Found It

Jul. 4th, 2012 08:38 am
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It's official: CERN is claiming a five sigma result in the search for the Higgs Boson - with both ATLAS and CMS reporting a signal in the same region, 126 GeV, consistent with the last missing piece of the Standard Model. This fills in the last major gap in our understanding of the universe at the particle level, which will of course be rewritten in a few years. But in the meantime, it's a big step forward, and a major advancement in science. So party while you can.

Happy Fourth everyone.
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In other news, the Kyoto Symposium came out with their findings last week, forcing an updated CERN press release. The final verdict is that all four Gran Sasso experiments, including OPERA, now measure the maximum velocities of neutrinos to be consistent with the theory of relativity. That means an end to the dreams of faster-than-light communication, and vindication for the vast majority of scientists who thought that the results were, at best, highly questionable.

As to the culprit? A fiber-optic cable not properly screwed into the case.

For a particularly thorough explanation of what went wrong, you can read this blog post from Matt Strassler from back in April.

Last Day

Sep. 30th, 2011 11:51 am
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We are gathered here today to witness the last hours of what was once the world's highest energy particle accelerator. A long-running pioneer in the field of hadron physics, and the discoverer of the top quark, the Tevatron has been America, and the world's, premiere source of particle collision data for most of its long and illustrious life, and will continue making valuable contributions to the sum of humanity's knowledge up until the hour today when they turn it off.

We are gathered in solidarity in a reminder that this should not be a time of mourning, but rather one of celebration. Were particle physics to be so static that a single accelerator, now verging on thirty years old, could still be sufficient to probe the limits of our knowledge, then we would indeed have reason to mourn. Instead our field has moved so fast that the Tevatron is now obsolete, and we are moving on to newer, greener, higher-energy pastures at the LHC. It was an important piece of history, but it is now in the past.

So we are here merely to pause in remembrance. And then get the hell back to work, because one accelerator shutting down doesn't mean they all are, and there's still data coming in, and we need to get that processed and looked at and see if we can find the Higgs for God's sake because there's a lot of work to do and we aren't paying you to sit around and talk about the good old days. I better see some movement here as we move you out of your crappy offices here to crappy offices elsewhere, because you've got systematics to crunch and if you don't get your sorry asses moving I'm going to make sure that you're stuck on b-tagging for the rest of your life. This is Science, people, and science keeps on marching, because no matter what you think there is always, always something new, and the future always gets here yesterday, so let's get a move on before we get left behind.

Thanks for all the memories folks. We'll see y'all at CERN.

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Rolf Heuer has now stated that the LHC could have beam injection tonight. Beam run should be an injection probe at 450 GeV, magnets are ready, detectors are standing by. Hopefully they'll pass this test with flying colors and get to collisions within the month (I think the betting pool is centered on Thanksgiving).

ETA: Beam has passed Point 5.
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There's been a theory in the physics community, the high-energy physics community in particular, for the last year, a feeling of guilt, that comes from one central suspicion that we, quants in general, but ex-high energy physicists in particular, caused the Great Recession. For many years, those of us who couldn't cut it in HEP jumped ship from Academia and went on to work for ridiculous salaries as quants at Wall Street firms; it was sort of the escape hatch for a lot of us who either didn't want to deal with Academia, or couldn't cut it. And if you look at the mathematical models backing Credit Derivative Swaps, well, that has HEP theorist written all over it, it's the sort of convoluted math that we do prefer. The kind of person who thinks that the Standard Model could be simplified by adding five extra dimensions, one of them large, isn't going to have any trouble reshuffling and reshaping financial instruments to make the profits appear larger, and the risk magically disappear through a mathematical loophole. What regulator, or middle manager, who struggled through Calculus I, is going to be able to keep up with a financial wizard who diagonalizes infinite-dimensional matrices for fun, and when asked for his risk assessments turns in five pages of hand-scrawled equations with all the key steps missing?

Well Calvin Trillin agrees with us at the NY Times.

So, we come to the US public today asking for help in preventing the next crash. Spend money on financial regulation if you must, but the interests of the US might be better served by increasing the number of post-doc and researcher positions in High Energy Physics. By creating new jobs for these sad people, we can keep them safely and happily employed, and off of Wall Street. And believe me, you don't want them there.
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Dropped by a short, but somewhat interesting concert on Wednesday. Well, it wasn't much of a concert, because it was short, and I'm not sure whether all the music was actually music, but the instruments were... unique ...and (at least to me) visually impressive. They had some technical problems with the pitch though which I'm sure they're working on (once they get more money)

Picture behind the cut of a moderately decent harmonic chord.

Concert Pic )

They claim to be able to play the Mario Brothers Theme and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, but they either didn't play it, or I couldn't make it out.
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Today is "watch the LHC on the Daily Show" day, also known as "watch John Ellis get discomforted on the Daily Show" day at work. Also, it's "make fun of ATLAS because their detector still looks like it's in pieces" day.

Well, we didn't get off so well either, but what the hell. We laugh at ourselves all the time.

But the hardhats are still ridiculous.
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In other physics related new, the International Space Station is now officially screwed. Apparently, due to a bit of a funding problem, the Space Shuttle is due to be retired in 2010. Our new spaceplane won't be ready until 2015. Our only chance of getting to the ISS between now and then is to borrow some of the Russian Soyuz capsules. However, given the current state of relations between our two countries, you can bet that we're not going to be seeing that anytime soon. So the US may be out of the ISS.

NASA, predictably, is throwing a fit. Meanwhile, experimental particle physicists, who hate the ISS with a passion, are snickering in their offices.
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So we have successfully tested the LHC. Which means that, contrary to popular opinion, we did not suffer a magnet failure. Or at least not one at the current injection energy, which is rather low.

Now the question is whether we will be able to get A) collisions, and B) full energy, without destroying the detectors. There are already a set of nasty rumors circulating about parts which may or may not be in place for the 2008 run. I don't want to speculate too much.
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So, if you believe that the LHC will destroy the world, you now have only about six hours before first beam enters the ring (9am CERN local time). Make your plans wisely.

Actually, that's a lie. Consistent rumor is that beam entered the ring today somewhere, so that if there was some sort of critical failure (the probability of which is depressingly high), they would not have to run an hour-long calibration tomorrow while Sarkozy stood there, tapping his foot. So the world has probably not ended.

Not that it would end tomorrow either. This is just a beam test, at energies lower then are currently used in the Tevatron, and there aren't even any collisions. Those won't start until accelerator division is convinced that the magnets are holding. And even then, we may not get up to this year's 10 TeV maximum energy before mid-October, or November, or whenever. So relax. You still have lots of time to launch lawsuits. The real fun will start with the first high-energy collisions, whenever those are.

But you, and all of you who don't believe that the LHC will destroy the Earth, should visit the excellent site Has the LHC Destroyed the Earth? for up-to-date information on, well, whether the LHC has destroyed the Earth.

Just don't bother to call CERN to complain. I predict that regardless of whether the turn-on is a success or a disaster, there won't be a single person in the facility sober by 10am.
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A thought occurred to me the other day, which is such an unusual occurrence I thought I should set it down:

Imagine you are at a social gathering of some sort, and you find yourself, by chance, sitting next to a physicist. And suppose that for some odd, inexplicable reason, you do not immediately call the police, or animal control, but instead attempt to engage said physicist in conversation. Now, given the number of subjects that most people associate with physics, and the things that are most on people's minds, it might be entirely foreseeable that the conversation would turn to the Energy Crisis.

What will probably happen is a very confusing twenty minutes in which the physicist will expound on topics near and dear to his heart (almost inevitably, the social ineptitude required for this particular scenario requires a male), possibly including switchgrass, inertial-confinement fusion, and tidal energy platforms. At the end of this, by which time you may very well have given up all hope on a useful and concise answer, the physicist may finish his remarks with:

"But the real answer is going to be solar power."

"Solar power?" you ask.

"Of course," he says, "everyone knows that.", using a tone of voice which indicates that everyone includes all people with IQs higher than their shoe size and the literacy level of a first grader.

Solar Power )

Edited to save some more of people's FLists.


May. 8th, 2008 06:46 pm
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Saw the basis for the next generation invisibility cloaks today. Not only are they invisible from the outside, light from the inside won't be able to get out. And they're laser proof. Laser proof.

Harry Potter may start looking old school soon.
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Congress has, in its infinite wisdom, proposed to cut 75% of the funding toward the International Linear Collider, the next generation super-collider, and the cheaper device that will replace the LHC era. This means that, for all intensive purposes, the US is out of the ILC competition. Which means that, for the second time in a row, the Europeans will get the project.

So, my fellow Americans, get used to spending millions of dollars a year so that US students and workers can live in France and work at CERN. Get ready to have thousands of brilliant minds flocking to Geneva instead of to Chicago. Get ready to accept the fact that you're out of the particle physics race.

And above all, get acquainted with the fact that, should you need experience in cutting edge physics, high-end grid computing, ultra-fast electronics, or high-throughput neural nets, you'll have to go to France to get it, because it sure isn't going to be hanging around here.
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The world's most expensive hotel is now due to open in 2012.

A three day stay in the new Galactic Suites will cost you $4 million dollars a person. On your stay you, and up to five other guests, will get to experience such wonderful events as being able to stick to the wall of your room using velcro, a rather unremarkable diet, and being able to watch the sun rise fifteen times a day. The three-bedroom complex is placed so that it orbits the Earth once every eighty minutes, allowing panoramic, weightless views of the blue planet which the rest of us call home.

That $4 million also includes an eight-week training camp, and a trip both there and back again. The shuttle that takes you will also stay docked to the hotel during the time you are there, allowing you to make a hasty departure if necessary. But the prices are nothing compared to Space Adventures, which expects to conduct the most expensive window tours ever, taking tourists on round-trip tours of the moon at $100 million a head, as early as 2009.

If you hurry, you can still make reservations at GalacticSuites.
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1) MiniBoone says that LSND is totally wrong. Details are still forthcoming.
2) Nobody has found any evidence of supersymmetry, technicolor, multiple Higgs, extra-large dimensions, warped dimensions, or any other BSSM phenomena, meaning that, all-in-all we're still waiting.
3) There is still no interesting physics in the CKM triangle.
4) Anybody and everybody with an APS membership can present their research at this conference. However, cranks and other pseudoscience wonks are now confined to the Poster Sessions.
5) This place has the lowest concentration of women on Earth.

The last point is somewhat striking, considering all the effort that has gone into recruiting female physicists over the past twenty years. It's also present in my home institution, but the relative size of the undergraduate population lessens the impact. It really strikes you when you go into a large lecture and can count members of the female gender on the fingers of one hand. I always feel bad for them, as if guilty by association with their lack of companions, but that never helps. Fortunately, our own field has a strong female contingent, and there were several presentations in my section that I looked forward to from them (and were well worth the wait).

On the other hand, why aren't women attracted to a field where they get buried in unnecessary work as an undergraduate, then treated like a slave as a graduate student, working twelve hour days in the lab where they are underpaid, underappreciated, and their work gets no lasting praise, whereupon they then take their highly valuable technical skills and drudge through two different post-docs, all in the hopes of finding an underpaid job in a tenure-track position, whereupon they will spend the next five years, their social life, and their health in a vain attempt to get tenure, at which point they will be too old and bitter to do anything but complain and unleash the full fury of a ruined, shattered life upon helpless undergrads?

Obviously, it's because women are crazy. Who wouldn't want a job like that?

(I sometimes have to restrain myself when, inevitably, someone asks the question "Why aren't there more women in physics?" from giving the obvious answer: "Because most women are smart". And I'm in physics.)

APS Start!

Apr. 13th, 2007 08:23 am
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I'm off to APS to give a talk on someone else's result. Go me!

Who knows how this will go...
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In half an hour, CMS will begin lowering the Yoke Barrel 0 segment down into the pit at CERN and into position. The entire operations team is probably crapping bowling balls at this point.

To give you an idea of what's involved, this piece took essentially ten years to design and build, and represents millions of dollars of hardware and manpower at work. This particular chunk weighs 2,000 tons, more than eight Statue of Libertys put together, and will have to be winched down 100 meters, a process that will take over ten hours. If even one cable twitches or snaps, that's ten years of work, millions of taxpayer dollars, and a lot of thesis projects, gone down the drain. It's half the future of particle physics, dangling on the end of a taut cable in midair, in the hopes that physics really does work and the entire thing won't just plunge to the floor below.

I don't plan to watch and chew my fingernails. I have a backup thesis after all. But it feels odd to sit here, knowing that on the other side of the world, the cumulation of some people's lives is beginning the most dangerous part of its journey. Hopefully, when next I check, it will be firmly in place.

Else I get a lot of vacation days ahead of me.

Pictures )
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Dear Post-Modern Feminists,

We keep hearing about this wonderful thing referred to as the Feminist Approach to Physics. We were hoping that you could clarify what it is and what it consists of.

We have looked at several sources, but always found the principals to be outlined in vague, unquantified, and normally specious language. There are several arguments for an "integrated, multi-community, intuition-based" approach, without any accompanying description of what this approach would look like, or how it would affect the construction of an experiment. The fundamental point that seems to be raised, to identify the "biases" of a researcher seems to either be a product of an improper reading of a presentation, or a lack of understanding of the process itself. If this refers to experimental biases, they are clearly listed in the paper references, or available upon request. Any failure of you to reproduce these results should result in a counter-publication, and a great deal of dialogue. However, if you are referring to the ideological biases of the researcher, these should not enter. According to the framework of Science, any person from any ideological background should be able to reproduce the same results at any time. Failure by any party should result in the invalidation of the theory, after an exercise of due process (collaborating results may be required).

Those specifics presented mostly deal with either the presentation of history, or the field of education, both of which are in need of overhaul, but have very little influence over the current conduct of experiment, which seems to be the target. Some of the experimental suggestions seems confusing, such as the term "multi-causal", apparently a great favorite, but one that is ill-defined at best. What does it mean for an experimental measurement to be "multi-causal"? It is already the culmination of a great many effects - all of which have to be measured independently. We cannot determine the meaning of this statement. Other suggestions, to replace "unnatural and invasive" particle experiments with more passive observation have failed to produce any experimental design that would be of current use. Most importantly, it is unclear about how accounting for social biases will work in with experimental designs. Do we use only chips made in certain countries? Considering that we only report the results of very specific results, it seems hard to do anything else.

Maybe the theorists know what you're talking about, but the experimentalists are confused. Could you please provide a properly formatted paper on new experimental techniques and statistical theorems, alone with a series of examples of properly done experiments?

We will be eagerly awaiting your reply,
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Of some interest:

I was listening to some of the Lattice QCD guys today at work. They've been having some problems, since Lattice QCD has some problems that are ridiculously computationally intensive (think in terms of hundreds of years on a regular computer). To do them, they need computer clusters that can do a large number of brute-force calculations in a second. Such processors are not commonly available as CPUs, but they do exist, and the cluster they've built uses common, commericially available components.

The next generation cluster may run entirely on PlayStation 3s.

There are days when I love physics.
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The magnet just quenched next to my trailer. The explosion was quite loud and lasted quite a long time. I suspect that Accelerator Division is cursing itself right now. This is also a bit strange since the Tevatron is supposed to be off. At least I thought it was. There is now a plume of helium gas headed straight for the stratosphere, so I guess I was wrong.

Clearly God is sending me a message by blowing crap up next to my office, but I'm damned if I understand the message. He really needs a director's commentary with his miracles.

Note: This is just an explosive vent of gas due to a cooling problem. No people with tenure were harmed in the making of this post.


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