Saturday, March 03, 2007

Good Experiment, Not Good Reporting

This is in the spirit of an earlier report that was a good speech, but not good reporting. The difference being that one could possible forgive that earlier report. It was done by an amateur for a college newspaper. Once can probably understand (overlook?) the errors and inaccuracy.

But what is the excuse for this one? It is supposed to be a site that publicizes research in the European Union, so one rather expects that people who actually write such a thing would have some clue on what they're writing. However, there are at least a couple of errors or, at best, misleading information contained in this report. In fact, two of them are in this sentence alone:

Experts were able to use the synchrotron, a particle accelerator located in Grenoble, France, that was designed to study high-energy particle physics, to expose gold to unprecedented pressures.

Now, I've never been to the synchrotron center in Grenoble, but I've worked at a synchrotron center before, so I know quite a bit what a typical synchrotron center is. It is NOT a place to study "high energy particle physics". That is a common misconception, especially when someone hears that there are particles being accelerated. They don't realize that there are no "collision", at least not intentionally. Not all particle accelerators are also particle colliders.

But what is even more amusing is that, if you read the sentence as is, you get the impression that there are people who use a synchrotron "... to expose gold to unprecedented pressures." This is physically impossible, not to mention, meaningless.

What happened here is that pressure is applied mechanically to a diamond crystal (probably with an anvil), and then using the radiation from the synchrotron (which is what a synchrotron is used for anyway), they looked at probably the x-ray diffraction/scattering curves to see a change in the crystal structure. X-ray scattering is very good at doing that.

To say that science reporting in the media is still disappointing in terms of quality is an understatement.


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