Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Birth of RHIC

This afternoon, science historian (and SUNYSB philosophy prof) Robert Crease gave the 431st Brookhaven Lecture (he's given quite a few of these, but it's not surprising why) on "Birth of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider". Crease is our most notable lab historian and has been an important part of my understanding and appreciation of BNL. Today was no exception, as he covered the improbable chain of events, including some outrageous coincidences that led to the transformation of ISABELLE to RHIC. ISABELLE was a particle physics machine, which was plagued by technical difficulties in producing its accelerator magnets and was rapidly eclipsed by machines at CERN and FNAL even before construction got underway. Fortunately, as the physical infrastructure fell into place, a few visionary folks realized that various facilities of the lab could be yoked together to address the questions arising out of the emerging field of heavy ion physics. But Crease argued persuasively that it was only by the delicate maneuvering and effective leadership on the part of lab management (then lab director Nicholas Samios in particular) which led to a relatively smooth transition from a particle machine to a nuclear machine over the course of 5 days in July 1983.

Entering this story relatively late (only about to enter the 8th grade when all of this went down), it was very moving to understand better just how non-inevitable RHIC was, and how lucky we all are to have it here for us now. It also made me realize just how fragile these projects can be, no matter how big or "logical" they seem at the time. But having lived through the crazy times in 2000 when the machine finally rumbled to life, it makes the memories of the exhiliaration that was in the air that summer that much more meaningful. Also reminds one that the history of science isn't just what you find in Physical Review Letters.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

L3 Ching

So I'm glancing at upcoming releases in iTunes and I stumble on this:
But then I say to myself: "That spooky octagonal symbol in back looks familiar..." A little perusing the CERN websites yield this event display from the L3 experiment, formerly of LEP (and which now houses ALICE at the LHC):
The octagon in this image is a schematic of the famous L3 muon system. My first thought is: Wu Tang owes Sam Ting some royalty money (could this ever help AMS get airborne, maybe?). My second thought is: I've seen the Wu Tang symbol before. And my third thought is: I Ching:
And I nearly fell out of my chair - even the L3 inner detector is matched with the Yin Yang. To assuage myself that my current reading (Illuminatus! Trilogy -- goofy, but a blast) isn't wrecking my mind, I show a colleague the I Ching diagram. His first response: "L3". So I am still asking myself: is this an accident (likely, but b-o-r-i-n-g), or was the I Ching a design template for the detector, consciously or not (with eight "thunder" trigrams...less likely, but amusing to consider)? Anyone have a good answer?

Anyway, from iTunes to I Ching in two moves. Not bad for an hour's procrastination.

Tackling Easterbroook

Is that fireball all set to destroy humanity (with no practical use except to make sure a few eggheads get fancy dinners at conferences)...or just a fiery football?  Have a look at my reaction to Gregg Easterbrook's recent rantings about physics...on

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Book, a Real Book

This may seem strange in a world where scientific information is increasingly disseminated electronically (as it should be, and for free, when taxpayer dollars are paying for it!), but I just got the greatest thing in my office mailbox today: a book. A real book. While I've been published in my share of conference and workshop proceedings, and various papers have ended up published on real paper and stashed away in real libraries, this one feels a bit different. 

The book in question is the latest edition of Annual Review  of Nuclear and Particle Science.  I've always seen these on various library bookshelves over the years, and been given photocopies of various articles throughout the years (older issues seem to be online now, which wasn't the case last I checked!)  And somehow the design feels very book-ish, sober red cover, with all of the contributors' names embossed in gold.  Feels snazzy.  Classy, even.

And then you open the thing up and it's color, which is still relatively novel for scientific publishing due to the additional costs incurred by the journal publishers.  So while most of us submit papers with color figures, a perusal through a physical copy of Physical Review C typically doesn't do much for the eyes.  I'm actually surprised at myself that I am responding to some of these articles more for having downright elegant color and design choices - even a very clean, readable font (anyone recognize it?).  That said, I now know that these choices may well come more from the Ann Rev staff than from the authors -- we had quite a few rounds with them during the final stages of our piece.  

So anyway, here's a link to our piece on "Glauber Modeling in High Energy Nuclear Collisions" -- a year in the making, and another year to book form.  And thanks again to my collaborators on this -- Mike, Klaus, and Steve. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I know that I got into science because it felt like the closest thing to the thrill and mystery of magic, but it was somehow more "real". But after an event I attended Monday night -- an amazing event: magic show, trash-talking puppets, real-time candy-puppet-making, card castles that hold human weight - now I'm not sure who is more in touch with reality. I found out about this event from Mark Mitton, a friend of mine who organized the evening at the National Arts Club. You can read a bit more about the event, get links to their website, and see a few photos (taken by yours truly, like the one above of Mark, Brian and two semi-willing volunteers about to stand on a card structure...) here. The one thing that you won't see anywhere (and I botched the photographs of) was Mark's string theory trick: showing how short and long strings are actually the same size, and closed strings and open strings easily transform into each other, before one's very eyes -- no-one has to teach this guy about duality [rimshot! thankyouthankyou, I'm here Wednesdays and Sundays...]

Thursday, November 08, 2007

We Are the Champions

Who said you can't do physics and rock at the same time? Check out this entry on SPIRES:
Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud.
Brian May (Imperial Coll., London) . 2007.
Wikipedia fills in some of the story:
May studied astro physics at Imperial College London, graduating with a B.Sc. (Hons) degree, and then proceeded to study for a Ph.D., having written a significant amount of the doctoral thesis, and carried out a majority of the research required, May abandoned his doctoral studies to pursue his music career with Queen.
On a similar tack, but in the opposite order, I saw my old college friend Vijay Iyer play the Jazz Standard the other night with his band Tirtha (guitar, piano, tabla trio, playing jazz strongly inflected by Indian musics). He was a physics major at Yale (like me, sort of -- I graduated with a poli sci degree, but finished a lot of the major), went off to graduate school, and simultaneously started playing pro gigs all over the world, eventually leaving physics after getting his PhD to play full-time. And now he's signed to Savoy Jazz and named top "Rising Star Jazz Artist" and top "Rising Star Composer of the Year" for the second year in a row. Great show, and further proof that sometimes you can do both science and art -- but usually only one at a time.

(Thanks, Corey!)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Granular Liquids vs. RHIC

People often use the word "glass" in relation to RHIC physics (via the Color Glass Condensate), but this is a bit more literal. From the upcoming Physics News Update #845, now RHIC is being used as a "benchmark" for fluid (or even liquid) behavior, even when the fluid is made of glass beads:
GRANULAR LIQUIDS WITH ZERO SURFACE TENSION. New experiments with spherical glass beads show that liquid behavior can arise simply from rapid collisions among a sufficiently dense stream of particles. The experiment was undertaken by Xiang Cheng, Heinrich Jaeger and Sidney Nagel and their colleagues at the University of Chicago, experts on discovering novel effects with granular materials (see and If one or two beads are dropped from above on a horizontal surface, they will bounce back in the direction from which they came. If, however, many beads are dropped all at once---constituting a dense granular stream hitting a target---then something else happens: the grains deflect out laterally in the form of a very thin, symmetrical sheet or cone as if they were a liquid. Indeed, the experiments using granular matter quantitatively reproduce results obtained with streams of water. However, with beads, the *liquid* is one in the limit of vanishing surface tension. (To ensure there was no cohesiveness between the beads, which range in size between 50 microns and 2 millimeter, they were baked in a vacuum oven beforehand, evaporating any lurking moisture.) During the short interval the beads inside the stream collide with each other in front of the target, liquid-like conditions are established whose observable consequence are the thin sheets. This novel, zero-surface-tension liquid state, the experimenters believe, might be of interest to physicists at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), where heavy nuclei colliding at high energies (see form a plasma of quarks and gluons that also resembles a liquid. Intriguingly, the collision pattern produced by the completely classical, macroscopic granular liquid can match that produced by the quark-gluon plasma. (Cheng et al., Physical Review Letters, 2 November 2007)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Who Put the Manhattan in the Manhattan Project?

Speaking of Columbia, check out this article in the Times on the Manhattan history of the Manhattan Project. Quite a bit of it was in fact done downstairs from where the string theory workshop was held, in the basement of Pupin Hall. To be honest, I still don't know if those lower floors are open again; when I was a postdoc there in the late 90's everyone told me they were still "hot" (i.e. activated) and sealed off from normal access. Want. To. Know. More.

First off: that's a huge room and cyclotron. Is that really in Pupin? I'd be fact this looks nothing like this photo I found on the Columbia website of I.I. Rabi frying hotdogs on the Pupin cyclotron. Time to write the NY Times another email...

Cosmic Rays in ATLAS

From Monica Dunford's recent post on the US-LHC blogs: a cosmic ray muon read out by the ATLAS muon system and Tile calorimeter in the pit. Reality check, indeed. And a brief meditation on the joys of data, especially poignant in the "LHC generation", which has been living its physics life looking at physics event generators for far too long (spoiler: In my experience they are all wrong, always, to some extent -- even when they're "right" in many respects. But the way they are wrong is almost always more interesting than one expects...)

But let's not forget the bottom line: holy crap, ATLAS is rumbling to life.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Sorry to be non-posting on this blog, but my guilt lies heavy where an editor watches -- i.e. I just posted a long piece about a workshop last friday on the US-LHC page.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

How I Spent My Month, Part II

Eleven days in Morocco (Marrakech, Skoura, Fes)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How I Spent My Month

Couldn't imagine a better way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Alan & Joan

Did anybody notice, in all the hubbub around Alan Greenspan's new book, that his connection to Ayn Rand was through the painter Joan Mitchell, whom he married for 10 months in the early 1950's? His biographies often mention her, and Rand, but Mitchell's online bios make no mention of him. Even the Times article linked above doesn't mention her by name, even though you can figure this out using Wikipedia and Google. Why the asymmetry? I mean, we just saw four huge Mitchell canvases hanging in the MoMA lobby the other day, so it's not like she's a big secret. I know -- nothing to do with physics -- but this is the wildest thing I've heard in a while.

Six Physicists in a Room, Talking About TV

I know I'm way too late on this one, but I was dumbfounded by this piece in New York magazine's Fall Preview a couple of weeks ago. It's a TV show about physics graduate students ending up on prime time TV (Big Bang Theory, on CBS, premiering Monday). And I bet they're all theorists.

OK, grumbling aside, how great is this interview with six real graduate students? It includes our own (heavy ion theorist) Azfar Adil, who gets both first -- and last -- word.
Was the physics on the show accurate?
Azfar Adil (age 27, high-energy particle physics): Not at all.
David Kagan (27, theoretical physics): Some of it was loosely accurate.
AA: What really bothers me is that it’s somehow okay to not know science in this country. Nobody would have, like, a piano prodigy on a show and have him talk about Mozart while Beethoven was playing.
AA: But really, the show has nothing to do with physics. It’s more like Beauty and the Geek in sitcom form.
We'll have to see for ourselves, on Monday (or Tuesday, if it ever shows up on iTunes -- I gave back my cable box almost a year ago...)

Monday, September 17, 2007


Man, a blogger can't catch a break these days. I write a piece on the US-LHC site on my concerns about reporting unsubstantiated information from other blogs, and I get *slammed* in the comments to Peter Woit's blog:
I definitely think Steinberg’s statement (which I saw too) is overly restrictive if he means that they won’t even talk about the most recent hardware status, which is public info. Hopefully his/their self-imposed restrictions will not reduce them to just posting what they had for lunch.
Of course I'll blog about public information: just not anonymous interpretations of that info. And I will never report on what I had to lunch at BNL. I'll let Nayyarson's website do that for me.

Nobel Prize vs. Education System

Weird, but amusing, and apparently true in spirit, if not in letter, which makes it less amusing, and downright scary:
Wolfgang Ketterle, 2001 Nobel Laureate and John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics at M.I.T. has read about the record shortages of math and science teachers in American schools and decides to lend a hand. He leaves M.I.T. and comes to Springfield to teach high school. He calls to offer his services
"I'd like to teach at your school."
"Wonderful. Wonderful. Just send me your Letter of Clearance from the County and I'll set up the interview."
"My what?"
"Your Letter of Clearance."
"I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage," Pro K says. "Just tell Principal Skinner it's Wolfie."
"Dr. Ketterle," the woman replies. "He can't interview you unless you have a Letter of Clearance from the County."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Just a quick plug for a new project I'm getting involved in: blogging for the US-LHC website, about to open for business tomorrow (September 12). "US-LHC" is an umbrella concept for all of the institutions in the US participating in the LHC. This includes the machine itself, all six experiments -- ATLAS, CMS, ALICE , LHCb, LHCf and TOTEM (anyone out there from those last three?) and folks from particle and nuclear physics (that's me). The goal is to bring some attention to the LHC project, and especially the role of the US-based groups, both at universities and national labs, who are devoting body and soul towards getting the LHC experiments and machine off the ground in the next year.

My colleagues are an interesting bunch (from ATLAS and CMS only) and physics being the zero-dimensional universe it is, I have non-trivial connections to (at least) two of them. Pam Klabber's husband Greg was at BNL for a few years, and hosted several, um, memorable Halloween parties. And Steve Nahn was a year ahead of me when we were both students at MIT, many, many years ago....

So anyway, it's going to be an interesting year, dividing my limited self among quite a few outlets. Check out the new blog for a few of the ground rules!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Long, Straight, Curly, Fuzzy, Snaggy...

I know this is from "Hair", and this is a physics blog, but this article by Jean-Baptiste Masson from the American Journal of Physics is a physics article talkin' 'bout hair.
We address the question of hair tangles and show experimentally that curly hair tends to become less tangled than straight hair. A statistical model based on geometry confirms our findings. The model gives an interesting geometric approach to hair behavior.
As a curly haired type I always assumed the opposite (although I can't say I've owned a comb for a long long time), but that's what you get when you actually go look. Go figure.

(from AIP's physics news update - no link yet, but should be number 838)

Stephen Hawking, LEGO Style

My blog is called "Entropy Bound", so I think the laws of physics compel me to link to this (and it's not exactly the first time I've posted physics-related LEGO things). Yes, it's Stephen Hawking, in LEGO (not "LEGOs", remember).

(from Brickshelf, via BoingBoing, via Gizmodo...)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Origins of Time's Arrow

This looks interesting, from the NYAS website:
Origins of Time's Arrow

This conference will involve a concentrated focus of leading world experts from a wide range of perspectives on one of the most outstanding issues in cosmology and theoretical physics - why time unfolds with a definite orientation even though the underlying laws are time reversal invariant.

The meeting is first in a series aimed at stimulating progress on outstanding topics in theoretical physics.

For more information on this event, please click here.

Scientific Organizing Committee

Brian Greene, Columbia University
Justin Khoury, Perimeter Institute
Laura Mersini-Houghton, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Lots of bold face (i.e. for physics) names: Albrecht, Cooper, Linde, Silverstein, Smolin, Steinhardt, Tegmark, etc.: I'd be all over this, but I'll be on vacation in Paris. Too bad, but poor me.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The New Face of Quantum Gravity?

Having just finished reading Leonard Susskind's new-ish (i.e. 2005) book "The Cosmic Landscape" (reflections to follow, soonish), it was neat to be alerted to this recent article in Physics World on the current (i.e. 2007) state of string theory. I particularly liked this article since it went into a little more detail and spoke to a reasonably wide cross section of physicists, both eminent and less-eminent (as a less-eminent, I'm always interested in what my peers think, even!). Now, I'm always glad to see RHIC held up as an experimental arena for string theoretic ideas, e.g. this amusing quote from the article, quoting Susskind:
AdS/CFT duality really hit the big time in 2005 when it was responsible for getting string theory a mention in the context of a major experimental result. The reason was that it had enabled researchers at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US to model certain aspects of the quark–gluon plasma – an extreme state of matter in which quarks behave as if they are free particles. At such large separations, the strong force becomes unmanageable analytically, which means that string theory can help out where perturbative QCD fails. Susskind says that by studying heavy-ion collisions you are also studying quantum gravity that is "blown up and slowed down by a factor of 1020".
All good, but while I am a proponent that the strongly-interacting systems produced in elementary (p+p, d+Au, e+e-) collisions have deep experimental similarities to the ones produced in A+A collisions, who told them to use what looks like a deuteron-gold event display (shown above) to illustrate the possibility that
Powerful "dualities" between string theory and quantum field theory have allowed researchers to model certain aspects of heavy-ion collisions at Brookhaven's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.
? I mean, maybe it's not wrong, but it sure lacks, well, drama.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


NCIL Visit to BNL (8/29/07)
This was a funny surprise. K's friend Michelle emailed her the other day to say that she was taking a tour of BNL the next day, without much information beyond that. I managed to catch up with the bunch of them at the cafeteria and learned about the Nomadic Center for Institutionless Learning, which was
formed by a group of people interested in furthering their education beyond the traditional institutions of higher education. We are dedicated to establishing alternatives to bureaucracy, hierarchy and student loans. Education can and should be free!
The group (in this case a group of Brooklyn artists) decided one day that they wanted to know more about particle physics, got online, found that they had a huge nuclear and particle physics lab in their backyard, and voila had a tour set up by the lab, hosted by Elaine Lowenstein with tours of the various BNL facilities. My group leader even showed them around STAR and a bit of RHIC. For those readers in the NY area: BNL is clearly ready and willing to show people around -- take advantage of it!

NCIL Visit to BNL (8/29/07)NCIL Visit to BNL (8/29/07)

AdS/CFT's New Suitor

Google News seems to know me better than I know myself, or at least what I want to see on the web. It found me this Nature article, discussing a somewhat-new paper using the AdS/CFT correspondence to understand High Tc superconductors. We at RHIC thought we had AdS/CFT all to ourselves as potentially the first great application of String Theory to the Real World. But any reader of this blog and others have noticed that the gang (esp. Pavel Kovtun) reponsible for the RHIC connections have also been exploring more accessible condensed matter problems. Fascinating stuff, especially how similar physical principles apply to widely different size and time scales (they don't call it "scale invariance" for nothing...)

Lightning Strikes

Just noticed this on Gizmodo: Holy moly. I hadn't appreciated that planes were generally insensitive to lightning, especially since every flight I've taken has made great efforts to avoid thunderstorms --- naturally because of high winds, but I always assumed lightning was an issue.

But this reminds me of the most amazing thing I saw yesterday above the lab as the sun was setting. I emerged from the dorm building (where I stay 1-2 nights a week...don't ask) and glanced upwards to see two jets essentially "on top" of each other, but at different altitudes and heading in slightly different directions, each glowing in the slightly reddish light from the sunset in a clear sky. I assume there was no negligence on the part of ATC, but it was both beautiful and chilling at the same time.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Project X?

The interesting things you discover on Google News: like this Chicago Tribune article discussing Fermilab's plans for a new machine called Project X...
Fermilab is floating plans for a new $500 million particle accelerator in hopes of paving the way for a much larger project and shoring up the lab's fragile position in the world of high-energy physics.

A road map for the machine, dubbed "Project X" for now, was quietly disclosed last week in the lab's daily newsletter. The new device would become the biggest project at the Batavia facility after the scheduled shutdown in 2009 of the Tevatron, currently the world's most powerful accelerator studying the fundamental structure of the universe.

Fermilab's long-range ambition is to host a mammoth project called the International Linear Collider, but that idea will take decades to bring to fruition. Project X would incorporate many of the technologies needed for the ILC, yielding new experimental opportunities and potentially strengthening Fermilab's chances of landing the bigger device.
As a nuclear guy living through a time of major transition, it's great to see our particle friends getting resourceful and practical (as if we'd expect them to behave any other way!) But note to self: don't ever call my next new particle accelerator idea "Project X". While it may capture the imagination of science fiction fans, I immediately started imagining the paranoid phantasmagoria cooking up in the Chicago area and the dark recesses of the internets as we speak. Then again, it's also the name of a movie. A Matthew Broderick Movie. From 1987. Starring chimps. Chimps!

So it's also good they're posting a fun page of "Possible Names for Project X" on the FNAL website. As one might guess, these acronyms often fall between two main poles, 1) take the first letter from each word of a genuinely descriptive phrase, resulting in something totally unpronouncable (e.g. HISEPL? EPL&IB?), 2) something meaningful, clever -- and often local -- as a name, to which descriptive language can be shoehorned in (ENRICO -- not even an acronym, LINCOLN -- as in "Land of"). Then there's lots of flailing around -- and we can only imagine how much considering how many attempts they're willing to post (SNuFL!)


Monday, July 30, 2007

On Target

So we went to see Sonic Youth at McCarren Pool in Brooklyn over the weekend. Pretty great to hear Daydream Nation played front-to-back. I'll leave the infinite regress of bellyaching about supporting nostalgia trips outside in yesterday's rain -- the music, issues, topics, etc. still sound wildly futuristic even now. The only thing that might date it is the fascination with 70's and 80's icons like Philip K. Dick (oops, people are still making movies of his books, and Blade Runner is being re-released again) and William Gibson (no more movies, but cyberspace anyone?) And maybe the song about the Preppie Murderer ("Eliminator, Jr."), whom I could find namechecked in only one online review -- how quickly things move into the past.

But I knew I recognized Lee Ranaldo's amps from somewhere: Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955-1965. Very sly sneaking in the modern art for the kids. Almost as sly as that huge Gerhard Richter candle...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Shapes of Things

Yow, the conservation of (blogging + life) holds true. I'm just back from a week in Montreal + Vermont, 5 days of which were spent attending the "ETD-HIC" (Early Time Dynamics in Heavy Ion Collisions) workshop at McGill. The workshop was mainly concerned with various approaches to modeling and measuring the microscopic dynamics of the very early stages of a nucleus-nucleus collision. Of course, many people think that this is easy: nuclei are made of hadrons, hadrons are made of quarks (and gluons), and we know the rules by which quarks and gluons interact. Sad part is, it's not: the stuff we make at RHIC acts far too much like a fluid to be merely composed of particulate quarks and gluons bouncing around via pair-wise interactions. So it was a lot of discussion of Color Glass Condensates, Color Fields (w/ Wiebel instabilities), Lattice QCD, etc., and various ways of probing these dynamics experimentally (especially "hard probes" like QCD jets and heavy quarks.)

Naturally, I was there pushing my favorite worldview: that most of the data points us to considering a very rapid equilibration of the system. So rapid that it might as well be immediate, or on size scales comparable to that of the Lorentz contracted nucleus (i.e. a size that decreases linearly with energy). Regardless of that precise time, it seems to thermalize so fast that the initial configuration of the nucleons themselves are "frozen" in time (e.g. as shown above, with the green circles representing the "participating" nuclei), and serve to initialize the spatial distribution of the matter. This then evolves hydrodynamically (ideal or otherwise) until it freezes out into the particles that hit our detectors. At the very least, one seems to need to consider this lumpy, fluctuating initial state to capture various systematics of the data (e.g. how it varies with system size, shape, etc.) Neat stuff (which is why I like to talk about it!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

2 Out of 3 Ain't Bad

As Gram Parsons once sang, "and they called me a man because I couldn't keep my great big mouth shut." I guess I'm a man now: my 3rd lecture is finally over (and posted on my feed). Lots of fun (and great questions from the students) but my throat is sore.

Anyway, I'll be leaving Tallahassee and FSU tomorrow. But for the absurd heat and humidity, it's been an interesting trip -- and it's back to the grind tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lecture One in the Sunshine State

This week I'm hanging out in Tallahassee, FL (staying only a few blocks from the governor's mansion, it seems -- too bad Jeb is gone now...) at the National Nuclear Physics Summer School, presenting a set of 3 lectures on RHIC physics. I'm also learning quite a bit about the state of modern nuclear physics, which actually becomes more interesting as I dig deeper into RHIC physics. People generally think that RHIC physics is somehow growing away from "normal" nuclear physics, e.g. nuclear structure, but the more we look, the more we realize that our results really "see" the nuclear wave function in some form or another -- although we see "snapshots" rather than steady state configurations. So why am I sitting in Ian Thompson's nice leactures, blogging about them rather than listening? Go figure.

Anyway, here's the first lecture given yesterday -- an extended version of my RHIC colloquium, with a few more details on centrality determination than i usually allow. More to come.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Murray & Lev

What is Landau telling Gell-Mann? I'm not kidding -- I'm dying to know. If any readers know Gell-Mann personally, can you ask him? Interestingly, this photo (which I stumbled on after digging up my talks from 10 years ago in a forgotten directory...) sums up a lot of my interest in how QCD works.

Barring any real answer (but who knows?...) any ideas for captions would be welcome in the comments!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Me Feed

I've been asked to keep a list of recent talks, papers, etc. online and I've been wondering how to do this in a relatively-dynamic way that avoids just editing lots of HTML pages. Et voila, I can edit *XML*! At least it looks slick in an RSS reader, or on iGoogle. I'll be keeping a list of my available talks on this, in somewhat chronological order, and papers will come soon. Always feel free to drop me a line if any of this strikes you.

What's New with "What's New?"

What gives?
WN was in Orwellian peril from the start. My wife asked how long I planned to keep writing this thing. "Not long," I said, "if I tell it like I see it, they'll end it in a year." After I became director of the new Washington Office, the APS Council asked me to make my weekly report public - but not advertise it. Some wanted Big Brother to approve each issue before it went out. If so, someone else would have to write it. Much later I agreed to add a disclaimer - not everyone liked that either. After more than 1,200 issues and growth from 112 subscribers to 15,617, APS finally ended WN. My department chair, however, asked that I continue writing WN, but with the University of Maryland as sponsor. He made it my principal teaching assignment.
I am truly grateful to the APS for allowing me to speak my mind, not just in WN, but to the media and in congressional testimony. In a university like Maryland it's expected, but it's unusual in Washington. For those who hope for a gentler WN, I refer you to H.L. Mencken's epitaph: "As he grew older, he grew worse."
Who offed Bob Park at the APS? Who will whats-new "What's New?"?

[Update: In looking for a photo of Park, I found this...“I’m not really going anywhere,” Park advises friend and foe alike, “I just won’t have the title anymore.” So it goes.]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Citations: Dyonic Black Holes, Landau's Hydrodynamics

A few months ago I posted a proceedings from the GHP06 meeting in Nashville, called "Hotter, Denser, Faster, Smaller...and Nearly-Perfect: What's the matter at RHIC?" In general, people don't cite proceedings much, since they often just summarize results from other papers, maybe combining a few things here and there that hadn't been done before, or making some useful (if not exactly rigorous) commentary. Now why the authors of "Hall conductivity from dyonic black holes" (Hartnoll and Kovtun) chose my proceedings to cite in their paper -- beyond the fact that I cite and show a figure from Kovtun's seminal work with Starinets and Son -- I don't know, but I think it's really neat to be introduced to a new physics topic via my own citation-searching vanity. RHIC physics is starting to make its presence known to more and more communities, since it is now finding itself friends with many different kinds of strongly-coupled systems -- and it's really bracing to watch it happening in real time (vs. summarized in textbooks years after the fun is over).

And speaking of citations, I also just noticed a recent paper "Unified description of Bjorken and Landau 1+1 hydrodynamics" citing my old proceedings on "Landau Hydrodynamics and RHIC Phenomena". I'm still trying to figure out exactly when the switch in my brain flipped in this direction, but I've been arguing (only semi-successfully) for about four years now that people should be taking Landau's hydrodynamical model (full stopping of the nuclear matter in the overlap volume) seriously, following the clear lead of Peter Carruthers in the 1970's. It's been known for a while that some RHIC data clearly supports it, and I've argued that a wide range of phenomena are also consistent with it, but very few people have done theoretical work to see how it behaves in the geometries we might expect from nuclear collisions.

Thus, this new paper is encouraging to see, since it at least revisits and starts to clarify how the Landau solution "works". It's also neat to see more and more people exploring the connections between hydrodynamic behavior and dual gravity theories. One of the authors of "Unified" proposed boost-invariant (Bjorken) flow as being dual to a black hole moving in the "5th dimension" of the AdS theory, which begs the interesting question of what the equivalent analogy is for Landau's fully 3D flow (which is a much more interesting scenario than boost-invariance since it provides causal connections between most of the final state by rapid thermalization in the initial state -- a lot like the inflationary model of the universe!). I hope these guys figure this out, and soon.

Maarteenies and Pseudoparticles

Gee, this is neat: The New Yorker's Roz Chast did the cover of the latest Symmetry magazine. I only found this in my mailbox just today, despite it being the May issue. How did I miss this?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

It's summer in the city again (although the weather certainly won't tell you that) and last night was most people's yearly pilgrimage to Coney Island for the Mermaid Parade. As usual, fantastic time. Great costumes, music, etc and just a great reminder of the oft-forgotten treasures of NYC. And we rode the Wonder Wheel, in a "swinging" car. Fantastic.

Unfortunately, there were overwhelming shadows over the parade this year from twin looming threats of the continuing war in Iraq, and the more recent fear of over-development along the shore near Coney. The boardwalk and amusement park are fantastic resources and are basically free to wander around. It'll be hard to imagine them surrounded by gated communities and the businesses that will inevitably attend to them. Have a look at my photos and others and keep fingers crossed we'll all be able to take more similar ones in the future.

Friday, June 22, 2007

New CERN Schedule

Look what's in on the tubes:
Geneva, 22 June 2006. Speaking at the 142nd session of the CERN1 Council today, the Organization’s Director General Robert Aymar announced that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will start up in May 2008, taking the first steps towards studying physics at a new high-energy frontier. A low-energy run originally scheduled for this year has been dropped as the result of a number of minor delays accumulated over the final months of LHC installation and commissioning, coupled with the failure in March of a pressure test in one of the machine’s components.
Useful information for the next couple of years of travel planning...But should we be concerned that the CERN press office doesn't know it's 2007?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cats in Collision

I was as baffled as you were when this whole LOLCATS thing appeared. I'm even more baffled by this.

I mean, how do we know it's a liquid, and not a plasma? Jeez.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Birds of a Feather

What better way to get over the lackluster Jobs keynote (yes I'm an Apple fan -- so what?) than to stumble on this article in New York Mag on Edward Tufte? While I never took his class at Yale (although friends did), I did see him give his seminar at BNL, where we paid a grand total of $25 for the full-day of his time and his (at the time) full set of three books (worth $100+ on Amazon, and almost $400 if you do the seminar+books today). And while I don't have rimless glasses (I went back to thick plastic recently), I too have Minard's graphic of Napoleon's march on Moscow on my office door. So consider me a fan.

It's hard to express just how influential Tufte has been on the way I look at, and present, scientific data. I can really see the difference in my talks and plots before and after that summer day in 2000, and I've tried my best to evangelize (with occasional success) to my colleagues as we put together useful figures to represent the interesting things we've learned at RHIC.

And it's also neat to hear him express his admiration for Apple, and to read how they paid him back in that iPhone ad. What they don't mention is that Google analytics (which I use to track readership of this website) already uses "sparklines" everywhere, and they do exactly what he says they do. Neat stuff, both the short article and his books, and worth a look by scientists and non-scientists alike.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Physics of Art Business

Sometimes one wonders why physicists tend to be prime candidates for banks and consulting firms. Then one sees a case like Paul So, a prof at George Mason University, outside of Washington DC.
So, currently on a sabbatical, bought the building at 1353 U Street NW, next to the Republic Gardens, last year for $1.3 million. It is his dream to provide a space and program for art students so they can learn the business side of art, like how to write grants and how to market their work. Those selected would get two-year fellowships that would also include lectures and seminars by local educators, gallery owners and artists, So said. He likens his idea to getting a post-doc in art...He will add office space for rent upstairs, and a couple of condos. That way, he said, he can afford to run the gallery and nonprofit group.
A physicist wants to show his paintings and support local artists. So he buys a building to create a self-sustaining nonprofit gallery. That's why. Awesome.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Quark Matter Tapes (1983)

Speaking about how certain things become "invisible" in the online world, and thus nearly cease to exist, what about "audible" things which don't naturally interface to digital realities? Try and wrap your mind around what I'm holding up to my iMac: an audio tape of talks from one of the first Quark Matter conferences, held at BNL in 1983. These are perhaps the most important conferences in the field (although clearly the QM2002 organizers didn't think so...), and have been running since 1982.

My colleague, and BNL physicist, Carla found these in her office where they'd been sitting for 24 years -- in a box on the shelf. I spoke to graduate students yesterday who weren't even born when this happened. They might not have even known what to do with these things, although they might not be able to afford a car without something that can play them. Fortunately my car (a trusty Golf IV) still has one too (good for my iPod, natch), meaning I could drive home listening to the late David Schramm speak about the importance of heavy ion physics to Big Bang physics (via its help in forming Jupiter-mass black holes) and Piet Hut on "Disturbing the Vacuum" -- yes, the ur-RHIC-as-Doomsday story.

We are where we are now at RHIC because of what went on in the room when this tape was made. Even more, it's simply gripping hearing the past speak to you so directly (there's a lot that doesn't make it into the written proceedings, and memory is fleeting) and profoundly moving (didn't I mention the memory thing already?). I'm hoping these things can be made digital ASAP.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Invisible Visual Web

Hm, where does the time go? Last week it went to a trip to Toronto and a trip to California, where I gave a colloquium at UC Riverside (posted soon!). This week it's catching up time, and I have a lot to do.

But through my PHENIX channels (aka Bill Zajc, whom some readers may have met through his guest blog on Backreaction), I was alerted to this article from the Institute for Nuclear Theory on "The strongly interacting quark gluon plasma in a new light: photons at RHIC", written by my BNL colleague Raju Venugopalan. Now, it seems that no-one knew about this article through the usual means. But the usual means, of course, means Google. And how could Google miss anything, when at the rate it's going it'll have all of our baby pictures indexed visually in a couple of years. Or not -- it's still pretty mediocre at indexing images, and that's why this article didn't show up on my usual RHIC searches, despite it being full of RHIC-related keywords. All of the text and captions are images, rendered from LaTeX (our standard typesetting package) into PNG (a standard image format):

It's funny how the obviously visual becomes completely invisible to current technologies. Maybe someone should print it out, scan it, OCR it, and re-post it as text. Then I'm sure Google will get cracking on it pronto.

Or someone, e.g. I, could just post it as postscript (which Google will read...thanks, Raju!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Nuclear Physics: Not Just for Men

Just a follow up to the story which ran in the Times last week. As Paul pointed out in the comment to my post, it was an unfortunate example of the perception of physics as ultimately a boy's game. In this case, the story made working at RHIC sound literally like "grown men gathering around wide-screen TVs to watch collisions" -- or Star Trek -- despite showing several women in the photograph. Two of my colleagues at BNL and Stony Brook -- Sally Dawson (the chair of the physics department) and Barbara Jacak (recently-elected Spokesperson of PHENIX) -- have justly objected to this somewhat-skewed portrayal, in a letter to the Times:
Nuclear physics experiments at Brookhaven Lab’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider involve a lot more than men viewing wide-screen monitors in a control room rooting for collisions.

The Phenix and STAR collaborations at RHIC are large teams that run these experiments. They include about a thousand scientists — women and men, young and old — from around the globe. And though exploration of the moment just after the Big Bang may sound like science fiction, house-sized detectors, fast electronics and large-scale computers are in use here and now, revealing that the early universe was a dense liquid of quarks and gluons.

Women earn 21 percent of bachelor’s degrees in physics and are as excited as men about looking so far back in time. The science, and the technology needed to do that science, will make them — and Long Island — future economic leaders.

Barbara Jacak
Stony Brook
Sally Dawson
The writers are, respectively, Phenix Collaboration spokeswoman and chairwoman of the physics department at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
While we still have a way to go before we reach the numbers of women one finds in countries like Italy or Spain (which were striking during my student days at CERN, after spending my life to that point in the US), the trends are clearly headed in the right direction.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Grey Lady, at CERN

Just a quick post from the Buffalo airport, on the way back from Toronto (family visit - lots to plan, lots to plan...). It seems the NY Times Science Times has the LHC story to end all LHC stories, a huge Dennis Overbye piece about his visit to CERN, chatting with many of the usual suspects from CMS and ATLAS, several satellite stories (the magnet diaster, the string theory connection), an interactive graphic about the machine and detectors (snazzy), and a video. A video. That's a wrinkle that I haven't seen yet from the other news and newsy outlets.

But I have to say, I'm a little frustrated by CMS stealing all the photo spotlight. Then again, I was told by colleagues recently that CERN orchestrated a major media event recently while they were lowering a section of the detector into the pit, so maybe it's just all about access. That said, there's quite a few images of ATLAS in the video. Even better, there's also a brief flash of a simulation of a heavy ion collision (the usual colorful billiard balls).

But look (reading and writing in real-time -- jetBlue calls!): there's the espresso drinking thing again (as seen in the New Yorker piece) although drunk this time in print by Michelangelo Mangano. Of course Nima Arkani-Hamed makes his appearance just before, talking about the sleeplessness induced by the prospect of new data. Considering his several-shot-an-hour habit he revealed Kolbert, maybe it's not just the science.