Sunday, May 31, 2015

Leon Lederman. Sold His Nobel Prize Medal

i find that it is sad that he had to resort to this.

Retired experimental physicist Leon Lederman is now 92 years old and facing serious health problems and memory loss. So he took to an online auction and sold his 1988 Nobel prize for his co-discovery of subatomic particle called the muon neutrino to cover his costs. The price of Nobel fame online? $765,002.

It had been only a few years ago that I mentioned about his efforts on the streets of Chicago to educate the public about physics. I wish more could have done to help him to not have him sell his medal.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wheeler's "Delayed Choice" Experiment Done With Single Atoms

Looks like we now have the first "Delayed Choice" experiment done with single atoms, this one with single He atoms.

Indeed, the results of both Truscott and Aspect's experiments shows that a particle's wave or particle nature is most likely undefined until a measurement is made. The other less likely option would be that of backward causation – that the particle somehow has information from the future – but this involves sending a message faster than light, which is forbidden by the rules of relativity.

There are now many experiments that support QM's non-realism and quantum contextuality. This latest experiment adds to the body of evidence.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015


CERN Courier has a rather informative article on the start-up of NSLS II and its capabilities. It certainly is the newest "from scratch" light source facility (rather than just an upgrade of an existing facility).

I hope they save some parts of the original NSLS and commemorate it with some sort of a marker. After more than 30 years of service, that facility certainly was worth every penny spent on it.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Is Really "Real" In Quantum Physics

This is an excellent article from this week's Nature. It gives you a summary of some of the outstanding issues in Quantum Physics that are actively being looked into. Many of these things are fundamental questions of the interpretation of quantum physics, and it is being done not simply via a philosophical discussion, but via experimental investigation. I do not know how long this article will be available to the public, so read it now quickly.

One of the best part about this article is that it clearly defines some of the philosophical terminologies in term of how they are perceived in physics. You get to understand the meanings of "psi-epistemic models" and "psi-ontic models", and the differences between them and how they can be distinguished in experiments.

But this is where the debate gets stuck. Which of quantum theory's many interpretations — if any — is correct? That is a tough question to answer experimentally, because the differences between the models are subtle: to be viable, they have to predict essentially the same quantum phenomena as the very successful Copenhagen interpretation. Andrew White, a physicist at the University of Queensland, says that for most of his 20-year career in quantum technologies “the problem was like a giant smooth mountain with no footholds, no way to attack it”.

That changed in 2011, with the publication of a theorem about quantum measurements that seemed to rule out the wavefunction-as-ignorance models. On closer inspection, however, the theorem turned out to leave enough wiggle room for them to survive. Nonetheless, it inspired physicists to think seriously about ways to settle the debate by actually testing the reality of the wavefunction. Maroney had already devised an experiment that should work in principle, and he and others soon found ways to make it work in practice. The experiment was carried out last year by Fedrizzi, White and others.
There is even a discussion on devising a test for Pilot wave model after the astounding demonstration of the concept using simple classical wave experiment.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review of Leonard Mlodinow's "Upright Tinkers"

This is a review of physicist's Leonard Mlodinow's new book "Upright Tinkers: : The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos."

In it, he debunks the myths about famous scientists and how major discoveries and ideas came about.

With it, he hopes to correct the record on a number of counts. For instance, in order to hash out his theory of evolution, Darwin spent years post-Galapagos shifting through research and churning out nearly 700 pages on barnacles before his big idea began to emerge. Rather than divine inspiration, Mlodinow says, achieving real innovation takes true grit, and a willingness to court failure, a lesson we’d all be wise to heed.

“People use science in their daily lives all the time whether or not its what we think of as ‘science,’” he continues. “Data comes in that you have to understand. Life’s not simple. It require patience to solve problems, and I think science can teach you that if you know what it really is.”

Scientists would agree. Recently, psychologist Angela Duckworth has begun overturning fundamental conventional wisdom about the role intelligence plays in our life trajectories with research illustrating that, no matter the arena, it’s often not the smartest kids in the room who become the most successful; it’s the most determined ones.

As I've said many times on here, there is a lot of value in learning science, even for non-scientists, IF there is a conscious effort to reveal and convey the process of analytic, systematic thinking. We all live in a world where we try to find correlations among many things, and then try to figure out the cause-and-effect. This is the only way we make sense of our surrounding, and how we acquire knowledge of things. Science allows us to teach this skill to students, and letting them be aware of how we consider something to be valid.

This is what is sadly lacking today, especially in the world of politics and social policies.


Record Number of Authors In Physics Paper

I don't know why this has been making the news reports a lot since last week. I suppose it must be a landmark even or something.

The latest paper on the Higgs is making the news, not for its results, but for setting the record for the largest number of authors on a paper, 5154 of them.

Only the first nine pages in the 33-page article, published on 14 May in Physical Review Letters, describe the research itself — including references. The other 24 pages list the authors and their institutions.

The article is the first joint paper from the two teams that operate ATLAS and CMS, two massive detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland. Each team is a sprawling collaboration involving researchers from dozens of institutions and countries.

And oh yeah, they reduced the uncertainty in the Higgs mass to 0.25%, but who cares about that!

This is neither interesting nor surprising to me. The number of collaborators in each of the ATLAS and CMS detector is already huge by themselves. So when they pool together their results and analysis, it isn't surprising that this happens.

Call me silly, but what I was more surprised with, and it is more unexpected, is that the research article itself is "nine pages". I thought PRL always limits its papers to only 4 pages!

BTW, this paper is available for free under the Creative Commons License, you may read it for yourself.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Electron Pairing Without Superconductivity

The interesting news from last week is the publication in Nature of the confirmation of the presence of electron pairs in STO, but without superconductivity.

This is significant because this has always been a possibility, i.e. where the electrons pair up but do not form any long range order or become a condensate. This phenomenon was hinted at in the cuprate superconductors especially in the underdoped regime where experiments such as tunneling and ARPES have shown the presence of a gap, called the pseudogap, above the critical temperature Tc. Whether this pseudogap is the precursor to the electrons having long-range order and condenses below Tc, or whether these electrons are actually competing with those that do, is still a highly debated question.

My guess is that this paper will be a significant piece of information to that puzzle.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Quark Gluon Plasma

The quark-gluon plasma (or fluid) that was observed at RHIC several years ago, is back in focus in this Don Lincoln's video.

So where do I get that t-shirt that he was wearing? :)


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Birth of Soft Condensed Matter Physics

This is a very nice article to introduce to you the field of Soft Condensed Matter Physics as a way to celebrate the life of physicist Sam Edwards, who passed away recently.


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Teacher Arrested After Burning Message On Kids Arms Using Tesla Coil


I read this, and I don't know what to make of this. It appears that the parents who filed the complaint against this teacher are making a bigger deal out of it than the students themselves.

Samuel Dufner thought he'd liven up a science class at South Salem High School in Oregon. So, as the Associated Press reports, he explained to the kids last Thursday that a Tesla coil could actually burn a mark on their skin.

And it was a "I Love Mom" message too, because Mother's Day is coming up. Awww.....

But obviously, a parent didn't think it was that warm and fuzzy, because the parent filed a complaint and the teacher was arrested for "criminal mistreatment". Still, the report indicated that no charges has been filed.

The kids thought it was fun, and it didn't hurt. Were any animals or human being harmed in this experiment?


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Physics Of Tesla Home Battery

Elon Musk is at it again.

Rhett Allain has a nice article giving you some of the background physics you need to evaluate the effectiveness of the new Tesla's Powerwall home battery unit.

I would get this if it can be sustained for a full day with a single, full charge. So now I have to figure out how much my computers, entertainment system, freezer, refrigerators, and my central air system need! :)


Monday, May 04, 2015

Particle Accelerators - Current And Future Applications

Another example of where accelerators have wide-ranging applications outside of just high energy physics experiments.


Friday, May 01, 2015

The Difference Between Cats And Dogs

I'm sure many of you have noticed this, but have you sat down and really analyze it? Or maybe in my case, over-analyzing it?

A bunch of friends and I were sitting around and just talk (y'know, the stuff you do face-to-face and doesn't involve moving your fingers over a virtual keyboard). Of course, the conversation went over various topics of politics, the economy, etc...etc. At some point, it inevitably meandered into science, and physics in particular, since everyone there knew I am a physicist. It was when we got to that point that I noticed how the nature of the conversation changed.

We were comfortable with just talking when we were discussing politics, etc. But when we got to physics, we had to bring out several sheets of paper and started to either do sketches, or in my case, having to write simple, basic equations and numbers. This shouldn't be surprising because sketching something in physics is often the simplest and most direct way to demonstrate or explain something. We physicists, engineers, and other scientists tend to grab almost anything we can get (napkins, crumpled papers, etc.) when we sit and talk about what we do. Even in school, the way different subjects are taught can be evident. I remember being in a literature class where the instructor barely wrote anything on the board. This is unheard of in a math, physics, etc. class where it is not uncommon for the instructor to need several boards, or had to erase the one board over and over again throughout an entire class session.

I can't help thinking that, among other things, this signifies clearly the differences between one type of discipline versus another. While certain the field of economics, politics, etc. have more exact components, it is interesting that we all find that we can simply just talk verbally about it to get out point across... or can we? On the other hand, a STEM subject often requires illustrations, rudimentary calculations, etc. when we discuss things. I certainly find it significantly easier with a pen and paper to illustrate various topics that are being discussed.

So that led me to consider why that is so. Is it because there's a lot more "ambiguity" when we discuss politics and economics and other social matters? Are they more qualitative in nature? Is the discussion of STEM subject more well-defined and more quantitative? One example I have is the a topic of discussion that we had about politics and the issue of cutting taxes. This is a popular topic when there is an election coming. It takes no knowledge of anything to say that one wants to cut taxes. Yet, the issue of "by how much" and "how did you arrive at that figure" very seldom enters into any form of public discussion. It is as of the public is either incapable of understanding the details of such issue, or they don't have the patience to pay attention into such boring stuff.

We all want to pay less taxes! Who wouldn't? But we also depend on many services provided by various parts of the government, be it local or federal. One should not just say one is going to cut taxes, because frankly, saying just that, to me, is idiotic! One can cut it by $1 and that would have been a tax cut. Rather, I want to hear answers to : (1) by how much are you going to cut such-and-such taxes (2) how did you come up with that number (3) what were your assumptions that you used to arrive at that number (i.e. you must have made some estimates on what it would cost to provide the necessary services, and how much revenue you'd exact to make in that fiscal year)? etc.. etc. In other words, there are PLENTY of details that has to be revealed beyond just saying that you want to cut taxes. Otherwise, that statement is really empty and meaningless, and might even be totally irrelevant.

But this is usually missing from many political discussions, and it may even be something that the public simply don't care to hear, especially if they can be seduced by just sound bites. A lot of discussion in this area are often simply statements made without a lot of justification, and even if there were, they were mainly anecdotes. To me, this is why discussion on such topics can often be done verbally, because they are mainly "abstract", qualitative ideas (i.e. what goes up, must come down) without diving into the details (i.e. when and where it comes down).

But then you could turn around and ask me "But ZapperZ, isn't this how science articles and news are also done? I seldom seen pictures or number to explain the science that is being reported."

That is true, but that is because scientists and science writers (who are often not scientists themselves) have learned to communicate more effectively with the public, i.e. we can't bore then with the details and the numbers if we want to get their attention. Instead, we have to use bells and whistles, and we must be perky and superficial. But in my case, I find that being superficial and qualitative were sufficient in my discussion on political and social matters, but it wasn't sufficient when I had to answer a question on why centrifugal force is a "fictitious force". In fact, I had to get up from my chair and had to illustrate certain things by acting it to be able to get the message across. I didn't have to do anything close to that to discuss the latest local election in my area.

So maybe there is an inherent differences in these two board areas that can't be changed or eliminated, very much like dogs and cats. But I've seen dogs and cats get along very well and learn from each other. And certainly while those in STEM areas are learning how to communicate better to the public, and those in politics, economics, and social science are applying more quantitative aspects to their studies, are the public aware of such differences and how they could learn from it to look internally on how they analyze and conclude something? Have they looked at the differences between dogs and cats deeply enough beyond just the superficial level?

I don't know.