Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fermilab Physics Slam 2014

A very entertaining video to watch if you were not at this year's Physics Slam.


Research Gate

Anyone else here on Research Gate?

First of all, let me first declare that I'm not on Facebook, don't have a Twitter account, etc.. etc. This blog is my only form of "social media" involvement in physics, if you discount online physics forums. So I'm not that into these social media activities. Still, I've been on Research Gate for several years after being invited into it by a colleague.

If you're not familiar with it, Research Gate is a social media platform for ... you guessed it ... researchers. You reveal as much about yourself as you wish in your profile, and you can list all your papers and upload them. The software also "trolls" the journals and online to find publications that you may have authored and periodically asks you to verify that they are yours. Most of mine that are currently listed were found by the software, so it is pretty good.

Of course, the other aspect of such a social media is that you can "follow" others. The software, like any good social media AI, will suggest people that you might know, such as your coauthors, people from the same institution as yours, or any other situation where your name and that person's name appear in the same situation or document. It also keeps tabs on what the people that follows you or ones that you follow are doing, such as new publications being updated, job change, etc.. etc. It also tells you how many people viewed your profile, how many read your publications, and how many times your publications have been downloaded from the Research Gate site.

Another part of Research Gate is that you can submit a question in a particular field, and if that is a field that you've designated as your area of expertise, it will alert you to it so that you have the option of responding. I think this is the most useful feature of this community because this is what makes it "science specific", rather than just any generic social media program.

I am still unsure of the overall usefulness and value of this thing. So far it has been "nice", but I have yet to see it as being a necessity. Although, I must say, I'm pleasantly surprised to see some prominent names in my field of study who are also on it, which is why I continued to be on it as well.

So, if you are also on it, what do you think of it? Do you think this will eventually evolve into something that almost all researchers will someday need?


Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Should I Go Into Physics Or Engineering?"

I get asked that question a lot, and I also see similar question on Physics Forums. Kids who are either still in high school, or starting their undergraduate  years are asking which area of study should they pursue. In fact, I've seen cases where students ask whether they should do "theoretical physics" or "engineering", as if there is nothing in between those two extremes!

My response has always been consistent. I why them why can't they have their cake and eat it too?

This question often arises out of ignorance of what physics really encompasses. Many people, especially high school students, still think of physics as being this esoteric subject matter, dealing with elementary particles, cosmology, wave-particle duality, etc.. etc., things that they don't see involving everyday stuff. On the other hand, engineering involves things that they use and deal with everyday, where the product are often found around them. So obviously, with such an impression, those two areas of study are very different and very separate.

I try to tackle such a question by correcting their misleading understanding of what physics is and what a lot of physicists do. I tell them that physics isn't just the LHC or the Big Bang. It is also your iPhone, your medical x-ray, your MRI, your hard drive, your silicon chips, etc. In fact, the largest percentage of practicing physicists are in the field of condensed matter physics/material science, an area of physics that study the basic properties of materials, the same ones that are used in modern electronics. I point to them many of the Nobel Prize in physics that were awarded to condensed matter physicists or for invention of practical items (graphene, lasers, etc.). So already, the idea of having to choose between doing physics, and doing something "practical and useful" may not be mutually exclusive.

Secondly, I point to different areas of physics in which physics and engineering smoothly intermingle. I've mentioned earlier about the field of accelerator physics, in which you see both physics and engineering come into play. In fact, in this field, you have both physicists and electrical engineers, and they often do the same thing. The same can be said about those in instrumentation/device physics. In fact, I have also seen many high energy physics graduate students who work on detectors for particle colliders who looked more like electronics engineers than physicists! So for those working in this field, the line between doing physics and doing engineering is sufficiently blurred. You can do exactly what you want, leaning as heavily towards the physics side or engineering side as much as you want, or straddle exactly in the middle. And you can approach these fields either from a physics major or an electrical engineering major. The point here is that there are areas of study in which you can do BOTH physics and engineering!

Finally, the reason why you don't have to choose to major in either physics or engineering is because there are many schools that offer a major in BOTH! My alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Go Badgers!) has a major called AMEP - Applied Mathematics, Engineering, and Physics - where with your advisor, you can tailor a major that straddles two of more of the areas in math, physics, and engineering. There are other schools that offer majors in Engineering Physics or something similar. In other words, you don't have to choose between physics or engineering. You can just do BOTH!


Friday, November 14, 2014

The Physics of Thor's Hammer

Not that you should take any of these seriously, but some time, entertainment reading like this can be "fun".

Jim Kakalios, the author of The Physics of Superheroes, has written an article on the physics of Thor's hammer. I think what I am more interested in is the details trying to explain the initial inconsistencies of what was seen (such as the hammer appearing to be too heavy for everyone to lift, yet, it isn't so heavy that it crushed the books and table that it was resting on). I think that is more fascinating because in many storyline, such inconsistencies are often either overlooked or simply brushed aside. To me, that is where the physics is, because someone who notices such inconsistencies are very aware of the physics, i.e. if such-and-such is true, then how come so-and-so doesn't also occur?


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Newton Lecture 2014

The 2014 Newton Lecture given by Deborah Jin, who to me, already deserves a Nobel Prize in physics.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"I Just Don't Understand Physics"

Rhett Allain has a very good article that is full of advice and suggestion for students having problems with their physics classes.

This is what he has to say when students tell him they just don't understand physics.

This is something I often hear students say around the midterm. The truth is that no one “just understands” physics. No. Instead, physics is the result of a battle. There is battle in your head between common ideas and new ideas. There is a struggle in your mind and on your paper about finding a strategy to solve a problem.

You can’t just “get physics” by going to class. Understanding in physics only comes (for just about all of us) through sweat and tears. You have to do the homework. You have to go to class. You have to read the textbook. This isn’t drive-thru learning. If you aren’t putting in the time, you are going to make progress.

This is similar to what I've said all along on here, that you just can't sit and read a book on physics and hope to understand it. What you may have understood is something superficial. The only way to grasp the knowledge is by solving a bunch of problems, making mistakes, and learning from them. That is the only way to get a feel of the essence of what you are learning. I've always used the analogy of learning how to ride a bicycle. You can read and hear people tell you how to ride a bike till you're blue, but you'll never acquire the skill to ride it till you actually sit on a bike and practice, practice, practice. You will fall a few times, get a few scrapes and bruises, before you finally get it.

The same thing with understanding physics.


Thursday, November 06, 2014

Bay Area

Greetings from Berkeley, CA.

This is the view from the Adanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. It overlooks the main campus of UC-Berkeley, downtown Berkeley, the bay, and foggy San Francisco in the far background.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Building Blocks Of Matter

A lecture that should be accessible at the general public level.


Car Collision Physics

I came across this car collision problem, and thought you guys might be interested in tackling it.

I was involved in a car accident. My car was thrown 83 feet. The guy who hit me was driving a 2002 Thunderbird, weighing 3,775 pounds. My car was a 2006 Toyota Matrix, weighing 2,679 pounds. Is there any way that I can calculate how fast his car was going at the point of impact? I was turning left, and the guy smashed into my passenger side as I crossed his lane. I would say the angle at which he hit me was about 110 degrees, since I wasn’t quite at 90 degrees to him yet. I was just starting to turn, so I was going no more than 5 mph. I ended up 83 feet away. There were no tire tracks at the point of impact, so my car must have gone airborne! This seems like a physics problem, and I have contacted some physics students, but they are students and are not interested. I think it should be possible to calculate it, but I don’t know physics. Please help! My car was totaled. The other guy claims he was going 35 mph, but given how far my car went, that just doesn’t make sense.

The thing that I'm interested in more than anything else is what else is needed to accurately model this event. This person didn't describe if his car skidded all the way till it stopped, or simply roll away. He also didn't say how far his car was "airborne".

This is why an investigator will need to actually look at the scene itself to get a more complete set of parameters. People who are involved in this usually do not realize what are all the necessary information that are needed to reconstruct the event.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quantum Foam

More educational video on something which you may have heard, but haven't quite understood.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Scientific Evidence Points To A Designer?

We have had these types of anthropic universe arguments before, and I don't see this being settled anytime soon, unless we encounter an alien life form or something that dramatic.

Apparently, this physicists have been making the rounds giving talks on scientific evidence that points to a designer. Unfortunately, this claim is highly misleading. There are several issues that need to be clarified here:

1. These so-called evidence have many varying interpretations. In the hands of Stephen Hawking, he sees this as evidence that we do NOT need a designer for the universe to exist. So to claim it that they point to a designer is highly misleading, because obviously there are very smart people out there who think of the opposite.

2. Scientific evidence have varying degree of certainty. The evidence that Niobium undergoes a superconducting transition at 9.3 K is a lot more certain than many of the astrophysical parameters that we have gathered so far. It is just the nature of the study and the field.

3. It is also interesting to note that even if the claim is true, it has a significant conflict with many of the orthodox religious view of the origin of the universe, including the fact that it allows for significant time for speciation and evolution.

4. The argument that the universe has been fine-tuned for us to live in is very weak in my book. Who is there to say that if any of these parameters is different that a different type of universe couldn't appear and that different type of life forms would dominate? We are still at an infant knowledge as far as how different types of universes could form, which is one of the argument that Hawking used when he invoked the multiverse scenario. So unless that there is a convincing argument that our universe is the one and only universe that can exist, and nothing else can, then this argument falls very flat.

I find that this type of seminar can't be very productive unless there is a panel discussion presenting both sides. People who listened to this may not be aware of the holes in such arguments, and I would point out also to the any talk by those on the opposite side as well. It would have been better if they invited two scientists with opposing view, and they can show to the public how the same set of evidence leads to different conclusions. This is what happens when the full set of evidence to paint a clear picture isn't available.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Iranian Physicist Omid Kokabee To Receive A New Trial

This type of prosecution used to happen in the iron-fisted rule of the Soviet Union. But there is a sign of optimism in the case of physicist Omid Kokabee as the Iranian Supreme Court ordered a new trial. This after Kokabee has spent 4 years in prison for a charge that many in the world considered to be flimsy at best.

"Acceptance of the retrial request means that the top judicial authority has deemed Dr. Omid Kokabee's [initial] verdict against the law," Kokabee's lawyer, Saeed Khalili was quoted as saying on the website of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. "The path has been paved for a retrial in his case, and God willing, proving his innocence."

Kokabee, a citizen of Iran who at the time was studying at the University of Texas, Austin, was first arrested at the Tehran airport in January 2011. After spending 15 months in prison waiting for a trial, including more than a month in solitary confinement, he was convicted by Iran's Revolutionary Court of "communicating with a hostile government" and receiving "illegitimate funds" in the form of his college loans. He was sentenced to ten years in prison without ever talking to his lawyer or being allowed testimony in his defense.

He received stipends as part of his graduate assistantship that was considered to be "illegitimate funds", which is utterly ridiculous. My characterization of such an accusation is that this can only come out of a bunch of extremely stupid and moronic group of people. There, I've said it!


Thursday, October 16, 2014

No Women Physics Nobel Prize Winner In 50 Years

This article reports on the possible reasons why there have been no Physics Nobel Prize for a woman in 50 years.

But there's also, of course, the fact that the prize is awarded to scientists whose discoveries have stood the test of time. If you're a theorist, your theory must be proven true, which knocks various people out of the running. One example is Helen Quinn, whose theory with Roberto Peccei predicts a new particle called the axion. But the axion hasn't been discovered yet, and therefore they can't win the Nobel Prize.
Age is important to note. Conrad tells Mashable that more and more women are entering the field of physics, but as a result, they're still often younger than what the committee seems to prefer. According to the Nobel Prize website, the average age of Nobel laureates has even increased since the 1950s.
But the Nobel Prize in Physics isn't a lifetime achievement award — it honors a singular accomplishment, which can be tricky for both men and women.

"Doing Nobel Prize-worthy research is a combination of doing excellent science and also getting lucky," Conrad says. "Discoveries can only happen at a certain place and time, and you have to be lucky to be there then. These women coming into the field are as excellent as the men, and I have every reason to think they will have equal luck. So, I think in the future you will start to see lots of women among the Nobel Prize winners. I am optimistic."

The article mentioned the names of 4 women who are the leading candidates for the Nobel prize: Deborah Jin, Lene Hau, Vera Rubin, and Margaret Murnane. If you noticed, I mentioned about Jin and Hau way back when already, and I consider them to have done Nobel caliber work. I can only hope that, during my lifetime, we will see a woman win this again after so long.


Lockheed Fusion "Breakthrough" - The Skeptics Are Out

Barely a day after Lockheed Martin announced their "fusion breakthrough" in designing a workable and compact fusion reactor, the skeptics are already weighing in their opinions even when details of Lockheed design has not been clearly described.

"The nuclear engineering clearly fails to be cost effective," Tom Jarboe told Business Insider in an email. Jarboe is a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, an adjunct professor in physics, and a researcher with the University of Washington's nuclear fusion experiment.
"This design has two doughnuts and a shell so it will be more than four times as bad as a tokamak," Jarboe said, adding that, "Our concept [at the University of Washington] has no coils surrounded by plasma and solves the problem."

Like I said earlier, from the sketchy detail that I've read, they are using a familiar technique for confinement, etc., something that has been used and studied extensively before. So unless they are claiming to find something that almost everyone has overlooked, this claim of their will need to be very convincing for others to accept. As stated in the article, Lockheed hasn't published anything yet, and they probably won't until they get patent approval of their design. That is what a commercial entity will typically do when they want to protect their design and investment.

There's a lot more work left to do for this to be demonstrated.