Thursday, January 31, 2008

"We Are Now at a Perilous Moment in the History of Funding for Science in the United States"

That is the ominous statement made by Ray Orbach, Dept. of Energy Under Secretary. It was a remark made yesterday to the Universities Research Association.

It appears from the excerpt that he is very optimistic about the President's FY2009 budget. However, and this is a caution that everyone should heed, this is no guarantee that the legislator will pass the President's budget proposal. No one should be counting their chickens yet, and everyone must convey to the public and members of Congress why investment in basic research is crucial.


UK Postgraduate Students Snub Science

Things are not looking too well in the UK. While the number of Ph.D's being awarded has increased, the percentage getting Physics and Engineering Ph.Ds have not.

Physics, chemistry, engineering and technology subjects have not benefited from the overall growth in doctoral degrees, but the report found soaring numbers of postgraduates taking psychology, biology and sports science.

The number of doctorates awarded psychology doctorates has grown 342%, biology 54.4% and sport science by 76.5% since it started being counted separately in 2002.

The number of postgraduates in engineering and technology rose 2.4% and in chemistry by 2.9% over the same period, while physics postgraduates fell by 3.1%.

It looks like the UK has to dig themselves out of a deeper hole than originally thought. This recent budget cuts can't possibly help and could scare away even more potential postgraduate students.


Entering The Higgs Habitat

This is an article from Symmetry on the physics of the Higgs boson, and the search for it. It is nicely done at a very elementary level that most people without a physics background can possibly understand.

So if you know of someone who is curious on what's the big deal with the Higgs, the Tevatron, the LHC, etc., then this might be the article you want to him to him/her.


Thesis - Students` Depictions of Quantum Mechanics

This is a rather "entertaining" thesis (when was the last time you could say that about a thesis?) by someone going for a degree in the Philosophy of Science. It studies the teaching and learning process of students in the subject of quantum mechanics.

Not sure if this person would find a tracking link back to this blog entry. But if he does, I would certainly welcome any additional comments that he would have.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

As Federal Research Funds Decrease, More Scientists Leave U.S. to Work Overseas

Here is another article on the depressing state of science funding in the US. This article presents how things are slowly shifting away from the US to Europe and East Asia.

Increased competition and diminished federal funding have made it tougher for scientists to rely on the grants that once generously supported labs, research and training of future scientists. The shortage comes at a time when corporate research facilities, such as Bell Labs, have largely disappeared. The stagnant, and in some cases, dwindling money pool has forced many scientists to bid the profession goodbye. Growing numbers are joining the flight overseas to more “research-friendly” countries such as China, South Korea, Singapore, and India.

The article seems to be based more on anecdotal evidence than solid statistics (see,for example, the Science and Engineering Indicators 2008). Still, for many people in this field, there is a slow trend here that have been observed that is consistent with the report.

While there is a glimmer of hope based on the President's State of the Union address (and the enthusiastic support shown by Congress), we all know not to trust such rhetoric until we actually get the money. We have been burnt way too many times to actually put a lot of credibility in politicians' promises. So my skepticism continues. To those in power, I only have one thing to say: "Show Me The Money".


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

HERA's Legacy

On June 30th, 2007, HERA was finally shut down after 16 years of magnificent operations. Still, the legacy of HERA will continue well into the next decade as the data analysis continues.

There are two articles paying tribute to HERA in this month's issue of CERN Courier. The first covers the construction of HERA, the world's only electron (or positron)-proton collider. The second offers a review of results from HERA that have now become textbook knowledge.

This accelerator/collider that could will not be forgotten.


From BCS to the LHC


Now, was that clear enough? :)

This is the text of the speech given by Steven Weinberg at the recent celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the BCS Theory of superconductivity. Yup! You read it right. A reductionist, elementary particle physicists speaking at a condensed matter, anti-reductionism event! :)

In it, he mentioned everything that I had mentioned earlier regarding emergent behavior and the fundamental importance of condensed matter physics that transcends into other areas of physics, especially high energy/elementary particles.

Just go read that article, why don't you? :)


Prof Shows Students That Physics Can Be Fun

Of course it can!

This college professor goes around to several high schools to show how physics can be fun and educational at the same time.

Parents of Franklin County students got to see just how “cool and fun” physics can be when Doncheski presented his program during Science Night on Thursday in Hooverville Elementary School.

Good for him. As I've said before, I admire people who go out of their way to make physics beyond just something you learn off the pages of a book. There are many teachers and educators who make the extra effort to raise interest in the subject matter.

One interesting thing that I found in this news article was this:

Doncheski, who earned a bachelor's degree in physics and doctoral degree in theoretical particle physics, both from Penn State, did post-doctoral research at the University of Wisconsin in Madison for three years and Carleton University in Ottowa, Ontario, Canada, for three more.

He remembers a faculty member at Wisconsin who did a (physics) program during recruitment weekend. “He did three shows a day, Saturday and Sunday, to a packed house.”

The professor's show was very elaborate, Doncheski said.

“He wore a tuxedo and had much fancier props than I do.”

I think he may be referring to Prof. Clint Sprott at UW and his "Wonders of Physics" show. I have mentioned about this earlier. This terrific physics demo show has gotten elaborate and more popular over the years. If it makes it to your neck of the woods, I strongly suggest you don't miss it.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Controversy Surrounding Debye Continues

I mentioned earlier of a report that appears to exonerate Dutch physicist and Nobel Laureate Peter Debye of being a sympathizer of the Nazi during World War II. Unfortunately, that did not satisfactorily end the controversy. In the 25 January 2008 issue of Science, two different universities in the Netherlands took opposite views to the report. Utrecht University restored Debye's name to the Debye Institute for NanoMaterials Science. However, Maastricht University in Debye's hometown rejected the conclusion of the report and removed Debye's name from a scientific award permanently.

The whole debacle here could probably summed up with this:

To Mark Walker, a historian at Union College in Schenectady, New York, who specializes in science in the Nazi era, that is an unsatisfactory ending. "I think the whole affair is unfair to Debye's memory," he says. "He acted according to his standards. They weren't the standards of a hero, but they weren't that bad."


Science Research An Interdisciplinary Venture

So, is interdisciplinary science research the future for US science? Yale and Columbia University seem to think so.

The shift toward interdisciplinary research marks a rising need for scientists to rely on integrative tactics to solve modern scientific problems that can no longer be tackled with expertise in a single discipline, several experts said. At least for colleges that can afford to do so, adjusting to this idea is the first step toward remaining afloat in the rapidly evolving world of scientific research and education especially because, according to reports issued by National Science Board, the United States is “slipping” in its global dominance in scientific research and education.

So let's see if I can figure out how to use a stem-cell in a particle accelerator.



Sunday, January 27, 2008

Analysis of the Science and Engineering Indicators 2008

I mentioned earlier of the newly-released Science and Engineering Indicators 2008. It certainly is a very daunting document to read and it takes time to extract the important points from it. That is why this analysis of the report is rather useful. It points out the salient points, especially in terms of the pace of R&D in the US when compared with other parts of the world. While the picture isn't as bad, the trend should be worrying. I also wonder what impact this current budget debacle will have, considering that the pace of science is being slowed down considerably right now.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

More and More Bastardization of Physics

It never ends, does it?

Here's a place where you'll never guess that quantum mechanics can play a direct role - human intimacy!

Unlike traditional therapists, whose work is founded upon centuries old theories of a static, non participatory universe, Schwartz's pioneering and provocative approach to relationships and transformation is based on the emerging sciences and a new world view he calls "Emergent Thinking." His work - informed by quantum physics and chaos theory - says the world, and our relationships, are in a state of constant change, with everything and everyone interacting and intertwining with everything and everyone else.

Oy vey!

Of course, quantum entanglement is bastardized by almost everyone and their grandmothers. Somehow, the fact that quantum entanglement is such a difficult phenomenon to observe and maintain is something that is often neglected. When you blow your nose, did you just cause someone to sneeeze in Africa? Really now!

I often wish that these people who want to make use of QM principle really go see a physics lab that tries to study these things and observe just to what extent we have to set things up just to be able to detect them. These people are clueless! All they see are what they read off the pages of some pop-science articles and think that it is that obvious and simple.


January 2008 Issue of Forum on Physics And Society

The January 2008 issue of the newsletter on Forum on Physics and Society is now available online. There's a good group of articles here, so don't miss it.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Physics Teacher Shortage Perpetuates Negative Cycle

This is an important news article, but not for the same reason that was described. It reports that fact that roughly 2/3 of high school physics teachers in the US did not major in physics.

Two-thirds of high school physics teachers didn’t major in the subject, a lack of qualifications that often leads to unenthusiastic students who never enter the worker-deprived science fields, researchers lamented Tuesday in Baltimore.

Now of course, it doesn't mean that all of these physics teachers without a physics degree are not doing a good job. However, there's a very high likelihood that a teacher with a physics degree would have a deeper understanding of basic physics and also the enthusiasm for it, or else, why would someone major in it?

However, the reason why one needs a teacher like that may not necessarily be the reason given in that article. We should not teach physics simply with the aim of getting the students to "... enter the worker-deprived science fields..." Students need to learn and understand physics because of the analytical skills that they acquire in learning this subject. They need to understand how science arrives at deciding what is valid and what isn't. The ability of a physics teacher to understand the subject and having the enthusiasm for it could influence on whether a student likes or hates physics. These could be the student that later on in life, make a decision on issues involving science, and physics in particular {looks at the current occupant of the White House}.

So the teaching of physics should not be with the purpose of getting students into science/technological fields. It should be to educate and make the students appreciate its importance and how it works, no matter what line of occupation they end up in.


UK Woes Could Impact Euro Physics

The budget crisis in the UK could have an impact in physics activities in the rest of Europe. A case in point is the necessary upgrade of the European Synchrotron Research Facility (ESRF).

Britain is a major partner; but with its physics funds under pressure, it is unclear how much the UK can contribute.

Strangely enough, this is the one area in which the US has followed up on the necessity to invest in light source upgrades. The LCLS has sufficient funds to proceed, and the NSLS II facility is proceeding along as expected. But then again, these are in the Basic Energy Science (BES) division of the Dept. of Energy, which was not devastated by the recent budget cuts, unlike the HEP and Nuclear Physics divisions.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Higgs Hiding in Plain Sight?

Could the Higgs already have been discovered and no one knew it?

Not likely, but with a headline like that, who can resist reading it? A Science news article reports on a paper that proposes that a very light "Higgs" may already be in the data as far back as the LEP at CERN, and could be hiding in the data from the Tevatron.

But experimenters may have already overlooked a Higgs particle, argues theorist Chien-Peng Yuan of Michigan State University in East Lansing and his colleagues. They considered the simplest possible supersymmetric theory. Ordinarily, theorists assume that the lightest of theory's five Higgses is the one that drags on the W and Z. Those interactions then feed back on Higgs and push its mass above 121 times the mass of the proton, the highest mass searched for at CERN's Large Electron-Positron (LEP) collider, which ran from 1989 to 2000. But it's possible that the lightest Higgs weighs as little as 65 times the mass of a proton and has been missed, Yuan and colleagues argue in a paper to be published in Physical Review Letters.

Unfortunately, this may not be the Higgs that everyone is looking for. It seems that this Higgs does not endow any mass to the W and Z, since it doesn't couple to them.

However, this lightweight Higgs is not exactly the Higgs everyone is looking for, says Marcela Carena, a theorist at Fermilab. "The Higgs they are talking about is not the one responsible for giving mass to the W and Z," she says. It can't be because it hardly interacts with those particles, Carena says. Indeed, in Yuan's model, the role of mass-giver falls to one of the heavier Higgses, which is still heavier than the LEP limit, she notes.



Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Where Do They Stand On Science?

I mentioned earlier that in an issue of Science, a summary of the candidates for the US Presidency stand on science matters was published. Physics Today has a similar summary of the candidates stand based on various interviews and public statements made by the candidates themselves. So if you are voting, and you care about how they view science and science policy/funding, you might want to read it.


MSU Trustees Vote For $11M In Cyclotron Enhancements

The Board of Trustees at Michigan State University voted unanimously for the $11 million enhancement of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory on its campus.

The proposed addition to the Cyclotron is a building with a 20-foot ceiling that would accommodate an experimental reaccelerator system, which is currently under construction.

This could position MSU even stronger in its effort to land the proposed rare isotope accelerator that I've mentioned before.

The university’s next proposal to the National Science Foundation would be aided by the completion of a reaccelerator and also would place MSU at the forefront for future projects, Wilcox said.

One such project, a next generation rare isotope beam facility, is a plan the government wants to pursue in the future, Glasmacher said.

“(MSU is) competing for that against everyone else in the nation,” Glasmacher said.

Well, not everyone. I would think its stiffest competitor right now is Argonne.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Krauss Lecture: Science Fact or Fiction?

OK, first of all, I did not realize that there is such a thing as a "Liberal Arts College for Men". But apparently, this Wabash College is one such thing.

Secondly, how did they managed to snag a big fish like this? Lawrence Krauss will be giving a public seminar at this college this coming Monday. And it's a doozy, folks! I'd pay money to hear this!

Wabash College will host Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, Lawrence Krauss, who will give a talk on "Science, Non-Science, and Nonsense: From Aliens to Creationism" at 8 p.m. Monday, January 28, in Room 101 (Lovell Lecture Room) in Baxter Hall.

But wait, there's more! He's also giving another talk the next day!

In addition to his Monday evening talk, Krauss will give a noon time talk on Tuesday, January 29, on "Einstein’s Biggest Blunder?: A Cosmic Mystery Story." The talk will take place in Baxter Hall, room 101.

So if you're anywhere near Crawfordsville, Indiana early next week, you might want to consider attending either or both of these. I don't know how conservative the community of Crawfordsville, IN is, but this lecture can easily stir up a lot of dust! :)


UK Physics Has "Brighter Future"?

It is not all doom-and-gloom, says Keith Mason, the chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

The chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council claims the likely fallout from its spending settlement has been exaggerated.
"We have had to constrain some investments (particularly in the particle physics and astronomy programme), we've had to restructure our in-house research effort and we've had to withdraw from some lower-priority activities - but our programme remains extremely competitive," he told reporters.

I can't imagine that that many physicists (and students) would make such a big deal if this is nothing more than fanciful exaggeration. So we shall see...


Daresbury Laboratory Facing Possible Shutdown

The budget plight is not only being faced by the US National Laboratory. Across the pond, the UK labs are also experiencing the same pain. The UK members of parliament have been told that the Daresbury Lab might be shut down due to the budget cutbacks.

It has only been almost a month since the US budget debacle, and a couple of months for the UK. Still, so far, there has been no hint of any relief in sight.


Monday, January 21, 2008

The Funding Black Hole

Two graduate students in the UK have started a petition to protest against the recent funding cuts in physics that severely hit UK's high energy physics and astrophysics/astronomy.

Two physics students at the University of Bristol have organised a petition against the recently-announced funding cut of £80 million by the body that funds physics research in the UK, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

This follows the condemnation of the cuts by many of the UK’s most senior scientists, such as Professor Stephen Hawking. Over 600 UK physics students have now signed the petition.
Jackson said: “I was at CERN when the cuts were announced. The reaction amongst my colleagues to the sweeping and sudden decision was one of tremendous shock. Last month, fundamental physics seemed to be a field with a dazzling future. This month a whole generation of young scientists is completely demoralised.”

I hope they get a lot more people to sign their petition. How this will change what has been done is another issue.


Federal Cuts May Doom Fermilab's Prized Project

To celebrate today being the most depressing day of the year, here are more gloomy outlook on the Fermilab getting the ILC built on its grounds.

But now, collider project planners worry that any delay in research and development funding could have scientists and designers abandoning Fermilab for labs in countries and facilities that seem more supportive of high-energy physics exploration, such as Japan, the European Union's CERN laboratory in Switzerland or China.
"It (the ITER cut) calls into question the reliability of the United States as an international partner in big science projects," said Judy Jackson, Fermilab's communications director. "It makes it harder to site the ILC in the United States."

The news article actually focuses on Fermilab's effort to explain to its neighbors on the ILC project and to get them involved in the decision making process if the ILC gets built at Fermilab. They are certainly trying to avoid the mistake they made when they competed for the ill-fated SSC.

At the bottom of the article is a very good list of facts on how the ILC could possibly affects the surrounding neighborhood and what issues are involved in building such a facility as far as the landscape is concerned.

But then again, all of this could be moot.....


Fermi Director Encouraged By Outpouring Of Support

Can't go a few days without issues surrounding the budget cuts, can we? :)

This is a good news article containing an interview with Pier Oddone, the Director of Fermilab, and his view on the budget cuts and the state of Fermilab. It isn't easy being the Lab Director of any of the US Nat'l Lab right now, but it is extra difficult for both Fermilab and SLAC.

And things may not get any better either, depending on the initial look at the President's FY09 budget. If it is similar to the Omnibus budget, then science in the US will collapse.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Google to Host Terabytes of Open-Source Science Data

This is certainly a nature progression, especially with Google. It appears that they will introduce an area where scientists can have access to terabytes of space to store open-sourced scientific data that can be shared with anyone. There are already institutions that do this, especially in astronomy and astrophysics, where data such as the CMB, etc. are available freely for the public.

I don't think, however, that high energy physics data will be among this, considering the humongous amount of data that is generated per second during a particle collision. Besides, analyzing such data sets are not trivial. :)


Classes Educate, Shock

This is another news report on another teacher that tries to make a difference - to do something different and imaginative to keep students interested (or at least, awake) during physics lessons. This time, he tried to be shocking:

"Ooh hoo, yes, good day!" Morse shouted yesterday as a spark leapt to his hand from a primitive battery during a duplication of 18th-century electric experiments at the Johns Hopkins University. "This is just the right size of shock to give a student."

I've already mention that I strongly admire physics teachers that try to do something different and unusual to keep the students interest in the subject matter. The fact that the system doesn't care if they do this or not. All they need to be is "adequate". Yet, some of these teachers come up with a range of imaginative ideas and things to do to stimulate interest in physics. I consider these people as some of the most valuable resources we have, and I will continue to highlight them whenever I come across news items on them.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory Were Damaged In The Budget Fight Between President Bush And Congress

We are nothing more than pawns, and these people simply do not care on the consequences of their actions.

The Chicago Tribune has a long article on how the budget fight between the US Congress and President Bush has harmed and even damaged not only Argonne and Fermilab, but also US science and its competitive edge. It's political warefare, and science becomes the victim. This view is consistent with the e-mail sent out by the APS about a week ago:

Dear APS Members:

Although several thousand APS members responded to the last alert on federal science funding, the communications failed to affect positively what ultimately became a highly partisan appropriations process. To attempt to rectify the damage caused by the Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08) Omnibus Appropriations Bill, APS President Arthur Bienenstock will soon be asking you to e-mail your Members of Congress urging that they take emergency action early in the next session. But first, a summary of what is known and documented:

Two weeks ago, almost three months into the new fiscal year, Congress finally passed an FY08 budget - unfortunately, it is devastating to significant programs in the physical sciences. It represents a dramatic turnabout in a time of unprecedented outspoken support for science across party lines, legislative chambers and branches of government.

Science funding in FY08 was originally set to increase substantially. Consistent with the America COMPETES Act, President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) and the Democratic Innovation Agenda, the National Science Foundation would have received a 10 percent increase; the National Institute of Standards and Technology Core Programs, a 17 percent increase; and the Department of Energy's Office of Science, an 18 percent increase. The increases represented the beginning of a 10-year plan to double federal investment in physical science and engineering research.

Early in the summer, the House passed all 12 appropriations bills that cover discretionary spending, totaling $955 billion. By early October, the Senate Appropriations Committee had acted on many of them, but the Senate leadership did not bring any of them to the floor for a vote. President Bush had already warned that he would veto appropriations bills if, in the aggregate, they exceeded his $933 billion ceiling. Two weeks ago, responding to the President's veto threat, Congress, having already passed the Defense appropriations bill, rewrote and passed the remaining FY08 budget bills as an omnibus spending package.

The Omnibus Bill is a disaster for the very sciences that our political leaders have repeatedly proclaimed essential for our national security, economic vitality and environmental stewardship. Several reports have suggested a picture less bleak, but they do not take into account the effects of either earmarks or inflation. In fact, numerous programs will have to be trimmed or canceled.

Hundreds of layoffs, furloughs and project shutdowns at Fermilab, SLAC, LBNL and other national laboratories and research universities seem unavoidable. U.S. funding for the International Linear Collider project will be curtailed for the balance of the fiscal year, placing extraordinary stress on the high-energy physics program. FY08 funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) will be zeroed out, abrogating our agreement with our European and Asian partners. User facilities will see reductions in operating time and staff, and university research will contract. The list is long and the damage significant.

How could this happen, given the strong bipartisan support for science research and education? There is much speculation that with negotiations having broken down and the President adamant on the total spending, Democratic leaders made the following assessment: First, that there were insufficient votes to override a presidential veto of their spending plans. Second, since the Senate had failed to act on the appropriations in a timely fashion, Democrats would be blamed for any government shutdown that might result from a spending stalemate. Their strategy was to accede to the President's $933 billion bottom line, but, to get there, "by whacking GOP priorities" as the Associated Press reported on December 10. So, with ACI carrying a presidential label, much of the increases for NSF, DOE Science and the NIST labs were erased to meet the budget restrictions. Since ITER was seen as one of the top Administration's priorities, its entire funding was zeroed with strong language to prevent reprogramming of funds to save the project. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) suggested that the $9.7 billion in earmarks be removed to allow funding for other priorities, but his colleagues refused to go along.

Added to this calculus is a well-known fact: Science has rarely, if ever, been a factor in determining the outcome of an election. Even for scientists, funding for research and education most often is not a major determinant in whom they support -- unlike members of other interest groups, such as the National Rifle Association or the American Medical Association, who frequently vote based on their "special" interests. Given such a history and the hard-ball politics that played out this month, letters from scientists to their Members of Congress, unfortunately, did not rule the day.

When Congress returns later this month, Members may be more receptive to listening to their science constituents. We will be sending you another alert next week, after we have determined that the landscape is more favorable. Please respond when we contact you. Your voice may well make the difference at that time.


Michael S. Lubell
Director of Public Affairs
The American Physical Society

I have posted earlier of the letter-writing campaign. If you are a US resident and are concerned about what is going on here, I urge you to follow the link and let your representatives hear about it.

Note that if you think that only high energy physics and nuclear physics are the ones affected, think again. ALL the US DOE National Laboratories have a 1% reduction. And means that various facilities such as synchrotron light sources where many different types of research is done, even by various private companies, will have reduction in operational days. Previous research plans will now either have to be changed or scrapped. So the collateral damage is extensive.


Science And Engineering Indicators 2008

If there's anything that gives the most accurate measure of the state of science and engineering in the US (and even a large part of the world), it is the Science and Engineering Indicators (SAEI). It is published by the National Science Board under the US National Science Foundation.

I have previously put the SAEI 2006 in the links section of this blog. It is great news that the latest version of this research for 2008 has been released. So check out the voluminous SAEI 2008. The best that can be said about the state of science in the US: stagnant, while China especially is accelerating at unbelievable pace.

Pay attention also, as in SAEI 2006, on the public perception and understanding of science and technology. Has it changed? Is it more discouraging that more than half of the people simply do not see anything wrong with the teaching of creationism/ID along side evolution?

You will need several days to read the whole thing.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Leaving a Lab Gracefully

I don't know if Science timed this to appear around this time on purpose, or if this is a mere coincidence. Still, this is a rather thoughtful and timely article on what one should do and consider when leaving a place of work. This is rather appropriate right now with several US National Labs laying off people and voluntary attrition due to the budget cutbacks. In this article, the focus is more on leaving a research laboratory, although the advice given is pretty generic to apply to almost anyone.


Ultracold Atomic Gases in Optical Lattices:

This is just a monstrous volume of a review on the topic of ultracold atoms in optical traps. It has been published in Adv. Phys. v.56, p.243 (2007), but you can get a copy of it from arXiv.

Might be something you want to read before you go to bed. :)


Presidential Race Needs Science Debate

I am so glad that the popular media are now slowly (very slowly) picking up on this). This news report is endorsing a science debate that is being advocated by ScienceDebate2008 among the candidates for the next US Presidency.

The next president faces difficult, historic decisions in science and technology that will shape our country's future for decades to come.

That's why voters should support a bipartisan effort now gaining steam to hold a presidential science debate.

A grassroots group called Science Debate 2008 is pushing for a televised debate sometime after the Feb. 5 primaries to plumb the candidates' views on energy and the environment, technological and scientific innovation, and medicine.

I would add another topic of discussion there: "Should an elected official's religious views superseded established scientific understanding in decided public policies?"

That last one should ruffle a few feathers! :)


Drell Talks SLAC, Budget Challenge

I don't envy Persis Drell right now. She doesn't even get a "honeymoon" period after being appointed the new Director of SLAC. Immediately, she's thrown into a budget crisis and had to make severe cuts to SLAC's workforce.

This news report is an interview with Drell where she talks about the budget challenge, SLAC, and a bit about her life.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

50 Years of The Physical Review Letters

Anyone working in physics knows that Physical Review Letters (PRL) is one of the most prestigious journals to get published in. In fact, in high energy physics, it is THE most prestigious journal to published in (since I it appears that high energy physicists, especially experimentalists, seem to have an unofficial "boycott" of Nature and Science).

In any case, PRL will turn 50 this year (2008). So you can expect them doing a few special things to mark this occasion. One of the things they are doing already is to highlight some of the important, milestone papers from the past. "Letters from the Past - A PRL Retrospective" lists papers that have made significant impacts, even some time winning the author a Nobel Prize. The best part about this is that you can access these papers for free. More papers will be added to the list, so check back regularly.

So while the actual date is still a ways away, let me send out my early wish and say "Happy Birthday, PRL!"


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

UK Government Was Warned of Physics Crisis

A report just published in Nature's daily science update indicates that the UK Govt. was warned about the possible consequences of the funding level for physics.

The documents show that the council described a flat-cash scenario to the government in July 2007, months before the budget allocation, as resulting in "retrenchment" with "facility operations at [a] significantly reduced level" and "severely constrained exploitation grants".

This means that they knew what they were doing and what would happen, and they still went ahead and did it? Oy vey!


Funding Edict for Mission has NASA Over a Barrel

Too bad this isn't about the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

It seems that Congress, in its infinite wisdom (and probably some very effective lobbying as well), has somehow directed NASA to spend more money that it has allocated for the Space Interferometry Mission. Frankly, I'm shocked that any science mission got 3 times more money than planned, considering that the rest of science, and especially high energy and nuclear physics, got shafted.

I don't know whether this is just more proof that how science is funded here in the US is completely ridiculous, but it certainly looks very silly right now. At what point is something funded based on scientific merit? Why bother having steering committees and all that if lawmakers aren't going to listen to them?


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Raymond Orbach Responds to DOE Budget Crisis

Ray Orbach, undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy, sat down with Adrian Cho and Eli Kintisch Science journal to talk about the US physics budget debacle.

He's in a difficult position, I'm sure. He has to follow the "will" of the US Congress, no matter how silly it is. So he has no choice but to tow the "party" line, while trying to salvage whatever's left of the US science program.

You can read the interview and judge for yourself. Frankly, I'm not optimistic that things will get better with FY09. This is one of the few times that I would be glad to be wrong.


Pope Cancels University Speech

Whoa! Those physicists and students at Rome's La Sapienza University can kick some ass!


The Pope canceled a planned speech at La Sapienza University after an emeritus physics professor protested to highlight the current pope's attempt to "... subordinate science and reason to faith".

I'm more impressed that they can get that organized and get such large number of support. I'm guessing there was already a built-in opposition to the Pope and the Catholic Church, and this was simply an opportunity for the more radical student body to participate in.

We don't get to see that many physicists or physics students self-organizing like this to actually be effective. The last one I can recall was when a number of students in Nepal protested to be able to study physics in their university. That one also got a wide coverage over the world and resulted in more accessible physics education for them.

Now, if only high energy physicists and nuclear physicists can get organized to protest this Omnibus bill.... hey, that's what the letter-writing campaign is for!


The ITER Misadventure

I've highlighted many consequences of the budget cutbacks on high energy physics (Fermilab, SLAC), but let's not forget that the other project that got hit pretty hard is the US contribution to ITER. In fact, the language of the Omnibus bill was rather mean-spirited, singling out that the DOE cannot even reshuffle any money out of other programs to make up the funding shortfall for ITER. What kind of scientific vandalism is that?

This news article describes the current situation as far as the US share in ITER is concerned. In this case, and in the case of ILC, it is the US credibility in upholding what it has agreed to that is the issue.

Sauthoff reiterated Orbach's concern that funding cuts by Congress and other, previous snubs have damaged U.S. credibility as a reliable science partner on the world stage.

Add that to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer debacle, and you have the US as an unreliable partner. The US Congress should be proud to take full credit for this.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Science: Funding Cuts Threaten Scientific Research

This is a very profound essay written by Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, on the recent funding cuts in the United Kingdom.

The sad thing here is that, one could almost transpose this essay with a few changes in names and situations, and it would appropriate to the US as well. As Brian Foster of Oxford University said, it is "scientific vandalism".


An Interview With Steven Weinberg

Oh, I just LOVE this! :)

The Space Review has an interview with Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, and he aimed dead center at the International Space Station and the current Administration obsession of human space travel.

Steve Weinberg told a dark energy workshop in September that, “I see on the part of the president and the administrators of NASA… an infantile fixation on putting people into space, which has little or no scientific value.”

You got to snicker when a piece starts off with that type of paragraph! :)

Notice also the very sharp point he made about the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which I've mentioned on here. It is INSANE that the one piece of effort that would have justified the scientific existence of the ISS is being dropped in favor of completing the building of the ISS. NASA still hasn't told us what they're building the ISS for. So far, they're simply building it for the same of building it.

You may not agree with him, but you cannot deny that this interview is fascinating.


Liverpool University Loosing Millions in Research Grants

Our friends across the pond isn't doing so well either. I've mentioned the similar budget debacle facing UK physics efforts, especially when the complete withdrawal from the ILC. The impact of that budget cuts will be severely felt at Liverpool University.

Liverpool University’s physics department could lose more than £5m over the next three years in what its vice-chancellor has described as a “serious” situation which could force staff cuts.

He and senior academics in physics are lobbying the Government and the Science and Technology Facilities Council [STFC] to try to stop the STFC’s delivery plan being implemented.

You some time wonder if these politicians know what they're doing.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

My Wizard

Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek pays tribute to Mr. Wizard Don Herbert, who passed away this past June 2007. It is quite amazing to see how these figures can have a direct influence on a generation of kids to pursue science. The same thing happened with Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" TV show that had many kids going into astronomy.

So I wonder how much damage has "The Elegant Universe" TV show has done to kids into making them pursue String Theory?

OK, OK, I'll stop!



In Praise of Science Books

The author of this article makes a rather valid point. Where are all those science books and why has there been only 1 science books included in the New York Times best books of the year/100 notable books since 2004? Could this again reflect the ignorance or lack of appreciation of science (something that I've always accepted to be true)? Are the panel of editors who select these books to be on the list science-illiterate? Or have there been not worthy science books in the last 4 years?

Frankly, I am not surprised by such omission. I mean, when was the last time Oprah has picked a book, or highlighted a book on her show with actual science content? Instead, she promoted "The Secret", which bastardized quantum mechanics as its "scientific justification" for all the mumbo-jumbo it is proposing.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

U.S. Postal Service Gets Scientific With New Stamps

I mentioned a while back of the next batch of stamps produced by the US Post Office on American Scientists. Wired has the images of these new stamps. They look good, and I'll probably buy them again as I did with the earlier set that contained Richard Feynman.

Again, I'm so glad they recognize John Bardeen. Maybe this will cause some people to look up what this man has done!


Friday, January 11, 2008

Please Help Reverse Lack of Science Funding

If you are a US resident (and especially if you are a registered voter) and are concern about the recent budget debacle in the US, please help!

From: Arthur Bienenstock, President, the American Physical Society
To: Members of the American Physical Society
Re: Federal Funding Alert:

I am writing to request that you contact your elected representatives and let them know that the 2008 federal budget deals a devastating blow to basic research. You can make this contact quickly and easily at:

There, you will find pre-written messages to your Senators, Representatives and President Bush. You may send these letters as they are, modify them, or write your own. While individualizing your letter is not essential, please at least make minor edits to the subject line and the first line of the text of each email so that these emails are more individualized. (See webpage pointers below for further instruction.)

Congress wrapped up the Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08) budget just before adjourning for the year. The budget, which wipes out $1 billion in increases approved last summer for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE Science) and the NIST laboratories, does irreparable damage to science and abandons the Innovation/Competitiveness initiatives of Congress and the Administration.

While DOE Science programs received a 2.5 percent increase overall (exclusive of earmarks), they will decline by about one percent after inflation. High-energy physics and fusion will feel the greatest pain. High energy physics will likely have to eliminate hundreds of jobs, halt work on both the NOvA, the next step in neutrino physics at FermiLab and partially furlough many remaining employees. The Omnibus bill for FY08 also stopped R&D on the International Linear Collider project, an international high-precision step beyond the Large Hadron Collider, and zeroed out the U.S. contribution to the international ITER project, designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy. These actions are severely damaging to the U.S. standing in the international scientific community.

The NSF, with only a 1.2 percent increase for Research and Related Activities, will lose almost three percent in level of effort after inflation is taken into account. Moreover, with new facility projects coming online, their administrative costs will have to be paid out of the research accounts. As a result, university proposal funding rates will inevitably fall.

The request in the attached letters is to restore that funding in an FY08 supplemental appropriations bill, and to support the FY09 budget at the levels authorized in the COMPETES act, efforts that the APS Washington Office are pursuing with both Congress and the Administration.

(1) While individualizing your letter is not essential, we ask that you make minor edits to the subject line and the first line of the text of each email.
(2) If you are a government employee, please do not use government resources to send a communication.
(3) Your browser will take you to a page where you will enter your name and address.
(4) After entering your address, click the “Edit/Send Email button.” A window with an individual email message to the four offices will appear. Click “Send Emails” to transmit the communication.
(5) Electronic submission is preferred.

Since this was intended for APS members, the letter should be modified accordingly to reflect who you are. Again, individualize it to your case. Please do not underestimate the effectiveness of your letter. It WILL make a difference!

Thank you for your support.


The Physics of Potholes.

I'm not scraping the bottom of the road here to find this story (pun intended). Still, this news article does have a fairly accurate description of the formation of potholes that you often see on the street, especially in areas of the world that have freezing climates during certain times of the year.

Pothole formation comes down to basic physics. Water gets into the subsurface below the pavement, often through cracks, and expands as it freezes.

If everything freezes in a consistent way, it's not as much of a problem, Berry said. But often water distributes itself unevenly through the subsurface, meaning some areas expand more than others.

Then, when the ice melts, the pavement contracts and weakens. Add the weight of heavy vehicles to the mix, and the weak spot can become a hole.

That hole, in turn, can grow as car and truck tires chip away at the damaged asphalt.

Actually, there is also another factor to this. I often see potholes a couple of days after a snow storm. Why? All those freezing and thawing tends to loosen clumps of asphalt and concrete, especially those that were used to patch up a street. When a snow plow comes along to plow away the snow, these loose patches also tend to get caught in the plow and voila! You have a pothole. So while the weather certainly plays a factor in creating potholes, snow plowing simply accelerates such creations.

Didn't think you'd read about potholes in a physics blog, did you? :)


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Direct Measurement of Critical Casimir Forces

This is an amazing work. A group of physicists in Germany has made a "direct" measurement of the critical Casimir forces[1]. I suppose this is as direct as it can get, as of now.

There is a News and Views coverage of this paper in the same issue of Nature, and also on the Physics World website.


[1] C. Hertlein et al, Nature v.451, p.172 (2008).

Illinois Governor Writes To Pres. Bush To Restore Science Spending

Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to restore the intended budget for Argonne and Fermilab, both national laboratories in his state. This is just after Bush visited an elementary school in Chicago.

Yesterday, as you visited Chicago, you toured Greeley Elementary School and saw first hand the success we’ve had in promoting math and science based education. Ironically, because of major funding reductions to some of the nation's leading research facilities within the Department of Energy’s budget, the students you saw today may have a hard time starting a technical or scientific career in Illinois.

The omnibus spending bill that you recently signed could cause dramatic funding cuts at Argonne National Laboratory, one of the nation’s largest and most important research centers. In addition to these cuts, the bill includes significant cuts to Illinois’ other federal research facility, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. These two institutions put Illinois and the United States at the forefront of scientific research. Without adequate federal funding, hundreds of people will lose their jobs while the United States will risk falling behind in science and technology leadership.

When politicians starts wondering why we seldom believe in what they say, point them to this debacle. Not even 6 months after they all agreed that more funding should be given to science via that joke America COMPETES Act, what did they do? They cut science spending, and cut it with impunity. Essentially, THEY LIED! They plainly lied in front of our faces, and knew that they'll get away with it too!

Of course, you could say "What else is new?" Maybe this is their standard operating procedure. I can only hope that one day, one of these lies would really come back and haunt them.


Science, Evolution, and Creationism

If you haven't found this and downloaded it yet, you might find it useful. This is the document produced by the US National Academy of Sciences addressing the Evolution vs. Creationism in terms of science. It addresses things in a straight-forward manner, and produces not only rebuttals against several popular points brought up by creationists, but also points to several strong evidence in support of evolution that many people may not realize.

Most of the documents and reports can be obtained for free.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

When Superconductivity Became Clear (to Some)

I mentioned last October (2007) of the conference being held at UIUC to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the BCS Theory of Superconductivity. Well now the NY Times has an article related to that, and includes a delightful anecdotal history on how Bardeen recruited Cooper to come to UIUC to work on the superconductivity problem. I think most people are not aware that some of the giants in physics at that time had tried to solve the superconductivity problem and failed!

After wrapping up special and general relativity, Albert Einstein tried, and failed, to devise a theory of superconductivity. Werner Heisenberg, the physicist who came up with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, struggled with the problem, as did other pioneers of quantum mechanics like Niels Bohr and Wolfgang Pauli. Felix Bloch, another thwarted theorist, jokingly concluded: Every theory of superconductivity can be disproved.

You seldom hear in any of Einstein biography of him dabbling in trying to solve this.

This is a terrific story. Don't miss it.


What Is It That Makes Us Believers?

This article examines the possible reason that people believe so strongly on things that have no scientific evidence for being valid.

The first reason magical beliefs continue to exist is it feels good to believe in them. It’s a sort of mental stimulation when one thinks there is something magical out there that can’t be explained that is going to show ‘them’ that they’ve been wrong all along.

It’s pleasing to believe that you know of some alternative medical practice that, while irreproducible in science, miraculously heals people while tens of thousands of physicians worldwide ignore it. These things don’t have to be medical, they could even be knowledge of a ‘magnetic’ hill where cars in neutral roll UP hill instead of down. Magic!

The second reason is that once a person buys into many of these beliefs their ego prevents them from deviating from this line of thinking. This is especially true if fundamental religious beliefs tie into these belief systems. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not knocking religion, but in the case of faith healing (I’m talking about the televangelist type of money-grubbing stuff) there is a familiar thread of magical thinking involved.

For me, there's another reason - the inability to differentiate between a valid scientific evidence, versus anecdotal evidence. They don't know the criteria on what constitute a scientific evidence, and WHY we have such criteria.


Japanese Particle Physics Is In Good Health

At least we have some positive news for the high energy physics community. The Japanese high energy physics lab, KEK, has revealed its future roadmap that certainly is more optimistic than what is going on with the UK and US budget debacle.

The 20-page roadmap report outlines an ambitious five-year plan that includes a major upgrade to KEK’s flagship "B-factory" and a strong commitment to the proposed International Linear Collider (ILC) — two areas that have suffered greatly as a result of the recent cuts in the UK and US.

I'd say along with China that continues to pour money into various areas of physics, that part of the world may end up with future high energy physics projects (ILC anyone?)


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"Absolute Zero" on NOVA Tonight

If you are in the US or could receive the US Public Broadcasting stations, here's an announcement that I received from NOVA about the program premiering tonight on PBS:

Starting tonight, January 8, NOVA will be presenting the first part of a two-part series on low-temperature physics. "Absolute Zero" explores four centuries of cold science, opening in the 1600s, when the nature of cold was a complete mystery, and continuing on to the modern race to create the first Bose-Einstein condensate in the laboratory. We think readers of the Physics and Physicists blog will be interested in the show!

Tonight's episode, "The Conquest of Cold," includes Cornelius Drebbel’s spooky trick of turning summer into winter for the English king, achieved in much the way that homemade ice cream is produced; Antoine Lavoisier’s battle with Count Benjamin Rumford over the caloric theory of heat, an intellectual contest set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, in which Lavoisier unfortunately lost his head to the guillotine and his wife to Rumford; and Michael Faraday’s explosive experiments to liquefy gasses, which established the principles that make refrigerators possible.

Next Tuesday, NOVA will air "The Race for Absolute Zero," which picks up the story in the late 19th century, with James Dewar and Heike Kamerlingh Onnes racing to liquefy hydrogen and helium, before moving a century ahead to meet the scientists who competed to produce a Bose-Einstein condensate, including Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman of the University of Colorado at Boulder and Wolfgang Ketterle of MIT.

You can watch a preview of this show at "Absolute Zero: The Conquest of Cold" will premiere tonight at 8PM ET/PT on most PBS stations. Please check your local listings to confirm when it will be broadcast near you:

It sounds fascinating. Hopefully, if you do watch this, that you'd write back with a comment.


Big Trouble For Big Science

Alan Boyle at MSNBC has essentially given a summary of all the major research areas affected severely by the recent Omnibus budget. It covers essentially what I have highlighted separately here.

The cuts came in the omnibus spending bill patched together by Congress and signed by President Bush just before Christmas. Among the institutions hit hardest were Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois; and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, or SLAC, in California.



The Quantum Spin Hall Effect: Theory and Experiment

More review article. This is a rather extensive overview of the quantum spin Hall effect. This effect has similarities to the traditional quantum Hall effect that involves charge transport. Coupled with the review article on spintronics that I highlighted recently, the QSHE shows how spin current is now a rather important factor not just in the possible application in advanced electronics, but also in fundamental understanding.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Quantum Behavior of Light In Undergraduate Laboratory

While the Compton effect and the photoelectric effect are often used as "evidence" of photons, they actually cannot rule out completely the wave picture. The more definitive experiment would be the which-way experiment or the coincidence experiment. I find it rather amazing that such experiments are now within the realm of an undergraduate laboratory exercise.

There were 2 papers published in the American Journal of Physics that provided a very detailed description of such experiments suitable for such undergraduate laboratory. The first one is by J.J. Thorn et al. Here, they did the coincidence measurement that basically reproduced (with better equipment) an earlier Graingier et al. experiment. The second one by C.H. Holbrow et al. describes 5 different possible experiments (and theory to accompany them) to illustrate the photon pictures. No experimental result was reported in this paper.

Both papers contain a wealth of references, especially to other similar experiments that have already been done. That alone is worth keeping these two papers handy.


SLAC Facing Budget Cuts and Layoffs

I reported last Friday of the impending consequences of the recent budget cuts at SLAC. They had their all-hands meeting today, and the anticipated scenario has become true.

Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) staff learned in an "all-hands" meeting today that its budget is being cut by Congress and the center will have to reduce its workforce by 15 percent, or the equivalent of 225 full-time positions.

High energy physics in the US is dying.


Atomic Force Microscopy and Spectroscopy

Wow. This is one of the most comprehensive overview (other than buying a book on AFM itself) of Atomic Force Microscopy and Spectroscopy.

Yongho Seo and Wonho Jhe, Rep. Prog. Phys. v.71 p.016101 (2008).

It would certainly be something one should read if one intends to use this technique.


Science and the Presidential Election

The the tedious US Presidential Election in full swing right now with the primaries and caucuses for each party, science continues to take a back seat in terms of importance. I'll have more to say on this later, but for now, it might be useful to see if there's anything we can infer regarding each candidate's view on science. The Jan. 4th 2008 issue of Science has a summary for the leading candidates in each party regarding their views of science, and possible science policy. Hillary Clinton turns out to have the most detailed and comprehensive policy on science, which isn't surprising since she probably got the same network of advisers that Bill Clinton had. Still, she has stated that the Presidential Science Adviser will report directly to her, and not through several layers of commands the way George Bush currently has it.

Anyhow, you might want to pick up this issue of Science. This might be one of the few places that have such a concise description of the candidates' views on science and science policy. It is also why we should have a presidential debate on just science.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Spintronics Challenge

If you haven't read this yet, then you should click the link PhysicsWorld has a good article on Spintronics and the challenges it still has to face in producing something that can be used. It's a good article to get you up to speed on this amazing area of study.

Because the spin of an electron can be switched from one state to another much faster than charge can be moved around a circuit, spintronic devices are expected to operate faster and produce less heat than conventional microelectronic components. One of the ultimate goals is to build a spin-based transistor that would replace conventional transistors in integrated logic circuits and memory devices, thus allowing the miniaturization trend to continue. However, spintronics also opens the door to entirely new types of device, such as a light-emitting diode (LED) that generates left or right circularly polarized light for use in encrypted communication (see "Spin-based devices"). Looking further into the future, spintronic devices could even be used as quantum bits, the units of information processed by quantum computers.

It is also interesting to note, with ties to the previous blog entry that I made on the theoretical possibility of monopoles in a strongly-correlated magnetic system, that the spin current can move separately than the charge current in certain conditions. This fractionalization is expected to occur in 1D system, and could even possibly occur in 3D system. So this area is certainly not just an active area in the possible application of it, but also a hotbed in basic, fundamental physics studies.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Alternative Medicine and the Laws of Physics

Another classic text on debunking many aspect of alternative medicine. This time it is an essay written by Bob Park, who I will freely admit, is one of my "heroes".

He and Richard Dawkins should get together. :)


The Physics Behind Four Amazing Demonstrations

Skeptical Enquirer has listed 4 amazing demonstrations and gave each one of them a plausible and reasonable physical explanation. This should be quite handy if you ever encounter anyone using any of them as "proof" of some supernatural phenomenon.


Friday, January 04, 2008

SLAC Cuts May Be Near

I've already highlighted the debacle with the budget cuts at Fermilab and Argonne. Next comes the news report about the possible cuts at SLAC. A all-hands meeting is scheduled for this coming Monday, and most are expecting rather gloomy news similar to that received at Fermilab.

Y'know, at some point, someone will wake up and realize what is going on. Still, I wouldn't hold my breath on that happening.


Budget Cuts to Hit Argonne

The devastating budget cuts will impact almost every single US National Lab. We have see how this will almost cripple Fermilab with its planned layoffs of 200 people. It may even hasten its demise.

This Chicago Tribune article focuses on the other lab in the Chicago area besides Fermilab - Argonne National Laboratory. The premature shut down of the IPNS and the reduced operations at the APS are just the beginning of the awful mess created by this thoughtless omnibus bill.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Physics World's "Physics Quiz of 2007" Contest

Do you want to a chance to win £50? Then be the one who gives the most correct answers to this quiz organized by Physics World.

Closing date is Jan 14, 2008. So you don't have that much time left!


Magnetic Monopoles in Spin Ice?

When I wrote about the Kondo effect a while back, I mentioned that there were many fundamental physics that came out of the field of condensed matter, one of them being the inspiration for the Higgs mechanism.

Now comes another theoretical discovery from condensed matter that could shed light on the on-going search for the magnetic monopoles. It appears that such a thing could be found in, of all places, a magnetic material called the spin ice. Again, just like the fractional quantum hall system, the dimensional effect in a strongly-correlated electron system can produce such a rich set of phenomena, it is just a zoo of basic, fundamental physics waiting to be discovered.

This paper has been published in Nature[1]. Also don't miss the News and Views review of this paper by Oleg Tchernyshyov in the same issue of Nature.

One environment in which monopoles might pop up is crystalline solids. In a crystal at a low temperature, excitations above the ground state often behave like elementary particles: they carry a quantized amount of energy, momentum, electric charge and spin. In their theoretical study, Castelnovo et al. find the first instance of such an excitation with a non-zero magnetic charge. Under certain conditions, these magnets behave as a gas of independent magnetic poles. There is even a phase transition at which a thin vapour of these monopoles condenses into a dense liquid.

Moral of the story: you CAN study some of the most fundamental aspect of our world in Condensed matter physics. It is as fundamental as any. Just because the field has a direct application to the study of the properties of materials doesn't make it any less fundamental.


[1] C. Castelnovo et al, Nature v.451, p.42 (2008).

CODATA Recommended Values of the Fundamental Physical Constants: 2006

Here are the latest CODATA set of values and measurements of the fundamental constants. I am guessing that this will appear in an issue of Rev. Mod. Phys. When that occurs, I will edit this post to include the exact citation.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Physics of Lawrence Krauss

First of all, I've never met Lawrence Krauss, so I have no idea if this reporter's description of him is accurate. I've met many well-known physicists and have seen them in "action", so to speak, both in public and in private, and many of them do not have the same persona that they project. So trying to deduce the nature of someone in this case is rather difficult. In addition, very brilliant physicists (or scientists for that matter) are often eccentric, and they don't intend to be rude on purpose.

Now, if you've followed what has been happening, you'd have heard about the bit of a pickle that Lawrence Krauss got himself into recently based on a preprint that he co-authored. Needless to say, he had to do quite a bit of explaining after it blew up in all the papers.

This article is sort of a follow-up of this. A reporter is basically giving his view of Lawrence Krauss based on his encounter with this physicist. While I don't quite agree with everything being written here (and I certainly can't vouch for the accuracy of his description of Krauss), I must admit that this was a rather entertaining reading. (Oh crap! Maybe this is why people read those supermarket tabloids!) For example:

First of all, Lawrence Krauss is kind of a dick. He really is. He has little patience for reporters who show up at his office at Case asking for an interview. He answers questions while sitting at a computer and corresponding via e-mail with people more important than reporters. And who can blame him? After all, reporters have been screwing up science for decades. Just look at the mess they're making of climate change and evolution. Reporters - daily reporters especially - try to balance interviews when reporting on these topics; they interview him and then they interview someone at the Creation Museum or GOP headquarters for counterpoint. But, in science, there is no "other side." Evolution exists. Global warming exists. Period. Why are reporters giving equal time to crackpots?

Secondly, this man has an ego the size of the Eta Carinae Nebula. He coats his office door and inner sanctum with newspaper clippings about Lawrence Krauss and papers written by Lawrence Krauss and books authored by Lawrence Krauss (pick up the Physics of Star Trek, by the way - it'll blow your Vulcan mind!).

Well, at least he got the description of reporters accurate!

{ka-ching!} :)

You should just read the whole thing and make up your own mind. All I can say is that I now want to meet Krauss more than ever. :)


Helium Supplies Endangered, Threatening Science And Technology

If you think we have an energy crisis with the oil supply, wait till you hear about the impending crisis with the helium supply. Helium, you say? Yes, helium!

"Helium is non-renewable and irreplaceable. Its properties are unique and unlike hydrocarbon fuels (natural gas or oil), there are no biosynthetic ways to make an alternative to helium. All should make better efforts to recycle it."

With large facilities such as the LHC at CERN, and the proposed ILC (the latter may be moot since it is on life-support right now) using superconducting technology, be it in the magnets and/or the accelerating structure, the use of helium will certainly shoot up, even if these facilities have a recycling program.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year 2008

Happy New Year, everyone.

2008 promises to be a very challenging year for physics and physicists in the US and UK. With severe budget cuts and outright pull-outs of several major projects, physicists from both nations are facing a degrading of the importance of their work. High energy physics and astronomy bears the largest brunt of budget cutbacks, and it is difficult to see how they can survive through this period. We can only hope that they will.