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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Proton Spin Mystery...

Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

Protons have a constant spin that is an intrinsic particle property like mass or charge. Yet where this spin comes from is such a mystery it’s dubbed the “proton spin crisis.” Initially physicists thought a proton’s spin was the sum of the spins of its three constituent quarks. But a 1987 experiment showed that quarks can account for only a small portion of a proton’s spin, raising the question of where the rest arises. The quarks inside a proton are held together by gluons, so scientists suggested perhaps they contribute spin. That idea now has support from a pair of studies analyzing the results of proton collisions inside the Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.

Physicists often explain spin as a particle’s rotation, but that description is more metaphorical than literal. In fact, spin is a quantum quantity that cannot be described in classical terms. Just as a proton is not really a tiny marble but rather a jumble of phantom particles appearing and disappearing continuously, its spin is a complex probabilistic property. Yet it is always equal to one half.

Scientific American: Proton Spin Mystery Gains a New Clue, Clara Moskowitz

Monday, July 21, 2014

Printed, Flexible, Organic...

Source: Solid State Electronics link below
In wearable gadgets, flexible electronics may have met its dream application. And that’s no stretch of the imagination.

For example: The 711th Human Performance Wing of the U.S. Air Force is looking at sweat sensors that could be embedded in a printed electronic plaster and attached to the arms of pilots to monitor whether they need to drink more fluids or if taking amphetamines would be advised to maintain optimal alertness in flight.

IDTechEx has forecast that the worldwide market for flexible, printed, and organic electronics will increase from $16.04 billion last year to $76.79 billion in 2023. The overall market will continue to be dominated organic light-emitting diode displays this year and in 2015, the market research firm predicts. Conductive ink and photovoltaics represent large segments of the total market. “On the other hand, stretchable electronics, logic and memory, thin-film sensors are much smaller segments but with huge growth potential as they emerge from R&D,” IDTechEx states.

Solid State Electronics:
Printed, flexible, and organic electronics: A growing opportunity, Jeff Dorsch

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Image Source:
Today is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Despite what the naysayers and conspiracy theorists insist on with You Tube embed videos ad nauseum, I counter that with the memory of initially disappointed 6-year-old eyes as my Saturday cartoons had been preempted. Those eyes - mine - were soon delighted, sitting on my father's lap filled with wonder and hope. Post Dr. King's assassination, our continued involvement in the Vietnam conflict (of which I had several older friends fighting) and the turbulence of the 1960's, nationally we all needed a lift of our collective spirits.

2014: We appear to be losing it - spirit, mind, wonder...hope.

Ground forces advance in Gaza...The Malaysian airlines downed in the Ukraine...Fires raging in Washington State and drought in California...The border crisis of Central American refugees fleeing the drug wars and violence we helped foster...

Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.): born when the former Soviet Union achieved parity with the US in nuclear weapons. The research of the weapons of our extinction was birthed during the Second World War, and the fear Nazi scientists would beat the Americans to the atomic bomb punch. Destructiveness became measured in "Hiroshima's": ~ 100,000 souls perished in a flash of nightmare, an instant of atomizing. We comforted, compensated and deluded ourselves with moribund, useless drills of "duck and cover." The follow-on "improvement" - thermonuclear bombs - generated the following gradients:
  • 1 November 1952 ("Mike" - US): 800 Hiroshima's.
  • 12 August 1953 ("Joe-4" - USSR): 30 Hiroshima's.
  • 1 March 1954 ("Bravo" - US): 1,300 Hiroshima's.
  • 23 November 1955 (No code name - USSR): 300 Hiroshima's.
  • No date given ("Behemoth" - USSR): 5,000 Hiroshima's.
Most US and Russian yields are around 30 Hiroshima's currently. (Source: "Black Holes and Time Warps-Einstein's Outrageous Legacy," Kip Thorne, pages 231-232, paperback).

Science and power

Unfortunately, it would be naive to say science has been strictly harnessed for the benefit of mankind. Part of the reason you have 3% of climate scientists "doubt" the conclusions of 97% of their colleagues on climate change is science costs money. Money comes from benefactors who typically have agendas; those being obviously amassing more power and wealth to themselves. A large part of the tools developed to analyse the density, mass and electric charge of black holes were developed during the Manhattan Project; many things we take for granted were developed initially for the Apollo program. This is called "spin-off": a peaceful commercial application to an otherwise warfare-born idea. The Internet is another example.

We are at a tinderbox moment of history. Our publicly elected political leaders parrot apocalyptic worldviews from the once extreme, now mainstreamed portions of society. Our motivations as a species must change if we are to solve difficult problems and survive our own hubris. Our current understanding of five previous mass extinction events makes our balance in the Drake Equation not look so favorably for us. The world will keep spinning, and it's instructive to note dinosaurs are "technically" still around us (counter to creationists' envision): as fossil fuels, lower reptiles and consumed chickens. J. Robert Oppenheimer - America's Prometheus - is an example of what happens when genius is employed in the service of sociopaths.

M.A.D. is the acronym of the unthinkable; the "doomsday scenario," the outcome succinctly summed in the 80's classic "War Games" and that life sadly, doesn't always conclude in the neatly-packaged Hollywood ending:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Little Bit of Bedlam...

Image: Neil Armstrong and Arthur Clarke met for the first time during a NASA conference held on Wallops Island, VA in June 1970, having shared the bus that took them out to Wallops from NASA headquarters.
From Centauri Dreams by Paul Gilster

As we approach the 45th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon, journalist and author Neil McAleer has been looking back at an interview he conducted with Neil Armstrong on March 16, 1989. The author of Visionary: The Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke (Clarke Project, 2012), McAleer has lived among and written about the space community for many years. We learn little about Clarke from this interview, but Armstrong’s character comes through — he’s terse, focused, always impatient to get back to work. I suspect Centauri Dreams regular Al Jackson, who worked with Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in his role as astronaut trainer on the Lunar Module Simulator (see The Magicians of Confidence), will recognize Armstrong’s mode here immediately. His self-imposed distance could never conceal the cool competence he displayed on the most breathtaking descent in history.

An interview conducted by Neil McAleer

I requested this interview with Neil Armstrong 25 years ago, when I was writing and researching the first edition of my Arthur C. Clarke biography. That work was the reason. I wanted to know how they met and what kind of relationship they had during the early years of the Space Age.

The interview’s first question, not on tape, asked Mr. Armstrong if he knew how Arthur C. Clarke’s substantial Epilogue (“Beyond Apollo”) for the book First on the Moon came about.

[Armstrong] “I just don’t have that kind of information.”

This book—subtitled, “A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.”–is considered the official eyewitness account of Apollo 11’s journey to the moon’s surface and return to Earth. It was published in 1970, the year after their historic mission.

[McAleer] “Did you ever actually meet Clarke, by the way?”

[Armstrong] “Yes. We attended a NASA meeting for a couple of days, and I can’t remember where it was. It seems to me it was somewhere in Virginia. [Wallops Island I found out later]. It must have been around 1970.”

Tomorrow: M.A.D.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bertrand Corollary...

Source: Technology Review
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: It turns out that if a crowd offers a wide range of independent estimates, then it is more likely to be wise. But if members of the crowd are influenced in the same way, for example by each other or by some external factor, then they tend to converge on a biased estimate. In this case, the crowd is likely to be stupid.

Today, Gabriel Madirolas and Gonzalo De Polavieja at the Cajal Institute in Madrid, Spain, say they found a way to analyse the answers from a crowd which allows them to remove this kind of bias and so settle on a wiser answer.

The theory behind their work is straightforward. Their idea is that some people are more strongly influenced by additional information than others who are confident in their own opinion. So identifying these more strongly influenced people and separating them from the independent thinkers creates two different groups. The group of independent thinkers is then more likely to give a wise estimate. Or put another way, ignore the wisdom of the crowd in favour of the wisdom of the confident.


"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." Bertrand Russell

Physics arXiv:
Wisdom of the Confident: Using Social Interactions to Eliminate the Bias in the Wisdom of the Crowds