Science and parallels

This short article has already been partially diffused in one of my weekly “broadcasts” yesterday evening, so I will apologize if you already heard some of its content before.

While waiting for my current ISP to finally replace their modem (it took three months, from my first notification, for them to accept that their modem was faulty), I will have to reduce the “research” part- too expensive, with the backup ISP.

Funny that, while around Europe various countries are introducing basic Internet services as a right, in the capital of European Union not only free basic wireless is not available, but also the paid WiMax works erratically.

But moving from technology to science, I will just “connect few dots”, first in biology and mathematics, and then in physics.

Part 1: fighting cancer

Once in a while newspapers publish articles about new ways to use less intrusive techniques to remove cancer and prevent a relapse, moving from the “massive attack” approach used few decades ago, to increasingly sophisticated ways of intervening on the spot where is needed.

The Genome sequencing project spent few billions dollars to sequence the human DNA- but allowed to create techniques to will enable faster and cheaper sequencing.

From few billions to few thousands and, as recently published, maybe about one hundred dollars to have your DNA sequenced, allowing the pharmaceutical industry to eventually produce “individual” medicaments, i.e. uniquely tailored to your specific needs, minimizing potential negative side-effects.

But there is still an issue: identify the spot where there is an abnormal cellular activity before it is spread too widely.

Do you remember the 1980s book “The Fractal Geometry of Nature”, from Mandelbrot?

The concept is that a shape is composed by shapes that have the same structure of the original shape, and, in turn, they themselves are composed by shapes that replicate their structure- and so on (ok- sorry for the oversimplification)

If you want: the closer you look at something, the more you see that its internal structure is like its external structure.

A cancer implies cells- and cells need to be nourished- i.e. blood vessels.

A researcher applied the fractal concept to the distribution of blood within our body, visualizing “patterns”, i.e. shapes within shapes etc, that represent the “normal” flow.

If you join the invidual DNA sequencing (just check, for example, with new processes and technologies that allow to economically produce mini-production runs, and maybe new ways to identify a trouble spot before it starts spreading, you can actually reduce the costs involved (human and financial).

Still too early? Maybe. But wait few years.

Part 2: parallels

Most countries are considering again nuclear reactors as a viable alternative to fossil fuel power stations.

And it is sometimes quite funny to see the similarities between what happens in our world (i.e. human choices) with scientific principles.

After reading that President Obama decided to build new reactors, I was thinking about when I was in high school, and studied how fission reactors work, the Superphenix, the Tokamak, waste disposal and containment, and so on.

All nice engineering issues.

To begin with the fission- an external neutron hits an atom of uranium and “splits” the atom, releasing further neutrons and heat, that is used to produce energy.

Eventually, you will get stuck with some spent-but-still-dangerously-“hot”-waste, and, of course, the energy that you produced in the process.

The first nuclear reactors used graphite (a variant of the one in your pencils) to “moderate” (or “contain”) the reaction, to manage a proper timing of the release of energy.

Why “parallels”? Because the new announce came at the same time when the issue with Greece was confirmed.

So, it has been reported that “neutrons” (the foreign banks that helped to set up the financial instruments that allowed both hide and inflate the debt) helped start the reaction.

And now we will send pencils to “moderate” the reaction, and allow a proper solution, to minimize the toxic waste left over from the decaying of the pile of debt built up over the years.

The logic being: once you start it, you better moderate and keep it going, so that at least you generate enough energy to sustain the local economy, than write it all off, and end up with a pile of toxic waste and still an economy to sustain.

Moving from physics to our everyday life… if the figures reported by a newspaper are correct, just 30% of the debt was held in Greece.

As Greece has a large chunk of the shipping industry, it could quite well be that part of that 70% is actually Greek-but-not-in-Greece.

It will be interesting to see how the endemic tax evasion will be solved, as it is reportedly part of the issue.

Something to discuss in another article.


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