Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rivalry To Find The Higgs

Typically, when there's news about the rivalry to find the Higgs, we often see this rivalry between the LHC at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab. But in this case, it is the "internal rivalry" between two giant detectors at the LHC - ATLAS and CMS. The article describes the friendly rivalry between these two detector groups, and it also has a short video of it.

Be it a rivalry or not, both detectors need each other (and other detectors situated at the LHC) to verify what the other discovers. This is no different than the situation at the Tevatron with CDF and DZero. They may have a friendly rivalry, but in the end, one needs the other to validate discoveries and measurements. The rivalry serves to keep each other honest and on their toes, which is good for science.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interference Between Electric and Magnetic Concepts in Introductory Physics

I only had time to read this rather quickly, so I can't make any kind of intelligent remarks on it. But it is fascinating, mainly because I don't realize that such an "interference" could occur. I don't recall making that type of mistakes when I was an undergraduate, and I'm not claiming that I'm smart either!

The study looked at how students learning electrostatic and magnetostatics answered questions on electric field force and magnetic field force acting on a charge particle[1]. You'd be surprised that the understanding is non-commutative!

Abstract: We investigate student confusion of concepts of electric and magnetic force. At various times during a traditional university-level course, we administered a series of simple questions about the direction of force on a charged particle moving through either an electric or a magnetic field. We find that after electric force instruction but before magnetic force instruction most students answer electric force questions correctly, and we replicate well-known results that many students incorrectly answer that magnetic forces are in the same direction as the magnetic field. After magnetic force instruction, most students answer magnetic force questions correctly, but surprisingly many students incorrectly answer that electric forces are perpendicular to electric fields, as would happen if a student confused electric forces with magnetic forces. As a further indication of interference between electric and magnetic concepts, we also find that students’ responses depend on whether electric or magnetic force questions are posed first, and this effect depends on whether electric or magnetic force was most recently taught.

It's astonishing that some students can get that confused. I have to read the paper closer to see if they came up with a rational reason why it occurred.

If any of you teach intro E&M, do you see the same thing in your class?


[1] T.M. Scaife and A.F. Heckler, Phys. Rev. ST Physics Ed. Research v.7, p.010104 (2011). You may obtain the paper for free here.

The Amazing World of Iron-Based Superconductivity

We all know that the cuprate superconductors continue to give condensed matter physicists fits even more than 20 years after its discovery. Now the iron-based superconductors look like another candidate to provide a lot of delicious puzzles for experimentalists and theorists alike to ponder upon for many years to come.

This wonderful article provides a comprehensive review of the progress in our understanding of the nature of superconductivity in this family of material since its discovery in January of 2008. Other than the topological insulator, the iron-based superconductor could be the hottest topic in condensed matter physics at this moment. The best part about it is that, the story is still unfolding, but at such a rapid rate. It seems as if almost every month (week?) that we see astonishing new results that boggle the mind. For physicists, this is what we became scientists for.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

LHC's Search For SUSY

I mentioned a news report a while back on the search for SUSY at the LHC, and the null results so far. We now have the published paper available, with a very nice commentary accompanying it. For someone who doesn't quite understand what "Supersymmetry" is, this is another article that might elucidate what it is, and why it is a big deal.

At the cost of predicting a whole set of new particles, SUSY provides a fix for a number of the standard model’s problems. For example, the standard model predicts a divergent value for corrections to the Higgs boson’s mass, but SUSY offers a way around this problem, provided the sparticles aren’t too heavy [4]. Another exciting possibility is that SUSY provides a way to unify the different forces coupling constants at very high energy. There is no a priori requirement that this must happen, but the potential unification of the electroweak and strong forces has an elegance that is tantalizing [5]. Many versions of SUSY have an extra conservation law that would prohibit the decay of the lightest SUSY particle. Not only would this particle become a dark matter candidate, but in this context SUSY can be used to provide both a full calculation of early universe physics and the dark matter relic density, a central problem in modern cosmology [6]. Finally, SUSY allows a possible connection to quantum gravity through superstring theory.

All that, and it might even clean your windows!

Still, we do live in a very exciting time, and the LHC will discover (if not already) new physics even if we don't find the Higgs or any SUSY's sparticles. Considering that no new particle colliders are in the books to being built, we will have to live with the LHC for quite a number of years from now.


Monday, March 28, 2011

The Inflationary Universe

This is another Physical Review Focus Landmark article that highlights a historically-significant paper published in the Physical Review journals. This time, it is the landmark paper by Alan Guth that gave a significant push on the idea of an inflationary universe.

You should be able to get a copy of that important paper from the article, if you're so inclined.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Mind The Pseudogap

If there is a sequel to "Beware of the Pseudogap", this would be it.

In the earlier paper, they reported observing two distinctive gaps for the cuprate superconductors - one that is associated with the superconducting gap, while the other is of a different nature and thus, competes with superconductivity. Finding the true nature of the pseudogap is extremely important, since it can be determined, once and for all, if this gap that exists above Tc, the critical temperature, has anything to do with superconducting mechanism at all - is it a precursor to superconductivity, or is it competing with it. This paper said yes to both.

Now comes another interesting report[1]. This time they studied the optimally-doped cuprate superconducting compound Bi2201 using three different techniques: ARPES, polar Kerr effect, and time-resolved reflectivity. What they discovered is quite interesting. They claim that the onset of T* (the pseudogap temperature) is a phase transition into a non-superconducting broken-symmetry state.

But then, what about the question on whether there are two distinctive gaps in the superconducting phase, as claimed in the earlier paper? This is what they have to say:

Below Tc, the nodal arc is gapped with a dwave–like structure suggestive of a dominantly superconducting origin (38). In contrast, in the antinodal region, rather than one order being dominant, or the two gaps of both orders adding in quadrature, the spectral function develops a complex structure with two energy scales below EF of mixed origin, a larger one being primarily associated with the pseudogap order and a smaller one with the superconducting order.

Fascinating! Essentially, they observe the same thing, i.e. two different gaps, albeit it in the antinodal region of the Brillouin zone. So there is some consistencies here with this respect.

I certainly don't doubt that more studies on this will be forthcoming. But at least now we can start to consider separating the two different origins of the gaps this amazingly-complex material.


[1] R.-H. He et al., Science v.331, p.1579 (2011).

Smell Might Be A Quantum Physics Phenomenon

Fancy that!

I've heard of this idea before, but now it beginning to gain some traction a bit. I don't know how it will work out in the end, but in the mean time, it is nice to follow the progress on this idea.

This news article reports from the ongoing APS March Meeting in Dallas, TX, where the idea that our sense of smell might be explained using quantum mechanics.

Dr Horsfield's research centres on demonstrating how the vibration might be detected.

The idea is that an electron on one part of a protein may move, and arrive at another part lacking a quantum of vibrational energy.

"The electron starts at one end of the room, if you like, and it can only make it to the other end if it gives up energy to the molecule in the middle of the room," he explained.

"Once it's arrived, you say 'Aha! The fact that it's here means that somewhere beteween where it started and where it is now there's a molecule with the right vibrational frequency'."

This might be a good excuse for physics instructors to wake up sleepy students in the class while teaching the topic on quantum harmonic oscillator. Those Hermite polynomials might be responsible for all our smell senses! :)


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Traces of Radiation from Japan?

So I read this CNN news this morning about slightly higher radiation levels that could possibly come from Japan.

But, on a portion of its website dedicated to tracking such radiation, the Environmental Protection Agency noted Wednesday that these and other readings "show typical fluctuation in background radiation levels" and -- thus far -- "are far below levels of concern."

Sampling from a monitor in Colorado -- part of a national network of stations on the lookout for radioactivity -- detected miniscule amounts of iodine-131, a radioactive form of iodine, the state's public health and environmental department said Wednesday in a press release.

On the same day in Portland, Oregon, tiny quantities of iodine-131 were also detected by an Environmental Protection Agency air monitor, Oregon public health officials said.

Now, the physicist in me started asking "It's one thing to detect slightly higher-than-normal radiation, it is another to actually know the source of such radiation." How can one verify a statement that says ".. trace amounts of radioactive particles that have likely drifted about 5,000 miles from a quake and tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant in Japan.. " Is the detection of such iodine isotopes rather uncommon, so much so that their detection now can be plausibly linked to the nuclear accident in Japan? Can someone who is an expert in this field clarify this?


Congressman Randy Hultgren Visits Fermilab

This is a video of a short speech by US Congressman Randy Hultgren when he visited Fermilab.

Hultgren is one of the large number of Freshman Republican Congressman who won the last election. He defeated the incumbent (and physicist) Bill Foster for the Illinois 14th District.

It is too bad that the video didn't carry the question-and-answer session. I'm sure there was a question on his support for the Republican-controlled Congressional budget proposal that severely cut money to the DOE Office of Science. None of what he has said in his speech in this video is consistent with the budget proposal. In fact, he made zero mention of the budget bill and how it could cause places such as Fermilab to have massive layoffs, furloughs, and even a premature shutdown of the Tevatron. I'd like to hear how he would spin this and still maintain that he supports science, and Fermilab in particular.

.... and people wonder why I seldom listen to political speeches.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Metrology Overhaul

A fascinating article and a closer look at how we arrive at the various SI units and quantities that we have accepted for granted. It reports on the meeting to possibly overhaul the 7 SI units that we currently use.

Over the two days of the meeting, participants expressed varied opinions about the force and urgency of these reasons. One of the chief enthusiasts and instigators of the proposed changes is former BIPM director Terry Quinn, who also organized the meeting. "This is indeed an ambitious project," he said in his opening remarks. "If it is achieved, it will be the biggest change in metrology since the French Revolution."

Leading the way is the overhaul of our definition of a kilogram, which is still defined by an "object" rather than based on a fundamental constant. There certainly have been a ground swell to redefine this quantity.


Update on Fire at Soudan Mine

I mentioned earlier about the unfortunate fire at the only underground laboratory in the US at the Soudan mine. Several new reports on the update appear to show that the fire is now under control, and investigations are ongoing on the possible cause of the fire.

After fire-fighting efforts over the weekend, in which thousands of gallons of foam and water were sprayed into the mine, the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center reported on Sunday that the fire was 99% extinguished. Fire officials will only declare the blaze officially "out" once its source has been located and any smouldering ashes or embers have been extinguished.

A three-man team has already descended down the lift shaft to restart some of the pumps. By Sunday night they had reached the physics lab on level 27, where they encountered a large amount of foam, which seems to have prevented them from entering the lab. The laboratory's back-up systems, however, including infrared sensitive cameras, have so far indicated that the laboratory seems to have escaped the initial fire.

Phew! I'm crossing all fingers and toes and hoping that the lab has been spared of any serious damage when they finally get to go in for a closer inspection. We all need and deserve some good news lately.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Public Demo of Quantized Conductance

OK, this is way too neat to not highlight here.

This preprint provides a very simple and doable demonstration of quantum conductance in a 2D conductor. In fact, it is so simple that the authors claim that ".. the setup is operated full-time, needs practically no maintenance and is used on different educational levels." Nice!

The paper provides a good basic intro to the issue of conductance, and what happens when you get to the "ballistic regime" of electron transport, i.e. when the length scale is smaller than the mean-free path of the electrons. Any intro QM student would be familiar with the energy level diagram shown in Fig. 1(b). And it really is a neat experiment. You can see the step-like increase in the conductance.

A very good paper, and could be a very good demonstration to add to either a class demo, or a permanent exhibit. Another clear effect of out of quantum mechanics.


One Clear Difference Between a "Myth" and "Science"

I initially dismissed this news article because it doesn't report on anything new about homeopathy. But then, a passage in there caught my eye, and I see the same cracpottery tactics that many try to pass when they can't stand on their own body of evidence (mainly because they lack such evidence). When you have no evidence to support you, what do you do? You either piggy-back onto well-verified science (Deepak Chopra's tactics), or you point out "similarities in situation" to science. The latter is what is going on here.

Regardless, proponents say it shouldn’t be discounted simply because it can’t be explained. For years, no one knew how aspirin worked. And scientists still don’t fully understand the mechanism behind a conventional drug such as Ritalin, argued Dr. Tim Fior, director of the Center for Integral Health in Lombard, Ill.

I've described a similar situation before during my report of my attendance at a public talk on "The Science of Spooky", when the person tried to justify Psi research by claiming that we don't know anything about gravity. This was my rebuttal to that claim:

While it is true that at the very fundamental level, we do not know what gravity is, it doesn't mean that we do not understand it or have no clue on what it is. There is a HUGE difference between our understanding of gravity, and our understanding (or lack thereof) of psi. We understand gravity well enough to be able to describe it not just qualitatively, but also QUANTITATIVELY! That's very important, because when you can predict something by putting numbers, it implies that you have understood its behavior very well. However, the most important difference between psi and gravity is the FACT that our knowledge of gravity has continue to GROW. The boundary of our knowledge on gravity, ever since mankind first realize what it is, and ever since Newton and Kepler formulated it, have continued to expand. Einstein's description of gravity via his General Relativity is one prime example of how we know MORE and MORE about gravity, and the fact that we can send space craft to meet up with various celestial bodies and objects is ample proof that we know A LOT about gravity and continue to refine our knowledge of it.

The same can't be said about psi phenomena, and paranormal phenomena in general. After hundreds of years since its purported "discovery" and years and years of study, the field is trying to prove the existence of these phenomena. It is still stuck in first base in trying to show that these things truly are there. All that have been done (and this is certainly the message that I got out of the evening) is that there are now more varied and different ways to try to find it. That's it. After so many years, it is still trying to show that these phenomena truly are there and valid. They still are stuck in the "discovery" phase. This is not even remotely close to resembling what we know about gravity!

So in my rebuttal, replace Psi phenomenon with homeopathy, and replace gravity with "aspirin and conventional medicine", and you have the exact response I would put out here again. It is a tired, old argument, and those who continue to make such arguments never bothered to look BEYOND their claims and the fact that in valid science, there is this series of PROGRESSION. Such progression results in our increasing knowledge of what we are studying. This means we no longer get stuck on the discovery phase for years and years (and some, even for hundreds of years).

It is the same shortsighted argument that crackpot makes. When you criticize their "theories", they will then claim that both Einstein and Galileo also were faced with such skepticism when they produced either "new" ideas. Of course, they neglected a very important fact that Einstein and Galileo were masters of the subject they were working in (i.e. they weren't ignorant of the subject matter). Einstein had to understand classical E&M extremely well to be aware of the problem with its non-covariant nature under Galilean transformation. You can't say the same about the overwhelming majority of crackpots who don't even understand basic physics. Yet, they think they're Einsteins.

So here's a "friendly advice" to crackpots and others trying to promote your pseudoscience. If you can't stand on your OWN body of evidence, don't try to shift the focus onto something else! Just because you found something similar being done in conventional science, doesn't mean the comparison is valid. That tactic doesn't work because it will reveal the ugly shortcoming of what you believe in when we looks closely at the comparison beyond the superficial level.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Test of MOND on Gas-Rich Galaxies

This made the news a while back, and it is now finally in print.

The people working on Modified Newtonian Dynamics got a boost recently when an analysis of gas-rich galaxies produced a very good agreement with MOND's prediction, better than the Dark Matter model.

McGaugh collects from the literature a sample of 47 gas-rich galaxies, for which recent 21 cm spectral line observations provide reliable estimates of both their atomic gas masses (which are combined with stellar population model masses to produce Mb) and their asymptotically flat rotation velocities vf. These data show an impressive match with the MOND prediction of Mb∝vf4, and also agree well with the acceleration parameter a0 required to fit the rotation curves of star-dominated galaxies. McGaugh further claims that the data have no scatter about the MOND prediction beyond measurement errors. This statement appears to be premature since statistical incompleteness, large distance uncertainties (many of the galaxy masses rely on estimated distances only), and other observational realities do not seem to have been taken into account. These will introduce biases into the observed scaling and have been shown to reduce the observed scatter (e.g., Ref. [13]). Such biases will most likely not significantly change the observed correlation, but they cast doubt on the exact details, particularly the interpretation of the scatter.

As one can read in that paragraph (and in the article in the link), there are still a lot of skepticism and issues here in turning this into a slam-dunk success. The other part is this:

McGaugh’s result adds a new facet to the argument that MOND is better at explaining galaxies than standard cosmology. However, as McGaugh admits, MOND cannot compete with ΛCDM as a full cosmological theory. Attempts to generalize MOND into a fully relativistic theory of gravity abound, but even the most promising ones (e.g., tensor-vector-scalar, or TeVeS [14]) struggle to interpret the combination of large-scale observations of the Universe that ΛCDM explains so well. The tuning required in MOND, most notably to explain the dynamics of galaxy clusters, is more severe than that faced by ΛCDM to match galaxy rotation curves. We know that standard but poorly understood baryonic physics plays an important role in shaping the properties of galaxies in ΛCDM. Reconciling MOND with galaxy clusters, on the other hand, requires invoking significant amounts of the missing matter, which MOND was conceived to avoid in the first place.

So already, there are problems with this, but it certainly is an encouraging sliver of hope for MOND.


Bell-Type Experiments With No Loopholes?

In case you missed it, there's a very fascinating article in the March 18, 2011 issue of Science (p.1380). It describes the physics of quantum entanglement, which is essentially 2 separate phenomena - superposition and non-locality - and the Bell-type experiments that have demonstrated it (i.e. violation of Bell inequality), but up to a certain point. The article deals with the 2 types of loopholes - detection and locality loopholes - that still plague the experiments, and the efforts to design experiments that are devoid of these loopholes.

With their eyes on the prize, a group led by Paul Kwiat of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has been collaborating with engineers at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado, to develop photon detectors with near 100% efficiency. “Those are good enough to perform a loophole-free test,” says team member Joseph Altepeter of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The struggle now is to chain these components together with optical fibers across a large enough distance to keep the communication loophole shut. “Essentially the pieces are all in place, but the devil is in the detail,” Altepeter says.

Meanwhile, Weinfurter and his colleagues are tackling the problem from an entirely different angle. They were inspired by an experiment, carried out in 2001 by David Wineland's team at NIST, that successfully closed the detection loophole using atoms rather than photons. Because atoms are far more hefty than flighty photons, Wineland realized, they are less likely to escape the apparatus, so they provide a potentially perfect detection rate. The team performed a Bell test that compared how often the energy levels—high or low—of electrons in entangled pairs of atoms matched up. Once again, quantum mechanics was hailed victorious, as the level of correlations exceeded Bell's inequalities. But it was not a resounding win because the atoms were close enough together to have influenced each other. In other words, the researchers had closed the detection loophole but in the process were forced to leave the communication loophole open.

Building on Wineland's experiment, Weinfurter's group is attempting to tie up both loopholes at once, by weaving photons together with atoms to reap the benefits of both. The idea is to start with two initially unentangled atoms in separate laboratories—ideally more than 100 meters apart, so that the atoms cannot influence each other over the course of the test. Each atom emits a photon; the two photons are captured and transmitted along optical fibers to a third location, where they are entangled. “The magic is that as soon as the photons are entangled, their parent atoms automatically become entangled, too,” explains Weinfurter's collaborator Marek Zukowski at the University of Gdansk in Poland.

These newly entangled atoms can then take the Bell test, with a perfect detection rate, while sitting far enough apart to keep the communication loophole closed. “The setup is being tried in two neighboring labs right now,” Zukowski says. “When we are happy that everything is working, we will try it in two distant labs.

Of course, the article then threw another wrench in the possible closure of these loopholes by pointing out the possibility of a "freedom-of-choice" loophole that can go back "... far back as the big bang..." Oy vey!

I think such superdeterminism needs to be shown to be influential for me to start putting any degree of validity on it.

It is a good article if you have access to it.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rush Holt On Japan's Nuclear Crisis

His win over Watson made him a household name among the public. So hopefully, the voting public in the US knows enough about him (and the fact that he is a physicist) to at least pay attention to what he has to say.

And being a nuclear physicist and someone who knows about nuclear reactions intimately (certainly more than the talking head Michio Kaku on TV), he has an expert and unique perspective on the nuclear crisis going on in Japan, and the whole idea of energy source and consumption. This is what we get in this news article. So read it while you have a chance.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fire In The Soudan Mine

Oh my! A fire broke out in the underground Soudan Mine in Minnesota, which is the site of an underground laboratory.

Smoke detectors went off at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park in northern Minnesota, signaling what appears to be a fire in the timbers lining the shaft. The park is home to the Soudan Underground Laboratory, a 36,000 cubic meter facility that houses half a dozen physics experiments including one that uses a detector weighing 5400 metric tons to study neutrinos fired through the earth from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory 730 kilometers away in Batavia, Illinois.

The fire is burning between the mine's 23rd and 25th levels, between 610 and 660 meters underground. The lab lies on the 27th level, about 710 meters underground. Officials with Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are considering temporarily sealing the shaft to try to starve the fire of oxygen, says Marvin Marshak, director of the lab and a physicist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, which runs the lab.

Luckily no one is trapped or injured in this incident. These underground laboratories have always had an extensive safety precaution in the event of such fires, because it is a major concern.

The Soudan mine houses neutrino detectors for several projects, including MINOS. Interestingly enough, they had an Open House to the underground laboratory almost a year ago.

I definitely hope that this gets resolved very quickly, and that the pumps can be restarted before water damages become extensive. I think we've had enough news of water damaging things such as water pumps this past week.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Hints of New Physics from the Tevatron

A report in today's Symmetry Breaking reveals the latest findings out of CDF and D0 of a possible new particle that might have been observed during a top quark-anti top quark production at the Tevatron.

When top quarks and their anti-particles, anti-top quarks, are created in particle collisions at the Tevatron, detectors note the direction in which they fly. Theory predicts that the particles will favor one direction slightly over the other, traveling that way about 5 percent of the time more.

However, in studies by the DZero collaboration and the CDF collaboration, the particles seemed to be picky 15 percent of the time. Top quarks went forward and anti-top quarks went backward. This month, the CDF collaboration announced results with an even larger asymmetry.

This could possibly be quite exciting. More confirmation of this should come later this summer, and especially from the LHC that should be able to verify this, if it truly exists.


High Energy Physics Experiments in Japan

Ah, it is with great relief that we get good news like this for a change out of the disaster in Japan. It appears that many of the major high energy/particle physics facilities in Japan survived relatively unscathed.

During an earthquake, tsunami, or nuclear meltdown, the safest place to be is in a mine.

So says Stuart Freedman, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's spokesperson for the KamLAND neutrino experiment, whose 1879 glass photomultiplier tubes emerged from the earthquake unscathed. Both KamLAND and the Super-Kamiokande experiment, which contains 11,146 glass bulbs each 20 inches in diameter, are ensconced 3300 ft underground in the Mozumi mine. This is to protect both American-Japanese collaboration experiments from solar radiation that would obscure their data.

Unfortunately, it appears that the KEK-Tsukuba facility may have suffered extensive damage. The article further reported on J-PARC facility that survived the earthquake and the tsunami.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Will You Marry Me? Oh, BTW, Your Ring Is In the SEM Chamber

It's about time we have people using scientific instrument as creative way to propose. This is one such example that happened at Berkeley lab:

It certainly was cute, so congratulations to the happy couple.

Still, I have TONS of questions since the synopsis accompanying the video didn't tell much:

1. Was the guy an employee of the lab, or did he just arranged this?

2. What "electron microscope"? I'm assuming it is an SEM or some kind.

3. She saw the ring on the screen, but it didn't surprise her. It would have been way neater if, besides the ring, there's a message that reads "Will You Marry Me?" That would have been a hoot! Instead, all she got initially was a ring box and I thought the moment looked a bit awkward.

Still, it's a cute idea. I hope DOE doesn't consider this a "use of govt. property for personal gain". Now let's hear YOUR idea on similar creative ways to propose, or maybe you had done one already.


Bouncing Grapes In Soda

Again, as I had mentioned before, I love these kinds of "mundane" experiments and finding the physics behind it.

In the March 2011 issue of Physics Education journal, the section on "What Happens Next?" dealt with a very common phenomenon that a lot of people have seen, most of them while sitting at a bar drinking beers. This time, the scenario uses grapes.

You have a glass of a carbonated drink. You drop an unpeeled grape into it. What happens next? Interestingly enough, similar to dropping raisins and peanuts into such carbonated drinks (or beer), the grape will start to sink, and then after some time, it will float back to the surface. This gets repeated over and over again.

But but happens if you drop a peeled grape? Will it act any differently?

And what is the explanation behind all this?

Just so I won't spoil the fun for those who want to offer their explanations, I won't post what the article in the journal has written (you can, of course, "cheat" and look it up yourself). I will make another follow-up post at a later date and reveal to you the explanation.



As expected, whenever something like this occurs, the fear (be it warranted or not) about radiation resurfaces once again. It is also a good time to educate the public a little bit on what radiation is, and the fact that we, human beings, live with it every single moment of our lives.

This news article looks at everyday sources of radiation that we live with.

With the help of CU physicists, 7NEWS tested everyday objects with a Geiger counter, a device that detects radiation levels.

We held the meter against the buildings on campus, a post office mailbox, electronic devices, even a banana with potassium. All of the objects caused the meter to beep and show levels of radiation, but only in trace amounts.

"These parts of the country are actually naturally blessed with a slightly higher level of radioactivity," said Nesbitt. "Low is good, but zero is just not what you're ever going to find in everyday life."

People who have an unreasonable fear of "radiation" should look at this article and accompanying video. Often, these are the very same people who put granite countertops in their homes. I'm not saying that such material is unsafe. I'm saying that ALL of us have accepted a certain level of radiation that we live with.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Celebrating 100 Years of Superconductivity

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of superconductivity. The IoP has compiled all superconductivity-related articles published in Reports on Progress in Physics over the last 10 years, and has graciously made them available to read, FOR FREE, till the end of 2011.

Don't miss this opportunity.


Tevatron Increases the Higgs Exclusion Zone

There's still life in the old lady after all.

Latest results from D0 and CDF detectors at the Tevatron have increased the exclusion zone for the Higgs.

The new analysis of data from Tevatron's CDF and D0 experiments – along with earlier results – adds spice to that race, ruling out a Higgs mass of 156–183 GeV/C2. Much of this region is excluded to 95% confidence, with some excluded to 90%. The new analysis extends Tevatron's previous Higgs exclusion zone of 158–175 GeV/c2 (95%), which was reported in July 2010. "This makes the Tevatron the frontrunner in the hunt for the Standard Model Higgs boson," claims Fermilab physicist Rob Roser, who works on the CDF experiment.

Yeah, but not for long, I'm afraid.

So there's an even smaller place for the Higgs (at least, one specie of it) to hide .... assuming that it is there in the first place.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Happened at the Fukushima Reactor?

With all the media hoopla surrounding the nuclear incident in Japan after the earthquake, the media, as expected, bungled on a lot of accuracy regarding the physics and engineering of such a thing. And the use of talking heads (Michio Kaku, really?) to discuss what essentially required a nuclear engineer to elaborate is beyond comprehension.

So it is nice to find an article like this, written by a nuclear engineer. It also reflected what I had gathered from the news article about the incident. The FACT here is that all these reactors SURVIVED the devastating earthquakes! Let's not for this important point. The structural integrity was maintained at all the nuclear reactors. What happened subsequently is the inability to maintain power to the pumps to continue the cooling process in the core, due to the flooding.

There's a tremendous amount of lessons that the nuclear industry can learn from this, and this can only make these things even safer. But the public also need to pay attention to the details and where nuclear industries got it right! For once, don't be swayed by the bells and whistles, but really, really look at the facts as they are!


The Physics of Basketball Bank Shots

Here in the US, the college basketball tournament is about to start - we call it "March Madness". Naturally, a lot of articles on basketball get produced and published around this time. I've mentioned a while back several articles on the physics of basketball, and the physics of the free throw shots. Now comes an article on the physics of banked shots in basketball.

After analyzing computer-generated 3-D simulations of more than 1 million basketball shots, a team led by NC State’s Larry Silverberg determined that, while it does vary, there are large, identifiable areas on the court where a bank shot can be up to 20 percent more successful than attempting a direct swish.

Don't think any of the players in the tournament would be interested in reading the paper, but for the rest of us armchair spectators, it adds another dimension of "understanding" to something like this.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Don't Drown Science Documentary With Background Music

Us science documentary fans will simply not tolerate background Muzak that drowns even the voice of the host of the show! So let this be a lesson to all producers and directors of such programs!

Fans of the BBC "Wonders of the Universe" have loudly complained to the TV network of loud background music some time drowning the voice of the show's host Brian Cox.

Beeb bosses were forced into action after viewers complained that they were unable to discern the Mancunian intonations of its presenter, Brian Cox, above the din of its backing track.

It has prompted critics to re-dub the show, which sees Cox globetrot around the world to examine the formation of the Universe, as the “Wonders of Brian Cox and his Orchestra.”

Now THAT'S funny! :)

I think in the US, you can see this series on the Science Channel, no? In any case, has any of you noticed the loud background music in this TV series that became distracting?


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japanese Physics Labs Affected By Earthquake

It is not surprising that scientific endeavor, including physics research and facilities, are severely affected by the Japanese earthquake and subsequent events. This report reveals how it affects a couple of facilities, including the neutrino T2K experiment.

The T2K neutrino experiment was just about to announce important new results when the earthquake struck. A series of planned seminars around the world has been postponed until the results can be announced first in Japan as planned. Here's a UK site with some background information about T2K itself. Apparently all the people from the neutrino experiment hall of T2K were evacuated safely, though it is very hard to confirm anything at the moment.

With Japan hosting a number of major research facilities, and the Japanese being involved in many experimental effort, the effect of this disaster will surely be directly felt in many scientific efforts around the world. But right now, we can only hope that everyone there is safe.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Earthquake And Tsunamis

As in the devastating earthquake and tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean several years ago, the disaster that occurred in Japan a couple of days ago reignites interest in learning more about tectonic plates, the cause of earthquakes, and tsunamis. PhysicsCentral has a short intro on this subject.

We also have articles that might appear to be in poor taste. This item describes why you can't surf on a tsunami wave. What is interesting is the comments generated by this article. A reader thought it was done in poor taste, while another didn't direct it to the article, but rather a news story that there were people who actually planned on surfing the waves that were about to his the US shoreline. The latter is certainly an activity done in very poor taste and judgment.

I personally do not think this is done in poor taste. The article is actually explaining the difference between those regular, giant waves we often see people surfing on. It is a normal question to ask why that is any different than the tsunamis. So in the process of answering why one can't (and shouldn't) surf on a tsunami wave, one learns about the physics of ordinary waves and tsunami waves. Maybe the premise of such explanation could be done in a different way, but that's the common question that many of us have seen in this situation. No better way to deal with it than to answer it directly.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Argonne On Jeopardy

This time, no Watson, but DOE's Argonne National Laboratory recently was a category on Jeopardy.

You get a sampling of some of the stuff they do at the lab. For more information, visit the Argonne website.


The Quest For Laser Fusion At NIH

We have reports of more dramatic progress at the National Ignition Facility. The latest report indicated that they have achieved the necessary temperature and compression conditions inside the "hohlraum".

NIF first began testing the laser beams last year and now two groups at Lawrence Livermore have shown that they can obtain the desired conditions inside the hohlraum. They did this by using plastic spheres containing helium, rather than actual fuel pellets, since these were easier to analyse, and by combining their experimental measurements with computer simulations, the researchers found that the hohlraum converted nearly 90% of the laser energy into X-rays and that it heated up to some 3.6 million degrees Celsius. They also found that the sphere was compressed very uniformly, its diameter shrinking from around two millimetres to about a tenth of a millimetre.

It's quite a progress for something that has been up for only a year, and for a facility that is this complex.


China Doubles Basic Research Science Funding In 2 Years

While nations such as the US are hampering science research in the name of cutting its budget deficit (a likely story), China has effectively doubled its basic science research in just two years! In a news article reported in Science this week (March 11, 2011), the budget for China's National Natural Sciences Foundation (NSFC) has been increased by 17% over 2010, doubling its budget from just two years ago!

NSFC is not the only science winner in China's 2011 budget, released here on 5 March. New spending plans promise massive investments in shared research facilities, such as new beamlines for structural biologists and materials scientists at the Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility that opened in 2009. The rationale, science officials say, is to erode barriers between scientists at universities and institutes.

Here, in the US, if the House budget bill passes through unchanged, synchrotron facilities throughout the US might face several days of shutdowns due to lack of money for operations. This is in addition to other major facilities, such as RHIC, the Tevatron, LCLS, CEBAF, etc., that are facing similar fates.

Compare and contrast, folks!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Physics Enrollments In US Universities

The latest data on physics enrollments in US universities are out. The latest survey came from 2008 and looks at not only the number of students at the undergraduate and graduate level in physics, but also the number of US universities providing Bachelor, Masters, and Ph.D degrees in physics.

In terms of enrollments, there is a clear trend in the increase in the number of US students in physics graduate programs during the last 10 years of the survey, whereas the population of international students have been either flat, or slightly decreasing over the last 4 years of the survey. This could be directly due to a delayed effect on visa restrictions after Sept. 11, 2001.


"Perfect Lens" Getting The Fisheye

A very interesting article on the quest for the so-called "perfect" lens. At this point, the leading medium for getting such a device are the metamaterials having negative index of refraction. But as stated in the article, there appears to be another way at getting this via the old Maxwell's fisheye lens.

Now scientists in the UK and Singapore have published experimental evidence that shows perfect lenses don't need negative refraction at all – and that a simpler solution lies in a 150 year-old design pioneered by James Maxwell. If true, the discovery could be a goldmine for the computer-chip industry, allowing electronic circuits to be made far more complex than those of today. However, the work is proving so controversial that the lead scientist has become embroiled in a fiery debate with other experts in the field.

I actually found the controversy surrounding this more fascinating. Isn't that odd? :)

Still, I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out.


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Simon van der Meer

We mourn the passing of another giant in physics, Simon van der Meer, who shared the 1984 Nobel Prize with Carlo Rubbia.

In a statement, current CERN boss Rolf-Dieter Heuer and the lab's director of accelerators Steve Myers describe Van der Meer as "a true giant of modern particle physics, though a gentle one [whose] contributions to accelerator science remain vital for the operation of accelerators such as the LHC today". He was, they say, "an incredibly inventive man [who] when confronted with a problem would sink into deep reflection, rarely emerging until he had a solution", adding that "stochastic cooling was typical of a Simon van der Meer invention: deceptively simple at first sight, but to anyone who truly understands accelerators it was nothing less than a stroke of genius".

You may read more of the statement from CERN here, including background on the work that he did.


Monday, March 07, 2011

Recreating Disney/Pixar's "Up"

We had a spirited discussion on the physics of Disney/Pixar's "Up" a while back, focusing on the infamous and glorious scene of the house floating away due to all those balloons. Well now, in an episode of "How Hard Can It Be?" on National Geographic, some people were actually testing this principle of floating a house using balloons! Check out the video!

It is never as easy as in the movies, isn't it?


Sunday, March 06, 2011

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg Answered Physics Question

Hey, there really is some hope after all for politicians!

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg unexpectedly had to answer a physics question during a radio talk show. The question was sent via Twitter and read "Magnets: how do they work?"

Of course, that was a rather odd question to ask to a Mayor of the largest US city. Still, Bloomberg took on the question and provided a credible answer.

"Now why they're asking the mayor that…," said a laughing Bloomberg before he touted that he had once been an electrical engineering student and insisted on answering the question.

"Everything is made of atoms," Hizzoner said, striking a scholarly tone. "Atoms have electrons, usually in pairs orbiting around them, and they create mini-magnetic fields."

"But the two electrons spin in orbit \[and\] the pairs spin in opposite directions, so they cancel out each other," he continued. "But magnetic materials aren't in pairs, so the spins don't cancel out each other, and if there's enough of them, you create magnetic fields."

That really isn't bad at all! I doubt that the majority of the public would be able to answer that, much less, politicians in general (I'm counting Congressman Rush Holt out of that one).

But of course, those of us who study these things (such as those in condensed matter/solid state physics), would say that the answer only provides the premise on why certain atoms have a net magnetic moment. It doesn't explain how the BULK material become magnetized, i.e. how does the collective behavior of each of the magnetic moments behave, producing materials that are ferromagnet, antiferromagnet, etc. Still, the mayor provided a very understandable and good answer to such a question, and did it on the spot as well! I'm quite impressed!


Friday, March 04, 2011

IoP's Schools and Colleges Lecture 2009 - Exploring the Universe

This lecture on modern telescopes and the technology that allows astronomers to explore the universe is quite suitable at all levels of knowledge.

The Institute of Physics Schools and Colleges Lecture 2009 is delivered by astronomer Dr Andrew Newsam. This lecture will reveal how:

Modern telescopes can be used by astronomers to look at the universe in ever greater detail;

Progress in technology allows astronomers to observe things further and further away and therefore further back in time;

Astronomical observations can be used to learn more about the origins and future of the universe.

It's a long video, though.


The Art of Physics Demonstration

No, not demonstration as in the ones going on in northern Africa and the Middle East. This is demonstration of a concept or phenomenon.

Physics World has blurb and a video on the importance of using appropriate demonstrations as part of a physics education. The article has a link to the PhysicsEducation YouTube channel that has many videos of various demonstrations, a few of which one can easily adapt for one's physics class.


More On Optical Tweezer App For The iPad

Hey, remember when I showed a video of the optical tweezer app for the iPad a while back? There's a coverage of this in an article on Wired.

The new app is an interface for controlling optical tweezers, an instrument that uses laser light to trap and move microscopic objects. It works a little like a sci-fi tractor beam: The radiation from a tightly focused beam of light applies enough pressure to tiny objects like cells or proteins to pin them to the spot or push them around.

The invention of optical tweezers won Secretary of Energy Steven Chu a Nobel Prize in Physics, and they have proven their worth in biology labs, where they have been used to trap and manipulate everything from viruses to DNA. They have helped measure some of the smallest forces ever recorded, detected how DNA’s double helix unzips, and watched molecular motors move matter around inside cells.

Now, hopefully, it will run even "faster" and more smoothly on iPad2! :)


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Doing Something "Original" As A Physics Lab TA

Recently, I read a feedback e-mail from a math instructor about a student posting a question in a public forum that was something that he (the math instructor) had formulated himself. He described how it really isn't that easy and it was time consuming to come up with a set of "original" questions to ask the students, so that they don't have the chance to simply copy off some other sources and submit as answers.

That triggers some distant memories for me on when I was a physics lab TA during my graduate school years. Most of us physics graduate students, at some point, have to TA either a discussion class, or a lab, or both. Now, unlike a lot of graduate students, I actually enjoyed doing TA work ... most of the time. I of course, hated the grading work and correcting homework assignments, but the actual TA work with the students, those I enjoyed tremendously. I think I empathized with the students and I recall how difficult it was for me when I went through similar undergraduate program. So I instinctively tried to do my best with such responsibility.

During the first semester of my Lab TA work, it was a challenge, very enjoyable, but also a rather rude awakening. The biggest challenge was trying to make sure that the lab reports that were written were actually the work of the students, and not just a copy of someone else's report, or from some "database". I learned from other students that one can find a complete set of pre-made lab reports kept at some fraternity or somewhere else. These lab reports corresponded exactly to the lab assignments being given each semester for the various undergraduate courses, and that includes the physics courses.

The thing was that, a few of the students didn't even bother changing a word of what they copied, so I ended up with lab reports with practically identical wordings. When I queried, the most common excuse was that they "worked together" and so simply produced one lab report for both. Of course, I didn't buy that, and emphasized to the students that the actual writing must be done individually, regardless on whether they worked together in the lab itself, or outside.

Well, you can guess what comes next. I then get practically identical lab reports (same numbers, same types of errors, same type of analysis, same number of significant figures, etc.), but the words have been changed a bit here and there to no longer make them carbon copies. Oy vey!

At that point, I could have easily threw my hands up in the air and stop caring. If they don't care that they're not learning how to do these things, why should I? But then, I saw the other side of this issue. What about the students who actually put in an honest effort, spent time actually doing the analysis and writing a report, but because they didn't copy off some "perfect" lab reports already in some database, they are getting penalized for a less-than-stellar lab report? I just couldn't live with the fact that honest students are getting the short end of the stick, while students who simply copied were not only getting away with it, but also getting higher grades!

{Now, you could have wondered why I didn't take more serious actions if I suspected students were cheating. You need to remember that it was my very first TA job, I was new, and frankly, I didn't want to get into such a big deal when I myself was still trying to get a feel on how to do the job. So as much as I hated it, I let it go, while the "offending" students continued to make just enough modification to their lab reports to not make them too obvious that they were copies.}

After that first semester of TA work, I became wiser for the next semester, and I was determined that those who wish to simply take the easy way out will not get away with it that easily. Being more familiar with the content of the experiments, I decided to go through the entire semester's worth of lab work to see if I can introduce something unique to each one of them. My observation was that most of the laboratory experiments that the students had to do were just too long, with too many tasks. Instead of learning a few things very well, the students ended up rushing to complete a lot of the measurements without learning much on what they did and why. Luckily, as a lab TA, I was given some flexibility in how I conducted each of the lab session. So I decided to do two things: (i) cut down on the number of tasks in each experiment, so that the students have a lot more time to do what's left, and (ii) introduce something new that isn't covered in the written lab manual. This last part wasn't as dramatic as one would imagine. The "new" stuff could be an extra measurement, or measurement done in a slightly different way, etc. For example, in the experiment where the students used a spectroscope to look at the various discrete line spectrum from various light sources from discharge tubes, instead of having them look at all 3 or 4 different light sources, I gave all the students one known source (hydrogen), and then gave each group an "unknown" source. The unknown source is not identical for all the groups, and I asked each group to see if they can identify the element they were looking at (they were given a chart consisting of the spectrum of various elemental gas). So the task they had to do wasn't too far off what the original instruction in the lab manual, but it did introduce a new element (no pun intended) to it.

So when the new semester started, I gave a briefing on what I would do for each of the experiments that semester, so that the students know fully that there will be new stuff not covered in the lab manual, and that I will be handing out instructions on changes for each lab session. In other words, there would be no surprises by the time they show up for each lab on what needed to be done. What transpired was rather .... er ... fascinating.

During the second experiment, the students were told (verbally and in the extra instructions that were handed out the week before) that whole sections of the lab will be taken out and something they won't have to do. In fact, the equipment to do those sections were not even on the benches. Strangely enough, when I received the lab reports the following weeks, there are groups of students with results from that part of the lab! Of course, I did a double take when I saw this, and not only that, we have the same "identical lab reports" all over again.

I didn't grade those reports. All I wrote on them were "Please See Me". So the following week, when all the students got their graded lab reports back, the group of students that received my note (I think there 5 or 6 of them) came up to me and asked why I wanted to see them. So I asked them how they did this experiment, pointing to their report. One of them started to explain how he did it. I then tell them that that's impossible, because the equipment for them to do that experiment wasn't around. In fact, that part of the experiment wasn't even set up. Well, I remember that you can hear a pin drop in the lab, because other students also suddenly realized what's going on. Still, one of the "guilty" students had the audacity on asking me if I was sure that it wasn't set up and the experiment couldn't have been done. I then turned to the other students in the lab and asked them if any of them saw that part of the set up. They all said "No". Essentially, I let their contemporaries reveal their guilt.

Having left no doubt of the fact that they've been caught cheating, I gave them the option of either getting a "Zero" for that lab report, or the ability to come back at the end of the semester, and redoing the lab. All of them opted for the latter, which of course, is more work on my part, but what the hey....

Several things happened after this incident. (i) all the students in that lab session now knew the deal, that I will look very closely at their report, and that there will be new stuff that they can't simply copy off something (ii) all the students that were caught cheating left my lab session - a few I think dropped the course, while others changed to another lab session conducted by other TAs (iii) I also gained other students who transferred into my session (I later found out that, not surprisingly, that the news traveled pretty fast among the students in the same lecture session).

There were minor issues of "copying" the rest of the semester, but I think everyone in the lab class rather knew that they have to write the report themselves and not copy off some previous reports. It created quite a bit more work for me, because I have to keep inventing something new and unique for each experiment. But my whole principle was not to prevent students from cheating, but rather I wanted to make sure those that did their work honestly were sufficiently rewarded. And I think, to some extent, that was accomplished because at the end of the semester, a student came up to me and told me that she appreciated that students who simply copied off previous lab reports can't get away with it in my lab class. She told me of this copying practice in other classes, and that's when I was told that the various fraternities do keep copies of lab reports, homework, etc.

In the end, I don't know if what I did made a difference in the overall scheme of things. I can't change people's behavior too much. All I know is that I simply couldn't just do nothing and let them get away with it that easily. I also knew that I had to be fair to those students who put in an honest work, or else there was just no incentive to be honest.

After that semester, I TA'ed only for one more semester before I received a research assistantship and didn't have to do any more teaching work. Still, I think I learned quite a bit in executing that responsibility. I certainly sharpened my skill as an instructor quite a bit, and learned what worked and what didn't. But most importantly, I realized that students will try to get away with as much as they can if you let them! I can only imagine how it is now, with all the portable electronic devices that they now carry. How do you know that they are using the calculator function on their mobile phone, and not text messaging someone for the answer, or surfing the web looking for the answer?


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Higgs By End of 2012, Or Else.....

In my blog entry on the issue surrounding the missing SUSY particles at the LHC, I mentioned a news article regarding the same looming "deadline" facing the search for the Higgs.

If the collider does not detect the Higgs within two years, researchers say they will know that it does not exist - at least in the form required by the Standard Model, the framework which was devised to explain the behaviour of fundamental particles.

"The Higgs is one model of many," according to Professor LeCompte
"If we don't see it after this two year run it means that something is perhaps not the way that we think it is, either the Higgs search itself had to be amended in some way or some of its indirect evidence may be pointing us in the wrong direction," said Professor LeCompte.

After I read that, I had a slight puzzle in my head. The LHC will be running at 7 TeV till the end of 2012 when it will undergo a long shut down to make the necessary electrical repairs. It will then go back online at the nominal design energy of 14 TeV. Presumably, at the higher energy, one expects that it should be easier to spot the Higgs signature. So I was wondering if Tom LeCompte might be a bit premature in expecting the Higgs to show up before the energy upgrade. So I asked him! This is the reply I got back, which I'm posting here with his permission:

The LHC will be at 7 TeV this year, and 7 or 8 TeV next year. Since protons are not elementary particles, we get a broad-spectrum beam of quark energies, so are sensitive to many different masses at once.
(Unlike an e+e- machine where you often have to scan energies)

The Higgs has to be above about 110 GeV, otherwise it would have been discovered earlier and below about 1 TeV, beyond which it is too heavy to have a role in EWSB (which is why it was postulated in the first place). Precision electroweak fits suggest that it's on the low end of this range. The LHC in 2012 can discover/rule out a Higgs on the low side. If we don't see it at 7 TeV, and do see it at 14 TeV, we have a problem with the precision electroweak data.

Well, there you have it.


AIP Advances Journal

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has announced the release of a new online open access journal called AIP Advances.

AIP is pleased to announce that its new journal, AIP Advances, has now published the initial articles of its debut issue. If you haven't heard about AIP Advances, it's a fast-track, community-based open access journal, focusing on applied research in the physical sciences, and represents a major innovation in physical science publishing.

So if you are not familiar with the applied side of physics, this is the journal you should read regularly and show other people who think that physics only deals with esoteric subjects that have no bearing on their lives.


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

SUSY In Trouble

See, this is why I love physics. You can have the most elegant, the most beautiful, the most "favored" theory in the world, and yet, it still requires empirical evidence to show that it is valid, or else it is nothing more than window decorations.

There are beginnings of a rumbling that Supersymmetry theory might be in trouble after the latest results from LHC failed to find any indication of the existence of supersymmetry particles {link open for free only for a limited time}.

Yet there is growing anxiety that the theory, however elegant it might be, is wrong. Data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 27-kilometre proton smasher that straddles the French–Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland, have shown no sign of the 'super particles' that the theory predicts1–3. "We're painting supersymmetry into a corner," says Chris Lester, a particle physicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who works with the LHC's ATLAS detector. Along with the LHC's Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, ATLAS has spent the past year hunting for super particles, and is now set to gather more data when the LHC begins a high-power run in the next few weeks. If the detectors fail to find any super particles by the end of the year, the theory could be in serious trouble.

The next couple of years, till the end of 2012, will be pivotal not only for SUSY, but also for the Higgs. Even with the LHC at 7 TeV and not yet reaching its nominal designed energy of 14 TeV, the failure to find indications of the Higgs by the end of 2012 might be a cause for concern and excitement in the particle physics community.


Rush Holt Beats Watson!

There's hope for humanity after all! :)

US Representative Rush Holt, nuclear physicist by training, beat IBM Supercomputer Watson in an untelevised contest of "Jeopardy".

At the finish, IBM supercomputer and “Jeopardy!” e-nonpareil Watson trounced four members of Congress tonight in a pitched battle of trivia. Only Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and five-time “Jeopardy!“ winner, bested the machine.

Heckled by the crowd with shouts of “Go humanity,” the artificial intelligence powerhouse beat Reps. Bill Cassidy (R., La.), Jared Polis (D., Colo.), Jim Himes (D., Conn.) and Nan Hayworth (R., N.Y.). Watson is a computer system that can answer questions framed in natural language.

So it took a physicist to beat the supercomputer, while other so-called "brainiacs", including the infamous “Jeopardy!” champions Ken Jennings couldn't. Draw your own conclusion. :)

More coverage here.


More Coverage of Berkeley Earth Project

Here's another, more skeptical, coverage of the Berkeley Earth project, headed by Richard Muller.

The team consists of: Muller, David Brillinger, a statistician at UC Berkeley; Saul Perlmutter, physicist at UC Berkeley; Art Rosenfeld, commissioner of the California Energy Commission; Robert Jacobsen, UC Berkeley physicist; Judith Curry, a climatologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and Robert Rohde, a recent PhD graduate of Berkeley.

Curry and Muller are both seen as climate skeptics by many in the climate science world. A recent blog post at Climate Progress examines these scientists and the funding for the project.

I first mentioned about the formation of this group in a previous blog entry. Whether extra data point around the same region is "supersaturating" or not, I am still curious to see what they come up with.