Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Imagination Without Knowledge is Ignorance Waiting to Happen - Part 4

This one has been one of my all-time pet peeve. Even seemingly intelligent people have uttered this to me.

One of the most frequent "come backs" when I discuss physics and especially electrons, etc. is that I always get the complaints that "we have not observed an electron", so it can't be real. Of course, one then ask what is meant by "observe", and immediately people who made such comments realized how silly it is to restrict this to simply things that we can see with our eyes. So then they retract by saying that we haven't "detected" an electron. All we have detected are just streams and streams of them in the form of currents, etc.

Automatically, I assume that these people do not buy into what have been observed in bubble chambers and other particle trackers in high-energy physics colliders. But even so, there are two different ways to tackle this:

1. The concept of an "electron" isn't just defined as an "object", certainly not in the classical sense. As with anything in physics, the entity is defined by a series of properties. These properties have consequences that are measurable. So if an electron has so-and-so properties, one should be able to measure all of them, especially if they involve the behavior of a collection of them. We do not need to directly observe or detect an electron to verify its existence. In fact, if one were to look closely, almost everything that we accept to "exist" is based on such inference. We accept something to exist when it fulfills all the criteria that corresponds to a set of property belonging to that object. The same is true with an electron. So to single out the electron as to not be a valid entity is rather puzzling.

2. Even with Point #1, scientists never rest on what we already have and continue to test our knowledge. Now there is a direct detection of single electrons via real-time counting of current measurement.[1] A report of this work can be found here.

This is the most direct detection of single electron. Would this somehow silence all those doubters of the existence of the electron? One can only hope....


[1] J. Bylander et al., Nature v.434, p.361 (2005).

Monday, October 30, 2006

Football Physics

Prof. Marianne Breinig of the University of Tennessee has a good website illustrating the workings of physics during a football game. I suppose we should try everything we can to make people realize that physics is at work everywhere, so why not football?


Schrodinger Cat-type experiments

I make reference to this often in various discussion groups, so I thought I should have it here in one place so that it is handy.

These are the papers that clearly show the Schrodinger Cat-type states (alive+dead, and not alive or dead). All the relevant details are there and anyone interested should read them. Also included is the reference to a couple of review articles which are easier to read, and the reference to two Leggett's papers, who was responsible in suggesting this type of experiments using SQUIDs in the first place. Again, the papers have a wealth of citations and references.

The two experiments from Delft and Stony Brook using SQUIDs are:

C.H. van der Wal et al., Science v.290, p.773 (2000).
J.R. Friedman et al., Nature v.406, p.43 (2000).[ArXiv version can be found here]

Don't miss out the two review articles on these:

G. Blatter, Nature v.406, p.25 (2000).
J. Clarke, Science v.299, p.1850 (2003).

However, what I think is more relevant is the paper by Leggett (who, by the way, started it all by proposing the SQUIDs experiment in the first place):

A.J. Leggett "Testing the limits of quantum mechanics: motivation, state of play, prospects", J. Phys. Condens. Matt., v.14, p.415 (2002).

A.J. Leggett "The Quantum Measurement Problem", Science v.307, p.871 (2005).

This paper clearly outlines the so-called "measurement problem" with regards to the Schrodinger Cat-type measurements.

I may add more to this post if more new experiements/reviews are reported, so this entry may grow over time.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

UBC Lands Wieman

Wow! UBC certainly caught a big one. Carl Wieman, Nobel Laureate from U. of Colorado, is moving to the University of British Columbia, Canada. This is certainly a big coup.

It appears that UBC is aggressively recruiting prominent physicists from around the world to raise their stature. They got George Sawatzky a few years ago, and now this. They already have a very well-known optical spectroscopy/transport group there that's doing a fabulous job. This will add a lot more prestigue to their name.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Ghosts Not Real!

In this season of Ghouls and Ghoulies, it needs reminding that many people do actually believe in these supernatural phenomena, dispite what science (and a bit of common sense) has to say.

Costas Efthimiou, a professor at the University of Central Florida, has a preprint awaiting publication that addresses the logical fallacy of a number of such things. It is a very entertaining read. Unfortunately, it also highlights the fact that a large portion of the population do actually believe in such a thing.


The Argonne Wakefield Accelerator

If you came to our recent Open House, and you visited our facility, this is what you would have seen up close and personal - the Argonne Wakefield accelerator.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Accessing Planck Scale Physics

Can experiment access Planck scale physics? Robert Bingham of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory seems to think we can.


Physics Songs?

Here's a little bit of "fluff". A website called PhysicsSongs.org (I'm not making this up!) is putting physics concepts, ideas, etc. into songs. Maintaied by Walter F. Smith, Associate Professor of Physics at Haverford College, this may be amusing enough to be useful. So check it out if you wish and let me know what you think.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tunneling Spectroscopy of High-Tc Superconductors

This is a very comprehensive review of the theory and experimental results of tunneling spectroscopy of high-Tc superconductors. This paper is to appear in an upcoming Review of Modern Physics journal.

This particular topic was my Ph.D research area, so it is something very dear to me. The paper cited several of my papers. It is really a double-edge sword with review papers like this. On one hand, you want to make sure your work is cited since they are doing an overall review. To be excluded would imply your work isn't important enough to be included with the whole body of knowledge of that particular subject matter. On the other hand, once a review paper like this comes out, future authors, if they're lazy enough, would tend to just cite the review paper that contains all the relevant results, and not cite the original papers. So if it is your work that they're citing from that review paper, you will miss a citation count of your paper.

Oh well, we can't have everything.

Completing the Circle

Recently, one of the giants of condensed matter physics, Bill Spicer, passed away.

Again, this is one of those names that most people have never heard of (like Bardeen), and yet, his contribution to the advancement of knowledge is so immense, the results of his effort are being used by practically everyone! Best known for his development of the photoemission spectroscopy (especially angle-resolved photoemission) that is now one of the most important technique in condensed matter physics - the 3-step model of photoemission has always been known as the Spicer 3-step model. He left a huge legacy at Stanford where he has established not just a world-renown photoemission center, but his students have continued to expand the field and carried on his work.

I'm bringing this up because of a rather interesting coincidence. Bill Spicer, when he first started out developing the photoemission technique, studied photocathodes used to produce electrons for accelerators, synchrotrons, etc. One of his very last Ph.D students at Stanford before he retired became my postdoctoral supervisor. So after working in doing photoemission work for 2 1/2 years, when I informed my postdoc boss that I will be leaving to take a job at an accelerator facility to study and make photocathodes, he looked surprised and said "Well, that has gone full circle now, hasn't it?"

We both knew what he meant. What started with Spicer working with photocathodes, then evolved into a powerful technique to study a wide range of materials, came into its full potential with the discovery of high-Tc superconductors, then having the Spicer's legacy and pedigree passed down to his students, and indirectly, I acquired his influence through one of his students, and now I'm bringing it back to where it all started.

Being a physicist, I am constantly aware of all the great people who have made the progress I've seen and taken for granted. These are not the names that most people recognize, yet they have contributed to a tremendous amount of advancement in knowledge. In some small part of me, I know I'm carrying the legacy of Bill Spicer even though I've never met him. To know that I am going to use what he has help developed in going back to work in an area he started with is very humbling. I can only hope that I do justice to what he has left behind.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Underwater Sounds Breaks the Surface

The long-held belief that sound from water cannot be transmitted into air is now being challenged by a new theoretical work. It appears that under a particular condition, it may be transmitted almost completely from water to air.

The paper by Oleg Godin, appears in Phys. Rev. Lett.


John Van Vleck

If you're bored, then you can spend your time reading this two very long articles on the historical significance of one of John Van Vleck's papers during the heyday of the formation of Quantum Mechanics.

Vol. 1
Vol. 2

These are terrific articles because they also convey the scenario at that time, with participation of several historical figures in physics.

As a side note, the mathematics building at the University of Wisconsin (my alma mater) is named after Van Vleck.


The Best Attack Against Intelligent Design that I've Ever Read!

This is from the July 22 2005 issue of Science, and after reading it, I simply HAD to report it and record it here. And not to mention, I FULLY agree with the whole idea on how to confront this issue. This is consistent with my earlier entry on here about the fact that you have to be superficial, glib, and perky when talking about science to politicians and the general public. It's the ONLY way to make them pay attention and to sway them. Facts and figures do NOTHING! It's all in the style!

Anyway, in this issue of Science, Donald Wise from Department of Geosciences of University of Massachusetts addressed the issue related to Donald Kennedy's article on Evolution vs. Intelligent Design. He pointed out how ineffective the scientific community has been in persuading the public of why evolution is science, while ID is not. The flaw comes in because the scientists were arguing details of scientific facts before an audience who have no way to comprehend such facts. What he proposed is that the scientists should "....attack a weakness of the opposition and repeat (again and again), with a modicum of humor...." He then explicitly proposed a paragraph that he said has worked before:

"You have a philosophic choice between evolution or belief in ID, so called intelligent design. But even a first-year engineering student would be embarrassed to have designed your lower back with the extreme bend that allows you to stand erect even though your pelvis slants forward for knuckle-dragging like all our near relatives. You probably have had braces or wisdom teeth extracted because there are too many teeth for the size of your mouth. Then there are your sinuses, with a flawed drainage system that would provoke laughter from a plumber. Yet evolution provides a ready and rational explanation for all these design failures: by progressive changes into an erect posture, by shortening of a mammalian muzzle into a face, and by expansion of our large brains to crowd the facial bones. So take your choice: Do you prefer evolution or an ID whose letters may as well stand for Incompetent Design?"

When I read it, I was howling with laughter. It's funny, but it's DEAD ON! After this was said, Wise then reported,

"After a bit of flustering, the ID adherent usually mumbles something about our inability to know the mind of God. The reply: "Indeed, ID is not science but religion and should be taught as such.""

This is such a classic!

In trying to impress upon the public of science, do not rely on facts and numbers. We have already seen many instances where this strategy did not work (see Brookhaven Lab). Style trumps over substance more often than not. This is how most people, sadly, make up their minds.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Crazy But Correct!

There have been many discussion regarding the issue of people playing off their pet theories and ideas on open forums on the Internet. While there are people having various degree of opinion on such things, the most extreme ones would come in some shape or form that essentially DISMISS the importance of peer-reviewed journals as being nothing more than an exclusive club with its only mission to uphold the orthordox view of science.

Ignoring the fact that I had already tackled this point in one of my previous entry under "Imagination without knowledge is ignorance waiting to happen", I will try to address this issue by invoking a terrific essay by Daniel Koshland that appears a while back in Nature[1]. I'm doing this because I had to make references to this article several times already. I want to make a clear and concise review of what he wrote so that next time another argument on "peer-reviewed journals are stuck-up", I'll either point to this entry, or do a quick cut-and-paste.

Here's a bit of a background. Dan Koshland is a biochemist. He was an assistant scientist at Brookhaven Lab in the 1950's and worked in the study of muscle enzyme. What he discovered and concluded was that the prevailing, accepted theory at that time that was the work of Emil Fisher was wrong. Koshland's "fit-induced" theory was going up against a well-known "lock-key" theory of a very famous and respected biochemist.

He decided to try to get it published, but with a lot of trepidations...

"Realizing that a young scientist was largely identified as promising on the basis of one or two good papers - and could be largely destroyed on the basis of one or two bad papers - I was aware of the risks I was taking"

Naturally, the journals that he submitted his work to were skeptical. The type of comments he received were along the line of

"The theory of Emil Fischer has been a cornerstone for 100 years and will not be overturned by the ideas of an obscure young biochemist from a young national laboratory."

He described his angry reaction to the journals that rejected his papers, which is understandable. But here is where he made a point in which the claim of many quacks that science only care about upholding the current idea gets totally smashed:

"I realize now that a new theory is likely to meet resistance, but it should, if based on GOOD experiments, receive sceptical encouragement if science is to remain in balance. Non-confirmists are necessary for progress in science, just as mutations are necessary for progress in evolution. However, there must be constraints to select good mutations from bad mutations. Too many mutations block evolution, as error-prone straints of bacteria have proved. So non-conformist thinking in science must be encouraged to make progress, but restrained to prevent anarchy. In science, it is PEER-REVIEWED JOURNALS and granting agencies that provide such balance."

Before we forget, note that this came from a "non-conformist" himself who had to struggle to get his idea published and accepted. I find that I put more validity and credence to an opinion of someone who HAS gone through what he or she is writing about, rather than from someone who just READ about it.

Koshland went on to say...

"The trouble is that journals can easily become too conservative, because editors find it easier to reject the unusual than to take a chance on the unthinkable...... The existence of multiple journals provides the final safeguard against too much conservatism and is the ultimate reason that science is more receptive to non-conformity than any other segment of our society."

The one good thing about science, and experimental science in particular, is that if it is based on valid evidence, SOMEONE is bound to eventually verify it. So his theory did get published, and is now a standard explanation in textbooks of biochemistry.

I think that last part that I quoted is something many people outside of science do not understand or are aware of. And in this aspect, I will focus on physics in particular. While the most prestigious publications for physics are Nature, Science, and Physical Review Letters, there are MANY other physics journals that are equally important. There are also many more "lower-tier" journals in which even "dubious" papers are published. The fact that notorious papers such as the Fleishman and Pon's "cold fusion" paper and the Podkletnov's "antigravity" paper could appear in peer-reivewed journals are CLEAR evidence of this multi-tier system would allow even such unorthordox ideas to appear in print.

So it then begs the question that one would want to ask a quack: "If Fleishman and Pons paper could appear in a peer-reviewed journal, why can't yours?" Could it be THAT bad? After all, there is no longer the excuse that peer-reviewed journals would ONLY publish things that only agree with the current idea.


[1] D.E. Koshland, Jr., Nature v.432, p.447 (2004).

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Physics to be Discovered at the LHC

This is a terrific article on the physics that might be discovered (and possibly answered) at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN that is currently under construction. The Higgs is playing such a pivotal role in answering so many questions. Even if it exists, it still has to be known how massive it is for it to pin-point the correct theory to be followed.


Brian Greene's Op-Ed in NYT

So, did anyone else read Brian Greene's Op-Ed piece in the New York Times defending String Theory? I suppose he had to write something after the recent assault on String Theory in a couple of books and the popular media.

That is the backlash that you get when you OVERHYPE something in the popular media that isn't even verified!


Friday, October 20, 2006

Physics @ Home

Now you can explore how physics works in your own home and not just in fancy laboratories. Physics @ Home explores several experiements that you can do for yourself and illustrates the basic principles of physics.


Argonne Open House Wrap-Up

It was a fun and terrific time for our Argonne Open House. Although I didn't get to see any of the other exhibits around the lab (since I was stuck with our exhibits), I've been told that it was a tremendous showing by all the various divisions here. The Advanced Photon Source were just innundated with visitors none stop from the get go. And the Intense Pulsed Neutron Source facility had to start their open house tour 15 minutes BEFORE the official opening because there were people already waiting in line! At the end of the day, it was estimated that more than 18,000 visitors showed up for Argonne's first Open House in 6 years!

Our Division's effort for the Open House was a major success, even though we were in a very remote location of the lab (some people had to take 2 different shuttle busses to get to us). We had to have it at that location because the Wakefield Accelerator is housed in that building, and the "radar" detection system is right next to it. Still, it was the largest attendence ever that we had in this particular location. I was very satisfied with the whole event, and many of our visitors were very impressed that they got to see (i) live data coming in from the radar that can detect everything from airplanes, meteors, to high energy cosmic showers in the atmosphere (ii) a real, working, research accelerator just barely 4 feet away from them.

Since I was working non-stop during the Open House, I didn't get to take as many pictures as I wanted, but I did get some early on before we opened, and before it became crowded.

This is part of the MINOS display on their neutrino experiment. MINOS is the study of neutrino oscillation using neutrinos created at Fermilab. They are then detected at two locations - the near detector that is a few meters away within Fermilab grounds, and the far detector in an underground mine in Soudan, Minnesota. The neutrinos essentially travelled through the earth to get to the Soudan mine.
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We also had a large cloud chamber that people can either look directly, or watch a video projection of it on a huge screen. This was actually quite a hit, because many who showed up had never seen a cloud chamber. So it was a revelation to many when they finally realize that they are being bombared by all kinds of radiation from cosmic and terrestrial origins.
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We had a major exhibit from Fermilab regarding the proposed International Linear Collider (ILC). They are pushing (and so are we) very hard to have this project started AND built at Fermilab. So the exhibits from them here introduces the public to the ILC, including the technology of superconducting accelerating structure that has been chosen for the ILC. Shown here in this picture is one such structure, made of niobium.
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This, of course, is my baby. The Argonne Wakefield Accelerator is an a research accelerator studying advanced acceleration mechanism. The visitors on that day got briefed on what we do, and the physics involved in achieving our goals. They are then given safety glasses and then escorted into our "bunker" that housed our accelerator beamline.
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One of the idea that I came up for our Open House is to have a table where anyone can some up and ask a high energy physicists a physics question. In fact, anyone who ask a question got a free gift for the whole group that came with him/her. I managed to persuade a couple of our high energy theorists to staff it! :) I was told that the table was a hit. I even asked a few kids if they have asked the physicsts a question and if they want something to ask (why don't you ask "What if we don't find the Higgs?"). Both of the theorists got wind as the day progressed that I was giving people questions for them to ask! :)
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Some of the attendees asking one of our staff members a number of questions.
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One of the biggest hit and the most unique thing that we had was FREE POPCORN!
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Some of the visitors getting onto the hydrogen-powered shuttle bus that took them back to the less-remote areas of Argonne.
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All in all, I was glad I volunteered to do it. I was a lot of work, and I had a few nighmares leading up to it, but in the end, it turned out very well. As a bonus, yours truly picture appeared on one of the local suburban newspaper the following Monday in the report about the Argonne Open House. The public affairs people here graciously sent me the link, and a hard copy of the newspaper. :)


Thursday, October 19, 2006

More "Cloaking" Device

This is one of those things that get a lot of milage in the media. A "cloaking" device in the microwave region has been "successfully" demonstrated using a metamaterial consisting of split ring resonators.



I'm a Critter Killer

The accelerator beamline that we have is enclosed with 6-foot thick concrete blocks. This is because while it is in operation, it generates lethal doses of x-rays due to the bending magnets and from hitting the beam stop. So the whole facility (we call it the "bunker" for obvious reason) is interlocked and a whole set of procedure must be followed for it be secured for operation. During operations, everything is done remotely from the control room, and the bunker is locked/interlocked with no physical access.

Unfortunately, the experimental building we're in is not air-conditioned (I know, highly primitive for a Nat'l Lab), and during the heat of the summer months, they had to open the roll-up bay doors so that we don't suffer (luckily, the control room, laser room, and various other smaller labs within the building have their own air condition units). While this may help in reducing the heat, it also allows critters to get in. Sometime they end up in our bunker, which would be a lethal mistake.

We have been running a lot this week. I've walked into the bunker to survey the area before securing it for a run and have heard at least a couple of crickets chirping away - it's probably their mating season or something. Well, I tried to find where they are and maybe shoo them out, but after a few minutes, no luck. So I had no choice but to secure the bunker and locked them in.

We ran for about a couple of hours. Needless to say, when we opened the bunker again, there were no more chirping. It is also a common sight to see a scattering of dead flies on the bunker floor. Periodically, one of us has to escort a custodial crew to sweep the floor to remove the dead remains of these things.

So far, I don't believe we have created any mutant species due to the exposure. None of them made it out alive. So those science-fiction movies and books are wrong.



Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hadronic Physics Conference

A brief report on the recent Hadronic Physics conference at the ICTP in Trieste.


Observatories Surived the Hawaiian Earthquake

Looks like the Keck observatories on Mauna Kea survived the recent earthquake. It was reported that both Keck I and Keck II suffers minor damages - strained/bent restraining bolts, etc.. Both did rocked back and forth on their mountings. The precision mounts for Keck I were damaged, while Keck II's moving system was damaged.

Both are expected to be back up by end of the week.


Imagination Without Knowledge is Ignorance Waiting to Happen - Part 3

This is more of ignorance of the workings of physics. Most quacks and crackpots like to imagine that physicists are determined to save the status quo of physics ideas, and that they are stuck with what they know and were taught, and very unwilling to work "outside the box". Their biggest "evidence" that they like to point out is that each time they try to come up with their brilliant ideas, some physicists will always try to shoot them down and show why they will not work, etc. This, they argue, stifle creativity, something physicists do not have and unwilling to invoke.

It is unfortunate that such effort in "creativity" is not accompanied by knowledge and, more importantely, logical thinking. There are two major points that can easily trump over such criticism against physicists:

1. If the argument is true, then there is no explanation for the accumulation and the expanding of the horizon of knowledge that we have observed. There are NUMEROUS things that we know of now that we did not know of before. There are many new phenomena that we have either discovered, or can now be accurately described. The fact that the boundaries of our knowledge of the physical world continues to expand is a clear contradiction to the false argument that physicists are only interested in upholding current ideas.

2. Practicing physicists, by definition, study things that either are new, have no current explanation/description, are not completely understood, or beyond the realm of validity of current ideas. This fact is always a surprise to most quacks. We do not study things that are already well-verified! Try getting a research funding to verify Newton's Law under terrestrial condition! Physicists study things that are simply beyond what is known and understood! This is where creativity and imagination come into play. Physicists have to call upon those qualities almost every day in studying complex and difficult ideas and phenomena. However, to know what is new and unexplained, one has to first make sure one knows what is known and understood! Without that, one would not know what is new even if it comes up and bites on one's rear end.

This naturally brings us to an often-used argument made by quacks, that "revolutionary" ideas such as those by Einstein would have been rejected and opposed, very much like the opposition their "theories" are facing. This argument reveals the ignorance and fallacy of how things run in physics and science in general.

While new ideas by Einstein and Planck were initially challenged (as well they should for anyone proposing wildly different and new ideas), it should be pointed out that both of them were proposing ideas not based on ignorance of the subject matter, a fact that is often ignored by quacks. Both Einstein and Planck were masters of the subject. In fact one has to know intimately classical physics to be able to know what was wrong with it. Einstein had to know classical electrodynamics very well (not just from reading a pop-science book) to know how and why it isn't invariant under a galilean transformation. Planck had to know classical statistics very well to know why the Blackbody radiation just simply didn't fit the theoretical description. These are not something one can comprehend simply based on a superficial knowledge of physics.

While physicists at that time were skeptical and critical of both ideas, no one ever argued that Einstein and Planck were putting out their theories based on ignorance of the physics at that time. The same cannot be said with a lot of quackeries found all over the internet.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rediscovery of Element 118?

OK, here we go again!

The team from Dubna and Lawrence Livermore has announced the discover of element 116, and the rediscovery of element 118. Element 118, if you recall, had a dubious history with Victor Ninoy who claimed to had made it and later on was accused of falsifying data. That earlier claim (and paper) was retracted.

Read all about it at the PNU link, and at the Nature link [Note that the Nature link is available for free only for a limited time]


The Theory of Everything?

There have been frequent claims, both from legitimate sources and quackeries, of the possibility of finding something called the Theory of Everything (TOE). Supposedly, such a theory would contain ALL the necessary interactions that would be able to, in principle, describe ALL the phenomena (at least the existing ones) that we have observed.

We won't talk about the quackery aspect of this. The legitimate aspect of the belief in a TOE is due to the fact that there are only 4 fundamental interactions that are responsible for all the phenomena in our universe that we know of: gravity, electromagnetic, strong, and weak interactions. There is a strong belief (and desire) that all 4 of these fundamental interactions can be unified into a single consistent description. Already the electromagnetic and weak interactions have successfully been unified into an electroweak theory. There are every indication that the strong interaction will be next. Gravity might be the last and most difficult. However, assuming that it can be unified with the others, one then have what is called the Grand Unified Theory (GUT). Most people claim that then, we have achieved the TOE.

The implicit assumption in making such a claim that GUT = TOE is that the principle of Reductionism works. Reductionism is a philosophy which, to state rather crudely, everything in the universe can be reduced to the basic interaction at a single particle case. Then, by simply adding a higher level of complexities, one can then recover all the other more complicated, macroscopic phenomena. So if you know all the interactions that an atom in a human skin has, then by including more and more of the number of atoms/molecules, you will eventually be able to describe all the properties of the human skin. Hence, once you know all there is to know at the single particle scale, then everything else is just a matter of complexities. This then leads to the notion that GUT = TOE.

Most particle and high energy physicists espouse this point of view. I would single out Steven Weinberg as the prominent champion of this school of thought. String theoriests have also been known to slip up now and then by claiming that unification of gravity with quantum mechanics is a step towards GUT and TOE.

However, there is another school of thought that would contradict the idea that GUT = TOE. This school of thought is made up of condensed matter physicists, which make up the largest percentage of practicing physicists. The most prominent condensed matter physicists who have stated their opposition to the reductionists idea are Phillip Anderson, Robert Laughlin, and David Pines. They brought up examples that are described as "emergent" phenomena, often seen in condensed matter. These are phenomena that only occurs, or can only be defined, when there are a gazillion interactions occuring. Examples of these are superconductivity, fractional quantum hall effect, magnetism, etc. Laughlin, for example, argued that if you try to write down all the interactions of a single electron in a conductor, no matter how many electrons you add up in your interactions, you will NEVER recover the superconductivity phenomenon. Superconductivity is an emergest phenomenon that is a result of a many-body interaction. The starting point in describing such a phenomenon MUST start not from a single particle scenario, but from a many-body ground state scenario. This effect emergers out of a many-body interaction and will simply disappears if one tries to take it apart to a single-particle level.

What this boils down to is the claim that GUT is the TOE for reductionism, not the TOE for physics. Anyone claiming the existence of any form of TOE will have to seriously address the glaring omission of a huge body of phoenomena from condensed matter physics, which holds some of the most highly verified observations with the highest degree of certainty in any field of physics.

For more resources on emergent phenomena from condensed matter physics and why they contradict the claim of GUT=TOE, read the references below:

1. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/97/1/28.pdf
2. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/97/1/32.pdf
3. http://arXiv.org/abs/hep-th/0210162
4. R.B. Laughlin, Rev. Mod. Phys., v.71, p.863 (1999).
3. P. Anderson, Science v.177,p.4 (1972).


Monday, October 16, 2006

Imagination Without Knowledge Is Ignorance Waiting to Happen - Part 2

In this part, it is certainly ignorance gone wild.

One of my pet peeve is people who barely know enough physics, but then do not feel the slightest bit of hesitation in using it for their own agenda. They see no problem at all in extending their ignorance into other areas without realizing the hysterical and illogical consequences. Of course, some people give them credit for having a wonderful imagination and cite that often-bastardized Einstein's quote.

One such example is the ongoing assault on The Theory of Evolution. Now keep in mind that this is NOT an essay on the validity of either the Theory of Evolution or Creationism/Intelligent Design (ID) (that would require a completely separate diatribe on my part). What I will do is look at two particular arguments that have often been used against Evolution by advocates of ID. These two arguments have a direct connection to physics. This is clearly a strong reason why the Evolution versus ID affects all of science and not just biological sciences.

1. Evolution is only a THEORY.

This stems from the pedestrian usage of the word "theory", meaning to nothing more than an educated guess, if that. It implies that a scientific "theory" is nothing better, not verified, or still not accepted. Again, nothing more than an educated guess.

This argument reveals the ignorance of how the word "theory" is used in science, and especially in physics. There are two broad dichotomy of the nature of scientific studies - experimental and theoretical. Experimental involves experiment! This includes data collection, analysis, phenomenological models, etc. Theoretical, on the other hand, involves either phenomenalogical models of experiments (same as experimental), or theoretical extension of preexisting ideas via ab initio derivation. So a theory is a mathematical/logical description of an idea.

Furthermore, saying something is just a theory somehow implies that a theory can "graduate" into a law or a principle. This of course is absurd. Laws, theories, principles, etc., are all the same. Each may have varying degree of certainty or varification, but it doesn't mean one is better than the other, or that they evolve into one another.

To attack Evolution by saying it is "just a theory" is also an attack on BCS Theory of Superconductivity, Quantum Field Theory, Band Theory of Solids, etc, etc. If one is aware of how successful those physics theories are, one would never make such an idiotic argument. So this is an example of an argument made based on ignorance.

2. Evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Already, this is something that affects physicists, because inadvertently, our area is being dragged directly into this battle.

The argument comes from the apparent "understanding" of two things: (i) life beings are "ordered" structure and (ii) 2nd Law of Thermodynamics reflects an increase in entropy or, to put it crudely, disorder.

Now, I will not go into detail on why to equate entropy with disorder is inaccurate (that will be saved for another time). So let's assume that both (i) and (ii) are correct. ID advocates point to the fact that if Evolution did happen, it implies a trend towards order of our Earth system. Random distribution of atoms and molecules in primovial Earth somehow form ordered and more sophisticated conglomeration that eventually form life forms. Thus, the earth went from disorder to order. This clearly violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and thus, is not very likely. So evolution cannot be the explanation for life.

Again, such an argument is being made without an understanding of the 2nd Law, or even basic thermodynamics in the first place. The 2nd Law clearly states that in an ISOLATED SYSTEM (no energy or any kind going in and out), entropy cannot decrease. The earth is certainly NOT an isolated system. In fact, the earth DEPENDS predominantely on one source of external energy - the sun! So even if we consider the most simplified system, we have to consider the sun and the earth as the complete isolated system, not just the earth alone. Within this system, there is nothing to prevent one part of the system to have a lower entropy with time (example: carnot cycle). Thus, even if the earth does really have a lowering of entropy, this certainly does not violate Thermodynamics' 2nd Law.

One would be surprised that, even when this is already explained in several articles and books, that there are still numerous websites supporting creationism/ID that still carry this argument (do a google search if you don't believe me). Either the authors are not aware of how ridiculous such an argument is, or they are hoping that the readers are not aware of it, or not good in simple thermodynamics. This isn't a stretch of imagination because the general public do not have any significant understanding of basic thermodynamics principles and thus, can easily be fooled into thinking that physics has made evolution impossible! It costs nothing to perpetuate the lie.

These two examples, unfortunately, are just the few that illustrates how ignorance can lead to often serious consequences, either socially, politically, or otherwise. If one is going to use something as the foundation for an argument or an idea, it is illogical and irrational to not properly determine that one has something beyond just a superficial idea of it.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Saga of a 4-Year Old Manuscript

Last week, I submitted a paper to Phys. Rev. B and also to ArXiv cond-matt. So what's so special about that, considering that many people do this every day? Well, it was a manuscript on work I did about 5 years ago, in which the roughly-finished manuscript has been around for at least 4 years. To understand why it took so long, I have to tell you the situation surrounding it.

In 2002, I was actively seeking a more permanent employment beyond my postdoc work. This work was one of the last manuscript that I was writing while in the middle of going to the various job interviews. A "final" version of the paper was finished just when I accepted a job at Argonne. Even after moving to the new location, a number of the authors on the paper still were discussing various aspect of the manuscript, especially after new results on a family of cobaltates were published showing that they do become superconducting by adding "water" to the compound. While it didn't change that much on the aim of the manuscript, it required that we had to do some minor rewrites. My postdoc supervisor volunteered to continue on with the rewriting since I have essentially left the field of condensed matter with the new job.

Well, during that time, he got married, sold his house, had to work on his tenure, etc.. etc. I was busy with getting "acclimated" with a new field of physics, trying to learn the subject matter, busy trying to get a few publications out in this new field, and learning a lot of new things. The manuscript languished in different forms, being revive now and then each time an author or two started inquiring about its status. Before we knew it, more than 4 years have passed since I completed my version. The manuscript 4 years ago had enough of a novel and new result that it would have been considered for Phys. Rev. Lett. Unfortunately, since then, several other results have been published on the same family of material with varying results. While our manuscript still has new results that haven't been published, especially on analysis of the metal-insulator transition region of the cobaltate family and how they look similar to the high-Tc cuprate superconductor, they are no longer that new and that novel. So PRL is out.

Last week, after a sudden flurry of activity, all the parties involved with the manuscript sent their unanimous agreement that it should be out, and out now. So after minor fiddling with the figures, I finally submitted the paper to Phys. Rev. B, and also uploaded it to ArXiv.

Within 1/2 a day of the paper appearing online, I got an e-mail from the editor of New Journal of Physics inviting me to submit the manuscript to that journal (had to decline since it already was submitted to PRB), and got 2 e-mail asking questions/clarification about certain parts of the manuscript.

The only drawback in all of this is that I can't use this paper, if and when it gets published, as part of my "accomplishement" for my current job. This is because it was done while I was funded by my previous institution. My affiliation on the paper is still my old institution (with an asterisk indicating my current location/position), so this paper will not count towards my professional work currently. It will still count in my list of publication, just not something I can use to enhance my current work.

Oh well. I'm just glad that it is finally out. Now we sit and wait for the referee reports (oh joy!).


Saturday, October 14, 2006

White deer at Argonne

Sometime, when I drive in very early in the morning into work, I would find this on the front lawn of my building. These are the "famous" white deer that roam the Argonne site.

They are so used to us human at Argonne, that most of them don't even give us a second look when we drive past them, or walk past them. They are quite a site some time, and on this particular morning, was a wonderful thing to look at outside my office window, which is on the ground floor facing this lawn.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Particle Accelerator School

One of the things that I had to learn upon switching fields from condensed matter to particle accelerator physics was the subject matter itself. While I had the basics of E&M, I had to learn how such things are applied in the specific area of particle accelerators and beam physics. I also had to learn the state of the field - what are known, what are being done, what are the "hot" areas, what are the major issues and problems, and what are the current demand and direction the field is going. To a lesser degree, I also had to learn some of the "names" of the important people in the field, and also try to figure out what they look like. While these things are not part of the physics curriculum in school, they are a very important part of the practice of physics. You need to know who are the big names in the field, know what they look like, because chances are, you will bump into them and may want to talk to them. This is how you make yourself known to others, especially if you're new in the field and haven't come up from the "ranks". That was my situation when I entered this field.

One of the ways I tried to learn my way around was to attend a particle accelerator school. This is a program offered at various times of the year to students interested in going into particle accelerator and beam physics. Since this program is highly specialized and not many universities offer a complete menu of the necessary courses, the particle accelerator physicists decided a long time ago to offer a series of courses that carry university credits, be it at the undergraduate or graduate level. Practically all universities accept such credits as part of the student's curriculum. So a student who wants to go into this field can spend maybe a summer taking relevant courses and have those become part of his or her academic records that his/her home university.

This program is also valuable to postdocs and others who are entering the field (such as me). There is a large variety of such particle accelerator schools within a year, and a more "general", survey type was the one I attended a few years ago. It was highly useful because I got to have an overview of the whole field, learn the "language" that was being used, got to meet many important figures in the field who volunteered to be the instructors in the various courses (example: Tom Wangler, who wrote the definitive book in RF linear accelerator, was teaching that course using his book), and generally managed to get acquainted with people in the field. This was highly valuable because since then, I've had a few collaborations with the people I made contact with at this particle accelerator school.

The particle accelerator school in the US is offered several times throughout the year, and especially over the summer months. There are also particle accelerator schools being offered in Japan, Europe, and Russia. in fact, there have been several joint US-Japan-Europe-Russia particle accelerator schools being offered at various parts of the world.

If you are intersted in attending one of these, talk to your academic advisor/supervisor and look at the courses being offered at


There are also links to other particle accelerator schools and programs being offered throughout the world.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Imagination Without Knowledge is Ignorance Waiting to Happen - Part 1

Having been on the 'net for a very long time, I get asked often to look at some rather outrageous claims being made by a lot people, many of them in need of serious psychiatric help. This one is a doozy from quite a few years ago.

A guy had a coil of wire stuffed into a cylinder (I think a brass cylinder). The two ends of the wire stuck out on the opposite ends of the cylinder. The cylinder was suspended from the ceiling by some cables. He then connected a heating element to the end of the wire at the bottom of the cylinder. The moment he turned on the heating element, he started time. He has a thermocouple of some kind monitoring the temperature at the other end of the wire. As soon as the temperature had risen by 50 C (I don't quite remember the exact number so I made this up), he stopped time. Call this Time A.

Next, he connected the heating element to the top end of the wire. He repeated the experiment, this time monitoring the temperature of the bottom end of the wire till the temperature has changed by 50 C also. Call this Time B.

He noticed that Time A is shorter than Time B. He said that this means that the heat in the conductor can travel faster upwards than downwards. His conclusion was that he has discovered an anti-gravity effect, and that there was an anti-gravity component to heat. [Honest! This is what was said! You can't make up idiotic statements like this!]

This is where having just a little knowledge can result in something hysterical. Anyone who has studied physics can immediately see two very obvious problems (there may be more) with this interpretation:

1. Convection. The inside of the cylinder is at atmospheric pressure and not in some level of a decent vacuum. So by heating from below, a heat convention can easily carry some of the heat upwards, thus heating the top end faster.

2. Cooling gradient. This is the more important aspect. I asked this person (yeah, I actually made contact with him) if he waiting for the wire to cool down back to room temperature before he did the 2nd part of the experiment. He said, no, he continued right on. This means that he had no clue that the rate of heat loss depends on the temperature gradient of an object with its surrounding. Heating an object in air from 20 C to 70 C is not the same as heating it from 50C to 100 C, even though the temperature change is identical. As the temperature of the object increases, the temperature difference between it and the surrounding also increases, and so will the rate of heat loss. This is straight-forward law of cooling. So of course he would take longer to heat the 2nd part since he is starting off at a higher temperature!

We teach physics majors all the things that are known and can already be explained, NOT because we want them to be able to mimic and repeat all of them when they become physicists. We teach them those things so that they will KNOW when they encounter something new and unexplained. You cannot know what you are observing or discovering is new if you don't already have a clear idea of what are known and can already be explained! This person that I just described lacked the knowledge to know that what he thought was "new" can, in fact, be explained quite simply based on existing ideas. He certainly had a vivid imagination, but it is nothing more than mere ignorance of the knowledge he did not have.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

UCSD Physics Problem Solving Web Demos

Not sure how old this is, but this is rather interesting. It is the UCSD Physics problem solving web demos on Accelerating Apple.


An Infamous Fermi Picture

This is a very famous picture of Enrico Fermi that has been debated for years by many physicist. Look at it carefully. Can you see something STRANGE in this picture?


It May Be Interesting, But Is It IMPORTANT?

I think that the fuzzy boundary between simply being a "student" of physics and a professional, practicing physicist is the ability to answer that question.

Again, as I've mentioned a few times in my journal, there are some skills that are not part of your physics curriculum. One such skill is the ability to determine if something is not just interesting, but also important. Strange as it may seem, those two are not always mutually inclusive. As a student, one doesn't have to figure out if something is "important" because hopefully, the wise guidance of the academic advisor would steer one onto the right area. However, when that line between a "student" and a "practicing physicist" is crossed, that question now becomes relevant.

What is considered to be interesting is mainly an individual preference. This is what you yourself want to do and what to spend time doing, without the need of any external impetus. However, what is important is usually determined by things outside of you. This may be the state of the field at the time, the research funding goals, the reason why you were hired, etc.

Now, in many instances, what is interesting and what is important overlap. However, any physicist can tell you this that this doesn't occur all the time. Personally, I've encountered a few situations where I find something quite interesting to study, but simply can't quite justify why it would be "important" to spend time and effort to study it. The real world in which physics is done involves money, time, effort, resources, etc. While a student is usually immune to such constraints, a practicing physicist isn't. There are many external considerations beyond just the physics to determine what gets done.

Of course, there are times when what was merely interesting becomes important, and what was important becomes merely an interesting curiosity. Unless we are also psychic (assuming such things are real), we can't predict such changes. Thus, it might sometime pay to keep some things in the back burner just in case while one continues working on those "important" stuff.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Photoemission Spectroscopy

Sometime, when a phenomenon is so well-known and well-understood, we often use it to study other things. X-ray diffraction is one example. Another is photoemission/photoelectric effect.

Photoemission is the extension of our understanding of the photon picture of light. Ever since Hertz's discovery of the photoelectric effect phenomena, Einstein's theoretical photon model, and Millikan's subsequent verification of the Einstein's photon model, this effect has been so well-tested and understood that today, we use it to study other things. In particular, photoemission, in its various forms, is used to study the electronic properties of solids, such as metals, semiconductors, superconductors, etc. In fact, the clearest verification of the validity of the band structure of solids came from photoemission spectroscopy.

The progress in this experimental technique evolved rather spectacularly after the discovery of the high-Tc superconductors. Having the 2D layers of copper-oxide planes where most of the superconducting effects are thought to occur, these made them a natural candidate to be studied by photoemission, especially using a technique called angle-resolved photoemission.

It is imperative to point out that ALL of the theory of photoemission, including those applied in the study of materials that we are now using in modern electronics, make use of ONLY the photon picture of light. There has been NO other alternative formulation of light to account for the experimental observations of photoemission spectroscopies. NONE.

There are two very good reviews of the usage of the photoemission technique on superconductors. The identical technique is also used on other materials.

http://arxiv.org/abs/cond-mat/0209476 (exact reference: The Physics of Superconductors, Vol. II, ed. K. H Bennemann and J. B. Ketterson (Springer, New York, 2004), p. 167-273.)



Sunday, October 08, 2006

Post Open House

Dispite all of my worries, the Open House for our Division was a success! The cloud chamber wowed a number of people, and they were also impressed with the tour of our AWA facility, where they got THIS CLOSE to an actual, working, research accelerator.

We got some very good feedback, and there were several people who pointed out one of our exhibits as THE best thing they saw in all of Argonne's Open House.

I'll post pictures from the Open House once I collect all of them from various people who took pictures (I was way too busy to even snap a few).

And now I feel like I need a whole week to recover....


Friday, October 06, 2006

The day before the Open House

It was a very busy day trying to get things together for our Open House. I'm dead tired, but I'm quite happy. For the first time in 2 weeks, I am actually quite confident that we will have an outstanding set of exhibits and presentation that would wow the crowd.

The cloud chamber is performing very well - today, it was just a zoo of particle tracks. We have a video camera projecting it onto this huge screen. That will be the first time people would notice as soon as they walk in.

The presentation on the ATLAS detector at CERN is also very impressive. They have a movie showing how they slid in the tile calorimeter (which is a humongous and heavy beast) into the detector assembly. They are also going to show some particle detector tracks. The astrophysics part will include an actual, live tracking of high energy cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere using, of all things, radar! So people can actually watch this in real time, projected onto a screen.

I may sleep well tonight. I'd better, since tomorrow will be an early, and long day. I'll post pictures and stuff after all of this is over.



S. Banna et al., "Experimental Observation of Direct Particle Acceleration by Stimulated Emission of Radiation", Phys. Rev. Lett. 97, 134801 (2006)

Abstract: We report the first experimental evidence for direct particle acceleration by stimulated emission of radiation. In the framework of this proof-of-principle experiment, a 45 MeV electron macrobunch was modulated by a high-power CO2 laser and then injected into an excited CO2 gas mixture. The emerging microbunches experienced a 0.15% relative change in the kinetic energy, in a less than 40 cm long interaction region. According to our experimental results, a fraction of these electrons have gained more than 200 keV each, implying that such an electron has undergone an order of magnitude of 2×106 collisions of the second kind.


Levi Schacter also broke the news to the accelerator community for the very first time during the Advanced Accelerator Workshop this year that I co-organized. His viewgraphs presentation on this can be found here:


I just found out that we might be working with Schacter on this PASER if all the arrangements can be agreed to. This might sound interesting.


More Open House worries

I've been up since 2:30 am this morning, thinking about how our division's Open House stuff is coming along. There are things that need to be changed, moved, and arranged. A bunch of stuff are finally arriving today, the very last day before the Open House itself.

I'm still struggling to optimize the viewing clarity of the cloud chamber. We are trying to project that cloud chamber onto a large screen, but our video camera seems to have a limited view angle, and we lent our wide-angle lens to another group for their research work. So unless something happens, we may not get the best image that we can have onto this screen. People may just have to go under the hood to look at the whole thing.

The International Linear Collider (ILC) stuff will have to be incorporated into the Argonne Wakefield Accelerator (AWA) exhibits, because no one has been arranged to man the ILC stuff. That isn't too bad since the AWA exhibits themselves would merge smoothly with the ILC stuff.

The banners on our building are up. Hopefully, we'll have people dropping by tomorrow....


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

More ominous problems in physics

I posted earlier a terrific article in Physics Today by Micheal Riordan regarding theorists who have somehow disregards the need for experimental verification. In this month's Physics Today, Burton Richter wrote another searing criticism on almost the very same issue.

Don't miss it.


More Open House stuff

Things are truly shapping up with this Open House. For the first time, I'm not just nervous about the whole thing (I'm responsible for coordinating the High Energy Physics Division's exhibits and responsible also for choosing the location to display them - so if no one shows up, it is on my head). Now, I'm also excited because I see things taking shape .... slowly.

The "tent" to house our large cloud chamber is being assembled. It needs to be housed under this tent because it requires low ambient lighting, and a directed light to only a certain part of it for the tracks to show up clearly. We are going to project this onto a very huge screen using a color camera and a high-intensity projector. This will look awesome if it works!

Other groups are also slowly starting to get their stuff there. The "radar" detector to detect cosmic particles are all set up. They only need a projector. The MINOS posters are up and the rest are coming soon. Only the ILC (International Linear Collider) stuff will be done Friday morning, since these are coming from Fermilab.

Anyway, I also found something rather ironic. Our high energy physics building, Bldg. 362, will be fully occupied by several groups. The transportation division will have a tent on our lawn, the University of Chicago cancer research group will have their display and presentation in our auditorium, and I think another entity will be doing their stuff here too. It will be fully occupied, but not by us, the actual occupant of the building. Our exhibits will be in the high-bay building 366. So people will get to the High Energy Physics Division building, but the high energy physics people won't be there!



Argonne Open House

This past 2 weeks, I've been busy preparing for the Argonne Open House. In case you didn't know already, Argonne National Laboratory is having its first Open House in 6 years, and coincide with its 60th Anniversary.

This promises to be quite a big event. We have been working very hard to prepare our High Energy Physics Division's display and exhibits. While we have posters, exhibition of equipment, live display of actual cosmic ray events, etc., we will also have a tour of an actual, working, research accelerator. And I'm not just talking about looking at something 10 feet away through a glass wall. I'm talking about being right in the accelerator tunnel standing barely 4 feet away from it. They will not get this experience anywhere else at Argonne during the Open House.

Now if only they could find their way to get to the building that we will be in during the Open House. I hope the shuttle busses will work the way I think they should.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

2006 Nobel Prize in Physics

Who predicted this?


The discovery of CMB and its anisotropy is definitely a major one.


Monday, October 02, 2006

You need to be Perky, Shallow, and Superficial

It would be nice if we all could just work on things that we like, maybe even important, without having to justify or keep reporting on why we need to do these things. But we do not live in such an environment. Doing science is still a large, public endeavor that sometime requires huge amount of public funds. In tough times of restricted budget, scientists need to learn to sell their program, not only to funding agencies, but also to the politicians and the general public.

Unfortunately, the communicaton between scientists and the rest of the general public isn't as smooth and easy as it might appear. While scientists in general tend to emphasize on facts and details, the public on the other hand tends to be more persuaded by what I could call "fluff". It is not the substance that is important here, but rather style! Pat Dehmer, who at the time that I heard her spoke, was the US Dept. of Energy's Research Grant Manager (or something to that effect), once said that whenever she has to meet the politicians in Washington DC to talk around scientific research fundings, she has to be "shallow, perky, and superficial" to be able to get through to them and sell these research proposals. It isn't how important or what that research is about that is crucial, but rather how well one can sell it that may determine its fate.

So why is this happening?

Many recent surveys in the US of the public's opinion of science and technology reveal an interesting schizophrenia.[1] When asked about the importance and interest in science and technology, an overwhelming majority of the people surveyed indicated that they believe science and technology are important. However, this is where it gets interesting. A survey on the scientific literacy of the american public also reveals that the level of such literacy is quite low! For example, only HALF of the respondents to the survey knew that:

(i) the earliest humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs;
(ii) It takes Earth one year to go around the Sun;
(iii) Electrons are smaller than atoms;
(iv) Antibiotics do not kill viruses;
(v) Lasers do not work by focusing sound waves.

So on one hand, they show an overwhelming support for science. However, on the other, more than 25 percent believe in astrology, at least half of them believe in ESP, 1/4 believe in haunted houses and ghosts , and faith healing, etc. As one science reporter noted:

"Without a grasp of scientific ways of thinking, the average person cannot tell the difference between science based on real data and something that resembles science—at least in their eyes—but is based on uncontrolled experiments, anecdotal evidence, and passionate assertions. What makes science special is that evidence has to meet certain standards"

Now, what this means is that, while the public in general supports science, and scientific endeavors, they are doing it NOT because they are aware of what science is and what it does, but rather based on the PERCEIVED importance of science and technology. This is extremely important to keep in mind, because this implies that the support for science is built on an extremely shaky foundation. Such foundation can be easily eroded either via a mishap, or simply good "Public Relations" done by people against science.

A case in point happened recently at the Brookhaven National Laboratory that was in the major news. A radioactive leak from a storage area connected to a research reactor into the monitoring well caused major public upheaveal in the surrounding communities on Long Island. One would think that a major disaster occured. However, if one were to look at it carefully, one noticed that (i) the monitoring wells were doing what they were supposed to do and (ii) the amount of radioactive material that leaked was so low, it was less than the radiation one would get from an EXIT sign at a movie theater!

Unfortunately, those two facts were buried in the massive campaign by several organizations that included a few well-known movie stars. While the scientists at Brookhaven repeatedly reported on the facts, famous celebrities went on TV and various other public media with scare tactics that were devoid of valid facts. Guess who won?

Most of the scientists made the error into thinking that if we just tell the public these facts, they'll realize that there's nothing to be worried about. This failed miserably. They over-estimated the public's ability to analyze and comprehend the facts of the matter. As a result, the Brookhaven's High Flux Beam Reactor, the site of two works that resulted in Nobel Prizes, is now decommissioned and closed for good. This shows that the apparent public support for science can turn in a blink of an eye, because it is not based on a solid understanding of what science is, but rather on something more superficial.

If you are lucky enough to be in this profession, you cannot assume that others know, understand, or even appreciate what you are doing, and why it is important. You can play a small part in eradicating this ignorance by continuously "selling" your work. Add bells and whistles to your presentation to the public. They are more effective than the content in most cases. Do not assume the facts will always win.


[1] See http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind02/c7/c7s1.htm#c7s1l4a