The Nobel Prize in Physics 2007 Goes to Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg for the Discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance

Winning the Nobel Prize is one of the highest honors one can achieve. Winners bring their institutions and their countries prestige. I’d like to highlight this year’s prizewinners.

The Nobel Prize in Physics this year was awarded to French scientist Albert Fert and German scientist Peter Grünberg. They were recognized for their independent discovery of giant magnetoresistance. The concept’s a bit esoteric, but the Nobel Prize site,, has some nice introductory material. In fact, it’s really put together well and you are advised to browse through it for more information about any aspect of the Nobel Prizes.

I especially like their “speed read” summaries. The Physics entry is quite easy to understand and begins as follows:

The Giant within Small Devices

Lying at the heart of the computer which you are using to read this article is a memory retrieval system based on the discoveries for which the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg. They discovered, quite independently, a new way of using magnetism to control the flow of electrical current through sandwiches of metals built at the nanotechnology scale.


And if you have time, you should definitely read a nice 7-page PDF explaining the concept for the layperson, using illustrations and easy-to-understand concepts. I won’t bother going into detail here since the site does such a nice job. There’s no excuse not to know the basics of this discovery!

You can also see videos of the announcement, or read the press release.


Environment Quotes

Today, please enjoy a selection of quotations about the environment:

Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.
—Henry David Thoreau
There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.
—Mohandas K. Gandhi
Because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us.
—Henrik Tikkanen
We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.
—Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732
There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.
—Marshall McLuhan
I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.
—Elwyn Brooks White, Essays of E.B. White, 1977
The insufferable arrogance of human beings to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it was conceivable that the sun had been set afire merely to ripen men’s apples and head their cabbages.
—Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, États et empires de la lune, 1656
Such is the audacity of man, that he hath learned to counterfeit Nature, yea, and is so bold as to challenge her in her work.
—Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, translated by Philemon Holland
A living planet is a much more complex metaphor for deity than just a bigger father with a bigger fist. If an omniscient, all-powerful Dad ignores your prayers, it’s taken personally. Hear only silence long enough, and you start wondering about his power. His fairness. His very existence. But if a world mother doesn’t reply, Her excuse is simple. She never claimed conceited omnipotence. She has countless others clinging to her apron strings, including myriad species unable to speak for themselves. To Her elder offspring She says, “Go raid the fridge. Go play outside. Go get a job. Or, better yet, lend me a hand. I have no time for idle whining.”
— David Brin
We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.
—David Suzuki
How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and of oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life?
—Charles A. Lindbergh, Reader’s Digest, November 1939
Take care of the earth and she will take care of you.
The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.
—Ross Perot
It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.
—Ansel Adams
Why should man expect his prayer for mercy to be heard by What is above him when he shows no mercy to what is under him?
—Pierre Troubetzoy
Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.
—Chief Seattle, 1855
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
—John Muir
You forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, 1755
Understanding the laws of nature does not mean that we are immune to their operations.
—David Gerrold
The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.
—Carl Sagan
Human consciousness arose but a minute before midnight on the geological clock. Yet we mayflies try to bend an ancient world to our purposes, ignorant perhaps of the messages buried in its long history. Let us hope that we are still in the early morning of our April day.
—Stephen Jay Gould, “Our Allotted Lifetimes,” The Panda’s Thumb, 1980
Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.
—Cree Indian proverb
We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.
—Albert Einstein
Space travel has given us a new appreciation for the Earth. We realize that the Earth is special. We’ve seen it from afar. We realize that the Earth is the only natural home for man we know of, and that we had better protect it.
—James Erwin, U.S. astrounaut
Eventually we’ll realize that if we destroy the ecosystem, we destroy ourselves.
—Jonas Salk
Man is a child of his environment.
—Shinichi Suzuki
We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.
—Barbara Ward, Only One Earth, 1972
For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.
—Sandra Postel, Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity, 2003
I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.
—Joyce Kilmer, “Trees” – 1914

(Sources include the Environmental Protection Agency, Quote Garden, and Think Exist.)

Walt Kelly's Earth Day poster, 1970
Copyright 1971, 2005 OGPI. See full-sized image at Wikipedia.

But perhaps cartoonist Walt Kelly said it best in his 1971 Earth Day poster:

We have met the enemy and he is us.

I’ve written this post as part of the first Blog Action Day, in which blogs large and small have teamed up to write about the environment on 15 October, 2007. I’m planning to write another post highlighting some of my favorite entries from today, so feel free to let me know about yours. And keep writing about the environment!

Al Gore and IPCC win Nobel Peace Prize 2007


The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is to be shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.

Indications of changes in the earth’s future climate must be treated with the utmost seriousness, and with the precautionary principle uppermost in our minds. Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world’s most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.

Through the scientific reports it has issued over the past two decades, the IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming. Whereas in the 1980s global warming seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent.

Al Gore has for a long time been one of the world’s leading environmentalist politicians. He became aware at an early stage of the climatic challenges the world is facing. His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.

By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC and Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is seeking to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control.

Oslo, 12 October 2007

Source: Norwegian Nobel Committee.

I am ecstatic. I’ll post more on this later.

CNN Unveils New Documentary Planet in Peril, Featuring New R.E.M. Song “Until the Day Is Done”

CNN has been featuring environmental news under a “Planet in Peril” section on its web site for a while. Now they’ve announced a four-hour documentary by the same name (wp) to premiere on 23 October, 2007. Featuring Anderson Cooper, Jeff Corwin, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the documentary features global warming, species loss, deforestation/habitat loss, and overpopulation. While I don’t think the planet is literally in peril, the pattern of life on it, including human civilization, certainly is—so sure, Earth does face peril.

They released the following trailer, which looks interesting. I do like that they are focusing on broad environmental problems, not just on global warming.

As an added bonus, the trailer features the debut of a new R.E.M. song, “Until the Day Is Done”! Planet in Peril will feature this song similar to the way An Inconvenient Truth featured Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need to Wake Up” (see my prior post on this). I really like this song already, and it seems to fit the feature so well.

Reminder: Write About the Environment on 15 October

Blog Action Day

I just wanted to remind everyone about the “Blog Action Day” initiative:

On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind – the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.

Several of my friends and readers are already planning to join in. Close to 10,000 blogs have already signed up. Join us!

You don’t need to have a blog, either. Murad Hassan posted a list of suggestions for Facebook users (Facebook account required) that work for other situations, too. I’d like to reprint them below, slightly edited:

  1. If you are a group administrator, greet all the members of the group with a note relating to tone of the day (environment). On Flickr, run a thread on the environment.
  2. Do a self–wall post on the environment [on Facebook]. Post environment-related pictures with a message on it to Flickr
  3. Change your profile picture to a tree or the Blog Action Day logo.
  4. Have your status changed on Facebook to “Blog Action Day 2007 – save the world, save the environment” or your own pledge to save our planet. You status message can be of an emotional tone, fun tone, or threat tone!
  5. Write on friends’ walls [on Facebook] with little friendly tones on the environment.
  6. Write on the forums and groups you belong to.
  7. Have your entire written electronic communications signature carry a message on then environment.
  8. Post photos, videos, and quotes relating to the environment.
  9. Join us on the the Facebook group on Blog Action Day.

Of course, as you cross from modifying your own profile to actively communicating with others, take care not to be preachy or give unwanted advice. Unless you already discuss environmental issues with them, many people may not appreciate “little friendly” environmental messages.

Americans Agree Global Warming Is a Major Problem; Major Action Needed Now

The BBC released a major poll of 22,000 people in 21 countries (both developed and developing) showing attitudes towards global warming. The United States is often considered to be lagging behind other nations, but this poll suggests that most Americans agree that we need to take major steps urgently; perhaps the nation’s failure to act is more of a reflection of its leadership and not the will of its people.

Below is an excerpt from the poll regarding the attitudes of those in the United States:

Americans agree with most other world publics that human activity contributes significantly to climate change and that major steps should be taken immediately to address the problem. A majority also supports a deal that would provide financial assistance and technology to developing countries that limit their greenhouse gas emissions. Seven in 10 Americans (71%) say that human activity is “a significant cause of climate change.” By a margin of 59 percent to 33 percent, Americans say it is necessary to take “major steps starting very soon” rather than “modest steps over the coming years.” Only 6 percent say “it is not necessary to take any steps.” Three-quarters (75%) agree that “because total emissions from less wealthy countries are substantial and growing, these countries should limit their emissions of climate-changing gases along with wealthy countries.” Similar numbers (70%) support a deal that would provide developing countries with financial assistance and technology in return for an agreement to limit their emissions. Nearly nine in 10 (89%) Americans say they have heard a great deal (59%) or some (30%) about climate change. (source, PDF)

Also, a recent LiveScience article summarized the results of several new polls in the United States:

Nearly three-quarters of Americans are willing to pay more taxes to support local government efforts aimed at mitigating global warming…Americans were willing to pay more money in property taxes, home costs and utility fees to support initiatives that would encourage people to use less energy and get that energy from alternative sources…concern for the environment is growing among Americans and bolder action is desired…Americans are pessimistic about the current state of the environment and disapprove of how the government has been handling environmental issues…a majority of Americans believe that society must take action to reduce the effects of global warming, partly by enacting a new national treaty that would require much more drastic reductions in carbon dioxide than those required by the Kyoto Protocol (which the United States never ratified)…

“Nearly half of Americans now believe that global warming is either already having dangerous impacts on people around the world or will in the next 10 years—a 20 percentage-point increase since 2004. These results indicate a sea change in public opinion,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale Project on Climate Change, in response to the findings of the earlier poll.

I find this level of awareness, concern, and motivation promising, at least.

The full text of the BBC poll is available as a PDF file. Or you may read Inel’s post for an HTML (web) version.

(via Inel)

Try This at Home: Variations on Rihanna’s “Umbrella”

I love live music, and I also like listening to or watching recordings of people performing. It’s nice to hear them play either original compositions or popular music, and sometimes the alternate, simplified versions can be quite good! In fact there are times I prefer listening to a simple piano rendition of a song over the full recording. I’m also impressed by the skill and creativity amateur musicians may possess, and now, with the Internet, they can make their performances available for all. It’s interesting to see in how many different styles a song can be played.

To demonstrate this, I’d like to showcase a song and then show a number of performances of a “cover” of the song. The song I’ve selected is “Umbrella” by the artist Rihanna. There are actually a number of major artists covering the song; I’ve omitted any well-known performers.

To begin with, here is the original song:

This young woman, Marie Digby, plays in a sweeter, less intense style.

Next is a young man named Ben Deignan who has performed at a coffee shop my friend frequents. It’s jazzier version, not so much like the other renditions. (thanks Jux2p0ze!)

These two harmonize quite well. An electric keyboard provides the percussion.

The next artist doesn’t allow her videos to be embedded in other sites, so I can’t show it here. She uses a ukelele instead of a guitar—it’s a refreshing bit of variation—so you can see the video at YouTube.

And finally, probably my favorite: though having hair that long would certainly annoy me, it’s a good cover and I was especially amused by the cardboard box percussion.

Please feel free to share any finds of your own!

This post is dedicated to Skim.