Monday, January 31, 2011

LHC Will Run Through 2012

With the Tevatron being shut down at the end of September this year, there were questions on whether the LHC might not continue with its planned run into 2012 and opt for an early shutdown to do the needed repairs. But that appears to not be the case based on the press release today:

CERN announces LHC to run in 2012

Geneva, 31 January 2011. CERN today announced that the LHC will run through to the end of 2012 with a short technical stop at the end of 2011. The beam energy for 2011 will be 3.5 TeV. This decision, taken by CERN management following the annual planning workshop held in Chamonix last week and a report delivered today by the laboratory’s machine advisory committee, gives the LHC’s experiments a good chance of finding new physics in the next two years, before the LHC goes into a long shutdown to prepare for higher energy running starting 2014.

“If LHC continues to improve in 2011 as it did in 2010, we’ve got a very exciting year ahead of us,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. “The signs are that we should be able to increase the data collection rate by at least a factor of three over the course of this year.”

The LHC was previously scheduled to run to the end 2011 before going into a long technical stop necessary to prepare it for running at its full design energy of 7 TeV per beam. However, the machine’s excellent performance in its first full year of operation forced a rethink. Expected performance improvements in 2011 should increase the rate that the experiments can collect data by at least a factor of three compared to 2010. That would lead to enough data being collected this year to bring tantalising hints of new physics, if there is new physics currently within reach of the LHC operating at its current energy. However, to turn those hints into a discovery would require more data than can be delivered in one year, hence the decision to postpone the long shutdown. If there is no new physics in the energy range currently being explored by the LHC, running through 2012 will give the LHC experiments the data needed to fully explore this energy range before moving up to higher energy.

“With the LHC running so well in 2010, and further improvements in performance expected, there’s a real chance that exciting new physics may be within our sights by the end of the year,” Said CERN’s Research Director, Sergio Bertolucci. “For example, if nature is kind to us and the lightest supersymmetric particle, or the Higgs boson, is within reach of the LHC’s current energy, the data we expect to collect by the end of 2012 will put them within our grasp.”

The schedule announced today foresees beams back in the LHC next month, and running through to mid December. There will then be a short technical stop over the year before resuming in early 2012.


PDE Class Rumor Creates Excitement?

Oooh.... a rumor on a possible creation of a Partial Differential Equation class! This is a damn, fine gossip! :)

OK, I read this news report, and then scratched my head, and then read it again, and then said to myself "OK, what did I miss here?" :)

It seems that the rumor that the Physics Dept. at McGill University in Canada might create a class in Partial Differential Equation is causing an excitement not seen since "... they put a flat screen in the foyer has Rutherford Physics .... " Oh my! That's is an excitement!

“PDEs is one of those things that if you want to do physics, it pretty much puts up a wall if you don’t have it,” says McGill Society of Physics Students VP Academic Nina Kudryashova. “It’s so omnipresent.”

Although it’s been brought up, it is unlikely that PDEs will become a requirement anytime soon. “To even give it rumour status is going a little far” Physics Undergraduate Curriculum Committee Chairman Professor Kenneth Ragan says, “and for current [physics] students lacking PDEs, it’s not fatal.”

Physics professors often include higher-level math, like PDEs, in their curriculum on a need-to-know basis: if a particular tool from a math course which is not required for physics majors is needed, the professor will explain it in class.

Er... Hum. When I was an undergraduate student, I took a class on PDE from the Math dept. There wasn't ANY question on whether it was needed or not, since we ALL know that a physics undergraduate NEEDS to know PDE. Nowadays, many physics dept. have courses in "mathematical physics", in which PDEs are covered. I think teaching it on a "need-to-know" basis is highly inefficient, especially when it is taught during the actual physics class where PDE is needed. You are trying to learn both the physics, and the mathematics, at the same time. I've mentioned in my "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay why this is not the best way to learn physics (read the chapter of mathematical preparation).

It is interesting that, a "rumor" that most of us don't consider to be anything significant, is creating quite an "excitement" among McGill's physics students. Could it be that they are really indicating that there is a need for such a class? Even if it isn't just a course in PDE alone, a mathematical physics class using a text like Mary Boas' "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Science" could fulfill the same needs.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

This Blog Is A Physics "Gossip" Site?

I'm often curious as to how people find this blog. Very often, a lot of people stumbled upon it via Google search. But other times, they get here through various links that people have put up on their own blogs and websites. To those web hosts and bloggers, I thank you very much!

But then, in this case, I am not sure if I deserve the "honor". Somehow, this person has a link to all the physics sites, including this blog, and called it "Physics gossip sites". Yowzah! I know sometime I go off the deep and and rant about stuff. But gossip? GOSSIP? I don't gossip on here, or at least, I very seldom do! How awful to be considered as a physics gossip site after all the physics papers and physics news reports that I've discussed and dissected.

But I suppose I should get all worked up over it, because the blog is in good company, being listed with Resonances and Cosmic Variance as also being physics gossip sites.

Maybe the word "gossip" means something else in another language....


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Radio Is All Sound. So Radio Waves Travel At The Speed Of Sound

The thing that passes as "news" nowadays.....

So I mentioned a week ago about the Bears-Packers game that had some historical context way back when they last met in the playoffs in 1941. The Packers won the game last week and will meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Superbowl.

So of course, there's plenty of news hype leading up to the game. This news article examines some die-hard Packers fans (is there any other type?) who watch the game on TV, but listen to the audio from the radio broadcast.

Many fans like to turn down the sound on the TV set and listen to announcers Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren of the Packers Radio Network.

But then there's a problem.

"I can't watch with no sound because of the three-second delay on Fox-ATT-Uverse coverage," said Bruce West of Green Bay. "The radio coverage is way ahead of TV."

Some people get frustrated when they hear the outcome of a play and then see it unfold on the screen.

OK, so that could be a minor problem. But so far, there's no physics involved here, until the writer tries to explain why there is this problem.

It's physics: Radio signals traveling at the speed of sound arrive first because the tower is relatively close by and the TV signal traveling at the speed of light must go 23,000 miles up and 23,000 miles back to Earth.


Radio signal, as any physics student in high school can tell you, is also an electromagnetic wave. It just happens to have a longer wavelength than, say, visible light, but it is still an electromagnetic wave, and thus, still travel at the speed of light, NOT at the speed of sound. Now notice that this can't be a typo. The writer did differentiate the radio signal from the TV signal which is "... traveling at the speed of light...". We all make typos. *I* make tons of typos. So I did consider that maybe the writer meant to type "speed of light" instead of "speed of sound". But from this paragraph, naaah! I don't think this is a typo. It is just bad understanding of basic physics.

So here, the delay isn't caused by the signal having different speeds, but rather how they are transmitted. If one listens to satellite radio, for example, such signal will still have to go through that long path to a satellite before being transmitted back down. Has nothing to do with "speed of sound".

Both writer and editor need to go back and take high school physics.


Friday, January 28, 2011

The Structural Physics of the Golden Gate Bridge

A very entertaining and informative video on the various vibrational modes of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, as demonstrated on a scaled model. It is presented by Dave Fleming, a mechanical engineer at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

He made a quick mention of the vibrational mode that was experienced by the infamous Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Credit: Buzz Blog.


Thursday, January 27, 2011


No, I didn't misspell the word "physics".

A while back, I wrote about physicists some time being mistakenly called as "physicians", and the confusion that some people have about "physicist", "physicians", and "physical". This article traces the origin and evolution of the word "physic", from which both "physician" and "physics" come from, even though they both diverges into very different areas.

In order to explain the meaning of physician, we must begin with the Latin word, physicum or physicus, and the French word, physique. All of these words mean remedy. In 1212, the Anglo-Normans appropriated these words to coin the word fisike or physic. Even though it is rarely used today, physic can still be found in any English dictionary to define medicine or remedy.

Things get rather complicated when we talk about the branch of science we now call physics. Beginning in the 1300s, physic also began to be used to describe natural science but the meaning would be made obvious by how it was used in a sentence. For example, "Sir Isaac Newton took physic for his stomach pain" is quite different from "Sir Isaac Newton undertook the study of physic to explain the concept of gravity." In 1500, the Germans began calling physical science, Physik, while English-speaking people added an "s," hence physics, to distinguish it from their word for medical remedies.

Well, there ya go. Obviously, physicists and physicians were twins separated at birth! :)


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Transport Properties of Classical Electrons in 2D

This is from last week, but I didn't have time till recently to look into this. This is a rather neat experiment. It looks at how electron transport behaves when confined to 2D, with only the Coulombic forces at place, i.e. essentially "no" quantum effects.

But electrons in two dimensions can also behave as classical particles that interact only through the mutual repulsion of their negative charges. This occurs when they are spread much farther apart and has been difficult to achieve in the lab, so researchers are still seeing new phenomena. David Rees of RIKEN, a Japanese research institute, in Wako, Japan, and his colleagues, studied this regime using electrons floating above a liquid helium surface. At low temperatures, the electrons glide rapidly far above the surface--about 11 nanometers--and barely interact with it. At temperatures somewhat below 1 Kelvin, the repulsion between electrons generates a two-dimensional solid state known as a Wigner crystal. At higher temperatures the electrons act like a liquid.

Of course, this is significantly different than when QM effects kick in, whereby we get the fractional charge/quantum hall effect. It is interesting to note that we always think that to get quantum behavior, it usually requires difficult conditions. Here, it seems that it is difficult to see classical behavior clearly when the system has such a tendency to behave quantum mechanically.

Terrific experiment!


[1] D.G. Rees et al., PRL v.106, p.026803 (2011).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Swiss Re Scientific Arguments Against Climate Change Skeptics

It is interesting to find out that now, even companies are considering the cost of not only Global Warming, but they are also now battling those who are skeptical of the anthropogenic origin of global warming. Swiss Re, which is the 2nd largest company in the word dealing with insurance, has evaluated the validity of global warming and its origin, and decided to present a detailed, scientific rebuttal against the skpetics. We're talking about argument-by-argument rebuttals with full citations to the sources.

And they're doing this not out of some social conscience, but rather, due to profit concerns that ignoring and denying what they consider to be a serious problem will be costly. This, btw, is consistent to an earlier analysis that the cost of being wrong about the anthropogenic origin of global warming is MORE than the cost of being wrong about the non-anthropogenic origin of global warming.

Source: Charles Day at PhysicsToday Blog.


Monday, January 24, 2011

A University Creates Physics Ph.D Program

Here's a piece of news that bucked the trend nowadays of schools shutting down physics programs. The University of Tulsa, Oklahoma has approved the addition of a Ph.D program in physics. Enrollment will begin as soon as Fall 2011.

Three to five graduate students are expected to be accepted each year in order to maintain the department’s low student-to-faculty ratio and guarantee that students receive the individual attention which they have come to expect from TU.

The doctoral program is a natural addition to the department, which has offered a Master’s degree in physics and engineering physics for three years.

Hopefully, they'll be able to attract students, or even keep the ones they have in their Masters program. Still, this is one of those "unusual" stores that I didn't think that I would read, consider how schools, especially smaller ones, are struggling to keep many physics programs open.


A Correction To The Definition Of "Siphon" Is Itself Incorrect?

Oh, this is turning into a comedy act!

If you recall, several months ago, a physicist in Australia spotted an error in Oxford Dictionary on the meaning of the word "siphon". The news of this discovery made minor headlines, especially on the web. The physicist offered an explanation of the effect.

Well, it turns out that that explanation itself may be incorrect, as presented by a professor and his student from the University of Hawaii at Hilo!

Dr. Stephen Hughes of Queensland University of Technology proposed that the unnatural upward flow of fluid that occurs within a siphon is caused by the difference in weight between the longer and shorter portions of fluid chains that move through the device. Binder and Richert surveyed historical siphon demonstrations and designed and performed several critical experiments.

In one of their setups, they managed to make water flow up the longer leg of a siphon and down the shorter one. They concluded that fluid flows up due to a higher pressure at the siphon entrance than at the bend, and upon reaching the bend the fluid is pulled down by gravity. The Hilo-based researchers have proposed a more precise dictionary definition that acknowledges both pressure and gravity as essential ingredients of the siphon mechanism but does not mention fluid chains or leg lengths.

Binder, an established researcher in the fields of chaos and complex systems, says that “nature has had her final word” through the outcomes of the experiments he and his student ran. He also remarks that the original story was quite appealing, and spread like fire through cyberspace with relatively little scrutiny: “it’s not true just because you read it on the web.”

That press release also gives you a link to get the actual article.

OK, let's see who is going to bid higher next time?! :)


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dark Energy and Dark Matter - The "Placeholders" of Our Time

Ars Technica has a terrific article on the nature and process of discovery in science. It describes the role of what is called "placeholder", where we assign to something, and giving it a name, of a phenomena or idea that we could not yet verify, or has any empirical evidence.

I think a lot of people, especially those who are outside of science, do not understand that it often takes a lot of time, a lot of observations, and a lot of discussion back-and-forth, before we can actually proclaim something to be well-known and come to a consensus. And when something is as difficult to test and study, such as dark matter and dark energy, the length of time involved will be even longer. And also consider that, for science to claim that we understand or have discovered something, the criteria for such claim is extremely stringent! Unlike politicians and TV personalities that seem to have no problem proclaiming that such-and-such will improve our lives or create jobs, etc. with utter certainty, science requires a lot of verification for something to be accepted as well-understood. Not only must the phenomenon be verified to be happening, but a mechanism to describe how it happened must also be in place. So it requires both experimental and theoretical aspects of the phenomenon to agree with each other. This is not easy!


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bears Versus Packers - Physics and Football Shared History

OK, a bit of background info for those not familiar with American Football, and those who are not into sports. The Chicago Bears football team will be playing against the Green Bay Packers tomorrow (Sunday) in a football playoff to determine who will go to the Superbowl (the championship game). These two teams, the Bears and the Packers, are arch rivals, sharing a long history and tradition in this sports, very much like, say, Manchester United and Liverpool in UK soccer.

Strangely enough, they haven't met each other that much in the playoffs, even though they of course play each other at least twice during the regular season. In fact, the last time they met in the playoffs was in 1941..... 1941.... hum, doesn't that year ring a bell to science historian?

Well, by golly, that does ring a bell. In this news article, the significance of that year connects the significance of the Bears-Packers last encounter here in the Chicago area.

The achievement that South Side statue commemorates was made by an Italian physicist, Enrico Fermi. He arrived at the University of Chicago shortly after the Bears beat the Packers on Dec. 14, 1941, and built a uranium pile underneath the stands of Stagg Field, the university's football stadium, that unleashed the power of the atom.

There ya go! The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, a monumental event took place after that. I wonder what earth-shattering discovery will take place after this one! :)


Friday, January 21, 2011

Be Careful On Who You Called As "The Most Famous Physicist Ever"

It turns out that the LA Times caught some flak from bloggers and readers when, in reporting Hawking's visit to CalTech recently, they included a description/caption proclaiming him as the most famous physicist ever. Of course, this raised the ire with many people.

To their credit, though, they did apologize for the silly "error":

"How embarrassing," Health and Science Editor Rosie Mestel said in an e-mail. "We carelessly wrote in the article 'Hawking is perhaps the best-known physicist ever' when we meant to say 'perhaps the best-known physicist ALIVE.' (We were moving fast.) When the caption for the photo was written, much like in a game of telephone, our misstatement was ramped up to 'probably the most famous.' We certainly meant no disrespect to Einstein and Newton, of whom we have indeed heard."

Hawking Assistant Managing Editor Henry Fuhrmann, who oversees the copy editors who write the headlines and captions and perform the final editing, likewise expressed regret:

I don't know if most famous or best-known is of any significance, at least to a scientist. Most cited would be something of significance. And in my book, most influential would also be something of significance.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

APS Announces PRX

The American Physical Society, publisher of the Physical Review journals, announced today of the creation of a new open access journal, Physical Review X.

As broad in scope as physics itself, PRX will publish original, high quality, scientifically sound research that advances physics and will be of value to the global multidisciplinary readership. PRX will provide validation through prompt and rigorous peer review, and an open access venue in accord with the strong reputation of the Physical Review family of publications.

Note that the APS already has two journals that are available online for free. These are the Physical Review Special Topics journal, which covers Accelerator and Beams, and the other on Education Research.


Horrible Article On Becoming A Physicist

I probably shouldn't waste my time on something like this. But if *I* can find such article easily, someone else who might really be looking for information can find it as well. So leaving it as it is will be an utter disservice.

This person by the name of "Timothy Sexton" (BA in English) somehow thought that he could write an article titled "How to Become a Physicist and What to Expect when You Become One". Now, before we examine his article, tell me something. What are the chances that someone who has never obtained a degree in physics, and has never worked in physics, would know well enough what one needs to do to become a physics, and then know what to expect when one becomes a physicist? That's like me writing an article on how to become a lawyer ("Yes, you should get a law degree first, and then take the bar exam"), and then what to expect when you become a lawyer ("Oh, just file lawsuits against a lot of people!"). Not only does he not have first hand knowledge of what he's writing, it appears that he also hasn't been doing his homework, or talking to other physicists about it.

There are several glaring mistakes, and others that make you go "Huh?". For example:

Get yourself a bachelor's degree in physics and then get a master's degree in physics and then get yourself a doctorate if you want to be anywhere near the top of the ladder. If you are interested merely in teaching physics, you can get a job somewhere with just the B.A. A Master's in physics may net you a community college professorship or a research position, but it's not the road toward becoming the next Einstein or Stephen Hawking.

There is this silly notion that (i) you need a Ph.D to become the next Einstein or Hawking, and (ii) everyone with a Ph.D aims for, or must become, the next Einstein or Hawking. This is ludicrous. That's like saying all lawyers must become the next Supreme Court justices, failure of which must mean that your career is insignificant. Phooey!

But the biggest mistake comes in the next page when he revealed clearly of his ignorance about the world of physics:

Decide if you want to pursue the arena of theoretical physics. Theoretical physics covers the waterfront known as exploration of the very essence of the universe. Theoretical physicists look to understand how the universe began, go to where it is now and where it is going. To get a good job as a theoretical physicist where you engage in research and development based on the expansion of knowledge about the universe's origins, you'll need a doctorate. Even a Master's from the Univ. of Chicago isn't going to cut it. If you don't want to become a theoretical physicist, then decide on a discipline to pursue. Among the fields that a physicist can find work in are atomic and molecular physics, optics, acoustics, nuclear energy, plasma, superconductivity, crystallography and biophysics.

This is obviously wrong. Atomic and molecular physics, optics, nuclear physics, plasma physics, SUPERCONDUCTIVITY, etc.. etc.. all have theoretical work and have theorists. Phil Anderson, Bob Laughlin, John Bardeen are all theorists in condensed matter who have won Nobel Prizes in it. This person thinks that only cosmologists and probably elementary particle physicists are "theorists".

The rest of the article gave some superficial description about job prospects, and managed to include some rather incendiary remarks, such as:

Your best friend from physics class in high school may be conducting research aimed at developing more practical applications that all those people who you view as intellectually inferior can enjoy.

Even as a physicist, it took me a lot of effort and a lot of time to actually write my article "So You Want To Be A Physicist". It wasn't easy, and even in its current form, I still think I missed quite a bit of stuff that I will eventually include into the article. And this is coming from someone who went through the process. It boggles my mind that some people simply have no qualm about writing on something which they almost know nothing about. But I suppose that is no different than, say, Deepak Chopra or the author of "The Secret", who latched on quantum mechanics to justify their ideas, as IF they've actually understood QM. There are just too many people who really do not care about the quality and level of their knowledge, but yet, have no problems in using those in ridiculous ways.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Humongous Computing Task of the LHC

We should not forget that besides the scientific achievement of the LHC, the task of handling the humongous amount of data coming it at such a rapid rate in itself pushes the computing knowledge and ability to a new level. By itself, it forces new innovation in data handling and computing techniques that many commercial companies simply can't do. Yet, this is something we need to know if our technological needs are to continue to expand.

This news article (link may be open for free only for a limited time) examines the astounding effort in piping out data gathered from the ATLAS detector, and how many groups around the world are working together to handle such volume and analysis.

Even after rejecting 199,999 of every 200,000 collisions, the detector churns out 19 gigabytes of data in the first minute. In total, ATLAS and the three other main detectors at the LHC produced 13 petabytes (13 × 1015 bytes) of data in 2010, which would fill a stack of CDs around 14 kilometres high. That rate outstrips any other scientific effort going on today, even in data-rich fields such as genomics and climate science (see Nature 455, 16–21; 2008). And the analyses are more complex too. Particle physicists must study millions of collisions at once to find the signals buried in them — information on dark matter, extra dimensions and new particles that could plug holes in current models of the Universe. Their primary quarry is the Higgs boson, a particle thought to have a central role in determining the mass of all other known particles.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reality Check at the LHC

This is a wonderful article about what we have obtained so far from the experiments at the LHC, or in particular, at the CMS detector. It seems that from the run of several months, several tighter limits have been imposed on a number of theories.

It is still early days at the LHC, but the 27 km-circumference machine's first year of smashing protons into each other at record energies is beginning to tame theorists' imaginations. Researchers on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, for example, have reported that, at the energies probed so far, quarks do not exhibit substructure (arXiv:1010.4439), exotic particles such as colorons and E6 diquarks have not shown up (arXiv:1010.0203) – and nor have leptoquarks (arXiv:1012.4031) or new heavy gauge bosons (arXiv:1012.5945) either. Although these entities cannot be ruled out completely, LHC data have allowed them less room to hide – principally by allowing researchers to place stringent limits on the particles' masses.

I definitely can't wait for the LHC to really get to the 14 TeV energy. I can see a lot of interesting stuff, even if all it does is rule out a lot of hot air theories floating around.

Oh, btw, notice that the Higgs is barely even mentioned in this article. For anyone who thinks that the LHC has only a single mission to look for this overhyped particle, this article should set you straight once and for all.


The Physics of Scotch Tape

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any considerable period of time would know that I love, LOVE reading on or studying small, "mundane" things. This is what got me interested in physics in the first place. So I read with glee and fascination at this Symmetry Breaking article on scotch tape.

I'm sure many of you have heard of the original discovery that peeling a scotch tape could, in some case, create x-rays. So this article examines it even more closely based on a very simple, seat-of-the-pants type experiment done at Maryland.

Amazing creativity and again, I absolutely love reading things like this where there's something fascinating going on that one can study with relatively simple setup. I am definitely curious to know the origin and mechanism that cause the emitted electrons to have such high energy.


"It's A Shame To Shut It Down"

That's what Lisa Randall said on the imminent shut down of the Tevatron this coming September. Her quote is part of another examination of the history of the Tevatron and the fate of high energy physics program in the US in an article in the NY Times.

Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago and vice president of the American Physical Society, said American scientists were struggling to adjust to a world in which Europe and Asia are attaining parity with the United States. “We are used to dominating in science,” Dr. Turner said. “We seem to be unable to make decisions, and instead continue to chase every opportunity, in the end doing nothing.”

While the fall of any civilization from the peak of its golden age can be slow and subtle, I wonder if, 100 years from now, history might mark this period of time as a milestone where the US dominance in science, and its peak in the dominant world power in knowledge, economics, and politics begin their downfall. There are certainly a lot of tell-tale signs for that, despite the political rhetoric.


Monday, January 17, 2011

More on the Mpemba Effect

This effect seems to have a life of its own, and certainly generating a lot of interesting discussion and experiments. I've mentioned previously on such studies that studied this effect more closely. Well now comes another one, and this one has a slight twist to it[1].

Abstract: Unlike most of the research on the Mpemba effect which has focused on verifying the observation that warm water freezes faster than cold water, our work quantitatively investigates the rates at which hot and cold water cool and the point at which hot water reaches a lower temperature than cold water under a set of external conditions. Using a vacuum pump to cool samples of water initially at different temperatures, we measured reproducible temperature values at which hot and cold water equilibrate. We have confirmed that warmer water indeed cools at a faster rate than colder water and that, surprisingly, this trend continues past the point where the temperatures of the two samples are the same. Our results show that when using optimal initial temperature conditions, the crossover temperature is found to be 2.7 oC whereas our other set of initial conditions gave a crossover temperature of -0.07 oC. These data taken together provide a definite quantitative evidence of the Mpemba effect.

There you have it. We just have to wait and see if this gets published.



Light-Induced Superconductivity

This is a very fascinating report on the ability to induced superconductivity in an insulating cuprate compound.

D. Fausti et al., "Light-Induced Superconductivity in a Stripe-Ordered Cuprate", Science v.331, p.189 (2011).

Abstract: One of the most intriguing features of some high-temperature cuprate superconductors is the interplay between one-dimensional “striped” spin order and charge order, and superconductivity. We used mid-infrared femtosecond pulses to transform one such stripe-ordered compound, nonsuperconducting La1.675Eu0.2Sr0.125CuO4, into a transient three-dimensional superconductor. The emergence of coherent interlayer transport was evidenced by the prompt appearance of a Josephson plasma resonance in the c-axis optical properties. An upper limit for the time scale needed to form the superconducting phase is estimated to be 1 to 2 picoseconds, which is significantly faster than expected. This places stringent new constraints on our understanding of stripe order and its relation to superconductivity.

A brief news report on this work can be found here. At the very end, there is a comment in which, I think, the whole issue of superconductivity in the cuprates rests upon. It should at least address the question if the stripe phase is playing any role in the origin of superconductivity in this class of material.

‘There is a school of thought that it should be possible to achieve superconductivity at much higher temperatures, but that some competing type of order in the material gets in the way,’ said Prof Cavalleri. ‘We should be able to explore this idea and see if we can disrupt the competing order to reveal superconductivity at higher temperatures. It’s certainly worth trying.’


Why Do Flags Flap In The Breeze?

A short "answer" article for the public on the physics involved in the flapping of flags in the breeze.

If the flow is slow, you see a smooth clear stream. This is laminar flow, and if you were to put a drop of dye in the water at the top you would see it flow down in a straight streak. But if you turn up the flow, you will find the water is no longer clear, but roils and behaves like white water in a river. At this point, turbulence has set in, and the flow contains vortices and swirls that are difficult to describe.

If you have a slow flow of air, like a gentle breeze that moves a flag only slightly, you’ll get a movement like the laminar flow of water, a slow billowing motion rather than a flutter. If the speed of the air accelerates enough, turbulence sets in and the flag begins flapping.

It isn't a bad article, but I wish it would not start with a statement like this:

Would you believe that nobody really knows?

This is the same as lifting Feynman quote about quantum mechanics and how no one understands it. It gives a very false impression that we don't know anything at all about this phenomenon, which is patently false by the fact that the article did offer SOME form of understanding of the fluid dynamics that is involved. What should have been said is that we know something about it, but using the standard of physics, we need a full, solvable mathematical form to be able to say that we understanding it well enough. This is more accurate than claiming that nobody really knows why. We need to be a bit more careful in the words that we choose when conveying something to the impressionable public who only have a superficial understanding of not only science, but how science is done.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Feynman Fest

It looks like they had a fun time at a TEDx event at Caltech this past Friday to celebrate Richard Feynman.

The seminal lecture series he delivered there a half-century ago, as well as the more eccentric strains of his life, inspired "Feynman's Vision: The Next 50 Years," an all-day event that drew more than 1200 people to the institute's campus Friday.

Timed to coincide with the anniversary of the physicist's lecture series, the event brought a constellation of leading scientists and other innovators together for quick, intense lectures on a range of subjects, all organized under the rubric of TEDx, the localized version of nonprofit TED's free lecture series.

You can learn more about these lectures at the Caltech's TEDx website.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

An Interview with Albert Einstein on Science Careers

Although this is a result of a judicious selection of Einstein's quotes, it does make for an entertaining reading. This is what someone imagined an interview with Albert Einstein would sound like, based on a series of statements and quotations from him that have been collected and grouped together to form answers to various questions related to a career in science.

Some of the "answers" are rather profound, such as:

Q. Then, what are the results of a scientific career that makes it worthwhile and exciting?

A. It is not the result of scientific research that ennobles humans and enriches their nature, but the struggle to understand while performing creative and open-minded intellectual work. (386) It is my inner conviction that the development of science seeks in the main to satisfy the longing for pure knowledge. (370)


Q. And what would you look for in a teacher?

‎A. The most valuable thing a teacher can impart to children is not knowledge and understanding per se but a longing for knowledge and understanding, and an appreciation for intellectual values, whether they be artistic, scientific, or moral. It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge. Most teachers waste their time by asking questions that are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning is to discover what the pupil does know or is capable of knowing. (99-101)

Of course, one of the caveats that should have been added to this interview is that, some of the statements and quotes may be outdated or might be different in light of how our society has progressed and how science/physics has progressed since Einstein was alive. I mean, I'm sure he would have a different take on QM if he sees all the EPR-type experiments that have been performed, etc.


Will You Stop Traveling To Conferences To Save The Planet?

Charles Day at Physics Today had an interesting opinion on a poll done by Science. The pool asked if one would stop traveling to scientific conferences to reduce one's carbon footprint.

Now, the thing about science conferences, and this is certainly true for physics conferences, is that they are more than just a place where you present your work, and you listed to presentation by others of their work. This is the place where you try to establish, for lack of a better word, a network among people doing the same thing as you do. This is the place where you try to know who's who, and where hopefully you make a name recognition of yourself to others. If you are just starting out, this is a very important step because this is where you "introduce" yourself to others. This is why, in my So You Want To Be A Physicist essay, I strongly recommend graduate students to consider going to various physics conferences towards the end of their graduate years when they have something to report. To me, this is an important aspect of the process of being a physicist that isn't covered in a school's academic bulletin.

But one can argue that doing the above can be accomplished, although not as easily, via teleconferencing/video conferencing. Still, there is another important aspect on why one has to actually be at a conference and where it really can't be done (at least, I don't see how) via electronics means. In fact, Charles Day actually quoted someone that hinted at this aspect of it, although I think he missed it:

One of the respondents to the Science poll, John Burke Burnett, left this comment on the poll's website:

Until we come up with holographic teleconferencing with the ability to eat virtual lunch together in smaller groups, there will always be a need for large gatherings from time to time.

Now, the important thing here isn't to eat lunch together in smaller group. What Day missed is the fact that, in many instances, a lot of important science discussion occurs over such informal discussion. I know for a fact that new experiments and new ideas often emerge during a conversation over a cup of coffee and some pastries, or during a quick lunch at a restaurant near the conference area. Many such back-of-the-envelope calculation are done during such encounters, and these often lead to very productive results. I definitely know that one of my PRL publication came as a result of a discussion during a coffee break at a workshop that I attended.

The point here is that, while technology can certainly do many of the things that we used to have to do in person, science is still a human endeavor, and human interaction at a one-to-one level have many elements that cannot (yet) be duplicated or substituted. We use our sensory perception often to judge the "atmosphere", and can often detect a shift or a sense of direction in a particular subject area. We often gain immeasurable information simply by talking to someone or having a discussion with a group of people. I still don't see how that can be done via video conferencing or any other means.

Bottom line: there is no substitute to attending a science conference.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Microsoft Mathematics

Heaven knows I don't need another graphing software or mathematical package. But still, when I came across this, I thought that this might be very useful to students, especially those in high school or early undergraduate years. I know that there's probably several freeware or shareware mathematics packages that one can afford without paying the hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for the high-powered mathematics packages. Still, this might be "free" enough that it is interesting.

It appears that Version 4 of Microsoft Mathematics is available for download. A brief description of it can be found here. I haven't used it before, and before I recommend it to people I know who might need it, does anyone else have a review of this or an earlier version of it? And if you have used it for physics purposes, I would like to hear your opinion even more.


New Era For Fermilab

I was chatting with a few colleagues at work, and of course, the news of the end of the Tevatron was one of the topics. We were discussing the physics that we got out of the Tevatron, and that even years after it is shut down, there will still be work done on analyzing the data from it, and there will still be papers published. (Check out the current result on the possible anomaly seen in the top quark production.)

A topic of discussion that we had was the new direction that Fermilab will undertake once the Tevatron has been shut down. The so-called "Intensity Frontier" in high energy physics includes the study of neutrinos. It appears that Fermilab has a full investment in this area, with NuMI, MINOS, NOvA, and LBNE (and possibly a few others that I may have missed). In terms of the physics, these are very important experiments and could possibly produce amazing result. But how "unique" and attention-grabbing are they for the public?

During the heights of the Tevatron, even when it overlapped LEP at CERN, it was easy to point the uniqueness of the Tevatron to the world. It had the highest energy, it had the highest luminosity, etc.. etc. In other words, it was easy to sell it to the public as being a very unique machine, one of a kind. Now, after the Tevatron is gone, the LHC will have that crown and will have that "name recognition". While the various neutrino experiments at Fermilab are important, it can't claim uniqueness, at least from the point of view of a casual observer. Neutrino experiments are done elsewhere in the world. SNO in Canada, Daya Bay in China, and the more popular Super Kamiokande in Japan are three immediate examples. I'm not claiming that all these experiments and the one conducted or being planned at Fermilab are/will doing the same thing. They won't and aren't. But from the perspective of most people, even from physicists who are not in the same field, these experiments do not look different and unique.

So after the Tevatron, Fermilab will no longer have that singular, identifiable experiment that gives it its identity and recognition to the public. That is going to be hard to overcome.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Science Outreach Matters

A video from IoP on why science outreach to the general public matters.

Keep in mind that, without direct contact with scientists, the public will have only the media and the internet as their primary sources of information. This can be scary.


Jefferson Lab Science Series

Jefferson Lab has released videos of their Science Series, dating as far back as ..... 1962?!! Wow!

They are great educational value, even for the general public. Check them out, even for historical reasons. :)


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Do We Do Science?

.. and I'm talking about scientists who do science, rather than crackpots who THINK they are doing science.

The question came up after I read this thoughtful blog entry on the Nature website.

So what are we in science for? In a way we are entrepreneurs just like the internet moguls. As Wikipedia defines it : An entrepreneur is a person who has possession of a new enterprise, venture or idea and is accountable for the inherent risks and the outcome. We too are after outcomes that have a fairly low probability of success. On top of that, we voluntarily subject ourselves to repeated "abuse" in a process known as peer review. It may even be that we are socially challenged and prefer to deal with objects rather than fellow human beings, a view that I have come to embrace after my stint as a chemistry department head!

In the end, I can only summarize my own irrational interest in scientific research by quoting the sculptor Henry Moore: "The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do."

So why do YOU do science?


Message from Fermilab Director Pier Oddone

Symmetry Breaking has conveyed a message from Fermilab Director Pier Oddone on the news that the Dept. of Energy will not continue to fund the operation of the Tevatron beyond fiscal year 2011.

Today we received the news that we will not receive funding for the proposed Tevatron extension and consequently the Tevatron will close at the end of FY2011 as was previously planned. The present budgetary climate did not permit DOE to secure the additional funds needed to run the Tevatron for three more years as recommended by the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel.

We plan to run the Tevatron this year and extract all the physics results we can. The Tevatron has exceeded all expectations. The life of this legendary machine has been marked by historic discoveries made possible by its innovative accelerator and detector technologies. The experience developed during its operation has also immensely helped the development of the LHC accelerator and detectors. Fermilab is and will remain a very strong part of the LHC program and will continue to pursue physics at the high-energy frontier together with our collaborators at CERN.

The Office of Science is committed to maintain our laboratory as a world leader for particle physics research. We have its strong support to develop into the foremost laboratory at the Intensity Frontier with new neutrino experiments NOvA, MicroBooNE and the Long Base Line Neutrino Experiment (LBNE); the muon-to-electron conversion experiment (Mu2e); and ongoing experiments MINOS, MINERvA and MiniBooNE. Underlying our Intensity Frontier program we have the Office of Science’s support for the development of Project X. In addition we have leading programs at the Cosmic Frontier with the Dark Energy Survey, the dark-matter experiments CDMS and COUPP, and Pierre Auger. While we would have liked to run the Tevatron for three more years, our life going forward is full of promising projects and great opportunities for major discoveries.

– Fermilab Director Pier Oddone

It would have been "easier" if the Tevatron stop running because of a consensus that it just won't produce anymore outstanding physics, and that the LHC will have the upper hand in all of this. Unfortunately, this time, it appears that the economic situation and the funding constraints that the DOE is under became the major factor in shutting down this historic facility.

So after Sept., no more high energy physics collider experiments in the US.

BTW, someone pointed out to me, after my statement in the previous blog post, that we still have collider experiments at RHIC and JLab. Yes, those are true, but those are not considered to be "high energy physics" experiments. They are not funded by the High Energy Physics division of the DOE. They are "nuclear physics" experiments, even though at some point, the line between the two is a bit fuzzy (for example, LHC also ran heavy ion collision that's similar to what RHIC was doing).


Monday, January 10, 2011

Tevatron Will Close At End of FY2011

The Dept. of Energy has officially notify Fermilab that it will not fund an extension to the Tevatron run for 3 more years. Therefore, as planned, the Tevatron will shut down at the end of the current fiscal year 2011.

In a letter to Fermilab staff Monday, lab director Pier Oddone said Fermilab has been notified is will not receive funding for the proposed Tevatron extension “and consequently the Tevatron will close at the end of FY2011 as was previously planned.”

“The present budgetary climate did not permit DOE (the U.S. Department of Energy) to secure the additional funds needed to run the Tevatron for three more years as recommended by the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel.”

So unless they can get enough data and find something in those by Sept. this year, their hunt for the Higgs will end. That will also officially ends high energy physics collider experiment in the US.


High-Tc Superconductors Are Very Kinky - Update 10

A new preprint on arXiv today analyzes the low-energy kink in the dispersion curve on Bi-2212 high-Tc superconductor. They concluded that this low energy kink (smaller than the gap) is due to an in-plane acousting phonon branch.

So this adds more intrigue to the picture. The cuprate superconductors seems to have a lot of "kinks" in the band structure. Last count, we now have 3. To catch up on all the issues surrounding this, read my first entry on the kink structure that we have seen from ARPES measurement. That entry will be continually updated as more papers and new stuff are published.


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Keep Your Hands Off My Theory!

Looks like I am not the only one truly annoyed by all these New Age mystics who are trying to bastardize quantum mechanics to support their crackpottery. Eric Swanson, a physics professor at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote a wonderful opinion piece article to slash away at all the nonsense that have been sold and using QM as their justification. He took particular aim at a new book written by the author of "The Secret".

Naively, the measurement process requires a measurer -- someone to actually observe the system. Thus you and I have the power to collapse wavefunctions merely by looking at something.

It is only baby steps to the idea that the act of observing something actually causes it to exist. And if it is the Mind of Man that brings things into existence, can't we create anything with our thoughts? Indeed, is the moon there if no one is looking at it?

This conceit is so common that it has become part of the national psyche: If you want it hard enough, it will happen. Got a big problem? Wish harder! Reality looking a bit ugly? Envision a better one! This is the essence of the Law of Attraction.

But alas, quantum physics says nothing of the sort. Wavefunction collapse is merely a physicist's shorthand for saying that nature has chosen a specific realization of a physical system. The moon really is there when you don't look at it. And wishing for things does not make them happen.

So, you see, the theft of quantum spookiness to "explain" dubious New Age philosophy raises my hackles. Keep your hands off of my theory, Rhonda Byrnes!

Anyone who has read this blog for any considerable period of time would have seen my similar complaints against these very same people. In fact, I've even attempted to use their crackpottery to debunk a paranormal phenomenon. And one only needs to read the many blog entries that I've written on the "bastardization of quantum mechanics" to see that I've no patience for these charlatans.

The thing that I've never understood here is that, many of these people, even Deepak Chopra, make no bones that they do NOT understand QM. What they understood are what they probably get out of pop-science books and articles. Yet, they don't feel that such level of understanding is inadequate to be used as a solid foundation to justify that they claim? I mean, they don't even pay any attention to the experts (i.e. physicists) when they claim that these people are not using physics correctly! So if you have an expert that says that "No, you're wrong. That's not how it is", do you think you know better than he/she? I would be thoroughly embarrassed to do such things. What makes these people so conceited that they ignore the experts?

Of course, the public will continue to get suckered into such things, because as we all know, they can't tell the difference anyway between what's valid and what isn't.


Friday, January 07, 2011

The Birth and Early Evolution of the Universe

A very simple presentation of the birth and evolution of our universe, given by Alex Filippenko, Professor of Astronomy, U.C. Berkeley.


God Created The Big Bang

... well, at least that's according to the Pope. And he should know, shouldn't he? Just like the Pharaohs of Egypt's past, I'm sure he has a direct line to god. I wonder what's the upload/download data rate on that line...

This was the news I read yesterday, and at first, I didn't care to waste my time commenting on something that, really, has no substantial point or evidence to make. The Pope came out with claims that God really is behind the Big Bang, thus preserving the theistic view of our universe.

"The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe," Benedict said on the day Christians mark the Epiphany, which is the day the Bible says the three kings reached the site where Jesus was born by following a star.

"Contemplating it (the universe) we are invited to read something profound into it: the wisdom of the creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God," he said in a sermon to some 10,000 people in St Peter's Basilica on the feast day.
Atheists say that science can prove that God does not exist, but the pope said that some scientific theories were "mind limiting" because "they only arrive at a certain point and do not manage to explain the ultimate sense of reality."

He said scientific theories on the origin and development of the universe and humans left many questions unanswered.

"In the beauty of the world, in its mystery, in its greatness and in its rationality ... we can only let ourselves be guided toward God, creator of heaven and earth," he said in his sermon.

Now, c'mon! Anyone with some degree of scientific background can see plenty of holes in such flimsy argument.

1. This is nothing more than God-of-the-Gaps. Because science can't come up with any idea for something, then that shows God is at work. Of course, one only needs to be aware of history of our civilization to realize that such "gaps" have been shrinking and shrinking. There's nothing to indicate that they will not continue to shrink. So using that argument actually is a damning point against the existence of god.

2. Notice that nowhere in here is any mention of "evidence" to support such statement. Maybe that's why one can get away with saying such a thing - it is not even false! Unfalsifiable statements really are a waste of time, because it is an argument based on a matter of TASTES. The Pope wants you to accept what he says because he likes the color red.

3. Whose god are we talking about here? When you claim something not based on evidence, but based on Tastes, then that taste can differ from one person to another. While it is find and dandy to claim that god is behind such creation, different religions have different versions of such god. There is no way to distinguish one version versus another to see which one is valid.

None of what I've said above is new. I've said different versions of each of the points above in previous blog entries. But what sparked me to stop ignoring this news article is that MSBC decided to do a poll, yes folks, A POLL, of the public (which we all know are very scientifically literate {I'm kidding here}) to see if they agree with the Pope! As of the writing of this blog entry, the option for "There is no God and the Big Bang was probably responsible for all creation." is leading by 10% ahead of "I agree with the Pope. If there was a Big Bang, it was God's work." I wonder if Las Vegas is putting any odds on this one.

MSNBC should also show side-by-side with this poll the latest NSF survey on scientific literacy of the US public. I think that should put this survey in some perspective.

Hey, maybe *I* should start a survey on something similar! Y'know, ask something substantially more important than the last survey that I did, which was the highly shallow and superficial contest on the most attractive physicists.

Naaaah! That requires too much work and too much thinking.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Your Vehicle Starts Due To Relativity!

Thanks to "Cthugha" at the Physics Forums for bringing this paper to my attention (this is what happens when one is trying to catch up with work after the holidays - one forgets to troll the various physics journals sites).

A new paper in PRL has a very interesting theoretical calculation for lead-acid battery used in motor vehicles. Supposedly, there are no ab initio calculations for such battery works, i.e. no theoretical calculation for the energies of the reactants - till now[1]!

Abstract: The energies of the solid reactants in the lead-acid battery are calculated ab initio using two different basis sets at nonrelativistic, scalar-relativistic, and fully relativistic levels, and using several exchange-correlation potentials. The average calculated standard voltage is 2.13 V, compared with the experimental value of 2.11 V. All calculations agree in that 1.7–1.8 V of this standard voltage arise from relativistic effects, mainly from PbO2 but also from PbSO4.

But what made it stood out is the end of of the paper, where the authors wrote "Finally, we note that cars start due to relativity"! :)

Well, there ya go! If anyone questions you on the use of relativity, you point to their car batteries!

I love it!


Edit: Don't miss the Physical Review Focus coverage of this work.

[1] R. Ahuja et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. v.106, p.018301 (2011).

Mexicans Express Belief In Spirits, Not Science

A new poll of Mexicans that is similar to the one the National Science Foundation regularly conducts on Americans reveals that Mexicans tend to believe more in spirits and other supernatural sources.

The study, compiled annually by the National Council on Science and Technology and the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, indicates that a large percentage of Mexicans give credence to homeopathy, acupuncture, spiritual cleansing, lucky numbers, and ESP. Approximately 38% also believe that "space vehicles from other civilizations" visit Earth.

To be sure, Mexicans are aware that their faith in otherworldly forces may be a problem. About 83.6% agreed with the statement, "We believe too much in faith and too little in science." Most think the country needs more scientists.

For some reason, I find those two view to be rather self-contradictory. You know you put too much believe in such faith, yet you continue to do so? And people criticize me when I tell them that human behavior are often irrational?

According to the Mexican poll, scientists are both feared and respected, perhaps not unlike the Aztec priests of old. In the survey, 57% of Mexicans interviewed agreed that "due to their knowledge, scientific researchers have power which makes them dangerous."

Yet, all the other charlatans that these people have blind faith on are not dangerous?


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Physics Of Ice Skating

It's winter here right now in the upper Northern Hemisphere. So winter and winter sports are a common topic, and one winter sports that often get a lot of coverage is ice skating. This news article tries (that's the operative word) to convey some physics of ice skating. Inevitably, the central question whenever we talk about ice and ice skating is, why is ice so slippery?

The skate plays a role as well. The skating boot is equipped with a thin, slightly curved piece of tempered steel attached vertically to the exterior of the sole. This blade ensures that a minimal area comes into contact with the ice, reducing resistance in the form of friction.

The pressure of the blade on the surface of the ice also causes the ice to melt, producing a thin layer of water between the solid ice and the edge of the skater's blade.

"This layer of water gives you very little friction," said Dr. Harry Shipman, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware. "But if your balance isn't certain and your skates are wobbly, you're going to put more pressure on more layers of water, causing you to slow down. You have to manage the friction as much as you can."

There is a little bit of a perpetuating myth involved here, and this is a good time to deal with this. Many studies have been done in figuring out if the pressure exerted on by someone standing on ice skating blades can actually cause such melting[1,2]. I think this has been clearly debunked. In fact, one can even ask why is the ice still slippery even when one is standing still wearing regular shoes? After all, in such footwear, the contact surface area is considerably larger than skates, and here, it is very difficult to argue for pressure melting.

A very detailed review of why ice is slippery can be found in a nice article in Physics Today by Robert Rosenberg[3]. In it, he showed an interesting phenomenon of liquid-like layer on the surface of ice even at a temperature as low as -35 C. This liquid-like layer is the one primarily responsible for ice being slippery.

Again, common observation/phenomenon can create very interesting physics. That's why I love physics!


[1] S. C. Colbeck et al., Am. J. Phys. v.65, p.488 (1997).
[2] S. C. Colbeck, Am. J. Phys. v.63, p.888.
[3] R. Rosenberg, Phys. Today p.50, December 2005.

Quark-Gluon Plasma Card Game

Some time I wonder where these people come up with such ideas... :)

It appears that there's a game invented out of Hungary that is a card game, but also has a strong educational angle containing elementary particles of the Standard Model.

Linking subatomic particles with New Year’s Eve celebrations may not be so strange: Two years ago, a group of Hungarian secondary school students rang in the New Year while playing with particles, literally. The group, which included Judit Csörgő, daughter of RHIC/PHENIX collaborator Tamás Csörgő, and her friend Csaba Török, were at a New Year’s celebration, playing with the first edition of a set of cards invented by Csaba as an entertaining way to learn about subatomic particles and their interactions. The game, more formally developed and tested by the students with mentoring help from Tamás, won an honorable mention in a 2010 Hungarian competition for junior innovators. It is now available for purchase as an e-book, with cards included, on Lulu, currently with Hungarian directions. An English version is in the works.

Supposedly there is a version of the game called "Quark Matter".

“My favorite,” said Tamás, “is Quark Matter,” the game most closely related to RHIC physics. In it, the cards are mixed face up on a table, packed closely together to represent matter at the instant of a collision at RHIC—a quark-gluon plasma. The object for each of the players is to quickly extract particles as they would emerge from a RHIC collision: non-interacting neutrinos and antineutrinos first, followed by electron/positron and muon/anti-muon pairs, and then finally the quarks and anti-quarks as they hadronize, or freeze out, to form mesons (made of a quark and an anti-quark) , baryons (three quarks) and anti-baryons (three anti-quarks), all the while maintaining a neutral color charge (by joining red, green, and blue quarks, for instance, or red/anti-red pairs).

As players race one another to extract the correct particles, the “system” expands—as particle cards are pushed apart—just as it does in a real RHIC collision. Players score points for each correct particle pick.

“At the beginner level, students are usually quicker and more successful players, than physicists are,” Csaba added.

Hum... How do non-scientists would know which card to pull out? I mean, you have to first of all know that neutrinos don't interact and would be the first one to get pulled out before, say, electrons and muons. I'm not sure how a 6-year old, for example, would be able to know this and play the game.

Oh well. I suppose I have to either see this for myself, or play it, to verify its "addictiveness".

Edit: this webpage gives you info on how to order the card game.


More Evidence The Public Can't Tell The Difference Between Scientific and Anecdotal Evidence

If you've wanted any considerable length of TV (especially in the US), you might have encountered the commercial by a company called Power Balance. The commercial claims that wearing the bracelet made by the company (which somehow has a "frequency" that matches your body), you could improve your health, your balance, your well-being, etc. It showed several sport and entertainment celebrities wearing such bracelet and several "ordinary" people who swore by them.

Well of course, none of these claims have any scientific backing. In fact, the company itself admitted that it has no scientific evidence to support its claim!

It may be for him, but Australian authorities say the California-based company behind the wildly popular wristbands and pendants has no business claiming that they improve balance, strength and flexibility.

And they even got Power Balance to admit it.

The company wrote: "We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims." It also agreed to give refunds to customers who believe they were cheated.

But yet, they get people who would swear by them:

The company unleashed a torrent of its own tweets, playing off the word "admit."

In one, it said: "Power Balance Admits products have been worn during the last world series, nba finals and super bowl champions!"

Fans insist the bands have helped their game.

"Our trainers swear by it," Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley wrote in a message posted on his Twitter page.

The company began selling bracelets in 2007 embedded with holograms that were purportedly designed to interact with the body's natural energy flow.

Since then, the colorful wristbands, which sell for $29.95, have become ubiquitous, donned by Los Angeles Lakers' Lamar Odom and English celebrity soccer star David Beckham.

They have also been worn by celebrities, including actors Robert De Niro and Gerard Butler.

Well, first of all, let's get this out of the way. Just because some celebrity wears it, it is completely irrelevant on evidence that it works. In fact, it has totally nothing to do with it. Having celebrities wearing it isn't evidence - it is a PROMOTION! So why should we be impressed by it? We shouldn't, but unfortunately, many are, and that's why these celebrities are used, or even paid, to wear such things.

Secondly, what if I give them some fake ones? Will it still work the same way they THINK it should work?

A Wisconsin professor ran similar tests comparing the performance of 42 athletes wearing Power Balance wristbands and silicon versions from Wal-Mart and said he found no difference.

Athletes were more likely to perform better wearing the second bracelet they put on, largely because they knew what to expect from the trial, said John Porcari, professor of exercise and sport science at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

"I think it is a scam," he said. "It has absolutely nothing to do with the bracelets. It is all in people's heads."

This, of course, is the infamous placebo effect! It is why when there is a proper clinical trial study, one always do a control group with placebo to see if the effect of the real thing is significantly above the placebo group! If not, one cannot tell if the positive effect is actually due to the real thing itself, or the placebo. This is the main test in which homeopathy drugs have trouble overcoming.

It takes a lot of testing for something to be considered to be valid. Anecdotal evidence such as this does NOT indicate that the product's claim is valid. The public needs to learn such difference and not be taken in by the same snake-oil scam. But then again, how much can you do to save the public from themselves?


Monday, January 03, 2011

2011 International Year of Chemistry

Did you know that 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry? No? I didn't either! And I wouldn't have had I not read Charles Day's blog.

I suppose since we've had Year of Physics, Year of Astronomy, it wouldn't hurt for Chemistry's turn to take the spotlight. So go over to the webpage and see what they have in store for the year-long celebration.


Sunday, January 02, 2011

Yakir Aharonov's World

While his name is relatively well-known in physics world, many outside physics would not know about Yakir Aharanov. Him winning the National Medal of Science in 2010 hopefully will give a bit more publicity to his work, especially the astounding Aharanov-Bohm effect.

This brief interview hopefully will provide more insight into him and his work. He certainly has a very progressive idea about how time has the potential to reveal surprises within the QM picture.

Q. Based on your work, how should we change our concept of time?

A. First let me explain how the idea came about from the properties of quantum mechanics -- the suggestion that we should change our notions of time. The basic difference between quantum mechanics and classical physics is that (in quantum physics) two physical systems in exactly the same state, initially, end up later in different state. It means we cannot predict the future exactly. We can only predict probabilities.

When I thought about it, it occurred to me that perhaps what nature or quantum mechanics is trying to tell us is, in fact, that there is already a difference between the two particles, but we can discover the difference only later, in the future. Though they're different already, there's no way to find out until you do the experiment in the future, and find the difference between the two systems.

That suggested to me that if we are trying to understand how to describe the present time, we need not only information of the past that comes to the present, but also, some information from the future (that) comes back to the present that tells us more information about the system.

That is true about micrscopic systems in the quantum domain. It suggests perhaps in some future physics, some future theory, we have now an approach to time where the present is described not only by things that happened in the past, (but things that) come back like the movie, Back to the Future -- come back to affect the present.

That's a real change in our understanding of time.


A Night At The Museum

On Jan 14, the Oklahoma Science Museum will allow guests to spend the night and participate in hand-on physics experiment/demonstration.

The event is from 6 p.m. Jan. 14 until 8:30 the next morning. Guests will be allowed to spend the night in the museum and play with hands-on science experiments that range from boiling water that is safe to pour on your head, creating electro magnets or building their own artificial gravity machine. The goal of Bright Night of Physics is to ignite a passion for science, and keep it going.

More info can be found the at museum's webpage.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

Wishing everyone a prosperous, safe, and happy new year.

Physical science funding in the US in this year appears to look extremely bleak. After a windfall of stimulus money and boost in spending for various research projects in 2010, this year promises to be a year in which spending cuts will be the norm. Already, there is a pay freeze for employees of the Dept. of Energy. This means that most of those working at various US National Labs will not see a pay raise this year (and probably next year as well).

While it is encouraging that the America Competes Act was passed, this guarantees no funding. It still remains for various appropriations committee in Congress to allocate money to science projects. With the Republicans taking over the House of Representatives this year, and their promise to cut spending, who knows much severe the cut will be in science funding.

It is safe to say that most of us are bracing for the worst.