Professor Shakhashiri is a frequent guest of the Larry Meiller Show
on the Ideas Network of Wisconsin Public Radio.
Below is some information about past shows.
2007, 2006, 2005,
2004, 2003, 2002,
2001, 2000, 1999,
1998, 1997 and earlier
The discussion on the Larry Meiller Show included the following topics in response to questions from Larry and from callers.
- In the spirit of the holiday celebrations, Professor Shakhashiri brought with him to the studio several beverages with bubbles–soft drinks, champagne and beer. In all of them the bubbles are formed by carbon dioxide coming out of solution in the liquid when the beverage is opened and the pressure is released. The bubbles add visual and audio interest to the drinks–the "fizz" was easily heard on the radio. They also carry odors to the nose. Larry noted that carbonated beverages also release gas in the stomach. Professor Shakhashiri demonstrated the "dancing raisins" experiment–raisins put into soft drinks rise and fall as bubbles form on them and then are released when the raisin nears the surface of the liquid In answer to a caller, Professor Shakhashiri said the CO2 bubbles are the same whether they occur through fermentation in champagne or beer or whether they are forced into soft drinks. However, the way the CO2 is released is different in different beverages. For example, the bubbles in champagne are smaller and last longer than the bubbles in beer because beer contains more proteins on which bubbles can form. Professor Shakhashiri also brought a can of Guinness Draft, in which bubbles are formed differently. The can contains a cannister of compressed nitrogen gas which forms a large volume of small bubbles. Professor Richard Zare of Stanford has done extensive research involving filming the bubbles in Guinness (see http://www.stanford.edu/group/Zarelab/guinness/index.html) Professor Shakhashiri also recommends the new book Uncorked: The Science of Champagne, a fascinating study of the bubbles in champagne along with a short history of champagne. Another caller asked about methods of carbonating beverages at home. This was once a common practice, using small canisters of compressed CO2. Professor Shakhashiri urged listeners to enjoy carbonated beverages, but to do it responsibly and safely.
- Larry asked about the year in science in 2004. Professor Shakhashiri said the success of the Mars rovers must rank as a great achievement–Science magazine called it the breakthrough of the year.
- Professor Shakhashiri said the deadly earthquake and tsunamis in Asia demonstrate the need for better detection and warning systems like the ones currently in place for hurricanes. Professor Shakhashiri said science and technology are only useful to the extent that they serve society and while the relief efforts in Asia are impressive, technology must be put to use to provide better warnings. Professor Shakhashiri said the issues behind stem cell research and cloning will not go away, and there will be increasing pressure to use nuclear energy to produce electricity. Technological advances will continue and Professor Shakhashiri said society must deal with them responsibly, weighing the benefits and drawbacks. There will be more breakthroughs in medicine, in nanotechnology, and in other areas, and Professor Shakhashiri called for more socialization of science and technology, using it to improve the human condition.
- Larry asked about government funding for scientific research. While there was talk two years ago of doubling the National Science Foundation budget, the current budget cuts it by 2%, which Professor Shakhashiri said does not bode well for the future development of science and technology. The budget for the National Institutes of Health is increased by 2%. NASA got a 4.5% increase, but most of that is for re-activating the space shuttle. Overall, the U.S. government spends $132 billion a year on R&D in science and technology an all time record, with $75 billion going to defense and homeland security. NIH gets $28 billion, NASA gets $16 billion and the National Science Foundation gets $5.5 billion (for a summary and analysis please visit http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/) While increases must be realistic, Professor Shakhashiri said the nation must continue to support science and technology, which are the engines that drive the economy, and the budget can be changed if citizens communicate their concerns to their elected officials. He also called for more young people to go into careers in science and technology and careers in teaching.
- A caller asked about saving the Hubble telescope. After the Columbia space shuttle disaster, NASA initially decided to abandon the telescope, which will need maintenance within the next two years. Part of the controversy is whether the telescope should be repaired by a robot mission or by a shuttle mission (the telescope has already been repaired twice by shuttle missions). Professor Shakhashiri said the Hubble has been an outstanding success and should be saved, but the nature of the mission will ultimately be a political decision. For more on the Hubble please visit http://hubble.gsfc.nasa.gov/index.php The President has called for manned missions to Mars, a very controversial policy. Professor Shakhashiri again urged listeners to communicate with their elected officials to express their views.
The discussion on the Larry Meiller Show included the following topics in response to questions from substitute host Jim Packard, producer of the program, and from listeners.
- Jim asked for Professor Shakhashiri's reaction to the election and its potential effect on federal funding for scientific research. Professor Shakhashiri noted that there is a deep division and polarization in the country and that scientists were more vocal than usual in comments on the election and the Administration. (He also noted that "polarization" is a scientific term that has entered the general language.) There are serious concerns about all federal funding because of the rising national debt and the cost of the war in Iraq. Professor Shakhashiri said that science and technology are the engines that drives the economy and it's vital to maintain federal support. He said scientists are citizens who are free to express their views, but are not a special interest group and should not be treated as if they are. Quality of life issues are not partisan issues, he maintained, and the flow of talent into science and technology must be maintained for continued progress in areas such as conquering disease.
- California has taken the initiative in stem cell research with the passage of a three billion dollar referendum, and leaders in Wisconsin are concerned about maintaining the position of the state where University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher James Thomson was the first to establish a replicating line of embryonic stem cells. But Professor Shakhashiri said research should not turn into a competition since everyone benefits from advances. Wisconsin is a relatively small state but has a track record of excellence in education and research and Professor Shakhashiri hopes the state doesn't lose too many people. He knows of scientists who have left the country to do stem cell research where there are no political constraints to governmental funding of research. Republicans control the federal government but Professor Shakhashiri said there are issues that require cooperation and collaboration among all citizens and he hopes the government can move forward and not get bogged down in the kind of exchanges that characterized the bitter election campaigns - he says we as citizens deserve better.
- Professor Shakhashiri added that he travels a lot in other countries and that, "whenever I come back I go down on my knees and give thanks for living in the U.S."
- The timetable for the federal budget is already overdue. The federal fiscal year started October first and some of the appropriations bills have not passed Congress yet and proposed funding for agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health are lower than needed. Meanwhile, the President is supposed to present the next budget, for fiscal 2006, in February of 2005.
- Professor Shakhashiri said the country needs leadership, not just management, and urged young people to pursue careers in public office and public service, and he encouraged everyone to volunteer for public service.
- Jim asked about the apparent lack of interest in science among young people, particularly minorities. Professor Shakhashiri said jobs in science and technology are projected to grow at three times the rate of other jobs and that young people are not attracted to science and technology in proportion to the demand. He noted a number of programs offered by the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy to attract minority students to science. He said the country is likely to experience a shortfall because scientific research can't be outsourced like information technology. A caller disagreed, saying that engineering trade magazines predict a glut of engineers because research and development jobs are being sent overseas. Professor Shakhashiri said there won't be a glut of engineers in the long run because there is a lot of work to do in many areas such basic and applied research, the environment, health care, etc. He noted the growing dependence on foreign talent coming to the U.S., which is now in jeopardy because of visa restrictions. He said foreign applications to the University of Wisconsin-Madison are down by 30 per cent.
- A caller asked about attempts in several parts of the country to get "creation science" taught in science classes and classify evolution as a theory and not a fact. One such initiative is in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, where the school board passed a resolution saying the science curriculum "should not be totally inclusive of just one scientific theory" and calling for "various models/theories " of origin to be incorporated. Professor Shakhashiri said he respects different viewpoints but objects to a movement to force school systems to teach something that is not in the realm of science. Professor Shakhashiri, who was raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church, said he respects religious beliefs, and knows many scientists who are deeply religious. But he sees no clash between religion and science because they deal in different domains - religion is a system of beliefs while science is a system of inquiry. He commended University of Wisconsin faculty and administrators for protesting the Grantsburg policy. 43 deans of Wisconsin public universities and more than 300 biology and religious studies faculty sent letters urging the Grantsburg school board to reverse its policy. Professor Shakhashiri said evolution is well proven and accepted by almost all scientists and scientific disciplines. He recommended the cover story in the November issue of National Geographic , "Was Darwin Wrong?" The magazine's answer is "plain No." (See www.nationalgeographic.com).
- All the tickets for the 2004 annual Christmas Lecture ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS CHEERY IN THE LAB OF SHAKHASHIRI have been issued. Wisconsin Public Television will telecast the program on Friday, December 24 at 4:30 p.m. and again at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, December 26. For telecast time on PBS elsewhere around the country people should check their local PBS listings.
The discussion on the Larry Meiller Show included the following topics in response to questions from substitute host Jim Packard, producer of the program, and from listeners.
- Professor Shakhashiri just returned from Singapore where he was invited by the Singapore Science Center . He gave ten Science is Fun presentations to audiences of about 500 each. He also gave two workshops and discussed education issues with school teachers and university faculty. He also met with former U.W.-Madison students. Professor Shakhashiri said he was trying to live up to the Wisconsin Idea, that the borders of the University include the entire world.
- Singapore is both a city and a country with a population of about four million. Its education system is different from the U.S. Professor Shakhashiri said that whenever he mentioned Singapore Math, people rolled their eyes—to them, it's standard procedure. The Singapore Math system is becoming popular in the U.S. Madison Country Day School is one of several schools which already use it. He said Singapore officials seemed interested in American education and his trip resulted in a mutual exchange of ideas.
- A caller asked if students in Singapore spend less time in sports and more time on academics than American students. The short answer is yes, though Professor Shakhashiri said students in Singapore do participate in athletics. There are playing fields everywhere and schools also offer music and other arts
- October 4 is the anniversary of the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite in 1957, just three weeks after Professor Shakhashiri arrived in the U.S. with his family from Lebanon . Sputnik shocked Americans who had assumed the U.S. was far ahead in the space race. As a result, the federal government began many programs to improve math and science education, programs which were very successful in maintaining U.S. leadership in science and technology. Professor Shakhashiri's career and his entire life were influenced by how the country responded to Sputnik. He says the country now faces other challenges including economic difficulties and the threat of terrorism. and hopes government programs will continue to guide students and researchers to activities that benefit the nation and the world. Advances originating the U.S. have a tremendous impact on the entire world.
- Jim asked if the U.S. has lost the focus on science and technology, which are not getting as much emphasis as they did in the past. Professor Shakhashiri said fear was a major motivating factor in the response to Sputnik since launching a satellite meant that the Soviet Union could also launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, but that enlightened leadership took advantage of a perceived threat and turned it into an opportunity. He reiterated that the country needs a good flow of new scientists and engineers to maintain its technological edge and remain competitive in the global economy.
- A caller said that science is not being used to help society as much as it could be, asserting that a lot of research effort is directed at the military and that science has not dealt with many important problems. Professor Shakhashiri said it's up to society as a whole to put advances to good use. Scientific discoveries will be made, but not all will lead to improvements for everyone—how they are used will determine their impact. This is why science literacy is so important. It is a great advantage of democracy to have as many people as possible participating in influencing leaders and ensuring that advances are used properly. Professor Shakhashiri called for an informed discussion of issues, respecting the opinions of others and not dominated by ideology.
- Jim noted that the U.W.-Madison has just received a grant of 13 million dollars from the National Science Foundation to establish a new Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center which will employ approximately 25 scientists and engineers for the next five years. The University has also received a grant of two and a half million dollars from NSF for increasing the participation of under-represented groups in science and technology, leading an alliance of 21 state colleges and universities. Professor Shakhashiri said these efforts are a good use of taxpayer's dollars and a vote of confidence in the University.
- Professor Shakhashiri left immediately after the program to fly to Beirut , Lebanon , for a UNESCO sponsored conference on teaching science at the university level. He will be the keynote speaker, and expects to meet many U.W. alumni.
- Professor Shakhashiri closed the program by urging listeners to vote. He said it's an important responsibility of citizens to become informed and vote, and he urged each listener to recruit at least three more people who would not otherwise vote.
The discussion on the Larry Meiller Show included the following topics in response to questions from Larry and from listeners.
- Larry began by noting an honor received by Professor Shakhashiri, election to the hall of fame of the chemical fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma. In the 100 year history of the fraternity, only 30 people have been elected to the hall of fame. Professor Shakhashiri said the honor is a reflection on the mission of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (For more information, click here).
- Schools will soon be starting and Larry asked if there?s a shortage of scientists and technology workers. Professor Shakhashiri said not enough people are going into science and technology, even though they are the engines that drive the economy and a good supply of workers is needed for our country to remain competitive. The nation has been relying heavily on foreign talent in graduate schools, which is a tribute to the quality of education in the U.S., but Professor Shakhashiri is puzzled by the lack of interest among native-born students. This is not a new problem but has been accentuated since 9-11 by restrictions on visas. Professor Shakhashiri said schools must provide an environment to encourage students in science and technology and parents and business leaders must help. He noted that only seven per cent of science workers have Ph.D. degrees while 22 per cent have only a high school or two year degree, so there are many opportunities.
- A caller disagreed with Professor Shakhashiri, saying that he knows people in science and technology fields who have been unemployed for months due to outsourcing and lack of funds. The caller wanted to know what are the fields with opportunities. Professor Shakhashiri said not every local situation is favorable, but that we should take a global view. For example, Europe and China are moving fast and will become more dominant economically due to science and technology. He said the U.S. is not moving as fast as it should and that government and business leaders must ensure that there are opportunities for good schooling and good jobs.
- Another caller said there's no shortage of scientists and engineers but, in fact, there's a surplus. The caller said he has a master's degree in engineering and is discouraging his own children from going into science and engineering because the jobs are dead-end jobs. He said the skills are not transferable to new fields and employers like to hire younger people just out of school. Professor Shakhashiri disagreed, saying that education, as opposed to training, increases the adaptability of students and empowers people to do things they couldn't do before, even if specific jobs become outmoded. He said he's not crying "wolf" because there are many issues that must be dealt with including homeland security, an energy crisis and environmental protection. As for fields with opportunities, Professor Shakhashiri noted that schools are greatly expanding their offerings in biological sciences and that people are always needed in related fields like communications and computer skills. Larry said his department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, life science communication, has many students with double majors in communication and a science. Professor Shakhashiri said that's good because many scientists are not good at communicating to the general public.
- Larry asked about charges that the Bush administration has politicized science by rejecting scientific advice and stacking scientific panels with ideologues. Professor Shakhashiri said decisions on how science is used are political decisions and debate about them can be healthy. Society must act politically on issues like stem cell research, environmental regulation and nuclear waste storage and Professor Shakhashiri said the debate must not be allowed to degenerate into name calling, as it has done in some other areas. He said leaders should treat citizens with respect and not insult our intelligence and that we must demand better treatment.
- Professor Shakhashiri noted that participation in voting is dismal and challenged every listener to recruit one new voter every three days in the 75 days remaining before the November election. He said that would make a huge difference and he is appalled by the indifference of many citizens.
- A caller said science is not an unmitigated good and that, like guns, it can be used for good or evil. The caller said the implications of biotechnology are staggeringly negative and could lead to the enslavement of humanity. Professor Shakhashiri agreed that discoveries can be used for good or evil-nuclear power can be used to make electricity or bombs. He said science is not the answer to all problems but can help society make intelligent decisions. We can't dis-invent something but we must act as responsible individuals and nations making intelligent choices with concern for others.
- A caller from Milwaukee asked how students can get scholarships or other financial help for college education. Professor Shakhashiri said students have many options and the caller could find information by looking in the yellow pages for the closest schools and asking for information. Most schools have extensive information about financial aid on their web sites. In Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is at www.uwm.edu , Marquette University at www.mu.edu and Milwaukee Area Technical College at www.milwaukee.tec.wi.us . Schools in all parts of the country have similar information.
The discussion on the Larry Meiller Show included the following topics in response to questions from Larry and from callers:
- Professor Shakhashiri said he has mixed feelings about the end of a school year. While job prospects for graduates in science and engineering are fairly good, Professor Shakhashiri said these are also troubling times politically and socially, and he’s always saddened to know that this is the last time he will see his class as a group. Graduation is a time to think about the future–he said our destiny is in our own hands and we must develop the wisdom to guide it to good ends. He also said summer is a good time to do some reading and recommended three works, Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel, Uncle Tungsten, Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks, and American Trilogy, a booklet containing the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Professor Shakhashiri gave copies of American Trilogy to all his students, courtesy of University of Wisconsin Libraries, which published it. Professor Shakhashiri has a longer list of summer reading.
- Larry asked about reports that the U.S. is losing its dominance in science as shown by indicators such as Nobel prizes awarded, scientific papers published, and patents awarded. Professor Shakhashiri says the rest of the world is catching up, partly because American schools have been very successful at educating people from other countries. He says the U.S. must get more native born Americans to go into science and engineering, especially since the number of foreign students coming to U.S. colleges and universities has fallen by a third, partly due to more stringent visa requirements. Other countries are also doing a good job of marketing their own science and technology opportunities. Though other countries are catching up, Professor Shakhashiri says they still have a long way to go to match the U.S., and he points out that there are no international boundaries in science–advances benefit all of humanity. He also called for “liberal education” in the classic sense of the word–“liberal” comes from the same stem as “liberty”. He said students should not just be trained technically but have a balanced education equipping them to evaluate social, economic, and political issues.
- Larry asked about the many recent reports of plagiarism among academics, journalists, and students. Professor Shakhashiri called the wave of cheating not only sad but despicable, and he said it reflects on the values and character of all of society. For his own chemistry class, he asks students to sign a non-cheating statement as they take each exam. While this is no guarantee they won’t cheat, Professor Shakhashiri said it’s a declaration on his part of how important the issue is. He said most students sign the statement and some thank him for the reminder. He also bans cell phones during exams since they could be used for cheating, and said everyone has to become aware of how technology can be used in cheating. Professor Shakhashiri observed that people don’t cheat just once–it becomes a habit and it’s a problem for all of society when people think they can get away with it.
- Another caller said there is too much emphasis on grades and not on learning, and that this is a cause of cheating. Professor Shakhashiri said grades are important, but are not everything. He said the goal should not be just to catch and punish cheaters but to instill in them the reasons why they shouldn’t cheat and to develop good citizens.
- The next caller said he did not cheat in college, though many other students did, and his honestry probably hurt his grades in comparison to others. Professor Shakhashiri said we must remind ourselves of the purpose for taking a course, to learn, not just to get a grade. A good grade does not necessarily mean the student learned, and, just as importantly, learning should continue long after a course is finished.
- Another next caller said the American mind-set is one of domination, but that people should be citizens of the human race and share resources. Professor Shakhashiri said the drive to be number one is part of American culture, but we shouldn’t rate advances on a relative scale, but rather we should re-affirm our beliefs and know what we stand for so the rest of the world can benefit from our advances.
The discussion on the April 15 show included the following topics in response to questions from Larry and from callers.
- Professor Shakhashiri appeared on the program via telephone from the University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville where he was delivering the 28 th Annual Probst Memorial Lecture. Actually, it was two lectures. A lecture during the day, for faculty and students, focused on learning and teaching science. The public lecture in the evening was titled, "Science is Fun". Professor Shakhashiri said this is an example of extending the Wisconsin Idea beyond the borders of the state.
- Larry asked about a science summit in Washington recently, called by Education Secretary Ron Paige. More than 1000 people participated including Presidential Science Advisor Jack Marburger, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, National Academy of Sciences president Bruce Alberts, and retired and active astronauts. No decisions were made at the summit. It's purpose was to discuss the No Child Left Behind Act and the role of the education department in science education. One idea under discussion is to shift some education funding from the National Science Foundation to the Department of Education. While the timing of the summit is obviously related to the upcoming election, Professor Shakhashiri says there's nothing wrong with that. It's good to have a public discussion and, he's pleased that the Department of Education is taking an interest in science.
- Larry asked about the decline in the number of foreign students, particularly graduate students, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at schools nationwide. Foreign student applications have declined by about one third both at Madison and nationally, the steepest decline ever. Professor Shakhashiri says severe visa restrictions for security purposes are the major reason for the decline, though there is also greater competition from good schools and research institutions elsewhere in the world. Some schools, particularly in Europe, Australia, and even China are taking advantage of U.S. restrictions with aggressive recruiting campaigns for foreign students. Professor Shakhashiri told of attending a lecture almost two years ago at a Chinese university which was so good he could have closed his eyes and imagined he was at a first-rate U.S. university. Professor Shakhashiri said the loss of foreign students is a serious problem. It will reduce the quality of research and teaching at U.S. schools, and reduce the diversity of experience for American undergraduates. In addition, students who go to school in the U.S. become goodwill ambassadors in their home nations. Professor Shakhashiri noted that science has no national boundaries, that progress helps everyone in the world and that having foreign nationals involved in activities in the U.S. is a general trend for example, all the professional sports leagues are becoming more and more international, with players from many countries. While Professor Shakhashiri welcomes foreign students and was in immigrant himself (coming from Lebanon with his family in 1957), he said it's also important to have more native-born Americans become involved in science. Too many Americans shun science and he said it will take the efforts of everyone involved, parents, teachers, educators, political leaders and students themselves, to stimulate interest in science and encourage students to take advantage of the great opportunities that are available.
The father of a tenth grade student called to ask about information on scholarships and grants for science students. Professor Shakhashiri said the best sources for information are human sources such as high school and college guidance counselors. Every college has career advising, including information on grants and scholarships, and most maintain web sites. Professor Shakhashiri urged the caller to contact guidance and career counselors directly.
- Another caller mentioned a program offered by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Letters and Science, called Science Bag, which offers a series of science-related performance/lectures.(see www.uwm.edu/letsci/sciencebag ) . Professor Shakhashiri said young students are curious and interested in science and the goal should be to nurture that interest. In Wisconsin, there are many museums and virtually every college has an outreach program. There are many programs now available to stimulate interest in science. Professor Shakhashiri mentioned "Science Expeditions" on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus April third, which drew more than 1100 people. Most of the science departments on campus participated. Three "Science is Fun" presentations were made by undergraduate students each drew packed houses of more than 200. Professor Shakhashiri says the key is to sustain interest in science and share the wealth of talent and knowledge now available on campuses.
- A caller asked about student interest, or lack of interest, in science and asked whether there are good paying jobs in science and science-related fields. According to a recent survey, the job market for new graduates seems to be improving. Employers are hiring 11 per cent more new college graduates than they did in 2003. Starting salaries for computer science and information sciences increased substantially in 2004 and are now at $50,000 and $44,000 respectively. Mechanical and electrical engineering salaries increased slightly; both are at about $50,000. Starting salaries for computer engineering and chemical engineering remained static at about $52,000. The survey is from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, Salary Survey Spring Report (see www.naceweb.org/ )
- Larry asked about reviving nuclear power. Our reliance on fossil fuels and the environmental problems associated with burning coal have caused some experts to call for a new consideration of nuclear production of electricity, even though no new plants have been built in the U.S. in many years. Though there are legitimate concerns about the safety of the transportation and storage of nuclear waste, Professor Shakhashiri said a careful and responsible look at alternative production is needed to meet growing energy demand, and he said nuclear advocates have a responsibility to overcome the public phobia against nuclear power.
The discussion on the March 4th show included the following topics in response to questions from Larry and from callers:
Professor Shakhashiri described the Oxygen Symposium at the recent national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The symposium was patterned after the Oxygen Symposium organized by WISL and held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last spring in conjunction with University Theatre’s production of the play OXYGEN. During the meeting, Professor Shakhashiri and other speakers appeared on the Science Friday program on National Public Radio. A DVD of the play OXYGEN is now available.
- Larry asked about President Bushes announced plan to establish a manned moon base as the take-off point for a manned expedition to Mars and NASA’s decision to abandon the Hubble Space Telescope http://hubble.nasa.gov/ to save money for the manned expeditions. Professor Shakhashiri responded by saying that NASA has canceled a space shuttle trip scheduled in 2006 to the Hubble to perform needed maintenance and upgrades. If the maintenance is not performed, the telescope will deteriorate and become useless. Professor Shakhashiri says the decision was political, as all decisions involving taxpayer money must be political in nature. However, a consensus of scientific opinion favors maintaining the Hubble. Professor Shakhashiri said 97 per cent of what people do in space can be done more safely and economically by robots, as shown by the current Mars explorers, and in most cases the risk and the cost of manned expeditions does not justify them. He said the Hubble has been one of the most successful of all efforts to do science in space, and it is capable of doing far more. For example, a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has built a new instrument for the Hubble which is tested and ready to go–all it needs is a ride–and Professor Shakhashiri says that effort and many others would be wasted if the Hubble is not maintained.
- A caller pointed out that maintaining the Hubble would require a manned shuttle mission similar to a previous maintenance and repair mission. Professor Shakhashiri said a mixture of manned and robotic missions will be necessary in the future–what he opposes is the sudden shift in NASA’s mission, abandoning something that’s been very successful in favor of a very expensive program of manned missions. He pointed out that China has recently announced its plans to send astronauts to the Moon and reiterated that all government decisions must be political. He urged scientists and all citizens to make their views known to their elected representatives.
- Larry asked about the recent discovery of two new elements, numbers 113 and 115 http://www.nature.com/nsu/040202/040202-4.html. The elements, which are highly radioactive and unstable, were synthesized in a Russian cyclotron with analysis by an American team led by 28 year old Joshua Patton, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. The new elements were formed by bombarding the nuclei of americium with the nuclei of calcium http://www-cms.llnl.gov/e113_115/. The team made just four atoms of element 115, which lasted approximately one millionth of a second, then deteriorated into element 113, which lasted 1.2 seconds, a very long time for an artificial element. The discovery advances the attempt to make even larger elements and prove or disprove the theory that there’s an island of stability in elements beyond number 118 on the periodic table. This is also research supported by tax dollars, and Professor Shakhashiri says it will advance our understanding of the universe and its formation.
- A caller asked about criticism that President Bush has distorted science to conform to ideological and religious beliefs. The Union of Concerned Scientists http://www.ucsusa.org/ recently issued a petition signed by more than 60 scientists complaining that the administration has distorted science. Signers include 20 Nobel laureates, 19 winners of the National Medal of Science and former advisors to both Republican and Democratic presidents. Among their complaints: limiting stem cell research, eliminating a section on global warming from an EPA report on the environment, scrapping a Centers for Disease Control fact sheet on condom use and replacing it with one emphasizing condom failure rates, and appointing people to scientific boards based on ideology rather than expertise. Professor Shakhashiri said it’s very important for scientists to step forward and make their views known to the public and elected officials so informed decisions can be made. He emphasized that there should be an element of respect on all sides.
- Larry's guest was Professor Frank Drake, father of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, who was in Madison to deliver a free public lecture sponsored by the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy. Drake is Emeritus Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of the board of the SETI Institute (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) and a former director of the Arecibo Observatory. In 1960, Professor Drake conducted the first systematic radio telescope search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Professor Drake is co-author, along with Dava Sobel, of Is Anyone Out There? The Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Delacorte Press, 1992).
- Professor Drake told Larry that finding extraterrestrial intelligence would be enormously important and would change everything. Though the search has not discovered any conclusive evidence so far, Drake said he is not discouraged because the search has barely begun looking at the huge number of potential sources, and the importance of the discovery would be so great that it justifies the search. The SETI, Institute which employs about 130 scientists, is funded by private gifts and grants. For more information about the SETI Institute go to www.seti.org.
- The first caller asked about a program in which time on home computers is used to process signals detected by the Arecibo Observatory. Volunteers leave their home computers on, processing the vast amount of data coming in. More than three million home computers are now working on the data and have contributed about 300,000 years of computing time. The program has been so successful, it is being copied to process data from genome and genealogical research. The caller said it makes a great screen saver. Anyone wishing to participate can download the program from http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu.
- A caller asked whether there is a conflict between science and religion. Professor Drake said he does not see any conflict; the goal of science is to find out how things work while religion asks why things are the way they are, a question science does not address.
- Professor Drake was asked about the probability that there is intelligent life elsewhere. Some scientists say the path to intelligence depends on so many accidents of physical and cultural development that existence of other intelligent life is highly unlikely. Professor Drake said this is a major ongoing debate in science, but there is no reason to believe that humans would be the only intelligent life on earth. We may be merely the first to develop intelligence on earth while other animals may be capable of developing intelligence as well. Professor Drake developed an equation to calculate the probability of the existence of intelligent life in the universe. For more information about the Drake Equation click http://www.seti.org/seti/seti_science/
- Another caller asked about plans by NASA to discontinue maintenance of the Hubble space telescope, allowing it to deteriorate and cease functioning. Professor Drake said the Hubble telescope has been extremely successful and that most scientists are very upset with the decision and are trying to overturn it.
- In answer to another question, Professor Drake said the Arecibo telescope, in Puerto Rico, is open to visitors every day for free tours. He called it a wonder of the world. The receiving dish is 1000 feet in diameter and covers about 20 acres, four times the size of the next largest telescope, and it’s by far the most sensitive radio telescope in the world. The Arecibo web site is at www.naic.edu (National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center).
January 15, 2004 Larry Meiller Show
The discussion on the January 15th. show included the following topics in response to questions from Larry and from callers:
The Mars rover moved off its landing craft this morning and President Bush has called for a renewed space program with the aim of landing people on Mars. Larry asked Professor Shakhashiri for his opinion on this. Professor Shakhashiri said the developments are very exciting and people are naturally curious, but we need to hear more details about the proposed space program and carefully assess the benefits of manned versus unmanned space exploration. Astronaut Laurel Clark, who was killed last year in the space shuttle disaster, was a student of Professor Shakhashiri's at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. Professor Shakhashiri said the space program must have a clear mission and political statements should be scrutinized by everyone, because all of us will pay as taxpayers and all of us can potentially benefit. Professor Shakhashiri is all for space exploration, but noted that President Bush Senior called for an ambitious space program in 1989, which never materialized, and also proclaimed that the U.S. would become number one in the world in math and science education, which has not happened.
- A caller from Maine asked about the need for science literacy in the general public to consider an issue like Mars exploration. Since the program would require a lot of tax money, Professor Shakhashiri said the debate should include a science-literate public. Another example of a major project that required some science literacy to debate was the superconducting supercollider proposed by the senior Bush but rejected by Congress. Professor Shakhashiri is sorry the project was not approved, but it would have been very expensive and he yields to informed, democratic decisions.
- A caller asked about a book by Professor Theodore Brown called, Making Truth: Metaphor in Science (University of Illinois Press, 2003). Professor Brown appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio with Larry Meiller September 24, 2003, and a review of the book by Professor Shakhashiri is on this web site (under "Recommended Readings").
- Larry asked about the gambling referendum pending in Madison. Voters will approve or disapprove of a Native American casino in Madison, expanding the existing Ho Chuck bingo hall. Larry asked if this is a science issue. Professor Shakhashiri says it raises questions which can be dealt with by science, starting with the mathematics of gambling odds, which many people either do not understand or choose to ignore. The proposal also raises economic, social, psychological and medical issues and Professor Shakhashiri is appalled that his colleagues on the faculty and staff are not participating on either side of the issue. Gambling reflects our values as a society and Professor Shakhashiri says all the issues must be carefully considered. He commended the Madison Downtown Rotary for scheduling a forum on the issue but also called on faculty and staff to participate in the debate in the University tradition of sifting and winnowing. (A statement by the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents in 1894, enshrined in a plaque on Bascom Hall, the central campus building, says, "Whatever may be he limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state university of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.") Professor Shakhashiri opposes all forms of commercial and state-operated gambling, but also believes all the issues should be addressed fully, and also wondered why the teachers unions, Madison Teachers Inc. and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, have not taken part in the debate.
- A caller noted that casino gambling has benefitted Native Americans. Professor Shakhashiri said his objections to gambling have nothing to do with the tribes–he would oppose the casino regardless of who would operate it. He has been involved in education projects to benefit Native Americans and wonders whether gambling is the right vehicle for the tribes to improve their status. He also noted that if the referendum passes, the city of Madison and Dane County would each get three and a half million dollars a year. That compares to annual budgets of 374 million dollars for the county and 178 million for the city.
- A caller asked about the cracks in ice sheets on frozen lakes and rivers. Professor Shakhashiri explained that water expands when it freezes and that ice is less dense the water. For more information about the fascinating properties of water and ice please click on http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/essay_wadhams.html
- A caller asked about hydrogen fuel technology and a hydrogen economy. A web site with a lot of information is run by the federal Department of Energy, "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy", www.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/
- Another caller asked about the ability of viruses to survive outside the body–some viruses can survive for a long time while the AIDS virus can't survive outside the body. There are numerous sources of information and perhaps one can start by looking at http://www.nih.gov/od/oar/about/about_oar.htm#nathst
- A caller asked about the curious effect of rubber bands which seem to give off heat when expanded and feel cold when they contract. There is a demonstration of this phenomenon on this web site and Professor Shakhashiri congratulated the caller for making the discovery independently. Click on "Experiments You Can Do At Home" then "Rubber Bands and Heat."
- Another caller asked about news reports that methane gas hydrate could become an energy source. Methane is the chief component of natural gas and crystallized methane hydrate is found at northern latitudes. Professor Shakhashiri said there is a lot of research being done to try to tap this energy source, but he doesn't expect any results to be on the market in the next few years. For more information please visit www.netl.doe.gov/scng/hydrate/about-hydrates/about_hydrates.htm
- This Saturday Professor Shakhashiri will be in Green Bay as part of the Einstein Project Science Fair presenting three "science is fun" shows.
Click for informations about recent shows
Back to Science is Fun Home Page