Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stephen Hawking Posted Help Wanted Ad

In a job that I would categorize as being the voice of the famous physicist, Stephen Hawking has posted a Help Wanted advertisement for someone to support and maintain his electronic voice system.

The famed British physicist is seeking an assistant to help develop and maintain the electronic speech system that allows him to communicate his vision of the universe. An informal job ad posted to the famed physicist's website said the assistant should be computer literate, ready to travel, and able to repair electronic devices "with no instruction manual or technical support."
The synthesizer's robotic monotone has become nearly as famous as Hawking himself, but the computer — powered by batteries fastened to the back of Hawking's wheelchair — isn't just for speaking.

It can connect to the Internet over cell phone networks and a universal infrared remote enables the physicist to switch on the lights, watch television, or open doors either at home or at the office.
There ya go! If you have the skills, you might get to travel all over the world and maintain the voice of this icon.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Fringe Physics

This is a very good review of "Physics on the Fringe". It has almost everything that I wanted to say whenever a crackpot tells me that I have to pay attention to his or her "theory".

Quantum theory and special and general relativity (which Carter, like many outsider physicists, rejects) aren’t entrenched for no reason. They seem to describe the world in a real way - having proven empirically robust and useful in various applications. Microchips, GPS satellites, and many other inventions rely on the remarkably precise predictions they make about how matter and energy interact. Wertheim points this out, but fails to adequately address the obvious question - given these theories’ successes, is it really all that much to ask that an outsider theory provide at least as much explanatory power?
No, it isn't too much to ask, but it is too much to ask of these crackpots. But the most annoying aspect is equating a field such as physics, where an objective verification and validity exist, to something in the arts, where subjectivity and personal opinion rule.

Some outsider theories of physics might be evocative and beautiful, but if their proponents haven’t done the legwork (read: math) to show why they can compete with other, more established theories, why should we listen to them? Why should physics be an open endeavor in the same way most people would agree art should be (an argument Wertheim hints at repeatedly)? Since she sidesteps these questions, “Physics on the Fringe,’’ while often fascinating, doesn’t quite reach its potential.
I'd say that anyone that equates those two fields is clueless to what science is.


Saturday, December 24, 2011


The title and content of this news article are a bit inaccurate, but it is still an astounding endeavor to do. A physics professor at the Neils Bohr Institute has gotten his students to build a replica of the ATLAS detector using, get this, LEGO!

Mehlhase has decided to help promote the LHC to students by taking the time to recreate a 1:50 scale model of it using Lego bricks. In total he spent 81 hours creating it, which was split between 48 hours of designing the model on his laptop, and a further 33 hours putting it together.
I'm not sure how this "promotes" the LHC, as if the LHC needs any more promoting lately. And as you can read from the comments, a lot of responses pointed to the fact that what has been created is the ATLAS detector, not the LHC, which is the whole complex itself that consists of several different detectors (physics professors shouldn't make such mistakes, or is this something that was due to the news reporting?).

Not sure if LEGO will start producing LEGO sets specific for building science structures after this.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

LHC Discovers Its First New Particle

It may not be the Higgs, but hey, a new particle is a new particle!

News reports are citing the uploaded ArXiv preprint that the LHC has discovered its first new particle, the chi_b.

The Chi_b (3P) is a more excited state of Chi particles already seen in previous collision experiments, explained Prof Roger Jones, who works on the Atlas detector at the LHC.

"The new particle is made up of a 'beauty quark' and a 'beauty anti-quark', which are then bound together," he told BBC News.

"People have thought this more excited state should exist for years but nobody has managed to see it until now. 
 This is an example of the argument that the LHC wasn't built just to find one thing. No one in their right mind would want to pay and authorize the building of such an expensive machine just to look for one thing. Even discounting the Higgs, the LHC is a machine that will reshape our understanding of fundamental particles. This discovery is merely the beginning.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Systematic study of student understanding of the relationships between the directions of force, velocity, and acceleration in one dimension"

I posted a rather straightforward question earlier that requires a good understanding of force, acceleration, and velocity in one-dimension. I asked readers of this blog to post a comment as to the answer to that mechanics question.

The answer is F, which means that all three scenarios are possible.

The question was taken from a physics education research paper with the above title, which you should be able to access for free. It has other questions on similar level that you might want to take a look. In fact, if you are an intro physics student, you might want to test your understanding by reading this paper and see how your understanding (or lack of it) is a serious topic of study.

Actually, if one understands the force, acceleration, and velocity at every part of the trajectory of a simple spring-mass system, one would see that the car-on-the-hill problem is no different.


Monday, December 19, 2011

The Need For New Physics, With Or Without The Higgs

John Ellis has written an intriguing opinion piece which argued that whether the Higgs boson is found or not, there is already a need for new physics beyond the Standard Model (link may be open only for a limited time).

It is too early to say whether these promising hints will be confirmed, but if they are, many people would take this to be a validation of the standard model of particle physics. There have been previous indirect signs from other data that the Higgs boson probably weighs less than 150 GeV, and CERN's possible observation would be in line with that. But I am a contrarian. I argue that whether or not the Higgs boson exists, we already know that there must be physics beyond the standard model.
I think most particle physicists are acutely aware that the Standard Model, as it stands, may need to be changed. But whether this is in the form of a tweak, or a major overhaul, that is still up in the air. The outcome of the Higgs search will certainly be a contributing factor to this.


Accelerator Research Center at Fermilab Broke Grounds

A new building to house the Accelerator Research Center at Fermilab broke ground this past week.

The goal for the new center is to build relationships between scientists and the private sector to develop accelerator technology that can be used in medicine, national security and other industries.

The facility will also work to address environmental issues, such as purifying wastewater, and providing energy-efficient sterilization of medical instruments and food packaging.
Kids, this is just one more example where, even when high energy physics/particle physics experiments are slowly "dying" in the US, the field of accelerator physics still flourishes. An early Symmetry article shows where this field is almost "begging" for people. Projects such as the one here in Fermilab shows how versatile and important a particle accelerator can be (read this). Someone who is in this field are not tied to one particular industry or field and thus, has a wide range of "employability".

So while Fermilab may no longer be colliding particles, it still wants to do research in accelerator physics. That should say a lot of the field of accelerator physics.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Car On A Hill

OK, I found a physics education paper that studied Intro Physics students understanding (or misunderstanding) of the concept of velocity, acceleration, and force in one dimension. One of the questions they used to test a student's understanding is actually quite interesting in the sense that it DOES appear to test how well a student actually understands the difference between velocity, acceleration, and force. So I thought, before I give the link to the paper, that I will ask the question here. If you are a student, or even just someone trying to learn physics, see if you can answer this:

A car is on a hill and the direction of its acceleration is uphill. Which statement best describes the motion of the car at that time?

A. it is moving uphill
B. it is moving downhill
C. it is not moving
D. both A and B are possible
E. both A and C are possible
F. A, B, and C are possible

Try it.

This is one example where one needs to understand something beyond just a superficial level. Many people will tend to pick the obvious answer because, well, it's obvious. But to understand why the correct answer is the correct answer will require an intimate knowledge of what velocity, acceleration, and force mean, and their relationships to each other beyond just a hand-waving understanding.

I'll give this a few days, and I'll edit this post to link to the paper in question. If you happen to have read the paper already, or better yet, one of the authors, please hold off your comment and let others try it first. Please post your answer on here, but I will hold off on releasing all comments with answers till AFTER a few days, so that no one will be influenced by any of the submitted responses. Comments that do not contain the answers will be released as usual.

EDIT: I'm getting a few responses already. Again, just a reminder, I'll keep the comments that contain answers moderated for now. I'll release those in a few days when I post a link to the paper. So if you don't see your comment appearing after you submit it, you'll know why.

EDIT (12/20/2011): I've posted the answer and the source paper that this question came from. Thanks to all those who participated and posted their answers.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

First Physics Experiments In Sanford Lab

Symmetry Breaking has a news report on the first physics experiments that will move into the underground facility of the Sanford Underground Laboratory.

Early next spring researchers will begin installing two experiments there—both of them at the leading edge of 21st-century physics. The Large Underground Xenon experiment, which already is taking test run data in a building on the surface, aims to become the world’s most sensitive detector to look for a mysterious substance called dark matter. Thought to comprise 80 percent of all the matter in the universe, dark matter remains undetected so far. The second experiment, the Majorana Demonstrator, will search for one of the rarest forms of radioactive decays—neutrinoless double-beta decay. Majorana could help determine whether subatomic particles called neutrinos can act as their own anti-particles, a discovery that could help physicists better explain how the universe evolved.
No mention of LBNE, the long-baseline neutrino experiment that was in limbo and some funding trouble.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Physics Envy?

This is a rather interesting article. It is actually a book review of Emanuel Derman's "Models Behaving Badly". In it, he looked at why mathematical models used for human behavior, such as in economics and the financial world, are really not the same as mathematical models and theories done in physics. And this is written by someone who has a background in physics, and has worked in the financial world.

Mr. Derman's particular thesis can be stated simply: Although financial models employ the mathematics and style of physics, they are fundamentally different from the models that science produces. Physical models can provide an accurate description of reality. Financial models, despite their mathematical sophistication, can at best provide a vast oversimplification of reality. In the universe of finance, the behavior of individuals determines value—and, as he says, "people change their minds."
The basic problem, according to Mr. Derman, is that "in physics you're playing against God, and He doesn't change His laws very often. In finance, you're playing against God's creatures." And God's creatures use "their ephemeral opinions" to value assets. Moreover, most financial models "fail to reflect the complex reality of the world around them."

Other than his unfortunate use of the term "God" in this case, this is a fairly accurate reflection of my view when something like this is used to model human activities and interactions. I find that the effort in trying to find analogies from physics to fit itself into such human fields to be a bit strange and sometime amusing, thus generating the possibility of some of them having this "physics envy".


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Higgs Boson Latest Update

This is a very useful video out of Fermilab on how we are looking for the Higgs boson.

Of course, this is on the heels of the latest news out of CERN that they many have seen "evidence" of the Higgs at 124-126 GeV. These results are still at or below 3 sigma, so we will have to wait a bit further while they continue to look at the data. No one is claiming discovery as of yet.



Hey everyone. I just got back from a 10-day vacation (and boy, did I need it!). I'll need a few days to catch up with work, and to figure out what's going on with the world of physics. Was there any big news that I missed? They found evidence for Supersymmetry yet? :)

Being on a cruise, and being completely cut-off from the internet and phones (unless I'm willing to pay exorbitant amount of money to get connected) for several days was kinda refreshing. As someone who tries to be plugged in to the news, especially physics news, it took only a couple of days to get used to. After that, it was easy to just let go. The huge amount of food they fed you also helped to distract from your internet withdrawals! :)

And now, let's see how big of a pile of work that I may have to dive into.....