Science

Speedy neutrinos, unrushed science and detective stories

By now, you surely have heard all about neutrinos travelling faster than light during the Opera experiment. You'll know about the bafflement of the physicists, who are not still really sure of how to interpret the results. And you'll be aware that neutrinos are tiny particles, with no electrical charge and very small mass which almost do not interact with matter -so that no tunnel was actually necessary between the emitting end at the CERN in Geneva and the receiving end at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory (LNGS) in Italy, as the Italian Minister for Education, Universities and Research apparently thought. So, I'm not going to tell you about the discovery, and I'll grab the opportunity to write about the prudence with which scientists are dealing with it.

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The Nobel Prize gender gap

This week, as the six recipients of Nobel Prizes in science take the podium, some might wonder what the absence of women among the awardees says about the state of women in science. It will be a fitting occasion for such reflections as the Nobel ceremonies will coincide with the 99th anniversary of Marie Curie's award in chemistry. For her contributions to the theory of radioactivity and her studies on the therapeutic properties of radium, Curie became the first woman to be honored by the Nobel committee, which gave her the Prize in Physics in 1903, and the only woman to receive the honor twice. Her place in history is made more special by the fact that these accomplishments came at a time when few women were able to enter the scientific profession.

Climates of war: when tempers grow hot

At present, great preoccupation exists about climate change effects in many areas. A standard methodology to study them is to look for significant statistical relations between the variable we are interested in and meteorological variables (most often temperature, but not only). Then, predictions given by global climate models under expected CO2 increase scenarios are introduced in the obtained model to infer the possible consequences of climate change. Such a path has been followed even to assess future changes in life satisfaction or violent conflicts, receiving full attention from politicians.

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World Trade Center anniversary: what did 9/11 really cost?

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center is this Sunday. Its direct cost in human lives was 2,996. That is the number who died in the towers, in the Pentagon, as firefighters on the ground, and in the four planes that crashed. Its indirect cost in human lives was even greater. It sparked off the invasion of Afghanistan, where Coalition forces have suffered some 2613 military deaths. The number of Taliban deaths is unknown but has been estimated at around ten times that number. The number of civilian deaths is even less well documented, is astonishingly vague and uncertain, but certainly runs into many thousands.

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Is reducing CO2 emissions a demographic problem?

Energy related world CO2 emissions reached a threateningly high historical maximum of 30,600 millions of tonnes in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Just consider that in order to limit global temperature increase to 2 ºC global energy-related emissions must not exceed 32,000 millions of tonnes in 2020. In consequence, in the next ten years emissions must increase at a five times lower rate than in the last ten years, which demands radical measures at all levels, from citizenship to governments and international organizations.