Physics

2008 was a horrible year for the Large Hadron Collider. Just nine days after an extremely successful, highly publicized start-up on September 10th, when hundreds of reporters gathered at CERN to follow the protons as they ventured sector by sector to manage a full turn of the 27 km ring, a stupidly crafted electrical connection failed in sector 3-4 of the machine. This brought above criticality a superconducting solenoid, vaporized six tons of liquid helium, and damaged 53 expensive magnets in the sector with a powerful blast.
These are hard times for evil guys like me, who are always willing to speculate wildly on particle physics results -only to secretly chuckle at the ripples their extrapolations make, knowing for a fact that the Standard Model is as solid as it has ever been.

Suggestive new results which offer themselves as the first hint of a breakdown of the Standard Model are indeed quite rare nowadays. In a famous post which originated a $1000 bet (taken up in part by Prof. Gordon Watts and in part by Prof. Jacques Distler), no less than 32 months ago I was writing in my old blog:
A comment in the thread under my recent post on the greedy bump bias stimulates me to provide here idiot-proof instructions on how to study the effect by yourself, if you wish to spend your time this way. In fact, if I provide you with a simple piece of code plus some fairly immediate instructions on how to set up ROOT in your own PC, I bet you can be up and checking biases in five minutes. Want to try ? Let's see.


  1. Go to the ROOT home page.
The idea that far distant particles can somehow 'talk' to each other led Einstein to call it 'spooky action at a distance'.

Having confirmed its existence, scientists today are learning how to use this 'spooky action' as a helpful tool. Now a team of physicists at the University of Bristol and Imperial College London have harnessed this phenomenon to shed light on another unusual and previously difficult aspect of quantum physics - that of distinguishing between two similar quantum devices.

In the everyday world any process can be considered as a black box device with an input and an output; if you wish to identify the device you simply apply inputs, measure the outputs and determine what must have happened in between.
Here is the concluding part (for the first part see here) of a discussion of a few subtleties involved in the extraction of small new particle signals hiding within large backgrounds. This is a quite common problem arising in data analysis at particle physics experiments, but it is not restricted to that field. Quite on the contrary: narrow Gaussian signals are commonplace in many experimental sciences, and their identification and measurement is thus an issue of common interest.
I stumbled on this amazing set of videos: physics legend Hans Bethe giving lectures on theoretical physics to his retirement community neighbors.

It's not as crazy as it sounds - a running joke around Ithaca (where I grew up and where Bethe's university, Cornell, is located) is that one of the top physics departments in the US is at the Kendal retirement community in Ithaca. In spite of the miserable weather, a large number of Cornell professors choose to retire there.

Few people can lecture coherently on quantum theory at age 93 (Bethe's age when he gave these lectures in 1999). Hans Bethe was incredible.
If you have recently given a close enough look at the search results that the CDF and DZERO experiments have been producing at a regular pace on the Higgs boson - every six months, that is: for summer and winter conferences - and your exposure to particle physics results is not broad enough, you might have gotten a biased perception of how searches for new particles are performed nowadays.
Palazzo Franchetti in veniceI participated with pleasure last month to a four-day conference devoted to neutrino telescopes, NEUTEL 2009, in Venice. Venice is my home town, and walking in the morning to the conference venue in Palazzo Franchetti (see left), a big and beautiful palace on the Canal Grande, was a pleasant change from my usual commute by train with Padova.
Reporting on scientific results to a broad audience is difficult, in my opinion, not so much because of the need to explain things in a simple way -which is easy and fun, once you master the matter- as for the self-discipline you are forced to stick to.
Part 1, which begins our examination of the question 'what is time?' can be viewed here.
Part 2 Some travels through time can be viewed  here.
Part 3 discussing language, sequence and order, can be viewed  here.
Part 4 a brief discussion of clocks, Steno, Foucault and Allais, can be viewed here.