Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Quantum Pigeons...

Quantum pigeons do not roost in pairs. (Courtesy: iStock/slobo)
Because a Cheshire-like cat just wasn't clarifying/confusing enough...Smiley

First there was Schrödinger's cat, now an international team of physicists has come up with a new animal-related paradox involving "quantum pigeons".

For nearly a century students have struggled to understand the many counter-intuitive implications of quantum physics. Perhaps the most famous paradox is Schrödinger's cat, whereby a cat being both dead and alive at the same time illustrates the fact that a particle can exist simultaneously in two quantum states.

Now, Jeff Tollaksen of Chapman University in California and colleagues in Israel, Italy and the UK have proposed an equally bizarre scenario dubbed the "quantum-pigeonhole effect". The paradox begins with the observation that when you put three pigeons in two pigeonholes, there will always be at least two pigeons in the same hole. But according to the team's quantum analysis, it is possible for none of the pigeons to share a hole.

"It's one of those things that seem to be impossible," says Tollaksen. But it is a direct consequence of quantum mechanics and, he adds, "It really has immense implications."

Classical physics is deterministic. This means that measuring the initial state of a system will, in principle, tell you everything you need to determine the final state. But in 1964 Yakir Aharonov of Chapman University and Tel Aviv University helped discover that in quantum mechanics, you can choose initial and final states that are entirely independent, Tollaksen says.

Now Aharonov has teamed up with Tollaksen and colleagues to use this and other concepts of quantum mechanics to postulate the quantum-pigeonhole effect. They reckon that the effect will arise when an observer makes a sequence of measurements while trying to fit three particles in two boxes.

Physics World: Paradoxical pigeons are the latest quantum conundrum

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Source: Link below
This year's APS Bridge Program meeting (June 25 – 27, 2014) focused on the role of the Master's degree in advancing underrepresented minority students toward PhDs in physics.

This is a very short article, but specifically one of the last paragraphs caught my attention:

This year's meeting focused on the role of the Master's degree in advancing URMs in physics. In her plenary talk, Sheila Lange, University of Washington, discussed results from an analysis of the Survey of Earned Doctorates that indicates URM students take very different pathways to doctoral degrees compared to White and Asian American students.

In my previous post "And Statistics," also discussed this subject in an admitted inequality (and I mean both mathematically and politically). Quoting from the link:

"The Asian > White > Hispanic > Black pattern permeates standardized testing: it is the same for the SAT, and is reflected in the recent race-based levels set by Florida and Virginia for grade schoolers' performance on state-wide standardized tests."

It is refreshing that academia is noting they tend to produce the "usual suspects." As a society, we have to promote STEM as an emancipator; as a "Path to Freedom" (Carl Sagan, and title of post) and a means to put a dent in the rising inequality that is pervasive in our country and American culture - easily seen systemic and designed in a primitive, backwards; archaic era. Faux controversies in accepted scientific discoveries only take us to such a state, and thus exacerbates an unsustainable status quo in the long run.

I got a note from our human resources to update my internal profile (modeled on, and largely pulled data from it). One of the questions other than "resume" and "experience" (apparently different), was the tab "languages," of which I indicated "French - beginner." I did take two years of French in high school and college respectively. Until I get a chance to freshen my gray matter with Rosetta Stone, I felt it the most honest assessment of my previous abilities to speak and write a romantic language.

We have to advocate and encourage diversity in a country based on "E pluribus unum" (out of many, one in Latin). We do not in a global economy have the luxury of a nearly homogeneous citizenry, nor do I believe such a populace in any country will be possible as humans constantly move about; find themselves employed in other nations not their own; fulfill the demands of their employers by being "flexible." To keep from being irrelevant on the world stage (and rather quickly), we will all need to be.

APS: APS Bridge Program Annual Meeting

Monday, July 28, 2014

Room at the Bottom for 25 Years...

Life Quote Tumblr page: Richard Feynman

We entered the nanoscale world officially 25 years ago. The distinction is primarily gate feature size: we were in the microelectronics era due to printing gate features 10-6 meters; "nano" is 10-9 meters as far as electronics goes. There are two distinct branches now: "nanoscience," which I'm not as familiar with, but tends to involve medicine and biology, specifically focused delivery systems for medicinal treatments, and "nanoengineering" where I now find my career has evolved. What we now take for granted: flat screens TVs and pads; cell phones with photographic and video capability we take and upload to social media that have now become a part of how we gather news and hold authority accountable. A few things to highlight how far we've come:

Nanotechnology: Highlights From 25 Years (PDF).

One of the most cited and downloaded papers in Nanotechnology is 'Comparison of calibration methods for atomic-force microscopy cantilevers'. Published in 2003, it presented a detailed comparison of the calibration methods of several atomic-force microscopy cantilevers.

Nancy A Burnham, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, talks about some aspects of the paper, highlighting some of the contributions that have now, 10 years later, become commonplace among AFM manufacturers.

Dr. Burnham below:

We can never forget the character who who contributed greatly to the idea it all (some would say he started it with this lecture). Initially given in 1959, he repeated it in 1984. What he referred to then as "tiny machines," we now call MEMS - microelectromechanical systems, 1st coined by DARPA in 1986. As we get perilously (in a good way) towards the Moore's Law limit, there is indeed "plenty of room at the bottom" (Richard Feynman):
Original Lecture Transcript: Plenty of Room at the Bottom (1959)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Fromm and Roddenberry...

Seeing patterns in my previous posts Trek Musings and Resources and Refugees (and possibly some others), I was led to reexamine the works of Eric Fromm, a sociologist best known for his seminal work after WWII on the Nazi party: "Escape From Freedom," also known as originally "Fear of Freedom" outside of North America.

If you read through the Dystopian "1984," Fromm gives an Afterword, found here in whole at this PDF.

I quote the beginning of the fourth paragraph:

One of the most important ones is a new form of writing which developed since the Renaissance, the first expression of which was Thomas More's Utopia (literally: "Nowhere"), a name which was then generically applied to all other similar works. Thomas More's Utopia combined a most penetrating criticism of his own society, its irrationality and its injustice, with the picture of a society which, though perhaps not perfect, had solved most of the human problems which sounded insoluble to his own contemporaries. He also sites "Italian friar Campanella's 'City of the Sun', and the German humanist Andreae's 'Christianopolis'" as three seminal works in the emergent genre.

Sounds vaguely familiar...almost "Trekkie," which I'm sure it's part of the many sources where Gene got the idea.

Fromm goes on to relate this longing for perfection in the great philosophers of the Enlightenment. Its modern epitome - I submit - was Star Trek.

Dr. Fromm also lists the Trifecta of "negative-Utopian" i.e. Dystopian novels: "We" by the Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin; "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley and "1984" by Eric Blair (George Orwell was a pen name). It is from these three, all modern science fiction descends.

Going back to Roddenberry, the societal "hiccup" was as I've mentioned a neo-fascist "Optimum Movement" that was the catalyst for Trek's version of WWIII, which I'm happy to say we have not fought (and don't want to).

The current resistance to change, the mantra cry: "I want my country back," or at one of the border national embarrassments (if the meme is genuine), a woman yelling at fleeing refugee children stands beneath a sign she held up stating: "Make English America's Offical Language" (I think the holder meant "official"). The sad part is whoever authored it, double-underlined the misspelling. That's not what our Constitution says, and it would help if someone invested in a good civics class and a spell checker.

From the Amazon Kindle book description for "Escape From Freedom":

The pursuit of freedom has indelibly marked Western culture since Renaissance humanism and Protestantism began the fight for individualism and self-determination. This freedom, however, can make people feel unmoored, and is often accompanied by feelings of isolation, fear, and the loss of self, all leading to a desire for authoritarianism, conformity, or destructiveness.

It is not only the question of freedom that makes Fromm’s debut book a timeless classic. In this examination of the roots of Nazism and fascism in Europe, Fromm also explains how economic and social constraints can also lead to authoritarianism.

Fromm's definitions:

Authoritarianism: Fromm characterizes the authoritarian personality as containing a sadist element and a masochist element. The authoritarian wishes to gain control over other people in a bid to impose some kind of order on the world, they also wish to submit to the control of some superior force which may come in the guise of a person or an abstract idea.

Destructiveness: Although this bears a similarity to sadism, Fromm argues that the sadist wishes to gain control over something. A destructive personality wishes to destroy something it cannot bring under its control.

Conformity: This process is seen when people unconsciously incorporate the normative beliefs and thought processes of their society and experience them as their own. This allows them to avoid genuine free thinking, which is likely to provoke anxiety. Wikipedia

These all sound frightening and familiar in the modern context. The John Birch Society and inspired modern clones never went away. Like a bad rash or foot fungi, the slightest moisture and warmth rebirths them in familiar, parroted talking-points. It's like watching a slow-motion psychological operation designed by a commercial version of the Creel Commission, made to look like "grass roots" when it's actually financed AstroTurfing.

It was Roddenberry's "hope" during the turbulence of the 1960's with its Vietnam conflict; struggle for Civil Rights that branched into Women's Rights, Human Rights and modernly LGBT rights that we all "learned to get along," and not quite blow the planet to smithereens! This of course, hinged on matter replicators and the willful, "magical thinking" dismantling of a scarcity economy and pre-Trek fictional social order.

Since this scarcity has made a very small part of humanity - 1% to 0.001% - wildly rich beyond Solomon's dreams, I think that dismantlement, if ever, will be resisted - as is any change beyond the current status quo is being resisted, quite vigorously - until it hurts them (and ultimately, us).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Terabytes and Smartphones...

Slide 4 of 50 on Slide Player, Rainer Waser*
A novel type of computer memory could, in theory, let you to store tens or even hundreds of times as much data on your smartphone. Researchers at Rice University have demonstrated a more practical way to manufacture it.

The type of memory in question, resistive random access memory (RRAM), is being developed by several companies, but fabrication usually requires high-temperatures or voltages, making production difficult and expensive. The Rice researchers have shown a way to make RRAM at room temperature and with far lower voltages.

Like flash memory, RRAM can store data without a constant supply of power. Whereas flash memory stores bits of information in the form of charge in transistors, RRAM stores bits using resistance. Each bit requires less space, increasing the amount of information that can be stored in a given area.

MIT Technology Review: Super-Dense Computer Memory, Kevin Bullis

* Rainer Waser JARA-FIT @ FZJ Forschungszentrum Jülich & RWTH Aachen University Outline Forschungszentrum Jülich Center of Nanoelectronic Systems for Information Technology Scaling Projections for Resistive Switching Memories

Tomorrow: Fromm and Roddenberry

Friday, July 25, 2014

Particle Physics 101...

Source: Fermilab link below
The first step: accelerators

The collision of particles at high energy, either with other particles or with a stationary target, allows physicists not only to look at what's inside these particles, but also to use the energy of their collisions to create different, more massive and more exotic particles of matter. To create such high-energy collisions, scientists must use very powerful particle accelerators.

The second step: detectors

Unveiling the tiniest constituents of matter with accelerators is only half the battle. Physicists also need extraordinary particle detectors to observe what happens in high-energy collisions.

Detectors are instruments that count particles, visualize tracks, measure particle energies, record time of flight and identify different particles. Detectors can be as tiny as computer chips or as big as apartment houses, containing thousands of tons of steel and other material.

The third step: data analysis

Detectors are the product of international collaborations of physicists, all contributing their own expertise and the support of their home institutions. In return, each physicist receives access to the data recorded. To simplify the networking and data exchange within these worldwide collaborations, scientists at the European research laboratory CERN invented the World Wide Web. High-energy physics laboratories such as DESY, SLAC and Fermilab were among the first to offer Web pages in their home countries.

To analyze the enormous amount of data, particle physicists have always relied on some of the most powerful computers in the world, quickly adopting new computing technologies. The analysis of particle physics data takes place on powerful and cost-effective PC farms. Comparing simulated collision events with experimental results, sophisticated computer programs can identify the processes that took place in each collision, whether it takes place when two beams collide or at a fixed target. Physicists use the results to test theoretical predictions, improving our knowledge of crucial parameters, contradicting theoretical expectations and discovering new phenomena. Modern Physics Introduction

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Higgs Consolation...

Ping! In this event, two W bosons collide and then decay into particles called muons (red) while the quarks that emitted the W’s produce sprays of other particles (yellow).
Ever wonder what particle physicists would have done had the Higgs boson not existed? Even before they fired up the atom smasher that 2 years ago blasted out the Higgs—the $5.5 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European particle physics lab, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland—researchers said that if they didn't find that coveted quarry, it wouldn't be a total disaster. If there were no Higgs, they said, then a particular ordinary particle interaction should instead go haywire and hint at whatever nature was doing to get by without the Higgs. Now, physicists at the LHC have spotted the rare interaction in that "no-lose" theorem, which is known as WW scattering.

"I am thrilled," says Barbara Jäger, a theorist at the University of Tübingen in Germany who was not involved in the work. Of course, now that physicists know the Higgs exists, they don't expect WW scattering to go bonkers. But it could still play an important role in the hunt for new physics, as scientists look for deviations from the predictions of the field’s prevailing standard model. That approach would complement studies of the Higgs itself, Jäger says.

The Higgs boson is key to physicists' explanation of how all elementary particles—such as electrons and the quarks that make up protons and neutrons—get their masses. Theorists assume that otherwise massless particles interact with a quantum field a bit like an electric field that consists of Higgs bosons lurking "virtually" in the vacuum. Those interactions give each type of particle a certain amount of energy and, thanks to Einstein's famous equation E = mc2, mass.

Science Mag:
Had there been no Higgs boson, this observation would have been the bomb, Adrian Cho