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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.
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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.

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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.

 

References:

[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

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.
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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.
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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!

Florence, Florence… March 26, 2010

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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I’m finishing up my 2.5-week stay in Florence at the Galileo Galilei Institute of  Theoretical Physics

"Quintessense picture"

Italians prefer quintessence models...

(or just GGI). Florence is a nice place to visit, so many people find it hard to not to go into the city to see Uffizi Gallery (if you can get in), Duomo — or sit in your office and calculate. Of course, famous Tuscan cuisine does not help. I managed to spent the weekends taking in the cultural heritage of the city and weekdays – taking in the latest in flavor physics.

I’ll blog more about physics and culture of Florence once I get back to Michigan over the weekend. But for now, let me point you to the final conference of this extended workshop that just ended: http://ggi-www.fi.infn.it//index.php?p=schedule.inc&idev=63

Enjoy!

Happy March 8!!! March 8, 2010

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Science.
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Today is the International Women’s Day! I guess all I said two years ago still applies…

There is a nice exposition regarding the role of women in sciences that can be found here.

Now, who said that QCD does not directly affect industry? February 2, 2010

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics.
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Driving through one of the industrial parks near Detroit. It looks like QCD survives recession…

It is back! November 21, 2009

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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After a year of repairs LHC has circulated the beam once again. The first collisions are to follow soon – about a week from now.

It happened. We are eagerly awaiting the answer of the Higgs From the Future :-).

Collider music November 10, 2009

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics, Particle Physics.
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The Internet is “like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re gonna get.” Apparently, colliders inspire songwriters of different styles: from educational rap to 60-style love songs… Enjoy…

Ginzburg November 9, 2009

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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One of the most famous Russian physicists, 2003 Nobel Prize winner Vitaly L. Ginzburg died yesterday in Moscow. He was 94. He received his Nobel Prize “for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids” (e.g. Landau-Ginzburg theory is taught in any statistical mechanics class). He was a truly universal physicist — with over 400 works in physics, radio-physics and astrophysics. He will be greatly missed.