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Monday, December 19, 2016

Grand Unification Dream Kept At Bay, by Natalie Wolchover, Quanta Magazine

But the proton lifetime predicted by that first, and simplest, GUT model, along with the first thousandth of the range of proton lifetimes predicted by other models, has already been ruled out. Super-Kamiokande is now probing the range of predictions of several popular proposals, but with two decades under its belt, it won’t be able to push much further. “It’s harder to do much better now because it’s accumulated so much data,” said Ed Kearns, a physicist at Boston University who has worked for Super-K since the experiment started.

This leaves the fate of grand unification uncertain. Barr, one of the originators of the still-viable “flipped SU(5)” GUT model, compared the situation to waiting for your spouse to come home. “If they’re 10 minutes late, there’s simple explanations for that. An hour late, maybe those explanations become a little less plausible. If they’re eight hours late … you begin to worry that maybe your husband or wife is dead. So the point is, at what point do you say your theory is dead?”

The Brutal Dreams That Came True, BY Martin Filler, New York Review of Books

Time and again we have seen reawakened interest in the disdained buildings of two generations earlier, a span still within living memory but not quite yet history. [...]

Now, with almost clockwork inevitability, several new books indicate that the rehabilitation of yet another once-reviled phase in the building art is underway. The architecture in question is an industrial aesthetic that arose in postwar Britain and was dubbed New Brutalism, a semi-ironic, quasi-pejorative label on the order of Gothic (which implied the barbarism of the Goths) and Baroque (from the Portuguese word for a misshapen pearl). The Swedish architect Hans Asplund coined the term nybrutalism in 1949, and four years later it was used for the first time in the British journal Architectural Design.

'Hidden Figures,' 'The Glass Universe,' And Why Science Needs History, by Genevieve Valentine, NPR

Science often exists in the public mind as a tidy series of facts; anonymous and absolute things we know. Hydrogen is the universe's most abundant element. Air traffic controllers have to keep passing planes free of wake turbulence. But the history of science is, like so much else, a human history. The process of discovery isn't a timeline of data points, but a search for meaning undertaken by people looking for answers. And some of them achieve the fame that fixes them on that timeline (we all know Galileo).

But history tends to get simplified; a map becomes a single road leading from point to point. It's not surprising that some scientists who contributed invaluably to the field have been kept out of the dominant narrative because they were women, and they were considered anomalies of their time. (That those times practically overlap — meaning a steady line of crucial work being done by women — is one of those scientific patterns that tend to get forgotten.)