Universal views

Cosmic neutrinos and X-rays from space netted this year’s physics Nobel Prize winners their share of the 10 million Swedish Kroner prize (almost £700,000). Half of the prize money was shared between Raymond Davis Jr of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, and Masatoshi Koshiba of the University of Tokyo, Japan, for their research which plumbed the depths of the earth to detect neutrinos from space. The other half went to Riccardo Giacconi, President of Associated Universities, in Washington DC, USA, who created a new astronomical window of opportunity transparent to X-rays.

The tiny elementary particle known as the neutrino was first predicted in 1930 by Nobel physicist Wolfgang Pauli. He realised an uncharged and massless particle was needed to balance the books in radioactive beta decay. It was another 25 years before its existence was proven by Nobel laureate Frederick Reines and Clyde Cowan. It was realised that if the Sun was powered by nuclear fusion rather than gravity, then it would release neutrinos in unimaginable numbers. However, detecting a particle that passes unnoticed through matter is tough.

Raymond Davis

Raymond Davis

Davis installed a gigantic tank of 615 tonnes of dichloromethane at the foot of a mineshaft away from cosmic interference. The chlorine atoms were the key to detecting neutrinos. When a neutrino hits a chlorine atom, radioactive argon is produced. The chance of a collision make winning the lottery look a dead cert but wait long enough and the telltale signs of radioactive argon would ultimately be detected.

Over a period of thirty years Davis’ tank has captured 2000 Solar neutrinos, proving that the Sun is powered by hydrogen fusion.

Masatoshi Koshiba

Masatoshi Koshiba

Koshiba subsequently used a similar detector to confirm Davis’ results. He and his colleagues went a step further though. On 23 February 1987, their detector captured twelve neutrinos from a distant supernova explosion. That is a tiny fraction of the 10,000,000,000,000,000 (1016) that passed through the detector.

The tank!

The tank!

The Sun and all other stars emit electromagnetic radiation at different wavelengths, as well as neutrinos. Visible light and ultraviolet have particular wavelength ranges, while X-rays have another. The problem for astronomers on earth is that X-rays are absorbed by the atmosphere; thankfully you might say from a health perspective.

Davis and the tank

Davis and the tank

To observe cosmic X-ray sources an instrument has to be put into space from where it can send back a signal to astronomers on Earth.

Riccardo Giacconi

Riccardo Giaccon

Giacconi constructed such an instrument in the 1960s and detected the first source of X-rays outside our Solar system. His findings showed that the Universe has a background radiation of X-rays. He also spotted X-rays coming from regions of space that most astronomers believe contain black holes.

Another look at Riccardo Giacconi

Another look at Riccardo Giacconi

Further reading

Raymond Davis Jr
http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/raydavis/research.htm

Riccardo Giacconi
http://physics-astronomy.jhu.edu/people/faculty/giacconi.html

Wolfgang Pauli
http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1945/pauli-bio.html

Frederick Reines
http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1995/reines-autobio.html

Suggested searches

Nobel prizes
Neutrino detectors
Neutrinos
X-ray astronomy

Industry in a global world

The world might seem to be getting smaller every day, but the concept of globalisation does not bear up to scrutiny at least in terms of markets and companies, according to ESRC-funded research.

Alan Rugman, Professor of International Business at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University and Senior Fellow, Templeton College, University of Oxford, has looked in detail at the commercial transactions of 500 multinational enterprises. The annual Fortune 500 features the 500 biggest multinational enterprises measured by sales. These corporations dominate international business, accounting for over 90% of the world’s stock of foreign direct investment and nearly 50%of the world trade. 430 of them are based in the core ‘triad’ regions of the United States, the EU and Japan.

Alan Rugman

Alan Rugman

The Fortune 500 dominate the business world and appear to have a genuinely global presence. Rugman, however, is not convinced of the degree to which these companies truly are international. Globalisation, he reports, has been defined in business schools as the production and distribution of products and services of a homogenous type and quality on a worldwide basis. In other words selling the same products from London, Ontario to East London, South Africa and from Lima, Ohio to Lima, Peru.

He has constructed the Templeton Global Performance Index, created in 2000 by Rugman and Oxford colleagues Michael Gestrin and Rory Knight for each of the past three years. In it, he ranks the leading multinationals according to the profitability of their foreign operations in the previous year. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, has topped the global performance rankings by industry every year in Rugman’s index measure for international sales. Over the three years, however, he says, the gap between the best and worst performing companies has widened dramatically. Indeed, Rugman suggests that rather than seeing a trend towards increased globalisation we are now seeing deglobalisation as companies perform poorly at the global level, struggle to stay profitable and begin to focus parochially on their domestic markets.

Statistics from the World Investment Report 2001

Statistics from the World Investment Report 2001

According to Rugman’s analysis, very few of the Fortune 500 have any significant presence in all three parts of the triad. In fact, only a handful of companies, such as Nestlé and Unilever, food suppliers with a strong research base can really be said to qualify as ‘global’ multinational enterprises. A much larger subset of the 500 are bi-regional multinationals but this does not point to a strong globalisation of world trade.

Indeed, the lack of evidence for what some have deemed the inevitable process of globalisation in international business is particularly stark in the retail sector, which makes up nearly 10% of the world’s largest 500 multinationals and which includes the biggest corporation by sales, Wal Mart. Of the 49 retailers regarded as ‘global’ in the Fortune 500 list, eighteen operate only in their native land. 24 are highly concentrated domestically, just five are bi-regional, and only one is global, luxury goods retailer Christian Dior/LVMH.

The car industry too is very much a non-global enterprise. More than 85% of all cars manufactured in North America are built in North American factories, over 90% of cars made in the EU are sold in the EU and that figure is 93% for Japan.

Rugman argues that these and other statistics speak for themselves and provide an entirely different perspective of globalisation. The received wisdom that we are living in a globalised world, commercially speaking, needs to be replaced. Multinational companies are not, says Rugman, operating in an integrated and homogeneous world market.

Further reading

ESRC
http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/index.aspx

Alan Rugman
http://www.bus.indiana.edu/rugman/

Rugman paper
http://www.bus.indiana.edu/rugman/Papers-books/Web%20Papers/The%20Myths%20of%20Globalization.doc

Nestle
http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/q?s=887208.F

Unilever
http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/q?s=ULVR.L&d=t

Further reading – The end of Globalization
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0712684956/davidbradleyse0e

Weathering volcanoes

Accurate weather forecasts could help predict volcanic eruptions, according to British environmental scientists.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia working with colleagues at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and the University of Maryland have discovered that intense rainfall can trigger volcanic dome collapse. This leads to a particular type of eruption in which a build-up of molten rock inside the side of the volcano becomes unstable and collapses spewing out lava, toxic gases, and rock.

The Soufrière Hills volcano in Montserrat with pyroclastic flow deposits visible on the left flank

The Soufrière Hills volcano in Montserrat with pyroclastic flow deposits visible on the left flank

The eruption on the Caribbean island of Montserrat in July last year coincided with the first heavy rainfall in seven months, explains team member Adrian Matthews. Within hours of the rainfall starting the volcanic dome collapsed. Matthews, a meteorologist, leads the research team with UEA volcanologist, Jenni Barclay. The scientists also found that two previous eruptions of the Montserrat volcano, Soufriere Hills, had also been preceded by heavy rainfall.

The researchers point out that one of the most dangerous aspects of volcanic dome collapse is the accompanying surge of searing hot rocks and boulders that are carried at high speed down the mountain on a bed of volcanic gases, the pyroclastic flow. Weather forecasts, the team says, used in conjunction with rainfall records might help make more accurate predictions of imminent volcanic activity and offer people who live in the shadow of active volcanoes an early warning of eruptions.

The devastated Montserrat capital of Plymouth under volcanic debris

The devastated Montserrat capital of Plymouth under volcanic debris

Montserrat had seven months with little rain and a period of sustained volcanic dome growth. Once the intense rain set in, it was only a matter of hours before the dome collapsed and pyroclastic flows started. The weather system that brought the rain could be seen in satellite images and was forecast 60 hours before the volcanic activity. The next step is to work out how the rainfall triggers the eruption, it may be the water being turned to steam and building up inside the dome, like a pressure cooker, adds Matthews.

Further reading

Geophys. Res. Lett., 29(13) (2002)
http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2002GL014863

Soufriere Hills
http://www.geo.mtu.edu/volcanoes/west.indies/soufriere/

Suggested searches

Soufriere Hills volcano
Pyroclastic flows
Volcanoes