Mazel Tov!

Let’s not let this blog die, posters!

It’s my pleasure to congratulate co-blogger, Dr. Bonna Newman, who successfully defended last week. Congrats Bonna! 

I think one of the Homer’s is up next.

Meteor Shower Zenith Tonight

Tonight is the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, which is the roughly annual result of the earth passing through trailing debris from the Comet Swift-Tuttle.  In Hamburg its cloudy as usual, but I’ll be outside for a bit around 2am if it isn’t raining.  Tonight is just the peak, so tomorrow night it might also be worth stepping outside if you don’t live near a lot of light pollution.

Time to pick out some appropriate stargazing music….


Where’d You Get That Supercollider Shirt?

I was skimming an old review of the Coachella Festival today and I couldn’t help but notice that a singer from the band MGMT was wearing a Supercollider shirt on stage. The Superconducting Supercollider was a proposed hadron collider in Texas, and was cancelled after about a quarter of the the tunnels were dug due to US federal budget limitations. It would have been bigger than the LHC, explored higher energies, and been running by now, but so it goes. Construction started in ’91 and terminated in ’93, so that’s probably when the promo shirts were made. I’ve got one too, which I discovered in a box in the server room in at the Pheno Institute in Madison a few years ago. I keep it in a nitrogen vault to preserve it, and mostly only wear it to conferences. I’ve been debating scanning it and getting it reprinted or recreated, just ’cause its so ridiculously awesome.

Social Instability

When you work at an international lab, most of the people you meet and become friends with are only on a 1+1 or 2+1 postdoc, or need to go home every few months for exams, or are only out on a two week or two day assignment. People on permanent assignment also go to at least one conference each year. This does mean you get to meet lots of interesting people from interesting places, but also means your personal interactions also carry an explicit sense of instability. This is also true at any major university, but there’s sort of a communal experience via the academic year. Even though people make friends with students from different years, there are aways people with the same timescale as you. The instability is there, but there are enough people on the same schedule that I found it less isolating and unpredictable.

Here its a bit different, for better or worse. Students and postdocs normally arrive individually, adjust, work and leave on a schedule dictated by their particular institutions. When I first arrived I made a big effort to learn the language fast and make friends off site but, none the less, scientists who aren’t from this city still form the core of my friends. What’s kind of nice is that its like an extended vacation for many people. They come here with few or no local personal attachments or responsibilities, and view their time here both as a career opportunity and simply a great personal experience. Combine this with incessant welcoming parties, going away parties, housewarming parties, and someone-is-back-in-town-for-an-editorial-board-meeting-lets-get-battered parties, and you get a pretty good time. When I was still living at the university we had all these things, but they weren’t so frequent or uniformly spread in time. Then again, scheduling a regular card game or road trip on a weekend when everyone is in town is a bit tricky.

This week is an extreme example, but it gives you an idea. On Sunday, one friend got back in town for after being at her home univeristy for two months. She’ll only be here until the fall, I think. On Monday a friend I haven’t seen in a year came back for just two days to sit in on a meeting. Last night was the probably the last time I’ll play cards with two guys working on the ILC Alignment and Survey project, which recently lost its UK funding. Tonight I go see my a friend who used to be a postdoc for my group, who I haven’t seen since he moved to LHC business a year ago. Its great to see people graduating, getting new and exciting jobs and all, but its a bit sad at the same time. I also notice it when people ask how my thesis writing is going, and where I’m looking at postdocs.

Particle Flow Calorimetry

I took a break today from thesis writing to attend the weekly computing seminar, since it had calorimetry in the title, which should supposedly be one of my skills. The slides aren’t posted yet, but whenever they are you can find them here. Mark Thomson was the speaker, who also has a few papers out on the same subject on the web, this one seems to have the most overlap with the talk.

The idea goes a bit like this: If you want to test new physics at a collider, you need to measure collision products very carefully. Specifically, testing electroweak sector models (all this higgs hubub) requires identifying and differentiating Z and W bosons real well. Single production Z and W’s both decay in to quark-antiquark pairs. We can’t see quarks in detectors directly, but we observe sprays of particles called jets which have basically the same energy and direction, etc. So they want to measure jets real well at the proposed and under-development International Linear Collider (ILC), and the main technique to do this that they are trying to develop is called Particle Flow Calorimetry (PFC).

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The Worst Quark?

So I fly back to the states roughly twice a year, and customs/immigration provide varying levels of irritation/amusement.  I’ve entered O’Hare international about four times, and the setup was a bit different each time I did it.  There’s always passport clearance, then baggage claim, then customs, then sliding doors, and the outside.  One time however, there was a standard blue-uniformed (not TSA) police officer between customs and the sliding door, asking each passenger random questions before they exited.  I overheard him asking the suit in front of me something about the length of her stay and something about a conference, and I step up.  I had been traveling for >12 hours at this point, and all his questions were rapid-fire, which I can’t sufficiently simulate syntactically.  The exchange went thusly:

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Misadventures in Publication

Some of you may recall a readers comment before about publishers manually re-typsetting journal submissions: I now believe this wholeheartedly. You see, the paper that is slowly becoming my thesis got accepted to a respectable journal a few weeks ago, and they sent back some proofs to be double checked before printing.

Some errors could have occurred in electronic reformatting, like all the funding references being dropped. Sure. Then there was ^{+3}_{−1}\% becoming ^{+3}_{−1\%}. Fine. Then there was several “<“s becoming “>”s. Hmmmm. Then there is my personal favorite: “Acknowlegments” [sic].

Physics education from unexpected sources

I’m currently spending my time earning a “Scientific Scuba Diver” certification.   For those not in the know, this is a professional qualification, proving that you can collect data and rescue scientists and cope with setting up equipment in cloudy water and navigate and so on.   It’s a 100 hour course and I’m doing it over two weeks, here in San Diego.   It’s fun – both classroom stuff and lots of tasks to complete on various dives.   It is possibly the last place that I expected to learn anything about physics.

Even recreational dive courses contain sections on the physics of diving.   It’s fairly important to understand at least the gas laws and the effect of pressure on solubility, since you breathe air at the pressure of the water around you, thereby ensuring that your lungs don’t collapse when you’re at depth.    I didn’t know that before I started to dive and it’s really pretty cool.    It causes all sorts of problems if you go down deep for long periods of time… but I digress.    The first scuba manuals were written in the fifties and sixties, back when imperial units were especially popular.   And so the dive manual states “There are four temperature scales:  Farenheit, Celsius, Kelvin and Rankine”.   Rankine?   As I rather arrogantly pointed out at some point (although I really didn’t intend it that way), I have 3 degrees in physics and I have never heard of the Rankine scale of temperature.      It turns out that it’s the absolute temperature scale for farenheit.   -459.67 degrees F is 0 R.   I suppose it’s a perfectly obvious analogy, but it had genuinely never occurred to me that it might exist.   Has anyone out there heard of it?

I think that the long-term aim should definitely to be to convert all the dive manuals (and diver thinking) to Centigrade, but I accept that this takes time and that an extra conversion stage when teaching ideal gas laws might confuse some people.   Most people in the US think in farenheit when it comes to practical experience and diving in 50 degrees F water is definitely an experience.  However, I have to give the course credit for having taught me something that I did not know from the history of my subject.

Transforming Hilbert into an ocean wave

I have a new job.  I have advanced from the trivial consideration of a single bubble or even two bubbles at once (although that was only every other Thursday, when I’d been good) to a better place.   At my new level, which is physically in Rhode Island although mentally stranded out in an Atlantic storm,  cogitation and comprehension of millions of bubbles at once are required.     Cogitation is rather my thing, and I have been happily absorbing information on storms and bubbles and particulates and a mysterious thing called Langmuir circulation.   It’s amazing how quantitative you can make all this stuff, but it’s really only background for the main project, which is counting and sizing millions of bubbles at once by looking at their effect on the acoustic resonances between two circular plates.     You put radio hiss (a.k.a. white noise) into one plate, let it pass through the bubbles caused by the storm overhead and then watch with interest and popcorn while the other plate responds to all this fuss.  And then science is supposed to occur.

In learning the background for all of this, I have read a lot about turbulence.   The best thing to do with turbulence, according to the clever people who make a living out of this, is to measure eddies and make a Hilbert transform.    But what does Hilbert transform into?   And what is it of Eddy’s that is being measured anyway and does he know about it?   These are important questions for the tired mind.   Perhaps Hilbert is a small blue confused-looking animal with a skill for hiding in car glove compartments.   The day he transforms into something with sharp teeth and a taste for fingernails, you’d better watch out.    I don’t even want to think about Eddy and his potential measurements.

It is possible that although I’ve only been in Rhode Island for a week, I’ve already got cabin fever.  After a whole year I’ll probably be stalked by a small pack consisting of a Fourier (like a terrier but with more fur), two Laplaces (these are definitely blue, but only half of them exists) a few Hartleys (more sharp teeth, I’m afraid) and a small Identity (who has a monobrow and a permanently puzzled expression).    This sounds terrifying (or should that be Fourifying?).

If you happen to see my mind lurking about under the sofa, please post it back to me…

Podcast Self Promotion!

Sorry for the long time since last post. Today I have a shortish lunch talk to all types of physics graduate students. The talk was titled “Physics at Strong Coupling: Why String Theory and Supersymmetry are Ridiculously Cool, Part I,” with future parts to follow in the coming years. The talk went ok, I hope I convinced some graduate students that string theorists are not completely crazy.

But maybe now I can convince you! A friend helped me make the talk a podcast, with audio track and all. You can subscribe to it (and future, podcasts, I guess) here. Hitting “subscribe” on that page imports it into your i-tunes. Let me know if you enjoyed it! I guess, also let me know if you did not enjoy it…