Thursday, August 04, 2005



Physicists (2004)

From the News Office at MIT (6-22-05):

MIT scientists have brought a supercool end to a heated race among physicists: They have become the first to create a new type of matter, a gas of atoms that shows high-temperature superfluidity.

Their work, to be reported in the June 23 issue of Nature, is closely related to the superconductivity of electrons in metals. Observations of superfluids may help solve lingering questions about high-temperature superconductivity, which has widespread applications for magnets, sensors and energy-efficient transport of electricity, said Wolfgang Ketterle, a Nobel laureate who heads the MIT group and who is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics as well as a principal investigator in MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics.

Seeing the superfluid gas so clearly is such a dramatic step that Dan Kleppner, director of the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms, said, "This is not a smoking gun for superfluidity. This is a cannon."

From (6-18-01):

Solving a 30-year-old scientific mystery, physicists have found the most convincing evidence yet that neutrinos -- elusive subatomic particles that were thought to have no mass whatsoever -- have a tiny wisp of heft after all.

The finding means scientists will have to adjust their theories of the universe.

"We're quite pleased with this result,'' said Kevin Lesko, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who helped design and operate the experiment. "I think there are probably a lot of bets being paid off today."


The neutrino's mass cannot be much, around a mere billionth of a proton's. But its mere existence has profound implications:

    • The standard model, the reigning theory in particle physics, does not allow particles that change their flavor to have mass. So that theory will have to be patched up -- though not discarded -- to accommodate the new observations.
    • Because they originate deep inside the Sun, neutrinos may provide an unprecedented view of what goes on there.
    • They may not weigh much individually, but adding up all the neutrinos in existence changes the total estimated mass of the universe -- a figure of great interest to physicists. Neutrinos seems to account for a small but significant fraction -- possibly up to 18 percent -- of the mysterious "dark matter'' in the universe that cannot be observed by telescopes or other ordinary means.


The Sudbury observatory is a 10-story-tall cavity a mile underground in a Canadian nickel mine. Neutrino experiments have to be performed deep underground because at the Earth's surface a heavy rain of cosmic rays and other high-energy particles drowns out the meek particles.

Inside the rock-hewn cavity is an acrylic tank filled with heavy water. Most neutrinos pass through the heavy water, just as they do the rock surrounding it. But every hour or two a neutrino collides with a heavy water molecule, giving off a spark of light. By measuring that light, the detector can tell that a collision occurred and determine what kind of neutrino made it.

I can split the atoms in those bootstraps, too, if you'd like...

"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move." -- Douglas Adams
[Drawing from the GCSE Particle Physics Home Page]

From symetry -- "What's in a Name" by Joe Lykken:

Names are important. This is a corollary of the theorem: "Perception is reality." Imagine how history would have been different if Napoléon Bonaparte had been named Pépé Le Pew. Indeed, budding dictators such as Ioseb Jughashvili and Adolf Schicklgruber knew instinctively that, if you want the world at your feet, you had better get a good name.

We physicists have a special responsibility when it comes to naming our intellectual creations. The ideas and discoveries that are successful become immortalized, and their names along with them. The atom is still called the atom, 2400 years after Democritus coined the name.

It is likely that "electron" and "quark" (good names!) will be in use for as many millennia as humans or their cybernetic replacements manage to exist. The names of particles are much more likely to survive the ravages of history than the names of the physicists who named them, or even the names of the physicists who discovered them. Who named the photon? Hint: it was a chemist. Quick, who discovered the muon?


Clearly we particle physicists (high energy physicists? elementary particle physicists?) have to do better. It could be worse though: we could be cosmologists. The cosmologists have the worst of both worlds. They are plagued by non-serious cutesy names, from the Big Bang all the way to Wimpzillas and the Cardassian Expansion. At the same time, they have decided to adopt the name Standard Model to refer to the currently favored cosmological scheme, apparently because their previous name, the "LambdaCDM Concordance Model" was even worse. Should we charge them a licensing fee?

Hey, what's the probability we'll get arrested for this?

Physicists from a Tough Neighborhood
[Cartoon by Stan Eales]

And, finally, from Profession Jokes:

What's the difference between an auto mechanic and a quantum mechanic?

The quantum mechanic can get the car inside the garage without opening the door.

I was reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a terrific book by Richard Rhodes, when this image was created.


Anonymous said...

Big Nurse must ascertain which of the lunatics is Einstein based on the violin playing. Anything superconducting Bach into Berg, allowing disontinuity or dissonance into the 12-tone grid, raises hackles on her bra. She removes the beehive hairdo and scratches lice out of her merkin, testing which of the three Einsteins most attracts the vermin. With a giant flyswatter, she sets about whacking the patients.

cruelanimal said...

Atomic driven Whack-A-Mole became mechanized once Fermi combed his hair with neutrons and played nuclear Rope-A-Dope near Omaha. This pushed up the control rods and bra hackles and turned his wife's doo into a hornet's nest. Finding that supercollider on eBay proved a bummer when Heisenberg was still uncertain if the purchase made his commute shorter. Madame Curie saw through the matter, but the merkin, as usual, phoned in its performance.

idyllopus said...

A simple and banal comment noting I find the physicist pic highly amusing. Good one.

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