Friday, February 28, 2014

"Dropleton" Makes News

I've given up on trying to figure out why certain things from science make the news, while others don't. My feeble guess would be that a good, catchy name or phrase often can captivate a news reporter or agency more than having an actual importance.

Not that I'm implying the "dropleton" is not not important. After all, it made the cover of this week's Nature! Still, what makes the Los Angeles Times take note of it? I think it is a combination of the name and the sleek image on Nature's cover. Still, I don't think people who read the LA Times article on this thing would know what it is and why it is important enough that it made the cover. Besides, I don't think they would care.

It isn't often that a "new quasiparticle" makes the news. I probably won't see another one again in my lifetime, I would think.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Reincarnation of the Superconducting Supercollider?

This blog entry at Physics World presents an intriguing prospect at resurrecting high energy particle collider experiments in the US by reusing and re purposing the existing grounds in Texas that was meant for the failed Superconducting Supercollider facility.

However, a group of US physicists from Texas A&M University and Michigan State University is now proposing to wrestle back the energy frontier by constructing a huge accelerator in the US.

In a paper posted on the arXiv preprint server today, the researchers outline plans to use the partly constructed tunnel of the axed Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) just outside Dallas, Texas. Conceived in 1983, the SSC was to be the next big particle collider with a circumference of 87 km and a maximum collision energy of 40 TeV. But 10 years later the all-American project was cancelled, largely on grounds of cost, leaving a few buildings on the surface as well as tens of kilometres of tunnels deep underground.

Most of the cost of a new collider would be in excavating the tunnel, but the researchers claim that around 46% of the SSC tunnel has been already bored and some facilities built, such as the linear accelerator that feeds particles into the collider. This would then make it much cheaper than the CERN proposal.
If you continue reading the article, there are really seriously BIG proposals being mentioned here, up to a 270 km tunnel and 300 TeV machine!

I will admit that I am highly skeptical that the US will consider such a thing, at least, not under the current funding climate. I think they are a lot more organized at CERN, and with the wishy-washy political situation here in the US, having a center in Europe that is more "stable" is so much more preferred, especially considering that whatever this facility will be, it will involved a multi-national endeavor due to its expected astounding cost.

I'd love to be wrong with this one.


Sochi Physics Homework

The Sochi Olympics may be over, but Rhett Allain has a nice set of "homework" for you on the physics of several Winter Olympics events. See if you can tackle them.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Not The Type Of Substitute Teacher You Want In You Physics Class

A high school substitute teacher in Michigan started spouting bizarre conspiracy theories when he should have been teaching physics instead.

Sources who wish to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from school officials have told The Daily Caller that the incident occurred on Jan. 16, 2013 at Grosse Pointe North High School in a ritzy suburb of Detroit, Mich.

Where do they find these people? We still don't know if this sub can actually teach physics. For all we know, the school hired a crackpot.

From the article, it appears that the students had a lot more sense than the adult in question . Unfortunately, it sounds like this sub teacher is still "teaching" at that school.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

And Then, There Will Be One

Rush Holt, one of the two remaining physicists in the US Congress, has announced his retirement from the US House of Representatives at the end of the year. This leaves Bill Forster as the only remaining physicist in the US Congress.

Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a plasma physicist, didn’t reveal why he has decided to leave Congress after eight terms, or what lies in his future. “This is not the time to discuss next steps in my career; that can come later,” said Holt, who was assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory before coming to Washington in 1999.
Holt was once part of a triumvirate of Ph.D. physicists in the House. But longtime Representative Vern Ehlers (R-MI) retired in 2010, and Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) returned to the House only last year after losing his one-term seat in 2010.

As of now, I don't see any new blood from the physics community to run for office in the US Congress.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Synchrotron Radiation Center Set To Close

Another important science facility in the US is set to be shut down for good. The Synchrotron Radiation Center at the University of Wisconsin is set to close its doors for good on March 7.

After funding cuts from the National Science Foundation and the lab announced its preparations for closure, UW provided the lab with short-term funding as alternatives were sought. Bisognano said he has been looking for other sources for funding over the past several years, but with a shortfall of approximately $5 million, he has announced that the lab will be forced to close in March.
“Over the past few years, we’ve developed an infrared beam that can measure the structure and the chemical identity of the target material at the same time,” Bisognano said in a statement. “This device is the best in the world, and that’s probably the saddest part about shutting this down.”
I believe if you also look at the incredible body of work out of the Campuzano's group at Argonne/UIC on ARPES measurement on high-Tc superconductors in the late 80's, 90's, and well into the early 2000's, you'll find that these were done at the SRC. This small facility, with barely a drop in the bucket in terms of funding costs, was a workhorse!

While many other countries, especially China, are racing to add scientific facilities within their countries, the US is tripping over itself to close one after another. At what point will the public and the politicians make this realization?


Monday, February 17, 2014

How Modern Light Bulbs Work

A summary of how our modern light bulbs (beyond the incandescent light bulb) work, all in one place.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

NIF Achieves Milestone

Finally, some good news out of the National Ignition Facility.

In a paper published in Nature, Hurricane and colleagues report results from experiments carried out last September and November – the former producing 14 kJ of fusion energy from a single laser shot and the latter 17 kJ. The researchers point out that since the energy delivered to the fuel is about 10 kJ, both shots generated a fuel gain. They also calculated that as much as half of the energy output from these shots originated in alpha-particle heating. This is significant because such heating is a prerequisite for ignition.

They haven't achieve ignition yet, but this is certainly a necessary step towards understanding this whole process. Now, they have the difficult and unenviable task of delivering on the promise.


Figure Skaters and Newtonian Physics

With the Sochi Olympics going on now, it is inevitable that articles on the physics of the various sports at the winter games will appear. This is one such article with an instructive video of Walter Levin explaining the physics of figure skating.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Electron Neutrino Appearence In Muon Neutrino Beam

Another and clearer detection of the appearance of electron neutrino from muon neutrino beam due to flavor mixing. This one is from the T2K collaboration. The link give you access to the actual paper in PRL.

Writing in Physical Review Letters, the T2K collaboration reports the strongest evidence to date for the appearance of electron neutrinos from a pure muon neutrino beam. Their measurement allows them to determine a fundamental parameter of the standard model of particle physics, called θ13, which can in turn be used to make an early estimate of CP violation in neutrinos. Although this estimate has a large uncertainty, it will serve as a guide to future, more definitive neutrino experiments that are directly sensitive to CP violation.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Big Guns

In case you missed it from 2 weeks ago, this Nature article (Nature, v.505, p.604 (2014)) on X-ray FEL is similar to the article I highlighted earlier. The major difference here is that they are really highlighting the "trees", in this case, the XFEL facility and physics themselves.

In the foothills above Palo Alto, California, physicists have set up an extreme obstacle course for some of the world’s fastest electrons. First the particles are accelerated through a 3-kilometre vacuum pipe to almost the speed of light. Then they slam through a gauntlet of magnets that forces them into a violent zigzag. They respond with a blast of X-rays so fierce it could punch through steel.

But the scientists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have no interest in weaponry. Their machine, one of the world’s most powerful X-ray free-electron lasers (XFELs), is a tool for studying challenging forms of matter, whether compressed to the kind of pressures and temperatures found deep inside a star, or folded into the complex tangle of a protein molecule.

Again, this is possible due to advancement in accelerator physics, which is now a separate field of physics in itself. Only when the "instrument" is available can scientists from other fields use it to look deeper and in greater detail at many of the things they study.