Friday, June 15, 2018

Is Theoretical Physics Wasting Our Best Minds?

Before you continue reading this, let me be very clear right off the bat that there are TWO separate issues here that I will be discussing, and they are thinly connected simply by the over-general reference of "theoretical physics" made by the author of the article that I will be citing.

In this Forbes article, Ethan Siegel highlights the main point made by Sabine Hossenfelder in her book "Lost In Math". Siegel not only pointed this out, but also did an in-depth description leading up to the "naturalness" philosophy that is prevalent in the esoteric fields of physics such as string, etc.

If you are a theoretical particle physicist, a string theorist, or a phenomenologist — particularly if you suffer from cognitive dissonance — you will not like this book. If you are a true believer in naturalness as the guiding light of theoretical physics, this book will irritate you tremendously. But if you're someone who isn't afraid to ask that big question of "are we doing it all wrong," the answer might be a big, uncomfortable "yes." Those of us who are intellectually honest physicists have been living with this discomfort for many decades now. In Sabine's book, Lost In Math, this discomfort is now made accessible to the rest of us.

Certainly this is thought-provoking, and it isn't something I disagree about. For science to give up on empirical evidence, and simply pursue something that looks "natural" or "beautiful" is dangerous and verging on being a religion. So my feelings are consistent with what has been said in the article.

Now comes the other part of the issue. It has always been my pet peeve when someone over-generalize physics as being predominantly being "high-energy physics, astrophysics, string theory, etc...", i.e. the esoteric fields of study. In this case, "theoretical physics" certainly is NOT dominated by those fields. There are theoretical studies in condensed matter physics, atomic/molecular physics, medical physics, accelerator physics, etc... etc., i.e. fields of studies that are certainly not esoteric, have lots of practical applications, etc.

In fact, I would argue that the esoteric fields of physics represents the MINORITY in terms of the number of practicing physicists that we have around the world. As a zeroth-order approximation of this claim, I decided to look at the members of the APS. The APS Divisions correspond to the number of members who declared themselves to be in a certain field within physics. Note that not all members made the declaration, and it is also not uncommon for a member to declare more than one division.


First of all, 79% of APS members are accounted for in this chart for the 2018 membership. Now, what is the percentage of members within the so-called esoteric fields of Astrophysics, Gravitation, and Particles and Fields? 14.9%. Even if you include Nuclear Physics into this, it will come up to 19.8%

Now, forget about theoretical or experimental. Can 19.8% represents ALL of physics? The fields of studies that a lot of people associate physics with are done by ONLY 19.8% of physicists! Using them, one will get a severely inaccurate representation of physics and physicists.

In fact, if you look at the fields more commonly associated with the physics of materials (condensed matter physics and Materials Physics), we get 18.2%, almost as big as Astrophysics, Gravitation, Particles and Fields, and Nuclear Physics combined! Condensed matter physics alone dwarfs other fields, being almost twice as big as the next division, which is Particles and Fields.

But what is more important here is that outside of the 19.8% of physicists in these esoteric fields, an overwhelming percentage of physicists (59.2%) are in fields of studies that are associated with practical applications of physics. So if you were to bump randomly into a physicist, chances are, you will find someone who works in a field related to something of practical importance and NOT a high-energy physicist, a nuclear physicist, etc.

This is my round-about way of complaining that Ethan Siegel article should not be a damnation of "theoretical physics" in general, because the overwhelming percentage of theoretical physics is NOT about these esoteric topics that have been mentioned in his article. Rather, theories in other parts of physics rely very heavily on empirical observations and verification, i.e. the good and tested way of doing science. In those areas, we are definitely NOT wasting our best minds!

A while back, I said that physics is not just the LHC. It is also your iPhone. Even that requires modification. We should say that physics is predominantly your iPhone, with only a smidgen of LHC added as garnishing. That is a more accurate representation of the field as a whole.

Zz.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

MinutePhysics Special Relativity Chapter 6

If you missed Chapter 5 of this series, check it out here.

Here's Chapter 6 of the Minute Physics series on Special Relativity. This time, they are tackling a topic that I see being asked numerous times : velocity addition. ("If I'm traveling close to the speed of light and I turn on my flashlight.....").

I know that this topic has been covered here many times, but it is worth repeating, especially since someone may have missed the earlier ones.



Zz.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Work Begins On FACET II at SLAC

The upgrade to FACET facility at SLAC promises to improve the beam electron beam quality at the accelerator facility. One of the direct benefits of this upgrade is further advancement in the plasma wakefield accelerator technique. This technique has previously shown to be capable of producing very high accelerating gradient and thus, has the potential to produce accelerating structures that can accelerate charged particles to higher energies over shorter distances.

Now, when you read the press release that I linked above, make sure you are very clear on what it said. The FACET II facility is NOT a facility that operates using this "plasma wakefield" technique. It is a facility that produces an improved electron beam quality, both in energy and emittance, among other things. This electron beam (which is produced via conventional means) is THEN will be used in the study of this wakefield accelerator technique.

The project is an upgrade to the Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests (FACET), a DOE Office of Science user facility that operated from 2011 to 2016. FACET-II will produce beams of highly energetic electrons like its predecessor, but with even better quality. These beams will primarily be used to develop plasma acceleration techniques, which could lead to next-generation particle colliders that enhance our understanding of nature’s fundamental particles and forces and novel X-ray lasers that provide us with unparalleled views of ultrafast processes in the atomic world around us.

So read carefully the "sequence of events" here and not get too highly distracted by thinking that FACET II is a "novel X-ray laser, etc..." facility. It isn't. It is a facility, an important facility, to develop the machines that will give us more knowledge to make all these other capabilities.

Consider this as my public service to you to clarify a press release! :)

Zz.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

What Is A Plasma?

I love the Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). In fact, I am a member and a donor to the museum. So let's get that out of the way first.

Secondly, I know how difficult it is to explain scientific concepts to the public. The need to use simple words and terminology, AND, make it accurate can be a daunting task.

Still, I can't help but be a bit disappointed by this sign that I saw at MSI this past week. Granted, this was in the gift store, but still, for an institution promoting science, this falls a bit short.

The sign accompanies one of those "plasma arc ball" thingy that they were selling:

Here's what the sign says:

A plasma is a gas that has been heated to extremely high temperatures. At these high temperatures, the atoms are moving so fast that they lose their electrons, creating ionized particles. The electrons and ionized particles jump from one place to another to try and get as far away from each other as possible, creating a "lightening" effect.

There are problems with this description.

1. A plasma need NOT be only a gas that has been heated to high temperatures. I can create a plasma by blasting gas atoms with energetic electrons. In fact, when you have an electrical discharge, that is essentially what happens. The gas has not been heated by any means. So there are other means of creating a plasma beyond just heating. So a plasma is NOT defined as ".... a gas that has been heated to high temperatures...."

2. At high temperatures, the atoms lose their electrons not because they are moving "so fast". They lose their electrons because when they move "so fast", they also collide harder against other atoms, and collide more frequently. This tend to give each atom the energy to knock off one or more electrons, thus causing it to be ionized. Atoms do not lose electrons simply because they are moving "so fast".

3. The description that "... The electrons and ionized particles jump from one place to another to try and get as far away from each other as possible, creating a "lightening" effect.... " is extremely puzzling and, frankly, irrelevant to the description of what a plasma is. In fact, if you think about it, when an atom is ionized, it has a net positive charge. An electron, having a negative charge, would tend to want to go back to the positively-charged ion. So why would they want to "... get as far way from each other as possible..."?

4. The last part is trying to describe the creation of an electric discharge or an arc. This is superfluous, and is not part of the definition of a plasma. An electric discharge is a form of a plasma, but a plasma is not JUST an electrical discharge.

So what is a plasma? If, say, someone at MSI who isn't a physicist needed to make this sign, and Googled it, he/she will see several definitions. I'll pick one (the bold is mine).

Plasma is the fourth state of matter. Many places teach that there are three states of matter; solid, liquid and gas, but there are actually four. The fourth is plasma. To put it very simply, a plasma is an ionized gas, a gas into which sufficient energy is provided to free electrons from atoms or molecules and to allow both species, ions and electrons, to coexist. The funny thing about that is, that as far as we know, plasmas are the most common state of matter in the universe. They are even common here on earth. A plasma is a gas that has been energized to the point that some of the electrons break free from, but travel with, their nucleus. Gases can become plasmas in several ways, but all include pumping the gas with energy. A spark in a gas will create a plasma. A hot gas passing through a big spark will turn the gas stream into a plasma that can be useful. Plasma torches like that are used in industry to cut metals. The biggest chunk of plasma you will see is that dear friend to all of us, the sun. The sun's enormous heat rips electrons off the hydrogen and helium molecules that make up the sun. Essentially, the sun, like most stars, is a great big ball of plasma.

The bold sentence, to me, is a sufficient definition of a plasma to be given to the general public. An ionized gas can be made up of equal parts of positive ions and electrons, unequal parts of positive ions and electrons, all ions, or all electrons, i.e. there are free charges floating around at a given time. This, to me, is a more accurate definition than what the MSI sign says.

I'm not sure how many of MSI guests paid attention to the sign or learned what a plasma is from that sign. But I hope those responsible for such signs pay closer attention to the accuracy of the info that they put out.

Zz.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

MinutePhysics Special Relativity Chapter 5

If you missed Chapter 4 of this series, check it out here.

In this chapter, the topic of "time dilation" and "length contraction" is tackled.



Zz.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

That Impossible EM Drive Might Be ..... Impossible After All!

Crackpots were just having a field day when NASA announced several years ago of an EM propulsion that somehow violates momentum conservation laws. Now comes a more careful experiment from a group that tried to reproduce this result, and the outcome is rather hysterical.

The team built their EM drive with the same dimensions as the one that NASA tested, and placed it in a vacuum chamber. Then, they piped microwaves into the cavity and measured its tiny movements using lasers. As in previous tests, they found it produced thrust, as measured by a spring. But when positioned so that the microwaves could not possibly produce thrust in the direction of the spring, the drive seemed to push just as hard.

And, when the team cut the power by half, it barely affected the thrust. So, it seems there’s something else at work. The researchers say the thrust may be produced by an interaction between Earth’s magnetic field and the cables that power the microwave amplifier.

So far, this has only been reported in a conference proceeding, which is linked in the New Scientist article (you will need ResearchGate access).

I'm sure there will be many more tests of this thing soon, but I can't help but chuckle at the apparent conclusion here.

Zz.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Graphene Might Could Kill Off Cancer Cells

Here's another example of how something that came out of physics is now finding an application in other fields, namely the medical field. Graphene, which was discovered quite a while back and won its two discoverers the Nobel Prize in Physics, has now found a possible application at fighting cancer.

It began with a theory -- scientists at the University of California knew graphene could convert light into electricity, and wondered whether that electricity had the capacity to stimulate human cells. Graphene is extremely sensitive to light (1,000 times more than traditional digital cameras and smartphones) and after experimenting with different light intensities, Alex Savchenko and his team discovered that cells could indeed be stimulated via optical graphene stimulation."

I was looking at the microscope's computer screen and I'm turning the knob for light intensity and I see the cells start beating faster," he said. "I showed that to our grad students and they were yelling and jumping and asking if they could turn the knob. We had never seen this possibility of controlling cell contraction."

The source paper can be found here, and it is open-access.

Again, this is why it is vital that funding in basic physics continues at a healthy pace. Even if you do not see the immediate application or benefit from many of these seemingly esoteric research, you just never know when any of the discovery and knowledge that are gained from such areas will turn into something that could save people's lives. We have seen such examples NUMEROUS times throughout history. Unfortunately, people are often ignorant at the origin of many of the benefits that they now take for granted.

Zz.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Noether Theorem And Symmetries

This is not something new that I'm highlighting on this blog. I've mentioned a link to Emmy Noether theorem before in this post, and also highlighted a history of her work here. However, I think that there is no such thing as too much publicity on Emmy Noether, because she deserves to be remembered and admired through eternity for her accomplishments and insights.

This video tries to explain the significance of her work connecting conservation laws with symmetry principles.



However, I think that if I were a layperson, I'd miss the important point in this video. So here is the takeaway message if you want one:

Everything that we see and every behavior of our universe can be traced to some conservation laws. Each conservation law is a manifestation of some underlying symmetry of our universe.

This is the insight, and a very important insight, that Noether brought to the table, and it was revolutionary to physics. These symmetries are what we currently have as the most fundamental description of the universe that we live in.

Watch this video, and read the links that I gave above, several times if you must, because you owe it to yourself to know about this person and her immense effect on our understanding of our world.

Zz.

Relativistic Velocity Addition

If I get $1 for every time someone asks me "If I'm moving in a spaceship and I turn on my flash light...."

Here's Don Lincoln's lesson on relativistic velocity addition:



Zz.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

RIP David Pines

This is another one of the physicist who is a giant in his field, but relatively unknown to the general public.

Renowned condensed matter theorist David Pines passed away on May 3, 2018 at the age of 93. I practically read his text (co-authored by Nozieres) on Fermi Liquid from cover to cover while I was a graduate student. In fact, he was on the cusp of a Nobel Prize when he was working with John Bardeen at UIUC. They published a paper on the electron-phonon interaction in superconductors in 1955, a paper that many thought was the precursor to the subsequent BCS Theory paper in 1957. Unfortunately, he left UIUC, and Bob Schrieffer took over his work on this, which ultimately led to the BCS theory and the Nobel prize.

This did not diminished his body of work throughout his life. He certainly was a main figure during the High-Tc superconductivity craze of the late 80's and 90's. His 1991 PRL paper with Monthoux and Balatsky and the 1992 PRL paper with Monthoux, both on the spin-fluctuation effect as the possible "glue" in the cuprate superconductors, where ground-breaking and highly cited.

His contribution to this body of knowledge will have a lasting impact.

Zz.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Dark Energy Levels Not Too Constrained For Star Formation

I've always had a bit of a problem with the anthropic scenario of our universe, i.e. the idea that we are living in a universe JUST fined-tuned to allow us to exist. My problem isn't with the observations so far, but rather how much people are already thinking that this must be true, the data are set, and that we can run away with it. Certainly many people outside of cosmology have tried to spin this into whatever directions that they want.

So when news like this comes along, I just want to yell "I told you so!". It is not that I agree or disagree with the conclusion, but it is to point out that in our attempt to understand all of this, our knowledge is still in its infancy, and that we really don't know enough yet to be able to say things one way or the other on many of the big issues. We do have a fuzzy idea on what direction it is going, but in a number of things and observations, more is required to understand things even better.

The new studies ran the simulation on the star formation of our universe against the amount of dark energy in our universe. They can, to put it crudely, dial in various level of dark energy in their simulations. They found that there is a wider range than initially expected for our present universe to form, i.e. it is not in a very narrow range that was thought of. So keeping everything relatively the same, we could see this present universe that we're in for a large range of dark energy.

The simulations allowed the researchers to adjust the amount of dark energy in the universe and watch what happened.

The results were a surprise. The research revealed that the amount of dark energy could be increased a couple of hundred times – or reduced equally drastically – without substantially affecting anything else.

So for dark energy, the parameter is not as "fine tuned" as one expected.

Zz.

https://academic.oup.com/mnras/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/mnras/sty846/4963750?redirectedFrom=fulltext

https://academic.oup.com/mnras/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/mnras/sty879/4966995?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Friday, May 11, 2018

Not Insignificant Blunder on John Bardeen by UK's "Express"

OK, so to commemorate Feynman's 100th birthday, the UK's Daily Express decided to do a "Top 10" about physics. I thought this was going to be a fun read when I encountered #8 on the list:


It said "8. The only double winner is John Bardeen: 1956 (transistors) and 1972 (MRI images)"

Nope! The 1972 Nobel Prize in physics to Bardeen was for the theory of superconductivity. He is the "B" in BCS theory!

The Nobel Prize for MRI imaging was given in 2003 to Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield.

How come news organizations don't do fact checking anymore nowadays?

Zz.

Happy 100th Birthday, Richard Feynman!

Today, May 11, 2018, is the 100th birthday of physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman. He was born on May 11, 1918.

This article covers the important commemoration of Feynman's birthday, ranging from the event at CalTech all the way to Tuva in remote Russia.

Zz.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Big Bell Test

Hey, I'm missing all the fun here!

A new paper to be published in Nature appears to have closed the "freedom-of-choice" loophole in the standard Bell-type experiment.

The BIG Bell Test asked human volunteers, known as Bellsters, to choose the measurements, in order to close the so-called "freedom-of-choice loophole" -- the possibility that the particles themselves influence the choice of measurement. Such influence, if it existed, would invalidate the test; it would be like allowing students to write their own exam questions. This loophole cannot be closed by choosing with dice or random number generators, because there is always the possibility that these physical systems are coordinated with the entangled particles. Human choices introduce the element of free will, by which people can choose independently of whatever the particles might be doing.
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Participants contributed with more than 90 million bits, making possible a strong test of local realism, as well as other experiments on realism in quantum mechanics. The obtained results strongly disagree Einstein's worldview, close the freedom-of-choice loophole for the first time, and demonstrate several new methods in the study of entanglement and local realism.

I have not read the actual paper yet, so if you have, I'd like to hear about it.

From my personal point of view, I no longer consider that the loopholes of Bell tests are anything significant anymore. This is due to the NUMEROUS consistent and non-contradictory results that we have obtained so far. In terms of the physics, Mother Nature seems to already let us know what she really is in this regards.

But I guess, until all of the loopholes are closed, we will always have to find a way to close them.

Zz.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Alternative Theories of Gravity In Deep Doo-Doo

This is a rather nice article on the troubled times facing many alternative theories to Einstein's General Relativity due to the recent results from the colliding neutron stars. It should be especially useful to laymen to read and understand the methodology and the scrutiny that every theory goes through in physics to be considered to be valid. The one "take-home-lesson" that you should see is that my often-repeated manta here is more true than ever:

"Physics just doesn't say what goes up, must come down. It must also say when and where it comes down" - Warren Siegel.

The quantitative aspect is what is able to separate theories from being wrong to being right. One can't just say "oh, gravity gets weaker as we go farther away". It must say how much weaker, how it behaves with distance, etc.. etc.. and make precise predictions (i.e. to what level of uncertainty). These are "numbers" that we can compare with experiments, if there are already results or if new ones are collected.

This was exactly what happened with the merging neutron stars result, where our verification of the speed of gravity matches that to such precision with the speed of light, that a number of alternative gravitational theories died instantly.

The moral of the story here is that you should not fall in such deep love with any theory yet to have substantial verification, and you should not jump too quickly when new theories appear. I still point out to the OPERA debacle a few years ago when the OPERA project thought they measured superluminal neutrinos. As soon as they published their results, a bunch of theoretical explanations appeared on the e-print arXiv website, proposing theories of superluminal neutrinos, without waiting for independent verification of the validity of the result.

Not surprisingly, they all died of a horrible death when the result was attributed to bad optical cable connection! The history of physics is littered with theories that died and disappeared into obscurity when they could not match the experimental results or observations. Any beliefs or ideology, no matter how beautiful, satisfying, or popular, will crumble at the hands of Mother Nature if she says so.

Zz.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Hawking's Final Paper Is Published

The late Stephen Hawking's final paper written while he was alive, has been published. You can get the full version of it at that link.

If you missed it, read Ethan Siegel's earlier explanation of the paper.

Zz.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Quantum Entanglement Just Got "Big"

The "big" news of the week so far is the two papers published in nature that increased the size of entities that can be in an quantum entanglement.

It looks like we've approached the size of a human hair, which, by any quantum mechanical standards, is humongous.

This is beginning to approach the the scale size of the Schrodinger Cat. Well, not quite, but it is in the right direction. The Schrodinger Cat-type states, which is more of a demonstration of quantum superposition (and a vital ingredient in quantum entanglement), is also getting to be huge.

Zz.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

MinutePhysics Special Relativity Chapter 4

If you missed Chapter 3, check it out here.

Here's the next chapter in MinutePhysics lessons in Special Relativity.



Zz.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Forum with Congressman and Physicist Bill Foster

This is the talk given by Congressman and the only Physicist left in the US Congress, Bill Foster, at this year's APS March meeting.



I have been in attendance to one of Bill Foster's talk before, at the 2011 TIPP conference in Chicago. You may read my "live" reporting of that talk back then, and also a follow-up post on it.

Zz.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Friedmann Equation

Astrophysicist Ethan Siegal picked the Friedmann equation as the "most important" equation in the universe.

The first Friedmann equation describes how, based on what is in the universe, its expansion rate will change over time. If you want to know where the Universe came from and where it's headed, all you need to measure is how it is expanding today and what is in it. This equation allows you to predict the rest!

I don't have the "most important equation" in the universe for my pick, mainly because I don't know the criteria for picking such a thing. And often times, people confuses "interesting" with "important", which need not be mutually inclusive.

It's still fun to read what other physicists think is the most important equation, even if I don't necessarily agree with their picks.

Zz.

Friday, April 13, 2018

An Overview of CLIC at CERN

This is the lesser known effort at CERN among the general public, and yet, it may have one of the most significant impacts coming out of this high-energy physics lab.

CLIC, or the Compact Linear Collider research project at CERN has been studying accelerator science for many years. This is one of a few prominent research centers on accelerator physics throughout the world. Both they and many other accelerator research centers are making advancements in accelerator science that have a direct benefit and application to the general public.

So my intention in highlighting this article is not simply for you to learn what the people at CLIC do. Some of the description may even be beyond your understanding. What you should focus on is all the applications that are already in use, or can be possible in the near future, on the advancements made in this area of physics/engineering. These applications are not just within physics/engineering.

Unfortunately, as I've stated a few times in this blog, funding for accelerator science is often tied to funding in high energy physics, and for the US, the funding profile in this sector has been abysmal. So while accelerator science is actually independent of HEP, its funding has gone downhill with HEP funding over the last few years, especially after the shutdown of the Tevatron at Fermilab.

Whether you support funding, or increase in funding, of this area of study is a different matter, but you should at least be aware and have the knowledge of what you are supporting or not supporting, and not simply make a decision based on ignorance of what it is and what it's implication can be.

Zz.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

What Astronomers Wish You Know About Dark Matter And Dark Energy

If you do a search of this blog, you will encounter numerous entries on both "dark matter" and "dark energy". It is something I've covered quite often, mainly because it is still an ongoing and active research area in astrophysics/astronomy/cosmology. Even high-energy physics/elementary particle physics is getting into the picture with particle astronomy.

In this article, Ethan Siegel gives you a condensed version of what "dark matter" and "dark energy" are, and what you need to know about them. But more importantly, if you think that you can discard them, you need to do more than just say that they are not needed.

It wasn't always apparent that this would be the solution, but this one solution works for literally all the observations. When someone puts forth the hypothesis that "dark matter and/or dark energy doesn't exist," the onus is on them to answer the implicit question, "okay, then what replaces General Relativity as your theory of gravity to explain the entire Universe?" As gravitational wave astronomy has further confirmed Einstein's greatest theory even more spectacularly, even many of the fringe alternatives to General Relativity have fallen away. The way it stands now, there are no theories that exist that successfully do away with dark matter and dark energy and still explain everything that we see. Until there are, there are no real alternatives to the modern picture that deserve to be taken seriously

It might not feel right to you, in your gut, that 95% of the Universe would be dark. It might not seem like it's a reasonable possibility when all you'd need to do, in principle, is to replace your underlying laws with new ones. But until those laws are found, and it hasn't even been shown that they could mathematically exist, you absolutely have to go with the description of the Universe that all the evidence points to. Anything else is simply an unscientific conclusion.

Zz.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Another "Unconventional" Superconductor?

This is definitely exciting news, because if verified, this will truly open up a whole new phase space for superconductivity.

An advanced publication has appeared reporting the discovery of high-spin state quasiparticles that are involved in superconducitivty.[1] This occurs in a topological semimetal YPtBi.

Previously, superconductivity occurs due to quasiparticles of spin 1/2 forming pairs called Cooper pairs. Now these Cooper pairs can have a total spin of either 0 (singlet state), or 1 (triplet state). This new superconductor seems to be formed by quasiparticles having spin 3/2! The resulting Cooper pairs may have total spin of 3 or 2.

It turns out that based on their measurements, the pairing symmetry appears to be predominantly in the spin state of 3, with a sub-dominant component having 0 (the singlet) state.

If you want to know how a quasiparticle here could have a spin 3/2 state, then you need to learn about spin-orbit coupling that we all learned in intro QM classes, and read the article.

This is utterly fascinating. Just when you think you can't be surprised anymore by the phenomenon of superconductivity, along comes one!

Zz.

[1] H. Kim et al., Sci. Adv.2018;4

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Twin Paradox - The "Real" Explanation, But With No Math

Don Lincoln made a video a while back explaining the apparent twin paradox, explaining that it isn't due to acceleration. It seems that his audience wanted an explanation, but without using math. He has graciously agreed and this video is his attempt at providing the same explanation, but without all that math in the earlier video.



Is this clearer for people who didn't quite get the first video?

Zz.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

MinutePhysics Special Relativity Chapter 3

If you missed Chapter 2 of this series, you can check it out here.

Here is Chapter 3, and this is where he uses that thing-ma-jiggy to illustrate Lorentz transformation.



Zz.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Do A Search On "Physics" and "Physicist"

.. which, btw, is almost the title of this physics blog! :)

Chad Orzel must have been bored when he decided to do a search on the words "physics" and then "physicist". Hilarity ensues.

I'm not surprised that some of these search engines confuse "physicist" and "physician", since many people think people who work in physics are "physician". But a few of those stock photos that he found from Shutterstock are just hilarious. Of course, stereotype abounds, but some of these are so far out in left field, they are hardly relevant.

I guess, subconsciously, this was partly the reason why I did that superficial poll on the most attractive male and female physicist a while back. We all don't look like Albert Einstein, even for our women physicists!

Zz.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Revamping Introductory Physics Laboratory - Part 8

If you are not aware of my own pet project, this post will get you up to speed.

It has been a while since I updated this series, but better late than never. For this one, I'm going a bit against my own philosophy that physics just doesn't say what goes up must come down, but also when and where it comes down. For this exercise, I'm sticking with just the "what goes up must come down" part, i.e. only the qualitative aspect, not the quantitative aspect. But I have a good reason for it. It is because, in my experience, students often have a tough time understanding the concept itself, and I often found myself having to spend a considerable amount of time on this before I could proceed to the quantitative aspect of it. So in this exercise, the main idea is to make the students understand the concept and not worry about the "numbers" yet.

The topic of this exercise is Lenz's Law. This "lab" can actually be done either with real equipment in a laboratory setting, or done using a virtual setup. The PhET virtual setup for Faraday's Law is perfectly suited for this:

https://phet.colorado.edu/sims/html/faradays-law/latest/faradays-law_en.html

If you are doing this as a real experiment, you will need a solenoid, a bar magnet, a galvanometer with the "zero" position at the center of the scale, and some connecting wires. I've used a tightly-wound homemade solenoid, and it works fine. Note that you will need to know the direction of how the solenoid is wound (i.e. you need to be able to see the windings) so that you can figure out the sense of rotation of any current flow in the solenoid.

For this exercise, I will use the PhET simulation. I have used this as part of my in-class lecture on this topic, since every student in my class has a laptop or tablet and can access the PhET website during class. And yes, they were reminded to bring those devices to class for this topic.



Let's start with the aim of this exercise: It is to let students figure for themselves a "general rule" on when there is current in the circuit, and the direction of this current.

Keep in mind that the whole principle of this revamped lab idea is that the instruction is kept to a minimum, the students do not need to know the actual physics concept or principle, and we let them discover or learn about the phenomenon for themselves. So with that in mind, my only instruction to the students is this:

By using the magnet and moving it in and out of the solenoid, find a GENERAL RULE on when there is current in the circuit, and the direction of this current. Your rule must be able to tell  me that by doing an action, it will or will not result in a current in the circuit, and the direction that this current flows.

I give them a bit of a guideline, especially for those who are a bit clueless on what to do.

  • To simplify things, first figure out the direction of current flow in the solenoid if the galvanometer deflects to the right, and the direction of current flow if the galvanometer deflects to the left. Let's define the point of view by looking at the solenoid from the right, i.e. from where the magnet is in the figure above. The galvanometer will deflect to the right if current flows into it via the positive terminal, while it will deflect to the left if current flows into it via the negative terminal. So if one were to trace this path carefully, one can see that when viewed from the right, the current goes clockwise for positive deflection, and counter-clockwise for negative deflection. Armed with this info, we don't need to figure out anymore the sense of rotation of current in the solenoid, since by looking at the galvanometer deflection alone, we can tell the direction immediately.
  • Next, since we only care about when there is current in the circuit, and the direction of this current, and not its magnitude (yet), we can simplify the relevant magnetic field coming out of the bar magnet. For this exercise, we can just consider the magnetic field along the pole of the magnet, i.e. the direction of the magnetic field at the two pole ends. So a student must be given the information (if he/she doesn't know it already), that the magnetic field points straight out from the N-pole of the magnet, while at the other end, the magnetic field points straight in into the S-pole of the magnet. This is defined via convention.
  • A few students will simply not know what to do or how to start, so I give them a list of things for them to check out: (i) move the N-pole of the magnet into the solenoid while watching the galvanometer. (ii) stop moving the magnet and leave the N-pole inside the solenoid. (iii) move the N-pole of the magnet out of the solenoid while watching the galvanometer. (iv) repeat the same thing steps with the S-pole of the magnet.
  • Remind the students that they need to be able to describe clearly and succinctly a general rule for what they see. This means that they are required to convey, in writing, what they understand (communication skills). I tell the students that once they think they have written their general rule down, TEST it. See if their general rule explains everything that they observe in this exercise. For example, does their general rule explains why the galvanometer shows no deflection (i.e. no current) when the magnet is not moving inside the coil?
If this were done as a real experiment, I required the students to write exactly what they did and what they observed at every step.

What this exercise does is (i) to force students to think analytically on how to understand and make sense of what they observe and (ii) to get the students to communicate clearly what they understand in their heads into written form. Both of these are invaluable skills, and not just in physics. The second part is not as trivial as you think, because I find that a lot of students still have not mastered the art of conveying something in their heads via written communication (students who are not native English speakers will have a tougher time with this part so they may need extra assistance).

In my lessons, I introduce Lenz's law as the "qualitative" description, and then follow it up with Faraday's Law as the "quantitative" description of the same phenomenon. In addition to showing how Faraday's law "explains" Lenz's law, it will also allow you to explain why the galvanometer deflects with different amplitudes depending on how fast you move the magnet in or out of the solenoid. But this is one as part of the class lesson rather than as part of the lab exercise.

I toyed with the idea of putting the "answer" here (it is not as if one can't google for it), but I'm going to leave it out for now and let any interested party try it out. I will update this post at a future date to include my version of the "general rule" that reflects what Lenz's law says.

Zz.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Newton's Gravitational Law Still Valid At Sub-Nanometer Scale

A new experiment using neutron scattering off noble gasses has shown no deviation from Newton's gravitational law at 0.1 nm scale.

The team fired pulses of neutrons at a chamber filled with either helium or xenon gas and monitored both the travel time of the neutrons through the gas and the neutrons’ scattering angles. From these measurements, they reconstructed the scattering process with the aid of simulations. They found that the scattering-angle distribution fit the predictions—based only on known laws of physics—for neutrons bouncing off gas nuclei. This result indicates that, within the sensitivity of the experiment, no unexplained force—be it modified gravity or another type of interaction—acts on length scales below 0.1 nm.

This one may not be as transparent, since it required quite a bit of reconstruction to simulate the interaction. So while the length scale being probed has improved considerably, I'm not so sure on how convincing this result is.

Still, where are those curled-up extra dimensions anyway?

Zz.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Fermilab Accelerator Complex

This is a neat animation video of the Fermilab Accelerator Complex as it is now, and all the various experiments and capabilities that it has.



Of course, the "big ring", which was the Tevatron, is no longer running now, and thus, no high-energy particle collider experiments being conducted anymore.

Zz.

An Astrophysicist Describes Stephen Hawking's Last Paper

The astrophysicist in this case is, of course, Ethan Siegel, who I've cited here a few times.

In this article, he describes what Hawking's last paper is all about, if you want simple description of it. The link to the preprint (we'll update this post if and when it is published) is also given if you don't have it already.

Here is, in a nutshell, what they do. They create a (deformed) conformal field theory that is mathematically equivalent (or dual) to an eternally inflating spacetime, and investigate some mathematical properties of that field theory. They look, in particular, at where the border of a spacetime that inflates for an eternity (forward in time) versus one that doesn't, and choose that as the interesting problem to consider. They then look at the geometries that arise from this field theory, try to map that back onto our physically inflating Universe, and draw a conclusion from that. Based on what they find, they contend that the exit from inflation doesn't give you something eternally inflating into the future, with disconnected pockets where hot Big Bangs occur, but rather that the exit is finite and smooth. In other words, it gives you a single Universe, not a series of disconnected Universes embedded in a larger multiverse.

There! Do you even need to read the actual paper after that?

😁

BTW, let's also give some love to his co-author, Thomas Hertog, who seems to be left out in many of this discussion and news articles.

Zz.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Micro Fusion In Nanowires Array

This is a rather astounding result. The authors have managed to cause deuterons-deuterons fusion in an array of nanowires via igniting it using only joule-level pulsed laser[1], i.e. not using the huge, gigantic lasers such as that as the National Ignition Facility.

This is an open-access paper and you can get the full version at this link.

And no, before you jump all over this one and think that this is the next fusion power generator, you need to think again. The authors are touting this as a viable (and cheaper) ultra-fast pulsed neutron source, which can be useful in many applications and studies.

Zz.

[1] A. Curtis et al., Nature Communnications DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-03445-

Thursday, March 15, 2018

SQUID: History and Applications

No, this is not the squid that you eat. It is the Superconducting Quantum Interference Device, which is really a very clear application of quantum mechanics via the use of superconductors.

This is a lecture presented by UC-Berkeley's John Clarke at the 2018 APS March Meeting.



Zz.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking: 1942–2018

Of course, the biggest physics news of the day is the passing of Stephen Hawking at the age of 76.

Unfortunately, as popular as he is in the public arena, it also means that he left us without being awarded the highest prize in physics, which is the Nobel prize. This isn't unusual, especially for a theorist, because there are many theorists whose contribution became of utmost importance only many years later after they are gone.

Still, as a scientist who had attained a highly-unusual superstar status among the public, I will not be surprised if he has had a lasting impact of the field, and the perception of the field among the public and aspiring physicists.

RIP, Stephen.

Zz.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Twin Paradox - The "Real" Explanation

So this thing doesn't seem to go away. The Twin Paradox is a common question that gets asked in class and online. And of course, the most common answer being given to explain away the paradox is that there is a broken symmetry between the two twins, and thus, they should not experience the same thing. But often, this involves one twin experiencing an acceleration/deceleration, which the other twin did not experience.

However, in this video, Don Lincoln tries to correct the explanation and argues that even without any acceleration/deceleration, one twin will STILL not have the same set of experience (he/she is in two different reference frame, while the "non-moving" twin stays in just one reference frame) when compared to the other twin, and thus, this broken symmetry resolves the twin paradox.



The math is simple algebra, but you do have to keep the notation straight, and the signs.

Zz.

Teaching Intro Physics To Life Science Students

Teaching intro General Physics to Life Science/Bio students is something I do regularly. And it can be quite challenging because, in my case, calculus is not required and isn't used in the lesson. So there are many things that can't be easily derived from scratch.

I've resolved, a long time ago, that the approach to teaching such a class has to be different than the approach to teaching the calculus-based class, which is often populated by physics, chemistry, and engineering majors. In my experience, the average math skill is lower in the non-calc-based general physics class, which isn't too surprising. But more challenging than that, there is less of an interest and inclination towards the physics subject from such students. Most, if not all, of the Life Science/Bio students are in the class because they have to, and some even have an active dislike of the subject matter.

So it is definitely a challenge to not only convey the material in an understandable manner, but also to perk up their interest in the material so that they will do well in the course. It is why I tend to read papers like this one, which studied the correlation between life science students' interest, attitudes, and performance in a general physics class.[1] In particular, I'm always interested in using examples from biology/medicine to illustrate the particular physics topics that we cover in a lecture. As concluded in this paper, tailoring the subject matter to overlap with what the students are majoring in can affect not only the interest in the subject, but also their performance. This is a no-brainer for many of us, but this paper clearly shows the correlation.

BTW, it helps if the text being used is also geared towards the life science students.  The one that I had used before is "College Physics" by Giambattista, Richardson, and Richardson. I like the part where at the beginning of each chapter, it lists out some of the relevant applications in biology, medicine, etc. I just wish that the text has more examples from such areas, and more homework exercises in those areas, the way the paper described the examples and problems that were used in the course.

Zz.

[1] C.H. Crouch et al. Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. v.14, 010111 (2018).

Friday, March 09, 2018

Fusion Power Is 15 Years Away?

This news article is reporting that "MIT scientists" is predicting that we will have nuclear fusion power in 15 years time.

The project, a collaboration between scientists at MIT and a private company, will take a radically different approach to other efforts to transform fusion from an expensive science experiment into a viable commercial energy source. The team intend to use a new class of high-temperature superconductors they predict will allow them to create the world’s first fusion reactor that produces more energy than needs to be put in to get the fusion reaction going.

Bob Mumgaard, CEO of the private company Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which has attracted $50 million in support of this effort from the Italian energy company Eni, said: “The aspiration is to have a working power plant in time to combat climate change. We think we have the science, speed and scale to put carbon-free fusion power on the grid in 15 years.”

Interestingly, there was no direct quote from any MIT scientists here who is working on the project. The article quoted MIT's vice-president for research, but she's not working on this project.

So essentially, it appears that no one from MIT is making this claim, but everyone else on the peripheral is.

Let's mark this and check back in 15 years. Still, I will not be holding my breath.

Zz.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Seeing Anyons With STM?

This is a very intriguing theoretical paper that proposes the detection of anyon using STM (you get free access to the actual paper from the website). The detection involves the measurement of the local density of states (LDOS), and then counting the resonance "rings". This is shown in Fig. 1 and 2 of the paper.[1]

This is quite a fascinating idea, because to get these fractional effects, one has to have a 2D confinement of the charges involved.

Now it becomes a race in seeing who might be able to produce such an experiment to detect these rings. STMs are pretty common, but it is now a matter of having the suitable material to see this.

Zz.


[1] Z. Papic et. al. PRX v.8, 011037 (2018).

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Magnon Transistors

A number of papers appear almost simultaneously on the invention of "magnon transistors". Instead of a transistor that directs the direction of electronic current flow, these are transistor that direct magnetic spin current flow, i.e. magnon flow.

Magnonic devices run exclusively on spin currents. (Spintronic devices, another electronics alternative, include both charge and spin currents.) To picture a magnon, imagine a row of spins pointing up, representing a magnetic material, and then imagine briefly flipping the spin at one end. This motion leads to a propagating wave that moves through the material as each spin influences its neighbor. Magnons can travel quickly and efficiently over long distances—up to about a centimeter in the best materials—without significantly losing energy or heating up the material, a feat not possible for electrons. But before building fast and efficient magnonic circuits, researchers need components that can regulate magnon currents.

I know I have been repeating this over and over again, but this is another example where basic research in condensed matter/solid state physics is now finding application in modern electronics.

Zz.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Thermal Footprints of Early Stars

Imagine being able to detect signals coming from the first stars formed in our universe, almost 180 million years after the Big Bang. This is why this astounding feat has been receiving popular media coverage.

A new paper published in Nature this week reports on the measurements of thermal radiation from such events.

A long-standing theory that still awaits testing predicts that absorption of UV radiation from early stars by nearby clouds of hydrogen could have driven TS back down to TG, but not lower. In other words, the cosmic dawn would make the gas seem colder when observed at radio frequencies. This would create an absorption feature in the spectrum of the background radiation left over from the Big Bang.

Bowman et al. now report the possible detection of just such an absorption signal. The authors measured TS , averaged over much of the sky and over a contiguous range of radio frequencies; each frequency provides a window on a different time in the Universe’s past. The measurement is very difficult because it must be performed using an extremely well-calibrated VHF radio antenna and receiver, to enable the weak cosmological signal to be separated from much stronger celestial signals and from those within the electronics systems of the apparatus used. 

For those of you who are not familiar with science, when you read the link, please read how the experimenters made the effort to ensure that their results are not due to their experimental technique or instrumentation.

Zz.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

MinutePhysics Special Relativity Chapter 2

If you missed Chapter 1, check it out here.

Here's Chapter 2.



Zz.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How People Got Time Dilation Wrong

While we are still waiting for Minute Physics to continue with its Special Relativity series, Fermilab's Don Lincoln has a nice video on the things that many people got wrong with SR's time dilation concepts. I see these misconception often, so this might be quite beneficial to those who do not have a formal lesson in SR. Heck, I think even physics students might benefit watching this.



Zz.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Lawrence Krauss Hit By Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Oh dear. I knew it was going to happen that someone from within the physics community will be hit by such allegations (hey, we are all still human after all and not immune to doing such nasty actions). But it is still a bit surprising and disappointing when such allegations happens to someone whose writings I've enjoyed over the years.

I'm sure this will work through the legal system, and I'm not going to comment anymore than that. I think most, if not, all of us here in the US who work either in the academic settings or at a govt. lab had gone through training or classes on sexual harassment. In my case, I've had gone through several of these, including training on Title IX, etc.. etc.

This is an issue we all have to face, and we are now starting to see how pervasive it really is.

Zz.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

New Measurement of Hubble Constant Brings New Puzzle

The most extensive measurement of the Hubble constant based on observations made by the Hubble telescope (how appropriate) has revealed a discrepancy between its value and those made earlier by ESA's Planck satellite.

Planck’s result predicted that the Hubble constant value should now be 67 kilometers per second per megaparsec (3.3 million light-years), and could be no higher than 69 kilometers per second per megaparsec. This means that for every 3.3 million light-years farther away a galaxy is from us, it is moving 67 kilometers per second faster. But Riess’s team measured a value of 73 kilometers per second per megaparsec, indicating galaxies are moving at a faster rate than implied by observations of the early universe.

The Hubble data are so precise that astronomers cannot dismiss the gap between the two results as errors in any single measurement or method. “Both results have been tested multiple ways, so barring a series of unrelated mistakes,” Riess explained, “it is increasingly likely that this is not a bug but a feature of the universe.”

The arXiv version of the paper can be found here.

Zz.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Dark Life Of The Higgs Boson

I decided to modify a bit the title of the Symmetry article that I'm linking to, because in that article, the possible link between the Higgs boson and dark matter is made. This allows for the study of the decay of the Higgs to be used to detect the presence of dark matter.

The Standard Model not only predicts all the different possible decays of Higgs bosons, but how favorable each decay is. For instance, it predicts that about 60 percent of Higgs bosons will transform into a pair of bottom quarks, whereas only 0.2 percent will transform into a pair of photons. If the experimental results show Higgs bosons decaying into certain particles more or less often than predicted, it could mean that a few Higgs bosons are sneaking off and transforming into dark matter.

Of course, these kinds of precision measurements cannot tell scientists if the Higgs is evolving into dark matter as part of its decay path—only that it is behaving strangely. To catch the Higgs in the act, scientists need irrefutable evidence of the Higgs schmoozing with dark matter.

So there you have it.

If you are not up to speed on the discovery of the Higgs (i.e. you've been living under a rock for the past few years), I've mentioned a link to a nice update here.

Zz.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Observation of 3-Photon Bound States

They seem to be making a steady and impressive success along this line.

A new paper in Science[1] has shown an impressive result of the possibility of causing 3 different photons to be "bound" or entangled with one another after traversing through a cold rubidium atom gas.

In controlled experiments, the researchers found that when they shone a very weak laser beam through a dense cloud of ultracold rubidium atoms, rather than exiting the cloud as single, randomly spaced photons, the photons bound together in pairs or triplets, suggesting some kind of interaction — in this case, attraction — taking place among them.

Now, without going overboard with the superlatives, it must be stressed that this does not occur in vacuum, i.e. 3 photons just don't say hi to one another and decide to hang out together. The presence of the cold rubidium gas is essential for a photon to bound with one of the atoms to form a polariton:

The researchers then developed a hypothesis to explain what might have caused the photons to interact in the first place. Their model, based on physical principles, puts forth the following scenario: As a single photon moves through the cloud of rubidium atoms, it briefly lands on a nearby atom before skipping to another atom, like a bee flitting between flowers, until it reaches the other end.

If another photon is simultaneously traveling through the cloud, it can also spend some time on a rubidium atom, forming a polariton — a hybrid that is part photon, part atom. Then two polaritons can interact with each other via their atomic component. At the edge of the cloud, the atoms remain where they are, while the photons exit, still bound together. The researchers found that this same phenomenon can occur with three photons, forming an even stronger bond than the interactions between two photons.

This has almost the same flavor as the "attraction" between two electrons in a superconductor to form the bound Cooper pairs, which requires a background of lattice ion vibration or virtual phonons to mediate the coupling.

So photons can talk to one another, and in this case, 3 of them can hang out together. They just need a matchmaker as an intermediary, since they are just way too shy to do it on their own.

And with that sugary concoction, I think I need more coffee this morning.

Zz.

[1] Q-Y Liang et al., Science v.359, p.783 (2018).

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Light From A Single Strontium Atom

The image of light from a single strontium atom in an atom trap has won the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council photography competition.

You can see a more detailed photo of it on Science Alert.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of misconception going on here. You are not actually seeing the single strontium atom, because it highly depends on what you mean by "seeing". The laser excites the single strontium atom, and then the strontium atom relaxes and releases energy in the form of light. This is the light that you are seeing, and it is probably a result of one or more atomic transition in the atom, but certainly not all of it.

So you're seeing light due to the atomic transition of the atom. You are not actually seeing the atom itself, as proclaimed by some website. This is the nasty obstacle that the general public has to wade through when reading something like this. We need to make it very clear when we report this to the media on what it really is in no uncertain terms, because they WILL try to sensationalize it as much as they can.

Zz.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What's So Important About The g-2 Experiment?

If it is covered in CNN, then it has to be a big-enough news. :)

I mentioned earlier that the g-2 experiment at Fermilab was about to start (it has started now), which is basically a continuation and refinement of what was done several years ago at Brookhaven. In case the importance of this experiment escapes you, Don Lincoln of Fermilab has written a piece on the CNN website on this experiment and why it is being done.

If you are not in science, you need to keep in mind this important theme: scientists, and definitely physicists, like it A LOT when we see hints at something that somehow does not fit with our current understanding. We like it when we see discrepancies of our results with the things that we already know.

This may sound odd to many people, but it is true! This is because this is why many of us get into this field in the first place: to explore new and uncharted territories! Results that do not fit with our current understanding give hints at new physics, something beyond what we already know. This is exploration in the truest sense.

This is why there were people who actually were disappointed that we saw the Higgs, and within the energy range that the Standard Model predicted. It is why many, especially theorists working on Supersymmetry, are disappointed that the results out of the LHC so far are within what the Standard Model has predicted.

Zz.

Shedding Light On Radiation Reaction

This is basically an inverse Compton scattering. The latest experiment that studies this has been getting a bit of a press, because of the sensationalistic claims of light "stopping" electrons in their tracks.

A review of the experiment, and the theory behind this, is sufficiently covered in APS Physics, and you do get free access to the actually paper itself in PRX. But after all the brouhaha, this is the conclusion we get:

The differing conclusions in these papers serve as a call to improve the quantum theory for radiation reaction. But it must be emphasized that the new data are too statistically weak to claim evidence of quantum radiation reaction, let alone to decide that one existing model is better than the others. Progress on both fronts will come from collecting more collision events and attaining a more stable electron bunch from laser-wakefield acceleration. Additional information could come from pursuing complementary experimental approaches to observing radiation reaction (for example, Ref. [7]), which may be possible with the next generation of high-intensity laser systems [8]. In the meantime, experiments like those from the Mangles and Zepf teams are ushering in a new era in which the interaction between matter and ultraintense laser light is being used to investigate fundamental phenomena, some of which have never before been studied in the lab.

I know that they need very high-energy electron beam, but the laser wakefield technique that they used seem to be providing a larger spread in energy than what they can resolve:

Both experiments obtained only a small number of such successful events, mainly because it was difficult to achieve a good spatiotemporal overlap between the laser pulse and the electron bunch, each of which has a duration of only a few tens of femtoseconds and is just a few micrometers in width. A further complication was that the average energy of the laser-wakefield-accelerated electrons fluctuated by an amount comparable to the energy loss from radiation reaction.

I suppose this is the first step in trying to sort this out, and I have no doubt that there will be an improvement in such an experiment soon.

Zz.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Therapeutic Particles

No, this is not some mumbo-jumbo New Age stuff.

While this technique has become more common, and there are already several places here in the US that are researching this, this is a nice article to introduce to you the current state-of-the-art in using charged particles in medicine, especially in treating and attacking cancer. It appears that the use of carbon ions is definitely catching up in popularity over the current use of protons.

When you read this article, pay attention to the fact that this is an outcome of our understanding of particle accelerators, that this is a particle accelerator applications, and that high-energy physics experimental facilities are often the ones that either initiated the project, or are hosting it. So next time someone asks you the practical applications of particle accelerators or particle physics, point to this.

Zz.

Friday, February 02, 2018

MInutePhysics Special Relativity Chapter 1

Here is Chapter 1 of MinutePhysics attempt at a series to teach Special Relativity to those of you who are not physicists. You might want to subscribe to it if this is of any interest to you.



Note sure if one needs to build that contraption that is shown at the end of the video, though. :)

Zz.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Are Religious People Less Smart Than Atheists?

OK, if that isn't an incendiary title, I don't know what is! :)

I took that title loosely from this article that reviews a new study on how various groups of people think. To be fair, the paper being cited actually debunks that myth that religious people are less intelligent than non-religious people.

However (you know that was coming, didn't you?), it points out that religious people tend to rely heavily on intuition when there is an apparent conflict between intuition and logic. In other words, the more religious a person is, the more likely he/she will abandon rational thinking and rely on his/her intuition.

This is actually consistent with an earlier study that I mention on here. In that study, it was discovered that non-scientists are more likely to ignore scientific facts and evidence in favor of a view that support their values. Flat-Earth believers, anyone?

The problem in all of this is that (i) logic and rational thinking are the best methodology that we know of to come up with a valid conclusion, (ii) facts and evidence are being ignored or dismissed, and (iii) our intuition has been known to be terribly wrong and unreliable.

In science, intuition can only go so far, and we often abandon our intuition once it has been trumped by facts and evidence. This is why science evolves and improves over time. So when someone goes against that, and lean more on faulty intuition than logic and rational thinking, we then are into no-rules and no-holes-barred territory. Is this why a lot of people still believe in irrational and uncorroborated ideas and opinions?

I don't know. To me, dealing with public opinions and why such-and-such group of people or individual thinks that way is more mysterious than any of the physics research that I've done. Human beings are irrational creatures by nature, I suppose.

Zz.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Weightlessness and Gravity in Space

Rhett Allain tackles the issue of gravity in space and weightlessness as he dissects the scene he saw from The 100.

This is a common problem that many of us who teach intro physics encounter. Students, and the general public, often have a severe misunderstanding of the concept of "weightlessness", and equate that to having zero gravity. Certainly the example of being in a free-falling elevator, or even the example of the zero-g simulation in airplanes (the "vomit comet") are clear examples where one can be weightless but still in an environment with g not being zero.

It is one of those topics where, as physics instructors, we are resigned to a life-sentence of educating people non-stop about this misconception.

Zz.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Muon g-2 Experiment To Start Run

Everything old is new again!

The old muon g-2 experiment that was at Brookhaven was taken apart, and rebuilt at Fermilab. Now, after the logistic challenge of moving the huge magnet from there, and after the long hard work of rebuilding the facility, the muon g-2 is now about ready to start its run.

The facility is now better than ever, and physicists are hoping that there will be an anomaly in the measurement, indicating new physics beyond the Standard Model.

In 2013, the g-2 team lugged the experiment on a 5000-kilometer odyssey from Brookhaven to Fermilab, taking the ring by barge around the U.S. eastern seaboard and up the Mississippi River. Since then, they have made the magnetic field three times more uniform, and at Fermilab, they can generate far purer muon beams. "It's really a whole new experiment," says Lee Roberts, a g-2 physicist at Boston University. "Everything is better."

Over 3 years, the team aims to collect 21 times more data than during its time at Brookhaven, Roberts says. By next year, Hertzog says, the team hopes to have enough data for a first result, which could push the discrepancy above 5 σ.

Good luck, everyone!

Zz.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Flat-Earth Believers Are IDIOTS!

This would be funny if it wasn't so sad, and scary because these people presumably vote!

I read about this Flat Earth International Conference (honest!), and I can't believe the idiotic stuff that was written in the article. I'm going to ignore the paranoid claims about conspiracy and stuff. I'm not here to deal with their psychotic problems. However, I can deal with the science, and in particular, when idiots try to use physics to justify their stupidity.

Many flat-Earthers believe in testing the theory.

Darryle Marble said he conducted his own in-flight experiment using a leveler to test if the plane was flying parallel to a flat Earth.

"If it were a sphere then the surface of the Earth still would have been curving underneath the airplane while it's flying level," he reasoned. "It’s so simple it'll go right over your head," he said adding that people who have flown planes allegedly told him they "haven’t seen any curvature."

First of all, they don't believe astronauts who have gone into space when they said that the earth is a sphere, but yet, they want to use human observation from airplane rides! This is an example of pick-and-choose. 

Secondly, a leveler? Seriously?

Assuming that the plane is moving at a constant speed and at a constant altitude, this means that the plane is moving parallel to the earth's surface all the time. That's the definition of constant altitude. If the plane were to fly "straight with respect to the spatial coordinates", then it would be increasing in altitude! If that were to happen, the leveler will indicate several things (i) the acceleration due to the plan having to increase its altitude and (ii) gravity will act not straight down anymore. Any of these will affect the leveler.

But really, does the fact that if one head east continuously and end up at the same position later while in the plane, means nothing to these people?

There are many evidence that the earth is a sphere, and many of these are  plain obvious. The fact that different parts of the earth having opposite seasons at a given time of the year is one clear example. A flat earth will not result in different parts of the earth having different daylight hours and different seasons.

But there is another clear test here that have been too obvious: using a Faucault pendulum. How would these idiots explain not only the change in the plane of oscillation of the Faucault pendulum over a period of 24 hrs, but also the fact that (i) the change in the plane of oscillation is in the OPPOSITE direction for those having the opposite season (i.e. northern hemisphere versus southern hemisphere) and (ii) there is no change in the plane of oscillation at the equator.

Of course, to understand the significance of this observation, one actually must know the physics involved in a Faucault pendulum, and the conservation of angular momentum. But hey, maybe physics and all these conservation laws are also more conspiracies.

Again, to paraphrase Kathy Griffin: "These people are proud of their aggressive ignorance."

Zz.

What Is Relativity All About?

OK, so it may be odd that I want to highlight a beginner's topic on a popular subject on a blog that has been around for years. But hey, I get new people following this thing all the time, and I often get the same questions on basic physics.

So here's a simple, basic intro video on Special Relativity. In fact, Don Lincoln will be producing a series of such videos on this topic for those of you who want to know about Special Relativity, but was too afraid to ask.



Zz.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Enrico Fermi - The Pope of Physics

A fascinating presentation on Enrico Fermi.



Zz.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Putting Science Back Into Popular Culture

Clifford Johnson of USC has an interesting article on ways to introduce science (or physics in particular), back into things that the public usually gravitate to. In particular, he asks the question on how we can put legitimate science into popular culture so that the public will get to see it more regularly.

Science, though, gets portrayed as opposite to art, intuition and mystery, as though knowing in detail how that flower works somehow undermines its beauty. As a practicing physicist, I disagree. Science can enhance our appreciation of the world around us. It should be part of our general culture, accessible to all. Those “special talents” required in order to engage with and even contribute to science are present in all of us.

So how do we bring about a change? I think using the tools of the general culture to integrate science with everything else in our lives can be a big part of the solution.

Read the rest of the article on how to inject science into popular entertainment, etc.

Zz.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Table-Top Elementary Particle Experiment

I love reading articles like this one, where it shows that one can do quite useful research in elementary particles using experimental setup that is significantly smaller (and cheaper) than large particle colliders.

Now, he’s suddenly moving from the fringes of physics to the limelight. Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, is about to open a first-of-its-kind research institute dedicated to just his sort of small-scale particle physics, and Gabrielse will be its founding director.

The move signals a shift in the search for new physics. Researchers have dreamed of finding subatomic particles that could help them to solve some of the thorniest remaining problems in physics. But six years’ worth of LHC data have failed to produce a definitive detection of anything unexpected.

More physicists are moving in Gabrielse’s direction, with modest set-ups that can fit in standard university laboratories. Instead of brute-force methods such as smashing particles, these low-energy experimentalists use precision techniques to look for extraordinarily subtle deviations in some of nature’s most fundamental parameters. The slightest discrepancy could point the way to the field’s future. 

Again, I salute very much this type of endeavor, but I dislike the tone of the title of the article, and I'll tell you why.

In science, and especially physics, there is seldom something that has been verified, found, or discovered using just ONE experimental technique or detection method. For example, in the discovery of the Top quark, both CDF and D0 detectors at Fermilab had to agree. In the discovery of the Higgs, both ATLAS and CMS had to agree. In trying to show that something is a superconductor, you not only measure the resistivity, but also magnetic susceptibility.

In other words, you require many different types of verification, and the more the better or the more convincing it becomes.

While these table-top experiments are very ingenious, they will NOT replace the big colliders. No one in their right mind will tell CERN to "step aside", other than the author of this article. There are discoveries or parameters of elementary particles that these table-top experiments can study more efficiently than the LHC, but there are also plenty of the parameter phase space that the LHC can probe that can't be easily reached by these table-top experiments. They all are complimenting each other!

People who don't know any better, or don't know the intricacies of how experiments are done or how knowledge is gathered, will get the impression that because of these table-top experiments, facilities like the LHC will no longer be needed. I hate to think that this is the "take-home" message that many people will get.

Zz.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

How Do We Know Blackholes Exist?

If you don't care to read in detail on the physics, and have the attention span of a 2-year old, this is Minute Physics's attempt at convincing you that blackholes exist.



Zz.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Why Did Matter Matter?

Ethan Siegel has yet another nice article. This time, he tackles on why we have an abundant of matter in our universe, but hardly any antimatter, when all our physics seems to indicate that there should be equal amount of both, or simply a universe filled with no matter.

I have highlighted a number of CP-violation experiments on here, which is something mentioned in the article. But it is nice to have a layman-type summary of the baryo-lepton-genesis ideas that are floating out there.

Zz.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Determining The Hubble Constant

Ethan Siegel has a nice article on the pitfalls in determining one of the most important constants in our universe, the Hubble constant. The article describes why this constant is so important, and all the ramifications that come from it.

As you read this, notice all the "background knowledge" that one must have to be able to know how well certain things are known, and what are the assumptions and uncertainties in each of the methods and values that we use. All of these need to be known, and people using them must be aware of them.

Compare that to the decision we make everyday on things we accept in social policies and politics.

Zz.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Gravitational and Inertial Mass

In this video, Don Lincoln tackles the concept of gravitational and inertial mass, and talks about the wider, more general implication of them being the same within Einstein's General Relativity.



Zz.