Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Melvin Schwartz Dies at 73

Terrible day, the world losing both Naguib Mahfouz and Melvin Schwartz. Schwartz was many things, a professor at Columbia, Nobel-prize winner in 1988 for the discovery of the muon neutrino, and a major figure in the history of Brookhaven. He was both a scientist there (i.e. the neutrino work) as well as an administrator (overseeing the RHIC project in its early stages!).

Just a point left out of the obituaries: I never met him (he had left the field again by the time I got my PhD), but I always enjoyed his book on electrodynamics. It was one of the more elegant descriptions of the physics and mathematics that I had seen up to that time (1991). And it was cheap -- god bless Dover.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Wired, Tired

When did Wired magazine become merely glib?

Despite the demagoguery (and apparent laziness) of those who keep making these kind of claims (i.e. they haven't read anything about the subject since 1999 *before* the machine turned on, or they only read people who have written about it since, who themselves have been asleep since last century...), RHIC has produced hundreds of interesting papers, many new scientists, and several really fascinating results about high density matter. And no black holes.

(Thanks Rick!)

But if you check the next page, then things are more like it. In the "Wired, Tired, Expired" list for the week: "Wired: scientist blogs". Still can't say Wired is, well, required, but my vanity can't keep from giving it a few points.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Who's Gonna Live Forever?

Not to overdo NYTimes mining, but I'm still trying to figure this one out. Do the best of us truly become fame-obsessed, or run for the hills when the pressure gets too great?

Einstein, Mao,and Me

How can someone resist procrastinating when stumbling on an article like this? Dennis Overbye's profile of Xu Liangying, the foremost translator of Einstein's works in China, and a communist revolutionary turned dissident. From humble beginnings:

The love affair between Dr. Xu, who was born in Linhai, Zhejiang, in 1920, and Einstein began when Dr. Xu was in secondary school and read a collection of Einstein’s essays called “The World as I See It.” The book had as much politics as science. In one passage that the young Xu underlined, Einstein wrote: “The state is made for man, not man for the state. I regard the chief duty of the state to protect the individual and give him the opportunity to develop into a creative personality.”

Dr. Xu said, “I wanted to be such a person.”

Einstein's outlook on intellectual freedom developed into a source of political philosophy that got Xu into more trouble than not. Definitely worth a few wasted minutes at work.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Matter Darkly

Go freaking figure, just a day after ranting on about RHIC physics to a whole group of friends who trekked out to BNL from NYC, those damn astronomers have got to get some cheap media attention by doing something easy: like finding dark matter. What I find somehow pleasing, though, is how conceptually familiar it all feels. Hereby begins a novice's description

The image shows a collision of two galaxy clusters, but imaged in three different ways. The optical image shows flashes of white galaxies, something we are used to seeing through telescopes. The pink shows an image of the distribution of hot gas surrounding the cluster, imaged by X-ray astronomy (i.e. by looking at the photons emitted by the gas), which seems to have taken on an oddly "Mach Cone" shape, if I may add. Finally the bluish clumps are the distribution of mass, as imaged by the distorted views of the galaxies behind (i.e. gravitational lensing).

The rub lies in the way the pink and the blue have separated. The general view is that the gas has slowed down as the clusters passed through each other, while the dark matter has continued moving on. But if the gas was somehow the more massive part of the system, one would have also found the mass there as well.

The familiar part is that my colleagues and I have been pondering what happens when clumps of things we like, strongly-interacting nucleons (i.e. nuclei), pass through each other at high speed. We also try and "image" the space time story, but of course using different tools. We can't see spatial distributions directly, but we can infer them from the final velocities. Of course, they can't repeat their collisions, while we do so thousands of times per second. And we're all using theories, like hydrodynamics, which are amazingly applicable at extremely microscopic and extremely macroscopic scales.

Friday, August 18, 2006

School of Rock, Gnarls-style

Gnarls Barkley
Originally uploaded by entropybound.
Hi everyone - I swear I'm getting back to blogging one of these days. But it's been a busy summer, both professionally and non. I shouldn't admit this, but we managed to actually see Gnarls Barkley last night at Summerstage (i.e. I had to duck out of an all-day meeting a little early, driving by a car whose wheel fell off in front of me...). Check out the photos!