Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interconnetedness Of All Things

Apparently, I missed all these high-level brouhaha about a segment on a Brian Cox's TV show.

The controversy is about whether all the electrons in the universe really move energy levels imperceptibly when Brian heats the diamond, whether it's instantaneous, and whether it is anything to do with the Pauli exclusion principle. The Pauli exclusion principle says that no two fermions can be in the same quantum state. Lily wrote a bit about it here.

Brian's main response to criticism so far has been to point to these lecture notes by his co-author Jeff Forshaw.

And here's a response from Sean Carroll (which also links to some previous blogs). Sean also spoke about it on Dr Kiki's science hour.
You can read Jon Butterworth's take on this whole thing. However, reading this, I think it reinforced why I became an experimentalist! :) Oh, I know, many of these "theoretical curiosity" can lead to important things. You don't have to tell me that. But then, one can say the same thing about String Theory. At some point, when there isn't anything that can be verified by experiments, it becomes only an OPINION! One can argue that it is in the equations, or in QM in this case. Well, I can say the same thing about the Higgs. Yet, we spent billions on making sure it DOES exists and not just simply someone's opinion!

BTW, is this the most technical physics piece that has ever been written for a newspaper? I mean, when was the last time you open your local papers and read something like this?

If you treat each electron as though it sits in a "potential well" (created by the electrostatic field of the atomic nucleus), a good place to start is by thinking of a universe full of atoms as though it were a bunch of potential wells.

Next you have to solve this multiple-potential-well problem. Jeff's notes solve the Schroedinger equation for two wells as an example, and show that whereas for an infinite potential you'd have two spatially-localised energy levels with identical energies, for a finite potential you have two non-localised energy levels with very slightly different energies.
I love it! :)


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Effects of two different types of physics learning on the results of CLASS test

I have been swamped with work for the past week or so. That's why you haven't seen too much updating on this blog. Besides, it's not as if they found the Higgs already, so the news on the physics front have been relatively quiet.

Still, I was going to read this paper and post a comment on it. But I've been sitting on it for the past week and haven't gotten past by the introduction paragraph. so I thought I might as well post it on here and let you people have a go at it.

Abstract:  During a one-semester-long research project with high school students, we deployed and gauged efficiency of two different reform teaching methods: reading, presenting, and questioning (RPQ) and experimenting and discussion (ED). In this paper we report on changes in students’ attitudes and beliefs about physics and learning physics. We used the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS v3) to assess the relative effectiveness of the two methods. The data show that both methods improved student attitudes and beliefs but to different extents. The RPQ group (91 students) achieved an overall improvement of +5.8% in attitudes and beliefs, while the ED group (85 students) attained an improvement of +25.6%. These results suggest that both methods may have a substantial potential for improving students’ attitudes and beliefs about physics and physics learning, with the ED method being more promising than the RPQ. method
Would be interesting to see the nature of the differences in the CLASS survey.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Update On OPERA Measurement

Hum... this could be the start of something.

We receive news that the OPERA collaboration, which detected possible superluminal neutrinos and created all that havoc in the news late last year, may have identified possible issues with its measurement.

The OPERA collaboration has informed its funding agencies and host laboratories that it has identified two possible effects that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement. These both require further tests with a short pulsed beam. If confirmed, one would increase the size of the measured effect, the other would diminish it. The first possible effect concerns an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations. It could have led to an overestimate of the neutrino's time of flight. The second concerns the optical fibre connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken. If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos. The potential extent of these two effects is being studied by the OPERA collaboration. New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May.
More coverage can be found here. In other words, more needs to be looked at.

Problems with its measurement have always been one of the strongest criticism against the result. So they were wise to look at everything they did. This is not an easy experiment, and many of the things we normally won't think of, or take for granted (such as the speed of the signal going through our electronics) must be seriously evaluated.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Proof That Physics Is Hard!

Oh, I didn't think such a "proof" exists, but it seems that it does!

Students and researchers alike have long understood that physics is challenging. But only now have scientists managed to prove it. It turns out that one of the most common goals in physics—finding an equation that describes how a system changes over time—is defined as "hard" by computer theory. That's bad news for physics students who hope that a machine can solve all their homework problems, but at least their future jobs in the field are safe from automation.
So there you are! :)

I'll update this when I have the exact reference to the PRL paper.

Edit (3/22/2012) Here is a link to a review of this paper and the exact reference to it in PRL:


Uncertainty Principle Is NOT Due To Measurement Uncertainty

I just came across this report, and I've yet to read closely the actual paper (so I'm going out a bit on a limb here talking about something I haven't fully read yet). But still, it is consistent with what we know about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP).

As I've stated earlier on the misconception of the HUP, it has very little to nothing to do with the act of measurement, or how accurate our measurement is. It is an INHERENT property of QM and the nature of the so-called particles that we are trying to measure. One can examine the single-slit diffraction to satisfy oneself of this.

A new paper in Nature Physics confirms this further.

This probabilistic nature of particles means there will always be imprecision in any quantum measurement, no matter how little that measurement disturbs the system it is measuring.

"This has nothing to do with error or disturbances due to a measurement process, but is a basic fundamental property that every quantum mechanical particle has," Sulyok told LiveScience. "In order to describe the basic uncertainty together with measurement errors and disturbances, both particle and measurement device in a successive measurement have to be treated in the framework of quantum theory."
So there!

I'll post the exact reference to this paper later today.

Edit: exact reference: J. Erhart et al., Nature Physics Online  doi:10.1038/nphys2194.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Scientific Reasoning Abilities of Nonscience Majors in Physics-Based Courses

One of the things that I've tried to advocate is physics education to students at all level. The primary reason for this is NOT to get more students majoring in physics. I think that the most valuable aspect of a physics education/classes is the problem-solving/analytical ability that a student can acquire. This skill transcends the physics class itself, and is useful for the student in all aspect of life. It is certainly useful in how we gain knowledge and how we analyze something to be valid. This is the reason why, in my suggestion to revamp undergraduate physics labs, I gave several exercises in which the students discover for themselves what causes what, and how two different parameters are correlated and connected.

The importance of a physics education can't be overly-stressed, especially based on this new paper (free access) that analyzed a student's analytical ability. The authors of this paper studied the scientific reasoning ability of non-STEM students when compared to STEM students. The latter, obviously, tend to have a higher scientific reasoning ability because of their inclination towards science/math/engineering topics. However, it is still surprising to see the disparity between the scientific reasoning ability between the two groups that was measured in this study.

That students in STEM majors demonstrate stronger scientific reasoning ability is not surprising, since most students typically choose their major based on their strengths. However, such a dramatic difference in reasoning ability between STEM and non-STEM students may contribute to disparities in effectiveness of reformed physics pedagogies. What works in calculus-based physics courses with natural and physical science students may not work in the general education, conceptual physics course.
The authors earlier in the paper stated why a physics course is important for these non-STEM students, besides the fact that these are the larger population of the student body:

Since most students enrolled in conceptual physics or astronomy will never take another formal science course, our student learning objectives should incorporate broader reasoning skills. Scientific reasoning and metacognitive development are often required for effective decision making and problem solving far outside the typical scientific context Furthermore, it has been shown that gains in physics content knowledge are strongly correlated to scientific reasoning . In particular, reasoning and metacognition development are essential for problem solving, understanding and applying abstract concepts, and shifting between multiple representations.
Considering that these are the same people that will enter the general population and also decide who they will elect and what they wish to fund, one can already see that without any kind of skill to think things through, we could be in serious problem (if we aren't already). One can now start to understand why the public in general can't tell the difference between anecdotal evidence versus scientific evidence, on why many still believe in superstition/astrology/other pseudosciences, etc.

It wasn't clear from the paper if they show any improvement in the students' scientific reasoning ability after they have taken such an intro physics class. They stated some discussion on "normalized gain", but I wish they would just present clearly a "before and after" comparison of the same test.

The ability to think things analytically should be the main aim of any education. It is the foundation of a civilized population. A physics course, if done properly,  could be the most important class these students took, without them knowing it.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Measuring The Speed Of Light - Using Chocolates!

Those fun folk at JLab are at it again. This time, they'll demonstrate how you can measure the speed of light using a microwave, a ruler, and a LARGE bar of chocolate!

OK, I love them! There, I admitted it! It's the chocolate that pushed me over. :)


Women In Physics - A Tale Of Limits

I have not had a chance to read this report carefully, but that's no reason not to highlight it on here. So if you haven't read this Physics Today article yet, you might want to spend some time on it, especially if you care about women's representation in the field of physics. You should be able to get the whole article, even in PDF format, for free.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cold Fusion? Not So Fast!

I mentioned earlier of an upcoming colloquium to be held at CERN to decipher and sort through all the claims of the so-called Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR), which is basically cold fusion in sheep's clothing. Today, a skeptical review of the Rossi's e-CAT claims is presented, along with issues surrounding that cold fusion claim.

They claimed their device produced 12,400 Watts of heat power with an input of just 400 W. In a move that raised eyebrows among research physicists, Rossi and Focardi initially declined to publish their results in a peer-reviewed science journal and instead took their discovery directly to the public. They also claimed that they would be starting mass production of their cold fusion devices by the end of last year; that failed to happen, and the chorus of skeptics has grown louder.

Among the most prominent skeptics is Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith, who has offered $200,000 for proof that the Rossi "energy catalyzer" (e-CAT) actually works.
 Is this similar to the long-standing award from James Randi to give away $1 million for a clear demonstration of psychic/supernatural phenomenon?

It's a bit tiresome that many of these people who claim such cold fusion discovery appear to be a bunch of characters who simply refuses to reveal what they have, what they did, and more importantly, to have an independent test done to verify their claim. And these people all wonder why we keep finding their claim to be highly dubious!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Entanglement of 8 Photons

8! Count 'em!

If anyone has seen or know quite well this type of experiment, one can truly appreciate what a feat this is. It appears that physicists in China has managed to entangle 8 photons and set a new record. Ars Technica has a good coverage of this accomplishment, in case you missed it. It even listed the "straightforward" steps in achieving the 8 entangled photons. But don't be fooled by such a simple-sounding list. It isn't easy!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fermilab - A Plan For Discovery

Fermilab has released this report on what it intends to do during the next two decades. It certainly is an ambitious program, as it should be.

It will be interesting to see how it will fare, considering that the budget submitted by the President for FY2013 calls for a cut in spending for High Energy Physics, which could be devastating to Fermilab.


Are Mammals Ferroelectric?

Back in the 70's (and I'm going to date myself here), Gary Neuman and his Tubeaway Army had a big hit (at least in the UK) with the song "Are Friends Electric". So when I came across this review article on the study of mammals tissue that are ferroelectric, that tune came back into my head.

This is a rather interesting study because it leads to question on why and to what purpose is the ferroelectricity in such tissues.

The above discovery poses interesting questions regarding the purpose of ferroelectricity in aorta walls, where the blood pressure is highest and most pulsatile. Could the engineering principles of ferroelectricity, only mastered in modern times by mankind, have already been implemented in nature for millions of years? For example, could ferroelectricity function as a critical component in a local integrated memorylike structure, together with nerves within the aorta? Could it help sense very small temperature changes in our blood flow to help maintain temperature homeostasis? Could it also be a force sensor and play a role in blood pressure homeostasis? Or could it help dissipate the mechanical work into thermal energy when the aorta walls are subjected to strong transient shear flows in the blood? While these questions may stir up curiosity and further investigations from a fundamental standpoint, another important question is, how can we benefit from this finding through engineering? For example, can the change of ferroelectricity due to the local damage in the aorta walls be probed as a damage reporter? Can it guide effective drug delivery to local damaged zones in the aorta, and can ferroelectricity in the aortal walls be manipulated to prevent cholesterol from depositing onto the aorta walls, or help clean the deposited cholesterol, which may also possess ferroelectricity?
And again, this is another example where knowledge and advances in physics (in this case, condensed matter physics) have direct impact in other fields such as biology.


Severe Blows To US Nuclear Physics and High Energy Physics Funding

The current President Obama's 2013 budget proposal for the Department of Energy appears to be devastating for Nuclear/Fusion physics and High Energy Physics funding.

Overall, the budget numbers for the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science, the single largest funder of physical sciences research in the United States, look reasonably good. The office would see its budget climb by 2.4% to $4.992 billion. Three of the office's six major research programs, however, are slated for potentially devastating cuts. While programs with connections to clean energy technologies come out ahead, the fusion energy science, nuclear physics, and high-energy physics programs suffer.
While this is severe, it isn't surprising. The US appears to have "shut down" and freely relinquish any kind of initiative to reclaim its powers in high energy physics. And let's be clear about this, the economic impact will be felt soon enough, not just in terms of the direct scientific benefits, but also the technological side effects that typically accompany a major accelerator facility. Somehow, people still do not see how advances in experimental high energy physics have trickled down into devices that are now being used in material science, medicine, etc. Advances that we make for particle detectors will be the high resolution detectors in medical physics of tomorrow. That type of benefits have somehow been lost completely.

And again, as in the past, it appears that the burden of trying to "cut spending" falls onto the small guys, the ones with the small budgets, rather than on the big boys.


Monday, February 13, 2012

LHC To Run At 4 TeV Per Beam In 2012

Latest press release from CERN about the upcoming LHC run.

Geneva, 13 February 2012. CERN today announced that the LHC will run with a beam energy of 4 TeV this year, 0.5 TeV higher than in 2010 and 2011. This decision was taken by CERN management following the annual performance workshop held in Chamonix last week and a report delivered today by the external CERN Machine Advisory Committee (CMAC). It is accompanied by a strategy to optimise LHC running to deliver the maximum possible amount of data in 2012 before the LHC goes into a long shutdown to prepare for higher energy running. The data target for 2012 is 15 inverse femtobarns for ATLAS and CMS, three times higher than in 2011. Bunch spacing in the LHC will remain at 50 nanoseconds.

“When we started operating the LHC for physics in 2010, we chose the lowest safe beam energy consistent with the physics we wanted to do,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. “Two good years of operational experience with beam and many additional measurements made during 2011 give us the confidence to safely move up a notch, and thereby extend the physics reach of the experiments before we go into the LHC’s first long shutdown.”

The LHC’s excellent performance in 2010 and 2011 has brought tantalising hints of new physics, notably narrowing the range of masses available to the Higgs particle to a window of just 16 GeV. Within this window, both the ATLAS and CMS experiments have seen hints that a Higgs might exist in the mass range 124-126 GeV. However, to turn those hints into a discovery, or to rule out the Standard Model Higgs particle altogether, requires one more year’s worth of data. The LHC is scheduled to enter a long technical stop at the end of this year to prepare for running at its full design energy of around 7 TeV per beam.

“By the time the LHC goes into its first long stop at the end of this year, we will either know that a Higgs particle exists or have ruled out the existence of a Standard Model Higgs,” said CERN’s Research Director, Sergio Bertolucci. “Either would be a major advance in our exploration of nature, bringing us closer to understanding how the fundamental particles acquire their mass, and marking the beginning of a new chapter in particle physics."

The schedule announced today foresees beams back in the LHC next month, and running through to November. There will then be a long technical stop of around 20 months, with the LHC restarting close to its full design energy late in 2014 and operating for physics at the new high energy in early 2015.
So it'll be 8 TeV collision. Hopefully, we have more data to confirm (or not) the hint on the Higgs.


Fermi Gasses And Superfluids

This is a concise review of the physics of Fermi gasses and BE condensate, and how they are related to each other in light of the BE-BCS crossover discovery from a few years ago. Note that this review is highly technical and probably meant for condensed matter physicists. But it still provides ample overview of the theory and experiments that we have so far.


Cold Fusion Colloquium At CERN

At CERN, you asked? Yes, CERN, the same place that houses this little facility known at the LHC.

Not sure what to make of this, but a colloquium is being organized at CERN to look into the theoretical and "experimental" progress in Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR), or what we used to call cold fusion.

An overview will be given on the main progress made –since March 1989- through experimental/theoretical studies on thermal/nuclear anomalies observed in forced interactions of Hydrogen isotopes (H, D), in non-equilibrium conditions, with pure or alloyed materials (mainly Palladium, Nickel).

Most of the experiments used electrolytic environments at moderate temperatures (20-50°C). More recently, gas environments have been used at higher temperatures (between 200-400°C and even temperatures between 500-900°C have been employed).

Specific nanostructures have begun to play a crucial role both in basic studies as well as in, recently claimed, technological/industrial applications.

A plethora of theoretical models have been proposed to explain several experimental anomalies in LENR. A brief description of a weak interaction model shall be presented that claims to explain almost ALL of the anomalous effects found so far.
There's even going to be a live webcast of the event!

This will be interesting, especially the cast of characters that will attend or invited to attend this colloquium. I am also curious at what the outcome of it will be. Presumably, this phenomenon will be looked at carefully where the emphasis is purely on the physics.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Physics Of Ponytails

I kid you not! They even came up with something called the "Rapunzel Number"!

It turns out that there is an important-enough research being done on the physics of ponytails that it warrants a publication in the Physical Review Letters, no less!

He and two other physicists have been trying to determine whether the shape of a ponytail can be deduced from the properties of a single hair. After all, a head with 100,000 strands is a complex physical system, as anyone with a copious coiffure can attest. 

And it turns out that there is a simple theory. The crucial characteristics are elasticity, density and curliness, which essentially tell how springy a piece of hair is, plus the length of the ponytail. The researchers came up with a simple formula that describes the ponytail shape when the hair is bundled together.

They called it the Rapunzel number. “We couldn’t resist,” Dr. Goldstein said. 
Oh dear!

I'll try to find the exact reference to this one when it appears and post it here. I wish they explain why this is important and what other implications this involved. Maybe it's written in the actual paper. The only thing I can find in the news article is the sentence "...  Dr. Goldstein said the findings could also be applied to bundles of other long filaments, including fiberglass and wool...", which doesn't say much.

Another news report on this story mention quite a bit more, but it is still unclear what properties actually that is so important.
Scientists said the work has implications for understanding the structure of materials made up of random fibers, such as wool and fur and will have resonance with the computer graphics and animation industry, where the representation of hair has been a challenging problem.

"Our findings extend some central paradigms in statistical physics and show how they can be used to solve a problem that has puzzled scientists and artists ever since Leonardo da Vinci remarked on the fluid-like streamlines of hair in his notebooks 500 years ago," Goldstein said.
So maybe this won't be nominated for an Ig Nobel after all! :)

Edit: the Ponytail physics is getting a Synopsis coverage! Click that link for the exact reference.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Hysterical Physics In Motion Demo

I was rolling all over the floor watching this video, because not only is it kinda amateurish (nothing wrong with that, really), but it is hysterically funny, and they didn't intend it to be! :)

This video is a demo of the 2 Newton Laws of motion, which is fine and dandy. The demo for 1st Law (inertia) was rather clear. The object not in motion will want to stay that way unless acted upon by a force. Unfortunately, the website only describes an object that is in "uniform motion".

First Law:
Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
So the demo and the written description do not match.

The problem comes in with the demo for the 2nd and 3rd Laws. They were not very clear at all and, in fact, may have missed the mark. The 2nd Law (F=ma) was demonstrate with a hammer knocking on various objects of different masses. So year, you need more force to push on heavier mass, but how would this show the relationship between F, m, and a? It doesn't, because you can't get "a" or "F" from just looking at the demo.

The 3rd Law (action = reaction) was demonstrated with a balloon and letting the air out. The person simply blurted out in passing that the air pushes one way and the balloon pushes the other way. Huh? A "general public" person would ask "how does air pushes one way and how does the balloon pushes the other way?" It isn't clear how things are being pushed here. If anything, this is more of a demo of conservation of linear momentum.

And unfortunately, that's what the demo following this one is all about. The person started to demonstrate conservation of angular momentum, which isn't even covered. No mention of what is involved here, and no clear physics explanation was mentioned.

I'm being nit-picky here because we have seen many physics demo, even done on a shoe-string budget. I'd rather the presentation be on ONE topic (say, inertia since that was done very clearly) and the physics is explained clearly, rather than rush through a bunch of demo without any kind of details. Just simply producing a bunch of demo one after the other turns it into a circus, without any kind of useful knowledge being passed on.


High School Physics Class Exclusively Use iPads

This is not unexpected, and probably a sign of what's to come for many schools, if its not here already.

This high school physics class make use of iPads exclusively, not just for reading texts, but also in doing assignments, etc.

Jon Gums` physics class at Mandan High School may look just like any other. A closer look reveals that there are no books, paper or pencils. That`s because this class is on the forefront of digital education. This class, along with a few others, is part of a pilot program that incorporates iPads into the classroom.

Gums says the idea was to give students instant access to both digital media and curriculum through the iPads. Because of the technology, in addition to writing their assignments on the iPad, students can also add photos and video to document each step of their project.
Of course, this is good for the environment as well.
The iPads are the property of the school, and the student is responsible for the $500 replacement cost if it is lost, damaged or stolen. Gums also says that since the beginning of this school year, the students have only needed about 15 sheets of paper each.
With Apple pushing for college textbooks on the iPad, and other initiatives in providing free, open-access textbooks, I have a feeling that how we conduct our education is going to change dramatically within the next 3-4 years. In fact, on the research front, the iPads are already showing its usefulness.

So now we'll just have to wait if the rumors of a new iPad3 to be announced in early March is true... :)


Thursday, February 09, 2012

Science Lessons

The IoP has uploaded a series of videos that they called "Science Lessons". These appear to be video presentation of some basic physics, which can be quite useful for someone just learning physics.

Science Lesson 1 - Pendulum Motion

Science Lesson 2 - Falling Weights

Science Lesson 3 - Lenses and Telescopes

Science Lesson 4 - Astronomy and Planetary Orbits

Science Lesson 5 - Galileo's New Universe


UW-Madison Physics Department Open House

Hey, my alma mater is having an open house!

The Dept. of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is having its Open House on Feb. 18, 2012, between 11 am and 4 pm.

The family-friendly event, free and open to the public, will feature laboratory tours, hands-on activities, demonstrations and displays. Visitors are invited to chat with scientists and play with exhibits in the Ingersoll Physics Museum.

The event coincides with the 29th annual "Wonders of Physics" presentation by UW-Madison physics professor Clint Sprott.
I already mentioned a while back about this amazing physics show called "Wonders of Physics". If you have the opportunity to see it, and it does make a road trip to a few places, you shouldn't miss it.

I wonder if they are going to do a huge celebration next year for the 30th anniversary.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Physics of Floating Pyramids

Or as the title of this article goes, it is the UNUSUAL Physics of Floating Pyramids.

It turns out that, based on the research being reported in the article, a top-heavy pyramid appears to be better at straightening itself out when it is floating on a stream of air from below.

The researchers placed hollow paper pyramids inside the cylinder. The objects were about 1 to 5 centimeters high and were made of tissue paper or letter paper on carbon fiber supports, like tiny homemade kites. Physicist Bin Liu led the experiments, attaching a beadlike weight to a post running down the center of the pyramid and changing the height of the bead to give the object a different center of mass. Common sense says that the pyramid should be most stable when the bead is at the bottom of the post, like ballast in the hold of a ship. But when the team released the pyramids over the subwoofer, the opposite was true: The bottom-heavy pyramids were likely to flip over and fall, whereas the top-heavy ones remained upright and continued to hover (see first video), the group reports in an upcoming issue of Physical Review Letters.
The video is available in that link. I'll keep an eye out on PRL and update this entry when I have
the exact citation for the paper.


Edit: We have a synopsis of this work AND the exact reference to it.

Higgs Getting To Be More "Real"?

Further analysis of the data out of LHC's CMS detector increases the confidence level that was reported earlier.

First, there are no new data in there — the LHC stopped colliding protons back in November, and these latest results are just rehashes of that earlier run. In the case of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), physicists have been able to look at another possible kind of Higgs decay, and that allows them to boost their Higgs signal from 2.5 sigma to 3.1 sigma. Taken together with data from the other detector, ATLAS, Higgs’ overall signal now unofficially stands at about 4.3 sigma. In other words, if statistics are to be believed, then this signal has about a 99.996% chance of being right.
Of course, no one is declaring a discovery yet, and they shouldn't. Everyone is waiting for the LHC to get back online with, hopefully, a higher energy that will generate more data and more statistics. It has to be at least 5-sigma from both CMS and ATLAS, together and separately, I would think, for most high energy physicists to consider the Higgs as being discovered.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Free Intro Physics Textbook?

All of us who have gone through the educational system know how expensive textbooks can get. At the undergraduate level, when you have to buy new books almost every year (or even every semester), this can occupy a substantial portion of our yearly expenses.

This is what is being addressed in this article, and the impending availability of free intro textbooks to students.

But soon, introductory physics texts will have a new competitor, developed at Rice University. A free online physics book, peer-reviewed and designed to compete with major publishers’ offerings, will debut next month through the non-profit publisher OpenStax College.

Using Rice’s Connexions platform, OpenStax will offer free course materials for five common introductory classes. The textbooks are open to classes anywhere and organizers believe the programs could save students $90 million in the next five years if the books capture 10 percent of the national market. OpenStax is funded by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the 20 Million Minds Foundation and the Maxfield Foundation.
This could be a game-changer if universities start to adopt it or something similar. Of course, we need to wait and see if the text is any good. But with the amount of effort put into this one, there's a good chance that it might be. So I'm looking forward to seeing this when it come out.

But I wonder how this will fit in with Apple's textbook initiatives. It appears that this textbook will be a standard PDF document and will not make full use of the technology that's available for tablets, etc. I suppose that is a good start, but I'm hoping that this free textbook initiative will look into modernizing the textbooks reading experience.


Monday, February 06, 2012

Celebrity Physicists Trigger Enrollment Boom In The UK

This could be a double-edged sword.

It appears that all those famous physicists in the UK has triggered a boom in physics enrollment at UK universities.

On their application forms, physics candidates have been citing Cox’s show as their inspiration, as well as the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, near Geneva, and the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory, centred on a group of geeky scientists at the California Institute of Technology.

Jim Al-Khalili, professor of physics at Surrey and himself a television presenter, said there had been 320 applicants for 60 physics places, a 40 per cent increase from last year and a contrast to the 10 per cent decline in overall applications at the university.

“There are a whole host of reasons, but Brian has helped fuel this renaissance of enthusiasm for physics and astronomy,” said Al-Khalili. “We stress the career benefits . . . but students are not mainly choosing the subject for vocational reasons, it is because it is fascinating.”
On one hand, it is an amazing effect in that physics is now something "cool" to do and not just relegated as for "geeks" only. Brian Cox especially has managed to obliterate that stereotype. But on the other hand, are these people doing physics for the right reason, and not simply for the "romance" of it?

What is more beneficial here is that the general public, and students who are NOT going to be physicists, are learning about physics and having some idea on how physics work. To me, that is the most important effects. I wish more of what physics is is presented, and that it is not just the LHC and the Big Bang, but also your iPhones and your computers and your MRI's. Don't just show the esoteric side of physics, even if it is the sexier side. The "workhorse" side is where most of the physics students will end up in, and it is also the reason why most of physics gets funded and stays relevant with the population.


Teaching Teachers A Lesson

This is a news article on a symposium at Harvard about revamping the way we present our instructions to the students.

The group had convened in Harvard’s Northwest Science Building for a one-day symposium on learning and teaching, the first salvo in a $40 million attempt by Harvard to rethink education.
The initiative’s proximate goal is to make Harvard’s teachers better, but the ultimate goal is much more ambitious: to improve education beyond Harvard Yard, perhaps in ways that cannot yet be foreseen.
But as you can read further in the article, the final impetus on many anything better lies with the instructor itself. One can try all the bells and whistles one want, but an effective teacher is an effective teacher, no matter what the methodology is.

But at least now, you know what would happen to the hole on a heated plate. BTW, who in their right mind would put a metal plate in a microwave anyway?


Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Physics of Football

Now, we're talking about AMERICAN football here, not soccer. Since the Super Bowl is tomorrow, article and discussion such as this tends to crop up at this time of the year. This is a transcript on NPR on football physics that some of you might find interesting.

For me, there's not a whole lot of physics/classical mechanics in the discussion that I find interesting. That's too bad, because they could have tackled quite a bit more, especially in the physics of the ball's trajectory through the air (with and without spinning).


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Attacks On Climate Scientists

I think that this is a sad reflection of the times we live in, especially when people can send out things anonymously and threaten others for doing their jobs.

This article looks at the challenges being faced by climate scientists, and not on the task they faced with their jobs either!

Harassment of climate scientists by climate-change deniers goes back at least to 1995, after the IPCC published its Second Assessment Report. Santer was the lead author of chapter 8, which looked at the causes of climate change. “The single sentence ‘The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate’ changed my life,” he says. “I was the guy who was associated with this sentence. Those who did not like that finding did everything not only to undermine the finding but also to undermine my scientific reputation.”
The harassment has ramped up in recent years, says Michael Mann of the Pennsylvania State University, whose book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, due to be published by Columbia University Press in early March, includes a retelling of his own ongoing experiences with harassment. “Political intimidation, character attacks, what appear to be orchestrated phone and email campaigns, nasty and thinly veiled threats, not just to us but to our families, are what it means in modern American life to be a climate scientist,” says Mann. Even this magazine, after publishing last October articles on the science of climate change—about its being under fire and about communicating that science to the public—received an abundance of letters with the tenor, “How could PHYSICS TODAY print such a one-sided portrayal of climate science when many reputable scientists disagree?”
Fossil-fuel interests, says Gavin Schmidt, a climate researcher at NASA, “have adopted a shoot-the-messenger approach. It’s been a very successful strategy. They have created a chilling effect, so other [scientists] won’t say what they think and the conversation in public stays bereft of anyone who knows what they are talking about.” Schmidt cofounded, a forum for climate scientists to “provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary.” Meanwhile, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a vocal opponent to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, is suing NASA for the release of Schmidt’s personal emails.
This, of course, is made worse when politicians, people who should know better but don't, somehow voice the same level of skepticism. In the minds of some feeble-minded climate deniers, this gives them legitimacy to go after these scientists.

This may be the 21st Century. But some aspect of the Dark Ages still persists, and prosecution of scientists appears to be one of them.


Women In Physics - A Tale Of Limits

I'll highlight the link to this important article in Physics Today, but I haven't had time to read it carefully yet. I've only skimmed through some of the highlighted points and figures, but I'm not going to comment on this till I read it properly. Unfortunately, I've been horrendously busy with work lately. But it shouldn't stop you from having a go at it.