Physics

Ben Allanach, guest blogger, is a Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. He is grumpy about the way that public funds are being unnecessarily directed to scientific publishing houses. So I am offering this space to him to hear what he has to say about that...

I ran into the headline above today. As a guy who skipped high school to get a PhD in physics, and a father of a 14 year old daughter who is tops in her mathematics classes, you can bet that I've wondered why there are so few women in physics.

Many of the reasons cited in the article, however, had nothing to do with sex, like:
       The notion that physics has nothing to do with the real world such as finance.
What could be more wrong?  Let me take away your GPS smartphone to grab your attention. GPS is roughly a $100 billion dollar industry with real world jobs made possible by the physics of general relativity.
Alas, for once I must say I am not completely happy of one new result by the CDF collaboration - the experiment to which I devoted 18 years of my research time, and where I learned almost everything I know about experimental particle physics.
The latest paper by the ATLAS Collaboration is a very detailed report of the search for Higgs boson decays to W boson pairs in Run 1 data. The H->WW* process contributes significantly to the total bounty of Higgs boson candidates that the two CERN experiments have been able to collect in the 2011 7-TeV and 2012 8-TeV proton-proton collisions, but the presence of neutrinos in the final state prevents the clean reconstruction of an invariant mass peak, hence the WW* final state has remained a bit "in the shadows" with respect to the cherished ZZ* and gamma-gamma final states.
Stephen Hawking and Jacob Bekenstein made black holes hot, my latest work shows just how cool they really are.   I have derived a formula for the temperature of a black hole which has the same basic shape as that derived by Bekenstein and Hawking, but which differs in slope, and has what would be observably different behavior for black  holes of about 10 to 12 percent the mass of Sagittarius A* the super massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.  In short according to my fully quantum fully relativistic calculations black holes are just a tiny bit cooler than is generally thought. 
One of the funniest misnomers in particle physics is the naming of coupling strength parameters of the fundamental interactions as "constants".

We speak of a fine structure constant (alpha) to address one of the most important parameters of electromagnetism; and we call "strong coupling constant" the coupling strength parameter alpha_s of QCD. But these are not constants at all! In fact, they are parameters that show a quite distinct dependence on the energy of subatomic processes.
I remember a funny shirt I once saw at a physics conference - it gave 10 tips on what to do when "everything else fails". Here is the list:
10. Subtract Infinity
9. Add heavy fermions
8. Set all fermion masses to zero
7. Invent another symmetry
6. Throw it on the lattice
5. Blame it on the Planck scale
4. Recall the success of the SM
3. Invoke the Anthropic Principle
2. Wave hands a lot, speak with a strong accent
1. Manipulate the data
Yesterday I worked from scratch at a problem which certainly others have already solved in the past. I have mixed feelings with such situations: on one side I hate to reinvent the wheel, especially if there is an easy way to access a good solution; on the other I love to invent new ones...


Anyway this time I have decided I will ask you for some help, as collectively we may have a better idea of the optimal solution to the specific problem I am trying to address. But before I explain the problem, let me give you some background on the general context.

Searches for new physics at the LHC

In metals like copper and aluminium, conduction electrons move around freely, in the same way as particles in a gas or a liquid.

But when impurities are introduced into the metal's crystal lattice, electrons cluster together in a uniform pattern around the point of interference, resembling the ripples that occur when a stone is thrown into a pool of water. Scientists have now discovered how to strengthen these Friedel oscillations and focus them, almost like using a lens, in different directions.

They've discovered (Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6558) that at a range of 50 nanometers, these "giant anisotropic charge density oscillations" are many times greater than normal.


A week ago I offered readers of this blog to review a paper I had just written, as its publication process did not include any form of screening (as opposed to what is customary for articles in particle physics, which receive multiple review stages). That's not the first time for me: in the past I did the same with other articles, and usually I received good feedback. So I knew this could work.