Friday, January 31, 2014

The Hunt For Axions

Axions, which in some circles is a Dark Matter candidate different from WIMPs, is the focus of this news story.

This is kind of a Cinderella story – the story of a favorite and an underdog, in what may be the world’s most esoteric sport. The leading candidate for what might make up dark matter is called a weakly interacting massive particle, or WIMP. It gets most of the research money and most of the ink.

But there’s another candidate, a bit of an also-ran, called the axion. Its profile is lower, but for Rosenberg, it just seems to fit in with how the universe works.
Of course, as with WIMPs, the search for axions has also been fruitless so far, as I've mentioned at least a couple of times earlier. We just have to sit back and wait to see how this develops in the next few years.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Awesomest Physics Cake Ever?

I don't know if it is, but it certainly takes the cake (pun intended) for being quite creative! I wouldn't mind getting a cake that looks like that, or some variation of it with some condensed matter theme or accelerator physics theme......

Hum... I think I've come up with an idea for something. Wonder if my local bakery can make it?


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Don't Miss Looking At The Trees Due To The Forest

This is a report on a proposal to enable us to view a "movie" of a Rydberg atom:

In addition to having a large electron cloud, an unusual feature of a Rydberg atom is that its highly excited electron can exist as a coherent superposition of several different atomic orbitals. These orbitals interfere with each other, which means that the electron cloud changes shape with time. These fluctuations are much slower than the movement of electrons nearer the atomic nucleus, which is why Kirrander and Suominen argue that the fluctuations could be tracked by firing intense and coherent pulses of X-rays at the atoms.

Such pulses can be produced at accelerator-based free-electron lasers such as the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California or the X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL), which is set to come online at DESY in Hamburg, Germany in 2016. Kirrander and Suominen have also calculated that the motion of the corresponding "electron hole" in the atom – the superposition of inner orbitals that the electron has left behind – can be visualized as well. As the inner electrons are involved in chemical reactions, the new technique could therefore be a powerful tool for chemists.
When I said not to miss looking at the trees, most people reading the article will be enamored by the proposal that we can actually view such a thing in real time, that we can see the evolution of such an atom, and the potential that we can view the dynamics of a lot more system having such short time-scale. These are the "forest".

The trees here, which *I* am more interested in, and what most people will have missed, is the advancement made in accelerator physics that allows the ability to make such a measurement. The instrument being used is within the realm of accelerator physics, and specifically, the study of beam physics and engineering. This field of physics is often the unsung hero that enables the advancement in many other fields of physics. Think of what the LHC and the Tevatron could do without advanced knowledge of accelerator physics.

And this brings us to a very important point here. Many areas of science can only advance in knowledge when they have the ability to perform the experiments that they want. Inevitably, this means that that they have the equipment and tools to be able to do these experiments. This ranges from high-spatial-resolution instrument to high-temporal resolution detectors. In other words, they depend on others to provide them with the instruments to advance their knowledge.

It also means that if you kill research in these grass-roots areas, you are killing more than just one area. When a lion killed the nursing mother of deer, for example, that lion took not one, but two lives with that kill. When funding for many of these areas of physics is severely reduced, the chain reaction and impact can trickle very quickly down stream. It affects the advancements in many other fields that would have gotten the benefit from it. Think of how many different usage of facilities such as a synchrotron light source or a free-electron laser.

So when you read an article such as this, don't miss paying attention to the fact that these proposed abilities to do such-and-such are benefiting from the advancement and investment in another field that you might have not realized. The interconnectedness of science is never more apparent than in an example such as this.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"A physicist examines the Kennedy assassination film"

With the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination recently, a slew of TV shows and articles on that tragic event came into being. One of the more fascinating documentary was on NOVA. One of the biggest source of controversy, and the source for many conspiratorial theory that there was more than one shot at the President on that day was the examination of the way the President's head moved upon impact of the bullet. Many believe that the fact that the video showed the head moving backwards, i.e in the opposite direction that the Oswald bullet entered, showed that there must be another bullet that entered from the front.

The NOVA documentary appeared to have ignored a physics explanation that had been put forward to explain this many years ago. David Jackson, the editor of AJP, expressed his surprise that a well-respected documentary such as NOVA let this observation stood unanswered. He wrote his commentary on this in the Jan 2014 issue of AJP.

But not only that. Due to the anniversary, and wanting to make sure the public knows that there's a perfectly valid explanation to account for what was observed using just a single bullet from the back picture, AJP is making Luis Alvarez paper from 1976 freely available.

Maybe someone from NOVA might get to read it!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ingenious Quantum Physics Essay?

I don't think so.

Sometime people are impressed by the wrong thing. A toddler can sometime be more fascinated by the box  rather than the toy itself. This time, it is almost the same thing.

A physics student (didn't say at what level) wrote an essay on "quantum physics" and did something that is called "Rickroll", whereby he included the lyrics of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" in the essay. You are welcome to read the tedious essay at the link.

And for that, he gets notoriety, not for the poorly-written essay, but for his ability to stick such nonsense into it. And let's say it for what it is, this is an awfully-written essay. It is devoid of paragraphs, and the "story" here is extremely disjointed. The history of quantum physics and Bohr's contribution was chopped up, there never really a clear description on what Bohr's major accomplishment was. But then, he was focusing more on trying to match up on the lyrics rather than paying attention to the material. I wonder if his teacher gave him a D- for something like this? I would, but then I'm a curmudgeon.

So yeah, I was more interested in the toy rather than the box. Unfortunately, in this case, people are so enamored by the box, they didn't realize how awful the toy was.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Ghost Particle

No, not the often-used "god particle" that was designated to the Higgs, but rather the "ghostly" particle being used to describe neutrinos.

This NPR review of Ray Jayawardhana's book "Neutrino Hunters" has some basic intro to the history and mysteries of neutrinos if you are not familiar with it. And it is certainly true that, unlike the Higgs, the study of neutrinos has not received the same amount of publicity that it should have.

Neutrinos rarely get the press they deserve. Writers love to wax breathless about Higgs Bosons, antimatter, hypothetical thingies like tachyons (faster-than-light particles) and, of course, whatever makes up Dark Matter. But the ghostly neutrino turns out to be essential to everything from the physics of the early universe to the fusion reactions that keep the sun burning to the supernovas that light up the cosmos.

But as important, while the US has completely closed down all high energy collider physics, neutrino physics is the one area in which it still has a lot of involvement, both within the US and outside. Current projects within the US such as MINOS, NOvA, etc. are pushing our knowledge in neutrino physics, and future projects such as LBNE should ensure, if it gets continued funding, that the US will have a strong involvement in neutrino physics study.

BTW, if there's any crackpot out there who thinks that by calling neutrinos as "ghost particle" allows them the poetic license of justifying the existence of "ghosts", then they'd better read an earlier blog entry I made on this. Don't laugh! You'd be surprised at the extent these crackpots will go to simply to justify their incoherent and faulty logic.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

No Evidence of Time Travelers From Scouring the Internet

I mean, really!

As my first candidate of the year for the Ig Nobel prize, we have a couple of physicists who went looking for evidence of time travelers by examining the internet. Their work, which I think is still unpublished yet, was covered here.

Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson from Michigan Technological University’s physics department developed a strategy for tracking down time travellers by trawling the internet for references to prescient information posted before it should be possible.
For instance, they searched for mentions of “Comet ISON” prior to its discovery in September 2012, theorising that it was a large enough event that it would be known to those even far in the future and possibly mentioned online by accident after they travelled back in time.
Similarly, they looked for mentions of “Pope Francis” proper to March 2013, as the current pontiff is the first to have ever had the name.
The researchers scoured popular search engines such as Google, but also turned to Twitter and Facebook.
To cut an amusingly long story short, they found none.

Unfortunately, they were forced to conclude that no time traveller has ever come back from the future and left visible clues online.

“Although the negative results reported here may indicate that time travellers from the future are not among us and cannot communicate with us over the modern day internet, they are by no means proof,” they said.

“There are many reasons for this. First, it may be physically impossible for time travellers to leave any lasting remnants of their stay in the past, including even non-corporeal informational remnants on the internet. Next, it may be physically impossible for us to find such information as that would violate some yet-unknown law of physics.

“Furthermore, time travellers may not want to be found, and may be good at covering their tracks.”
They forgot one other reason. These time travelers knew that these two will be trying to trace them via such means and thus, made sure they did not make any such comments as to give themselves away.



Friday, January 10, 2014

Where To "Apply"?

Last last year, the American Physical Society (the publisher of Phys. Rev. family of journals) announced that they are soliciting submission for a newly-created journal under their wing. Called Physical Review Applied, the call for papers reads:
The editors are encouraging scientists to submit their theoretical or experimental work on materials science, surface and interface physics, device physics, condensed matter physics, optics and any intersection of physics and engineering. The journal will publish both short letters as well as longer journal articles.
Now, of course, those of us who are familiar with the various physics journals will wonder, is this new APS journal competing directly with the American Institute of Physics's family of Applied physics journals? The AIP already has a couple of established applied physics journals, namely Applied Physics Letters, and Journal of Applied Physics. From the description of Physical Review Applied, it looks like they are looking for the same type of papers as APL and JAP.

For those of us (including me) who do work in the applied fields, we certainly won't complain that another journal, especially from the well-established organization such as the APS, providing another avenue for us to consider for publication. We just have to figure out the level of standards that they will adhere to for publication in the new journals.


Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Particle Fever

It looks like there is a documentary film about the search for the Higgs making its way around film festivals. Other than the uninspiring title, Particle Fever seems to be getting a rather good review. I am more impressed that the people responsible for the production of the movie are really physicists themselves.

It’s crucial for starters that the subject is second nature to the filmmakers: director Mark Levinson earned a doctoral degree in particle physics from Berkeley before veering into film, and producer David Kaplan, a professor of theoretical particle physics at Johns Hopkins, has also been active on History Channel and National Geographic science programs. They’re able to simplify and synthesize without dumbing down the material and put non-science-oriented viewers at ease by drawing a smart parallel between science and art: Both endeavors ultimately represent attempts to explain our existence and our place in the universe.

I'll have to check and see if and when they'll show that in my neck of the woods. Have you seen it? If you have, what did you think of the movie?


Starting Fire In Water

The ISS might be useful after all, in addition to having the AMS. From this video, you get to at least learn about some of the properties of supercritical water.


Wednesday, January 01, 2014

"Telling You the Answer Isn't The Answer"

I made a blog post earlier on why it is not advisable to help anyone who simply claimed that he/she doesn't know where to start, at least not in the sense of giving the person the starting point without first figuring out where the problem lies.

In a related blog post, Dr. Allain Rhett wrote about why Telling You the Answer Isn’t the Answer. Here, he clearly described the process of learning, at least in science, and why simply giving you a set of information does not make you understand anything. In fact, the process and the struggle of trying to learn something IS, in fact, the necessary part of learning and understanding. Note also that the exercise he gave was quite similar to how I want to revamp the undergraduate intro physics lab, whereby the students are really not told on how to do things, but rather simply given a task to find out about certain behavior and relationships.

I've always emphasize this notion that being aware of the learning process in science has benefits that extends beyond science itself. I see this way too often in our world where people simply accept things being told to them, without even making evaluations of the validity of these things. Even less, they can't even make the logical connection from one to the other (see Rhett's example on why it is warmer in the summer and how students can't explain why even when it is told to them!). This is an extremely clear example where one has all the facts that one needs, but one simply is unable to make a logical and sequential connection of cause-and-effect. It is an extremely clear example where just because one has the information, it doesn't mean that one knows what to do with it!

We only need to look around us at stuff happening in the news, and the things being uttered by talking heads on TV. Try it some time. Figure out, if you are able to, how many of the numerous statements that you see being uttered in the media actually (i) have  verified, supporting evidence and (ii) have  logical connection in which A causes B.

Proper science education is needed not to turn people into scientists, but to teach people to think and analyze!