Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Meet Clea

This is the main reason why it's hard to write these days. Bear with me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Science is Real

Pardon my going on and on about this , but "Science is Real" is one of my favorite things recently, and not just out of anticipation of watching it over and over again with my daughter in a couple of years (yes, I just said daughter).

From the Carnap quote, to the "kid" bursting with curiosity (but one who still likes good stories -- who shouldn't?), to the frog in the 'fro, to the description of the scientific method ("when a theory emerges" nails it): fantastic back to front.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

STAR in the Prince's Eye?

Voici "Le Petit Prince": A plant-bearing robot for encouraging plant life on, um, Mars:

But is there a certain STAR in this robot's single eye? If we look at 0:32 we see something like this:
Don't know about you, but I see this (from the RHIC images page):

I think someone needs to make a phone call to someone, although nothing I love better than the science we do getting to places I'd never imagine (e.g. Mars). Or am I just, um, seeing things?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rabbit & lucite blocks

The rabbit is something one might use in a child's room. The lucite blocks with embedded geometric solids are something else entirely: they've been in my family since I was a small child and I know literally nothing about them. Anyone?

Monday, August 17, 2009

A piece of the strong-correlations puzzle?

Which one of these things is not like the other? None of them, it may turn out.

Editing a colleague's article over the weekend tipped me off to this piece, by Jorge Quintanilla and Chris Hooley, which ran a few months ago in Physics World. It seems to be concerned with similar issues as our AAAS symposium last winter, the quest to understand strongly-coupled systems, but from the perspective of condensed matter physics:

"Quantum matter is everywhere, from the interiors of neutron stars to the electrons in everyday metals. Like ordinary, classical matter, it is made up of many interacting particles. In classical matter, however, it is possible to think of each particle as an individual entity, whereas in quantum matter Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle forbids us from telling individual particles apart: their behaviour can only be described collectively. In spite of this, many types of quantum matter are quite well understood from a theoretical point of view. For example, the “electron liquid” that is responsible for the flow of electricity through ordinary metals, the magnetic properties of many insulating materials and the normal and superfluid phases of helium at very low temperatures have all succumbed to the probing of theorists.

But the behaviour of some forms of quantum matter has proved a much harder nut to crack. High-temperature superconductors, for example, are not really understood despite more than two decades of research since they were first discovered. Also mysterious are various exotic types of magnet; while the electrical resistance of most metals increases with the square of their temperature, T, for some magnetic metals like manganese silicon the resistance is proportional to T1.5. And then there is the quark—gluon plasma, which occurs when neutrons are pressed together so tightly that their quarks lose their identity and form a single homogenous liquid. Such a plasma is believed to have formed during the first few microseconds after the Big Bang, but has also recently been recreated in the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US, with further experiments planned at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

All these forms of quantum matter have one thing in common: very strong — rather than weak — correlations between the particles from which they are composed. Materials with weak correlations are relatively easy to understand: as the component particles barely interact with each other, one can extrapolate the behaviour of non-interacting particles (like those in an ideal gas) to get a good insight into how they behave en masse. Strong correlations, however, lead to qualitatively new behaviour. High-temperature superconductors, for example, display not only an unconventional superconducting phase but also mysterious “bad metal” and “pseudogap” behaviours."

While I complained on Twitter about the PW firewall, I did manage to find a PDF of the article posted by the authors -- but don't tell anyone (but with my "select", read "low", number of readers, I'm not too worried at the moment!).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

“Nobody got hurt, and I’m not in jail.”

Of course I could see it coming for the last week or so on Twitter, and we had good reasons, but I'm sad we missed Duke Riley's naumachia in Corona Park. Besides being one of the Best Places in the world (particularly since it has the Unisphere), these kind of things happen all too rarely anywhere, much less NYC.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The (Rail) Road to the Renaissance of RHIC on the Ring Road

How things change. In 2005, James Simons and Renaissance Partners made an astute investment in science, by funding the last 10% of the RHIC budget for 2006 -- one that literally made 100% of the science possible (remember that most of the budget is taken up in fixed costs). The lab thanked him for his generosity several years ago in a major ceremony, but tomorrow will take the appreciation one step further. The RHIC Ring Road, running along the inside of the collider ring (i.e. it's official, but mainly descriptive -- I don't think I've ever seen a green sign on the road itself) will now be called Renaissance Circle. And the road joining it to the lab will be transformed from the prosaic, but obsolete "Railroad Ave" (also descriptive of the truth, as a track runs alongside it, but this time with green signs) becomes Renaissance Road. So you take Renaissance Road to Renaissance Circle for the new era of RHIC experiments. A lot catchier -- and modern -- than taking Railroad to Ring Road. But it's not in our job description to be catchy: we're scientists, folks, not poets (at least not most of us!)

The only nitpick I can make with the new naming is that a "renaissance" indicates a revival of something lost along the way. Last I checked, RHIC has been incredibly productive, without missing a beat, for almost 10 years now. That said, an undeniable renaissance in science has certainly taken place with the arrival of the Obama administration, which is redoubling efforts to support science nationwide -- and the presence of the Department of Energy tomorrow (William Brinkman, from the Office of Science) makes that clear to all of us.

See you there (esp. at the Autism walk around the RHIC ring at Noon)

I must start writing again

Some of my favorite tweets from the last few days, translated into English.
  • "The Rorschach debate almost seems like a Rorschach test itselfhttp://bit.ly/ZiAfv (so download 'em while you can! http://bit.ly/5gNgD )": in other words, the very reaction to the "exposure" of the Rorschach blots raises many of the ambiguities (i.e. issues) people have about the efficacy of the method. There's clearly as much interpretation in the handling of the responses, as the subject has in giving them in the first place.
  • "unreal - RT @Naunihal: Please make it stop! RT @SlateBoston cop suspended for calling Skip Gates racial slur in email http://tr.im/uEEe": My friend Naunihal forwarded me this link to a Boston Globe article, originally posted by Slate this afternoon. Can this really be happening? Yes, it can.
  • "Hertzberg recommending movies? @newyorkerdotcom-mers using blogs to expand purview, i guess. http://bit.ly/41IuLT worked on me, anyway": In my naive understanding of the New Yorker hierarchy, it's Lane and Denby who make us want to watch movies, and Hertzberg who leads off the Talk of the Town, typically with astute commentary on our leading political figures. But through those pesky blogs, it's Hertzberg who's recommending movies (Apatow's Funny People), and I'll be damned if he doesn't make me want to see it even more than I did before.
I will start writing again, I promise -- but tweeting is. so. easy...

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Still Twittering

Still twittering like crazy - lots of links and short bursts of commentary - but it takes mindshare away from the blog. Not sure how to solve this yet, until I have complete essay-length thoughts to share, which will be difficult while we are dealing with some of the more intense rites of adulthood, all at the same time. More later!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

S.O.S. (Save Austrian Science)

Just in case you missed it: Austria is planning on pulling out of CERN after 50 years involvement. The claim is that they can use the money (about $21M) elsewhere in the EU.

Anyway, don't think that the Austrian scientific community is taking the news well. They are getting organized and already have a petition online. Please take a minute and sign it:


It came as a surprise when Federal Minister Hahn announced that he wanted to discontinue Austria's membership in CERN.

This "wrong historic decision" (quoting Prof. Dr. Herbert Pietschmann) must be stopped before Austria's reputation as a nation of high-tech and modern research suffers irreparable damage and our country excludes itself from future developments.

CERN - this is research in elementary particle physics and comology. CERN is a brilliant example of excellence by European cooperation. CERN is the vision of our young scientists.

By signing this petition I urge the Austrian parliament not to agree to this proposition of minister Hahn.

(And I hope no-one missed that ATLAS slide in the AP article!)

(Thanks, Heinz and Paul!)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Not like I have time to fiddle around and redesign things just for the heck of it but, well, I fiddled around and made the design a little cleaner, and even cleaner still with some help from my wife.

So just in case people are reading this via an RSS reader, have a look at the new version and let me know what you think. But if you're from the Kazimir Malevich estate, I'm not home right now -- of course, if you leave your name and number, I'll be sure get back to you right away.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Tesla in Shoreham

Tesla's lab was located in Shoreham, New York (yes, that Shoreham - but a lovely place I used to live in when I first moved to BNL) in Long Island, just north of Brookhaven. The Times reports on the battle brewing over what to do with the site, which locals and Tesla enthusiasts want landmarked, and which Agfa, the current owner, just wants to jettison. Neat article, and a reminder of how big a presence Tesla was in his time, and how hard he fell.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Plot Device of Mass Destruction

Don't be afraid, the likelihood of anyone gathering up even a fraction of a gram of anti-matter (as seen here in this still from the Angels & Demons preview) is pretty unlikely. The ATRAP experiment at CERN managed to trap 170,000 antihydrogen atoms, but that's still 18 orders of magnitude (1 with 18 zeros after it!) away from A&D territory.

Now, why was I thinking about this recently, since I'm not much of a Dan Brown fan (I survived Da Vinci, just to see what the fuss was about, but enough)? Dave Mosher, from Discovery Space, asked me to put together a little guest blog on anti-matter, and when the media asks, I deliver. Anyway, please have a gander at my piece, "Plot Device of Mass Destruction", and let me know what you think.

Two things I didn't manage to squeeze into an already-long article:
  1. My introduction to anti-matter was certainly via "The Counter Clock Incident", in the animated Star Trek series from the early 1970's. While the black stars on the white sky, and the total absence of annihilating anything, clearly miss the mark, they did somehow capture Feynman's insight that anti-particles in the matter universe are, in a sense, travelling backwards in time. Who knows if they were reading Bjorken & Drell, and it's sci-fi as all get-out, but it sort of feels like an inside joke for physicists (in a Saturday morning cartoon, no less)
  2. My reminder that people other than I watched Star Trek as kids came when I was visiting NYC from CERN in the mid-1990's. I was staying with a college friend who had gone into finance, and we ended up hanging out in Washington Square Park on a Sunday afternoon, with a guitar or two in tow. I vividly remember him playing for a bit, looking thoughtful for a second and then asking, "Now that you're a physicist, you can tell me: what is antimatter?" I gave a similar spiel as I wrote in this Discovery Space piece, but somehow he wasn't satisfied. The mystery was too great, and my experienced reality of anti-matter was far too mundane. Hope this try was better!
Anyway, enjoy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Yes, I broke down and started twittering. I used to find it quite pointless, compared to "normal" blogging, but then I started getting into updating my facebook status, and realized I actually enjoyed microblogging. Then I discovered how to link twitter and FB, and here I am, updating over and over, over on the right side of this page in the little box.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Starry Eyed

This is really fun (via Gizmodo): a picture how the sky would look if your eyes were as sensitive as a long exposure telescope image.
Explanation: Intricate, glowing nebulae that shine in planet Earth's night sky are beautiful to look at in deep images made with telescopes and sensitive cameras. But they are faint and otherwise invisible to the naked-eye. That makes their relative location and extent on the sky difficult to appreciate. So, consider this impressive composite image of a wide region of the northern winter sky. With a total exposure time of 40 hours, the painstaking mosaic presents a nebula-rich expanse known as the Orion-Eridanus Superbubble above a house in suburban Boston, USA. Within the wide and deep view are nebulae more often seen in narrower views, including the Great Orion Nebula, the Rosette Nebula, the Seagull Nebula, the California Nebula, and Barnard's Loop. The familiar constellation of Orion itself is just above the foreground house. Brightest star Sirius is left of the roof, and the recognizable Pleiades star cluster is above the tree at the right. A version of the big picture that includes simple constellation guidelines is available here.
One can get a sense of this even with the naked eye if you go way out in the desert, e.g. in South Africa. I once saw the large and small Magellanic clouds down there -- with my eyes -- and I was never the same again.

Quark Matter in the News

Holy moly, what have we here? Quark Matter 2009, on the news...and look there I am in the green down vest just as it begins! And there's Giorgio, breaking our hearts. And Kai and Spencer, trying to convince people that physicists know something about sports (well, some do). And that awesome guy at the end (see below...):

I'm sitting here and I got some things on my mind,
and we're sitting here at Quark Matter two-thousand-and-nine.
Now I can't really explain what all of it means,
I just hope they don't blow us all to smith-er-eens
Hear, hear! (Thanks, Mike!)

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Application (2008 Dirac Medals)

I missed this, but it's started bubbling up on the PHENIX lists: The Dirac medals were awarded a few weeks ago, and somehow it seems that being interested in the quark gluon plasma is no longer a handicap:
Professors Maldacena, Polchinski and Vafa are being honored for their fundamental contributions to superstring theory. Their studies range from early work on orbifold compactifications, physics and mathematics of mirror symmetry, D-branes and black hole physics, as well as gauge theory-gravity correspondence. Their contributions in uncovering the strong-weak dualities between seemingly different string theories have enabled us to learn about regimes of quantum field theory which are not accessible to perturbative analysis. These profound achievements have helped us to address outstanding questions like confinement of quarks and QCD mass spectrum from a new perspective and have found applications in practical calculations in the fluid dynamics of quark gluon plasma.

The dualities have also led string theorists to conjecture that the five different superstring theories in ten space-time dimensions are manifestations of one underlying theory, yet undiscovered, which has been named the M-theory.
So quark gluon plasma is now a "practical application" of string theory. While I completely agree with it in principle, imagine telling this to your aunt when she asks what your research is good for. Ironically, I usually argue that "helping string theory" is a practical application of studying the QGP at RHIC -- but it's all a matter of perspective I suppose.

In any case, a belated congrats to Maldacena, Polchinski, and Vafa. It's been pretty exciting to see all of this develop in the last decade.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Know Your Reference (Quark Matter 2009)

So much for those dispatches: I could barely figure out where I wanted to be at any given time, much less come up with reasonable summaries of what I had just seen. Conferences are like that. Anyway, I do have a few photos, but just a few. Above you can see Bill Zajc of Columbia University telling us a few things to keep us focussed, two of them not about heavy ions at all, but about the "control measurements" we do with smaller systems that we assume are "references".

Now that I'm home, it's interesting to reflect on how little attention we've questioned our reference systems as such. Generally, the less we worry about them, the better we feel, since they then remain "someone else's" problem (i.e. that of our particle physicist friends). However, the more I hang out in this neck of the scientific woods, the less I believe that nominally "simple" systems are that simple (even protons are made of many quarks and gluons), or are even that different than the bigger systems we create with huge (ok, still subatomic) nuclei. While it can be a little confusing, I find these ambiguities the most compelling aspects of this business.

I'll get to this in the next few posts. In the meantime, if you want to see the official summaries, check out the four rapporteur talks here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Quark Matter 2009: Dispatches

So I'm in Knoxville for the week, with 500 colleagues (it should have been about 550, but the DNS decided not to get their act together and forced quite a few speakers to stay home -- more on that later). The conference is called "Quark Matter 2009", and is the 21st in a series that began in the early 1980's. This time the folks at Oak Ridge took the reins, and we're in for a busy week.

I particularly like the poster this time out: the Great Smoky Mountains, Helvetica everywhere, and the central cluster of stars from the Tennessee state flag, which iconographically refers to the three quarks in the proton, but really refers to the three regions of Tennessee. It's pretty neat that the flag even has a Sol Lewitt style set of instructions associated with it:

An oblong flag or banner in length one and two thirds times its width, the large or principal field of same to be of color red, but said flag or banner ending at its free or outer end in a perpendicular bar of blue, of uniform width, running from side to side; that is to say, from top to bottom of said flag or banner, and separated from the red field by a narrow margin or stripe of white of uniform width; the width of the white stripe to be one-fifth that of the blue bar; and the total width of the bar and stripe together to be equal to one-eighth of the width of the flag.

In the center of the red field shall be a smaller circular field of blue, separated from the surrounding red field by a circular margin or stripe of white of uniform width and of the same width as the straight margin or stripe first mentioned. The breadth or diameter of the circular blue field, exclusive of the white margin, shall be equal to one-half of the width of the flag. Inside the circular blue field shall be three five-pointed stars of white distributed at equal intervals around a point, the center of the blue field and of such size and arrangement that one point of each star shall approach as closely as practicable without actually touching one point of each of the other two around the center point of the field; and the two outer points of each star shall approach as nearly as practicable without actually touching the periphery of the blue field. The arrangement of the three stars shall be such that the centers of no two stars shall be in a line parallel to either the side or end of the flag, but intermediate between same; and the highest star shall be the one nearest the upper confined corner of the flag.

Anyone want to try this without peeking?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chu @ BNL

(Funny, my photo is similar to the Times one -- maybe because Revkin was standing next to me!)

Gee I barely had time to introduce this post. Steven Chu, our new Energy Secretary, chose to come to BNL today to announce a major round of funding for science, particularly for the national laboratories. I popped open the new netbook and didn't stop typing for 45 minutes, throughout what turned out to be a quite substantive talk. Enjoy the notes (as raw as they are!):

OK, the first slide is up: "The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and America's renewed commitment to scientific research"

Cue Billy Joel muzak again, as with Paterson.

First visit of DOE secretary to a national research lab. Visited facilities and scientists.

He has chosen BNL to make an important funding announcment which will affect science across the US.

Sam acknowledging Kevin Law (NYPA), Schumer (not present), Tim Bishop (BNL's congressman)

Bishop speaking. Honored Secretary has chosen BNL as first lab since being appointed. "Underscores just what a treasure this laboratory is." Announcement will reflect wisdom of recovery act. Puts people back to work, and puts them where the US will lead.

Chu speaking. Grew up in Garden City, Long Island, age 3 to 18. Never made it to Stony Brook (laughter).

Thanking Aronson, BNL staff, Bishop, Dehmer. Struggling to get slides showing on the screen!

"This is an experiment". The secretary cracks wise! It seems the plug was kicked. "Now they're rebooting". "I hope NSLS II works better" (laughter).

There's going to be an announcment, and then "you're going to be subjected to a brief real talk"

Announcement: Obama's budget pledges to double office of science over the next 10 years. Calls for $15B per year into R&D for clean, renewable energy. Extends REsearch and experimentation tax credit for companies.

Slides are up.

Funding for DOE includes $150M for NSLS II.

Funding for 9 labs today. $65M for CEBAF. $277M for energy frontier research centers. $90M for grad students, postdocs and PhD scientists -- via which agency? Directly?

DOE: largest funder of physical scientists. 17 national labs. researchers at 300 universities. 88 nobel universities. LBNL has trained 30+ people who eventually received prizes.

NSLS II will continue scientific legacy that began w/ Cosmotron and AGS -- but in chemistry/biology/materials. What about nuclear/particle?

Photos of SC with TD Lee and Murray Gell-Mann. Story of doing crossword with MGM.

Strong focussing as major contribution of BNL to world. Reflects on early days of betatron oscillations to modern machines like NSLS II with tiny submicron beam spots.

Listing NSLS II properties (10k times brighter than NSLS I, spatial resolution of 1nm). As specs being prepared, LBNL folks were nervous -- major advance beyond known technologies.

Major contributions will be at the "Energy Frontier" (different than usual -- "energy" not "high energy"!)

"The Energy Problem": 1. national security and prospertiy linked to energy, 2. potential for geopolitical conflict from competition for resources, 3. climate change

Reviewing predictions for loss of forests and snowpack and heatwave mortality.

Death of British Columbian pine by 2013 since beetles not killed by frost. 40% already dead by 2006.

Permafrost less permanent.

Issue is preserving vegetation: microbes create lots of CO2 when they don't freeze

Human development index vs Electricity Use. US is highly developed (HDI of 0.95) but no correlation with electricity consumption. Canada and Norway much higher but due to hydro resources.

Showing per capita electricity use: flat in CA since 1973 despite GDP per capita doubling, grew 50%+ nationwide. NYS is 2nd best state in union.

Discussing development of refrigerators since 70's. Energy down by 4, cost by factor of 2-3. Energy saved by better fridges is double than all of renewable energy. One cannot stress how important energy efficiency is.

Buildings are 40% of total US energy. Lighting in commerical buildings is 26% of energy use. Huge opportunities for energy saving.

Experience from time at LBNL on making buildings efficient. Turns out lots of physics problems in helping architects and engineers to design better buildings. Can reduce consumption by 80% -- pays for itself in 10 years.

3 myths: one is that it's just political will. no it requires technology.

what is a transformative technology? electronic amplification and transcontinental telephones. vacuum tube was essential for amplifications (no-one knew exactly how they worked!). required red hot wire and burned out. needed something more reliable -- AT&T started development of transistor. Along the way, Nobel Prizes at Bell Labs (Davisson).

R&D started in late 1930's but wouldn't have started w/o development of Quantum Mechanics. By 1930, a theory for properties of atoms started being applied to condensed matter systems, e.g. Bloch waves. With better understanding of electron transport, maybe we can understand materials well enough that we can make a transistor.

It's unlikely that the transistor could have been invented w/o theoretical underpinning. Same for laser. This is why it's important to invest in basic science.

Batteries! No major change in technology since 1850 (only factor of 2). Big breakthrough by sony with Li-Ion battery - factor of 2 since 2000. Discussion of LBNL technology to improve battery performance. Co block polymer that self-assembles and prevents dendrites from forming and making shorts. 2x energy density of current LiIon. Bad at low temperatures. Instead of trying to fine tune old recipe, a new idea.

New batteries for plug in hybrids, perhaps in 5 years. Lots of smart people now spending time on this.

Moore's law curve of $/MWh vs. Megawatts installed. Factor of 10 between gas turbines and photovoltaics. Need major improvement in PV for it to be viable. DOE predicts parity by 2030. Right now a factor of 5 difference w/o all the subsidies.

"We need transformative solutions to solve the energy problem"

nanotech for producing solar cells.

Population issue? Paul Erlich predicted 100's of millions dying in the 1970's and 1980's. Productivity of land grew while land used stayed constant. 1970 nobel prize on dwarf strains of wheat. Improve food production per acre 3-6x. Also mentioned Haber's invention of artificial fertilizer at turn of century (Nobel prize!). Bosch got another prize for efficient production of ammonia. Another prize for figuring out how it worked. Science coming to the rescue, at least temporarily.

We need science to come to the rescue.

Feedstock grass can produce 1/2 current consumption of gasoline via ethanol. 15x more efficient than corn.
But we may need to invent an artificial plant...

Man first learned to fly by imitating nature. Leonardo invented plane by copying how birds flew. In this respect, Leonardo was a theorist.

Wright brothers had a hybrid solution: replaced muscle power with gasoline engine, but took features from bird wings. Now jets look nothing like birds. Also don't act like birds (e.g. mate and produce new little 747's).

Because you have access to materials not found in nature, can do better than nature (e.g. jet blades are single crystals!)

Can develop more efficient means of photosynthesis (Helios project).

This is part of the challenge.

And finally something else: funding increases for national labs, but how do we best organize assault on energy problem. Mentioning manhattan project and radar -- teams working hard to solve a problem. Bell labs -- strong individuals self-organizing into teams. Nobel prizes at Bell Labs.

There is no equivalent to Xerox PARC or Bell Labs in energy sector. National labs need to develop ideas that will be picked up by private sector.

Mentioning space program (Apollo). Earth - there's nowhere else to go.

Now taking questions.

- What about nuclear technology which can already now solve the problem? SC thinks NE is part of the energy mix. Compared to fossil fuels, no carbon emission. Of course waste & proliferation but they can be overcome. Some stimulus money for nuclear energy in ARRA. Should restart nuclear industry
- Nick Samios: part of Bell Labs was from monopoly power. Can there be regulations or incentives to revive basic research in industrial complex in the US. SC says this was part of BHO's announcement today, the R&E tax credit which needs to be made permanent. US is losing technologies to companies overseas. Need to recapture technologies by exploiting scientific lead and incentives to companies to say that we want these to be home-grown industries.
- How will ARPA-E (energy DARPA to invest in high risk things the private sector won't) being incorporated into DOE structure? Discussing conservatism of academics who need to keep their contracts renewed. So need something to encourage high risk research. He wants a lean organization: 20 people, $200M/year. No constraints. Describing his experience developing atomic fountains into better clocks using air force money (lots of money, but limited duration).
- NY Times reporter (Andrew C. Revkin) applicability of something makes an easy sell. how do you communicate energy/climate problem in a way that gets the same outcome. current R&D is $1B/year where war on cancer etc is 10's of $B/year. Times reporter is videotaping SC's answer! SC makes a comment that people often go to war for energy resources so it makes it crucial to act quickly. Also pace of climate change is worrying. Skeptics say that southern hemiphere is cooling down -- but this was predicted in climate models. Difference between now and ice age is 6 degrees C. 5-6 degrees hotter would make a dramatically different world. He sees people being motivated to go into science for this reason.

Sam has ended session. SC says "Don't clap -- get to work."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Making Waves

Now I know we all like Animal Collective, right? What I hadn't realized about their new album was that the cover (difficult to see on web pages etc.) was an eye-popping optical illusion ("based on the works of Japanese psychologist Akiyoshi Kitaoka" whose illusion page is wild). But, oddly enough, I only figured this out after writing a little ROOT macro to reproduce it (don't ask -- I had one of those "*I* could do that" moments...). After a bit of messing about to get it to look just like the original, and expanding its size to fill my laptop screen, it started moving. If you're a ROOT user, give it a try (and it makes things that look like this).

Monday, March 02, 2009

David Paterson @ BNL

Just a few photos from the Paterson event at Brookhaven last Friday. Very impressive on all fronts, particularly the solar project at BNL.

And here are more details on:

Saturday, February 28, 2009

David Byrne @ Radio City

Wow that was fun. All of the good stuff ('78-'80 Talking Heads w/ Eno, the new album) played with fire and good feelings. Too bad my camera was too puny to give a good sense of the show.

This Vanity Fair piece gets most of it right: keeping up keeps you young. True for many scientists I know as well.

And for the record, Radio City Music Hall is a wonder.

Friday, February 27, 2009

50 Megawatts from the Sun (Paterson @ BNL)

NY Governor David Paterson is at BNL today, in part to announce this:
Gov. David A. Paterson is expected at Brookhaven National Laboratory today to tout approval of a LIPA project to add 50 megawatts of solar power to the local power grid - among the largest in the country.

Long Island Power Authority trustees yesterday approved the selection of four solar power firms to erect photovoltaic stations at locations across the region. In addition to Brookhaven Lab, they will be placed on rooftops and parking lots of the Plainview- Old Bethpage Central School District, at landfills in Oyster Bay and Islip, and atop a real estate business.

LIPA hasn't released the cost of the project. Acting LIPA chairman Howard Steinberg said residents should expect the power to cost from two to three times that of conventional fossil-fuel plants.

Paul DeCotis, Paterson's energy chief, said LIPA can expect funds from the recently approved federal stimulus package to help defray part of the "green premium," as well as money from state renewable programs. He said the solar power project will be the first major leg of Paterson's push for 45 percent of the state's electricity to come from efficiency and renewables by 2015.
I've got my seat -- and my laptop, so I'll post anything else I hear (besides the Billy Joel muzak being played as we wait). I suppose we still call that live-blogging, but just saying that sounds so old fashioned. Maybe I should twitter it?

But now that I poke around a bit, I'm a little confused: the Times reported on this issue on Feb 13 and mentioned that LIPA is raising electricity rates by 3.2%. RHIC research is quite dependent on power costs, so will this be a net gain for the lab, after all, despite being a major source of renewable energy for the region? Or will this eventually make the lab's power cheaper, as it would be if you installed it on your own home? Stay tuned.

Update: pushing 2:10 and no Paterson -- someone next to me commented about 200 wasted man-hours.

Forgets Byron Foley -- "you know how they say 'you always forget the one you love'" and apologizes. He's hilarious.

2:19pm DOE has awarded $913M in capital money for the new light source (NSLS II). Wow.

"If I know any more than that I will actually come help with the research."

1000 jobs in construction -- mostly from people who live in Long Island.

BNL has estimates 63M hours of labor needed for NSLS II.

Big announcement: 50MW of hydro power for BNL from LIPA. Lower cost for operations of lab activities, just for NSLS II or for RHIC?

Triple threat: DOE funding, BNL expertise, NY will supply the power. Colleges and universities will be great beneficiaries.

"But there's more"

Feb 11, 2008 was charged for developing recommendation for renewable power. proposal for 50MW of photovoltaic power. Got back opportunties for 400MW, and looking for a venue.

Today: announcing private investor will lease property at BNL, central station solar power plant here at lab!

BNL, along with LIPA and NYSERDA will collaborate to put this in place. Part of getting 45% of energy from renewable sources by 2015 -- BNL solar plant will be a major contribution. "45 by 15" will yield 50000 jobs in NYS.

All of these can also heat hydrogen ("not nitrogen -- I get letters about this stuff") to help store power.

Called BNL a major leader in scientific research and fuel cell research. Benefit to NYS and Long Island, and will transform the US power to produce energy and clean up the atmosphere.

Paterson is done!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Making Connections

(An edited version of this is going to run in the BNL Monday Memo tomorrow. I just wanted to post it here because...well, because I had written it already! And I post the book cover on the right because...well, because I loved that show as a young PBS viewer and because...well, because this is why I got into the science biz to begin with -- to find unexpected connections! And here's the press rundown -- thanks Clifford!)
At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last week in Chicago, the sessions covered a wide range of scientific fields, from climate change to the intersections of mathematics with origami. Of course for me, the highlight was the symposium that I organized with Bill Zajc, professor at Columbia University and former spokesperson for the PHENIX experiment at RHIC.

Titled “Quest for the Perfect Liquid: Connections Between Heavy Ions, String Theory, and Cold Atoms,” the session covered the emerging relevance of the physics done at RHIC to other subfields of physics, ones that were never thought to be related.

It included speakers both from within the RHIC community, as well as from fields who turn out to have a closer connection to RHIC physics than had been realized. It turns out that physicists from three separate fields are all intensely interested in the physics of strongly-coupled liquids, which flow so easily that they are called “perfect” liquids.

PHENIX spokesperson Barbara Jacak of Story Brook University presented the major results from RHIC, which has been providing collisions since 2000. She paid particular attention to the main features of the medium formed in heavy ion collisions at RHIC: that it flows like a near-perfect liquid, a property intimately connected to its ability to stop the motion of fast-moving quarks (both light and heavy). Using these data, RHIC scientists are able to determine a particular ratio -- that of viscosity to entropy density -- to be quite small.

John Thomas, an atomic physicist from Duke University, presented his experimental results on ultracold atomic gases. In these experiments, clouds of atoms are released from optical traps, and their expansion is visualized by laser flash-imaging techniques. An external magnetic field affects the coupling of the atoms and can be tuned to put the system in a strongly-coupled “universal” regime. Here, the system acts in a way similar to RHIC collisions, expanding asymmetrically according to the laws of fluid flow. The viscosity to entropy density ratio has also been measured here and is as low (or maybe lower!) than that found at RHIC.

Rounding out the presenters was (notable blogger) Clifford Johnson of the University of Southern California. He described how the mathematical techniques of string theory are elucidating the properties of these strongly interacting near-perfect liquids, based on the ideas of string theory. These techniques are used to draw a connection between a strongly-coupled quark-gluon liquid in our world of three spatial dimensions and a gravity theory living in four spatial dimensions with a black hole sitting deep in the fifth dimension! While this scenario sounds strange, it provides one of the few concrete predictions arising from string theory calculations -- that the ratio of viscosity to entropy density has a lower limit, a value which seems to be observed by both RHIC and the ultracold atomic physics experiments.

The serendipitous convergence of these three separate fields has been very exciting -- and useful -- for everyone involved, giving all of us the strong sense that we are only starting to grasp its implications. And it is quite striking that the tools of string theory have provided a sharp, testable prediction for the first time -- one that seems to be borne out by experiments from completely different fields.

Our symposium was attended by over 120 people, ranging from high-school students to scientists in a variety of physics subdisciplines, showing the wide interest this emerging field of science has attracted. It was subsequently covered by several physics blogs.

Symmetry magazine’s assistant editor Glenda Chui served as a discussant along with Bill, and they both addressed questions to the speakers following the talks.

Chui herself posted a blog (http://www.symmetrymagazine.org/breaking/2009/02/16/a-first-string-theory-predicts-an-experimental-result/) a few days later, which was picked up by digg.com. The interest in Chui’s blog was so great that it overloaded Symmetry's server, necessitating a major upgrade. The comments to the piece show that connecting experimental data to string theory is controversial, especially if this is used to argue for the “reality” of string theory. But such debate is fitting for the kind of forefront science we do here at Brookhaven with RHIC.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Invisible Tower

Our apartment is just a few blocks from Madison Square park and can even see the Met Life Tower from the window. I also happen to drive down 23rd St whenever I head to the Midtown Tunnel to get the Brookhaven (a rare event these days, now that I take the LIRR more often). I find the tower a magical structure, particularly when I try and imagine just how huge the clock face must be.

And, something I stumbled on a few months ago completely blew me away. This one is about the Met Life North Building, something not as noticable in the shadow of the gorgeous 770 foot tower. Turns out that it was the base for a planned 100 story skyscraper, but the crash of 1929, um, "descoped" the project a bit. Who knew? But now every time I drive by, I find myself wanting to see the real tower, and not just this beast.

When Water Droplets Collide

So not exactly world-shattering, but certainly droplet-shattering. I was curious about people who had done this kind of thing -- and Google was kind, yielding up Robert Park's interesting web page. Image after image (and movies) of water droplets colliding: slow and fast, symmetric and asymmetric, head on and glancing. Interestingly, a colleague of mine looked at these yesterday and saw very low-energy nuclear physics (neutron necking, and the like). I looked at these and tried to imagine them relativistically.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

Who can resist these BNL blinking buttons? Clearly no child under the age of 10, judging by how quickly they disappeared once laid out on the table. And no one realized that the tech would let us track their whereabouts forever.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scenes from the AAAS

It has been quite a crazy few days since I left for the AAAS meeting in Chicago:
  • Thursday, reaffirmed my faith (shared by the family Obama) that Avec is one of my favorite restaurants in the country, but I can't figure out how to describe it
  • Friday, grappling with the almost-unmanageable AAAS sprawl, learning a bit about scientists in Hollywood, and huge events by Sean B. Carroll, Al Gore, and the Ig Nobel folks
  • Saturday, skipping the science of kissing for the arts of getting scientific insight to Congress (with the impressive Bill Foster), learning about the human propensity for blinkenlights at the BNL booth, the joys of neo-Origami, Chicago evening fireworks on the river, and the fun of science journalist parties (and congrats to the AAAS award winners!)
  • Sunday, the wonders of Houlihan's breakfast, surviving our symposium (audience shown above!), missing the Higgs discussion at the FNAL/CERN symposium, and bumping into a few physioblogospheric luminaries (yes, that's two Sean Carrolls in three days...)
A few attempts at documentary photography can be found in the usual place.

And more to come on the symposium itself.  I'm still processing things -- e.g. our crashing symmetry magazine's site with thousands of hits, apparently thanks to Digg.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Physics of Splashes

A nice piece from NPR on jets from dropping a ball into sand or water. It's not new, but the video is quite clear about laying out the problem and showing how the scientists understand the problem.

Some of this research is also featured on the APS Focus page who posted one of the videos of jets in liquid.

(X-msvideo 1.98MB)

Senate Cuts to Science Stimulus

Zeroing out all of the increases for NSF and the office of science (in the DOE part)? Who are these people?

This is ghastly -- and does the opposite stimulating innovation in the US.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Upcoming: AAAS Symposium (2/15/09)

This is a shameless plug for something I am organizing at the upcoming AAAS 2009 meeting in Chicago, in just a couple of weeks. I and several colleagues, in collaboration with the BNL Public Affairs folks (who are promoting this as well), are putting together a short symposium about the physics we do at RHIC, and how it relates to other, wide-ranging fields of science. In particular, we have people discussing both string theory, connected through the famous "AdS/CFT Correspondence", and cold atomic physics.

What relates all of these three topics (as I attempted to illustrate in the triangle diagram above) is the idea of the "perfect liquid". Both RHIC physicists and cold atomic physicists have discovered liquid-like behavior in their respective systems, despite a factor of 10^20 (1 with 20 zeros after it) difference in temperature (i.e. RHIC makes liquid at 2 trillion degrees, while the atomic guys make them at billionths of a degree above absolute zero!). And the most interesting predictions made about the properties of both systems have come from string theory, using calculations where gravitons scatter off of a black hole sitting in the 5th dimension. No kidding.

Seriously, how often do people in such disparate subjects discover that they are working on similar problems? Anyway, if this piques your interest, please stop by the symposium at the AAAS 2009 in Chicago on Sunday, Feb 15, 10:30am (yes, yes, registration required...)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike, RIP (The Gall!)

Sad news, hearing of the death of John Updike. I've only read a Rabbit or two and kept up with him in the New Yorker, but no physicist can avoid "Cosmic Gall": one of the only poems I can think of dedicated to an elementary particle.

Oddly, I just came across this poem this last sunday, while literally racing through Murray Gell-Mann's The Quark and the Jaguar (excellent stuff, but not a good enough fit to RHIC physics for us to pursue him as a speaker this summer...). But it's not that strange of a coincidence -- the poem is everywhere in the physioliterasphere, i.e. Gell-Mann was certainly not my introduction to it. I've seen it tacked on cubicle walls, reproduced in physics books, pasted into blog posts (July 2005 Cosmic Variance). And now, I repeat it again, in (but certainly not by) memory:
NEUTRINOS, they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
and painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
and pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed-you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Story of Hope

A very neat story of where Shepherd Fairey got the image now immortalized on those amazing posters (a B&W version of which I have on my office door, when it's not being taken down mysteriously...). And the show is opening at Danziger Projects tonight.

White House Blog

The new White House Blog should be interesting, but is anyone else not seeing the inaugural address?...

Restoring Science

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.

The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.

We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its costs.

We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

All this we can do. All this we will do
Right on.

Moving On