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Science and politics: to the attention of Michigan Congressional delegation February 13, 2011

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.

I usually don’t comment about politics in this blog. But today I’ll make an exception. Maybe someone from Michigan Congressional delegation will read it. I’ll be happy to answer any questions regarding this situation.


Each developed country in the world has a stake in an interdependent triad that builds up its wealth and independence: fundamental research, applied research and industry. It is only the combination of excellence in those three fields that has kept the United States at the forefront of technological revolutions of the past 50 years. Elimination of one of those components will spell trouble for the remaining two: for example, defunding fundamental and applied science in the Russian Federation in the early 1990’s led to a quick demise of that country’s high tech industry.

The new Continuing Resolution (CR) bill announced on 02/08/2011 by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers [1] imposes deep cuts on Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE OS), National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and National Institutes of Health (NIH) that simply threaten US fundamental research. The cut to DOE OS’ budget of $5.12B is $1.1B. It is proposed to happen half way through the current budget year. To keep things in perspective, the amount needed to implement this cut would be equivalent to closing down all US National Laboratories for a continuous period of time this year.

Among other things, DOE’s Office of Science supports fundamental and applied research done by the University groups all over the country. In the state of Michigan that includes University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech and Wayne State University. This funding is neither redundant nor wasteful: each grant issued by DOE’s Office of Science, NSF or NIH is reviewed by several independent experts and expert panels. It is this funding that helps us train the next generation of scientists and engineers that will keep America prosperous in coming years. It is this funding that the new CR proposal would severely cut.

To compare, Chinese government’s spending on science and technology was slated to rise 8% to $24 billion in 2010, of which $4 billion is basic R&D [2]. By contrast, the cuts included in the proposed Continuing Resolution bill reduce funding to basic and applied research made by DOE’s Office of Science by 18%. Liberal and conservatives commentators alike voiced concerns about how the US is losing its edge in math and sciences. This budget cut signals that there is no reason for young Americans to pursue careers in science.

The fundamental research done by particle scientists might not have immediate applications to industry. But not all basic research projects are “long shots.” The first Internet browser developed by high energy physicists at CERN (the site of currently running Large Hadron Collider) for the needs of the experiment designed to understand the basic building blocks of Nature in 1991 made possible creation of the World Wide Web and revolutionized the US and world’s commerce.

Balancing our country’s budget is an important and noble goal, but it should not be done at the expense of the future.



[1] House appropriation committee website http://republicans.appropriations.house.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=259

[2] Physics Today http://blogs.physicstoday.org/politics/2010/03/china-increases-science-fundin.html

A picture on a wall? February 12, 2011

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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I was moving old pictures from my camera to my computer today and found this image. Here is a funny picture of a reflection on my neighbor’s wall. What does it look like?

There was a picture

To a particle physicist, this is just a pair of Feynman graphs for 2 -> 2 scattering amplitudes… with the left one in an external field :-). Enjoy.

Bye-bye, Tevatron! January 10, 2011

Posted by apetrov in Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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Well, it is now official: DOE has decided not to pursue the extension of the Tevatron running until the year 2013. The operations of the Tevatron, the largest US hadron accelerator,  will end at the end of this year, 2011. The details of the DOE decision can be found here.

To remind you, the original idea to extend the Tevatron running until 2013 came out because of the LHC shutdown schedule (and physics, of course), Tevatron might have been competitive with the LHC in the search for light (~ 120 GeV) Higgs. Now we have to rely solely on the LHC.

Now it’s official: Italian Government Funds the Super-B December 23, 2010

Posted by apetrov in Particle Physics, Physics, Science.

So it is official. According to Roberto Petronzio (INFN President), “The Ministry for Education, University and Research [of Italy] has decided to select the SuperB project conducted by the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) as one of its “flagship projects” in Italy over the next few years and has delivered an initial funding for 2010 as a part of a multiannual funding program” (see here from interaction.org site).

This was first announced by Marcelo Giorgi (Super-B spokesperson) on December 18 at the closing of the XV SuperB General Meeting in Caltech (“SuperB has been approved and funded by the Italian government. Approval has been announced in a closed session of the CERN council. We should expect press releases with announcements from INFN and the Italian minister of science and education within the next few days,” see here). The announcement was a bit unexpected — many of my colleagues even believed that the project would never be funded, especially in such difficult times. But it happened!

This is s very good news for flavor physics. The Super-B experiment is a high-intensity B-factory, which is designed to look for glimpses of New Physics in rare decays of B- and D-mesons (for professional description of the physics case, see here; for Conceptual design Report (CDR) see here). It is a descendant of the SLAC B-factory experiment BaBar — almost literally, as parts of the accelerator and BaBar detector will be disassembled at SLAC and delivered to Italy and reassembled there. This is done as part of the US strategy of moving scientific expertise in high energy physics from the US to Europe and Asia (which started with plowing most other high energy physics programs in favor of the linear collider program that was never funded in full… actually, it is not even mentioned that often nowdays — partially because of the excitement over LHC) along with scientific leadership in that area :-).

So these are the exciting times for the SuperB collaboration! One important thing is that the site for the experiment is not yet chosen. Currently the possibilities include a green site at Tor Vergata or exciting site of the Frascati Lab of INFN near Rome. So hey have their work cut out for them.

Super-B would be the competing experiment for Belle-II, another high-intensity B-physics experiment located at KEK in Japan.

Update on our faculty search in particle theory December 10, 2010

Posted by apetrov in Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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The deadline for applications for an Assistant Professorship in theoretical particle physics at WSU is December 15, five days from today. So far we received 44 applications.

Is that a lot? Well, it depends. According to some of my friends at SLAC, they receive upwards of 400 applications for their postdoctoral positions. I regularly receive about 50-60 applications for postdoctoral position — when I have one. While the numbers are not important (as long as the applicants are great — and they are!), we were planning for about 100 applications for our faculty position. Of course, WSU is not Harvard or Stanford. Also, Detroit is not Boston or Palo Alto. And, the future assistant professor would have to work more to get recognized in the field — the name of the institution will not be of much help. But this position will give that person a chance to define the program. And this person will not be alone. There is Sean Gavin (nuclear theorist), there would be another nuclear theorist next year (we also have a search for an Assistant Professor in theoretical nuclear physics) — and then, according to the Strategic Plan adopted by our Department, a theoretical cosmologist will be hired in a couple of years.All of that makes our position quite attractive.

So, what’s going to happen next? The Search Committee will meet shortly after December 15 to take initial look at the application pool. We will select a “long short lost” of 20 applicants and ask them to submit their application materials to the University’s job management system (a new requirement). Then we’ll select top five from the list of that twenty and invite them for interviews on campus.

This is an interesting year for physics at WSU. There are four (4!!!) searches going on in the physics department — particle theory, nuclear theory, nuclear experiment (heavy ion collisions — WSU has one of the largest groups in relativistic heavy ions in the US), and observational astronomy. Hopefully, we will get good people. I’ll keep you updated.

Update: we have 61 applications in our pool as of Dec 15 that we started to look at. The first serious meeting of the search committee will be in the first week of the new year.

Serious papers, funny things: hamsters as co-authors, etc. October 6, 2010

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Physics, Science.

I looked at some papers written by yesterday’s Nobel Prize-winning scientists Andre Geim and  Konstantin Novoselov. There is a paper, written by Geim some time ago that stands out — not scientifically, but by its list of authors. It is

Detection of earth rotation with a diamagnetically levitating gyroscope
A. K. Geim,  and H. A. M. S. ter Tisha

Physica B: Condensed Matter
Volumes 294-295, January 2001, Pages 736-739

Note the name of the second hamster author. The rumor is that it is that hamster that was supposed to be the “levitating frog” in the work for which Geim got his Ig Nobel Prize. But it was protested, so the hamster was spared the flight and instead was added as a co-author to this publication.

It would be nice to start a collection of papers like that one. Like this one:

Alpher, R. A., H. Bethe and G. Gamow (1948). “The Origin of Chemical Elements”. Physical Review 73 (7): 803–804. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.73.803 (aka, “alpha-beta-gamma paper”)

And there are others, I’m sure..

2010 Nobel week (and 2010 Ig Nobel) October 1, 2010

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Physics, Science.
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Once again, the Nobel week is upon us! The Nobel Prize in physics will be awarded on Tue, Oct 5. I’ll be in the “smoke-filled room” at the NSF paneling about some grants, so if they call… nah… At any rate, my yearly report of the research that led to that Noble prize will be delayed by a day.

As always, there is a set of predictions that are compiled by Thompson Reuters — yes, that company that has been wrong every time it tries to do predictions. Anyways, this year Johns Hopkins people have a field day — at least as far as predictions are concerned (I support that predictions — as a person who spent three years at JHU :-) )…

And here they are (taken from here):

  • Charles L. Bennett
    Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD USA
    Why: for discoveries deriving from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), including the age of the universe, its topography, and its composition
  • Thomas W. Ebbesen
    Professor, University of Strasbourg, and Director, ISIS (Institute of Science and Supramolecular Engineering), Strasbourg, France
    Why: for observation and explanation of the transmission of light through subwavelength holes, which ignited the field of surface plasmon photonics
  • Lyman A. Page
    Henry DeWolf Smyth Professor of Physics, Department of Physics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ USA
    Why: for discoveries deriving from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), including the age of the universe, its topography, and its composition
  • Saul Perlmutter
    Professor, Department of Physics, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA USA, and Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA USA
    Why: for discoveries of the accelerating rate of the expansion of the universe, and its implications for the existence of dark energy
  • Adam G. Riess
    Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD USA, and Senior Member, Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD USA
    Why: for discoveries of the accelerating rate of the expansion of the universe, and its implications for the existence of dark energy
  • Brian P. Schmidt
    Australian Research Council Federation Fellow, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University, Weston Creek, Australia
    Why: for discoveries of the accelerating rate of the expansion of the universe, and its implications for the existence of dark energy
  • David N. Spergel
    Charles Young Professor on the Class of 1897 Foundation and Chair, Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ USA
    Why: for discoveries deriving from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), including the age of the universe, its topography, and its composition

I’ll stick to my last year’s prediction (Perlmuter/Reiss). Will see if anyone gets it right this time…

P.S. Ig Nobel prizes were awarded yesterday. Here are some cool ones:

  • PHYSICS PRIZE: Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, New Zealand, for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes.

REFERENCE: “Preventing Winter Falls: A Randomised Controlled Trial of a Novel Intervention,” Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest, New Zealand Medical Journal. vol. 122, no, 1298, July 3, 2009, pp. 31-8.

  • ECONOMICS PRIZE: The executives and directors of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Magnetar for creating and promoting new ways to invest money — ways that maximize financial gain and minimize financial risk for the world economy, or for a portion thereof.
  • MANAGEMENT PRIZE: Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo of the University of Catania, Italy, for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.
    REFERENCE: “The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study,” Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo, Physica A, vol. 389, no. 3, February 2010, pp. 467-72.
  • PEACE PRIZE: Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK, for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain.
    REFERENCE: “Swearing as a Response to Pain,” Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston, Neuroreport, vol. 20 , no. 12, 2009, pp. 1056-60.

And there is this one… not sure what to make out of this one:

  • BIOLOGY PRIZE: Libiao Zhang, Min Tan, Guangjian Zhu, Jianping Ye, Tiyu Hong, Shanyi Zhou, and Shuyi Zhang of China, and Gareth Jones of the University of Bristol, UK, for scientifically documenting fellatio in fruit bats.

REFERENCE: “Fellatio by Fruit Bats Prolongs Copulation Time,” Min Tan, Gareth Jones, Guangjian Zhu, Jianping Ye, Tiyu Hong, Shanyi Zhou, Shuyi Zhang and Libiao Zhang, PLoS ONE, vol. 4, no. 10, e7595.

Have fun, everyone!

Senior faculty: should one stay or should one go… August 18, 2010

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.

This post is motivated by the fact that one of our senior faculty (a Full Professor) would be leaving this Fall to take another senior faculty job at another University. So, the questions that I want to ramble about are (1) why would one want to leave? and  (2) if one does decide to leave, how easy is it to get another tenured job?

1. Well, the question numbero uno has a simple answer: there is something at the  current place the person does not like. Examples could include academic environment (University is not prestigious enough, colleagues that are perceived to be unfriendly, perceived quality of  students, etc.), physical environment (tired to live in a city/country, etc.), salary (in most cases, too low), or spouse’s employment. I think most of the reasons can be reduced to those four. Or a linear combination of those four. And th0se reasons could be quite opposite: one wants to be in a big group, while another moves to organize a group — which in many cases would be smaller…

2. The second question also has a simple answer: it is not easy, unless you are a Nobel Prize winner (or Edward Witten). Or simply very good. And that’s where the question becomes hard: what does it mean to be “very good”??? To be successful at writing influential papers? securing grants (and/or having those NSF/DOE CAREER awards)? having a lot of awards? teaching and graduating good students? being on TV all the time? playing hockey?

This is a good question — and quite a relevant one, since (as part of a major theory expansion) we’ll be hiring a particle theory assistant professor this year  and it would be nice to hire someone who is “very good.” Although, admittedly, assistant professors are often judged “on potential,” and if the potential is not realized, a young assistant professor would not become an associate professor… This is one of the reasons while the Departments often prefer to hire nontenured Assistant Professors over tenured Associate and Full ones. That and the salary.

So, one of the possible criteria for a senior faculty that I would like to propose is a publication record — number of publications and citations to them (or/and an h-index for an applicant) compared to the same of the current members of a given research group that is doing the hire. In particular, if the h-index of a candidate is higher than that of the current members of the group, the person is good. Admittedly, it would not work for a junior faculty (well, if it does, the hiring group should get that person right away), but might be ok for a senior hire. Second criteria could be the record of securing external grants — the reality of life at most of research Universities is that the person should fund his/her own research… Moreover, while for an assistant professor getting the first grant is hard, it also serves as an opportunity to see what your peers in the field think about your research. So it is not all about the money — or the amount of it for that matter. A good record of graduating PhDs and having leadership positions (for an experimentalists in big collaborations) should round up the list. Did I miss anything?

Is there a recipe/a set of criteria? Probably not. But it would be interesting to know…

Congratulations, Dr. Andriy Badin! August 2, 2010

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.

Today my second graduate student at WSU, Andriy Badin, defended his Ph.D. thesis. Congratulations Dr. Badin! Good luck to you in your new life as a postdoc at Duke University!

ICHEP-2010 vs hints of New Physics July 21, 2010

Posted by apetrov in Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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Once of the major meetings in particle physics, the International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP 2010) gets underway today in Paris. This is a conference that happens every two years and usually brings together hundreds of physicists from all over the world. Usually this is the place where large and small collaborations present their recent findings and most exciting results. Although first LHC results will be  presented there, LHC still does not have enough statistics to do the analysis that it was built to do. And this is why Tevatron and other machines try to beat it to the (possible) discovery of whatever might happen beyond the embattled Standard Model.

So far, there are several hints of something new. As with hints reported previously,  most of them will disappear with more experimental statistics – or with improved analyses. But who knows… maybe some of them will stay. It would be interesting to see if some of those hints are dispelled at this year’s ICHEP.

What are those hints, you’d ask? Well, here are some of them, in no particular order,

1. D0 semileptonic CP-asymmetry (aka “the toe of God” as New York Times has reported). An interesting, although somewhat strange result from D0 collaboration at Fermilab spurred a small waterfall of papers trying to explain it (here is the combination of older CDF and newer D0 results). If it happens to be true, we indeed would see a manifestation of New Physics in Bs oscillations. A cute thing about the above-mentioned article in New York Times is that they interviewed theorists who do not work on CP-violation in heavy quark physics…

2. MINOS mass differences measured for for neutrinos and antineutrinos (CPT-violation, anyone?). The neutrino mass differences and antineutrino mass differences measured by MINOS collaboration, showed quite a difference (see blue and red contours on this picture). Now, of course, contours overlap — and, statistically speaking, there is probability that those mixing parameters are the same. But it is a nice hint for something interesting. Now, I must say that the fact that neutrinos oscillate (and have mass) IS the biggest (and proven) hint for physics beyond the Standard Model.

3. CDF’s unexpectedly large forward-backward asymmetry in top-quark pair production. This is an interesting problem — while in QCD one expects top quark production angle to be symmetric with respect to beam direction at the lowest order, one can get a small, forward backward asymmetry (the quantity that compares the number of top quarks moving for or against a given direction) at next-to-leading order. This asymmetry is predicted to be of the order of 5%, while CDF sees something of the order of 19% with very good error bars. To make the  situation more interesting, top quark production cross section is consistent with theory. Axigluon, anyone? Maybe not…

4. Abundant Dark Matter search “anomalies”, in particular, the seasonal variation of a signal measured by DAMA collaboration. Some “older news” also include CDMS “two-event” result, PAMELA positron flux excess, etc…

Anyone’s taking bets?

P.S. I refuse to include Higgs discovery rumors in the list of possible hints, especially since they are reported by BBC and CNN (and properly dispelled by CDF and D0)!


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