Ah, the pleasure of study! I had forgotten the immense intellectual pleasure one may derive by reading a stimulating, informative book. And if half a lifetime has passed from the last time you studied something, and what is left in your brain of it is just Culture, then reading it back again combines the pleasure of the discovery (a rediscovery, in this case) with the one of putting things in perspective, combining the bits of information you recollect with all the knowledge you have acquired since the last time you put the book down.
The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, by Graham Farmelo
Basic Books, 2009
When Niels Bohr calls you strange, you know you're in rare company. Niels Bohr, as director of one of the great institutes of theoretical physics, came to know almost every one of the oddballs who populated the early 20th century physics community, and he rated Paul Dirac as "the strangest man" he ever met. Hence the title of Graham Farmelo's excellent new biography of this major physicist.
It is easy to marvel at Einstein's relativity theory. It is less easy to really understand relativity. At least so it seems. Understanding relativity requires abilities in predicting with confidence the outcomes of relativistic experiments. For that you need a PhD in physics. Right?
There are many super microscopes around the globe but they are not like the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). This new source has become the brightest of them all since August 2007. Some say it is more like a laser light than a flashllight in comparison with others.
"In reaching this milestone of operating power, the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) is providing scientists with an unmatched resource for unlocking the secrets of materials at the molecular level," said US Department of Energy's William Brinkman. SNS achieved on September 18 a record one-megawatt power or about seven times of what is available at ISIS in UK.
"It turns out that any optimal classical decision rule is also some Bayesian rule. In other words, even if the decision maker is not a Bayesian, he will behave as if he were!"
Frederick James, Statistical Methods in Experimental Physics
Carl Brannen is well known to the regulars of this blog. He is an independent researcher and my favourite non-professional theorist, because he gives me the hope that brilliant minds, who were diverted from the natural path of doing basic research, may return to it for good. And Carl provides us with another important proof: that institutionalized science does sometimes listen to the voice of those who have something to say regardless of who signs their monthly paycheck.
Do you remember the "e-e-gamma-gamma-met" event ? I am sure you do not. It is an incredibly striking event that appeared toward the end of the Tevatron Run I in the CDF data. One event that was so incredibly striking, so impossible to produce through standard model processes, that many in my experiment felt sure that it was going to be the portal through which we would enter the realm of Supersymmetry, or other fancy new physics scenarios.
One half of the Nobel Prize in physics for 2009 goes to Chinese-British physicist Charles K. Kao "for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication", and the other half is divided between Canadian Willard S. Boyle and American George E. Smith "for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor".
"An illustration of the confusion about the tau is provided by two editions of a popular book on particle physics by Nigel calder entitled The Key to the Universe
. In the first edition Calder wrote:
Martin Perl and his colleagues detected peculiar events occurring in SPEAR. From the scene of collision an electron and a heavy electron (the well-known muon) carrying opposite electric charges were ejected at the same moment without any other detectable particles coming out. No conventional process, involving conventional particles, could account for such events.
Everyday use of a mathematical concept
The concept of probability is not alien to even the least mathematically versed among us: even those who do not remember the basic math they had in primary schools use it currently in their daily reasoning. I find the liberal use of the word "probability" (and derivates) in common language interesting, for two reasons. One, because the word has in fact a very definite mathematical connotation. And two, because the word is often used to discuss the knowledge of a system's evolution in time without a clear notion of which, among either of two strikingly different sources, is the cause of our partial or total ignorance.