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.
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For once, "shadow of the atom" is not just a poetic metaphor for the nuclear age. The black dot at the center of this image is, literally, the shadow cast by a single atom of ytterbium, magnified 6500 times.
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.
Listen to the whole conversation at Minnesota Public Radio's website.
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.
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. Peter Yunker on the Suppression of the Coffee-Ring Effect by Shape-Dependent Capillary Interactions i.e. how are coffee rings made. I contacted him to see if he could see any obvious connection between the two liquids and the rings / patterns they create. He got back to me and unfortunately could not explain what was happening with the Scotch.
That paper Button mentioned was published in 2011. It explores the physics of particles suspended in liquid — not just coffee, but lots of things. Turns out, if you put a drop of liquid on a solid surface, it will tend to dry in a circular shape. As it dries, anything suspended in the liquid will migrate to the outside of the circle. If you put a drop of coffee on a table and leave it to dry, what you'll get is a round spot ringed by a narrow band of dark coffee gunk.
Why does the gunk form a ring, instead of evenly covering the whole circle? Yunker's research showed that it has to do with the shape of the particles that make up the gunk.
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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.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)
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.Read the rest