Monday, April 30, 2012

Final Day To Submit Your Nominations For Most Attractive Physicist

This is the final day to submit your nominations for our 2nd Most Attractive Physicist contest!

Don't be shy! Send in your nominations now!


Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Consolation of Philosophy

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

It seems that Lawrence Krauss had to elaborate on the rather provocative interview that was published in the Atlantic barely a week ago. As you recall, in that interview, he challenged the usefulness and relevancy of philosophy and religion, in light of advances made in modern physics.

In this OpEd piece, he clarified his statement, with an apology to the philosophy community for lumping them all in one group. But he is not apologetic on the influence (or lack thereof) of the field of philosophy in advancing physics.

What I find common and so stimulating about the philosophical efforts of these intellectual colleagues is the way they thoughtfully reflect on human knowledge, amassed from empirical explorations in areas ranging from science to history, to clarify issues that are relevant to making decisions about how to function more effectively and happily as an individual, and as a member of a society.

As a practicing physicist however, the situation is somewhat different. There, I, and most of the colleagues with whom I have discussed this matter, have found that philosophical speculations about physics and the nature of science are not particularly useful, and have had little or no impact upon progress in my field. Even in several areas associated with what one can rightfully call the philosophy of science I have found the reflections of physicists to be more useful. For example, on the nature of science and the scientific method, I have found the insights offered by scientists who have chosen to write concretely about their experience and reflections, from Jacob Bronowski, to Richard Feynman, to Francis Crick, to Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein, and Sir James Jeans, to have provided me with a better practical guide than the work of even the most significant philosophical writers of whom I am aware, such as Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. I admit that this could primarily reflect of my own philosophical limitations, but I suspect this experience is more common than not among my scientific colleagues.
But what slammed the door on what I would call "theological philosophy" is what he wrote at the end of the article.

So, to those philosophers I may have unjustly offended by seemingly blanket statements about the field, I apologize. I value your intelligent conversation and the insights of anyone who thinks carefully about our universe and who is willing to guide their thinking based on the evidence of reality. To those who wish to impose their definition of reality abstractly, independent of emerging empirical knowledge and the changing questions that go with it, and call that either philosophy or theology, I would say this: Please go on talking to each other, and let the rest of us get on with the goal of learning more about nature.
Hahaha.... I enjoyed reading that! :)


Friday, April 27, 2012

Analytical Thinking Causes Religions Beliefs To Waver?

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

Not that this is surprising to me, but there appears to be a study that suggests that when people start thinking a bit more on certain things, ".... you reject statements that otherwise you would endorse... ", and this includes certain religious beliefs.

To test this idea, the duo devised several ways to subconsciously put people in what they considered a more analytical mindset. In one experiment with 57 undergraduate students, some volunteers viewed artwork depicting a reflective thinking pose (such as Rodin's The Thinker) while others viewed art depicting less intellectual pursuits (such as throwing a discus) before answering questionnaires about their faith. In another experiment with 93 undergraduates and a larger sample of 148 American adults recruited online, some subjects solved word puzzles that incorporated words such as "analyze," "reason," and "ponder," while others completed similar puzzles with only words unrelated to thinking, such as "high" and "plane." In all of these experiments, people who got the thinking-related cues reported weaker religious beliefs on the questionnaires taken afterward than did the control group.

In a final experiment, Gervais and Norenzayan asked 182 volunteers to answer a religious questionnaire as usual, while others answered the same questionnaire printed in a hard-to-read font, which previous studies have found promotes analytic thinking. And indeed, those who had to work harder to comprehend the questionnaire rated their religious beliefs lower.
I'm usually skeptical on whether such things can be studied, and if these statistics are reliable. The authors claim they are since many different studies and methodologies seem to indicate the same, consistent findings, which makes it a bit more believable.

Still, if this is true, then Science and Religion are truly at odds with each other, not just culturally, but rather at the FUNDAMENTAL level. It means that they are, in principle, incompatible with each other.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Role of Physics in Medicine

This is a good article that reviews Lancet's special issue on Physics and Medicine.

While many of us, and especially those who are in this field, are aware of this, the article is more useful when it is preached to those who are not in the choir. The general public, and especially the politicians that determine fundings, need to be told of this FACT. While the knowledge that is gained out of apparently "useless" subject area such as high energy physics, elementary particle physics, astrophysics, etc. are themselves interesting and important, the EXPERIMENTAL techniques and the technology that are pushed to do these studies are paving the way for applications in other areas, including medicine. Your x-rays, MRI, proton therapy, PET-scans, etc., all came out of the advances made to perform these high energy physics/astrophysics/etc. experiments!

High energy physics, especially, continues to push detector technology. Unlike many areas of physics where experimentalists buy equipment off the shelf, and therefore their ability to do many of these experiments depends on what is commercially available, high energy physicists/astrophysicists often have to BUILD and DEVELOP their own detectors. The area of detector physics deals with a lot of applications that are targeted at detecting single-photon pulses of Cerenkov light from, say, a neutrino interacting with a tank of water, or a calorimeter for particle physics collider, etc. Many of the knowledge gained in producing these detectors will eventually make it into other areas, including medicine.

What this means is that, reduced funding in areas which you think has no effect on you is simply going to affect the future of your well-being, and the well-being of your children and grandchildren. It takes years for such knowledge to trickle down to useful applications, and one is simply ruining the seeds that one should be planting now.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Frank Wilczek's "A Long View Of Particle Physics"

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

This is probably either an excerpt, or the text of a talk given by Frank Wilczek at last year's Solvay Conference.

Abstract: 2011 marked the hundredth anniversary both of the famous Solvay conferences, and of the Geiger-Marsden experiment that launched the modern understanding of subatomic structure. I was asked to survey the status and prospects of particle physics for the anniversary Solvay conference, with appropriate perspective. This is my attempt.

It's a surprisingly short paper, considering the title, which means it is short on details. Still, it might be an informative read for some people.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rethinking The Neutrino

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

I mentioned the news out of Data Bay a while back. The paper has now been published in PRL and you can get a free copy of it. It is also the subject of an excellent review article on our knowledge of neutrinos so far, especially on the mass/mixing angle. If you want a quick catch-up on what is what, this is the article to read.


Retired Physicist Makes Cheap Touchpad Stylus

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

If you have a tablet, you know how expensive a stylus can get. I bought one for my iPad, and I looked for the cheapest (~$12 at Best Buy). Turns out, I wasn't the only one who thought that, even at that price, it is a tad too expensive. A retired physicist thought so too, but he decided to do something about it.

The instructions for installing Microsoft Office on his new tablet suggested purchasing a stylus to make it easier to type on the keypad. When Gordon began researching that suggestion, though, he discovered that the better ones cost from $15 to $50.

"I thought that seemed a lot of money, and I thought that if they do work, I can make one myself," Gordon said.

Using his knowledge of the technology involved in touch screens, Gordon set to work.
You may read the link to see what he did. He's selling his "homemade" stylus for $5 and all proceeds benefit the Amherst Senior Center.

BTW, CNET had ran an article on how to make your own stylus in less than 2 minutes! Granted, it looks rather ... er .... rustic, but it works in a pinch.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Interview With Lawrence Krauss - Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

On the same day that I posted a rebuttal by Vic Stenger, the Atlantic published an entertaining interview with Lawrence Krauss in response to the recent attack on his book in the NY Times. In it, he showed how little he thinks about philosophy, or philosophy of science in particular.

I want to start with a general question about the relationship between philosophy and physics. There has been a fair amount of sniping between these two disciplines over the past few years. Why the sudden, public antagonism between philosophy and physics? 

Krauss: That's a good question. I expect it's because physics has encroached on philosophy. Philosophy used to be a field that had content, but then "natural philosophy" became physics, and physics has only continued to make inroads. Every time there's a leap in physics, it encroaches on these areas that philosophers have carefully sequestered away to themselves, and so then you have this natural resentment on the part of philosophers. This sense that somehow physicists, because they can't spell the word "philosophy," aren't justified in talking about these things, or haven't thought deeply about them---

Is that really a claim that you see often?

Krauss: It is. Philosophy is a field that, unfortunately, reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke, "those that can't do, teach, and those that can't teach, teach gym." And the worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read work by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics what so ever, and I doubt that other philosophers read it because it's fairly technical. And so it's really hard to understand what justifies it. And so I'd say that this tension occurs because people in philosophy feel threatened, and they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn't.

Whoa! Them's fighting words! If that doesn't start a fight with philosophers, I don't know anything that ever will! :)

You should read the rest of his interview, where he clarified quite a bit more on the central theme of his book. Very entertaining!


Physics Didn't Get Him Off His Traffic Ticket

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

For people who thought that UCSD physicist  Dmitri Krioukov got out of his traffic ticket because he argued his case using physics, we now have the opinion from the presiding judge, and it isn't as "sexy" of a story as the media has made it to be.

But the equation-filled paper on the physics of a car in motion went largely over the head of Superior Court Commissioner Karen Riley, she told U-T San Diego.

“The ruling was not based on his physics explanation,” Riley said. “It was based on the officer’s view ... The officer, wasn’t close enough to the intersection to have a good view.”
There ya go! Simple geometry and optics! :)


A Lot Of Something On Nothing

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

Looks like the debate originating out of Lawrence Krauss's latest book "A Universe from Nothing" continues. This time, Vic Stenger wrote an opinion piece with counter argument against a recent NY Times OpEd opinion piece by Philosopher David Albert.

The problem here, of course, is the insistence that (i) there has to be something and (ii) that this somehow can stop at God and that's it. Stenger stated this clearly:

Albert is not satisfied that Krauss has answered the fundamental question: Why there is something rather than nothing, that is, being rather than nonbeing? Again, there is a simple retort: Why should nothing, no matter how defined, be the default state of existence rather than something? And, to bring religion into the picture, one could ask: Why is there God rather than nothing? Once theologians assert that there is a God (as opposed to nothing), they can't turn around and ask a cosmologist why there is a universe (as opposed to nothing). They claim God is a necessary entity. But then, why can't a godless multiverse be a necessary entity?
In other words, if one lives by the philosophy that everything must be the result of something, then one must also ask "What is God the result of?" One can't simply shift the rule and stop asking the same question by the time one reaches God. If one argues that the rule doesn't apply to god (i.e. "god state" is the ground state of the system), then why can't cosmologists argue that vacuum state is the ground state of our universe and stop there? The vacuum ground state has more experimental evidence than the god ground state (which has none). So which one would you believe in?


Sunday, April 22, 2012

PVC Extrusions For NOvA

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

I pointed out a video of the assembly of the prototype NOvA detector a while back. This is a picture of the cross-section of the PVC extrusions that make up the detector block.

The channels formed by the extrusions will be filled with scintillator liquid (mineral oil?) that hopefully will emit light when a neutrino interacts with the liquid.

A lot of studies have been done with huge structures of these PVC, especially on its structure integrity for something that size over a period of time. In any case, the NOvA detector will have its ribbon-cutting ceremony sometime later this month, and construction will commence very soon afterwards.

You may read more about the NOvA project at their website.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

No Dark Matter In Our Neighborhood?

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

The most provocative report from this past week is the recent publication of a new result that tries to find any sign of dark matter in our part of the galaxy. Strangely enough, the researchers found none, or at least, there wasn't any need for the presence of dark matter to explain the observed celestial dynamics.

But that's not what Christian Moni Bidin, an astronomer at the University of ConcepciĆ³n in Chile, and colleagues find. Using data gathered with several telescopes, they studied old stars called red giants in a cylindrical region a couple of light-years wide and extending 13,000 light-years above the plane of the galaxy. Treating the stars a bit like atoms in a gas, researchers assumed that they were trapped in the gravitational "well" of the galaxy. So by studying distributions of the stars' speeds in three dimensions, they could deduce the well's shape and hence the total distribution of mass from both dark and ordinary matter along the cylinder. Subtracting the distribution of ordinary matter as determined from star counts would then reveal the distribution of dark matter.

When Moni Bidin and colleagues did the analysis, however, they found that no dark matter was needed to explain the stars' speeds. The researchers had expected to detect a complicated mass distribution with a contribution from the galaxy's disk of stars and gas and the presumably spherical "halo" of dark matter surrounding the disk. Instead, they found that the disk alone neatly explained their data, as they report in a paper in press at The Astrophysical Journal.
Of course, there are skepticism with this report, especially with regards to the type of analysis being done.

Or not. The new result may say more about the method than the distribution of dark matter, Navarro says. To get that distribution, at each position in space Moni Bidin and colleagues must subtract one large quantity (the amount of ordinary matter) from another large quantity (the amount of total mass) to get a small quantity. That process is likely to suffer from large uncertainties, Navarro says. "I applaud them for trying," he says. "I just don't think this method will ever give a conclusive answer." Moni Bidin says the method is robust and that larger surveys to come will pin down the dark matter distribution more precisely.
As with any report that are this controversial (re: superluminal neutrinos), we need to let the system works out on its own. A lot more studies need to be done with more analysis and observations. Things are seldom confirmed with just one observation using one technique, especially in a situation such as this where the methodology of analysis influence the result. So I certainly would not want to draw any kind of conclusion this soon.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Webinar: Framework for Next Generation of Science Standards

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

Here's a free webinar for you to attend if you're interested.

Friday, April 27, 2012
1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. US ET
Helen Quinn, Professor of Physics at Stanford University and Education and Public Outreach Manager at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), will outline the Framework for K-12 Science Education that is the basis of the coming Next Generation Science Standards. Helen will discuss aspects of the Framework that are of interest when thinking about physics teacher preparation.

Noah Finkelstein, associate professor of physics and director of the Physics Education Research group at UC Boulder, will moderate the discussion.
Long-time readers of this blog would have recalled that Helen Quinn wrote one of the most compelling essays that I've come across, and I've asked everyone to read it. If you haven't, this is a good reminder for you to do so if you missed it the first time around.


Postmodernism, The Physicist, and The Porn Star

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

When was the last time you read an article that has, in one shot, something about creative writing, postmodernism, a physicist, and a porn start trying to change career? Well now you have!

This article is lamenting the state of creative writing classes, and that they no longer teach you how to write, but now teach you how to think. But worse still, they inflict on postmodernism ideas onto students.

The trouble with creative writing classes in the modern university is they do not teach writing. As anyone who has suffered through one of these classes knows, they are nebulous attempts at inculcating students with the values of today's postmodernists -- most importantly, pretension. Pop-cultural analysis, pop-psychology, and pop-philosophy are discussed, while how to write a compelling sentence is not. Rules of capitalization and punctuation are ignored probably because they are vestiges of neocolonial homophobic sexism.
Now, as someone who didn't take creative writing in college, I have no idea if this is true, or if this is universally practiced in all schools. So I'd like to hear from someone who knows more about this than I do. Still, the mention of the word "postmodernism" cannot evade the infamous Alan Sokal that managed to throw a pie in the face at that discipline.

Social Text's editors published the article in 1996 and soon after Sokal revealed it was a hoax, proving that certain branches of academia today are unable to distinguish nonsense from fashionable nonsense. This stems from the fact that relativism forms the intellectual bedrock of the humanities today. Because attempts at discovering truths are derided as antediluvian, substance and argumentation are relegated, while servility to the gatekeepers takes on supreme value. This is why we get such fashionable nonsense, and, unfortunately, this is exactly what Lorelei Lee will both teach and be taught.
Ah, such fun!


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No Exotic Explanation For Pioneer "Anomaly"

 {Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

So much for all the exotic explanations and theories for the Pioneer anomaly. As reported earlier, there appears to be a rather conventional explanation for unusual trajectory taken by Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecrafts. This latest news is a further confirmation to that conventional explanation.

According to Turyshev, the biggest challenge in developing the simulation was the "lack of precise and complete information on the spacecraft", which was designed and built more than 40 years ago. As a result, the team interviewed engineers who had built the spacecraft and still had notes and memories on the design and materials used. Also crucial to the team's success was the use of data that were beamed back to Earth during the mission. These included the temperature at several locations on the spacecraft, which allowed the team to evaluate the accuracy of its computer model and also to infer the thermal properties of some of the materials used in the satellite.

The team also performed an independent analysis of the trajectory of Pioneer 10 from which the researchers were also able to extract the relative contributions of the RTG and instruments to the anomalous acceleration. Both the thermal simulations and the trajectory analysis gave similar results, within experimental and computational errors.
You may read the ArXiv preprint of the result here.

Now, I wonder what are the "excuses" given by all these people who had proposed all of these exotic theories for this anomaly? We tend not to hear much from them after something like this. Kinda like the superluminal neutrinos. Tons of exotic explanations are offered, but not offers any explanation or retractions when the effects either goes away, or is explained away by conventional means.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Bending Light Without Dispersion

It is amazing that, even after all these years, Maxwell equations can still hold a lot of surprises.

A theoretical solution to Maxwell equations may produce the bending of light, even in vacuum, without any dispersion.

In a paper in Physical Review Letters, Ido Kaminer and colleagues at Technion, Israel, report on wave solutions to Maxwell’s equations that are both nondiffracting and capable of following a much tighter circular trajectory than was previously thought possible. Apart from fundamental scientific interest, such wave solutions may lead to the possibility of synthesizing shape-preserving optical beams that make curved left- or right-handed turns on their own. The equations describing these light waves could also be generalized to describe similar behavior in sound and water waves.
You can read the rest of the review article in the link, and even get a free copy of the actual paper.

I can't wait for someone to demonstrate this experimentally.


Nomination Still On-Going For Most Attractive Physicists

In case you missed it, the nomination period is still ongoing for our 2nd Most Attractive Physicist contest. Don't miss nominating the physicists you think are the most attractive.

So far, I've only received 3 nominations, and they are all for female physicists (where are the males?). You still have a bit of time left to submit your nominations, so don't be shy!


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Victory Over Traffic Tickets

This story seems to be getting a lot of legs. A couple of people have pointed it out to me already.

A UCSD physicist claimed victory over a traffic ticket by using a simple kinematic analysis.

A physicist at the University of California San Diego used his knowledge of measuring bodies in motion to show in court why he couldn't be guilty of a ticket for failing to halt at a stop sign. The argument, now a four-page paper delving into the differences between angular and linear motion, supposedly got the physicist out of a $400 ticket. If you want to use this excuse, you'll have to learn a little math -- and some powers of persuasion.
The article cited a "paper", which is wrong, since it is only an ArXiv article (not sure if and where it was submitted). Note also that it was uploaded on April 1st, but supposedly, this isn't an April Fools stunt.

You may read his analysis yourself and see if you are convinced of his innocence, or if you can poke holes in his argument.

This story reminds of an earlier attempt at using the laws of physics to argue against another supposed traffic violation.


Friday, April 13, 2012

How Do Physics Careers Compare To Others?

A brief analysis of a recent ranking of 200 jobs, in which a career in physics was ranked surprisingly high - 25.

You can read of the ranking in the link given in the article, and also the analysis of what was missed and what wasn't. But in the end, I tend to agree with the writer, even taking into consideration that I, unlike him/her, is not a science/newspaper reporter.

Important factors like these are often glossed over when these career rankings are compiled, but there's certainly not an easy way to quantify all of these factors. Furthermore, weighting all of these factors for everyone doesn't work well: Diverse people are going to value different things in a career.

While these career rankings can be fun and interesting, I don't think they're quite as helpful as they claim to be.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

El Videos?

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

OK, I had a chuckle, or several chuckles, while reading this article. It is a report on using videos as supplements for students at the US Air Force Academy. What got me to chuckle was the effect of doing their own videos on not just the students, but also the instructors who had to appear on those videos.

Additionally, instructors both teach what we know and impart who we are; therefore, we also preferred an approach to EI Videos that would promote officer development as well as academic success.Since the goal is to develop character and not just teach academics, most EI Videos include a brief introductory vignette, a 30-120 second segment before the pedagogical portion encouraging cadets to form better habits, pointing out the military or practical applications of the topics being discussed, and/or sharing personal experiences related to the topic or the training process.  One of the cadets' favorite vignettes is an instructor attempting dance moves from “Saturday Night Fever” and then admitting, “When I try to dance,I look like a dufus –because I haven't practiced.”  The vignette closes and transitions into the example problem with the admonition that without practicing the homework problems, watching EI Videos won't make them any better at math than watching “Dancing with the Stars” will make them a better dancer.  Other vignettes feature an instructor with a barbell encouraging, “The math class is the weight room for the mind . . .” warning against “Five frequently fatal freshmen physics fantasies”[3]or holding a precision rifle and explaining the importance of mathematics in the profession of arms which is about “putting projectiles on target.”  Some example videos have been uploaded to YouTube, because a lot about the vignettes is hard to explain in writing, but easy to perceive.

Detailed production tips are described in the appendix.  None of the video instructors have been terribly excited about how they look and sound on video.  The camera adds 20 pounds and seems to magnify every wrinkle and mannerism, every “um”, “er”, and pregnant pause while one collects a thought and considers the next phrase.  Confidence and improved ability come with practice.  We have learned to get over our vanities and get the job done putting well considered solutions on video.  Teaching on video is a great tool for breaking bad habits and smoothing one's presentation.  One video instructor lost 30 pounds to better present a good example of lifelong fitness on camera and in the classroom.  The path to growth is jumping in and trying it. 
That's funny! And oh, the videos seem to be quite effective as well! :)


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Matt Strassler's "OPERA: What Went Wrong?"

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

I'm a bit late to the party, but if you haven't read Matt Strassler's analysis of what went wrong with the OPERA's result, you should! It not only gives you a good overview of what happened and what might have happened, but you should also read his personal take on the matter, and why the OPERA leaderships made a poor judgement on how they announced the results.

Like I said earlier, it appears that many people forgot the Cold Fusion debacle and lessons on how to handle a potentially-explosive news. Things have changed a lot since the late 80's when Cold Fusion debacle occurred, and news and rumors spread almost instantaneously nowadays. So the OPERA debacle is many times worse.

One can only hope the next group of people with such a type of result will learn from this embarrassment.


The Elements iPad App

{Don't miss our nomination period to nominate your most attractive physicists}

Hey, did you see NOVA's "Hunting the Elements" last week? If you enjoyed that, then there's an iPad app for you to continue with your exploration of the various elements.

The Elements iPad AppThe free app, available now on the App Store, takes the periodic table off the wall and puts it into users’ hands, bringing life to the world’s elements in colorful and dynamic ways.

NOVA Elements, featuring tech guru David Pogue, allows users to explore an interactive periodic table, build elements from their particles, construct 3D rotating molecules, and watch the two-hour NOVA program, “Hunting the Elements,” premiering tonight at 9PM/8c on PBS (check local listings).

The NOVA Elements App allows users to:

  • Learn key facts about each element: its discovery, appearance, real-world application and more.
  • Play in an atomic sandbox to create any or all of the 118 elements by adding the correct number of protons, neutrons and electrons.
  • Combine the elements you’ve built into 3D rotatable molecules found in everyday objects, like a banana or a watch, in the “My Essential Elements” game.
  • Jump to related segments in NOVA’s “Hunting the Elements” program with the tappable periodic table.
  • Share your exploration and discoveries with tweets.
  • Watch the complete two-hour NOVA program, “Hunting the Elements.” Streaming is only available in the U.S. and its territories.

The NOVA Elements App is available for free from the App Store on iPad or at here.
So here's another app to add to something that might be useful and relevant to physics.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The 2nd Physics And Physicists Most Attractive Physicist Contest!

Oh yes! Just when you think it was safe to follow this blog, I am going back into the territory that caused so much ruckus last time. That's right, folks, the poll/contest for us to select who we think is the most attractive physicist is back!! Get your kids off the streets and make sure grandma is sitting down in her chair! We are going to take no prisoners!

The first contest when quite well, don't you think? We anointed our attractive physicists, both female and male. Strangely enough, some people were offended by the poll on the female physicists, but strangely enough, no one felt offended by the poll done on the male physicists. Wonder why that is? Oh well, this isn't a psychology blog, or we would have dealt into that at length.

So, on with our 2nd contest. We will follow the rules that was set up for the last one, but with a few changes:

1. Anyone can nominate a physicist who he/she thinks is a candidate for being the most attractive. The deadline for nomination is April 30, 2012.

2. The physicists that landed in the TOP 3 for men and women in our previous contest are NO LONGER QUALIFIED to be nominated for this contest. However, everyone else who were nominated qualifies for this contest.

3. You may nominate as many as you want. HOWEVER, you should include either a picture, or at least a link to a picture, so that the voters have an idea what this physicist looks like. The links can also be videos, etc., i.e. anything to give the rest of us a good idea on this person's feature. This will be useful especially if it is someone who is not a household name.

4. You may nominate someone based on his/her attractiveness at a different age. For example, the Albert Einstein who worked at the Swiss Patent Office may be more attractive than the one that landed at Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. So if you are nominating Einstein in his younger years, you have to accompany that nomination with a picture of him in that age.

5. If you are submitting someone who isn't a household name, it would also help that you include a link to show that this person is a physicist. A link to either a paper, or university position, etc. would be sufficient. But how do I define a physicist, you ask? To me, anyone with a physics degree, even if that person isn't a practicing physicist, qualifies! I may have to contact you if I can't verify a nominee's credentials.

6. Don't be afraid to nominate yourself, if you are a physicist, and if you think you might qualify as being attractive. Or nominate your colleagues, with their permission, of course! I want as many good-looking physicists as I can get for this contest.

7. Submit your vote by adding a comment to this blog post. If you do not wish to have your nomination made public, please clearly indicate as such and your nomination will not be released (all comments to this blog are moderated and will only be made public upon release by me).

8. At the end of the nomination period, I will tally up all the nomination, and will select the Top 5 the male and a separate Top 5 for the female physicist.

9. I will then open up the voting to all readers of this blog, so YOU get to choose who you think is the most attractive male and female physicist. I haven't decided yet on what I'll do if we end up with a tie, so I'll just make things up as I go along if that happens.

10. If you see that you have been nominated by someone, but you do not wish to be included, please contact me (zapperz at gmail) or leave a comment to this blog post and I will remove the nomination.

OK? Ready? So bring it on! And let's see how badly I get bashed this time around.


Monday, April 09, 2012

The Non-Newtonian Physics Of Angry Birds Space

It was bound to happen. Analysis of the physics (or non-physics) of the new Angry Birds Space is already out. This is one such example. Of course, anyone with a good knowledge of physics would have already spotted a few non-Newtonian dynamics of this game.
But some of the more realistic characteristics of the game don’t quite obey Newton’s laws. For starters, the gravitational fields appear to have a uniform magnitude instead of weakening with distance from an object’s center (called the inverse square rule). That seems to be a casualty of making the game fun. “Otherwise, gravity would be too weak at the edges of the field,” says Erin Catto, the game physics programmer who created Box2d, the physics engine that runs behind the curtain at Angry Birds.
It's still a fun game but it would have been ridiculously outrageous if they had stuck with the actual physics. :)


Friday, April 06, 2012

Looming Crisis For US Physics

We have heard this many times, and at some point, it's hard not to say "So what else is new?"

This report in an excerpt of the panel discussion during the last APS Meeting among prominent physicists. It highlights the fact that there is a clear perception that the US is losing grounds on discoveries and advancement in physics with the shift going to other countries. The major culprit here is the continually dismal funding of science, and physics in particular.

"We need to redouble our efforts to make sure the projects we select are of the highest importance and impact, and be on the lookout for new technologies and innovations that would allow us to do more of our science goals with more modest resources," said Timothy Hallman, associate director of science for nuclear physics at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Jim Siegrist, director of the Office of High Energy Physics in DOE's Office of Science, agreed. "We need to find a way to do more science with a fixed amount of money," Siegrist said.

"I think it'd be easier just to have more money," Wilczek replied.

He argued that society doesn't adequately value and recognize the economic benefits of basic science.
"Think about how much the invention of the transistor is worth," Wilczek said."The fundamental science that went into that was understanding quantum mechanics, understanding the micro world. Bohr didn't get rich from it, Heisenberg didn't get rich from it. But society got rich from it." (Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg were two of the pioneers of quantum mechanics.)
I've mentioned this earlier that I wouldn't be surprised that 100 years from now, if the US no longer is a major economic power, historian might look at this time period of the past 10 years as the turning point and the start of the decline of the US civilization. Every civilization in our history went through such golden period and then the decline. Some even completely perished. Are we beginning to see eventual fate of the US? When a nation no longer supports what has admittedly been the major source and driving force of innovations that had sustained and grew the economy,  then it is a sign of the beginning of the downfall.


Thursday, April 05, 2012

Exploring The Nature Of Matter

This is more of a "promotional" series of videos that cover research work conducted at Thomas Jefferson Lab. So if you want a quick, simplified overview and are not familiar with the work done at JLab, this might be a video you want to see.



LHC Is Running At 8 TeV

Press release from CERN:

*LHC physics data taking gets underway at new record collision energy of 8TeV*

Geneva, 5 April 2012. At 00:38 CEST this morning, the LHC shift crew declared ‘stable beams’ as two 4 TeV proton beams were brought into collision at the LHC’s four interaction points. This signals the start of physics data taking by the LHC experiments for 2012. The collision energy of 8 TeV is a new world record, and increases the machine’s discovery potential considerably.

/“The experience of two good years of running at 3.5 TeV per beam gave us the confidence to increase the energy for this year without any significant risk to the machine,”/explained CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. /“Now it’s over to the experiments to make the best of the increased discovery potential we’re delivering them!”/

Although the increase in collision energy is relatively modest, it translates to an increased discovery potential that can be several times higher for certain hypothetical particles. Some such particles, for example those predicted by supersymmetry, would be produced much more copiously at the higher energy. Supersymmetry is a theory in particle physics that goes beyond the current Standard Model, and could account for the dark matter of the Universe.

Standard Model Higgs particles, if they exist, will also be produced more copiously at 8 TeV than at 7 TeV, but background processes that mimic the Higgs signal will also increase. That means that the full year’s running will still be necessary to convert the tantalising hints seen in 2011 into a discovery, or to rule out the Standard Model Higgs particle altogether.

/“The increase in energy is all about maximising the discovery potential of the LHC,”/said CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci. /“And in that respect, 2012 looks set to be a vintage year for particle physics.”/

The LHC is now scheduled to run until the end of 2012, when it will go into its first long shutdown in preparation for running at an energy of 6.5 TeV per beam as of late 2014, with the ultimate goal of ramping up to the full design energy of 7 TeV.
While this is exciting, it is also high noon for Supersymmetry. If there's not even a hint of these supersymmetric particles at this energy, it will be in deep doo-doo.


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Persistence and Uncertainty in the Academic Career

I did only a quick browse of this paper (a lot of statistical analysis which I don't quite get). The abstract was .... "abstract" enough that I dove into the paper and looked for some main points that the authors was trying to make. One point that I got was in the conclusion/discussion of the paper:

An ongoing debate involving academics, university administration, and educational policy makers concerns the de nition of professorship and the case for lifetime tenure, as changes in the economics of university growth have now placed tenure under the review process [3, 6]. Critics of tenure argue that tenure places too much financial risk burden on the modern competitive research university and diminishes the ability to adapt to shifting economic, employment, and scientifi c markets. To address these changes, universities and other research institutes have shifted away from tenure at all levels of academia in the last thirty years towards meeting sta ff needs with short-term and non-tenure track positions [3].

For knowledge intensive domains, production is characterized by long-term spillovers both through time and through the knowledge network of associated ideas and agents. A potential drawback of professions designed around short-term contracts is that there is an implicit expectation of sustained annual production that e ffectively discounts the cumulative achievements of the individual. Consequently, there is a possibility that short-term contracts may reduce the incentives for a young scientist to invest in human and social capital accumulation. Moreover, we highlight the importance of an employment relationship that is able to combine positive competitive pressure with adequate safeguards to protect against career hazards and endogenous production uncertainty an individual is likely to encounter in his/her career.
In other words, moving away from tenureship won't give you more productive personnel.\


Hunting The Dark Sector On The Cheap

A short review of the effort to hunt for the hypothetical "dark" photons at JLab, and doing it with a minuscule budget when compared to other elementary particle physics experiments.
The HPS researchers at the Jefferson Lab are quick to concede that the experiment, like two others at the lab probing this dark sector, is a long shot that is likely to achieve little more than null results. But the reasonable price tags for such projects — about US$3 million to build and run the HPS detector — have prompted more physicists to try. “It’s always a great question in physics to go around wondering if there are more fundamental forces,” says physicist John Jaros, co-spokesman for the HPS experiment.
Good luck to them. It's a long shot, but as with many of these things, one tends to learn something new even when no discovery is made.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Non-detection of the Tooth Fairy at Optical Wavelengths


First we had a "paper" on Gods as Topological Invariants. Now comes a "study" on the detecting Tooth Fairies! Is it still April 1st?

In any case, it is still a pretty funny piece. Still, where do these people find the time to do all these, and are they still on sale? :)


OPERA Leaders Step Down

Heads are already rolling as the consequence of the OPERA result debacle. Both its science coordinator and its spokeperson have stepped down from their positions within the OPERA collaboration.

“We have now an indication [along] that line,” says Dario Autiero of the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Lyons, France, and, until last week, OPERA's physics coordinator.

Autiero resigned from the collaboration on 30 March, a day after OPERA spokesman Antonio Ereditato of the University of Bern. The moves followed months of internal tension and media leaks and, last week, votes of no confidence in Ereditato and Autiero by OPERA’s collaboration board, which consists of representatives from its member institutions.
One needs to be clear here in that (i) there is no deliberate manipulation of results and (ii) the issue here isn't the report on what appears to be an erroneous result. Wrong results are reported often in science. That isn't the issue. The issue here is how this was handled, and how it was reported. Anyone can see that reporting a result such as this would create quite a stir and quite a sensation, especially in the media and the general public. Things can get out of proportion very quickly with something like this.

So the criticism here is directed at the publicity surrounding the announcement. It is no different than the media circus surrounding the Fleishmann and Pons "cold fusion" announcement. Unfortunately, the OPERA result might suffer from the same fate as that infamous "discovery".


Monday, April 02, 2012

Gods as Topological Invariants

OK, I had way too much fun reading this!

Abstract: We show that the number of gods in a universe must equal the Euler characteristics of its underlying manifold. By incorporating the classical cosmological argument for creation, this result builds a bridge between theology and physics and makes theism a testable hypothesis. Theological implications are profound since the theorem gives us new insights in the topological structure of heavens and hells. Recent astronomical observations can not reject theism, but data are slightly in favor of atheism. 

Don't forget to look at the date that it was uploaded to ArXiv, in case you missed it.

I suppose if we take away the "joke", something like this is similar to what Alan Sokal did for Social Text! :)