On Wednesday February 6th, at 9 pm Eastern/6 pm Pacific time, Sean Carroll and I will be interviewed by Alan Boyle on “Virtually Speaking Science”. The link where you can listen in (in real time or at your leisure) is http://www.blogtalkradio.com/virtually-speaking-science/2013/02/07/sean-carroll-matt-strassler-alan-boyle
What is “Virtually Speaking Science“? It is an online radio program that presents, according to its website:
- Informal conversations hosted by science writers Alan Boyle, Tom Levenson and Jennifer Ouellette, who explore the explore the often-volatile landscape of science, politics and policy, the history and economics of science, science deniers and its relationship to democracy, and the role of women in the sciences.
Sean Carroll is a Caltech physicist, astrophysicist, writer and speaker, one of the founders of the blog Cosmic Variance, who recently completed an excellent popular book (which I highly recommend) on the Higgs particle, entitled “The Particle at the End of the Universe“. Our interviewer Alan Boyle is a noted science writer, author of the book “The Case for Pluto“, winner of many awards, and currently NBC News Digital’s science editor [at the blog "Cosmic Log"].
I was interviewed on Virtually Speaking Science once before, by Tom Levenson, about the Large Hadron Collider (here’s the link). Also, my public talk “The Quest for the Higgs Particle” is posted in their website (here’s the link to the audio and to the slides).
Posted in LHC Background Info, Particle Physics, Science News, The Scientific Process, History of Science, Higgs, Public Outreach, Astronomy, Quantum Gravity
Tagged Higgs, LHC, particle physics, astronomy, DoingScience, PublicPerception, DarkMatter, PublicTalks, gravity
Fig. 1: A hydrogen atom consists of a tiny proton “orbited” by an electron.
There’s been a lot of reporting recently on a puzzle in particle physics that I haven’t previously written about. There have been two attempts, a preliminary one in 2010 and a more detailed one reported just this month, to measure the size of a proton by studying the properties of an exotic atom, called “muonic hydrogen”. Similar to hydrogen, which consists of a proton orbited by an electron (Figure 1), this atom consists of a proton and a short-lived heavy cousin of the electron, called the muon (Figure 2). A muon, as far as we have ever been able to tell, is just like an electron in all respects except that it is heavier; more precisely, the electromagnetic force and the strong and weak nuclear force treat electrons and muons in exactly the same way. Only the first two of these forces should play a role in atoms (and neither gravity nor any force due to the Higgs field should matter either). So because we have confirmed our understanding of ordinary hydrogen with very high precision, we believe we also understand muonic hydrogen very well also. But something’s amiss. Continue reading
The meaning of the title of Clara Moskowitz’s new article for the public, “Dark Matter Mystery May Soon Be Solved“, all lies in the word “may”. It may. It may not.
According to the article, “the answer to this cosmic mystery could come within the next three or four years, scientists say.”
I have to admit that this kind of phraseology, which one often sees in the press in reports about science, drives me a bit nuts. Which scientists? How many of them? You can’t tell from this line whether this is something that a group of three or four mavericks are claiming, or whether it is conventional wisdom shared by most of the community. And “the answer… could come…”? Interpreted literally it is content-free: yes, the answer could come in the next few years, or not — but you don’t need any scientists to tell you that. If one interprets it more optimistically — that it is intended to imply that the answer will very likely come within the next three or four years — then I think it is far from clear what fraction of the experts will agree with that statement.
Rather than debate the claim, let’s start with the physics. What will determine how long it takes to discover what dark matter is made from? Continue reading
Just ask the Nobel Prize committee: is quantum physics some sort of speculative new science? (A smart educated woman asked me, just a week ago, `What do you think about that quantum physics stuff?’, as though it were in the same category as theories of consciousness, speculations about the origin of life, and string theory.) No way: it’s all over your computers and cell phones; it’s in many modern light bulbs; it’s the laser that reads the prices at the grocery store and your ticket at a concert; it’s the heart of the best timepieces and the eyes of the best microscopes; it’s what makes solids solid and liquids flow, and powers chemical reactions and radioactivity; it’s probably playing a big role in biology that we’re just starting to understand; and it’s sunshine and moonlight and the glowing auroras borealis and australis. It’s the foundation and fabric of your world.
And though it may be bizarre, it is by no means abstract. Maybe in the early 1930s one could still say it was abstract; but already for many decades particle physicists have passively observed individual particles, one at a time, behaving in quantum mechanical ways. Today scientists can control individual quantum objects, things whose behavior can only be predicted by accepting the odd rules and counter-intuitive implications of our quantum world. In particular, physicists have learned to capture and manipulate individual photons (particles of light), atoms, and ions (atoms with an electron removed or added, to make them electrically charged — see the Figure below.) It is for their work advancing these capabilities, making possible new classes of experiments and opening up the potential for new technologies, that Serge Haroche and David Wineland have won the Nobel Prize for 2012. Read about it here (brief press release or summary for non-technical readers)… using your preferred quantum-mechanical device.
Light emitted from three individual ions of Beryllium, trapped and held in place for an extended period of time. (National Institute of Standards and Technology image gallery.)
The promised follow-up article on the workshop last week in Waterloo, Canada will have to wait til Monday; I had too many scientific activities and chores to take care of today, and I want to make sure the article, which is a bit complicated, is nevertheless clear. But in the meantime, let’s celebrate Martian Curiosity!
First, a big congratulations to the NASA folks! Very impressive, and fantastically cool. I was a huge fan of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, especially of their 3D photography. Looking at those photos on a big screen, through red/green 3D glasses. brought me to sweeping Martian vistas and deep Martian craters — as vivid and as close as I’ll ever see them. It was amazing stuff, and I look forward to more from the new rover.
Next: some perspective. Continue reading
Professor Richard Muller of UC Berkeley isn’t the first scientist to be converted to the idea that humans are causing a change in the climate through carbon dioxide emissions. Nor is he, by a long shot, the most expert among them. But he’s one of the most famous, now, because he was also a loud skeptic not long in the past. He’s described the reasons for his conversion, based on a scientific study that he organized and helped lead, in a recent op-ed post in the New York Times. It’s a little self-serving at best, but makes for interesting reading. Continue reading