Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Steven Chu is Newsmaker of the Year

Nature has selected US Energy Secretary and Nobel Laureate in Physics Steven Chu as the Newsmaker of the Year {Link may be available for free only for a limited time}.

Chu has already had a significant impact. From his position near the top of President Barack Obama's administration, he has helped make the case that the United States must commit to reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions, not only to save the planet but also to ensure that the country will be able to compete with China, India and Europe in the emerging green economy.

And he has started to commit the energy department to doing more high-risk research on clean energy. This is the proper role of governmental research programmes: to develop promising technologies that are too far from the market to draw the support of industry, which has to focus on near-term profits. Nations cannot simply regulate themselves out of the global-warming problem; pledges to cut greenhouse emissions have to be made real by the scientists and engineers who develop cheaper, cleaner and more efficient ways to produce and distribute energy.

He still has quite a huge task in front of him. But for once, there is quite an optimism that science policy and science decision for this Administration will be heavily-based on the advice of knowledge scientists rather than politicians and based on politics.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Joy of Physics Isn’t in the Results, but in the Search Itself

I like this article. I like it a lot. It reflects more or less why many of us go into science, and physics in particular, even though the journey is long, uncertain, tedious, and the pay isn't that great when you compare to the effort. Very often, the journey in getting there is the joy in doing physics.

As the dark matter fever was rising a few weeks ago, I called Vera Rubin, the astronomer at the department of terrestrial magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who helped make dark matter a cosmic issue by showing that galaxies rotate too fast for the gravity of their luminous components to keep them together.

But Dr. Rubin, who likes to stick to the facts, refused to be excited. “I don’t know if we have dark matter or have to nudge Newton’s Laws or what.

“I’m sorry I know so little; I’m sorry we all know so little. But that’s kind of the fun, isn’t it?”

Now while we can certainly try to sell this to the general public, at some point, we also must face the question on whether such money should be spent simply for a bunch of people to have some "joy" in continuing search to understand our world. Should public money be spent solely on projects that bring a sense of joy and accomplishment to a group of people?

While the author of that article did mention all the side benefits that we have acquired from basic physics research, he neglected to mention that physics isn't just the LHC, but it is also iPods! While those who work in high energy physics, astrophysics, etc. will have to go with the "basic knowledge" angle, let's not forget that other parts of physics such as condensed matter, atomic/molecular, medical physics, etc. are producing results that have DIRECT IMPACT and applications to the public. The pursuit of knowledge in these fields also brings joy and utmost satisfaction, with the added benefit that money spent in these areas can be more easily justified via their applications.

Physics must trumpet both the "fundamental knowledge" research represented by the LHC, and the direct/applied fields. Both of these aspects of physics show that money being spent in this field not only expand our fundamental understanding of our universe, but also our everyday lives. I don't know of any other field of study that can say that as strongly.


A Conversation With Frank Wilczek

This is actually quite an enlightening Q&A with Frank Wilczek published in the NY Times. In it, explained a little bit on the motivation for QCD, and a little bit of his childhood. Boy, was Freeman Dyson wrong!

One of the big questions at that time was — what is the strong force, one of the four basic forces, the most powerful force of nature, that among other things holds atomic nuclei together? There were lots of known facts about the strong force, but no real theory. Freeman Dyson had said that it would be 100 years before it was understood.

Now I'm rather curious about the novel that he has been writing. It sounds like a totally new angle for a mystery genre.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Newton's Laws Do Not Ignore Friction

Usually, if this was made by some obscure individual on some obscure website, I wouldn't have given it a second thought. After all, you can find a lot of such garbage all over the 'net. But this is from a supposedly-respected financial publication, and made by someone from New York University. Therefore, it deserved to be addressed and corrected. It is also another example on why the general public often have faulty knowledge of physics, even basic physics that we teach kids in high school.

This article comes from, and talks about the future of the Dow Jones. Inevitably, people who don't know enough physics will want to make either a comparison, or an analogy, to some aspect of physics.

"Economics used to ignore liquidity risk, like Newton's laws ignore friction in physics," says Lasse Pedersen of New York University "However, now people are realizing similar frictions are central to what is going on in the economy."

This, of course, is totally wrong. Any physics student taking intro physics in college would have known this. Example: body on an inclined plane problem with friction involved. The whole point of drawing the free-body diagram in such a case is so that one can find the NET force acting on the body and applying F=ma (which is ONE of Newton's laws) to find the dynamics of the body. So Newton's Laws DO NOT ignore friction. The frictional force is like any other forces and there's nothing special about it.

This is another black eye for those in the economic/financial sector. It seems that, based on the past few posts in this blog, that I'm taking aim at this field. I'm not! It is the people who represent such a field and making stupid statements that are giving this field a bad name. If they just stick to what they know and keep their mouth shut on things that they don't, we would get along very well. But nooooo.... they somehow want to show off their ignorance of physics and hoping that those who read what they say don't know any better. And the sad thing is, they'll probably get away with these things too.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Economics Is As Much A Science As Physics?

It may be Christmas Eve, but I'm not in a forgiving mood. There is a quote from some clueless "philosopher" who thinks that economics is as much a science as physics!

I asked [philosopher] Nelson Goodman this question once, and Nelson Goodman said economics is as much of a science as physics. I said, well, how could that be? He said: Physics can explain how a leaf falls from a tree and everything that happens to it, but it can't tell you where the leaf's going to land. Economics is the same.

That's utterly stupid. How do you think we were able to send things out in outer space if we don't know where it is going to "land"? Being able to "explain" and describe the dynamics of that leaf INCLUDES the ability to predict what will happen. That's how you know your electronics will work, because we have predicted with great accuracy how the mechanism within your semiconductors will behave in the future.

But the stupidity doesn't end there...

Yes, absolutely right. I use that all the time. The parts of physics that are exact are the parts of physics that are exact. The parts that are inexact are vastly greater. Sensible scientists don't waste their time pushing against doors that endlessly will not give. They are opportunistic and go where they can, but there are pitfalls in that. It's like the drunk who is looking for his keys under the lamplight in the street, but he wasn't near the lamplight. He said, yes, but that's the only place I can see anything, therefore I'm looking here.

That makes no sense, especially when this person doesn't illustrate such accusation with an example. The whole idea of doing science is to go into places where we either have little knowledge in, or in which our current understanding just doesn't work. That's exactly an example of looking where the lamplight isn't there!

People who have never worked in science, or physics in particular, and then try to make generalized characterization of the field, simply reveal their complete ignorance. And when you start with a foundation based on faulty knowledge, you end up with absurd conclusion, such as equating economics to be as much of a science as physics.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Time in a Hurry?

Contrary to the previous NPR blog article that I didn't quite like, this one is actually quite level-headed and doesn't go beyond valid physics to try for the sexy angle. It is a quick and accurate description of "time".

In physics, things are simpler. Time is a fundamental quantity, something that cannot be defined in terms of anything else. There are some issues with this, that we will address some other time. (Sorry...) The second is the universal unit, and it's defined as 9,192,631,770 oscillations between two levels of the cesium-133 atom. Very different from the tick-tack of old mechanical clocks, which are not very reliable.

It will be interesting if the writer (a theoretical physicist) would write the same type of article for "space".


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Are Human Ideas And Opinions Quantum Objects?

Are human ideas and opinions quantum objects? Does it show properties of superposition? Does it have a wavefunction and observable operators? Really!

In the continuing effort to "bastardize" quantum mechanics, many people who don't have a clue of what it is routinely cite the various aspects of quantum mechanics and then applying it to situations where it may not even apply. Crackpots do this all the time, especially in areas of pseudoscience where QM has been used as a justification for all the new-age mumbo jumbo. They do this while forgetting that various aspects of QM have been experimentally tested and verified, whereas their applications to other things have not.

And that brings us to this "delightful" discussion. The writer applied both QM and SR (the physics-bastardization double-coupon) to make amazing justification regarding opposite opinions.

So what's physics got to do with it? First, it allows two contradictory descriptions of nature to be true. So both my friends both could be (and were) right. As Neils Bohr put it: The opposite of a shallow truth is false, but the opposite of a deep truth is also true.

Particles are waves and waves are particles. Whether they show one face or the other depends on what you look for in your experiment, on what kind of question you ask. In other words, the context.

Each of my friends is a complex, warm, caring, passionate and much-loved individual. Each is also nothing but a bunch of quarks and electrons. Two contradictory statements. Both true. Different contexts.

This, of course, isn't new. Extreme post-modernists have done this already, with hysterical and nonsensical conclusions. One only needs to follow the situation surrounding the Sokal Hoax.

The problem in all of this is, of course, that if you understand only a very small and superficial portion of something, and then you apply it, you've essentially ignore the majority of what you applied. For example, if contradictory ideas like that can be represented or justified as "waves" or having such duality, then ALL the other consequences of such analogy should also follow. What happened when they "interfere" with each other, or underwent rapid decoherence? If one makes an "observation", shouldn't the other ideas essentially goes away since the wavefunction has collapsed? Now what?

Bastardization of physics produces nonsensical results. I don't know why people need to grasp onto something they don't even understand to justify something.


Monday, December 21, 2009

What's In Store for 2010

Physics World has a list of things we might be looking forward to in 2010. The most obvious one is, of course, the LHC. There are also plenty of other things, some we may not be looking forward to at all, such as the funding disaster in the UK, and a similar issue in Japan.

2010 promises to not be lacking in drama of every type.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Number of Physics Faculty

I finally had a chance to look at one of the recent survey results published by the AIP. This is a survey of the physics faculty at US educational institutions done in 2008. It covers institutions having Bachelor, Masters, or Ph.D in physics degrees as the highest granting degree.

The most obvious conclusion here is how stagnant the number of faculty member has been since 1998. In fact, if one look at Fig. 1, since 2004, the number has remained relatively the same across all three types of institutions. One sees this conclusion both in the total number of physics faculty members, and in the average number per institution.

What does this mean, boys and girls? It means that if you want to do physics AND then get a job in a university as a physics faculty, someone must either leave first, or retire, before there is an opening for you to take. It also means that if you are majoring in a field of physics that isn't that employable outside of academia, you will have a tough competition in trying to get the job that you want.

Of course, this trend doesn't take into account the influx of money from this year's stimulus bill and whether that created additional jobs that was never available. Still, this is only a temporary infusion, and it is still uncertain whether any physics jobs created out of such funds will actually last.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Google Exploring Quantum Computing Algorithms

Google is probably the first major internet company to explore quantum computing algorithms, based on this report.

Google is working on developing a quantum computer, announced Google's Hartmut Neven at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference (NIPS 2009) in Vancouver, Canada last week.

Nevan, who is the comapny's technical lead manager for image recognition gave details of the presentation on the google research blog.

The reason for google's interest in quantum computing is speed. At the size of the internet increases exponentially it is becoming harder and harder for google to maintain the fast speed of the service without having to resort to building massive server farms.

They certainly have the financial resources to explore such research-front area. Companies with money can do that, as we have seen with Bell Labs during the golden days when it has the money and the monopoly.

But hold on. After reading some more of the article, my eyes widened when I read something a bit unsettling.

The company has spent three years working on quantum adiabatic algorithms with a Canadian company D-Wave providing the hardware.

D-Wave's processors work by magnetically coupling superconducting loops called rf-squid flux qubits. "It is not easy to demonstrate that a multi-qubit system such as the D-Wave chip indeed exhibits the desired quantum behavior," says Nevan.

D-Wave, D-Wave, D-Wave... I know that company. They claimed to have made the first "quantum computer", a claim that has yet to be verified (read here, here, and here. Anyone has any new update on them?).



Time And Space For Celebration Dance?

I fully admit that I'm completely ignorant (and therefore, probably unable to appreciate it) of modern dance. So I certainly could have missed any kind of "message" and artistry from it. Still, maybe the Emperor really has no clothes!

This, I'm guessing, is some form of a kick-off celebration for the start of construction on the NSLS II at Brookhaven Lab. The info says that ".... members of the Center for Dance, Movement and Somatic Learning at Stony Brook University performed a special interpretive dance titled Time and Space for Celebration...." All I can say is that I'm glad I wasn't in the audience, because I will get a fit of the "church giggles" watching this. If you don't tell me the title of the dance or the occasion, I would have never guessed that this is an "interpretive" dance on "time and space for celebration". Besides, "time and space" is rather "generic", isn't it? One would think that for the NSLS II, which will be a synchrotron light source facility, one would want to have a subject closer to either light or electron storage ring/beam dynamics, etc, not "space and time". Either way, I don't get this at all.

Or maybe I'm just being extra bitchy this morning because I haven't had my coffee yet... :)


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

UK Physics Hit With "Savage" Cuts

Rather depressing news coming out of the United Kingdom and their science funding in general. Severe cuts in the physics funding will cause UK to withdraw from several prominent research programs.

Savage cuts have been made to the UK's physics research programme that will see the country withdraw from over 25 leading international projects in astronomy, nuclear physics, particle physics and space science. The cuts were announced today by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which is facing a £40m shortfall in funding. The cash crisis will see the UK pull out of the ALICE experiment at CERN, axe funding for the Boulby Mine in Yorkshire, which is searching for dark matter, and withdraw from the European X-ray Free Electron Laser project at the DESY lab in Hamburg.

This sounds rather devastating. The bad news coming out of the UK doesn't seem to let up these past few years, including the state of A-level education over there. One can only speculate the ramifications on UK science from this act.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You Are Using Quantum Mechanics In Your Digital Camera

Well, for most of us, that fact isn't surprising. But, it is still useful to emphasize this in case there are still people out there who thinks that QM is only some esoteric subject area (like all of physics) that has nothing to do with their everyday lives.

This is a well-written article in the Washington Post that shows how a CCD detector that is in digital camera came out of the our understanding of quantum mechanics. The inventor of the CCD won the Nobel Prize for Physics this year.

Getting a digital camera for Christmas? Before you fire it up to capture Uncle Wally's fateful fifth trip to the punch bowl, take a moment to picture this: You've got a genuine scientific marvel in your mitts. In fact, it took nothing less than two Nobel prizes and a revolution in physics in order for you to point and shoot.

Why? Because to take a filmless picture, your camera or camcorder relies on, um, quantum mechanics. In particular, it exploits the fact -- revealed by Albert Einstein himself -- that a beam of light, which behaves like a wave in some circumstances, acts like a bunch of separate particles in other circumstances.

A good article to give to someone who asks you if physics is of any use.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Electromagnetic Detection of a Perfect Invisibility Cloak

One of the areas of physics that had been getting a lot of publicity is the area of metametrials/left-handed materials that produces negative index of refraction. The "sexy" aspect of this study is the possibility of "cloaking" an object having such left-handed properties from electromagnetic radiation, even if it is only within a limit bandwidth. I've highlighted several of these cloaking reports previously (read here, here, and here).

Now comes something that throws cold water over everything. A paper that appeared in PRL[1] recently pointed out that while any cloaking device, even a perfect one, cannot be detected via EM radiation, shooting charged particles at them allows them to be detected!

Abstract: A perfect invisibility cloak is commonly believed to be undetectable from electromagnetic (EM) detection because it is equivalent to a curved but empty EM space created from coordinate transformation. Based on the intrinsic asymmetry of coordinate transformation applied to motions of photons and charges, we propose a method to detect this curved EM space by shooting a fast-moving charged particle through it. A broadband radiation generated in this process makes a cloak visible. Our method is the only known EM mechanism so far to detect an ideal perfect cloak (curved EM space) within its working band.

So all you need is to shoot electrons and voila, you see these things being cloaked. Of course, this doesn't work to well in air since, depending on the electrons' energy, the mean free path of the electrons in air can be quite limited. But in the vacuum of outer space, that's a different story. Just think, we could have told Capt. Kirk how he could have detected those cloaked Klingon warbirds! It would have been so easy!


[1] B. Zhang and B.-I. Wu, Phys. Rev. Lett. v.103, p.243901 (2009).

Searching for the Higgs

With the LHC back in operation and performing smoothly (so far), this is a rather timely review on the search for the Higgs at appeared today.

While the article is not exactly designed to be understood by the general public, it is still informative, especially in the very beginning, to almost everyone.


A Christmas Gift for That String Theorist

What do you get for that string theorist who thinks we live in a 10 (or is it 11?) dimensional world? Why, you get the Calabi-Yau Manifold crystal, of course!

According to string theory, space-time is not four-dimensional as you might expect, but actually 10-dimensional. The extra six dimensions are believed to be compactified or rolled up into such a small space that they are unobservable at human scales of sight. Their size and six dimensions make Calabi-Yau spaces difficult to draw. But, this model shows a three-dimensional cross-section of this likely space to reveal its structure and shape.

This 3" cube and the surface within is a wildly self-intersecting ride through space. Cement your place in string theory history by adding this highly intriguing crystal to your collection. It includes clear rubber feet for scratch-free display. And, if you want to learn more about the mathematics of this wondrous cube, read on...This particular space is one of the most appealing candidates, because there's a series of Calabi-Yau spaces embedded in CPN (N-dimensional complex projective space) described by homogeneous polynomials of degree (N+1).

Oh freaking brother!

It'll cost you US$90 to have string theory sitting on your desk.



Friday, December 11, 2009

LHC Overtakes Tevatron - Implications For The US

This NY Times article discusses not only the scientific, but economic implications to the US as the state-of-the-art high-energy physics experiment shifts to Europe.

That future, physicists say, includes not only the sheen of announcing exotic particles and strange dimensions, but also the ancillary rewards of increased technological competence and innovation that spring from the pursuit of esoteric knowledge. The World Wide Web, lest anyone forget, was invented by particle physicists at CERN. Detectors developed for physics experiments are now used in medical devices like PET scans, and it was the industrial-scale production of superconducting magnets for the Tevatron that made commercial magnetic resonance imagers possible, said Young-Kee Kim, deputy director of Fermilab.

It is all very fine to worry about the value of the dollar. But what about the value of the proton?

“Particle accelerators and detectors (initially with the bold and innovative ideas and technologies) have touched our lives in many ways and I have no doubt that this will continue,” Dr. Kim wrote in an e-mail message.

Those spinoffs now will invigorate the careers and labs of Europe, not the United States, pointed out Steven Weinberg, a physicist at the University of Texas in Austin, who won the Nobel Prize for work that will be tested in the new collider. Americans will work at CERN, but not as leaders, he said in an e-mail interview.

It will be years before the true impact, both intellectually and economically, will be felt. I just wish people REMEMBER the moment when the turning point occurs.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Science Begins at SLAC’s LCLS

It was a major undertaking and a total 'sex change' for SLAC going from a high energy physics facility to a "light source" facility with the LCLS. But it appears to be going smoothly and about to produce a lot of science.

Commissioning assisted by users is currently under way, with experiments taking place using the Atomic, Molecular and Optical (AMO) science instrument, the first of six instruments planned for the LCLS. In these first experiments, the researchers are using X-rays from the LCLS to gain an in-depth understanding of how the ultrabright beam interacts with matter.

And kids, please note that this is made possible by knowledge and advancement in accelerator physics, not high energy physics or particle collider. They are not the same thing.


Back From Vacation

Left 80-degree Orlando last night and flew into 20-degree Chicago (that's all in Fahrenheit for those who are confused about those numbers). Brrrr.....

It'll take me a couple of days to catch up on what has been going on in the Physics world while I was gone, but we'll get up to speed sooner or later...


Monday, December 07, 2009

Tiger Wood's Debacle Drives Sale of Physics Book

It's amazing what can drive the sale of a book, much less, a physics pop-science book. It appears that a copy of John Gribbin's book "Get a Grip on Physics" book was found on the floor of Tiger Wood's wrecked SUV. That notoriety is now driving up the sale of the book.

A series of pictures released by Florida police of Woods's wrecked SUV includes a shot of the back seat, complete with waterbottle, towel and furled umbrella. But there among the shards of tinted glass in the footwell sits a well-thumbed copy of a paperback with the golf-appropriate title clearly visible: Get a Grip on Physics.

This incidental role in Woods's domestic drama has been enough to create a rush to get hold of the book, with the title's sales rank on jumping from 396,224 earlier in the week to a high spotted yesterday by the Wall Street Journal of 2,268.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Einstein Won The Nobel Peace Prize in Physics?

One some time wonders if there really still are copy editors out there checking not only for basic spelling and grammar, but also the accuracy of what is being printed. Now I know that mistakes can happen, but some of these things are blatant facts that should be quite well-known, which make them inexcusable to get wrong.

Take this news article, for example. I mean, it goes in way too many directions, but that isn't the problem. The problem comes in with this part of the article involving good old Albert:

Who would have thought that Albert Einstein would be the centre of a lawsuit in 2009? Einstein, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for physics, who died in 1955, was recently included in a commercial by a cosmetics company. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which owns the Einstein trademark, has filed a lawsuit against Benefit Cosmetics for illegal use of Einstein's image.

Nobel Peace Price in Physics? Really?

Sure, this is nitpicking, but come on now, this is almost common knowledge already. I can somewhat understand if people still think he got the Nobel prize in physics for Relativity (despite the fact that people can easily Google this and find out it was for the photoelectric effect). But mixing up the Nobel Peace Prize and the Physics price? What caused that?


Monday, November 30, 2009

How Far Are We From The Quantum Theory Of Gravity?

That is the question that is being asked in this review of the effort to incorporate gravity into quantum mechanics (the full paper is available for free, upon registration, during the first 30 days of online publication)[1].

Abstract: I give a pedagogical explanation of what it is about quantization that makes general relativity go from being a nearly perfect classical theory to a very problematic quantum one. I also explain why some quantization of gravity is unavoidable, why quantum field theories have divergences, why the divergences of quantum general relativity are worse than those of the other forces, what physicists think this means and what they might do with a consistent theory of quantum gravity if they had one. Finally, I discuss the quantum gravitational data that have recently become available from cosmology.

This comes on the heel of another review of the phenomenological quantum gravity.


[1] R.P. Woodward, Rep. Prog. Phys. v.72 p.126002 (2009).

London Science Museum's "Launchball"

Hey, this is not a bad game at all!

The London Science Museum launched (pun intended) a Flash-based webgame called "Launchball". It became popular enough that there is now an app for the iPhone.

Launchball is a physics puzzler where you need to get a ball from Point A to Point B using the tools at hand. These tools include fans, magnets, tesla coils, bunsen burners and much more. Each tool is introduced in sequential fashion during the introductory levels and in general feels much more accessible than similar games we've played. Once you set up the board as you want, you can press "start" to set the scene in motion to see if you've succeeded.

You can find the Flash-based web version of the game here.


LHC Becomes The World's Most Powerfull Accelerator

It's official. The LHC has taken over from the Tevatron as the world's most powerful accelerator. It broke the record held by the Tevatron (0.98 TeV) and reached 1.18 TeV.

There's still a long way to go to get its nominal energy, but congratulations nevertheless for not only all the hard work, but also under all that pressure and public scrutiny.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

The e-Print ArXiv To Undergo Major Changes

Looks like the venerable ArXiv will be undergoing a major upgrade.

New tools will link papers by concepts, not just by the citations they contain, and this will help users without advanced expertise -- including some outside the scientific community -- understand the significance of new research, said Ginsparg.

I wonder if they'll put in new efforts to weed out some of the "strange" papers (I'll refrain from calling them crackpottery) that appear periodically.


Why Can't Time Run Backwards?

Nobel Laureate Tony Leggett gave a rather intriguing lecture at St. Andrews this week that tried to address the topic.

Leggett said, "We can all tell when a movie of some everyday event, such as a kettle boiling or a glass shattering, is run backwards.

"Similarly, we all feel that we can remember the past and affect the future, not vice versa. So there is a very clear "arrow" ( direction ) of time built into our interpretation of our everyday experience.

"Yet the fundamental microscopic laws of physics, be they classical or quantum-mechanical, look exactly the same if the direction of time is reversed. So what is the origin of the "arrow" of time?

"This is one of the deepest questions in physics; I will review some relevant considerations, but do not pretend to give a complete answer."

It took place on Nov. 27 (yesterday). Did anyone reading this attended this lecture? If you did, I'd appreciate a brief report.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Albert Einstein, the Robot

OK, this is just wrong, or in very poor tastes.

It seems that a bunch of engineers thought that putting an Albert Einstein's head on a robot would be appropriate, and then calling it "Albert Hubo".

Albert HUBO is an android robot. It is composed of a head, which takes after Dr. Albert Einstein, and HUBO’s body. The development period took about 3 months, and it had been finished at November, 2005. The head part was developed by Hanson-Robotics. Its skin is a special material, Frubber, often used at Hollywood.

Besides being rather creepy, it is in poor tastes because as most of us know, Einstein's brain was removed from his head. Now with this thing, it appears as if his head has been decapitated from his body and put on this robot.

Not sure what they hope to accomplish, other than publicity value.


Monday, November 23, 2009

First Collisions at the LHC

Great news coming out of CERN:

Geneva, 23 November 2009. Today the LHC circulated two beams simultaneously for the first time, allowing the operators to test the synchronization of the beams and giving the experiments their first chance to look for proton-proton collisions. With just one bunch of particles circulating in each direction, the beams can be made to cross in up to two places in the ring. From early in the afternoon, the beams were made to cross at points 1 and 5, home to the ATLAS and CMS detectors, both of which were on the lookout for collisions. Later, beams crossed at points 2 and 8, ALICE and LHCb.

"It's a great achievement to have come this far in so short a time," said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. "But we need to keep a sense of perspective - there's still much to do before we can start the LHC physics programme."

Beams were first tuned to produce collisions in the ATLAS detector, which recorded its first candidate for collisions at 14:22 this afternoon. Later, the beams were optimised for CMS. In the evening, ALICE had the first optimisation, followed by LHCb.

"This is great news, the start of a fantastic era of physics and hopefully discoveries after 20 years' work by the international community to build a machine and detectors of unprecedented complexity and performance," said ATLAS spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti.

"The events so far mark the start of the second half of this incredible voyage of discovery of the secrets of nature," said CMS spokesperson Tejinder Virdee.

"It was standing room only in the ALICE control room and cheers erupted with the first collisions," said ALICE spokesperson Jurgen Schukraft. "This is simply tremendous."

"The tracks we're seeing are beautiful," said LHCb spokesperson Andrei Golutvin, "we're all ready for serious data taking in a few days time."

These developments come just three days after the LHC restart, demonstrating the excellent performance of the beam control system. Since the start-up, the operators have been circulating beams around the ring alternately in one direction and then the other at the injection energy of 450 GeV. The beam lifetime has gradually been increased to 10 hours, and today beams have been circulating simultaneously in both directions, still at the injection energy.

Next on the schedule is an intense commissioning phase aimed at increasing the beam intensity and accelerating the beams. All being well, by Christmas, the LHC should reach 1.2 TeV per beam, and have provided good quantities of collision data for the experiments' calibrations.

So far, so good. No birds with baguette, please! :)


Galileo Fingers Found

These are just too morbid and gruesome for me. First it was Einstein's brain, now it's Galileo's fingers. It seems that they found his "missing" fingers after more than 100 years.

Removing body parts from the corpse was an echo of a practice common with saints, whose digits, tongues and organs were revered by Catholics as relics with sacred powers.

There is an irony in Galileo's having been subjected to the same treatment, since he was persecuted by the Catholic Church for advocating the theory that the earth circles the sun, rather than the other way around. The Inquisition forced him to recant, and jailed him in 1634.

The people who cut off his fingers essentially considered him a secular saint, Galluzzi said, noting the fingers that were removed were the ones he would have used to hold a pen.

Horrors! People need to really find a hobby!

Ironically, they found the fingers during the 2009 Year of Astronomy commemorating Galileo! Can't stage this any better!


Work on the Manhattan Project, Subsequent Events, and Little Known Facts Related to its Use

I was planning on doing quite a bit of work this morning when I showed up extra early at the lab, but instead, I spent several delightful minutes reading this amazing personal account of the Manhattan Project and the dropping of the bombs that ended World War II. This personal account was written by Lawrence Bartell, one of the last remaining participants of the venerable project.

Abstract: A personal account of work on the Manhattan Project in Chicago by one of the few remaining survivors of the war-time project is given, illustrating, among other things, how absurd things can happen at a time of great stress and concern.. As is well known, Los Alamos was the site specializing in the physics of the bomb while Chicago emphasized metallurgical and chemical research. Nevertheless, physics played a significant role in Chicago, as well. That is where Fermi constructed the worlds first uranium pile under the stands of Stagg field, a site at which this author got seriously irradiated. Some curious events occurring after the bomb was dropped are also related. In addition, at this time of public protest by sincere people who question the ethics of America for dropping the bomb on innocent civilians, certain facts, obviously unknown to the protesters, are presented which place the bombing in a rather different light.

It's amazing that all of the radiation and chemical exposure that he endured haven't caused him more significant health problems.

It's an amazing historical account and adds another perspective to the Manhattan Project, especially from the Chicago effort.


Albert Crewe, Inventor of the STEM

Albert Crewe, the inventor of the scanning transmission electron microscope, and the first person to image single atoms, died this past week.

Dr. Crewe's breakthrough image of an atom was taken in 1970 with a scanning transmission electron microscope of his own invention at the U. of C., where he taught until 1996.

The uranium and thorium atoms that Dr. Crewe captured were magnified 1 million times. It was a significant breakthrough -- an atom is incredibly tiny, approximately 4 billionths of an inch in diameter. The event was met with quiet satisfaction by Dr. Crewe and his fellow Hyde Park physicists.

Again, this is one of those giants in the field that many in the public would not know, but whose work has such huge impact on our lives. Thank you, Dr. Crewe!


Friday, November 20, 2009

First Beam Splashes at ATLAS

News brief from the ATLAS Detector at the LHC:

Dear Colleagues,

ATLAS has recorded successfully the first beam-splash events of 2009. You can admire them at the following sites:

Keep an eye on these sites, as they will be refreshed regularly.

This very exciting moment and great achievement for the machine and our experiment are the results of the outstanding work of many people !

Kind regards

Fabiola Gianotti

Well done! We look forward to more progress from this re-start.


Newton Voted Greatest Cambridge Student

Students at Cambridge voted Newton as the greatest Cambridge student of all time. He was followed closely by Charles Darwin, which isn't a slouch himself in the history of science.

The physicist and mathematician, who went to Trinity College, won 23.6 per cent of the vote in the poll by student newspaper Varsity.

Charles Darwin, who attended Christ's College, came a close second with 20.6 per cent and poet Lord Byron, who was a student at Trinity College, came third with 10.8 per cent.


Controlling the Velocity of Light Pulses

There is a very good review article in the latest issue of Science[1] that compiles all of our experimental and theoretical understanding of light propagation in a medium.

Abstract: It is now possible to exercise a high degree of control over the velocity at which light pulses pass through material media. This velocity, known as the group velocity, can be made to be very different from the speed of light in a vacuum c. Specifically, the group velocity of light can be made much smaller than c, greater than c, or even negative. We present a survey of methods for establishing extreme values of the group velocity, concentrating especially on methods that work in room-temperature solids. We also describe some applications of slow light.


[1] R.W. Boyd and D.J. Gauthier, Science v.326, p.1074 (2009).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Happens When You Wanted To Be A Physicist And It Just Didn't Work Out?

Well, you then go to your back up plan and be a CALL GIRL!! :)

This is way too hysterical to make up, or maybe it is made up, who knows?

The more complete story on this can be found at Times Online. The part I found to be quite hilarious was this:

How did she become a prostitute? She studied anthropology and mathematics in Florida: “I wanted to be a physicist, but that just didn’t work out.” After Florida, her family lived in Sheffield, where she studied some more: “By the time I got to Sheffield it was for doctoral study at the department of forensic pathology.”

I would say that was a drastic alternative indeed! :)


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Paul Chu Returns To University of Houston

Ah, a name from the past!

Paul Chu, after serving as president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, returns to the scene of his triumph at the University of Houston. Back in the heyday of high-Tc superconductors, he discovered YBCO after the publication of Bednorz and Müller's LACO, the first high-Tc superconductor. What was significant about YBCO was that it was the first superconductor discovered that has a Tc above liquid nitrogen temperature. This is important because it allows one to have a superconductor using a relatively cheap cooling source, rather than using liquid helium.

This, of course, was the trigger for the "Physics Woodstock" at the 1987 APS March Meeting in New York. Ah, the good old days!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Phenomenological Quantum Gravity

I don't normally find reading papers on quantum gravity to be "entertaining". However, this is actually is, simply because the authors have to be rather concise due to limited space. Written by Sabine Hossenfelder Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute, it actually provides quite an overview of the phenomenological aspect of the search for the effects of quantum gravity. It focuses entirely on what we had measured and can possibly measure in the next decade or so. Reading this, one notices a lot of "negative result" experiments, especially on the search for possible violations of Special Relativity at those extreme scales.

Like I said, a very entertaining reading. :)


Taking the Wraps Off Cloaking

This is an excellent review article by John Pendry on left-handed material and its application to "cloaking". Pendry, as everyone should already know, revived this field of study with his work on metamaterial. So this article compliments quite well with the earlier article in Physics Today.


Triple Hit

It appears that there's a new independent movie titled "Triple Hit" that is making use of various popularization of quantum mechanics.

The film - previously called Schrodinger's Girl - centres on Rebecca Hunter, a disgraced scientist conducting research into alternate universes. She discovers a way to travel between realities and then finds her parallel-world counterparts have their own agendas: Anastacia Hunter is the science director for a gulag in the People's Republic of Great Britain, while Sarah Hunter-Gibson is a professor in a utopian hi-tech society.

Rebecca takes a terrifying trip into the People's Republic, a dystopian alternative Britain, where her encounter with a totalitarian regime is only the beginning of her problems as the multiverse begins to unravel around her. She has to use her sharp intellect and mastery of quantum physics to save the entire universe.

Oy vey!! :)

Well, to be fair, I shouldn't make any comments on this since I haven't seen it. And it is, after all, a "sci-fi" movie, so they should have some latitude to run away with it a bit. But this parallel universe type of theme is nothing new. How come no one makes a movie about the possibility of fractionalization and spin-charge separation, for example? Now THAT would be entirely new! :)


Monday, November 16, 2009

Trajectory Analysis of a Soccer Ball

This is another fun article, and fun physics, that could be of interest to many casual reader. It's a very in-depth analysis of the trajectory of a soccer ball, with and without spin. The paper has been published in the Dec. 2009 issue of AJP.


Holes That Block Light

This is a rather fascinating result.

You have a thin film that's already semi-transparent. If you punch more holes into the film, do you expect more light to get through? You would, wouldn't you? That's not what happened here!

Toward this end, researchers from the University of Stuttgart in Germany laid very thin films of gold onto pieces of glass and then used ion beams to etch the film with holes arranged in a regular, square array. These holes were smaller than the wavelength of light and, despite being so tiny, are just the kind of openings that have been shown to let light through the thicker, opaque film used in the 1998 experiment. But in the new experiment, the gold film was so thin--only 20 nanometers--that light could already shine through it. And surprisingly, less light went through the holey gold than through the original semitransparent film.

You have to read the rest of the article (and maybe even the paper) to find out why. This, btw, is another example of some of the most fascinating results out of condensed matter.


Friday, November 13, 2009

A Sit Down Talk With Michael Green

The new holder of the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge sat down for a brief interview. He, of course, tried to justify String Theory.

"I have been thinking about how I can make use of such a prominent position to benefit my colleagues. It is difficult to find funding at the moment, especially for subjects which don't obviously have an immediate application for something that will make money.

"But the people who discovered magnetism and electricity had no idea what they could be used for. The MRI scanner wouldn't exist without particle physics. There are so many spin-off industrial investments in things that are being researched, and we need more of this."

There's only so far that one can run away with this. People "...who discovered magnetism and electricity..." had, in their corner, empirical evidence to at least tell them if they are on the right path or not. This is where the analogy to pursuing String Theory breaks down and the similarity ends. I don't believe that there has been, in the history of physics, a study in a field of physics that has gone for so long, and garnered THIS much attention, that has been totally devoid of any empirical evidence which indicates one way or the other that it is on a right path. For many of us who value physics as being guided by empirical evidence, this is the most troubling aspect of String theory.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

A String Theorist Wants LHC To Look For The "Stau"

The stau?

Oh well. This will be another hunt in the pursuit of finding any valid empirical evidence to show that String Theory is not a meaningless pursuit. Could String Theory produce a particle that has a lifetime of a minute?

Vafa traveled to CERN in late October to discuss with teams of scientists at the two main detectors on what else they might see. If the assumptions that he and Heckman make in the context of string theory are valid, Vafa said, the two lightest of the new particles are the gravitino and the stau. The gravitino, however, is so weakly interactive that it is hard to produce directly, Vafa said. A stau particle, however, is easier to produce and should be semi-stable, lasting as long as a minute. And it should leave a signature track — unexplainable by any of the already-observed particles — as it streaks across the LHC’s detectors.

We shall see....


10 Weirdest Physics "Facts"

I suppose this is OK for a popular media and for mass consumption for the public. The Telegraph has a rather amusing description of what the writer thinks as the 10 weirdest physics "facts". Of course, all the usual suspects are there: entanglement, superposition, speed of light, etc..

Still, can you nitpick a few rather inaccurate statements in there? I'm sure you can. I'm not going to bother because, really, it won't matter for those who don't understand physics, because the subtleties won't make a difference. Nevertheless, I wish that last part on "relativistic mass" didn't appear, because it will only propagate the same misconception that we are trying to eradicate (see here and here, for example).


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

APS Council Overwhelmingly Rejects Proposal to Replace Society’s Current Climate Change Statement

In a blow to those who still doubt the science and physics of anthropic global warming, the APS has overwhelmingly rejected a petition to soften the society's statement on this matter.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Council of the American Physical Society has overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to replace the Society’s 2007 Statement on Climate Change with a version that raised doubts about global warming.

The Council’s vote came after it received a report from a committee of eminent scientists who reviewed the existing statement in response to a petition submitted by a group of APS members. The petition had requested that APS remove and replace the Society’s current statement. The committee recommended that the Council reject the petition.

The committee also recommended that the current APS statement be allowed to stand, but it requested that the Society’s Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) examine the statement for possible improvements in clarity and tone. POPA regularly reviews all APS statements to ensure that they are relevant and up-to-date regarding new scientific findings.

Appointed by APS President Cherry Murray and chaired by MIT Physicist Daniel Kleppner, the committee examined the statement during the past four months. Dr. Kleppner’s committee reached its conclusion based upon a serious review of existing compilations of scientific research. APS members were also given an opportunity to advise the Council on the matter. On Nov. 8, the Council voted, accepting the committee’s recommendation to reject the proposed statement and refer the original statement to POPA for review.

What this means is that the APS, which is the preeminent society of physicists in the US, and which tends to be extremely conservative in its policy and statements, continues to support the prevailing consensus of AGW model based on the scientifically available studies and results. The APS has never been known to choose something based on a whim or political pressure (refer to its statement on Missile Defense project). That is why many anti-AGW camp were quick to latch on to any possible hint that the APS might change its stance, because they know that this would be a major coup for an organization as respected as this one to show some doubt in this issue. Just look at the brouhaha when the APS Newsletter published a contradicting viewpoint to AGW a while back!

Alas, this is not to be the case here, and the APS's statement on AGW is extremely clear.


The Physics of Usain Bolt

I'm a sucker for these type of analysis and article. It is a lot of fun to read when it isn't really connected to "significant" physics research, mainly because for me, it is a pleasant diversion from my work, but still intellectually stimulating. Furthermore, exercise like this can be something fun for a class or a group of students to do, because it is something they have seen or heard about, and it is based on really basic physics that they can do or follow along.

This is a preprint of a paper that will appear in AJP. It analyzes the mechanics of Usain Bolt's 100m sprints, both from the last Beijing Olympics in 2008, and the recent Track and Field Championship in 2009, both resulting in new world records.

Abstract: At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt broke the world record for the 100 m sprint. Just one year later, at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics in Berlin he broke it again. A few months after Beijing, Eriksen et al. studied Usain Bolt's performance and predicted that the record could be about one-tenth of second faster, which was confirmed in Berlin. In this paper we extend the analysis of Ref. [1] to model Bolt's velocity profile for the Beijing 2008 and Berlin 2009 records. From the results we obtained, we were able to deduce the maximum force, the maximum power and the total mechanical energy produced by the athlete in both races. Surprisingly, we concluded that all of these values were smaller in 2009 than in 2008.

Oooh.. now that last part is, indeed, surprising. You have to read it to find out why! :)

Edit: this has now appeared in AJP. The exact citation is:

O. Helene and M.T. Yamashita, Am. J. Phys. v.78, p.307 (2010).


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Placebo Power Behind Many Natural Cures

This is a terrific example on why we do not accept anecdotal evidence, because our mind can play plenty of tricks on an individual, strong enough to affect our physiology.

This article describe why many of the "benefits" of alternative medicine cannot be distinguished from the placebo effect.

Swear-by-it stories and anecdotal reports of benefit are one thing. Proving a treatment helps is quite another. Many alternative medicine studies have not included a placebo group — people who unknowingly get a dummy treatment so its effect can be compared.

Acupuncture is especially hard to research. Positive studies tend to lack comparison groups that have been given a sham treatment. Or they are often done in China, where the treatment is an established part of health care.

One U.S. study found that true acupuncture relieved knee arthritis pain better than fake acupuncture, in which guide tubes were placed but no needles were inserted. But a European study involving twice as many patients and using a more realistic sham procedure found the fake treatment to be just as good. The conclusion: Pain relief was due to the placebo effect.

The one bad thing about reports in mass media news like this is that they never give exact citation for all of these research and results that they are quoting. It's as if we are expected to just accept these things without having to know the source of what they used to draw up their conclusions.


Creationist Refutes Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory - A Rebuttal

I mentioned about this talk about a week ago of a creationist attempting to falsify Darwin's theory of evolution. This morning, I found this response written by a physics major junior that easily threw a lot of doubt in the garbage that was spewed at that talk.

Carter used a wonderful scientific vocabulary and showed some facts that were true.

However, blinded by science jargon, he put up facts and figures with little truth to them, no way to verify them (or if he did, they were not accurate and considered fraudulent in the scientific community), nor accuracy to the science actually used.

This man performed a wonderful show, and is an outstanding example of how the public will believe almost anything that has numbers and graphs in it with no scientific proof.

The writer listed several examples where Carter simply can't produce valid sources for his numbers.

I'm left to wonder how many people in the audience who bought into what they were told. We often talk about the public needed to be scientifically literate. What we mean by that is NOT that the public knows all these "facts", but rather, having the skill to analyze how one goes from A to B to C to D. How, for example, do you draw up the conclusion that, say, "gay marriage" leads to "undermining traditional marriage". People throw out those two phrases all the time, but no one seems to explain the mechanism that show how "gay marriage" CAUSES "undermining of traditional marriage". Not only that, if such mechanism exists, one needs to publish such a thing and be scrutinized for it by others who are experts in the field of study to ensure that such a mechanism is valid, and that leads to the unique conclusion.

The same thing is occurring here. One simply can't throw out all of these numbers and conclusions (something that is commonly done in politics and economics) without any basis to show that they are valid. But the public that isn't familiar with the scientific process are ignorant of that. This is why I'm very proud of this young writer who already has the skill (hopefully something he gained from his education) to analyze and question how such conclusions are made. So well done, Jim Eakins!

Making the public be scientifically literate should mean making them able to make a rational analysis of how one draws up a conclusion. It is why when I proposed a revamping of the undergraduate intro physics labs, I try to steer away from making "textbook tests" of physics principles. Rather, I focused on how one can draw up the conclusion on how A depends on B, and what is the exact relationship between those two. Our world has always been focused on how we can relate things, how are they interconnected, etc. These types of lab exercises precisely present such tests.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Vitaly Ginzburg: 1916–2009

The major physics news of the day is certainly the passing of one of the giants in this field - Vitaly Ginzburg. Physics World has one of the best summary of his life and times.

My first introduction to the name "Ginszburg" was certainly when I took up superconductivity and came across the "Ginzburg-Landau" model for superconductivity. This may even be the first instance of the idea of the "order parameter" for superconductivity took shape. He certainly left a lot of marks in the world of physics.


Einstein’s Theory of Gravity and the Problem of Missing Mass

There is a very good review of the current progress in the theory of Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) in the current issue of Science[1].

Abstract: The observed matter in the universe accounts for just 5% of the observed gravity. A possible explanation is that Newton’s and Einstein’s theories of gravity fail where gravity is either weak or enhanced. The modified theory of Newtonian dynamics (MOND) reproduces, without dark matter, spiral-galaxy orbital motions and the relation between luminosity and rotation in galaxies, although not in clusters. Recent extensions of Einstein’s theory are theoretically more complete. They inevitably include dark fields that seed structure growth, and they may explain recent weak lensing data. However, the presence of dark fields reduces calculability and comes at the expense of the original MOND premise, that the matter we see is the sole source of gravity. Observational tests of the relic radiation, weak lensing, and the growth of structure may distinguish modified gravity from dark matter.

Whether you buy into it or not, this will at least get you up to speed on the strengths and weaknesses of this theory.


[1] P.G. Ferreira1 and G.D. Starkman, Science v.326, p.812 (2009).

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Physics of Ski Moguls

Here's a chance for you to learn about ski moguls, those "bump in the snow" thingies that you see on ski slopes that only make news during the Olympics, at least to me. I didn't realize there was a minor mystery to them till I read this.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Chunk of Baguette Stalled the LHC?

OK, this is way too ridiculous that you just can't make it up.

Scientists at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva noticed that the system’s carefully monitored temperatures were creeping up.

Further investigation into the failure of a cryogenic cooling plant revealed an unusual impediment. A piece of crusty bread had paralysed a high voltage installation that should have been powering the cooling unit.

Oy vey!!!

Luckily, this isn't anything major, just a minor setback. But really, now small things like this will make the news. It means that they are on center stage and every little thing will get reported.


Statement on Research Experiences for Undergraduates

The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) Executive Board has released a statement on research experiences for undergraduate physics majors.

The American Association of Physics Teachers urges that every physics and astronomy department provide its majors and potential physics majors with the opportunities and encouragement to engage in a meaningful and appropriate undergraduate research experience.


From my perspective, the "meaningful and appropriate" part of undergraduate research experience isn't just about doing "new" work or publishing some amazing discovery. That's just a bonus. What is more important is that the student learns the technique and procedure, and even more important, learns to think things through and be systematic in doing something. Those are skills that can only be acquired, not taught, and they transcend beyond just doing physics research. To me, those are the more important aspect out of doing research work that the student can acquire.


The Physics of Free-Throw Shooting

This discussion keeps popping up now and then. Recall that I've mentioned an article that suggests that throwing "granny style" might actually increase the chance of making a basket in basketball. Now comes another research on the mechanics of free-throw shooting that studies this a little bit more.

There is a difference though because the starting conditions are different, i.e. they're not studying the best way to do the free-throw, i.e. underhand or overhead.

The engineers used a men’s basketball for the study; it is heavier and a bit larger than basketballs used in women’s games. They also assumed that the basketball player doing the shooting was 6 feet 6 inches tall, and that he released the ball 6 inches above his head, so the “release height” was set to 7 feet. The free-throw line is 15 feet from the backboard, a cylinder-shaped opening that is 10 feet off the ground. Though it looks smaller, the diameter of a regulation basketball hoop is 18 inches; the diameter of a men’s basketball is a bit more than 9 inches.

So they are already starting with the assumption that one is launching the ball overhead.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Creationist Refutes Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory

I received a lot of flak when I made my blog entry on "An Astronomer At The Vatican", simply because I would have asked more pointed questions rather than the fluff that was given. What I wanted to established is specific and CLEAR stand of Catholicism in particular of various issues where religion and science have come to a loggerhead.

It is with that in mind that we have this example of someone who is using Christianity and are still arguing for creationism AND falsely claiming that evolution is wrong.

According to a presentation held Tuesday at West Virginia University, evolutionist Charles Darwin did not know geology, biology, or Jesus.

Dr. Robert Carter, has a doctorate in marine biology and is currently the head speaker and scientist for Creation Ministries International (USA) in Atlanta, Ga., gave a presentation listing in detail what Darwin did not know at that time. Carter argued evolution theory, therefore, cannot be held as the true explanation of the history of the natural world.

So you get all of these people who complained that my view of the Catholic belief is outdated, and yet you have on the other hand, various parts of the same Christian belief that clearly show that that "outdated" belief is alive and well. My question has always been, how come someone within the church (and I'm talking about ALL of Christianity, and not just a particular denomination) talk to this guy and set him straight, if that's possible? Obviously, he would not listen to other scientists since he has ignored not only the overwhelming evidence, but also the overwhelming consensus among scientists. But maybe he'll listen to someone with the same strong background in theology within his religion! If Catholics believe that evolution does not conflict with Catholicism, and if the Pope truly has declared that evolution is true, then someone's clearly wrong here! You guys are all reading from the SAME book, aren't you?


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Superconducting Rings and Early Development of the Universe

I'll sound like a broken record (how many would know that expression anymore?) but I'll say it again that condensed matter physics can be as "fundamental" as any area of physics. I've said this many times previously, and now we have another clear example of that.

This article reviews a recent paper that appeared in PRL. It appears that one can look at the superconducting phase transition in metal rings and gain quite an insight into the rapid cooling of our early universe.

Watching a metal transform into a superconductor, it may not be obvious that this transition provides access to some of the same physics that governed the cooling of the universe following the Big Bang. Yet at the root of both of these phenomena—albeit at astronomically different energy scales—is the question of how defects form in a continuous phase transition. In a paper appearing in Physical Review B [1], Roberto Monaco at the Università di Salerno in Italy, Jesper Mygind at the Technical University of Denmark, Ray Rivers at Imperial College London, UK, and Valery Koshelets at the Russian Academy of Science in Moscow have taken ideas about the early development of the universe and applied them to the dynamics of the superconducting phase transition in metal rings. In doing so, they introduce an elegant way to measure the tiny flux quanta that are trapped at the centers of these rings, and develop a new understanding of how the cooling process works in mesoscopic systems.

I'm a sucker for such a paper. :)


Monday, November 02, 2009

Reverse Cherenkov Radiation Detected In Metamaterial

A group has claimed the detection of the reversed Cherenkov radiation in left-handed metamaterial. However, they didn't pass any charge particle through the metamaterial structure.

The second innovation is to emulate a charged-particle beam by means of a waveguide with a periodic array of slots, instead of using real charged particles [Fig. 1, right]. By doing so, Xi et al. solved the problem of extremely weak Čerenkov radiation in the microwave frequencies associated with moving charged particles. As an electromagnetic wave travels inside the waveguide, it emerges at each slot with a fixed phase retardation relative to the neighboring slots. This leaking radiation from the waveguide is equivalent to the radiation from a phased antenna array. The Fourier transform of the electric current carried by a moving charged particle results in a broad spectrum in the frequency domain. But as long as a single frequency is concerned, the current of the charged particle is equivalent to that of a phased dipole array, as mathematically proved by the authors. In this analog, the phase velocity of the electromagnetic wave propagating inside the waveguide corresponds to the moving speed of the charged particles in a regular Čerenkov radiation configuration.

In the experiment, the authors designed a waveguide with comparatively low refractive index of n ~0.5, which is equivalent to a charged particle moving with a speed twice as great as that of light in a vacuum. With this new experimental configuration, the radiation signal can be many orders of magnitude stronger than the traditional Čerenkov radiation induced by a fast charged-particle beam, and thus the Čerenkov radiation was directly observed along the backward direction within the left-handed frequency range of the metamaterials. It is worth noting that Grbic and Eleftheriades carried out an experimental attempt earlier at the University of Toronto, in which they observed the backward radiation from a low-index left-handed microwave transmission line into free space [8]. However, considering the fact that it is the phase velocity rather than group velocity of the electromagnetic wave propagating in the transmission line that corresponds to the speed of an equivalent moving charge, the Čerenkov radiation observed by Grbic et al. was indeed in the forward direction with respect to the direction of the equivalent moving charge.

I guess this is fine, but I'd say that one still needs to show this with actual particle beams. If this can't be done, then the claim that such phenomenon can be used as beam diagnostics doesn't quite hold.

Ironically, in the same issue of PRL, another paper gave a theoretical analysis of the detection of this reverse Cherenkov radiation of an electron beam passing into a left-handed metamaterial[1]. So it would be nice if one can actually detect this direction from electron beams, rather than simulated ones.


[1] S.N. Galyamin et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. v.103, p.194802 (2009).

How To Make A Comet

This is sort of a "trip report" of the 2009 Open House at Indiana University's Physics and Astronomy Dept. It sounds like a fun event, including an instruction on how to make a comet!

In the hands-on astronomy exhibit, my oldest son devoted about ten minutes to making a comet. Ingredients include: water, ammonia, dirt, corn syrup, and dry ice … plus some sarcasm and melodrama. A couple hours later, the comet didn’t look as pretty, but it retained enough mass to make it to our freezer. I fear this may be a summer snow ball accident waiting to happen.

Definitely a fun Fall event for those who can make it next year.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Pumpkin Physics

With Halloween just a day away, many pumpkins are being massacred as part of physics demonstrations.

At the Chico State University, they had a annual pumpkin drop.

The Society of Physics Students at Chico State University held its 22nd annual Pumpkin Drop in front of Butte Hall Thursday. Students portray historical characters such as Einstein, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton and Igor as they explain and illustrate the theory of gravity to a large crowd of students.

Out in Utah, the Roy Junior High School has homemade trebuchets to launch projectile pumpkins.

As pumpkins were loaded into homemade trebuchets, launched into the air, and obliterated by the earth, students shivered in their Viking helmets and Scottish kilts and worried about their grades.

Trebuchets, physics, medieval warfare and pumpkins all contributed to a memorable learning experience for a trio of ninth-grade physics classes at Roy Junior High School.

The Mundelein High School in Illinois had "Peter" the catapult to toss the pumpkins.

Joining the fun this year are students from Mundelein High School, who along with physics instructor Michael Hickey and student teacher Mark Michalski created "Peter" the catapult (named after the nursery rhyme, "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater"). Painted bright red for Mundelein High, Peter spans nearly 10 feet across. Watch the pumpkins soar after being loaded onto Peter and launched into the air.



Thursday, October 29, 2009

Study Suggests U.S. Could Use Fewer, Not More Science Students

In a study that not only will cause many responses, but also contradicts many other previous studies, a new report argues that the US does not need more students to pursue STEM subject areas. You can read the actual report in that link, or directly here.

The supply has actually remained steady over the past 30 years, the researchers conclude from an analysis of six longitudinal surveys conducted by the U.S. government from 1972 to 2005. However, the highest-performing students in the pipeline are opting out of science and engineering in greater numbers than in the past, suggesting that the threat to American economic competitiveness comes not from inadequate science training in school and college but from a lack incentives that would make science and technology careers attractive.

The researchers—led by Lowell and Harold Salzman, a sociologist at the Urban Institute and Rutgers University, New Brunswick—argue that boosting the STEM pipeline may end up hurting the United States in the long-term.
This happens, they say, by depressing wages in S&T fields and turning potential science and technology innovators into management professionals and hedge fund managers.

The one criticism against this study was stated in the article:

Susan Traiman of the Business Roundtable criticizes the new study, saying that it gives an illusion of a robust supply because it bundles all STEM fields together. There may be an oversupply in the life sciences and social sciences, she argues, but there is no question that there are shortages in engineering and the physical sciences. The findings "are not going to make us go back and re-examine everything we've been been calling for," she says.

There are definitely indications that this is true. The exploding funding for the NIH has caused a huge surge in jobs related to that funding and therefore, gives the illusion that there is an increase in students pursuing STEM subject areas. That's why there may be an oversupply in the life sciences. I don't have any clue about the social sciences, and why this would even be considered as part of the STEM field.

As far as I'm concerned, my interest in physics education is more towards having student be literate in physics and how it is done, rather than trying to gear them towards specializing or majoring in physics. I don't care if they end up as physicist or not, but they shouldn't be ignorant of what physics is, and how we gather our knowledge.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Verification of Lorentz Invariance

Another key test of Lorentz invariance has been reported, and this time, it is a test that indirectly measure the Lorentz invariance "close" to the Planck length scale.

Granot and colleagues studied the radiation from a gamma-ray burst – associated with a highly energetic explosion in a distant galaxy – that was spotted by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope on 10 May this year. They analysed the radiation at different wavelengths to see whether there were any signs that photons with different energies arrived at Fermi's detectors at different times. Such a spreading of arrival times would indicate that Lorentz invariance had indeed been violated; in other words that the speed of light in a vacuum depends on the energy of that light and is not a universal constant. Any energy dependence would be minuscule but could still result in a measurable difference in photon arrival times due to the billions of light years that separate gamma-ray bursts from us.

The Fermi team used two relatively independent data analyses to conclude that Lorentz invariance had not been violated. One was the detection of a high-energy photon less than a second after the start of the burst, and the second was the existence of characteristic sharp peaks within the evolution of the burst rather than the smearing of its output that would be expected if there were a distribution in photon speeds. The researchers arrived at the same null result when studying the radiation from a gamma-ray burst detected in September last year, but could only reach about one-tenth of the Planck energy. Crucially, the shorter duration and much finer time structure of the more recent gamma-ray burst takes this null result to at least 1.2 times the Planck energy.

The paper appeared in Nature advance online publication today.

If this is true, several quantum gravity theories will crash and burn.

Edit: This paper has now officially appeared online. The exact reference is

A.A. Abdo et al., Nature v.462, p.331 (2009).


America's Accelerator Future

A wonderful article in Symmetry Breaking today on not only the future of accelerator research in the US, but also its importance beyond just the obvious application to high energy physics.

But behind the scenes, smaller and more modest accelerators have been cutting big swaths through the lives of ordinary Americans.

For instance, “The argument’s been made that accelerators have saved more lives than any other biomedical device,” with an estimated 10,000 of them being used to treat cancer, Tom Katsouleas of Duke University told the audience.

More than 18,000 industrial accelerators have been built over the past half-century and most of them are still in use, according to a commentary by Robert W. Hamm in the Oct 09 issue of symmetry; they sterilize medical supplies, analyze materials, toughen the rubber in tires, play a key role in manufacturing the semiconductor chips at the hearts of electronic devices, and even create shink-wrap, among many other things.

I think that I've tried many times on here to dispel the popular misconception of accelerator physics being tied only to particle physics by pointing out that particle accelerators are used in many doctors offices' x-ray machines. Hopefully, this article reinforces that point.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Einstein Versus The Physical Review

I did a search on this article because I remember reading it quite a while back. Luckily, it is available for free for everyone who does not have a Physics Today subscription.

I was searching for it because someone was criticizing the peer-reviewed process, and arguing that Einstein would not have been accepted for publication had he tried to publish his papers.

Neglecting the fact that Einstein did published his papers, and that all this person can offer is only mere speculation of whether or not Einstein's work could have been published (if he had lived today, he would have been quite familiar with the system and would have accepted how physics is practiced today), the paper above showed that the great Einstein himself could have learned a thing or two had he paid attention to the referee of the manuscript he submitted to the Physical Review.

The irony, of course, is that Einstein could have found that escape route months earlier, simply by reading the referee's report that he had dismissed so hastily. The referee had also observed that casting the Einstein–Rosen metric (as we now call this solution of the Einstein equations) in cylindrical coordinates removes the apparent difficulty.

The peer-review system isn't perfect, because it is done by humans. But it is the best we have now until a better system comes along. And there ARE valuable feedback done by referees who take their responsibility very seriously. I know that *I* try to be very fair when I referee any papers, and often when there's doubt, will err on the side of the authors. This particular incident with Einstein is one such example where Einstein would have done well to pay attention to the referee report, and where the system really worked the way it should.


The Medical Isotope Shortage

I've mentioned before on this issue regarding the Chalk River facility and also the possible alternative of using particle accelerator to produce such isotopes. This is a good comprehensive review of the shortage of medical isotope that will become critical soon if no new solution can be found.


The Particles Are Back At The LHC!

Well, it's about freaking time too, even though this is still way too early in the testing stages.

CERN successfully injected proton beams into the LHC over the weekend. They were at a significantly lower energy, and they didn't go all the way around. This appears to be more for beam diagnostics and to test out the magnets current supply. But at least they are on their way.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Spintronics Made Easy

... well, as easy as can be explained in an interview.

PhyicsWorld has released another video. This time David Awschalom of UC-Santa Barbara describes what spintronics is and why it is important.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Quantum Physics in 60 Minutes

While it is impossible to teach quantum physics in 60 minutes, it is certainly a possible task (barely) to illustrate it to the general public in that time. That's what Damien Pope of the Perimeter Institute tried to do during their Quantum To Cosmos Festival.

You can judge for yourself how successful he was in this video, assuming that you can get past all that long list of sponsors at the beginning of the video.


Friday, October 23, 2009

The Tevatron - The Collider That Refuses To Go Away

There might still be some life left in that big old lady. The Dept. of Energy is now requesting a budget that will allow the Tevatron to run until 2011. With the LHC being delayed due to the mishap, the race to be the first to detect the Higgs is still the major motivation for the Tevatron to continue running.

There is also a clear message by William Brinkman, head of DOE's Office of Science, on the fate of the International Linear Collider.

Brinkman, who took over the $4.9 billion science office in late June, also had some harsh words for advocates of the International Linear Collider, a 30-kilometer-long straight-shot particle smasher that would study in detail the new particles and phenomena physicists hope to glimpse at the LHC. "With all the contingencies, you're talking about $20 billion. In my opinion, that price pushes it way out into the future, and onto the backburner."

I'd say that the ILC in its current form, for all practical purposes, is DEAD, at least here in the US. It is also interesting that the muon collider is now back, considering that that too was thought to be dead several years ago. Now it is clear that, if the Higgs is found, either at the Tevatron or the LHC, an electron-positron linear collider will be needed to refine the discovery. It is just that the ILC design as it is now will probably not get a lot of support, at least not from the DOE.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

2008 Roster of Physics Departments

The American Institute of Physics has released the 2008 roster of physics degree-granting departments in the US. The statistics also includes total number of enrollment for both undergraduate and graduate students, number of degrees awarded for that year, and other fun statistics. It appears that the number of students getting their Bachelors degree has remained constant from the previous year, and so is the number of new graduate students.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spooky Science Saturday Returns to NIU Campus

This really sounds like a fun event, and educational as well.

Last year's successful Spooky Science event at the Northern Illinois University returns this year in time for the Halloween festivities.

Since last year’s event drew such a big crowd, this year’s event has been expanded to two campus buildings. Visitors will be allowed to take a tour of the labs in the Faraday Hall West. There will also be activities located in Faraday Hall.

The two buildings, which are adjacent to one another, are connected by a tunnel, which will be used for traveling between the two buildings.

The program’s original motive was to attract young people’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math before they reach the age where they can attend college.

This is such a tremendous opportunity not only to entertain young kids, but also to educate at the same time, all in a fun environment. So kudos for those who thought of such a thing at this spooky time of the year.


The Physics of Tom Stoppard's Movies

A rather interesting way to teach non-science majors some physics and literature at the same time. This article in Physics Central covers Prof. Brad Carroll's course at Weber State University in Utah that examines the physics in 3 of Tom Stoppard's plays/movies: "Arcadia", "Hapgood", and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead".

I wonder if these movies are included whenever people evaluate the science (or bad physics) in Hollywood movies? :)


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Focus on Dark Matter and Particle Physics

... or what is now called the field of Particle Astrophysics.

Don't miss this issue of New Journal of Physics that focuses on the marriage between the search for dark matter and our understanding of particle physics. There are several review articles on the current search for dark matter, and as far as I know, all the papers published in NJP are available for free.


Michael Green Replaces Hawking As Lucasian Professor

One of the co-founder of string theory, Michael Green has been slated to replace Stephen Hawking as Cambridge's Lucasian Professor.

Green, who works in the same department as Hawking, played a major role in developing a form of string theory that describes all of the different types of particles in the universe and how they interact with each other.


Ask a Nobel Laureate on YouTube

Hey, you can now ask questions to Nobel Laureates on YouTube! The Nobel Prize organization now has ways for you to ask questions to various Nobel Laureates on the YouTube channel that they run. The first Nobel Laureate up is the 2006 Physics Nobel Laureate John Mather.

YouTube viewers worldwide have the unique opportunity to "Ask a Nobel Laureate" a question on the official Nobel Prize YouTube channel ( Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2006, John Mather, an astrophysicist from NASA, is the first Nobel Laureate to participate and he will answer a selection of questions from the online community., the official web site of the Nobel Foundation, manages The Nobel Prize YouTube channel, and disseminates content from their vast archives gathered since the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901. Besides spreading information about all the amazing discoveries, achievements and inspirational stories that have been rewarded by the Nobel Prize, is now offering anyone the chance to pose their questions directly to a Nobel Laureate via their YouTube channel.

You can watch the promotional video and the videos that have been submitted with various questions here.


Monday, October 19, 2009

P.A.M. Dirac: Some Strangeness in the Proportion

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jeremy Bernstein's article in AJP this month[1]. The article discusses Dirac's life and is motivated by the recent biography of Dirac by Graham Farmelo, which I've mentioned on here.

As with many prominent figures in physics, Dirac had his own eccentricities, many of which are listed in this article. For those who have not read Farmelo's biography, this is the next best "Cliff Notes" version.

I see a movie being made of the book, probably directed by the Cohen brothers! :)


[1] J. Bernstein, Am. J. Phys. v.77, p.979 (2009).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Balloon Launch Scheduled for Today at Wesleyan

A group of physics students in Kansas will be launching high-altitude balloons today to study altitude effects and the atmosphere.

Over the past few years, members of Kansas Wesleyan's Physics Club have launched five high-altitude balloons in order to study various aspects of altitude and the atmosphere. Most recently, the group attempted to set an amateur balloon altitude record with its spring 2009 launch.

The balloons also have been equipped with cameras and GPS transmitters. The GPS transmitters allow team members to track the balloons during flight. Some of the team members have remained on campus and tracked the balloons via the Internet, while others have formed chase teams to follow the balloons.

Normally, this story would have not caught my eye. But after the recent brouhaha on the news of a kid floating in a weather balloon, and then the kid really wasn't in the balloon, etc., I just thought that I should offer an advice to these students to make sure that there's no one floating with the balloon!



Friday, October 16, 2009

Computers Have A Fundamental Speed Limit?

That's what two physicists have argued in a recent PRL paper[1].

Abstract: How fast a quantum state can evolve has attracted considerable attention in connection with quantum measurement and information processing. A lower bound on the orthogonalization time, based on the energy spread DeltaE, was found by Mandelstam and Tamm. Another bound, based on the average energy E, was established by Margolus and Levitin. The bounds coincide and can be attained by certain initial states if DeltaE=E. Yet, the problem remained open when DeltaE[not-equal]E. We consider the unified bound that involves both DeltaE and E. We prove that there exist no initial states that saturate the bound if DeltaE[not-equal]E. However, the bound remains tight: for any values of DeltaE and E, there exists a one-parameter family of initial states that can approach the bound arbitrarily close when the parameter approaches its limit. These results establish the fundamental limit of the operation rate of any information processing system.

In fact, if we go by with Moore's law, the prediction comes to roughly another 75 years before this speed limit is reached.

If components are to continue shrinking, physicists must eventually code bits of information onto ever smaller particles. Smaller means faster in the microelectronic world, but physicists Lev Levitin and Tommaso Toffoli at Boston University in Massachusetts, have slapped a speed limit on computing, no matter how small the components get.

"If we believe in Moore's laW ... then it would take about 75 to 80 years to achieve this quantum limit," Levitin said.

"No system can overcome that limit. It doesn't depend on the physical nature of the system or how it's implemented, what algorithm you use for computation … any choice of hardware and software," Levitin said. "This bound poses an absolute law of nature, just like the speed of light."

Still, 75 years is a very, very long time as far as technology is concerned. While a fundamental limit is a fundamental limit, I can certainly see new physics popping up in 75 years that will require a re-evaluation of this conclusion.


[1] L.B. Levitin and T. Toffoli, Phys. Rev. Lett. v.103, p.160502 (2009).