Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Einstein Earned $18 Million Last Year

I'm not making this up! Forbes has compiled the list of top earning dead celebrities, and Albert Einstein landed at #5 with $18 million last year!

Rounding out the top five on this year's list were George Harrison from the Beatles, who died in 2001, with $22 million, and German-born physicist Albert Einstein with $18 million.

Einstein has become a key trademark in child education due to the Disney-owned Baby Einstein brand of videos and toys.

Wonder if he gets any other royalties from the use of his likeness, etc.?


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In Science Classrooms, a Blast of Fresh O2

Don't you wish that all physics classrooms and all high school physics teachers are like this? Of course, in the ideal world, adequate funding and salary for teachers exist to be able to support such a program, and students who are motivated to study are given ample opportunities and facilities to follow their interests.

Not every place and every student are lucky enough to have such situation.


Why They Called It The Manhattan Project

Like almost everyone else, I didn't think the name "Manhattan Project" given to the secret nuclear project at Los Alamos in New Mexico during WWII had anything to do with the real Manhattan, NY. But this fascinating article in the New York Times traces the origin of the Manhattan Project, and it did have roots out of Manhattan.


Monday, October 29, 2007

New Physics Course Informs Students on Scientific Issues

This course at New Mexico State University appears to be on the similar level as the "Physics for Future Presidents" that I've mentioned already on here, but without the podcast and online uploads.

According to Ni, the course covers, among other topics, energy and convservation, the theory of relativity, earthquakes and quantum physics. Quantum physics is the study of how tiny things like electrons work.

Ni said students of the physics course can expect to learn how physics applies to current and past events, such as how the World Trade Center fell when airplanes were flown into it. Ni said the airplanes' gas, which has an abundance of energy, was ignited by oxygen air. The fire caused the buildings to buckle as if someone hit them from above with a hammer.

So essentially, the students learn ABOUT physics, not learn physics, which is fine because they need to know how physics can be applied to all these cases. It is more important to convey how careful and systematic process is applied in analyzing such issues and problems, because this is the skill that they should acquire later on when they deal with life issues.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Loose Strings: Pressure Mounts To Tie String Theory To The Real World

This is a news report on the talk that David Gross gave at Los Alamos. It has been described more as a "progress report" of String Theory. It would have been interesting to hear it, since it isn't much of a "progress".

This week of advanced science talks at the lab culminated in a lecture by Gross who offered a note of apology about the string theory of reality, to which he has been a major contributor

"It hasn't led to any big observational payoffs," he said.

I think that's a huge understatement. I think most of the audience probably feels the same way as this comment, because I certainly do:

A member of LANL's Theoretical Division, astrophysicist Salman Habib said after the talk that string theory remains difficult to assess.

"It's a funny field to look at from the outside because it has yet to connect with the outside world," he said. "Mathematically, it's very pretty and theorists like to do fundamental mathematical computations, but they have not led to any big observational payoffs so far.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

And Knowledge, Too

You have seen several time on here where I tried to emphasize whenever I can some parts of physics that actually have a direct application and benefit to our lives. This is because from my many encounters with people both personally and online, they have a vague idea that physics is nothing more than some esoteric, particle-physics-meet-string-theory type of study that has no direct bearing on anything they might use, or might affect them. In other words, physics is just the study of basic knowledge that may not mean much to them.

I've tried to dispel this myth as much as I can. However, it doesn't mean that I do not appreciate the theoretical and basic science aspect of physics. They certainly have a place in the evolution of physics, and a necessary ingredient. So that is why I found this opinion letter rather compelling because it explains and answers the question rather clearly with regards to why basic knowledge research should not be used as a pawn in problems of our world today.

The annual budget for NSF's entire physics program, of which theoretical physics is only a small part, is approximately $249 million; this represents 0.009 percent of the federal budget. Our government devotes more than 1 billion dollars per week in deficit spending to perpetuate the war in Iraq.

[b]The amount that the federal government spends on curiosity-driven scientific research does not impede our nation from making progress in the day-to-day effort at improving the human condition. Our nation's misplaced priorities are much larger in scale and much harder to scapegoat[/b]. While learning about the origins of the universe or the evolution of man may not lead to more shelters for the homeless, collectively burying our heads in the sand is unlikely to have the desired effect either.

In other words, even if you stop completely funding ALL of physics funding, it will STILL be a drop in the bucket of the amount of money you "saved" to help solve world hunger or diseases, etc. And this is still not considering the fact that advancement in medicine, biology, and pharmacy occurred in no small measure due to physics. Modern equipment and facilities that are widely used in those fields such as synchrotron centers, x-ray, MRI, PET scans, etc.. all came out of basic physics research in quantum physics, high energy physics, elementary particle physics, etc., all area in which people do not think to have any "effect" on their normal, everyday lives. So it can easily be argued that there have been precedent that these seemingly worthless, basic knowledge research has actually spawned many useful technologies that we currently use.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Physics For Future Presidents - Follow-Up

I mentioned about this popular lecture at Berkeley that have been available online for a while now. It seems that this lecture gets an audience from all over the world. But what was more touching is that some of the members of the armed forces serving currently serving overseas also listened to these lectures.

Now imagine this scene: I haven't showered in over 36 hours, temperatures are hitting near 110 degrees, I'm as filthy as I can ever remember being because of the blowing dust, a goat herder and his family tending their goats pass by our vehicle — once in the morning and once during the evening, going in the other direction, each time waving a white flag to make sure they aren't accidentally shot — and I've got physics going in one of my ears. Back on the base, I would take a cot outside at night and use my night-vision goggles to look at stars and constellations while listening to Professor Muller….

I continue to be amazed that some people go to great lengths to be able to study physics, even on their own, while others couldn't care less for it. Recall the story a while back about students at a Nepal university who held a protest to be able to take physics classes! The problem with most societies nowadays is that there aren't that many who realize this, or why it is important to know a bit of physics, not just for the content, but for the way it approaches a problem.

As Chief Petty Officer John David Shelton accurately noted, the course could easily be retitled as "Physics for Useful Citizens". I couldn't agree more.


An Inconvenient Truth About Science

This writer complains about the fact that many parts of science and many scientists do not get the deserved recognition for their work that has affected our lives. He brought up the example of this year's Physics Nobel Prize winners Albert Fert and Peter Grunberg.

If you've read this blog for any considerable period of time, you'd notice that this is a familiar complaint that I've written before. Case in point is the contribution to physics (and technology) of John Bardeen, the ONLY person still to have won the Physics Nobel Prize twice. And consider that one of his nobel prizes is for the invention of the transistor which is the foundation of all modern electronics, I'd say that is as big, if not bigger, than the GMR discovery of Fert and Grunberg in terms of application.

Still, when half of the population still believes in some form of pseudoscience or science misinformation, it is hard to make them realize and appreciate the efforts of scientists.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Poll: One-Third Believe In Ghosts, UFOs

Folks, this is what we have to deal with when we try to introduce Science and Scientific Method to the general public.

In the most recent Associated Press poll, 34% of the people believe in ghost, 34% believe in UFO, 48% believe in ESP, etc... etc. This is consistent with the National Science Foundation survey of the public perception of science and pseudoscience.

Discouraging, isn't it?


Scientists Discover Possible Cosmic Defect, Remnant From Big Bang

Scientists may have discovered "texture", cosmic defects in the vacuum structure that is a remnant of the Big Bang.

“Our work investigates the exciting possibility that the cold spot is due to the presence of a cosmic texture; some current particle physics theories predict textures to be produced as the universe evolves, but they had never been observed. Somewhat to our surprise, we found that the cold spot, and in fact the cosmic microwave background radiation over the whole sky, is indeed consistent with such a texture model. Although the current data are not yet compelling, we suggest future observations that should be able to test our hypothesis definitively. If the cold spot is indeed proven to be a texture it will completely change our view of how the universe evolved following the Big Bang.”

If this is true, another consequence of the Big Bang is verified.


How Many Neutrons Can An Atom Hold?

The answer to this question is still being studied after this latest report. A group at Michigan State has managed to create isotopes of Mg40 and Al42 (link may be available for free for a limited time). These are neutron-rich atoms that contain more neutrons that was originally thought possible.

They have sent atoms crashing into one another in a particle accelerator to create bloated versions of the elements aluminium and magnesium. The new, artificial forms of these metals have many more neutrons in their atomic nuclei than do the everyday versions.

Exact citation to the paper is:

T. Baumann et al., Nature v449, p.1022 (2007).

A similar news report can be found at PhysicsWorld website. Registration (free) is required.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Physicist Playing In Baseball's World Series?

The upcoming Baseball's World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies has a physics connection, beyond the usual "physics of Baseball". It appears that the starting pitcher in Game 1 for the Colorado Rockies, "..... Jeff Francis, was a physics major with a 3.8 grade-point average at the University of British Columbia....".

Didn't say if he finished his education and actually got his degree, though. Anyone knows?


Fermilab Steering Group Report

The Fermilab Steering Group has issued its latest report, and it is available online. It comes at an important juncture in its history has it prepares for a 2nd life after the shutdown of the Tevatron, and as it positions itself as a viable site for the planned International Linear Collider (ILC). Being featured prominently in the report is the already-mentioned Project X as the precursor project to the ILC, and Fermilab's role in neutrino/muon research as far as MINOS/NOva/etc. projects.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Scenario for a Natural Origin of Our Universe

Vic Stenger has uploaded a shorter version of one of his recently-published article tackling the natural origin of the universe.

Abstract: A mathematical model of the natural origin of our universe is presented. The model is based only on well-established physics. No claim is made that this model uniquely represents exactly how the universe came about. But the viability of a single model serves to refute any assertions that the universe cannot have come about by natural means.

As you recall, he wrote a rather "interesting" book that came out a few months ago called "God: the Failed Hypothesis". While he's not tackling that directly here, it is still along the same line of attack whereby he's arguing that there CAN be a possible scenario for the evolution of our universe without invoking anything else (such as supernatural interference) other than known physics.

I plan to read it more closely in the next few days.


Semiconductor Bends Light The "Wrong" Way

This is rather interesting. This is a report on a new material having a negative index of refraction by using layers of semiconductors. Before this, these so-called left-handed material can only be found in metamaterials, which consist of conducting rods and split-ring resonators.

The metamaterial is made by depositing alternating layers of two semiconductors -- indium gallium arsenide and aluminium indium arsenide -- onto a substrate using molecular beam epitaxy. Each layer of the metamaterial is about 80 nm thick, which is much smaller than the wavelength of the infrared light.

This might provide a better, more controlled way of fabricating such material. Before this, it has been a tedious process to assemble one of these metamaterial, especially if one wants it to work in the viable region of microwave or shorter.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Cancer Treatment Center Driven by Math, Physics

This is another example that I can give to people who think that the study of physics is nothing more than some esoteric subjects with no direct relevance to human lives. This proton therapy center is nothing but physics. In fact, this is one very clear example of the application of accelerator physics beyond just high energy physics. So this news article is like the "application double-coupon" here.


Odd Physics Lessons

Teachers try almost everything to get through to their students, and physics teachers certainly can get quite creative. With Halloween looming in the horizon, it is only natural that a pumpkin chucking contest be a part of a physics lesson.

The goal is simple, to launch pumpkins with a medieval style catapult as far as possible, but there's a surprising amount of physics that goes into it. Illini Bluffs High School students aren't just launching pumpkins as far as humanly possible with this catapult they're also learning about science. Physics teacher, Aaron Stremmel, launched the lesson plan after he chucked pumpkins as a student.

Does it work? Is this an effective means of learning physics?

Physics student, Kara Wolfe says, "I get to come out here and see it in action, I don't fall asleep, lets just say that, I don't fall asleep."

I'd say that that in itself is an accomplishment. :)


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Brain Cramps - The Puzzle of Consciousness

First of all, this blog entry is not a report on consciousness. It is also, strangely enough, not a complain but more of a praise of this book review, especially in the restraint in invoking the physics aspects. So after complaining and whining about the bastardization of physics in several psychotic pseudoscience books and news report, this is a compliment to this news article.

This article, written by Dan Falk, is a review of a book titled "THE HEAD TRIP: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness" by Jeff Warren. As I've said, there is a very wise restraint on the part of the writer of the article to not make too many unproven connections between consciousness and physics. He even wisely mentioned of the fallacy of movies such as "What the bleep do we know".

That's easy enough to say and, judging by the number of people who lined up to see What the Bleep Do We Know and What the Bleep: Down the Rabbit Hole, it's the kind of speculation that many of us are all too eager to embrace. (Happily, Warren doesn't mention either of these films, dismissed by most scientists as pseudoscientific drivel.)

There's even a very wise advice regarding invoking string theory:

But who says that the ebb and flow of neurons requires 21st-century physics? Relativity becomes important when objects move near the speed of light, or when large gravitational fields are involved; quantum theory says a great deal about the subatomic realm, but very little about the macroscopic world. (And Warren should be careful about citing string theory; as tantalizing as it is mathematically, it has yet to make a testable prediction about physics, let alone consciousness.)

When people try to apply the principles of physics into their area of study that is outside physics, they need to be aware of several important things:

1. Is that principle been tested and deemed by the physics community to be valid?

2. Do I know the principle well enough beyond just a superficial knowledge to know what is saying?

3. Is there a clear, direct, and demonstrable connection or similarity between the principle, and the scenario that I'm applying it to?

4. Are there any quantitative data to illustrate the validity of #3?

If you are arguing the validity of your claim by invoking physics, then the stringent rule of physics also applies to your claim. You can't pick and choose which part of physics, and the practice of physics, you want to adopt and ignore the rest. So if you wish to live by physics, be aware that you may also die by physics.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kabbalah is a Science?

Well that's news to me too!

But this expert in Kabbalah seems to think so.

Q: Why do you call Kabbalah a science and not a religion?

A: It's called a science because that is what it is. The wisdom of Kabbalah started about 5,000 years ago in ancient Babylon. At that time, the whole of humanity was connected and they were together as one nation. Egoism began to grow within people; they became more alienated, which then prompted the whole famous story of the Tower of Babylon and all of that.

Now the cure for that was a method that was discovered by a certain individual whom we know today as Abraham. He discovered a method to reconnect people despite the growing egoism.

The method he discovered was a scientific method. In other words, it uses scientific research tools to investigate our own internal mechanism, and that is what we know today as the wisdom of Kabbalah. (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) date much later than the wisdom of Kabbalah and are actually unrelated.

I don't know about you, but NOTHING in there screams "SCIENCE" to me at all. Just because he thinks he can call it a science doesn't make it so. But wait, it gets better...

In addition, Kabbalah is a study. It's like any science . . . There are no objects -- no red strings, holy water, any kind of fortune-telling, mysticism, charms -- none of that belong to authentic Kabbalah, not even meditation. It's just pure study of reality and it enhances your perception of reality to enhance your control over your own life and life in general.

And oh, just when you think it couldn't get any better, he said this:

Q: But there is spirituality?

A: Yes, spirituality is that aspect of reality which is not perceived by our ordinary five senses. The wisdom of Kabbalah simply enhances your perception of reality. It gives you additional tools which you wouldn't acquire otherwise.

Just like physics gives you certain tools, Kabbalah gives you other tools. You need all kinds of sciences to achieve a complete picture of reality. Kabbalah takes you, so to speak, behind the scenes.

Picture it as embroidery. You see a beautiful picture in front of you, of scenery or a flower, something like that. If you turn the embroidery around you see a whole mess of threads. You have to know how the threads are connected to know how to make it into a beautiful flower at the front of the picture. That's what Kabbalah teaches you, how to connect the threads from behind the scenes.

Oh brother! It's a science, but it has "spirituality"? He sees no inconsistencies in that?

I think that he has overestimated his knowledge of what science is. I'd like to know the last time he has performed any scientific experiment to be able to know what a scientific method is. Nowhere in any of his responses was there any mention of experimental verification of anything he's doing, something that is a fundamental pillar of anything to claim itself as a "science".

This claim is worse than that made for Intelligent Design, and I never thought I'd be able to say that.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Causation and Correlaton Followup

OK, I found a news article on this report that talked about yesterday where males of a specie that have many sexual partners tend to die earlier than the monogamous specie. I was correct that they were comparing apples and oranges. The males were from different species.

At least now I know where to go looking for the article. Honestly, these news media should learn to make accurate citation of the research paper that they're referring to.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Black Hole

Remember a while back that I mentioned that I "accidentally" appeared on the Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"? Well guess what? That video is now online at Comedy Central! :)


Detection of High-Energy Gamma Rays from Winter Thunderclouds

I mentioned about an article on "Thundercloud Accelerator" a while back, where a group of Japanese physicists discovered that some of these thunderclouds can achieve such high gradients as to accelerate electrons and produce gamma rays.

The paper on this has now been published. Here is the exact reference:

H. Tsuchiya et al, Phys. Rev. Lett. v.99, p.165002 (2007).


Causation and Correlation

I was listening to the radio while driving in to work this morning, and in the news part of the morning program, the news announcer was reporting some studies (no exact citation, of course) where some researcher concluded that males having sexual competition and having multiple partners do not have healthy lives. They studied various species that found that in species where the males are monogamous, the males live longer than in species where the males have multiple partners.

Now, if you were given such a report, what's the first thing that comes to your mind, or what conclusion can you draw from it? My constant pessimism about the scientific knowledge of the general public, and how they draw their conclusion would lead me to believe that the average Joe or Joanne would immediately say "Ah ha! This is evidence that not only is monogamy morally right, it is also healthier biologically", or something to that effect.

Now, this is where, if you have been trained as a scientist, a number of questions pop into your head, the way I did when I heard this report just now.

(i) Aren't they comparing apples and oranges when they're looking at different species? Just because the males in one specie happens to live longer than the males in another specie that just also happens to have multiple partners does not mean that having multiple partners is the cause! What would makes more sense is if one compares males within the SAME specie, and then look at the ones with one partner versus those with multiple partners. This way, one removes another possible variation or factors that can influence the outcome.

(ii) This could be the chicken or the egg question. Maybe the reason the males in that specie has multiple partners is BECAUSE they have a short life span! In the need to pass on their genes, they have to find as many females to mate with before they die. So having multiple partners is the consequence of a short life span, not the other way around.

These are the two issues that immediately popped up into my head when I heard the report. Now, without actually reading the research paper itself, I can't make any definitive criticism of it. But that isn't my point here. The point that I'm trying to make is to consider what someone else who do not have a rigorous training and background in science would think given as much information as I got from that radio news report. I would not be surprised if some self-righteous religious fanatic would use something like this to justify this-and-that. One has already seen how Thermo's 2nd Law has been bastardized many times to be used against Evolution.

This is one example where science education is necessary. It isn't just important for the knowledge. It is also extremely important for presenting a systematic and analytical evaluation of "data" that we are bombarded with every day. Politicians and news media often spew statements and claims that either have very little justification or evidence to support them, or the evidence and justification used are either weak, invalid, or non-existent. One could use this research report as justification for monogamy, but one would be using rather dubious conclusion without properly examining the cause-and-effect.

This, more than anything else, is the most important reason why everyone should have at least some knowledge in science and the scientific method.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Free-to-read Nobel Winning Research Papers

The APS is making the two papers published in PRB and PRL by Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg cited for the Nobel Prize for 2007 available for free.

Fert's paper in PRL can be found here, while Grünberg in PRB can be found here.

Happy reading!


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Groundbreaking on Daya Bay

Another neutrino project is under way. The Daya Bay neutrino experiment, a joint collaboration between China and US, has broken ground this week.

Over the last decade or so, physicists have found convincing evidence that neutrinos can transform – or oscillate – from one “flavour” (electron, muon or tau) into another as they travel through space, a phenomenon that means neutrinos have mass. The Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment is designed to measure Θ13, the only one of nine “mixing angles” that has not been accurately determined.

Couple that with MINOS/NuMI and the possible NOvA experiment, there will be a lot of data about neutrinos coming our way within the next 10 years or so.


An In-Class Discussion Activity on the Nature of Science and Intelligent Design

This is a fascinating report. Brian Thomas from the Dept. of Physics of Washburn University describes a class for elementary education majors dealing with the issue on whether Intelligent Design should be considered as a science and should be taught in science classes.

The nature and process of science is a foundational topic in a course entitled “Physical Science for Elementary Educators” which I team-teach with a colleague in chemistry at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. I have developed and used in class a guided discussion activity intended to help the students think about the issues surrounding the status of ID as science and whether it should be included in state public school science standards.

Something like this is highly appropriate, especially in a state where he is in (Kansas) that had been the battleground for the ID proponents. It is imperative that if these students are to go into the classrooms as teachers, that they themselves are clear on how things are defined, regardless of on which side of the issue they are on.

However, and this again connects back to my skepticism of how the general public make their decisions, it is disheartening to read the result of this exercise at the end, even when there is a unanimous consensus that ID isn't science.

Most students recognized that ID is not properly defined as science and should not be taught in science classrooms. However, there was a definite portion of the class (about 25%) that would certainly support such inclusion. Interestingly, this group seemed to see no contradiction between stating that ID is not science, but at the same time stating that it should be taught in science classrooms. This is a discouraging finding, since it indicates that arguments against ID being science, even if successful, may not effectively counteract all pressure to nevertheless include ID in science classrooms. Perhaps a more stark confrontation with such inconsistency would force a change in viewpoint, but this was not the point of the exercise, and may not be successful in any case, given the deep-seated nature of convictions that likely underlie such statements.

That's discouraging, and implies that for many people, it is acceptable to make that kind of irrational or inconsistent decisions.

My pessimism continues....


Worcester School Bucking The Trend in Science Education

While most of the United Kingdom schools have been seeing decline in enrollment in Physics and Chemistry, this one Worcester school has seen its science enrollment skyrocketed.

In the past year the number of pupils from Nunnery Wood going on to study biology at Worcester Sixth Form College has soared by almost 400 per cent; physics has risen in popularity by 160 per cent; and chemistry is up 42 per cent.

How do they do it? By emphasizing how relevant science is in every parts of the student's life and make it more accessible. Again, it comes to how the material is presented, and that requires knowledgeable and dedicated teachers.

After all the gloom and doom news that we've been getting from the UK, it is nice to get some positive report now and then.


Hitachi Announce Plans for 4TB Desktop

Hitachi has announced that they'll be able to produce a 4 TB hardrive for consumers within 4 years, which would be astounding. But of course, what is relevant here is that this too will make use of the physics of giant magnetoresistance (GMR), that won its 2 discoverer the Nobel Prize this week.

So again, if someone tells you physics is the study of esoteric subjects with no direct impact on our lives, you point him/her to this.


Monday, October 15, 2007

The Physics of Urinals

I kid you not!

If you think I've dug to the bottom of the trough for this story, you are absolutely correct! :)

Still, think about it. It requires quite a bit of knowledge of physics to design a urinal with minimum splashback, especially when men can be sloppy! :)

American Standard has been making urinals for 160 years, and its design and engineering group does "a tremendous amount of work" to ensure optimal splash patterns, says design director Gray Uhl.

Uhl's staff employ "mathematical formulas, fundamental geometry, and run both computer models and physical tests" to ensure minimal splashback, he says.

A parabolic back wall is optimal, and most American codes require a urinal to protrude 14 inches from the back wall to the front of a urinal.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go wash my hands.


Stunt Brings Home Physics Lesson

I bet your physics teacher never made you lie on a bed of nails as part of physics lessons. Mine neither. We missed out on so much!


I'm just surprised that some disgruntled parents haven't complained to the school for endangering their children.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Friends, Not Policies, Win Elections

I can't say I'm surprised by this study since I've always had a very pessimistic and skeptical view of how the general public makes its decision, especially on science. Still, it is disheartening that one's skeptical view has been confirmed. This is the one area that I wish I had been thoroughly wrong.

It appears that the public tends to select its electric officials not based on the policies of these candidates, but based on simply "popularity" and recommendations from other people. Two physicists from the University of Rome looked at the election data from Poland, Finland, and Italy over several years and concluded that doesn’t matter, for example, how different polices are between parties, the distribution of votes will remain unchanged. “The elections considered span a period of 30 years, in which deep cultural, economic and social transformations have occurred,” say the researchers in their paper. “There is no hint of that in the data pattern.”

They tried to find explanation for such observation and came up with this:

In attempt to explain this universal distribution, Fortunato and Castellano supposed that a candidate gains popularity, and hence votes, by a word-of-mouth effect. They considered each candidate at the top of a tree-like structure, persuading a small number of close friends of to vote for them with a certain probability, who in turn would promote the candidate to more people, and so on. The number of contacts that each person would have to spread the word would have a distribution of its own, which the researchers assumed would follow a “power law” of a generic parameter, α.

Fortunato and Castellano simulated this structure for different values of the persuading probability, the minimum number of contacts a person could have and α. They discovered that their simulation could exactly replicate the curve underlying the election data sets. This, they claim, proves that different candidates in proportional elections gain votes by word of mouth.

I wrote earlier that often, it doesn't matter about the "content" of the message that you're trying to convey to the public. What is more important is the bells and whistles, because the public tends to be persuaded more by those than what you have to say. The fact that this study indicates that most people are more persuaded by other factors other than the issues and policies of the candicates is the same underlying problem here. The message is still lost and becomes secondary.

While this study was done for 3 different countries in Europe, I have no doubt that it applies here in the US and other parts of the world. One wonders if our problems today (and maybe throughout history) could be traced to such human characteristics. My pessimistic view of the general public continues....


Biography of James Van Allen

We all have heard about the Van Allen belt, and he has even been called the father of space science. Now there's finally going to be a biography of James Van Allen that will be released in November of this year.

It certainly is a surprised that no one, especially the U. of Iowa Press, didn't try to get someone write a biography of him till recently.


Friday, October 12, 2007

The Nobel Prize: Did You Know…?

With all the Nobel Prize fever going on this week as each winner is announced, here's a nice diversion but still about the Nobel Prize. It's all about the neat history and trivia about the Nobel Prize that you may not know, except, of course, about John Bardeen which I'm sure you've read about in my blog entry, haven't you?



Thursday, October 11, 2007

Where Physics and Mysticism Don't Meet

I've made a comment regarding this issue in relations to the book The Secret a while back as one of the bastardization of quantum mechanics. This is another article that essentially assert the same stand as mine. It is discussing the question on whether everything in the universe is "interconnected" and if this is justified from what we know from QM.

It's a well-written piece in that it tries to explain some of the weirdness of quantum mechanics. However, at the end, this is what the author had to say:

In regards to mysticism, both The Uncertainty Principle and quantum mechanics in general do not validate a belief in the ability for a person to extend their will into the universe through the use of a ‘spiritual’ force of any kind.

Again, what many people who tried to apply QM principles do not seem to address is the FACT that our world that we are so familiar with are extremely classical! The QM laws are not the least bit apparent, nor are they detectable. That's the first issue. The 2nd issue is that to be able to detect such quantum behavior, it requires quite an extreme care and under very special conditions. An atom is a quantum system because it is at such a small scale, but as things get bigger (like the world we are familiar with), to be able to detect quantum properties requires something called COHERENCE. It is why we have to cool down a superconductor to detect superconductivity. The higher temperature destroys such coherence and washes out any quantum behavior. In other words, it is NOT EASY to maintain quantum behavior under ordinary conditions.

But lastly, and this is something that I've talked about already on here, there is no evidence that one can continuously extrapolate some laws on one scale into another. We already know about this when we study phase transition, that some properties change abruptly across such phase transition. Since no one has seen the gradual change between classical and quantum systems, one has no ability to say that the rules of QM can also be applied at our scale. In fact, considering how DIFFERENT these two worlds are, there's more of an argument to say that they are indeed different and does not evolve continuously from one to the other.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Postcards From the LHC

I like pictures, don't you?

Here are some rather cool pictures from the LHC. While the pictures can't do justice in terms of the size and scale of some of these things, one can still have some idea of how large these things are.


BCS 50th Anniversary Conference

Today is the start of the conference marking the 50th anniversary of the BCS theory of superconductivity at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I wrote about the news of this conference in an earlier blog entry.

Several news organizations are reporting on this event such as this one. It is important to note the significance of the BCS theory of superconductivity and its impact on physics as a whole.

Not just a milestone in condensed-matter physics or physics in general, something most physicists would agree upon, but "one of the high-water marks of human thought" is how Goldbart characterized the so-called BCS Theory recently.

"I really feel that," he said.

"This is a theory that had an enormous impact on physics in all areas, I would say," added Goldbart's colleague in the UI Physics Department, Professor Gordon Baym.

So, if you're at UIUC and attending this conference, I'd appreciate a first-hand report from you.


Developing and Researching PhET simulations for Teaching Quantum Mechanics

I mentioned earlier of the news report of PhET winning first prize in a recent contest. Now they have uploaded a pre-print on some simulations to aid in the teaching of quantum mechanics. I've only read through the manuscript quickly and haven't tried it yet, so someone who has should let us know. If I have some time soon, I'll try to remember to check it out.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

GMR and 2007 Nobel Prize

Here's more info on the giant magnetoresistance that gave 2 physicists this year's Nobel Prize. If someone tells you that physics is nothing more than the study of some esoteric subjects that have no direct impact on our lives, you just point this very article to him/her.


2007 Physics Nobel Prize

They had just announced that the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg for the discovery of the Giant Magnetoresistance.

Looks like this award went to the condensed matter physics area this time.

The family of material that goes under the giant and collosal magnetoresistance is as complicated as the high-Tc cuprates themselves. In some respect, they also share the same behavior and properties, especially in terms of crystal structures. So many of the understanding in one provides insight into the other. Often times, they were studied using the same methods and techniques.


Monday, October 08, 2007

2007 Ig Nobel Prize

Of course, the big news from last week is the award for the 2007 Ig Nobel Prizes! (What, you were expecting THE Nobel Prize?) :)

Now, some people often confuse this with crackpottery. These aren't. They are really actual, scientific research work. It is just that, well, to put it bluntly, it is a challenge to actually find anything important, significant, or relevant with what these people actually did. Remember, just because it is interesting, doesn't mean it is important!


Back From Vacation

Had a lovely vacation, but I'm back now. I'm still tired (I need a vacation for my vacation), and will also need some time to get back to speed on what I've missed in the world of physics. So hopefully, I will have new things to report, especially on the big news. Still, it was great to not even read any newspaper or web news for a week.