Friday, August 31, 2007

Interface Between 2 Insulators Becomes Superconducting

As Alice in Wonderland says "things are becoming curioser and curioser".

First there was a report that the 2D interface between 2 insulators can become metallic[1]. Now a new report in Nature has indicated that such interface can in fact become superconducting, albeit at 200 mK[2]. Fantastic!

This interface is a 2D thin region (~10 nm) and evokes exotic transport mechanism, I would assume. There's still considerable work in coming up the theoretical explanation for this phenomenon. So there's plenty of work left to be done.


[1] A Ohtomo, H.Y. Hwaing, Nature v.427, p.423 (2004).
[2] N. Reyren et al., Science v.317, p.1196 (2007).

SNS: America Regains Leadership with World Record

This appears to be a breaking news from Oak Ridge National Lab regarding the Spallation Neutron Source.

Lab officials have announced that the Spallation Neutron Source, the Department of Energy’s $1.4 billion research facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has established a new record as the world’s most powerful accelerator based source of neutrons for scientific research.

The SNS surpassed the previous record for beam power 160 kilowatts, held by the United Kingdom’s ISIS facility, while operating at 183 kilowatts.

I wouldn't stamp it with the "leadership" medal yet, because the usefulness of such source depends more than just this parameter. Still, it is a good start at justifying all that money spent on building it.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

String Theory Might Provide Insight Into High-Tc Superconductors and Quark-Gluon Plasma?

Say it isn't so!!


Jan Zaanen's article in this week's Nature (Nature v.448, p.1000; 30 August 2007) highlights an ArXiv preprint by Hartnoll et al. that seems to have made a connection between one aspect of String Theory called the anti-de-Sitter/conformal field theory correspondence(AdS/CFT), and the heat and charge transport in high-Tc superconductor called the Nernst effect.

Hartnoll et al. push what one might term the 'AdS-to-high-Tc correspondence' to its logical conclusion. They study its application to a particular, rather recondite transport phenomenon known as the Nernst effect — the crosswise flow of heat and charge currents in the presence of a magnetic field7 — in the nearly quantum-critical matter of a two-dimensional cuprate system. In a theoretical tour de force, they use the physics of a black hole in a three-dimensional anti-de-Sitter space that carries both electrical and magnetic charge to guide them in the very complex derivation of the relevant transport equations directly from quantum field theory. They show that these theoretical results are seemingly consistent with a number of hitherto unexplained features of the Nernst effect in a high-temperature superconductor7.

Man, that takes a lot of balls to do that! :) And what about the quark-gluon plasma that has been studied at RHIC?

Here, the AdS/CFT correspondence comes to the aid of the experimentalists in a similar way. The background is the observation that quark–gluon fireballs, as have been created in the Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, behave in a remarkably simple way, but one that current theories find difficult to explain — they are governed by normal hydrodynamics, but have extremely low viscosity. Quite simply, the AdS/CFT correspondence tells us that when the quantum physics is scale invariant, the viscosity of such a system can be as small as it is. This result is far from obvious given our current understanding of quantum chromodynamics, the standard-model quantum-field theory of the strong nuclear force that governs interactions in the quark–gluon plasma.

I'm not going to jump onto the String Theory bandwagon and proclaiming it as the next best thing since sliced bread, but this is getting to be rather interesting.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Yukawa's Gold Mine

This is an excellent article on the historical significance of Yukawa's hypothesis of the pion. It is simply amazing how this theory has legs, even till today.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Illusion Mimics Out-of-Body Experiences

So now we can manipulate the brain enough that we can even mimic the so-called "out of body" experience (link open for free for a limited time only).

The effect was created in two separate experiments described in Science1,2 this week, both of which used a simple method to fool volunteers into thinking that their minds had been displaced outside their bodies. In each case, participants wore virtual-reality goggles hooked up to cameras trained on their own bodies.

In one study, carried out by Henrik Ehrsson at University College London, volunteers were then prodded in the chest at precisely the same moment that an object approached the camera. In this scenario, the volunteers identified strongly with the location of the camera, thinking that this is where their true self was — the view of their body was like a view of someone else.

In the other experiment, led by Olaf Blanke of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, patients viewed a camera image of their own back being stroked, while their own back was stroked too. In this instance, volunteers identified strongly with the picture of their back, thinking that this was their location - again outside their own body.

So again, something that was "mystical" and supernatural actually is nothing more than our minds playing tricks on us, as in the case of many other examples (placebo effect). It is why valid evidence cannot be based on just anecdotal evidence. Our minds can be easily susceptible to illusions that we think are real. Scientific evidence requires a lot more rigorous testing to ensure that we do not fool ourselves.


[1] H. Henrik Ehrsson Science v.317, p.104824 (2007).
[2] Bigna Lenggenhager et al. Science v.317, p. 1096 (2007).

Nuclear Reactions in the Lab Mimic Supernovas

This is one way to create a controlled "supernova" in the lab.

RESOLUT is not the only facility in North America using a beam of atomic particles to isolate rare nuclei in a particle accelerator, but it is unique in its flexibility. The TRIUMF Accelerator at the University of British Columbia and the ORELA facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have, Wiedenhöver admits, "better beams, but we can select more freely which isotopes to study."

So how come we don't get people complaining about a doomsday scenario for such an experiment? They seem to be coming out of the woodwork with the LHC collider creating blackholes. You don't hear people complaining about blowing ourselves up by creating a supernova.

Or maybe they aren't quite sure yet what a "supernova" is. :)


Monday, August 27, 2007

The Unreasonable Effectivness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

This is a rather old essay written by Eugene Wigner. However, it is still as relevant today. This is one of the best essays that I've ever read. He gave a rather practical definitions of Mathematics and Physics, and what mathematics means to physics.

This was already implied in the statement, made when discussing the role of applied mathematics, that the laws of nature must have been formulated in the language of mathematics to be an object for the use of applied mathematics. The statement that the laws of nature are written in the language of mathematics was properly made three hundred years ago; [ It is attributed to Galileo.] it is now more true than ever before.

And as I've indicated in my own essay on why QM is so difficult, in such a case, the mathematics of QM is the main connection we have between it and what we already understand, even when there is no conceptual connection between classical and quantum mechanics. It is the bridge and thus, if one does not understand the mathematical formulism of QM, one hasn't understand QM at all but rather has a superficial idea of what it is.

If you haven't come across this yet, I would certainly highly recommend that you read it.


Living Is "Riskier" Than Nuclear Power

Y'know, I've seen this kind of claims forever. Newspaper column and people on the street often argue about something having a risk, or no amount of radiation is "safe", etc.. etc., without realizing quantitatively what they are saying in comparison to others that they have accepted. The case in point is the "risk" associated with nuclear power. It seems that the LA Times editorial has concluded that nuclear power is "extremely risky". That, in itself, is extremely irresponsible if one doesn't compare the risk involved with the risk others have accepted.

So it was good that R. Stephen White, emeritus professor of physics at University of California, Riverside, wrote back to blast such claims.

Really, how risky is nuclear power? The Three Mile Island meltdown was the worst accident in the history of U.S. commercial nuclear fission electricity generation. It occurred at a time when about 100 U.S. commercial reactors were generating electricity, with an average life span of about 30 years. Yet it caused no injuries or deaths. The emitted radiation was so low that it could hardly be measured. In the 20 years before and 28 years after that accident, no deaths from other U.S. commercial reactor meltdowns occurred.

But let's assume that three people had died in that emergency, and from that hypothetical make a simple estimate of the risk of death to a person in the United States by the operation of 100 reactors. We will assume a U.S. population of 300 million, and a person's lifetime of 75 years. Dividing the three deaths by the population of 300 million, we find the chance of a person's death over his/her lifetime is 1 in 100 million.

We now compare that risk to those a person may take every day, like riding in a vehicle or walking along the street. In the United States, about 40,000 people are killed each year in vehicle accidents. Five thousand of these are pedestrians. In the 28 years since the Three Mile Island accident, over 1 million people have been killed in U.S. vehicle accidents. In a person's 75-year lifetime, 3 million people will die. Thus, the chance of any one person being killed in his or her lifetime is 3 million divided by the 300 million population, or about 1 in 100. Driving is 1 million times more risky than nuclear fission generation of electricity. Riding in vehicles, even walking, with a risk of about 1 in 800, might be called "extremely risky."

Again, there is often a disconnect (hypocracy) between what people claim and do. They claim such-and-such is risky, yet they are practicing and accepting something even riskier. And note that this is the same pattern that can be applied to other things as well, such as the proclaim that "time is an illusion", without bothering with the fact the criteria being used to make such a claim can also be used to assert that "space is an illusion" as well. Yet, no one seems to be making such a claim. So why did they just pick on time?

Often, human actions are inconsistent.


Friday, August 24, 2007

We continually see discussion on various conspiracy theory on the moon landings. Very much like the claim that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics falsies the theory of Evolution, the people who make these claims are either simply proud of their ignorance, or simply won't learn (or both). This is despite the fact that there have been many explanation for the various claims made by these conspiracy theories.

One such website that has collected many of these claims and has debunked them meticulous is There is a tremendous wealth of information here, and everything one can think of or has been made against the moon landings, one can find it here and see it smashed into bits. It's a great site to have in your Bookmars/Favorites because, inevitably, these "conspiracists" will pop their ugly heads again, and you'll know where to look for your ammunitions.


Astronomers Puzzled by Cosmic Black Hole

OK, so the title is rather misleading because this isn't a "Black Hole", but rather a void in the universe.

Astronomers have stumbled upon a tremendous hole in the universe. That's got them scratching their heads about what's just not there. The cosmic blank spot has no stray stars, no galaxies, no sucking black holes, not even mysterious dark matter. It is 1 billion light years across of nothing. That's an expanse of nearly 6 billion trillion miles of emptiness, a University of Minnesota team announced Thursday.

As an experimentalist, I love it when we discover unexpected or new observations. So this is really something right up my alley. :)

Of course, I could make some dumb jokes about this void being the possible origin of dark matter, but I won't. :)


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Medical Linear Accelerator Celebrates 50 Years of Operatons

This is a bit late, but better than never.

I wrote an entry earlier on Accelerator Physics, and how many people do not actually understand what it is and why it is different than particle smasher. I have examples where linear accelerators can in fact already be present in your hospitals. It turns out that the medical linear accelerator celebrated its 50th Anniversary this past April.

This is one very clear example where the advancement made in one field provides a new opportunity and technique in another. And no one reading this should make the mistake anymore of confusing "particle accelerator" with "particle collider". :)


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Light Collapses Step-By-Step

This is such a cool experiment. They are able to make non-destructive measurement of the photon number in a superconducting cavity, and then as they successively make this measurement, they begin to see the result converging (collapsing?) to a single number. Just exactly what quantum mechanics described!

The exact citation for this paper is C. Guerlin et al. Nature 448, 889 (2007).


Enemy of Reason Part II Video

Thanks again to Moridin at PF for pointing this out. Part 2 of Richard Dawkins's "Enemy of Reason" video has now appeared online. The first part of this series can be found here, if you missed it.

Let the fall-out begin!



Tuesday, August 21, 2007

'X' Marks Fermilab Future

With the Tevatron shutdown looming and the International Linear Collider still a dream away, Fermilab is making its own effort to survive by proposing an intermediate project called Project X. It is meant to be a project that allows for the lab to remain in operation, continues to produce fundamental science, and also allows for the engineering expertise that is eventually needed for the ILC to be tested.

Fermilab's long-range ambition is to host a mammoth project called the International Linear Collider, but that idea will take decades to bring to fruition. Project X would incorporate many of the technologies needed for the ILC, yielding new experimental opportunities and potentially strengthening Fermilab's chances of landing the bigger device.

"This would be a world-class machine at a cost that is much lower than the ILC," said Fermilab Director Pier Oddone.

Of course, as the article has stated, everyone, including Fermilab officials, are aware of the possible downside to such a proposal and especially if it gets built. Certainly there's a perception that Fermilab may not get the ILC if this gets built, and that Project X may be a "light" version of the ILC, the same way RIA got downsized by half of the cost and morphed into an "Advanced Exotic Beam Laboratory".


Scientists Confirm Long-Held Theory About Source of Sunshine

It is always good to confirm a long-standing understanding of anything. This is such a case done at Gran Sasso National Laboratory near L'Aquila, Italy. By observing the low-energy neutrinos from the sun, they have verified the type of nuclear reaction going on inside the sun that generates all of the energy.

"Our observations essentially confirm that we understand how the sun shines," said Frank Calaprice, a professor of physics and principal investigator of the Princeton team. "Physicists have had theories regarding the nuclear reactions within the sun for years, but direct observations have remained elusive. Now we understand these reactions much better."


Edit: this is the news article from Nature on the same experimental work. Again, the link is open for free only for a limited time.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Galactic Collision Challenges Dark Matter Theories

What? We may have to change our "understanding" of the property of something we barely know anything about? This is unacceptable! :)

All kidding aside, this observation by the Chandra X-ray Observatory could be BIG! (Open, free link available only for a limited time.)

The images depict hundreds of galaxies merging into a huge cluster called Abell 520, located about 2.4 billion light-years away. As astronomer Andisheh Mahdavi of the University of Victoria in Canada and colleagues will report in the 20 October issue of The Astrophysical Journal, some of the galaxies have moved as far away as 2 million light-years from their dark matter anchors, far enough that gravity will never bring them back. Perhaps just as incredible, the clouds of hot interstellar gas formerly contained by the galaxies--and superheated by the collision so they glow in x-ray light--seem to have been grabbed by the dark matter instead of being flung into space.

Dark matter remains mysterious, which also means that there's going to be a lot of jobs for a long time for people studying this.


Science and the Islamic World

This is just an excellent article in Physics Today by Pervez Hoodbhoy, who is the is chair and professor in the department of physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan. I think for people who are not aware of how muslims have contributed to the advancement in science, and why they are not so far lagging in it, this is an eye-opening essay from someone from the inside of the battle lines. For many of us, such restrictions and hand-cuffing of what we do or how we go about practicing our profession are unimaginable.


The Mystery of Dark Matter and Dark Energy

For a Yahoo News article, this isn't a bad overview of the hunt for dark matter and dark energy.

I've attended seminar given by both Michael Turner and Scott Dodelson, who were both interviewed for the article. These are certainly two of the well-known names in this field of study. So they have certainly go to the experts to get information for this article.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

More and More Bastardization of Quantum Mechanics

It never ends, does it?

This one is even hilarious. It is advertising a free "tele-seminar" on how QM can affect your consciousness.

Speaker, Thomas Herold will discuss how quantum physics can help individuals manifest their life dreams. Calling on the findings of Sir Issac Newton, the Wave/Particle Duality quantum paradox and the paradigm of space, time and matter, this seminar will illustrate how good old fashion science coupled with a strong belief system provides evidence that your thoughts create your reality.

Pardon me, but Isaac Newton had findings on wave/particle duality? No kidding!

So besides that fact that there are no clear link and evidence to extrapolate QM's formulation with "consciousness" and "belief system", they also can't get the history of physics correct. This is a first for me in seeing Newton being associated with this QM "paradox". Of course, they neglected to study QM and realize that there is NO paradox at all, and that the wave-particle duality is only something used to explain one part of an observation (not formulation) to the general public. There's no wave-particle duality in the formalism of QM. Honest! Look for yourself if you don't believe me!


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Nature Collections of Energy Papers

Nature has compiled a list of their papers and articles related to our Energy issues and problems. Most of these papers are being made available FREE online. So take a look if you're interested (not sure why you won't be since this affects all of us).


Friday, August 17, 2007

Accelerator Physics

I attended a meeting a while back where one of the topics was how to attract more talented students into the field of Accelerator Physics. There were several different ways that were proposed, including more money (of course), and getting the right faculty members in different colleges interested in the field of study and so, would channel students into it. Unfortunately, I had to leave early and didn't get the chance to say what I had in mind.

Accelerator Physics suffers from a serious "identity crisis". If I mention to you that I work in accelerator physics, what's the first thing that comes to your mind? I bet that you think about particle collider/high energy physics/particle physics/Fermilab/CERN/etc. Am I right? There's a good chance that I am. I've done many tours of our accelerator facility for students, general public (during our Open House last year), and even other scientists/physicists. The majority of them had that impression. People think that accelerator physics is synonymous with particle physics, which in retrospect, is highly understandable. High energy physics collider facilities have been given names such as "Fermi National ACCELERATOR Laboratory". Even nuclear physics collider facility has been called " Thomas Jefferson National ACCELERATOR Facility". So it is no wonder that the majority of people would associate the word "accelerator" with "particle collider/particle physics".

I have tried to correct this misconception earlier when I posted a blog entry titled "Particle Accelerator Are Not Just For Colliders". Still, I think people in this area of study do not realize the existence of this misconception, or they don't think it is prevalent enough. I certainly have never heard of this issue being addressed. So I would like to address it here. I'm hoping that my putting my thought on paper and writing it down, I can make a better case of it when I actually present this issue at our next meeting, if I have the opportunity.

The field of accelerator physics, to put it crudely, involves the study of the physics and engineering of various components that are related to particle accelerators. And rather than leave you with that esoteric definition, I will tell you what are some of these "components related to particle accelerators". They include:

(i) photocathodes that generate electrons to be accelerated in electron accelerators;

(ii) the study of RF fields in various geometry, configuration, waveguides, etc. that are the actual field responsible for the acceleration mechanism;

(iii) the study of the physics and engineering of those geometry itself, such as waveguides and accelerating structures

(iv) the study of beam dynamics, i.e. how does the electron beam propagate through the accelerator, what are its properties as it passes through various components, etc.

(v) the study on HOW to actually measure various beam parameters, i.e. the physics of the diagnostic techniques and equipment

(vi) plasma physics, since we are dealing with charged particles

(vii) computational physics of beam dynamics and RF fields. Many complex software packages are used (and often modified and adapted) to solve various uses. If one has an interest in computational physics, the field of accelerator physics has some of the most challenging and exciting opportunities to apply such skill.

(viii) high-powered lasers, especially those used to generate photoelectrons.

(ix) etc.

I've only scratched the surface. In fact, there are areas involved that you would not think to be associated with accelerator physics. I myself had to deal with issues of material science, since I'm involved in photocathode production (i.e. I make them). I also have to deal with the properties of dielectric material since we use that as a possible accelerating structure. We are also using a coating technique on some of our structures using atomic layer deposition (ALD) that is used in material science/condensed matter/chemistry. A good way to get a flavor on the type of subject s that are involved in being an accelerator physicists is by browsing the course material at a particle accelerator school that I also have mentioned earlier.

So yes, accelerator is a wide field involving many different aspects, as with any other field of study in physics. But what do we study these things for? To make better, more efficient accelerators that will provide the necessary charge particle beams to be used for whatever purposes. And what purposes can they be? The most obvious one would be for high energy physics/particle physics study, such as those at particle colliders. This is a no-brainer since we are often mistaken for that. But that's not just it. I have mentioned in that blog entry that a large portion of accelerator physicists work at various light source facilities such as synchrotron research centers. They work to maintain the accelerator that feeds electrons into the synchrotron ring, and they also study the dynamics of the electrons in the ring and see if there are any other improvements that can be made in terms of its "lifetime" , i.e. how long can a good quality electron beam can be maintained? Areas of study on free-electron lasers (FEL) are also in the realm of accelerator physics, because it involves the study of beam dynamics, accelerating structure, insertion devices, etc. We also have many accelerator physicists that work with medical accelerators in hospitals and clinics.

So where can you find accelerator physics-related papers? Almost everywhere. Both Science and Nature have published accelerator physics papers. In fact, Science even had devoted an issue that focused on the advancement in the next technique of particle acceleration. In Physical Review Letters, accelerator physics papers can be found in Plasma and Beam Physics section. The Physical Review also has a special journal devoted to accelerator physics called Physical Review Special Topics - Accelerator and Beams. Accelerator physics papers can also be found in journals such as Applied Physics Letters, Journal of Applied Physics, and Nuclear Instrumentation and Methods B. These are just some of the journals that publish accelerator physics papers. But beyond that, many more papers are published as conference or workshop proceedings. The Particle Accelerator Conference (PAC) is held every two years in North America, and there are the European and Asian version of this conference as well. There's also the Advanced Accelerator Concepts workshop, also held very 2 years. Then there are other numerous workshops and conferences such as LINAC, FEL, etc. Each one of them publish their own conference proceeding which is full of accelerator physics papers.

So while the field of accelerator physics suffers from an identity crisis, it still a very active field and has a significant impact on many aspect of physics, and even day-to-day lives. The field needs to clearly identify itself and what it does to attract more fresh blood. How to do that is a very good question.



Thursday, August 16, 2007

A-Level Figures Hint at Physics Recovery?

This week, many students in the UK had anxiously waited for their A-Level results, which finally have been released. After all the bad news regarding the state of physics education and students in the UK, the Institute of Physics is reporting that for the first time in 20 years, the number of students taking A-Level physics increased by just a sliver.

Overall, the number of candidates for A-level physics has risen a sliver: just 0.35 per cent from last year. The number of girls taking the subject rose by 2.5 per cent. AS-levels in the subject have done better, with rises of 3.2 per cent and 4.2 per cent respectively.

Dr Robert Kirby-Harris, chief executive of the IoP, said the numbers are very encouraging and suggest that the message is beginning to get through.

They are not out of the woods yet because the total number is still rather low. Let's see if the trend continues next year.


Vitaly Ginzburg and I

Not exactly The King and I, but close enough in the Physics world. :)

This is a rather fascinating personal recollection of I.I. Mazin of the great Vitaly Ginzburg, who won the Nobel Prize a few years ago for his work in superconductivity. What is also interesting is the background information on the educational system and policy of the Soviet Union at that time.


SLAC Faces Layoffs as Research Evolves

As SLAC evolves itself from a particle physics facility into a light source facilities, projects and experiments close down one after another. The evolution into its new life also means workers and scientists being laid off during the transformation.

“Scientific projects at a big lab like SLAC are constantly in evolution,” Calder said. “The End Station A series of experiments and installations are coming to a final point. This is particle physics research. At SLAC there is an overall change taking place, there is more emphasis on the photon science research rather than the particle physics research for which SLAC became famous.”

In September 2008, SLAC will also shut down its BaBar project, a particle physics experiment that has been running since 1999. Calder called the project “the last big particle physics experiment at SLAC.” The center hopes to move in a new direction in 2009, when it begins operating its Linac Coherent Light Source photon science project, the first x-ray free electron laser.

This is also another clear indication of the diminishing activity in experimental high energy physics in the US. As CERN's LHC is about to go online next year, SLAC's transformation, along with the scheduled Tevatron's shut down by 2010, high-energy physics experiments in the US will become dormant (dead?) for the next decade or so, especially with the decision on the ILC being postponed to possibly 2016 or even later. Can the US afford to be asleep in this field of study for that long?


New Publicity for "Hollywood Blockbusters: Unlimited Fun but Limited Science Literacy"

The media world is slow, and will only print something when there's a press release (obviously).

It seems that the preprint that I highlighted more than a month ago on the scientific literacy of Hollywood blockbusters are now making the rounds in the popular media, probably after the University of Central Florida made a press release of it.

Again, they could be right as far as the impact of these movies on science literacy among the general public. However, we should counter that with Phillip Ball's blog in which he did not think it is that big of a deal.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Enemy of Reason Video

As expected, it didn't take long for Richard Dawkins' "Enemy of Reason" to appear online. Thanks to Moridin at PF for pointing this out to me. The video of the first episode is now available on Google video.


Comments to "Richard Dawkins Going After Faith Healers" Blog Entry

I've been reading the comments posted on this blog entry, especially those who are responding to Dawkins posted comment. I suppose I could post this commentary there, but I think it deserves a whole blog entry by itself. I think Dawkins can answer all those queries directed to him, but I still want to make a couple of observations on the nature (and maybe even fallacy) of a couple of the comments.

1. Supernatural, by definition, is beyond "nature" and therefore can't be explained by our current knowledge or even "detected".

This is strange in the sense that there is a double standard. First of all, there is a requirement that for science to falsify such phenomena, we must be able to comprehend and detect it, and detect it reliably. So since these things are, by definition, supernatural, it is beyond science. Fine. Yet, the same criteria does not seem to apply to those who claim that such a thing exists. It seems that any Joe Schmoe can make claims of supernatural phenomenon without the same requirement that is imposed upon science that claim that they don't exist.

2. These are rare and "transient" events that are not easy to study and reproduce. Again, fine. However, there is a difference between claiming that these are unpredictable events versus "I can make use of them reliably to make predictions or to cure a disease". When one claims the latter, then one IS making use of these supernatural events reliably and controllably! These are now no longer transients and rare events, especially when they can be used for various purposes. I believe this is what Dawkins is attacking. Did the psychic who found dead bodies found it all the time? Can he/she reliably do this? How come we have so many more still missing bodies and persons?

I highlighted earlier a study that concludes that mobile telephone masts do not cause the claimed illness. If you look carefully, the way that study is handled is related to what we are discussing here in the sense that any claims of something to exist MUST be convincing enough to be above the random, background "noise". For example, in that study, if you were conducting the study and you happen to be studying the person who got all of the signal correct, you'd be inclined to think that the effect is real. After all, here's the evidence - this person got it right 100% of the time!

However, this is what we call an anecdotal evidence and it doesn't rule out the possibility of chance. When we compile ALL of the statistics from other subjects, and if you bin the results (how many got it all wrong, how many got 1 right, how many got 2 right, etc... ), you'll notice that the number that got it all right is no more significant than the random fluctuation of the statistics. And the fact that even those who do not claim to be sensitive to the signal can ALSO got them all right means that one cannot rule out chance.

The criteria for something to be valid and accepted in science is utterly strict. People can argue of course that they believe in something, or such-and-such occurs, but one should not try to put it on the same category as scientific evidence. Yet, the alternative medicine community and even many of these crackpots not just claim these things to be real and valid, but also denigrate science and scientists for not accepting them via various conspiracy theory and whatnot.

It is why I applaud people like Bob Park, and certainly Dawkins for going after them. After all there has been a severe imbalance where one side of the story seems to be getting the popularity and free reign of the media, while science seems to take a back seat. It is about time someone goes after them and expose them for what they are.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Reaction to the First Episode of Dawkins' "The Enemy of Reason"

The first episode of Richard Dawkins' "The Enemy of Reason" aired last night in the UK. There are already a lot of comments and reviews on it. Yet, there appears to be a theme through several of the reviews.

The first one came from

In debunking astrology, Dawkins adopted a tone of ‘this will be big news for you, sunshine’, as if the average TV viewer is a complete dunce who had previously believed everything he read in his horoscope. Dawkins’ revelation that astrology is impossible to prove, and that the predictions published in newspapers don’t, you know, have any real bearing on your day-to-day life, would only be shocking to a five-year-old.

When he conducted a random survey of Londoners, asking them to outline their sun sign’s characteristics, we were meant to see how the idiot public has internalised today’s rampant mysticism. Wrong. What Dawkins failed to see is that most respondents were giggling as they said things like: ‘I’m a Leo. I’m meant to spend too much money but possess leadership skills.’ They weren’t actually taking it seriously, instead laughing as they listed their star sign’s endearingly daft character traits. Many of the respondents said that horoscopes are a load of nonsense.

This one from The Telegraph simply appears say that it is pointless to try to change these people who believe in such crackpottery:

More inconclusive were his encounters with the likes of astrologer Neil Spencer and Satish Kumar, editor of the New Age journal Resurgence, who in the face of his ultra-rational assault simply pointed out that they didn’t view or judge the world by the same rules as he did. Whereupon all Dawkins could do was repeat his mantra that without evidence there can be no proof.

“It all sounds very poetic, but it is not reality,” he declared.

Well, maybe not to you, Prof, but patently it was reality to them. And no amount of empirical evidence, blind trials or appealing to logic was ever going to make a jot of difference to them.

In other words, most of these underestimate what the public believes, and the impact it has on how decisions are made.

It may be an eye-opener for these people (especially that chap on spiked-online) to read the National Science Foundation recent report on the public's perception and understanding of science. In particular, read the section on pseudoscience that would be relevant to European as well:

Belief in pseudoscience is relatively widespread.[32] For example, at least a quarter of the U.S. population believes in astrology, i.e., that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives. Although the majority (56 percent) of those queried in the 2001 NSF survey said that astrology is "not at all scientific," 9 percent said it is "very scientific" and 31 percent thought it is "sort of scientific" (figure 7-8 figure and appendix table 7-5 Microsoft Excel icon).

Belief in astrology is more prevalent in Europe, where 53 percent of those surveyed thought it is "rather scientific" and only a minority (39 percent) said it is not at all scientific (European Commission 2001). Europeans were more likely to say that astrology is scientific than to say the same about economics: only 42 percent of those surveyed thought that economics was scientific. Disciplines most likely to be considered scientific by Europeans were medicine (93 percent), physics (90 percent), biology (88 percent), astronomy (78 percent), mathematics (72 percent), and psychology (65 percent). History (33 percent) was at the bottom of the list. (Comparable U.S. data on the various disciplines do not exist.)

So no, denying that ".... the average TV viewer is a complete dunce who had previously believed everything he read in his horoscope..." is contrary to the best statistics that we have, and certainly for those in Europe.

The report further highlights many misconception and further consequences for a public that actually believe in such things. So while it appears that many of these things are "entertainment" and harmless, even the few that actually believe in such things can cause a lot of damage if they happen to be in power or can seduce enough of the public to further their ignorance.

This is no laughing matter.


Blogging Improves Students' Attitude Towards Physics?

Who knew?

This is a first for me since I've never heard of this line of physics education research and technique. It seems that having an official blog for a intro physics course, when conducted properly, can actually improve students attitude towards physics.

The blog was integrated into the course as follows: since reading the blog would be on top of the numerous assignments, reading quizzes, and exams that general physics students at CU already had to complete, we decided to assign the blog as extra credit. The course instructors (mainly GD) posted several times a week to the course blog. Students received a few points of extra credit per week for (1) reading the posts to the course blog during the week and (2) for posting comments to one or more posts. The criteria for student comments were that they be a thoughtful and articulate reflection on the blog post, about a paragraph in length, that tied in outside information relevant to the topic in question. In other words, students had to move beyond a simple “This is cool!” response and include some actual content, much of which was the result of additional research on their part.

OK, I'll say it. This is cool! :)

Well, it is! After all that we've heard and read about some high-tech gadgets that various schools are using to improve physics education, while others are trying some elaborate approaches with demonstrations and complete overhaul of the teaching techniques, here's a method that involves something relatively simple and already widely available to every school and instructors. All one needs is some extra time and effort, as well as understanding how the blog should be run. If their results are to be believed, it appears that it is a rather effective technique for very little money. Who could argue against that?


Monday, August 13, 2007

Follow-up on "Richard Dawkins Going After Faith Healer"

In a blog post on this topic, there was mention of the placebo effect and how, if this is what is going on in all of these treatments, then simply fooling the subjects is more than sufficient rather than giving this cranky story about "homeopathy". Now we have an even clearer study on what is going on in the brain of subjects that either response, or are not affected, by the placebo effect.

Specifically, the research finds strong links between an individual’s response to a placebo "painkiller," and the activity of the neurotransmitter known as dopamine in the area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. That’s a small region at the center of the brain that’s involved in our ability to experience pleasure and reward, and even to become addicted to the "high" caused by illicit drugs.

The new research, published in the July 19 issue of the journal Neuron, builds on research previously published by the same U-M team in 2005. That study was the first to show that just thinking a placebo "medicine" will relieve pain is enough to prompt the brain to release its own natural painkillers, endorphins, and that this corresponds with a reduction in how much pain a person feels.

But the work also explains why others do not respond to it. Wouldn't it be interesting if these "alternative" medical treatments actually have the same type of statistics?


The Physics of NASCAR

I am not much of race car or racing fan. But I know a lot of people are. So how many of them would care to know about Navier-Stokes equation via car racing application?

This article describes how a computer simulation can show how the air flows around fast-moving vehicles and shows it to TV audiences.

Computer scientists at the University of Washington have developed software that is incorporated in new technology allowing television audiences to instantaneously see how air flows around speeding cars. The algorithm, first presented at a computer graphics conference last August, was since used by sports network ESPN and sporting-technology company Sportvision Inc. to create a new effect for racing coverage.

The fast-paced innovation hit prime time in late July when ESPN used the Draft Track technology to visualize the air flow behind cars in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, a NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

My question is, how many of the viewers will actually be conscious of the science behind what they're seeing? I guess this is another one of those things where the end result is the only thing that matters, which in this case, is an "entertainment" purpose and not a "science education". After all, who wants to be forced into learning fluid dynamics when one is engrossed in a car race?



The Simpsons is Scientific?

I mentioned in an earlier blog entry on Science and The Simpsons. In that blog, I received a comment from Paul Halpern about his book "What's Science Ever Done for Us? What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Physics, Robots, Life, and the Universe". USA Today now has a news article about this book.

Paul Halpern, a physics and mathematics professor at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and a fan of the show, uses episodes in his classes. Science themes that pop up in the show include a broad range in biology, chemistry, astronomy and physics.

Halpern says that while not everything in the show is scientifically correct, it can spark an interest in science. "The Simpsons offers a great starting point for learning about many scientific issues," he says. "However, some of the conclusions reached by characters on the show should be taken with a grain of salt because, after all, it is a comedy series."

There are now ample evidence that The Simpsons can educate you about science. So there you go! Watch more of The Simpsons! :)


Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Race Is On To Detect Dark Matter

This news article describe the current competition between various projects to be the first one to detect dark matter, which is thought of to make up the majority of the mass of the universe.

Whoever discovers the nature of dark matter would solve one of modern science's greatest mysteries and be a shoo-in for the Nobel Prize. Yet it's more than just a brainy exercise. Deciphering dark matter - along with a better understanding of another mysterious force called dark energy - could help reveal the fate of the universe.

Previous hunts for the hypothetical matter have turned up nothing, but that has not deterred some two dozen research teams from plumbing the darkness of idled mines and tunnel shafts for a fleeting glimpse.

This is not going to be an easy thing to do. Along with the study of dark energy, this could take quite a while to narrow down.


Even More Get Paid To Study Science

The UK Govt. had a plan to pay students to take A-Level science subjects. Now there are calls to pay students in universities who are majoring in the sciences. This is all in the effort to get more graduates in the sciences. It appears that the shortage of scientists in the UK is getting to be severe.


Science Lovers Have More Fun?

This is actually a book review of "A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science" by Natalie Angier. It turns out that the review has a very simple way of illustrating what is meant by the "Scientific Method".

Scientists also want us to know the scientific method is not something reserved for folks with letters after their names. When you trouble-shoot that balky toaster, you'll probably use the scientific method. Is it the fuse? Check it. No, it's fine. Then maybe the power cord ... Be it ever so humble, the scientific method usually brings home the bacon.

Usually, it is this kind of explanation that can get through to the public, not some esoteric example.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Responses To "Richard Dawkins Going After Faith Healers"

I mentioned earlier the BBC 2-part series by Richard Dawkins where he goes after the faith healers and other pseudosciences. The post certainly has attracted some comments when I highlighted it on PhysicsForums website. It appears that the quacks are coming out of the woodwork and already attacking not only the program, but also Dawkins in particular, such as this "astrologer" for The Observer.

I think one should pay very close attention to the nature of the objection here. This is because many people will be persuaded by such a thing. Now keep in mind that we are talking about the validity of something, and in this case, the validity of homeopathy, astrology, faith healers, etc. You cannot argue for the validity of these things simply by using flowery sentences, catchy phrase, or even quoting others. The validity of something MUST be based on valid experimental evidence. That writer offered not even a glimpse of one. At best that he could do was trying to argue about the placebo effect.

Few things arouse the indignation of science's hard hats like non-conventional approaches to healing. Homeopathy and acupuncture are particularly repellent since they work through mechanisms unknown to the laws of physics. Homeopathy's supposed cures are, according to Dawkins, merely the result of the placebo effect. 'It's our own minds that cure the pain,' he concludes. How that explains why animals respond to homeopathy isn't confronted.

The placebo effect is real enough, as any GP knows, but common sense and a wealth of personal testimony attest that there are other processes at work in treatments like homeopathy. For scientism, however, personal experience is not admissible. Everything must be subject to randomised, controlled double-blind trials, just like medical drugs - 'drugs that work' as Dawkins insists.

There are two things not quite right here. First, it is insufficient to simply spew something to the effect that such things works for "animals" without citing appropriate sources and whether such a thing has been independently verified. If it has, then it should be published in Nature or Science, because it would have been an astounding result. Or maybe this is another one of those papers in which the single-to-noise ratio is large enough that one would only believe such a result when looking at the data with "loving eyes"?

But the 2nd laughable part is that the write practically ADMITS that it could easily be the placebo effect. It means that homeopathy is then a lie with its claim of the reason for why it should work (i.e. water has memory, etc.), when in reality, it is only the placebo effect at work!

One needs to know that the placebo effect cannot be count on. More often than not, it doesn't work. If it does, we would be curing everything by giving people sugar pills! However, and this is what separate scientists from non-scientists, this write has almost no clue on what is involved when we make claims about something.

In science, when we say A causes B, we have to clearly explain the mechanism that leads us from A to B. If I say that lowering the temperature of a metal below some temperature will cause it to become a superconductor, I will have to explain the mechanism that causes this, i.e. how did "lower the temperature" results in "superconductivity". I simply cannot just say that I lower the temperature and it becomes a superconductor and leave it at that!

The same with medical drugs. There is already an intensive biochemistry study on what the medication actually does to various body chemistry. In other words, we know the mechanism at the chemistry level on how the medication react with whatever it is it is trying to battle. However, since the human body is complex, and it can vary from person to person, the medication must still undergo clinical tests to make sure (i) it works (ii) it has no or side effects that can be handled and (iii) it doesn't cause other reactions.

Now compare to homeopathy. It's starting point already is shaky, where by water has a memory of what it was, so even the multiple dilution of chemicals will still retain its effects in that water. Now, ignore the fact that how water can be assigned a human trait of having a "memory", or how a memory is defined in the first place is never clearly explained. Unlike medicine that is based on a solid foundation of biochemistry, the starting point for homeopathy is based on unverified claims. It based on something that has never been shown to be valid. So you might as well base it on invisible angels, because it has the same degree of certainty.

Thus, when you use that starting point to make further claims of actual medical/biological effects, it becomes crackpottery. There is no clear and acceptable mechanism on how one causes the others. This assume that it did cause something, because that something is still debatable. Even after years and years of such claims by those who practice homeopathy, we are still at the stage trying to establish that such effects actually exists. This is one of the criteria for voodoo science by Bob Park.

So in this misguided article, the writer not only was unable to show any experimental evidence to support his argument, he also was unable to argue for the mechanism for whatever it is he is supporting and in fact, admitted defeat by using the placebo effect as the main reason for the apparent "effectiveness" of homeopathy. The public should not be misinformed and misguided by such writing that really has zero content as far as arguing for the validity of something. Simply saying it works means nothing.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Berkeley Lab Not Getting Support

I mentioned earlier on how Fermilab has been retroactive in getting the support of the surrounding community in its plan to be the host of the International Linear Collider. It has learned its lessons from the failed attempt at getting the SSC.

One would think that most US National Labs would have learned from the mistakes done at their sister facilities. But noooooo... It looks like Berkeley lab is being pounded for not consulting with its neighbors for a couple of the projects that it is going to build.

“You guys have no concept how insulting it is for you to lay out a six-month schedule for doing something without even consulting us first,” said George Oram.

“What can’t it be in the middle of Nevada, or in Merced?” he said. “Why haven’t you talked at all about why all these buildings have to be up there on the hillsides?”

Or what about this old scare-tactics of impending doomsday?

Gianna Ranuzzi thank the lab “for providing a wonderful rallying point for the citizens of Berkeley.” Her concerns included impacts of the Strawberry Creek watershed, and the possible health risks from demolitions at the lab and from the technology that is used at the lab.

“It’s the wrong place,” she said. You’re making a terrible mistake. Welcome Chernobyl.”

Again, folks, none of these type of arguments are new. Brookhaven lab faced almost the same type of impending-doom argument that caused the shut-down of the High Flux Beam Reactor neutrino source. It doesn't matter that for most of us who understand the science that these arguments are irrational and unjustified. What is most important is that the public knows nothing about it and therefore will distrust you because you kept them in the dark, regardless of the science. We saw this happening at many different places on various national laboratories. How come we haven't learned from these already?

I just hope those at Berkeley can repair the damage. But from the way this news report sounds, it appears that the damage has been done and I don't see the surrounding community will back these projects, no matter how much they the Berkeley administration tries to answer their concerns.


Rare Earth Metal Theft At Stanford

OK, so exactly is going on over there in Palo Alto? First there was a theft of science equipment from various Stanford labs. Now comes a news report that several rare earth metals have been stolen from a material science lab.

"Whoever took them knew their periodic table," said physicist Ian Fisher, who discovered the metals missing from his cabinet, where elements are neatly lined up in alphabetical order. "They didn't just swipe A through E."

OK, so you have an educated thief/thieves. But I wonder if this is the same person or persons who stole the scientific equipment?


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Endeavour Lifts Off - And It's A Waste Of Money?

Endeavour had a smooth lift-off yesterday on a journey towards the International Space Station. This news article has a brief report on the event and its mission. But what is more fascinating is the accompanying side article on the cost and scientific advances (or lack of it) of manned space flight. Could manned space flight really be a waste of money? They of course interviewed Bob Park, who has been a constant and vocal opponent who questioned the need for such a thing.

Park asks: "What is it that we are sending the humans to find? What is it that we're sending them to do that we can’t design a machine to do better?"

"If it's just for the thrill, send them bungee jumping. This is not a thrill the taxpayers ought to be paying for."

I had a chuckle when I read the response to Bob Park's criticism:

But sending people to the stars is seen as central to the frontier spirit that America still embraces and Nasa depends on the enchantment of the public to support its $17bn a year budget.

Roger Launius, Nasa's former chief historian says "this is where science meets psychology".

"The American space programme is, to many Americans, a critical chapter of US history which began with first settlers on ships then pioneers in wagons."

There are two aspects to this:

1. It re-enforces what I wrote earlier that the general public can be easily duped by superficial demonstrations. Thus, manned space flight is one such superficial demonstrations that has almost no scientific advancement value that commensurates with the cost. Yet, it is what the public wants to see and what is being used to get support for NASA and the space program.

2. It is a rather sad reflection on how we have to do things to get support. Do the public realize that we have to dumb things down, make it full of bells and whistles before they would support such a thing?


Get Them While They're Young!

It looks like scientists in the UK are trying to get kids between the age of 6 to 11 to be interested in science/physics during their stay at holiday camps.

Youngsters staying at the camps are being urged to go on a physics-based adventure around the facilities.

They are urged to think about the physical applications of the science as they follow an interactive trail, designed by the Institute of Physics.

Hey, I'd say that if other things can compete for the children's attention at that age, why can't science? Just don't show to them those Baby Einstein videos! :)


What's Keeping Women Out of the Labs?

I've written several posts already on here regarding the issue on the shortage of women in science, and particular in physics. BBC news has another take on why this is so in a news report.

I suppose the issue of "nature versus nurture" won't go away anytime soon. I still think that this is not relevant. Having a different way of looking at things has never been a setback. In fact, in many cases, it has been an advantage. However, it requires people to be aware of that. So what if women are genetically programmed to have a different way of seeing things? The fact that there ARE women at the top of some fields of study in physics means that (i) they can do science/physics and (ii) their different way of looking at things CAN be to their advantage.

So even if it is "nature", it is Mother Nature's way of adding diversity to the gene pool.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

2007 Dirac Medal Goes To Charm-Quark Physicists

The 2007 Dirac Medal has been awarded to two physicists who played a major role in predicting the existence of the charm quark - John Iliopoulos of Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and Luciano Maiani of the Università degli Studi di Roma.

The charm quark was predicted in 1970 by Iliopoulos and Maiani when, with future Nobel laureate Sheldon Glashow, they formulated the now-famous “GIM mechanism” in an attempt to understand the weak interaction. This quark - the fourth predicted to exist - is now known to have a positive charge of two-thirds of that of an electron.


US Condensed-Matter Community Grapples With Availability of Crystalline Samples

This problem seems to be flying under the radar till recently, but the issue has been around for years and years. Only now is it getting to a worrying state.

In condensed matter physics, the one important aspect is the experimental study of various materials using a zoo of different methods. But the main ingredient remains the same - the availability of suitable and high-quality samples to study on. This is the only way discover can be made and theories can be tested. I have personally seen how the advancement of high-quality high-Tc superconductors have affected our ability to study it and understand the salient characteristics of this class of material. It allows us to separate out what features are truly intrinsic to the material, and what are the red herrings that are due to bad samples.

In this report, the shortage of skills, personnel, and availability of high-quality samples in the US is discussed and appears to be reaching a critical state.

The US "is a second-class, if not a third-class, citizen" in terms of investment in the synthesis of high-temperature superconductors, heavy-fermion materials, thin films, single crystals, ultrapure semiconductors, and other specialized samples for condensed-matter experiments, says Cornell University's Séamus Davis. US scientists "have to go cap in hand to the people who lead the development of new materials in these research fields." Davis gets samples for his spectroscopic imaging scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) studies from colleagues in Japan, Canada, and the UK. "From the pure perspective of science," he says, "things are great. It's from the parochial perspective of how much belongs to the US that you may think there is a problem."

If you look at many experimental papers related to this, you'll see many "collaborators" from Japan, China, etc., whose major involvement in those work was supplying high-quality samples that were used in the studies. There are just aren't that many in the US that are able to produce as much as wide a variety of these materials. Even when there is, many of these skilled personnel either are retiring, or have retired. Example: Dave Hinks at Argonne, who has produced some of the best quality Bi-2212 high-Tc superconductors. He has technically retired, but he still shows up at work often. The condensed matter group at Brookhaven, on the other hand, had a terrific foresight to correct a problem that they had for years. They didn't have anyone in-house to produce these high-quality high-Tc superconducting samples that they were studying until a few years ago when they managed to hired G.D. Gu and bought a floating-zone furnace to start producing these samples. This is such a smart move and now they no longer have to depend entirely on sources from various institutions.

So yes, I can certainly see this becoming a major problem here in the US. The only thing I don't understand is why did it get to this stage. Is it entirely due to the perceived low "prestige" or payoffs, as implied in the article? Many of these skilled people actually came out of chemistry or material science. Is there a lack of recruitment from that field of study?

I would also say that this problem isn't necessarily confined to just condensed matter. There is also a lack of expertise in producing an adequate supply of materials, especially photocathodes, in accelerator physics. For my part, I ended up designing and assemblying our own high quantum efficiency photocathode fabrication system for our accelerator. In other words, make one for our own use. It is convenient, and it is not dependent on the "kindness of others". Luckily, unlike the materials needed in condensed matter, the "quality" issue isn't as crucial in our case, and it isn't as big of a project to build our fabrication system for this purpose (it still took roughly 2 years of planning, assembling, and testing).

So the availability of the material is important. No material, no study!


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

More Physics of Bowling

Bet you didn't think bowling would have this much physics discussion, did you?

I posted a while ago on the physics of bowling from an article in Wired. This time, there's a more in-depth discussion on the physics of bowling based on an article hosting on the US Bowling Congress website. It has a discussion on the mechanics of axis migration and core dynamics.

Knock yourself out!


Metallic Behavior in 2D

This work seems to be getting a lot press. The question on whether we can have metallic behavior in 2D has been answered, and it is a YES!

An earlier theory indicated that charge carriers cannot exhibit metallic behavior, no matter how disordered the system is, in 2D. However, that scenario does not include the electron-electron interactions, which in Fermi Liquid theory has been renormalized. The new discovery and the accompanying theory indicates that one can have a metal-insulator transition in such a system, and points to the existence of a quantum critical point.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Einstein's Wife - Update

If you have missed the issue surrounding the PBS documentary (now discredited) on Einstein's Wife, Mileva Maric, you might want to read about that controversy first. Don't miss the comment by Allen Esterson at the end of that blog entry, who is playing a central role in challenging the validity of the claims made in that documentary.

I'm glad to report that Allen has contacted me again to update on this issue. Here is the e-mail I received from him a few days ago, which I'm copying here with his permission:

I thought you might be interested in the latest stage of the Einstein's Wife/PBS saga, as recounted in my article on Butterflies and Wheels:

As you'll read, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has ditched the "Einstein's Wife" film (which they originally sponsored) and the accompanying student Study Guide. PBS, on the other hand, is continuing to maintain the project. They have tacitly acknowledged that their website is unsatisfactory by commissioning a rewrite. However, the person they have engaged, journalist and author Andrea Gabor, is seriously deficient in the basic notions of scholarly research, as her previous writings on Mileva Maric reveal only too well.

So the saga continues....


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Fears Over Factoids

I always try to play close attention to the bastardization of physics in the media. This time, Frank Close of Oxford University takes on two myths that have been popularized on the BBC TV program "Horizon". He debunked the myth of destructive black holes being created at the LHC, and the mining of He3 for fusion reactors.

This is a good one and clearly shows that if one doesn't understand the subtlety in the physics, one would be fooled into being convinced by false information.


Richard Dawkins Going After Faith Healers

Fresh from the success of his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins is now going after the faith healers.

In a two-part television series, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins visits faith healers, psychics and other gurus in an effort to counter what he calls a wave of irrational superstition sweeping Britain, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

The program is called The Enemy of Reason, and will air on Channel 4 in the UK this month. I would love to hear from any one after this has been shown.


Unemployed 17 Months And Counting....

I have always advised students to be more flexible and to have as wide of a range of experience as possible while in school. So how does a guy with ".... a PhD in biophysics, a medical degree, a master's degree in electrical engineering, and a joint bachelor's in chemistry and physics..." go 17 months without employment?

Granted, I don't have a first-hand knowledge of the job situation in the bio-medical field, but really, a guy with this kind of broad knowledge would be highly in demand, I would think. The only thing that would push him over the top would be getting a law degree and being a patent lawyer. But still, what he has is more than good enough. So why is he having such a hard time finding a job?


Getting the Neighbor's Support for the ILC

I reported earlier on Fermilab's effort to be more open on their plans to construct the International Linear Collider (ILC) if chosen. This is a similar article reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Fermilab should be applauded for learning from the mistakes made during the SSC bid, and also to make sure the residents are heavily involved in the planning at the very early stages. It is never too early to get rid of the misconception, and it takes time to get a plan that the majority can agree and support.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

US Congress Approves Landmark Bill

This is the news release from the American Physical Society:

Congress Approves Landmark Bill Investing in Research, Math and Science Programs to Keep U.S. Globally Competitive

Congress has passed landmark innovation and competitiveness legislation that calls for investing in basic research and promoting math and science programs to keep the U.S. globally competitive.

Legislators approved the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272) on Aug. 2, demonstrating a bipartisan effort among legislators to ensure that the U.S. maintains its world position as a leader in technology and innovation by focusing on research and development in the physical sciences.

The bill, which needs President Bush’s signature before it becomes law, authorizes increases in basic research funding in the physical science and engineering fields by doubling the funding levels at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) over seven years.

In addition, the legislation outlines initiatives to recruit and retain highly qualified educators in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at the K-12 level and attract early career researchers to the science and technology fields.

“This is the culmination of a 10-year effort that began with D. Allan Bromley, former president of the American Physical Society, who emphasized the link between science and competitiveness,” said Michael S. Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society.

For more information about H.R. 2272, go to

Let's see if the president signs this.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Physics Teachers Embrace a New Method

Modeling. That seems to be the new buzz word in physics teaching these days. These teachers are getting a first hand instructions on this teaching technique.

Still, I can't help but to think that this is all "... just a little bit of history repeating", as Shirley Bassey once said. I could have sworn that this approach of having the students try to understand physics via looking at how things behave isn't new. I think Leon Ledermann has been pushing for something like that for years. It doesn't, however, detract from the technique, and if it works, more power to them. I personally think this is definitely a worthwhile line to pursue rather than dumping onto the students a bunch of equations that they can't digest.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another Alfred Nobel?

Here's someone you may not have heard before, but if he continues with what he's doing, there's a chance that some of the things you will be using, or understand about our universe, came from efforts funded by him. This is a rather informative story of Fred Kavli, whose Kavli Institutes are now well-known centers for studies in astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

Why have people started comparing him to Alfred Nobel? Well, besides him being someone endowing promising scientists with research funds, there is this:

Now that élite academia is counting on Kavli's institutional largesse, he's ready to rev up individual researchers with high-profile prizes. Kavli inked an agreement with the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters to start in fall 2008 giving three awards, worth $1 million apiece, every two years.

He's willing to acknowledge one or two similarities with another Scandinavian prize giver. Kavli even worked briefly as an explosives engineer, Alfred Nobel's area of tycoonery. But Kavli insists his prizes are different. For one thing, he doesn't want them to be end-of-career accolades, as Nobels often are. Kavli wants his awards to propel less well-known scientists, and Nobel winners will be explicitly excluded from consideration.

Too bad he doesn't fund accelerator physics. :)


Free Will - Is Our Understanding Wrong?

This is an article that is more suited to philosophy than physics, but still, is a direct consequence of 't Hooft's view of what QM really is. It stems from 't Hoofts claim that there is a deterministic, classical description that underlies QM. I am guessing that it is based on this paper by him titled "Determinism beneath Quantum Mechanics". But strangely enough, if this view is correct, John Conway and Simon Kochen showed that it means we have no free will! So introducing determinism in QM destroys free will. How ironic!

To be honest, I am not that fond of these types of issues, especially when many of these things can't be measured and verified. We all end up choosing one camp over another based on a matter of "tastes" than anything else. Maybe this is just the experimentalist in me rearing its ugly head.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Perfect Summer Combination: Beer and Physics

I posted a while back an article that I found where a university was actually advertising a "postdoctoral fellowship" in .... get this .... beer studies! At that time, I was having quite a bit of fun with it because, frankly, I didn't know if it was a serious article, or an April Fool's joke.

Well, this one appears to be legitimate enough.

And that brings us back to beer. There’s no doubt that bubbles are a large part of the drink’s appeal, and Page’s technique can provide precise information about their evolution.

“A lot of effort has gone into figuring out how to get just the right concentration and size of bubbles, and how to produce the perfect head on a glass of beer,” he says. “There are people who work in that industry who know much, much more about that than I do. Could diffusing acoustic wave spectroscopy be useful to them? Maybe. But for me, beer is just a good example of the kind of thing you can do using this technique.”

I guess the beer bubbles are as good as any. I wonder if you can still drink it after doing all that studies on it?