The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics was announced this morning and it is probably the least surprising Nobel of the year. People have been speculating for months that the award was going to be centered around the discovery of the Higgs Boson — the subatomic particle that helps explain why everything else in the Universe has mass. The Higgs Boson, itself, has been the physics pop culture celebrity for the last few years. It's even got its own blues.
So the big question going into today's announcement wasn't what discovery would the award be about. The question was who was going to end up being the named human recipients of said award. This was always going to be a tough call. The whole reason you've heard about the Higgs is because of a long-running effort to experimentally prove whether or not it existed. The very nature of experimental particle physics makes it a collaborative enterprise — proving a theory requires huge, expensive machines, international institutions, and lots of physicists. The Nobel Prize, meanwhile, can only be given to three recipients at a time. (Although an institute, like, say, CERN, could have been one of those, at least hypothetically.) The Nobel Committee gut this Gordian Knot by skipping over the experimental physicists altogether and giving the 2013 award to two theorists, alone — Peter Higgs and Francois Englert. Read the rest
I got to join in on a great conversation this morning on Minnesota Public Radio's "The Daily Circuit", all about the Higgs Boson and what it means for the future of physics.
This is a fascinating issue. Finding the Higgs Boson (if that is, indeed, what scientists have done) means that all the particles predicted by the Standard Model of physics have now been found. But that's not necessarily good news for physicists. For one thing, it would have been a lot more interesting to break the Standard Model than to uphold it. For another, we're now left with a model for the Universe that mostly works but still has some awkward holes — holes that it might be hard to get the funding to fill.
Daily Circuit host Kerry Miller, Harvard physics chair Melissa Franklin, and I spent 45 minutes talking about what is simultaneously a beautiful dream and a waking nightmare for the physics world. And I got to make a "Half Baked" reference in a conversation about particle physics, so you know it's a good time, too.
Absolute zero is supposed to be the coldest cold — 0 Kelvin, the point where atoms stop moving.
But researchers at the University of Munich say it's possible to get colder than that, an idea they've demonstrated experimentally. But what does it mean to be colder than cold? Here's the scientists' totally unhelpful explanation:
another way to look at these negative temperatures is to consider them hotter than infinity, researchers added.
Cool. Thanks, guys. Luckily, journalist Charles Q. Choi makes this strange idea make a whole lot more sense. Read his explanation at LiveScience.
After you drink some Scotch, there's usually a thin film of the liquor left clinging to the bottom and sides of the glass. If you leave it out overnight, it'll dry and be a pain to wash off in the morning. But the same dried booze leavings can also be the beginnings of some really lovely art.
Ernie Button takes photos of the waving, swirling patterns left behind on Scotch glasses. This one — part of a series called Vanishing Spirits — is a picture of glass that once held a nice measure of Balvenie.
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The idea for this project occurred while putting a used Scotch glass into the dishwasher. I noted a film on the bottom of a glass and when I inspected closer, I noted these fine, lacey lines filling the bottom. What I found through some experimentation is that these patterns and images that can be seen are created with the small amount of Single-Malt Scotch left in a glass after most of it has been consumed. It only takes a very thin layer of Scotch to create; the alcohol dries and leaves the sediment in various patterns. It’s a little like snowflakes in that every time the Scotch dries, the glass yields different patterns and results. I have used different colored lights to add 'life' to the bottom of the glass, creating the illusion of landscape, terrestrial or extraterrestrial.
Interestingly, there was a recent article that was published in the Journal of Nature (I think) by Dr.
Last Tuesday, particle physicists at CERN did not announce that they had found the Higgs Boson particle. Nor did they announce that they had not found the Higgs Boson. Instead, what we got was an update on the state of the research. But it's a really tantalizing update.
The Higgs Boson is a popular, but confusing, bit of physics. You know that reality is like a Lego model, it's made up of smaller parts. We are pieced together out of atoms. Atoms are made from protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and neutrons are made of quarks. (Quarks and electrons, as far as we know, are elementary particles, with nothing smaller inside.) When you're talking about the Higgs Boson, you're talking about the mass of these particles. Here's an imperfect analogy: A top quark, the most massive particle we know of, is like an elephant. An electron, on the other hand, is more like a mouse. And nobody knows for certain why those differences exist.
There is a theory, though. Back in the 1960s, a guy named Peter Higgs came up with the idea that all these particles exist in a field, and their mass is a reflection of how much they interact with that field. Heavy particles have a lot of interaction. Lighter particles are relatively standoffish. If this field exists, the Higgs Boson is the tiny thing it's made of. Fermilab physicist Don Lincoln has a really great video explaining this, where he compares the Higgs field to water, and Higgs Bosons to the molecules that make up water. Read the rest
"They said when the collider goes on Soon they'd see that elusive boson Very soon we shall hear Whether Cern finds it this year But it's something I won't bet very much on." — Shelly Glashow, Boston University. Nobel prize in physics, 1979 From a collection of physicists' statements on the Higgs boson in The Guardian. (Via Ed Yong) Read the rest
For more than 20 years, the Tevatron reigned as the gold standard in particle accelerators. Under a berm outside Batavia, Illinois, the machine pushed protons and antiprotons to high energies around circular tracks before crashing them into each other. What's the point of that? When high-energy protons and antiprotons collide, they reproduce the conditions at the beginning of the Universe, just after the Big Bang. In the wreckage, you can find particles that don't normally exist, and observe phenomena that humans have never seen before. By rubbernecking at a particle crash, researchers hope to better understand life, the Universe, and everything. It's kind of a big deal.
But on Friday, September 30, the Tevatron smashed its last protons.
Ultimately, the Tevatron was simply the victim of the progress of technology. When it opened in 1983, it replaced older, lower-energy accelerators. And, in turn, the Tevatron has been replaced by the Large Hadron Collider, an accelerator capable of pushing particles to even higher energies. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before the Tevatron felt the budgetary axe.
The end of the Tevatron doesn't mean the end of research at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and it doesn't mean the end of particle research in the United States. But it is the end of an era.
William S. Higgins is a radiation safety physicist at Fermilab, and a contributor to Tor.com. He helped build the Tevatron and he was on hand last Friday, recording his thoughts and some photos to share with us. Read the rest