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.