Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Discovery of the Electron

This is a good website at the American Institute of Physics (AIP) on the history of the discovery of the electron. It is a very good review even for people (such as physicists) who think they already know the important points in this history.


Friday, June 29, 2007

PAC Day 5

My "reporters" at the 2007 Particle Accelerator Conference haven't been reporting as frequently as I would like, so news and information coming out of it has been sparse. If I had gone, I'd probably had reported a lot more stuff and "gossips". :)

We finally got a short and brief message from Reporter 3

Reporter 3: Scientific progress is mostly incremental. So, PAC did not have any major breakthrough. SNS (Spallation Neutron Source) is producing some beam since 2006, but still ramping up (for another couple of years). Laser plasma acceleration did not achieve any extraordinary progress recently (i.e. since their last report/papers). Barry Barish declared that he is aware of Orbach's time horizon for the ILC (2020s), but chooses to develop a parallel "technical timeline".

So that's it. Today is the final technical day for PAC07. Tomorrow is mostly tours of Oak Ridge lab and the surrounding area. Most attendees would probably start leaving today and tomorrow.


Farewell HERA

The US is not the only country that is phasing out its high energy experiments. HERA at DESY in Germany is also about to be shut down after a long and wonderfully productive service.

In the H1 and ZEUS experiments, electrons and quark-filled protons were brought to collision. The electron acts as a pointlike probe that scans the proton. With a resolution of 10-18 meters, corresponding to a thousandth of the proton diameter, HERA is the best electron microscope in the world. With these electron-proton collisions, it is possible to measure the structure of the proton and the strong force acting within it very precisely. One special feature of HERA collisions is the fact that the electrons do not influence the measurements because they react to other forces than the quarks in the proton. The HERA measurements for the first time confirmed the nature of the strong force, as it was predicted 20 years ago by the physicists Davis Gross, David Politzer and Frank Wilczek. For this discovery they were awarded with the Nobel Prize in 2004.

It is a bit sad to see many of these wonderful and historically significant facilities go. This is not uncommon, because many facilities throughout history became obsolete, being replaced by bigger, better, and more powerful facilities.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

More Verification of Special Relativity Postulate

The isotropy of the speed of light seems to be a very popular question, both among serious researcher, especially those working in String Theory, and among crackpots who unknowingly are benefiting from SR but still "don't believe" in it.

A new experimental report has now improved upon the validity of the isotropy of the speed of light, as reported on PhysicsWeb (link requires a free registration).

Simultaneous tests of Einstein’s special theory of relativity performed in Europe and Australia have allowed physicists to conclude that the speed of light is constant in all directions, without having to make an important assumption that had limited the validity of previous tests. The researchers performed two different types of Michelson-Morley experiment -- one on each continent -- which allowed them to rule out, for the first time, violations of Einstein’s theory that could affect the physical properties of the experimental equipment and change the outcome of the measurement.

The preprint for this work can be found on ArXiv here. They have successfully ruled out the influence of the changes in the apparatus as the possible source of the isotropy in the speed of light.


Physicists Protest at GCSE Change

The problem with the teaching of physics and the quality of physics education in the UK appear to continue. I've mentioned earlier a piece by Harry Kroto on the wrecking of British Science. Now comes word of a protest by many physicists, especially physics teachers, that the new GCSE requirement (that's like a high school "evaluation exams" for people who aren't sure that it is) is dumbing down the physics curriculum in the UK.

"In this course, pupils debate topics like global warming and nuclear power. Debate drives science, but pupils do not learn meaningful information about the topics they debate. Scientific argument is based on quantifiable evidence.

"The person with the better evidence, not the better rhetoric or talking points, wins. But my pupils now discuss the benefits and drawbacks of nuclear power plants, without any real understanding of how they work or what radiation is.

"The result is a fiasco that will destroy physics in England," he argues.

It sounds like they're training the kids to be POLITICIANS, where you can get by with bells and whistles, but with very little substance. After all, this is how you get to seduce most of the general public, by being perky, shallow, and superficial. That is fine if that is what they intend to be, but to pretend that this is how someone who wants to understand physics should do is hilarious. Who designed such a thing, politicians?

However, in an earlier report that I posted here as well, I thought they're dropping this "dumbed down" GCSC standards? Can someone from the UK who is familiar with this post a comment/update on what's going on?


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Principles of Charge Particle Acceleration

Want a free book on the basics of particle accelerator and beam dynamics? Check out Stan Humphries book available free online.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

He Had Firm Grasp Of Physics

Er... Yahoo Finance has an article on the life and times of Enrico Fermi in its investor's daily business section? Who would have thunk? :)

Still, it's a very good and brief summary of who Fermi was and why he is such a giant in the field of physics. But here's a very comment editorial about Fermi's "popularity" among the general public:

He is the namesake of the Fermi Institute on the campus of the University of Chicago, the Enrico Fermi Award given by the Energy Department, Fermilabs in Illinois and a street in Rome.

Time magazine selected Fermi as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. He won the Nobel Prize in physics.

So why isn't he a household name?

Despite the peer recognition and scores of accolades he received, he still is relatively unknown.

All I can say is, speak for yourself.

Every physics major in the world knows the name "Fermi", or at least I hope they do or else they're missing a huge chunk of their education. He may be a relative unknown to the general public, but then again, that can be said about most physicists that remain anonymous to the public, no matter how huge of a contribution they have made. I highlighted the significant contribution of John Bardeen that is even MORE obscure to most people (and to a lot of physicists as well) than Fermi. Yet, Bardeen is the only person thus far to win the Nobel Prize in physics TWICE. So not being known to the general public is more of the norm than the exception, which isn't saying much since this is the same "general public" where half of them do not know that the earth revolves around the sun. So we're not talking about a group of people with a great deal of scientific literacy here.

One part of the article that I rather like was the quote attributed to Fermi at the end of the article. It says:

"There are two possible outcomes," Fermi said about experimentation. "If the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery."

I love that! This is exactly what practicing scientists do, and it is something most crackpots do not realize when they argue that all we do is simply to uphold what is already valid. Most of us study things that are either new, unexplained, or simply puzzling. That's what we are employed to do as scientists and it is how we contribute to the body of knowledge - by adding to it. And by golly, do we try to make a "discovery"!


Operation Stargate, The CIA and Psychic Spies

This is highly interesting.

This link points to an article about a rather dubious research project funded by the US military on psychic remote viewing. The "reporter" here seems to claim of only "reporting" the facts that such research work has been done. In reading this piece, as expected, there is a clear learning towards stating this unverified claims to be "facts".

But that is not the reason why I highlighted this article. Scroll down and read the exchange between her and a reader, Shawn Bishop, who happens to be a physicist. I could have sworn that he sounded like me because this would almost be the same thing that I would have blasted back at this reporter. The exchange and comments are quite entertaining to read, and for me, more interesting than the article itself.

Note that Bob Park has covered this way back when. I find that this reporter didn't get a well-balanced view of this project. She could have at least contacted Bob Park and get his opinion on this whole thing, rather than simply getting one view from someone who came out of the project itself. So I would certainly agree with Shawn Bishop that this is a very poorly done coverage of this topic.

Besides, these psychic stuff definitely qualifies as one of the criteria for Voodoo Science if we apply it to what has been outlined by Park:

3) An effect is always at the very limit of detection. All scientific measurements must contend with some level of background noise or statistical fluctuation. Normally, the noise problem can be reduced by shortening distances and increasing the flux. If the signal-to-noise ratio cannot be improved, even in principle, the effect is probably not real and the work is not science.

The most egregious examples are all in parapsychology. Indeed, in studies spanning more than a century, not one of the many thousands of published papers alleging t o have observed telepathy, psychokinesis, or precognition, has achieved any level of acceptance among scientists outside the parapsychology community. This is truly remarkable. I can find no other example of a research area in which such a huge body of work has failed so completely to persuade scientists outside the band of true believers conducting the studies. Indeed, in the case of parapsychology it is difficult to see how even the true believers remain convinced.

In the first place, there is nothing resembling progress in parapsychology. Ordinarily, the maturing of an area of research involves three phases: the initial studies a redevoted to showing the effect is real, and to identifying the parameters that control the strength of the effect. As the effect is made stronger, research moves on to identifying plausible mechanisms. The final phase involves controlled laboratory tests of these mechanisms. Research into parapsychology is still stuck in the first phase, with each new study merely trying, without much success, to establish that there is something to study.

It seems there is little that can be done to strengthen paranormal effects. There is no indication, for example, that distance is a factor. There are claims that sensory deprivation increases the sensitivity of subjects to paranormal stimulation. In ganzfeld experiments, for example, the eyes of the subject are covered with diffusers. Any effect, however, is still too slight to convince most scientists.


PAC Day 1

Everybody from our group arrived safely. But already there were grumbling of unhappiness.

Reporter 1:
During Sunday there was a special student poster session. It create a little bit of a controversy. There were lots of posters, so committee prescreened abstracts and did not visited most of the posters. Some students were not happy with that.

Unlike last PAC the welcome reception (I'm assuming this to be on Sunday evening - Zz) had alcohol for sale. Students were not happy with that either. I think the students were expecting free drinks.

Monday started with invited overview-type presentations. Vendors started setting up as well.

Reporter 2:
This morning (Monday) we were held prisoner listening to the plenary talks as the organizers decided to turn off wireless access to all the meeting rooms. Despite this, I still managed to miss most of what was said. Another notable was that this year they mixed the vendor booths and the poster sessions together. It was a bit chaotic at first but I was glad to see them treating the vendors well for once. Finally, the graduate students were happy today since they finally got the free alcohol they were waiting for, but we old timers on a budget were not as happy since there was no food.

That's nasty to turn off wireless access like that. I don't normally bring my laptop with me when I attend a talk at a conference. I figure if I don't care to listen to whatever is being presented, then I shouldn't be in the room in the first place. Just going online or doing some stuff while someone else is talking just doesn't sit right with me. Still, I certainly do not want to force this onto everyone and cut off the wireless access.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

PAC07 Day 0

I mentioned earlier that while I won't be attending the 2007 Particle Accelerator Conference in Albuquerque this year, I will have "reporters" checking in now and then with reports from the conference. Today is when most of the attendees will be arriving, with the registration starting in the afternoon. I know that almost everyone from our group will be flying off today.

Hopefully, one of them at least will start to send reports (and pictures) either later today or early tomorrow.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Berkeley's Musical Serenade to Stephen Hawking

I guess when you become a world famous physicist and icon, you get serenaded by a full orchestra. That's what happened to Stephen Hawking when he visited Berkeley a few months ago. This link gives you a YouTube video of that event.


Physics of Bull-Riding

Yup! This is no bull. Since we have had the physics of [insert favorite activity or TV show], why not have the physics of bull-riding?

"What some people don't know is that the force the bull exerts on the rider is the same as the force the rider exerts back on the bull. The difference is that the bull is about ten times the size of the rider, so that's ten times the acceleration," said UNR physics professor, Ron Phaenuf.

I can easily say that I don't see any significant probability that I'll be testing this in my lifetime.



Friday, June 22, 2007

Is There Glue in Cuprate Superconductors?

Phil Anderson has a very controversial and thought-provoking article in the latest issue of Science (Science, v.317, p.1705 (2007)). In it, he is questioning whether there really is a bosonic mode that is responsible for the pairing formation in high-Tc superconductors.

The two bosonic modes that are currently in the running as the coupling "glue" are phonons and spin-fluctuations/magnetic modes. These seems to be the more popular consensus that some form of bosonic modes help couple two electrons together to form the Cooper pair. Anderson argues that the evidence for the Hubbard repulsion U>2 eV and that a large antiferromagnetic exchange coupling J~0.12 eV cannot be explained by such bosonic modes. I'm guessing that he is still arguing for his resonance valence band (RVB) model for the cuprate superconductors.

This article should sufficiently annoys a good number of people working in this field. There is seldom a dull moment in the study of high-Tc superconductors, I tell ya!



Dyson and the Nobel Prize

OK, OK, don't jump all over me for this. I KNOW that this is nitpicking, and everyone, including news media, can make "minor" mistakes like this. I am well aware of that. But still, you'd think some news editor would have said "are you sure?" when they read something like this.

This report isn't even about physics. Still, they managed to make a minor but embarassing mistake:

Wednesday night, Challenge Aspen rented a small meeting room for volunteer training. On Thursday, a conference titled "Flight School" attracted 80 pilots to discuss all things aviation. Ester Dyson, daughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Freeman Dyson, led the conference.

As far as I know, and a quick scan of the Nobel prize website, Dyson has not been awarded a Nobel prize of any kind. This is not to say that he isn't deserving of one.

Aspen Times needs to pay a closer attention to details like this.


The Compact Muon Solenoid

This is an MSNBC news article on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), which is one of the massive detector at the LHC at CERN.

"It is the heaviest scientific experiment ever," said Steven Nahn, a physicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is a member of the CMS research team.

To call this contraption "compact" seems like a gross misnomer: The CMS is compact only in relation to its rival sibling, the ATLAS detector, which is roughly twice as large but only half as massive. The contrasts in the weights and dimensions hint at the different designs for ATLAS and CMS - two detectors that are designed to probe the same types of subatomic mysteries.

If you ever had the chance to see one of these beast yourself, don't miss that opportunity. It is quite impressive.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

No More Blackholes?

Whoa! This could be big in terms of physics news!

A new theoretical calculation proposes that blackholes cannot exist at all! As reported in Science daily news update (link open only for a limited time):

Physicist Lawrence Krauss and Case Western Reserve colleagues think they have found the answer to the paradox. In a paper accepted for publication in Physical Review D, they have constructed a lengthy mathematical formula that shows, in effect, black holes can't form at all. The key involves the relativistic effect of time, Krauss explains. As Einstein demonstrated in his Theory of General Relativity, a passenger inside a spaceship traveling toward a black hole would feel the ship accelerating, while an outside observer would see the ship slow down. When the ship reached the event horizon, it would appear to stop, staying there forever and never falling in toward oblivion. In effect, Krauss says, time effectively stops at that point, meaning time is infinite for black holes. If black holes radiate away their mass over time, as Hawking showed, then they should evaporate before they even form, Krauss says. It would be like pouring water into a glass that has no bottom. In essence, physicists have been arguing over a trick question for 40 years.

The preprint for this work can be found here.

Now, this is not coming from some fringe physicist either. Lawrence Krauss is one of the most respected physicist around. So this certainly carries quite a bit of weight. Still, there are still arguments against this:

Not so fast, says astronomer Kimberly Weaver of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Although she appreciates the physics the Case Western Reserve team is describing, the problem is "we have never observed any events that would back this up." At the site of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, for example, she says astronomers routinely observe what looks like interstellar material disappearing without a trace. Also, no one has yet detected Hawking radiation, which would be prerequisite evidence for black hole evaporation, Weaver says.

In the end, as often is the case, we require more experimental observations.


Students Learn Physics by Building Mini-Golf Course

OK, now this is certainly something new, at least something that I've never come across before. I seen plenty of times student learn physics by building bridges, going to amusement parks, tossing water balloons, etc.. but never by building a mini-golf course! How creative!

These students learned a lot about Newton's laws from this project. So whoever thought of this deserves a lot of credit. Now I hope that no one gets any ideas about teaching the kids about statistics and probabilities by making them build a casino!



Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Brookhaven 2007 Summer Sunday Tours

If you are going to be on Long Island, NY during one of the dates for the tour, I would suggest you not miss visiting Broohaven Nat'l Lab during their Summer Sunday tours. This is an excellent opportunity to visit a world class laboratory with world renowned facilities.

Note that if you intend to visit them during either the NSLS tour or the RHIC tour, those two can be VERY popular and very busy. So you are strongly urged to arrive early.


The Quest for the Advanced Exotic Beam Laboratory

A Chicago Suntimes news report describes the purpose for the proposed Advanced Exotic Beam Laboratory that the Dept. of Energy is seeking to build. Both Argonne and Michigan State University are in the running to host this facility that would cost roughly $550 million.

This project was initially called RIA - Rare Isotope Accelerator, that was supposed to cost about $1.1 billion. Even though that had high importance and recommendation, budget constraints have cut it down, and the name also went away. So rather than calling it RIA Light, they found a convoluted name to give to this facility. Actually, I think the folks at Michigan State might be calling it by another name.


Teachers Need to Know Science is Fascinating

This is a news report of a speech given by Lawrence Krauss to the Canadian Association of Physicists' Congress. Many of the things he said are plainly obvious.

According to a presentation Krauss delivered to the Canadian Association of Physicists' Congress Tuesday, 90 per cent of U.S. middle school science teachers have no post-secondary education in science themselves.

The result is an army of teachers terrified of and uncomfortable with the material they're teaching, and consequently, a class of equally squeamish students, Krauss said.

It is from my personal observation that many students that I've encountered in college who hate physics, tend to have bad physics teachers while in high school. So high school science teachers certainly play a very significant role in the student's outlook and perception of science, and certainly true for physics. Yet, many of these teachers either have no sufficient background, insufficient resources, or are not given any incentive to promote the subject they are teaching.

It is why I continue to highlight and applaud a few of these high school teachers that go out of their way to make physics fascinating to the students. The system they work in really give them no incentive to do that, yet, they still do. I can only guess that they themselves sees physics as fascinating, and want to convey that to the students.

So yes, teachers NEED to know that science is fascinating. It is the only way to give the students the sense of enthusiasm for what is being taught.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Researchers propose electric jet engines powered by superconducting magnets

Y'know, you sometime wonder if people have thought of something through before they propose it.

These researchers are proposing that aircraft can function more efficiently using superconducting turbines, which are powered by superconducting magnets. I'm not kidding you.

A superconducting magnet, however, would be much more efficient and powerful for its size. When chilled to 77 kelvins (–321 degrees Fahrenheit) or colder, so-called high-temperature superconductors such as the ceramic YBCO (yttrium barium copper oxide) begin to carry electricity without resistance, which produces a strong magnetic field without wasting energy.

Just because YBCO becomes a superconductor at liquid helium temperature does not mean all the problems are solved. It is a Type II superconductors, which means that there will be magnetic vortices migrating all over the place when it is within a magnetic field of sufficient strength. This diminishes it's "zero conductance" property. Furthermore, the reason why these high-Tc superconductors are not used in all those superconducting magnets that are being installed at the LHC is because they can't tolerate high magnetic fields because the low supercurrent density tends to quench superconductivity at sufficiently high fields.

But more importantly, they seem to ignore the fact that (i) you have to carry the cryogenics and (ii) you have to maintain the cryogenics. This adds weight AND require extra power consumption. Did they take this into account when they estimated all of these "efficiency"?

To be fair, I should read the paper they published rather than rely on some silly news report, especially from Sci-Am that lacks any exact citation to it. So I'll try to get a hold of it when see if I will change my mind afterwards.


Could There Be More Than One Dimension of Time?

There might be two if these USC theorists are correct. If you missed the latest Physics News Update, you might find this interesting:

The physics world accepts the idea of spacetime, a combined metrical entity which puts time on the same footing as the visible three spatial dimensions. Further spatial dimensions are added in some theories to help assimilate all physical forces into a unified model of reality. But what about adding an extra dimension of time too? Itzak Bars and Yueh-Cheng Kuo of the University of Southern California do exactly that, and add an extra spatial dimension too. Bars explains this proposal with a comparison. Just as a projection of a 3D object onto a 2D wall can have many different shapes, and each such shape is incapable of fully conveying all the properties of the 3D object, so the single-time description of dynamics in the standard formulation of physics is insufficient to capture many properties of dynamical systems which have remained mysterious or unnoticed. The addition of an extra time and an extra space dimension, together with a requirement that all motion in the enlarged space be symmetric under an interchange of position and momentum at any instant, reproduces all possible dynamics in ordinary spacetime, and brings to light many relationships and hidden symmetries that are actually present in our own universe. The hidden relationships among dynamical systems are akin to relationships that exist between the multiple shadows of a 3D object projected on a 2D wall. In this case the object is in a spacetime of 4 space and 2 time dimensions while the shadows are in 3 space and 1 time dimensions. The motion in 4+2 dimensions is actually much more symmetric and simpler than the complex motions of the shadows in 3+1 dimensions. Besides the general unification of dynamics described above, what does this addition to one extra time and one extra space dimension (in addition to all those extra space dimensions called for in string theory) accomplish that could not be achieved without it? Bars ( says that his theory explains CP conservation in the strong interactions described by QCD without the need for a new particle, the axion, which has not been found in experiments. It also explains the fact that the elliptical orbit of planets remains fixed (not counting well-known tiny precessions). This *Runge-Lenz* symmetry effect has remained somewhat mysterious in the study of celestial mechanics, but now could be understood as being due to the symmetry of rotations into the fourth space dimension. A similar symmetry observed in the spectrum of hydrogen would also be accounted for in 2-time physics, and again explained as a symmetry of rotations into the extra space and time dimensions. There are many such examples of hidden symmetries in the macroscopic classical world as well as in the microscopic quantum world, Bars argues, which can be addressed for the first time with the new 2T formulation of physics. There have been previous attempts to formulate theories with a second time axis, but Bars says that most of these efforts have been compromised by problems with unitarity (the need for the sum of all probabilities of occurrences to be no greater than 1) and causality (maintaining the thermodynamic arrow of time). The USC theorists have reformulated their model to fit into the ongoing supersymmetry version of the standard model and expect their ideas to be tested in computer simulations and in experiments yet to come. (Physical Review Letters, upcoming article;

This makes time appear even MORE closer to the properties of space. So people who somehow think time is an "illusion" but not space will have another sharp, pointy object to burst their balloons.


Why Can an Opera Singer be Heard Over the Much Louder Orchestra?

OK, so this may not be one of those nagging questions that you are seeking an answer to, but still, the response to this question is quite fascinating.


Sunday, June 17, 2007


This is one week before the start of the 2007 Particle Accelerator Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have attended the last 2 PACs, PAC 2003 in Portland, OR, and PAC 2005 in Knoxville, TN. Unfortunately, I will not be attending to the one this year. But, it doesn't mean that you won't be hearing anything about. I have recruited several volunteers to send me daily reports on the going-ons at this year's PAC, ranging from the scientific content to what they serve at the banquets and coffee breaks. So we will have a good coverage of what goes on during the event.

If you happen to be in Albuquerque the weekend before the start of the conference (June 23rd), you may want to drop by the Science Weekend organized by the PAC organizers and organizers of Pulsed Power and Plasma Conference. See the PAC webpage for more detail.


Friday, June 15, 2007

More Security Breach at Los Alamos?

OK, altogether now .... "NOT AGAIN??!!!!!!"

Yes, again. It seems that either bad luck, or poor judgement, or both, seems to be following Los Alamos, no matter who is in charge or who is running the lab. In this case, there is another security breach when people were using unsecured e-mail to pass or discuss classified info.


Review of US Program for Detector R&D for the ILC

Argonne is hosting a review of the effort from the US collaborators for the detector R&D for the International Linear Collider (ILC). The program and presentation viewgraphs for this review can be found at the here.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hawking Writing Children's Book

I kid you not!

It appears that Stephen Hawking is now dabbling in writing a children's book.

"George's Secret Key to the Universe," the story of a young man's computer-driven adventures, will be published this fall by Simon & Schuster.

"Just like 'A Brief History of Time' inspired millions of adult minds around the globe, 'George's Secret Key to the Universe' will make this complex material readily accessible to a younger audience.

Maybe I can actually understand this one, because like Steven Weinberg, I thought "A Brief History of Time" was excruciatingly difficult to understand and follow.


Baby monitor picks up video from NASA

Quick! Turn on your baby monitor and see what you get!! :)

How come none of my appliances malfunction in such a manner? All they do is just sputter and die!



Boosting Condensed Matter and Materials Physics Research

This is a new report (released today) by the National Research Council, an arm of the US National Academies of Sciences. The report highlights the importance of condensed matter physics and material sciences, and why the US leadership position in this field is in jeopardy (i.e. it is heading in the same direction as high energy physics).

Considering that there are a lot of OBVIOUS and direct impact out of this field of study on our everyday lives, one would think that it would be a no-brainer to illustrate its importance. But one would be surprised to realize that for many people who are not familiar with physics, the field is still considered to be rather "esoteric". Most people think physics only as particle physics, nuclear physics, or String theory, and do not even consider or know of anything practical that comes out of it. Such a misconception pervades through a large portion of society and certainly through politicians that make funding decisions.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

We Want To Study Physics Followup

If you missed this report when I posted it earlier, you may want to read it. It seems that the protest by the Nepalese students demanding greater access to physics classes may have worked. In the Letters section of the APS News May 2007 issue, a Nepalese student in Ohio wrote this:

Regarding the picture with the headline "Getting high on physics", published in the March 2007 APS News, I would like to inform you that the number of students in the physics class at Tribhuvan University in Nepal has increased. This happened because of the demonstration by students on December 12, 2006 in front of the Nepal's Ministry of Education and Sport, as shown in the picture, in which they demanded greater access to physics classes.

I'd say good for them!


Cracking the Supersolid

Did you read the terrific overview on the issues surrounding the "supersolid" written by Phil Phillips and Alex Balatsky (Science, vol. 316, 1435 (2007)). If you did, they have uploaded what they say is an extended version of that article. So you may want to read this even if you already read the Science version.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

John Cramer May Not Be Running Out Of Time

I wrote earlier about a news piece regarding University of Washington's John Cramer and his failure to find funding support to continue his research on a highly speculative "time travel" work. The work was even "too weird" for DARPA.

Well now, after that story broke in the media, the sympathetic public has donated more than $35,000 for him to continue with this line of work.

"This country puts a lot more money into things that seem to me much crazier than this," said Mitch Rudman, a music industry executive in Las Vegas whose family foundation donated $20,000 to the experiment. "It's outrageous to me that talented scientists have to go looking for a few bucks to do anything slightly outside the box."

So it looks like he might be able to continue with this. But what exactly can be done with $35,000? If he's thinking of doing any experimental work, that would require significantly more than that, I would think. It would not even pay half of his salary. And all this is before the University takes in its "overhead" costs, as they normally do. Doing physics is EXPENSIVE.

This is not the first time some parts of physics had to be rescued via donation. A couple of years ago, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven would have been shut down for a year's worth of run due to budget cutbacks until they were bailed out by a substantial donation from a company to keep running. That was when I think everyone kinda sat up and realized the pathetic level of basic research funding that the country in at that time. We had to seek donations to keep a nuclear physics facility that was at its prime.

Who knows. Maybe soon enough, when we hire graduate students or postdoc, part of their job requirement might be to stand on street corners passing out donation cans and begging for money.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Unparticle Physics

Hum... looks like this is another theory that could possibly be tested with the LHC (I think they need to start putting out the "Now Serving...." number machine there at CERN).

In scale-invariant theory—where objects don’t change when their dimensional qualities are multiplied by a rescaling parameter—the concept of particles doesn’t work because most particles have a definite nonzero mass. In quantum mechanics, this isn’t a problem because the standard model does not have scale-invariance. But Georgi suggests that there could be an undiscovered sector of the standard model that is exactly scale-invariant.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

More Science Bloopers

I mentioned earlier that Robert Crease is collecting from the readers of Physics World/PhysicsWeb their favorite science bloopers in the media. This month's issue of Physics World has Part II of Crease's article.

The mistakes here aren't as "annoying" as the bastardization of various aspects of physics that we have found recently. Still, they are certainly amusing, at least.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Bad Physics

It is often amusing when people who are writing an article that has nothing to do with physics, tries to either justify, or make some similar comparison, to something in physics. The article titled "Obama Physics" was one such example. This is another one.

This article talks about "parthenogenesis", that deals with how species reproduce. I certainly am not an expert in it, but I find this paragraph to be rather amusing and a chance to illustrate this concept in physics clearly to people who do not understand it:

For explaining everyday life—babies, puppies, puberty—the mommy-daddy story of procreation works fine. But at life's edges, conventional biology, like conventional physics, breaks down. As you approach the speed of light, time slows and distances shrink. And as you approach extinction, genes find new ways to pass themselves on. Scientists call it "reproductive plasticity." A Komodo dragon manufactures a mate. A shark's got to do what a shark's got to do.

I think of all the consequences of Special Relativity (SR), this part is one of the most misunderstood by the general public.

1. Conventional physics does not "break down" as one approaches the speed of light. this is because SR IS a part of "conventional physics". Maybe this author meant "classical physics". It is misleading and wrong to not include SR within conventional physics. Stating it as it is gives the impression that physics simply doesn't work close to c. This is absolutely wrong.

2. Time doesn't slow down when one approaches c. This is a very popular misconception. The principle of time dilation requires TWO OBSERVES IN DIFFERENT INERTIAL FRAMES. Let's say B is moving with respect to A. If A looks at B's clock, A will see that B's clock is moving slower. However, B can also say the same thing, since we have no preferred frame. B will see A's clock also moving slower. HOWEVER, neither A nor B will see THEIR OWN CLOCK as being slow. The time interval in their own frame doesn't change! So even if B is moving close to c with respect to A, B will NOT see its time slowing down. It will see A's time slowing down! So what is stated in the article is utterly wrong.

Again, I'm sure this is just nitpicking, but it is surprising how many people who don't normally read actual physics texts would get a lot of their understanding of physics via articles like this. At the very least, someone using something in physics to illustrate their point should pay a bit more attention on the ACCURACY of what they are writing.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Single Electron Motion Caught on Video

Now, whenever someone says that no one has ever seen a single electron, show him/her this. Of course, there could be an argument that you're not seeing the electron directly, but rather the bubble that it creates. Then you can argue that no one sees anything directly, but rather the light that got reflected off all the objects. So there! It's all the same! :)

These researchers actually managed to not only see the motion of a single electron, but they also videotaped it using ordinary camcorder! How cool is that?

People's creativity never fail to amaze me.


Farewell to CLEO

Another particle physics detector is on the block to be dismantled. CLEO at Cornell's Wilson Synchrotron Laboratory is scheduled to be demolished next year. The public will have an opportunity to get a final look at it during an open house this Saturday. So if you're in the neighborhood, this might be a great opportunity to get a closer look at a particle accelerator and collider complex.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Wireless Power A Reality

This is utterly cool. I didn't know they could make progress this quickly. It was only last year was there a paper out of MIT that proposed for the "transmission of electricity" wirelessly. Now, the same group has demonstrated the concept by lighting a 60W lightbulb without any wires!

Way to go, people!


Even More and More Bastardization of Quantum Mechanics

This sounds familiar:

Maybe he was one unlucky guy, but I tend to think he just believed he was unlucky.

I recently watched an inspirational video called The Secret, which conveyed this idea well.

Delivered in a new-agey Da Vinci Code-esque style, The Secret is unveiled by a series of scientists, authors and philosophers versed in the language of quantum physics and cognitive behavioural science. If you've seen the docudrama What The Bleep Do We Know?, it's in the same vein.

The video's message: the Law of Attraction governs our joy, health, money, relationships, love and happiness.

First of all, it is hilarious that this person would think that equating this video to that stupid movie is an advantage. Secondly, I'd like to see what "scientists" they cooked up that are "versed" in QM, and what kind of acrobatic connection they could make with cognitive behavior.

Again, no one has ever shown that the rules of QM can be applied to a large classical system that has suffered coupling to all those degree of freedoms and become incoherent. I have mentioned this before in another article that tried to make use of QM's phenomena and applied it to "marketing". It is sad that, without proper knowledge of QM, these people think they can simply justify their claim simply by hijacking QM phenomena into ways it hasn't been shown to clearly apply. I mean, go ahead and claim that you have evidence that there is a "correlation" between intention and results, but don't hijack QM to justify such a thing! There is a HUGE gap between the two that hasn't been filled yet!

Do I expect these people to listen to what I say? Nope!


The Physics of Bowling

Don't you think that there seems to be a recent flood of "The Physics of ...." something? Not that there's anything bad about it. It is just rather amusing.

We already have the Physics of Star Trek, Golf, Basketball, etc.. etc. Add this to the list - the Physics of Bowling.

I only wish that this Wired article stop making references to "geek" when articles like this appears. That is rather annoying.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Relativistic Tennis with Photons

Whoa! If this thing really works, all those multi-million dollar x-ray FEL facility such as the LCLS being constructed at SLAC might be obsolete!

Reported in today's Science daily news (link open only for a limited time), a team from Advanced Photon Research Center at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency has shown the ability to generate an ultrashort and ultraintense x-ray pulse using just ordinary laser.

However, Sergei Bulanov of the Advanced Photon Research Center at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency in Kyoto and colleagues say they have a prototype that can generate pulses of x-ray laser light on the cheap. The researchers call their technique "relativistic tennis with photons," but a more violent analogy may better convey how it works. Suppose you throw a golf ball at a locomotive that is speeding toward you. The golf ball will bounce off it and come flying back at you with tremendous energy--just before you get run over.

The golf ball is a pulse of ordinary low-energy photons. With a tabletop setup, Bulanov and colleagues create the equivalent of a locomotive by firing a different laser into a cloud of plasma, where it creates a wake that travels at near-light speed. When the photons hit the wake, their energy increases 56-fold. They are also focused into an ultrashort, ultraintense blast by the wake, which is shaped like a miniature radar dish.

They have recently uploaded two preprints on ArXiv that you may want to check out:

1. Relativistic Tennis with Photons: Demonstration of Frequency Upshifting by a Relativistic Flying Mirror through Two Colliding Laser Pulses

2. Generation and Observation of Coherent, Long--Lived Structures in a Laser--Plasma Channel


The Physics of Hot Air

No, this isn't a treatise on Chicago politics. :)

A bunch of kids got first-hand look at the physics of hot air by going on a hot-air balloon. It appears that these kids got to learn about this concept while having fun.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

UK Science Teacher Shortage Warning

It appears that the situation in the UK is not getting any better, especially after a group made a dire warning of an acute shortage of qualified school teachers, especially in physics.

I have mentioned this before that in my experience, many people who grew to dislike physics, usually had a very bad introduction to it, which is highly understandable. It isn't confined to just physics. So having a high school teacher who is teaching a subject he/she didn't specialize in not only might compromise the accuracy of the subject being taught, but also lacking the "enthusiasm" of the person who genuinely is interested in the subject matter. This last part, I think, is what robs of the students the interest in physics.

It is also why I try to highly some of the teachers and instructors who, in their love and enthusiasm for the subject, went out of their way to make physics more interesting, more exciting, and more accessible to their students. These are the most valuable people in the efforts to get more students to take physics classes, and not necessarily major in physics.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Harnessing the Power of Plasma Wakefields

I reported earlier on the recent publications on high gradient achieved in plasma wakefields. There is a very good overview of the current state of knowledge in this area of study by Chan Joshi, one of the leading authority in this area. This provides a good historical progression and also the present set of problems that are still being studied for this particular technique of particle acceleration.


Back from Vacation!

I'm back from my vacation and now I need a vacation to recover! Mickey said hi and wishes that everyone can study physics, professionally or on their own. :)

I'll spend a few days trying to catch up on what I've missed, and then hopefully, we'll be back up to speed with everything.