Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Garrett Lisi on his theory of everything

Very cool and understandable discussion. Experts won't get much detail, but non-scientists should enjoy it. I especially like his video attempts to explain particle by charge spaces, and to portray higher dimensional versions of hypercharge. Plus he does his surfer dude schtick at the beginning.

Garrett Lisi on his theory of everything | Video on

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

2008 Nobel Prize for Physics

The Swedish Academy of Science has awarded this years Physics prize to Nambu, for work on spontaneous symmetry breaking; and to Kobayashi and Maskawa for..well..for the (Cabibbo-)Kobayashi-Maskawa matrix, which describes the mixing of quarks between the strong and weak interactions. All three are hugely deserving of the prize, having worked on some of the most fundamental ideas of the Standard Model.

So, one has to ask: What the fuck!?!? Has the Nobel committees gone completely nuts? First there was yesterday's explicit slap in the face to Robert Gallo, the man acknowledged by a joint Franco-American presidential declaration to be the co-discoverer of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus HIV. He excluded from the award, while the two French co-discoverers were cited From what I gather from news reports, while Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi indeed first published the HIV discovery, it was Robert Gallo who really nailed down the connection between HIV and AIDS. The prizes can be shared by up to three people, and while the recognition of Harald zur Hausen for the discovery of the link between HPV and cervical cancer is deserving (my own daughter has gotten the resulting vaccination) could it not have been a separate prize next year, and let this year's prize recognize all three HIV researchers?

But then we have this Physics prize, and where to start? It was Nicola Cabibbo who first introduced the weak mixing angle (it's CALLED the "Cabibbo angle" for cryin; out loud!) and developed the mixing matrix for two generations. Kobayashi and Maskawa extended it to three generations and showed that CP-violation could be incorporated as a phase angle in the matrix. Any sensible committee would have awarded the prize to the three of them and been done with it.

But no, they split the award with Yoichiro Nambu- a great physicist, but one who has toiled in the same fields as Peter Higgs and Jeffery Goldstone (Nambu-Goldstone bosons, anyone?) and for that matter Tom Kibble and Phil Anderson (at least Anderson recieved a Nobel, back in 1977). Why would you give a Nobel Prize to Nambu, citing spontaneous symmetry breaking no less, and not give a prize to Higgs? It is absolutely unbelieveable.

Add to this the recent explicit insult to American literature made a member of the literature selection committee, and you have to wonder if the Swedes have given into a Scandinavian sense of despair and self-loathing, and are purposefully trying to make the prizes less significant.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Dual Nature of Science?

(In which our intrepid blogger attempts to answer a few questions from the studio audience, well, actually his sister-in-law)

Hey you,
I am trying to help Allison with her study guide for her LIfe Science test on Friday, and we cannot find a couple of answers online, notes or book. So I thought I might ask you, as you may know them. Okay so here goes....
1. What is universality vs diversity
2. What is equilibrium within systems?
3. What is the dual nature of science?
If you don't know, it's okay, hopefully she will ask in class, but who knows.Hope all is well.

Talk to you soon,

Dear Tarilyn,

Gosh, you gave me some stumpers. Hope I'm not too late with the answers (such as they are):

1) I view universality and diversity to be fairly separate, complementary ideas. You have to remember that physicists and biologists sometimes use different language, even for the same concepts. To me universality refers to a trait or characteristic that cuts across different phenomena. Newton's law of gravity is "universal" in the sense that it applies to all kinds objects with mass, not only planets or only falling apples. In physics, universality means a property that is independent of the details of the system

Diversity of course means variation. In physics there is diversity in the configurations planetary systems (recent discovery, since extrasolar planets have only been known since the early 1990s) but there is universality in the underlying law of gravitation. In biology one would think about the diversity of species, all following a universal law of natural selection and evolution.

2) Ah, systems! Again, slightly different to a physicist than a biologist. To me, a system is in equilibrium if there is no net force acting on it. We talk about stable equilibrium, where a system returns to equilibrium if it is "perturbed" slightly, and unstable equilibrium, where a small perturbation causes it to roll away from the equilibrium configuration.

In biology I believe there is a similar idea, in that the biological/ecological forces are balanced. The term "homeostasis" is used to describe a living thing in which its energy consumption matches its output. Evolutionary biologists also talk about "punctuated equilibrium" which is a somewhat controversial alternative to classical Darwinism, in which evolution is viewed as occurring in sudden "spurts" rather than gradual changes.

3) I had not heard the phrase "Dual Nature of Science" before. The term seems to come from Eugene Lashchyk book, Scientific Revolutions, from 1969. This is a critique of Thomas Kuhn's famous book, the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Not all scientists agree with Kuhn's interpretation of the nature of science, by the way. Lishchyk seems to say that science has two stages, one of which is a "normal" stage", the period of science research engaged in by the bulk of a scientific community "under the guidance of a cognitive matrix which defines the relevant problems, acceptable solutions, [and] admissible evidence". He characterizes the other stage as a "crisis", during which one dominate theory is replaced by a new one, Kuhn's famous "Paradign Shift". This is what Kuhn, Feyerabend and others characterized as revolutions, and Kuhn included it as part of the "normal" period of scientific research.

Hope this helps,


Update: Check this out -

For Dual Science of Nature, the answer that they all seemed to come to was "process=activity and Product =knowledge". I think that it is or something similar. It would have helped if the teacher had been there the two days prior to the test and had gone over all of it.

Yuck! That is the dual nature of science? No wonder no one wants to go into science. Give me jet packs and exploding chemistry labs!