Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Continuing Bastardization of Quantum Mechanics - Follow-Up

If you recall, I was rather "harsh" on Jonny Wilkinson, the soccer player in the English League for bastardizing quantum mechanics. I certainly don't want to gloat on his misfortune, but it seems that his positive thinking isn't working. It appears that he had another injury yesterday during a game.

Maybe quantum mechanics is wrong?

(Don't answer that. I was be facetious)


60 Minutes Coverage of the LHC

Did you miss last week's 60 Minutes coverage of the LHC? CNET seems to have the video of that segment if you want to see it.


U.S. Science Faces a Flat 2009

In a move that isn't a surprise to anyone, the US Congress authorized a continuing resolution of the US budget until at least March 2009. This means that science funding in the US will be saddled with the disastrous FY2008 budget.

With the US economy in a meltdown, the future doesn't look too rosy either. The next US President will have a huge constraint on any spending due to the proposed bail-out of the financial sector. McCain has already indicated that most domestic spending will be frozen if he were to become president.

In other words, science funding in the US will be facing some very tough times. Considering that science and technology, which is only 10% of the work force and yet is responsible for more than 50% of the US economy, is being almost neglected, this can easily be the turning point to the dominance of the US as an economic superpower. Maybe decades from now, historian will see that this is where a major civilization started its decline, just like other major civilizations of the world in history.

Too bad the people who were responsible for it will not be alive to see the consequences of their actions.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Dark Secret of Hendrik Schon

I was awake rather early this morning and couldn't go back to sleep. The TV was on (normal for me) and I started surfing the channel. At that hour, you mostly get crap and other informercials. However, as I got to the Science Channel, it has just started showing a program with a title that certainly caught my eye. It was called "The Dark Secret of Hendrik Schon".

To those of you who have no clue on who Hendrik Schon is, do a google search. I, on the other hand, am quite familiar with his work and the debacle that occurred. I was at Brookhaven when the proverbial crap hit the ceiling fan, and since there were either many former Bell Labs scientists that were there who still had contacts, or people who just came from Bell labs, I got to hear a lot of news about the investigation. So this is something that I've sort of followed closely over the years.

Anyway, of course, I had to view the TV program (which means that it would certainly prevented me from falling asleep the rest of the morning before I had to wake up). In any case, I found the show to be rather odd. It started with all this weird focus on nanotechnology and "nanobots", including some "disaster" scenario on runaway nanobots taking over our world. Yowzah! What did this had to do with Hendrik Schon and his "dark secrets"?

I think it was 5 or 10 mins into the show that Schon was mentioned and what he has done at that time (2001) and what he was trying to accomplish. He certainly had a series of impressive credentials by the time he was offered a job at Bell labs. No one doubted that. The show then mentioned something about Moore's Law, and how Moore's law might be halted due to the physical limitation to how small one can make a silicon chip. This is where Schon came in when he did his work on organic field-effect transistors. The show went on to give an explanation on why this is such an important and possibly revolutionary finding.

But then, it keeps going back to this nanotechnology and nanobots thing in between describing Schon's work. Only close to the end did it start to mention the scandal and how Schon was "caught" at either duplicating data or fabricating data for some of his work. And then back to nanobots....

It was a very strange program, and I think, too heavy on a very transparent attempt at sensationalism. I would have been more captivated if they had focused more on the scandal, the time line of when things happened, an interview of all the principal players who were the first to voice doubt in what Schon was producing, an interview with some of the panel doing the investigation, etc.. Those would have given a lot more insight into what was going on, and the atmosphere at Bell labs at that time. Instead, all I got was some superficial coverage of what was a very important event in physics. And then, more of those nanobots that could destroy all life forms.

Maybe they're hoping that the threat of possible annihilation could give the show as much free publicity as that being given to the LHC. Not gonna happen!


European Strategy for Astroparticle Physics

The Roadmap Committee for European astroparticle physics has released the strategy for future projects in this field of study. They listed the "magnificent 7" projects to try and answer some of the biggest questions in astronomy, astrophysics, and particle physics.

* CTA, a large array of Cherenkov Telescopes for detection of cosmic high-energy gamma rays
* KM3NeT, a cubic kilometre-scale neutrino telescope in the Mediterranean Sea
* Ton-scale detectors for dark matter searches
* A ton-scale detector for the determination of the fundamental nature and mass of neutrinos
* A Megaton-scale detector for proton decay's search, neutrino astrophysics & investigation of neutrino properties
* A large array for the detection of charged cosmic rays
* A third-generation underground gravitational antenna


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Could The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer Get To The ISS After All?

The one single instrument that would turn the International Space Station (ISS) from a colossal scientific waste-of-money into something halfway useful might take off after all. The alpha magnetic spectrometer that was abruptly dumped by NASA to be flown to the ISS after it is ready and waiting has been given a lifeline by a US Congress authorization bill.

The measure authorizes $20.2 billion for next year’s NASA budget. That’s about $2.6 billion more than what President Bush had proposed for the agency and includes $1 billion specifically for work to accelerate development of the Constellation program, which will eventually replace the current shuttles. The measure also adds an extra flight to the shuttle’s current schedule to deliver a physics project, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, to the International Space Station.

One can only hope that the next US president sees what the rest of us see, that the AMS is the only thing up there that makes the ISS worthwhile.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

LHC Setback Is Not Surprising

In fact, I would say that the recent setback of the LHC is expected! You can't design and operate a machine that complicated, that big, and that technologically advanced and not have some form of failure. Many physicists in the know thought that the first series of start-up that they had to get the beam in the ring was unusually smooth! They expected more problems with that than what was seen.

My buddy Ben has started a blog (welcome to the blogsphere, Ben!) and he has this rather amusing anecdote on the problems faced at the Tevatron both when it first went online and at the start of Run II. I think this will put things in perspective as to why problems being faced at the LHC is, really, not unexpected. The only thing we don't want is a show-stopping failure, and this isn't it.


Bison Roam Prairie of Fermila

While Argonne has its white deer on site, Fermilab has bison roaming its grounds. This news article has a bit of a story of the bison there and their ultimate fate.

In the Chicago suburbs, these shaggy symbols of Big Sky Country might seem out of place, but they've been at Fermilab since 1969 because of Robert Wilson, the laboratory's first director, who wanted a lasting reminder of Illinois' prairie heritage.

Two years after Wilson brought a bull and four cows, what was then the Illinois Department of Conservation donated 21 more buffalo. By the 1990s, the herd had grown to 160 head, Plese said. Today, there are just 28, many of which are descendants of the first bison at Fermilab.

The animals at Fermilab are plains bison, different from woods bison from Canada, which often have smaller heads and humps. They are contained by an electric fence and an outer fence high enough to thwart their 6-foot vertical leap.

I remember quite a while back that I bought a thermal coffee mug when I visited Fermilab back then, and they were using a bison on the mug as their "mascot". Don't know if they're still using that, but it was cute.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Science Chicago Science Saturdays

If you are in the Chicagoland area on Oct. 18 and looking for something unusual to do, here's something you might want to consider.

Check out the rest of Science Chicago website for other fun stuff.


Obama Outlines Science Spending Boost

Barak Obama has issued his 11-page plan for science (link may be open for free only for a limited time). John McCain has yet to respond, which is consistent with what has gone on so far during the campaign. Note also that John McCain had declined to answer the questions submitted by Nature, whereas Barak Obama campaign made an effort respond to each one of them.

But what was more interesting, for whatever it is worth, is this piece of information:

At the same time, 61 US Nobel science laureates endorsed Obama — the largest number ever to make their voices heard during a presidential campaign. In 2004, 48 science Nobelists threw their weight behind John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential contender.

The Obama supporters range from James Watson, a 1962 Nobel prize winner in physiology or medicine, to two of last year's winners in physiology or medicine, Mario Capecchi and Oliver Smithies. In an "open letter to the American people," they write: "The country urgently needs a visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology and who can harness those strengths to address many of our greatest problems: energy, disease, climate change, security, and economic competitiveness. We are convinced that Senator Barack Obama is such a leader."


Thursday, September 25, 2008

LHC Project Simulator

OK, I had way too much fun playing with this thing.

Even though the LHC is going to be down till after the scheduled winter shutdown, doesn't mean we all can't pretend that it is running and already producing collisions. In fact, WE can actually simulate a run and start hunting for those elusive particles after all!

This is a LHC project simulator. It tries to simulate the possible outcome of a collision based on the beam/magnet parameters that one start with. It's a lot of fun in a cartoonish sort of way. If only the actual thing is this easy. :)


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why Can't Science Journalists Just Tell It Like It Is?

While I may not entirely agree with this article, it is nevertheless a very entertaining read. The article in Slate.com chastised many journalists covering the LHC for overextending the "color commentary" about the LHC. The author cited several prominent newspapers that were guilty of using prose that really did not convey the content, but rather paid more attention to style in trying to grab an audience.

The color provided by this sort of extravagant prose comes at a cost. It may make for a richer read, but to decorate the science with ornate wordplay has a way of obscuring the very ideas those words are supposed to highlight. Such language gives science a flavor of the mystic and inaccessible, which is exactly the opposite of what it is: messy, full of false starts and wrong ideas, but ultimately committed to making the universe more coherent.

The author also said this at the end:

On the whole, the best writing about physics for a general audience seems to come from physicists, not journalists. This isn't due to the fact that physicists understand the subject matter better—if anything, people who spend all day in the lab are often the worst at explaining the big picture. Rather, they're better at writing about physics because they don't try so hard to make you care. They don't believe their readers must be seduced with colorful wordplay or end-of-the-world melodramas. Journalists writing popular treatments of subatomic physics could take a lesson from the scientists: Tell it straight and have a little faith that the subject matter itself—a major advance in our understanding of the cosmos—can generate its own wonder and excitement.

While in general, I tend to agree with all this, I'm of two minds with regards to this as well. I think communicating, as accurately as possible, the idea is the most important thing we can do. To do this, we must be able to convey the idea in a manner that is understandable to the audience we are talking to. So this is the substance.

However, the public often are more "seduced" by the style. For a scientist, he/she must start to realize this because there have been way too many instances where science was defeated by style without any substance. So we DO have to try harder to make people care, and the politicians to care, because if not, we end up in this situation where the importance of science has taken the back seat, and so has the funding.

One thing that this article did do is to prove my point that science cannot be done in the popular media.


Physics At ETH

It is one of the most prestigious university in the world, and Physics is a prominent subject area, unlike at most universities where it is often one of the smallest. This article provides a brief introduction to this outstanding institution that has the ability to attract international students and faculty members.

“The brain-import role is true for research as well”, van der Veen continues. “ETH is one of the few European universities that is able to ‘buy’ well known American scientists.” Though van der Veen still speaks highly of his time as researcher at the University of Amsterdam, he didn’t hesitate to accept the job offer from ETH eight years ago. “The infrastructure and big research facilities at ETH are excellent. And there is a lot of money available for research! There is so much potential over here. Look at the amazing amount of 21 spin-off companies at ETH, which were registered last year. Very inspiring.”

The best institutions in the world usually tend to have the ability to attract the best people, no matter where they are from.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why We Should Teach The Bohr Model And How To Teach It Effectively

I've printed out this paper for weeks now, but due to many distractions (including vacations), I haven't yet read through the whole thing. It also doesn't help that it is 9 pages long. So I thought that since I can't do a thorough review of it, maybe some of you can. I'll put in my comments once I've had digested the whole paper (not literally, of course).

The paper by McKagan et al. (Phys. Rev. Sp. Topics - Phys. Ed. Res., v.4, p.10103 (2008)) argues on why the Bohr model should be taught in intro modern physics courses, but it must be done "effectively". It is no secret that I am not a fan of this, because in my experience, the Bohr model given to students, especially those who are NOT physics majors, or do not intend to take higher level courses, are left holding on to a rather faulty view of what an atom is, at least from the way physics describes it via the Schrodinger formalism. So one is left with students having a mental picture of the planetary model. I have no issues with it being presented as a "historical" item, and then making sure the students understand why such picture is no longer used. However, teaching it formally?

So that's why I was interested in reading this paper. What useful ideas in understanding the atom and QM in general can be gathered out of making an effort to teach the Bohr model, and teach it effectively? Obviously, it can't be done the way it has been, especially with disinterested teachers that won't put any effort to do it the way the authors are suggesting.

I really should make an effort to read it.

BTW, the paper should be available for free from the APS journal page, or you can get the ArXiv version here.


Monday, September 22, 2008

McCain Will Freeze Funding On Research And Education

Aides to the senator has revealed that the candidate for the US Presidency will propose a budget that will freeze all domestic spending, including funding for research and education.

"The purpose of the freeze is to evaluate each and every program, looking at which ones are worthwhile and which are a waste of taxpayer dollars," Ike Brannon, an economist and senior policy adviser to McCain, told the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation at a private gathering in Washington, D.C. The task force, a coalition of scientific and professional societies, had heard a more upbeat message in July from aides for Democratic Senator Barack Obama (IL), who has proposed doubling over 10 years the budgets of a host of U.S. science agencies.

McCain has expressed similar views to those of Obama in other venues, including support for "full funding" of the 2007 America COMPETES Act, which authorizes a 7-year doubling of the budgets of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (ScienceNOW, 3 August 2007). But Brannon said today that there's been no talk within the campaign of allowing any flexibility in the proposed freeze. It would be part of McCain's 2010 budget submission next spring to Congress for the fiscal year that begins in October 2009, should he defeat Obama in November.

"Senator McCain realizes that it's difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of basic research," Brannon told Science after the closed-door briefing. "But the freeze applies to the entire budget, most of which doesn't relate to science. He hopes to be able to find savings from earmarks, from unnecessary subsidies, and from other programs that could then be applied to research."

Here's a question I have never gotten an answer to, and why none of these so-called "journalists" ever asked these candidates. How come, whenever there is a fiscal issue, that domestic spending, and science spending in particular, is always the FIRST one to take the brunt of any freeze or cutbacks? I mean, if McCain is THAT concerned about earmarks and waste spending, how about the $14 billion that went missing in Iraq? If the whole philosophy here is to cut back wasteful spending, I'd say one might find the largest amount to save on by making a careful audit of the money that's flowing like water in this area. So how come the puny amount spend on scientific research gets the squeeze?

It has always been my impression that McCain has never paid any particular importance to science and scientific research. Obama doesn't put science that high on his agenda either, but McCain seems to almost ignore it completely to being a non-existent issue.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Proton Therapy - Cost and Benefit

While this article started on the news of the proposed building of another proton therapy in the Chicagoland area, it later on dove into what it is, and the current question on whether patients do benefit from it better than conventional, less-costly treatment.

I think the last line kinda says it all. If it were of the same cost as conventional treatment, it would have been built everywhere. But as of yet, no study on the cost versus benefit has been conducted. There certainly is no question that proton therapy causes less damage to surrounding tissues/cells, but how this translates to a patient's overall well-being is still unknown.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Continuing Bastardization of Quantum Mechanics

Maybe I should have turn this into a series. But who knew that the news media would report this much crap on QM?

So if you haven't been following this blog, I've had already several posts on how people and the media have bastardized QM. They took what they read (usually out of some pop-science source) and somehow able to extrapolate whatever pathetic little knowledge that they gained into something completely unverified, unscientific, and worse still, completely wrong. All because they thought they understood QM.

This is the latest example. I'm guessing that this is a rather famous soccer player in the UK (I don't know, I don't follow soccer much).

His epiphany came after reading about a famous experiment in quantum physics known as Schrodinger's Cat.

"It was all about the idea that an observer can change the world just by looking at something; the idea that mind and reality are somehow interconnected," Wilkinson explained.

"It is difficult to put into words, but it hit me like a steam train."

He continued: "I came to understand that I had been living a life in which I barely featured. I had spent my time immersed in the fear of not achieving my goals and then spent my time beating myself up about the mistakes I made along the way. Quantum physics helped me to realise that I was creating this destructive reality and that all I needed to do to change it was to change the way I chose to perceive the world.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? In fact, the book "The Secret" made use of the same bastardization.

So here's something most of these people seem to have ignored. I'm staring at a pencil right now......... Now I'm staring at it again ......... and again ........

How have I changed the pencil? How have I changed "reality"? None? Bingo! In the classical world, which is the world we live in and most familiar with, the quantum rules are not observed. A cat is either dead or alive, not a superposition of dead and alive. A pencil can only be at one place at a time, not simultaneously spread out over various locations, etc... etc. What does this tells us? That there is a distinct difference between the rules of the classical world and quantum world. Where do they meet? No one knows, and that is still a subject of constant research to know at what point the quantum and classical world merges. We don't even know if this is a smooth crossover or an abrupt transition.

The point in all of this is that extrapolating the rules that govern quantum system into classical world has no justification. We have no scientific research that you can change reality simply by thinking about it in the SAME way that an act of measurement affects the outcome of a quantum system. NONE. It is a bastardization of QM to do so.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

JLAB Gets Money to Upgade CEBAF

Thomas Jefferson Laboratory has been given the go-ahead by the DoE to upgrade CEBAF to obtain up to 12 GeV electrons.

This is certainly good news, considering that maybe a couple of years ago, it appears that either CEBAF or RHIC was in jeopardy of being shut down due to lack of funding. Note that while CEBAF (and also RHIC) actually collides particles in their experiment, these are not considered as high energy particle colliders. In the sometime-puzzling world of physics and also how physics is funded in the Dept. of Energy, these are considered as nuclear physics experiments, and not high energy/particle physics experiments. RHIC and CEBAF are thus funded by a different division of the DoE, the nuclear physics division, not the high energy physics division.

So with the termination of SLAC as a high energy facility, and with the pending shut down of the Tevatron, the US will technically cease in having any high energy particle colliders within its shores for the first time since the field of experimental high energy physics was created.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

High-Temperature Superconductivity in the Iron Pnictides

The iron-arsenic based superconductors are the hottest material right now (outside of graphene) in condensed matter physics. The rush to study this almost mirrors what happened earlier with the cuprates and the MgB2 compounds. Plenty of papers are coming out on this right now.

This is an excellent overview by Mike Norman on the state of knowledge that we have currently on this compound. More importantly, the similarity between the FeAs-based compounds and the cuprates superconductors make this system exceedingly important to solve the mystery of superconductivity in these high-Tc superconductors.

It would be interesting to see a couple of years from now how what we know now would have changed, and if any of these observations and understanding are still valid. Things in this field change very rapidly.


Energy Future = Think Efficiency

I'm very happy that the APS has launched a report to tackle the US energy issue. We have gotten so many of these things already, but not from the point of view of the science/technology. The APS's webpage claim that this is a different type of energy report.

Energy Future: Think Efficiency differs from other energy efficiency reports in its emphasis on scientific and technological options and analysis. Based on emerging technologies, this report targets which research and development gives America the best return for its dollars.

Want to know what works now, what can work soon, and what is feasible for the future? The Energy Future: Think Efficiency study panel of leading experts in energy policy with backgrounds in physics, engineering, economics, and policy, examines and answers these very questions.

Certainly very timely, and worth paying attention to. I mean, if those global warming opponents got so excited that an article in an APS Division actually presented an anti-global warming argument, then they also can't ignore when the APS itself produces and endorses something like this.

Edit: here's a news article on this APS report.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Science Debate 2008 Questionnaire

In case you haven't seen it still, here are the responses from both US Presidential Candidates on the questions put forth by the Science Debate 2008 organizers.

Barak Obama's response
John McCain's response

Side-by-side comparision.


The Theory of Relativity and the Pythagorean Theorem

This is a rather interesting angle (pun intended) on Special Relativity written by L.B. Okun.

Abstract: It is shown that the most important effects of special and general theory of relativity can be understood in a simple and straightforward way. The system of units in which the speed of light $c$ is the unit of velocity allows to cast all formulas in a very simple form.The Pythagorean theorem graphically relates energy, momentum and mass. The paper is addressed to those who teach and popularize the theory of relativity.

It is a continuation of his earlier article.

Some parts of it are rather confusing, at least to me, since he did not write very much in most of the smaller sections of the article. There were times that I wished he would elaborate a little bit on what he's saying, especially if he's intending this article to be read by people teaching relativity.

Read it and tell me what you think. If nothing else, one gets a rather brief and useful history behind the development of SR.


Global Warming Opponents Have Gone Bonkers - Even More Follow-Up

I should have mentioned this earlier, but I keep forgetting.

With reference to the brouhaha regarding the publication of an apparent "disagreement" within the physics community regarding global warming that was published in the recent APS Forum on Physics and Society newsletter, there is a very detail rebuttals on Monckton's "paper". In total, Monckton made 125 "errors" that has been listed and carefully argued against.

There is also a rather "amusing" time line on how Monckton was actually invited to present an article to the Forum on Physics and Society newsletter, despite his lack of credentials in this area. Someone here didn't do their homework.

Maybe this will be a lesson to those involved. While the public doesn't put much importance and public recognition to physicists, those who are clinging for the slightest bit of recognition and veil of validity will grab onto anything to prove their legitimacy. Something out of a physics society such as the APS, even if it isn't an official opinion of the APS, is more than sufficient for them to twist it around and grab on to it with both hands. An insignificant article in a rather obscure newsletter can still cause the proverbial crap to hit the ceiling fan and becomes a major news story.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Easily Caught in a Web of Sinister Untruths

I love this article because it says what I've been saying all along, both about the public gullibility and also the crap that one can read (and some, believe in) on the web. Supposedly, Tim Berners-Lee, one of the inventors of the World Wide Web, is setting up a "World Wide Web Foundation" to study on how to "improve" the web (whatever that means).

But what's more important is that the rest of the article reinforced what I've been saying about the public and how there is a considerable lack of ability to decipher the nature of the information and the credibility of the sources.

The great MMR scare was, largely, a print panic caused by ignorant journalists and media folk who were unable to distinguish between an unsubstantiated theory on the one hand and a scientific consensus built around significant studies on the other. The result was an absolutely unnecessary loss of herd immunity from measles in some communities. Someone should be sued.

The MMR business, like aspects of the climate change debate, was aided by a boneheaded refusal to discriminate between better and worse arguments. On the one hand a scientist says X, on the other hand another one says Y, so X and Y are roughly to be accorded equal respect. You get this in the creationist versus evolution debate. For example one BBC News website item last week, “Who are the British creationists?”, concluded its even-handed coverage of the debate by quoting a creationist vicar saying: “Evolution is a worldview that leads to futility. It's no wonder people are dissatisfied with it.”

But “evolution” is simply not a worldview, It is, rather, the best scientific hypothesis we have, by miles, for how species develop. By contrast both creationism and its sly relative, intelligent design, are readily falsifiable by scientific method. Evolution stands up.

But you know, folks, why don't we just teach people what they want to hear? A bit of intelligent design next to evolution in biology, a bit of flat Earth versus round Earth in physics, a bit of anti-Semitism versus Judaism in RE. That'd be fair.

One could equally apply this to the current "LHC-Black Hole" debacle. Despite the overwhelming majority of particle physicists proclaiming the fallacy of such catastrophic scenario, you have people who can't tell the difference between a boson and the zit on their noses proclaiming scientific arrogance and conspiracy. All this while ignoring their OWN arrogance into thinking that they have a valid opinion on such matter when they are completely ignorant of what they are talking about.

Yup. If you think that I'm fed up with dealing with such stupidity, you are correct! I really do not mind one bit when someone ask me about such thing. I get asked that a lot and I never minded at all giving them an answer. What I am fed up with is dealing with people who have ALREADY made up their minds that scientists are arrogant, and arrogantly putting the world in danger. HAH! One cannot carry any kind of rational discussion with such people.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

LHC - The Big Money Wringer?

Anyone who follows my blog often enough will know that I have a highly skeptical view of the public's understanding of science, and physics in particular. And from what I've read, I'm not the only one. This brouhaha over the LHC and the catastrophic black hole is simply my latest evidence. It isn't so much that they are concerned and asking question, but rather the way some people actually have decided for themselves on the issue without understanding (i) what the physics is (ii) what the overwhelming majority of the experts in the field have said. I know of NO particle physicist who is even the least bit concerned about such things, and they, of all people, should know THE MOST. Yet, some people pay more attention to people who, at best, have only a "interactional expertise" in such area. This is why I always say that a large part of the general public cannot tell not only the validity of the information they are given, but also the nature of the source that they get such information from.

Now along comes another category of the general public, the one that I would categorize as pure, plain, LAZY! This is the group of people who EXPECT to be told and educated about something that takes others years and years to learn, and they expect to know everything there is to know about something simply from reading newspapers or some short article. If not, they can't be bothered by it and simply attribute something to whatever they think is valid. This "writer", if you can call him that, is one example. He seems to think he knows what the LHC is for.

Originally, I theorized the Large Hadron Collider is something that “other” news Web site switches on whenever it needs two cars to collide so it can post a good wreck picture, but then I realized the general ineptitude of the typical driver makes such a device totally unnecessary.

So what’s the real purpose of the LHC?

Elementary, my friends. Scientists intend to use the LHC to wring more cash from governments whenever they’re threatened with funding cuts. Scientists will do this by threatening to subject our leaders to a lengthy explanation of what the LHC is and this Higgs Boson thingy it’s supposed to find.

Frightened by unfamiliar things such as facts and evidence, our leaders will cough up big money so they breathe a sigh of relief and go back to arguing about really important stuff like pigs and lipstick.

1. This is an example where the word "theory" is used in different context in meaning in science versus ordinary usage of it. What he is doing here is equivalent to "guess work" in science. One doesn't theorize in science when making unfounded guess work like this. A theory in science is based on more established and verified foundation.

2. Why does he have to "theorize" at all? It takes NO EFFORT to find the CERN website, for example, to know what the fuss is all about with the LHC. Even if one doesn't know how to find the CERN website, the news surrounding the LHC the past few weeks would have contained enough information from many mass media outlets that one can easily pick up the reason for the LHC. Hint: it isn't just to find the Higgs, thankyouverymuch. Does one actually think that one can justify the building of a multi-billion dollar facility JUST to find one thing? Honestly?

3. It is that easy to get money for high energy physics, especially here in the US, by simply putting out mumbo-jumbo to the politicians? I'm sure this person is kidding, but people who read this do not know that. Considering the FACT that (i) funding for high energy physics in the US has continued to DECLINE for at least the past decade and (ii) the US will no longer have ANY active particle collider experiment once the Tevatron shuts down, where is the evidence that the LHC is simply nothing more than a money cow?

This person is simply LAZY. Lazy in educating himself on the stuff he writes on, and lazy in checking facts to support the stupid statements that he has made. And someone likes this can write a column in some newspaper? I can see garbage like this being spewed on blogs and some private websites, but a newspaper, even a local one? Is there no longer any form of quality control or even demand that what one say can be verified? Do we simply publish more of personal opinions, no matter how wrong it is, rather than facts? How many people would read crap like this and be influenced by it?

It is difficult enough to defend science on what it can do. It is nearly impossible to defend science based on lies and errors in understanding. If the public simply just don't care to evaluate and do some homework in evaluating the validity of the information they are given, be it in science, politics, economics, medicine, etc., then they deserve the mess that they're in.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Classrooms Needs New Infusion of Applicants

Another report on the possible shortage of science/physics teachers. This time, it is in the state of Georgia in the US.

A 2007 University System of Georgia report, “Math+Science=Success,” outlined the desperate need for teachers in the “STEM” disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. By 2010, the report warned, Georgia will need to produce 2,060 middle school science and high school teachers of life sciences, chemistry, earth science and physics.

This is a problem we have seen constantly, and even elsewhere in the world. The United Kingdom is also have the same problem.

But how do you begin to tackle this problem when you are faced with this:

“We can prepare someone to be a very good physics teacher,” says university system official Mark Pevey. “The problem is getting someone interested in teaching period and then getting someone interested in teaching physics. All too often, students are told by those they respect that they can do better than teaching. It’s a real problem for the profession.”

An increase in how much we are willing to pay such teachers might be a start, but that alone may not be enough. Besides, it is also isn't sufficient to simply get warm bodies into teaching these various science subjects. How do we get someone who is not only good in the subject, but also talented and keen on teaching to do it?


Friday, September 12, 2008

The Origins of the Universe: A Crash Course

In case you missed the Op-Ed by Brian Greene in yesterday's NY Times, here is the link. He detailed why the LHC is so darn important and exciting. It could, after all, falsify String Theory! {no, of course he didn't say that! I did!} :)

And of course, he had to address the silliness of the "black hole" controversy. Here, if anyone has any doubt on the answer, one should look at his response.

Why might one worry that this would be a problem? Because black holes have a reputation for rapacity. If a black hole is produced under Geneva, might it swallow Switzerland and continue on a ravenous rampage until the earth is devoured?

It’s a reasonable question with a definite answer: no.

No wishy-washy answer. No hiding behind long, lengthy explanation that the public has no ability to comprehend. Unless you question Greene's integrity and intelligence as a physicist, there is no getting around that clear and direct answer.


UConn's Year of Science - With One Small Error

The University of Connecticut is celebrating a "Year of Science" in 2009. I guess this is a natural successor to Year of Physics in 2005.

UConn will celebrate the Year of Science 2009 with lectures, workshops, performances, and exhibits to mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of his publication of On the Origin of Species.

The year 2009 is also the 400th anniversary of Johannes Kepler’s publication of the first two laws of planetary motion, and the 400th anniversary of the first telescope made by Galileo.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National Academy of Science, and more than 185 professional societies, colleges and universities, museums, and corporations also are expected to participate in Year of Science 2009, a national, year-long celebration of science.

Unfortunately, the announcement has one error. See if you can find it. In fact, I'll even quote the paragraph that has the obvious mistake and see if you can spot it. I suspect that if enough people write in, it will be corrected and you won't see this error soon enough. So here it is:

production of a play on March 25 at the Health Center and March 26 in Storrs called Manya: A Living History of Marie Curie, presented by performance artist Susan Frontcak. The play will look at Curie’s childhood in Poland, her developing interest in science, and her collaboration with Pierre Curie. It will also examine the political, financial, and medical challenges she faced. Marie Curie discovered radium and radioactivity and recognized that radiation could be used to cure cancer. She was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize, and the only person to receive two Nobels (one in physics and the other in chemistry);

Did you catch it? :)


Greenhouse Theory Violates the Laws of Thermodynamics? NOT!

File this as another one of the "Imagination without knowledge is ignorance waiting to happen" case. It isn't the first time that someone tried to use physics in a rather interesting way to falsify something. Creationists had tried the same thing against evolution.

In this case, it is questioning the greenhouse effect whereby the earth gets heated due to the presence of greenhouse gasses. The website presented a typical faulty argument being presented, and then a rather good responses to it. This might be something one might want to read and understand in case one encounters the same type of argument.

Note that the American Institute of Physics has a website that includes various physical description related to global warming. The directly link to the site can be found from this Blog's favorite links.


Talking To The Media About Your Research

If you are ever in the position of getting popular publicity for your work, you will encounter the situation where you will have to talk and deal with the media. While not many scientists have to deal with this situation, there are certainly those who have been put through such an "ordeal", and many more will be.

This article in the Science Career section has many useful advice and tips on dealing with the media. However, what I found to be more useful is that this actually is how a scientist should also deal with the public when speaking about his/her research work. Many of the issues that surround the problem in dealing with the media appears to be the same problem that one would deal with in one's interactions with the public.

Indeed, scientists frequently complain about mistakes and inaccuracies. "Scientists regard different things as being incorrect: firstly, the fact that particular aspects are omitted; secondly, simplifications; and thirdly, actual errors," Scherzler says. Scientists need to understand that communicating science to the public is very different from communicating it to one's scientific peers. "Omissions are ... always necessary in journalism, because space or airtime is restricted. Simplifications are also inevitable so that the audience can follow the topic. Errors are, of course, annoying," she adds.

This should warn the public on the nature of the reporting that they are reading. It should give them some perspective on how things have been simplified for their consumption. So at no time should they be deluding themselves that they are getting the full picture. You'd be surprised how many people think that what they read about science in the newspaper is entirely accurate and complete.

And then, there's the issue of how and what are being reported.

There's a chance, of course, that journalists won't represent your research accurately, and this concerns many scientists. Nine out of 10 researchers Peters surveyed worried about being misquoted, and eight out of 10 thought journalists were unpredictable. In Crockett's experience, "popular press' takes on the paper [can be] quite far removed from what the research presented," she says. In her Science paper, Crockett and her colleagues found that healthy people are more prone to retaliate to unfairness when their brain serotonin levels are reduced through diet. In some accounts, the coverage "somehow inferred that we should eat more chocolate so we can be nicer to each other," Crockett says.

In other words, just because you said something with one particular meaning, doesn't mean that the receiver of that message understood it with the SAME meaning! Many scientists have been guilty of using "buzzwords", either to simplify something, or to catch the public's imagination (example: teleportation). Unfortunately, the public has a wide range of imagination that isn't necessarily based on reality or what was meant in the first place. We are then left with dealing with the misinterpretation and trying to correct it.

The other part of the article even re-emphasized this point.

If you're not careful, your expertise could be used for topics you'd rather not be associated with. Some time ago, "a tabloid journalist called an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute. He wanted to know when Venus, Mercury, and Saturn would be especially close to each other. ... The next morning, the name of the scientist could be found in the same breath as recommendations regarding the best time to have sex according to the planets," says Diane Scherzler , who gives media training courses for academics and is an editor in the online department of Suedwestrundfunk, a German public broadcasting company. Before agreeing to an interview, "it is very important to make clear with whom I am talking, what is this journalist working on, what kind of story, for which magazine or program," Peters adds.

That last part is what I have called the "bastardization of ..." so-and-so. I've listed several bastardizations of quantum mechanics in this blog. One should no longer be surprised that something in science is taking way beyond what it says and can do and gets bastardized into some crackpottery. That's a fact of life it seems nowadays.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Difference Between Research in Academic and Business Settings

This is a very good article. It tries to present the differences in doing research work within Academia and Business/Industry settings. This is good to know for those who wish to pursue work in industries, especially after coming off doing a Ph.D work that is within the academia world.

Highly recommended reading.


Peter Higgs Responds To Hawking's Bet

OOooh.. this is getting good!

While not quite a spat on the same level as some of the spoiled Hollywood brats, Peter Higgs and Stephen Hawking are going after each other. Hawking, as you recall, put a bet of $100 that the Higgs boson/s will not be found, and stated that it would be more interesting if it/they were not found. Peter Higgs has now replied in a news conference to mark the LHC's first beam that Hawking deduction on why it may not be found isn't correct.

“My understanding is he puts together theories in particle physics with gravity . . . in a way which no theoretical particle physicist would believe is the correct theory.

“From a particle physics, quantum theory point of view, you have to put a lot more than just gravity into the theory to have a consistent theory and I don’t think Stephen has done that. I am very doubtful about his calculations.” Other members of the panel moved swiftly to cut off the discussion, suggesting that he had taken Professor Hawking’s views out of context.

C'mon, we can do better than that! When do we get them to duke it out. Some hair-pulling fight would be appropriate, similar to that infamous fight from Dynasty!

OK, I think I just dated myself....


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Virginia Announces Physics 'Flexbook' Solicitation

The state of Virginia in the US has began an open source physics textbook project called "Flexbook". They are now seeking solicitations for contributions from various institutions.

The Virginia Physics "Flexbook" project is seeking statements of participation from school divisions and others that have teachers willing to contribute physics content to the open source platform and participate in the pilot. Please visit www.technology.virginia.gov for application instructions or contact Tristen Pegram at Tristen.pegram@governor.virginia.gov.

It will be interesting to see how this might turn out. It is still several years away, though.


First Beam at LHC

Obviously by now, everyone has heard of the successful test of the first proton beam at the LHC this morning.

As interesting as that, what's more fascinating to me is how the detectors are observing this beam. Since there's no collision yet, these detectors are not observing what they're designed to do, but they can still detect the beam pretty well. This link shows what the ATLAS detector saw this morning as the proton beam passed through it.

Edit: CORRECTIONS. I was just told that this is NOT from the proton beam passing through the detector. They have a beam stop right before the entrance to the detector, and what they detected were muons from the beam stop that were created when the high energy protons hit the beam stop.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The End of the World at the Large Hadron Collider?

Hardly, but nothing like an attention-grabbing title like that, eh?

Just in time for the first circulating proton beam at the LHC tomorrow morning, we have an excellent viewpoint review article by Micheal Peskin of SLAC. In this article, he analyzes the points made by Steven Giddings and Michelangelo Mangano in their PRD paper on the possibility of a catastrophic black hole formation at the LHC.

Again, nothing here is new, but it now presented hopefully in a clearer fashion for the general public to read and maybe understand. And this is based on a peer-reviewed paper in a respected journal written by an expert in the field, not just some amateur writing his/her opinion on some blog or website, or even some "ArXiv" publication. If you consider your sources carefully, you should be able to draw up your own conclusion on who you should believe.

This article actually brought up an interesting and often overlooked point.

Nonetheless, there is one case that is especially subtle, the idea that the LHC will produce microscopic black holes that will grow to macroscopic size, slowly turning the whole earth into a black hole. Let me stress, first of all, that there is no actual theory that leads to this conclusion. You may judge this from the fact that my well-informed colleagues are all planning sabbaticals at CERN in Geneva, while none of them are moving to Melbourne.

I can unequivocally tell you without a doubt that no one is MORE concerned about my safety and my family's safety and well-being than I do. And I am extremely certain that no one is more concerned about the well-being and safety of those people working at CERN than .... those people working at CERN! You can bet your Stephen Hawking dollar that if there is a distinct chance that such a disaster will occur, these bright and intelligent people would not be there, and would have voiced their opinion. After all, they, more than anyone else, understand both the physics and the intricate detail of the experiment. This is a fact that cannot be denied. Considering that these knowledgeable people (certainly more knowledgeable than most blog and webpage writers, present company included) chose to be there and present during first collision should be a very loud and clearest message on the issue of safety of the LHC experiment.


Hawking Bets That LHC Won't Find Higgs

On the eve of a major test of the LHC start-up procedure, Stephen Hawking has thrown a damper on the event (although not much of a damper) by betting "one hundred dollars" that it won't find the Higgs boson.

"I think it will be much more exciting if we don't find the Higgs. That will show something is wrong, and we need to think again. I have a bet of 100 dollars that we won't find the Higgs," added Hawking, whose books including "A Brief History of Time" have sought to popularise study of stellar physics.

He does think that we might find a supersymmetric particle. Still, he has been wrong (or has been shown to be wrong) before. And he is also not the first person who has stated that while finding the Higgs would be monumental, not finding it would be even more exciting. C.N. Yang said almost the same thing.

Either way, the LHC will produce a lot of things to ponder over.


Science and Politicians

I was watching the CNN American Morning program on TV this morning while doing my workout (not by choice - it is the show of choice for most of the people doing the work out at the gym at work). At one point, they were showing the "energy plans" of the 2 US presidential candidates, i.e. what both Barak Obama and John McCain plan on doing and achieving during their presidency to tackle both environmental concerns due to energy consumption and to reduce the US dependence on imported oil. The plans include off-shore drilling, increasing the use of "renewable energy sources", giving incentives to use more hybrid vehicles, more nuclear power plants, etc.. etc. (both candidates do not have all of these items on their lists - I'm just giving a sampling of what I got from both candidates).

Immediately, 2 things came to my mind while I was huffing and puffing on the treadmill:

1. How did these two candidates come up with such a plan? I mean, I'm hoping that these things just didn't come to them in a dream, or they didn't just grab them (and the timeline) out of thin air.

2. How come CNN did not have experts in this area to analyze the feasibility or effectiveness of these plans? I mean, whenever they have certain issues involved, such as medical questions, they always had some "experts" to give their professional opinions. Why didn't they have one there to dissect these plans? Instead, they had their "chief economic correspondent" to present what is essentially a technical/scientific issue.

Here's what I would like to know whenever something like this is presented:

Who is the expert (or experts if there are more than one) advising the candidates on such technical/scientific matters? If, for example, they instead rely on some "economist" to help them make a decision, then I already know that they simply have very low respect to getting accurate advice from people who should know the subject matter, and that they are more interested in the political aspect of the decision rather than being technically/scientifically sound. Who they listen to and who is advising them is important here since none of these candidates are obviously scientists or engineers who are capable to understand such issues. Furthermore, these are also probably the pool of people that might be considered for various cabinet positions when they are in office. So who are they? Who is whispering in Obama and McCain's ears when it comes to science and technological decisions such as this?

I find coverage on scientific and technical issues severely lacking in the media, which is of no surprise since most of the general public has no clue on its importance. Plus, they think it is BORING. Oh, we have certainly seen many coverage of energy and environmental issues. But really, when was the last time you actually see on TV an in-depth discussion on the technological and scientific aspect of these issues, rather than a political/economic angle? Whenever I see energy issues being discussed, it never fails to be presented from the political and economic point of view. The fact that the US has so many experts in this field, not to mention, the presence of the US National Academy of Sciences, somehow do not impress any of the media enough to seek these credible sources for advice or input.

At some point, the public needs to pay attention to their sources. At some point, the public needs to distinguish and separate the STYLE from SUBSTANCE. And at some point, the public needs to figure out the validity of the "information" they are being given. If not, then we all deserve what we get, or going to get.


Monday, September 08, 2008

Quantum Spin Liquids

There is an excellent review of the state of knowledge in quantum spin liquids that was published in Science last week (Science, 5 Sept, 2008). It was written by Patrick Lee of MIT, and it covers not only the state of knowledge, but also a brief history of spin liquids and why it may be a new state of matter that we haven't seen before.

Note the role that high-Tc cuprates play in all this. It is just another example on why the problem of high-Tc cuprate superconductors isn't just an issue of superconductivity. I've mentioned this before that the physics behind the high-Tc superconductors is so rich that it touches almost every aspect of condensed matter physics. This is just one example of that point. It is why the quest for the mechanism of high-Tc superconductors is one of the most important problem in physics. It isn't just about superconductivity, but about a whole bunch of other related phenomena as well.


Proton Beam at LHC

Supposedly, Sept. 10 is still the schedule for the first test of the LHC proton beam to make it all the way around the LHC ring. It will go counterclockwise first. The operators will have to adjust all those superconducting magnets to get the beam to go all the way around the huge ring in the exact intended location. After that is done, they will make the proton beam go clockwise, and adjust the SAME magnet (that has a rather interesting design to produce a different field geometry for the opposite beam).

Most people and the media thinks that this event is the "monumental" and important milestone for the LHC start-up. While they are certainly important, what will be even more important is what may happen the next day on Sept. 11 (a rather unfortunate date to pick), where they are scheduled to make the beam go back to going counterclockwise and see if the previous 2 magnet adjustments have changed the original beam path. Depending on how much off the beam is, this could take a while to get the exactly requirement alignment, and may require going back and forth between clockwise and counterclockwise beams.

In all of this, there's still no collision yet, which is right now, still scheduled for Oct. All of the above activities are the responsibility of a number of accelerator physicists who are in charge of the beam dynamics. So they and various magnet designers are the ones not getting enough sleep at the moment. :)

Edit: BTW, I forgot to mention that Fermilab will be hosting the LHC "Pajama Party" for this event on Sept. 10, starting at 1:30 AM (yes, AM, that is not a typo. It will be morning at CERN). You must register to attend it, though, and unfortunately, the registration is closed already.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Next Big Bang

If you get the History Channel, you may want to see this:

Nearly two years ago, the Silent Crow team began looking cinematically at physics. Not just your everyday physics, but the quantum world of particle physics. Over my head? Yes. So, we were joined by the best physicists in the world.

On September 9, at 8 PM (Eastern),on the EVE of the first beam in the biggest particle collider on the planet,the History Channel will air the film we've created. It's called Next Big Bang, and it is just that. It's a deep look at the physics of the very beginning of time. We battled hard with the network to create something that isn't simply sensational or dumbed down, something stunningly beautiful, and something that you will want to watch again, because it sparks so many questions about the nature of the universe. This is really compelling, fascinating, challenging and did I mention gorgeous(?) immersive stuff.

I am proud of the Next Big Bang, even if it is TV. Which is the reason for this email:

The network is not promoting the show for fear their audience doesn't want to be intellectually inspired, enlightened or challenged. Prove them wrong. Watch the show. Tape it. Tivo it, and most importantly, call your friend down the block who you know loves science and physics, and tell him to watch it. Tell your school physics teacher that there's a show her students should watch.

It's VERY cool, and it sends the networks a message that we actually do like entertaining programming that inspires us... to think.

So, from the many producers and physicists that toiled to create this visionary piece, please enjoy the Next Big Bang.


Thank you!

Silent Crow


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Graphene Pioneers Follow in Nobel Footsteps

I guess it is a no-brainer to consider both Andre Geim and Kostya Noveselov as one of the possible candidates for the physics Nobel Prize some time soon with their discovery of graphene. I guess that since October is approaching fast, more of talks of Nobel prize dreams inevitably comes up.

Presented since 1975, the Europhysics Prize is one of the world’s most prestigious awards for condensed matter physics.

Many winners have subsequently been awarded the Nobel Prize in recognition of their achievements, including the last year Nobel Laureates Albert Fert, Peter Gr├╝nberg and Gerhard Ertl.

The "equivalent" prize in the US would be the Buckeley Prize for condensed matter physics, which also had many of its winners going on to win the Nobel prize.

With graphene being as "hot" of a research area as it is now, I wouldn't be surprised if Geim and Noveselov win it this year.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Barak Obama Takes A Stand On Science

They may not be willing (so far) to participate in the Science Debate, but at least they are addressing the questions being asked to them regarding science issues. So far, Barak Obama has outlined his science policies, and we are still waiting for responses from John McCain.

I'm actually not surprised that the McCain camp has been slow in responding. From all that I've read earlier, I don't think he puts science and science issues high on his agenda and importance (just like the rest of the general public, I suppose). Both Physics Today and Science had done analysis on the candidates' view on science policies, and John McCain had the vaguest and least well-defined policies of all the major candidates during the primaries.


The Length of Time's Arrow

A wonderful paper addressing the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics at the microscopic scale. In this case, they set up an 'experiment' on a single RNA molecule.

Abstract: An unresolved problem in physics is how the thermodynamic arrow of time arises from an underlying time reversible dynamics. We contribute to this issue by developing a measure of time-symmetry breaking, and by using the work fluctuation relations, we determine the time asymmetry of recent single molecule RNA unfolding experiments. We define time asymmetry as the Jensen-Shannon divergence between trajectory probability distributions of an experiment and its time-reversed conjugate. Among other interesting properties, the length of time's arrow bounds the average dissipation and determines the difficulty of accurately estimating free energy differences in nonequilibrium experiments.

The reference to the actual PRL paper is included in the ArXiv version.


Monday, September 01, 2008

James Clerk Maxwell

It is strange to find a short and concise biography of Maxwell in the business section of Yahoo, but there it is.

Frank Wilczek, an MIT professor and winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics, said his prize-winning equation for subatomic quarks and gluons is "very much an extension" of Maxwell's work. He compared his Nobel output to "Maxwell's equations on steroids."

"Maxwell changed our picture of the world and introduced a basically new and extremely fruitful way of thinking about nature," he told IBD.

It's a fair article to read if you don't have the time and patience to read a whole book on Maxwell.


Homeopathy Degree Suspended

I mentioned more than a year ago of a university in the United Kingdom that started to offer degrees in homeopathy, despite the fact that this is still considered as a pseudoscience. It now appears that the University of Central Lancashire has decided to end that program due to "... low recruitment levels..."

Whatever is the reason, this is an utter embarrassment for that university. If they were thinking that doing such a stunt would give their institution "publicity", they have succeeded. Only, I don't think this is the type of publicity that any institution wants, and certainly not any RESPECTABLE institution.