What Is the Higgs Boson and Why Do I Care?

July 4, 2012

With today’s announcement of what could be the first evidence of the discovery of a Higgs boson, I thought it would be a good idea to write out some things that I’ve noticed the media has missed in its coverage of what happened and how.

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Study Design

September 15, 2010

The Standard Model is the Duke Basketball of Physics

August 24, 2010

As I was reading an article on quantum mechanics in New Scientist the other day, Ann asked me why I still read quantum mechanics articles since the pace of discovery has slowed so much. I told her that mostly I was hoping that a flaw with the standard model might be found, opening up at least the possibility of new physics and cool technologies. Today it occurred to me that I am a standard model hater. Just as Duke draws television viewers hoping to see them lose, I am hoping to see the standard model fail.

This should sound familiar: Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the amazing achievement that the standard model represents. I am not trying to disparage it. I just would like to see it upset.

So it was with a bit of glee that I heard about the following series of papers. Apparently the decay rates for heavy isotopes varies slightly as the earth orbits the sun. This variation is consistent with the position of the earth relative to the sun and may be consistent with the rotation of the core of the sun, assuming that that rotation is slightly slower than the surface. What’s really cool is that the decay rates seem to alter a day and a half before solar flares hit the earth, implying a wave of faster moving particles washing over the earth’s surface. What they are and how they interact with nuclear decay are unknown.

As in His Master’s Voice, the discovery was made after searching for a good random number generator.


“I have the stripes, but where is the zebra?”

October 29, 2009

piglickerHi Everyone.  Sorry I haven’t posted anything in the long time.  My apology is a post that even longer and more meandering than usual.

I’m at Indiana University for the Biocomplexity X workshop on Quantitative Tissue Biology and Virtual Tissues.  It’s been great — perhaps because there are many physicists converted to biology.  There have been several talks that touched on non-linear elasticity, though most people’s background is in foams and not granular matter.   Rene Doursat gave an especially good talk today on agent-based models of morphogenesis in which he mentioned another alleged quotation, attributed to Alan Turing, who made either the titular comment or said “The stripes are easy, it’s the horse part that troubles me!” in reference to the ability of certain systems of equations to create seemingly biologically-relevant patterns without necessarily providing biological insight.  Brad has Read the rest of this entry »


Student Contract Jobs at EPA RTP

July 13, 2009

If you know students with science backgrounds and computer skills looking for additional funding in the Research Triangle Park area, then there are several twelve month contracts available for work at the National Center for Computational Toxicology. The contracts can potentially be extended up to a total of two and a half years and pay a bit over $21 an hour. Read the rest of this entry »


Apocryphal or not…

April 27, 2009

Last week I attended both the first ever workshop on Virtual Tissues conveniently (for me) held at the EPA’s RTP campus (though it was a EC-US Task for on Biotechnology event) and a partial reunion of the Lunchtime! crew. Dr. Tighe and Tina were in town and we managed to make it to the Ale House, though with no Martha and Dr. Bunton busy dealing with fires in Conway, some of the old magic was missing.

Efforts to create virtual tissues are certainly ambitious. The idea is to create a sufficiently accurate simulation of biology that the effects of perturbations (such as a toxic substance) are emergent;, rather than hard-coded. There are numerous challenges ahead and it may or may not even be possible, but as I mentioned tot he Ale House attendee’s someone presented an extremely pithy pair of quotes. They may or may not be apocryphal (a word whose own meaning is apparently somewhat dubious), since I cannot find either quote outside of this pairing, but it’s certainly an entertaining idea relevant to ;any technology on the cusp of feasibility:

On October 9, 1903 two interesting things happened.

The New York Times wrote “Hence, if it requires, say, a thousand years to fit for easy flight a bird which started with rudimentary wings… the flying machine that will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years…”

On that same day in North Carolina, Orville Wright wrote in his diary.

“We unpacked rest of goods for new machine. We started assembly today.”

PS: I found a reference to the NYT quote!


Is grad school a cult?

April 12, 2009

I recently stumbled across an interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which “Thomas Benton” (a pen name) makes the case that graduate school is something like a cult. He’s driven to this conclusion largely by his sense that most graduate students, especially in the humanities, would be better served outside academia. He quotes the following rules of thumb for identifying a cult, taken from the anti-cult Freedom of Mind Center webpage:

  • Behavior control: “major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals”; “need to ask permission for major decisions”; “need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors.”
  • Information control: “access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged (keep members so busy they don’t have time to think)” and “extensive use of cult-generated information (newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.).”
  • Thought control: “need to internalize the group’s doctrine as ‘Truth’ (black and white thinking; good vs. evil; us vs. them, inside vs. outside)” and “no critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate.”
  • Emotional control: “excessive use of guilt (identity guilt: not living up to your potential; social guilt; historical guilt)”; “phobia indoctrination (irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority; cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group; shunning of leave takers; never a legitimate reason to leave”; and “from the group’s perspective, people who leave are ‘weak,’ ‘undisciplined.'”

Of course, there are plenty of points to pick at — it may speak more to the “definition” given above than it does to grad school — but I think it’s an interesting observation.