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Guest bloggers: PEACE Act or how to solve all Wall Street problems October 14, 2008

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics.

It is a well-known fact that it is hard to find a job as a physicist – our profession is very competitive. So, with the skills earned in physics and math graduate schools, many of my colleagues end up on a street, a Wall Street that is, a tiny street in New York City, where they make their living. Apparently, this street has been a source of some financial news recently, which prompted my good friends and colleagues David Cinabro, Rob Harr and Zhi-Feng Huang to propose the following bill to be presented to Congress:

Preserving Every Americans Chance to Earn (PEACE)


Given that it is well known that physicists and mathematicians are primarily responsible for the 2008 world wide economic crisis (see http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/10/05/60minutes/main4502454.shtml), to preserve the American economy, and other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the `Preserving Every Americans Chance to Earn (PEACE) Act’.


For the purposes of preventing physicists and mathematicians from getting jobs in the real world where they can do actual damage by putting their ideas and theories into practice rather than having them criticized, peer reviewed, and published in obscure journals there is authorized to be appropriated, and there is appropriated $25,000,000,000 in this and in all following fiscal years to fund projects in basic research. This level may be raised at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury if ANY physics or mathematics PhD recipient cannot find a job in basic research.


This bill will go into effect immediately after passage in hopes that no more of these brainiacs are tempted by six or seven figure Wall Street salaries, and no more of the idiots who actually make decisions on Wall Street are confused by persons who are smarter than they are.

Another Ig Nobel year… October 6, 2008

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics, Physics, Science.
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The 2008 Ig Nobel prizes have been awarded. I didn’t win :-). But here are the winners (from the website of Improbable Research), this time with ciatations:


NUTRITION PRIZE. Massimiliano Zampini of the University of Trento, Italy and Charles Spence of Oxford University, UK, for electronically modifying the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is.
REFERENCE: “The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispness and Staleness of Potato Chips,” Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence, Journal of Sensory Studies, vol. 19, October 2004,  pp. 347-63.

PEACE PRIZE. The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH) and the citizens of Switzerland for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity.
REFERENCE: “The Dignity of Living Beings With Regard to Plants. Moral Consideration of Plants for Their Own Sake

ARCHAEOLOGY PRIZE. Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and José Carlos Marcelino of Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, for measuring how the course of history, or at least the contents of an archaeological dig site, can be scrambled by the actions of a live armadillo.
REFERENCE: “The Role of Armadillos in the Movement of Archaeological Materials: An Experimental Approach,” Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and José Carlos Marcelino, Geoarchaeology, vol. 18, no. 4, April 2003, pp. 433-60.

BIOLOGY PRIZE. Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert, and  Michel Franc of Ecole Nationale Veterinaire de Toulouse, France for discovering that the fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than the fleas that live on a cat.
REFERENCE: “A Comparison of Jump Performances of the Dog Flea, Ctenocephalides canis (Curtis, 1826) and the Cat Flea, Ctenocephalides felis felis (Bouche, 1835),” M.C. Cadiergues, C. Joubert, and M. Franc, Veterinary Parasitology, vol. 92, no. 3, October 1, 2000, pp. 239-41.

MEDICINE PRIZE. Dan Ariely of Duke University (USA), Rebecca L. Waber of MIT (USA), Baba Shiv of Stanford University (USA), and Ziv Carmon of INSEAD (Singapore) for demonstrating that high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low-priced fake medicine..
REFERENCE: “Commercial Features of Placebo and Therapeutic Efficacy,” Rebecca L. Waber; Baba Shiv; Ziv Carmon; Dan Ariely, Journal of the American Medical Association, March 5, 2008; 299: 1016-1017.

COGNITIVE SCIENCE PRIZE. Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Hokkaido University, Japan, Hiroyasu Yamada of Nagoya, Japan, Ryo Kobayashi of Hiroshima University, Atsushi Tero of Presto JST, Akio Ishiguro of Tohoku University, and Ágotá Tóth of the University of Szeged, Hungary, for discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles.
REFERENCE: “Intelligence: Maze-Solving by an Amoeboid Organism,” Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Hiroyasu Yamada, and Ágota Tóth, Nature, vol. 407, September 2000, p. 470.

ECONOMICS PRIZE. Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan of the University of New Mexico, USA, for discovering that a professional lap dancer’s ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings.
REFERENCE: “Ovulatory Cycle Effects on Tip Earnings by Lap Dancers: Economic Evidence for Human Estrus?” Geoffrey Miller, Joshua M. Tybur, Brent D. Jordan, Evolution and Human Behavior, vol. 28, 2007, pp. 375-81.

PHYSICS PRIZE. Dorian Raymer of the Ocean Observatories Initiative at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, and Douglas Smith of the University of California, San Diego, USA, for proving mathematically that heaps of string or hair or almost anything else will inevitably tangle themselves up in knots.
REFERENCE: “Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String,” Dorian M. Raymer and Douglas E. Smith, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 42, October 16, 2007, pp. 16432-7.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE. Sharee A. Umpierre of the University of Puerto Rico, Joseph A. Hill of The Fertility Centers of New England (USA), Deborah J. Anderson of Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School (USA), for discovering that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide, and to Chuang-Ye Hong of Taipei Medical University (Taiwan), C.C. Shieh, P. Wu, and B.N. Chiang (all of Taiwan) for discovering that it is not.
REFERENCE: “Effect of ‘Coke’ on Sperm Motility,” Sharee A. Umpierre, Joseph A. Hill, and Deborah J. Anderson, New England Journal of Medicine, 1985, vol. 313, no. 21, p. 1351.
REFERENCE: “The Spermicidal Potency of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola,” C.Y. Hong, C.C. Shieh, P. Wu, and B.N. Chiang, Human Toxicology, vol. 6, no. 5, September 1987, pp. 395-6. [NOTE: THE JOURNAL LATER CHANGED ITS NAME. NOW CALLED “Human & experimental toxicology”]

LITERATURE PRIZE. David Sims of Cass Business School. London, UK, for his lovingly written study “You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations.”
REFERENCE: “You Bastard: A Narrative Exploration of the Experience of Indignation within Organizations,” David Sims, Organization Studies, vol. 26, no. 11, 2005, pp. 1625-40.


Once again, High Energy Physics is not among the prize-winners… but it did finally make it to mainstream media — apparently your scientific views on loop quantum gravity and string theory can lead to changes in your social status. Should not it always be so? 🙂

LHC Rap July 29, 2008

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

I just found (via Maunotes – an inquiriung mind) a rap song about LHC and high energy physics in general (I know, it’s been around for a while, but I got to right papers sometimes too!). Set on location at CERN! Check it out here. It is a bit in a style of the Big Bang Theory, if I may put it this way, but hey —  whatever gets people interested!

Stuperspace January 25, 2008

Posted by apetrov in Funny.

Just wanted to share… I was recently pointed to this “article” — it is pretty funny, a nice parody on how normal research papers in theoretical high energy physics are written…

Happy New Year! December 31, 2007

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Uncategorized.
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To all readers of my blog: have a happy New Year! And while you are at it, check out new 2007-year review by JibJab.

2007 Ig Nobel prizes awarded October 5, 2007

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics, Science.
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This year the Ig Nobel prizes were awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research earlier than the regular Nobel Prizes. I was looking for some space themes (after all, 50 years ago on Oct. 4 was the day when people sent the first artificial sattelite in space), but alas… Nevertheless, here are some of the laureates:

MEDICINE: Dr. Brian Witcombe and Dan Meyer for their report “Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects.”

PHYSICS: L. Mahadevan and Enrique Cerda Villablanca for studying wrinkle patterns in sheets.

BIOLOGY: Dr. Johanna E.M.H. von Bronswijk for her census of all the mites, insects, spiders, pseudoscorpions, bacteria, algae and ferns found in our beds.

CHEMISTRY: Mayi Yamamoto for developing a way to extract vanillin — vanilla fragrance and flavoring — from cow dung.

LINGUISTICS: Juan Manuel Toro, Josep Trobalon and Nuria Sebastian-Galles for demonstrating that rats can’t tell the difference between a person speaking Japanese backward and a person speaking Dutch backward.

LITERATURE: Glenda Browne for her study of the definite article “the” and the ways it causes problems when alphabetizing.

PEACE: The U.S. Air Force’s Wright Laboratory for their proposed “gay bomb,” a chemical weapon to make enemy soldiers sexually attracted to each other.

NUTRITION: Brian Wansink, whose experiment with a bottomless bowl of soup showed that humans eat more when presented with more food.

ECONOMICS: Kuo Cheng Hsieh for patenting a device that drops a net over bank robbers.

AVIATION: Patricia Agostino, Santiago Plano and Diego Golombek for discovering that hamsters recover from jet lag faster when given Viagra.

I don’t know of any practical use of putting hamsters on Viagra (I think they do well without), but the prize in chemistry has enormous economic and philosophical value, as it shortens the “circle of life” famously described in the movie “Lion King.” I can also relate to the literature studies and suggest the author to enlarge her study by investigating the troubles that article “the” brings to (the?) Russian-speaking population. Contrary, the nutrition prize is given for an obvious result. Gosh, even Ig Nobels become controversial!

Conserve energy, walk upright August 21, 2007

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics, Science.

There is a curious article that I read on CNN’s website. It is called “Chimps on treadmills offer evolution insight” (given here via Reuters, as CNN promptly removed it from its website (to conserve diskspace?)). The basic premise of this investigation (here is the original article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) was to study energy consumption of humans vs. primates in a treadmill exercise. The conclusion was that “…people walking on a treadmill used just a quarter of the energy relative to their size compared to chimpanzees knuckle-walking on four legs.” Which in turns implies that this reduced energy consumption steered pre-humans to evolve into bipedal humans.

As far as physics is concerned, the conclusion of this study is “nearly flawless.” An analogy can be found in quantum mechanics: a particle trapped in a “false vacuum” state will eventually leak out into a lower-energy “true vacuum” state. So, in a sense, it is nice to have minimization of energy as a guiding principle of evolution. But surely not a dominant one. Otherwise people would still have been jumping on trees — why walk (and use more energy) if you can just sit on a tree! Well, maybe that is how prehistoric sloths evolved into modern-day sloths… but yet again, maybe all technological evolution is built on a principle of Total Laziness (minimization of energy) — people got tired of walking — so they invented horseback riding; they got tired of rough riding on those smelly horses — so they invented cars; … well, you got the idea…

There is a lesson that can be applied to everyday life: if you exercise regularily and want to use your treadmill time more effciently, walk on all four of your limbs. And don’t tell me that evolution is not applicable to today’s world. 🙂

Selected phrases from a recent conference August 17, 2007

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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Just wanted to share some phrases by physicists that caught my attention during a recent conference I went to (CHARM-2007):

“The errors are consistent within the error” (comparing recent experimental measurement with the older one).

“I cannot measure […], I don’t have my own accelerator. But you do!” (theorist replying to a question from an experimentalist).

“Don’t listen to what I say, listen to what I think!” (from an experimentalist who misspoke about a result, but caught himself while doing it)

“I’m not sure how to get to my conclusions now” (from a speaker having technical difficulties with a remote that advances slides)

Also, this phrase was repeated to me — it is from another meeting. That meeting wasn’t even a conference, it was a meeting on super-B factory. One of the proposals call for essentially moving SLAC‘s experiment (BaBar) to Europe, reassembling it there in the new, undevelloped site and finally upgrading it to high luminocity. So a question was posed: why bother digging a new tunnel in Europe, de-assembling an experiment in the US and reassembling it back when you can just upgrade it at SLAC, one well-known physicist said: “We don’t do this anymore” [in the US]. Sadly he was referring to (almost) an executive decision to stop flavor physics programs in the US…

New Years’ in June June 27, 2007

Posted by apetrov in Funny.
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Ok, I know I’m late with this one by, oh well, about 6 months. But I just found this on the famous JibJab site. It’s a review of year 2006, done in the usual JibJab style (see this one for 2005). Pretty much sums it up…

Physics of food May 24, 2007

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics.
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It’s spring — prime time for a college newsletter. Ours is called CLAS Notes (CLAS is for College of Liberal Arts and Sciences). It’s a nice newsletter which has interesting stuff about stuff that happens in our College. Nice read. This year, however, our editor decided to include a new section — grants and awards (presumably awarded from the time previous newsletter was published). Closely examining it I realized that my funding comes from a slightly unusual source, Nutrition and Food Science, given that I’m a particle theorist, mainly working on dynamics of heavy quark systems. Check it out (click on a picture to make it bigger):


Wow! Now, tell me that I’m not doing biophysics! 🙂 Actually, I’m in a good company — my colleague from condensed matter physics, a couple of computer scientists, several mathematicians and even a professor from English Department! Now, it is understandable why I was ascribed that source of funding — I myself saw “Quark” in a cheese section of our grocery store a couple of days ago. But apparently one of research directions of our English department is relation of poetry and food, I guess.. 🙂

P.S. In reality my funding comes from the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy (have to acknowledge them in every publication)…