Latest on Physics Buzz, The Terrifying T. rex

With a gargantuan head flaunting the largest teeth of any predatory dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus rex embodies the ideal nightmarish horror. So, what was such a ferociously large animal doing with such tiny forelimbs that look more like a humorous afterthought than an evolutionary tool?

“Some people think T. rex forearms are just vestigial organs which evolved away, but I claim no,” said Scott Lee, a professor of physics at University of Toledo, who argues that a T. rex could move its forearms quickly enough to prevent a struggling prey’s escape. Therefore, the arms were an integral part of the predator’s hunting tactics, he said, and not useless stubs.

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Is it getting harder to find a full-time job in science writing?

800px-The_Long_Road_AheadI consider myself lucky to have completed two paid internships in the last year and slightly unlucky that I was applying for internships this summer as fervently as last summer. The point being so I could gain more experience so I might qualify for a job so I wouldn’t be applying for internships for Summer 2014.

Internships are great opportunities to gain experience, but how many internships must an aspiring science writer complete before they can obtain a full-time job? The answer obviously depends, but there seems to be a growing pattern where young writers are simply hopping from one internship to the next with no permanent job in sight.

This is because many entry-level science writing positions – be it at a magazine or press information office – require at least three to five years of experience. That’s 12 internships that last for three months each. That’s an insane amount of internships. Not to mention what little pay interns receive compared to permanent jobs and relocation costs since valuable science-writing internships exist across the country, and the globe.

Not all internships are three months. Some are six months, but that’s about as long as you’re going to find.

Ten years ago, when the science writing field was less congested, many interns could procure a job after a single internship – often times at the place they interned. All of those positions are now filled, however, which means interns are left to fend for themselves after their time is up.

Many turn to freelancing – a valuable experience in itself with a very unstable paycheck. Especially for beginners who may not know how to find and pitch good stories, freelancing will be even less lucrative than an internship. So, although a good skill to have, it’s probably not the best option for beginners. But then what other options are there besides summer internships and the occasional fall and spring internship? Not much along the lines of career advancement.

So, yes, I’d say it’s getting harder to find a full-time job in science writing and it’s also getting harder to find an internship if you don’t already have a few under your belt. It’s the classic Catch-22 scenario and it’s a long road for those lucky enough to find and follow it.

Science writers: Ten tips for interview prep

RavenngoEach year the field of science writing is growing more competitive. In fact, the 2013 AAAS internship fair had a record-high of over 70 participants. That means your ability to produce an attractive resume and cover letter is crucial to your potential candidacy for an internship or job. (Not to mention the number of clips and outlets you’ve accrued and written for over the years.) However, even more important than your paper work are your interviewing skills.

As an aspiring science journalist, I am constantly interviewing sources for stories, asking questions and taking notes. Yet, when it comes time for me to give the answers, I often become stressed, which then makes me ramble. I understand and have experienced the pressure that comes with an interview, and I think solid preparation is the key to success. Therefore, I’m going to lend a helping hand to my fellow competitors and provide ten tips for how you can knock your interviewer’s socks off.

1. Be able to summarize why you’re pursuing science writing and how you entered the field in 30 seconds.

2. Know how your experience and skills fit with the needs of the media outlet for which you’re interviewing.

3. Know other media outlets that publish similar and different science content and be able to identify some authors at each outlet.

4. Be able to identify a handful of journalists whose content you enjoy reading.

5. Don’t just follow print journalists. Know your journalists in broadcast and video, too.

6. Stay current with non-science news. Often times an interviewer will ask you if there is any news that could be reported in a different way that would fit their type of publication. In other words, find the science angles to non-science news.

7. Be quick on your feet. If your interviewer asks for a story pitch, have a handful ready complete with catchy headlines and leads.

8. Be able to communicate how this position will help you in your career prospects.

9. Be able to answer why the media outlet for which you’re interviewing will meet your needs better than other media outlets.

10. Approach each question like you’re writing a story. Be as clear and concise as possible. Include only the most relevant information and if you have some interesting anecdotes include them.

Flying through the universe

In 1946 Sputnik escaped the Earth’s atmosphere, turned its camera back on “home” and took the first photo of our planet from space. It was a milestone in space technology.

Photos are great. Indeed a single photo is worth a thousand words. But what about video? This week the largest sky survey, SDSS, released the largest three-dimensional video of the universe, yet.

See how galaxies are stringed together in massive galaxy clusters as you fly through space. It’s a truly remarkable experience.

“How to make a neutrino beam”

You know those cool subatomic particles that are almost massless, incredibly abundant, and travel through led faster than a hot knife through butter? Neutrinos, that’s right!

Despite that neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe, scientists can’t get enough them. So, they make concentrated beams of neutrinos, instead. To learn more, read my most recent article “How to make a neutrino beam”. And if you don’t feel like reading it all, there’s a short animation at the same link that will give you the overview in about 100 seconds.

So, learn how scientists have harnessed neutrinos.

Dark energy, neutrino detectors, sticky glue and more

Here are links to some of my latest stories as an intern at Fermilab. You can also find more links under publications.

Dark-matter seekers get help from the DarkSide

“Filled with rare, low-radioactivity material, the DarkSide-50 experiment will have some of the lowest background rates of any dark-matter detector. That should help it detect highly sought-after dark-matter candidates called weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs.”

Cockroft-Walton’s successor: a peep inside the new RFQ and how it works

“In August, Fermilab said good-bye to its iconic Cockcroft-Walton generators. Now the new starting point for Fermilab’s chain of accelerators is in place. It’s called a radio-frequency quadrupole, or RFQ.

Last month, workers moved the laboratory’s new, 3.5-meter-long RFQ to its permanent home between one of the Cockcroft-Walton generators and the front end of Fermilab’s linear particle accelerator, or Linac.”

Time Projection chambers: A milestone in particle detector technology

“At the heart of many particle physics experiments sits a device with a catchy name: the time projection chamber. With an important job and a storied history, TPCs have a special place in particle physics.”

A sticky situation resolved

“Life in plastic. It’s fantastic!” sang the dance-pop band Aqua first in 1997 as tribute to Barbie and her perfect plastic world. The 5,000 tons of plastic that make up NOvA’s near and far detectors put any of Barbie’s plastic palaces to shame, both in size and strength. Sorry, Barbie.

The far detector, the larger of the two detectors, will consist of 28 so-called blocks, and on Oct. 25 scientists erected the third. Each block is made from 768 pieces of polyvinyl chloride plastic, which scientists glue together. The result is a five-story-tall and equally wide block of plastic.”

Universe dims the lights

The annual rate of star births throughout our universe has been steadily declining for billions of years. Exactly how long or when the universe was at peak production, churning out stars like they were hot dogs at a baseball game was unknown until recently. A team of international scientists calculated that our universe has been dimming the lights for nearly 11 billion years – about 80 percent of its lifetime.

This has left us with a night-sky that is thirty times less bright than it was at peak brightness. What’s more is that the astronomers predict that the universe will only continue to get dimmer. In fact, if our universe’s brightness continues to decrease at its current rate, then it might reach a point where all stellar production halts.

In their paper, published on arXiv.org, the scientists suggest that our universe has already produced 95 percent of its’ maximum stellar mass population. Once we reach 100 percent, no more star production.

Although, I’ll never live to see the age of no new stars, this is a slightly depressing thought. It reminds me of the film Children of Men where mankind has lost the ability to procreate. Whatever the reason was in the movie, the universe is getting old. Past a certain point as galaxies age, they produce less stars.

Even after stellar production stops, our universe will still shine with starlight for billions of years as the current stars continue to burn fuel. I wonder what will happen when the lights go out.