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December 17, 2011

Never use tap water in your Neti pot

Louisiana warns of brain-eating parasite in tap water | The Raw Story
Officials in Louisiana warned this week that a brain-eating parasite known as Naegleria fowleri might survive in some of the state’s tap water, cautioning that if residents use the common cold remedy known as a neti pot, they should thoroughly boil their water first. Neti pots work by injecting a hot water/salt solution into users’ sinuses, flushing out mucus and clearing the nasal passages. Although Naegleria fowleri is most commonly found in pond water, lakes and rivers, officials said that two people in Mississippi recently fell victim to to the amoeba, seemingly after they used tap water in their neti pots. The two male victims, both killed by their infection, were ages 20 and 51. . . . “If you are irrigating, flushing or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a Neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution,” Louisiana epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard said in a statement to reporters. “Tap water is safe for drinking but not for irrigating your nose.”

December 16, 2011

This will help you understand why finding the Higgs boson is kind of a huge deal

Waiting for the Higgs Particle - NYTimes.com
The story began in the 1960s as physicists developed what would soon be called “the standard model of particle physics” — a mathematical framework that would prove capable of predicting the results of every experiment at every atom smasher around the world. The equations locked quarks and electrons, muons and neutrinos and a host of other fundamental particles into a mathematical matrix whose intrinsic patterns, like the form of a perfect snowflake, exhibited an exacting symmetry. But even as the theory’s predictions were repeatedly borne out by nearly half a century of experimental data, one vital part remained beyond reach. The theory incorporated a proposal, most closely associated with the English physicist Peter Higgs, for how fundamental particles acquire mass. Roughly speaking, the mass of a particle, much like the mass of a truck, is the resistance you’d feel were you to push on it. The question is, where does this resistance come from? The answer, according to Higgs’s idea, is that all of space is filled with an invisible substance — the Higgs field — which acts kind of like a pervasive molasses, exerting a drag force as particles try to accelerate through it. The “stickier” a particle is, the more the molasses-like Higgs field affects it, and the more massive the particle appears. The emptiest of empty space, vacuumed clean of matter and radiation, would still be permeated by the Higgs field. Higgs thus suggested a rewriting of the very definition of nothingness, filling otherwise empty space with a substance capable of bestowing upon particles their mass. It was a strange and exotic proposal; the first paper Higgs submitted on the subject was rejected. But as physicists continued to study the idea, they found its mathematical simplicity and physical insights remarkable. Other approaches to providing particles’ mass fell afoul of one or another mathematical inconsistency, whereas Higgs’s proposal endured. By the time I entered graduate school in the 1980s, the Higgs field was routinely spoken of with such nonchalance that for a while I didn’t realize the idea had yet to be experimentally confirmed.

December 13, 2011

Is fracking causing an epidemic of earthquakes?

Some Blame Hydraulic Fracturing for Earthquake Epidemic - NYTimes.com
Nine quakes in eight months in a seismically inactive area is unusual. But Ohio seismologists found another surprise when they plotted the quakes’ epicenters: most coincided with the location of a 9,000-foot well in an industrial lot along the Mahoning River, just down the hill from Mr. Moritz’s neighborhood and two miles from downtown Youngstown. At the well, a local company has been disposing of brine and other liquids from natural gas wells across the border in Pennsylvania — millions of gallons of waste from the process called hydraulic fracturing that is used to unlock the gas from shale rock. The location and timing of the quakes led to suspicions that the disposal well was responsible for Youngstown’s seismic awakening. As the wastewater was injected into the well under pressure, the thinking went, some of it might have migrated into deeper rock formations, unclamping ancient faults and allowing the rock to slip. As the United States undergoes a boom in the production of gas from shale, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has come under fire from environmentalists and others for its potential to pollute the air and contaminate drinking water. But the events in Youngstown — and a string of other, mostly small tremors in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, British Columbia and other shale-gas-producing areas — raise the disquieting notion that the technique could lead, directly or indirectly, to a damaging earthquake.