Thursday, 9 December 2010

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Dark Matter Rush: Physics Gives Gold Mine New Life

Posted: 09 Dec 2010 04:00 AM PST

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LEAD, South Dakota — The gold rush glow has long faded from South Dakota, but a different kind of precious material is drawing crowds to the Black Hills. An old mine that produced billions of dollars in gold may be North America's best shot at finding dark matter.

Until it closed in 2002, the Homestake Mine, nestled in the town that inspired the HBO drama Deadwood, was the oldest, largest and deepest mine in the western hemisphere.

That tremendous depth makes Homestake the perfect hunting ground for rare, elusive particles that stubbornly refuse to interact with the rest of the world, like neutrinos and hypothetical particles that could explain dark matter.

Similar detectors already exist in Italy, Japan, Canada and Minnesota. But the 8,000-foot-deep pit possible at Homestake would be deeper than them all, nearly as deep as Mount St. Helens is high. According to the lab's website, a deep lab at Homestake would more than double the world's inventory of underground lab space.

The National Science Foundation selected the Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake as the site of the new Deep Underground Science and Engineering Lab (DUSEL) in 2007, and physicists have already started moving in. visited the mine-turned-lab to see the first glimmers of the dark matter rush.

Image: Lisa Grossman/

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Evolution Survives Assault on Louisiana Textbooks

Posted: 08 Dec 2010 03:11 PM PST

Louisiana's high school biology textbooks have survived the latest creationist-flavored attempt at distorting education about evolution.

A subcommittee of the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 6-to-1 Tuesday to approve an industry-standard biology text, which conservative critics had attacked for failing to teach the "controversy" about evolution.

The final decision on whether to include disclaimers with the text will be made Thursday by the Board, but Tuesday's vote is expected to guide this one. Barring some radical, last-minute reversal, evolution education in Louisiana is safe.

"Since they can't attack the science, they don't have the expertise, they're trying to attack the process" of textbook approval, said Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design.

Teaching a narrowly Biblical version of biological development in public school science classrooms is legally unconstitutional, but creationists have adapted their their efforts. After the failure of intelligent design in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case, proponents turned to the mechanisms of textbook approval.


Louisiana's biology textbook review is the first to be conducted under the Louisiana Science Education Act, passed in 2008 to "promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories."

In principle, it sounds good — but the legislation's focus "on evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" hint at its origins in lobbying by the Louisana Family Forum, a conservative Christian advocacy group.

Written by biologists Ken Miller and Joe Levine, the textbook under consideration is well-respected, and used widely in U.S. high schools.

"Accurate textbooks are going to be in the classrooms. A six to one vote is a repudiation of the attempt by the Louisana Family Forum to politicize science in Louisiana," said Joshua Rosenau, programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education.

The ramifications of the vote extend beyond Louisiana, said Rosenau.

Texas, which last year passed legislation instructing teachers to convey "all sides" of theories like evolution, is the nation's largest purchaser of textbooks, and traditionally pulls the textbook industry in its market wake. But state budget deficits have delayed new purchases, making textbook choices by other states more important.

"If Louisiana's board had said, 'You have to teach the controversy, to put in both sides,' then publishers would have said, 'Maybe this is a trend," said Rosenau. "With strong support given to textbooks as written by experts, it's another reason for publishers to stand strong."

Rosenau is now helping states draft legislation mandating state review of publishers' alterations to textbooks.

The model was inspired by a bill from California, where activists rejected curriculum efforts in Texas to de-emphasize the historical importance of such figures as Thurgood Marshall and Thomas Jefferson. Rosenau is adapting those history book safeguards for science.

"It's another way of putting pressure on publishers," he said.

Image: Amy Watts, Flickr.

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