More talking science policy

The new money offered by the EU to science is already filtering down. An award of money for the eVLBI – Very Long Baseline Interferometer – project to create new data handling techniques has been made. The VLBI combines the data from several radio telescopes around the world that look at the same point of sky at once. The resolution is the same as a telescope the size of the separation of the individual facilities involved. The sensitivity is the sum of all involved facilities. The new technologies supported by the award include High-Bandwidth on demand, for data transfer. Dynamic caching of data at times when there isn’t sufficient bandwidth to push it all through at once. High capacity storage distributed over the network on demand and distributed correlation, which would see the process of splicing the data from the various facilities performed at a number of sites rather than just one central supercomputer.

Sticking with Europe and ESA‘s in the final stages of choosing two new medium class missions and one large mission for launch, and is about to put out a call for new missions proposals to go in the following timeslot. The BBC has more.

April 2011 will see a new centre for Earth Observation open at the International Space Innovation Centre in Harwell, Oxfordshire, according to David Willetts, the science minister, who made the announcement at the Farnborough Air Show. The centre will be a place for forty or so scientists to analyse the information coming down from satellites watching our planet. Also at Farnborough, it was Space Day. As well as Willetts, there were talks by ESA’s Director General and Italy’s space minister. ESA’s Farnborough blog is here.

Meanwhile, a physicist has called for the chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering to be removed from his position on the board of the Science and Technology Facilities Council after his academy called for funds to be redirected to engineering from particle physics, which STFC funds and is bound to protect the funding of through royal charter (not that that’s helped other STFC areas before…). More on the story here.

Perhaps causing less of a stir, but no less vitriolic, is the ongoing debate of writing styles in academic research papers. The actual criticism of style hasn’t met with any opposition, but the suggestion that academics only ever confine themselves to such writing has been met with raised eyebrows by blogging researchers like this one.

Which brings me neatly onto an interesting take on the H-R diagram, which looks at the stars of academia. In this case, academics are plotted on two scales, one of academic papers published, the other of fame outside academia. You have the main sequence, in which researchers gain fame through repeated publishing and higher positions, leading onto academic giants such as Lord Rees. There’s the new media branch, low on papers, high on blogging community fame, populated by PhD students and postdocs. There are the Dark Astronomers, who publish a few papers in less well known fields, jumping out of the branch after achieving a certain number of publications. Then there’s the media stars, high on fame with varying amounts of papers published. Professor Brian Cox (who has a Sun article out on a high energy collision measured at CERN) and Chris Lintott (who has a new paper out, releasing the data from the Galaxy Zoo project for all to see) have similar numbers of papers, but it seems Chris’ star is waning compared to the much in vogue Cox, for example. See the diagram here.

For astronomers hoping to improve their google ranking on that diagram, one way is to do a podcast in a popular series of such. The Adler Planetarium has a series called Night and Day, which this week focuses on highlights of the Kepler Mission to identify exoplanets.


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