Tag Archives: atomic

A nuclear war is enough to destroy the world. Even a small one, study shows

In what can only be considered perfect timing, a team of researchers published an analysis on what would happen in the case of a nuclear war — a small one, between India and Pakistan.

The conclusion? It would be a complete disaster for everyone.

Let’s refrain from using this, shall we?

Unprecedented planet-wide food shortages and probable starvation lasting more than a decade — that’s what the world can expect if India and Pakistan (two countries who have had their fair share of adversity) launch a nuclear war.

India and Pakistan aren’t exactly nuclear powerhouses — that elite club is reserved for the US and Russia, who combined, own almost 95% of the world’s 14,000 nuclear warheads.

It’s estimated that India and Pakistan each have about 150 warheads — relatively, it’s not a lot, but practically, it’s still enough to wreak havoc.

The recent study examined the potential effects if both countries released 50 Hiroshima-sized bombs. The assumption is that this doesn’t further escalate and remains a localized war.

“Even this regional, limited war would have devastating indirect implications worldwide,” said Jonas Jägermeyr, a postdoctoral scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies who led the study. “It would exceed the largest famine in documented history.”

In addition to all the people that would be killed, the bombings would launch some 5 million tons of soot into the stratosphere. From there, it would spread around the globe, absorbing sunlight and lowering global temperatures by 1.8 degrees Celsius almost immediately.

This shift would last for at least five years, and would cause the production of main cereal crops to drop by an average 11% — sufficient to bring about widespread famine.

“While crop failures after historic volcanic eruptions are documented, a nuclear conflict can cause even more severe and longer-lasting climate anomalies,” the study reads.

The northerly areas of US, Canada, Europe, Russia, and China, would be affected the most in terms of production. Yet, paradoxically, southern regions would suffer more hunger — particularly because southern areas have fewer surpluses and have a more difficult task feeding themselves as it is. The more developed north can cope better with loss, whereas the south is very vulnerable. According to the authors, 70 underdeveloped countries with a cumulative population of 1.3 billion people would then see food supplies drop more than 20%, when the net effect of trade is considered.

This is not meant to serve as a manual for what to do in case of a nuclear war. Rather, it is a warning that nuclear war, even in a localized fashion, would be absolutely catastrophic. It’s a reminder that although other threats make the headlines (and often, for justified reasons), nuclear weapons still exist, and they still represent a hidden threat to society’s wellbeing.

If nuclear weapons continue to exist, “they can be used with tragic consequences for the world,” said study co-author Alan Robock, a climatologist at Rutgers University who has long studied the potential effects of nuclear war. “As horrible as the direct effects of nuclear weapons would be, more people could die outside the target areas due to famine.”

The study might even be on the conservative side. We don’t really know what bombs India and Pakistan have available, but it’s very likely that they have access to larger bombs than the ones modeled in this study.

In addition, the study didn’t look at the effects such an event would have on India and Pakistan themselves — two countries which, together, account for around 1.6 billion people, or 20% of the globe’s population.

India and Pakistan would almost certainly be the worst affected by this, but researchers wanted to avoid mixing up the direct effects of a war with the indirect ones (which is what they were analyzing).

Although the researchers did not study this, Jägermeyr said that one could reasonably assume that food production in the remnants of the two countries would drop essentially to zero. The cascading effects of this would transform what would already be a worldwide crisis, into an unprecedented catastrophe. Furthermore, the researchers did not factor in the effects of radioactive fallout, which could render many agricultural areas unusable, nor the possibility that the soot in the atmosphere could heat up, as it cools the planet. This effect would cause stratospheric ozone to dissipate, allowing more ultraviolets into the Earth’s surface, further affecting agriculture.

It’s a sobering reminder to the destruction we are capable of bringing into this world — and that we’d be wise to avoid using.

“We’re not saying a nuclear conflict is around the corner. But it is important to understand what could happen,” concludes Jägermeyr.

The study “A regional nuclear conflict would compromise global food security” has been published in PNAS.

Scientists create the first molecular transistor

Researchers from Yale University succeeded in what seemed to be an impossible task: they’ve created a transistor from a single molecule. In case you don’t know, a transistor is a “semiconductor device commonly used to amplify or switch electronic signals” (via wikipedia).


The team showed that using a single benzene molecule attached to gold contacts is just as good as the regular silicone transistor. Also, by modifying the voltage applied through the contacts, they were able to control the current that was going through the molecule.

“We were able to allow current to get through when it was low, and stopping the current when it was high,” says Mark Reed, Professor of Engineering & Applied Science at Yale.

The importance of this discovery should not be underestimated; it could prove to be very useful, especially in computer circuits, because common transistors are not feasible at such small scales, and this may very well be another step towards the next generation of computers. However, researchers underlined the fact that fast molecular computers are probably decades away.

“We’re not about to create the next generation of integrated circuits,” he said. “But after many years of work gearing up to this, we have fulfilled a decade-long quest and shown that molecules can act as transistors.”

Dark matter discovered, or at least rumor has it

Well, rumors and science never go well together, especially when it goes to something as important as the work going on at LHC, who just got back in business a short while ago.

Dark matter map

Dark matter map

My first reaction was to believe it was just a rumor. However, after hearing and reading many articles on this I still find it hard to believe. However, what really made me think was that everybody was going on and saying how this find would bring a major change in our understanding of the Universe. I think it wouldn’t; let me explain.

First of all, I don’t know if they discovered dark matter or not yet. I’m waiting for the official announcement as much as the next guy. It would be indeed a major breakthrough, but it wouldn’t change our understanding, it would just confirm it. Researchers have long theorized that dark matter exists and that it is responsible for about 90% of the Universe’s mass. They can’t see it, but deducted it exists because of the gravitational forces. So basically, a lot of our understanding of the Universe relies on the fact that dark matter exists.

The big change would be if they recreated the right conditions and didn’t find it! It would be so significant, that basically we’d have to rethink modern physics. Same goes for the Higgs boson. I mean, with current knowledge, scientists have been able to demonstrate that these particles exist; if they are indeed found, we’re right, we can move on to finding more things, hurray. But if they’re not… things really get messy.

So, what do you think the LHC will bring? Will it break once again, shed light on everything it can, destroy the world, what? Tell everybody on the Facebook page

Meet the world’s most powerful X-Ray laser

homerThe first experiments with this laser (Linac Coherent Light Source) have been given the green light at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The illuminating of objects and processing speed will take place at an unprecedented scale, promising groundbreaking research in physics, chemistry, biology and numerous other fields.

“No one has ever had access to this kind of light before,” said LCLS Director Jo Stöhr. “The realization of the LCLS isn’t only a huge achievement for SLAC, but an achievement for the global science community. It will allow us to study the atomic world in ways never before possible.”

Early experiments are already showing some promise, providing insight on fundaments of atoms and molecules, underlying their properties. The short term goal is to create stop action frames for molecules in motion. By putting together many of these images to create a film, scientists will create for the first time a film with actual molecules in motion, being able to see chemical molecules bond and break, as well as actually see how atoms interact at a quantum level.

“It’s hard to overstate how successful these first experiments have been,” said AMO Instrument Scientist John Bozek. “We look forward to even better things to come.”