Saturday, December 24, 2022

2022 Nobel Prize In Physics Lectures

If you are bored over the holidays, here's something to keep you occupied for 2 hours.


Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Semester From Hell Is Over!

Fall 2022 semester is finally over! I've turned in all the grades, and I am breathing a big sigh of relief.

I only have myself to blame, but I can't take all the "credits" either. I taught two courses that I've taught before, but they both were using new Open Educational Resources (OER) texts. This  means that I have to use all new lectures notes, set up new homework, quizzes, etc. And of course, being OER, the instructor support is barely there. I've mentioned already how unimpressed I was on what they call their "lecture notes". A dump of figures cannot be called lecture notes!

So this past semester, I had to basically do everything from scratch. And when you have two whole classes on different topics for that, I felt as if I'm behind at the beginning of each week! I'm used to producing extensive Powerpoint lecture notes with animations, videos, links, etc. I can't just use the old ones, mainly because of copyright issues, but also because I want my notes to be consistent with the notations, symbols, figures etc. that are used in their OER text. So each week, I have to produce brand new lecture notes, and since there's no support from the OER text, I have to do this from scratch. And we still haven't talk about quizzes, homework, etc. that I have to set up from scratch.

I never, ever, want to be in this situation again!

It was the closest I had come to being burnt out. I love teaching, and I gave up my career as a research physicist for this, but this past semester was the first time that I hated doing this. The joy that came from teaching did not exceed the aggravation. It didn't help that I was pissed at the dept. for shoving the OER texts and requirements on us without consulting us and asking the type of support that we would need. I was used to getting the type of instructor support from Pearson and Cengage, but this past semester, the rug was pulled from right under us and we were left with nothing.

What is actually rather amusing and funny is that the school is seriously pushing for our courses to try and adopt the Universal Design in Learning (UDL) standards, in which we accommodate students with various abilities, backgrounds, etc., and therefore, allow for our methods of delivery, assessments, etc. to be flexible and varied. The students portals at Pearson and Cengage had those, while the OER sources have practically zilch! So one part of the institution wants us to do one thing, while the other part removes the ability for us to do just that. The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing!

Yes, I'm venting. For my own sanity, I need to air out my frustrations at this whole silliness. I have no doubt that the standards that I set for myself for these classes suffered this past semester, and I'm not happy about it. Now I just need to figure out how to prepare way in advance for next semester. Luckily, I'm teaching only ONE class using OER text, and it is the same one that I taught this past semester. Hopefully, I'm more prepared.

Wish me luck!


Wednesday, December 14, 2022

We Have Ignition!

So the big news of the week, which was preceded by the rumors a few days before the official announcement, is the breakeven achievement in a fusion process at Lawrence Livermore's National Ignition Facility (NIF).

This is certainly a major breakthrough, and it is something that has achieved for the very first time ever in a controlled experiment (it happens all the time in our Sun and other stars). However, to me, this is more of a proof-of-principle experiment, meaning that it is a demonstration that it is possible, rather than to show that it is viable. It is certainly very, VERY far away from producing anything useful because harnessing this energy is an entirely different matter.

While you can read many sites reporting this, I kinda like the one that I read on CNET because there's a certainly level of sensibility aimed towards the general public. In particular, there is this definition of what is meant by "breakeven":

More specifically, scientists at NIF kickstarted a fusion reaction using about 2 megajoules of energy to power the lasers and were able to get about 3 megajoules out. Based on the definition of ignition used by NIF, the benchmark has been passed during this one short pulse. 

But that doesn't convey the whole thing, because this is what should also be mentioned:

"The calculation of energy gain only considers the energy that hit the target, and not the [very large] energy consumption that goes into supporting the infrastructure," said Patrick Burr, a nuclear engineer at the University of New South Wales.

What it means is that they only considered the energy of the laser hitting the target, and then finding the energy output from the ignition that subsequently resulted in fusion. Sure, that energy output is greater than the input energy of the laser, but this is not the total energy of the entire facility that created the laser. That facility would still not be self-sufficient to run just by using the output energy of the fusion it created, even assuming 100% efficiency.

This does not diminish the amazing achievement, considering that other facilities and techniques have not even reach this level. It is just that it needs to be tampered with a bit more realistic expectations so that we don't oversell ourselves to the public.