Saturday, March 28, 2009

Randomly Catching Up

Truly, I would the gods had made thee poetical. ~ William Shakespeare, As You Like It

If not poetical, at least a more reliable poster, then.

Allow me to pick and choose some items that have come along since last I put fingers to keyboard.

In January, yet another group of scientists set out to prove that Einstein didn't know what he was talking about. This time they're taking on Lorentz Invariance, which says basically that physics is physics regardless of your frame of reference. The group suggests experiments to find violations of the principle and gush on about how exciting it will be. Of course, nothing will come of this; there has certainly been no rush of articles indicating that such experiments are under way. I would go on, but I've certainly covered the subject of attempts to discredit Einstein often enough.

As if dark matter and dark energy weren't enough, some smart guy has come up with dark flow. Basically, some wizard has discovered that everything we can see seems to be rushing toward some unseen matter in a hurry. This group was investigating the observations that would seem to indicated that the expansion rate of the universe is increasing. At least I think that was the idea. The premise that the most distant objects are receding at the fastest rate goes back to Edwin Hubble. In this era of dark everything, though, it makes better press to create some mysterious sort of current in space.

The funniest quote in the article is, "The Study team didn't set out to explode physics as we know it." They didn't. It appears to my untutored eye that they simply dusted off the Great Attractor and threw in some dark energy, dark matter, and some tachyons. Well, maybe not tachyons.

Both of the preceding stories are just part of the general lack of truly new ideas in physics these days. I'm finishing up Lee Smolen's book The Trouble With Physics, which delves into this problem, so I'll probably be writing more on the topic soon.

Then there's the Large Hadron Collider or LHC, as it's known. What it was supposed to do was generate black holes and end the world as we know it. Well, at least that's what the panic-mongers wanted everyone to believe. It's big premise was that it could possilbly isolate the Higgs Boson. If Indiana Jones was a physicist, at least one of his movies would have involved finding the Higgs Boson instead of the Holy Grail. Discovery of the particle would also validate Alan Guth's inflation theory which depends on the Higgs field (every particle has an associated field). Validating inflation would be a big deal because the Big Bang theory pretty much requires inflation to end up with the universe as it currently appears to us.

Unfortunately, the LHC is broken. Because of a bad solder joint. My lawn mover can have bad solder joints. A $6.6 billion device should not.

The irony is that the Tevatron at FermiLab is closing in on the Higgs. That's ironic because the Tevatron was supposed to be yesterday's news as far as particle physics goes. I would joke that nobody told the gang at FermiLab that, but everybody told them that. They just didn't listen. Should FermiLab scoop the LHC, the money spent on the LHC, which many felt was excessive, is going to look really exorbitant.

That's not fair, of course, because the LHC, if no more second-rate soldering has been done, can generate collisions with energies approaching that in the microseconds following the Big Bang. So there will be plenty of science to be performed. But, as one who hates to see things called obsolete when they still work, I would be extremely pleased to see the Tevatron win the Higgs race. They have until September, in all likelihood, and I wouldn't bet against them.

Speaking of Peter Higgs, last September he got very snippy with Stephen Hawking. Hawking does not believe that the Higgs boson exists, an opinion that undermines the Standard Model, which is related to particle physics, not ALL physics, as pundits seem to keep saying; if it worked for all physics, you wouldn't have all those people trying to come up with a Grand Unified Theory. One reason that Hawking, and others, doubt the Standard Model as it currently stands is that there is no place in it for gravity. Higgs doesn't like Hawking's work, an opinion to which he is entitled. His criticisms, though, sound very much like those of a man who's worried that his Nobel Prize is hanging in the balance..

Speaking of Nobel-type prizes, I'm most disappointed in having missed reporting on the Ig Nobel prizes, awarded annually by the folks at Improbable Research. It's important to recognize that the awards, unlike the razzies, are given for work that was actually done quite well by someone. It's just that one often wonders why the work was ever done in the first place. For example, the award for biology went to a paper comparing the jumping prowess of dog fleas versus cat fleas. In case you were wondering, dog fleas can outjump cat fleas any old time.

Don't laugh. It could win you a bar bet someday.