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2009 Nobel Prize in Physics October 6, 2009

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Physics, Science.
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The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics went to Charles K. Kao of Standard Telecommunication Laboratories Harlow (UK) “for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication” and to Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith of Bell Labs “for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor”. For more info see the announcement.

Another very applied Noble Prize – this time in optics. The first half is given for a low-loss optical fiber cables (he suggested fused silica as a material for fiber cables) — it is interesting that Nobel committee states that “An interesting example of the use of fiber-optic communication in science is the advanced fiber optics network developed at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva that will transfer large amounts of information obtained by the particle detectors to computer centers all over the world.” I guess it is one way to connect fundamental physics with applied. Or maybe underline the importance of the very applied prize.

The second half of the prize is given for a device that is a heart of your digital camera (the charged-coupled device or CCD).  The idea is simple — a CCD is a device that can record a picture by accumulating light-induced charges over its semiconductor surface, which can be read-off at the edge of the light sensitive area. Boyle and Smith invented those n 1970. Besides everyday use in small cameras, CCD’s are used, for instance, in the Hubble Space Telescope’s cameras to make great scientific discoveries.

Maybe next year the Nobel Committee can consider invention of cars and buses that take great scientists to work to make their discoveries or jet engines that are used in the airplanes that take them to the conferences where those results are discussed. Or maybe some ground-breaking technology in oil extraction that is used to fuel those engines that take those great scientists to work on their “fundamental projects.” Those inventions are definitely worthy of Nobel Prize in Physics. Stay tuned!

One day that started the arms race August 30, 2009

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Science.
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There are two two days in the history of the world that started the (nuclear) arms race between the USA and the Soviet Union in the second half of the last century. The first day is July 16, 1945 — the day of the Trinity Test. The second one is August 29, 1949. So exactly 60 years ago today Soviet Union exploded its own atomic device (the so-called RDS-1 (“Rocket Engine of Stalin-1”), or Joe-1, as it was known in the West). Some of the brightest physicists of that time worked on the Manhattan Project and Soviet Atomic Project. Did the result save the world from another World War? Or paved the way for future political instabilities? Or simply gave us another source of energy? Time will tell. If you interested in the historico-technical side of this story, the model of that RDS-1 device is in the museum of nuclear weapons in Sarov.

Physics rap is becoming popular… June 18, 2009

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics, Science.
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Apparently, rapping about physics becomes increasingly popular. While major label producers are still not considering those for their star performers like Usher or Six Cents (?), physics rap star AlpineKat (widely praised for her recent single “LHCRap“) has released a new single. This time she tackles nuclear physics at NSCL, which is located at the Michigan State University. The piece actually made it to the New York Times and can be found here.

Would it bring more participants to DPF-2009?

CERN bids farewell to Austria? May 8, 2009

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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Reuters (along with other news outlets) broke the news that Austria has decided to quit CERN. While it is not going to happen until 2011, it is a rather interesting decision. The official reason that has been cited is that Austria does not have enough money for other international projects (would be nice to know what projects they cite). Also, the claim is that Austria does not get enough out of CERN — after all CERN is big, right?

Austria pulls about 2% of CERN funding — so if other countries follow the suit, funding of CERN operations might become an issue.

I think it’s one of those decisions “better small, but mine” — CERN was created to do big science that only several countries can do together. But maybe Austria just wants to do big science cheap — after all, scientific contacts between Austrian universities and CERN are not going to cease.

Federal isotope beam facility (aka FRIB) comes to Michigan State December 11, 2008

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics, Physics, Science.
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It has been announced today that DOE chose Michigan State University site as the future location of the new Radioactive Beam facility. Argonne National Lab is on the loosing side of this decision. This facility should provide some boost for the Big Three … not the automakers, but The Big Three Universities (or University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University as they are known to the rest of the US).

I actually don’t know how exactly it will benefit our Department. Maybe we’ll get a couple of new faculty lines associated with the facility just 70 miles away… but who knows what’d happen in the current financial situation. Maybe Michigan government finally decides to do a responsible thing and NOT cut funding for state Universities, as has been done year after year… So here is an essential part of official announcement:

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WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today that Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, MI has been selected to design and establish the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB), a cutting-edge research facility to advance understanding of rare nuclear isotopes and the evolution of the cosmos. The new facility-expected to take about a decade to design and build and to cost an estimated $550 million-will provide research opportunities for an international community of approximately 1000 university and laboratory scientists, postdoctoral associates, and graduate students.

“The Department of Energy’s new Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University promises to vastly expand our understanding of nuclear astrophysics and nuclear structure,” said Acting Associate

Director of the Office of Science for Nuclear Physics Eugene Henry. “This capability will allow physicists to study the nuclear reactions that power stars and stellar explosions, explore the structure of the nuclei of atoms and the forces that bind them together, test current theories about the fundamental nature of matter, and play a role in developing new nuclear medicines and techniques.”

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Alternatively, you can read an article in Crain’s Detroit Business about that.

Phrase of the day October 19, 2008

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics.
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“Less invasions – more equations!”

Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, Futurama (protesting invasion of quantum anomaly by military force)

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

Posted by apetrov in Funny, Near Physics.
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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)

A BILL

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,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

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

SEC. 2. FUNDING FOR PROJECTS IN BASIC RESEARCH

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.

SEC. 3. EFFECTIVE DATE.

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:

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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.

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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? 🙂

We scare because we care June 30, 2008

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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I love this movie, Monsters, Inc. It, along with a documentary Office Space, describes our everyday life so well… So today I was reading CNN to get my daily dose of scare to find that CNN also decided to get on the bandwagon and comment about the safety of the LHC in the piece called Some Fear Debut of Powerful Atom Smasher (the coolest thing is that the name of the file in the reference is “doomsdaycollider.ap”). It is of course reassuring that after reading the article the readers are invited to learn more about the subject (look for the reference “All About Atomic and Molecular Physics”) — which shows certain lack of understanding of energy scales involved on the side of the robot which automatically suggests relevant material — of course competent journalists would never never make such a mistake (I also love the phrase “The two largest detectors are essentially huge digital cameras, each weighing thousands of tons, capable of taking millions of snapshots a second.”)… 🙂

Ok, to be fair, the article is actually not that bad. What makes me uncomfortable is people who learned about Newton laws and think that they know all about the Universe — to be comfortable enough to file a lawsuit to stop LHC from turning on (see, for example, “facts” from http://www.lhcfacts.org). What drives them? Need for nation-wide attention? A. Einstein’s fame? Desire to sell their books? Wait, they don’t (yet) have any books to sell on that subject. Ok, I don’t know… Most of the people who filed a lawsuit in Hawaii to stop LHC (look for Walter Wagner) are not physicists, but people who studied “life sciences.” How can they imagine to be competent enough to claim that LHC will destroy the planet? I’d say, there are many other controvesial subjects they could have contributed to (closer to their speciality) — for instance, study relation of lung-related health and proximity of coal-fired power plants among others…

Really, why bother with LHC if one can simply buy almost all particles that will be produced there? They are just $9 apiece… 🙂

At KITP in Santa Barbara April 25, 2008

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.
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I’m spending part of my sabbatical at Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara. There is a long workshop called “Physics of the Large Hadron Collider”. In addition to physics-related activities they also have a journalist-in-residence program. Currently, it happened to be Jennifer Ouellette, also a well-known blogger.