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.