Archive for June, 2010

Irish life science guide to create ‘smart’ jobs and new technologies (via Ninth Level Ireland)

Irish life science guide to create ‘smart’ jobs and new technologies "The Minister for Technology and Innovation, Conor Lenihan TD, today launched a new Irish guide aimed at helping firms in the life science sector to partner with college researchers in the creation of ‘smart’ jobs. The Enterprise Ireland publication, The Irish Life Sciences Research Guide, is a collation of the life science research capability in our third-level institutions …" (more) [Finfacts, 27 June] … Read More

via Ninth Level Ireland

Categories: Uncategorized

Another University Ranking System – The Washington Monthly

Check out another university ranking system – this is for the USA only.

Below are the Washington Monthly‘s 2009 national university college rankings. We rate schools based on their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs), and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country). For an explanation of each category, click here. For more information about the overall goals of the rankings, click here. To learn more about our methodology, click here.

UC Berkeley is number one on this system, and Harvard (usually number 1 on other systems) falls to 11th place.  As ever, this shows the critical importance of the categories and weightings used in any ranking system. UCSD, UCLA, Stanford and Texas A&M make up places 2, 3, 4 & 5, respectively.

Full rankings here.

Roll-on the QS and THE rankings: it will be very interesting to see the strength of correlation between these two ranking systems.

Science Metrics: A great collection of articles from Nature

A great collection of articles from Nature on measuring science.

The value of scientific output is often measured, to rank one nation against another, allocate funds between universities, or even grant or deny tenure. Scientometricians have devised a multitude of ‘metrics’ to help in these rankings. Do they work? Are they fair? Are they over-used? Nature investigates.

More from Nature here (some of the particularly  interesting links below):

Assessing assessment

Do metrics matter?

A profusion of measures

The Economist on the human genome: Biology 2.0

A quote:

It seems quite likely that future historians of science will divide biology into the pre- and post-genomic eras.

In one way, post-genomic biology—biology 2.0, if you like—has finally killed the idea of vitalism, the persistent belief that to explain how living things work, something more is needed than just an understanding of their physics and chemistry. True, no biologist has really believed in vitalism for more than a century. Nevertheless, the promise of genomics, that the parts list of a cell and, by extension, of a living organism, is finite and cataloguable, leaves no room for ghosts in the machine.

Viewed another way, though, biology 2.0 is actually neo-vitalistic. No one thinks that a computer is anything more than the sum of its continually changing physical states, yet those states can be abstracted into concepts and processed by a branch of learning that has come to be known as information science, independently of the shifting pattern of electrical charges inside the computer’s processor.

So it is with the new biology. The chemicals in a cell are the hardware. The information encoded in the DNA is the preloaded software. The interactions between the cellular chemicals are like the constantly changing states of processing and memory chips. Though understanding the genome has proved more complicated than expected, no discovery made so far suggests anything other than that all the information needed to make a cell is squirreled away in the DNA. Yet the whole is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.

Widening Participation in Higher Education (via Ninth Level Ireland)

Widening Participation in Higher Education “Abstract: This paper makes use of newly linked administrative data to better understand the determinants of higher education participation amongst individuals from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. It is unique in being able to follow two cohorts of students in England – those who took GCSEs in 2001-02 and 2002-03 – from age 11 to age 20 …” (more) [Geary Behavioural Economics Blog, 18 June] … Read More

via Ninth Level Ireland

Ed Moses “Clean Fusion Power This Decade”

A post on ‘clean fusion’.

Imminent fusion power

All the light we see from the sky, Moses pointed out, comes from fusion power burning hydrogen, the commonest element in the universe—3/4 of all mass. A byproduct of the cosmic fusion is the star-stuff that we and the Earth are made of.

On Earth, 4 billion years of life accumulated geological hydrocarbons, which civilization is now burning at a rate of 10 million years’ worth per year. In 1900, 98% of the world’s energy came from burning carbon. By 1970, that was down to 90%, but it has not decreased since. It has to decrease some time, because there is only so much coal, oil, and gas. During this century every single existing power plant (except some hydro) will age and have to be replaced, and world energy demand is expected to triple by 2100.

To head off climate change, fossil fuel combustion has to end by about 2050. The crucial period for conversion to something better is between 2030 and 2050. The ideal new power source would be: affordable; clean; non-geopolitical; using inexhaustible fuel and existing infrastructure; capable of rapid development and evolution. Moses’ candidate is the “laser inertial fusion engine”—acronym LIFE—being developed at Lawrence Livermore.

The question, Moses said, is “Can we build a miniature Sun on Earth?” The recipe involves a peppercorn-size target of hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium heated to 200 million degrees Fahrenheit for a couple billionths of a second. To get that micro-blast of heat, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) uses lasers—coherent light—at a massive scale. Laser engineer Moses notes that photons are perfect for the job: “no mass, no charge, just energy.”

Moses ran a dramatic video showing how a shot at the NIF works. 20-foot-long slugs of amplified coherent light (10 nanoseconds) travel 1,500 yards and converge simultaneously through 192 beams on the tiny target, compressing and heating it to fusion ignition, with a yield of energy 10 to 100 times of what goes into it. Successful early test shots suggest that the NIF will achieve the first ignition within the next few months, and that shot will be heard round the world.

To get a working prototype of a fusion power plant may take 10 years. It will require an engine that runs at about 600 rpm—like an idling car. Targets need to be fired at a rate of 10 per second into the laser flashes. The energy is collected by molten salt at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and then heats the usual steam-turbine tea kettle to generate electricity. The engine could operate at the scale of a standard 1-gigawatt coal or nuclear plant, or it could be scaled down to 250 megawatts or up to 3 gigawatts. The supply of several million targets a year can be manufactured for under 50 cents apiece with the volume and precision that Lego blocks currently are. Moses said that 1 liter of heavy water will yield the energy of 2 million gallons of gas.

Fusion power, like nuclear fission power, would cost less per kilowatt hour than wind (and far less than solar), yet would be less capital intensive than fission. For the constant baseload power no carbon is involved, no waste stream, no possibility of meltdown or weaponization, and there is no such thing as peak hydrogen.

— by Stewart Brand

How to change a university’s rankings for the better – and inexpensively…

Raise Your Game: 20 Inexpensive Ways to Rise in the Rankings
Published in the Times Higher Education, February 18 2010

Amanda Goodall’s take on how to change a university’s rankings for the better – and inexpensively!

The rankings race is on, and the competition is expanding all the time: universities around the world are upping the ante and learning how to play the ratings game.
If we have reservations about being part of this dirty business, don’t worry: we are in good company. The University of California is arguably one of the best public university systems in the world (although the current cuts are taking their toll). The success of UC is often attributed to its former President, Clark Kerr, a distinguished economist. When Clark Kerr was Chancellor of Berkeley in the 1950s, he used rankings to motivate change. Kerr’s yearning was to overtake Harvard, Yale and Princeton, a desire that was eventually met in 1964, when the American Council of Education placed Berkeley at number 1. The only difference between the race in the 1960s and the race today is that it is now happening everywhere.

What can universities do to improve their position? I have constructed a list drawn from evidence, experience and anecdote. The suggestions are mainly for research universities, and, importantly given the impending cuts, they are not high cost.