Brainy Quote of the Day

Thursday, May 5, 2016

5th of May...

Battle of Puebla - Wikipedia
Topics: Diversity, Diversity in Science, Politics, Women in Science

The presumptive nominee of one of our major political parties used a xenophobic attack against Hispanics/Latinos - he called them drug dealers and rapists; he'll build a wall, and make Mexico pay for it; Muslims are barred at the border; African Americans have been injured and denigrated at his rallies; Women and LGBT have been insulted; Native Americans were burned by him in a bad casino deal. He's stirred the melting pot and bigots have bubbled out of the cauldron, the 2012 autopsy all but ignored. Someone commented to me that their father "didn't leave the Democratic Party in 1967; it left him." I bit my own tongue at the political dodge: the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act may have had something to do with his father's exodus, as it did many others. The hashtag movement to oppose the rise of the presumptive nominee has fallen to dust.

It is befitting today I repost this reminder of our diversity. I make no predictions and take nothing for granted. 538 and a lot of pundits predicted demises that didn't materialize. All the models were based on typical political science rules in elective politics. He is not following the rules: he's wrestling, WWE style.

I was 18 in 1980. I could at that time, drink as well as vote; the drinking age was raised to 21 when I turned 21 three years later, so it didn't impact me as much as generations afterwards. I voted along the party lines of my parents, affected by a party that championed the '64 and '65 acts my sister put her life on the line in demonstration lines for. The "Gipper" posed at his first rally in Philadelphia, Mississippi near the site of three murdered Civil Rights workers. It was an understood "wink and nod" at a group of disgruntled, disappointed and bigoted voters soon known as "Reagan Democrats." Using the dark machinations of the "Southern Strategy," so clearly elucidated by Lee Atwater, you will eventually get what you want: take from "them" because "they" didn't earn anything, despite a holocaust born of a mass continental kidnapping, rape, hangings, cross burning, domestic terrorism in the form of poll taxes and other voter suppression, castrations and reparations deferred forever. You did it with subtle, verbal Jujitsu; not openly as now: Moochers...Welfare Queens...Takers...Thugs...Rapists...all with a distinct hue in the gradient of Melanin. This has been one long backlash to the "established order" since January 20, 2009, when things got so terrible for many that bought into the myth of their inherit superiority. The president's main sin is the destruction of a narrative as long as the republic.

I make no predictions, but I give a sharp warning: Reagan was joked about in "Back To The Future" (Doc Brown: Who's president in 1985? Marty: Ronald Reagan. Doc Brown: The actor?), because as a B-Movie star, his only notable film was "Bedtime for Bonzo." Biff Tannen, the antagonist to Marty McFly's father - is based off the same real estate mogul, the Birther-in-Chief and reality TV star that is his party's presumptive nominee.

B-Movie actor...reality TV star... "What's past is prologue." William Shakespeare.

Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for "fifth of May") is a celebration held on May 5. It is celebrated nationwide in the United States and regionally in Mexico, primarily in the state of Puebla, where the holiday is called El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla (English: The Day of the Battle of Puebla). The date is observed in the United States as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, and to commemorate the cause of freedom and democracy during the first years of the American Civil War. In the state of Puebla, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. Contrary to widespread popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day—the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico—which is actually celebrated on September 16. (Wikipedia)

The National Society of Hispanic Physicists has a recognition page of Hispanic Americans in Physics - Past, Present and Future. Similar to what I posted during the month of February, my intention is to give the same attention to Hispanic Scientists and Engineers during the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Teaching for Change: Book link here
Almost 10 years before "Brown vs. Board of Education," Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a "Whites only" school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

Praise for "Separate is Never Equal" by Duncan Tonatiuh

"Tonatiuh masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history."
--"Kirkus Reviews," starred review
"Younger children will be outraged by the injustice of the Mendez family story but pleased by its successful resolution. Older children will understand the importance of the 1947 ruling that desegregated California schools, paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education seven years later."
--"School Library Journal," starred review
"Tonatiuh ("Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote") offers an illuminating account of a family's hard-fought legal battle to desegregate California schools in the years before "Brown" v. "Board of Education.""
--"Publishers Weekly"
"Pura Belpre Award-winning Tonatiuh makes excellent use of picture-book storytelling to bring attention to the 1947 California ruling against public-school segregation."

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Walter Kohn...

Image Source: 
Topics: Chemistry, Computational Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, Density Function Theory*, Nobel Prize, Quantum Mechanics

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.”

― William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

LOS ANGELES (JTA) –Nobel Prize winner Walter Kohn, who fled Nazi-ruled Austria one month before the start of World War II, has died.

Kohn died on April 19 at his home in Santa Barbara. He was 93.

Kohn received the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he shared with British-born scientist John Pople. His research, which spanned the fields of physics and chemistry, applied quantum mechanics and advanced mathematics to explain complex chemical reactions.

His studies also formed the basis for the creation of innovative materials custom designed for medicines and for advances in electronics.

In the fall of 1939, Kohn left his native Vienna on one of the last transports of children to England, where he was interned as an “enemy alien.” The following year he was shipped to Canada, where he subsequently joined the Canadian army as an infantryman.

His parents, Salomon and Gittel Kohn, died in Auschwitz.

* Density functional theory (DFT) is a computational quantum mechanical modelling method used in physics, chemistry and materials science to investigate the electronic structure (principally the ground state) of many-body systems, in particular atoms, molecules, and the condensed phases. Using this theory, the properties of a many-electron system can be determined by using functionals, i.e. functions of another function, which in this case is the spatially dependent electron density. Hence the name density functional theory comes from the use of functionals of the electron density. DFT is among the most popular and versatile methods available in condensed-matter physics, computational physics, and computational chemistry. Wikipedia

Jewish Telegraphic Agency: Walter Kohn, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, dies at 93

"Walter Kohn - Facts". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 4 May 2016. < >

"Walter Kohn - Biographical". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 4 May 2016. < >

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

AlN and Qbits...

This graphic illustrates an engineered nitrogen vacancy in aluminum nitride.
Topics: Computer Science, Entanglement, Materials Science, Quantum Computer, Quantum Mechanics, Schrödinger’s cat, Solid State Physics

I included a short primer on Aluminum Nitride if you're interested (which, I'm guessing if you're reading something this nerdy, you kinda are). If you're viewing this on a laptop, pad or a mobile phone, I'm 99.99999999% sure your devices chips were manufactured with AlN. If you go to the link below, the article gives a succinct description of quantum entanglement (when atoms due to their proximity to each other cannot be described as a single unit), and superposition - famously illustrated by the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment, which is the whole POINT of a quantum computer: it could be "1"; "0" or both at the same time, called a superposition of states. Thankfully, a lot of smart brains are tasked with what shape our tech lives post-Silicon will take, with which we will promptly share more cute cat videos in a kind of weird, digital Freudian slip.


Quantum computers have the potential to break common cryptography techniques, search huge datasets and simulate quantum systems in a fraction of the time it would take today’s computers. But before this can happen, engineers need to be able to harness the properties of quantum bits or qubits.

Currently, one of the leading methods for creating qubits in materials involves exploiting the structural atomic defects in diamond. But several researchers at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory believe that if an analogue defect could be engineered into a less expensive material, the cost of manufacturing quantum technologies could be significantly reduced. Using supercomputers at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), which is located at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), these researchers have identified a possible candidate in aluminum nitride. Their findings were published in Nature Scientific Reports.

NERSC: Could Aluminum Nitride Produce Quantum Bits? Linda Vu
Seo, H. et al. Design of defect spins in piezoelectric aluminum nitride for solid-state hybrid quantum technologies. Sci. Rep. 6, 20803; doi: 10.1038/srep20803 (2016).

Monday, May 2, 2016

Wars and Water...

Global droughts, April 27, 2016. From the Global Drought Information System.
Topics: Climate Change, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases

This is an often-correlated topic, even the Pentagon has warned Congress about it. Clausewitz said: "war is the extension of politics by other means," but it's also essentially a contest for resources, and it always has been. I recall my senior year my AFROTC instructor saying the primary duty of the officer was "the management of violence." That sounds kind of dark, but it's essentially the gist of it, despite your service branch or specialty. This article in Science Blogs caught my eye, as it tracks droughts across the globe in places where poverty, desperation and terrorism go hand-in-hand. Part of the responsibility of our elected officials should be the management of violence to keep it at a minimum (kind of a practical "fighting them over there" to borrow the jingoism), not sophomoric stunts with snowballs on the senate chamber floor.

Again, we have no solar sails, star ships nor extra habitable planets close by to escape to.

Populations around the world face many severe water challenges, from scarcity to contamination, from political or violent conflict to economic disruption. As populations and economies grow, peak water pressures on existing renewable water resources also tend to grow up to the point that natural scarcity begins to constrain the options of water planners and managers. At this point, the effects of natural fluctuations in water availability in the form of extreme weather events become even more potentially disruptive than normal. In particular, droughts begin to bite deeply into human well-being.

This has been a bad few years for people exposed to droughts around the world. Even normally occurring droughts have begun to be made more severe by rising global temperatures and climate changes. A particularly severe El Niño has played an important role: droughts are typically more widespread and severe than normal during El Niño years. Indeed, precipitation variability on land is strongly controlled by the characteristics of El Niño events.

Science Blogs: Global Droughts: A Bad Year, Peter Gleick

Related links:

The Water Wars, Cameron Stracher
War and Water, Rhett B. Larson
Water and War, Steven Lonergan
Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war, Suzanne Goldenberg

Friday, April 29, 2016

Chief Injudiciousness...

Photos at top show students at Chicago State University (CSU), a minority serving institution on Chicago's South Side, engaged in active learning environments that have been shown to aid diverse groups of students develop a deep understanding of physics. In top photo Ebony Spells, Angela Moore, and Sharif Onihale work on a physics lab experiment.
Topics: Diversity, Diversity in Science, Politics, STEM, Women in Science

I’m not sure if putting it in The Back Page section of the APS newsletter was a smooth move politically, but I’m grateful for the lucidity and clarity of Dr. Chandralekha Singh’s arguments affirming the need for diversity in our national STEM competitiveness, and the utterly vapid statement by one with the title “Chief Justice.”

Not that I've heard a lot from Chief Justices, but I don't recall Rehnquist saying something so demonstrably out-of-touch with the rest of the country; his mind is in the 1950's behind a white picket fence. The Chief Injustice is a microcosm of a privileged mindset that hasn't quite grasped we're in a global competitive environment, and more than his culture needs to row in the collective national boat.

Sadly, due to financial stresses, this valuable asset will likely close this year. When such actions - intentional or unintentional - take place, "lifting yourselves up by your own bootstraps" is about as asinine as starting a sprint chained to the starting block six seconds after the gun fires the race. For want of "nostalgic," anachronistic prejudices of the mid 20th Century, we're setting ourselves up to be a banana republic in the 21st.

On December 9, 2015, Chief Justice Roberts asked the question "What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?" during the discussion of a case on affirmative action at the university level. It appears that he chose a physics class because he felt that this discipline definitely does not need diverse perspectives. As a female physicist who has been teaching at the University of Pittsburgh for two decades, I feel that the Chief Justice’s question suggests a lack of familiarity with urgent issues in education that must be addressed to maintain U.S. competitiveness.

The question first implies that it is the perspective of the minority student that is the critical feature rather than the presence of the minority student in the physics class. We need to attract minority students to disciplines that need their talents. Currently, approximately 20 percent of undergraduate and Ph.D. students in physics programs across the U.S. are females, which is significantly lower than the percentage in many European and Asian countries. What is perhaps more alarming is that only about 9 percent of physics undergraduate degrees and 6 percent of Ph.D. degrees are awarded to students from underrepresented races and ethnicities.

APS Physics: In the Matter of Minority Physics Students v. Chief Justice Roberts
By Chandralekha Singh

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Artist's impression of how electrons (blue sphere) are accelerated by a large electric-field gradient (cerise waves) created by an intense laser pulse. (Courtesy: Cockcroft Institute of Accelerator Science)
Topics: High Energy Physics, Laser, Particle Physics, Plasma Physics

In the era of xenophobic flight to suburbs, they termed the cities "doughnuts," meaning they were empty of value, like doughnut holes; the suburbs sweeter and of more worth.

It's not that good science is not being done here in the US: it's no longer what we're known for primarily. Now, it's creation museums, conspiracy provocateurs; reality TV stars running for president. We are becoming a doughnut hole nation.

Accelerator physicists in five European countries are developing plans for the world's first high-energy laser plasma accelerator facility for use by science and industry. If built, the facility will deliver high-quality beams of electrons with energies up to 5 GeV. The EuPRAXIA consortium includes researchers at 16 institutes in the European Union (EU), including the DESY lab in Germany, the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, the French national research council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council in the UK. EuPRAXIA also has 18 associate partners worldwide, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in the US, RIKEN in Japan and CERN in Switzerland.

The idea of laser plasma acceleration has been around for more than 30 years, and in 2014 physicists using the LBNL's Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator managed to accelerate electrons to energies as high as 4.2 GeV. The process involves firing very intense laser pulses into a gas to create a plasma. As a pulse travels through the gas, it rips electrons away from the positive nuclei, therefore creating a huge electric-field gradient in its wake. This gradient can be thousands of times greater than that found in conventional particle accelerators – and therefore can accelerate electrons to high energies over much shorter distances than conventional facilities.

Physics World: Consortium sets out to build European laser plasma accelerator
Hamish Johnston

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hawking Radiation...

Image Source: Universe Today
Hawking radiation near an event horizon. Credit: NAU.
Topics: Black Holes, Cosmology, Einstein, General Relativity, Phonons


Scientists may have found signs that phonons, the very small packets of energy that make up sound waves, were leaking out of sonic black holes, just as Hawking’s equations predicted.


Some 42 years ago, renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking proposed that not everything that comes in contact with a black hole succumbs to its unfathomable nothingness. Tiny particles of light (photons) are sometimes ejected back out, robbing the black hole of an infinitesimal amount of energy, and this gradual loss of mass over time means every black hole eventually evaporates out of existence.

Known as Hawking radiation, these escaping particles help us make sense of one of the greatest enigmas in the known Universe, but after more than four decades, no one’s been able to actually prove they exist, and Hawking’s proposal remained firmly in hypothesis territory.

But all that could be about to change, with two independent groups of researchers reporting that they’ve found evidence to back up Hawking’s claims, and it could see one of the greatest living physicists finally win a Nobel Prize.

Physicists Made a ‘Black Hole’ in a Lab That May Finally Prove Hawking Radiation Exists