Posts Tagged ‘science’


May 7, 2017

Physically, each of us is a part of the Universe. Our bodies are built of the same atoms as the bodies of the farthest stars currently rushing from us and being already at a distance of some 46 billion light years away. Those primeval atoms were formed when a few minutes after the Big Bang (14 billion years ago) the “quark soup” of the early Universe cooled down to below 2 trillion degrees. The Big Bang nucleosynthesis shut down after another twenty minutes due to the rapid drop of temperature and density of the expanding Universe. The result is approximately 300 sextillion stars grouped in galaxies, with our Milky Way being one of more than 100 billion such galaxies.

The contents of the cosmos is made of dark energy (72%), dark matter (23%) and the ordinary matter (“atoms”). The latter makes up only 5% of the cosmic contents. Visible stars account for less than 10% of the ordinary matter.

Distances are also mind-boggling. At the planetarium of an American town of Peoria (Illinois) a scale model of the solar system was built. The 10-cm model of the Earth was located at the distance of 119 meters from the Sun, which, in turn, was 12 meters across. Mars was seven blocks away from the Earth, and Pluto, as small as a ping pong ball, was 64 km (40 miles) away from Peoria. With that scale, the closest star Proxima Centauri should be placed as far as the Moon. If measured by how long it takes the light to reach celestial objects, the Earth is 1.3 light-seconds from the Moon, it is 8 light-minutes from the Sun and 4.24 light-years (l/y) away from Proxima Centauri. Compare it with the diameter of our Milky Way, which is 120,000 l/y (but that number may be even as large as 180,000 l/y if you take into account dark matter), or with the distance to our “neighbor”, the Andromeda Galaxy – 2.5 million l/y. At present, the Universe is estimated to be about 91 billion l/y across.

Do I believe in the Big Bang, in the invisible dark energy, or in the 20-minutes of the nucleosynthesis , during which the building elements of the Universe were made? My answer is: I do. But what is even more important for me is that the Universe is fine-tuned for Man to live in it. Quite a number of conditions that allow life in Universe lie within a very narrow range. For example, if gravitational force were only slightly larger, stars would be too hot and would burn too rapidly for life chemistry. If gravitation were a bit smaller, stars would be too cool to ignite nuclear fusion, and consequently, the elements needed for life chemistry would never form. The same is true with the expansion rate of the Universe: if the expansion were quicker, no galaxies would form, if it were slower, the Universe would collapse even before stars formed. There are a number of other fundamental parameters which are finely tuned for LIFE (as we understand it) to exist. For example, the maximum permissible deviation for the ratio “electrons::protons” (critical for building atoms) is 1: 1037. This degree of fine-tuning is difficult to imagine. Dr. Hugh Ross gives an example of this parameter in his book The Creator and the Cosmos:

One part in 1037 is such an incredibly sensitive balance that it is hard to visualize. The following analogy might help: Cover the entire North American continent in dimes all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles (In comparison, the money to pay for the U.S. federal government debt would cover one square mile less than two feet deep with dimes). Next, pile dimes from here to the moon on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and mix it into the billions of piles of dimes. Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime. The odds that he will pick the red dime are one in 1037. (p. 115)

Here are some more quotes taken from the following sources:

Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics): “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”

Vera Kistiakowsky (MIT physicist): “The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine.”

Robert Jastrow (self-proclaimed agnostic): “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Stephen Hawking (British astrophysicist): “Then we shall… be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”

Werner von Braun (Pioneer rocket engineer) “I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.”

Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): “From the perspective of the latest physical theories, Christianity is not a mere religion, but an experimentally testable science.”

I do not know the answer to the second part of Stephen Hawking’s question (see above) why the universe exists – at least on that scale of magnitude and massiveness we observe. As for the first part concerning the purpose of my existence, I think the following may be said:

I was brought into this world 1/ to know the Creator, 2/ to understand His design and feel the beauty of it, 3/ to be thankful for this opportunity of understanding, 4/ to grow in my knowledge of Him – spiritually and morally…


January 28, 2016

2016-01-28mathWhile studying to be a teacher of English, I did supervised teaching in a primary school. At one of the lessons I had to introduce numbers, so after reading a respective chapter in a methodology book, I wrote on the board two columns of math problems that included addition and subtraction, split the class into two teams and told them to compete against each other in solving the problems: the left column of the problems was to be done by the team on the left and the right column – by the team on the right in the classroom.  The pupils knew math well enough to subtract or add, and this time they were only to train their language skills by articulating in English what they were doing. Of course, mathematical correctness counted too. A pupil from each team waited for their turn to rush to the board, do their own problem and return to their seat, while the next person from the team picked up the baton and did the next problem. It took longer for slower pupils to do the job, those who were more advanced did it in the blink of an eye. When the language-and-math shuttle race was over, a girl from the team which lost burst into tears and I had to run for a glass of water for the girl. Since that time I never arranged any competitions during my lessons.

I remembered the episode when I read Danielle Sensier’s poem Experiment. Danielle Sensier is a published author and an editor of children’s books. Some of her books are Costumes (Traditions Around the World), Masks (Traditions from Around the World), Poems About Weather, and Poems About Journeys.


at school we’re doing growing things

with cress

sprinkly seeds in plastic pots

of cotton wool.

Kate’s cress sits up on the sill

she gives it water.

mine is shut inside the cupboard

dark and dry.

now her pot has great big clumps

of green

mine hasn’t

Mrs Martin calls it Science

I call it mean.




January 5, 2015

2015-01-05YablochkovWhen I shared with my colleague, a former military, the news that Russia is developing a new strategic 2015-01-05Edisonbomber which will have better characteristics than its NATO counterpart, the colleague gave a smile: “It’s a question whether the nation will be able to afford it – they are cash-strapped. The developmental costs for the similar American aircraft were in $50 billion range. Even if the Russians do something of the kind, it will hardly be more than a few planes for test flights. And then… there are other reasons…Remember what happened to their manned lunar program?”

Apparently, my colleague was referring to problems other than technical. In 1961 President Kennedy proclaimed a manned landing on the Moon. Soon afterwards Nikita Khrushchev reportedly said to leaders of the Soviet rocket industry: “”Do not leave the Moon to the Americans. Anything you need in order to do it, will be provided.” In August 1964 the Soviet government finally gave full go ahead to the lunar landing effort, but two months later, in a palace coup, Khrushchev was forced to step down, which also meant the death of the Soviet lunar project.

Russia (which, for appearances’ sake, named itself the “USSR” for a period of seven decades) has never been a fertile ground for technical innovations. Ideas were produced but they almost never caught on. At my high school the teachers never missed an opportunity to emphasize the priority of Russian inventors as compared to foreign scientists. All of us knew that Pavel Yablochkov and Alexander Lodygin were the first in the world to invent an electric bulb, Ivan Polzunov made the steam engine before James Watt, the Periodic Table of chemical elements was developed by Dmitriy Mendeleyev and every pupil could tell you that May 7th was “Radio Day” – i.e. the day when Alexander Popov invented the radio (the date was celebrated nationwide every year). On the other hand, our teacher never told us about what used to happen to those inventions after they were made. Polzunov’s project was sent to Empress Catherine. She awarded him 400 rubles and promotion two ranks (to captain-poruchik) but did not seem to appreciate the new technology, as she recommended hydropower (not steam) be used to return the pistons as done in Britain. After Ivan Polzunov’s death at age 37 the machine worked three months, then was disassembled and replaced by convenient hydropower, despite paying off its costs in those three months.

Even more illustrative is the example of Yablochkov’s arc lamp (“candle”). Yablochkov experimented on arc lighting in Russia. By the autumn of 1875 he had moved to Paris where in 1876, he was awarded French patent # 112,024 for his electric candle. The first public exhibition of the candle was in London on 15 April 1876. It enjoyed immediate success and popularity. The Yablochkov candle could burn for an average of one and a half hours in a lamp before the candle had to be replaced.

The candles rapidly increased in popularity as another exhibition was held in London on 17 June 1877. Their first commercial use was at the Louvre in October 1877 (that’s when Paris got its nickname that it’s still called today—“The City of Lights”). Units were sold in many European countries including Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Greece, as well as in cities on other continents including Rio de Janiero, Mexico City, New Delhi, Calcutta, and Madras. The Shah of Persia and the King of Cambodia used the candles for illuminating their palaces. At the height of the candle’s popularity, the 8,000 of the candles were produced in France per day. The Russian government persuaded Yablochkov to come back to Russia after he got rich in France—and to do it in Russia. He came back, started a company, and went bankrupt—he couldn’t find investors! He couldn’t even get the hotel he was living in to install his lights. They preferred gas lights!  In the long run, Yablochkov returned to his home province of Saratov, and set up an office where he worked on plans for lighting the city. He died on 31 March 1894. Yablochkov was buried in the village of his parents in the Church of Archangel Michael. The church was destroyed by the communist regime in the late 1930s, so in 1947, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth, Sergey Vavilov, then president of the USSR Academy of Sciences, attempted to locate the exact grave site. By interviewing village elders and reviewing archival records he arrived at a probable location, and a monument was erected on this site on 26 October 1952.

In 1964 two Russians  Alexander Prokhorov and Nikolay Basov  and  an American Charles Townes shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the laser. But no Russian company is making money off lasers nowadays. It never went into the Russian inventors’ heads to commercialize the idea. Meanwhile, Charles Townes took out a patent on what he had developed, sold it to a business, got his slice and … Russia is buying all its cameras, printers, etc. from the West.

The most recent example is fracking. The Russians developed the idea of hydraulic fracturing in the 1950s. A few articles were published in scientific journals and that seemed to be the end of it. In the 1980 the Americans took it up and now Chevron, Exxon, BP are teaching the Russians how to successfully do fracking.

Why so? One reason may be that the social and political environment does not contribute to the implementation of ideas. In western countries successful entrepreneurs are cult figures. Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates have iconic status… Stories go about their not particularly having sweated over their courses at school, some of them were even university drop-outs. But they rose to the heights thanks to their brilliant acumen…  In Russia scientists shun away from business which is considered by them to be dirty, corrupted and criminal, and which it, for the most part, is.

One last finishing touch. A few years ago I was in Turkey translating for my colleague and helping him with tickets, accommodation, etc. while the colleague was being treated for a malignant tumor (in Ukraine there was no gamma-knife to perform that kind of surgery,  and I’m not sure if there is one now). Before we returned to Ukraine, the chief doctor of the oncological center in Turkey where we were staying suggested that their team visit Kyiv and speak to the Ukrainian oncologists about their experience in treating cancer. Incidentally, in his time the doctor had been working at the Division of Oncology at the Stanford School of Medicine, so he knew what he was suggesting. Back in Kyiv, it took me three weeks to phone all potentially interested doctors and to knock dozens of doors explaining that doctors from Turkey were ready to come to Kyiv at their own expense to deliver lectures and demonstrate the equipment.  You don’t even have to pay for interpretation services, I said, I am the interpreter. The last words I heard from a high-positioned medical bureaucrat during my final phone call were: “I don’t need that headache. I feel quite comfortable as I am now…”

Just a graphic example of what the “environment” is…

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