Tuesday, July 31, 2012

CMS Higgs Manuscript Online

Here you go. I put up a link to the ATLAS Higgs manuscript just a few hours ago, and now we have the CMS Higgs manuscript available online. Both, as expected, were submitted to Physics Letters B.


Richard Muller And Global Warming

Richard Muller is back in the news.

I mentioned earlier the headline-making report on his turnabout on the issue of global warming. Now Yahoo News is featuring him and his effort in studying this effect.

Muller took matters into his own hands and embarked on his own investigation into the data with his daughter Elizabeth and a team of scientists two years ago. His Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project attracted funding from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, the nonprofit outfit of a wealthy businessman who denies that global warming is happening. Three years later, Muller ended up surprising himself when his research confirmed everything those same studies that drew his skepticism concluded, and then some. Muller says his study's results are more reliable than many previous ones because he intentionally avoided the data pitfalls he objected to, such as only using a portion of the global temperatures available.
I'd say this is almost as good as when Millikan, in all his skepticism of Einstein's theory of the Photoelectric effect, did the experiments and came out conclusively in favor of that theory.


ATLAS Higgs Manuscript Online

The ATLAS group's manuscript on the discovery of the Higgs is now available online. The manuscript indicated that it has been submitted to Physics Letters B.

I expect the CMS version to be online soon, and I would expect that Physics Letters B to publish both of them at the same time.


Monday, July 30, 2012

The Historical Importance Of The Lamb Shift

Physics Focus this week has a very good review of the historical impact and importance of the discovery of the Lamb Shift. You also get, I think, a free copy of the original paper by Lamb and Retherford.

Check it out.


Elevator Explanation Of The Higgs

First of all, it is an almost-impossible task to give a good and clear description of what the "Higgs boson" is to the general public. It is even more impossible to provide such an explanation in quick sound bites within the duration of an elevator ride.

But that is what is being asked of three physicists here.

We asked three area physicists for a Higgs “elevator explanation” — that is, explain it to a regular person in the period of time it takes to ride to the 10th floor. We asked for 100 words, more or less.
Like I said, a nearly-impossible task. But I'll let you read the article to see what was offered. Each one succeeded and failed in varying ways.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Someone At Wok 'N Fire Knows Quantum Mechanics?

So there's a chain of restaurant in the Chicagoland area called Wok 'N Fire. It's a more upscale, modern Japanese/Thai/Chinese/etc.. Asian cuisine. The food isn't bad, if you don't mind it with a modern twist.

I'm on their mailing list, mainly because periodically they give out coupons (we love coupons!). I got one just today, and lo and behold, when I opened my e-mail, I saw this image!

The equation under the pie charts is the Schrodinger equation for a free particle! Well, it is missing the Psi(r,t) on the right hand side of the equation, but then again, when was the last time you see such a physics equation on a restaurant coupon?! :)

I wonder if I get a free appetizer if I identify the equation, thus revealing to the restaurant staff what a nerd I am?


Online Physics Degree? Degree From "For-Profit" Universities?

I get these questions surprisingly often. And to make it less confusing, I'm splitting this topic into two separate parts, because the issues here are a bit different. But in the end, I'd like to hear if you either have gone through the same process, or have dealt with students who went through that process.

The first part is the question on getting a physics B.Sc degree predominantly via remote learning. Certainly, with the internet and advances in web-based learning, this question is bound to prop up. I know that many schools have started to offer various courses that one can take entirely either off the web, or via some remote means. This is certainly helpful for students who can't make the long commute, or for continuing education students who are already working, but want to obtain either more knowledge/expertise, or pursuing higher degree. But I don't know of any program (at least, here in the US) where a student can obtain a B.Sc in physics entirely via remote learning. And in the remote chance that such a program actually exists, I would really question that, because to me, an undergraduate physics program must include laboratory work, and often, more than just a few of them. One can't do "physics lab work" remotely and get the same experience.

So, do you know of such a program or have you encounter a student that went through such a program? I haven't, and certainly not those that I know of who enrolled in physics graduate programs.

The other question is regarding "for-profit" universities, such as University of Phoenix, DeVry, etc..(I'm not including diploma mills that produce worthless degrees here.) I've looked at many of these schools, and not surprisingly, most do not offer a B.Sc degree in physics. I'm guessing that there are just not enough of a demand for such a major at these institutions. Thus, it certainly is expected that we don't encounter physics graduates from such schools. Still, do you know of anyone graduating from such schools and are either working, or enrolling in a physics graduate program? I do not know of the quality of physics education in such institutions and wonder if they are producing students that are on par with other "regular" schools.

A lot of people who asked me whether they can get a physics degree via these routes can't seem to point to me examples of others who have. So from my perspective, this is untested waters, and I have zero ability to make any kind of recommendations for something that I haven't seen to have occurred.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

IoP Author Guide

In Part XIII of my So You Want To Be A Physicist essay, I gave a brief description on the process of publishing one's work in a peer-reviewed journal. Now, IoP has published a handy guide to authors in doing the same thing.

I read it quickly, and both my essay and the guide certainly overlap a lot, although I made specific references to Nature, Science, and PRL. In any case, I'd say that this is another handy guide to have as a guideline for those who are just starting out and trying to publish their work.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Physics of Firewalking

You get a rather good article on the physics of firewalking, and you don't even have to pay $2000 for it. You get it for FREE! Such a deal!

Last Thursday, close to two dozen participants at a motivational seminar hosted by Tony Robbins suffered burns on their feet, while attempting to tromp across lanes of red-hot coals. So what did these burn victims do wrong?
A layer of ash atop the coals serves as an additional protective barrier. Like the coals beneath it, ash is a poor conductor of thermal energy (so poor, in fact, that it has a history of use as insulation material in ice boxes). Add to this the fact that the ash is no longer producing any heat itself, and one can begin to appreciate how walking over a bed of 2000-degree coals might be possible.
If I had to guess what happened with the people who suffered burns Thursday night, I'd say that they spent too much time looking into "the power within themselves" and "focusing on walking on the fire," and not enough time focusing on actually getting themselves off the coals.
Some time, some people shouldn't be saved from themselves.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Let's Pour Liquid Nitrogen On The Floor!

I love these folks. Those crazy and fun people at JLab are at it again. This time, they poured liquid nitrogen all over the floor, and table. They also discuss what we see when we do that, so there's quite a bit of physics here as well, kids!


Not Enough Science Classes In The UK?

Brian Cox bemoans the shortage of sufficient science classes in the UK.

"The problem is that there are so many wanting to do science now that we don't have university places for them, and you can see that as evidenced by the entry grades they need to do science, which are going up and up.

"That's not an example of rising standards -- what it's really an example of is the fact that there are too many people chasing too few university places, in an area that we recognize as being nationally important."
He called up the UK government to put their money where their mouths are:

 "My challenge to government is, you've been saying for years you want more scientists and engineers in the economy -- what are you going to do about it?" he said.

"Although [science] looks expensive, we actually spend sod all on it. The entire science budget, depending on how you define it, is about five to five and a half billion pounds a year, on a government spend of 620 [billion pounds, or $968 billion).
I think there is a slight increase in enrollment in physics here in the US as well, but I am not aware of any shortage of classes that are preventing students from enrolling in the courses that they need.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Seeing Is Over-Rated, Part II

I wrote earlier on the limitations of the human eye, and why it makes for a very poor photodetector, when compared to other photodetectors that we currently have. The earlier blog entry dealt with the response bandwidth of the human eyes, and the quantum efficiency.

This time (no pun intended), we will deal with the response time, which will produce the time resolution, of the human eye. We all know that when we go see a movie, it is nothing more than a series of still-image frames, moving past us fast enough that we do not see its motion, but rather see the image as being continuous. Standard movie frames (at least till all the new advancements in movie projection) used to go at 24 frames per second (FPS). This translates to 0.04 second per frame. We also know that the human visual system holds an image for about 0.02 second. It means that anything that comes into our visual system faster than 0.02 second will not be perceived as being distinct. So the 0.02-0.04 second is roughly the time resolution of the human eye.

Now, compare this to other devices. I've listed before some typical photocathodes used in accelerators. Note the time responses for the various types of photocathodes. The worst of these are in nanoseconds. This is still order of magnitudes shorter than the human eye! One example is GaAs, which is a common photocathode use in both accelerators and photodetectors. On Pg. 25, one can see measurement of the time response. The full-width-at-half-maximum of this photocathode is of the order of picoseconds!

So the human eye is not only a bad detector in terms of its bandwidth range and also in terms of sensitivity, it is also a very SLOW detector and can't separate a series of event occurring faster than 0.02 second!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

To Run, Or Not To Run, In The Rain...

... that is the question. And it seems that this question continues to prop up every now and then.

The latest chapter in trying to figure out what to do if one is caught in the rain is a new paper out in Eur. J. of Phys.[1]

Basically, the best strategy for staying dry (or at least somewhat dry) is to run as fast as possible. Unless you’re really thin, in which case there may be a more optimal speed. And if you’ve got a tailwind behind you, then you should run exactly as fast as the wind at your back.

So the answer is, it depends! It depends on the body shape, the wind direction, etc... etc. There isn't one single answer that's applicable to all situations, which to me, makes sense.

So there! Who cares about those damn Higgs bosons? We need to find out how not to get wet in the rain! :)


[1] F. Bocci Eur. J. Phys. v33, p.1321 (2012)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Oh, So You Believe In Global Warming NOW?

This is one clear example of the silliness on how the general public accept or believe in something. It appears that the recent heatwave and drought that has hit large parts of the US has caused many more people to accept the idea of global warming happening.

Between 2008 and 2010, comparing various polls (see graph), there was on average a 16% drop in the fraction of Americans who agreed with statements roughly equivalent to "global warming is happening." Since then, the data show American acceptance of the reality of climate change has been steadily rebounding, with 66% of respondents in the Yale survey agreeing that it is happening, up from a low of 57% in 2010.
This is one clear example where a lot of people cannot tell the difference between "climate" and "weather", and the difference between anecdotal evidence and scientific evidence. I hate to think that if we start to get a rather cool summer next year, these same people would change their minds and start to think the other way. In other words, forget about what it looks like overall, let's just go along with the latest whims, fashion, etc...

Scientists need to tell the public that this is NOT how we decide if there is global warming or not. We do not come up with such conclusion simply by looking at ONE data point! And frankly, the average temperature for the whole summer is equivalent to one data point!

I would not be surprised if this winter becomes exceedingly cold, and people start to think "where's the global warming now?"


PPPL Tests Magnetic Field In Free Fall

This sounds like a fun experiment done at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. It certainly would make a nice, crashing noise, if nothing else.

A crowd of scientists and other spectators gathered outside the PPPL yesterday as the group attempted to mimic a zero-gravity situation by throwing a box from the top of a 100-foot fire engine ladder. They were testing to see how iron filaments would react to a magnet in a no-gravity scenario — specifically, if the magnet would pull the filaments into the same oblong shape of the earth’s magnetic field, PPPL employee Stephanie Wissel explained.
And it appears from the report that the iron filaments arranged themselves in the familiar pattern even in "zero g".


Monday, July 16, 2012

Higgs Boson Discovery Explained with "The Atom Smashers"

The excitement and public outreach regarding the apparent Higgs discovery continue.

The Illinois Science Council will present a public seminar on this discovery at the Century theater in Chicago's north side.

Join us for the screening of a compelling film, The Atom Smashers. (“One of the best science documentaries!” - Bill Kurtis) This film clearly explains the science behind this discovery and the roller-coaster nature of the search at Fermilab. It beautifully conveys the dedication and conviction of scientists pursuing it. The film will be followed by a panel discussion featuring physicists from Fermi and Argonne National Laboratories (right here in Chicago's backyard) who have been, and continue to be, personally involved in the experiments conducted for the Higgs particle.
Monday, July 16, 2012
6:30 - 8:30pm
Hosted at Landmark Century Cinema
2828 N. Clark St. (at Diversey)
Chicago, IL 60657

Tickets are $10 in advance, and $15 at the door.

So if you're in the neighborhood, here's your chance to not only hear from the physicists involved or familiar with this, but also to ask questions.

BTW, I salute any organization that try to present important events in science such as this to the public. It is about time things like this are done often, and I only wish that it could be done a lot more.


Job Advertisements For Theorists and Experimentalists In Physics Today Apr-July 2012

Continuing with my effort at counting and categorizing the number of job advertisements listed in physics today, I have now included the July issue of Physics Today. Here are the latest counts:

1. Number of jobs looking only for experimentalist = 34
2. Number of jobs looking only for theorist = 9
3. Number of jobs looking for either or both = 22

So the ratio of experimentalist-only job to theorist-only job is ~3.8. It means that the job opening for experimentalists is almost 4 times as many as for theorists.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Joe Incandel-Fabiola Gianotti-Rolf Heuer Interview

The 3 major figures that led CERN and the ATLAS/CMS detector to the discovery of the Higgs gave an interview to TIME. In case you missed it, here's the link for you to see what they have to say about the momentous occasion.


Friday, July 13, 2012

"Seeing" Is Over-Rated!

I lose track of how many times I've heard an argument against something in physics because "we can't see it". I've even heard an engineering professor once argued with a student about electrons by asking the student "Have you seen an electron?". This issue came out again in light of the recent news flurry about the apparent discovery of the Higgs, and some moron somewhere continues to belittle high energy physics, and physics in general, about imagining such particles that we "can't see".

Of course, there are several ways to attack such stupid (yes, STUPID) arguments. The first is the question on what we mean by "seeing". Often, most people simply meant seeing something with the human eyes. But what exactly does that mean? If these people were to think carefully, it means a series of events that must occur: (i) visible light from some source hits an object; (ii) light from that object travels to our eyes (iii) our eyes then transmit electrical impulses to our brain (iv) we detect that object visually. That, my friends, is what is meant by seeing with our own eyes.

Next, by the above description, it is clear that our eyes can only see electromagnetic radiation, and not only that, it can only see it within the visible spectrum, which isn't very much. Thus, if something either does not emit EM radiation, or if the radiation is outside of the visible spectrum, we can't see it! Let's go back to our friend the electron. It is a charge particle. Our eye cannot "see" it even if it hits our eyeball! But can we still see it? Sure we can! Enter a cloud chamber! When an electron, especially high energy ones, moves through a cloud chamber, it ionizes some of the air/gas/water vapor molecules. This creates a nucleation site for water vapor condensation, leaving a cloud trail in the chamber. There, you have seen an electron. One could also argue that our eyes are not the only "detector" around. We can also use our other senses. We can't see wind, but we can hear and feel the moving air. We can't see heat/IR, but we can certainly feel it on our skin. Our eyes is only ONE of the "detector" that came with our bodies.

And speaking of the human eyes as detectors, anyone who has done anything with detection instruments can tell you that the eyes is a very bad detector in many cases. Sure, it has a very high spatial resolution, but man, it sucks everywhere else. For example, look at this figure that shows the sensitivity of the human eye over a range of frequency and also its response sensitivity.

Compare to other devices, the human eye has 2 very clear shortcomings: (i) the range of wavelength it is responsive to is extremely small; and (ii) its sensitivity (i.e. quantum efficiency, or QE) is quite low. It has a peak QE of ~1% at around 550 nm. What this means is that out of 100 photons that come in, it can detect, on average, only 1. Compare the range and QE of Vidicon and CCD and our eye is a very poor light detector! And this is what some people are using as the sole criteria of what's real and what isn't? Is this rational?

As with many things that a lot of people spew without thinking, the debunking of such things often are quite simple IF one has a little bit of knowledge, and the the ability to analyze the situation. Analyze what it means by "seeing", and then analyze the "detector" that is being use as the criteria. And apply such techniques to the pile of manure that one often hears in the media from politicians, etc., assuming you have such patience.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Unveiling the Higgs mechanism to students"?

This paper, while welcomed, is a bit "ambitious". I definitely think there is a need for an explanation of the physics surrounding the Higgs mechanism that is in a greater detail than a cartoonish description from a pop-science book/media but not as complicated as the actual physics that experts in that field have to deal with. This preprint is aiming its explanation at possibly college students, especially those who are physics undergraduates who should have had sufficient knowledge in classical E&M and a bit of QM.

Abstract: In this paper we give the outline of a lecture given to undergraduate students aiming at understanding why physicists are so much interested in the Higgs boson. The lecture has been conceived for students not yet familiar with advanced physics and is suitable for several disciplines, other than physics. The Higgs mechanism is introduced by semi-classical arguments mimicking the basic field theory concepts, assuming the validity of a symmetry principle in the expression of the energy of particles in a classical field. The lecture is divided in two parts: the first, suitable even to high--school students, shows how the mass of a particle results as a dynamical effect due to the interaction between a massless particle and a field (as in the Higgs mechanism). The audience of the second part, much more technical, consists mainly of teachers and university students of disciplines other than physics.

I'm not exactly sure how many "high-school students" would be able to understand the article, even the first part. In any case, I haven't read this closely enough to say if this is an accurate, or "good-enough" coverage of the topic, but I thought I should let you have a go at it and see what you think.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

5-Sigma, You Say?

With the apparent discovery of the Higgs and the talk about "4.9 Sigma" and such, Fermilab has produced a video explaining the statistics behind such a discovery. If you are not familiar with this, you may have to view the video more than once, because some of the concepts are mentioned rather too quickly for it to sink in the first time.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chicago Pile 1

For those who are interested in this significant event in the history of mankind (and certainly in science), this might be an interesting video to watch.

We do not have that many living persons left to give first-hand account of this event.


Monday, July 09, 2012

Nobel Prize For The Higgs

The news and euphoria surrounding the apparent discovery of the Higgs continue....

When they made the announcement last week, I mentioned that besides the effort of continuing the data analysis, the more difficult task now is to determine who deserves the Nobel prize for this discovery. There are at least 4 different theorists who could easily be credited for the theory, and then there are the people who lead the experiments. Who will get it? Or do you break it down into two different awards in two different years?

This news article looks at this issue, even up to considering that an award might be possible to whole groups, rather than individuals. While this has been done for the Nobel Peace prize, it hasn't been done to the original set of Nobel Prizes that Alfred Nobel created. And I don't think this will be done in this case either.

So I'm actually quite intrigue on how this will turn out. Either way, plenty of deserving people will be left out. I just hope that these people will still get the recognition and credit that they deserve, especially among their peers.


Friday, July 06, 2012

What Are The Possible Implications Of The Higgs, and What Is The Role Of the Higgs In Generating Mass?

Obviously, many of us physicists have been getting a lot of questions from people about the Higgs since all the news and brouhaha surrounding the recent announcement. This video tries to answer these questions and more.


Thursday, July 05, 2012

Higgs Boson - Stephen Hawking Loses Another Bet

Remember a while back that Stephen Hawking made a $100 bet that the Higgs boson will not be found? (Read here and here) Well, after yesterday's announcement, look who has to pay up?

Physicists everywhere are, as I understand it, overjoyed that all of their theories have been proved to be correct. Which certainly puts them far ahead of any economists.

However, for one man this discovery has come with a cost.

For Stephen Hawking admitted to the BBC that he'd just lost $100 over Higgs boson's arrival.
Now, this is not the first time Hawking has lost a bet. He lost one a while back related to information escaping from black holes. Of course, he can afford such bets. Still, my advice to Hawking is not to make any more bets, and not to go to Vegas!



"Measuring the eccentricity of the Earth orbit with a nail and a piece of plywood"

It is in my nature that I get attracted to things like this. When I saw the title of this paper, I can't help but look into it.

Abstract:  I describe how to obtain a rather good experimental determination of the eccentricity of the Earth orbit, as well as the obliquity of the Earth rotation axis, by measuring, over the course of a year, the elevation of the Sun as a function of time during a day. With a very simple "instrument" consisting of an elementary sundial, first-year students can carry out an appealing measurement programme, learn important concepts in experimental physics, see concrete applications of kinematics and changes of reference frames, and benefit from a hands-on introduction to astronomy. 

The journal reference is Eur. J. Phys. 33, 1167 (2012).

My first impression was that this is a primitive "sundial", and the use of "similar triangles" concepts to plot the shadow of the nail over the period of a year.

This isn't a bad exercise at all, and in fact, could easily be given not just to "first-year students", but also to high-school physics students.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Birthday, Higgs Boson!

In case you weren't up when they made the announcement.....

Discovery of Higgs boson is announced.

“As a layman, I would now say, I think we have it,” said CERN director-general Rolf-Dieter Heuer. “It’s a historic milestone today. I think we can all be proud, all be happy.” Both CMS and ATLAS, the two main LHC Higgs-hunting experiments, are reporting a boson that has Higgs-like properties at a mass of 125 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) with a 5-sigma significance, meaning they are 99.999 percent confident of its existence.

At the first mention of 5-sigma by physicist Joe Incandela, who presented results from one of the main Higgs-searching efforts at the LHC, the audience burst into applause. “It was really a magnificent moment to see the reaction from the community,” he said later in a question and answer session. “Emotionally it didn’t really hit me until today because we have had to be so focused, and so much work to do.”
A lot of work still needs to be done. As with the discovery of the Top quark where even years later, measurements were still done to refine all the properties and decay channels associated with it, the Higgs will undergo the same continuing scrutiny for years to come to understand it even more and with higher accuracy.

But now, the most difficult part that will come next is deciding who should get the Nobel prize not only for this discovery, but also for the theory that produced the Higgs. Considering that the Nobel prize is limited to 3 individuals, and there are at least 4 theorists who can equally claim for the theoretical formulation for it, this is not going to be an easy an enviable task.


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Premature Higgs-jaculation

It seems that the CERN people did a boo-boo. They accidentally released a video (how does that happen, really?) of a CMS spokeperson announcing the discovery of a new particle (strongly thought to be the Higgs).

In the video dated July 4 2012, Joe Incandela, a spokesman for Cern, announces that scientists "have observed a new particle".
"We have quite strong evidence that there's something there. Its properties are still going to take us a little bit of time.

"But we can see that it decays to two photons, for example, which tells us it's a boson, it's a particle with integer spin. And we know its mass is roughly 100 times the mass of the proton. And this is very significant. This is the most massive such particle that exists, if we confirm all of this, which I think we will," Mr Incandela, the CMS Spokesperson says.
Edit: It appears that the video isn't loading anymore.

This is worse than the secret surrounding an Apple new device! Unfortunately, they can't keep a lid on the embargo till the official announcement.

Oh well, we'll know soon enough in a few hours.


Monday, July 02, 2012

Will It Be THE Higgs?

So this is turning into a big (momentous?) event. The imminent announcement on July 4th out of CERN about the discovery of the Higgs is causing a lot of news commotions. But is it really the Higgs?

Even as rumours fly in the popular media, physicists have begun quietly cheering at CERN, the European particle-physics lab near Geneva in Switzerland. “Without a doubt, we have a discovery,” says one member of the team working on the ATLAS experiment, who wished to remain anonymous. “It is pure elation!”
My gut feeling here is that it is an announcement of the Higgs discovery. There! I've said it.

Just so you know, I've been wrong before. So don't be the house on my gut feeling. :)


Origins of Mass

This is Franck Wilczek's take on the origins of mass (note the plural form). It is NOT an easy read.


A Short Story Of Supersymmetry

I've mentioned earlier of the uncomfortable position that Supersymmetry is on right now due to the lack of any evidence found so far from the LHC. Wired Science talks to Lawrence Krauss for a short explanation on what Supersymmetry is, for people who are curious. And certainly, is take on the lack of evidence so far is dead on.
The problem is that neither the LHC nor its recently decommissioned American counterpart, the Tevatron, have seen any strong evidence for new, heavy particles during their experiments. Though they keep searching at higher energy ranges, the particle accelerators don’t turn up any new superpartners.

“As we exclude more and more energy ranges, the supersymmetry models that most easily keep the scales separate get more and more contrived,” said Krauss.

Already, experiments have excluded the simplest supersymmetric theories. Physicists can keep tweaking their theories but after a while these fine-tunings begin to seem arbitrary.
I think that if the LHC sees no indication of supersymmetry, the theory in its present form, will lose much of its appeal.