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.