Akron Phy sics Club

Archive 2009

January  John Portman - The Dynamics of Flexible Protein Molecules, Folding and Allosteric Transitions 
February  Alan Gent - Non-Linear Elasticity, 100 Years of the Poynting Effect  
March  Scott Graham - NASA's New Rockets, the Constellation Program: the Ares Launch Vehicles (Access to the Future)  
April  Owen Lovejoy - Human Origins, More Than Phylogeny  
May  Sasi Pillay - High Performance Computing and Visualization  
September  Jie Shan - Terahertz Time-Domain Spectroscopy and its Application 
October  George Collins II - Precision Cosmology  
November  Georg Böhm - Nanoparticles  





Akron Physics Club


Meeting Announcement: MONDAY, January 26, 2009 - TANGIER, 6:00 PM

Speaker for our first meeting of the New Year will be biomechanicist Dr. John Portman, who heads the Portman research group at Kent State University. His group is developing theoretical methods to reveal the mechanisms that control conformational changes in proteins relevant to their biological function. The title of Dr. Portman’s talk is:

The Dynamics of Flexible Protein Molecules

Folding and Allosteric Transitions

The structural self-organization of protein molecules has fascinated biologists, chemists, and physicists for many years. Flexibility and dynamics are the key connections between the structure of a protein and its biological function. Proteins fold into three-dimensional structures essential to biological function, a concept that is brilliantly illustrated in an animation on our speaker’s website at: http://phys.kent.edu/Physics/Portman.html
[Then click on Portman Group website

Minutes, January 26, 2009

  As his first and customary order of business, Chairman Ernst von Meerwall inquired who might be first-time visitors for this first meeting of the New Year. In response, Hendrik Heinz of the U of A’s Polymer Engineering Department introduced himself, and Charlie Wilson introduced Brent Sisler, who was representing ACESS, an Akron-area technical organization comprised of about a dozen familiar scientific, engineering, and technical societies. ACESS (whose mission is “to enhance the technical environment in the Akron area through coordination and cooperation . . .”) invites our club to join the group—a subject that will be taken up at our next APS board meeting. (The invitation could pose an interesting problem for ACESS in that this collective organization charges each society a modest dues of 35 cents per member per year; but our club charges no dues and doesn’t have a membership list — only an e-mail mailing list — which is one reason we are the cheapest club in Akron.)

  This brought us to the nail-biting climax of our meeting, a report on the health of the club treasury by Treasurer Dan Galehouse. We started, he said, with $341.60 — a figure which has been getting uncomfortably larger lately, because we charge a dollar more for dinner than Tangier charges us, and we’ve had healthy attendances. Since we had two guests this evening, we should have ended up with 328.60. But two separate counts of Dr. Dan’s plastic safe resulted in a net of $348.60— which seems to be evidence that metaphysics has made its way into the club. (And thanks to new contributions by Bill Arnold and Jack Gieck, our fund for student dinners is now $236.)

  Ernst then invited Program Chairman Sam Fielding-Russell to disclose the identity of the NASA speaker our final program of the year. He will be Dr. Sasi Pillary, Chief Information Officer of NASA Glen. Dr. Pillary’s topic will be High-Performance Computing and Visualization, and its Impact on NASA’s Mission and Program — a presentation, Sam said, that promises to be heavy on digital imagery. In answer to an inquiry from Ernst about next year, Sam reported that he has already had several suggestions, and welcomes more. His e-mail address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. phone
(330) 688-2602.

  When called on, your Secretary apologized for having sent out the Newsletter announcement for the January meeting in triplicate (after receiving several false indications of non-deliveries by the Mail Daemon. Webmaster John Kirszenberg suggested that some of the problem may have been due to my e-Blok having no-longer-valid e-mail addresses, which nullified the rest of the list. I explained that this turned out to be indeed true of three uakron.edu addresses, which, when corrected, went through properly. But we still seem to have, as Ernst abbreviated it, an “indicator problem” on about a dozen uakron.edu addresses (some of whom reported getting all three transmissions).

  Chairman Ernst then introduced our speaker for the evening Dr. John Portman, Assistant Professor of Physics, Kent State University. Although a biomechanicist, Dr. Portman heads a research group at Kent State University that is “developing theoretical methods to reveal the mechanisms that control conformational changes in proteins relevant to their biological function.” The title of Dr. Portman’s talk was The Dynamics of Flexible Protein Molecules: Folding and Allosteric Transitions.

  Proteins, our speaker explained, are polymers, but they are special because they self-organize into three-dimensional structures on which their biological function depends. As the group’s website says, “this structural self-organization of protein molecules has fascinated biologists, chemists, and physicists for many years. Flexibility and dynamics are the key connections between the structure of a protein and its biological function as it reacts with other proteins or DNA.” Such three-dimensionality is illustrated in an animation on their website at: http://phys.kent.edu/Physics/Portman.html  [Then click on Portman Group website].

  While this interesting animation is in three dimensions, it merely rotates on the computer screen. But in the real world, when signaled by a calcium messenger protein for example, a protein molecule has the ability to fold and bend and dramatically change shape. It actually hinges on the amino acids; indeed, several of the equations our speaker displayed contained torsional spring constants for these pivot points. Different parts of the structure have different degrees of flexibility, and the value of these spring constants varies with allostery (the attachment of a smaller molecule) and it is reversible.

  Proteins fold in an energy landscape that has the shape of a funnel, our speaker said, displaying a V-shaped plot of energy (y) vs. configurational position (x), with the width of the deep well representing configurational entropy. This illustrates, he said, “the principle of minimum frustration amid many fast-folding proteins.” There are many pathways, he said, from a folded to an unfolded state. He went on to describe how he and his group had developed their model(s) for self-organization, but the attendant equations he showed us are probably beyond the scope of AOL to reproduce from this Macintosh.

  As Dr. Portman’s website explains, “We are developing analytical and computational approaches to understand the mechanisms controlling large-scale structural changes in proteins. Examples include protein folding, allostery, and conformational changes induced from interactions with molecular surfaces. These questions are addressed using theoretical concepts and approaches from within statistical physics, soft condensed matter physics, and chemical physics, as well as molecular dynamics simulation.” The group is obviously doing pioneer work in a very busy and complex field that is still in its theoretical and computational infancy.

Jack Gieck


Akron Physics Club


Meeting Announcement: MONDAY, February 23, 2009 - TANGIER, 6:00 PM

For our February meeting we are very pleased to welcome back University of Akron Professor Emeritus (and Harold A. Morton Professor Emeritus) of Polymer Physics and Polymer Engineering, long-time Goodyear Consultant, and our own icon of all things elastomeric, Dr. Alan Gent, who presented his first program to the club (on adhesion) in March, 1994. Alan’s topic for February is:



Minutes, February 23, 2009

  Our February meeting began during dinner with an unplanned event. Club founder Charlie Wilson choked on part of his, and was taken to the Akron General’s Emergency Room by Fire Department paramedics. There, by 2:00 AM(!), his problem was solved with what he has described as a “mini RotoRooter”, wielded by a specialist from South Africa (who, fortunately, now lives in the Akron area), and Charlie’s been fine ever since.

  After dinner, Chairman Ernst von Meerwall introduced Bob Erdman’s guests, Michael Plishka and Vivek Katiyar. Because your secretary was retrieving his cell phone from his car (to keep tabs on Charlie) he missed Treasurer Dan Galehouse’s spellbinding account of how we began the evening with $348.60 and finished with the even higher new sum of $352.60 (but he obviously gave me his infallible documentation). Thanks from all of us, Dan, for continuing to perform this unceasing, vital chore.

  Our treasurer’s report was followed by one from Program Chairman Sam Fielding-Russell, who reminded us that our calendar is now complete for the balance of the year, and that although he has been pleased to have a received several suggestions for next year, he would welcome more at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 330-688-2602.

  Which brought us to the reason we had assembled. It was time to introduce our colleague of nearly two decades, Dr. Alan Gent, University of Akron Professor Emeritus (and Harold A. Morton Professor Emeritus) of Polymer Physics and Polymer Engineering, whom we have known as icon of all things elastomeric. Dr. Gent’s subject this evening was 100 years of the Poynting Effect and Non-Linear Elasticity.

  The Poynting effect, he explained, was first revealed by Professor of Physics (at the University of Birmingham) Poynting in 1909. He had discovered that when a wire or metal rod is twisted, it gets longer. Moreover, the increase in length is directly proportional to the square of the torque applied. In 1912, Poynting revealed that the same effect occurs in rubber, where it is more obvious because of the larger displacement amplitudes. The Poynting effect is not accounted for by the classic (linear) theory of elasticity, so it remained something of a mystery for many years.

  But during the period 1946-49, Ronald Rivlin, whom our speaker characterized as his mentor, developed his mathematical theory of large elastic strains, beginning with the compressive hydrostatic pressures created when a simple rectangular block of an essentially incompressible solid, e.g. rubber, is stressed in shear. Instead of concentrating on stress-strain relations, however, Rivlin directed his attention to the energy generated within the structure — from which stress-strain relations can be readily derived. One of the results that immediately follows is that to maintain the block in shear, forces must be applied to the ends of the piece. Other conclusions about stresses in a sheared block resulting from Rivlin’s efforts include:

If no stresses are applied to the end surfaces, large tensile stresses are set up in the interior of the rubber. But they depend upon the shape of the end surfaces, and on small departures from incompressibility. For a rectangular block distorted into a parallelogram, this stress is tensile, not compressive.

Such counterintuitive relationships result in even more complexity with large torsions in a twisted rod. If no stresses are applied to the ends of a rod in torsion, it will elongate (as the diameter shrinks). When a stretched rod is twisted, the stretching force is reduced (the Poynting effect) until a critical amount of torsion is reached. Then the rod kinks, creating the curling phenomenon all of us have encountered when winding up the rubber-powered propeller on our model airplanes. As the twisting continues, each time the point of tensile instability is reached, another successive kink curl forms. When each kink forms, one twist in the strand disappears but the rest of the strand (or rod) is stressed more highly — in tension.

  Citing an example of the enormous forces that can be generated by resulting internal pressures in the rubber, our speaker described a practical application that consisted of a disc-shaped rubber damper (i.e., a short rod operating in torsional shear) in the driveshaft of a naval vessel between the engine and the propeller. But the torsional surges in the damper were so great that they jammed the engine forward against the bearings!

  Another example of elastic instability in rubber (when the tension exceeds 37%) is the bubble that sometimes appears on the spherical surface of an inflating balloon. And we saw in Power Point images that included a rubber tube forming an aneurism, a block of rubber saturated with high-pressure gas developing internal bubbles, and a bent block suddenly developing inward-directed creases on its concave side.

  With his explanation of the (previously obscure to this writer) Poynting effect, Alan once again delighted us with some treats from his extensive knowledge and understanding of the physics of elastomers.

Jack Gieck


Akron Physics Club


Meeting Announcement: MONDAY, March 23, 2009 - TANGIER, 6:00 PM

Speaker for our March meeting will be Scott Graham, Chief of NASA Glenn’s Launch Systems Project Office. Mr. Graham has over 27 years experience at NASA Glenn, working primarily in areas associated with space transportation, launch vehicles, exploration initiatives, and rocket propulsion. He will be speaking on:





The new vehicles, Ares I and Ares V, will be used to return humans to the Moon in the next decade. Ares I is the Crew Launch Vehicle; Ares V is the heavy-lift cargo launch vehicle that will be used to launch the lunar lander and other cargo. The presentation promises to have lots of visuals, including video animations depicting how these new vehicles will be used for future lunar exploration missions.

Minutes, March 23, 2009

  Although it wasn’t scheduled until a month later, our March meeting began amid signs of spring(!), with temperatures in the 50s (still Fahrenheit during the current century). When Chairman Ernst von Meerwall opened the meeting by asking if there were any first-time visitors, John Sommer introduced his guest, Dennis Taylor, a Hudson neighbor.

  Ernst then brought us up to date on our Webmaster, John Kirszenberg, who was home from a brief hospital stay for a coronary problem, which resulted in the installation of two stents in a single artery. As of this writing, John is feeling enough better to drive to the doctor for additional tests, and to go to the grocery store.

  Ernst then called on Treasurer Dan Galehouse, who reported that we began the evening with $362.60 and after paying for our dinners, including that of our speaker, earned us (despite the financial climate) a net profit of $4.00 for a new high asset of $352.60, and in it’s all in cash!

  Called upon, Program Chairman Sam Fielding-Russell reviewed the April program described in the headline, and reminded us that our May program (Dr. Sasi Pillary, Chief Information Officer of NASA Glen) will again this year be a week early — on the third Monday in April, because of the Memorial Day holiday. Ernst then invited Founder Charlie Wilson, also author of our bylaws, to remind us that he will be seeking officer candidates for next year via e-mail to conduct our annual election at our next meeting — which prompted Ernst “to put in a plug” for more recent [hopefully younger (this writer’s note!)] members/attendees to consider volunteering to serve if they are interested in helping the club continue, and willing to devote a little of their time.

  Which brought us to Chairman Ernst’s introduction of our speaker, who, he pointed out, had brought an uncomfortable amount of equipment for his AV presentation, all by himself! He introduced Scott Graham, Chief of NASA Glenn’s Launch Systems Project Office. Mr. Graham has over 27 years experience at NASA Glenn, working primarily in areas associated with space transportation, launch vehicles, exploration initiatives, and rocket propulsion.His subject was NASA’s New Rockets, The Constellation Program: The Ares Launch Vehicles (Access to the Future!). Mr. Graham illustrated his talk with 20 detailed Power Point stills and several animations, replete with music, sound effects, and their own narrator — the first one in the format of a movie trailer.

  The two new vehicles, Ares I and Ares V, he (and his video) explained, will be used to return humans and their extensive new gadgetry to the Moon during the next decade. Ares I is the crew launch Vehicle; Ares V is the heavy-lift cargo launch vehicle, which will be used to launch the Lunar Lander and other cargo.

  The Ares I is needed to replace the Space Shuttle. First launched in 1981, the Shuttle has only eight more launches scheduled, after which it will be retired (in 2010). Thereafter, until the development of the Ares I is complete, we will be dependent on other nations (probably Russia) to travel to and return from the International Space Station, which project is now nearly complete, however. The objective for our next Moon launch is to be no later than 2020. The Apollo Moon Program ended in 1972, and as our speaker put it, “we’ve been stuck in low earth orbit ever since.” And because it’s been so long, “we’re going to have to learn the associated skills and disciplines all over again” before getting serious about Mars or other cosmic missions. The Ares I rocket is NASA Glen’s priority project.

  After getting the Ares I operational, NASA has ambitious plans for a new Moon Program. It expects to achieve major logistical advances over the Apollo Program, e.g., being able to land anywhere on the Moon (previous missions were limited to locations near the equator). In this regard, the polar regions are of particular interest because of the possibility of frozen water-filled craters at those sites (particularly at the South Pole, which is always in the dark). The Ares I carries the “Orion” space capsule, which will be used to return humans to the surface of the Moon. It will permit landing twice as many as people as the Apollo Program and can accommodate as many as six people on board. As it orbits the Moon, and while the astronauts are on the Moon’s surface, Orion’s electricity will be solar generated by photo-voltaic cells, extending from each side like giant ears.

  The new Moon program will involve much longer stays — up to two weeks, initially living aboard the pressurized Lunar Lander (in shirtsleeves not space suits). Long-range goals involve building an infrastructure on the Moon, including a pressurized (and radiation-shielded) dwelling in which astronauts can live for weeks at a time. Present plans call for no operator to remain in the orbiting Orion Space capsule, the vehicle that will return the astronauts to Earth — a source of worry for some of the audience.

  In the all-embracing “Constellation” program (to return to the Moon and beyond) Ares I is the crew vehicle and Ares V is the “truck,” which will carry all the heavy cargo. Both are two-stage rockets. To lift its heavy payloads, Ares V will have a pair of booster rockets on the sides, similar to the Shuttle boosters, which are recoverable after dropping off into the ocean. The first stages of both rockets contain solid propellant, the Ares I divided into four sections, the Ares V five and a half. The “upper stage” rockets for both vehicles is liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, so they are essentially jet steam engines producing 300,000 lb of thrust on Ares I; significantly more on Ares V. Aires I and Ares V will join up in Earth orbit before proceeding to the Moon.

  At launch, both the assembled Ares I (325 ft) and Ares V (360 ft) vehicles will be substantially taller on their launch pads than the present Space Shuttle (200 ft). Both are taller than the Statue of Liberty, but actually slightly shorter than the Apollo Saturn V. Side by side, the Ares V rocket is almost twice as fat than the Ares I (5.5 meters) (and is about the diameter of the Saturn V). It will be capable of carrying 80 metric tons of cargo, which will include the Lunar Lander. The development of Ares V is several years behind the Ares V, since it won’t be needed until we’re ready to go back to the moon.

  The first test flight of Ares I will happen in the near future. This vehicle, our speaker admitted, “is a funny looking rocket.” Instead of a cylinder of constant diameter, the upper stage (more than a third of its length) is 18 ft in diameter, but it tapers down to the skinnier and much longer section of the first stage, which is only 10 ft in diameter. This hybrid configuration will accelerate development of the Ares I by using existing technologies. To study the flight dynamics of this tall skinny rocket, the first test flight is scheduled for late July of this year. It will, obviously, be heavily instrumented.

  The Constellation Program proclaimed by the Bush Administration in 2004 (the then-head of NASA was a good friend of Dick Cheney’s) includes “going to Mars and beyond,” extravagant goals that are not presently high priority for the Agency — for many reasons, including political ones. But, more practically, it will take six months to get from Earth to Mars and present goals are to remain on the surface of Mars for a year before returning to Earth. The reason for such an ambitious time-table (as explained by John Kirszenberg) is that celestial mechanics dictate a two-year cycle on the relative proximity of the two planets and the ability to use their gravity, as well as that of the sun, to assist the mission.

When asked how and what we will feed the astronauts for such an extended period, Mr. Graham spoke of ideas involving a garden in a pressurized greenhouse on Mars — which doesn’t, however, explain how we would appease their hunger en route. [We’ve all read about recycling urine for water, but that doesn’t supply calories. Science fiction has used freezing passengers into a state of hybernation or suspended animation, but that’s got to be beyond NASA’s job spec.] To show how life might be aboard such an interplanetary spacecraft, click on (or copy and put on your address line):


  And if you have trouble (e.g., if you have a Mac), let me know and I’ll send you an icon.

  In other news: Since Dan Galehouse has returned from Trieste, where he was invited to speak about his recent contributions in the field of quantum mechanics, several members have asked him to volunteer to speak to the club on the subject. Accordingly, he invites us to submit questions on the subject. As he put it:

   “Since the variation in opinions and understanding of this subject is as wide as any other scientific topic, "questions" may include statements or complaints about the subject, or even a general putdown of the whole matter. . . Recent talks and current papers are posted on http://gozips.uakron.edu/~dcg/. It is not advisable or necessary to read any of them. ” Dan adds that he will even be pleased to accept anonymous comments, so if you’d rather not send them directly to Daniel This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. your Secretary will be pleased to forward them from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   

Jack Gieck


Akron Physics Club


Meeting Announcement: MONDAY, April 27, 2009 - TANGIER, 6:00 PM

Speaker for our April meeting will be Prof. Owen Lovejoy of the Department of Anthropology, Kent State University. Dr. Lovejoy is a biological anthropologist who has been teaching at Kent State since 1968, during which he has published scores of papers resulting from his research in subjects ranging from biomechanics, forensics, and skeletal biology to human evolution, the origin of man, and the basis for human intelligence — not to mention sexual dimorphism in Australopithecus afrensis and hominid properties of a pliocene proximal femur from Maka, Middle Awash, Ethiopia (a work in progress). The title of his talk for the April Akron Physics Club is:



Minutes, April 27, 2009

  The speaker for our April meeting attracted nearly thirty reservations, including a number of guests. When Speaker Ernst von Meerwall invited their introduction, your secretary introduced Linda Whitman, Professor of Archaeology in the University of Akron’s Department of Anthropology, Archaeology, and Classical Studies; Lynn Whitman, recently “retired” Professor of Anthropology, same department, but now a Research Associate who, still being a Senior Distinguished Lecturer, continues to deliver distinguished lectures; and Ed Metzger, retired president of Metzger Photo Supply. Actually, there was more said at the time — the total characterized by Chairman Ernst as “very comprehensive introductions.”

  Charlie Wilson introduced son Will and his wife, Pam, who were visiting from Canada (and Will volunteered for the evening’s duties of Name Tag Marshall Bob Erdman, whose back, we hope, won’t require surgery.) Claire Tessier then introduced Jessica (her and Wiley Youngs’ daughter), who will be a freshman at UA in the fall, and who has an interest in anthropology. And finally, a so-far unidentified member/attendee (who was too far away for your secretary’s digital Olympus recorder, or for his analog hearing aid) – introduced his (therefore nameless) wife. Sorry about that!

  At which point Treasurer Dan Galehouse was invited to entertain the multitude by reciting the complex arithmetic involved in accounting for the continued (unwanted!) growth of our wealth, which began at $356.60 and finished the evening with $367.60 (plus the student dinner fund), which growing amount Treasurer Daniel is obligated to carry back and forth in cash in its designated polyesther-polypropylene box because it is too trivial an amount for any Akron bank to accept as a legitimate bank account. [But no, we haven’t asked since the current economic crisis descended.]

  Ernst then called on Program Chair Sam Fielding-Russell, who described the NASA program featured above, the last of his outstanding collection of offerings for the past season — after which Sam asked all of us to recommend both a speaker and a subject (in that order) for the new season beginning in September.

  Which brought us to the annual festivities that accompany the nominations (and this time the election) of the highly contested roles of the Akron Physics Club’ Officers, as prescribed by our bylaws, authored by Founder Charlie Wilson, who conducted the attendant ceremonies. Charles III reported, however, that after several weeks of solicitation for nominations, he had been “underwhelmed” by the response. Accordingly, we are stuck with almost the same menu we have had for years:

  Chairman     Ernst von Meerwall
  Vice Chairman     Darrell Reneker
  Program Chairman     Sam Fielding-Russell
  Program Vice-Chairmen     Leon Marker & Bob Hirst
  Secretary     Jack Gieck
  Associate Secretary     Jerry Potts
  Treasurer     Dan Galehouse
  Associate Treasurer     Chuck Lavan
  Nametag Marshal     Bob Erdman
  Associate Nametag Marshal     Dave Sours
  Webmaster     Jonah Kirszenberg
  Reservations Secretary     Charlie Wilson

  But the good news was that we now have two new, very welcome Associate Officer candidates: Chuck Lavan has agreed to be Associate Treasurer (a fairly miserable job, as Dan Galehouse can testify), and Dave Sours, who will be Associate Nametag Marshall (not quite as bad, as long as one remembers to collect all of them after every meeting, take them home, and bring them back next time). With little pretense of Roberts Rules of Order, we then, somehow, got a (muted) vote by acclamation of Charlie’s hard-won nominees.

  At last, to the relief of the multitude, Chairman Ernst introduced our speaker for the evening, Dr. Owen Lovejoy, Professor of Anthropology at Kent State University, who, fortunately, has received so many honors (including having been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences) that they enabled Ernst to fill the time necessary for Claire Tessier to overcome a technical projector/power supply crisis, successfully getting our speaker’s Power Point visuals to project so that our speaker’s program could proceed.

  A biological anthropologist, Dr. Lovejoy has been teaching at Kent State since 1968, during which he has published scores of papers resulting from his research in subjects ranging from biomechanics, forensics, and skeletal biology to human evolution, the origin of man, and the basis for human intelligence — not to mention sexual dimorphism in australopithecus afarensis and hominid properties of a pliocene proximal femur from Maka, Middle Awash, Ethiopia (a work in progress). The title of his talk for the April Akron Physics Club was Human Origins: More than Phylogeny.

  After explaining how the invention of the electron microscope revolutionized the study of anatomy (reducing it to the cellular level), Dr. Lovejoy reported that his own interest has always been in the history of the human species, and how we came to be a cognitive form of life — questions first raised Thomas Huxley, a contemporary of Darwin and author of “Man’s Place in Nature” (1863), who regarded it as the “ultimate question in nature.” These two subjects would encompass the rest of our speaker’s captivating presentation, with emphasis on the human fossil record.

  Following the period of Neanderthals, he said, the earliest recognized hominid ancestors found to date have been Pithecantropus Afarensus in southern and eastern Africa — the most famous of whom is “Lucy” (discovered in 1980), who lived about 3.2 million years ago. However, some new and exciting fossils (pushing the date of our last common ancestors to 8 or 9 million years ago) have been located farther north on the continent, and these will be the subject of a new paper by Dr. Lovejoy to be published in September. It may be the period when apes and other human predecessors (with their remarkably similar DNA) had just separated. A recent find of a partial skeleton about 4.4 million years old is especially exciting.

  Showing us the skeletal structure of some of the great apes compared with the modern human skeleton, our speaker demonstrated their remarkable similarities, but pointed out that their primary differences were in their equipment for locomotion — and that poses the question of why a species that locomotes in a fashion different from other animals should become cognitive. But it became obvious that locomotion was somehow intimately involved in the production of the cognitive human species.

  Why should bipeds, which require a completely different structural design, evolve to the smart ones? It is, after all, as Dr. Lovejoy characterized it, “a bizarre form of locomotion” [described by older kids I knew 80 years ago as “falling and catching yourself”]. Traditional explanations include: Seeing over tall grass to avoid predators? (Almost any animal can stand on its hind legs to do that.) Dominance posture? (Same answer.) Feeding posture? (The amount of vegetation that grows that tall is minimal; besides, Lucy happened to be only three feet tall!) Moreover, being bipedal increases the risk of injury, reduces agility (including running speed; climbing ability), and wipes out the possibility of “cooperatively” carrying an infant on one’s back. It also reduces an animal’s “home range.” Even the canine teeth (used by many males to dominate other males for sex in order to spread their genes) have nearly disappeared in humans.

  Our speaker showed us other examples of human reproductive disadvantages, e.g., our sperm count is two orders of magnitude lower than that of other apes, we have lower sperm motility, and minimum pesticide (which kills competing sperm). Moreover, we are the only species of mammal whose females have permanently enlarged mammary glands, which, in other mammalian females, shrink after their lactation period — a signal that she is not likely to be ovulating, thereby repelling males interested in mating [a reaction quite different from that of most human males!].

  One major advantage of bipedality, our speaker explained, is the ability to carry food — especially a high-protein gift by a male to a female, which, in great apes, makes her receptive to cohabitation for at least a day and a half. So, “instead of competing with other males,” our speaker explained, “and aggressively keeping them away from females, do the opposite and exchange food for sex, and your chances for being the sire of any offspring go way up — especially if you don’t know whether she’s available for impregnation or not.” Furthermore, it will tend to make the female more likely to choose you over other males “because she doesn’t know whether they’re going to be good providers or not.” And ultimately she will be attracted to males who, instead of fighting with other males, cooperate with them to hunt and gather food.

  Dr. Lovejoy explained something called the r/K cycle in reproductive strategy. Some animals, the rs, seek survival of their species by having large numbers of offspring. That strategy takes so much of their time that they have to rely on instinct; it takes up their whole lives; they don’t have time to learn. The Ks, who generally have much lower sperm count, take time to nurture individual offspring rather than just having more of them. Dart frogs are classic Ks. Both male and female frogs actually carry individual tadpoles on their backs, take them to a part of the pool that is their own home range, and then the female actually deposits unfertilized eggs to feed them. So we’re not just talking about mammals.

  Major advantages of Ks over rs include their longevity, their later sexual maturity, and, especially, male attendance to the offspring (making a case for monogamy in the process). Dart frogs, above, have “clutch sizes” of 4 to 30, and have an average life of 13-15 years. Their cousin, the leopard frog, try to raise 3000-6000 children and live 6-9 years — and they lack the male provisioning of the dart frog.

  Similarly, in the bird family, Bob-Whites reach sexual maturity in a single year, lay 15 eggs which hatch in 23 days, and take their first flight 15 days later — and they die after 9 years. By contrast, the slower-living albatross, taking 4 to 8 years to reach sexual maturity, lays a single egg, which incubates for 83 days, and although the chick doesn’t take flight until 236 days, it lives more than 40 years [as the Ancient Mariner discovered the hard way]. As the Ks have learned, the way to achieve mortality is to control the environment, or to adapt to it. The physiological advantages that have led to human survivorship and dominance, thus, are bipedality and longevity and being Ks.

  When comparing human brain size with other animals, particularly other apes (especially when both are seen in profile), our skulls appear to have twice the volume (1300 cc for us). Yet it is Dr. Lovejoy’s opinion that some birds, e.g., crows, are nearly as smart as humans — a view difficult to accept recognizing the human record (e.g., having developed such novelties as farming, literature, music, science and technology). However, “biological evolution,” he said, “is linear. . . but cultural evolution is logarithmic.” For humans, he pointed out, biological change hasn’t occurred in the million and a half years since tool making began. It took 500,000 years before more precisely made, polished tools are found, and primitive agriculture began. “The urban revolution occurred only 6000 years ago, and writing emerged about 3000 years ago. Once writing evolved we could have the physical sciences, Newton’s calculus, nuclear energy, and the information explosion. What we know ten years from now will be double what we know now.”

  Those are some of the things we heard from C. Owen Lovejoy [I regret leaving out the part about the subduction of tectonic plates!]. The audience kept him for more than half an hour with (hard) questions, which precipitated such observations as his finding evolution so unpredictable that “if you started it all over again 40 billion times, the chance of finding advanced cognitive life in the Milky Way is minimal.”

Jack Gieck



Akron Physics Club


Meeting Announcement: May 18, 2009 - TANGIER, 6:00 PM

Our last meeting before fall will bring us another NASA speaker. Dr. Sasi Pillay, a mechanical engineer who earned his PhD in Computer Engineering is Chief Information Officer for NASA Glen — in which capacity he has won several awards. He will present a program that promises a collection of exciting Power Point slides and animations entitled:



And as an hors d’oeuvre (or perhaps as dessert for our last program, reported below), your secretary is planning to display his recently-acquired fossil of some very early life forms, which are some 2.1 billion years old. They are stromatolites —semi-circular rings (or chains) of cyanobacteria, a kind of primitive algae that is one of the first examples of oxygen-generating chlorophyll — which created an atmosphere in which Dr. Lovejoy’s animals could thrive, be fruitful, and evolve.

Minutes, May 18, 2009

  Our last meeting of the season brought a number of visitors, including Mike Piekarski, guest of Dave Fielder; Mike Pliska brought two visitors, Vivak Katigar and Ram Balasudramanian. And we were pleasantly surprised to be “visited” by Associate Secretary Jerry Potts (back temporarily from servicing his customers in India, China and points east). After introducing the first timers, Chairman Ernst von Meerwall called on Secretary Dan Galehouse for a current assessment of our wealth.

  Dan was relieved to announce that although we had started the evening with $367.60, after covering dinners for our guests we had finished with the reduced sum of $355.66 — which, as he said, “is a little easier to count.” Dan was followed by Program Chairman Sam Fielding-Russell, who, having delivered eight months of programs covering a refreshing variety of topics, repeated his plea to the membership for suggestions of speakers and topics for the new year beginning in September — to which he was pleased to add that he already had the acceptance of one speaker. But when asked what the subject was to be, Sam’s (obviously) honest answer was, “I have no idea [thus giving the speaker several months to decide]!”

  At this point, your secretary did a five-minute show-and-tell, displaying a polished (silica) fossil of one of the earliest known life forms: semi-circular rings that are chains of "stromatolites," cyanobacteria, which are a primitive algae some 2.1 billion years old. Stomatolites were originally discovered in Australian reefs, but have recently been found in chert layers (amid gunflint deposits) on the north shore of Lake Superior, where neurologist/paleobiologist, Dr. Charles (“Skip”) Brausch dug out my sample. Demonstrating that stromatolites were one of the first green vegetarian life forms whose chlorophyl emitted some of our atmosphere’s first oxygen, Skip had included a small chunk of contemporary sedimentary rock containing layers of iron compounds which had been turned bright red from the oxygen emitted by the algae.

  When I passed the above sample around the table before dinner, Dave Fielder pulled from his pocket a considerably younger (about 600,000 years old) fossil of a tiny, lobster-shaped insect with scores of flagella on its sides —an example of the fauna that had evolved in the oxygen atmosphere contributed by primitive flora. Both fossils and the chunk of very old sedimentary rock were on display on the nametag table after the meeting adjourned.

  Which brought us to speaker-introduction time, a chore adroitly performed by Chairman Ernst. Dr. Sasi Pillay, a mechanical engineer who earned his PhD in Computer Engineering is Chief Information Officer for NASA Glenn, in which capacity he has won several awards. The title of his talk was High Perforance Computing and Visualization. First, however, he introduced his NASA colleague, Dr. Jay Horowitz, who, Dr. Pillay said, “would go through the more fun part of the demonstration.” To this end they had set up an array of glowing, writhing, electronic A-V equipment that included a pair of projectors with crossed-axis polarized filters.

  Dr. Pillay began by restating NASA’s mission: “To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.” He showed us a map illustrating more than a dozen U.S. locations of NASA facilities, which included laboratories, research centers, and flight centers — with a mention of others in Spain and Australia. But Pillay concentrated on the goals of Glenn Research Center, which covers 350 acres at Lewis Field in Cleveland, where it employs 1600 civil servants and 1735 contractors. Then there is Glenn’s Plumb Brook Test Site at Sandusky, covering 6400 acres and employing an additional 14 civil servants and 117 contractors. Currently, Glenn’s total budget is $649 million. Test facilities include two wind tunnels— one 10 X 10 feet and the other 9 X 16 feet. [I’ve heard that these are so powerful that their operation is often scheduled late at night to avoid interfering with the electrical power demands of the City of Cleveland.]

  Glenn’s high-performance supercomputing assets are something special. They involve 286 interconnected processors, for which we saw diagrams of cluster configurations and archival storage maps involving sites having hundreds of tetrabyte memories interconnected with others having a thousand times that much, producing a colossal common memory — all of which was beyond the scope of this writer [whose computer experience is limited to his current Mac, a Wang (1982-vintage) and an IBM 1401 (1963) — not counting his Manheim slide rule, which, like all engineering students, he carried in a phallic leather scabbard attached to his belt (1940)].

  Dr. Jay Horowitz (who is a member of a stereo-image society) then proceeded to demonstrate the phenomenal visualizations made possible by the Glenn facilities (first distributing crossed-axis polarizing glasses that enabled us to see his images and animations in 3-D). His images began with a moving panorama of a Martian landscape, in which the stereo substantially enhanced the shape of some of the rocks and the wind-swept patterns of red sand surrounding them. Then we saw slowed-down, high-speed, close-up videos of simulated combustion swirl flows from jet engines. These were followed by air-flow studies leading to ice growth on the leading edges of actual wings, shot in flight. To overcome the mismatch between this pair of cameras, the visual data had to be reduced to mathematical calculations and then reconverted to moving images — all of which took about 3 1/2 days. But this exercise resulted in a mathematical working model, which was later used to study the impact of the foam fragments that caused the crash several years ago of Space Shuttle 107 upon re-entry. In this connection, Dr. Horowitz showed us the results of a gas-fired cannon (previously used to study the impact of broken turbine blades flying through the engine and nearby airframe and fuselage, known as fan containment failure).

  The cannon was loaded with a pellet of plastic foam that was fired at 800 mph, and the impact photographed with a super-high-speed camera running at the two million frames per second (accomplished by a series of circumferential mirrors on a spinning ring — and a lot of light)! Glenn has other video cameras that mope along at only 150,000 fps. What we were privileged to see was not a mathematical simulation. It was real, and it was impressive.

  For dessert, Jay Horowitz showed us a video (with musical accompaniment) that had been created for a party the previous week. They were Hubble images that included a close-up of the Jupiter’s red-spot, actually showing the swirling gas currents. But his later images were distant nebulae that had been mathematically converted to 3-D [having an inter-pupilary (camera separation) distance measured in light years]! The NASA physicist who did it admitted to exercising a little artistic license.

  In discussing where future (larger) telescopes were to be placed in space, we learned the significance of Lagrangian points — stable points of neutral gravity between the sun, the earth, the moon and other involved planets, where the next in-space telescope may be placed — perhaps about a million miles from the earth. [Jules Verne understood the concept if not the name, when he wrote From the Earth to the Moon in 1865. It led to the only scientific mistake in his novel (other than his travelers surviving having been launched from a cannon!) in that it was the first time the capsule’s passengers began to float freely about the capsule.]

  Finally the speaker showed us a (frightening) animation of all the satellite orbits currently circling the earth — along with the even larger collection of space junk (golf-ball-size and up). Especially after the recent experience of the Hubble, it was an excellent argument for locating the next telescope(s) a million miles from the earth.

Jack Gieck


Akron Physics Club


Meeting Announcement: MONDAY, September 28, 2009 - TANGIER, 6:00 PM

Our speaker for the first meeting of the new (post-autumnal equinox) season is Dr. Jie Shan, Glennan Fellow and Assistant Professor of Physics, Case Western Reserve University. A graduate of Moscow State University in mathematics and physics, Dr. Shan received her PhD from Columbia University in 2001, and has since received awards for “Research Initiative” and “Research Innovation” from the National Science Foundation, the Optical Society of America, the Research Company, and CWRU. The author of papers that include “Experimental Condensed Matter Physics” and “Ultrafast Optics,” her September presentation is a review of her most recent contribution to the field of optics:



Minutes, September 28, 2009

  The Akron Physics Club convened for the first meeting of its 20th year of operation in the Terrace Room of Tangier Restaurant on Monday, September 28, 2009. 

  These 18 persons were in attendance --- including, of course, our invited speaker, Dr. Jie Shan, Associate Professor of Physics at Case-Western Reserve University: Georg Bohm, Tom & Marie Brooker, Bob Erdman, Dave Fielder, Sam Fielding-Russell, Dan & Ben Galehouse, Rus Hamm, Bob Hirst, Jonah Kirszenberg, Charles Lavan, Leon Marker, Dick Sharp, Dave Sours, Ernst von Meerwall & Charlie Wilson.

  After our pretty good meal, Chairman Ernst von Meerwall conducted a brief business meeting. In it Treasurer Dan Galehouse reported that our treasury was unchanged from last time --- at about $355.66. Program Chairman Sam Fielding-Russell reported that we now have programs arranged for all 8 of our APC meetings for the 2009 - 2010 club-year. (This schedule will be circulated soon to all of our members.) ........ And APC members are encouraged to continue to suggest both speakers and topics for future meetings !!! It is important that our program committee should begin as soon as possible negotiating with our many excellent local experts to deliver their fine talks (always labors of love) to us sometime in the future.

  Chairman Ernst next introduced our invited speaker, Dr. Jie Shan, Associate Professor of Physics at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Shan was educated through high-school in China, then graduated from Moscow (Russia) State University in math & physics, and earned her Ph.D. from Columbia University (New York). She has been on the CWRU Physics faculty since 2001. Her
announced topic was:


  The generation of ultrashort light pulses of coherent optical radiation from Ti:sapphire mode-locked lasers has advanced dramatically. Pulses as short as two optical cycles (about 5 femtoseconds) are now possible. These pulses have had a significant impact on many areas of spectroscopy. One of these is the time-domain spectroscopy of the Terahertz (THz) or far-infrared spectral region.

  One Terahertz (1 THz) = 1000 Gigahertz = 1,000,000,000,000 Hz

  This region of the electromagnetic spectrum corresponds to the frequencies of many fundamental excitations in solids and molecules, including phonons, low-frequency vibrational modes, rotations and certain collective electronic excitations.

  Using such powerful new Terahertz sources and detectors, it is now possible to study in great detail many interesting materials. These studies are now being carried out by Dr. Shan and others elsewhere.

  Applications of ultrafast laser pulses to the study of various condensed-phase systems were discussed. Possible uses that Dr. Shan suggested were --- in addition to research --- biomedical (e.g., skin imaging for cancer detection), and defense (e.g., different absorption patterns for various explosives in baggage, etc.)

  Dr. Shan kindly passed along copies of her interesting slides for this talk, which will be posted on the Akron Physics Club web-site.

Respectfully submitted,

--- Lucky Charlie Wilson


Akron Physics Club


Meeting Announcement: MONDAY, October 26, 2009 - TANGIER, 6:00 PM

Speaker for our October meeting is Dr. George W. Collins II, Emeritus Professor of Astronomy, Ohio State University. Author of more than 70 research papers and five books, Dr. Collins continues to lecture as an Adjunct Professor of Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Geological Science at Case Western Reserve and other universities. His title for our October program is:


. . . about which he has said, “In my youth this title would have been an oxymoron. [But] in this talk we shall look at how cosmology had emerged from an elegant philosophy to a falsifiable science.” Dr. Collins will describe how observation has driven us to a fairly successful model of the universe and its development, a universe of knowable finite age and a sequence of events that define a plausible history. He will describe some of the remaining problems to be solved, and some of the alternatives to the standard model that now forms the basis for contemporary cosmology.

Minutes, October 26, 2009

In Other APC News:

  As was apparent to all who saw the front page of the October 2nd Beacon Journal, our speaker for last April, Kent State Prof. C. Owen Lovejoy (“Human Origins: More than Phylogeny”), together with his project partner, Prof. Tim White of the University of California, Berkley, led a team of archaeologists whose discoveries precipitated a special (Oct. 2) issue of Science and a piece in Time describing “the oldest hominid skeleton ever discovered” — pushing back the family tree of the celebrated “Lucy” by 1.2 million years. As Lovejoy described their new work, “The common ancestor we share is more like humans than apes. Apes no longer make good intermediaries of what our common ancestors look like.” Rather than humans evolving from an ancient chimp-like creature, the new find provides evidence that chimps and humans evolved from some long ago common ancestor, and changed separately along the way.

  More than a hundred pieces of a female Ardipethecus ramidus (“Ardi” for short), together with 150,000 plant and animal fossils from the same period were collected. Samples of Ardi’s teeth, skull, hands, feet, and pelvis indicate that she was a young adult, 47 in. tall weighing 110 lb.

Jack Gieck


  Our Chairman, Ernst von Meerwall, opened the meeting, by asking if there were any guests or other new arrivals in the audience. As it turned out, there would be a few minutes later when Georg Böhm arrived, bringing his wife, Marga, and son, Alexander – which led Treasurer Dan Galehouse to give his report on the fly, estimating that we had gained eight dollars in our treasury for the evening. Dan’s estimate turned out to be accurate within half a percent, his hard copy subsequently verifying that the club’s total wealth now comes to the staggering sum of $347.60.

  Called on next, Program Chairman Sam Fielding-Russell was pleased to announce that he has had received confirmations for his last two tentative speakers, February speaker Dr. Mahmoud Assaad of General Tire, whose subject is “The Lunar Rover Vehicle Tire, ” and for May 24, Dr. Rama Gorla of Case Western University, “Development of Aircraft – Wright Bros to the Present” thus locking together a complete schedule for the club’s 2009-2010 season. Thank you, Sam!

  Bob Erdman then had a contribution. He is now the Akron Physics Club’s representative to ACESS (Akron Council of Engineering and Scientific Societies), which has welcomed us into its midst, despite our not paying the organization’s customary dues, since our super-loose organization doesn’t charge dues to its “e-members.” Other members of ACESS include local chapters of the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Association for Computing Machinery, the Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers, the American Society of Safety Engineers, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the Society of Plastic Engineers. So it would seem that when it comes to ACESS’s perspective, the addition of the Akron Physics Club will improve the balance slightly in favor of science.

  This brought Ernst to the introduction of our Speaker, Dr. George W. Collins II, Emeritus Professor of Astronomy, Ohio State University. Author of more than 70 research papers and five books, Dr. Collins continues to lecture as an Adjunct Professor of Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Geological Science, and other courses, including Political Science (which he has “never regarded as a science!”) at Case Western Reserve and other universities.

  The title for his presentation was Precision Cosmology, about which he has said, “In my youth this title would have been an oxymoron. [But] in this talk we shall look at how cosmology had emerged from an elegant philosophy to a falsifiable science.” Indeed, there has been so much work in the field of cosmology in the 21st century that our speaker believes he has graduated from an astronomer to a cosmologist — as he proceeded to demonstrate. The scope of Dr. Collins talk inspired Founder Charlie Wilson to write, "I couldn't have imagined that there was so much about cosmology that I was completely ignorant of!!!"

  Prof. Collins began by reviewing what happened in the field during the 20th Century— during which, he pointed out, “cosmology certainly wasn’t a science, and wasn’t even very good philosophy.” He described the two conflicting models of the universe which existed at the time: the “steady state” concept championed by Sir Fred Hoyle, and the revolutionary hypothesis he scornfully called the “Big Bang” theory, popularized by George Gamow (it was a name that stuck).

  Our speaker went on to list major advances in cosmic field during the 20th Century. And these were testable ideas:

1905: Einstein’s Special Relativity challenged Newton’s view of the universe
1926: The universe was shown to be expanding (Hubble, Sipher)
1950: George Gamow and others predicted the existence of cool microwave background radiation resulting from the Big Bang
1964: Penzias and Wilson discovered evidence of same – weak, annoying background noise they had in the high-gain amplifier they were trying to perfect
1980: Alan Guth suggested an early inflationary phase of the universe
1995: Two separate groups showed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating

  Thereafter, we learned, quantitative work in cosmology shifted into overdrive – although the laws in effect at the very beginning of the universe, our speaker said, “remain shrouded in mystery.” As one pioneer put it, “new laws of physics emerged higgledy piggledy” after the Big Bang concept became dogma. Plotting distance vs. velocity of objects in the expansion results in essentially a straight line, whose slope turns out to be the Hubble constant, Ho. There is no findable “special” place in the universe from whence the expansion began. The relationship between the dispersion of celestial bodies is always the same no matter where you start measuring from.

  Much work ensued to establish the value of the Hubble constant. One of the brand new concepts that emerged in order to make subsequent “universal” laws work was the “inflationary” period of the universe, a moment occurring right after the Big Bang, during which the expansion of space itself, crammed with incredibly dense matter [what Gamow called “ylem” or “nuclear fluid”] occurred at a rate much faster than the speed of light.

  “How long did inflation last? Not long,” our speaker declared. “About 10–33 seconds,” adding that, for the following three minutes, as things cooled down enough for nuclear physics to work (from the millions of degrees temperatures of the interior of stars to the thousand-degree temperatures of their outer layers), individual atoms began to form – particularly hydrogen, helium and deuterium nuclei. Indeed, all of the deuterium in the world today was formed in those three minutes. “There are no known stellar processes that produce deuterium,” Dr. Collins said, “If it’s in the ocean, it was produced during the Big Bang.” For the next 380,000 years, he explained, we had an expansion of these hot gases, and as things cooled down enough for nuclear physics to work, electrons began to hook up with the nuclei “and photons got loose” — which we recognize today as cosmological background radiation.

  There are alternative hypotheses to the inflation theory, varying from changes in the velocity of light over the years to concepts focused on the String Theory – which, our speaker pointed out, “has yet to make any testable predictions – which are the hallmark of science; and if you can’t test it, it ain’t science.“ Thus, the existence of deuterium, he believes, is the best evidence of inflation.

  Prof. Collins confessed his personal amazement at the products of 21st Century efforts in astronomy, e.g. deep sky surveys that, in just five years, have mapped 200,000 galaxies and 200 million celestial objects, ranging from asteroids and nearby stars, to studies of the structure of the entire universe. Instead of making one sky photograph at a time, developing the it and studying it over a light table, we can gather data a thousand times as fast with “emulsions” that are fifty times as sensitive. “One astronomer can do more in his lifetime than all the astronomers in the 20th Century!” In less than a century, cosmology has gone from philosophy to science. We know the age of the universe 13.7 billion years (± 0.2 billion years) with a precision unimaginable 50 years ago.

  Recent work in the 21st Century has made it possible to examine the long-debated alternatives of whether the universe is spherical or saddle-shaped or flat — and again, to Dr. Collins surprise (“I never thought I’d see anything like this in my lifetime”), it’s flat! This knowledge, together with many other factors, including a mist of calculations, observations and tentative conclusions — even an equation for the state for dark energy — made it possible for our speaker to present a pie chart that graphically showed what we know (and don’t know) about “the stuff the universe is made of:”

Ordinary visible matter..............0.5%
Ordinary luminous matter..........3.5%
Exotic dark matter...................26. %
Dark energy............................70. %


  Since I’m the oldest member of the Club (except for Leon!), I can’t resist including my first encounter with the Big Bang concept 63 years ago.

  Having returned to engineering school after my Army service, it was on a weekend in 1946 that I hitchhiked to Bradley, Illinois, where my fiancé, Vicki, was teaching. Under my arm, I had a copy of cosmologist George Gamow’s new book, Atomic Energy in Cosmic and Human Life, intending to read it between rides. But because I had worn part of my Army uniform (on purpose), I arrived at Bradley High School so early that classes were still in session, and I waited for Vicki in a tiny “teachers’ lounge” tucked under a stairway, where faculty members could sneak half a cigarette between classes. Seated at a small table with my book, I was the only occupant in the room for nearly an hour. I was just starting the chapter that was Gamow’s first public revelation of his (and, earlier, LeMaitre’s) “Big Bang” theory of cosmological evolution. He related how our entire universe was born from a single nuclear explosion of a baseball-size ball of what Gamow called “ylem” — nuclear fluid.

  Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the concept, I put the book down on the table as I began to absorb the immensity of the primordial cosmic event — creation itself! Cupping my hands around my own imaginary ball of ylem – which was producing trillions of stars, galaxies, solar systems, comets, and interstellar dust, my hands were driven apart by the cataclysmic explosion — my arms spreading above my head. (The cosmic detonation was accompanied by an inaccurate sound track: a loud, extended guttural noise created in the back of my throat.)

  I was so hypnotized by the spectacle I was perceiving that I hadn’t noticed the door open. A male teacher had entered the room and was watching the performance.

  “Oh, ah . . . ” I stammered,” arms wilting, “I was just thinking about . . . the universe exploding.”

“  Oh, I see,” he responded a little unevenly as he cautiously backed out the door and quietly exited

  Fortunately, I never saw him again.]

Jack Gieck


Akron Physics Club


Meeting Announcement: MONDAY, November 23, 2009 - TANGIER, 6:00 PM

Speaker for our October meeting will be our own distinguished physicist, Dr. Georg Böhm, who has an interesting bio: After graduating in physics from the University of Vienna, Georg joined the Max Planck Institute, working in solid state physics. To learn more about polymers, he came to the U.S., accepting a visiting scholar position at Northwestern University. But before returning to Germany he got an offer from Firestone to build a radiation research laboratory at Radiation Dynamics, Inc., on Long Island (which company Firestone later purchased). Firestone brought him to Akron as assistant director of its Central Research Laboratories, and when Bridgestone purchased the company, he eventually became Vice President for Research.

Georg attempted to retire several years ago, only to be lured back as a consultant and given a new office one floor above to provide guidance for establishing the company’s creative objectives for the future. Eventually escaping from that position, he has just formed a start-up company, admitting, “I just can’t let go.” Georg has over 60 patents and about an equal number of publications. The title of his November presentation is:


A nanoparticle is a particle having at least one dimension of the order of 100 nanometers or less — an extremely small object that behaves as a whole unit in terms of its transport and properties; and about which Georg has said, “Nanoparticles exist in nature; but the last decade has seen much research on producing, investigating and finding applications for synthetically produced particles of different composition, shape and properties ranging from semiconducting nanoparticles for quantum dot use to biodegradable nanoparticles for drug and gene delivery to cells and tissues. After a brief overview of the field and emerging applications the focus will be on the design and use of polymeric nanoparticles for the tuning of new materials.” (Darell Reneker has given us several introductions to the subject.)

Minutes, November 23, 2009

  The first order of business for our last meeting of the year was Chairman, Ernst von Meerwall’s invitation for the introduction of guests or other first timers. There were several, including our speaker’s son, Alexander Böhm, plus Wiley Young’s graduate student, Amanda Knapp; also Dave Sours’ cousin, Tim Eyerdom, a sophomore at Kent State, plus Annette Marsolais, who found our club and our speaker’s topic on our website.

  Ernst then asked who knew how our Webmaster John (a.k.a. Jonah) Kirszenberg was doing. Your secretary explained that he had been to see him at Akron General on Friday, the day after his surgery to have his right kidney removed (to excise a tumor) -- that he was in a lot of pain at the time (he hadn’t slept in 36 hours); and he didn’t sound much better on the phone on Saturday, which led me to stop at the hospital on my way to our Monday meeting — only to find someone else sleeping in the bed in Room 510! John, it turned out, had been released on Sunday, and Charlie Wilson contributed that he had received an e-mail from him late that afternoon from home. I’ve since talked to him on the phone. He’s no longer hurting as much, but will obviously be taking it easy for a couple of weeks.

  Which brought it to time for Sam Fielding-Russell to be called upon. Sam reviewed his now complete schedule of speakers for the rest of the year, beginning with the announcement above and including the rest of the New Year:

01 25 10 Prof Peter Tandy (KSU) Nuclear Physics – Quarks and Gluons
02 22 10 Mahmoud Assaad (General Research) 'Lunar Rover Vehicle Tire'
03 22 10 Prof. Jeff Carroll of Youngstown State Physics Department
04 26 10 Prof. Chuck Rosenblatt (CWRU) Magnetic Levitation of Fluids
05 24 10 Rama Gorla (KSU) 'Development of Aircraft - Wright Bros to the Present'

  Following which Ernst called on Treasurer Dan Galehouse for a report on our current wealth -- which began, he said at $347.60. His quick guess at the cash in hand, without actually counting our treasure (from which our dinners had yet to be paid) was that we would gain four dollars for the evening. But after taking into account that we had two free student dinners and after actually having counted the cash, it appeared that we might have lost four dollars. Nonetheless, after applying math that was beyond this engineer’s experience (what our chairman had the gall to characterize as “money laundering”) it turned out that we had actually gained a dollar — finishing the evening with a balance of $348.60.

  Having finished the “business” meeting, it was time for Ernst to introduce our speaker, our own Dr. Georg Böhm, who retired several years ago as Bridgestone’s Vice-President of Research, only to be lured back as a consultant for several more years to provide guidance for establishing the company’s creative objectives for the future. Ernst introduced Georg as a fellow Viennese who left the Max Planck Institute to come to Northwestern University in the U.S. to learn more about polymers. The presentation that followed demonstrated that he has more than succeeded in his quest.

  The subject of Georg’s talk was Nanoparticles, an area of research which, he said, had made major strides in the last ten years — although he believes the possibilities in this field were anticipated by Richard Feynman in his famous 1959 lecture, “Room at the Bottom.” Actually, the emergence of practical applications of nanoscience began as early as 1964 with the invention of the transistor, followed by the microprocessor in 1970, and printed integrated circuits in 1984. The existence of Buckyballs followed in 1985, and extensive work on carbon nanotubes began during the period 1991-96. Our own Darrell Reneker has become an internationally-known expert in electrospinning carbon fibers, about which he has spoken to us more than once. (This writer has had the pleasure of watching Darrell polymerize his extremely fine, almost invisible swarms of these fibers in his University of Akron laboratory, where he is assisted by Dan Galehouse.)

  Georg listed three important characteristics of nanoparticles. First, he said, they are very small. (Their size is, after all, measured in billionths of a meter.) To provide his audience a visual sense of scale, he presented a column of pictures on a single slide, beginning with a dime, whose thickness is about one millimeter, followed by a human hair, about 100 micrometers in diameter. Next, cells having sizes in the range of 10 to 100 micrometers. And they can be invaded by bacteria measuring about one micrometer, or, in still further-decreasing order of magnitude, an influenza virus, whose size is less than 100 nanometers. There are polymer particles in the 50 nm range, and gold atoms are about 0.2 nanometers is size.

  Usually smaller than 50 nm, nanoparticles are, in fact so small that they can penetrate most objects (including living cells) without affecting their properties, which makes them useful for tagging. And they readily interact with other absorbed materials — including themselves; i.e., they can self-polymerize. Such properties have made them useful in a wide variety of applications, including electronics, composites, as well as in biological and medical applications. They can even be used as catalysts.

  Nanoparticles can be made by physical methods, e,g., pulverization, spray process, jet fluid collision, condensation or phase separation, and a process called “micro-molding.” And they can also be produced by such chemical methods, including suspension or emulsion polymerization, gas-phase polymerization, sol-gel polymerization, the cross-linking of latex particles, or self-polymerization, as mentioned above. These reactions can be carried out in water or in organic liquids (or in colloidal emulsions) to produce single particles, each trailing a hydrocarbon tail, which in structural diagrams reminds one of the flagella on protozoa, including spermatozoa — except that they are orders of magnitude smaller.

  These trailing hydrocarbon tails are very useful in assembling a host of structures called “micelles,” which include monolayers or more complicated three-dimensional shapes, which include hollow spheres with the tails facing inward or outward. And if they face inward, they can surround other molecular assemblies in their centers and combine with them to make copolymers, for example. We also saw multi-layered spheres, as well as examples of living diblock and triblock copolymers, which can combine to form "micelles.” We saw multiple side-by-side spheres connected by hydrocrbon tails — techniques that are particularly helpful in assembling organic molecular structures like polymers. And we saw nanoparticle composites comprising inorganic or even metal particles.

  One of the sectioned structural examples on our speaker’s screen looked like a hollow rubber ball; another like the cross-section of an orange; still another resembled the petals of a flower; and one, whose spheres were assembled edge-to-edge in a line with their tails outward resembled a bottle brush or a caterpillar covered with tiny feet. (Indeed, our speaker used the word “brush” in describing similar structures.) We saw flat chemical structures that had micro-self-assembled on a liquid surface (e.g. water or hexane), which were ordered, two-dimensional arrays having amorphous shapes. Some of these reactions are driven by surface tension.

  The future of nanoscience technology in creating new materials seems endless, particularly in the polymer industry. One example our speaker showed us was the dispersion of particles in a polymer melt. In the metallurgical industry, techniques in filler flocculation on annealing have been investigated, and in the rubber industry work has explored improving the reinforcing mechanism of carbon black or other additives in rubber. There are also substantial possibilities in electronics, computers and even in displays — semiconductors of nanoparticles with spatially confined quantum dots. And, as an example of a biological application, Dr. Böhm showed us a Ribosome apparatus for the synthesis of proteins.

  But it is the ability to insert organic structures of nanoparticles into living cells that, in biomedical applications, offer the most exciting possibilities for the future— at least for this species. Examples include gene delivery to cells, inserting immune systems into the body, the ability to aim medicines at infections, marking medications to verify that they have their reached intended destination — the list goes on.

  Feynman was right. There is, indeed, room at the bottom.

Jack Gieck

P.S. By the time this is written (December 24th) five weeks after Webmaster John (a.k.a Jonah) Kirszenberg’s (laproscopic) surgery, he’s feeling remarkably good, having dispensed with his right kidney, which (completely) contained the malignant tumor. His doctors predict that his insides will forget it ever happened (save for a modest 2.5-inch scar) in about three months.