Wednesday, January 23, 2019


Do you ever want to know about US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab?

Don Lincoln finally has made a video on everything you want to know about Fermilab, especially if you think that they don't do much anymore nowadays now that the Tevatron is long gone.

As someone who has visited there numerous times and collaborated with scientists and engineers that this facility, it is a neat place to visit if you have the chance.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Tommaso Dorigo's "False Claims In Particle Physics"

Hey, you should read this blog post by Tommaso Dorigo. It touches upon many of the myths regarding particle physics, especially the hype surrounding the name "god particle", as if that means something.

I've touched upon some of the issues he brought up. I think many of us who are active online and deal with the media and the public tend to see and observe the same thing, the same mistakes, and misinformation that are being put in print. One can only hope that by repeatedly pointing out such myths and why they are wrong, the message will slowly seep into the public consciousness.

I just wish it is seeping through faster.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Negative Capacitance in Ferroelectric Material Finally Found

I love this sort of reports, because it is based on a material that has been discovered for a long time and rather common, it is based on a consequence of a theory, it has both direct applications and a rich physics, and finally, it has an amazing resemblance to what many physics students have seen in textbooks.

A group of researchers have finally confirmed the existence of negative capacitance in ferroelectric material haffnium zirconium oxide Hf0.5Zr0.5O2. (You may access the Nature paper here or from that news article).

Researchers led by Michael Hoffmann have now measured the double-well energy landscape in a thin layer of ferroelectric Hf0.5Zr0.5Ofor the first time and so confirmed that the material indeed has negative capacitance. To do this, they first fabricated capacitors with a thin dielectric layer on top of the ferroelectric. They then applied very short voltage pulses to the electrodes of the capacitor, while measuring both the voltage and the charge on it with an oscilloscope.

“Since we already knew the capacitance of the dielectric layer from separate experiments, we were then able to calculate the polarization and electric field in the ferroelectric layer,” Hoffmann tells Physics World. “We then calculated the double-well energy landscape by integrating the electric field with respect to the polarization.”

Of course, there are plenty of potential applications for something like this.

One of the most promising applications utilising negative capacitance are electronic circuits with much lower power dissipation that could be used to build more energy efficient devices than any that are possible today, he adds. “We are working on making such devices, but it will also be very important to design further experiments to probe the negative capacitance region in the structures we made so far to help improve our understanding of the fundamental physics of ferroelectrics.”

But the most interesting part for me is that, if you look at Fig. 1 of the Nature paper, the double-well structure is something that many of us former and current physics students may have seen. I know that I remember solving this double-well problem in my graduate level QM class. Of course, we were solving it energy-versus-space dimension, instead of the energy-versus-polarization dimension as shown in the figure.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Crisis? What Crisis?

Chad Orzel has posted a fun piece that really tries to clarified all the brouhaha in many circles about a "crisis" that many are presuming to be widespread. The crisis in question is the lack of "beyond the standard model" discovery in elementary particle physics, and the issue that many elementary particle theorists seem to think that a theory that is based on solid foundation and elegance are sufficient to be taken seriously.

I find this very frustrating, because physics as a whole is not in crisis. The "crisis" being described is real, but it affects only the subset of physics that deals with fundamental particles and fields, particularly on the theory side. (Experimental physicists in those areas aren't making dramatic discoveries, but they are generating data and pushing their experiments forward, so they're a little happier than their theoretical colleagues...)

The problems of theoretical high energy physics, though, do not greatly afflict physicists working in much of the rest of the discipline. While this might be a time of crisis for particle theorists, it's arguably never been a better time to be a physicist in most of the rest of the field. There are exciting discoveries being made, and new technologies pushing the frontiers of physics forward in a wide range of subfields.

This is a common frustration, because elementary particle physics is not even the biggest subfield of physics (condensed matter physics is), but yet, it makes a lot of noise, and the media+public seem to pay more attention to such noises. So whenever something rocks this field, people often tend to think that this permeates through the entire field of physics. This is utterly false!

Orzel has listed several outstanding and amazing discoveries and advancements in condensed matter. There are more! The study of topological insulators continues to be extremely hot and appear to be not only interesting for application, but also as a "playground" for exotic quantum field theory scenarios.

I've said it many times, and I'll say it again. Physics isn't just the Higgs or the LHC. It is also your iphone, your MRI, your WiFi, your CT scan, etc....etc.


Wednesday, January 09, 2019

150 Years of the Periodic Table

Hey, I'll admit it. I wouldn't have known about this 150th birthday of the periodic table if it weren't for this news article. ScienceNews has a lot more detail on the history and background of Mendeleev, who came up with the first periodic table.

Unfortunately, there might be a chance for a bit of inaccuracy here from the Miami Herald news article.

The periodic table lists the elements in order of their atomic weights, but when Mendeleev was classifying them, no one even knew what was inside these tiny things called atoms. 

While it is true that, historically, Mendeleev originally arranged the elements with respect to each atom's atomic weight (since no one knew that was inside these atoms at that time), the periodic table that we have now lists the elements in order of their atomic number, i.e. the number of protons in the element. This is because we now know that an element of a particular atomic number may have several different isotopes (atomic weights). So the atomic weight is not a unique number for an element, but atomic number is. That is why the period table is arrange in order of the element's atomic number.

In any case, Happy 150th Year, Periodic Table!


Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Rumors Emerge Following Prominent Physicist's Death

First of all, RIP Shoucheng Zhang.

It is unfortunate that my first post of the New Year is about a sad news from Dec. of 2018. Prominent Standford physicist, Shoucheng Zhang passed away in early Dec. of an apparent suicide. He was only 55, and according to his family, has been suffering from bouts of depression. But what triggers this report is the possible connection between him and US-China relation, which, btw, is purely a rumor right now.

Zhang was originally recruited in 2008 under the Thousand Talents program — a CCP effort to attract top scientists from overseas to work in China — to conduct research at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Zhang was active in helping U.S.-trained Chinese researchers return home, and expressed his desire to help “bring back the front-lines of research to China” in a recent interview with Chinese news portal Sina.  

Zhang’s venture capital firm Digital Horizon Capital (DHVC), formerly known as Danhua Capital, was recently linked to China’s “Made in China 2025” technology dominance program in a Nov. 30 U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) report. According to the report, venture capital firms like DHVC are ultimately aimed at allowing China to access vital technology from U.S. startups. Zhang’s firm lists 113 U.S. companies in its portfolio, most falling within emerging sectors that the Chinese government has identified as strategic priorities. 

The “Made in China 2025” program combines economic espionage and aggressive business acquisitions to aid China’s quest to become a tech manufacturing superpower, the USTR report continues. The program was launched in 2015 and has been cited by the Trump administration as evidence that the Chinese government is engaged in a strategic effort to steal American technological expertise. 

I have absolutely no knowledge on any of these. I can only mourn the brilliant mind that we have lost.

I first heard of "S.C. Zhang" when I was still working as a grad student in condensed matter physics, especially on the high-Tc superconductors. He published this paper in Science, authored by him alone, on the SO5 symmetry for the basis of a unified theory of superconductivity and antiferromagntism[1]. That publication created quite a shakeup in condensed matter theory world at that time.

It was a bit later that I learned that he came out of an expertise in elementary particle physics, and switched fields to go dabble into condensed matter (see, kids? I told you that various topics in physics are connected and interrelated!). Of course, his latest ground-breaking work was the initial proposal for topological insulators[2]. This was Nobel Prize-caliber work, in my opinion.

Besides that, I've often cited one of his writings when the issue of emergent phenomena comes up.[3] As someone with a training in high energy/elementary particle, he definitely had the expertise to talk about both sides of the coin: reductionism versus emergent phenomenon.

Whatever the circumstances are surrounding his death, we have lost a brilliant physicist. If topological insulators become the rich playground for physicists and engineers in the years to come, as it is expected to, I hope the world remembers his name as someone who was responsible for this advancement.


[1] S.C. Zhang, Science v.275, p.1089 (1997).
[2] H. Zhang et al., Nature Physics v.5, p.438 (2009).