Tag Archives: particle physics

God of the gaps and the limits of science

thoughtAcademic Jon Taplin highlights this WSJ piece on quantum entanglement and the theories of French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat:

In March, the 87-year-old Frenchman won the prestigious $1.5 million Templeton Prize for years of work affirming “life’s spiritual dimension.”

Based on quantum behavior, Dr. d’Espagnat’s big idea is that science can only probe so far into what is real, and there’s a “veiled reality” that will always elude us.

Many scientists disagree. While Dr. d’Espagnat concedes that he can’t prove his theory, he argues that it’s about the notion of mystery. “The emotions you get from listening to Mozart,” he says, “are like the faint glimpses of ultimate reality we get” from quantum experiments. “I claim nothing more.”

I am not familiar with Prof. d’Espagnat’s work. Is he talking about the God of the gaps or the Popperian problem of induction?

[image from P/\UL on flickr]

Does order underlie quantum chaos?

chaos-cafeA week without a dose of quantum weirdness? I don’t think so. University of Utah physicists say they’ve found hints that Newtonian-based chaos theory might have something to do with how subatomic particles behave.  Nuclei have a property akin to charge called “spin,” and Utah prof Brian Saam and team zapped xenon atoms to see what happens to that property.

Despite differing initial configurations, the “dances” of the xenon spins evolved so they eventually were in sync with each other…. As an analogy, imagine billions of people in a huge, unfamiliar city. They start walking around in different places and directions, with little conversation among them. Yet, eventually, they all end up walking in the same direction.

Comments Saam: “”That’s never been seen before in a quantum mechanical system. These guys are dancing together.” So? “When you look at all the technology governed by quantum physics, it’s not unreasonable to assume that if one can apply chaos theory in a meaningful way to quantum systems, that will provide new insights, new technology, new solutions to problems not yet known.”

[Chaos Cafe by St_A_Sh]

CERN brings supergrid internet to the world

The CMS detector at CERN will process huge volumes of data every secondIn addition to searching for the ‘God’ particle that is the Higgs, CERN have been making a vast ‘supergrid’ to transfer the vast volumes of data created by the LHC supercollider every second to the universities studying it around the world (currently including myself). The sheer amount of data at the LHC – around 15 Petabytes a year – means a whole new system has been made to spread it to other institutions outside of the collider in Switzerland.

The grid still has some issues to work out but is showing signs of real potential to blow the current internet out of commission in a few years. The grid uses fibre-optic connections and high speed routers to transfer data. It could be as much as 10,000 times as fast as current broadband, allowing movie-sized files to transfer in seconds. Of course, this technology is currently only in use in the world of High Energy Particle Physics but, like the World Wide Web before it, what is invented at CERN tends to propagate out to the rest of us before too long.

[via The Times, image via CERN]

The LHC may find extra dimensions

xkcd is an absorbing mix of stick figures, physics, programming, math, love and dark humour

One of the main functions of the Large Hadron Collider – the huge supercollider in Geneva, Switzerland – is to find the underlying reasons for why the particles in the universe have mass and how gravity works. My masters project is a simulation of the most simplistic solution, the Standard Model Higgs Boson. If the collider doesn’t find this particle in its simple form, there are number of more complicated theories proposed for how the world works at this tiny level.

One of these theories supposes that for every particle in the universe, there’s a supersymmetric particle balancing it out. Another set of exotic theories that could be proved right at the LHC is Extra Dimensions – is the reason Gravity is so weak compared to the other forces because its power is trapped inside other dimensions we can’t see? This would link into the infamous string theory, which describes all the tiny particles we’re made of as vibrating strings of energy, suggesting six or seven dimension we can’t see that affect everything we do see! The 27km diameter collider will start smashing protons together later this year if all goes to plan and a new era of particle physics will begin.

[link via ScienceDaily, image from the awesome webcomic xkcd]