Sunday, May 30, 2010

Graduation Speaker Perpetuates Myth

At some point, you just have to shake your head and accept that for most part, the damage is done.

The 2010 graduating class of Cresset Christian Academy, presumably in Durham, North Carolina, was told this myth during its graduation ceremony:

It’s the people who’ve believed in the impossible in this world who have been able to accomplish the greatest dreams, she said.

“There are always going to be people who are what I call ‘Dream Chisellers’,” she said. “But you always have to believe that you can.”

Smith also held up the bee as an example of the impossible being possible. Given what we know of physics and aerodynamics, she said, the bee’s fragile, thin wings should not be able to support its bulbous body. But yet, it does fly.

She left a paper cutout of the bee in each of the graduating seniors’ folders, and encouraged the graduates to hold to their belief in Jesus Christ and belief that there is a perfect plan for them in life.

What she meant was given what SHE THINKS SHE KNOWS about physics and aerodynamics....

It is sad that a graduation speaker won't do some simple, basic homework to check up on her facts. Instead, she continues to perpetuate this myth that we can't account for why the bee can fly. This is seriously wrong. For a bumble bee, a very common example when used with such a myth, we know perfectly well how it can fly.

So there's a bunch of impressionable high school graduates who will be walking around thinking that physics cannot explain why a bee fly, and that this is an impossibility that has been shown to be possible. Someone needs to yank this person to the side and straighten her out before she does any more damage with such lies.


Friday, May 28, 2010

More On Einstein's "Sexy Ad"

I mentioned about the lawsuit against GM about their recent ad using Einstein's head on top of a muscular body. This news report has a picture (at least partially) of that ad.

Well, the picture is a little bit disconcerting (if not disturbing). Still, I don't think it is that big of a deal, especially if GM did get a permission to use Einstein image.


NRC Report On Global Warming

The National Research Council has issued three separate reports recently on global warming.

Advancing the Science of Climate Change
Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change
Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change

The strongest conclusion out of these reports is: Climate change is occurring, the Earth is warming, and these are largely caused by human activities.

Lest people think that these reports are simply a rehash and done by the same people who did the IPCC, the report from this week's Science (Science 28 May 2010 p. 1085) indicated otherwise.

But this was no rehashing of the IPCC report, which has taken considerable flak of late. The new NRC reports draw on the past 5 years of peer-reviewed literature, which was published too late for inclusion in the IPCC analysis, Matson emphasized. They also reflect findings from more than a score of reports from the U.S. Global Change Research Program and earlier efforts from NAS. The membership of the three NRC panels also had little overlap with that of the IPCC's working groups, says economist Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, an IPCC veteran who was on the NRC panel on adapting to climate change. Yohe says he was surprised to find at the panel's inaugural meeting that three-quarters of his fellow members were unfamiliar to him.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Don't Mess With Al

... Al, as in Albert Einstein.

Hebrew University, who holds the rights to Albert Einstein's image, has sued General Motors. It seems that GM used Einstein's image in one of their print ads. GM, on the other hand, claimed that they received permission.

The Detroit automaker grafted the Nobel Prize-winning German scientist's head onto the body of a buff, shirtless man in a Nov. 30 ad in People magazine.

The ad had the slogan "Ideas Are Sexy Too."

Hebrew University of Jerusalem filed suit against GM earlier this month federal court in central California. The suit quotes Forbes magazine in 2008 as saying Einstein earned $18 million a year, fourth among deceased celebrities. He died in 1955.

I haven't seen the ad, and I don't know about you, but somehow, this ad sounds rather ... er ... creepy.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Autobiography of Robert Laughlin

There are many physicists that I find fascinating. It doesn't mean that I "worship" them or anything, but I find their stories to be quite captivating. Often, these are anecdotal stories told by colleagues, former students, etc...

I love Robert Laughlin's book that tried to argue against reductionism, because it introduces an alternative concept at looking at the world than what has been popularized. I've already heard many anecdotal stories about him from others, but it is always nice to hear about his life stories from the person himself. More than anything, is autobiography on the Nobel website is not your typical run-of-the-mill autobiography, and several years ago, I remember spending time reading the whole thing. I happen to come across it again recently when doing a search on something, and found myself reading it all over again.

So, if you haven't had the chance to read it, do yourself a favor and read his fascinating life story so far.

I suppose what I like about his story is because he hits the same points that I've been making, which are:

1. Some of the best theorists tend to be those who pay close attention to experiments. His argument that experiments are the "eyes and ears" aimed at Mother Nature, to me, is spot on.

2. That you can have the motivation to study and want to do physics not because you have a grandiose ambition to "study the universe", but rather because you are fascinated by the simple and small things. Laughlin was first interested in how a television work, and simple basic electronics. I remember being curious at how a top can not only spin, but precesses around an axis without topping over. It doesn't have to be about finding and solving for the grand unified theory. In fact, I haven't found any physicist that I know who first got interested in physics because of such glorified ambition.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ask A Nobel Laureate David Gross

Here's another opportunity for you to ask a video question to a Physics Nobel Laureate on YouTube. This time, it is to David Gross, Nobel Prize winner in 2004, along with H. David Politzer Frank Wilczek, for "... the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction".

To make your question a little bit more relevant to the person you're asking, it would be beneficial to at least read a little bit of some background info on what he is an expert in. So go review his Nobel Prize lecture as a start.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Want To Go Into Medical School or Law School? Major in Physics

Latest statistics from the AIP reveals a rather interesting result. It appears that an undergraduate major in physics might be the best major for a student intending to go into Medical School or Law School in the US, if we go by the MCAT and LSAT test scores.

From the average MCAT scores by different majors shows that physics majors score the highest average. The LSAT statistics also shows that physics majors get the highest mean scores.

Now, of course, it's hard to do any kind of cause-and-effect simply based on such correlations. In other words, did learning physics and having a physics background helps in preparing for such tests? And more importantly, how did these different majors do in the actual Medical or Law school? But still, it is a very powerful result where in both exams, physics majors are doing so well.


When A Physics Field Trip Goes Horribly Wrong

I was laughing hysterically while reading this "trip report". So why not share it with the rest of the class?

This appears to be a trip for a group of high school students to the "Physics Day" at an amusement park in Michigan called "Michigan's Adventure". Unfortunately, the trip started going not according to plan from the get go.

To begin with, Schultz was unable to attend this event due to injuring his rotator cuff while mountain biking. Math teacher Danelle Bosker agreed to take his place. That mishap wasn't going to deter the students from embarking on this soon to be epic journey, but it could have been an omen.

Then there were overwhelmed MacDonald's, several wrong turns, a bus driver needing to pee, students stuck on a malfunctioning ride, etc.. etc. It got progressively hilarious.


I'm not sure if they learned any physics, but they certainly got a first hand experience at Murphy's law.


High-Tc Superconductors Are Very Kinky - Update 9

More theoretical analysis of the "kink" in the band structure of the cuprate superconductors. This time the analysis of the low and high energy kink in the ARPES spectrum can be reproduced using phonons via the extended Eliasberg theory[1].

Abstract: Eliashberg theory generalized for the account of the electron-hole nonequivalence and electron correlations in the vertex function is used. The phonon contribution to the nodal electron Green function in cuprates is viewed. At non- zero temperatures the singularities (kinks) in the frequency behavior of a real and imaginary part of an electron nodal Green function, and also in the nodal part of the density of the electron states modified by an electron-phonon interaction are studied. It is shown that near the optimal doping both the low-energy and high-energy nodal Green function kinks and also the abnormal broadening of a band in cuprates are reproduced with the electron-phonon interaction in the extended Eliashberg theory.

So here's another argument in favor of phonons for the origin of these kinks. The original blog entry that lists all of these development has been updated.


[1] E.A. Mazur

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bringing Big Science To The Classrooms

This is a terrific program to allow teachers and students to work and see how science is done at major scientific facilities, in this case, the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven Lab. If you are a high physics school teacher, especially if you're in Long Island, this might be something you want to consider since this is such a wonderful opportunity to get a first hand look at how science is done at a major synchrotron facility.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Street Corner Science: Ask A Nobel Laureate

If you are going to be in downtown Chicago on Sunday, June 6, this might be a fascinating thing to attend. You will get to see a physics Nobel Laureate on a Chicago street corner... no, not peddling (although, most of us physicist could use the extra money), but actually answering questions from all comers!

Organized by the Chicago Council on Science and Technology, Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman will be on Michigan Avenue just in front of the Wrigley Building to answer any and all physics questions from 12:00 to 2:00 pm.

This is a terrific idea. If most of the public can't find a physicist, or go to a university or laboratory to get to interact with them, then being them to the public. Having someone as well-known as Lederman doesn't hurt either. Now kids, in case you don't know, this Lederman guy was formerly the director of Fermilab, and also the guy responsible for coining the term "god particle" for the Higgs. So if that doesn't cause your head to bloom with tons of questions to ask him, I don't know what will.



How Do Scientists Come To Actionable Conclusions?

This video would be something to start with for the general public to learn a little bit (just a little) about scientific process and how scientists reach a conclusion. While the whole topic is on global warming, the major part of the talk is on such a process.

Now hopefully, along with the earlier video that I mentioned, these two will provide more than just short sound bites that you commonly see on TV and read about in the papers about global warming.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stupid Physics Tricks

Buzz Blog at Physics Central found this video of people who should be nominated for the Darwin Award.

Let's plot his trajectory, shall we?


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

D0 Finds Significant Matter-Antimatter Asymmetry

A press release out of Fermilab on D0 latest finding on matter-antimatter asymmetry.

Scientists of the DZero collaboration at the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory announced Friday, May 14, that they have found evidence for significant violation of matter-antimatter symmetry in the behavior of particles containing bottom quarks beyond what is expected in the current theory, the Standard Model of particle physics. The new result, submitted for publication in Physical Review D by the DZero collaboration, an international team of 500 physicists, indicates a one percent difference between the production of pairs of muons and pairs of antimuons in the decay of B mesons produced in high-energy collisions at Fermilab’s Tevatron particle collider.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Should a Person Touch 200,000 Volts?

Ah, the things we do in the name of education!

This is a very entertaining demonstration produced by Jefferson Lab. Too bad it didn't credit the person doing the demonstration. He's very captivating and entertaining.


"I would rather have a physics graduate from Oxbridge without a PGCE teaching in a school than a physics graduate from one of the rubbish universities

It looks like Britain's new education minister is already in hot water 3 days into the new job by uttering those words.

Gibb is reported to have told officials in the Department for Education on Friday, the day after his appointment: "I would rather have a physics graduate from Oxbridge without a PGCE teaching in a school than a physics graduate from one of the rubbish universities with a PGCE."

The remark, which has already attracted a flurry of posts on Twitter, accusing the Tory MP of elitism and a failing to understand what makes a good teacher, will doubtless have rubbed a few people in higher education up the wrong way too.

Of course, we all know very well that someone who knows a lot about a subject matter need not also be a good communicator and educator. So that is a highly ignorant comment. But it is interesting that, of all the subject areas, he would use physics as the example. :)


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Case For Nuclear Power Plants In The US

Nobel Laureate and SLAC Director Emeritus Burton Richter gave arguments on why the US needs to proceed in building nuclear power plants, and why the public needs to get over its fear of it.

On May 5, he discussed the attributes and challenges of nuclear power at the weekly Stanford Energy Seminar. According to Richter, nuclear energy as a source of electricity is growing worldwide and should be a major component of U.S. energy policy as well. "The consequences are 100 years from now, but the most effective time to start working on this is now," he added.

Opponents of nuclear energy cite four main issues: cost, radiation and accident potential, waste disposal and the risk of weapons proliferation, Richter said. But compared to oil or coal, nuclear power produces the same amount of electricity for less money and emits no greenhouse gases. And while concerns over storing radioactive wastes and weapons proliferation are founded, Richter said, it's time for America to go green by expanding nuclear energy.

You may also view part of the lecture here:

The nuclear waste issue is the biggest hurdle against nuclear power plants. But we need to look at what kind of waste being generated by what kind of plants, and how much. Breeder reactors, if we ever get one, will generate so much less waste than current reactors. There were also a lot of research done in transmuting these radioactive waste to generate something less long-lived. But many of these line of studies were stopped in the late 80's and 90's once nuclear power became a dirty word in the US. So the high cost of producing these facilities now is definitely due to inaction, and the lack of interest in solving this problem. And all this was going on while other parts of the world such as Europe and Japan, continue to invest heavily in nuclear energy AND continue to be the ones with the knowledge and skill in this area. As a result, it is taking a huge amount of effort to restart this field right now in the US, especially at various universities.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Climate Change: Is the Science "Settled"?

A very fascinating lecture on not just the science of climate change, but the "circus" surrounding this issue and why the public/politicians are confused.

"Public perception is not based on scientific knowledge. It is often based on perception generated by who it was who gave you the information."

A lot of what he said here can easily be transposed into the public understanding and perception of science itself, not just climate change.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Orbituary of Vitaly Ginzburg

An orbituary of Vitaly Ginzburg can be found in this month's issue of Physics Today. This provides a good addition to the short biography of this important person's life and contribution that appeared in PhysicsWorld a few months ago after he passed away.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Can You Spot The Error In "Siphon"?

A rather amusing "spot-the-error" case here, and this time, it is purportedly an error that has been around for a very long time. A physicist in Australia recently spotted an error in the definition of the word "siphon" in Oxford English Dictionary, and found that all the other dictionaries that he had checked also did not list the correct definition.

University of Queensland academic Stephen Hughes found that entries for the word 'siphon' incorrectly said atmospheric pressure is the force that allows the device to move liquids from one place to another.

"It is gravity that moves the fluid in a siphon, with the water in the longer downward arm pulling the water up the shorter arm," he said.

"An extensive check of online and offline dictionaries did not reveal a single dictionary that correctly referred to gravity being the operative force in a siphon," he added.

Looks like the new version of the dictionary will have the corrected definition. Good for him!

Now let's see if someone else can find other errors. Wikipedia doesn't count, because there's already too many! :)

Edit: more coverage of this at PhysOrg.


Monday, May 10, 2010

MoEDAL To Look For Magnetic Monopole

MoEDAL is to become the seventh detector at the LHC, as approved by the CERN Research Board. It has the arduous task for trying to detect the elusive magnetic monopole, if it exists.

The MoEDAL detector is like a giant camera for photographing new physics in the form of highly ionizing particles, and the plastic NTDs are its "photographic film". When a relativistic magnetic monopole – which has approximately 4700 times more ionizing power than a conventional charged minimum-ionizing particle – crosses the NTD stack it damages polymeric bonds in the plastic in a small cylindrical region around its trajectory. The subsequent etching of the NTDs leads to the formation of etch-pit cones around these trails of microscopic damage. These conical pits are typically of micrometre dimensions and can be observed with an optical microscope. Their size, shape and alignment yield accurate information about the effective Z/β ratio, where Z is the charge and β the speed, as well as the directional motion of the highly ionizing particle.

So which is more "earth-shattering" in terms of revolutionizing physics, finding the Higgs, or the magnetic monopole?

I vote for the latter.


Auger North Coming to Kansas?

The Auger Observatory collaboration has successfully produced amazing and important results from just the detectors set up in the pampas of Argentina. But there is still the missing piece of the project to look at the sky in the northern hemisphere which the Auger "South" is blind to. The original idea was to build the same network of water tanks and detectors in Colorado. But now, it appears that it may spill over into the flat lands of Kansas.

James Watson Cronin, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, talked to state legislators on April 28 about installing cosmic ray sensors in a water tank array stretching across thousands of square miles of the cornfields and cow pastures of Colorado and Kansas.

This is not pie in sky. Cronin and colleagues already have talked 16 countries into spending more than $50 million to build the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory in Argentina. Now he wants Auger North, at $127 million.

However, there could be a small glitch, and this is related to the post I made earlier relating to the possibility that Wichita State University might close down its physics program.

The state and its universities also would need to designate a university with an endowed scholar for the project. Morris said he'd prefer WSU, but there's already a glitch — WSU is talking about getting rid of its physics department, combining it with engineering.

"I hope they don't do that," Morris said. "We'd need to have a separate physics department."

Hey, there's always Kansas State and University of Kansas, no?


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Soudan Underground Physics Lab Open House

I don't know how "open" an underground physics lab is going to be, but they are having an open house anyhow. As I've mentioned earlier, the Soudan Underground Physics Lab is having their Open House TODAY, May 8, 2010. If you are lucky enough to be in the area, this might be a very good opportunity to go into one of the rarest places, an underground physics laboratory.

“The Fermi National Accelerator Lab has been sending a beam of neutrinos to the Soudan Lab since the first one was detected on March 20, 2005,” they say in the invitation. “It will also be an opportunity to ask the experts about the new project, NOvA, a 15 kiloton detector under construction on the Ash River Trail to study other characteristics of the neutrino.”

The lab is at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park near Tower. Free tours start at 8:30 a.m. and run every 15 minutes until the last tour at 3:45 pm.

I really wish I could go. It would have been a neat place to visit. Maybe I'll talk to the people around here who do work in that lab and see if I can get my own guided tour one of these days.


Friday, May 07, 2010

Wilczek Explains Properties of Space

Hum... really!

This is a news article on a public lecture given by Frank Wilczek at Dartmouth. Presumably, the topic was on the nature of "space".

Now, I certainly didn't expect to learn anything substantial out of a news article. And maybe, it is simply a topic that is too deep and too difficult to report on. But if you were me, i.e. a physicist with a fairly substantial physics background, can you actually understand most of the things that were reported in this news article? For example:

The effervescent grid is made up of spontaneous activity that occurs between magnetic and electrical fields, he said. Quarks cause disturbances in the field that the field resists, compressing the quarks, according to Wilczek.

These fields have a “life of their own,” but because our eyes have not evolved to see the small distances and lengths of time that capture these disturbances in fields, we must use computers to visualize them, Wilczek said.

“This is an actual picture of the activities that take place in what appears to be empty space,” he said, referring to an image of a computer simulation. “It looks like a lava lamp, but what you are actually seeing are the fluctuations in the energy in the gluon fields — a sort of analog of electric and magnetic fields interactions.”

In addition to these fluctuating fields and the disturbances of the fields that we see as particles, there are also more stable materials that occupy space, Wilczek said.

Wilczek said one part of the material grid is the pairs of miniscule particles quarks and antiquarks. When they combine, they produce an exothermic reaction, releasing more energy than is initially put in.

“Space fills up with such things, and the only thing that stops it is that when you have a high density being produced, they repel each other and at some point there is no room for more,” he said. “What we perceive as empty space and take for granted as our surroundings is actually full of quarks and antiquarks formed into pockets, which are little molecules, and they are all around us and they effect the way things move.”

Er... say what?

I suppose one has to be there to listen to the detailed explanation. But still, this report doesn't tell much, much less, try to make any of these comprehensible, especially to the general public.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Apparent Suicide at Fermilab

A grisly and sad story coming out of Fermilab. Details are still sketchy, but apparently, someone jumped off in the atrium of Wilson Hall at Fermilab in what was suspected to be a suicide. My initial information said that it was a visiting Russian physicist, and a female. I have no verification of this news yet and am waiting for more details.

I've been in the building several times, and I've been at the top as well. I also remember making a sick joke that that, looking down, it is a straight shot down in that atrium for whoever wanted to jump. I don't believe that anyone has done that, till now.

Whatever it is, it is a tragic event and a real shocker.


Edit: News reports are now reporting this incident, but with very little details.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Remotely Controlled Laboratory

There are two papers recently published in Eur. J. Phys. that highlight a rather interesting web portal. The web portal is called Remotely Controlled Laboratory, hosted at University of Technology Kaiserslautern in Germany. The two papers on EJP (which you can access 30 days after they appear online) are:

1. "Experimenting from a distance in the case of Rutherford scattering", S. Gröber et al., Eur. J. Phys. v.31, p.727 (2010).

2. "A collection of problems for physics teaching", S. Gröber and H.-J. Jodl, Eur. J. Phys. v.31, p.735 (2010).

It's an interesting website with useful standard and "historical" problems.


I'm Back!

After a short vacation, I'm back! It'll take me a few days (or more) to get back to speed and catch up on what I've missed in the world of physics. I hope no new earth-shattering discovery happened while I was gone, that would be tragic considering that I purposely stayed away from anything with "news" on it.