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.