Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Picking And Choosing

I suppose the more things change, the more they remain the same.

I have a sense of both "glee" and "resignation" when I look at the brouhaha surrounding the recent NY Times piece on Freeman Dyson. I'm sure most of you have heard this already and the commotion surrounding that piece with regards to Dyson's view on global warming. The responses came from global warming opponents who are trumpeting the fact that a "prominent physicist" is aligning with their point of view (forgetting the fact that Dyson actually would admit global warming does occur but that it isn't detrimental to our planet), to various claims and accusation made against Dyson himself and the interviewer.

I don't wish to discuss the science involved in global warming, or even if Dyson's analysis is reasonable. There are more knowledgeable people who have already responded in this issue. What I wish to deal with here is, once again, the double standard and the pick-and-choose that is being done with regards to the "prestige" of physics that is being used to support something. Here is the case where a prominent physicists is being "used" simply because he has a view that someone find palatable. It is understandable that his position gives him some credence and weight to what he has to say on this matter. Still, for those who are actually rabidly welcoming his views, what makes this any better than, say, the view of other prominent physicists (and there are MORE of them) that support the view of global warming being caused by human actions? In fact, the American Physical Society has made it clear of such a view, support by many prominent physicists and the National Academy of Sciences. How does one pick and support the view of one physicist over another, or over a large consensus of other physicists?

This debacle is no different than the other recent one when the Forum on Physics and Society decided to publish an article by Monckton questioning global warming scenario. Global warming opponent went "bonkers" with glee by trumpeting that a prominent physics organization is now also questioning the validity of of global warming! All this while ignoring several factors, including the APS's clear stand on this issue.

I see very confusing actions here. On one hand, there are people who hold physics and physicists in such high regards that even a sliver of support being shown by such camp is being heralded with such fanfare. Somehow a support from physics or by a physicist solidify a particular point of view. On the other hand, when it is from the opposite end, such a thing is ignored completely, and made even more glaring when the consensus produced by such major organization such as the NAS and APS support the opposite point of view. One is clearly picking and choosing.

It brings back to the very fundamental observation here which could easily be the origin of many of the issues and problems that we face as a society. The support that the public shows towards science is really NOT based on a solid understanding of science, but rather on the PERCEIVED importance of science. In other words, they really have no clue what science is, how it works, and why it is important. All they know is that it is important (for whatever reason), and thus, they support it. It also means that the support for science can be very fleeting and can in fact shift very easily. They can shift the support from one to another very easily, without evaluating the validity of something. It is why someone can easily support science, but also believe in astrology and not believe in evolution. In this present case, someone can simply pick and choose who to believe, because the science in question isn't understood. It results in why one can choose to buy what Dyson said, while ignoring other prominent physicists or even a majority consensus. The choice was not made based on physics.

This problem will rear its ugly head in other areas, not just global warming, if it hasn't already. The battle of evolution versus creationism is one such example. People made choices not based on understanding of the science, even though this IS a science issue.


Completion of the National Ignition Facility

I mentioned earlier of the pending completion of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore Lab. The US Dept. of Energy (DOE) is expected to officially certify its completion today, clearing the way for the NIF to start operation some time this June.

The facility, the size of a football field, consists of 192 separate laser beams, each traveling 1,000 feet in a one-thousandth of a second to converge simultaneously on a target the size of a pencil eraser.

While the NIF laser is expected to be used for a wide range of high-energy and high-density physics experiments, its primary purpose is to help government physicists ensure the reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons as they become older.

Hum... is this true or did the Associated Press got this one wrong? Isn't "sustainable fusion" its primary purpose rather than weapons test?


Monday, March 30, 2009

Evolution Resources

The National Academy of Sciences has a terrific webpage of evolution resources that addresses many issues surrounding evolution, ranging from basic understanding of what it is, all the way to addressing the current controversy between evolution and creationism.

It probably won't change the minds of people who cannot accept science for what it is, but it certainly is a good resource for many who are trying to figure out what all the brouhaha is all about. There really is no good excuse anymore to be ignorant about this matter. This resource is giving you everything you might need to know about evolution, and all of them are at your fingertips. Anyone who still makes the annoying argument that it is "only a theory" should be smacked on the back of the head already.


The Physics of Maxwell's Demon and Information

Maxwell's Demon has been a rather popular topic, both within the circle of legitimate scientific research and, at the other end, among crackpots (no surprise there). For those not familiar with Maxwell's Demon thought experiment, there are many cites that do a very good job at explaining what it is (see here and here).

There is a very good (and lengthy) review of the physics of Maxwell's Demon in the current issue of Rev. Mod. Phys.[1]

Abstract: Maxwell's demon was born in 1867 and still thrives in modern physics. He plays important roles in clarifying the connections between two theories: thermodynamics and information. Here the history of the demon and a variety of interesting consequences of the second law of thermodynamics are presented, mainly in quantum mechanics, but also in the theory of gravity. Also highlighted are some of the recent work that explores the role of information, illuminated by Maxwell's demon, in the arena of quantum-information theory.

The history in itself is fascinating and worth reading.


[1] K. Maruyama et al., Rev. Mod. Phys. v.81, p.1 (2009), or you can get the ArXiv version here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How Physics Can Solve Crime And Help To Cure Cancer

While we know that physics works everywhere, how it works and how it is used are often lost by the public, especially when they really do not understand physics. So I often try to highlight these applications when they explicitly use physics principles to work. Hopefully, these provide one of the infinite examples where physics is clearly used, besides the often-overlooked applications that are already common and numerous in our everyday lives.

The physics that is used in forensics is described briefly in this article from the March issue of Physics Today. It is unfortunately that a clear example on where it is useful is in a tragic incident.

A young woman was found at the bottom of a cliff in Sydney, Australia, in June 1995. The site was a popular suicide spot, and the police assumed she had killed herself. But last November the woman's boyfriend was convicted of murder. “It took 10 years to figure out that the woman was thrown off the cliff; she did not jump,” says Rod Cross, a physicist at the University of Sydney who served as a consultant for the case. It took that long, he adds, “mainly because the police did not understand that physics could help solve the problem.”

The second example comes from the same issue of Physics Today, and in fact, is the very next article. It deals with the issue of making proton accelerators more compact (and thus, affordable) in the treatment of cancer. I decided to highlight this for two reasons:

1. It shows another application of accelerator physics which does not involved a high energy physics experiment, and

2. It shows that physicists and physics CAN, in fact, be used to "cure" cancer.

I'm mentioning this because of a blog entry that I made that was completely unrelated to this. I mentioned an amusing poster produced by the APS on how long one has to yell at a cup of coffee to heat it up. For some odd reason, it was picked up by fark.com, and the comment on the story was:

Scientists solve the biggest puzzle of our age: How long would you have to yell at a cup of coffee to heat it up? And why is there still no cure for cancer?

I also received a rather nasty and profanity-laced "comment" to the blog, which basically asked why us "MF's" are wasting out time and not using our brains to cure cancer (the comment was not approved and it is now gone into laa-laa land).

I'm sure the first was written in jest, but both of these comments reflects an ignorance of the usefulness of the back-of-the-envelope calculation shown in that "coffee" article, and how physicists often determine something at the very beginning before plunging into something. It is an example or illustration on how we translate physical concepts and ballpark figures to determine some "boundary conditions" to how something can occur. It has nothing to do with the coffee, it has EVERYTHING to do with the skill involved. This still transcends that stupid coffee and can be used in almost any kind of situation. I could easily come up with several different example: (i) if we need to build a solar collector to produce 20 MW of energy over the duration of x hours, how big does it have to be?; (ii) if we have a cancer cell that needs to be irradiated by a proton beam over an area that is this big, how energetic should the protons be? etc... etc...

These are the type of quick calculation that one start with to lay down the foundation of possibility or realistic scenario for the detailed calculation later on that takes into account more factors involved. But that initial calculation is crucial to narrow down or at least provide some idea on where in phase space the problem is, and what kind of daunting scenario we are faced with.

And yes, that SAME skill is involved in providing the physics to those in the medical profession the TOOLS needed to fight cancer, both in terms of treatment, diagnostic (where do you think MRI, CAT scans, PET scans, etc. came from?), and advanced analysis. These professionals are the ones you need to hark at to find the cure for cancer. Yelling at physicists to do that is similar to asking medical doctors to find the origin of high-Tc superconductors. They may help in maintaining the well-being of the people who are finding the answers to high-Tc superconductors, but they are not really experts in the field and not directly working in it.



Saturday, March 28, 2009

How Long Would You Have To Yell To Heat A Cup Of Coffee?

Physics Central at the APS website has frequently produced a lot of interesting things to raise the interest in physics. This is another one of them. They have produced a couple of posters that asked rather amusing questions. This time, they asked how long would you have to yell to heat a cup of coffee! :)

This is such a fun question, but besides putting something most people are familiar with into a physics question, there is a very valuable illustration here on how scientists, and especially physicists, approach something. This back-of-the-envelope calculation is often how we analyze something new or how we can consider if something might be reasonable enough to warrant a more careful pursuit. If one can make a quick estimation like this and come up with unreasonable or impossible parameters, it is often a good enough reason to pursue something else.

The other poster that they have so far at this point asks for how long it would take to fall through the center of the earth. I've seen such questions being asked in an undergraduate physics class.

Students, contact your teachers and ask them to get a copy of the poster from the Physics Central main page.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

I mentioned a while back of Dan Styer's paper on Evolution and Entropy. In it, he directly tackled this issue and pointed out quantitatively that the decrease in entropy is more than sufficiently balanced by the increase in entropy elsewhere in terms of the energy received by the earth externally.

Now comes another paper that refined Styer's work and draw up an even stronger conclusions by not adopting the assumption in Styer's paper.

Abstract: Skeptics of biological evolution often claim that evolution requires a decrease in entropy, giving rise to a conflict with the second law of thermodynamics. This argument is fallacious because it neglects the large increase in entropy provided by sunlight striking the Earth. A recent article provided a quantitative assessment of the entropies involved and showed explicitly that there is no conflict. That article rests on an unjustified assumption about the amount of entropy reduction involved in evolution. I present a refinement of the argument that does not rely on this assumption.

There ya go! Do you think those who continue to use such arguments against evolutions would read and, more importantly, UNDERSTAND it? I doubt it!


Edit 9/17/09: This paper has been published. Here's the full reference: E.F. Bunn, Am. J. Phys. v.77, p.922 (2009).

Russian Mathematician Wins Abel Prize

The mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prizes has been awarded to the Russian-born mathematician Mikhail Gromov.

Gromov, 65, won the award "for his revolutionary contributions to geometry," says Abel Committee Chair Kristian Seip. The mathematician, who also holds a position at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences in New York City, is credited with making advances in the fields of symplectic and Riemannian geometry, which are closely tied to areas of mathematical physics such as general relativity and string theory. He is also credited with founding the modern study of "geometric group theory," which injects notions of distance and curvature into the study of finite algebraic structures. Gromov's work "has had a tremendous impact on geometry and has reached from there into major applications in analysis and algebra," says George Andrews, president of the American Mathematical Society in Providence. "One cannot imagine a more worthy recipient."


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Students Should Sleep More

I don't know where I'm going with this one, but this is kinda amusing.

It appears that all of us are not getting enough sleep, especially students in Vienna, Austria, even though they sleep on average 7.5 hours per night. Strangely enough, this researcher cited Albert Einstein, who appeared to be quite a sleeper.

Gonja added highly-gifted people needed even more sleep. She cited the case of world-famous physicist Albert Einstein, who had lain in the sack 12-to15 hours a day.

I didn't know that. In all the biographies I've read about Einstein, his sleeping habit was never mentioned. Did he really sleep half of a day? No wonder he always looked like he had just gotten out of bed!! :)


Future of Particle Physics and Fermilab

If you are in the neighborhood on May 27, here's a public lecture by the Director of Fermilab Pier Oddone that you might be interested in (or you might not).

Fermilab is the only U.S. national laboratory dedicated to particle physics. What does the start up of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland mean for Fermilab? What discoveries does Fermilab hope to make? Fermilab Director Pier Oddone will address these and other questions about Fermilab's future.

The end-date for the Tevatron seems to get pushed back repeatedly here with the unexpected delay in the LHC operations. We'll see how that will pan out when the LHC restarts and how quickly results will appear out of it. In the meantime, the Tevatron continues to hunt for any possible hint of the Higgs.....


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Testing Relativity From the 1919 Eclipse—a Question of Bias

This is a wonderful historical account of the 1919 observation that was one of the strongest evidence that verified Einstein's General Relativity. I certainly have heard people questioning the validity of the conclusion, but didn't realize that there were such skepticism surrounding it.

Anyhow, this article very clearly addressed those skepticism.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SLAC Gets $68 Million; Brookhaven Gets $184 Million

More stimulus money allocated to the US National Labs. SLAC will receive $68.3 million from the stimulus bill, while Brookhaven will receive $184.3 million.

For SLAC, most of the funding obviously will go towards the almost-completed LCLS.

Much of the new funding will be channeled into the center's Linac Coherent Light Source and its major project — the world's first operational X-ray free-electron laser, which will make stop-motion movies, atom by atom, of chemical reactions and biological processes.

The money will also be spent on particle-acceleration experiments and on seismic improvements.

For Brookhaven, the recently-approved NSLS II will have a quick head start with this money.

About $150 million of the lab's $184.3 million will go to the light source, Chu said. The remaining dollars will go toward building upgrades and equipment at the lab, officials said.

It definitely appears so far that the National Labs getting the large amount of money are the ones having a major construction project to build a new facility or a major upgrade. Argonne, which has no current facility construction or upgrade, is getting the smallest amount so far among the major US National Labs.


Fermilab Gets $35 Million, Argonne Gets $13.1 Million from Stimulus

More money to various National Labs from the stimulus bill. Fermilab will receive $35 million while Argonne will receive $13.1 million.

About $25 million of the sum will be used to pay for a number of infrastructure projects at Fermilab. The remaining $9.9 million will be used by the lab to purchase high-tech components for a neutrino detector, planned to be built at Fermilab in coming months.

Argonne National Laboratory also will benefit from the stimulus bill, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Argonne will receive $13.1 million to upgrade and replace aging electrical components.

The money for NOvA (the "planned" neutrino experiment) is certainly a positive turnaround, considering that the funding for that project got zeroed-out during last year's Omnibus bill.

Looks like most of the money so far that we have read about going to the various National Labs are going towards either infrastructure, or paying for already-approved projects that are either under construction, or about to be built.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Berkeley Lab to Get $115M from Recovery Act

Not to be outdone by JLab's $75 million, Lawrence Berkeley Lab will get $115 million from the stimulus bill.

This money will be spent upgrading the Advanced Light Source, a particle accelerator, and on building a new type of accelerator, the Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator. The lab will also use the money to take down the Bevatron, an accelerator shut down in 1993.

The money is slowly trickling down...


Jefferson Lab to Get $75 Million in Stimulus Money

Looks like Christmas came early for Jefferson Lab! They are receiving a substantial amount from the recently-passed stimulus bill.

The Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, better known as Jefferson Lab, will funnel $65 million of it into a $310 million upgrade that will double the energy of the lab's Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility.

The other $10 million will be used to modernize lab facilities, Jefferson Lab said in a press release.


Physics and Complexity

A wonderful article on another aspect of "many-body" interaction dealing with complexity when a lot of interactions are involved. While this isn't exactly on the same issue as the emergent phenomena that have been mentioned by physicists such as Robert Laughlin and Phil Anderson, it is nonetheless quite interesting and have similar philosophical foundation.

As noted earlier, the systems of interest are ‘many-body’, made up of many (N >> 1) similar individual units, with the concern the co-operative behaviour of the whole. The descriptor ‘complex’ is used to describe collective behaviour that cannot be anticipated simply from the properties of isolated individual units or from interactions among only a few of them, but arises from conflicts when large numbers of individuals have mutually incompletely satisfiable few-body rules, a feature known as ‘frustration’; indeed complex cooperative behaviour can arise with even very simple individual units and very simple interactions. Among the consequences of this frustration and the resultant compromise are that optima and equilibrium are difficult to achieve and that responses to perturbations are slow, in part extremely so, and often chaotic.

Not exactly the emergent phenomena in condensed matter, but still another aspect in which knowledge at the individual particle level cannot predict the outcome.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Higgs and Jesus?

I see a lot of garbage throughout the years on the web. This one is almost up there on the peak of such garbage, especially in terms of how much the writer is ignorant of what he is trying to use.

This writer somehow managed to make the connection between "the higgs may not be a particle" to Jesus. Along the way, he also managed to mangle elementary particle physics. But that's OK, because ".... We needn't be adept with the math to understand the basic theoretical concept that underlies this issue..."

I like his definition of a boson:

A boson is a particle defined in terms of its weight relative to other particles, and the strength and range of its nuclear force as it interacts with other particles, all of which are detectable only on the most powerful microscopic level.

Which means a photon and a phonon are not bosons because they have no "weight".

How do people who are ignorant of the basic understanding of these things somehow feel comfortable to reveal their ignorance and write such things in the open? Is it because they are confident that no one reading such drivel can actually spot such mistakes? Read the comments.

And people BUY garbage like this!


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Steven Koonin Nominated for DOE Under Secretary

Another physicist being nominated to join the US Dept. of Energy by the Obama Administration. Prominent physicist Steven Koonin has been nominated as the Under Secretary of Science at the Dept. of Energy.

Dr. Steven E. Koonin, Nominee for Under Secretary for Science, Department of Energy
Dr. Steven E. Koonin is currently Chief Scientist for BP, plc, where he is responsible for guiding the company's long-range technology strategy, particularly in alternative and renewable energy sources. Koonin joined BP in 2004 following a 29-year career at the California Institute of Technology as a Professor of Theoretical Physics, including a 9-year term as the Institute's Provost. He has served on numerous advisory bodies for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy and its various national laboratories. Koonin's research interests have included theoretical and computational physics, as well as global environmental science. He did his undergraduate work at Caltech and has a PhD from MIT.

I can't ever recall an administration with this many prominent physicists playing major roles in decision making. I would have been happy with someone familiar with science running the DOE, and not just another bureaucrat or a lawyer.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Memorandum On Scientific Integrity

In case you haven't seen this yet, this was signed by President Barack Obama and directed at all federal agency.

I don't mind admitting that I got goosebumps reading it. Why? After an atmosphere of having science being suppressed during the last 8 years, this administration at least is attempted to base its relevant decision on established science. But it also goes beyond that. The memo wants to make it transparent enough so that the public will know on what scientific basis these decisions are made. Here, at the very least, if something was decided based on still controversial aspect of science, we will know how it was based on, which is all that we ask for. What scientific report did an agency used to recommend the ethanol use, for example, as an energy saver?

There are just so many things to like so far as far as decisions on science from this new administration.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Physics Education Research: Resources for Middle School Science Teachers

This is a highly useful and convenient collection of resources for teachers. And despite the title, I'd say it is useful for elementary, middle, and high school teachers.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is It a Gas, Fluid, Solid, or All of the Above?

A surprising and fascinating report coming out of the on-going APS March Meeting. A group from Berkeley is reporting the possible discovery of a supersolid in "... a gas of rubidium atoms..."!

To look for this ordering, Stamper-Kurn's team used a conventional laser trapping technique to confine a gas of millions of rubidium atoms in an oblong, surfboardlike trap. They then cooled the sample to below 500 nanokelvin. Lastly, they hit their collection of rubidium atoms with a beam of circularly polarized light, which is reflected differently by atoms with a different magnetic orientation and can, therefore, reveal the magnetic orientation of the atoms in the sample. What they saw was that within their optical trap, the rubidium atoms ordered themselves into an array of 5-micrometer-square domains, inside which all of the atoms adopted a similar magnetic orientation. What's more, these domains adopted a crystalline-like ordering, with alternating domains with different magnetic directions. This ordering wasn't perfect like the regular lattice of sodium and chlorine atoms in table salt. But it's not random either (see picture). "There is some emergent order which shows up in this system," Stamper-Kurn says.

Once the Berkeley researchers spotted the ordered makeup of the atoms, they decided to check whether the gas was coherent as well. Using another laser, they nudged two groups of rubidium atoms already in their trap. They found that the atoms interfered with each other in the same way that two coherent light beams create an interference pattern of light and dark stripes, an unmistakable sign of their wavelike quantum nature.


This appears to have a stronger and more definitive observation than the earlier report of possible supersolid state in solid He. It should be quite interesting to see if this gets verified, especially in having the ordered state to qualify as a "solid".


Physics Sing-Along Tonight!

The physics sing-along is tonight at the APS March Meeting that is going on in Pittsburg, PA. I guess it is a good idea to have it in the evening (scheduled between 9 and 10 pm), because I certainly would have to be loaded up with booze to want to do something like that.



There Is No Escaping The Influence, And The Virtues, Of Math

A while back, I highlighted a Washington Post article that asked "Where's the algebra?", where the author actually questioned where mathematics that we learn in schools are actually applied and useful. I believe I and several other bloggers have sufficiently "ridicule" and replied to such a question with ample examples on where the algebra is.

This more recent article, without specifically addressing that question, actually answers it in a more general form. The writer took on the theme introduced by Wigner on the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics". I had mentioned about this Wigner article in an earlier blog entry, so you should read it to get a clue on what is meant here, if you haven't already.

The problem, of course, is that most people, particularly when they're in school, don't see how math is relevant to their lives. In an ironic way, this may be a direct result of its unreasonable effectiveness.

Although math historically grew out of practical needs, such as the need to measure land or to calculate financial transactions, it soon reached an impressive level of abstraction, a level that seemed to divorce it from the real world.

This abstraction makes math a difficult study, and also leads many students to wonder why they must study such formal fare. But abstraction is also math's virtue, for by refusing to restrict itself to any particular study, it becomes applicable to everything.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Physics Cannot Save Man From Speeding Fine

Boy, would I had loved to be a fly on the wall of this courtroom. I'd like to hear exactly how this guy used Newton's 3rd law, or all things, to get out of the speeding ticket.

In a lengthy and complex speech in which Johnstone used the laws of physics and Newton's third law to explain his point, he questioned the accuracy of the speed camera arguing that when it had been installed that day the static box in which it was housed had not been checked.

He said the camera instructions stated that to work correctly it needed to be positioned at an angle of 20 degrees but that measurements he had taken showed that the housing had moved and this was not the case.

Too bad the reporter can't be any more explicit on the nature of the argument. It could have been rather utterly fascinating for someone like me, or completely hysterical that I could not stop giggling. Either way, I wouldn't have been bored, I don't think.


Fraternal Physics

This is something new to me that I didn't know before. I also cannot vouch for the accuracy of it, so if someone else has a different version, I would like to hear it.

This article traces the origin of the Greek fraternity (and sorority) in US universities.

Contrary to popular belief, the first fraternities were formed as a way to assist those struggling in physics. It was discovered that at prestigious universities around the world, students were having difficulty not with the mathematics behind physics, but with the memorization of all the Greek letters. Students could not keep their omegas and thetas separate until one day, two identical twins known only as “the brothers” organized a house in which they could practice physics.

Could it be that not only can physicists take credit for the World Wide Web, but also all those fraternities and sororities across the US? Say it isn't so, Porky!


Monday, March 16, 2009

Type 1.5 Superconductor?

If you are not fascinated about superconductivity and think that it is one of the most complex and rich system that we currently know, then you're missing A LOT!

We know about Type I superconductors and Type II superconductors. But a group of researchers have concluded that MgB2 is a Type 1.5 superconductor! It appears that MgB2 can be a Type I and a Type II at the same time! It arises due to the fact that this compound has two different bands that are responsible for superconductivity. The paper argued that a Type I superconductivity resides on one band, and a Type II superconductivity resides in the other.

If this is true, it will be the first time we have observed a material exhibiting this new superconducting state. And added another level of unexpected complexity and richness to the field of study.


You Can't Have It Both Ways

French physicist Bernard d'Espagnat has been awarded the 2009 Templeton Prize.

Award organizers said his work in quantum physics revealed a reality beyond science that spirituality and art could help to partly grasp.

Really now!

D'Espagnat, a former senior physicist at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva and professor at French and United States universities, argues in his books that modern quantum physics shows that ultimate reality cannot be described.

Classical physics developed by Isaac Newton believes it can describe the world through laws of nature that it knows or will discover. But quantum physics shows that tiny particles defy this logic and can act in indeterminate ways.

D'Espagnat says this points toward a reality beyond the reach of empirical science. The human intuitions in art, music and spirituality can bring us closer to this ultimate reality, but it is so mysterious we cannot know or even imagine it.

So how does "art, music, and spirituality" help in such a case? Because they are not constrained to show that what they propose is valid? That they require no empirical evidence to reflect the degree of correctness of their ideas? That they can simply make things up as they go along?

It boggles my mind that there are people who think that the ability to SPECULATE without any need for verification can actually provide such answers to these questions. They seem to ignore the fact that when one makes such speculations that isn't constrained to be verified, these so-called answers are NOT UNIQUE. There are tons of various speculations that claim to go beyond science. How is one to know which is more valid than the other? Is it ultimately a matter of personal tastes and style? Then what's the point?

Besides, if we truly can't comprehend or will ever know the "ultimate reality", then "art, music, and spirituality" can't know either.

There are just so many things wrong with this piece. For example:

Although they cannot be tested, the intuitions people have when they are moved by great art or by spiritual beliefs help them grasp a bit more of ultimate reality, d'Espagnat said.

Er.. hello? Intuition has never been shown to be WRONG? Since when does intuition trump over empirical evidence? And again, if people's intuition are "moved" by great art and spiritual beliefs, then all you spiritual people should come up with one consistent ideas, because right now all of you are going in a million different directions. When you guys have fought it out and picked the winner, come and talk to us.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Physics of Golf Putting

So we have had a few "physics of golf" on here, but they were all focused on the golf swing (see this and this). Now comes a very careful treatise on golf putting in the form of an ArXiv manuscript. Written by Robert Grober of Yale, it appears that world-class golfer have been putting with a pendulum motion of the golf putter at twice the natural frequency. And this minimizes the error in the putt!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

So You Want To Be A Quant - Follow-Up

Physics Today blog covered this NY Times piece on Quants and their role (or non-role) in the current economic crisis. The blog had some rather interesting quotes:

Lee Smolin, a physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, said, "What is amazing to me as I learn about this is how flimsy was the theoretical basis of the claims that derivatives and other complex financial instruments reduced risk, when their use in fact brought on instabilities."

Quants say that they should not be blamed for the actions of traders. They say they have been in the forefront of pointing out the shortcomings OF modern economics.

"I regard quants to be the good guys," said Eric R. Weinstein, a mathematical physicist who runs the Natron Group, a hedge fund in Manhattan. "We did try to warn people," he said. "This is a crisis caused by business decisions. This isn't the result of pointy-headed guys from fancy schools who didn't understand volatility or correlation."

Whether it is true or not hasn't changed my view of the field of finance and economics, which I do not consider to be a "science". It is more of an after-the-fact quantitative analysis with vague predictive power. That probably is an ignorant view of it, but I haven't heard, read, or seen enough evidence to the contrary.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Helicopter Offers Practical Lessons in Physics

This sounds like fun. A bunch of kids got to learn about helicopter physics and got to see it in person.

After the students checked out the lightweight whirlybird, Hall followed them back to school where the theory behind the practical application they just observed would be examined.

Jones said the plan was to have a lesson on aerodynamics that day with a special emphasis on helicopter physics.

I wish they get more explicit in what exactly the principles they are being introduced or being demonstrated using the helicopter. "Lesson on aerodynamics" is rather vague. Besides, and someone can correct me here, what exactly is the lesson from aerodynamics as far as a helicopter is concerned? I would think that it is more to do with straightforward classical mechanics of angular momentum, Newton's 3rd Law, etc. It would have been a lot more jaw-dropping if, while in flight, the tail propeller falls off and the students could see the helicopter spinning out of control - conservation of angular momentum in action! But then again, that could end up in an utter disaster (that's why I called it "jaw-dropping" demonstration).


Scientific Assessment of Free-Electron Laser Technology for Naval Applications

The US Navy commissioned the National Research Council (NRC), which is a part of the National Academy of Sciences, to study the state of the art free-electron laser (FEL) technology for naval applications.

The NRC has now produced its report that anyone can read. While it is a report specifically target to its "customer", i.e. the US Navy, it is also valuable because it is one of the few (if not the only one) comprehensive study of the current capability of FELs, and the realistic advances that can be expected out of it. With several FEL facilities about to go online in the next few years (LCLS at SLAC for example), this report is a very good review of what FEL is and what it can do. It presents an excellent guide to the Dept. of Energy, for instance, with respect to these light source facilities using the FEL technology.

Note that this is another example of an accelerator physics application. And look Ma! No particle/high energy physics!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Astronomical Solution to an Old Quantum Problem

This is a fascinating review of a very interesting paper. It is using an established concept that is "common" in astronomy, i.e. a satellite orbit around the earth-sun system exhibiting Lagrange points, and applying it to the electron orbits around the nucleus.

Now, in results reported in Physical Review Letters, H. Maeda (Japan Science and Technology Agency, Tokyo), J. H. Gurian, and T. F. Gallagher (University of Virginia) have beautifully demonstrated in the laboratory a solution to this problem of the spreading atomic electron wave packet using a trick that was discovered in astronomy long before the problem arose in quantum theory [3]. When a small satellite moves in a sun-earth system there are five stable points at which the satellite remains fixed with respect to the rotating sun-earth system (Fig. 1). These are the famous Lagrange L points. In 1994 Bialynicki-Birula et al. showed that stable Lagrange points could be produced in the atomic electron problem by applying a circularly polarized microwave field rotating in synchrony with an electron wave packet in a highly excited state (a so-called Rydberg atom) [4]. The electron wave packet then remains localized near the Lagrange point while circling the nucleus indefinitely. Effectively the atom is made to behave quite classically.

Don't forget that you can get a free copy of the original paper from that link.


Monday, March 09, 2009

So You Want To Be A Quant

We have all heard about the flood of theorists who left physics and turned to the dark side of the force - going into quantitative finance (quant).

{OK, OK, I was just having fun. Don't send me hate mail about it being the dark side of the force}.

The NY Times has an article on this, detailing the stories behind the physicists who are now getting blamed for the economic collapse.

Quants occupy a revealing niche in modern capitalism. They make a lot of money but not as much as the traders who tease them and treat them like geeks. Until recently they rarely made partner at places like Goldman Sachs. In some quarters they get blamed for the current breakdown — “All I can say is, beware of geeks bearing formulas,” Warren Buffett said on “The Charlie Rose Show” last fall. Even the quants tend to agree that what they do is not quite science.

As Dr. Derman put it in his book “My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance,” “In physics there may one day be a Theory of Everything; in finance and the social sciences, you’re lucky if there is a useable theory of anything.”

It's a fascinating article, and certainly should be read especially for anyone who thinks that this option might be something they might think about if he/she is leaving physics to go into this sector.


Trying to Touch a Rainbow?

The physics of rainbows... hum ... we haven't had that yet, till now.

This article answers the question from someone asking whether it is possible to "touch" a rainbow.

Back to touching raindrops that make a rainbow: Suppose you turn on a sprinkler and see a rainbow in the sunlit spray. You can "certainly touch the spray" that generates the rainbow, Lee and Fraser write. By the way, just as you and your friend saw different views of your nose, "each of your eyes sees a slightly different rainbow," Lee e-mails.

However, unlike the nose-image location, we can't touch the location of the rainbow image. It is behind the rainbow (at the so-called antisolar point), much as the nose image is behind the mirror. But the antisolar point is too far away to touch. Being an image of the sun, the rainbow image location is at the same distance behind the raindrops as the sun is in front — "effectively at infinity," Fraser says. It seems strange a rainbow is as far away as the sun. But, try moving. The rainbow moves with you, just as the sun does.

Now, after reading that and the article, read some of the comments left behind. You'd think they didn't read the article at all!


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Anti-evolution resolution introduced in Oklahoma

You have got to read this, because it is too stupid to make up.

Rep. Todd Thomsen, has filed two resolutions in the Oklahoma House to oppose the teaching of the theory of evolution at the department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma and to oppose an invitation to Richard Dawkins to speak on Campus.

There are two issues here that should be considered by rational people:

1. A politician is trying to dictate what can and cannot be presented as science. Now, I thought it was only The Onion parody last time that had some state legislation that wanted to change pi to being exactly 3. This latest incident would have been hysterical had it been an Onion article, but sadly, it isn't.

2. That there are people who actually voted for this guy into office, and might even vote for him again!


Saturday, March 07, 2009

National Ignition Facility Ready For Ignition

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) has successfully completed all of its tests and waiting for its certification of completion.

The test was the first time all 192 laser beams converged simultaneously in the 10-meter-diameter chamber. NIF has met all of its project completion criteria except for official certification of project completion by the U.S. Department of Energy, due by March 31.

It doesn't carry the same fanfare as the LHC, but this is still an astounding achievement to build something this complicated and breaking all records for laser energy/power.

An average of 420 joules of ultraviolet laser energy, known as 3-omega, was achieved for each beamline, for a total energy of more than 80 kilojoules (a joule is the energy needed to lift a small apple one meter against the Earth's gravity).

The energy level will be increased during the next several months, and when all NIF lasers are fired at full energy, they will deliver 1.8 megajoules of ultraviolet energy to a BB-sized target in a 20-nanosecond shaped laser pulse, generating 500 trillion watts of peak power -- more than the peak electrical generating power of the entire United States. This is considered more than enough energy to fuse the hydrogen isotopes of deuterium and tritium in the target into helium nuclei (alpha particles) and yield considerably more energy in the process than was required to initiate the reaction.


Another Physics Department On The Chopping Block

Just after the undergraduate physics program at University of Idaho is saved from being eliminated, another physics program is being considered to be cut. The administrators at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) is considering the elimination of several programs, including physics, in dealing with the budget shortfall.

The students have staged a protest against such elimination.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Jim Kakalios Interview

I've mentioned about the U. of Minnesota professor Jim Kakalios a couple of times. First was his book on the Physics of Superheroes. The second time was a couple of days ago when he was referred to by the Science and Entertainment Exchange program to the director of the movie "Watchman".

You can now view an interview with him in this YouTube video. You get to get some insight into his interest and why he decided to teach physics using superheroes.

Would you like someone like this as your physics instructor? I don't see why not.


Einstein's Doctorate Up For Auction

You could own a piece of science history. The certificate awarded to Einstein by the University of Zurich for his doctorate is going on auction in June, and so will an honorary doctorate that was awarded to him later by the University of Geneva.

This news report made one major mistake, though.

He was in Bern in 1905 when he wrote the articles that formed the basis of his relativity theory of motion, which won him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.

Besides the fact that the original relativity theory was more of a treatment of electrodynamics, Einstein's Nobel Prize was awarded to him for his model of the photoelectric effect, not for relativity.

Someone obviously didn't do his/her homework.


University of Idaho Physics Program is SAVED!

The University of Idaho undergraduate physics program isn't going to be cut as first reported. There had been aggressive lobbying, especially by the student body, to save the physics program. It appears that after the recent workshop by various faculty members, the program is safe, for now.

The physics department must now create a strategic action plan for what direction the department will go in.

“We now have some prospects for a plan to meet the challenges that are facing everyone in public education,” Wood said.

There are several options currently being considered for the plan, including a new major that would blend physics and engineering.

“The degree would be called either applied physics or engineering physics,” Yeh said.

The degree would feature several physics classes, as well as a focus on engineering.

Many smaller schools simply can't compete with the larger, more established programs. So I don't think it is such a bad idea to carve out a specific niche and offer something slightly different in terms of a physics degree. Other schools have done something similar, where an undergraduate physics degree is paired with the idea of going into other non-traditional physics profession, such as continuing to law school, medical school, or even journalism. So the option of having an engineering physics degree certainly would make it not only more attractive, but also the possibility of producing undergraduates that could be more employable than simply a traditional physics degree.


Shovel-Ready Science

With the stimulus bill passed and with boatload of money about to be spent by various science agencies, this article looks at all the possibilities and long-term consequences of the sudden windfall to science.

Some 70,000 of those rescued Americans will be helped by the $10 billion awarded at the last minute to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), according to Research!America, a lobbying group supported by universities, hospitals, and others to do heavy-duty lobbying for biomedical funding. Thousands more jobs will result, presumably, from the $3 billion dished out to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and from the $1.5 billion given to the Department of Energy. All told, science gets a $21.5 billion share of the bounty. The number of science jobs that will be created or saved is not yet clear, because part of the money will go to facilities and equipment. Nor can anyone say yet who will get the jobs or how long they will last.

The issue of being able to sustain at least a decent level of funding is crucial. One can't just throw a lot of money at one time, and then dramatically reduces funding in subsequent years. Such yo-yo effect can be as devastating to scientific work as no funding. The uncertainty prevents researchers from making any long term plan, which is crucial in any difficult and complex activities.

NSF's emerging plans aside, the stimulus package awards one-time bonanzas that must be spent in 2 years. Much of the money awarded via grants and supplements will support graduate students, postdocs, and technicians. If science agencies' funding returns to pre-stimulus levels or something close, then what happens to all those postdocs, technicians, and students hired for the interim? What happens to the lab chiefs who hired them? The science labor market would almost certainly repeat the disastrous crash that followed the end of the doubling.

If funding remains flush, however, the new jobs could stick around. So the key question is whether the stimulus money for science represents a one-time splurge--as big-government critics hope--or a down payment on larger future budgets--as many scientists and policymakers might wish.

We shall see what will happen. The current president has shown a willingness to aggressively fund basic science. Whether he and the legislative body can agree on a budget is another issue entirely.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

LHC Delay Hurts Graduate Students

One of the unfortunately aspect of the delay with the LHC operation is fate of the many graduate students who were about to graduate and counting on getting some data to complete their work. This Physics World report describes some of the problems being faced by these students.

Among those hardest hit by the delays are final–year graduate students who were expecting to publish some of the first LHC data in their theses. “There are a couple of guys here who are really gutted,” says Dave Newbold of Bristol University in the UK.

That is always the risk of being involved in such a large experimental project that is about to start


Living With Infinities

This is a very entertaining essay by Steven Weinberg (all of his writings are entertaining) as part of a memorial talk for Gunnar Kallen. Besides some historical account that I find amusing and informative, it deals with those pesky infinities that kept propping up in quantum field theory.

The controversy concerned the significance of infinities in quantum field theory. The problem of infinities was anticipated in the first papers on quantum field theory by Heisenberg and Pauli, and then in 1930 infinite energy shifts were found in calculations of the effects of emitting and reabsorbing photons by free or bound electrons, by Waller and Oppenheimer. In both cases you have to integrate over the momenta of the photons, and the integrals diverge. During the 1930s it was widely believed that these infinities signified a breakdown of quantum electrodynamics at energies of the order of 100 MeV. This changed after the war, when new techniques of calculation were developed that manifestly preserved the principles of special relativity at every step, and it was recognized that the infinities could be absorbed into a redefinition, called a renormalization, of physical constants like the charge and mass of the electron. Dyson was able to show (with some technicalities cleared up later by Salam and me) that in quantum electrodynamics and a limited class of other theories, the renormalization of a finite number of physical parameters would actually remove infinities in every order of perturbation theory — that is, in every term when we write any physical observable as an expansion in powers of the charge of the electron, or powers of similar parameters in other theories. Theories in which infinities are removed in this way are known as renormalizable. They can be recognized by the property that in renormalizable theories, in natural units in which Planck’s constant and the speed of light are unity, all of the constants multiplying terms in the Lagrangian are just pure numbers, like the charge of the electron, or have the units of positive powers of energy, like particle masses, but not negative powers of energy.

Read the whole essay if you have time. He made it quite "easy" to comprehend.


Two Black Holes on a Collision Course

Oooh.. I hate to be in the middle of this one.

Two astronomers have spotted a black hole pair and on a collision course with each other. BAM!

Tomorrow in Nature, the two researchers report finding telltale twin hydrogen lines in the quasar's spectrum, instead of the one line that would emanate from a single black hole. Based on the twin lines, Boroson and Lauer calculate that two supermassives are separated by only 0.3 light-years--one-tenth the distance from the sun to its nearest neighbor--and are orbiting each other at the blinding speed of 6000 kilometers per second. For comparison, the sun's orbital speed around the galaxy's center is about 220 kilometers per second. "Sometimes discoveries depend on recognizing something as interesting even if it wasn't what you were looking for," Boroson says. If this one is confirmed, he adds, it should vastly improve what astronomers know about how supermassives merge and how they light up quasars.

The paper has been published in Nature[1], including a News and Views article on it[2].


[1] T.A. Boroson and T.R. Lauer, Nature v.458, p.53 (2009).
[2] J.M. Miller, Nature v.458, p.40 (2009).

The Science and Entertainment Exchange Watches Over "Watchmen"

I mentioned this a few months ago about the initiative sponsored by the National Academy of Science called the Science and Entertainment Exchange. It is an effort to connect the movie industry with scientists in relevant fields to be advisers to the various movie projects, in the hope of projecting some valid starting point in the science that is being displayed on screen.

This Forbes article illustrates the working of this exchange in the upcoming movie "Watchmen", that is much highly anticipated by many Sci-Fi fans.

What is surprising, though, is that the movie's creators, director Zack Snyder, screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse, and producers Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Deborah Snyder, wanted to explore the science behind the science fiction.

Science was ready to help. A pilot program that has now matured into something called the Science and Entertainment Exchange matched the movie's creators with the perfect academic: James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota and the author of The Physics of Superheroes.

Of course it always helps that the movie producers and directors want to try and be as accurate as possible. Unfortunately, not many do, and so you still get movies that simply makes one shakes one's head. Still, I don't know of how effective of an impact movies have in inspiring someone to want to go into science. On the other hand, I'm guessing that they can make someone become more suspicious of science ("China Syndrome", etc.), especially when they play loose with the science and the facts.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Hardy's Paradox Observed Directly

Another aspect of Quantum Mechanics is now well-tested and verified. Physicists in Japan has now managed to observe one aspect of the Hardy's Paradox using a weak measurement on the photon pairs.

The experiment, based on Lucien Hardy's thought experiment, which follows the paths of two photons using interferometers, instruments that can be used to interfere photons together, is believed to throw up contradictory results that do not conform to our classical understanding of reality. Although Hardy's Paradox is rarely refuted, it was only a thought experiment until recently.

Using an entangled pair of photons and an original but complicated method of weak measurement that does not interfere with the path of the photons, a significant step towards harnessing the reality of quantum mechanics has been taken by these researchers in Japan.

The paper was published in New Journal of Physics, which means that you can get a direct access to the paper for free.


Losing Track of Time

OK, this is a rant with almost no physics content. So if you don't have a stomach for it, you might want to skip this blog entry.

I've been participating in 2 different workshops this past 2 weeks. It has been very informative and I got a lot of stuff sorted out, and new info to be processed. In yesterday's workshop session, something highly unusual and highly astounding happened. We finished the session AHEAD OF TIME! We didn't go over, the session chair didn't let people go way past their alloted time, and we actually finished ahead of scheduled! I don't ever remember this happening!

The workshop last week was awful in terms time-keeping. Every single session ran long. Both the speakers and the session chairs seem to not care about the time. I don't know if this occurs in other areas, but in physics, it seems that time management during a seminar or talk is a skill that a lot of people haven't learned. I find that to be highly puzzling. One would think that by this point, most physicists would have had to give many technical talks, and would have learned something about how to present these talks within the time given. But nooooooo...

The most common problem that I have seen is that most speakers try to cram as many viewgraphs as they can get away with. I've seen 15-minute talks that have more than 20 viewgraphs! This means that one has less than 1 minute to show each viewgraph on average. The speaker will have to show these things quickly, with very little explanation, before moving on to the next one. My question is, what's the point in showing these things for that short amount of time? Does the speaker really think that the audience would actually remember or get the point of the presentation when it is done in that short amount of time and at that speed? When you walk out of a talk, what percentage of it that you actually remember?

Physicists doing these talks need to get into their head that it is the quality, NOT the quantity, that is important, and that is remembered by the audience. I am seldom impressed by people showing one viewgraph after another in factory-assembly fashion. And when they go over the alloted time, that makes me annoyed and tend to pay even less attention to what they have to say. And from what I gathered in many of these sessions, so did most of the audience. We all have learned how to be able to explain or present things within certain limitation. If you want to publish in Phys. Rev. Lett. you'd better learn how to put everything you want to say in 4-typeset pages. So this is not something unusual.

And don't get me started at speakers who seem to talk to the screen rather than to the audience they are presenting to. Oy vey!


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

NY Governor To Allocate Low-Cost Electricity To Brookhaven Lab

This is a rather nice gesture especially during this tough economic times. New York Governor David A. Paterson will allocate low-cost electricity to Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, NY, to help with the construction of its new light source, the NSLS II.

Governor David A. Paterson today announced an agreement to allocate low-cost electricity for Brookhaven National Laboratory ( BNL ) that will support the construction of a high-intensity light beam project known as the National Synchrotron Light Source II ( NSLS-II ). Project construction will take place this year, and result in up to 1,000 jobs over the next few years and several hundred new permanent positions at the scientific research center – one of Long Island’s largest employers and energy users. In constructing the new NSLC-II facility, BNL will invest $900 million, which will help retain thousands of jobs on Long Island.

“As New York faces the worst economic recession in more than a generation, it is critical that we do everything we can to maintain the healthy and valued drivers of our economy. Brookhaven National Laboratory is fundamental to Long Island and to New York State’s overall economy. Its world-class facilities attract thousands of visiting scientists each year, who conduct pioneering work in materials and life sciences and other fields while contributing to the local and State economies,” said Governor Paterson. “The research conducted at Brookhaven – which includes advancements in energy – is critical to New York’s position as a national leader in renewable energy initiatives.”

One can only hope many other places and neighborhoods realize the importance of these labs, not only for the local economy, but also for the overall economy of the country.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change

A new report out of the National Research Council on ways to study and meet the challenges of climate change as far as federally-funded research programs are concerned.


How Does A Sailboat Go Faster Than The Wind?

I've seen this question popping up from time to time, especially on various internet public forums. It is rather intriguing because there have been many reports of such an effect. This website tries to explain how this may appear to occur, especially in cases where the boat makes its own "wind". However, the explanation is a bit lacking, so I found another that at least had some figures in it. Still another website that was made for kids may have the best and simplest explanation if you just one a quick and dirty answer.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

25 Things About CERN

Cosmic Variance has posted this rather amusing list of "things" about working and the working environment at CERN.

It gives you, in a limited scope, the sense of the working atmosphere there. I can only imagine the sense of tension and anticipation right now, especially with the Tevatron working furiously to try to beat the LHC to the Higgs punch, and with the LHC being prepared to be powered up later this year.

These are exciting times!


Americans Close Books Way Too Early

This editorial looks at the issue that Americans may be getting less educated and may be unable to compete with the demands of a changing world.

Once upon a time, this nation understood that economic success lay in an educated citizenry. That’s why Congress passed the GI bill, which paid college tuition for veterans returning from World War II. Their post-secondary studies (and their home ownership, also boosted by the GI bill) laid the foundation for the growth of the middle class.

But we’ve grown stingy, soured on the idea that government ought to give a hand up to students who need help to pay for college. Many students drop out because they can’t pay for tuition, books and fees. State legislatures find it only too easy to cut funding for public colleges and universities at the first sign of budget distress. (Tuition doesn’t cover the cost of a college education, so public colleges always depend on taxpayer funds to make up the difference.)

We’ve also grown complacent as a culture, distracted by celebrity and consumerism. Let’s face it: Many American students aren’t prepared for the rigors of college. And it’s not just kids from poor homes or those who drop out of high school well before 12th grade. Too many middle-class kids get A’s for classroom work that wouldn’t merit a passing grade in a country such as South Korea or India, where students are more driven to succeed academically.

I often wondered how the Science and Engineering indicator survey would have looked like if it were taken during the height of the space race during the late 60's and early 70's. Were the population generally more educated than now?