Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fermilab's Greatest Hits

Highlights from the first 50 years at the historic Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Presidential Executive Order and US Conferences

With the two big conferences looming this year, the APS March and April Meetings, it will be interesting to hear how the recent presidential executive order banning entry by visitors from 7 predominantly-Muslim countries will have affect. Citizens from countries such as Iran already had a long and arduous process in gaining a visitor visa to come to the US, so much so that many won't even bother to try.

So now, with the entry ban, looks like this will have an impact on visiting scientists from these affected countries. Unfortunately, this will create an even bigger ramification, because international organizations will be less inclined to hold major conferences in the US where some of its members will not be allowed to attend. This should have both scientific and economic impacts.

So far, there has been no official word from the APS on this matter.


Friday, January 27, 2017

3 Things Everyone Should Know About Physics

This is an exceptionally good answer to the question: "What do physicists wish the average person knew about physics?" The answer was written by Inna Vishik, Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of California, Davis.
  • Physics makes predictive models about the natural world based on empirical observations (experiments), mathematics, and numerical simulations. These models are called ‘theories’, but this does not mean they are speculative; physics theories explain past behavior and predict future behavior. When a previously-validated theory fails to explain the behavior in a new physical system, it doesn’t mean the theory is suddenly ‘wrong’ altogether, it means that it is inapplicable in a certain regime. It is very exciting for physicists when these exceptions are found, and it is in these holes in our models that we propel our understanding of the physical world forward.
  • The domain of physics is vast. Some physicists study the existing universe around us. Some study the smallest constituent particles and forces of matter in this universe. Some manipulate clusters of atoms, and some manipulate light. Some study crystalline solids and the myriad properties they can have when quadrillions of atoms and electrons are arranged in slightly different ways. Others study biological systems. This is not a full list of the many subfields in physics, but what they all have in common is they combine classical (including continuum) mechanics, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, general relativity, and electricity and magnetism in various configurations to explain the physical and engineered world around us.
  • Research in physics and other fundamental sciences play three crucial roles in an advanced society; they cement our cultural legacy by exploring one aspect of the human condition (the universe we occupy), similar to the role of the arts; they educate a portion of the work force in solving difficult, open ended problems beyond the limits of prior human innovation; they provide the seeds for future technological developments, which is often realized decades in the future in an unpredictable manner (i.e. not amenable to quarterly earnings reports). At the time of their inception, electromagnetic waves (late 19th century), quantum mechanics (early 20th century) and lasers (mid 20th century) were viewed even by their progenitors as esoteric curiosities; now they permeate our life, technology, and medicine so deeply that no one would question their practical importance. In the modern physics research era, there are newer ideas that might have an equally important impact 50 years from now, but they will never be realized without continued investment in the public good known as fundamental science.


Metallic Hydrogen?

The big news so far this week is the publication on the possible (key word) creation of solid metallic hydrogen.

If this is true, then this is a significant discovery and confirmation of a prediction from many years ago. Understandably, with the press releases on this work, the popular media have been going ga-ga over this.




However, upon trolling all the various news reports, only the Independent so far has an update on the news story about doubts about this discovery.


This is taken from a news report published in Nature:


As with ANYTHING in Science, we have to give this a period of gestation before we all jump onto the bandwagon. It needs to be independently verified, and even the authors admit that this needs to be refined even more to produce a conclusive evidence of metallic hydrogen.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Technology Of Detecting Gravitational Wave

The biggest physics news of 2016 was certainly the detection (finally!) of gravitational wave by LIGO.

In this CERN Courier article, the physics and methodology of making such a difficult detection is described. As you read this article, keep in mind that at each step of the development and evolution of the facility, there had to be advances and improvements in the detection method, which by itself, is significant. The technology and engineering involved in many this detection, and in many other science experiments, often drives the development of the technology that eventually finds applications in the rest of the population.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rick Perry Backtracks On DOE

During his confirmation hearing today, Rick Perry changed his mind about wanting to shut down the US Dept. of Energy.

I have learned a great deal about the important work being done every day by the outstanding men and women of the Department of Energy. I have spoken several times to Secretary Moniz about the operation. I have spoken to his predecessors. And if confirmed, my desire is to lead this agency in a thoughtful manner surrounding myself with the expertise on the core function of the department. My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on some of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.

While it is good of him to chance his mind once he learned a bit more of what he's talking about, it doesn't diminish the fact that he and many other politicians are in a habit of going public with ideas and policies out of IGNORANCE. For some odd reason, many of them do not care that they make up their minds AND going public with such decision BEFORE they actually gather proper information about these things.

And if you think this is an isolated incident, you'd be wrong. I've highlighted several rather DUMB AND STUPID actions or comments made in public by these elected officials, all out of ignorance (read this and this, for example). I think that this is a common, standard-operating-procedure by many elected officials, that they really didn't do their homework in many decisions that they make.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Fermions and Bosons

Fermilab's Don Lincoln describes what bosons and fermions are, for those who don't know.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Imaging Fukushima Reactor Core Using Muons

If you are in the US, did you see the NOVA episode on PBS last night titled "The Nuclear Option"? If you did, did you miss, or not miss, the technique of imaging the Fukushima reactor core using the muon tomography developed at Los Alamos?

You see, whenever I see something like this, I want to shout out loud to the public on another example where our knowledge from high energy physics/elementary particle physics can produce a direct practical benefit. A lot of people still question whether our efforts in these so-called esoteric areas are worth funding. So whenever I see something like this, there should be a conscious and precise effort to point out that:

1. We had to first understand the physics of muons from our knowledge of the Standard Model of elementary particle.

2. Then those who do understand this often will start to figure out, often with collaboration of those in other areas of physics, of what could possibly be done with such knowledge.

3. And finally, they come up with a practical application of that knowledge, which originated out of an area that often produces no immediate and obvious application.

Things like this must be pointed out in SIMPLE TERMS to both the public and the politicians, because that is the only level that they can comprehend. I've pointed out previously many examples of the benefits that we get, directly or indirectly, from such field of study. It should be a requirement that any practical application should present a short "knowledge genealogy" of where the idea came from. It will be an eye-opener to many people.


Monday, January 09, 2017

Mpemba Effect Is Still Hot After All These Years

OK, maybe not hot, but it is certainly at least lukewarm.

If you don't know anything about this, I've made several posts on the Mpemba effect before (read here, here, here, and here). Briefly, this is the effect where hot water is seen to freeze faster than cold water. Even after its purported discovery many years ago, the validity of this effect, and the possible explanation for it are still being debated.

Add this report to the body of discussion. It seems that there are new papers that are using molecular bonds in water as the possible explanation for this effect.

Now researchers from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Nanjing University in China think they might have a solution - strange properties of bonds formed between hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water molecules could be the key to explaining the elusive Mpemba effect.

Simulations of water molecule clusters revealed that the strength of hydrogen bonds (H-bonds) in a given water molecule depends on the arrangements of neighbouring water molecules.

"As water is heated, weaker bonds break, and groups of molecules form into fragments that can realign to form the crystalline structure of ice, serving as a starting point for the freezing process," Emily Conover reports for Science News.

"For cold water to rearrange in this way, weak hydrogen bonds first have to be broken."
I'm sure this will not be the last time we hear about this.


Friday, January 06, 2017

The Brachistochrone Problem

There are many sources that describes this problem. Mary Boas also devoted a substantial portion of it in her classic text "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences". Here, Rhett Allain describes it once more in his Wired article.

Laymen might find it fascinating just to know the shape of the path, while physics students might find it useful especially if you're just about to take class in Least Action principle.


Thursday, January 05, 2017

Happy New Year!

A belated Happy New Year to everyone. I hope you all had a great holiday season.

Those of us in the US are facing a rather uncertain next few months. With the new administration taking office and the issue of science and science funding being trivialized during this last presidential election, no one knows where things are going. With Rick Perry slated to be nominated as the Secretary for the Dept. of Energy, it is like having the wolf looking after the sheep, since he had stated on more than one occasion of abolishing this part of the US govt. Sorry, but I don't think he has a clue what the DOE actually does.

This is not the first time someone who has no expertise in STEM is heading a dept. that deals with STEM. I've always wondered about the logic and rational of doing that. You never seen someone who is not an expert in finance or economics heading, say, the Treasury! So why is the DOE, which has been a significant engine in research, science, and technology, and which is the area that has been attributed to be responsible for the significant growth in our economy, being relegated as an ugly stepchild? Is it because STEM and STEM funding does not have a built-in constituent that will make public and political noise?

At this point, I have very low expectations for a lot of things during these next few years.