Monday, December 21, 2015

APS Physics Highlights of 2015

APS's Physics lists its highlight stories of 2015.

I need to point out something important that a casual reader might miss. The story on the 3D imaging  of a virus may appear to be an advancement in biology or medical science. And it is, because this allows us to understand a virus better than before. However, it should be pointed out that this capability came into being because of advances in accelerator  science. The imaging was done at SLAC's LCLS, which is a free-electron light source. This involves an advancement FIRST in accelerator science. Only after that are we able to create such a FEL that can produce light sources to do the imaging.

The point I'm trying to make here is that, if you value the field of biology and all the medical advances to help you live better, you should look at how these fields are able to accomplish such a thing. Just look at the National Institute of Health's funding projects, and see how many of them use instruments and facilities that all started out as something a physicist would use. Only later on were they adopted for use in other fields.

So without proper funding and support for the very basic research in physics, which in turn drives not only knowledge, but also the advancement in instrumentation and facilities, these new techniques and technology will not trickle down to the field of biology, chemistry, and medicine.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Physics of Car Crashes

I hope you never have to figure out the physics in this context, but it is still a nice scenario in basic mechanics.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

What Good Is Particle Physics?

I've tackled this issue a few times on here, such as in this blog post. In this video, Don Lincoln decides to address this issue.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hot Cocoa Physics

Just in time for the cold weather, at least here in the upper northern hemisphere, APS Physics Central has a nice little experiment that you can do at home with your friends and family. Using just a regular mug, hot water/milk, cocoa mix, and a spoon, you can do a demo that might elicit a few questions and answers.

For those celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I wish you all a happy and safe celebration.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Symmetry And Higgs Physics Via Economic Analogy?

Juan Maldacena is trying to do the impossible: explain the symmetry principles and the Higgs mechanism using analogies that one would find in economics.

I'm not making this up! :)

If you follow the link above, you will get the actual paper, which is an Open Access article. Read for yourself! :)

I am not sure if non-physicists will be able to understand it. If you are a non-physicist, and you went through the entire paper, let me know! I'm curious.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What Is Computational Physics?

Rhett Allain has published his take on what "computational physics" is.

Many of us practicing physicists do work in computational physics. Some very often, some now and then. At some point, many of us have to either analyze data, do numerical modeling, or solve intractable equations. We either use pre-made codes, modify some other computer codes, write our own code, or use commercial software.

But certainly, this is less involved than someone who specializes in computational physics. But many of us do have the need to know how to do some of these things as part of our job. People who have to simulate particle beam dynamics, and those design accelerating structures are often accelerator physicists rather than computational physicists.

Hum... now I seem to be rambling on and can't remember the point I was trying to make. Ugh! Old age sucks!


Monday, November 09, 2015

100 Years Of General Relativity

General Relativity turns 100 years this month. The Universe was never the same again after that! :)

APS Physics has a collection of articles related to various papers published in their family of journals related to GR. Check them out. Many are fairly understandable to non-experts.


Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Physics Of Sports That "Defy Physics"

I love this article, and it is about time someone writes something like this.

Chad Orzel has a nice article explaining why the often-claimed event in sports that "defy physics" actually happened BECAUSE of physics.

Of course, as several physicists grumbled on Twitter this morning, “defied physics” is a silly way to describe these plays. These aren’t happening in defiance of physics, they’re happening because of physics. Physics is absolute and universal, and never defied– the challenge and the fun of these plays is to explain why and how these seemingly impossible shots are consistent with known physics.

What is being "defied" is one's understanding and expectations of what would happen and what looked seemingly impossible to happen. This is DIFFERENT than discovering  something that "defies physics", and that is what many people, especially sports writers and TV heads do not seem to understand. The fact that these people often lack any deep understanding of basic physics, but somehow seem to clearly know when something they don't understand well is being "defied", appears to be lost in all of this. It is like me, having never visited France or know much about the French people, making a claim that something isn't consistent with that country or people simply based on what I understand from watching TV.

I wish they stop using the phrase "defy physics" in situation like this the same way I wish reporters stop using the phrase "rate of speed" when they actually just mean "speed"!


Kamioka, Japan

With the recent Nobel Prizes in physics going to various discovery related to neutrinos, this Nature article is highly appropriate. We usually do not get a glimpse of the site where many of these experiments are performed. So it is nice to have a bit of a background on Kamioka, Japan, and also the various neutrino detectors and experiments that had gone on there. Considering that this is the place where Kamiokande, Super-Kamiokande, and the KamLAND experiments were done, this is a major site for neutrino-based studies.


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Particle Physics Of You

You are made up of a lot, and I mean, A LOT, of elementary particles. This Symmetry article reveals a bit more of what particles formed you, and their basic properties and history.

But what I'm sure many of you do not realize is that you are also the source of radioactivity.

Your body is a small-scale mine of radioactive particles. You receive an annual 40-millirem dose from the natural radioactivity originating inside of you. That’s the same amount of radiation you’d be exposed to from having four chest X-rays. Your radiation dose level can go up by one or two millirem for every eight hours you spend sleeping next to your similarly radioactive loved one. 

So next time you run into someone who is rabid anti-radiation and claims that no amount of radiation is safe, tell him/her to ban him/herself.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Leo Kadanoff

This past week marked the passing of a giant in the field of physics - Leo Kadanoff. The public won't know  him, but those of us in physics, especially in Condensed Matter and Statistical Physics, will have heard of him and his numerous contributions to these field of studies.

“Leo was a prodigious scientist,” said his longtime UChicago colleague Sidney Nagel, the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in Physics. “His work on statistical mechanics is one of the great achievements of 20th-century theoretical physics. It laid the conceptual and mathematical foundations for some of the most insightful and effective tools on which our modern understanding of nature is based.”

Kadanoff’s work has applications throughout physics, ranging from condensed matter (liquids and solids) to elementary particles, Nagel said, with the reach of his work extending to mathematics and other sciences.

I mentioned about the review paper that he wrote phase transition and the mean-field theorem quite a while back. And of course, those of you who had subscribed to Physics Today for a long time would have read his rather critical review of Stephen Wolfram's book "A New Kind of Science", in which in the end he said "... I cannot support the view that any “new kind of science” is displayed in NKS. I see neither new kinds of calculations, nor new analytic theory, nor comparison with experiment...." That rather sealed the deal for me.

He will be sorely missed.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"I Want To Do High Energy Physics"

So you are a physicist in the US, and you're having a casual conversation with a bunch of new physics graduate students. When you ask them what they intend to major in (a very obvious question to ask in a situation like this), some of them say "I want to major in high energy physics".

What do you say in return? Do you just say "Well, good luck!" and leave it at that? Or do you feel a sense of responsibility to tell these students of the prospect that they will face here in the US for someone with that major?

This issue is nothing like the issue with students wanting to do "theoretical physics", because these students, presumably, a smart enough to know the area that they are going into. However, while they have a good idea of the nature of the subject matter, they have very little idea of the funding, job prospects, etc. of those people who graduated with that degree. And for HEP, the outlook is even bleaker than a lot of the other areas in physics for someone who wants to have a career in that field. The US funding for HEP has consistently been cut year after year, and especially more so after the Tevatron at Fermilab shut down. While many in the US collaborate on work done at the LHC, funding for the HEP division of DOE's Office of Science continues to shrink, and it doesn't look any better in the future.

So, knowing all this, what would you say to such students? Do you try to persuade them to change their minds and tell them that it is not to late to switch to a different field of physics? Do you lay out the reality of the situation? Do you tell them that if they still wish to continue, they need to be prepared for the possibility that they will not be able to pursue a career in such a field?

In my case, walking away and not say anything is not an option. I somehow feel some level of "paternal" responsibility towards these kids, and I can't just let them go into something blindly without at least giving them some dose of reality. Whether they listen to it or not is an entirely different matter, but at least I tried.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Local Realism - Is It Dead Yet?

There have been several tests that have been conducted that pointed to the violation of local realism and consistent with quantum mechanics. I've indicated at least two recently (this, and this). Now come the most spectacular demonstration yet of such violation, and this one comes from what the authors claim to be an experiment free of the detection loophole and locality loophole.

The preprint appeared a while back on ArXiv, but the paper has finally been published in this week's issue of Nature (Oct. 21, 2015). So even if you don't have access to the Nature article, you should be able to read the preprint.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Is A Multiverse?

Good question. This video might address that:

I must say that the majority of instances that I come across a discussion of Multiverse is online, in a forum where non-physicists are more apt to be impressed by it and to even consider it seriously. Maybe I don't hang around too many physicists who are working in this area, but the overwhelming majority of physicists that I encounter couldn't be bothered by this topic.

Now, it is not that they, and I, are dismissing it. Like Don Lincoln in the video, I think I'll pay more attention to it, and put time and effort to try and appreciate it ONLY when there are strong indications that such an idea might be right. This means that there are signs of observational/experimental agreement that distinguish  it from other theories. Until that happens, Multiverse is nothing more than one of the numerous ideas out there that cannot be tested and have no experimental verification.

That isn't harsh, is it?


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Come Out, Physicists. Come Out Where Ever You Are!

This post came about after I heard one of my colleagues introduced himself at a party. Someone asked him what he did for a living. His answer was "Oh, I'm a College Professor". Which is true. But he is a physics professor, and more often than not, he is also a physicist. But I found it rather fascinating that he would introduce himself as a college professor first. I suppose that is more understandable to most people than telling them you are a physicist.

So when you see the word "Occupation" on a form, what do you write? I suppose if you are a physicist working in a lab, and that's all you do (i.e. you're also not a college instructor), you may write "Physicist" in that section. Or do you write "Scientist" instead, to make it more descriptive?

I have described myself as a "Physicist" when someone asked for my occupation. Half of the time, people kinda knew what it was, although their impression  of it may be wrong ("Oh, you work with nuclear bombs?" or "Oh, you work with at that big particle lab?"). But the other half of the time, I get this blank, puzzled look and I get asked "Oh? What is that?" The last person who had that reaction  was a new dental hygienist at my dentist. I didn't feel like explaining  too much because she was about to work on my mouth.

So let's face the fact. There aren't a lot of us out there. The general public does not bump into a physicist very often. In fact, in my wide circle of friends who are not connected with work, I know of no other physicist. I had never, EVER, bump into another physicist in a social setting that is not related to work, or not related to a colleague from work. The probability of one physicist bumping into another physicist outside of work/conferences/mutual work friends is almost as low as detecting a neutrino.

To their credit, some of the people that I've bumped into, when told about my occupation, were  curious enough about some of the stuff they've read to ask me questions. I don't mind that at all. I am fully aware that most people have never met a "physicist", and the fact that they have read these things and curious enough to ask me about it was an opportunity not only to educate, but also to correct any misconception and misunderstanding that most people have about many things.

But what if you were minding your own business, and you accidentally eavesdropped on a conversation that was full of inaccurate or outright wrong information? What if, say, you were riding on a train, and the people behind you were talking about the LHC and all the doomsday brouhaha that it would do based on what they've read in the news? Do you just ignore it and let them continue on with their lives with such ignorance, or  do you put down the iPad you were reading, turn around, and tell them all the wrong information that they've learned?

Guess which one I did?

Someone once asked me, at a social gathering, if we all should be worried that Fermilab might explode like a nuclear bomb just like a nuclear reactor. This was when the Tevatron was still running. After I recovered from my shock at that question, I asked this person what made him think that such a scenario was even possible? He just shrugged and said that he thought all nuclear experiments were like that and had that possibility.

After I told him that (i) Fermilab is not a nuclear facility; (ii) it doesn't have a nuclear reactor; and (iii) the experiments cannot, in principal, explode like a nuclear bomb, I proceeded in explaining to him what the experiment was about and why, really, in terms of safety, it is rather benign, especially with how difficult it was to maintain the colliding proton-antiproton beam. But it got me to think that, if someone who is above-average in education like  him can have such an impression, how do others think and understand all these things?

And that is why, I believe that physicists need to come out of the closet and make themselves known to the average Joe and Josephine. There aren't that many of us when compared to other profession. The general public needs to bump into one of us on a personal level. Wear that "Kiss Me, I'm a Physicist" t-shirt with pride!

But please, comb your hair and leave behind that pocket protector.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Physics Demo As An Off-Broadway Show?

It is ambitious, but it is so crazy, it might just work.

"The Physics Show" has been put together as an off-Broadway theatrical presentation, with the hopes of not only informing people about simple concepts in physics, but also be entertaining enough that people will pay to see it like any ordinary Broadway or off-Broadway show.

The idea to turn the show into a play came after Maiullo did his demonstrations in a theater appreciation class taught by Krebs, he said.

Krebs, a Rutgers alumnus and founder of the George Street Playhouse, strives to make theater more accessible to people who are not familiar with it, he said. He has been involved with the business for nearly 50 years.

Krebs saw Maiullo doing a demonstration and thought to present it to his theater appreciation class as a theatrical piece instead of a science demonstration. Maiullo did his demonstrations for multiple semesters, and the two have been thinking about making it an off-Broadway show for years, Krebs said.

I think the most important aspect for this thing to be successful is if it can be entertaining enough. And that requires showmanship and a lot of bells and whistles. Whether it can be educational in return, that remains to be seen. After all, how many people actually understood the physics involved in "Copenhagen" after seeing the play? Still, this particular presentation has a bit of an advantage because the entire show involves explanation of the physics. So maybe it will be different.

This is not too far out there. Physics demo shows such as Wonders of Physics that originated out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have been quite a hit with its traveling show. So maybe people will pay to be entertained and informed at the same time. We shall see.


Monday, October 12, 2015

More On Neutrinos

People seem to want to learn more about neutrinos! With the latest Nobel prize being awarded to the discovery of neutrino mixing, it is a good time to have some general article on what we know about neutrinos. John Beacom has written a rather nice article here that should give you an idea of the physics of neutrinos and why it is an important study.

It just struck me as a rather interesting development. When SNO and Super-K were discovering all this, there was hardly any neutrino experiment in the US. Oh, there was plenty of US participation, but neutrino experiments were not big or a priority. This is understandable because, back then, the Tevatron was still going strong and LHC hasn't completely come into force yet. Now, how things have changed considerably. With the Tevatron gone and the center of high energy physics collider having shifted to CERN, the US is now trying to be a major player in neutrino studies, with MINOS, NOvA, and the proposed LBNE. In DOE/funding lingo, the US has abandoned the "Energy Frontier" and has gone into the "Intensity Frontier".

I believe there are still huge amount of amazing physics to be discovered from neutrinos. So it will be interesting how all these new generation of neutrino detectors will pan out.


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

2015 Nobel Prize Work Free To Read

As a follow-up from yesterday's announcement of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics, the APS has made available the publications that are directly related to award to the two recipients this year.

Evidence for Oscillation of Atmospheric Neutrinos

Measurement of the Rate of νe + d → p + p +e Interactions Produced by 8B Solar Neutrinos at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory

Direct Evidence for Neutrino Flavor Transformation from Neutral-Current Interactions in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory

Notice my earlier point, as you look at the authors list on each of these papers, that they were a huge amount of collaborators on these projects.


Tuesday, October 06, 2015

2015 Nobel Prize For Neutrino Oscillation Discovery

The 2015 Nobel prize in physics went to Art McDonald and Takaaki Kajita for the discovery of neutrino oscillation at SNO and SuperKamiokande, respectively.

Now, for those readers who are not familiar with all this, do not get the impression that these two were working all by themselves and then discover these. They did not. There were huge number of people who were working on these projects, and the papers they produced listed a large number of authors. However, these two were either the leading scientist or the most prominent/significant figure representing each group. This is not unusual for an experimental discovery, especially in elementary particle physics, where the most prominent figure is singled out for the award.

When I read this, I must admit that I was a bit surprised. Not surprised that they are awarding it for the discovery of neutrino oscillation - it IS a major discovery. I was surprised because I somehow thought that this discovery had already been awarded the Nobel prize already! I mean, it was such a significant moment, and it is now already accepted that neutrino oscillation is a fact, that I somehow assumed the  Nobel prize had already been awarded for this discovery years ago. Obviously, I hallucinated that one.

Maybe the Nobel committee were debating all this time on who should deserve to receive the prize, considering the huge number of people involved, with several prominent physicists deserving it on each group.

In any case, the prize for this discovery was long overdue.


Monday, October 05, 2015

Physical Review Letters Tightening Its Standards

If you have submitted a manuscript to Phys. Rev. Lett (PRL) lately, or have been asked to referee a paper for the journal, you would have noticed an additional emphasis on the nature of the material that PRL considers to be "publishable":

To be publishable in PRL a paper must do at least one of the following: Substantially advance a particular field; open a significant new area of research; solve a critical outstanding problem and therefore pave the way for notable progress in an existing field; be of singular appeal to all physicists.

While this guideline isn't new (I kinda assumed that this is the standard that PRL had been adhering to all along), it is rather interesting that this is now clearly and explicitly emphasized. And, I must add, enforced, because I think I am an unfortunate recipient of the enforcement of this policy when one of our submission was rejected by the PRL editors.

Now, of course I'm biased since I was a coauthor, but before this, the manuscript would have been strong enough to have made it to the referees. After all, the original theory was published in PRL, and an experimental paper that partially tried to show a proof-of-principal demonstration also made it into PRL. Our paper showed not only a demonstration of a very critical aspect of the theory, but also where it deviated from our measurement. So we thought it was important enough, and certainly, important enough to make  it to the PRL referees.

But nooooooo.....

The rejection from the editors basically said that the content was not up to standard or not suitable. I know they are busy and inundated with tons of these stuff, but these are the times where you wish they could be specific and tell you exactly what they mean and what they were referring to rather than just some standard response. But of course, all of us listed on the paper were surprised that it didn't even make it past the editors. Usually, unless your manuscript is badly written, is clearly out of whack, or it can be seen that it is of a rather obscure topic, it will make it to the referees. But with their new policy, and also trying to lighten the burden on the referees, the editors have become a more significant gatekeepers.

So essentially, PRL is slowly becoming Nature and Science. :)

Now, don't get me wrong. It is not a criticism. I'm all for raising the standards, and the submission rate to PRL is  huge. Keeping things they way they were is simply not sustainable and they will run out of referees who would be willing to perform the review. Still, I wish the editor would briefly provide a reason why, because I'm sure we could easily provide a counter argument; or maybe that is why no reason was provided.

In any case, rather than continuing on to purse this with PRL, we sent it to another publication.

Ironically, a couple of weeks after the PRL rejection, I was contacted by PRL to referee a paper! :)


Friday, October 02, 2015

25% Of Physics Nobel Laureates Are Immigrants

The people at Physics World have done an interesting but not surprising study on the number of Physics Nobel laureates who are/were immigrants. They found that this number is more than 1/4 of all Physics Nobel winners.

They discussed what they used as a criteria of an "immigrant", and the chart they showed certainly is very clear that there is a huge influx of these  talents into the US.

Still, it would be nice to see how many of these immigrants did their Nobel Prize winning work before they migrated. And I definitely want to see this statistics for the next 10-20 years, especially now that they US is severely cutting budgets into basic physics research, the effects of which will not be felt immediately.

In any case, it is that time of the year again where we all make our predictions or  guesses on who will win this prize this year. I am still pinning hopes that a woman will win this, considering that we have been having very strong candidates for several years.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Football Physics and Deflategate

This issue doesn't seem to want to go away.

Still, anyone who has been following this (at least here in the US) have heard of the "Deflategate" controversy from last year's NFL Football playoffs.

Chad Orzel has another look at this based on a recent paper out of The Physics Teacher, this time, from the physics involved with the football receivers.

Most of the coverage of “Deflategate” has focused on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and speculation that he arranged for the balls to be deflated so as to provide a better grip. The authors of the Physics Teacher paper, Gregory DiLisi and Richard Rarick look at the other end of the problem, where the ball is caught by the receiver, thinking about it in terms of energy, an issue with major implications for the existence of atomic matter.

It certainly is another angle to the issue. I hope to get a copy of the paper soon and see what it says.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Why Do We Put Telescope In Space?

Here's the Minute Physics explanation:


Friday, September 18, 2015

Quantum Cognition?

A lot of researchers and experts in other fields have tried to use various principles in physics in their own field. Economics have tried to invent something called Econophysics, to varying degree of success. And certainly many aspects of biology are starting to incorporate quantum effects.

Quantum mechanics has been used notoriously in many areas, including crackpottish application by the likes of Deepak Chopra etc. without really understanding the underlying physics. I don't know if this falls under the same category, but the news report out of The Atlantic doesn't do it any favor. I'm reading this article on quantum cognition, in which human behavior, and certain unpredictability and irrationality of human behavior, may be attributed to quantum effects!

Now, the reason why I don't think this article is that good is because it makes a number of either misleading, or strange errors.

Take, for example, the classic prisoner’s dilemma. Two criminals are offered the opportunity to rat each other out. If one rats, and the other doesn’t, the snitch goes free while the other serves a three-year sentence. If they both rat, they each get two years. If neither rats, they each get one year. If players always behaved in their own self-interest, they’d always rat. But research has shown that people often choose to cooperate.

Classical probability can’t explain this. If the first player knew for sure that the second was cooperating, it would make most sense to defect. If the first knew for sure that the second was defecting, it would also make most sense to defect. Since no matter what the other player is doing, it’s best to defect, then the first player should logically defect no matter what.

A quantum explanation for why player one might cooperate anyway would be that when one player is uncertain about what the other is doing, it’s like a Schrödinger’s cat situation. The other player has the potential to be cooperating and the potential to be defecting, at the same time, in the first player’s mind. Each of these possibilities is like a thought wave, Wang says. And as waves of all kinds (light, sound, water) are wont to do, they can interfere with each other. Depending on how they line up, the can cancel each other out to make a smaller wave, or build on each other to make a bigger one. If “the other guy’s going to cooperate” thought wave gets strengthened in a player’s mind, he might choose to cooperate too.

So you tell me if that made any sense or if this person has actually understood QM beyond what he read in a pop-science book. First of all, when wave cancellation occurs, it doesn't "make a smaller wave". It makes NO wave at that instant and time. Secondly, this person is espousing the existence of some kind of a "thought wave" that hasn't been verified, and somehow, the thought waves from the two different prisoners overlap each other (this, BTW, can be described via classical wave pictures, so why quantum picture in invoked here?).

But the fallacy comes in the claim that there is no other way to explain why different people act differently here without invoking quantum effects. Unlike physics systems where we can prepare two systems identically, we can find no such thing in human beings (even  with twins!). Two different people have different backgrounds and "baggage". We have different ethics, moral standards, etc. You'll never find two identical systems to test this out. That's why we have 9 judges on the US Supreme Court, and they can have wildly differing opinions on the identical issue! So why can't they use this to explain why people react differently under this same situation? Why can't they find the answer via the human psychology rather than invoking QM?

But it gets worse...

The act of answering a question can move people from wave to particle, from uncertainty to certainty. In quantum physics, the “observer effect” refers to how measuring the state of a particle can change the very state you’re trying to measure. In a similar way, asking someone a question about the state of her mind could very well change it. For example, if I’m telling a friend about a performance review I have coming up, and I’m not sure how I feel about it, if she asks me “Are you nervous?” that might get me thinking about all the reasons I should be nervous. I might not have been nervous before she asked me, but after the question, my answer might become, “Well, I am now!”

Of course, this smacks of the crackpottery done in "The Secret". Let's get this straight first of all, especially those who do not have a formal education in QM. There is no such thing as "wave-particle duality" in QM! QM/QFT etc. describe the system via a single, consistent formulation. We don't switch gears going from "wave" to "particle" and back to "wave" to describe things things. So the system doesn't move "from wave to particle", etc. It is the nature of the outcome that most people consider to be "wave-like" or "particle-like", but these are ALL produced by the same, single, consistent description!

The problem I have with this, and many other areas that tried to incorporate QM, is that they often start with the effects, and then say something like "Oh, it looks very much like a quantum effect". This is fine if there is an underlying, rigorous mathematical description, but often, there isn't! You cannot says that an idea is "complimentary" to another idea the same way position and momentum observables are non-commuting. The latter has a very set of rigorous mathematical rules and description. To argue that "... quantum models were able to predict order effects shown in 70 different national surveys... " is not very convincing because in physics, this would be quite unconvincing. It means that there are other factors that come in that are not predictable and can't be accounted for. What is there to argue that these other factors are also responsible for the outcome?

Again, the inability to test this out using identical systems makes it very difficult to be convincing. Human behavior can be irrational and unpredictable. That is know. Rather than considering this to be the result of quantum effects, why not consider this to be the result of a chaotic behavior over time, i.e. all of the various life experiences that an individual had all conspire to trigger the decision that he/she makes at a particular time. The "butterfly effect" in an individual's time line can easily cause a particular behavior at another time. To me, this is as valid of an explanation as any.

And that explanation is purely classical!


Monday, September 14, 2015

A Physics App To Teach Physics

A group of educational researcher has created an app for iOS, Android, PCs, and Macs, that teaches physics to 9-graders.

The app, Exploring Physics, is meant to take particular physics curriculum already being taught in a number of public school districts, including Columbia's, and make it available digitally. The Exploring Physics curriculum app is designed to replace traditional lecture-based learning with discussions and hands-on experiments.
“The idea in the app is to have students learn by doing stuff,” said Meera Chandrasekhar, the co-creator of the app and a curators' teaching professor in the MU Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Even though it’s a digital app, it actually involves using quite a lot of hands-on materials.”

I haven't look at it. If any of you have, and better still, is using it, I very much like to hear your opinion.


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

12-Year Old Girl Has More Sense Than The Media

I couldn't help it. When I saw a headline on CNN that said "British 12-year-old smarter than Einstein, Hawking", I had to look at this silliness. Turns out my initial guess was right. It was based on the outcome of some "intelligent test."

Lydia Sebastian achieved the top score of 162 on Mensa's Cattell III B paper, suggesting she has a higher IQ than well-known geniuses Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

Now, lets dissect this just a bit, shall we (since I obviously have nothing better to do at this moment)? First of all, it has NOT been shown that such tests actually measure anything significant, much less, someone's "intelligence".  Secondly, how does one compare something to  something else that doesn't exist? Both Einstein and Hawking never took such tests, so who knows how well they would do. The article got away with this by "suggesting" that she has a higher IQ than those two people. That bullcrap!

Finally, such measure has nothing to do with one's ability to produce the same caliber of  work at Einstein and Hawking. In fact, even the 12-year old girl said as much:

The comparison doesn't sit well with the British student, who's currently in Year 8 at Colchester County high school, a selective girl's grammar school in Essex, England.

"I don't think I can be compared to such great intellectuals such as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. They've achieved so much. I don't think it's right," Lydia told CNN.

You are so right, Lydia! Something isn't right, but somehow, the media didn't get this, even after you mentioned this to them! They are claiming that you are intelligent, and yet, they didn't pay attention to you when you told them that all this brouhaha isn't right.

We have at least shown one thing here. 12-year old Lydia has more intelligence and common sense than the media.


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Another Discovery of Weyl Fermions

We had an earlier report out of Science by the Princeton group on the discovery of the Weyl fermions in TaAs. This looks like another confirmation of that discovery on the same material using the same technique, out of a group in China.

In their experiments, Hasan and colleagues and Ding and colleagues used angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) to detect the Fermi arcs, characteristic of Weyl nodes, on the surface of TaAs. ARPES is an ideal tool for such a purpose. The technique involves shining light on a surface and measuring the energy and momentum of ejected electrons. This allows for the explicit determination of both bulk nodes and the Fermi-arc surface states. Ding’s team used an interesting strategy to identify a Fermi arc and distinguish it from a more conventional closed Fermi surface (Fig. 1). They defined a closed contour in the momentum space spanned by their measurements and investigated how many times surface states at the Fermi energy crossed this contour. Such a contour will intersect a regular Fermi surface an even number of times. But it will intersect a Fermi arc an odd number of times if the arc encloses the projection of a Weyl point, thus providing a clean signature.

Click the link to get a copy of the actual paper.


Monday, September 07, 2015

The Physics of BB-8 Star Wars Toy

Did you get caught up with the release of the new Star Wars toys and merchandise this past week?

It turns out that one of the toys, the BB-8, is quite astonishing. Rhett Allain has an interesting article on how this toy works.

The last part on inductive charging shouldn't be a puzzle anymore, should it? I've had a tea kettle for at least 6 years that used inductive heating. So inductive charging shouldn't be unusual anymore, I would think.

Still, like he said, this might be a toy that could be a very good physics class demo.


Thursday, September 03, 2015

Higgs Mass Refined

The combined data from ATLAS and CMS from LHC Run 1 has produced a Higgs mass with greater accuracy.

ATLAS reported the mass of this new boson to be in the mass region of 126 billion electronvolts, and CMS found it to be in the region of 125. In May 2015, the two experiments combined their measurements, refining the Higgs mass closer to 125.09 GeV.

But what is important is the report on the measurement of the coupling strength in the Higgs interactions.

This particular analysis focused on the interaction of the Higgs boson with other particles, known as coupling strength. The combined measurements are more precise than each experiment could accomplish alone, and results establish that the Higgs mechanism grants mass to both the matter and force-carrying particles as predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics.
In the Standard Model, how strongly the Higgs boson couples to another particle determines that particle’s mass and the rate at which a Higgs boson decays into other particles.
For instance, the Higgs boson couples strongly with the bottom quark and very weakly with the electron; therefore, the bottom quark has a much greater mass than the electron and the Higgs will commonly decay into a bottom quark and its antiquark.

This is why there is still a lot more to be measured and refined in Run 2.


Monday, August 31, 2015

The History of Antiprotons

Antiprotons, the one-half of the particle used in the collision at the departed Tevatron at Fermilab, have had a long and distinguished history in the development of elementary particle physics. This CERN Courier article traces its history and all the important milestones in our knowledge due to the discovery of this particle.

Over the decades, antiprotons have become a standard tool for studies in particle physics; the word "antimatter" has entered into mainstream language; and antihydrogen is fast becoming a laboratory for investigations in fundamental physics. At CERN, the Antiproton Decelerator (AD) is now an important facility for studies in fundamental physics at low energies, which complement the investigations at the LHC’s high-energy frontier. This article looks back at some of the highlights in the studies of the antiworld at CERN, and takes a glimpse at what lies in store at the AD. 


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

She's Still Radioactive!

She, as in Marie Curie.

This article examines what has happened to the personal effects of Marie Curie, the "Mother of Modern Physics".

Still, after more than 100 years, much of Curie's personal effects including her clothes, furniture, cookbooks, and laboratory notes remain contaminated by radiation, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Regarded as national and scientific treasures, Curie's laboratory notebooks are stored in lead-lined boxes at France's national library in Paris.

While the library allows visitors to view Curie's manuscripts, all guests are expected to sign a liability waiver and wear protective gear as the items are contaminated with radium 226, which has a half-life of about 1,600 years, according to Christian Science Monitor.

What they didn't report, and this is where the devil-is-in-the-details part is missing, is what level of radioactivity is given off by these objects. You just don't want to sign something and not know the level you will be exposed to (which, btw, if you work in the US or at a US National Lab, a RWP (radiation work permit) must be posted at the door detailing the type of radiation and the level of radiation at a certain distance).

I suspect that this level is just slightly above background, and that's why they are isolated, but not large enough for concern. Still, the nit-picker in me would like to know such details!


Friday, August 21, 2015

Quantum Teleportation Versus Star Trek's "Transporter".

Chad Orzel has an article on Forbes explaining a bit more on what quantum teleportation is, and how it is different than those transporters in Star Trek. You might think that this is rather well-known since this has been covered many times, even on this blog. But the ignorance of what quantum teleportation is still pops up frequently, and I see people on public forums still think that we can transport objects from one location to another because "quantum teleportation" has been verified.

So, if you are still cloudy on this topic, you might want to read that article.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Apparent Pentaquark Discovery - More Explanation

Recall the report on the apparent observation of a pentaquark made by LHCb a few weeks back. Fermilab's Don Lincoln had a video that explains a bit of what a quark is, what a pentaquark is, and how physics will proceed in verifying this.


The Physics Of Air Conditioners

Ah, the convenience of having air conditioning. How many of us have thanked the technology that gave so much comfort during the hot, muggy day.

This CNET article covers the basic physics of air conditioners. Any undergraduate student who had taken intro Physics course should know the basic physics of this device when studying thermodynamics and the Carnot cycle. This is essentially a heat pump, where heat is transferred from a cooler reservoir to a warmer reservoir.

But, if you have forgotten about this, or if you are not aware of the physics behind that thing that gives you such comfort, then you might want to read it.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Stnky Superconductor Breaks Record

No, I wasn't being deragoratory by calling it "stinky".

It turns out that hydrogen sulfide, the same compound that smells like rotten eggs, becomes a superconductor when solidified under pressure. And not only that, but it has recently be shown that it becomes a superconductor at a record highest transition temperature of 203.5 K.

Still, there are two points here that may make this not as "exciting" as one wold hope for. Earlier theoretical studies have predicted this to occur, and this material is expected to be a conventional superconductor mediated by phonons.

But the other issue, as in the practical aspect of this, may be even less enticing. This is because this material becomes a superconductor only under very high pressures.

The result may revive visions of superconductors that work at room temperature and magnetically levitated trains. But there's a catch: Hydrogen sulfide works its magic only when squeezed to more than 100 million times atmospheric pressure, roughly one-third as high as the pressure in Earth’s core. This condition makes it impractical for most applications. “Where does it go from here?” asks Igor Mazin, a theorist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. “Probably nowhere.” Even so, the discovery is already altering the course of research in superconductivity.

So, while I think this is an exciting discovery, I'm not sure how much it will add to the physics and to applications..... yet.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Record Number of Authors In Physics Paper - Follow Up

Remember just barely a couple of months ago, I mentioned about the brouhaha regarding the record number of authors in a combined CMS/ATLAS paper out of the LHC/CERN? In a Physics Today article, there's a bit more on this, especially on the possibly "light-hearted" nature of the Wall Street Journal article that first mentioned this.

As I've mentioned in the earlier entry, I don't quite know why this is such a freaking big deal. The experiments are getting to be more and more difficult, it requires a more complex instrument, and thus, require a lot more people. The fact that this paper actually combined the results from two HUGE collaboration should, as expected, results in a lengthy authors list. What is the big issue here?

Unfortunately, it gives the wrong impression to the rest of the public. The fact that areas such as condensed matter physics, which produces way, WAY more papers than high energy physics and usually tend to have a significantly small number of authors, somehow has been ignored (Phys. Rev. B, for example, which publishes papers in condensed matter/material  science, is produced TWICE a month, and each edition contains TWO volumes!). And yet, the exception here has been used as a rule for the entire field of physics! Where is the logic in that?

And for the record, I had published a paper in PRL, on an experimental work, no less, and the paper only had THREE authors. Count em'!


Thursday, August 13, 2015

The US's Silly Metric Phobia

There are certain things that make me just shake my head in disbelief. This is one such example.

I was reading this CNN article on why the United States is still one of the remaining 3 nations who have not adopted the SI units for everyday lives. The other two being Liberia and Myanmar (what does it say about the company you keep?). If there is such a thing about irrational beliefs and excuses, this would be front and center. In fact, I would even call them very stupid reasons.

The rest of the world calls Americans pennywise and pound foolish for still using a system that on its face makes little sense. And Americans, in turn, shun the metric system as a foreign creation. Never mind that Americans use the thermometer invented by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, a foreigner of Dutch-German-Polish extract.

I want to know who are these airheads who are shunning something just because it is a "foreign creation". They say this, of course, while using devices made in China, and without realizing that "lbs, feet, inches, etc..." are British units of measure, the same people that the Americans chased out for their independence.

But I also want to talk to author Tom Wolfe (is he still alive?) and am curious if he still thinks this way:

In 1981, The New York Times reporter attended an anti-metric party at which Wolfe, in his customary white linen, judged a "Most Beautiful Foot" contest. 

''I hear that the meter is based on a rod somewhere outside of Paris,'' Wolfe said, according to the Times story. ''To use that as a basis for measurement is completely arbitrary and intellectual. I should say I have tremendous admiration for the French, but a matter of this importance should not be left to them. I like the idea of the foot - as a measurement in relation to the human body.'' 

This is utterly silly and irrational for two reasons:

1. He liked the idea that it is a measurement in relation to part of a body? Why? This is purely a personal preference, like having a favorite color. It is an example  of a ".. measurement that is completely arbitrary". There's no rational  reason to choose something JUST because it had a body-part connection. This is stupid!

2. Now that the "meter"  is now defined based on a physical constant and no longer that stick in Paris, is this sitting better now with him?

When the Nazi was in power, there was a concerted effort to discredit Einstein's theory of relativity (both  Special and General). In fact, there was even an effort to label it as "Jewish theory". So the argument was not based on any form of merit, but rather simply because of who same up with it. I'm surprised people  are not seeing similar parallel with the arguments above. How could these people, whom I presumed are intelligent people, made that kind of arguments and reasoning with a straight face?

Maybe this is another important factor of science education, since we tend to use SI units in science classes.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Is There A Fundamental Difference In The Teaching of Physics and Chemistry/Biology?

I read in utter fascination of this opinion piece by Micheal McCracken. As you read this, pay attention not only to the fact that there appears to be a difference between how he perceived physics is taught at the undergraduate level, but also how the differences between the pedagogy of physics and chemistry/biology translates itself into how science is perceived by the public.

Abstract: During recent collaboration with colleagues to revise our institution's general-education curriculum, I encountered many perceptions of what we mean by the Natural Sciences. I was surprised to find that perceptions of scientific pedagogy varied significantly among the scientific disciplines, especially concerning issues of philosophy of science and epistemology, manifested in the approaches to teaching theoretical concepts and their development. These realizations suggest that Physics occupies a singular role in college curricula, introducing students, even at the introductory level, to the acquisition of knowledge by theoretical means and the assessment of theory based on experimental evidence.

His idea that fulfilling a student's requirement on learning Natural Science without taking physics and either chemistry or biology will be a serious deprivation on how science is done.

I tend to agree.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Neutrino Week, In Summary

I mentioned the "Lost In Translation" problem of the Fermilab press release on the NOvA result. Jon Butterworth has a better article that describes clearly the NOvA result, and also includes the detection by IceCube of the highest energy neutrino ever recorded.

But I hate to say that I was more fascinated by his footnote:

¹Fermilab is in the Chicago suburb of Batavia. The neighbouring suburb is Geneva, Illinois. The means that the current and previous high-energy record-holding machines were built next to a Geneva. Rumours that part of China is to be renamed have just started.

Geneva, China?

Still, I wouldn't be surprise if China does go ahead on its own and build its own collider.


Sunday, August 09, 2015

NOvA Neutrinos - A Slight Lost In Translation

OK, this post is making two different points, and try not to miss both of them, because one of them reinforces my stand that what you say may not exactly be what they understood.

This press release out of Fermilab announced the observation of neutrino oscillation by the NOvA detectors. This is crucial for NOvA to show that they can detect what has already been shown to exist, because it is their mission to study this more carefully and to make specific measurements on this phenomenon.

That's my first point, and that's the main news. Now comes the second point. Another "news"  article took that Fermilab press release, and reported it. But read how it has been presented in the beginning.

Scientists have witnessed their first evidence of oscillating neutrinos, taking a huge step forward in particle physics. The new findings confirm that the extraordinary detector built for the project not only functions as planned but is also making great progress toward its goal of a major leap in our understanding of these particles.

Now this is important, because it comes in at the very beginning of the news article and it sets the tone for the entire report. But read it carefully. If you don't know any better, reading the first sentence will give you the impression that this is the first ever sighting of oscillating neutrinos
Since they got this from Fermilab's press release, did the press release itself made the same mistake? Let's take a look. The Fermilab's press release wrote this:

Scientists on the NOvA experiment saw their first evidence of oscillating neutrinos, confirming that the extraordinary detector built for the project not only functions as planned but is also making great progress toward its goal of a major leap in our understanding of these ghostly particles.

Notice the subtle but important difference. Fermilab's press release indicated that this is the first observation of neutrino oscilation by NOvA scientists! Of course, those of us in the know are aware that this statement is indicating that the new NOvA detector has detected what it SHOULD detect, and this is a major milestone in the commissioning of any new instrument, i.e. it should detect what have already been detected to make sure everything is working as it should. It doesn't mean that this neutrino oscillation is the first detection anywhere!

But this is what frequently happens. I don't know the quality of news reporting on "Science World Report", but that is irrelevant because this time of "mistranslation" happens regularly when non-experts tries to interpret or understand scientific reporting. It is why what you write needs to be looked at in several different angles and from background of people who are ignorant of not  only the subject matter, but also the progress in that area. A person reading the news report will think that this is the first ever evidence of neutrino oscillation, when that is clearly false.

The Fermilab news release should look at this type  of misreporting, and see if they need to make their press releases even more "simplified" so that people aren't mislead into thinking the same way as the news report. We must always be vigilant of the fact that what we wrote and what we meant may not be exactly what they understand.


What Has Nuclear Physics Given Us?

I suppose I don't need to preach to the choir, but this is a nice, easy-to-read article if you ever encounter another person who is ignorant about how we have benefited from the study of nuclear physics.

A century is a long time in science, and things move quickly. It wasn’t long ago that we all had particle accelerators in our homes – the cathode ray tubes in our televisions. These have been superseded by LCD, LED and plasma displays, which are founded on our development of quantum technologies.

Perhaps the most prevalent application of particle accelerators today is in hospitals in the form of radiotherapy machines for the treatment of cancer.

In addition, Nuclear physics is the key to more or less all diagnostic imaging such as such X-ray, PET, CT, MRI, NMR, SPECT and other techniques that allow us to look inside the body without resorting to the knife.

If you’ve ever benefitted from one of these, thanks are due to many people, not least the nuclear physics pioneers who just wondered “what is this stuff?” and “what if…?”.

Certainly many aspects of nuclear physics overlaps with high-energy/particle physics, especially in the development of particle accelerators. But it is still worth noting that what started off as an area of study that had no obvious practical application has produced many indispensable necessities that are a part of our lives. This needs to be repeated many times for people  who simply do not see the value of basic, fundamental research.


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Do Students Know What They Know?

This is a rather interesting research on an effect that I was never aware of till now - the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is the effect where "... low-performing students tend to overestimate their abilities, while high-performing students estimate their abilities more accurately... "

The authors in this study compared their results from a physics course and a chemistry course, and came up with roughly the same effect.

Abstract: We have conducted an investigation into how well students in introductory science classes (both physics and chemistry) are able to predict which questions they will or will not be able to answer correctly on an upcoming assessment. An examination of the data at the level of students’ overall scores reveals results consistent with the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which low-performing students tend to overestimate their abilities, while high-performing students estimate their abilities more accurately. Similar results have been widely reported in the science education literature. Breaking results out by students’ responses to individual questions, however, reveals that students of all ability levels have difficulty distinguishing questions which they are able to answer correctly from those that they are not able to answer correctly. These results have implications for the future study and reporting of students’ metacognitive abilities.

(You should be able to get the paper for free)


Monday, August 03, 2015

DES Sky Survey

I mentioned a while ago of the Dark Energy Survey project that is trying to map our universe and possibly produce a clearer picture of the dark energy phenomenon. This week we have one of the first mapping of our universe from DES, from just 3% of the DES data.

The DES dark matter map is not the first of its kind. Several pioneering analyses have come before it, most notably the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Lensing Survey, which used 4 times the number of distant galaxies that DES used to map an area of similar size but at higher resolution. The two teams have reached the same conclusions, though: The luminous matter that we can see is housed within the dark matter structures that we cannot see, and this dark matter forms a cosmic web of filaments, knots, and voids. As it continues collecting and analyzing data, DES will be able to map how these dark matter structures evolve over time.

There's a lot more to be discovered here as more of the data are analyzed.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Report From 13 TeV

So far so good!

This report briefly describes the achievement of getting to 13 TeV collision energy at the LHC.

At 10.40 a.m. on 3 June, the LHC operators declared "stable beams" for the first time at a beam energy of 6.5 TeV. It was the signal for the LHC experiments to start taking physics data for Run 2, this time at a collision energy of 13 TeV – nearly double the 7 TeV with which Run 1 began in March 2010.

So far, they haven't been swallowed by a catastrophic black hole that is supposed to destroy our world. Darn it! What's next? Sighting of supersymmetry particles? You must be joking!


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Weyl Fermions

This is a bit late, but what they hey....

Here is another triumph out of condensed matter physics experiment. This is the first reported discovery of the Weyl fermions, first predicted and now found in a Tantalum arsenide compound.

Another solution of the Dirac equation – this time for massless particles – was derived in 1929 by the German mathematician Hermann Weyl. For some time it was thought that neutrinos were Weyl fermions, but now it looks almost certain that neutrinos have mass and are therefore not Weyl particles.

Now, a group headed by Zahid Hasan at Princeton University has found evidence that Weyl fermions exist as quasiparticles – collective excitations of electrons – in the semimetal tanatalum arsenide (TaAs).

For those who are keeping score, this means that these condensed matter systems have, so far, detected Majorana fermions, and analogous signatures of magnetic monopoles.

And many people still think condensed matter physics is all "applied" and not "fundamental"?


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Standard Model Interactive Chart

Symmetry has published a webpage of an interactive chart for the Standard Model of elementary particle. It is almost like a periodic table, but with only the most basic, necessary information. A rather useful link when you need just the basic info.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Yoichiro Nambu

This is a bit late, but I will kick myself if I don't acknowledge the passing of Yoichiro Nambu this past week. This person, if you've never heard of his name before, is truly a GIANT in physics, and not just in elementary particle. His work transcends any field of physics, and had a significant impact in condensed matter.

I wrote an entry on his work when he won the Nobel prize a few years ago. His legacy will live on long after him.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pentaquark Discovery - Here We Go Again!

I read with a combination excitement and skepticism of the report that LHCb may have seen not one, but two pentaquarks. The skepticism should be justified because previous claims of the discovery of such quarks have turned out to be false. Still, this one comes with a 9sigma statistics.

The LHCb team is confident that the particles are indeed pentaquarks that comprise two up quarks, one down quark, one charm quark and one anticharm quark. "Benefitting from the large data set provided by the LHC, and the excellent precision of our detector, we have examined all possibilities for these signals, and conclude that they can only be explained by pentaquark states," explains LHCb physicist Tomasz Skwarnicki of Syracuse University in the US. 

As always, and as with any other new and important claim, time will tell as more analysis and experiments are done. The public and the media, especially, need to understand that this is still a work in progress, as with any scientific endeavor.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Space Coffee

It's amazing how much physics and engineering go into just getting the ISS occupants to have their cup of Joe while on board the space station.

They should just open a Starbucks franchise up there. It would have been easier!


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

More Physics Of Bicycles

I've already covered the topic on why a bicycle can be balanced easier when it is in motion many times in this blog. But here's another entry on this matter, this time it is a video from Minute Physics. Unfortunately, the explanation comes too rapidly for one to actually understand this simply by listening (you may have to play the video a few times).


Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Physics Of Your Vehicle Gas Mileage

While fuel prices are not as high as they were a few years ago, gas/petroleum cost is always a factor in our lives if we drive often.

This article reveals the physics of your vehicle gas mileage, and what may cause it to be better or worse than others. We can add this to another entry on this similar topic that I posted earlier.


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Don't Ask Siri To Divide 0/0

... unless you want a snarky remark about your personal life from her. You might get this response:

"Imagine that you have zero cookies and you split them evenly among zero friends. How many cookies does each person get? See? It doesn't make sense. And Cookie Monster is sad that there are no cookies, and you are sad that you have no friends."


So, have you tried any other math questions with Siri and got similar amusing responses? Do share!


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

100 Years Of General Theory of Relativity

This is a nice Nature Physics article summarizing the history of the General Theory of Relativity, especially on the historical verification of Einstein's idea.

If you have access to Nature Physics articles, you might also want to read the link in this paragraph:

Not everyone embraced the theory, though: in a Commentary on page 518 Milena Wazeck discusses the anti-relativist movement of the 1920s and uncovers an international network of opponents. Without any attempt at engaging in scientific argumentation, the refuters considered themselves “the last defenders of true physics”. Wazeck sees parallels with adversaries of Darwinism or anthropogenic climate change.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I continue to be amazed that human beings have such short memory, and how we continue to repeat the same things or the same mistakes that had been done before.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

4 Common Misconception About Quantum Physics

I've been critical of several physics article that have appeared in Epoch Times, many of them verging on crackpottery. But I have to admit, this one is actually quite good. It details 4 important misconception that came out of QM.

My summary of these misconceptions are:

1. Quantum entanglement transfers information faster than c.

2. Consciousness is necessary to "collapse" wave-function.

3. QM is only valid at the subatomic level.

4. Wave-particle "duality".

You may read the article to get the details, but for an article designed for the general public, it is actually quite accurate and understandable.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gravitational Lensing

Here's a simple intro to gravitational lensing, if you are not familiar with it.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Quantum Superposition Destroyed By Gravitational Time Dilation?

This is another interesting take on why we see our world classically and not quantum mechanically. Gravitational time dilation is enough to destroy coherent states that maintain superposition.

With this premise, the team worked out that even the Earth's gravitational field is strong enough to cause decoherence in quite small objects across measurable timescales. The researchers calculated that an object that weighs a gram and exists in two quantum states, separated vertically by a thousandth of a millimetre, should decohere in around a millisecond. 

I think this is similar to Penrose's claim that gravity is responsible for decoherence of quantum states. It will be interesting if anyone can experimentally verify this latest theoretical finding.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

July Is The Least Popular Month For Physics

I did not know that!

The Buzz Blog at the APS Physics Central has a very interesting statistics on popularity of the word "physics" on Google search, and it showed a prominent pattern of large, yearly dip in July!

July is the least popular month for physics, marking the bottom of a decline that starts in May. This is not really surprising given that schools in the Northern Hemisphere tend to finish in May or June, and that July is the most popular month for vacations for Americans. Physics is definitely an academic term and it makes sense that its popularity aligns with students and researchers working to the academic calendar. Other academic terms such as "literature", "economics", and "math" also have minimum online interest during July. "Surfing", on the other hand, has a peak interest in July.

This means that right now, the date that this blog entry is posted, is the beginning of the downtrend. I won't blame you guys if the number of hits and read of this blog takes a strong dip starting now! :)


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How You Ask A Test Question May Impact A Student's Performance

When I first read this, I must say that I was not totally surprised by its results and conclusions.

This study was done on a group of female students at the University of Cambridge. In the study, they asked practically the same type of question, covering the same material, but in different ways. The students seem to do better when answering the questions when the "... questions are scaffolded...", i.e. it asked the students to answer one piece at a time, leading to the final answer (see the example in the paper. The paper is open access, so you should be able to get a copy of it.).

I find that one of the most common issues when students are given an entire problem in one shot is that they don't know where to start. They have all of these information swirling in their heads, and they don't know which one to use and applicable to answer the question. So having this "scaffolding", where the question asked for something obvious, and then lead the student to another level, certainly might help in guiding the student towards the final answer.

I remember my time as an undergrad at UW-Madison, taking an E&M class with Prof. Bernice Durand, that she had a unique form of assistance during her exams. She actually told us that if we got stuck, or can't answer a question, we could walk up to her during the exam, and asked for hints. Then, depending on the question, she might write something either as a hint, or something to start off. Depending on how much help she gave, the student won't get credit for knowing that part of the solution, but at least, might be able to continue and solve the rest of the problem. She told us that this way, both she and student can diagnose the source of the problem (i.e. say the student just didn't know where to start, but once that is solved, the student was able to carry out the rest of the solution),

I think this is a similar idea to this study. So as someone who benefited from this structure, I can understand how a student might do better when questions are framed like that.


Sunday, June 07, 2015

The Philosophy of the LHC

This is actually a nice article, and unlike other "confrontational" issues with regards to Physics and Philosophy, it addresses areas in which Philosophy can actually be of use in Physics, but not in the usual sense that have been tossed around.

There have been many tedious and futile discussions about the value of philosophy for modern science. I find it much more interesting and fruitful to ask if and in what way modern science can advance philosophy. The complexity, the new challenges and the new methods that arise in modern science in general - and at the LHC in particular - raise a number of questions that concern core issues of philosophy of science: what are the methods of acquiring knowledge, what is the role of models, and how does the intricate relationship between theory, computer simulations and experimental data work? The LHC has been built for fundamental physics, but it will also challenge and advance the philosophy, sociology and history of science!

We don't hear much about this aspect, mainly because it isn't "sexy". But this is a unique and useful convergence, and with physics opening up a myriad of discoveries that have changed our world view, there's nothing wrong with philosophy being guided by such discoveries.


Friday, June 05, 2015

LHC at 13 TeV - Where Are The Crackpots Now?

I taunted the doomsday crackpots when the LHC hit 8 TeV a while back, and I'm going to taunt then again now. So where are these jokers hiding and what are their excuses for our world still had not been swallowed up by a gigantic blackhole created by the high-energy collisions?

Now granted that the last thing I want to do is hear any more nonsensical ramblings from these folks. They've take up too much oxygen already in their lifetimes. But still, I sometime wish I can come across one of them, and really, REALLY, ask them if they think that they have a huge egg on their faces. There is just not enough follow-up on things like this, and I often wonder if these people actually learned something from their silliness, or if they are still delusional and stubborn about it.

At some level, the same can be said about all those preprints and theories that came out when OPERA reported faster-than-light neutrinos. I sometime wish I could talk to these people, who I don't consider to be crackpots, but who should know better than to jump the gun. I always wanted to know why they publish their theories THAT quickly to jump on the bandwagon. Is it the idea of wanting to be the first? Is it the concept of throwing out as many darts as one can and hope that one will stick? How do they feel now that they somehow came up with a theory based on a non-existing evidence?

So many questions, and so little time to find out the answers.


Thursday, June 04, 2015

Why Do We Plot Our Data?

I stumble upon this Rhett Allain's article on Wired on the importance of plotting data, especially in experiments, and it reminded me of a similar document that had been used for quite a while at the Illinois Institute of Technology for their undergraduate physics labs.

I think both of them had the same idea and the same emphasis. Graphing and being able to know how to use it to analyze data is something that isn't normally taught in a physics class, and that is a shame, because it is an essential part of connecting experimental data to a "theory" or theoretical model. This is where the experiment and the theory meet! It is also where we can analyze how "reliable" or how much confidence we have on what we measure. This is important because when we do not have 100% certainty, we need to know when something is good enough to be accepted.

These are skills and knowledge that many are not exposed to, and it is sad that science classes, especially those involved with experiments, do not put more emphasis on such things.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Leon Lederman. Sold His Nobel Prize Medal

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 26, 2015


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

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


Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Is Really "Real" In Quantum Physics

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review of Leonard Mlodinow's "Upright Tinkers"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Record Number of Authors In Physics Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, May 18, 2015

Electron Pairing Without Superconductivity

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

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

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


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Quark Gluon Plasma

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

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


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Birth of Soft Condensed Matter Physics

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


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Teacher Arrested After Burning Message On Kids Arms Using Tesla Coil


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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Physics Of Tesla Home Battery

Elon Musk is at it again.

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

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