Thursday, April 30, 2009

Final LHC Magnet Goes Underground

The tedious and laborious task of replacing the magnets at the LHC is almost, almost over. The final magnet has finally been placed into the LHC tunnel.

Geneva, 30 April 2009. The 53rd and final replacement magnet for CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was lowered into the accelerator’s tunnel today, marking the end of repair work above ground following the incident in September last year that brought LHC operations to a halt. Underground, the magnets are being interconnected, and new systems installed to prevent similar incidents happening again. The LHC is scheduled to restart in the autumn, and to run continuously until sufficient data have been accumulated for the LHC experiments to announce their first results.

“This is an important milestone in the repair process,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. “It gets us close to where we were before the incident, and allows us to concentrate our efforts on installing the systems that will ensure a similar incident won’t happen again.”

The final magnet, a quadrupole designed to focus the beam, was lowered this afternoon and has started its journey to Sector 3-4, scene of the September incident. With all the magnets now underground, work in the tunnel will focus on connecting the magnets together and installing new safety systems, while on the surface, teams will shift their attention to replenishing the LHC’s supply of spare magnets.

In total 53 magnets were removed from Sector 3-4. Sixteen that sustained minimal damage were refurbished and put back into the tunnel. The remaining 37 were replaced by spares and will themselves be refurbished to provide spares for the future.

"Now we will split our team into two parts," explained Lucio Rossi, Deputy head of CERN’s Technology Department. "The main group will carry out interconnection work in the tunnel while a second will rebuild our stock of spare magnets."

The LHC repair process can be divided into three parts. Firstly, the repair itself, which is nearing completion with the installation of the last magnet today. Secondly, systems are being installed to monitor the LHC closely and ensure that similar incidents to that of last September cannot happen again. This work will continue into the summer. Finally, extra pressure relief valves are being installed to release helium in a safe and controlled manner should there be leaks inside the LHC’s cryostat at any time in the machine’s projected 15-20 year operational lifetime.

CERN is publishing regular updates on the LHC in its internal Bulletin, available at, as well as via twitter and YouTube at and

Soon, it'll be time to power it up, but not until after another time-consuming task of cooling all the magnets down.


Rest Mass Versus Relativistic Mass

I can't think of any other concept in physics in which (i) it is as 'well-known' to the general public as it is to physicists and (ii) it causes as much confusion to the general public as it does to physicists. I'm talking about the concept of "mass" and the infamous Einstein's equation "E = mc^2".

One of the issues surround the concept of mass and the Einstein equation is the idea on what "mass" really means in relativity, and the validity of the concept of "relativistic mass". There have been many articles written to address this issue, but it is obvious that, even today, many media, including textbooks and popular writings, continue to use the term "relativistic mass" to mean an increase in the measured mass when an entity is moving at relativistic speeds. Whether the faulty understanding of such a concept can create a stumbling block in understanding relativity or not is an entirely different issue. But can there be a simpler approach to such a concept without invoking the name "relativistic mass"?

Lev Okun seems to think so. In a highly compact 2-page paper in the Am. Journal of Physics[1], he wrote a very concise explanation of what "mass" is, and why there is really only ONE concept of mass as defined in terms of momentum and energy by what he called the most fundamental equation of relativity theory:

m^2 = (E/c^2)^2 - (p/c)^2,

where E is the energy, p is the momentum. There is nothing new here that someone who has gone through an intro class in relativity/Modern Physics would not have seen. But it is put in such a compact and clear form that it summarizes Special Relativity in almost 1 1/2 pages!

What is as interesting is his commentary on how this issue has been treated in the media and in textbooks.

Unfortunately, sometimes and especially in his popular writings Einstein was careless about the subscript 0 and spoke about the equivalence of mass and energy and omitted the attribute “rest” for the energy. As a result Einstein's equation E0=mc^2 became known in its famous but misleading form E=mc^2. One of the most unfortunate consequences is the concept that the mass of a relativistic body increases with its velocity. This velocity dependent mass is known as “relativistic mass.” Another consequence is the term “rest mass” and the corresponding symbol m0. These confusing concepts and notations prevail in such classic texts as the ones by Born and Feynman. Moreover, in these texts the dependence of mass on velocity is presented as an experimental fact predicted by relativity theory and proving its correctness.

To substantiate the formula m=E/c^2 some authors use the connection between momentum and velocity in Newtonian mechanics, p=mv, forgetting that this relation is valid only when v (is significantly less than) c and that it contradicts the basic equation m^2=(E/c^2)^2−(p/c)^2. Einstein's tolerance of E=mc^2 is related to the fact that he never used in his writings the basic equation of relativity theory. However, in 1948 he forcefully warned against the concept of mass increasing with velocity. Unfortunately this warning was ignored. The formula E=mc^2, the concept relativistic mass, and the term rest mass are widely used even in the recent popular science literature, and thus create serious stumbling blocks for beginners in relativity.


[1] L.B. Okun Am. J. Phys. v.77, p.430 (2009).

Reversing the Congressional Science Lobotomy

This is an excellent Op-Ed piece by Congressman Rush Holt, one of the three physicists currently serving in the US House of Representatives. His piece concentrates on the demise of the Office of Technology Assessment, a body of the US Congress that analyze and provide technical and scientific information to the US Congress, and why the US Congress needs it back!

President Obama is not a scientist, yet I am confident that when he makes a policy decision — whether it concerns health care, energy or the economy — he is thinking like a scientist.

I can’t say the same about many of my colleagues in Congress.

Among the 535 members of Congress, there are three physicists, one chemist, six engineers, and one microbiologist. Most members of congress avoid science at all costs, and the handful of trained scientists cannot and do not try to inject the scientific thinking on the particulars of every issue.

What Congress needs is its own science advisors. We need not look far for a model: Until 1995, Congress could rely on the Office of Technology Assessment.

While members of Congress do not suffer from a lack of information, we lack time and resources to assess the validity, credibility, and usefulness of the large amount of scientific information and advice we receive as it affects actual policy decisions. The purpose of the OTA was to assist members of Congress in this task. It both provided an important long-term perspective and alerted Congress to scientific and technological components of policy that might not be obvious.
Despite its importance, new leaders in Congress successfully defunded the OTA in 1995, which as one former member put it, was like Congress giving itself a lobotomy.

It does makes sense that the science, especially the physical science, took a very far back seat in national importance and in funding, during and since that time. It also scary to think that the US Congress wallows in such ignorance about science issues and seems to not want to do anything about it.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Energy Frontier Research Center Awards

The Dept. of Energy's Office of Science has announced the award of 46 Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC). The award totals $777 million, to be invested over 5 years on 46 EFRCs.

The 46 EFRCs, which are to be funded at $2–5 million per year each for a planned initial five-year period, were selected from a pool of some 260 applications received in response to a solicitation issued in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Science.

Over 110 institutions from 36 states plus the District of Columbia will be participating in the EFRC research. In all, the EFRCs will involve nearly 700 senior investigators and employ, on a full- or part-time basis, over 1,100 postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduate students, and technical staff (fact sheet). Roughly a third of these researchers will be supported by Recovery Act funding.

I'm guessing that this is similar to the "Science and Technology Centers" that were done back in the 90's and early 2000's. Such funding efforts on a specific, well-defined area and task seem to have produced quite a spurt in advancing the knowledge and technology of the area that got picked.


How Many G's Do You Experience During A Free Fall?

Thanks to DaveC at PhysicsForums for pointing out this link.

This web article is reviewing an electric motorbike that can go from 0 to 60 MPH in under one second. In comparing the accelerating of the bike, the article says:

All this gives the driver a G-force three times more than that faced by a skydiver during freefall!

Er.. come again?

G-force, the way it is used for the public, is simply the amount of "reaction" force that we feel. When doing a looping roller coaster, it is the amount of force the seats exert back onto us. That's why at the bottom of a loop, you get G-force greater than "g", the gravitational acceleration at the earth's surface (9.8 m/s^2), while at the top of a bump, you could get "negative G's", meaning it is less than g.

So what's the G-force experienced by a skydiver? If you ignore air resistance, it should be.... er... ZERO! Free falling, by definition, implies that there's no reaction force. That's how the "vomit plane" works when people are training for weightless environment - the plane makes a free fall every few minutes, and every entity in the object will feel no reaction from the floor of the plane since everything is free falling. So equating the bike's acceleration as having three times the G-force experience by a skydiver is rather puzzling.

Now, one could argue that maybe the writer was thinking about the G-force experienced by the skydiver after he/she reaches terminal velocity, which would make the G-force to be equal to g. Assuming that the writer is smart enough to know basic mechanics AND know about terminal velocity, then the comparison is also puzzling. If it is just a simple "g", then why not compare it to the regular person standing still on the ground? After all, it IS the same thing and I'm guessing, A LOT more people are more familiar with standing still on the ground than skydiving.

Nope. I think this is a mistake of comparison.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Perfecting The "Big Bang" Machine

Just in case people have forgotten about the LHC, here's a news article appearing on the CNN website today covering it one more time.

Enthusiasm for the Large Hadron Collider built last summer as the world anticipated the startup of the colossal machine, which will recreate conditions of the universe shortly after it was created in the Big Bang so scientists can study how the universe evolved.

Interest grew as rumors circulated on the Internet that the collider's power would generate a black hole which would swallow the Earth. These rumors were widely discredited by the scientific community. CERN scientists released a report explaining that any black hole created would be tiny, and would not have enough energy to stick around very long before dissolving.

Scientists and skeptics alike eagerly awaited the circulation of the first proton beam around the 17-mile tunnel, which happened successfully on September 10.

But just days after this success, disaster struck. While about 9,999 out of 10,000 electrical connections between magnets in the accelerator worked well, one did not, which "made a mess of the magnets," said Joseph Lykken, theoretical physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, who works on CMS.

Have to make sure it is still in the public's mind, y'know. It does mean that when it finally powers up later this year, there will be such tremendous attention and scrutiny, both from the scientific community and the public, that I don't think anything short of a smooth ramp up operations leading to first collisions will be good news.


The Second Law And Cosmology

This Max Tegmark lecture was given in 2007, but the transcript to the talk has finally appeared on ArXiv.

Not only that, you can also view the video of the lecture, in case you haven't been to the MIT World website before.


Monday, April 27, 2009

President Barack Obama at the US National Academy of Sciences

This is the text of the speech given today by President Barack Obama at the National Academy of Sciences.

It is my privilege to address the distinguished members of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as the leaders of the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine who have gathered here this morning.

I’d like to begin today with a story of a previous visitor who also addressed this august body.

In April of 1921, Albert Einstein visited the United States for the first time. His international celebrity was growing as scientists around the world began to understand and accept the vast implications of his theories of special and general relativity. He attended this annual meeting, and after sitting through a series of long speeches by others, he reportedly said, “I have just got a new theory of eternity.” I’ll do my best to heed this cautionary tale.

The very founding of this institution stands as a testament to the restless curiosity and boundless hope so essential not just to the scientific enterprise, but to this experiment we call America.

A few months after a devastating defeat at Fredericksburg, before Gettysburg would be won and Richmond would fall, before the fate of the Union would be at all certain, President Lincoln signed into law an act creating the National Academy of Sciences.

Lincoln refused to accept that our nation’s sole purpose was merely to survive. He created this academy, founded the land grant colleges, and began the work of the transcontinental railroad, believing that we must add “the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery… of new and useful things.”

This is America’s story. Even in the hardest times, and against the toughest odds, we have never given in to pessimism; we have never surrendered our fates to chance; we have endured; we have worked hard; we have sought out new frontiers.

Today, of course, we face more complex set of challenges than we ever have before: a medical system that holds the promise of unlocking new cures and treatments – attached to a health care system that holds the potential to bankrupt families and businesses. A system of energy that powers our economy – but also endangers our planet. Threats to our security that seek to exploit the very interconnectedness and openness so essential to our prosperity. And challenges in a global marketplace which links the derivative trader on Wall Street to the homeowner on Main Street, the office worker in America to the factory worker in China – a marketplace in which we all share in opportunity, but also in crisis.

At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science. That support for research is somehow a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been. And if there was ever a day that reminded us of our shared stake in science and research, it’s today.

We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States. This is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it is not a cause for alarm. The Department of Health and Human Services has declared a Public Health Emergency as a precautionary tool to ensure that we have the resources we need at our disposal to respond quickly and effectively. I’m getting regular updates on the situation from the responsible agencies, and the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control will be offering regular updates to the American people so that they know what steps are being taken and what steps they may need to take. But one thing is clear – our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community. And this is one more example of why we cannot allow our nation to fall behind.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened. Federal funding in the physical sciences as a portion of our gross domestic product has fallen by nearly half over the past quarter century. Time and again we’ve allowed the research and experimentation tax credit, which helps businesses grow and innovate, to lapse.

Our schools continue to trail. Our students are outperformed in math and science by their peers in Singapore, Japan, England, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and Korea, among others. Another assessment shows American fifteen year olds ranked 25th in math and 21st in science when compared to nations around the world.

And we have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas.

We know that our country is better than this. A half century ago, this nation made a commitment to lead the world in scientific and technological innovation; to invest in education, in research, in engineering; to set a goal of reaching space and engaging every citizen in that historic mission. That was the high water mark of America’s investment in research and development. Since then our investments have steadily declined as a share of our national income – our GDP. As a result, other countries are now beginning to pull ahead in the pursuit of this generation’s great discoveries.

I believe it is not in our American character to follow – but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than three percent of our GDP to research and development. We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the Space Race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science. This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history.

Just think what this will allow us to accomplish: solar cells as cheap as paint, and green buildings that produce all of the energy they consume; learning software as effective as a personal tutor; prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again; an expansion of the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and world the around us. We can do this.

The pursuit of discovery half a century ago fueled our prosperity and our success as a nation in the half century that followed. The commitment I am making today will fuel our success for another fifty years. That is how we will ensure that our children and their children will look back on this generation’s work as that which defined the progress and delivered the prosperity of the 21st century.

This work begins with an historic commitment to basic science and applied research, from the labs of renowned universities to the proving grounds of innovative companies.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and with the support of Congress, my administration is already providing the largest single boost to investment in basic research in American history.

This is important right now, as public and private colleges and universities across the country reckon with shrinking endowments and tightening budgets. But this is also incredibly important for our future. As Vannevar Bush, who served as scientific advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt, famously said: “Basic scientific research is scientific capital.”

The fact is, an investigation into a particular physical, chemical, or biological process might not pay off for a year, or a decade, or at all. And when it does, the rewards are often broadly shared, enjoyed by those who bore its costs but also by those who did not.

That’s why the private sector under-invests in basic science – and why the public sector must invest in this kind of research. Because while the risks may be large, so are the rewards for our economy and our society.

No one can predict what new applications will be born of basic research: new treatments in our hospitals; new sources of efficient energy; new building materials; new kinds of crops more resistant to heat and drought.

It was basic research in the photoelectric effect that would one day lead to solar panels. It was basic research in physics that would eventually produce the CAT scan. The calculations of today’s GPS satellites are based on the equations that Einstein put to paper more than a century ago.

In addition to the investments in the Recovery Act, the budget I’ve proposed – and versions have now passed both the House and Senate – builds on the historic investments in research contained in the recovery plan.

We double the budget of key agencies, including the National Science Foundation, a primary source of funding for academic research, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which supports a wide range of pursuits – from improving health information technology to measuring carbon pollution, from testing “smart grid” designs to developing advanced manufacturing processes. And my budget doubles funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science which builds and operates accelerators, colliders, supercomputers, high-energy light sources, and facilities for making nano-materials. Because we know that a nation’s potential for scientific discovery is defined by the tools it makes available to its researchers.

But the renewed commitment of our nation will not be driven by government investment alone. It is a commitment that extends from the laboratory to the marketplace.

That is why my budget makes the research and experimentation tax credit permanent. This is a tax credit that returns two dollars to the economy for every dollar we spend, by helping companies afford the often high costs of developing new ideas, new technologies, and new products. Yet at times we’ve allowed it to lapse or only renewed it year to year. I’ve heard this time and again from entrepreneurs across this country: by making this credit permanent, we make it possible for businesses to plan the kinds of projects that create jobs and economic growth.

Second, in no area will innovation be more important than in the development of new technologies to produce, use, and save energy – which is why my administration has made an unprecedented commitment to developing a 21st century clean energy economy.

Our future on this planet depends upon our willingness to address the challenge posed by carbon pollution. And our future as a nation depends upon our willingness to embrace this challenge as an opportunity to lead the world in pursuit of new discovery.

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik a little more than a half century ago, americans were stunned: the Russians had beaten us to space. We had a choice to make: we could accept defeat – or we could accept the challenge. And as always, we chose to accept the challenge.

President Eisenhower signed legislation to create NASA and to invest in science and math education, from grade school to graduate school. And just a few years later, a month after his address to the 1961 Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, President Kennedy boldly declared before a joint session of Congress that the United States would send a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth.

The scientific community rallied behind this goal and set about achieving it. And it would lead not just to those first steps on the moon, but also to giant leaps in our understanding here at home. The Apollo program itself produced technologies that have improved kidney dialysis and water purification systems; sensors to test for hazardous gasses; energy-saving building materials; and fire-resistant fabrics used by firefighters and soldiers. And, more broadly, the enormous investment of that era – in science and technology, in education and research funding – produced a great outpouring of curiosity and creativity, the benefits of which have been incalculable.

The fact is, there will be no single Sputnik moment for this generation’s challenge to break our dependence on fossil fuels. In many ways, this makes the challenge even tougher to solve – and makes it all the more important to keep our eyes fixed on the work ahead.

That is why I have set as a goal for our nation that we will reduce our carbon pollution by more than 80 percent by 2050. And that is why I am pursuing, in concert with Congress, the policies that will help us meet this goal.

My recovery plan provides the incentives to double our nation’s capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years – extending the production tax credit, providing loan guaran tees, and offering grants to spur investment. For example, federally funded research and development has dropped the cost of solar panels by ten-fold over the last three decades. Our renewed efforts will ensure that solar and other clean energy technologies will be competitive.

My budget includes $150 billion over ten years to invest in sources of renewable energy as well as energy efficiency; it supports efforts at NASA, recommended as a priority by the National Research Council, to develop new space-based capabilities to help us better understand our changing climate.

And today, I am also announcing that for the first time, we are funding an initiative – recommended by this organization – called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, or ARPA-E.

This is based on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, which was created during the Eisenhower administration in response to Sputnik. It has been charged throughout its history with conducting high-risk, high-reward research. The precursor to the internet, known as ARPANET, stealth technology, and the Global Positioning System all owe a debt to the work of DARPA.

ARPA-E seeks to do this same kind of high-risk, high-reward research. My administration will also pursue comprehensive legislation to place a market-based cap on carbon emissions. We will make renewable energy the profitable kind of energy in America. And I am confident that we will find a wellspring of creativity just waiting to be tapped by researchers in this room and entrepreneurs across our country.

The nation that leads the world in 21st century clean energy will be the nation that leads in the 21st century global economy. America can and must be that nation.

Third, in order to lead in the global economy – and ensure that our businesses can grow and innovate, and our families can thrive – we must address the shortcomings of our health care system.

The Recovery Act will support the long overdue step of computerizing America’s medical records, to reduce the duplication, waste, and errors that cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

But it’s important to note: these records also hold the potential of offering patients the chance to be more active participants in prevention and treatment. We must maintain patient control over these records and respect their privacy. At the same time, however, we have the opportunity to offer billions and billions of anonymous data points to medical researchers who may find in this information evidence that can help us better understand disease.

History also teaches us the greatest advances in medicine have come from scientific breakthroughs: the discovery of antibiotics; improved public health practices; vaccines for smallpox, polio, and many other infectious diseases; anti-retroviral drugs that can return AIDS patients to productive lives; pills that can control certain types of blood cancers; and so many others.

And because of recent progress – not just in biology, genetics and medicine, but also in physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering – we have the potential to make enormous progress against diseases in the coming decades. That is why my Administration is committed to increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health, including $6 billion to support cancer research, part of a sustained, multi-year plan to double cancer research in our country.

Fourth, we are restoring science to its rightful place. On March 9th, I signed an executive memorandum with a clear message: Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over. Our progress as a nation – and our values as a nation – are rooted in free and open inquiry. To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy.

That is why I have charged the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with leading a new effort to ensure that federal policies are based on the best and most unbiased scientific information. I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions – and not the other way around.

As part of this effort, we’ve already launched a website that allows individuals to not only make recommendations to achieve this goal, but to collaborate on those recommendations; it is a small step, but one that is creating a more transparent, participatory and democratic government.

We also need to engage the scientific community directly in the work of public policy. That is why, today, I am announcing the appointment of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, known as PCAST, with which I plan to work closely.

This council represents leaders from many scientific disciplines who will bring a diversity of experiences and views. I will charge PCAST with advising me about national strategies to nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation. It will be co-chaired by John Holdren, my top science advisor; Eric Lander, one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project; and Harold Varmus, former head of the National Institutes of Health and a Nobel laureate.

In biomedicine, for example, this will include harnessing the historic convergence between life sciences and physical sciences that is underway today; undertaking public projects – in the spirit of the Human Genome Project – to create data and capabilities that fuel discoveries in tens of thousands of laboratories; and identifying and overcoming scientific and bureaucratic barriers to rapidly translating scientific breakthroughs into diagnostics and therapeutics that serve patients.

In environmental science, it will require strengthening our weather forecasting, our earth observation from space, the management of our nation’s land, water and forests, and the stewardship of our coastal zones and ocean fisheries.

We also need to work with our friends around the world. Science, technology, and innovation proceed more rapidly and more cost-effectively when insights, costs, and risks are shared; and so many of the challenges that science and technology will help us meet are global in character. This is true of our dependence on oil, the consequences of climate change, the threat of epidemic disease, and the spread of nuclear weapons, among other examples.

That is why my administration is ramping up participation in – and our commitment to – international science and technology cooperation across the many areas where it is clearly in our interest to do so. In fact, this week, my administration is gathering the leaders of the world’s major economies to begin the work of addressing our common energy challenges together.

Fifth, since we know that the progress and prosperity of future generations will depend on what we do now to educate the next generation, today I am announcing a renewed commitment to education in mathematics and science.

Through this commitment, American students will move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math over the next decade. For we know that the nation that out-educates us today – will out-compete us tomorrow.

We cannot start soon enough. We know that the quality of math and science teachers is the most influential single factor in determining whether or a student will succeed or fail in these subjects. Yet, in high school, more than twenty percent of students in math and more than sixty percent of students in chemistry and physics are taught by teachers without expertise in these fields. And this problem is only going to get worse; there is a projected shortfall of more than 280,000 math and science teachers across the country by 2015.

That is why I am announcing today that states making strong commitments and progress in math and science education will be eligible to compete later this fall for additional funds under the Secretary of Education's $5 billion Race to the Top program.

I am challenging states to dramatically improve achievement in math and science by raising standards, modernizing science labs, upgrading curriculum, and forging partnerships to improve the use of science and technology in our classrooms. And I am challenging states to enhance teacher preparation and training, and to attract new and qualified math and science teachers to better engage students and reinvigorate these subjects in our schools.

In this endeavor, and others, we will work to support inventive approaches. Let's create systems that retain and reward effective teachers, and let's create new pathways for experienced professionals to enter the classroom. There are, right now, chemists who could teach chemistry; physicists who could teach physics; statisticians who could teach mathematics. But we need to create a way to bring the expertise and the enthusiasm of these folks – folks like you – into the classroom.

There are states, for example, doing innovative work. I am pleased to announce that Governor Ed Rendell will lead an effort with the National Governors Association to increase the number of states that are making science, technology, engineering and mathematics education a top priority. Six states are currently participating in the initiative, including Pennsylvania, which has launched an effective program to ensure that his state has the skilled workforce in place to draw the jobs of the 21st century. I’d want every state participate.

But our work does not end with a high school diploma. For decades, we led the world in educational attainment, and as a consequence we led the world in economic growth. The G.I. Bill, for example, helped send a generation to college. But in this new economy, we've come to trail other nations in graduation rates, in educational achievement, and in the production of scientists and engineers.

That's why my administration has set a goal that will greatly enhance our ability to compete for the high-wage, high-tech jobs of the 21st century – and to foster the next generation of scientists and engineers. In the next decade – by 2020 – America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. And we've provided tax credits and grants to make a college education more affordable.

My budget also triples the number of National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships. This program was created as part of the Space Race five decades ago. In the decades since, it’s remained largely the same size – even as the numbers of students who seek these fellowships has skyrocketed. We ought to be supporting these young people who are pursuing scientific careers, not putting obstacles in their path.

This is how we will lead the world in new discoveries in this new century. But it will take far more than the work of government. It will take all of us. It will take all of you.

And so today I want to challenge you to use your love and knowledge of science to spark the same sense of wonder and excitement in a new generation.

America’s young people will rise to the challenge if given the opportunity – if called upon to join a cause larger than themselves. And we’ve got evidence. The average age in NASA’s mission control during the Apollo 17 mission was just 26. I know that young people today are ready to tackle the grand challenges of this century.

So I want to persuade you to spend time in the classroom, talking – and showing –young people what it is that your work can mean, and what it means to you. Encourage your university to participate in programs to allow students to get a degree in scientific fields and a teaching certificate at the same time. Think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, like science festivals, robotics competitions, and fairs that encourage young people to create, build, and invent – to be makers of things.

And I want you to know that I’m going to be working along side you. I’m going to participate in a public awareness and outreach campaign to encourage students to consider careers in science, mathematics, and engineering – because our future depends on it.

And the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation will be launching a joint initiative to inspire tens of thousands of American students to pursue careers in science, engineering and entrepreneurship related to clean energy.

It will support an educational campaign to capture the imagination of young people who can help us meet the energy challenge. It will create research opportunities for undergraduates and educational opportunities for women and minorities who too often have been underrepresented in scientific and technological fields – but are no less capable of inventing the solutions that will help us grow our economy and save our planet. And it will support fellowships, interdisciplinary graduate programs, and partnerships between academic institutions and innovative companies to prepare a generation of Americans to meet this generational challenge.

For we must always remember that somewhere in America there’s an entrepreneur seeking a loan to start a business that could transform an industry – but she hasn’t secured it yet. There’s a researcher with an idea for an experiment that might offer a new cancer treatment – but he hasn’t found the funding yet. There is a child with an inquisitive mind staring up at the night sky. Maybe she has the potential to change our world – but she just doesn’t know it yet.

As you know, scientific discovery takes far more than the occasional flash of brilliance – as important as that can be. Usually, it takes time, hard work, patience; it takes training; often, it requires the support of a nation.

But it holds a promise like no other area of human endeavor. In 1968, a year defined by loss and conflict, Apollo 8 carried into space the first human beings ever to slip beyond the earth’s gravity. The ship would circle the moon ten times before returning home. But on its fourth orbit, the capsule rotated and for the first time earth became visible through the windows.

Bill Anders, one of the astronauts aboard Apollo 8, could not believe what he saw. He scrambled for a camera. He took a photo that showed the earth coming up over the moon’s horizon. It was the first ever taken from so distant a vantage point, soon to become known as “Earthrise.”

Anders would say that the moment forever changed him, to see our world – this pale blue sphere – without borders, without divisions, at once so tranquil and beautiful and alone. “We came all this way to explore the moon,” he said, “and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

Yes, scientific innovation offers us the chance to achieve prosperity. It has offered us benefits that have improved our health and our lives – often improvements we take too easily for granted. But it also gives us something more.

At root, science forces us to reckon with the truth as best as we can ascertain it. Some truths fill us with awe. Others force us to question long held views. Science cannot answer every question; indeed, it seems at times the more we plumb the mysteries of the physical world, the more humble we must be. Science cannot supplant our ethics, our values, our principles, or our faith, but science can inform those things, and help put these values, these moral sentiments, that faith, to work – to feed a child, to heal the sick, to be good stewards of this earth.

We are reminded that with each new discovery and the new power it brings, comes new responsibility; that the fragility and the sheer specialness of life requires us to move past our differences, to address our common problems, to endure and continue humanity’s strivings for a better world.

As President Kennedy said when he addressed the National Academy of Sciences more than 45 years ago: “The challenge, in short, may be our salvation.”

Thank you all for your past, present, and future discoveries. God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.



Sunday, April 26, 2009

Plastic Fantastic

Seems that TV shows and books on the Hendrik Schon debacle are starting to creep in. When is Hollywood going to jump onto the bandwagon?

I mentioned earlier about a rather puzzling TV show that I thought was going to cover the Schon scandal, but went on a tangent into nanoland. Now comes a book dedicated to cover the whole incident in detail. It is a book by a science writer Eugenie Samuel Reich.

Has anyone read this? I would probably try to read it but I have so many things to catch up on right now that I won't get to this this much, much later. It would be interesting to see who she got access to, and how much of the Beasley's committee report was covered. So if you've read this, I'd be interested to hear what you have to say.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

How Hawking Became the "Sage" of Science

Well, I wouldn't call it ALL of science, maybe just physics and astrophysics. Still, after all the brouhaha surrounding him being rushed to the hospital this week, the world certainly has some level of "fondness" towards him. He certainly isn't lacking in media attention.

So it is inevitable that some news agency would do a coverage of Stephen Hawking, which is what this article did from USA Today. The main question being asked is how did he became that well-known?

Why so much attention to a theoretical physicist, one whose best-known book, A Brief History of Time, was published in 1988? Hawking has never won a Nobel Prize, did much of his work on the Big Bang three decades ago with another physicist, Roger Penrose, and planned to step down from his post this year.

Of course, the news article explored several different possible reasons. However, I think the illness he was inflicted with, and the fact that he can still function as a theorist, gave some "uniqueness" to his situation that is different than others. That is enough to garner the media and the public attention.


Friday, April 24, 2009

APS Did Not Endorse Scientist In CBS's "60 Minutes"

If you were skeptical of the cold fusion claim that was shown on "60 Minutes", this incident will remove any shred of credibility left in the story.

It appears that the claim made in 60 Minutes that the American Physical Society (APS) provided an "independent" scientist to verify the cold fusion claim is wrong. The APS promptly issued a press statement denying such a thing.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On April 19, CBS aired a “60 Minutes” segment on “cold fusion,” a process that proponents claim could solve the world’s energy problems. The script stated that “... [‘60 Minutes’] asked the American Physical Society, the top physics organization in America, to recommend an independent scientist. They gave us Rob Duncan, vice chancellor of research at the University of Missouri and an expert in measuring energy.” That statement is false.

None of the American Physical Society’s (APS) authorized spokespersons, including the president, president-elect, executive officer, director of public affairs, head of media relations and press secretary, provided CBS with the names of any experts. APS has learned that “60 Minutes” did receive a long list of names - that included Rob Duncan’s - from University of Minnesota Professor Allen Goldman, who states unequivocally that he never claimed to be acting in the name of APS.

APS does not, as an organization, endorse particular experiments or their results. That can only be done through publication in peer-reviewed journals, and by independent replication by other researchers. The APS does not endorse the cold fusion experiments featured in the April 19 “60 Minutes” news program. Any suggestion by the CBS journalists to the contrary is misleading and false.

The American Physical Society is the leading professional organization of physicists, representing over 46,000 physicists in academia and industry in the United States and internationally. APS has offices in College Park, MD (Headquarters), Ridge, NY, and Washington, D.C.

Not only that, probably after this press release by the APS, CBS not only removed the video of that segment of 60 Minutes, but also purportedly altered the transcript of the show, as reported in the April 24, 2009 column of Bob Park's "What's New".

There's something that smell in CBS's medialand, and it isn't the smell of cold fusion evaporating. You would think that these media people would have learned already from the previous cold fusion debacle and WAIT until such claims have been verified to be valid. But noooooooooo....... For ratings' sake, they'd do a junk piece like this AND also make false claims as well.

.. and people wonder why I don't watch network TV anymore...


Why Is Moon Dust Sticky?

Hum... I didn't even know this "problem" exists, i.e. I didn't realize that moon dust is sticky.

(See? Even an old goat like me learn new things all the time!)

It appears that a physicist in Australia may have an explanation why moon dust is sticky.

Now, a scientist who has been studying the problem off and on over four decades thinks he may have untangled the mystery of why that dust is so sticky. Brian O'Brien, an Australian physicist who worked on the Apollo program in the 1960s, said the sun's ultraviolet and X-ray radiation gives a positive charge to the dust, making it stick to surfaces such as spacesuits.
Over two years of painstaking research, O'Brien tracked the dust accumulating on two solar cells, one horizontal and one vertical, over the course of two lunar days. That may not sound like much time, but a lunar day equals nearly 30 days on Earth.

He found that little dust collected on the horizontal cell in the lunar morning, when the sun's rays were slanted, while more dust adhered to the vertical cell, which more directly faced the rising sun.

The weaker the sun's rays, he found, the weaker the electrostatic forces causing the dust particles to stick, until the dust fell off.

Some scientists believe that one of the greatest challenges for future lunar colonists will be keeping their lungs free of the particles, each thinner than a human hair but sharp as a razor.

So this isn't just something to tackle out of curiosity or for fun.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Scientific Life Of John Bahcall

This appeared on arXiv a couple of days ago, but it has been only now that I've gotten around to reading it.

This is an account of the scientific contribution of the late John Bahcall. However, because Bahcall truly one of the great figures in astrophysics, his scientific life story is also the history of neutrino astrophysics, and in particular, the solar neutrino problem that was solved only a few years ago with the discovery of neutrino oscillation. It is only via reading something like this that most of us can finally realize what a great man he was, and what a great loss to physics/astrophysics when he passed on.


US News And World Reports Ranks Best Graduate Science Schools

For better or for worse, the US News and World Reports (who reads this magazine anyway beyond their yearly ranking?) has released its rankings for the top science graduate schools in the US. Included in that is the overall ranking of the top Physics graduate programs, and the top physics programs for the various major subfield of physics.

MIT and Stanford shares the top overall ranking, with CalTech, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, Cornell, Chicago, UIUC, and UC-Santa Barbara rounding out the top 10. In fields such as condensed matter physics, UIUC remains the top school, while in atomic, molecular, and optics, Colorado hung on to the top for another year.

It is always encouraging to see public state schools making it into the top tier, considering how they are funded and how they compensate their faculty. Schools like UIUC, Berkeley, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Washington, Indiana, Stony Brook, and Colorado, are all able to compete with their more expensive siblings and produce top-notch programs.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Quantum Gods Don't Deserve Your Faith

I seldom read New Scientist, because they tend to go for the outrageous, speculative aspect of physics and presents it as if it is fact. But this book review hits it right on the spot. It is a book review of Vic Stenger's "Quantum Gods: Creation, chaos and the search for cosmic consciousness". If you recall, Stenger created quite a buzz with his previous book "God: The Failed Hypothesis". So you can already get an idea on the nature of his latest book.

Still, I think this book appears to be a bit more focused. He is trying to debunk the misuse of quantum mechanics, which has been used to justify the existence of "god" and spirituality.

In this much-needed book, physicist Victor Stenger isolates and then debunks the claims of two kinds of "quantum belief". One he calls "quantum theology" because it offers quantum physics as a way for God to act in the world without violating natural laws. The second is "quantum spirituality", which is rooted in the even vaguer notion that quantum physics connects the human mind to the universe, allowing us to create our own reality.

I'll probably get this book, because it seems to be an issue that I also have been dealing with. Many of my entries on the bastardization of QM in this blog deal directly with this, where people who have no clue what QM is other than what they read in pop-science articles think that they understand it enough to use it to justify whatever belief they are selling. You will also note that in my entry on why Quantum Mechanics is so difficult, the very fact that most of these crackpots do not understand the underlying mathematics of QM, most of the consequences of QM will appear to come out nowhere. This somehow gives these people the license to simply make things up to suit their needs since it appears to them that phenomena in QM can do this.

As I've said many times, imagination without knowledge is simply ignorance waiting to happen.


LCLS X-Ray Laser Powers Up

Looks like we have a few major facilities here going online at almost the same time. First we had the National Ignition Facility completing its construction and commissioning. Now it appears that the LCLS at SLAC have sent its first beam through, producing the world's first hard x-ray laser.

The LCLS works differently than most lasers. In a standard laser, a light-emitting material, such as a certain type of crystal, sits between two mirrors, and the light bouncing back and forth stimulates the atoms in the material to crank out lots more light in the form of a laser beam. There are no mirrors for x-rays, however. So instead, the LCLS relies on part of SLAC's 3-kilometer-long linear accelerator to fire a beam of electrons at light speed through specialized magnets called undulators. The magnets make the beam wiggle and produce some x-rays. The x-rays then travel along with the electrons and separate them into bunches, and the bunches produce x-rays far more efficiently. Thanks to that feedback, an x-ray laser beam emerges--as it did last week, SLAC officials report today.

The next few months will be quite fascinating. With the NIF operating at full blast {pun intended}, the beam test at LCLS being ramped up, the Tevatron in a rush to get as much data as possible, and the good ole LHC being powered up some time in October, it is a fun time for physics!


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Realism vs. Constructivism in Contemporary Physics: The Impact of the Debate on the Understanding of Quantum Theory and its Instructional Process

I've just stumbled upon this article and was about to read it when I remember that I have a manuscript to review that is overdue. So, I'll post the link and abstract on here and let the rest of you get to it before I do! :)

Abstract: In the present study we attempt to incorporate the philosophical dialogue about physical reality into the instructional process of quantum mechanics. Taking into account that both scientific realism and constructivism represent, on the basis of a rather broad spectrum, prevalent philosophical currents in the domain of science education, the compatibility of their essential commitments is examined against the conceptual structure of quantum theory. It is argued in this respect that the objects of science do not simply constitute 'personal constructions' of the human mind for interpreting nature, as individualist constructivist consider, neither do they form products of a 'social construction', as sociological constructivist assume; on the contrary, they reflect objective structural aspects of the physical world. A realist interpretation of quantum mechanics, we suggest, is not only possible but also necessary for revealing the inner meaning of the theory's scientific content. It is pointed out, however, that a viable realist interpretation of quantum theory requires the abandonment or radical revision of the classical conception of physical reality and its traditional metaphysical presuppositions. To this end, we put forward an alternative to traditional realism interpretative scheme, that is in harmony with the findings of present-day quantum theory, and which, if adequately introduced into the instructional process of contemporary physics, is expected to promote the conceptual reconstruction of learners towards an appropriate view of nature.

It sounds rather interesting, and possible something that I can use against those post-modernists crap. In any case, I will need some time to read it carefully - it's freaking 26 pages (luckily, double-spaced)!


A Story of the People who Shaped Fermilab

Symmetry Breaking has a wonderful review of a new book on this history of Fermilab. Titled "Fermilab: Physics, the Frontier and Megascience", it is written by three historians who certainly know about the history of Fermilab intimately.

The book is a must-read for science and Illinois history buffs as well as anyone who has ever worked at or visited Fermilab. This first widely published history of Fermilab gains its strength from the close ties its authors have with the laboratory.

I certainly hope to get my hands on this book in the next few months.


Monday, April 20, 2009

William Brinkman Tapped To Head DOE's Office of Science

In a stroke of brilliance, President Barak Obama nominated William Brinkman to head the Department of Energy's Office of Science.

In case you don't know, the Office of Science at DOE is responsible for running the network of the US National Laboratories, funding the physical sciences research, etc. Between it and the NSF, they practically funded the overwhelming majority of physical science research work in the US and abroad (ref: LHC, ITER, Daya Bay, etc.). So one certainly requires a manager who is not only an efficient manager, but also who is familiar with the scientific content of what are being funded and why. Brinkman certainly qualifies on all accounts.


Closer Look at Einstein's Brain


I'm kinda squeamish about anything to do with anatomy. I can't even stand to look at my own blood whenever they take some out to do a blood test (and to think that when I was a child, my mom wanted me to be a medical doctor as a career!). So this report on Einstein's brain that has been preserved this long is not really something right up my alley.

When Einstein died in 1955 at Princeton Hospital in New Jersey, his brain was removed by a local pathologist named Thomas Harvey, who preserved, photographed, and measured it. A colleague of Harvey's cut most of the brain into 240 blocks and mounted them on microscope slides. From time to time, he sent the slides to various researchers, although few publications resulted. Harvey, who moved around the United States several times in the course of his career, kept the jar containing what remained of the brain in cardboard box. Finally, in 1998, Harvey--who died in 2007--gave the jar to the University Medical Center of Princeton, where it remains today.

I'm a bit fuzzy on the historical account of this whole thing. Was there any consent either by Einstein before he died, or by any of Einstein's family, that his brain could be removed and studied? The link given in that article about the story of Einstein's brain doesn't clarify this, and none of the biographies that I've read about Einstein said anything about this either (or maybe I forgot).

One would think that if he requested cremation, that all of him should have been cremated unless he has indicated that certain organs can be used for scientific studies. I don't think that is out of his character to give himself up for science, but still, if this was done without his prior consent, then this whole thing is rather disrespectful, both towards him and his family.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

So You Want To Be A Physicist - Writing Your CV

I have made a new entry in my continuing essay on "So You Want To Be A Physicist". In Chapter XIX, I talk about what you must have in your Curriculum Vitae (CV). This comes from a direct, personal experience, both as someone who was looking for a job, and someone who is evaluating potential candidates to fill a position. In the latter position, I find that it can be quite frustrating to figure out what a candidate actually know, and I don't mean in terms of academic knowledge. Often, the CV lack the most important thing that I'm looking for, either because it wasn't clearly explained, or if it was omitted completely because the candidate didn't think it was important enough to be included. This would be tragic that something you have and didn't write down is exactly what a potential employer is looking for.

The purpose of that chapter in the essay is to force a job applicant to think a little bit what exactly is this potential employer looking for, and whether your SKILLS are really more important than your academic knowledge for that job that you are applying for. That is a crucial point to consider because it may force you to make drastic changes to your CV to tailor it to that particular job.

I'll repost some of what I wrote in that essay. While what I wrote is more relevant to an experimental position, I think the "theme" of what I'm trying to convey should apply to even theoretical job application. In many cases, you are not applying to the exact same area of physics that you wrote your thesis in. So you need to figure out what technical skills that you possess that is being sought for in this potential job. Is it your knowledge to do Monte Carlo analysis? Or programming ability?

Here are the items that MUST appear on your CV:

1. Name, mailing address, e-mail address, phone number;
2. A brief (one short paragraph, or even just a sentence) on your goal;
3. Your educational background. List in reverse chronological order, i.e. the last degree obtained first.
4. Your skills, expertise, and knowledge;
5. Other awards, recognition;
6. List of publications (if there's too many, list the more important ones, or the ones relevant to the job you are applying to).

Try not to exceed more than 2 pages. Keep in mind that people who are reading this have to read a lot of other CVs from other applicants. If it is too long, one loses interest very quickly.

Most of what I've listed above are pretty self-explanatory, and most applicants know what do write, except for #4. This is what I will try to discuss in the rest of this chapter. From what I have read of a number of CVs lately, this is where many applicants drop the ball.

Most CVs that I've received wrote way too much on the "physics" content. Now, such a thing may be appropriate in some circumstances, especially if you're applying in the very exact, same area of knowledge as your research area. The person who is hiring would probably know the subject matter quite well, and would be very interested in it. However, this is also not very common. What occurs most of the time is that you are applying for a position, especially for a postdoc position, in which the subject area is a bit different, some time VERY different, than the subject area that you majored in. What is in common are the skills and expertise that you have that the potential employer is looking for. So HIGHLIGHT THE EXPERTISE AND THE SKILLS in the CV! Don't bury it under lots of physics and don't simply mention it in passing. Not only are you not showing to the potential employer what he/she is looking for, but it also shows that you simply sent out a generic CV without bothering to tailor it to this particular job position. I had that impression many times while reading several CVs.

Let's do an example. Say I'm looking for someone who can make photocathodes for some particular application. Now, I'm not looking for someone with an exact background who majored in photocathode physics, because it isn't a common area of specialization, and there probably isn't that many students who graduated with that knowledge. However, I am looking for someone who has the expertise to make material fabrication. In particular, I'm looking for someone who has the expertise to make thin films of semiconductors, using various deposition technique, especially chemical vapor deposition (CVD).

Unfortunately, it was hard to find that in many of the CVs that I read. Most of the CV talked about the physics (or chemistry) of the material, what was studied, how the physics was important, etc. In cases where the applicants did mention about making thin films, the skimped on the details. I would say something like this: "Ability to make thin films for XRD and XPS studies to arrive at the strain-stress effects on the band structure". Yes, what WHAT did you use to make the thin films? That is what I am looking for, and you had just glossed over that piece of information! The strain-stress effects on band structure is the "physics", and unless you are applying for a research position in which THAT is one of the areas of study for that open position, the potential employer probably cares VERY little about that useless fact.

Instead, what the applicant should have done is say something like "Ability to fabricate metals and semiconductor thin films using MOCVD, producing large epitaxial single crystals. I am also able to analyze these thin films using XRD to evaluate the quality of the thin films". The applicants could also list ALL of the thin film materials that he/she had the ability to make. Now THIS would be something valuable. In doing that, the applicant has revealed the skill that he/she has, and it is a skill that completely transcends any particular subject matter area. This is because the skill to make films using CVD technique is used in MANY different areas, and not just in physics either. Having that skill allows one to apply to a large variety of jobs that would not have been possible if one were to stick to simply the subject matter of one's major area. This is why such skills MUST be clearly and plainly described in one's CV!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Water Balloons Test The Laws of Physics

Well now. If your physics education in high school involves trying to pummel your school principle with water balloons, do you think a lot more kids would be interested in learning physics? :)

That is what the students at this school did one day for the 2nd year.

Mark Heller calmly read a copy of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" as water balloons splashed around him. The head master at Academy at the Lakes, Heller, with his Panama hat, suit and bow tie, was sitting calmly in a row boat in the middle of a lake behind the private school on Collier Parkway.

About 100 meters away, teams of students from Roderic Brame's physics class were launching water balloons at him with a large sling shot fashioned out of a lacrosse goal. One shot after another went over Heller's head or splashed around the boat. Some balloons even burst before they got airborne.

A microphone attached to the lapel of his blazer, Heller occasionally glanced up from his reading to toss a barb back at the students. "It's really very nice out here," he said, as one errant balloon came semi-close to a flying bird before landing in the water at least 30 feet away. "I'm nice and dry."
As one balloon after another missed the target, Heller baited the students, waving his oar like a baseball bat and commenting on his still-comfortable clothing.
Some teachers also took shots at the head master, but several had water balloons burst on them instead.

The supply of balloons finally exhausted, Heller rowed back to shore, climbed onto the dock and grinned triumphantly, his clothes, and his copy of "Tom Sawyer," as dry as when he entered the lake an hour earlier.

That's hysterical! And I definitely like the baiting part. It makes the kids really, really mad, and there's nothing to spur them to really want to get it done when they get mocked for not accomplishing something! :)

But hey, did they learn any physics though? :)


The Science Guy

No, we're not talking about Bill Nye here. :)

The NY Times has a rather interesting Q&A with Steven Chu, the current Secretary of the US Dept. of Energy. There's a little bit more insight into him and his daily life. I especially like this part:

Is it true you don’t drive a car?
My wife does, but I no longer own a car. Let me just say that in most of my jobs, I mostly rode my bicycle.

And now?
My security detail didn’t want me to be riding my bicycle or even taking the Metro. I have a security detail that drives me.

How do you feel about adding carbon emissions to the air?
I don’t feel good about it.

I guess the president wants to keep you alive.
My wife is in favor of that as well.



Friday, April 17, 2009

Just How Many Ways Can You Mangle Physics?

I got criticized for being too harsh on the Wired article in one of my previous blog entry. Now let's see if I am still too harsh with this awful reporting.

This is from Toronto's "The Star", which, I'm guessing, is a local news media (someone can tell me that that's not right and I would be happy). First of all, why is a "medical oncologist" writing an article on cosmology? They can't get the many cosmologists hanging around the University of Toronto, or they can't contact someone from the Perimeter Institute?

In any case, that should be a major tip-of that things are not going to go well as far as accuracy is concerned. For example:

So the creation wasn't really a matter of "Let there be light", as much as a matter of "Let there be a separation of light and anti-light."

Of course I have to admit, as I have mentioned before, there is no simple way of explaining the concept of anti-light (because I simply don't understand it actually). Perhaps it would be useful to think of anti-light particles as the units of darkness that suck up light and create all-pervading gloom and impenetrable night.

That makes no sense, of course, since a photon is its own antimatter. I guess he's confusing the scenario where pair production forms out of energy during the early period after the BB. How this became "anti-light" is anyone's guess.

Anyway, as we now understand it, the entire cosmos is made of matter. Which is rigorously defined in the complex jargon of quantum physics as "that of which the entire cosmos is made." (Do stop me if I'm going too fast, won't you?)

No, I think you are going too fast for you! It is a general consensus that the predominant content of our universe, as of now, is dark energy, followed by dark matter (the nature of which we still haven't quite pinned down). So the "matter" that we know of is actually a very small portion of our "entire cosmos".

Anyway immediately after the Big Bang and the subsequent Big Separation, all the antimatter disappeared, although nobody seems quite certain where it went. A friend of mine called Derek, who is a major astrophysics nerd, has a theory that all the antimatter in the cosmos ended up in Huddersfield in Northern England, but I think that was just because it was a wet Sunday and there was nothing to do.

Anyway, Picozza's group simply set up a particle collector and put it on a satellite. (Since it collects cosmic rays you can't just leave it running in the living room apparently.) And it has collected low-energy positrons which are the antimatter equivalent of electrons (minus the GST of course). But there's more. After that, they discovered high- energy positrons — the "Grande Latte'' of subatomic particles – which, they deduced, must have been produced from dark matter. So (apparently) Q.E.D. – the theory of the Big Separation still holds.

Those two paragraphs combined produced utter nonsense. How does the possible detection of "dark matter" somehow verifies the "big separation"? Of course, the article never even once mentioned that the imbalance of matter and antimatter could be due to the CP-violation that we have detected. But then again, one actually has to understand what "CP-violation" is to be able to make such a connection.

If this was someone's blog entry or some "letter-to-the-editor" type of nonsense, I probably wouldn't have cared, though I might still write something. But this appears to be a regular article in, of all places, the "Living" section of the news. Did anyone proof-read it for accuracy before it got published? Obviously not. Maybe since it wasn't in a "Science" section, there's no reason to make sure it is scientifically accurate since, maybe, this is more of an attempt at humor than anything else. At least, I hope it is, because the content sucks!

If you are interested in reading a MORE ACCURATE report of the report that is being referred to in this silly article, read the PHYSICS article at the APS webpage. It may be "dryer" and does not have all the "funny" retorts, but it is at least accurate! I've also reported on this in an earlier blog entry.

So, anyone wants to tell me that I'm being too harsh on the guy?


Thursday, April 16, 2009

April 15, 1726: Apple Doesn't Fall Far From Newton

This is a rather interesting account of the fabled Newton's apple. It appears that on this day in 1726, Newton talked to William Stukeley on how he came up the idea of his gravitational law. That's when the apple came up, so to speak.

It was occasioned by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself. Why should it not go sideways or upwards, but constantly to the earth's centre.

Newton (like Ben Franklin and his kite more than a century later) may have indulged in some self-mythologizing here. Surely, the puzzle was not that things fell down rather than sideways. Isn't that what the concepts "fall" and "down" are about?

Newton's breakthrough was not that things fell down, but that the force that made them fall extended upward infinitely (reduced by the square of the distance), that the force exists between any two masses, and that the same force that makes an apple fall holds the moon and planets in their courses.

Still, it is almost definite that his inspiration did not come from an apple dropping onto his head. That is a myth.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Modern Mathematics Means to You

I suppose if the general public tend to be persuaded more by style rather than substance, then this style of essay should be more attractive to them rather than just saying "basic, fundamental research is important for its own sake, because you just never know what it will spawn in the future".

That is essentially what this excerpt is saying. It is an excerpt from the book "The Education of T.C. MITS --What Modern Mathematics Means to You" written by Lillian Lieber. It is an "illustration" to justify the esoteric part physics and mathematics, and why they are worthy of support.

There are certainly many good points being made here. And maybe the style points are just exactly what the public might be attracted to to pay attention to the content.

So is it working?



"I'll Never Use The Skills I Learned In Physics"

Yup! Don't be surprised if most of the students taking intro physics classes, especially those made for non-science majors, have that kind of attitude and understanding. This business major at UIUC, no less, had no qualms in expressing the belief that nothing that she learned out of a physics class will ever be used by her later in life.

It does not matter what field of work you go into, whether it's education, journalism or engineering, the common denominator that all students (hopefully) have when we graduate is that we will all be making money. So, why then, is there no required class about basic money management? I can guarantee I will never use the skills I learned in 'Physics 140: How Things Work' in my future professional or personal life, but the same is not true for nursing and communication majors that will need to know how a 401(k) works just as much as a business major.

The problem lies in three different areas:

1. Of course, this person doesn't know that in a modern civilization such as ours, we are always faced with issues that are based on scientific and technological understanding. At some point, the public will be asked to fun, via taxpayers money, various scientific endeavors. While the decision on what to fund is left to various agencies and peer-reviews, it still requires a knowledgeable public to support such funding. This is especially true in the election of scientifically-literate political representatives, or at least someone who appreciates the importance of funding science. This translates directly from a scientifically literate population, not from a population in which almost 50% of it does not know that the earth orbits around the sun.

2. The "skills" that one learn out of a physics/science course goes BEYOND physics. It is a skill of thinking things through and systematically. It is the skill in knowing what KIND of evidence is required for something to be considered to be VALID. This is highly important no matter what you do. How do you know that something somebody utters on TV is valid? Most of the time, people are persuaded not based on valid evidence, but based on personality of the presenter and all the bells and whistles. Apply this to the world of politics, where phrases fly off into the air as if they are facts, or as if simply by saying it, it is true. The same can be said with regards to the battle between evolution and creationism. The inability of some members of the public to actually think through something THIS obvious clearly shows that the skill of analytical thinking isn't there!

3. At some level, it is also the fault of the educators. When non-science students are required by their curriculum to take such classes, make it as plainly obvious as possible on WHY they are asked to take such classes. These are not stupid kids here, and if you reason with them plainly and simply on what valuable skill and knowledge that they can obtain out of such classes, I will bet you that they will show a lot more interest and be conscious of what skill they acquire. I had tried to do just that when I suggested a series of intro physics experiments in the revamping of the undergraduate physics laboratories. Make it explicit on the nature of the skill that they will be learning, and how they will have to think things true in making the connection between what they observe, and what they can deduce as valid.

I am convinced that a large part of the public has the same understanding of the usefulness (or lack of usefulness) of the skills they learn out of science/physics classes, the same way this person does. She is just one of the few brave enough to voice what we all already suspected. And in the end, it helps to contribute to the ignorance of the importance of physics, and perpetuate the notion that physics only deals with esoteric, non-useful idea that have no connection whatsoever with everyday lives.

That wrong idea has got to change.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

High-Tc Superconductors Are Very Kinky - Update 5

The origin of the energy energy kink in the cuprates' ARPES data continue to be debated. This is while the low-energy kink remains a mystery after all these years. One of the issue that has been brought up is that the high energy kink could be nothing more than an artifact of the photoemission matrix element and thus, has nothing to do with superconductivity.

This issue has been tackled in the latest manuscript appearing on arXiv. Basak et al.[1] have performed a calculation to see to what extent the matrix element effects come into play in shaping the band dispersion. Their conclusion is that the high energy kink isn't due to the matrix element and is more of a signature of the coupling of the quasiparticle to the electronic mode.

I've updated my original essay on the kinks in the high-Tc superconductors to include this manuscript.


[1] Basak et al.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Good Physics, Bad Reporting

This Wired article points out to an acceleration scheme for proton particle accelerator. This actually is new for protons, but not a new concept in general, because the electron-driven plasma wakefield acceleration has been demonstrated by several groups already a few years ago.

Still, popular media such as this should hire someone with at least a solid grasp of physics to write such articles. There are at least a couple of either strange statements, or outright errors in the article.

Building bigger proton accelerators, such as Fermilab's Tevatron in Illinois and the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, is still possible because protons can be accelerated in a circle. But electrons need linear tracks such as that of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory or the proposed International Linear Collider.

This, obviously, is wrong. Any intro physics student can see that. There's nothing inherently different between protons and electrons that allows protons to be in a circular accelerator while electrons ".. need linear tracks..". Synchrotron centers all over the world have circular storage ring for electrons, and LEP, the predecessor of the LHC at CERN, was a circular electron accelerator/collider. So the statement in that paragraph is utter nonsense.

But this strategy also has its limits. The maximum energy of the accelerated electrons depends on the energy of the particle bunches. SLAC currently produces the highest-energy electrons of any accelerator, at 50 gigaelectronvolts (GeV, or a thousand million volts).

This is nitpicking, but "a thousand million volts" is not a unit of energy.

Today's accelerators can bring protons to much higher energies than they can electrons. Protons at the Tevatron can hit 1 TeV (hence the name), and those at the LHC will be seven times as energetic.

This makes no sense either. It is so much easier to accelerator electrons than protons. So to claim that protons can be acccelerated to much higher energies than electrons is again, nonsense. What is often confused is the center-of-mass energy and also the energy per nucleon or parton.

While the intention is good that media outlets such as Wired are covering such issues, I wish they also pay attention to the accuracy of their article.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Holt Brings the Science to the Political

This is an interesting overview of Rush Holt, one of the 3 physicists currently in the US Congress. I'm always fascinated on how people with physics background apply their skills as physicists in another non-physics jobs, or in human interaction areas. Going into politics is certainly one such clear example.

Reading this, it is clear that Holt has done quite a bit for science policies and funding. And you can tell he is till being a physicist because he often asks for exact references to read up more on what people tell him. This is something most politicians don't ask for, and what is lacking in popular media, which is citing an exact reference for others to look up. It is a common practice in science.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stephen Chu Lays Out Labs' Mission

Dept. of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu talked about the role of the so-called "weapons labs" within the DOE's mission. These labs are Los Alamos, Sandia, and Lawrence Livermore.

And when it comes to nuclear science, he thinks it's best to keep the nation's weapons labs under the supervision of the Department of Energy, rather than the Department of Defense as some have suggested.

"What is really vital for the health of the labs and the health of the country is that the national security needs of the country have to be tied to a very strong science foundation," Chu told reporters after the speech.

Leaders of the national labs should be "some of our best scientists -- ideally active scientists," Chu said, adding that he thinks the best directors are ones that are involved in the physics or other scientific work of those they supervise.

Of course, there have been rumors that Los Alamos might be split into two, where the civilian and non-military/classified research would be in one, while the military/weapons/classified research would be the other. Whether this might actually happen is anyone's guess.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Cedar Point's Science Day Grows To A Week

The Physics, Math, and Science Day at the popular amusement park Cedar Point will extend to 5 days this year. It will take place between May 18-22 of this year.

Several new exhibits will be on hand. The Glenn Research Center will have displays of the new Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles and the Orion crew exploration vehicle. The Detroit Science Center will present several exhibits on centripetal force, magnetic fields and chemical reactions, while COSI Columbus will bring its new Science Spot exhibit that will include activities on force and motion, structures and puzzles.

Some of the event's traditional favorites will also return. NASA's Microgravity Man will demonstrate how free fall results in apparent weightlessness along with some of its effects on physical phenomena. Plus, NASA's Q & A game show and space-themed photo booth will also be back. Each day will offer a different curriculum of activities and events.

It's interesting to note that they separate out "physics" from "science". I'm not complaining, though. :)

Hope the kids learn something in between all the screaming on those monster roller coasters. They might want to consider doing the same for the adults....... er... well, maybe not.


How Astrophysics Could Save Heart Patients?

This news article highlights the common factor between the study of planetary formation and the flow of molten "metal" at the center of a planet with blood flow in human.

Still, I'm not sure if I'm being picky here, but it appears to be more about the connection between geology and saving heart patients, rather than astrophysics. I don't see any "astrophysics" in this article, at least not in the traditional sense. Did I miss something?

I would hate to think that geologists who are really doing such work are not having their profession being credited for this.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Physics of Pizza Tossing

Admit it, you're curious about it! :)

In any case, if you're bored but couldn't go to sleep, you might want to read all about the physics of pizza tossing, but were afraid to ask till now.

In their study, the researchers predicted that the tossing motion used by professional chefs and performers provides certain advantages in terms of effort, speed, and ease of handling. They explain that a tossed disk experiences four distinct phases: parabolic flight, impact (upon landing in the chef’s hands), sticking contact (as the chef’s hands grip the dough), and sliding contact (as the chef prepares to toss the dough). By determining the correct descriptions and durations of these four phases, the scientists could solve the pizza’s motion.

Funding by Pizza Hut and Dominoes?


The Universe, Yours to Discover

More coverage of the various activities to commemorate the International Year of Astronomy.

Among the IYA’s 11 global “cornerstone” projects is “100 Hours of Astronomy,” which kicks off on 2 April in Philadelphia with a lecture and exhibition featuring Galileo artifacts, and then goes on to four days—roughly 100 hours—of star parties, observations of the Sun, webcasts from research observatories, and other activities. “This is by far the biggest event of IYA2009,” says Mike Simmons, a retired medical researcher who is cochair of 100 Hours and founder of the nonprofit organization Astronomers Without Borders. Over one 24-hour period, amateur astronomers and other volunteers around the world will set up telescopes on sidewalks and in parks in the early evening. “You go where the people are. There will be events in Sri Lanka, in Iraq, everywhere,” says Simmons. The featured celestial objects, he adds, will be the Moon and Saturn. “They are ‘oh my god’ objects—that’s what you hear most when people see them for the first time.”

Check around your nearest university or major cities. Chances are, there's something being done as part of this year-long celebration.


Q&A With New Presidential Science Advisor John Holdren

ScienceInsider has an extensive Q&A with John Holdren, the Obama Presidential Science Advisor. A large part of the interview deals with the funding, the stimulus bill, and the regular budget for science at DOE, NSF, and NIH.

A similar Q&A with him was also held Nature (link open for free only for a limited time). So it looks like he's certainly making the rounds with the major scientific journals.

Unlike the previous Science Advisor (which we will try to forget), Holdren should be close enough to President Obama to be an effective science advisor.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Physicist Predicted The Italian Earthquake?

This is one of the few times that I'm ashamed of a fellow physicist.

An italian physicist claimed that he had made the prediction of the recent earthquake, based on the radon gas emission.

Gioacchino Giuliani is at the center of a debate about the limits of seismology after Italian officials shrugged off his warnings last month that a devastating earthquake in the central Abruzzo region was imminent.

In fact Giuliani, who works at the National Institute of Physics, was even reported to police for spreading panic.

But what exactly did he predict, and how accurate was he?

Giuliani's forecast was far from perfect. He believed the quake would have struck the town of Sulmona, which is more than 50 km (30 miles) south of L'Aquila. He also got the date wrong, predicting the quake would strike several days earlier.

The head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, Guido Bertolaso, told reporters that if they had listened to Giuliani, they probably would have evacuated the residents of Sulmona to L'Aquila just in time for the earthquake.

If you take enough number of so-called psychic, I'm sure at least one of them would also claim that they had predicted the earthquake, given enough vague predictions.

The silliness here is that he is bypassing the modus operandi as a physicist, in which his model to predict such a thing should be sent in for peer-reviewed publication and evaluated on its merits. Instead, he chose to claim validity in the public media. Does "Fleishman and Pons" ring a bell?


A White Paper on Particle Physics and Astrophysics

This is a rather clear document on the emerging field of particle astrophysics, which is the marriage between particle physics and astrophysics (obviously). It details not only the relevant physics, but on the reason why the bridging of the two fields can actually tackle some of the biggest problems we have today.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Physics of Why Bicyclists Hate Stop Signs

I guess this can be considered as an 'amusing' article. Two authors published the reason why bicyclists tend to not stop completely at stop signs and why they tend to do a rolling stop. It has everything to do with the laws of physics and the use of less energy to get back up to speed.

A nice review and summary of it can be found here.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Egg Drop Contest Draws Large Crowds

This sounds like a very fun event. An egg drop contest that is held yearly in Ithica, NY, draws very large crowds this year.

It was the 24th annual Egg Drop, hosted by Sciencenter, and Ithaca families turned out in force to participate, with entries ranging from compact cardboard boxes packed with mystery cushioning to a yard-long balloon animal in the shape of a phoenix.

Contestants from pre-schoolers to teenagers to whole families made egg-protecting contraptions in the hope that their egg would survive the drop from the upper balcony of Center Ithaca to the floor of the dining area.

Egg drop contest seems to be quite a popular means of involving people, especially kids, to do what I would call "participation physics". Some time it is just fun to do things without thinking that one is actually applying physics. However, it would be nice if people involved are consciously aware that physics is involved here. Often, we encounter people who can't see how physics is relevant in many things in ordinary lives. So it would have been a good physics PR to note that, while one may not be conscious of it, one IS applying physics to do these things.


Opening Day 2009 - The Physics of Baseball

With the US baseball season opening its play this week, I thought it would be appropriate to once again highlight the physics of baseball, which I've done a few times already in the past. This time, an article in SciAm has a Q&A session with Alan Nathan, a physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Prof. Nathan maintains sort of an archive related to the physics of baseball. I suppose one must truly be a fan of the game to maintain such a thing.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

How A Golf Swing Could Hurt Your Hearing

I bet they didn't talk about this in the physics of golf swing.

It turns out that a new type of golf clubs can produce such a loud sound when it strikes the ball, a person may have lost some hearing because of it. This was reported in British Medical Journal v.337, p.1437 (2008).

The coefficient of restitution (Cor) of a golf club is a measure of the efficiency of energy transfer between the golf club head and the golf ball. The upper Cor limit for a golf club in competition is 0.83, which means that a golf club head striking a golf ball at 100km per hour will cause the ball to travel at 83km/h. The thinner faced titanium clubs, such as the King Cobra LD, have a greater Cor and deform more easily on impact – the “trampoline effect” – not only driving the golf ball further, but producing a louder noise than the stainless steel golf drivers. The King Cobra LD had a Cor greater than 0.83, but I understand that the current King Cobra drivers are allowable in competition and have been tuned to reduce noise.

The BMJ paper describes a man aged 55 who presented to an eye, ear, nose and throat clinic with tinnitus and reduced hearing in his right ear. He had been playing golf three times a week for 18 months using a King Cobra LD titanium club and he described the noise of the club hitting the ball as “like a gun going off”. He found the noise so unpleasant he was forced to discard the club. After detailed examination it was concluded that his hearing impairment was due to the noise of the golf club hitting the golf ball.

They may have to require ear plugs at golf courses now! :)