity Project” looked at the prospects of the Republican Party being viable even with the changing demographics that are inevitable. It’s a quick read, and quite logically laid out. It’s a calming alternative to what the party has become.

From Grand Old Party to Growth and Opportunity Project, to Gang of Putin, insurrection and Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor-Greene. The GOP is starting to look more like Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane with Riddler, and Joker. This is not just acceptance of violence against opponents they should debate with better ideas. This isn’t a “bug” for the Republican Party: violence is becoming a feature, a feature of fascists.

Kevin McCarthy can retire. He’ll never be Speaker of the House, except if they overthrow the republic, and we become The Republic of Gilead in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” John Boehner couldn’t control the “Freedom” Caucus – and they were SANER! What does he think “talking to” Taylor-Greene will do? Oh yes. From the link above, she’s removing all the homicidal, anti-Semitic, controversial calls to assassinate Speaker Pelosi. Like I said, never Speaker.

Echo and Narcissus is the fable from which we derive the word narcissist. He dies pining for his own reflection, in love with himself, or at least his reflection; starving to death, the Nymph Echo saying the only thing she could say: his last word before expiring: “farewell.” McCarthy literally “kissed the ring” of the loser narcissist of the 2020 election. The same he blamed for the insurrection, then a week later recanted. It’s like he’s never read the Growth and Opportunity Project, or like his president, used it as toilet paper on a golden throne. The entire party is too proud to change, but narcissistically blames “others,” and stares at itself in the mirror, finding no flaws. The fat lady has sung; Echo is warming up.

The U.S. Capitol is both a crime scene and a toxic work environment. Democrats think Boebert and Greene might try to kill them. They’re buying Kevlar to go to work.

Magical thinking leads to conspiracy theorizing. Insane asylums manage magical thinking, republics require informed citizens with a firm tether to facts, science, and reality. It creates a world of “us and them,” saints and sinners, Batman and Jokers, protectors of the unborn against satanic pedophiles using concealed carry sidearms. Once one side makes “others” of their political opposites, they are of no more consequence than beetles on sidewalks joggers squish absentmindedly. Once your opponents in your mind aren’t even human, you can justify anything to rid yourselves of them – even insurrection, or murder.

And insurrection without consequences is a dress rehearsal. Fascism is incremental.

Formerly there were those who said: You believe things that are incomprehensible, inconsistent, impossible because we have commanded you to believe them; go then and do what is unjust because we command it. Such people show admirable reasoning. Truly, whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. If the God-given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to that God-given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well. And from this derives all those crimes of religion which have overrun the world.

–François-Marie Arouet ‘Voltaire’ (d. 1778), ‘Questions sur les miracles’ (1765)

“History rarely repeats itself, but its echoes never go away.” Tariq Ali


Topics: Astrobiology, Astronomy, Cosmology, SETI

I would extend his theme to cover something that comes naturally to us all, which I’ll call Pseudo-exceptionalism—the unearned conviction that we are exceptional, superior to others because we were born…us.

We simply assume that we’re kinder, more honest, more realistic, more wholesome than those around us. After all, we’re married to ourselves for life, so we make accommodations: We cut ourselves slack. We’re fast to forgive ourselves. When challenged, we’re much better at making our case than our opponent’s. We spot injustices to ourselves far faster than we spot our injustices to others.

Why Some People (Maybe Even Us) Think They’re So Special
… and what to do about it. Jeremy E. Sherman Ph.D., MPP, Psychology Today

It is presumptuous to assume that we are worthy of special attention from advanced species in the Milky Way. We may be a phenomenon as uninteresting to them as ants are to us; after all, when we’re walking down the sidewalk we rarely if ever examine every ant along our path.

Our sun formed at the tail end of the star formation history of the universe. Most stars are billions of years older than ours. So much older, in fact that many sunlike stars have already consumed their nuclear fuel and cooled off to a compact Earth-size remnant known as a white dwarf. We also learned recently that of order half of all sunlike stars host an Earth-size planet in their habitable zone, allowing for liquid water and for the chemistry of life.

Since the dice of life were rolled in billions of other locations within the Milky Way under similar conditions to those on Earth, life as we know it is likely common. If that is indeed the case, some intelligent species may well be billions of years ahead of us in their technological development. When weighing the risks involved in interactions with less-developed cultures such as ours, these advanced civilizations may choose to refrain from contact. The silence implied by Fermi’s paradox (“Where is everybody?”) may mean that we are not the most attention-worthy cookies in the jar.

Why Do We Assume Extraterrestrials Might Want to Visit Us? Avi Loeb, Scientific American

The Question is Moot…

Topics: Astrobiology, Astronomy, Astrophysics, SETI

Cultural references: The post title refers to NC A&T Alumni, and Civil Rights icon Reverend Jesse Jackson’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, and the Wow! signal. Personal note: This signal appeared on the same day my granddaughter was born.

On April 29, 2019, the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia began listing to the radio signals from the Sun’s nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, just over 4 lightyears away. The telescope was looking for evidence of solar flares and so listened for 30 minutes before retraining on a distant quasar to recalibrate and then pointing back.

In total, the telescope gathered 26 hours of data. But when astronomers analyzed it in more detail, they noticed something odd — a single pure tone at a frequency of 982.02 MHz that appeared five times in the data.

The signal was first reported last year in The Guardian, a British newspaper. The article raised the possibility that the signal may be evidence of an advanced civilization on Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star that is known to have an Earth-sized planet orbiting in its habitable zone.

But researchers have consistently played down this possibility saying that, at the very least, the signal must be observed again before any conclusions can be drawn. Indeed, the signal has not been seen again, despite various searches.

Now Amir Siraj and Abraham Loeb from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have calculated the likelihood that the signal came from a Proxima Centauri-based civilization, even without another observation. They say the odds are so low as to effectively rule out the possibility — provided the assumptions they make in their calculations are valid.

Why The Recent Signal That Appeared to Come From Proxima Centauri Almost Certainly Didn’t, Physics arXiv Blog, Discovery Magazine

Nanoscale Knudsen Flow…

Left: the electron density isosurface from theoretical DFT calculations. S and W atoms are shown in yellow and blue respectively. Right: transmission electron microscopy image. Courtesy: R Boya

Topics: Fluid Mechanics, Materials Science, Nanofluidics, Nanotechnology

Gases flow through a porous membrane at ultrahigh speeds even when the pores’ diameter approaches the atomic scale. This finding by researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK and the University of Pennsylvania in the US shows that the century-old Knudsen description of gas flow remains valid down to the nanoscale – a discovery that could have applications in water purification, gas separation and air-quality monitoring.

Gas permeation through nano-sized pores is both ubiquitous in nature and technologically important, explains Manchester’s Radha Boya, who led the research effort along with Marija Drndić at Pennsylvania. Because the diameter of these narrow pores is much smaller than the mean free diffusion path of gas molecules, the molecules’ flow can be described using a model developed by the Danish physicist Martin Knudsen in the early decades of the 20th century. During so-called Knudsen flow, the diffusing molecules randomly scatter from the pore walls rather than colliding with each other.

Until now, however, researchers didn’t know whether Knudsen flow might break down if the pores became small enough. Boya, Drndić and colleagues have now shown that the model holds even at the ultimate atomic-scale limit.

Gas flows follow conventional theory even at the nanoscale, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

High Flight…

In this illustration, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet’s surface as NASA’s Perseverance rover (partially visible on the left) rolls away.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Topics: Mars, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Ingenuity, a technology experiment, is preparing to attempt the first powered, controlled flight on the Red Planet.

When NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, it will be carrying a small but mighty passenger: Ingenuity, the Mars Helicopter.

The helicopter, which weighs about 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) on Earth and has a fuselage about the size of a tissue box, started out six years ago as an implausible prospect. Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California knew it was theoretically possible to fly in Mars’ thin atmosphere, but no one was sure whether they could build a vehicle powerful enough to fly, communicate, and survive autonomously with the extreme restrictions on its mass.

Then the team had to prove in Earthbound tests that it could fly in a Mars-like environment. Now that they’ve checked off those objectives, the team is preparing to test Ingenuity in the actual environment of Mars.

“Our Mars Helicopter team has been doing things that have never been done before – that no one at the outset could be sure could even be done,” said MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager at JPL “We faced many challenges along the way that could have stopped us in our tracks. We are thrilled that we are now so close to demonstrating – on Mars – what Ingenuity can really do.”

Ingenuity survived the intense vibrations of launch on July 30, 2020, and has passed its health checks as it waits to plunge with Perseverance through the Martian atmosphere. But the helicopter won’t attempt its first flight for more than a month after landing: Engineers for the rover and helicopter need time to make sure both robots are ready.

6 Things to Know About NASA’s Mars Helicopter on Its Way to Mars

Lattice Confinement Fusion…

Illustration of the main elements of the lattice confinement fusion process observed. In Part (A), a lattice of erbium is loaded with deuterium atoms (i.e., erbium deuteride), which exist here as deuterons. Upon irradiation with a photon beam, a deuteron dissociates, and the neutron and proton are ejected. The ejected neutron collides with another deuteron, accelerating it as an energetic “d*” as seen in (B) and (D). The “d*” induces either screened fusion (C) or screened Oppenheimer-Phillips (O-P) stripping reactions (E). In (C), the energetic “d*” collides with a static deuteron “d” in the lattice, and they fuse together. This fusion reaction releases either a neutron and helium-3 (shown) or a proton and tritium. These fusion products may also react in subsequent nuclear reactions, releasing more energy. In (E), a proton is stripped from an energetic “d*” and is captured by an erbium (Er) atom, which is then converted to a different element, thulium (Tm). If the neutron instead is captured by Er, a new isotope of Er is formed (not shown).

Topics: Astrophysics, NASA, Nuclear Fusion, Propulsion, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

A team of NASA researchers seeking a new energy source for deep-space exploration missions, recently revealed a method for triggering nuclear fusion in the space between the atoms of a metal solid.

Their research was published in two peer-reviewed papers in the top journal in the field, Physical Review C, Volume 101 (April, 2020): “Nuclear fusion reactions in deuterated metals” and “Novel nuclear reactions observed in bremsstrahlung-irradiated deuterated metals.”

Nuclear fusion is a process that produces energy when two nuclei join to form a heavier nucleus. “Scientists are interested in fusion, because it could generate enormous amounts of energy without creating long-lasting radioactive byproducts,” said Theresa Benyo, Ph.D., of NASA’s Glenn Research Center. “However, conventional fusion reactions are difficult to achieve and sustain because they rely on temperatures so extreme to overcome the strong electrostatic repulsion between positively charged nuclei that the process has been impractical.”

Called Lattice Confinement Fusion, the method NASA revealed accomplishes fusion reactions with the fuel (deuterium, a widely available non-radioactive hydrogen isotope composed of a proton, neutron, and electron, and denoted “D”) confined in the space between the atoms of a metal solid. In previous fusion research such as inertial confinement fusion, fuel (such as deuterium/tritium) is compressed to extremely high levels but for only a short, nano-second period of time, when fusion can occur. In magnetic confinement fusion, the fuel is heated in a plasma to temperatures much higher than those at the center of the Sun. In the new method, conditions sufficient for fusion are created in the confines of the metal lattice that is held at ambient temperature. While the metal lattice, loaded with deuterium fuel, may initially appear to be at room temperature, the new method creates an energetic environment inside the lattice where individual atoms achieve equivalent fusion-level kinetic energies.

NASA Detects Lattice Confinement Fusion

Nabta Playa…

The stone circle of Nabta Playa marks the summer solstice, a time that coincided with the arrival of monsoon rains in the Sahara Desert thousands of years ago. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Topics: African Studies, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Diversity in Science

For thousands of years, ancient societies all around the world erected massive stone circles, aligning them with the sun and stars to mark the seasons. These early calendars foretold the coming of spring, summer, fall and winter, helping civilizations track when to plant and harvest crops. They also served as ceremonial sites, both for celebration and sacrifice.

These megaliths — large, prehistoric monuments made of stone — may seem mysterious in our modern era, when many people lack a connection with, or even view of, the stars. Some even hold them up as supernatural, or divined by aliens. But many ancient societies kept time by tracking which constellations rose at sunset, like reading a giant, celestial clock. And others pinpointed the sun’s location in the sky on the summer and winter solstice, the longest and shortest days of the year, or the spring and fall equinox.

Europe alone holds some 35,000 megaliths, including many astronomically-aligned stone circles, as well as tombs (or cromlechs) and other standing stones. These structures were mostly built between 6,500 and 4,500 years ago, largely along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.

The most famous of these sites is Stonehenge, a monument in England that’s thought to be around 5,000 years old. Though still old, at that age, Stonehenge may have been one of the youngest such stone structures to be built in Europe.

The chronology and extreme similarities between these widespread European sites leads some researchers to think the regional tradition of constructing megaliths first emerged along the coast of France. It was then passed across the region, eventually reaching Great Britain.

But even these primitive sites are at least centuries younger than the world’s oldest known stone circle: Nabta Playa.

Located in Africa, Nabta Playa stands some 700 miles south of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It was built more than 7,000 years ago, making Nabta Playa the oldest stone circle in the world — and possibly Earth’s oldest astronomical observatory. It was constructed by a cattle worshiping cult of nomadic people to mark the summer solstice and the arrival of the monsoons.

“Here is human beings’ first attempt to make some serious connection with the heavens,” says J. McKim Malville, a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado and archeoastronomy expert.

Nabta Playa: The World’s First Astronomical Site Was Built in Africa and Is Older Than Stonehenge, Eric Betz, Discover Magazine