Monday, April 30, 2007

Pictures of Hawking Successfully Experiencing A Brief History of Weightlessness

OK, maybe ONE more article on this thing. We all know that Stephen Hawking successfully made a trip in the vomit comet and experiences a few moments of weightlessness. Well know, we have pictures.

Just so you know, the pictures aren't pretty. :)


Are You A Quack?

It is no secret that I have very little patience for people who spew ideas based on ignorance. Reading my series of essays on "Imagination Without Knowledge is Ignorance Waiting to Happen" would convince you of that. What is even worse is that these are some of the most suborn people around who simply refuse, probably out of laziness or even stupidity, to learn the physics that they are trying to either debunk or even "theorize". Such an practice occurs a lot more with the popularity of the internet.

In response to such attacks on physics, several physicists have produced websites to highlight the fallacies and silliness of these people and the "theories" they spew. I have already mentioned the weekly column done by Bob Park that frequently jibe at some really bad practices done by individuals, institutions, and even government agencies. He also has an article written a while back titled "The Seven Warning Signs of Voodoo Science". This was probably the precursor to his book. It certainly puts in very concise form all the warning signs that one could use to detect cranky ideas and actions.

In a more comical approach to addressing the crackpots, Warren Siegel at SUNY Stony Brook has ready-made responses to the most common complaints/whines/attacks addressed to him by these jokers in his Are You A Quack page. I think anyone who has been on the internet forums for any considerable length of time would have seen a few, if not all, of these types of comments. It gets very tiring because each one of these quacks thinks he/she is special and the first one to have uttered such words. Don't miss the note towards the very end of that webpage:

Note: Long ago a professor of mine told me that he got letters from 2 quacks, so he forwarded each's letter to the other. He got back an angry letter from one saying, "Why did you introduce me to this quack?"

That's just plain hysterical. I've always wondered why these quacks don't go after each other FIRST before bringing such crap to physicists. I guess it's honor among thieves.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

So You Want To Be A Physicist

I wrote earlier on here about the series of on-going essay that I have written that appears on a couple of online places. The problem with these sources is that the essays are fragmented in different locations. Since I wrote them over a period of time, they all don't appear in one continuous fashion. Many people have suggested that I find a place to put all of them in a contiguous document. I didn't find the time to do that, till now.

I have collected all of them, and made a few revisions here and there, and the essay can now be found easily in one single document. It can also be found as one of the Physics link for this blog.

Note that it is still isn't finished, and there are still plenty of typo and grammatical errors. I also will make several revision and changes to it continually, so check the date of the last revision.

If you find any errors or have any suggestions, please send them to me.


Just 120 Trillion Miles From Home

This New York Times article explores the means and the difficulties of visiting the newest celestial system discovered to contain an earth-like planet.

It's a daunting task to get there, and we certainly do not have the propulsion technology yet to realisticallly achieve that.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

One-Handed Balancing Serving Tray

OK. This is NOT meant to push this item and create a sale for Hammerchar-Schlemmer. But this is such a cool-looking gadget. It is a serving tray that you can balance with just one hand. It's one of those things that can easily pass as a physics demonstration for the principle of center of mass or center of gravity.

Still, does it really have to cost THAT much? $69.95 is a bit steep for a tray with a handle sticking out at just the right angle, isn't it?


Hands-On Fun With Physics Includes Some Brain Puzzlers

Here's another touring physics exhibit that making its appearance at the Pima County Fair in Arizona.

The exhibit features daily demonstrations that focus on Newton's three laws of motion and involve key vocabulary words in physics, such as gravity, inertia, mass, matter and cylindrical force.

Er... cylindrical force? Key words in physics?

Anyway, I think it is a very good idea to have exhibits like this at a county fair, where more of the general public that would not make the effort to go to science fair or schools open house might actually visit just out of curiosity.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Quantum Cryptography Hacked

Well, so much for the security argument for quantum cryptography. Physicists at MIT has managed to "hack" into a network (limited time open link) protected by quantum encryption.[1]

..... a group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge was able to 'listen in' using a sort of quantum-mechanical wiretap. The trick allowed them to tease out about half of the data, in a way that couldn't be detected by those transmitting or receiving the message.

Still, all is not lost.

To grab the information en-route would require a 'quantum non-demolition box' - a theoretically possible but as-yet-unbuilt device that could measure the photon and pass it along. "What they have done is a simulation of an attack, not a real one," says Lo.

Shapiro and Wong agree. And they add that a quantum cryptographic network can be simply tweaked to beat their attack. By making the key out of a lot of photons instead of just a few, the sender and receiver could ensure that the eavesdropper never got enough of the key to use it. Still, they say, the work shows that secrets — even quantum ones — are never entirely safe.


[1] Kim T., et al. Phys. Rev. A, v.75 p.042327 (2007).

Hawking Successfully Experienced A Brief Period of Weightlessness

Since we've been following this since it first started, we might as well conclude it with the successful attempt of Stephen Hawking to experience weightlessness first hand.

A doctor and three nurses monitored Hawking throughout the Zero Gravity Corp. flight. The scientist floated in the air, free of his wheelchair and electronic communication gear for the first time in 40 years.

After the jet reached its proper altitude, Hawking's assistants lifted him out of his seat and laid him on his back in the front of the cabin for the first plunge.

Good for him!


Entanglement Sudden Death

There is a very fascinating paper in Science this week.

M.P. Almeida et al. "Environment-Induced Sudden Death of Entanglement", Science v.316, p.579 (2007).

Abstract: We demonstrate the difference between local, single-particle dynamics and global dynamics of entangled quantum systems coupled to independent environments. Using an all-optical experimental setup, we showed that, even when the environment-induced decay of each system is asymptotic, quantum entanglement may suddenly disappear. This "sudden death" constitutes yet another distinct and counterintuitive trait of entanglement.

A perspective on this paper, written by Eberly and Yu, is also in the same issue of Science.

They have devised an elegantly clean way to check and to confirm the existence of so-called "entanglement sudden death" (ESD) (7), a two-body disentanglement that is novel among known relaxation effects because it has no lifetime in any usual sense--that is, entanglement terminates completely after a finite interval, without a smoothly diminishing long-time tail.

But what was more interesting, at least to me (and I'm still reading the paper the 2nd time trying to understand this), is this part of that perspective article:

It is often implied and sometimes said explicitly, in textbooks as well as in physics colloquia, that our evidence for the quantum character of natural phenomena comes from the existence of wave-particle duality in the microworld. But this is misleading at best. Wave mechanics is just optics for particles, and it contains effects no more exotic than are found in physical optics (rays, diffraction, tunneling, etc.). In striking contrast, quantum mechanics exhibits features that have no classical wave counterpart at all. Duality is no help in understanding the entangled nature of Schrödinger's Cat, which "exists" in a strange entangled state, equally likely dead and alive (19-21).

To investigate quantitatively the time development of a property such as the degree of entanglement of two or more quantum systems is to enter what is probably the largest nonclassical sector of the world we live in, and the report by Almeida et al. brings new evidence to bear on these questions. They have used a photonic Cat: a pair of qubits (quantum bits in the form of photon polarizations) whose degree of mutual entanglement they can study in the clear absence of mutual interaction. Each of these photonic qubits interacts only with its own individual environment, and this produces smooth dephasing of each individual photon's polarization angles. But this provides very misleading guidance to a quantitative understanding of the photons' Cat-like properties. One-body information about the photons is useless to explain the sudden death of their entanglement.

This is interesting because I have several entries on Schrodinger Cat-type states and measurements. While this is not quite the same thing, it would be interesting to see where they match.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hawking To Experience A Brief History of Weightlessness Today

As reported earlier, Stephen Hawking is going up in the "vomit comet" and experience a few brief moment of weightlessness. That event will take place today!

I wonder if he will still be attached to his wheelchair?


Revamped Experiment Could Detect Axions?

At least these physicists think so. They are proposing a revamping of a number of current experiment to significantly increase the chance of detecting axions. The experiment is essentially "shining light through walls"

The unimproved experiment seeks to detect axions by shining a laser down the bore of a powerful superconducting magnet. A wall in the middle stops the laser cold, with the theoretical axions continuing through the wall and into the other side of the magnet. There, the magnet reconverts them into photons, or particles of light.

The detection of this light “reappearing” on the other side of the wall is what gives the experiment its iconic name.

Researchers in the U.S. and Europe are in various stages of conducting the experiment. The activity has been stimulated by a recent Italian experiment that claims to have discovered axion-like particles. The hope is to confirm the Legnaro National Laboratories’ results or take them a step further.

Sikivie, UF physics professor David Tanner and Karl van Bibber, a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, propose a redesign of the “shining light through walls” experiment to make it, in their words, “vastly more sensitive.”

I'll try to update this later with the exact citation of the paper. So far, it doesn't show up yet on the PRL website. The only reference to anything similar is a paper by almost the same group of people published in 2005[1]. There is, however, an ArXiv preprint on this, and presumably, this is the paper[2].


[1] Phys. Rev. Lett. 95, 091304 (2005).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cosmologically Speaking, Diamonds May Actually Be Forever

Maybe girls know more than guys about this, but there's a good reason why you would want diamonds to be your best friend. This news article reports on, and interviews both Lawrence Krauss and Robert Scherrer on their recent paper.

Writing in the journal Physical Review D, the two physicists show that matter as we know it will remain as the universe expands at an ever-increasing clip. That is, the current status quo between matter and its alter ego, radiation, will continue as the newly discovered force of dark energy pushes the universe apart.

This paper was titled Radiation can never again dominate matter in a vacuum dominated universe[1] and the abstract is below:

We demonstrate that in a vacuum-energy-dominated expansion phase, surprisingly neither the decay of matter nor matter-antimatter annihilation into relativistic particles can ever cause radiation to once again dominate over matter in the future history of the Universe.


[1] Phys. Rev. D 75, 083524 (2007).

Water Flows Like Molasses on the Nanoscale

Scientists at Georgia Tech has discovered that when confined to a width of less than 2 nanometers, water flows with a viscosity equivalent to molasses.

"Since water usually has a low viscosity, the force you would expect to feel as you compress it should be very small," said Riedo, assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Physics. "But when we did the experiment, we found that when the distance between the tip and the surface is about one nanometer, we feel a repulsive force by the water that is much stronger than what we would expect."

There are many things that do not really behave in the same fashion as you change its dimensionality. Take for instance, charge carriers that we are so familiar with. In 3D, ordinary metals behave in the "usual" fashion, and typically can be accurately described by Landau's Fermi Liquid Theory. However, try confining it to 1D. Then these charge carriers (be it electrons or holes) will start behaving in very unusual manner. The weakest possible interaction between themselves could possibly produce what is known as the spin-charge separation. This is where the spin and charge properties appear to "flow" differently, as if the charge carrier has split itself into 2 components, one that carries the spin, while the other carries the charge.

This is purely a many-body effect in 1D, and can be described by the Tomonaga-Luttinger Liquid model. However, it again illustrates that simply by changing the dimensionality, the physics can be VERY different. Now this also ties in with my previous "rants" about the bastardization of quantum mechanics. There seems to be a free-wheeling idea that some understanding in one area can be EASILY extrapolated into another. People are applying QM into human interactions, or using Relativity to justify social policies, etc. All of these people are exhibiting the classical symptom that I've called "imagination without knowledge is ignorance waiting to happen". What it means is that they took the superficial knowledge of certain physics principles, but are completely ignorant of other parts of physics that simply cannot be isolated from such principles. For example, there is a very important area of physics called "phase transition". This is the study where a system undergoes an ABRUPT CHANGE in one or more properties as goes through that transition. Water turning into ice is an example. A metal going into a superconductor is another example. Its resistivity drops abruptly to zero as it goes just below the transition temperature Tc. It isn't a gradual process. But what is more important is that the behavior and temperature dependence of the resistivity above Tc cannot be extrapolated all the way down to, say, T=0, because the characteristics of the resistivity is very different below and above Tc. When things undergo a phase transition, this is what happens. You cannot assume that the behavior in one phase is the same as the behavior in another phase.

Now, if that is the case, then what is there to say that one can actually extrapolate what we know for systems obeying quantum mechanical behavior to, let's say, a human interaction scale? There's nothing that say we can. There's no indication that social and collective human behavior are "quantum systems". When people use physics principles and extrapolate them into such scales, they are only aware of those "sexy" ideas of physics while ignoring the fact that physics are often aware of when such extrapolations can and cannot be applied. They should also take what we have learned from the study of phase transition and be aware that not everything can be extrapolated that easily.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hopes Dim for Perfect Lens

This could be a major setback for those working in trying to perfect "lenses" using the negative refraction phenomenon. A theorist has published a paper (link is open to all only for a limited time) arguing that there is an inherent problem with such a device - substantial absorption that cannot be overcome with current metamaterial structure.

Mark Stockman, a theoretical physicist at Georgia State University, argues that...

The electrons in the materials slosh in response to the electromagnetic fields in the light, and causality says that the precise arrangement and motion of the electrons can depend on light that has already passed through them--not on the light that has yet to arrive. Starting from that point, Stockman has shown mathematically that negative refraction and absorption are intertwined so that you cannot have one without the other, as he reports in a paper to be published in Physical Review Letters. "There is no way to decrease the losses," Stockman says. "The [negative refraction] effect will disappear." In particular, simple amplification won't do the trick, he says.

Of course, this will not stop others working in this field to either prove him wrong, or find a way around this.


Hip-Hop Meets Physics

A rather inventive way to introduce physics and make it more "interesting", I think.

It is commendable that there are many people who are trying things to teach and raise interst in science, and physics in particular. However, is there a careful study and follow-up to see if such a thing is really effective? This is probably not that easy to do, but it would be nice to know that such activities do make an impact, rather than just a fun diversion/entertainment (nothing wrong with that).


Monday, April 23, 2007

To Boldly Do What No Laser Has Done Before

This is an informative article of the LINAC Coherent Light Source (LCLS) that is being built at SLAC. The world-famous high-energy physics facility is being "retrofitted" to become a "light source" and transforming itself from a particle collider to a user facility to generate light to be used to study other things.


Presenting the Sun - in 3D!

It seems that everyone nowadays is getting into the 3D business, especially after Disney has gotten into it big time with Chicken Little, the re-release of Nightmare Before Christmas, and the recently-released Meet the Robinsons. It seems that NASA has has caught on with the 3D fever. It has released the image of the sun - in 3D!

Of course, you need a pair of 3D glasses to view this. And no, the 3D glasses you get when viewing those Disney Digital 3D movies would not work here - I tried! :)


First Black Woman to Earn a Ph.D. in Physics in Colorado

At this day and age, something like this should no longer be a news item, but unfortunately, it is. It reflects the very small percentage of African-American, and especially female African-American getting a Ph.D in physics.

I don't know how much she has to persevere to get to this point, but she certainly deserves a BIG congratulations.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

QM Says Goodbye to Reality?

This was the "big" news of the week in physics. A paper by the Zeilinger's group in Austria has made a test that rules out large classes of "realism" model that could not be saved even when locality is relaxed. The test of the Leggett's inequality, which is an extension of the Bell inequality, has made QM even more verified than before.

This is a rather interesting paper because, till now, the Bell-type experiments can only violate "local realism", but are not able to distinguish if they violate either "locality", "realism", or both. Locality is the interconnectedness of entangled properties no matter how far they are in space. A measurement on one instantaneously affects the other. Realism is an idea that a system actually have definite properties moving with it locally even when we haven't measured it. The latter is what makes this purely quantum mechanical and the basis of Schrodinger's infamous cat thought experiment.

The more they test it, the more convincing it becomes....


Friday, April 20, 2007

More Brian Greene Interview

This guy is in the news almost as much as Stephen Hawking! :)

This time, Greene is being interviewed because he was brought in as a "consultant" for the upcoming movie Deja Vu, one of the upcoming Jerry Bruckheimer movie. So read it and weep. You probably won't see physics being discussed on a movie website anytime soon!


Illinois Particle Accelerator Day

The Governor of the state of Illinois, US has declared that April 21, 2007 as the Illinois Particle Accelerator Day. Hooray!! {throws confetti}

Er... what does it mean to have a Particle Accelerator Day? :)

Still, it is nice to have that recognition, even if it isn't well-known, and it will probably be completely forgotten the day after... OK, now I feel depressed!


Physics Student, Audience on Pins and Needles

Some time, you do crazy things in the name of physics. This graduate student laid on a bed of nails, had a block of concrete on him, and then had another student smashed the block of concrete. All in front of a crowd, and all done for the very first time.

Ryan, a graduate student in physics, was unharmed, but said he was a little nervous because he'd never tried it before.

"I know the physics," he said. "I know I'm going to be safe."

I hope they gave him extra credit for doing that! :)


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Even MORE Bastardization of Quantum Mechanics

Uh-oh. I can already see that this theme might drag on and on and on....

Let's add this to the existing collection of bastardization of quantum mechanics, especially by people who have no clue what QM is. This time, a psychic thinks that she can use QM and "energy" to predict relationships among people.

An aura, as defined by Oslie, is an electromagnetic or energy field that radiates from all matter, including people.

"Quantum physics says that we are all energy. Our energy fields can reveal important information about who we are, our goals, priorities and relationship styles. It's a really good sign if you like someone's energy," said Oslie in a recent interview.

EM fields are well-defined and well-studied. In fact, QED came into existence as a very detailed description of the EM fields. Nowhere in such a description is there a characteristic associated with "who we are, our goals, priorities..." and other crap. You do get values of the photon energy (frequency or wavelength), spin, momentum, polarization, etc... but no "relationship styles", thankyouverymuch!

I'm always amazed how these people can get away with something like this, and how there are people who actually buy into it. Don't these people actually go out and test something like this and see if it works ALL THE TIME? It is also ironic that physics is actually falsifying and throwing plenty of doubt into what these psychics are claiming. Yet, they're using it to legitimize the garbage that they are pushing. Fancy that!


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dark Matter Appears to be Wimpier

A new experiment has lowered the constraints of the strength of the interaction between Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) and the rest of matter. This means that these WIMPs, which are candidate to be the mysterious Dark Matter than account for 3/4 of matter in the universe, are even MORE weakly interacting than previously thought.

The XENON collaboration announced their results at the American Physical Society's April meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, on 14 April. Their work pushes the maximum possible strength of WIMP interactions down by a factor of six from the previous record, set by the Cold Dark Matter Search (CDMS-II) experiment at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2005. The new limit is stringent enough to test some particle-physics theories of supersymmetry.


This will only will that make it more difficult to detect. The good thing is that this results eliminates several theories about Dark Matter in one stroke.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

U.S. Losing Its Lead in a Vital Branch of Physics

This news article is basically echoing the same thing that I've been saying on here, that by the end of 2009, for the first time since the emergence of the field of high energy/particle physics, the US will no longer have on its soil a single particle collider experiment. Not only has that field of study had barely enough funding to survive for the past decade or so, but now, it is being severely crippled by the lack of commitment to build the ILC.

Burton Richter, who was quoted in the article, had also talked about the future of particle physics. It is extremely rosey, but not here in the US.


No One Understands Quantum Mechanics?

I suppose you can consider this as the "follow-up" to my original essay on why Quantum Mechanics is so difficult. But really, this is tackling a different issue, and it is something that some time even physicists have mentioned, often to convey a message to the general public. Unfortunately, more often than not, the accuracy of the message gets distorted.

The claim that "no one understands quantum mechanics" is often attributed to Richard Feyman, who said that to illustrate the perceived "randomness" that is at the heart of quantum mechanics and the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM. The unfortunate consequence of this phrase is that we now have people using it to claim that we know NOTHING about QM, and that no one understands it.

Without even going into what QM is, let's consider the following first and foremost: we have used QM to produce a zoo of devices and techniques ranging from your modern electronics to medical procedure such as MRI and PET scans, etc. Already one can question whether this is a symptom of something that no one understands? When was the last time you place your life and the lives of your loved ones in something that NO ONE understands? That is what you do when you fly in an airplane or drive in a car that nowadays use modern electronics. All of these depend on QM for their operations!

The issue here is what is meant by the word "understand". In physics, and among physicists, we usually consider something to be "fully understood" when it has reached a universal consensus that this is the most valid description of a phenomenon. We say that we understand Newton's Laws because it is well-tested and we know that it definitely work within a certainly range of condition. No one would question their use when building a house, for example. The same can be said about superconductivity before 1986. The BCS theory was so successful that it was of general consensus that the field has fully reached maturity and that we know all there is to know about it. The only thing left is simply added complexity to slightly tweak our understanding here and there. So one can say at that time that we have understood conventional superconductivity.

So in physics, the criteria to say that we understand something is very, very strict. It requires a well-verified theory that matches practically all of the empirical observations, and a general consensus among experts in the field that agree with it. This means that in many instances, physicists would tend to say that we don't understand so-and-so, because there are many areas of physics that haven't been fully answered, verified, or have reached a general consensus. To us, this does not allow us to say that we have understood it. But it certainly does not mean we know NOTHING about it.

This is certainly the scenario for the study of the high-Tc superconductors, where similar phrases have been mentioned. Many in that field would say that after more than 20 years since the discovery of this type of superconductors, we still don't understand them. Now, what does that mean? Do we know NOTHING about them? That is not right. We certainly know A LOT MORE about their properties and behavior since we first encountered them in Bednorz and Muller's paper. And while there are no consensus on the mechanism that causes superconductivity in these materials, we certainly have several possible theoretical candidates. We just haven't had enough experimental observations to be able to clearly say which one is the correct one. But this would be an example where someone could easily say "No one understands high-Tc superconductivity", but it doesn't mean we know nothing about them!

The same can be said about QM. At the most fundamental level, there are various interpretations and attempts at trying to "explain" QM and its mysterious ways. This is what made Feynman said what he did, that the QM equations and description of nature isn't as familiar as our classical world, and that certain things simply have no more fundamental explanation for they to happen. However, beyond that, the formulation of QM is extremely well-understood. After all, even Feynman himself HAD to understand SOMETHING for him to be able to use QM and formulate a whole new branch of QM called Quantum Electrodynamics. You simply can't do something as sophisticated as that without understanding the things you used to get there!

Do we understand QM? Damn right we do! Do we understand it COMPLETELY? Sure if what we mean by "completely" only includes things that we can test and measure. QM is THE most successful theory of the physical world that human has invented up to now and no experimental observation so far has contradicted it. So that alone is a very strong argument that we DO understand QM. However, if we ask if we understand how QM comes up with all the correct predictions of what nature does, or if there's anything underlying all the QM's predictions, then no, we don't. Such a question ASSUMES a priori that there ARE "underlying" mechanisms beyond QM, very much like Einstein's "hidden variables", and that these mechanisms can be observed and measured, something that is strictly required in physics. If there are no such mechanisms, or if they can't be observed, then the whole assumption is MOOT!

I've been known to reply, whenever I get another question such as this, that we understand QM MORE than you understand your own family members. Why? I can use QM to make QUANTITATIVE predictions, not just qualitative ones, and make these predictions uncannily accurate. When was the last time you can do that with your family member consistently, day in, day out, a gazillion times a second? We use QM to do that and more!


The Shooting at Virginia Tech

As more news is released from this shooting, I'm beginning to feel sick to my stomach. There are a few similarities, but not all, to the tragedy of the shooting at the University of Iowa. I'm not saying they both happened under the same premise. But after we found out more about the killer, all those memories start flashing back through my head of the day I heard about the event.

We all mourn at the senseless tragedy, including all those that happened before this.


Monday, April 16, 2007

New Laser Technique Makes Swift Detection of Anthrax

Again, if someone asks you if physics and physicists actually make any practical contribution to our world, point him/her to this article. Physicists at Texas A&M University and Princeton University have devised a new technique using lasers to detect bioterrorism agents, such as anthrax, in a split second, instead of the current cumbersome and lengthy method.

In the Science paper, Texas A&M and Princeton researchers report on using lasers to detect anthrax in less than a tenth of a second. "Our procedure can work for monitoring anthrax in the mail, but it can also scan the whole atmosphere," said Scully. Currently, anthrax tests require that suspicious substances be cultured in a lab, a time-consuming process.

As important and brilliant this discovery/technique is, for some odd reason, I was more fascinated by two probably trivial aspects of the story here. First, it's the personality of the lead scientist in this - Marlan Scully.

Scully, known in his field as the "quantum cowboy" for his maverick ideas in quantum optics and his sideline of cattle ranching, became interested in the detection of anthrax shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. His son, a commercial airline pilot, was worried about the safety of his passengers so he challenged his father to come up with a way to detect bioterrorism agents in real time.

It sounds like he could be a hoot to hang around with! Just the type of people I enjoy reading about. Secondly, I am always fascinated with some of the imaginative names given to some of these projects or techniques. This one certainly would qualify as one of them.

The researchers call this approach femtosecond adaptive spectroscopic techniques via CARS (FAST-CARS). The research reported in Science represents further refinement of this method, using ultrashort broadband pulses for the first two laser bursts and a longer, tailored narrowband pulse for the third laser probe.

That is just damn brilliant! :)


Listening to Mozart Does NOT Make You Smarter

So throw away that Amadeus soundtrack! :)

A German ministry decided to commission a study on this once and for all and try to settle, or at least clarify, what is known in the literature regarding the controversial effect that was claimed more than a decade ago. In it, the study claim that one can perform certain tasks better after listening just 10 minutes of Mozart. That study has since been challenged several times. This latest analysis throws severe doubt on that claim.

Most studies on the effect on intelligence of listening to music — a body of work collectively nicknamed 'Mozart's Requiem' by music scientists — were either unable to repeat the finding or found a transient effect lasting no more than 20 minutes after listening. Even the transient effect was not specific to Mozart, but to any sort of music, or even story reading, that the test subject preferred.

However, here's something that may make you retrieve that Amadeus soundtrack out of the trash can.

The report was less dismissive of claims for an effect of music lessons on IQ development, particularly in young children. Most published studies are small and difficult to interpret, it found, and some suggest no long-term effect at all on IQ. "But one or two large and careful studies have shown a small but significant effect on IQ — which can be seen over years," says Schumacher.

So who knows. For me, it is simply a pleasant background music that I play at work. It makes the office feels less "cold". Whatever other benefits that may come of such a thing would only be a bonus.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Einstein Was Right: Space and Time Bend

This is all over the news and various physics forums, so I might as well report it here till we get the technical details. As reported during the APS April Meeting that just concluded, the preliminary results from the Gravity Probe B seem to confirm that space and time are "distorted" by large gravitational bodies such as the earth.

More work needs to be done to analyze the data on frame dragging effects, so that will be another one to look forward to. Hopefully, when the technical paper on this is published, we will have more details on the results.

Edit: More info from Stanford and from PhysicsWeb.


Physics and Equestrian Fashion

Now, admit it. You never saw this coming (neither did I). You didn't think that there's any connection (at least, not directly) between physics and equestrian fashion, did you? Admit it! :)

Well, there is! You see, there is a problem with the regular outfit worn by equestrians.

As an amateur dressage rider, Sheryl also knew first-hand about the shortcomings of standard riding breeches for equestrian athletes: poor comfort…difficulty in fitting them into tight boots…the “diaper” appearance of full-seat riding pants…chafing from seams in the wrong places…lack of fabric breathability…not enough “stickability” in the saddle.

Er... ouch! Chafing from seams in the wrong place? That's just nasty! :)

“My team didn’t come at the problem from a ‘only looks matter’ perspective,” recalls Rudolph, Fun In The Saddle, Inc.’s (FITS) founder and president. “We researched the physics of riding and analyzed the spectrum of fabrics and sewing technologies. We were looking for the design that would help every rider perform and feel better, in addition to looking smart.”

There you are! That's the physics connection! Next time someone asks you if physics has any practical application, point to a horse! :)

I'm just glad that this is not another example of bastardizaton of quantum mechanics! I don't think I can take another one this soon. :)


Saturday, April 14, 2007

New Type of Detector Proposed for the ILC

I like reading stuff like this where a solid, new concept is proposed. A group of detector physicists are proposing a new time of collider detector for the International Linear Collider that is different than the 3 already on the table. Called the 4th Concept, it seems to be getting a foothold on the possible candidate for one of the 2 ILC detector to be in placed in the beamline.

The decision on this is still years away, especially with the recently announced delay in funding. It means that there's plenty of time to develop it into a viable candidate.


Hawking at Texas A&M University

Stephen Hawking is continuing his celebrity-status tour of the US. This time he is scheduled to give another talk at Texas A&M Univerisity tomorrow (Sunday). It appears that it has become the hottest ticket in town.


Friday, April 13, 2007

In Praise of the BCS Theory

The BCS theory of superconductivity, which was published in 1957, marks its 50th Anniversary with a symposium at Brown University. Leon Cooper, the "C" in BCS and for which the "Cooper pair" was named after, was the honoree at this symposium.

This article brought up something that I've mentioned earlier, that Einstein also dabbled in trying to come up with an explanation of superconductivity, but failed. Of course, as Cooper mentioned in the article, he didn't have the quantum theory of metals at that time, so he was certainly severely handicapped.

So happy birthday, BCS Theory!


Get Paid To Study Science?

Here's a novel idea that they are suggesting in the UK. Pay students to take A-Level science subjects such as physics!

An industry think-tank has called for students to be offered the financial incentive to take courses such as maths and physics.

It also said scientific A-levels should garner extra university entrance points to make them more attractive than subjects seen as soft options, such as media studies.

I think it is worth a try, but somehow, I also think they're missing and not solving the problem, but rather trying to address the symptoms.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mpemba Effect

I first read about the Mpemba effect when I was reading through Jearl Walker's fun book "The Flying Circus of Physics". This is the effect where warm water freezes faster than cold water. It was thought to be simply an old wives tale, but this effect turns out to be real.

What amazes me is the amount of published work that has resulted in trying to come up with a qualitative and quantitative explanation of this effect. In fact, one just appeared on the e-print ArXiv this morning, which was the impetus for me to report on this effect.

So these 3 preprints (some may have been published) should provide quite a fascinating description of this intriguing effect.


Newton's Second Law Tested Even More!

You wouldn't think that there's any reason to continue testing one of the most widely-used theory in physics, would you? But people do still test F=ma, and this time, it has been tested up to 5 x 10^-14 m/s^2. Take that! It appears that this came out of a similar technique from the University of Washington that also verified the Newtonian gravitational laws up to the micrometer scale.

The report in the link listed a couple of reasons why we continue to test the range of validity of this law. The most important one is with regards to the issue of dark matter/dark energy, and the possible tie-in with the anomalous acceleration of the Pioneer spacecraft. So this test isn't just "for the fun of it".

More info and exact citation to the paper can be found here. A news review from Science can be found here.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

MiniBooNE Experiment at Fermilab Announces Its First Findings

After years of data analysis, MiniBooNE finally announces its first finding.

In the last 10 years, several experiments have shown that neutrinos can oscillate from one flavor to another and back. The observations made by the LSND collaboration also suggested the presence of neutrino oscillation, but in a neutrino mass region vastly different from other experiments. Reconciling the LSND observations with the oscillation results of other neutrino experiments would have required the presence of a fourth, or "sterile" type of neutrino, with properties different from the three standard neutrinos. The existence of sterile neutrinos would throw serious doubt on the current structure of particle physics, known as the Standard Model of Particles and Forces. Because of the far-reaching consequences of this interpretation, the LSND findings cried out for independent verification.

The MiniBooNE collaboration ruled out the simple LSND oscillation interpretation by looking for signs of muon neutrinos oscillating into electron neutrinos in the region indicated by the LSND observations. The collaboration found no appearance of electron neutrinos as predicted by a simple two-neutrino oscillation scenario.

More review here.

Whether Fermilab gets the ILC or not, it certainly has become a world-class center in neutrino studies, what with this, MINOS, and the upcoming NOvA experiments.


The Evolution of a Physicist

I am always fascinated to read the path taken by other physicists to get to where they are. I wrote about my physics journey a while ago. I found this news article about another physicist, Patricia Burchat of Stanford. It looks like she has had a very fascinating journey, and certainly newsworthy.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

LHC on NPR - Part 2

This is the 2nd part of the National Public Radio coverage of the Large Hadron Collider. I mentioned about the first part yesterday. If you missed the broadcast, you can listen to the audio file available on the webpage.


More Bastardization of Quantum Mechanics

Another case of bastardization of quantum mechanics. This time, there is a claim of quantum mechanics being applied in marketing, of all things.

This author claims that by strongly believing in the product will lead to success.

But, I've always suspected that my strong, mental visualization of success played a role as well. From that day forward, I've felt in the pit of my stomach that when I really believe in a product and in the benefits customers will get from it, then my campaigns always have better results.

The key is in really believing -- solidly, calmly and completely. Over-the-top hypey excitement doesn't work. It has to be centered in your stomach and dead honest.

Of course, the "scientific justification" for all this is then associated with quantum mechanics.

I heard about it thanks to Sherpa Reader Steve Kayser at Cincom, who sent me a new book that's *packed* with science from highly reputable labs (think Harvard), all about how the human mind really does affect reality -- including marketing campaign results -- far more than we suspected.

Just published Jan. 7, 2007, the hardcover book, 'The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World' is *not* new-age gobbledegook or get-rich-quick dreck. Instead, it's an educated, well-footnoted, review of the science -- especially quantum physics -- around your thoughts' power over reality.

I'm sorry, but this IS "gobbledegook"! As I've said before, many people who have no foundation in the mathematics of quantum mechanics, WILL think that the phenomena associated with quantum mechanics simply appear out of nowhere, as if they were made up. Thus, if QM can make things up, why can't they? Because QM is so disconnected from our classical understanding of the world, and have no continuous connection with our classical intuition, it does appear as if anything and everything are fair game with QM. This is what happens when the mathematical formulation is completely ignored, which is often the case when one only understands about QM when reading pop science books, or even worse, dubious books such as the one cited.

For some odd reason, none of these people seem to ever mention (or realize) a very obvious fact - QM phenomena are NOT EASILY OBSERVED at the macroscopic, classical scale. This means that extrapolating quantum phenomena into human scale does not normally happen. In fact, there are ZERO experimental evidence that human interaction and activities can be described as a quantum phenomenon. NONE! And last time I checked, marketing is a human interaction and activity. There is also no evidence that simply by "thinking or visualizing" about something, one can affect the outcome of something. No credible evidence have been produced to support such arguments, including all those claims of "prayers" affecting something. No evidence.

So what are they bastardizing out of QM in this? The "collapse" of a wavefunction upon observation. This, it seems, is the whole "scientific" evidence that allows these people to run away with claiming that such a thing is possible. Forget about the fact that in QM, one has to FIRST set up the Hamiltonian of the system, solve (or at least make an intelligent model) of the wavefunction, make sure that the operator that represents the observable is not only Hermitian, but also is the eigen vector to the wavefunction (if one wants a well-defined eigen value upon measurement), etc... etc. In other words, there's a boatload of MATHEMATICS involved in the QM description. It isn't just plucked out of thin air! But these people don't know that, and thus, they have no qualm, nor do they have any issues, with bastardizing it.

So the author of this blog is mistaken. She should be laughed at for invoking such dubious connection between marketing and quantum mechanics. The sad thing here is that, most of the people who read her blog would not know any better and would probably get seduced by the message.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Reflections of Absolute Zero

This is a neat technique. While it is almost routine to cool atomic gases using lasers, it isn't that easy to do this on macroscopic solid object - till now. This report describes the successful cooling of a dime-sized mirror to about 0.8 K, using a technique that could possibly be used to lower the temperature even more. Can we start seeing the quantum effects from the cooled solid soon? Stay tune!


LHC On NPR Followup

So, did you miss this morning's discussion on the Large Hadron Collider on NPR? If you did, there is a brief report of it here, and also the audio of that segment.

All Things Considered will have something more on the LHC this afternoon.


John Cramer Is Running Out Of time

When an experiment is too weird even for DARPA, you know it has got to be very weird, especially when it costs only $20,000 to continue (a drop in the bucket for military research). Cramer, he of the "Transactional quantum mechanics" fame, wants to "...test a controversial prediction from quantum theory that says light particles can go backward in time.."



Sunday, April 08, 2007

Even More Review of That "Quantum Computer"

We have had many news media reporting on this already. So here's one more. The New York Times has a lengthy report on what has transpired, and the perception within the relevant scientific community about D-wave claims. There is really nothing new here, with D-wave systems still showing utter disregard to supporting its claim on physical grounds.

I find the picture in the article rather funny and "generic". Why do they always want to take pictures of the crygenic tanks? :)


Saturday, April 07, 2007


David Kastenbaum, a correspondent for the US National Public Radio, has informed us that there will be a couple of reports on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN this coming Monday (Apr. 9, 2007). This is the e-mail he sent out:

Just wanted to let you know that the LHC stories will air Monday on National Public Radio. The first will air on Morning Edition, and it's basically a conversation with Alvaro De Rujula about the theoretical side of things. The second piece on All Things Considered in the afternoon goes underground.

The audio of the stories will be available online at if you can't catch them.

Not sure if it will cover the recent failure of the Fermilab-built magnetis. Still, catch it if you can, or go to the NPR website for a recording of it after it airs.


Beer Study Fellow?

You can't make these things up, or maybe you can! :)

What appears like a college student wet dream is beginning to sound like a rather hysterical report. Lawrence University Fellows Committee has appointed a physicist to receive a postdoctoral fellows in, get this, beer studies!

"Physics is physics," Marler pointed out, "but beer is lifeblood. There are exciting things happening in the field of beer studies and I'm pleased to have the honor of exploring this new academic frontier with the of-age students of Lawrence."


But the kicker is this statement:

"It's all just hot air really," Marler relayed. "When it's all said and done physics is really the study of beer."

Is she sure that she graduated from UC San Diego and not University of Budweiser? :)

Actually, this might explain the yeasty odor that I had all through my physics major years (or was that the smell from my dirty hamper?), and the fact that I learn how to bake bread why studying for my oral exams. It certainly is consistent with my affinity to freshly-baked and fine breads.

There's just so many directions I can go with this story, I'd better stop now before I really start to gross myself out. :)

Now, the only saving grace to this is that the news was dated April 1, 2007. For their sake, I damn hope that this was an April Fools joke. :)


Science Bloopers

Robert Crease is now collecting another set of info from all of us - books, movies, and media that has science mistakes. This shouldn't be too difficult to find. I have highlighted a few on here myself - here, here, and here.

Now, to be fair, the 2nd one is from a student newspaper, so one doesn't expect a high quality control. The last one, the link no longer seems to work (or at least, it isn't connect for me today). So maybe someone told them the nonsense that was contained in that article.

Science and the media - it is a necessary connection, but often results in hilarious and frustrating bloopers.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Purdue University to Host Honeywell-Nobel Initiative

Hey, there's finally some good news coming out of Purdue!

[OK, OK... I'll stop!]

John Hall, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2005, will be visiting Purdue as part of the Honeywell-Nobel Lecture Series. This comes on the heel of an earlier announcement of von Klitzing visiting Georgia Tech.

Again, if you're in the neighborhood, don't miss it.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

High-Tech Shows No Benefit in Learning Science and Math

The use of high-tech in teaching science and mathematics in elementary and secondary schools does not seem to lead to improved learning of these subjects.

This is interesting considering that at the college level, high-tech implementation seems to be in vogue with reportedly improved results.


He's The Oldest Freshman on Campus - And He's a Physics Major!

This tells you that you are never too old to pursue your dreams. Brad Sugarman is 47, and he was a freshman at the University of Chicago, majoring in physics.

In September 2005, Brad was on his way to the University of Chicago to pursue a career in physics. He moved into a dorm with guys less than half his age and even became a proud member of Alpha Delta Phi.

"I wish I knew exactly why I waited so long to go to college," says Brad, now 48. "I had always planned to get a degree, but I just never focused on it. One day, I realized I had put it off for way too long and that it might never happen. I wanted it all -- the full college experience. That's when I made a commitment to turn things around."

So what is a typical day like in the life of the oldest undergrad physics major? Just like any other undergrad physics major!

All I can say is, YOU GO, BRAD!


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Electron Tunneling Seen In Real Time

PhysicsWeb has a very nice review of the just published paper appearing in Nature today. For the first time, physicist have "seen" the very fast dynamics of electron tunneling from an excited state of an atom. What was interesting was the technique they used, as described in the review article:

This two-stage process is where the advantage lies: if the exciting pulse has a much shorter wavelength than the ionizing laser pulse, it can be switched on at many points in the ionizing pulse's cycle, and only at these points will electrons be in a position to tunnel. Then, by noting when in the ionizing laser's cycle the electrons tunnel, a picture of how the electrons leave the atom can gradually be reconstructed.

Strangely enough, it is quite similar to how we do our laser fine-delay scan in our accelerator photoinjector. The rf in the electron gun cavity is at 1.3 GHz, meaning that it has a period of about 770 ps. Our laser has a pulse duration of about 10-15 ps. So we can shoot the laser at various phase within a single rf cycle and this will correspond to the electric field strength that the photoelectrons will see when they are emitted. By varying the phase that the laser hits the photocathode, we can vary this field strength.

This is almost the same thing that was done in this paper from that description, where the exciting pulse, having a much shorter wavelength than the ionizing pulse, is equivalent to our pulsed laser. Fancy that!

Edit: more review here.


von Klitzing Coming To Georgia Tech

Klaus von Klitzing, the winner of the 1985 Nobel Prize for discovering the quantized Hall effect, will visit Georgia Institute of Technology on April 12 and 13. This visit is part of the Honeywell-Nobel Laureate Lecture Series.

Don't miss it if you're in the neighborhood.


Revered NIU Physics Professor Passes On

Court Bohn, a NIU Physics professor and a well-known figure in the accelerator physics community, passed away last Sunday after battling cancer for more than a year. Two other major institutions mourn his passing: Fermilab and Argonne. He had been a member of both of these labs at one point or another. He had been instrumental in the formation of an Accelerator research center for the northern region of Illinois, which allows for a collaborative effort amount various institutions that have expertise in accelerator physics.

I first met Court at the Advanced Accelerator Concepts (AAC) workshop in 2004 at Stony Brook University. We sat at the same table during the banquet. In that short period of time, I had a very good impression that this was a gentleman with a very kind heart. You don't see too many of that in this field, and especially for someone of his stature. He was a member of the organizing committee for AAC 06 that we organized last year. Unfortunately, due to his health, he was unable to attend that, and his absence was clearly felt during the event.

We often say that someone will be missed after he/she has passed on. Court's passing will definitely be felt for a long time within the accelerator physics community, and certainly for those of us who knew and worked with him.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

I wrote a while back about the strong possibility that the one useful science experiment that might go onto the International Space Station might be scrapped. It certainly is a head-scratcher for many people, especially considering that the excuse that was given was that the shuttle is fully booked to finished the ISS. Finish it for WHAT? What exactly is the ISS being finished for?

The New York Times has a lengthy article on this project, and how such cancellation would mean in terms of the credibility of NASA as an organization. Nothing that I've read so far has made me changed my mind. I am still utterly puzzled why this is not given top priority ahead of finishing that space junk called the ISS. The one thing that could have made the ISS worthwhile, NASA is planning on not employing it. You go figure.


Modern Theory and Applications of Photocathodes

I wrote a while back on the legacy of Bill Spicer, a name that you may not have heard, but whose influence probably have affected your life in some way. One of such ways is the scenario where there are just some papers, no matter how old they are, that continue to be used, cited, and scrutinized. These papers continue to be highly relevant even today.

One such paper is this one, published in 1993, and written by Spicer and Herrera-Gomez. It deals with the physics of photocathodes. For those of us in the accelerator physics field, this paper continues to be cited and studied when we deal with photocathodes for particle accelerators. Other than Sommer's Photoemissive Material text, this paper is a tour de force in almost everyone one needs to know about basic photoemission (not angle-resolved or resonant etc.) processes that are relevant in a photoinjector.

As I've said before, this is roughly what Spicer started with when he delved into photoemission physics. It is fitting that, to this day, his work still has relevance in that field of study.


Monday, April 02, 2007

The 12th Annual Argonne's Rube Goldberg Competition Has A Winner

I mentioned earlier about the Argonne's 12th Annual Rube Goldberg competition for schools in the Chicago area. Congratulations to the team from Maine Township South High School for winning the competition! Good luck in the upcoming state competition.

I'm looking forward to seeing the demonstration when they come to Argonne.


More Update on That "Quantum Computer"

After the dust has settled a little bit, we are starting to find out a bit more about D-Wave's "quantum computer". A new report on PhysicsWeb has delved into the matter even more closely, and presented a better picture of what could possibly be the mechanism involved in this so-called quantum computer. It certainly is a step in the right direction. However, I don't think this is that big of a step because there appears to be a fundamental scaling issue that has yet to be solved. This, and the need to maintain coherence of the system, are the two of the major issues in quantum computing. I don't see that they have yet solved this.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Remnants of the Bubble Chamber from the ZGS

Thanks to one of the reader of this blog, I started paying attention to various "artifacts" around Argonne's ground, and these two in particular. It turns out that these two pieces, scattered very far from each other, were once intimately connected as part of the bubble chamber of the Zero Gradient Synchrotron (ZGS) here at Argonne that operated from the mid 1960's till early 1980's.

The ZGS had a long and illustrious history. It was one of the premier atom smasher of its time. The bubble chamber made several important observations, including the first ever detection of neutrinos in a hydrogen bubble chamber.

The world's first neutrino observation in a hydrogen bubble chamber was found Nov. 13, 1970, on this historical photograph from the Zero Gradient Synchrotron's 12-foot bubble chamber. The invisible neutrino strikes a proton where three particle tracks originate (right). The neutrino turns into a mu-meson, the long center track. The short track is the proton. The third track is a pi-meson created by the collision.

{from the caption to the figure in the link above}

Now, I've never paid that much attention to these things till now after someone asked me about them. The first one is the actual expansion omega bellows for the 12-foot bubble chamber in front of Bldg. 362 (High Energy Physics building).

Now, the piston that is responsible for the expanding the volume in the bubble chamber to create a condition that allowed for condensation can be found behind the Argonne's Visitors Center. It looks like a large, silver mushroom, and just looking at its size, you can just imagine how large this bubble chamber was. The two pictures below shows piston from different angles.

It's too bad that there's not a whole lot of written information about the significance of these objects. I would have never tried to find out what they are if someone didn't actually asked me about it. They could easily pass as "modern sculptures". Yet, they played a major role in the development of our knowledge about elementary particles.

So, if you find yourself visiting Argonne, pay attention to these objects. As you drive through the Main Gate, look to your right as you make that right turn. You'll find the piston that was the workhorse of the famous ZGS.


World’s Largest Particle Accelerator Almost Ready?

This was published on April 1st, so I have no idea if this writer is playing a trick, or if she simply is a bit behind or out-dated with her information. She is still reporting that the LHC is almost ready for its test run this year. Obviously, she hasn't heard about the recent major setback with the superconducting magnets. In fact, more info can be found here at Fermilab's website.

This is a big deal here, folks. It is a major setback and will require a lot of effort to not only repair the problem, but also to figure out the cause.