Physics

Good news today. Yesterday afternoon Werner Faymann, the Austrian Federal Chancellor, announced that Austria will not leave CERN, as previously suggested. An official confirmation of this decision will be received this afternoon by letter by the President of the CERN Council.

The decision of Austria does not surprise me - it would have been both crazy and self-destructive for Austrians to decide to leave the rich program of particle physics that they have contributed heavily to make a reality.
In a previous article here I considered from a statistical standpoint the signal of Omega_b candidate decays extracted by the DZERO collaboration in a large dataset of proton-antiproton collisions -the ones produced by today's most powerful hadron collider, the Tevatron at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
In the most recent edition of PhysicsWorld, there are two articles that on the face of it have little to do with each other: one is about Jan Hendrik Schön, the physicist formerly famous for creating the first organic superconductor and the first single-molecule transistor, and now most famous for having simply made up all of those results out of thin air, the greatest kind of scientific fraud in physics.

The other article is about how the internet is transforming scientific communications, looking at which new means of scientific communication failed (such as Physics Comments and scientists contributing to Wikipedia -- although Scholarpedia is taking off quickly at the moment, probably because its signed and peer-reviewed authorship model is more in line with academic customs than Wikipedia's semi-anarchistic one) and which succeeded (the arXiv) in making the dissemination of scientific results quicker and more transparent.

At first glance these two topics appear to have little to do with each other. At second glance, however, they are closely intertwined.
A first observation of the Omega_b baryon -a quite exotic particle composed of a bottom quark and two strange quarks- has been recently published by the DZERO collaboration. Their paper claims to observe the so-far-unseen particle in 1.3 inverse femtobarns of Run II data (about a hundred trillion proton-antiproton collisions, that is).

The claim is based on the signal they find, 17.8 fitted events making a peak in the reconstructed mass distribution, a signal whose significance is computed to exceed five standard deviations: 5.4 of them, to be precise.
Researchers in condensed matter physics at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago have created an experimental and computer model to study how jamming, the physical process in which collections of particles are crammed together to behave as solids, might affect the behavior of systems in which thermal motion is important, such as molecules in a glass.

The study presents the first experimental evidence of a vestige of the zero temperature jamming transition — the density at which large, loose objects such as gas bubbles in liquid, grains of sand or cars become rigid solids such as foam, sand dunes or traffic jams — in a system of small particles where thermal energy is important.
Dark matter, dark energy and scalar tensor vector theories of gravity are widely thought of as at odds.  I have shown that if the scalar and vector fields common to alternative gravities are considered as any other quantum fields on a curved space time the consequence is the creation of particles and matter which need not couple into the electromagnetic force.  In short if there are "extra" fundamental forces of nature then there will be "extra" dark matter particles related to those forces. 
With an unexpected move, the Austrian Minister of Research and Science, Johannes Hahn, announced last Friday that he intends to put an end to the 50-year-long participation of Austria to CERN.

Such a move is hard to understand, in light of the great prospects of physics that the start-up of LHC will bring at the end of this year. Losing membership to CERN would mean a downgrade of Austrian scientists in all the projects they are involved, and it would be detrimental to the experiments, to the lab, and to particle physics in general, but most of all it would be a catastrophe for Austrian research.
On my way back to CERN from Fermilab (yes, I am betting on two tables at a time these days, as our Poker-addict friend Garth Sundem suggests), I made a 7-hour stopover in New York. Originally this was meant to save money to my employer, because other combinations costed more than the Swiss ticket I found. But I made virtue of necessity, and organized a meeting with my friend Peter Woit in the West Village. It turned out that I picked the right day for my visit.
Coming Clean

Coming Clean

May 11 2009 | 13 comment(s)

Chessplayers are a strange lot. Those who get attracted by the game and end up sticking to it, making it the game of their life, are typically intelligent, creative thinkers; yet among them one may usually count a unusually large number of nutcases. It is not a secret, for instance, that several of the best chess players of the past were disturbed souls. Whole books have been written on this topic (see for instance the famous "The psychology of the chess player" by R.Fine), and I cannot offer any meaningful contribution here. However, I can tell you the personal story of the worst moment of mental insanity in my chess career.
Imagine a time when the entire universe froze - according to a new model for dark energy, that is essentially what happened about 11.5 billion years ago, when the universe was a quarter of the size it is today.   

A cosmological phase transition, similar to freezing, is one of the distinctive aspects of this latest effort to account for dark energy; a mysterious, unseen negative force that some cosmologists say makes up more than 70 percent of all the energy and matter in the universe and is pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate.