Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Sticky physics of joy: On the dissolution of spherical candies"

Anyone reading this blog for any considerable period of time would know that I love reading or solving "mundane" problems. This one might barely qualify as one, I think. The authors are studying the "dissolution" of spherical-shaped candies.

Abstract: Assuming a constant mass-decrease per unit-surface and -time we provide a very simplistic model for the dissolution process of spherical candies. The aim is to investigate the quantitative behavior of the dissolution process throughout the act of eating the candy. In our model we do not take any microscopic mechanism of the dissolution process into account, but rather provide an estimate which is based on easy-to-follow calculations. Having obtained a description based on this calculation, we confirm the assumed behavior by providing experimental data of the dissolution process. Besides a deviation from our prediction caused by the production process of the candies below a diameter of 2 mm, we find good agreement with our model-based expectations. Serious questions on the optimal strategy of enjoying a candy will be addressed, like whether it is wise to split the candy by breaking it with the teeth or not.

In any case, I have to admit that I was snickering almost throughout the entire paper, especially the conclusion.

Finally we would like to address the question proposed in the very beginning of this study: What is the best strategy of eating such a candy? As so often, the answer depends on what the person enjoying the candy considers as the optimum. If the time the candy lives should be maximized, the eater of the candy should try to maintain the spherical shape of the candy by all costs. Since the e ect of mass transfer is driven by the surface, and the sphere possesses the smallest surface for a given volume among all possible shapes [5], any deviation of the spherical shape increases the process of losing mass. In particular, breaking the candy with the teeth enlarges the surface by a huge amount, making the candy vanish faster. Thus, from this point of view one should carefully try to keep the candy as spherical as possible. But there is another way to look at it: Suppose you break the candy with your teeth in many pieces. The surface becomes big, and in an instant the mass that is transferred away from the fragments becomes huge as well. This might amplify the effect of tastiness and joy, even though the life-time of the candy has become considerably short in this approach. Even though we now know how candies dissolve in time we stress that the best thing to do when eating a candy is to forget about these considerations, since they draw your attention away from what candies are made for: enjoyment.
C'mon, now. How could you not giggle when reading something like that in a physics paper? I'm only human! :)

I wouldn't be surprised if this gets nominated or even win the Ig Nobel Prize.


Scaled-Down LBNE

After the full-blown LBNE was rejected by US DOE, Fermilab's official submitted a scaled-down version of LBNE to full review.

Kim presented the new plan for the first stage of LBNE. The preferred option calls for building a new beam line at Fermilab to fire neutrinos 1300 kilometers through Earth to a particle detector on the surface at the abandoned Homestake gold mine in Lead, South Dakota. That detector would contain 10,000 tonnes of frigid liquid argon. (The original LBNE design called for a larger, 34,000-tonne detector buried 1480 meters deep in Homestake and a smaller "near detector" at Fermilab.)
Let's see if this thing will fly, AND, with the $135 million from international collaborators.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rolling In The Higgs

OK, other than a bit of bad singing, this is utterly hysterical!

This is an a capella version of Adelle's "Rolling in the Deep", but with a tribute to the Higgs. This was done by "... 22-year old singer/arranger and theoretical physics masters student Tim Blair.. "

I wouldn't be surprised if this things goes viral, if it hasn't done so already.

BTW, this video is even funnier if you understand a bit about the Higgs physics. Just like "The Big Bang Theory" TV series, there's a lot of inside "jokes" and information that only someone who understands the material will get.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Apps To Teach Kids Math And Science

I asked a while back on what physics apps do you people have, or like, for your smartphones or tablets. I certainly received quite a number of suggestions.

Today, the Wall Street Journal has an article on the best apps for your kids to learn math and physics. I think the suggested apps are too elementary for most (all?) of you reading this blog. But still, in case you have young ones under your care or supervision, these apps might be something you want to check out if you don't know about them already.


Science Is Not Cool

Another entertaining article by Adam Ruben. This time, he is insisting that Science should not be cool, or "cool".

First of all, the word “cool” sells science short. Science is wonderful. Science is vital, science is fascinating, science is awe-inspiring, and science is praiseworthy. You know what’s been called “cool?” Parachute pants, slap bracelets, pogs, the Macarena, and Hypercolor shirts. (Maybe I’m unfairly picking on the early ’90s, but holy hell, what an awful lot of crap we liked.) Fist-pumping over science’s newfound coolness implies, it seems to me, that “cool” is a higher aspiration for science, and it isn’t.

Second, even when CNN said “cool,” it didn’t mean “cool.” The nomenclature gets tricky here, but they meant “cool-in-quotation-marks.” Without the quotation marks, the word means something completely different. It means Miles Davis and Johnny Cash in a ’76 Mustang. “Cool-in-quotation-marks” has a much broader connotation, as in, “Hey, that paper clip is shaped kind of cool.”

Third, are we supposed to be grateful that the world has once more seen fit to approve of what we do? Should we spin in ecstasy, shouting, “Cool again! We’re cool again! Put the little sunglasses on the Einstein doll, and let’s bop our heads to Moxy Früvous’s entropy song! Break out the Whole Foods sodas!”

But mostly, I don’t want science to be cool, or even “cool,” because cool is transient. People have to ask “What’s cool right now?” because trends constantly change. Is Gwen Stefani still cool? Is Facebook cool? Is Japan cool, or are we done with that?
I generally agree with that sentiment. Science should not be those things. Unfortunately, we live in an environment where (i) we need funding from politicians to accomplish what we need to do which (ii) requires popular support from the general public (iii) we have to appeal to an attention-deficit public that quickly move from one "cool" thing to another. When something is in the news, that's what is "cool" at a given time and for better or for worse, that's how you capture the public's imagination and maybe, support.

It shouldn't be that way, but unfortunately, that is how the game has to be played sometime.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Sudden Approximation In QM Verified

It's always nice to see experiments that verify the basic, textbook stuff that many of us have used when we were students learning physics. This is one such case.

Experiments on singly-ionized 6He and observing the effect of the beta decay into 6Li has confirmed the quantum mechanical technique that we have used in QM classes - the superposition of the initial state with the final state, where the final state has a form that is an approximation of the initial state, i.e. the sudden approximation method!

Professor Patyk’s team has been collaborating with teams of physicists working in GAEN accelerator centre in Caen (Normandie, France) for several years. Calculations performed by NCBJ physicists to the accuracy of 4 significant places yielded the 2.3% probability that beta-decay will be liberating the sole orbital electron of the 6He ion, i.e. will be producing a totally ionized lithium atom. To a comparable accuracy that result was confirmed by some experiments performed at the French accelerator.

“Such a good agreement between theoretical predictions and experimental findings in such a simple (almost textbook) system is the first direct proof that the sudden approximation computational method utilized to solve quantum mechanics problems for almost a century is indeed correct” points out Professor Patyk.
 Good to know that a lot of the textbook materials can and have been verified, even if in many cases, these are "idealized" systems. Often, these idealized systems are not that easy to replicate and verified.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

In An Expanding Universe, What Doesn't Expand?

I just recently discovered this paper, and am still reading it. But I think if you have access to AJP, you might want to get a copy and read this too.

The paper addressed[1] the question that I've heard before. If our universe is expanding, does that mean that the atom is also getting larger?

Abstract:  The expansion of the universe is often viewed as a uniform stretching of space that would affect compact objects such as atoms and stars, as well as the separation of galaxies. One usually hears that bound systems do not take part in the general expansion, but a much more subtle question is whether bound systems expand partially. In this paper, a definitive answer is given for a very simple system: a classical “atom” bound by electrical attraction. With a mathematical description appropriate for undergraduate physics majors, we show that this bound system either completely follows the cosmological expansion, or, after initial transients, completely ignores it. This all-or-nothing behavior can be understood using analysis techniques used in junior-level mechanics. We also demonstrate that this simple description is a justifiable approximation of the relativistically correct formulation of the problem.

But what was equally interesting is the impetus for the authors to write this paper.

This paper is the result of a question posed by high school student Deepak Ramchand Mahbubani, Jr. at the University of Texas at Brownsville’s “21st Century Astronomy Ambassador’s Program,” and by the lack of a clear answer at the right level.
See kids? You ask an interestingly-enough question to the right person, you'll end up being cited by name in a physics paper!

So what's the answer to the question? It appears that if we adopt the realistic parameters, the atoms does not participate in the expansion.

We end with a practical consideration. Our quantification of the relative strengths of atomic and expansion forces is given in terms of a characteristic time Tatom for the motion of electrons in atoms, and a cosmological expansion time Texp (e.g., the Hubble time). Our analyses show that atomic forces are initially stronger if Tatom=Texp is less than order unity. Because Tatom ~10^ 16 s and Texp ~ 4x10^17 s, we see that atoms are in no danger of being disrupted by cosmological expansion.
In other words, you can't blame the expansion of the universe for your expanding waistline.

Damn it!


[1] R. Price and J. Romano, Am. J. Phys v.80, p.376 (2012)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Energy Gained By Charge In Uniform Electrostatic Capacitor

I have seen this question being asked frequently, both online and from when I was briefly teaching physics. A lot of students have a bit of an issue in understanding why, if an electron is placed in a field with potential V, that the energy gain after going through the field is always eV, no matter how far away it has to move. For example, in a parallel plate capacitor situation where the potential across the capacitor is V, an electron that starts at one plate will gain an energy eV when it reaches the other plate, no matter how far away the two plates are separated (ignoring edge effects).

Certainly, when I first came across this as a student, it was a bit puzzling, but I remember working it out on my own and convincing myself this is correct. So I will show why this is so, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

We will do this qualitatively by applying an analogous situation. Say that you have a mass at a height h, and it rolls down an inclined plane to a horizontal distance of x=d (see Figure 1). Now, how much kinetic energy has it gained? You’ll notice that the height h provides the change in gravitational potential energy, mgh. When the object goes from high h to height 0, it would have lost mgh amount of potential energy, which is converted into kinetic energy. So the gain in kinetic energy is exactly mgh. I can vary x to any length that I want, and it would not change the amount of kinetic energy that it gains.

This is identical to the parallel plate capacitor problem.

So now, let’s prove this quantitatively. The scenario is sketched in Figure 2. An electron starts at one plate, and we want to find how much energy it has gained when it reaches the other plate.

For infinite parallel plate capacitor (ignoring edge effects), the electric field E is uniform and a constant. So in this case, E = V/d. We need E because this is the field that would produce the electrostatic force F = eE. Solving Newton’s equation,

F = ma = eE; a = eE/m = eV/(md)

Since the force is a constant (E doesn’t change), then the velocity of the electron when it reaches the other plate is

v^2 = u^2 + 2ad

For simplicity (since we want the gain or change in velocity/energy), let’s say the electron starts from rest, so u=0. Then

v^2 = 2ad = 2d* eV/(md)

v^2 = 2eV/m

The final velocity does not depend on d, the distance between the two plates! This means that the kinetic energy gain is also independent of d! QED!

So why is this? Note the the magnitude of E depends on d. For a constant V, the closer the two plates are together, the larger the magnitude of E. So even though the electrons only has a short distance to travel, the force pushing it to move is LARGE. If the separation between the two plates is large, the electron may be pushed for a longer distance, but the force acting on it is smaller. In the end, the effects balance out and the gain in energy remains the same. You can apply the same mathematics for the ball-inclined plane problem above.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

GRE Scores And Majors

The Buzz Blog has a very interesting breakdown and analysis of GRE scores correlated to the intended majors. Physics majors tend to do quite well in such test, especially in quantitative reasoning (not surprising, really).

What I find more fascinating is which majors did poorly in these categories. Political science majors did only half as well as physics majors in quantitative reasoning (again, not surprising), but they aren't even listed in the top 7 for the others! Are these the same people who will be part of our political system? Scary!

I've always believed that you don't elect someone simply because that person shares your point of view on certain things. You elect someone who has the ability to THINK things through and know how to see answers to those he/she doesn't know about. If you don't, you end up with morons such as Todd Akin who bastardize science to his benefit. How many times have we seen politicians unable to either look up some simple information, or think things analytically? People in politics WILL encounter unexpected, complex, and difficult issues. You want someone who has the ability to think rationally, not just someone who happens to agree with you on such-and-such. If not, you'll be lied to.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Quantum Physics And ..... Golf?!

While article like this are often done tongue-in-cheek, I can't help feeling that it also helps to reinforce a tremendous misunderstanding of physics, especially quantum mechanics. What I dislike the most about this type of article is that they pick and choose certain aspects of physics, and then ignores others that could easily nullify the original assertion.

This "science fiction" writer is doing a "what ifs", applying certain aspects of quantum mechanics to see how it would work in the sport of golf. Yes, golf! Let's take a closer look at the  problems with each one of his ideas:

But if the golfer and the ball could somehow be entangled, then every movement the golfer makes would instantly have an effect on the golf ball. The golfer could literally steer the ball in midair.

Remember, quantum physics deals with teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy particles that are smaller than atoms. Not macroscopic objects like golfers and golf balls.

However, both the golf player and the golf ball are composed of uncounted gazillions of subatomic particles. If it were possible to entangle one of the particles of the golfer's body with one of the particles of the golf ball, then the golfer's contortions would have an instant effect on the flight of the ball.

The body English would work!
No, it would not. Whenever people are using quantum entanglement, they often overlook one extremely important aspect of this phenomenon - the preservation of coherence of all the entangled particles! This is extremely important because in the destruction of the original entanglement is EXTREMELY EASY. In fact, even a single interaction has been shown to destroy the original piece of information! We only need to look at the gymnastics that we had to put a system through to preserve such entanglement and made such measurement - it isn't easy! We have had success with entanglement phenomenon with photons over long distances, because they weakly interact in air, but we certainly do not have a lot of success so far with  particle entanglements over long distances because they tend to interact very, very easily with their environment. So golf ball and golfer being entangled? I don't think so!

In quantum physics there's a phenomenon known as tunneling. An electron, for example, can run into a solid wall and come out the other side, seemingly without drilling its way through the wall or leaving a hole in the wall behind it.

Imagine a situation on a golf course where the golfer's ball had landed in the deep weeds or behind a rock or some trees. It might take several shots to maneuver the ball around such an obstacle and get back onto the fairway.

But if the ball could somehow be made to tunnel the way electrons do, the golfer could aim his shot at the pin and blast away. The ball would approach the obstacle, be it weeds or rock or tree, and come out the other side, free to sail unimpeded toward the green.

It sounds like magic, but that's the way electrons can be made to behave. Would it be impossible to make golf balls tunnel the way electrons do? It could take strokes off the golfer's score.
First, let's call on the inconsistencies in this scenario. If the golf ball can "tunnel" through the weeds or the rock, what is to stop it from tunneling through the ground as well and miss the hole completely? If it goes through things unimpeded, why would the ground be any different? So already he is expecting a law of physics that turns itself on and off on a whim. As someone once said "God is subtle, but not malicious".

The problem with the application of tunneling of macroscopic object is the same as in the previous point. For the entire macroscopic object to tunnel through a barrier, it must be in completely coherence with each other. If not, the probability of one part of the object tunneling through will be different than other parts of the object. An electron, or a quantum particle does not have that problem. We describe the electron using one coherent wavefunction. We can't do that for a golf ball.

We note that in experiments that showed how particles such as buckyballs can undergo quantum interferences, the experiments were done under extreme conditions such as very low temperature. This is to ensure that the entire buckyball are in coherence with each. Introduce thermal effects, and there goes your interference pattern!

An atom can gain energy by absorbing a photon, the basic particle of light. Or the atom can lose energy by emitting a photon.

Now picture a golfer faced with a long putt. If the ball is hit too slowly it won't make it to the cup. If hit too hard, it will go past the cup. Perhaps the ball might skim the rim of the cup and zip away instead of plopping in.

If the golfer could somehow induce the ball to gain energy or lose energy, depending on how the putt's going, the ball could be guided right into the cup every time. All you have to do is figure out how to make the ball gain or lose energy at your command.
This is where one thing does not have anything to do with the other. Induce the ball to gain and lose energy? How is this related to an atom absorbing and losing energy? It seems that this person seems to think he can violate conservation of energy with the golf ball. Unfortunately, even if he could do this, his ball is already busy tunneling its way to the other side of the earth.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Biological Physics

... or Biophysics? You be the judge.

While all the attention in physics has been on the discovery of the Higgs and also the recent landing on Mars, it is important that we keep informing the public that physics, and physicists, are more than just these narrow areas of study. In fact, the MAJORITY of physicists are not even in these two fields that have garnered a disproportional amount of publicity lately.

So it is rather nice to read this article on biological physics, a field where both biology and physics come together.

So let me lay my credentials on the table. I am a soft matter-cum-biological physicist and what excites me is the world around me, the soft squidgy stuff that turns up ubiquitously scattered around our houses in food, cosmetics, paint and ointments, in bulk plastics and novel materials for renewable energy devices; but also, pervasively, in the tissues of our own bodies and the rest of the animal kingdom. Yes, physics and biology can sometimes collide and when they do, it can produce something entirely new.
We need to expose both the public and students getting into physics to the wide variety of subject matter that are part of physics, not just to some esoteric ideas that do not have a clear application to their everyday lives.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Yes Virginia, There Are No Superluminal Neutrinos

Not wanting to to beat a dead horse, even though we already have sufficient confirmation that the original OPERA result is faulty. Still, a new paper published in PRL this week kinda sealed the deal[1]. They measured the speed of muon neutrinos from CERN to their detector in Gran Sasso, which is practically the identical situation as OPERA. So what did they find? Here's the abstract:

Abstract: We report the measurement of the time of flight of ∼17  GeV νμ on the CNGS baseline (732 km) with the Large Volume Detector (LVD) at the Gran Sasso Laboratory. The CERN-SPS accelerator has been operated from May 10th to May 24th 2012, with a tightly bunched-beam structure to allow the velocity of neutrinos to be accurately measured on an event-by-event basis. LVD has detected 48 neutrino events, associated with the beam, with a high absolute time accuracy. These events allow us to establish the following limit on the difference between the neutrino speed and the light velocity: -3.8×10-6<(vν-c)/c<3.1×10-6 (at 99% C.L.). This value is an order of magnitude lower than previous direct measurements.
Yup. No superluminal neutrinos!


[1] N. Yu et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. v.109, 070801(2012).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

First Year Physics Graduate Students

The AIP has released the latest statistics on first year physics graduate students in the US. There are a few but not surprising data here.

Asians still make up the largest percentage of foreign students (Table 2) in terms of continent of origin, with China sending the largest number of students (39% of all foreign students). In fact, China has more first year physics students than students from Europe, Africa, Americas, Middle East, and Australia/New Zealand combined!

The other interesting observation here is that foreign students also tend to major in a more "practical" subject area, more so than American students. Table 4 shows that the percentage of foreign students intending to major in Condensed Matter, Biophysics, Material Science, and other Applied Physics tend to be higher than their American counterpart. The percentage of foreign students majoring in Astrophysics, for example, is significantly low (4%), whereas for American students, the percentage (13%) is roughly equivalent to the other two other most popular subject areas (15% and 12%).

One can spin such statistics in a number of ways. :)


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Higgs, From The Tevatron With Love

So we had the preprint of the ATLAS and CMS paper on the possible discovery of the Higgs. Not to be left out in all of this, the grand old lady of high energy collider, the Tevatron, reaches out from the dead, and with her last gasp, reveals the guilty party and announces her own discovery of the Higgs. (Well, OK, so I've been watching too many Mystery shows on PBS).

Both the CDF and D0 detectors at the Tevatron combined their effort to publish this result in this week's PRL (you can get the paper free of charge from that link). To be sure, the evidence isn't as strong at that produced at the LHC a few weeks ago. But what is neat here is that they are looking at a different decay channels than both ATLAS and CMS. They could have easily thrown a wrench into the discovery if they had, in fact, come up with a result that is inconsistent with the LHC results. But they didn't.

In fact, experimentalists don’t directly detect the Higgs boson. Instead, they look at all the different sequences of particles—or “channels”—that the unstable Higgs boson decays into. ATLAS and CMS were able to detect the Higgs boson by looking for its decay into two photons and two Z bosons, and, albeit with somewhat weaker significance, two W bosons.

All of these channels involve the Higgs boson decaying into bosons, but if the Higgs particle explains the masses of quarks and leptons (the electron, muon, and tau), it should be possible to see it decay into these particles, which are fermions, too. (This is another way of saying that the leptons and quarks couple to the Higgs field.) Although CMS has analyzed their data to look for evidence that the new particle decays into fermions, namely into two tau leptons or two bottom quarks (b quarks), they haven’t observed a clear signal in this channel yet.
The new paper [1] combines the results of the CDF and the D0 experiments in one particular search channel, namely, the one where the Higgs boson decays into two bottom quarks (b quarks). In the combined dataset, the groups see an excess over what is expected from the background-only hypothesis, but is this excess caused by the same particle observed in the LHC experiments, and if so, does that mean that this Higgs particle indeed decays into fermions?
In any case, with the LHC continuing to run, and the planned increase to 14 TeV, I suspect that we will be hearing quite a bit more on the Higgs search during the next couple of years. This completely mystery isn't solved yet.


LHC Breaks Another Record?

Not satisfied with passing the Tevatron for the highest energy collider, the ALICE detector at the LHC may soon snatch another world record from Brookhaven's RHIC for creating the highest manmade temperature.

The results come from the ALICE heavy-ion experiment (at right) — a lesser-known sibling to ATLAS and CMS, which produced the data that led to the announcement in July that the Higgs boson had been discovered. ALICE physicists, presenting on Monday at Quark Matter 2012 in Washington DC, say they have achieved a quark gluon plasma 38% hotter than a record 4 trillion degree plasma achieved in 2010 by a similar experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, which had been anointed the Guinness record holder.
This isn't that much of a surprise, though, since the LHC is significantly more powerful than RHIC. It's a terrific use of the facility (LHC) in that it isn't just a high energy physics facility, but also a nuclear physics facility. One wonders if the life of the Tevatron would have been extended even longer had someone the insight to incorporate nuclear physics experiments as part of the facility.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Quantum Teleporation Achieving Record Distances

If you missed these stories from last week, this link will give you a brief summary of them. Distances of 97 km and 143 km seem to have been achieved for qubits teleporation.

In the August 9 issue of Nature, a Chinese group reports achieving quantum teleportation across Qinghai Lake in China, a distance of 97 kilometers. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) That distance surpasses the previous record, set by a group that included several of the same researchers, of 16 kilometers.

But a more recent study seems to have pushed the bar even higher. In a paper posted May 17 to the physics preprint Web site, just eight days after the Chinese group announced their achievement on the same Web site, a European and Canadian group claims to have teleported information from one of the Canary Islands to another, 143 kilometers away. That paper has not been peer-reviewed but comes from a very reputable research group.
The reference for the Chinese paper cited above is

J. Yin et al., Nature v.488, p.185 (2012).


Thursday, August 09, 2012

3D Map Of Galaxies And Black Holes

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey III has released a rather neat video of a flight through the universe that maps the various massive galaxies and black holes.

With such a map, scientists can retrace the history of the Universe over the last six billion years. With that history, they can get better estimates for how much of the Universe is made up of dark matter - matter that we can't directly see because it doesn't emit or absorb light - and dark energy, the even more mysterious force that drives the accelerating expansion of the Universe.
It's still neat to see one of these maps for whatever the reason.


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

High Energy Physics Drives Innovation And Technology

I want to bring one ONE very specific example of how high energy physics is driving advancement in a certain technology that WILL have huge impact later on in many parts of our lives.

This report shows the drive for larger, faster, and more importantly, cheaper photodetectors. This was driven by the needs in particle physics detection, especially for the Cerenkov light detection from neutrinos. Current technology is based on photomultiplier tubes and is dominated by almost a single-source supplier - Hamamatsu. And you can imagine, these photomultipliers are prohibitively expensive, especially the ones with higher light detection efficiency. But these PMTs also have "round" cross-section, and in some cases, will have coverage that are not very high.

All of these factors affect the light detection from such high energy physics experiments, and thus, the demand for better detection from such experiments are driving the need for new, better, and cheaper detectors. It is the driver for new innovation and technology, which is what high energy physics does all the time! They often have to build and invent their own detectors each time they build bigger and better colliders!

And guess what? We will benefit from such innovations! The technology invented with the photodetector described in the article will have a myriad of benefits. There are already discussion on the applicability of this technology for PET scanners. In this case, being large, cheap, and fast are three characteristics that are highly desirable.

So if you want to follow the development of something in "real time" as an example on how a demand in high energy physics eventually translates to something that you and I benefit from, here's one that you can track as it happens. The folks at R&D 100 obviously are already aware of the enormous potential for this one.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Discovery Of The Higgs Caused Some Mass To Disappear

I mentioned earlier of the lost bet that Stephen Hawking made on the non-existence of the Higgs. This NY Times article describe all the other lots bets that were made on this Higgs. The most hilarious one was the one made between Janet Conrad and Franck Wilczek. They bet on 10 chocolate Nobel coins that can only be bought at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm. The journey from there to the hands of Wilczek resembles a path that might have been designed by Rube Goldberg.

So shortly after the July 4 announcement, she sent Chad Finley, a friend and physicist at Stockholm University, to the museum, where he bought the chocolates for about $15. He could have then mailed them to the United States but was worried they would melt; instead he passed them to Szabolcs Marka, a Columbia physicist who was in Sweden at the time.

Dr. Marka took them back to New York and gave them to Matt Toups, a postdoctoral researcher with Dr. Conrad who was headed for Fermilab, in Illinois, where Dr. Conrad was working. The pair wrapped the chocolates in plastic foam so they wouldn’t melt during the bus ride to La Guardia Airport.

Dr. Conrad picked up the chocolates just before a power failure sent temperatures in the Fermilab offices rising toward the chocolate melting point, and took them home to Cambridge, Mass., leaving them with her sister while she went off to a physics conference in Virginia and then back to Fermilab. She wrote in an e-mail, “I have not seen them, since they are carefully enclosed in their Styrofoam, but I trust they are in excellent shape!”

Dr. Wilczek, who is in New Hampshire, has not seen the chocolates either, but he said they had been delivered to his office.

So, did YOU win or lose a bet on the Higgs?


Monday, August 06, 2012

The Physics Of Pole-Vaulting

Of course, with the London Olympics going on, there's a lot of articles examining the physics associated with various athletic events.

This one is rather interesting, because it shows you the WRONG way of analyzing the physics of pole vault, and that using such a result will produce a ridiculously fast speed that a pole vaulter will need to clear such heights. Often, this is how we do physics, and when we realize that there has to be something more beyond what we currently understand. When the result of a current idea doesn't match reality, we have to figure out what went wrong - whether we didn't account for everything that's involved, or that our description is inadequate. In this case, it is the former (not accounting for the flexing of the pole), while our description (Newton's laws) is still valid.


Friday, August 03, 2012

Physicists Going Into Finance

This is an excellent article that explores one job path outside of Academia for physicists.

Today that balance has changed. According to AIP data, in 2010 the number of physics bachelor's degrees and Ph.D.s awarded in the United States set or equaled respective all-time highs. One year after finishing their Ph.D.s, 60% of physicists were in postdocs. Nearly half of all physicists work in industry, and only about 35% work in academia. This reflects two trends, Czujko says: a relative decline in the number of tenure-track academic jobs in most physics fields, and increasing opportunities in certain fields for math-savvy physicists.
If you are in the middle of pursuing your PhD, even if you have no interest in pursuing the financial field for a career, this article should be read so that you are aware of the job situation that you are going into. In all my advice to physicist students pursuing a career in physics, I've always stressed that need to have as wide of an experience as possible, and to be open to explore other areas. Most of our plans do not happen the way we intended, and you just never know what you will need when you jump into the job market.


Thursday, August 02, 2012

Pier Oddone To Retire As Fermilab Director

The buzz news for today is the announcement that Pier Oddone will retire next year as Fermilab Director. Here's the press release out of Fermilab.

I would say that his tenure as Lab Director saw one of the most, if not THE most challenging times for Fermilab. Severe budget cuts caused a lot of layoffs, and now with the demise of the Tevatron, the lab is looking to reestablish its identity and its big projects to continue surviving.

The new lab director will have a lot of challenges to face.


Bringing High Energy Physics To Chinese High Schools?

There's something not quite right with this picture. I'll let you read the entire article and I'll let you know why after that.

This article reports on an outreach program by a Fermilab team, invited by a Kavli Institute, to introduce high energy physics to students and teachers in China.

Shaffer was in China July 13-28 as part of a team from FermiLab, who was invited by the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics China. This was the first ever such program offered for teachers and students in China.

During this program, over 60 students and teachers learned how to bring high energy physics into the high school using real particles and real data. The first week emphasized the particle colliders like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland and included a tour through Bejing’s BEPCII collider. Using data from the LHC, students learned to identify and conduct research on particles physics.
So let me get this right. US/Fermilab staff, who no longer have any kind of particle collider in the nation, are trying to introduce this to people in a country that HAS a running collider.

Isn't this similar to a bankrupt person trying to teach a millionaire how to make money?