SciTechBlog
April 29, 2008

No sex means tricky survival for fish species

Posted: 05:17 PM ET

Not everyone in the animal kingdom needs to have sex to reproduce, but asexual species tend not to last as long as sexuals because, as the theory goes, asexuals are more susceptible to accumulating harmful mutations over many generations. That is why scientists are so fascinated by the Amazon molly fish, whose longevity has mysteriously defied evolutionary expectations.

This fish species consists of only females and, in fact, was the first unisexual vertebrate species ever discovered. The Amazon molly lives in a small range from the Nueces River in southeast Texas to the mouth of the Rio Tuxpan in Mexico. There are well over 100,000 alive today, and there are no signs that their fertility is less than that of their sexual sister species, said biologist Laurence Loewe at the University of Edinburgh.

While Amazon mollies do not reproduce sexually, their eggs can only begin developing when triggered by sperm from males of related species. Scientists think the Amazon molly probably evolved as an asexual species about 70,000 years ago.

Loewe and collaborator Dunja Lamatsch at the University of Wuerzburg, now at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, applied mathematical models to the Amazon molly’s genetic history, and found that the species should exist for less than 20,000 years before becoming extinct. The models examined a concept called Muller’s ratchet, which assumes asexual populations tend to accumulate harmful mutations over time that lead to extinction. They recently published their findings in BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Since the species is probably much older than 20,000 years, this creates what scientists call a genomic decay paradox. How, then, could the species have defied evolutionary models, and survived so long?

One mechanism at work to help the fish survive may be what is called "paternal leakage" of undamaged DNA. In other words, when sperm from males of other species trigger egg development in the Amazon molly, DNA may occasionally leak to the female and repair or restore genes gone awry through mutations. Further research is needed to determine if this or still other processes slow down the extinction predicted by Muller’s ratchet.

The results could have implications for the conservation of other so-called ancient asexuals, which include one species closely related to the Amazon molly.

Amazon mollies are also at a disadvantage because sailfin mollies, their parental species, prefer to mate with females of their own species rather than giving sperm to the Amazon mollies, research from Texas State University shows. Sailfin mollies also produce more sperm before mating with sailfin females than with Amazon mollies.

"Our results suggest that Amazon mollies have it doubly hard; they both have limited genetic variation (as per the paper above) and males of their parental species generally avoid mating with them and providing them with sperm," said Caitlin Gabor, associate professor of biology. "Yet, they clearly have persisted for a long time and possibly longer than any other vertebrate asexual species."

–Elizabeth Landau, Associate Producer, CNN.com

Filed under: Animals • environment


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April 25, 2008

X-ray telescope detects freaky quasars

Posted: 09:44 AM ET

You probably know X-rays from the doctor’s office, where the high-energy radiation helps create snapshots of bones.

This artist's impression of a broad absorption line quasar shows material spewing out along the polar axes.

Far out in the depths of space, scientists have discovered a rare type of quasar emitting more X-rays than previously thought possible. The XMM-Newton, the biggest science satellite constructed in Europe, has recently given new insight into these mysterious phenomena.

Quasars are energy-pumping celestial objects thought to be powered by massive black holes. Scientists think the black hole that drives a quasar’s energy production is the center of a distant galaxy.

Here’s how quasars work: Matter that falls into the black hole gathers in a reservoir known as the “accretion disk,” which gets very hot. Some of this gas gets thrown back out into space because of the radiation and magnetic fields, escaping the pull of the black hole, according to computer simulations.

This outgoing gas can massively impact the surrounding galaxy, and even stop stars from forming.

Broad Absorption Line quasars, or BAL for short, seem to have a thick cover of gas around them. BAL quasars constitute about 10-20% of all quasars. They generally don't seem to give off many X-rays, perhaps because the gas flowing out in the direction of the disc's equator absorbs that radiation. Watch an animation of a BAL quasar from the European Space Agency.

But two of the quasars that the XMM-Newton observed in 2006 and 2007 emitted more X-rays than they expected, suggesting that these quasars do not have absorbing gas around them.

The telescope’s observations also show that, unusually, some quasars seem to eject material out along their polar axes, perpendicular to the accretion disc. Computer simulations also show that these outflows also consist of material falling in and then spewing back out because of the strong radiation, turned away before getting close to the black hole.

These surprising results may mean that BAL quasars are more complex than scientists expected. The researchers, who published their findings in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, hope to keep track of BAL quasars over a longer time period.

–Elizabeth Landau, Associate Producer, CNN.com

Filed under: Space


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April 24, 2008

The Brightest Spots on Earth

Posted: 10:57 AM ET

NASA's remarkable Earth Observatory site has posted a series of photos taken from the International Space station. These pics, taken from a camera designed by former ISS astronaut Don Pettit during his stay aboard the Station in 2002-2003, show some of the brightest spots on the planet.

Jiddah and the Muslim Holy City of Mecca as seen at night from the International Space Station. Source: NASA

Tokyo, the U.S. East Coast, the major cities of the U. K. and Ireland, the Loop in Chicago, and the brightly-lit docks of Long Beach, CA are among the bright spot. But NASA awards the dubious distinction of the Brightest Spot on Earth to the Las Vegas Strip. Why am I not surprised?

But (you knew this line was coming) what's lit in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas.

Light Pollution is an aesthetic problem. If you live in an urban area, chances are it's been a while since you've seen a star-filled sky, a planet, or a meteor. But so much of our outdoor lighting is pointed up toward the sky - where it does no good - that light pollution has a direct link to what goes into your lungs.

The International Dark-Sky Association, a two-decade-old, Tucson-based nonprofit, has petitioned the US EPA to recognize light pollution as an "official" pollutant. They estimate that Americans spend several billion dollars a year, and generate an extra 38 million tons of carbon dioxide, in addition to the other pollutants associated with generating power, through wasteful lighting pointed at the heavens.

IDA advocates a switch to more efficient lighting: The kind that directs the light toward the things that need to be lit. Not only would it be one more little piece in the puzzle for reducing global warming, but it might make you see stars.

–Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science and Tech

Filed under: environment • International Space Station • NASA • Space


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April 23, 2008

Birds' singing in spring linked to hormones

Posted: 03:58 PM ET

As Romeo and Juliet disputed whether they heard a lark or a nightingale singing on the pomegranate tree, they probably did not ponder the biological underpinnings of why birds sing in springtime.

Scientists unlock mysteries of why birds sing.

In fact, the precise mechanisms for springtime bird singing have always been mysterious to scientists. But a recent study breaks new ground in the biology of bird songs.

A group of researchers has discovered a hormone that sets off neural activity that causes birds to sing when the days get longer. The study, led by Takashi Yoshimura of the Nagoya University, Japan, was reported in a recent issue of the journal Nature.

The scientists studied 38,000 genes of male Japanese quails under both long and short days. They found that some genes were only switched on 14 hours after dawn on the first long day.

These particular genes were found only in cells on the surface of the hypothalamus, and produced a thyroid-stimulating hormone, said Peter Sharp, a collaborator on the study at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. This hormone sets off the release of another hormone which stimulates spring breeding, he said in an e-mail.

The pituitary gland gets a boost from the hormone, pumping out other hormones that make the birds’ testes grow, the study said. This process makes birds sing.

But it’s not just our fowl friends that could benefit from this study. Human conditions such as seasonal affective disorder and poor fertility could be connected to a malfunction of the very same cells studied in the birds, Sharp said.

“Discoveries in basic biology increase the chances of developing new ways of improving animal and human well being,” he said.

–Elizabeth Landau, Associate Producer, CNN.com

Filed under: Animals • Birds


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April 22, 2008

Moscow, we have a problem...

Posted: 04:37 PM ET

Actually, neither Soyuz commander Yuri Malenchenko nor Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson uttered those words as their spacecraft plunged through the atmosphere toward a rougher-than-expected landing in Kazakhstan last weekend.

Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson arrives at Chkalovsky airport, Star City along with Flight Engineer and Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko and South Korean space tourist So-yeon Yi. They returned to Earth on April 19, 2008 to complete 192 days in space for Whitson and Malenchenko and 11 days in orbit for Yi. Source: NASA/Bill Ingalls

But details are beginning to trickle out suggesting they DID have several problems, though exactly what went wrong and how serious it was is still unclear. NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier held a teleconference with reporters Tuesday afternoon to share what he does know about the incident.

Malenchenko, Whitson and South Korean space tourist So-yeon Yi were returning to Earth from the International Space Station on Saturday when some sort of malfunction triggered a so-called "ballistic" re-entry scenario. The spacecraft re-entered at a much steeper angle than planned, bringing it down a couple hundred miles short of its target landing zone near the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The crew members inside were subjected to far more extreme G forces than normal during the drop through the atmosphere – approximately eight 8 G's for up to two minutes. There were Russian media reports of 10.5 to 11 G's at peak, but Gerstenmaier was unable to confirm that.

There is some evidence to suggest that one or more pyrotechnic bolts that hold the crew cabin to the instrumentation/propulsion section didn't "blow" as designed at the appropriate point in the descent. Those two sections need to separate so that the crew cabin's heat shield is properly oriented during the hottest, most fiery parts of atmospheric reentry. Crew members reported abnormal levels of buffeting and jostling during decent, and there are anecdotal reports by people who saw the spacecraft on the ground that it was more singed than usual. The hypothetical worst case scenario in this case would be that the unshielded parts of the Soyuz would be exposed to searing hot temperatures for too long and they could burn through. This obviously didn't happen, and there is no evidence so far to suggest it was even close. But after a breached heat shield brought down the shuttle Columbia back in 2003, NASA is very aware of the potential for disaster.

Yuri Malenchenko smelled smoke in the cockpit near the end of the flight, shortly after the parachutes deployed. He switched off the display panel for a time, and the burning smell went away.

Russian mission control was out of contact with the spacecraft for a significant period of time, and communications were not reestablished until after the crew climbed out of the downed spacecraft and Malenchenko called in on a satellite phone. There is more anecdotal evidence suggesting the communications antenna burned off during the descent, though Gerstenmaier was keeping an open mind as to whether or not there could be other explanations for the loss of comm.

And making the whole situation even more worrisome: this is the second time in a row that some of these anomalies have happened. The ballistic reentry and the crew cabin separation problem both occurred last fall when the Expedition 15 cosmonauts returned to Earth. An investigation fingered a shorted out cable as the culprit in the ballistic reentry. Malenchenko and Whitson inspected that cable in their Soyuz prior to deorbiting, and it appeared fine.

ROSCOSMOS, the Russian space agency, is appointing a commission to investigate what when wrong with this latest landing, and how it relates it to the Expedition 15 malfunctions. Gerstenmaier says NASA has full confidence that the Russians grasp the seriousness of getting to the root cause of what's going on.

But this is clearly another headache for the folks at NASA, who will be relying on the Soyuz to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station for years to come, especially after the space shuttle fleet is retired at the end of 2010.

The next astronaut slated to fly aboard a Soyuz is Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke, in the fall of this year. NASA hopes to hear the results of the Russian investigation in a few months, and decide by August or September if the problem has been diagnosed and fixed.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: International Space Station • NASA • Space • Space Tourism


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Green Giants

Posted: 09:49 AM ET

It is the real estate equivalent of the hybrid Hummer – an 8,000 square foot "eco-mansion." On this Earth Day I thought it would be worth considering the apparent hypocrisy of building a palace with the environment in mind.

It turns out it is not easy being green – especially when you are a giant.

We traveled to ever-so-swell North Stamford, Connecticut to the Windermere on the Lake development. Here they are building a few dozen mega-homes on some beautiful untouched real estate. The parcel was owned by one family for years.

Windermere President Mark Hallet Robbins reminded me "it's particularly hard to deliver a very sustainable, environmentally conscious and economical to operate home at this scale."

But you have to give them points for trying.

The home we toured has geothermal heating and cooling, incredibly tight and efficient insulation... sustainably- harvested lumber...lots of LED and natural light and the home sites are built in clusters- to preserve the woods.

"I think we've pushed the envelope of green pretty far," Robbins told me.

But can a jumbo size envelope like this really lay claim to being green? For that part of the story, I went down to Carrboro, North Carolina (right next to Chapel Hill).

That's where Architect Sophie Piesse designed an exquisite two thousand square foot home near Chapel Hill North Carolina for Jan and David Markiewicz.

Sophie is a big believer in thinking small – but designing smart.

"People spend a lot of money on square footage, and don't spend anything on the quality of the space," she told me.

In fact the Markieiczes moved from a classic McMansion twice as big. (See what goes into living a greener life)

"There were rooms that we never walked into," says Jan.

David told me "it never really felt comfortable in terms of the way in which we really like to live."

But their new house fits them like a well tailored suit. There is a cozy living room right next to the kitchen with a angles peninsula. Right beside it is a banquette where they eat every day – and entertain. Who really needs a formal living room and dining room? The house is just exquisite. The size is "Goldilocks" all the way: just right

The moment we decided to do this story I thought of architect and author Sarah Susanka. I am a member of the Lindbergh Foundation Board of Directors – and last year we gave Sarah an award for her work proselytizing the virtues of "The Not So Big House". The book she first penned with that name ten years ago has morphed into an extremely successful series – a cottage industry (if you will).

When Sarah first came here from Britain she was taken about by the big size of nearly everything – from cars, to drinks, to food portions to homes.

"Right now in almost everything you can look at any part of our society and see excess," she says.

Sarah is not a judgmental person – ( hard as I tried to get her to cast aspersions!). She says "Not so Big" is something that should be left entirely to individuals. But it is clear she would like to see us walk away from building trophy homes.

"We're trying to balance our footprint on the planet," she told me. "We each can make incredible shifts in how we're living to affect that shift."

Sarah hopes over time, people will see the wisdom of building smaller and living smarter. To return to the analogy I used at the outset – perhaps it is time we looked for a home as we shop for a car. And maybe the Prius is all we need. (See how much you know about living green)

But at Windermere – they say the owners of these huge eco-mansions will not owe us – or the planet – any apologies. Still – wouldn't smaller be greener? Mark Robbins begs to differ.

"It's how you build it, it's where the houses are sited and how they operate," he said.

Our homes are our castles – and they are the cornerstone of the American Dream. Now is not the time to stop dreaming big – but maybe it is time to stop building that way simply for the sake of telling the world we have arrived.

–Miles O'Brien, CNN Sr. Environment and Technology Correspondent

Filed under: environment


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April 21, 2008

Earth Day's Mid-Life Crisis

Posted: 01:37 PM ET

Nature tends to run amok on us this time of year.   Up North, the sap runs.  Out on the West Coast, the gray whales are migrating.   Here in the South, we go out in the driveway and make snow angels in the pollen.  Somewhere, birds are doing a mating Lambada.  And just outside the window, the squirrels are merry.

But we also run amok on Nature.  Tuesday, for the 39th year in a row, we'll celebrate Earth Day .

Forgive me  for being a bit jaded, but for the 39th year in a row, we'll hear a litany of global threats, and a promising list of solutions that are Just Around the Corner.   How real is all of this?  I'm pretty well convinced of the problems, but are we conning ourselves on how easy the solutions are?

Or, put another way, are we making a little mistake here by marking our relationship with Nature by relegating it to a third-tier holiday?

No doubt, a lot has changed since the first Earth Day.  Solutions abound.   And no doubt, some of the problems have gotten worse.  Cars burn a lot cleaner than they did back in 1970, but Americans own more of them and drive a lot farther.   Rivers are cleaner, so is the air, and keystone species like the gray wolf, once almost gone, are doing so well that we're developing an itch to kill them again.

But we're losing habitat and open space.  We're losing other species.  And global warming is the 800-pound gorilla in the atmosphere, threatening to change almost everything about the way we live, most it for the worse.

For at least the third time in my life, we're seeing a steep rise in public and political awareness on the environment.  The first one inspired the first Earth Day, following a series of appalling environmental stories.  The worst of them was the epic tale of Cleveland's Cuyahoga River, so befouled by industrial waste that it caught fire and burned.

Fast-forward two decades to 1990.   Earth Day that year featured a mass rally on the Washington Mall emceed by Tom Cruise, and a star-studded special on ABC.  We're talking two hours in Prime Time here, but alas, it wasn't enough to Save the Earth.  Once again, the crescendo in public concern followed a wave of awful environmental stories:  The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl; medical waste and sewage washing up on New Jersey beaches; the first dire reports on global warming and the ozone hole; and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  (Note that while global warming has gone from theory to the ugly brink of reality, each of these other problems have at least partly calmed down:  No more Chernobyl like disasters, cleaner beaches, no mega-star oil spills, and a slowly-resolving ozone crisis, thanks to international cooperation.)

But like the 1970 phenomenon, interest waned within a couple of years.

Global Warming is keying the latest resurgence in environmental consciousness.  The hopeful part of me says maybe it will stick this time.   The jaded part of me sees our unabated addiction to oil and coal, and the fact that China and India are poised to outdo this country in greenhouse emissions - with far fewer controls than the U.S. has.

 It remains to be seen if we'll do any better this time around at maintaining a commitment.

Does Earth Day help?   Undoubtedly, it provides a focus where there otherwise might not be any.  But there's also a kind of a seamy underbelly to Earth Day.  More specifically, I've recently received publicists' pitches for carbon-neutral vodka and climate change chocolate.  They stood out amidst the deafening roar of other pitches for a green everything.  Some are sincere and legitimate.  Some are a cynical howl.  Bottom line:  I'd be a little skeptical when the same marketers who want us to consume the Jesus right out of Christmas (literally) have latched on to Earth Day as the latest, greatest hook to sell us stuff we surely don't need.  Perhaps the best take on this is a piece in an unlikely place - the current issue of Advertising Age,

We can't consume our way out of environmental problems.  And we can't wish away environmental problems by anointing ourselves as "carbon neutral, " either.  But enough grinching from me.    Happy Earth Day.   Cinco de Mayo's only two weeks away, so maybe I'll eat the worm this time.  And here's a link to what's happening to the agave plants that make our tequila.....

 Peter Dykstra   Executive Producer    CNN Science & Tech

Filed under: Uncategorized


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April 18, 2008

Remembering A Mentor

Posted: 10:38 AM ET

KATU file photo

If you lived in the Pacific Northwest anytime in the last 50 years... you know who he is.  Jim Bosley... or more simply The Boz was a TV pioneer and Portland institution.  I had the privilege of working with Boz the last few years of his career.  Soaking in television knowledge and know how as much as I could.  What I didn't expect to gain was a father figure and dear friend.  He was always there for me after he retired... and even after I left Portland for CNN 5 years ago.  He died last week after a long battle with heart ailments.  He was 73.
 
The memorial service was Monday in Portland.  And just like the Boz... it was like no other service I've ever attended.  The best way I can describe this remarkable man to someone who's never met him is... well... he's a combination of Willard Scott and Regis Philbin.    Big bald warm weatherman and a lovable crank with razor sharp wit.  Nobody was more themselves or real on camera than the Boz.   He led the weather team at KATU for 30 years while also hosting his own morning talk show.  A Portland king and Northwest television legend.  The private service Monday was rich with loving friends and TV professionals paying homage to The Man.
 
I gave the Eulogy.  A huge honor.  Not an easy task considering how close we were and how complicated Jim Bosley's life was.  Not only was he a weatherman and talk show host, but he also was an accomplished artist, a diplomat to Fiji, and of course a loving family man.  Well once I set the stage with an attempt to wrap up his life in ten minutes... a parade of friends and colleagues approached the podium with their thoughts and memories.  It lasted two hours but felt like two minutes.  Tears were constantly interrupted with roars of laughter.  Silence quickly replaced by thunderous gospel music.  It was a show and party... and that's the way Boz would have wanted it.
 
I'll miss you my friend.
Rob Marciano, CNN Meteorologist

Filed under: meteorology


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April 17, 2008

Ocean critters to planet: You slobs are killing us!!

Posted: 04:21 PM ET

Apparently a few hundred million of you were zoned out the day your a) mother b) father c) elementary school teacher told you that if you make a mess, you clean it up. And it appears that the smokers of the world had a higher absentee rate than others.

Volunteers on coasts and lakes picked up more than six million pounds of bottles, bags and butts last September 15, during The Ocean Conservancy's annual International Coastal Cleanup. The organization has just released a detailed analysis of the litter they picked up along 33,000 miles of shoreline.

Top 10 debris items collected worldwide:

  • cigarette filters 27%
  • food wrappers/containers 9%
  • caps lids 9%
  • bags 8%
  • beverage bottles (plastic) 6%
  • cups plates forks knives spoons 5%
  • glass bottles 4%
  • cigar tips 4%
  • straws/stirrers 4%
  • beverage cans 4%

The most dangerous items to ocean creatures: plastic bags, balloons, fishing traps, fishing line, and six pack beverage holders. Volunteers also found condoms, diapers, syringes, light bulbs, shotgun shells, and appliances.

Some of the 378,000 volunteers in 76 countries learned firsthand how deadly trash can be to wildlife. Those scouring beaches found 81 birds, 63 fish, 49 invertebrates, 30 mammals 11 reptiles and one amphibian entangled in debris during the cleanup effort. Among the volunteers were 8300 divers, who averaged 20 pounds of trash each.

Data collected in earlier beach cleanups has helped craft marine debris legislation, and helps find simple answers to litter problems.

"It's a wonderful event, engaging people to do something positive," said Laura Capps, Senior Vice President of the Ocean Conservancy. "It also gives us tangible data to identify sources and problems," she said.

Many of the answers to reducing coastal litter do NOT involve rocket science.

Capps said 80% of the beach trash comes from land based sources. And solutions may be as simple as providing more bins on beaches for people to put their picnic litter.

So what about the other 364 days a year when volunteers are not cleaning up?

Sometimes the volunteers who pick up trash on the official cleanup day get active in their communities to make beach beautification a year-round effort.

"For many people the ocean is big and vast and dark, out of sight and out of mind," said Capps. She said people who say they would never leave trash at the beach don't realize that flicking a cigarette out the window or not chasing down a straw wrapper from their kids are creating litter that can just as easily end up in a waterway.

One of the sponsors of the coastal cleanup is a company whose products make up a big part of the trash problem.

Paige Magness, spokeswoman for Philip Morris, said there are simple answers to reducing some cigarette trash.

She said the cigarette manufacturer works with the national non-profit Keep America Beautiful organization to place cigarette receptacles at the entrances of non-smoking buildings. In 2007, she said that effort reduced cigarette litter by 54% in the 180 participating communities.

Cans and bottles also make up a big part of ocean trash. Coca-Cola has been working with the Ocean Conservancy and its cleanup efforts for 12 years.

"We have an extensive research and development program, we are always looking at the next innovation in packaging," said Lisa Manley, Director of Environmental Communications at Coke headquarters in Atlanta.

She said the company was among the first to use recycled content, and to invest on "bottle to bottle" facilities, taking used plastic and turning it into new bottles.

The Ocean Conservancy says it wants to stress the positive aspect of hundreds of thousands of people making a difference in cleaning up coastal areas.

And maybe some of those "things you should have learned in kindergarten" need a little review. It could be your bottle or your cigarette butt responsible for killing some of the million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles that die from eating or becoming tangled in marine trash every year.

–Marsha Walton, Producer, CNN Science and Technology

Filed under: Animals • environment


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April 15, 2008

Atom bomb developer and physicist John Wheeler dies

Posted: 10:21 PM ET

On an autumn day in 1967, John Archibald Wheeler gave a lecture on celestial objects called pulsars, speculating that at their center might lie a "gravitationally completely collapsed object." He told the audience he wished he had a better name for this object. “How about black hole?” an audience member offered, according to the Princeton University account of his life. And so it was.

ALT TEXT

Physicist John Wheeler is seen here in 1991.

Coining the term “black hole” is just one of countless contributions to physics credited to Wheeler, who passed away on Sunday at his home in Hightstown, New Jersey at the age of 96.

Wheeler, a longtime member of the faculty at Princeton University, saw his own career as a three-step process, according to Princeton’s obituary. The first, which he called “Everything Is Particles,” consisted of a time when he searched for how to construct all basic particles like neutrons and protons from the lightest, most fundamental particles. Next, beginning in the 1950s, he thought particles represented electrical, magnetic, and gravitational fields, as well as space-time itself, and saw the world as the result of these fields. This phase he called “Everything Is Fields.” He focused on logic and information in his final phase, which he called “Everything Is Information.”

He coined the physics terms “geon” and “quantum foam,” in addition to “black hole.”

“I had been searching for just the right term for months, mulling it over in bed, in the bathtub, in my car, wherever I had quiet moments," he said of the term “black hole,” the Princeton obituary said. "Suddenly this name seemed exactly right."

After serving on the Princeton faculty from 1938 to 1976, when he retired, he became the director of the Center for Theoretical Physics at the University of Texas-Austin until 1986.

Among his many accomplishments, he worked with Niels Bohr to generate the theory of uranium fission and helped with the development of the hydrogen bomb.

His nuclear work for the government encountered one notable snafu. One morning in January 1953, on train to Washington, D.C. he woke up to realize that the classified paper of the hydrogen bomb was gone, having disappeared overnight, Princeton’s article said. President Eisenhower got military officials to scold him personally.

But 15 year later, he felt forgiven for this incident when President Johnson gave him the Fermi Award for his work for national defense and science.

His other accolades included the Einstein Prize in 1965, the National Medal of Science in 1971, and the Niels Bohr International Gold Medal in 1982. His students included Nobel laureate Richard Feynman.

-Elizabeth Landau, Associate Producer, CNN.com

Filed under: Space


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