Saturday, December 27, 2014

Neil Degrasse Tyson's Christmas Tweets Caused A Brouhaha

It seems that a few harmless tweets by Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson are causing quite a stir on the internet.

Honest, I don't see this as being a big deal. I don't even find it mildly offensive and I wish those people who are criticizing him for it would explain what exactly it is that they don't like. After all, it appears that his words actually meant something for them to either follow him, or take the time to respond. Otherwise, why bother or give a hoot about what he has to say?

There are more offensive things being said and done against Christianity, especially at this time of the year. Picking a fight based on a bunch of FACTS (yes, look closely, he is simply stating FACTS) being presented in a rather cheeky way is a freaking waste of time! So get a GRIP, people!


Monday, December 22, 2014

Astronomically Correct Twinkle Twinkle

This is just way too much fun.

Happy Holidays!!


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Winter Solstice

I'm posting this on Dec. 21, 2014, which is often considered as the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year for Northern Hemisphere.

Now most people will associate that with the idea that from this day onwards, sunrise will be earlier and sunset will be later in the day. However, this article shows that that is not the case as they showed in the table.

Day Sunrise Sunset Day length
(All times GMT)

Turns out, it has to do with a day not being exactly of the same length all year long.

There are two reasons why the length of the solar day varies, the first being the fact that the axis of the Earth's rotation is tilted - 23.5 degrees from vertical - and second, the Earth's speed varies because it moves in an elliptical orbit around the sun, accelerating when it is closer to the star's gravitational pull and decelerating when it is further away.

The sun therefore in effect lags behind the clock for part of the year, then speeds ahead of it for another.

So there you go!

11 December 2014 07:56 15:51 7:55:37
21 December 2014 08:04 15:53 7:49:45
31 December 2014 08:06 16:01 7:54:39
31 January 2015 07:41 16:48 9:06:42

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Defending The Integrety Of Physics

The suggestion made by a few theorists that theoretical physics, at least some aspect of it, should be accepted merely based on "aesthetics" and not from experimental verification is downright STUPID! This is highlighted in the opinion piece published in Nature recently (I don't know how long this article is available online for free, so read it now!).

This year, debates in physics circles took a worrying turn. Faced with difficulties in applying fundamental theories to the observed Universe, some researchers called for a change in how theoretical physics is done. They began to argue — explicitly — that if a theory is sufficiently elegant and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally, breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical. We disagree. As the philosopher of science Karl Popper argued: a theory must be falsifiable to be scientific.

Without experimental verification, then such ideas are no longer physics but rather, a religion. You accept things purely on a matter of faith, or beauty, or elegance, etc.. without being able to empirically show that it is valid.

I will fight tooth and nail to make sure physics doesn't go into that rout. If these theorists want to pursue such a thing, then they should stop calling themselves physicists and start their own religion.


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

2014 Physics Gift Guide

Rhett Allain has some suggestions for gift-giving during this holiday season. Why he called his post a "physics gift guide", most, if not all, of the items are more "technical" and engineering in nature (except for books, of course).

I would add to that list something that a physicist or physics student might find useful. How about a scientific spreadsheet and plotting software? Many of these, such as Origin, are horribly expensive to own individually. But something such as Psi-Plot is quite affordable and has almost all the bells and whistles that one would need.

For a casual physics enthusiast, especially those who are caught up in al the hoopla with particle physics and the Higgs, one could get merchandise with various "geeky" prints at zazzle.

Do you have anything to add to this list?


Sunday, November 30, 2014

LEGO Particle Accelerator

Hey, if you have time to burn, why not build your own LEGO particle accelerator?

Here's the synopsis accompanying the YouTube video:

This is a working particle accelerator built using LEGO bricks. I call it the LBC (Large Brick Collider). It can accelerate a LEGO soccer ball to just over 12.5 kilometers per hour. Watch the follow up video to see how it works: If you would like to see this potentially become an official LEGO set be sure to head over to LEGO Ideas and support the project! You can find more information about how it works on my website at


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fermilab Physics Slam 2014

A very entertaining video to watch if you were not at this year's Physics Slam.


Research Gate

Anyone else here on Research Gate?

First of all, let me first declare that I'm not on Facebook, don't have a Twitter account, etc.. etc. This blog is my only form of "social media" involvement in physics, if you discount online physics forums. So I'm not that into these social media activities. Still, I've been on Research Gate for several years after being invited into it by a colleague.

If you're not familiar with it, Research Gate is a social media platform for ... you guessed it ... researchers. You reveal as much about yourself as you wish in your profile, and you can list all your papers and upload them. The software also "trolls" the journals and online to find publications that you may have authored and periodically asks you to verify that they are yours. Most of mine that are currently listed were found by the software, so it is pretty good.

Of course, the other aspect of such a social media is that you can "follow" others. The software, like any good social media AI, will suggest people that you might know, such as your coauthors, people from the same institution as yours, or any other situation where your name and that person's name appear in the same situation or document. It also keeps tabs on what the people that follows you or ones that you follow are doing, such as new publications being updated, job change, etc.. etc. It also tells you how many people viewed your profile, how many read your publications, and how many times your publications have been downloaded from the Research Gate site.

Another part of Research Gate is that you can submit a question in a particular field, and if that is a field that you've designated as your area of expertise, it will alert you to it so that you have the option of responding. I think this is the most useful feature of this community because this is what makes it "science specific", rather than just any generic social media program.

I am still unsure of the overall usefulness and value of this thing. So far it has been "nice", but I have yet to see it as being a necessity. Although, I must say, I'm pleasantly surprised to see some prominent names in my field of study who are also on it, which is why I continued to be on it as well.

So, if you are also on it, what do you think of it? Do you think this will eventually evolve into something that almost all researchers will someday need?


Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Should I Go Into Physics Or Engineering?"

I get asked that question a lot, and I also see similar question on Physics Forums. Kids who are either still in high school, or starting their undergraduate  years are asking which area of study should they pursue. In fact, I've seen cases where students ask whether they should do "theoretical physics" or "engineering", as if there is nothing in between those two extremes!

My response has always been consistent. I why them why can't they have their cake and eat it too?

This question often arises out of ignorance of what physics really encompasses. Many people, especially high school students, still think of physics as being this esoteric subject matter, dealing with elementary particles, cosmology, wave-particle duality, etc.. etc., things that they don't see involving everyday stuff. On the other hand, engineering involves things that they use and deal with everyday, where the product are often found around them. So obviously, with such an impression, those two areas of study are very different and very separate.

I try to tackle such a question by correcting their misleading understanding of what physics is and what a lot of physicists do. I tell them that physics isn't just the LHC or the Big Bang. It is also your iPhone, your medical x-ray, your MRI, your hard drive, your silicon chips, etc. In fact, the largest percentage of practicing physicists are in the field of condensed matter physics/material science, an area of physics that study the basic properties of materials, the same ones that are used in modern electronics. I point to them many of the Nobel Prize in physics that were awarded to condensed matter physicists or for invention of practical items (graphene, lasers, etc.). So already, the idea of having to choose between doing physics, and doing something "practical and useful" may not be mutually exclusive.

Secondly, I point to different areas of physics in which physics and engineering smoothly intermingle. I've mentioned earlier about the field of accelerator physics, in which you see both physics and engineering come into play. In fact, in this field, you have both physicists and electrical engineers, and they often do the same thing. The same can be said about those in instrumentation/device physics. In fact, I have also seen many high energy physics graduate students who work on detectors for particle colliders who looked more like electronics engineers than physicists! So for those working in this field, the line between doing physics and doing engineering is sufficiently blurred. You can do exactly what you want, leaning as heavily towards the physics side or engineering side as much as you want, or straddle exactly in the middle. And you can approach these fields either from a physics major or an electrical engineering major. The point here is that there are areas of study in which you can do BOTH physics and engineering!

Finally, the reason why you don't have to choose to major in either physics or engineering is because there are many schools that offer a major in BOTH! My alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Go Badgers!) has a major called AMEP - Applied Mathematics, Engineering, and Physics - where with your advisor, you can tailor a major that straddles two of more of the areas in math, physics, and engineering. There are other schools that offer majors in Engineering Physics or something similar. In other words, you don't have to choose between physics or engineering. You can just do BOTH!


Friday, November 14, 2014

The Physics of Thor's Hammer

Not that you should take any of these seriously, but some time, entertainment reading like this can be "fun".

Jim Kakalios, the author of The Physics of Superheroes, has written an article on the physics of Thor's hammer. I think what I am more interested in is the details trying to explain the initial inconsistencies of what was seen (such as the hammer appearing to be too heavy for everyone to lift, yet, it isn't so heavy that it crushed the books and table that it was resting on). I think that is more fascinating because in many storyline, such inconsistencies are often either overlooked or simply brushed aside. To me, that is where the physics is, because someone who notices such inconsistencies are very aware of the physics, i.e. if such-and-such is true, then how come so-and-so doesn't also occur?


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Newton Lecture 2014

The 2014 Newton Lecture given by Deborah Jin, who to me, already deserves a Nobel Prize in physics.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"I Just Don't Understand Physics"

Rhett Allain has a very good article that is full of advice and suggestion for students having problems with their physics classes.

This is what he has to say when students tell him they just don't understand physics.

This is something I often hear students say around the midterm. The truth is that no one “just understands” physics. No. Instead, physics is the result of a battle. There is battle in your head between common ideas and new ideas. There is a struggle in your mind and on your paper about finding a strategy to solve a problem.

You can’t just “get physics” by going to class. Understanding in physics only comes (for just about all of us) through sweat and tears. You have to do the homework. You have to go to class. You have to read the textbook. This isn’t drive-thru learning. If you aren’t putting in the time, you are going to make progress.

This is similar to what I've said all along on here, that you just can't sit and read a book on physics and hope to understand it. What you may have understood is something superficial. The only way to grasp the knowledge is by solving a bunch of problems, making mistakes, and learning from them. That is the only way to get a feel of the essence of what you are learning. I've always used the analogy of learning how to ride a bicycle. You can read and hear people tell you how to ride a bike till you're blue, but you'll never acquire the skill to ride it till you actually sit on a bike and practice, practice, practice. You will fall a few times, get a few scrapes and bruises, before you finally get it.

The same thing with understanding physics.


Thursday, November 06, 2014

Bay Area

Greetings from Berkeley, CA.

This is the view from the Adanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. It overlooks the main campus of UC-Berkeley, downtown Berkeley, the bay, and foggy San Francisco in the far background.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Building Blocks Of Matter

A lecture that should be accessible at the general public level.


Car Collision Physics

I came across this car collision problem, and thought you guys might be interested in tackling it.

I was involved in a car accident. My car was thrown 83 feet. The guy who hit me was driving a 2002 Thunderbird, weighing 3,775 pounds. My car was a 2006 Toyota Matrix, weighing 2,679 pounds. Is there any way that I can calculate how fast his car was going at the point of impact? I was turning left, and the guy smashed into my passenger side as I crossed his lane. I would say the angle at which he hit me was about 110 degrees, since I wasn’t quite at 90 degrees to him yet. I was just starting to turn, so I was going no more than 5 mph. I ended up 83 feet away. There were no tire tracks at the point of impact, so my car must have gone airborne! This seems like a physics problem, and I have contacted some physics students, but they are students and are not interested. I think it should be possible to calculate it, but I don’t know physics. Please help! My car was totaled. The other guy claims he was going 35 mph, but given how far my car went, that just doesn’t make sense.

The thing that I'm interested in more than anything else is what else is needed to accurately model this event. This person didn't describe if his car skidded all the way till it stopped, or simply roll away. He also didn't say how far his car was "airborne".

This is why an investigator will need to actually look at the scene itself to get a more complete set of parameters. People who are involved in this usually do not realize what are all the necessary information that are needed to reconstruct the event.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quantum Foam

More educational video on something which you may have heard, but haven't quite understood.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Scientific Evidence Points To A Designer?

We have had these types of anthropic universe arguments before, and I don't see this being settled anytime soon, unless we encounter an alien life form or something that dramatic.

Apparently, this physicists have been making the rounds giving talks on scientific evidence that points to a designer. Unfortunately, this claim is highly misleading. There are several issues that need to be clarified here:

1. These so-called evidence have many varying interpretations. In the hands of Stephen Hawking, he sees this as evidence that we do NOT need a designer for the universe to exist. So to claim it that they point to a designer is highly misleading, because obviously there are very smart people out there who think of the opposite.

2. Scientific evidence have varying degree of certainty. The evidence that Niobium undergoes a superconducting transition at 9.3 K is a lot more certain than many of the astrophysical parameters that we have gathered so far. It is just the nature of the study and the field.

3. It is also interesting to note that even if the claim is true, it has a significant conflict with many of the orthodox religious view of the origin of the universe, including the fact that it allows for significant time for speciation and evolution.

4. The argument that the universe has been fine-tuned for us to live in is very weak in my book. Who is there to say that if any of these parameters is different that a different type of universe couldn't appear and that different type of life forms would dominate? We are still at an infant knowledge as far as how different types of universes could form, which is one of the argument that Hawking used when he invoked the multiverse scenario. So unless that there is a convincing argument that our universe is the one and only universe that can exist, and nothing else can, then this argument falls very flat.

I find that this type of seminar can't be very productive unless there is a panel discussion presenting both sides. People who listened to this may not be aware of the holes in such arguments, and I would point out also to the any talk by those on the opposite side as well. It would have been better if they invited two scientists with opposing view, and they can show to the public how the same set of evidence leads to different conclusions. This is what happens when the full set of evidence to paint a clear picture isn't available.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Iranian Physicist Omid Kokabee To Receive A New Trial

This type of prosecution used to happen in the iron-fisted rule of the Soviet Union. But there is a sign of optimism in the case of physicist Omid Kokabee as the Iranian Supreme Court ordered a new trial. This after Kokabee has spent 4 years in prison for a charge that many in the world considered to be flimsy at best.

"Acceptance of the retrial request means that the top judicial authority has deemed Dr. Omid Kokabee's [initial] verdict against the law," Kokabee's lawyer, Saeed Khalili was quoted as saying on the website of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. "The path has been paved for a retrial in his case, and God willing, proving his innocence."

Kokabee, a citizen of Iran who at the time was studying at the University of Texas, Austin, was first arrested at the Tehran airport in January 2011. After spending 15 months in prison waiting for a trial, including more than a month in solitary confinement, he was convicted by Iran's Revolutionary Court of "communicating with a hostile government" and receiving "illegitimate funds" in the form of his college loans. He was sentenced to ten years in prison without ever talking to his lawyer or being allowed testimony in his defense.

He received stipends as part of his graduate assistantship that was considered to be "illegitimate funds", which is utterly ridiculous. My characterization of such an accusation is that this can only come out of a bunch of extremely stupid and moronic group of people. There, I've said it!


Thursday, October 16, 2014

No Women Physics Nobel Prize Winner In 50 Years

This article reports on the possible reasons why there have been no Physics Nobel Prize for a woman in 50 years.

But there's also, of course, the fact that the prize is awarded to scientists whose discoveries have stood the test of time. If you're a theorist, your theory must be proven true, which knocks various people out of the running. One example is Helen Quinn, whose theory with Roberto Peccei predicts a new particle called the axion. But the axion hasn't been discovered yet, and therefore they can't win the Nobel Prize.
Age is important to note. Conrad tells Mashable that more and more women are entering the field of physics, but as a result, they're still often younger than what the committee seems to prefer. According to the Nobel Prize website, the average age of Nobel laureates has even increased since the 1950s.
But the Nobel Prize in Physics isn't a lifetime achievement award — it honors a singular accomplishment, which can be tricky for both men and women.

"Doing Nobel Prize-worthy research is a combination of doing excellent science and also getting lucky," Conrad says. "Discoveries can only happen at a certain place and time, and you have to be lucky to be there then. These women coming into the field are as excellent as the men, and I have every reason to think they will have equal luck. So, I think in the future you will start to see lots of women among the Nobel Prize winners. I am optimistic."

The article mentioned the names of 4 women who are the leading candidates for the Nobel prize: Deborah Jin, Lene Hau, Vera Rubin, and Margaret Murnane. If you noticed, I mentioned about Jin and Hau way back when already, and I consider them to have done Nobel caliber work. I can only hope that, during my lifetime, we will see a woman win this again after so long.


Lockheed Fusion "Breakthrough" - The Skeptics Are Out

Barely a day after Lockheed Martin announced their "fusion breakthrough" in designing a workable and compact fusion reactor, the skeptics are already weighing in their opinions even when details of Lockheed design has not been clearly described.

"The nuclear engineering clearly fails to be cost effective," Tom Jarboe told Business Insider in an email. Jarboe is a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, an adjunct professor in physics, and a researcher with the University of Washington's nuclear fusion experiment.
"This design has two doughnuts and a shell so it will be more than four times as bad as a tokamak," Jarboe said, adding that, "Our concept [at the University of Washington] has no coils surrounded by plasma and solves the problem."

Like I said earlier, from the sketchy detail that I've read, they are using a familiar technique for confinement, etc., something that has been used and studied extensively before. So unless they are claiming to find something that almost everyone has overlooked, this claim of their will need to be very convincing for others to accept. As stated in the article, Lockheed hasn't published anything yet, and they probably won't until they get patent approval of their design. That is what a commercial entity will typically do when they want to protect their design and investment.

There's a lot more work left to do for this to be demonstrated.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lockheed Martin Claims Fusion Breakthrough

As always, we should reserve our judgement until we get this independently verified. Still, Lockheed Martin, out of the company's Skunk Works program (which was responsible for the Stealth technology), has made the astounding claim of potentially producing a working fusion reactor by 2017.

Tom McGuire, who heads the project, told Reuters that his team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed’s Skunk Works program for the past four years, but decided to go public with the news now to recruit additional partners in industry and government to support their work.

Last year, while speaking at Google’s Solve for X program, Charles Chase , a research scientist at Skunk Works, described Lockheed’s effort to build a trailer-sized fusion power plant that turns cheap and plentiful hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) into helium plus enough energy to power a small city.

“It’s safe, it’s clean, and Lockheed is promising an operational unit by 2017 with assembly line production to follow, enabling everything from unlimited fresh water to engines that take spacecraft to Mars in one month instead of six,” Evan Ackerman wrote in a post about Chase’s Google talk on Dvice.

The thing that I don't have very clear is on the nature of the breakthrough that would allow them to do this, because what was written in the piece about using a magnetic bottle isn't new at all. This technique has been around for decades. I even saw one in the basement of the Engineering Research building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison back in the early 80's when they were doing extensive research work in this area. So what exactly did they do that they think will be successful that others over many years couldn't?

I guess that is a trade secret for them right now and we will just have to wait for the details to trickle out later.


Monday, October 13, 2014

A Co-Author That Never Existed?

I don't know what to make of this. One one hand, these are adults and, presumably, responsible physicists. Yet, on the other, this is the type of practical joke pulled by a juvenile.

Someone found a paper with a coauthor by the name of "Stronzo Bestiale", which, supposedly, in Italian means "Total Asshole". The author doesn't exist, the coauthor gave him/her/it an affiliation at Institute of Experimental Physics, University of Vienna. Of course, there's no one there by that name. The paper with all 3 authors, including this non-existent person, was published in the Journal of Statistical Physics back in 1987 (it took that long to discover this?).

One of the coauthors was contacted, and this is the story that was given:

At that time," he says, "we were very active in the development of a new computational technique, non-equilibrium molecular dynamics, connecting fractal geometry, irreversibility and the second law of thermodynamics. The idea was born during meetings at CECAM (Centre Européen de Calcul Atomique et Moléculaire) in Lausanne,Switzerland, and the Enrico Fermi summer school organized at Lake Como with Giovanni Ciccotti, professor of condensed matter physics at the University La Sapienza University in Rome. In these meetings, the theoretical picture of this technique was clear to me, so I wrote several papers on the subject along with some colleagues. But the reviewers of Physical Review Letters and the Journal of Statistical Physics refused to publish my texts: they contained too innovative ideas

"Meanwhile", Hoover continues, "while I was traveling on a flight to Paris, next to me were two Italian women who spoke among themselves, saying continually: "Che stronzo (what an asshole)!", "Stronzo bestiale (total asshole)". Those phrases had stuck in my mind. So, during a CECAM meeting, I asked Ciccotti what they meant. When he explained it to me, I thought that Stronzo Bestiale would have been the perfect co-author for a refused publication. So I decided to submit my papers again, simply by changing the title and adding the name of that author. And the research was published.

Let's start with the misleading title of this article. To claim that this non-existent author has "...
published research in some of the world's most esteemed physics journals,... " is a stretch by any imagination. I did a Google Scholar search on that name, and non appeared linking this person to any paper published in Nature, Science, PRL, Phys. Rev. journals, etc. And these are "some of the world's most esteemed physics journals" in anyone's book!

Secondly, I don't quite get the point in all of this. The refereeing process is focused on the content of the work, not who or what sent it in. In fact, we certainly don't want a referee to have any bias for or against an author, and so, should not pay attention on who wrote the manuscript. In fact, there is a movement to make the authors to be anonymous to the referees the same way the referees are anonymous to the authors. So inserting such a name into the authors list has no bearing, and should have no bearing on evaluating the work.

After this, I wouldn't be surprised if Journals still start to vet out the credentials of the authors submitting anything to them.


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Are Weak Measurements Classical?

I've pointed out at least one experiment that employ the weak measurement technique, and the outcome somehow corresponded to the Bohm pilot wave picture.

Now comes a new theoretical paper that questioned the whole principal of weak measurements in the first place. The paper went back all the way to the paper by Aharonov et al. that first proposed such a technique. The new paper quetioned whether weak measurement actually is measuring the quantum properties, or weather it is actually just measuring the classical outcome.

"Weak values do not seem to be a property of the system in any way," says Ferrie. He and Combes claim that while the idea of weakly measuring a system is fine, making pre- and post-selections is akin to having a set of data and just favouring a subset of it – meaning that any measurement made is a ather than a consequence of classical statistics rather than a physical property of the system. "So long as there is some co-relation between the second [weak measurement] and third [post-selection] steps, you will have an anomalous weak value," says Ferrie. But such a correlation would mean that the original quantum system being measured is no longer sound.

This is certainly interesting and it will be fascinting to see how the proponents of weak measurements respond to this.

Chemistry Nobel Prize Goes To Physicists

The Nobel Prize in chemistry this year goes to a team that was responsible for the development of fluorescence microscopy.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to three scientists whose work surpassed the long-established resolution limit for optical microscopes. The award went to Eric Betzig of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stefan W. Hell of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, and William E. Moerner of Stanford University “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.”

There is an important point here that should be addressed to the public, the politicians, and those who think that we can fund one part of science over another. Many of the instruments used in chemistry, biology, medicine, etc. came out of basic physics research. Before anyone else used these instruments, physicists were the first people to thought of the concept, develop the theory and instrumentation, and then used them. It is only after that that the potential applications for such a device can be envisioned in other fields.

This technique is not the first. The history of Nobel prizes is littered with many instruments that came out of physics but are now ubiquitous in other fields. STM/AFM instruments are indispensable in biology and chemistry, yet this is clearly an instrument that came out quantum mechanics and then developed by physicists once they knew that such a device can probe a sample of interest. Only after that is the possibility of applications in other areas can be seen.

So folks, when you choke the support, and the funding, of basic science/physics, please note that you are really choking off the upstream waters. You may not feel the effect right away, but eventually, your water supply will drop down to a trickle, and you don't quite now what happened. The instruments that those people funded by the NIH here in the US were all derivatives of devices invented out of physics!

Think about that next time you want to cut off your nose to spite your face.


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

2014 Nobel Prize in Physics

So much for Nobel Prize prediction. This year, everyone got it wrong and not even close!

The Nobel prize in physics this year goes to the invention of the blue LED using GaN  semiconductors. It is an example of the periodicity of the Nobel committee to award to a practical and useful invention, which is actually the intent of Alfred Nobel when he first created the award.


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Common Misconception

I don't know why I never stumbled across this webpage before. After all, I often quoted Warren Siegel's "Are You A Quack" page to the many crackpots that tried to sell me their snake oils.

In any case, he has a rather interesting page on the many misconception about physics, and science in general, both in terms of the contest, the people, and how it is practiced. If you have followed this blog for any considerable period of time, you'll notice similar themes that I've written on here with what he has stated, such as:

Science includes concepts that have no description in common terms. Many of the fundamental ideas in science are those that must be explained in ways totally unrelated to everyday experience, even though they are sometimes simple. Pictures alone won't do. "Common sense" doesn't always apply. That means you must be open-minded, and willing to accept concepts that might be unappealing or counter-intuitive, simply because the real world has proven them to be true.

I mentioned something similar in my explanation on why QM is so difficult.

Science is not a spectator sport. You will never learn real science by watching TV, browsing the Web, or reading popularized accounts. You need to work through a textbook or take a course. If that sounds like too much work, you are looking for entertainment, not knowledge. 

I had mentioned this when I described why simply reading a book or listening to lectures can only give one a superficial understanding of physics. You really must sit down and work things out until it sinks in.

Science requires facts. In that way science is like law: You need proof (logical or mathematical) or evidence (experimental). Hearsay doesn't count. Ultimately it is the real world that determines the worth of a theory, not human tastes or habits or superstitions or morality. 

I see this all the time, that some people dislike this or that, not because they had evidence of it faultiness, but rather simply based on a matter of tastes or personal preferences. This is not how one challenges anything in science, and it shouldn't be how one challenges anything in life either!


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 Nobel Prize Prediction

As is customary at this time of the year, everyone is anticipating the announcement out of Sweden of this year's Nobel Prize award. Of course, there have been some guessing game on who will receive the prestigious prize. Science Watch has made its own predictions this year. Interestingly enough, all of their candidates are from Material Science/Condensed Matter field. Maybe this is to balance out the fact that last year, the winners were from elementary particle/high energy physics theory.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Test of Time Dilation Using Relativstic Li Ion Clocks

This may be a week old, but it is still important in validating SR.

A new result on the measurement of the effect of relativistic time dilation in stored Li ion has come up trumps for Special Relativity.

To carry out such a test, Benjamin Botermann of Johannes Gutenberg-University, Germany, and his colleagues looked for the relativistic Doppler shift in lithium ions accelerated to a third of the speed of light at the Experimental Storage Ring in Damstadt, Germany. The team stimulated two separate transitions in the ions using two lasers propagating in opposite directions with respect to the ion motion. The experiment effectively measures the shift in the laser frequencies relative to what these transition frequencies are for ions at rest. The combination of two frequency shifts eliminates uncertain parameters and allows the team to validate the time dilation prediction to a few parts per billion, improving on previous limits. The result complements other Lorentz violation tests that use higher precision atomic clocks but much slower relative velocities.

The more they test it, the more convincing it becomes.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

More Editorial On BICEP-2 Results

Anyone following the saga of the BICEP-2 results on the expansion of the early universe will have read many opinion pieces on it. Here is another one from The Economist, and strangely enough, it is quite well-written. I emphasis towards the end of the article on how science works:

Rowing back on a triumphant announcement about the first instants of creation may be a little embarrassing, but the saga is a useful reminder of how science works. There is no suggestion that anyone has behaved dishonourably. Admittedly, the BICEP team’s original press conference looks, with hindsight, seriously overconfident. More information-sharing between the various gravitational wave-hunters, all of whom guard their data jealously, might have helped tone down the triumphalism. But science, ideally, proceeds by exactly this sort of good-faith argument and honourable squabbling—until the weight of evidence forces one side to admit defeat.

This is where many in the general public don't fully understand. Reporting something and publishing something are merely the FIRST step in a tedious process of verification. The publication of something in peer-reviewed journals allows for others to scrutinize, verify, test, and duplicate the results, often in differing ways. Only when there is an independent agreement would something be considered to be valid or accepted.

How many other fields outside of science have that level of scrutiny and verification process?


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014 Ig Nobel Prize

As usual at this time of the year, the Ig Nobel Prizes has been awarded to a group of really serious but fun/useless/trivial/etc work. The award for physics this year is on the study on how slippery banana peel really is.

Physics: A Japanese team has finally tested whether, indeed, banana skins are really as slippery as slapstick comedy would have us believe. In “Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin,” they show a banana skin reduces the friction between a shoe sole and the floor by about a fifth. 

But what caught my eye was the award given for Neuroscience, which I don't think is that trivial or useless.

Neuroscience: In “Seeing Jesus in Toast,” a team from China and Canada have clinched the neuroscience prize with an exploration of a phenomenon called face pareidolia, in which people see nonexistent faces. First, they tricked participants into thinking that a nonsense image had a face or letter hidden in it. Then, they carefully monitored brain activity in the participants they managed to convince, to understand which parts of our minds are to blame.

This is, actually, quite important in arguing against people who rely on "seeing" with their eyes as a primary source of evidence, which are often part of an anecdotal evidence.

I argued before on why our eyes are really not a reliable detector. That post came about because I've often been questioned about the validity of the existence of an electron simply because we haven't "seen" it with our eyes. I put forth a few facts on why our eyes is really a rather bad standard to use in detecting anything simply due to the limitations it has on a number of properties.

This paper about seeing Jesus in toast is another solid point to add to those arguments about us "seeing" something. It adds to the fact that we do not just see something, but also PROCESS the optical signal from our eyes via our brain. Our brain, due to either conditioning, evolution, etc., has added these filters, pattern recognition, etc. to help us interpret what we are seeing. And it is because of that that we have the potential to see something that isn't really there. This work clearly proves that!

It is another reason "seeing" with our eyes may not always be a reliable evidence.


Teleportation to a Solid-State Quantum Memory

The Gisin group has done it again! This time, they have managed to teleport a quantum state via photons and into a quantum memory in a form of a doped crystal.

Today, Felix Bussières at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and a few pals say they’ve taken an important step towards this. These guys have teleported quantum information to a crystal doped with rare-earth ions—a kind of quantum memory. But crucially they’ve done it for the first time over the kind of ordinary optical fiber that telecommunications that are in use all over the world.

This work has been published in Nature Photonics.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Antimatter Explained

Another short and sweet video from MinutePhysics, this time it is the explanation on what antimatter is.

However, I think the explanation given earlier on the same subject is a bit more in-depth and less "manic" than this one.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"What keeps girls from studying physics and STEM" - An Important Article That Did Not Answer Its Own Question

Anyone following this blog for any considerable period of time would have seen my keen involvement in trying to engage more girls and women into physics. So this is a subject that I've followed and had participated in for many years.

So when I came across this opinion piece article, I will read it in its entirety, because even if this is a first-hand account of one's experience (the author is a female physicist), it is still another "data point" in trying to figure out what kind of hurdle a female student like her faced during her academic years.

Unfortunately, after reading the article, I am no closer in understanding the unique challenges that a female student faces, or what a female scientist faces, in the field of physics. She describes what can be done to improve education and open opportunities, but these are NOT specific to female students!

My advanced placement (AP) physics class, unfortunately, was about memorizing equations and applying them to specific contrived examples. I did not perform well on the midterm exam. The teacher advised me to drop the course, along with all the other girls in the class. 

This would be a turn-off for male students as well! So if that is the case, why is there an overwhelmingly more female students leaving the subject? She didn't say.

I stayed despite the teacher’s pressure, as the only girl in the class, and did well in the long run. I learned to love physics again in college, conducting original research with inspiring science professors who valued my presence in the scientific community. Physics professor Mary James at Reed College helped a lot by creating an active learning environment in her courses and teaching me that physics also needs “B” students.

Again, any student of any gender would benefit from that. This is not unique only to female students. So it still does not address the imbalance.

But there is so much more work to do. One key factor is federal funding for research. Federal funding is the main source of support for the kind of high-risk, high-reward investigations that sparked innovations such as the Internet, the MRI and GPS.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., serves on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee and understands the connection. In her recently released report “Opportunity Outlook: A Path For Tackling All Our Deficits Responsibly” she states, “By supporting early stage basic research that the private sector might not otherwise undertake, federal investment in R&D [research and development] has played a critical role in encouraging innovation across a swath of industries.” 

Again, this doesn't address the lack of women in physics. Increasing the opportunity and funding merely increase the overall number of people in the field, but will probably not change the percentage of women in this area. There's nothing here that reveals the unique and unforeseen hurdles  that only women faced that are keeping the participation down.

In the end, she simply argued for more funding to increase the opportunity of people in physics. There's nothing here whatsoever that addresses the issue of why there are very few women, both in absolute numbers and in relative percentage, in physics. I think there are other, better articles and research that have addressed this issue.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

When Stephen Hawking Burps, The World Media Goes Crazy!

Yes, I categorize this as a burp, which reveals how uninteresting and how little importance I put on this piece of news that has somehow garnered such widespread attention.

Whenever the name Stephen Hawking and the phrase "destruction of our universe" appear on the same sentence, that is just an incendiary combination that usually caused a world-wide explosion (pun intended). That's what happened when Hawking said that the Higgs boson that was discovered a couple of years ago at the LHC will result in the destruction of our universe.

My first reaction when I read this was: YAWN!

But of course, the public, and the popular media, ran away with it. After all, what more eye-catching headline can one make beyond something like "Higgs boson destroys the universe - Hawking". However, I think those strangelets in the LHC collisions that were going to form micro blackholes that will swallow our universe were here first, and they demand that they'd be the first to destroy our universe.

There is an opinion piece on the CNN webpage that addressed this issue. When CNN had to invite someone to write an opinion piece of a physics news, you know that it had gotten way too much attention!

So, the simplified argument goes like something like this -- the Higgs particle pervades space roughly uniformly, with a relatively high mass -- about 126 times that of the proton (a basic building block of atoms). Theoretical physicists noted even before the Higgs discovery that its relatively high mass would mean lower energy states exist. Just as gravity makes a ball roll downhill, to the lowest point, so the universe (or any system) tends toward its lowest energy state. If the present universe could one day transition to that lower energy state, then it is unstable now and the transition to a new state would destroy all the particles that exist today.

This would happen spontaneously at one point in space and time and then expand throughout the universe at the speed of light. There would be no warning, because the fastest a warning signal could travel is also at the speed of light, so the disaster and the warning would arrive at the same time.

That was the pedestrian description of what Hawking is talking about. But don't just stop there or you'll miss the CONTEXT of the probability of this happening.
Back to the universe. Whether the existence of Higgs boson means we're doomed depends on the mass of another fundamental particle, the top quark. It's the combination of the Higgs and top quark masses that determine whether our universe is stable.

Experiments like those at the Large Hadron Collider allow us to measure these masses. But you don't need to hold your breath waiting for the answer. The good news is that such an event is very unlikely and should not occur until the universe is many times its present age.
So don't lose any sleep over possible danger from the Higgs boson, even if the most famous physicist in the world likes to speculate about it. You're far more likely to be hit by lightning than taken out by the Higgs boson.

 See what I mean when I said that I yawned when I first read about Hawking's speculation?


Friday, September 12, 2014

The New Physical Review Journals Website - It Sucks!

Yeah, so from the title, you can already tell how I feel about it.

I look at the Physical Review Journals webpage quite often, at least a few times a week. After all, PRL is a journal that I scan pretty often, and I'm sure most physicists do as well. They changed the look and feel of the webpage several months ago, and right off the bat, there were a few annoying things.

First of all, one used to be able to see immediately the current list new papers appearing that week (for PRL, for example). Now, you need to click a few links to find it.

The page is heavily emphasized on "highlighted" papers, as if they are desperately trying to push to everyone how important these are. I don't mind reading them, but I'd like to see the entire listing of papers that week first and foremost. This somehow has been pushed back.

Lastly, and this is what is annoying the most, they seemed to not be optimized for tablet viewing, at least, not for me. I often read these journals on my iPad. I have iPad3, and I use the Safari browser that came with it. Had no problem with the old webpage, and other journals' webpages. But the new Phys. Rev. webpage is downright annoying! Part of the table of content "floats" with the page as one is scrolling down! I've uploaded a video of what I'm seeing so that you can see it for yourself.

I've e-mailed my complaints to the Feedback link. I had given it a few months in case this was a glitch or if they were still trying to sort out the kinks. But this seems to have persisted. I can't believe I'm the only one having this problem.

It is too bad. They had a nice, simple design before, and I could find things very quickly. Now, in trying to make it more sophisticated and more slick, they've ruined the usability for us who care more about getting the information than the bells and whistles.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Interactions between teaching assistants and students boost engagement in physics labs"

I will say that, having read this paper rather quickly, I am not surprised by the conclusion, and neither should you. The paper is available for free at the link given above.

Abstract: Through in-class observations of teaching assistants (TAs) and students in the lab sections of a large introductory physics course, we study which TA behaviors can be used to predict student engagement and, in turn, how this engagement relates to learning. For the TAs, we record data to determine how they adhere to and deliver the lesson plan and how they interact with students during the lab. For the students, we use observations to record the level of student engagement and pretests and post-tests of lab skills to measure learning. We find that the frequency of TA–student interactions, especially those initiated by the TAs, is a positive and significant predictor of student engagement. Interestingly, the length of interactions is not significantly correlated with student engagement. In addition, we find that student engagement was a better predictor of post-test performance than pretest scores. These results shed light on the manner in which students learn how to conduct inquiry and suggest that, by proactively engaging students, TAs may have a positive effect on student engagement, and therefore learning, in the lab.

When I was a lab TA way back when, I tried to engage the students while they were performing the experiments. I tried to ask them on-the-spot questions, such as why do we need to measure the time for the pendulum to make 20 oscillations when all we care about is the time for one oscillation (period). I ask them many things about why they think we do this and that, rather than a seemingly-simpler and more direct measurements. I also ask them stuff related to the physics, such as during an experiment that used springs, what they think would be different if we were to do the same experiments on the moon instead.

Obviously, I couldn't do a study like these people did and investigate if what I was doing had any effects on the students and their lessons. However, I did get a lot of positive feedback from the course review. This new study reinforces the vital role that Lab TAs could play, and they need to read this paper to realize that they might have a non-trivial influence on the students.


The Physics of Wireless Charging

Rhett Allain has another informative article on how wireless charging of electronic devices work. This technology will be more prevalent in the near future as everyone is getting fed up with searching for power cords to charge their cell phones, tablets, etc.


Friday, September 05, 2014

Particle Physics In A Superconductor

It has finally come full circle.

The Higgs mechanism, which came out of the phenomenon of superconductivity and were then used in elementary particle physics, has come back to superconductivity with the latest result published in Science. In this report, physicists see the similar Higgs boson signature in superconductors as those described in particle physics.

To find it in a superconductor in its normal state, Shimano and colleagues violently shook the superconductor with a very brief pulse of light. Shimano says it is similar to how particle physicists create the real Higgs boson with energetic particle collisions. They first created the superconducting Higgs last year, and have now studied its properties to show that, mathematically speaking, it behaves almost exactly like the particle physics Higgs.

Again, this is similar to the discovery of magnetic monopole in spin-glass system and the discovery of Majorana fermions. A lot of particle physics can be done in condensed matter!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Scientific Consensus

A very good article on what "scientific consensus" is and what it actually means on Ars Technica. This is in light of the attack on scientific consensus related to global warming.

In an earlier discussion of science's standards for statistical significance, we wrote, "Nobody's ever found a stone tablet etched with a value for scientific certainty." Different fields use different values of what they think constitutes significance. In biology, where "facts" are usually built from a large collection of consistent findings, scientists are willing to accept findings that are only two standard deviations away from random noise as evidence. In physics, where particles either exist or don't, five standard deviations are required.

While that makes the standards of evidence sound completely rational, they're also deeply empirical. Physicists found that signals that were three standard deviations from the expected value came and went all the time, which is why they increased their standard. Biologists haven't had such problems, but other problems have popped up as new technology enabled them to do tests that covered tens of thousands of genes instead of only a handful. Suddenly, spurious results were cropping up at a staggering pace. For these experiments, biologists agreed to a different standard of evidence.

People who don't know any better tend to lump things into simple terms, as if such a thing can be done. I've always said that in science, there is such a thing as a degree of certainty, that in some areas, the certainty is stronger than in others. The same can be said about the level what we accept something as valid evidence, or at least, valid enough. The article accurately describes why in one part of science, a loser level is sufficient, while in another part of science, a stricter level is needed. These are all based on experience and based on what has happened before, but to be able to do that, one MUST be well-experienced in what is going on in that particular field!

What it comes down to is that people who are experts in certain fields tend to have a "feel" on when something becomes convincing, or at the very least, there is a serious consideration on the validity of something. This is hard to do when you are an outsider. It is not because it is a closed society. Rather, it is just that one needs to have a long set of knowledge and experience in the field to know when something is valid.

This is an article that laymen, and especially politicians, should read.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Myth Physics: Gravity Is Much Weaker Than Electromagnetism

In this article, Vic Stenger tries to debunk the "myth" that gravity is much weaker than electromagnetisim.

I don't see this as a myth, but rather, an explanation on what we mean when we say that gravity is weaker than EM. Stenger explains it here:

The gravitational force between two particles is given by Newton's law of gravity, which says that the force between two point masses is proportional to the product of the masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

The electric and gravitational force laws are both inverse square laws, so if one computes the ratio of the forces between two bodies, the distances cancel. For the electron and proton, the gravitational force is 39 orders of magnitude weaker than the electrical force. This is the source of the myth that gravity is a much weaker force than electromagnetism.

The absolute strength of the electromagnetic force is specified by a dimensionless parameter alpha called, for historical reasons, the fine structure constant. It is actually not a constant but varies with energy. However that variation is very gradual and for most practical purposes alpha can be taken to have a value of 1/137

Conventionally a dimensionless parameter alpha-G is defined to represent the gravitational force strength. It is proportional to the square of the proton mass and has a value 23 orders of magnitude less than alpha. So "officially," gravity is this much weaker than electromagnetism.

So there you have it. This is another lesson on why one must understand a bit of the physics behind the phrases and expressions that we all often hear out of science. You cannot just take something at face value, the way pseudoscientists such as Deepak Chopra often do all the time.


The Physics of Proton Therapy

If you have read the news, you would have heard of the issues surrounding the parents of a sick child desperately seeking to have their son undergo a proton therapy.

Jon Butterworth has a nice article for the general public on the physics of proton therapy, and especially why it is different than other forms. When you are reading this, please note that this medical treatment came DIRECTLY out of our knowledge of experimental high energy physics, y'know, the physics that many people could not see the use of. So next time when someone questions the applications and benefits of funding this area, you point to him/her this article!


Feynman Lectures

This news was posted only yesterday, regarding the availability of Feynman Lectures online for free. However, if you have followed this blog, I announced this availability almost a year ago! Mike Gottlieb announced this on Physics Forums way back then when he started the project. I posted the latest update on the project from him also on this blog.

So there, you are ahead of the curve! :)


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Long Can You Balance A Pencil

Minute Physics took up a topic that I had discussed previously. It is about the time scale on how long a pencil can be balanced on its tip.

Note that in a previous post, I had pointed out several papers that debunked the fallacy of using quantum mechanics and the HUP to arrive at such time scale. So it seems that this particular topic, like many others, keeps coming back every so often.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Cuddly Plushes At Synchrotron Beamlines

I mentioned of my final visit to the NSLS before its impending shutdown. I had to stop and chuckle at one of the UV beamlines during my casual tour around the place. There were cuddly plushes strategically placed along the beamlines, including Kermit and Miss Piggy in a rather amorous position (not that there's anything wrong with it).

And yes, I took a few photos.

I hope they remember to rescue these guys before the wrecking ball arrives.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Saying Goodbye To NSLS

I had a chance recently to visit my old romping ground, the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven Lab. I spent 3 years there doing my postdoc work, and the facility is about to be shut down at the end of Sept. 2014 as the new facility, the NSLS II just right next door, will take over. The old lady is still running, but you can tell that she's old, decrepit, with lots of aches and pains, and about ready to retire. One can tell that this place is about ready to be shut down when even the vendors no longer refill the vending machines!

I was there on the day that Long Island, NY received 13 inches of rain within a 12 hour period, and walking in the next day, I saw leaks and a few water issues. Oh yeah, the old lady is definitely ready to go. The NSLS was such a workhorse during her glory years. To say that she was over-subscribed is an understatement. The place was packed with users on top of each other. The presence of two separate rings, one for the x-ray and the other for the UV/IR/low energy photons, made it quite unique and useful for many applications and studies.

Across the street from her is the new lady on the block, the NSLS II. She's huge when compared to the old lady, she's shiny and new, more powerful and sleeker. I look forward to visiting her when she's in operation, but I'll never forget the one I spent a lot of days and nights with. She gave me good data. How many dates have you been on where you can say that?

So long, NSLS!


Saturday, August 09, 2014

Data Analysis App

A while back, I asked if anyone had a suggestion for the best physics apps that are available for mobile devices. I've been mostly using my iPad when I am away from home, ditching my travel laptop. It has worked rather well for me. The only thing that I miss is that I don't have my usual data analysis/graphing software that I often use. I use Origin on my laptop/desktop to analyze, plot, and produce publication-quality graphs. I don't intend to do such extensive work on my iPad, but I do need a quick and dirty way to enter or import data, plot it, and do some rudimentary analysis on it. At the very least, it must be able to do some simple data-fitting and produce a decent-enough graph that I can e-mail to my collaborators.

After looking around for a bit, and after trying this one out for the past month, I think I found a very nice app that does just the thing that I was looking for. The app is called "DataAnalysis". You can find it in the Apple App Store, and I don't know if it has a version on Android. I don't work for the company and get nothing for recommending this app (darn it!), so this is an unsolicited recommendation.

The app is easy enough to use, even though it has links to a couple of YouTube tutorials if you need them. You can either import ASCII text data, or create your own data in an empty data sheet. The data are in a simple, two-column format, space separated (don't you commas or it'll complain!). Once you have your data, you can easily plot it.

You then have the option of doing some simple data analysis. It has a number of already built-in mathematical expression that you can fit your data to. For an undergraduate student in science and engineering, this feature should be sufficient for most cases.

It has a limited number of customization for your graphs. I don't expect to produce a publication-quality graph using this app. But it is good enough for me to send a graph to my collaborators. Having the ability to save and/or send graphics/pdf of the data easily is an important feature that I require, and this app does that.

The one major drawback that I see with this app is the inability (at least, I couldn't find how to do it yet, if the capability exists) to plot more than just one set of data on the same graph. Right now, all I can do is give a set of x and y values. I can't do a set of x, and then a set of y1, y2, etc.. values. It will be a nice feature to have to be able to plot more than just one set of data in a single graph. It can't be that difficult of a feature to add.

Otherwise, this is a very useful app on the go and it does what I need it to do.


Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Discovery of CP Violation

This is a very informative article on CERN Courier on the early days of the discovery of CP violation in elementary particle physics.

This is a very important discovery because, as of now, it is considered as one of the factors that might, just might (although the effect is still too small), explain why our universe is dominated by matter and not equal amount of matter-antimatter.

It is also one of the "Who Ordered That?" effect that many didn't see coming.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Origins Of Mass

We have covered this before in this blog, but here's another one to drill the point in, especially if you missed it during earlier coverage. You just have to excuse the bad pun at the beginning of the video.


The Title Doesn't Match The Content - Part 2

Here's another news article where the title really doesn't match the content. This one came from Huffington Post, and it was titled "The End of Accelerator Physics?"

When I first saw the title, I thought it was about funding issues, and that no one is going to fun larger and more expensive accelerators than the LHC. WRONG!

The article was focusing more on the advancement in particle physics, with very little on accelerator physics (really!). Again, as is common, people are confusing the field of accelerator physics with elementary particle physics and high energy physics! I've repeatedly emphasized on here on the fact that these two are very different field of studies, and the overwhelming majority (more than 95%) of particle accelerators in the world have NOTHING to do with particle physics at all!

I am well aware that this is almost a futile effort to educate the masses, but if just one of you reading this learn about it and educate yourself, and then maybe help to educate just one of your friends, then this will all have been worthwhile.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Title Doesn't Match The Content

The title of this news article is "Developments In Particle Physics Are About to Transform Our Daily Lives". Yet, the article really has nothing to do with "particle physics", which is an area of study that investigates the physics of elementary particles. The article has more to do with the applications of quantum physics.

Why it wasn't just called "Developments in Quantum Physics...." instead is beyond me. Maybe the phrase "particle physics" makes the title looks sexier, regardless on whether it is accurate or not.


Science In Cinema


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lights On Pipes - Which One Heats The Most?

We also deal with elementary stuff here.

The people at the Frostbite Theater at JLab has another video out. This time, they show an experiment on which pipes heats the most when shined with light.

The results is not surprising. But what is surprising is why the white pipe heats up faster initially. So, anyone wants to enter a Science Fair to study why this is so, especially when Steve is way too old to enter?


LIGO Gets Ready

Not sure how long this article will be available without a subscription, but in case you missed this article on LIGO in last week's issue of Nature, this is a good one to keep.

De Rosa, a physicist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, knows he has a long night ahead of him. He and half a dozen other scientists and engineers are trying to achieve 'full lock' on a major upgrade to the detector — to gain complete control over the infrared laser beams that race up and down two 4-kilometre tunnels at the heart of the facility. By precisely controlling the path of the lasers and measuring their journey in exquisite detail, the LIGO team hopes to observe the distinctive oscillations produced by a passing gravitational wave: a subtle ripple in space-time predicted nearly a century ago by Albert Einstein, but never observed directly.

It's a daunting task, with instrument of such precision, that so many things can contribute to the "noise" being detected. We will just have to wait and see if we will get to detect such gravitational waves anytime soon.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Big Mystery in the Perseus Cluster

The news about the x-ray emission line seen in the Perseus cluster that can't be explained (yet) by current physics.

The preprint that this video is based on can be found here.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Angry Birds Realized In A Classroom Experiment

If you can't get kids/students to be interested in a lesson when you can tie in with a favorite game, then there's nothing more you can do.

This article (which you can get for free) shows the physics and what you will need to do water balloon launcher to teach projectile motion. It includes the air drag factor, since this is done not in the world of Angry Birds, but in real life.

Abstract: A simple, collapsible design for a large water balloon slingshot launcher features a fully adjustable initial velocity vector and a balanced launch platform. The design facilitates quantitative explorations of the dependence of the balloon range and time of flight on the initial speed, launch angle, and projectile mass, in an environment where quadratic air drag is important. Presented are theory and experiments that characterize this drag, and theory and experiments that characterize the nonlinear elastic energy and hysteresis of the latex tubing used in the slingshot. The experiments can be carried out with inexpensive and readily available tools and materials. The launcher provides an engaging way to teach projectile motion and elastic energy to students of a wide variety of ages.

There ya go!

What I like about this one than the common projectile motion demo that occurs in many high school is that there is quite a careful thought being given to the physics. One can do this as simple as one wants to, or ramp up the complexities by including factors that are not normally considered in such situation.


Friday, July 18, 2014

The Physics Of A Jumping Articulated Toy

Some time, it is just a pleasure to read about something that isn't too deep, and it is just fun!

This paper on EJP (which is available for free) describes the physics of a jumping kangaroo. The toy makes a complete sommersault as shown in the photo and in the video.

Abstract: We describe the physics of an articulated toy with an internal source of energy provided by a spiral spring. The toy is a funny low cost kangaroo which jumps and rotates. The study consists of mechanical and thermodynamical analyses that make use of the Newton and centre of mass equations, the rotational equations and the first law of thermodynamics. This amazing toy provides a nice demonstrative example of how new physics insights can be brought about when links with thermodynamics are established in the study of mechanical systems.

The authors may want to impart some deeper physical insight into understanding this, which may be true. But I like to take this just on face value. It is just a fun toy and a fun look at how it does what it does.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Three US Dark Matter Projects Get Funding Approval

The US Dept. of Energy and National Science Foundation have jointly approved the funding of three dark matter search projects. These projects were selected based on the recommendation of the P5 panel, which released its report earlier this year.

Two key US federal funding agencies – the Department of Energy's Office of High Energy Physics and the National Science Foundation's Physics Division – have revealed the three "second generation" direct-detection dark-matter experiments that they will support. The agencies' programme will include the Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search-SNOLAB (SuperCDMS), the LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) experiment and the next iteration of the Axion Dark Matter eXperiment (ADMX-Gen2). 

Certainly, with High Energy Physics funding in the US being squeezed and shrinking each year, this is the best outcome on funding for the search of dark matter experiments.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Quantum Criticality Experimentally Confirmed

A new experimental result has confirmed quantitatively the presence of a quantum critical point.

The researchers experimentally confirmed the predicted linear evolution of the gap with the magnetic field, which allowed them to pinpoint the location of the quantum critical point. At the critical field, the observable is expected to display a power-law temperature dependence, another hallmark of quantum criticality, with a characteristic power of -3/4 in this case—precisely what they observed. Even more, a rigorous experimental analysis allowed them to estimate the prefactor to this behavior, which they found to correspond nicely to the theoretically predicted one. And finally, they observed this behavior to persist to as high a temperature as almost half of the exchange coupling, which sets the global energy scale of the problem. This answers an essential question about how far away from the absolute zero temperature quantum criticality reaches or how measurable it really is. The experiment constitutes the first quantitative confirmation of the quantum critical behavior predicted by any of the few existing theories.

Nice! Not surprisingly (at least, not to me), the clearest confirmation of this exotic quantum phenomenon is first found in a condensed matter system.

A few background reading for those who want to have more info on quantum criticality can be found here and here.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stephen Hawking By The Numbers

It's strange that someone, or some organization, would keep such a statistics, but here they are. I found a website that compiled a bunch of "interesting" stats about the life of Stephen Hawking so far.

1 Word Per Minute

The rate at which Hawking currently communicates by moving his cheek muscles to express one letter at a time.


The number of hours that Hawking estimates he spent studying in three years at the University of Oxford, where he found the course work “ridiculously easy.”


The age at which Hawking begin to experience the symptoms of ALS.


The number of wives Hawking has had.


The year Hawking completed A Brief History of Time, his first work for the general public, which he wrote to help pay for his three children’s education expenses.


The year that Hawking left his first wife, Jane, for one of his nurses, Elaine Mason, whom he later married and divorced.


The record number of weeks A Brief History of Time stayed on the Sunday Times’ bestseller list.

10 million

The number of books Hawking has sold (“I have sold more books on physics than Madonna has on sex,” he bragged).

25 seconds

How long Hawking escaped gravity and the confines of his wheelchair in 2007 when he became the first person with a disability to fly on one of the zero gravity flights offered by Zero Gravity Corp., a space tourism company.


The year that Hawking pronounced (a) that “philosophy is dead” at Google’s Zeitgeist Conference and (b) that heaven is a “fairy story” for people afraid of death.

The media and public fascination on Hawking continues....


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Physicist Untangles The Mystery Of Tangled Earbuds

Does it really take a physicist to actually "solve" this?

If you have earbuds, or in-ear headphones, you know that sooner or later, they get tangled up. It appears that a visiting physicist in Aston University in Birmingham, England has a mathematical theory on how it happens, and proposes a way to store the darn thing without it tangling.

Matthews’ years of study suggest that clipping the two earbuds together, then attaching them to the end near the audio jack to form a loop, will cause a tenfold reduction in knot formation. 

“First, by forming the loop you've effectively reduced the length of string able to explore the 3D space by 50 per cent, which makes a big difference.” Matthews said. “Second, you've also eliminated the two ends, which are the prime movers of knot formation.” 

Unfortunately, as is a common practice in the popular media, they didn't cite source or if this has been published, or submitted for publication. Heaven forbid, a reader of their website would actually want to look it up and study this closer than beyond their superficial reporting.

Addendum. The Daily Mail has a bit more to say about this than the above website.


Monday, July 07, 2014

Topological Insulators

In case you missed it and are interested in this area, this is a review article, which happens to be a chapter in a book, on "Topological Insulators, Topological Crystalline Insulators, and Topological Kondo Insulators". This is not meant for non-experts because it reviews the current understanding of this family of material.


Friday, July 04, 2014

Quantum Physics In Your Daily Lives

I initially thought that this Newsweek article was reporting something new that had been discovered in quantum mechanics that had some serious applications. But it turns out that it was more of an article that quite clearly described all the practical advances that came out of QM.

At the most basic, almost everything we do is grounded in quantum physics—matter (all of it) is a collection of quantum particles, while light, electricity and magnetism are all quantum phenomena. At the next level are the quantum technologies we humans built without being aware of the physics that made them possible. When Swan and Edison produced electric lightbulbs, they didn’t know that light generated from a heated filament is a quantum process—they ended up implicitly drawing on quantum physics without even knowing it.
It only takes a few minutes analyzing a smartphone to realize the pervasiveness of quantum technology. To start, quantum physics is required to construct any solid-state electronics—every chip inside your iPhone is packed full of quantum devices like transistors and has to be designed to encompass the peculiar quantum behavior of electrons. On top of that, your phone has a computer, display, touch interface, digital camera, light-emitting diode and global positioning system receiver—each developed as a result of our understanding of the field.

As I've always tried to convey, physics is more than just the LHC and string theory. It is also your iPhone, your MRI, your GPS, etc. A lot of people often hear about the exotic properties and consequences of QM without realizing that it works, and that they are using it! So this is a good article to give anyone who is ignorant about this.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Why She Won't Be Studying Physics At The A-Level

This is an essay by a very articulate young lady in the UK (assuming that what was written is true) on why she won't continue to study physics for her A-Level exams.. While it may be towards the UK educational system, I can't help thinking that this is more common than we think.

To me, GCSE physics seemed out of touch compared with the stem cells and glucoregulation we were studying in biology. I could see the practical reasons for studying biology, but I found physics hard to relate to my everyday life.

All too often, the link from theory to human application was missing from the physics syllabus, making me wonder when I would ever need to calculate the half-life of a radioactive sample or describe the retrograde motion of Mars outside of the exam hall.

When I used to teach intro physics, at almost every new topics that we were about to start, I spend a few minutes just giving the students an overall picture of what it is, what we will be doing, where such knowledge is applied, and why we are going to study it. It isn't very long, but I know a few students had commented that they like being given the "big picture" and were able to know how things fit in. As physicists, and educators, we often  forget that students do not usually get the big picture, and that it is difficult for them to see how trying to find the electric field inside a conducting sphere would matter, or finding the exact angle of a projectile to hit a monkey when it jumped off a tree. We should spend some time explaining and justifying to the students why they are being made to learn these things, and what are the potential benefits of doing such exercises. It may not always get them to enjoy doing it, but at the very least, they understand that we do not ask them to do this for no rational reason.

Teaching someone to use a screw driver, or a drill, without telling that person what that screw driver and that drill can be used for, or that the skill in being able to efficiently used a screw driver and a drill might be of some benefit, will diminish the interest in learning how to use those tools. And obviously, in this case, it might even turn some student off from learning it entirely. I just wish that this student would have opened more advanced text in physics where many relevant applications and connections have been made to real-world issues. Even the infamous Halliday/Resnick text now devotes ample space to such description. And certain, Muller's text "Physics for Future Presidents" amplifies the importance of having a population that is knowledgeable in basic physics and can make analytical decisions on many important issues.

There are things we can do, as educators, to rectify the problem stated in this article. We do not have to wait for some school board, or examination board, to wake up and realize the shortcoming of the education system.


Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Many-Body Quantum Fluctuations In Residual Resistivity Of Metals

As a condensed matter physicist by training, the issue of charge transport in matter has always been a topic that I encounter often, especially when I was doing my postdoc many, many years ago. While the physics of charge transport in metals, under "ordinary" situations, can be adequately described by the Drude model, resulting in, for example, the beloved Ohm's Law, there are many other situations where such a simplistic model just doesn't work. And in those situations, that is where the physics gets very interesting and can be quite complicated.

The factors that influences charge transport in matter depends very much on how a charge carrier scatters. So the scattering rate determines the properties of resistivity/conductivity, etc. In a metal, there several types of scattering: electron-phonon scattering, electron-impurity scattering, and electron-electron scattering.[1] The dominant term that has a strong temperature dependence is the electron-phonon scattering, which is the primary mechanism that determines the resistivity of a metal. The electron-electron scattering has a weaker temperature dependence, while the electron-impurity scattering is mostly temperature independent.

What this means is that, as we lower the temperature, at some point, the electron-phonon scattering "freezes out", and no electron-phonon scattering contributes to the resistivity. The resistivity will then be a function of predominantly the electron-electron contribution. As the temperature approaches 0 K, one will notice indication that the resistivity will not be zero. This is the residual resistivity, whereby even at 0 K, there will still be a net resistivity of the material that is due to electron-impurity scattering. Note that this "impurity" need not be foreign atoms that are not part of the material. It can also be crystal defects and deformation that interrupts the long-range order of the crystal structure of the metals. The charge carriers can scatter off these defects as well.

That is how we were taught in solid state courses. we often deal with charge transport using the Boltzmann transport equation, and treating this within the Drude model The full quantum mechanical treatment, via the Kubo formulation, is a BEAST, and often unsolvable.

But now, along comes a new theoretical treatment of charge transport in metals, using DFT, that arrived at a rather unexpected result.[2] The new treatment showed that there is a strong contribution to the electron-impurity scattering due to the electron-electron many-body effects. The electron-impurity scattering is not as simple as we thought. They showed how well this new explanation matches the residual resistivity measured for aluminum.

This is another example where, something that we know very well and for a long time, can often reveal new physics and information when it is examined at the very edge of the boundary of our knowledge. We subject many of our ideas to the extreme case (in this case, very close to 0K) to see how well they work in those situations. It is one of the ways we expand the boundary of our knowledge.


[1] see