Monday, February 26, 2007

Seminar at UMass-Lowell

Friday I drove down to the Center for Atmospheric Research at UMass-Lowell to give a seminar on auroral ion acceleration.

The Center for Atmospheric Research takes up most of the third floor of one of the old mill buildings in downtown Lowell. There are many interesting things you can do with a space like that. It's also a sign that Lowell is relatively well off as old New England mill towns go--the successful ones have been able to recycle the mill buildings into office/commercial/industrial space. (Compare Lawrence, a short distance up I-495: they haven't done so well recycling their mill buildings, and they are chiefly known as the primary heroin source for northern New England.)

The seminar went well, with lots of questions and some good discussion of the topic.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

THEMIS launches

THEMIS launched at 23:01 UT (6:01 PM EST).

Launch preview:

More about the mission from the official NASA site and Berkeley's education and public outreach site.

Auroral sounding rocket launched

My colleague Marc Lessard launched his rocket, ROPA, this week. It's gathered significant press coverage. Here are a few links:

Christian Science Monitor
Anchorage Daily News
Portsmouth Herald

UNH has a picture of the launch on their website.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The language of science

For the last sixty years or so, almost all cutting edge science has been published in English, and I am lucky that English is my native language. There has been some interesting work published in Russian, especially during the Cold War, but almost all of the interesting work gets translated to English within a year or two, so not reading Russian is not a big disadvantage.

However, English has not always been the dominant language of science. Before 1940 or so, the language of choice would have been German. In earlier eras, the preferred language of scientists might have been French, Latin, Arabic, or Greek.

I was reminded of this recently when my literature search on wavelets led me to the original reference on the Haar wavelet. Alfred Haar, then a professor of mathematics at Göttingen, published his paper "Zur Theorie der orthogonalen Funktionensysteme" in Mathematische Annalen (v. 69, p. 331) in 1910. This paper was, as can be guessed from the title, written in German. Our library turned out to have a copy of this volume, and so I borrowed it and tried to read it (I took three semesters of German as an undergraduate).

It really is not easy to read a technical article in a second language. Certain common words have meanings in technical usage which can differ substantially from their ordinary meanings (English and German are alike in this way). One example: stetig can be translated in ordinary usage as "constant" or "steady" (the latter word is its English cognate), but in mathematics it specifically means "continuous".

As I said, English has since displaced German as the preferred language of science. Mathematische Annalen is still published, but these days most articles are in English.

Nor is it inevitable that English will always remain the dominant language of science. The rise of science in India need not change this status quo since English is the one language that is widely spoken throughout India (it plays a similar role to that of medieval church Latin in Renaissance Europe). But China might change things--probably not in my lifetime, but maybe in the lifetime of scientists born this decade.

Full of fury, but not much sound

It's been a mild winter. Temperatures have generally been well above normal (although the past few weeks have been cold), and there has hardly been any snow: 8.6 inches from 1 July through yesterday.

Today we're making up some ground with the season's first northeaster, and it's a big one. It didn't look so impressive this morning, but this afternoon the winds have picked up, and the blizzard warning (something we don't see every year) issued by the NWS Portland office seems quite justified. They are predicting a storm total of 10 to 14 inches. It's not the biggest storm I've seen--a few years ago we got 32 inches from a single snowstorm--but it was good enough to shut down UNH for the day.