Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rick Perry Backtracks On DOE

During his confirmation hearing today, Rick Perry changed his mind about wanting to shut down the US Dept. of Energy.

I have learned a great deal about the important work being done every day by the outstanding men and women of the Department of Energy. I have spoken several times to Secretary Moniz about the operation. I have spoken to his predecessors. And if confirmed, my desire is to lead this agency in a thoughtful manner surrounding myself with the expertise on the core function of the department. My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on some of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.

While it is good of him to chance his mind once he learned a bit more of what he's talking about, it doesn't diminish the fact that he and many other politicians are in a habit of going public with ideas and policies out of IGNORANCE. For some odd reason, many of them do not care that they make up their minds AND going public with such decision BEFORE they actually gather proper information about these things.

And if you think this is an isolated incident, you'd be wrong. I've highlighted several rather DUMB AND STUPID actions or comments made in public by these elected officials, all out of ignorance (read this and this, for example). I think that this is a common, standard-operating-procedure by many elected officials, that they really didn't do their homework in many decisions that they make.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Fermions and Bosons

Fermilab's Don Lincoln describes what bosons and fermions are, for those who don't know.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Imaging Fukushima Reactor Core Using Muons

If you are in the US, did you see the NOVA episode on PBS last night titled "The Nuclear Option"? If you did, did you miss, or not miss, the technique of imaging the Fukushima reactor core using the muon tomography developed at Los Alamos?

You see, whenever I see something like this, I want to shout out loud to the public on another example where our knowledge from high energy physics/elementary particle physics can produce a direct practical benefit. A lot of people still question whether our efforts in these so-called esoteric areas are worth funding. So whenever I see something like this, there should be a conscious and precise effort to point out that:

1. We had to first understand the physics of muons from our knowledge of the Standard Model of elementary particle.

2. Then those who do understand this often will start to figure out, often with collaboration of those in other areas of physics, of what could possibly be done with such knowledge.

3. And finally, they come up with a practical application of that knowledge, which originated out of an area that often produces no immediate and obvious application.

Things like this must be pointed out in SIMPLE TERMS to both the public and the politicians, because that is the only level that they can comprehend. I've pointed out previously many examples of the benefits that we get, directly or indirectly, from such field of study. It should be a requirement that any practical application should present a short "knowledge genealogy" of where the idea came from. It will be an eye-opener to many people.


Monday, January 09, 2017

Mpemba Effect Is Still Hot After All These Years

OK, maybe not hot, but it is certainly at least lukewarm.

If you don't know anything about this, I've made several posts on the Mpemba effect before (read here, here, here, and here). Briefly, this is the effect where hot water is seen to freeze faster than cold water. Even after its purported discovery many years ago, the validity of this effect, and the possible explanation for it are still being debated.

Add this report to the body of discussion. It seems that there are new papers that are using molecular bonds in water as the possible explanation for this effect.

Now researchers from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Nanjing University in China think they might have a solution - strange properties of bonds formed between hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water molecules could be the key to explaining the elusive Mpemba effect.

Simulations of water molecule clusters revealed that the strength of hydrogen bonds (H-bonds) in a given water molecule depends on the arrangements of neighbouring water molecules.

"As water is heated, weaker bonds break, and groups of molecules form into fragments that can realign to form the crystalline structure of ice, serving as a starting point for the freezing process," Emily Conover reports for Science News.

"For cold water to rearrange in this way, weak hydrogen bonds first have to be broken."
I'm sure this will not be the last time we hear about this.


Friday, January 06, 2017

The Brachistochrone Problem

There are many sources that describes this problem. Mary Boas also devoted a substantial portion of it in her classic text "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences". Here, Rhett Allain describes it once more in his Wired article.

Laymen might find it fascinating just to know the shape of the path, while physics students might find it useful especially if you're just about to take class in Least Action principle.


Thursday, January 05, 2017

Happy New Year!

A belated Happy New Year to everyone. I hope you all had a great holiday season.

Those of us in the US are facing a rather uncertain next few months. With the new administration taking office and the issue of science and science funding being trivialized during this last presidential election, no one knows where things are going. With Rick Perry slated to be nominated as the Secretary for the Dept. of Energy, it is like having the wolf looking after the sheep, since he had stated on more than one occasion of abolishing this part of the US govt. Sorry, but I don't think he has a clue what the DOE actually does.

This is not the first time someone who has no expertise in STEM is heading a dept. that deals with STEM. I've always wondered about the logic and rational of doing that. You never seen someone who is not an expert in finance or economics heading, say, the Treasury! So why is the DOE, which has been a significant engine in research, science, and technology, and which is the area that has been attributed to be responsible for the significant growth in our economy, being relegated as an ugly stepchild? Is it because STEM and STEM funding does not have a built-in constituent that will make public and political noise?

At this point, I have very low expectations for a lot of things during these next few years.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Sidney Drell And Vera Rubin

We lost two incredible and important figures in physics during this holiday season.

Sidney Drell, the elementary particle theoretical physicist responsible for the Drell-Yan process, passed away on Dec. 21, 2016. As important as his work in physics, he was also a central figure in the effort of nuclear disarmament. His accomplishments and efforts are just too numerous to list here, and you should do yourself a favor and read about him. He has no doubt had a hand in shaping our world today.

We lost Vera Rubin on Christmas day. She was one of the first astronomers to make the Dark Matter detection, and someone whom I thought should have already been awarded the Nobel Prize. So this year, we lost two extremely strong women candidates for the Nobel prize, Rubin and Deborah Jin.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Antihydrogen Looks Just Like Hydrogen

The ALPHA collaboration at CERN has measured the first ever 2s-1s transition in antihydrogen atoms, and it looks like the Standard Model and CPT symmetry are still correct!

Carrying out the whole procedure 11 times, the group found that on average just under 60% of antiatoms left the trap with the laser tuned to the 1s-2s transition, while no antiatoms (within the bounds of statistical error) dropped out when the laser was tuned to a different frequency or when it was switched off. The researchers say that the antiatoms underwent the transition at the expected frequency and therefore behaved no differently from normal hydrogen.

I'm sure there will be many more to come. The ability to store antihydrogen long enough to study it is a major accomplishment in itself.


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

"Germany's Wildly Complex Fusion Reactor Is Actually Working" - Fake News?

Does qualify as "Fake news", or are they just being stupid?

I posted yesterday about the successful test of the Wendelstein 7-X Stellerator magnetic field. It definitely should deserve the media publicity, because the topology of the magnetic field is very complex and very crucial to how they intend to hold the plasma that they will generate. But this is simply just ONE STEP towards the operation of this machine. They still haven't achieve yet what they intend to do.

So it is with a bit of a dismay that I read news reports that somehow indicated that this "fusion reactor" is "actually working"! Now, I wouldn't have paid much attention had this come from some obscure site, but this one actually came from Popular Mechanics!

However, the stellerator design is still relatively untested, so a group of researchers spent the past year studying the W7-X reactor to ensure that it was working the way it was supposed to. They found an incredibly small error rate, less than 1 in 100,000, which the researchers characterized as "unprecedented accuracy."

This is good news for the W7-X reactor, which was intended as a proof-of-concept for the stellerator design. Now that the researchers know the accuracy of the reactor's magnetic fields, they can begin building new reactors that focus on efficiency.

I'm sorry, but if you don't know any better, you'd think that this darn thing is now working, and they're now going to design "new reactors" with better performance. 


How dense can one be to get this report wrong? The actual paper, which one can read freely online, clearly indicated that this was a test of the complicated magnetic field, not the actual working of the reactor.

I would not be surprised if this is nothing more than a wrong piece of information that got passed around. I see Science Alert having the same type of headlines in their report.

All of these are misleading, and worst still, they are misleading the public who do not have the awareness of what is going on. And this is sad because the public often relies on these type of news sources, and yet, they are being given, at best, a misleading information.


Monday, December 05, 2016

Confirmation Of Wendelstein 7-X Magnetic Field

I mentioned a while back that Germany's Wendelstein 7-X Stellerator was about to go on with their tests. One of the most novel aspect of this fusion machine is the complex topology of its magnetic field.

We now have a report that confirms the topology of this magnetic field, with an agreement of better than 1:100,000. The field lines that they saw as shown in Fig. 2 of the paper is astounding and science-fictiony!

Well done, people!


Monday, November 28, 2016

What Is The Big Deal With This Math Problem?

For at least a year now, I've seen this math problem being floated about the various new websites. And I don't understand why it is such a big deal.

The problem involves a simple math problem that many students first learned in an intro algebra class:

Now, any child learning something like this would have to also learn about the SEQUENCE of operations that one has to perform to do this correctly. If you simply start to enter this into your calculator in order that it is written, you'll get the wrong answer.

And of course, you have to know that dividing by 1/3 is equivalent to multiplying by 3.

There are many mnemonic guides that one can use to know which one to perform first. In this case, you first perform the division, thus simplifying the equation into:

9 - 9 + 1 = ?

which will obviously leave you with the answer of 1.

This problem is getting rather a lot of publicity because it claims that a lot of people didn't get the right answer for something that seemingly looks very simple. My response to that is: Yeah, so?

When one learns this rule in school, one is given many similar problems of this type. This is not an unusual problem, and certainly something a lot of people will get wrong if they don't remember what the rule is. This is not surprising.

But why is it getting this much publicity?