Wednesday, December 31, 2008

10 Things You Didn't Know About Steven Chu

Here are 10 things that you possibly did not know about Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate and incoming Secretary for the Dept. of Energy. There's nothing juicy or surprising, though. So if you're expecting any dirt, you'll be disappointed.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Roller Coasters as a Lesson in Physics

We have had many items posted here on the physics one can learn at theme/amusement parks. This Wired article had a very promising title: Roller Coaster as a lesson in physics. However, it really doesn't tell you much about the physics involved. Rather it just tells you that there's physics in a roller coaster ride.

Still, it has a very nice and exciting on-ride video of California Screamin' at Disney's California Adventure theme park. I've been on this ride a few times myself.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Doctor Atomic on PBS's "Great Performances" Tonight

If you are in the US and your Public Broadcasting station follows the national PBS schedule, Doctor Atomic will be broadcast at part of the Great Performances series tonight at 9:00 pm EST.

If you missed it, I mentioned about this opera (which to my knowledge, the ONLY opera that I've discussed in this blog) a while back.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Seagate Scores a Patent Victory Over Siemens

Er.. no, I haven't gone "technology" on you. And even if I have, the technology that came out of this, as in "GMR", is right out of condensed matter physics and the Nobel Prizes awarded last year.

This press release describes a recent jury decision in favor of Seagate over Siemens, and also invalidate a Siemens patent. It's quite fascinating how these worked out and gave a glimpse on patent law.

Still, what intrigued me more was a rather big name in physics that was called to testify.

Siemens called on experts of its own, including Sheldon Glashow, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, and Harry Manbeck, former Commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Er... Sheldon Glashow? Isn't he here a bit like a fish out of the water for this particular area? What could he possibly testify or be an expert in that's relevant here? I can possibly understand if one calls, say, Albert Fert or Peter Gr├╝nberg, both Nobel Prize winners for the discovery of GMR, but Glashow? I would love to hear his testimony on this and am curious as hell his relevance in this case.

But obviously, his expert testimony didn't help Siemens at all.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Leap Second At The End of 2008

Don't celebrate too soon for 2009. 2008 is going to be 1 second longer than you expected due to a leap second.

On New Year’s Eve, the international authorities charged with keeping precise time will add a single second to our lives. It will be the 24th “leap second” since 1972, and the first since 2005.

Or you can kiss someone one second longer at midnight. :)


Friday, December 26, 2008

The Top 10 ScienceNOWs of 2008

ScienceNow, the daily news update of the Science journal website, has picked their top 10 science stories of the year that they have covered. Included in the list are two physics stories/discoveries - a new confirmation of non-locality of quantum entanglement, and the storage and retrieval of "squeezed vacuum" state.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seasons Greetings

Happy Holidays to everyone! If you are traveling, hope you have a safe and hassle-free trip, especially if you're in the areas affected by the nasty weather here in the US. With the new administration about to take office, let's hope that 2009 will be a better year for physical science funding even with the current economic problems.

If you are not going to celebrate the season for to religious reasons, then maybe you could celebrate it as part of the 10 Days of Newton. Isaac Newton was thought to have been born on Christmas Day under the Julian calendar.

All very jolly — but then, ’tis the season. Yet things are not so simple. It turns out that the date of Newton’s birthday is a little contentious. Newton was born in England on Christmas Day 1642 according to the Julian calendar — the calendar in use in England at the time. But by the 1640s, much of the rest of Europe was using the Gregorian calendar (the one in general use today); according to this calendar, Newton was born on Jan. 4, 1643.

Rather than bickering about whether Dec. 25 or Jan. 4 is the better date to observe Newton’s Birthday, I think we should embrace the discrepancy and have an extended festival. After all, the festival of Christmas properly continues for a further 12 days, until the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6. So the festival of Newton could begin on Christmas Day and then continue for an extra 10 days, representing the interval between the calendars.

So maybe we can add another "holiday" to this time of the year. :)


Monday, December 22, 2008

The Best of 2008

Inevitably at this time of the year, various groups, journals, institutions, etc. will try to compile highlights from the year that's about to end. PhysicsWorld has done so, and given their "Best" of 2008 from each month of the year.

See how many of the major stories listed that you've heard or have followed.


Students Know What Physicists Believe, But They Don’t Agree: A Study Using the CLASS Survey

I just found this paper and still reading it, but it is such a "fun" and interesting topic that I thought I should highlight it on here for you to read as well, and maybe we can comment/discuss this later.

"Students know what physicists believe, but they don’t agree: A study using the CLASS survey", K.E. Gray et al., Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. v.4, p.020106 (2008).

Abstract: We measured what students perceive physicists to believe about physics and solving physics problems and how those perceptions differ from the students’ personal beliefs. In this study, we used a modified version of the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey which asked students to respond to each statement with both their personal belief and the response they thought a physicist would give. Students from three different types of university introductory physics courses were studied. Students who have not yet taken physics in college have a surprisingly accurate idea of what physicists believe about physics no matter what their high school background and what physics courses they choose to take in college. These ideas are largely unaffected by their college physics instruction. In contrast, students’ personal beliefs about physics differ with varying high school physics backgrounds and college physics courses in which they enroll, and these beliefs are affected by college physics instruction. Women have a larger difference between their reported personal beliefs and their perceptions of physicists’ beliefs than do men.

You should be able to get the full paper by clicking on the hyperlink that I've given you above.


High-Tc Superconductors Are Very Kinky - Update 3

Another update of my compilation of papers on the nature of the "kink" in the band dispersion observed in ARPES measurement on high-Tc superconductors. This time it comes from a theoretical analysis with parameters extracted from the inelastic neutron scattering (INS) experiment and applied to the ARPES results[1].

What they found out was that the scattering mediated by the incommensurate spin excitation seen in the INS measurement could account for practically all of the ARPES observations on the YBCO compound. This includes the observation of the kinks and their temperature "evolution" (or non-evolution) with temperature across the doping range. The previous models that depended on the magnetic resonance that disappeared above Tc and strongly dependent on temperature is a red herring.

This paper has been accepted on Nature Physics. A complete citation to it will be added once it is published.


[1] T. Dahm et al.,

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Russia Licenses Faith Healers

While I've been known to question some of the silly things we do here in the US, I will admit that often, what I read elsewhere are even more astounding. Like this one coming out of Russia. I didn't realize that the government, at least in Moscow, actually issues licenses to "certified" faith healers! Honest!

For the past two years, the Federal Health Service has been issuing licenses to practitioners of what it calls "traditional medicine," meaning anything from the use of herbal treatments to the manipulation of "auras." His claims buttressed by officialdom, Fadkin charges patients 3,500 rubles ($150) per session.

If you think this is funny, wait till you read some more of it.

Andrei Karpeev, director of the Federal Scientific Clinical Center for Traditional Methods of Diagnostics and Healing, which administers the tests, insists that folk medicine, including psychic healing, is backed by scientific studies. While he acknowledges some of the criteria for determining who has healing powers are subjective, he claims the tests are able to wean out "charlatans." According to Karpeev, there are perhaps 100,000 people in Russia offering to use magic, psychic or other extra-sensory methods to cure illnesses, read minds or cast spells.

Er.. what "scientific studies"? And who's checking up to see whether he himself isn't a charlatan? What is his expertise? Besides, why do they really need a committee to weed out the actual faith healer? Couldn't they use one of their certified psychic to weed them out? After all, these people could read minds, couldn't they? They should, by definition, be able to tell right away if that person seeking a license is a fake.

Oy vey, I'm taking this silliness way too seriously already! :)


Harvard Physicist is Top Contender for Obama's Science Advisor

John Holdren, a Harvard physicist and a noted figure in the global warming issue, has been reported as being the top contender for the position of Science Advisor in the Obama administration.

While not confirmed by Obama officials, the scientific community was abuzz with the news. The American Association for the Advancement of Science said on its Science Insider Web site that Obama was expected to name Holdren to the post on Saturday.

With the appointment of Steven Chu to head the Dept. of Energy, there will be two physicists heading two prominent science-related positions in the administration. One can only hope that the position of Science Advisor does not get relegated to a 'second class citizen' the way it has been in the Bush Administration.


Subtracting Photons From Arbitrary Light Fields: Experimental Test of Coherent State Invariance by Single-Photon Annihilation

This is such a cool experimental verification. They managed to remove single photons from light and demonstrated one of the predictions of Roy Glauber many years ago, that such removal does not destroy the coherence of the other photons within the light beam.

You can read a review of the paper in this PhysicsWorld article, or you can read the paper directly, thanks to New Journal of Physics open journal policy.

While this is certainly a wonderful result that is another experimental verification of QED, what astounds me even more is the fact that they could do these things. This is not something simple, ladies and gentlemen, not only in executing it, but in the ability to think about how to do it. I am always in awe of such ability.


Tough Times At The University of Tennessee's Physics Dept.

I suspect that many physics dept. throughout the country (and possibly the world) are having a similar difficult times, especially those at state universities that depend directly on state funding. However, this article, written by the head of the Physics Dept. at the University of Tennessee, brought home all the relevant issues being faced when the funding causes a lot of problem with their mission of education.

How has the tough economic times impacted your physics program?


Revamping the Undergraduate Physics Laboratory

I had a few responses to my personal project on possible ways to revamp the undergraduate physics labs. Those of you who have been following it will have seen it spread out over several posts on here. Because of that, I'm compiled all of them into a single document that you can access easily, even when I make changes and additions to it.

I will also put a link to it in the links section of this blog.

As always, it is an on-going project, and so there will be more additions to it as when the inspiration hits me, and as time permits.


Friday, December 19, 2008

"Gravity Weapons" A Nonsense

For once, something that could have been a crackpottery got snipped in the bud.

The US Defense Intelligence Agency actually commissioned a study to evaluate a dubious funding proposal on using gravitational waves from humans! I'm not kidding, and these things are way too stupid to make up.

The good thing out of all this is that a sane outcome prevails:

When the JASON team did the maths, however, results were not good for the plan's supporters.

The technique is so inefficient that it would take longer than the lifetime of the universe for every power station on Earth to produce a gravitational wave with the energy of one ten millionth of a Joule. Accelerating a spacecraft at 10 metres per second squared, a rate that just exceeds the pull of Earth's gravity, would require 1025 times (a 1 followed by 25 zeroes) the electricity output of the world.

The report (pdf format) concludes: "These proposals belong to the realm of pseudo-science, not science."

Phew! At least this report salvaged the "intelligence" part in the name of the agency. But this is not always the case.

But he quips that given the US defence establishment's history of funding bad science, over-long reports that rubbish such ideas at an early stage may not be a bad thing. "The Department of Defense always have a few projects on the go that disobey the rules of thermodynamics, so I wish they would commission this kind of in-depth study in more cases."

In the mid-1990s and early 2000s the Pentagon spent millions of dollars on developing a quasi-nuclear weapon called the hafnium bomb that was actually based on junk science. When put into that context, perhaps the money spent on a report that prevents similar spending on gravitational wave weapons was actually a good investment.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Undergraduate Internships

Science Career section has a series of terrific articles on internships for undergraduates, with listing on programs from various parts of the world.

1 Summer Internships for Undergraduates.

2. Summer Internships Resources.
This has a wide variety of resources that you may want to keep. Even if you missed the deadline for this year, they may still work for the one next year.


Want To Buy A Used Space Shuttle? Going Cheap!

Talk about a holiday Doorbuster event!

NASA is planning to sell the retired space shuttles. For $42 million (plus shipping and handling), you can have one!

Beware: NASA estimates it will cost about $42 million to get each shuttle ready and get it where it needs to go, and the final tab could end up much more.

The estimate includes $6 million to ferry the spaceship atop a modified jumbo jet to the closest major airport. But the price could skyrocket depending on how far the display site is from the airport. Only indoor, climate-controlled displays will be considered.

"The orbiters will not be disassembled for transportation or storage," NASA insists in its nine-page request for information.

I don't expect UPS or FedEx to deliver this to your doorstep.


Freezing Coherent Field Growth in a Cavity by the Quantum Zeno Effect

This is such an outstanding experiment and a testament to ingenuity of the experimenters.

A group in France has managed to show the Quantum Zeno effect in a rather "classical" system using a microwave cavity.[1]

Abstract: We have frozen the coherent evolution of a field in a cavity by repeated measurements of its photon number. We use circular Rydberg atoms dispersively coupled to the cavity mode for an absorption-free photon counting. These measurements inhibit the growth of a field injected in the cavity by a classical source. This manifestation of the quantum Zeno effect illustrates the backaction of the photon number determination onto the field phase. The residual growth of the field can be seen as a random walk of its amplitude in the two-dimensional phase space. This experiment sheds light onto the measurement process and opens perspectives for active quantum feedback.

They showed that even if the observation is "absorption free", the very act of such an observation will disrupt the phase of the microwave photons, causing the resonant build up to either be slower, or completely destroyed, depending on how often the observation is made.

Another experimental triumph of quantum mechanics!

[1] J. Bernu et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 101, 180402 (2008).

Galaxy Clusters Throttled by Dark Energy

I'm back from my vacation. It will take me a while to get back up to speed. I'm sure I missed a lot of important physics news while I was gone, but it was good to get away from it all some time.

In the mean time, it appears that the existence of Dark Energy has now an additional independent evidence.

That period was in fact a crucial moment in the tug of war between the outward push of dark energy and the inward pull of gravity. In other words, the universe had stretched so much by this point that its dark energy made it difficult for galaxy clusters to pull matter in from far away. Not only did existing galaxy clusters slow their growth as a result, the rate at which new clusters were formed also declined.

"What we saw was an unmistakable effect of dark energy," says Vikhlinin, whose team is publishing the results in two papers in the 10 February 2009 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. The timing of dark energy's dampening effect on cluster growth coincides with findings by supernovae researchers showing that the universe's expansion had been decelerating before beginning to accelerate 5.5 billion years ago.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

On Vacation and New Energy Secretary

I'm currently on vacation and so, there won't be a lot of updates on here. Still, I hope everyone one has heard about the appointment of Steven Chu as the nominee for the Secretary of Energy. This is great news, because now, we have an actual scientist, rather than a career politician/manager in charge of a government body that deals mainly with science issues. And they got someone with the stature and prestige of a Nobel Laureate!

Looks like Physics is well-represented in the upcoming Obama administration. Now, if only he could appoint a person with similar credentials as his Science Advisor.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rutherford’s Nobel Prize and the One He Didn’t Get

This is a fascinating look at the historical account surrounding the reasons why Rutherford got his Nobel Prize in Chemistry (instead of Physics), and the possible reason why he didn't get another one in Physics.

Cecilia Jarlskog of Lund University also presented a very captivating historical record surrounding Einstein's Nobel Prize during the 2005 Particle Accelerator Conference in Knoxville, TN. This was in conjunction with the World's Year of Physics to commemorate Einstein's miraculous year of 1905. So she certainly is quite an authority on the Nobel historical records of these prominent physicists.


Europe Plans Future Research Facilities

The European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures is recommending several major research facilities covering many different areas to be built in Europe.

The first roadmap in 2006 recommended 34 projects to be completed across all research areas within the next ten years. These included seven in the physical science such as the €950m European Extremely Large Telescope, an underwater neutrino detector in the Atlantic and the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) currently being constructed in Darmstadt, Germany.

Let's hope the economic slowdown will not affect such plans.


Physics License Plates

Symmetry Breaking has a terrific and amusing article on physics-related license plates that various people (mostly physicists) have. Check it out. The most amusing one is the reaction by people to the license plate that read "E MINUS". That's hysterical! :)


Monday, December 08, 2008

Nobel Prize Presentation Ceremony for Yoichiro Nambu

The ceremony for Nambu will be held at the University of Chicago. He won't be traveling to Sweden due to his advanced age. While the event is by invitation only, you can see a webcast of most of the event at the University of Chicago website.

TIME: 1 p.m., Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Welcome — University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer
Replay of excerpts from Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm ( Due to restrictions by the Nobel Foundation, this will not be available for rebroadcast )
Presentation of Medal and Diploma — Swedish Ambassador Jonas Hafstrom
Remarks — Yoichiro Nambu, "My Road to Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking"
Closing — Robert J. Zimmer
Expected duration: Less than one hour


Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Tale Of Three Book Reviews

OK, I thought I put this thing to rest already. But when I read this book review, it looks like I have to revive it, and give Gilder's book even MORE publicity! :)

I already mentioned the two different reviews on her book, and how each one is perceived quite differently by me. Now along comes a third review of the same book, published in the Washington Post, but this time written by a "... an old-line physics prof...", which makes certain passages in the review even more puzzling. Try this one:

With one exception: the world inside the atom. I would suggest that this strange world is one place the brain is simply not wired to understand. Oh sure, we can write equations and predict the results of experiments to umpty-ump decimal places, but there remains something essentially unknowable about the inside of the atom. It is the challenge of taking on this world and, if not explaining it, at least explaining why it is unexplainable that Louisa Gilder tackles in The Age of Entanglement.

Some background: Inside the atom everything, including matter and energy, comes in little bundles called "quanta." (The name derives from the Latin for "bundle" or "heap.") The old word for the science of motion is "mechanics," so the science that applies inside the atom, the study of the motion of things that come in bundles, is called "quantum mechanics." The basics of the science were developed in the early 20th century, and a major shift in the field took place with the discovery of what is now called "entanglement," in the 1960s and '70s. Gilder, therefore, splits her narrative into two parts, one dealing with early developments, the other with entanglement and its ramifications.

I'm not sure if the reviewer is using the example of "inside the atom" because this is what Gilder is using, but this is rather misleading at best. QM isn't about everything "inside the atom". A free electron can also be governed by QM (see the double-slit expt using free electrons, or any low-energy electron diffraction (LEED), etc... etc.). Furthermore, technically, a conduction electron is not "inside the atom", but rather isn't localize to any particular atom or location. Yet, QM is certainly applicable and more accurate here.

One can, of course, see an inconsistent with the description because the book is also describing quantum entanglement, which typically is demonstrated using light OUTSIDE of an atom. So that passage quote above not only gives a misleading impression that QM is only inside an atom, but anyone paying attention would also be confused by it.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

What You Wrote Is Not What They Understood

Here's a clear example of what you write and intended is not what the general public understood. Even with something that has received numerous publicity and magazine/newspaper coverage, and with numerous articles being written about it, the LHC at CERN can still be severely misunderstood, and we're not talking about crackpot "blackhole will destroy our universe" type of misunderstanding.

I'm guessing that this article is simply a light-hearted, amusing news column. Still, it reveals what someone untrained in physics understood out of one of the many articles on the LHC. There are many strange and erroneous statements and understanding here:

When this carnival ride is cranked up, it will only operate when slightly above absolute zero, the temperature of way, way out deep space.
Remember, it all started with the atom, a unit of energy, and following every disintegrating blast, the shed energy particles got smaller—so small they are only theories.
Now, we’re down to the boson particle, named after a guy named Higgs who thinks the boson could be the base particle of all particles.
We have Nobel Prize winners who think this little spark is how it all began. If you have come this far, you have to take my explanations as simplified by ignorance, and very possibly incorrect, but like the blasting for bosons, I’ll keep theorizing.
The sneaky side deal in particle physics is chasing the single-deity, creation theory. The proof of a single spark theory could suggest a finite universe conclusion, putting pressure on the infinity argument.
If the Hadron Collider operates in its own curvilinear body, moving energy and particles to form new bodies and release energy, those creations diffuse in spherical fields, suggesting infinity to me.


Note that I'm not criticizing the author here. He understood what he understood. And he can only understand things based on the "frame" that he knows. That's how we all learn, i.e. we process information that we received based on the ideas that we had already built and understood. This author understood the concept of the atom, and that's why he thinks that's the "unit of energy" and everything starts from there.

What is important here is the need to realize, especially by those writing science articles to the general public, that the public often understands things differently than what is written and intended. I've seen this happens to many times that it is no longer funny. Just because there are numerous information on something, doesn't mean that they all could convey the accurate information to the recipients. The LHC had tons of articles written and mentioned about it, yet one can still understand it incorrectly.

Helen Quinn's essay on the plea about language is more relevant and appropriate here. A careful consideration of what is being mentioned is imperative, and a very thorough consideration of the level of understanding of the target audience must done. Scientists and science writers must not just pat themselves on their backs after presenting some science ideas to the general public. This, by no means, implies that they general public received the intended message. As we can see here, what goes in does not necessarily be the same thing that sticks and stays in.


A Tale of Two Book Reviews

I mentioned my disagreement and discomfort with an earlier review of "The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn" by Louisa Gilder. What was written in that review presented either erroneous view of physics, or something completely far out that appears to reveal the author to be someone who only understood her subject matter superficially.

Now, along comes another review of the same book. Compare to the earlier review, this one sounds benign, and almost completely positive.

Culling the letters, journals and published articles of the most accomplished scientific minds of the past two centuries, Gilder creates a movingly human and surprisingly accessible picture of the unveiling of the quantum universe—one of the most infuriating, counter-intuitive and yet crucial concepts of all time.

There's no interview with the author to reveal what she knows (or don't know) about quantum mechanics, and no silly extrapolation of QM into weird areas like "telepathy". If I had read only something like this, it would have been a book that I would have recommended and may even try to read.

This whole episode is an example on how doing a book tour or publicity can backfire.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Latest LHC Press Release

Here's the latest press release on the LHC:

LHC to restart in 2009

Geneva, 5 December 2008. CERN* today confirmed that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will restart in 2009. This news forms part of an updated report, published today, on the status of the LHC following a malfunction on 19 September.

"The top priority for CERN today is to provide collision data for the experiments as soon as reasonably possible," said CERN Director General Robert Aymar. "This will be in the summer of 2009."

The initial malfunction was caused by a faulty electrical connection between two of the accelerator's magnets. This resulted in mechanical damage and release of helium from the magnet cold mass into the tunnel. Proper safety procedures were in force, the safety systems performed as expected, and no one was put at risk.

Detailed studies of the malfunction have allowed the LHC's engineers to identify means of preventing a similar incident from reoccurring in the future, and to design new protection systems for the machine. A total of 53 magnet units have to be removed from the tunnel for cleaning or repair, of these, 28 have already been brought to the surface and the first two replacement units have been installed in the tunnel. The current schedule foresees the final magnet being reinstalled by the end of March 2009, with the LHC being cold and ready for powering tests by the end of June 2009.

"We have a lot of work to do over the coming months," said LHC project Leader Lyn Evans, "but we now have the roadmap, the time and the competence necessary to be ready for physics by summer. We are currently in a scheduled annual shutdown until May, so we're hopeful that not too much time will be lost."

Full details of the timetable to restart are available in the report published today.


Can Scientists Believe In Change?

A sobering article about all the optimism regarding a possible funding boost for science when Barak Obama takes over. While he certainly has made promises to boost science funding, and while congress certainly is "enthusiastic" about science, the reality of the current economic crisis certainly would cause everyone to pause and take stock, so to speak.

So how likely is Obama to bring science the new day that his ecstatic supporters expect? According to savvy Washington observers, the cost-free changes--several of them extremely important--will very likely happen as soon as the new Administration takes over. Obama is expected to swiftly end the ban on federal research using post-2001 embryonic stem cells and to restore the influence of mainstream science in the high councils of the government.

But his other, pricier promises--including the overall boost in funding, steps to improve opportunities for young researchers, and a greater support for risky research--will, according to savvy Washington observers, take a good deal longer to come true, if in fact they ever do. Obama will arrive in a capital beset by monumental challenges, including a huge budget deficit, a worldwide financial meltdown, a distressed populace demanding action on jobs and health insurance, a nearly decade-long backlog of undone infrastructure projects, and a pair of intractable wars. And he will have to fashion solutions to these immense problems using severely straitened resources.

I think everyone working in science is expecting things will be rough for at least another year in terms of funding. So I'm not optimistic about the FY09 budget that has yet to be formed. The only question is whether many parts of science can hang on for a while longer till things improve?


Demonstration of Newton's First Law on YouTube

I'm guessing that a lot of people have seen this, but in case you haven't, you should.

This is a clear example of Newton's First Law, which says that an object in motion will want to remain in motion with the contest velocity, or if it is at rest, will want to stay at rest. The example of the latter is when you can pull a table cloth very quickly from underneath all the plates and cups that were on it. In this video, think of the shopping cart as the plants and cups, and the floor of the truck as the table cloth, and you get the idea.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Pauling Blog

The good folks running The Pauling Blog at the Oregon State University kindly informed me of the existence of this blog, and I'm highlighting it now. Check it out. It covers a lot of issues and history surrounding Linus Pauling, including a very good historical documents on the development of quantum mechanics.

I have included the link to this the Pauling Blog in my collection of links as well.


Live Webcasts of 2008 Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies and Nobel Lectures

If you are into this or have nothing better to do, here's your chance to watch the webcast of the Nobel Prize ceremony LIVE., the official website of the Nobel Foundation, will provide live webcasts of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony from Oslo, Norway and the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony from Stockholm, Sweden on 10 December 2008. Nobel Lectures on 7-8 and 10 December will also be webcasted. will be bringing you closer to the 2008 Nobel Laureates as they receive their Nobel Prizes, by providing live webcasts of the 2008 Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies and Nobel Lectures as they happen. The schedules and links for the live webcasts are as follows:

Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies

10 December, 12:50 pm - 2:15 pm (CET): Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony at the Oslo City Hall, Norway.

10 December, 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm (CET): Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall, Sweden, for the 2008 Nobel Laureates in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and the Laureate in Economics.

Nobel Lectures

Sunday, 7 December at 1:00 p.m. - 3.30 p.m. (CET):

Nobel Lectures in Physiology or Medicine

Sunday, 7 December 5:30 p.m. (CET): Nobel Lecture in Literature

Monday, 8 December 9:00 a.m. - 11:05 a.m. (CET): Nobel Lectures in Physics

Monday, 8 December 12:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. (CET): Nobel Lectures in Chemistry

Monday, 8 December 3:00 p.m. - 3:50 p.m. (CET): Prize Lecture in Economics

Wednesday, 10 December, 1:00 p.m. (CET): Nobel Lecture in Peace

For the full schedule and titles of the lectures, please visit:

If you miss it, you can watch it later, on demand.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Google Maps Off On Argonne As Well!

This is getting way too hysterical.

I mentioned last time that Google Maps had pointed to the wrong location when one types "Fermilab" in the search box. That appears to have been corrected now.

So just out of curiosity, I tried other national labs. All my searches use the full name, i.e. Brookhaven National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, etc.

Brookhaven and Los Alamos came out accurately.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory pointed to me, at least initially, some place way wrong, and then when I shortened it to "Berkeley National Laboratory", it got it right. The same with Lawrence Livermore. I had to simply enter "Livermore National Laboratory".

But the funniest part is when I tried doing a search on "Argonne National Laboratory". If you think Google Maps was off by 15 miles for Fermilab, try getting it wrong by a whole state! "Argonne National Laboratory", according to Google Maps, is somewhere in the middle of the state of Wisconsin!

Go ahead and try it. :)

I think I have way too much time on my hands..... :)


The Placebo Effect

More results from studies involving the placebo effect. This time, there may be a genetic marker that causes someone to be more susceptible to the placebo effect than others.

This all boils down to how we accept something to be "real" or valid. This is an important aspect in science, and especially in the field of medicine.

To get a drug to market, pharmaceutical companies have to show that it works better than a placebo.

I think that is a very important statement, and something that the "alternative medicine" community seems to want to ignore. This is what we call careful, scientific study. If you claim that B causes A, then there must be a clear connection between A and B, and that A can only be caused by B in a controlled manner. In other words, A can not have been caused also by C, or D, etc. In alternative medicine, the effect is VERY small, and small enough that it can't discount not only the placebo effect, but also random chance.


What Is Science?

I don't think you can get a more compact answer on "What Is Science" than this article, even though I think that isn't the main purpose of the article.

In schools, science is often taught as a body of knowledge — a set of facts and equations. But all that is just a consequence of scientific activity.

Science itself is something else, something both more profound and less tangible. It is an attitude, a stance towards measuring, evaluating and describing the world that is based on skepticism, investigation and evidence. The hallmark is curiosity; the aim, to see the world as it is. This is not an attitude restricted to scientists, but it is, I think, more common among them. And it is not something taught so much as acquired during a training in research or by keeping company with scientists.

This is why I proposed the revamping of the intro physics labs, with the aim towards the students that are NOT physics/science majors. It is one of the few classes they will have where they can acquire such skill that a scientist must have.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Google Maps Off On Fermilab?

This is probably old news as well, but it is rather amusing.

A report here mentioned that Google Maps got the location of Fermilab rather wrong.

Now officials at Fermilab are baffled by another mystery – why does Google Maps show Fermi National Accelerator Lab as being along Route 47 between McDonald and Burlington roads when its campus is located in Batavia, 15 miles east of that location?

That's funny! :)

Anyway, I think Google may have corrected it. I did a quick search on "Fermilab" using Google Maps, and this is what I got.

It points to an entrance into Fermilab, which is fine. At least it's not 15 miles away! :)


Japanese Nobel Prize Winner To Give Nobel Speech In...... Japanese!

I'm not even sure why this would be an issue.

Toshihide Maskawa, one of this year's Nobel recipients for Physics, will give his Nobel prize lecture in Japanese, simply because he isn't proficient in English.

I must admit that till now, I thought that it is common for Nobel prize lectures to be given in a language that the winner is comfortable in. Obviously, most tend to give such lectures in English since that is widely used. Still, I thought it would be more common than this that a non-English lecture would have been given.

But then again, in physics, English is such a "necessary" language if one wishes to publish in all the leading journals and get wide exposure. Still, great for Maskawa to stick to what he's comfortable with.


Monday, December 01, 2008

NAS Announces Initiative to Connect With Entertainment Industry

Remember the post on the Top 10 scientifically inaccurate movies? Well, there's no excuse from the movie industry anymore.

The National Academy of Sciences has formed "The Science and Entertainment Exchange" (SEE). The main purpose of this is to advice movie makers on accurately portraying scientific and technological concepts, and to make sure they don't make obvious science blunders, I suppose.

Relying on the special connections available to the NAS, the Exchange can make introductions, schedule briefings, and arrange for consultations for anyone developing science-based entertainment content. Endorsed by the Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America, Producers Guild of America, the Entertainment Industry Foundation, and Women in Film, this new resource is being promoted to all levels of writers, directors, producers, and others in the entertainment industry. Professionals involved in the creative process may contact the Exchange to be connected with scientists, engineers, health professionals, and other experts for help with their productions and stories.

I'm not sure how popular this become. I can see how movies with a direct science/technology/mathematics/etc subject matter (i.e. Contact, A Beautiful Mind) would benefit from such accurate advice, but for movies without a direct science subject matter (i.e. action/adventure), why would they care of the movie is scientifically sound? Have you seen the latest Indiana Jones movie? How many times are you asked to suspend all knowledge of physics in that one? Would Lucas/Speilberg want to seek advice from such an organization?


Resolving Vacuum Fluctuations in an Electrical Circuit by Measuring the Lamb Shift

This is an amazing feat.

A group at ETH-Zurich and Sherbrooke, Canada, managed to show how quantum vacuum fluctuation can produce a Lamb shift type effect in a many-body system that is a superconducting electronic circuit[1]!

Abstract: Quantum theory predicts that empty space is not truly empty. Even in the absence of any particles or radiation, in pure vacuum, virtual particles are constantly created and annihilated. In an electromagnetic field, the presence of virtual photons manifests itself as a small renormalization of the energy of a quantum system, known as the Lamb shift. We present an experimental observation of the Lamb shift in a solid-state system. The strong dispersive coupling of a superconducting electronic circuit acting as a quantum bit (qubit) to the vacuum field in a transmission-line resonator leads to measurable Lamb shifts of up to 1.4% of the qubit transition frequency. The qubit is also observed to couple more strongly to the vacuum field than to a single photon inside the cavity, an effect that is explained by taking into account the limited anharmonicity of the higher excited qubit states.

Again, an amazing accomplishment. Note also that, as with the Schrodinger Cat-type experiment, this work also use superconducting system to be able to demonstrate the long-range coherence that is required in such an experiment. As Carver Mead has said, a superconductor is the clearest manifestation of quantum effects at the macroscopic scale. That's why it is typically used in these studies.


[1]A. Fragner et al. "Resolving Vacuum Fluctuations in an Electrical Circuit by Measuring the Lamb Shift", Science v.322, p.1357 (2008).