Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I've been on vacation since May 25th, and won't be back till June 4th. So there will be no new updates and reports till then.

The physics world will just have to move on without me.



Thursday, May 24, 2007

Weinberg Cancels UK Trip

Physics Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg has canceled an invited trip to the UK to honor Abdus Salam. This cancellation was due to his perceived view of the UK's growing anti-Isreal movement.

In the letter, the professor said his decision was triggered by an agreement by the National Union of Journalists at its national conference to boycott Israeli products.

He wrote: "I know that some will say that these boycotts are directed only against Israel, rather than generally against Jews.

"But given the history of the attacks on Israel and the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, boycotting Israel indicated a moral blindness for which it is hard to find any explanation other than ant-semitism."


JPL Open House

I've highlighted the Open House at both Argonne and Fermilab. Now it is the turn of the Jet Propulsion Lab.

While I'm sure we didn't copy each other, it is great to hear that we both have similar open house presentations. For our HEP division here, we had a "As A High Energy Physicist" booth where people can ask almost any physics question that they have. At JPL, they had "Ask A Martian". Cute!

If you attended this open house, or if you were involved in it, I'd like to hear from you.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Organizing the Universe

This is a terrific interview with physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I especially like the part where he started off with something that is exactly how I feel about the whole Pluto issue:

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist who doesn't believe in planets. Of course he knows that there are large objects circling the Sun. He just doesn't believe that picking out nine of them -- or eight, now that Pluto has been demoted -- has any scientific basis. There are far more interesting ways of dividing up the universe. For example, there are four bodies in our solar system that have atmospheres -- three planets and one moon of Saturn -- and having an atmosphere is far more interesting scientifically than simply being a big object because having an atmosphere raises lots of questions and possibilties. Being big raises nothing but the question, "Well, so how exactly big are you, anyway?"

It was rather sad that out of all the amazing development out of astronomy and astrophysics, the recategorization of Pluto got such a huge news and such large amount of effort among even astronomers. Compare that to what exactly is such an impact on the physics and astronomy content - NOTHING. That is why I said that this is an exercise in something that is utterly useless.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Left-Handed Natural Material

Left-handed material are those that have a negative index of refraction. It means that both the permittivity and permeability of the material are both negative.

Till now, such material have been man-made, and they are called meta-material. This is because the material consists of structures made that is considerably smaller than the wavelength of interest. In this way, the EM wave does not see the material as consisting of discrete structures.

However, there is now a new report that showed for the first time that a natural material can have a negative refraction. Physicists in Germany has shown that metallic ferromagnet can exhibit such property up to the GHz range. This astounding result was published in PRL[1]. A summary of this discovery can be found at PhysicsWeb (requires free registration)


[1] A. Pimenov et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 197401 (2007).

Physics For Future Presidents

This is a serious class at UC Berkeley, but that is essentially the title and the aim. The instructor of the class, Richard A. Muller, certainly has a well-defined goal in mind. It covers many important issues that are related to physics, but in a non-trivial manner. Essentially, if you become the President, or leader of a nation, these are the physics that you should know for you to be able to make an intelligent decision, rather than delegate it to someone else.

They got a bit of publicity on this also, which they deserve. There are also other free online lessons that are listed on the ABC7NEWS webpage that you might want to look for.

I'd go even further if it isn't explicit in that webpage. It is essential for EVERYONE to understand the material being covered here. We all have to be able to decide on these issues. Without proper skill and background knowledge, one will be making guesses based on ignorance, rather than a rational decision. Many of our problems we face today are simply too important to be decided based on guess work.


Monday, May 21, 2007

The Wrecking of British Science

This is a terrific opinion piece written by Nobel laureate Harry Kroto. While it focuses on the problems in the UK with regards to physics education and enrollment, many parts of what he said applies everywhere in the world. In particular, he made a compelling argument while the study of science is valid for everyone, no matter what area they are going into.

The scientific method is based on what I prefer to call the inquiring mindset. It includes all areas of human thoughtful activity that categorically eschew "belief", the enemy of rationality. This mindset is a nebulous mixture of doubt, questioning, observation, experiment and, above all, curiosity, which small children possess in spades. I would argue that it is the most important, intrinsically human quality we possess, and it is responsible for the creation of the modern, enlightened portion of the world that some of us are fortunate to inhabit.

Curiously, for the majority of our youth, the educational system magically causes this capacity to disappear by adolescence. Without it, we have no instinctive ability to assess the importance of the technical issues that impinge on our everyday lives. We are unable to gauge accurately the validity of fears over such issues as climate change and the looming energy crisis, or grasp the socio-economic and humanitarian importance of new genetic technologies.

Scientific education is by far the best training for all walks of life, because it teaches us how to assess situations critically and react accordingly. It gives us an understanding based on reverence for life-enhancing technologies as well as for life itself. If we do not know how things work, how can we fix things? And how are we going to use these powerful technologies wisely?

I've always argued that more than the material itself, the ability to analytically think things through, and to analyze the validity of a result/conclusion, are more important, especially for people who are not going to be scientists and engineers. Such skill is severely lacking in many people, because they seldom look behind the statements being made, often by politicians and talking heads on TV.


Cathodes for Photoinjectors

A while ago, I did a table listing various "family" or types of photocathodes that are used or might be used in an accelerator photoinjector. It was one of the first thing that I did after I changed field and went into accelerator physics. The table made its debut at our Theory Institute workshop on high brightness photoinjector, and it has appeared in the workshop's White paper, but also in several other presentations. So I consider it as the very first impact that I had on a field that I was still trying to learn.

The table is quite brief and obviously omits a lot of other material. I'm working on expanding it to include as many photocathode material that I can find that are either suitable, or being considered as viable candidates for this application. Just because something can photoemit, it doesn't mean it can automatically be used in a photoinjector setting, especially an RF photoinjector. The material must be robust because it will be under high, alternating gradient (often up to 90 MV/m peak field), and it must be able to withstand back bombardment of electrons that are sloshing in the photoinejctor cavity, and must be able to perform for months without significant degradation. All of these are strict requirements of a photocathode for an accelerator photoinejector.

So here is the table that I made years ago. Hopefully, an updated version will be out soon.


20 Years of Physics at Kennywood Park

With summer rolling around and amusement parks in high gear all over North America, many schools/physics classes are starting their "amusement park" physics. I suppose it is one way to illustrate various principles of physics to the students while they have fun at the park.

Still, one park in particular is marking its 20th Anniversary of students doing their project there. The historic and lovely Kennywood Amusement park in Pennsylvania this year welcomes thousands of students over a 2-day Education Days at Kennywood.

Twenty years later, Kennywood welcomes approximately 14 thousand students over two “Education Days” at Kennywood. On Tuesday, May 22, thousands of students will participate not only in Physics, but also in other Math and Science programs. Programs include: Physics, Mathematics @ Kennywood, Math & Science Passport, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation’s Architecture Program, Phipps Conservatory’s worksheets entitled Plants at Kennywood, Space Exploration a NASA demonstration, Carnegie Science Center’s program Fire & Ice, Understanding our Watershed presented by RiverQuest & 3 Rivers Wet Weather and, in celebration of Pittsburgh’s 2007 Year of Glass, the Pittsburgh Glass Center will present Hot Glass Demonstrations.

Applause to both the organizers and the park officials for sustaining this activity into a huge event.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Wilczek's Wife Put A Stop To The Destruction Of The Universe

This is a rather hilarious anecdotal account. I'm not sure if it is true or not, but hey, it's an amusing story nevertheless.

Reported in this blog is the account from Frank Wilczek's wife on how she put a stop to the destruction of the universe. Back in 1999, Wilczek published a letter in Scientific American that cause quite a ruckus. He was examining the possible scenario that the about-to-be-commissioned Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven might create a black hole and destroy our world. He later studied it a bit deeper and concluded in another report that the possibility of it happening is minuscule to negligible.

But while this is going on, his wife Betsy recalls how she put a stop to it:

Cambridge's Betsy Devine's husband is Frank Wilczek, an MIT professor who shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2004. On her eponymous blog, Divine recalls how, in 1999, he seemed to have been quoted as suggesting that a planned "heavy ion collider" could possibly trigger a reaction that would destroy the universe. And she recalls how she put a stop to it:

"Betsy: But the universe is not going to blow up, right?

Frank: Of course not.

Betsy: You really thought about it and it's not.

Frank: Yes, I did. And no, it's not.

Betsy: Good, because if it blew up I'd be so mad at you . . .

That is just precious!


Lawyer-Scientists Cash In

Want to make big bucks?

[No, this is not a SPAM for a get-rich quick scheme]

One of the hottest and most lucrative field right now is someone who understands both science and law and can explain it very clearly to a jury. Many physics degree holders go on to law schools after their undergraduate degree and become experts in patent law.

Demand for these specialists is being driven by an explosion in patent applications in recent years and a growing need for lawyers to protect old patents or challenge new ones. The U.S. Patent Office estimates 450,000 patent applications will be filed this year, up from about 350,000 five years ago.

Law professors say they're seeing more students with strong science backgrounds make the leap to law, where recruiters are snapping them up.

So there you go.


New Push for Nuclear Power

Considering that many countries in Europe has a higher proportion of electricity generated from nuclear power (France is a prime example), the US lags far behind in this area. It is only now is there a push to build more nuclear power plant for power generation.

Of course, whenever you talk about nuclear energy in its present form, you'll have enviromentalists arguing against it. Any form of energy generation will have trade-offs. It is just a matter of what is acceptable and what isn't. For every "accident" you can point to with nuclear power, one can also point to France and Japan that have impecable records. So it CAN be done.

It is just a matter of to what extent one wants to do it.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Plaque Marks Victim of 1970 Bombing at U. of Wisconsin

As someone who went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I of course heard about the event that led to the tragic death of a physics graduate student back in 1970 during the antiwar movement. In fact, one of the popular movies shown on campus at that time was The War At Home, which had a coverage of that event.

It appears that finally, upon the consent of the victim's family, a plaque commemorating that tragedy has been unveiled. I also didn't realize that one of the bombers is still at large and one of the most wanted man.


Hockey Player Blames Physics

Even when physics isn't involved, it STILL gets the blame.

This hockey player has
this excuse for his punishment:

"It's a nothing play if Robbie doesn't hit him," Pronger said, stressing that he did not intentionally hit Holmstrom in the head. The contact, he said, was partly because he is 6-foot-6 and Holmstrom is 6-foot-1. Of course I'm going to hit him in the head," Pronger said. "He's quite a bit shorter than me. It's just law of physics."

Er... Hello, Mr. Einstein, I think you probably have had several hits on the head as well. The fact that you are taller and will hit someone on the head has nothing to do with physics, but rather it has everything to do with GEOMETRY, as in Mathematics!

In one of the chapters in my essay "So You Want To Be A Physicist", I mentioned the fact that for many intro physics students, many of them actually have more of a problem with the mathematics than they do with the physics. When they try to tackled a physics problem, they often get stuck somewhere, and then blame physics for being "difficult". I've seen many instances where the students actually are not well-prepared mathematically, and therefore, they got stuck with the mathematics, often with basic trigonometry. But most don't realize this, so they attribute the difficulty to physics.

Physics can be tough, sure. But it will become impossible if you don't have the tools (mathematics) to use.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Canadian PM Puts Spotlight on Scence Funding.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke yesterday at the Perimeter Institute on his government's effort to bolster science and technology funding in Canada.

The money that will pay to keep Canada's science and technology competitive was announced in the March federal budget. It amounts to $9.2-billion in this fiscal year — $1.9-billion of that is new and the rest was carried over from previous years.

Humm... is it too late to move to Canada?



Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Longest Carbon Nanotubes You've Ever Seen

Researchers from University of Cincinnati have created the worlds longest carbon nanotube. It is so long, it isn't "nano" anymore! :)

It's pretty neat. They use a CVD technique at a company's facility that specializes in such a thing.

So what do you use something this big for?


A Bang, A Cloud, A Delay

I thought that this was a rather amusing title. It is a news report with first hand account of what happened when the Fermilab-built crygenic system to cool the LHC magnets failed.

Of course, those people involved, especially at Fermilab, don't see any humor in all of this.


Stanford Science Labs Burglaries

Whoa! I didn't know such things occur in Palo Alto! :) It seems that Stanford has been burglarized lately, with a thief or thieves stealing science equipment.

The physics lab has lost $400,000 worth of equipment, not counting break-ins at other nearby labs, including the astrophysics and biology buildings, according to Mike Killian, facilities manager of the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory.

But the students are trying to fight back in their own ways...

When a thief began stealing high-end science equipment from Stanford University labs this year, a group of graduate students struck back using tools of their own.

About 5:30 a.m. Sunday, a camera rigged by the students caught 20 seconds of footage of a man breaking into a Stanford physics lab - information that is now a part of the campus investigation, said Mike Killian, facilities manager of the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory.

If I were the thief, I'd watch my back. These are not your run-of-the-mill smart kids, and if they want to, they can rig almost anything.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ca Phonons Responsible For Superconductivity in CaC6

The possible mechanism for superconductivity in the layered compound CaC6 (Tc~11 K) may have been solved. Reported in Argonne News today, it seems to indicate that the Ca phonons are responsible. This is detected via the well-known isotope effect.

Recently superconductivity was discovered in a new compound composed mostly of graphite layers and a small amount of calcium, CaC6. Its transition temperature of 11.5 Kelvins is nearly twice the transition temperature of the previously known layered graphite compounds. The immediate question raised by this discovery is the mechanism for superconductivity in this compound.

Materials Science Division scientists have now found the answer. They found a downward shift of the transition temperature on substituting a heavier isotope of Ca for the naturally occurring lighter one, showing not only that superconductivity is due to the conventional electron-phonon interaction, but also that the low-energy Ca phonons and not the high-energy layered C phonons are responsible.

This is opposite to the behavior of another famous superconductor, MgB2, where the high-energy layered B phonons drive the superconductivity, producing a record-setting transition temperature of 40 K for the electron-phonon mechanism. This work demonstrates the remarkable scope and variety of superconductivity that, despite scientists' considerable knowledge, remains a tantalizing challenge for modern science to explain.

The result was published in PRB:

"Large Ca isotope effect in the CaC6 superconductor", D. G. Hinks et al., Phys. Rev. B 75, 014509 (2007).


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dark Matter "Seen" By Hubble Telescope?

Came across this news report in, of all places, the Economist. It seems that the "ripples" of matter due to the collision of two galactic clusters may be the tell-tale signature of dark matter. The observation was announced today.

By looking at how the faint light from galaxies behind the cluster they were studying was distorted by that cluster, Dr Jee and his team created a map of the distribution of its mass. They then compared that with what they could actually see. Instead of finding that the mass coincided with the location of the ordinary matter of stars, as had been seen in observations of other clusters, they found a distortion.

After trying—and failing—for many months to explain this distortion away, they accepted that it was real, and sought to explain it. The most plausible explanation is that the cluster contains a distinct ring of dark matter without any accompanying ordinary matter.

While this may not identify exactly what dark matter is, if confirmed, then it means that both Newtonian and Einstein's gravitational laws are accurate without any need for modification, at least not based on this.

We must still wait for the paper's publication and the scrutiny of people in this field.

Edit: This is the NASA Press release related to this.


NYT's Article on LHC

The New York Times has published another news report on the LHC, with amazing pictures. It is a very in-depth article (6 pages long).


Monday, May 14, 2007

Taleyarkhan Troubles Aren't Over

If you have missed all the brouhaha surrounding the Purdue's bubble fusion investigation fiasco, you have missed deception and secrecy worthy of an afternoon soap opera. If Taleyarkhan thinks his trouble is over by being exonerated by Purdue, he was totally wrong.

As reported late last week by Science (link open without subscription only for a limited time), Purdue has launch a NEW inquiry on the conduct of Taleyarkhan.

Officials at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, have launched a new inquiry into bubble fusion researcher Rusi Taleyarkhan, just months after exonerating him of research misconduct. The inquiry was brought to light by a congressional report made public today, which concludes that in its previous inquiry, "Purdue deviated from its own procedures in investigating this case and did not conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations against Dr. Taleyarkhan."

Now, why the about face after insisting that they did the right thing in the first place? Here's why:

Purdue's inquiry has faced widespread criticism from both inside and outside the university. Taleyarkhan's detractors complained that the inquiry was too narrowly focused and that they were never contacted by the Purdue committee to express their concerns. And in March, Representative Brad Miller (D-NC), who heads the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology, asked for a copy of the university's internal reports (ScienceNOW, 22 March). Based on these documents, the House committee argues that even with its limited focus, Purdue's own investigation did find "serious deviations" from commonly accepted scientific practices. Among them: the fact that Taleyarkhan played a significant role in writing papers that he later cited as independent verification of his work, and that he placed junior scientists in "precarious positions" in order to promote his research program. "Based on these conclusions, it is difficult to understand how the Inquiry Committee could have then decided that Dr. Taleyarkhan's actions did not constitute research misconduct," the report states.

So they are now having an open call for "witnesses". In other words, they are now going to do it differently than what they did earlier now that the crap has hit the ceiling fan. They could have saved a lot of grief, not to mention their reputation, had they done this right the first time. Again, look at Bell Labs and the Schon debacle. They cannot plead ignorance on the proper way of doing this. Why don't these institutions of "higher learning" learn this themselves?


Sunday, May 13, 2007

UK Schools to Drop 'Dumbed Down' Science

Looks like they're discovering in the UK that merging all the sciences into a single course doesn't work that well.

The move is an acknowledgement that the double science GCSE, taken by 95 per cent of state schools since its introduction in the 1990s, fails to prepare pupils for sixth form study.

I think the schools and universities in the UK are still struggling in trying to raise the enrollment and popularity of physics to the students. The declining trend seems to have been reserved here in the US, at least for now.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Tetrahedral Kites

Here's a project you can build, and make a historical connection with Alexander Graham Bell (yes, THAT Bell). It's a tetrahedral kite that supposedly can fly. Follow one of the links in the article to a webpage that has instructions on how to build one.

Have fun!


Friday, May 11, 2007

Get A Physics Undergraduate Degree in 2 Years?

No, this isn't an advertisement for some online university that passes out a useless "degree" just as soon as you pay your fee. This student defies the law of sleep and got his physics degree from the University of Alabama in just 2 years. His GPA? 3.9. Not only that, just to rub it in, he also did extra research work and presented his work at the last APS March Meeting. Oh, and he was also on the Math team!

What is he trying to do? Make the rest of us feel horribly inedequate? :)

Still, congratulations on such a feat. I feel tired and sleepy just reading this.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Nontrivial Quantum Effects in Biology: A Skeptical Physicists' View

This is a very entertaining paper. It was presented as an invited talk at a Symposium that, I presume, dealt with issues like this. In this paper, the authors discussed 4 major issues that many in the philosophy, biology, and even crackpots, have tried - using quantum mechanics as a source for several poorly-explained phenomena. These 4 issues are: A quantum life principle, Quantum computing in the brain, Quantum computing in genetics, and Quantum consciousness.

Read it and tell me what you think.


Follow Up To "Is Too Much Physics Bad For Astronomy?"

This is a follow up on the bees hornet what was stirred by Simon White. In another physics forum, someone mentioned of the clash between the two cultures of high energy/particle physics and astronomy. Particle physicists are used to working collaboratively in large groups, while astronomers then to work in smaller groups, or even individually.

I think it would be sad if such a thing is the main argument in this article. Creativity can come from many different ways, both from individuals, and from groups of people. You can't just demand it or predict it like that. Furthermore, working in large groups isn't the only "skill" that Particle physicists have. While it is true that a large part of particle physics involves colliders and accelerators, this is not the only expertise that experimental particle physicists have that happens to be useful in other areas of astronomy and astrophysics. Their knowledge of detectors, especially in detecting high-energy particles such as TeV neutrinos and other energetic cosmic rays, are proving to be extremely useful in various astrophysics experiments. Two that currently stand out are Veritas and the Auger Observatory. Both of these are what most people would think to be an astronomy/astrophysics projects. Yet, there's a huge involvement of high-energy physicists in both of them. At the other extent, projects such as the Dark Energy Survey that many would consider to be an astrophysics project seems more to be a high-energy physics experiment. In fact, such experiment might be one of those that White objected to in his article. Yet, while its main purpose is to study the dark energy phenomenon, there is still a wealth of physics that could be gained out of the info being gathered, the same way that the WMAP survey just doesn't give only one "data" point or one piece of info even though it is only doing essentially one thing.

Things change and evolve, including the way we do science. High energy physicists have a lot more to gripe about especially the state of their funding and their field, something White didn't consider. When you have an outstanding and prestigious facility that had produced a series of incredible discovery suddenly changing its colors from a particle collider facility under your control to a "light source" under control of a different field of physics, I'd say you have A LOT to complain about. That is what is happening to SLAC. Yet, they move on and adapt to the situation, especially when most of it is beyond their control, and one of their ways of adapting is to move into areas that are slowly merging into their field - astrophysics/astronomy.

This, btw, is not that uncommon. Atomic/molecular field of study has overlapping interest in condensed matter physics in BE condensation. Even condensed matter physicists have dabbled in elementary particle physics. In all of these cases, I've only seen how such fields are strengthened by the "new blood", especially when different ideas and different ways of doing things are brought in. So in some aspect, I don't quite understand the complain in this article.


Testing The Laws Of Physics With Toothpicks

A great project to get students to be involved in. These students are trying to build bridges using toothpicks.

These bridge-building exercises and contests seem to get students really interested in figuring out basic mechanics problems without them realizing that they're learning something.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Is Too Much Physics Bad For Astronomy?

I didn't even realize that this is such an issue. It seems that the "invasion" of physics, especially coming from high-energy/particle physics, doesn't sit well with many astronomers (link open for a limited time only), especially those who still view the field of astronomy in the more "traditional" sense. This is reported in the May 10, 2007 issue of Nature:

That, in a nutshell, is the call-to-arms issued by Simon White, director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany. In a declaration appearing in this month's Reports on Progress in Physics, and already nailed to the door of the popular arXiv preprint server (http://arxiv.org/abs/0704.2291), White warns his astronomer colleagues that "by uncritically adopting the values of an alien system, astronomers risk undermining the foundations of their own current success." His treatise has been causing a stir in astronomy departments and stoking animated debate on various blogs.

This sounds serious.

White argues that astronomers are straying from the true beauty of the field — the study of unusual objects in the sky — into the realm of mere measurement. Particle physicists, a glamorous and well financed bunch, are inveigling astronomers into quantifying fundamental constants to satisfy the equations of cosmology and high-energy physics. White is particularly damning of plans for a mission to study dark energy, a mysterious force that seems to be pushing the Universe apart. Such a project, he says, could suck hundreds of millions of dollars from astronomy in order to measure a single ratio.

The contrary opinion, to me, sounds a lot more convincing:

There's no physicist cabal working against astronomers, adds Roger Blandford, who directs the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University, California. "I don't see particle physics as some sort of dark force out there pursuing dark projects on dark subjects," he says.

No one denies that fundamental physicists have become increasingly involved in astronomy in recent years. The growing entanglement is in part due to the convergence of the two disciplines' theorists on various questions; another factor may be the difficulty that physicists have had in moving beyond their 'standard model' using the traditional tools of their trade — accelerators.

But what convinced me was this particular paragraph, and I don't think that this has been sufficiently addressed:

Ultimately, Mountain says, White's anxiety is more nostalgia for the good-old days of astronomy than concern for its future. "There's a kind of romantic sense that a lone person with a telescope or a piece of paper should still be able to make breakthroughs in the field." But that's not the way it works in the modern era, he warns. "The contribution of the individual is being lost because some of these problems are getting extraordinarily hard to tackle. The only question is: are we actually losing great science? Or are we just losing the sense that science is as much fun as it once was?"

Couldn't there be the old and the new was coexisting? Besides, why can't new ways of doing things be better? Things ARE getting a lot more complicated and complex. Small accelerators of old become obsolete, and there are many other old ways of doing things that are no longer efficient. I don't see how Astronomy can't redefine how they do things, and such an endeavor is not necessarily a bad thing.


Public Lecture: A Different Universe

Hey, if you are anywhere near the UC-Davis campus on May 21-22, you may want to attend this. I certainly would if I were in the neighboorhood.

Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin will be giving a public lecture based on his book. And it is about time too. This lecture should be a suitable antidote to the glut of public exposure on String Theory and the other notions of the "Theory of Everything". I have mentioned earlier about several of Laughlin's papers on the fallacy of such a notion and how reductionism has been unable to even come close to describing several emergent phenomena that we observe today. This type of message is seldom heard of especially among the general public, and certainly not among the pseudoscience proponents who don't seem to be aware of it. Hopefully, Laughlin's lecture will be one of the means to spread this message around.

I am certainly doing my part in it... :)


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Have You Seen Any Nuclear Material?

Y'know, this could almost be a skit on Saturday Night Live if it weren't so serious. The Pakistani Govt. is advertising in local newspapers for citizens of that country to look out for possible "misplaced radioactive isotopes" or nuclear material. This is from Nature's website (link open for limited time only):

The ads, which appeared last week in several Urdu-language newspapers, featured the large, yellow radiation symbol and a warning to report any lost or misplaced isotopes.

So check under your bed. There might be a "missing" nuclear material.


This Week in Physics History: May 7 - 13

This is from the About: Physics website. It has all the significant physics events that occurred in this week. However, one part of it is puzzling me.

May 9, 1931 - Polish-born American physicist Albert Abraham Michelson dies. Michelson was the first American physicist to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences, with his 1907 Nobel Prize in Physics. He is best known for his work in the famed Michelson-Morley experiment, which helped to disprove the concept of ether and, thus, laid the foundation for wave particle duality.

How does "disproving" ether "laid the foundation" for wave-particle duality? It was Einstein's photoelectric effect, which was a completely separate phenomena (and 1905 paper), that "laid the foundation" for such "wave-particle duality"[1]. The MM experiment simply shows that the speed of light is isotropic in all directions. There is not even a hint of the "particle" behavior in here.


[1] I am not fond of this phrase, because it perpetuates the misconception that modern physics, especially quantum mechanics, has two different ways of describing light, which isn't true. While we do use "wave" and "particle" mechanics in different circumstances, this isn't due to a "duality" but rather due to convenience. One can get all those wave-like properties such as diffraction and interference using the SAME QM formulation that make use of the photon picture.

The Physics of Price Optimization


The next time you go out shopping, just think that the price you're paying were THIS thoroughly researched! I have no idea what to make of this.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Review of God: The Failed Hypothesis

I mentioned earlier of Vic Stenger's rather provocative book. I have not read it yet, so I can't make any opinion of it. However, there is a very interesting review of it at PhysicsWeb that you might be interested in reading. I don't think I'm surprised by it, and my original impression of what was done in the book appears to be correct - that Stenger was trying to debunk the "scientific evidence" for the existence of God.

However, as the reviewer has mentioned, at some point, there really is no "falsifying" evidence to disprove such existence. And I do agree with the notion that you can't prove or disprove something like this that is vaguely defined and not falsifiable. One can't disprove something that isn't science.


Brookhaven's Tale of Two Anniversaries

Brookhaven National Laboratory this year celebrates its 60th Anniversary. But it also celebrates a more painful anniversary that threatened its existence and reveals just how much the public and its neighbors really are susceptible to misinformation. This piece by Robert Crease is an excellent article describing the issues surrounding this debacle.

I mentioned about the closing of the HFBR in an earlier essay here. The public's support of science is definitely based not on an intimate understanding of science, but rather based on the perceived importance of science. Thus, it isn't built on a solid foundation and can be gone in the blink of an eye.

I was working at the lab at the tail end of this mistrust between the lab and the surrounding neighborhood, so I saw first hand what was going on. People were being swayed by hearsay and by bells and whistles, rather than hard facts, because they were not equipped to understand and decipher hard facts.

To the lab's credit, they have worked very hard to make themselves less mysterious. The Summer Sunday Tour that they organize every summer because a huge hit with large number of visitors. Still, the closing of the HFBR is a major scar of this battle that will remain a lasting legacy of not only the lab, but also on the public that got swayed by scare tactics.


Soudan: Anatomy of an Underground Laboratory

Just in case you did not realize the existence of this underground laboratory, this would be a good introduction to Soudan.

This laboratory is a major player in the MINOS project, and could possibly play significant roles in future neutrino projects.


Crash Course In High Energy Physics

The New Yorker has a surprisingly in-depth look at not only the LHC, but also the field of high energy physics in general. I don't know how long this link is going to be available, but read it while you can.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Hawking To Visit Iran

Stephen Hawking is raking up those airline mileage. He visited Israel, went all over the US, and even took up a weightless flight. Now he's going to visit Iran.

Humm... does the fact that he has visited Israel, and also being an atheist, bother them? Or maybe they don't know! Hush!! :)


Physicist says Putin's Russia Worse Than Under Stalin

Nobel Laureate Vitaly Ginzburg has some very harsh criticism of Russian Premier Vladimir Putin. This is in light of the Russian Govt's attempt to control some aspect of the Russian's Academy of Science.

I don't know if the rate of "brain drain" from Russia is still continuing, but I certainly know that that Europe and the US have certainly benefited from getting all of these talented scientists from Russia, and even from the former Soviet bloc.


Friday, May 04, 2007

String Theory in 2 Minutes?

Can you explain String Theory in just TWO minutes? These people seem to think so, and they even made videos out of it. Not only that, Brian Greene will get to pick the winner.

Oy vey!

Maybe they can run this as a commercial during the Superbowl to "advertise" for String Theory. Or maybe use it for attention-deficit, can't-sit-still-for-more-than-2-minutes youngsters thinking of going into String Theory.

Yes, if you have drawn the conclusion that I simply do not get the point of this, you are CORRECT! We have sacrificed accuracy and rigors for sound bites in 2 minutes. I suppose this is consistent with my earlier assertion that when dealing with the public, one needs to be shallow, perky, and superficial.


Scientists Make Key Steps Towards Quantum Computer

NEC scientists in Japan made key steps towards the realization of quantum computers.

In what they claimed was a world first, researchers at NEC and the state-funded Institute of Physical and Chemical Research successfully demonstrated a circuit that can control the state of a pair of elemental particles and how strongly they interact with one another.

And unlike the recent unverified claims by D-Wave systems, they are actually publishing this like any scientific work, and in Science no less.

Quantum Coherent Tunable Coupling of Superconducting Qubits
A.O. Niskanen, et al., Science v.316, p.723 (2007)

Abstract: To do large-scale quantum information processing, it is necessary to control the interactions between individual qubits while retaining quantum coherence. To this end, superconducting circuits allow for a high degree of flexibility. We report on the time-domain tunable coupling of optimally biased superconducting flux qubits. By modulating the nonlinear inductance of an additional coupling element, we parametrically induced a two-qubit transition that was otherwise forbidden. We observed an on/off coupling ratio of 19 and were able to demonstrate a simple quantum protocol.

Maybe D-Wave Systems could learn from these people.


Physics Students Find Radon

So, let's say you don't have time to have a proper radon inspection in your building, or you don't have the resources, or you just didn't schedule it. What do you do? Why, you turn it into a physics class assignment! You will get these students to do it AND you get paid for it!


That's exactly what happened at Princeton University when students were doing air quality test assignment and found radon gas in the basement of 2 campus buildings.

The university was alerted to the radon levels when students were conducting air quality tests for a physics lab assignment, university officials said.
Because the university did not have properly calibrated equipment to officially measure the radon levels, thus far results have been inconclusive. However, Cass Cliatt, a spokeswoman for Princeton University, said the university has ordered the proper equipment and would continue testing over the weekend.

That's what you get for getting good students. They can make you proud, and they can also expose your shortcomings.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Physics of Utensils

Yes, you heard me right. There is a physics of utensils. So move over baseball, Star Trek, basketball. Your fork has a lot of physics in it as well.

Louis Bloomfield has written a fun but informative essay in Physics Today on this issue. It has everything you wanted to know about the physics surrounding your kitchen utensils, especially your fork. There is also a "review" of this essay in the Physics News Update.

BTW, in case you haven't noticed, Bloomfield also runs the Dear Lou section in Physics Central, where he answers questions about the daily mysteries of our world.


Even More on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

The May 2007 issue of Physics Today has more in-depth coverage of the debacle surrounding the launching of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). I have mentioned about this silliness twice earlier in this blog (read here and here).

Failure to fly the AMS would remove the only US-led major experimental apparatus planned for the ISS, about which congressional representatives are being privately briefed. And Ting and his entourage are not giving up. "The US government has an obligation to the international partners to find a way to fly AMS," says Ting.

"In addition to the sheer waste of effort and money, the damage to international collaboration in science will be the real legacy of [pulling out of the AMS]," says Barish. "Ting's international collaboration includes respected strong laboratories from around the world, and I hate to contemplate what they must now think of the US government and NASA."

Again, the bottom line here is the whole purpose of building the ISS. It was touted to be an orbiting laboratory. Yet, it has so far produced NEGLIGIBLE SCIENCE. Here is this one project that has unanimous approval and that could save the ISS from being labeled as an orbiting space garbage, and they can't make room and funding for it! What am I missing here?


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

String Theory Matches Gauge Theory?

Wow! What do string theorists think they're trying to do? Make the theory match existing experiments? What a concept! :)

Still, all kidding aside, this appears to be another major achievement for String Theory. A new paper in PRL shows that one part of String Theory can actually match some of the results from Gauge Theory. If this is true and verified, it would certainly be quite an accomplishment, and a feather in the cap for string theory.


The Impact of BCS Theory of Superconductivity

I wrote earlier about the 50th Anniversary of the publication of the landmark BCS Theory of Superconductivity. I think most people, and certainly those not within the condensed matter community, do not realize the wide-ranging impact this theory has, not just within condensed matter itself, but in physics in general.

At the last APS March Meeting this year (2007), John Rowell gave an invited talk on this very subject. Titled "The Impact of the BCS Theory on 50 years of Superconductivity and Condensed Matter Physics". Another talk, given by Gordon Baym, was titled ""BCS -- from Atoms and Nuclei to the Cosmos" shows how the theory transcends beyond just the boundary of condensed matter.

You can get the exact viewgraphs that were used during the presentation by following the links above.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The LHC: Illuminating the High-Energy Frontier

With CERN's Large Hardon Collider (LHC) operations looming in the horizon, many articles have been written about it, be it in terms of what it is, what it can do, and what is expected of it. This article is actually one of the better and clearer description of what is expected of the LHC.

The principal goal of the experimental programme at the LHC is to make the first direct exploration of a completely new region of energies and distances, to the tera-electron-volt scale and beyond. The main objectives include the search for the Higgs boson and whatever new physics may accompany it, such as supersymmetry or extra dimensions, and also – perhaps above all – to find something that the theorists have not predicted.

So, to all those quacks who keep thinking that physicists only want to hold on to established principles, TAKE THAT!

It is safe to say that many centers throughout the world that has any kind of involvement with the LHC are now in the "preparation" mode ready to start digesting all the gazillion of data that will spew out of those detectors. While actual serious data-taking won't occur anytime soon, the setting-up of the infrastructure (hiring graduate students/postdoc/staff, getting enough computing power, exploring possible theoretical scenarios, etc.) have been going on for the past few years in anticipation of the LHC operation. In other words, many high energy physicists are almost as giddy as children the night before Christmas!

Let's just hope Santa doesn't bring only lumps of coal the next morning!


Richard Dalitz Contributions to Particle Physics

If you are in high energy/particle physics, the name "Dalitz" would be very familiar to you. Dick Dalitz, who is one of the well-known physicist in this field of study, passed away in 2006. This article describes his wide-ranging contribution to the field of particle physics, from the Dalitz Plot to the hypernuclei.


Why The Shortage of Women In Physics?

University of Chicago astrophysicist Evalyn Gates spoke at Cornell recently on this issue.

According to a 2006 National Academy of Sciences report, "it is not lack of talent, but unintentional biases and outmoded institutional structures that are hindering the access and advancement of women."

Gates showed that the percentage of women in physics plummets most dramatically during college for unknown reasons, yet nearly 50 percent of undergraduate math and chemistry majors today are women. There's something different about the field of physics, she said.

"Physics has a unique history in academia," Gates pointed out in an interview after her talk. The largest numbers of physics faculty hires, exclusively men, were made in the 1960s after Sputnik. When this generation began to retire in the 1990s, the percentages of female faculty members went up by only 4 percent. "I'd been hearing since the 1970s that there'd be these mass retirements and then things would change, but they haven't," Gates said.

I've mentioned earlier regarding my effort in the project here at Argonne in getting more female high school students interested in a career in science. I don't know how effective these things are, but it certainly can't hurt to get them to see what can be done, and open up possible career opportunities.