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NSBP and SAIP Members on LHC Lead-Lead Collisions November 16, 2010

Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), Mathematical and Computational Physics (MCP) , 2comments

LHC Achieves Heavy Ion Collisions
On Sunday November 7 at 1 am local time the first heavy ion collisions were observed in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland.  By the following Monday morning the heavy ion beam was stably producing a steady stream of collisions such that the physics analysis could start in earnest.  By the end of the week a sufficient number of events had been observed to reach the first conclusions.

Witnessing this historic event was Dr. Zinhle Buthelezi from South Africa’s iThemba LABS who was on duty in the control room of the ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) detector at the time of the first collisions.  Other members of the iThemba LABS team, Deon Steyn, Siegie Foertsch, and Zeblon Vilakazi, as well as the team from the University of Cape Town led by Jean Cleymans have also been participating in the ALICE experiment.  More

ALICE, Quark-Gluon Plasmas and the Origin of the Universe
The goal of ALICE is to observe the so-called Quark Gluon Plasma (QGP).  This plasma is partially analogous to the more well-known electronic plasma that results when a gas is so hot that its electrons are liberated from their atomic nuclei.  Like electrons are constituents of atoms, quarks and gluons are constituents of nucleons – protons and neutrons.  They can likewise be “deconfined” from nucleons at high energy densities like those that existed at the very moment of the Big Bang, or can be reproduced in high energy accelerators like the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) or the LHC.  Thus the results gained from ALICE and RHIC give insights into the state of energy and matter in the first microseconds of the universe, before condensation into neutrons, protons, and subsequently atoms.   More

NSBP Members Clifford Johnson and Stephon Alexander on the ALICE collisions
Experimental Excitement
ALICE – A Cosmologist’s Point of View

Theoretical physicists have studied QGPs using a variety of techniques.  Perhaps the most successful method is due to Dr. Juan Maldacena, a plenary speaker at the 2005 Joint Annual Conference of the National Society of Black Physicists and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists.  The so-called “AdS/CFT correspondence” relates string theory to gauge theories like quantum chromodynamics (QCD) which describes the interactions between quarks and gluons. Professor Jim Gates has commented, “So, the next time someone tells you that string theory is not testable, remind them of the AdS/CFT connection…”  Since then experimental, observational, and theoretical evidence has expanded from particle theory to condensed matter physics.

South African Participation at CERN
In addition to the ALICE experiment, South African physicists are participates in the ATLAS experiment.  Dr. Simon Connell, President-elect of the South African Institute of Physics leads the ATLAS Team at the University of Johannesburg.  “ATLAS is designed to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of the universe, like how and why particles have mass,” he explains.

This past summer South Africa hosted the first biennial African school on fundamental subatomic physics and its applications. More

2010 African Physics School

Courtesy of Brookhaven National Lab

South African participation in particle physics brings many benefits to the country and continent, most notably in information and computing technology (ICT).  SANReN, the grid computing network that allows physicists in South Africa to receive results from the LHC is used by many others in science and business, and this network will by design be extended to everyday consumers and learners.  More

ALICE, Quark-Gluon Plasmas and the Origin of the Universe – A Cosmologist’s Comment November 16, 2010

Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR) , 1 comment so far

Currently the best modern framework for understanding the origin of large scale structure in our universe is called cosmic inflation.

While still not completely resolved, inflation predicts the observed features of the universe split seconds after the big bang and three hundred thousand years during another era where the universe was filled with another type of plasma-an ionized gas of baryons and photons.   However when inflation was first ignited (10-36 seconds), the universe was thought to be filled with pure vacuum energy, no particles and radiation.

One of the big mysteries in cosmology and fundamental physics is to understand precisely how inflation ended and dumped its energy into the form of radiation.  A curious hint is that at time 10-12 seconds the universe was filled only with the quark-gluon plasma.

A key mystery of cosmology and fundamental physics is to understand how the universe went from the inflating state to the quark-gluon plasma state.  By understanding this new state of matter, the quark gluon plasma, physicists can help us understand the physics of the early universe right at the LHC.

Likewise, string theorists are developing new tools within the framework of M/String-Theory called the Ads/CFT correspondence which gives new insights into the non-perturbative physics by relating the physics of charged black holes “holographically” to the quark-gluon plasma.  It is amusing to speculate on how this new understanding could impact the experiments at the LHC and any possible relation to the physics of cosmic inflation.

Stephon Alexander

Professional Self-Image and Astronomy November 12, 2010

Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

My cultural astronomy project on navigation focused on why people today continue to navigate on the ocean using celestial bodies. A glaring question was why are people not adopting the Global Positioning System (GPS). There are many factors, many that are obvious such as batteries, as to why the GPS is not used in all navigating communities. However, after doing various calculations and listening to what the navigators said, I identified a new factor which is professional self-image. The question became: How do the navigators in this community image themselves to be in terms of their skills, the way they act, their values, etc.? I was most interested in the skills aspect of this question.

For my navigation study, I focused on three communities; and their professional self-image was different in each of these. Each community had a set of navigation skills and abilities that they considered to be essential to being a navigator. For example, on the Kerkennah Islands in Tunisia, the fishermen need to have a mental map of the seafloor features around the Islands to be able to pinpoint their location. Translating the relative depth of water to a specific location was a skill that the fishermen were proud of being able to do.

After my five years of studying navigators, I proposed a new hypothesis:

There are skills and abilities that are an essential part of the professional self-image of navigators, when a new technology is positioned to replace that essential part there will be rejection and/or resistance before adoption if adoption occurs.

My study of the United States Naval Academy (USNA) revealed a case of resistance and struggle between celestial navigation and the GPS. It is even more interesting because the GPS was developed by the Navy! Among Navy Officers, all are required to take celestial navigation classes and get certified (get a badge/pin) in celestial navigation, marking it as an essential skill. When it was proposed to remove celestial navigation from the USNA curriculum, there was struggle and resistance. At the end of my study, it was still being taught at the Naval Academy but in a stripped down form. The GPS is used by the Navy but so is celestial navigation, one is used to test the accuracy of the other. However, it is the old fashioned celestial navigation that is used to check the GPS!

There are many efforts underway to diversity Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Many efforts have had little or limited success. I have been on the Gender Equity Conversation Task Force run by the American Physical Society (APS) this past year doing site visits to physics departments in the United States. In conjunction with my film “Hubble’s Diverse Universe” I have visited several astronomy departments as well, where the bulk of our post film discussion focused on diversifying astronomy. I am currently studying the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme in South Africa, which is also meant to diversify astronomy. Not to forget that I too am a PhD astrophysicists and have done time in some of the best astronomy and physics departments in the USA. I had struggled with and continue to struggle with the professional self-image of astronomers. I have to mention that the French sociologist Pierre Bourdeau studied academic culture (Homo Academicus) and I could couch much of my thinking about the professional self-image of astronomers around his term “doxa”.

Focusing on diversity, I have been busily identifying those factors that are part of astronomers’ professional self-image that impede if not halt progress towards diversifying astronomy. As an aside, consider that women and minority scholars in the USA tend to create their own success at the margins of disciplines. One reason may be that the professional self-image within disciplines is inflexible (concrete, frozen, rigid) leading to no possibility of diversity and no chance of success for diverse members.

As an example of this within astronomy, in the discussions that followed viewing my film, in some cases the audience spent a great deal of time ‘othering’ minority students: they are only interested in money (read they come from poor backgrounds), they are more interested in less intellectual fields such as engineering (no offense, these were not my words!), and they would not want to make the time-investment necessary to become an astronomer. These comments were instructive to me on another level: I’ll not be sending my children nor my students to them, even my non-minority ones!

I have developed a series of activities to be done by students and astronomy professors around professional self-image to bring some of the factors hindering diversity to the forefront in an effort to identify and nullify unconscious biases. Thus far, I have done the student exercise twice in South Africa. It was fun and the students (who were black and colored South African) could see why they felt uncomfortable, unsupported, and abandoned by their professors. It gave them a morale boost building their resilience to survive in the astronomy environment. However, the students cannot change astronomy culture – the professors can. I hope to test out my professional self-image exercises sometime soon among astronomy professors.

This is my last week in South Africa. I traveled to Pretoria to see NSBP’s Charles McGruder, the International Astronomical Union President Robert Williams, and Astronaut and MIT Professor Jeff Hoffman give a joint public lecture to promote astronomy. Astronaut Hoffman helped fix the Hubble Space Telescope way back when the images were still out of focus. His presentation was moving, especially since I had done the “Hubble’s Diverse Universe” film which is a minority tribute to the Hubble Space Telescope. Afterward, I gave him a copy of my film – bold of me? Robert Williams I knew from my visits to the Space Telescope Institute; he was surprised to find me in South Africa. I was surprised that Charles had not told him that I would be there. Dr. Williams talked about some of the major findings of the Hubble Space Telescope advancing astronomy and astrophysics. Dr. Charles McGruder and I have a long history. He and I are both Caltech grads, except he graduated the year that I was born! I did not meet him until I was working on my master’s in astronomy. At the time it was wonderful to connect with an African American astronomer who also had survived undergraduate life at Caltech (in 2006 I met a third Dr. Alphose Sterling). Dr. McGruder spoke about the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) and what it would mean if it were placed in Africa. South Africa has put in a bid to host the SKA, and dishes would have to be placed in other African nations as well, which would bring astronomy to new places in Africa. Australia is competing with South Africa for the SKA.

Back in Mafikeng, Dr. Thebe Medupe and I are putting together a proposal to host the 2014 Oxford Conference on Archaeoastronomy in South Africa in Mafikeng. We got letters from each of the major hotels with quotes of their estimated room rates – two days of work! Our last task is to get a letter of support from North West University then I think we are ready to go. The proposal will be presented at the Peru conference in January. I am nervous about it because I will not be traveling to Peru, I will be in Seattle at the American Astronomical Society meeting (AAS). We have tossed around ideas for the theme of the conference. Our favorite thus far is: “Astronomy, Indigenous Knowledge, and Interpretation.”

Dr. Medupe and I have been planning the future of the Timbuktu science project and the Astronomy document collaborative project. Both focus on documents written in Arabic found in Africa that contain astronomy content. The Timbuktu project has been running for several years, I started building a larger collaboration last year starting with Egypt. Many African nations have archives of Arabic documents; these have not been analyzed for their astronomy content. The larger collaboration would identify those archives that have astronomy documents and then set up teams to analyze the documents. I am building the collaboration as a collaboration, not as me and a bunch of Americans going and doing everything. I want local partners who are willing to work as co-Investigators. It has been slow going because with each new partner we have to write joint grant proposals to get funding. It would certainly be a lot faster to simply send in a team, but I feel strongly that true partnerships will make the project sustainable and benefit more people including leading to training more local (African) students.

Cosmology on the Beach! September 1, 2010

Posted by CGR Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), Mathematical and Computational Physics (MCP), Nuclear and Particle Physics (NPP) , add a comment

Applications are now open for the Essential Cosmology for the Next Generation (aka Cosmology on the Beach) winter school/research conference! The organizers strongly encourage a diverse group of advanced graduate students and postdoc to participate. Instructors include NSBP member Edmund Bertschinger of MIT’s Department of Physics. Here is the full announcement:

(also known as Cosmology on the Beach)

January 10−14, 2011 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The Conference website and Participant Application form is now available at the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics website.

This meeting is the 3rd annual edition, following the very successful and popular 2009 and 2010 conferences. It is a combination of winter school and research conference, with course lectures, blended with recent research advances in plenary talks, and student/postdoc participation. We encourage a diverse group of advanced graduate students and postdocs interested in attending to apply. The deadline for application is OCTOBER 15, 2010.

Ed Bertschinger, Gravity on Cosmic Scales
Neal Katz, Galaxy Formation
Mark Trodden, Particle Physics, LHC, and Cosmology
Licia Verde, Statistical and Numerical Methods in Cosmology
Martin White, Nonlinear Structure in the Universe

to be announced

Organized by the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics and Instituto Avanzado de Cosmologia, Mexico.

A Tribute: Dr. Beth Brown August 13, 2009

Posted by CGR Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment

Last October, the astrophysical community and NSBP lost a shining star, Dr. Beth Brown. The first Black woman to earn a PhD in astronomy from the University of Michigan, Dr. Brown was an expert in high energy astrophysics as well as an ardent advocate for participation in education and outreach. To honor her memory, Aziza Productions created a memorial film. The Howard University Department of Physics and Astronomy has links to quicktime and windows media formats.

NASA will be remembering the former NASA Administrator Fellow this October at the 2009 Women in Astronomy Conference*, which is dedicated to Dr. Brown. Although she is no longer with us in person, Dr. Brown’s spirit will continue to inspire us all for a long time to come.

*Students, please note that there is travel funding available to attend this conference. See the website for more information.

Herschel Space Telescope Opens Eyes July 10, 2009

Posted by CGR Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR) , add a comment

The newest addition to the space telescope crew is the Herschel, which is designed, deployed and run by the European Space Agency. Herschel, which can see in the infrared, is joining our much-beloved Hubble (which observes in the visible) and Spitzer (which can see in the infrared). After a month of preparation in space, Herschel opened its eyes in June. Today a sneak preview of the images it will be taking was released:

You’ll notice that the image on the left is from Spitzer. Thanks to the hard work of optical engineers and atomic and condensed matter physicists, technology is improving, and the higher quality image from Herschel is the result. We here at Vector say to Herschel: Welcome! And to its hard working team: Thank you 🙂

But improved technology isn’t the only exciting element of Herschel’s release into the wild. Herschel is also the first major telescope to be named for a female astronomer. It is named for Caroline and William Herschel, the award-winning brother-sister team who lived in 18th and 19th century Germany and England. As time goes on, we hope to see more and more recognition of the contributions of people traditionally underrepresented in science. Kudos to ESA for making strides in this area.

News From The Front, VII: What is Fundamental, Anyway? July 4, 2009

Posted by CGR Section Chair in : Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), Nuclear and Particle Physics (NPP) , add a comment

Editor’s note: The following excerpt comes to us from theoretical physicist Clifford Johnson, a professor in the University of Southern California Department of Physics and Astronomy. Professor Johnson’s work primarily focuses on (super)string theory, gravity, gauge theory and M-theory. — CPW

One of the words I dislike most in my field – or more accurately, a common usage thereof – is “fundamental”. This is because it is usually used as a weapon, very often by people in my area of physics (largely concerned with particle physics, high energy physics, origins questions and so forth), to dismiss the work of others as somehow uninteresting or irrelevant. I don’t like this. Never have. Not only is it often allied to a great deal of arrogance and misplaced swagger, it is often just plain short-sighted, since you never know where good ideas and techniques will come from. A glance at the history of physics shows just how much cross-pollination there is between fields in terms of ideas and techniques. You never know for sure where valuable insights into certain kinds of problems may come from.

Fundamental physics is a term I used to hear used a lot to refer to particle physics (also called high energy physics a lot more these days). This was especially true some years back when I was an undergraduate in the UK, and it persisted in graduate school too, and is still in use today, although I think it is declining a bit in favour of less loaded terms. Somehow, a lot of particle physics is regarded as being all about the “what is everything made of at the very smallest scales” sort of question, first discussing atoms, and then atoms being made of electrons surrounding a nucleus, and the nucleus being made of protons and neutrons, and those in turn being made of quarks, and so on, in this was arriving at a list of “fundamental” particles. There’s the parallel discussion about the “fundamental” forces (e.g., electromagnetism and the nuclear forces) being described in terms of exchanges of particles like photons, gluons, and W and Z particles and so forth. There’s no real harm in the use of the term fundamental in this context, but this is about where the word gets elevated beyond its usefulness and starts becoming a hurdle to progress, and then a barrier. Somehow, “fundamental”, meaning “building block” gets turned, oddly, into “most important”. The issue of what the smallest building blocks are gets elevated to the most important quest, when it is in reality only a component of the story. It is rather like saying that the most important things about the Taj Mahal are the beautiful stones, tiles, and other components from which it is constructed.

Perspectives have evolved a bit since my salad days, with the rise of wider recognition of the connection between particle physics, and astrophysics and cosmology. I think that things are (these days) more widely seen to be the more rich interconnected and beautiful landscape of phenomena that they are, but I still find, especially among younger people, the “building block” attitude to be prevalent.

I raise this since sometimes I find that people don’t understand that there are fundamental and vital questions in other areas that connect to so many interesting areas of physics. […]

Read the rest of the article on Asymptotia here.

The Nature of Time March 14, 2009

Posted by CGR Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), Nuclear and Particle Physics (NPP) , add a comment

Arguably one of the greatest and most fundamental problems in cosmology (alright, alright, all of physics) is trying to understand time. What is it? Why does the arrow of time only point in one direction? Because these questions exist and so do physicists, the study of time is an active field of research. It is a multidisciplinary field, with both physicists and philosophers contributing to it. Because the research is esoteric, finding funding for it is sometimes difficult, which is where organizations like FQXi step in.

FQXi is a vaguely controversial organization funded by the Templeton Foundation (but run by very well-respected physicists) that gives money to scientists who do research on fundamental questions in physics. Recently they had an essay contest, and the topic was the nature of time.

The winning essay is by Julian Barbour, a physicist and philosopher in Oxford, UK. The essay jury commended his essay:

The jury panel admired this essay for its crystal-clear and engaging presentation of a problem in classical dynamics, namely to find a measure for duration or the size of a time interval. The paper argues lucidly, and in a historically well-informed manner, that an appropriate choice for such a measure is not to be found in Newton’s pre-existing absolute notion of time, but rather emerges, in the form of ephemeris time, from the observable motions and the assumption of energy conservation. The paper also suggests how this emergence of duration might be relevant to problems in quantum gravity.

All of the winning essays can be found on the fqxi website. You can also read all of the submissions, including the ones that did not receive prizes. I strongly encourage all physicists, from undergrads to professors emeriti to have a look at the latest in the study of time!

Doing Business with DOE February 10, 2009

Posted by NPP Section Chair in : Acoustics (ACOU), Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (AMO), Chemical and Biological Physics (CBP), Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (CMMP), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), Earth and Planetary Systems Sciences (EPSS), Fluid and Plasma Physics (FPP), Mathematical and Computational Physics (MCP), Nuclear and Particle Physics (NPP), Photonics and Optics (POP), Physics Education Research (PER) , add a comment



· Paid undergraduate science research internships?

· Summer research positions for faculty and student teams at a national laboratory?

· Careers with the Federal government or national laboratories?

· Graduate fellowships and Post-Doc appointments?

The Department of Energy is looking for you…

Come see us in the DOE Pavilion

Learn how you can work alongside scientists and engineers experienced at mentoring who want to transfer science knowledge by collaborative research. These programs are for undergraduate students from four year institutions, community colleges, or for students who are preparing to become K-12 science, math or technology teachers and for undergraduate faculty. Internships are available at all DOE national labs.

Up to 8 qualified undergraduate students will be considered for placement in the summer of 2009. The laboratories also have graduate and post-doc opportunities. We look forward to seeing you in Nashville! Please come join us at Booth 304 and the other booths in the DOE Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall Thursday and Friday or at any of the following activities and workshops:

Physics Diversity Summit: Discussion with Bill Valdez, Director, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists

Date: Wednesday, February 11

Time: 2:00 PM

Workshop: Brookhaven National Laboratory –On Using Photons

Date: Thursday, February 12

Time: 2:00 – 3:30 PM and 4:00 – 5:30 PM

Workshop: Oakridge National Laboratory—On Using Neutrons

Date: Friday, February 13
Time: 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM; 5:00-6:30 PM

Doing Business with Department of Energy—Research and Grants

Date: Friday, February 13

Time: 3:00 – 4:30 PM

NSHP & NSBP at their best: Cosmology, Classical and Quantum Gravity January 28, 2009

Posted by CGR Section Chair in : Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR) , add a comment

It’s true. On February 12 and 13, the three best sessions of the joint annual meeting of NSBP and NSHP will take place. The Dr. Beth Brown Memorial Cosmology, Classical and Quantum Gravity sessions will be happening at 2 PM and 4 PM on the 12th and at 5 PM on Friday the 13th. Okay, okay, so the cosmologist writing this blog might be a little biased. Maybe all of the sessions at NSHP/NSBP are fantastic. But let me tell you why I think ours are the best!

Our sessions focus on questions about the origins of the universe, its fundamental make up and its evolution. We also study some of the most exotic objects in the universe, from strings to black holes and even stringy black holes.

Speaking of black holes, this year we will be celebrating the life of an extraordinary woman in astrophysics who studied black holes and who died in late 2008. Dr. Beth A. Brown will be honored in a number of ways, and the 4 PM 12 February session will be devoted to her final work. Professor James Lindesay and Dr. Tehani Finch of Howard University will be presenting, along with an introduction by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Other invited speakers this year include Dr. Neil Turok, Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Professor Jorge Pullin of Louisiana State University, Professor S. James Gates of the University of Maryland, and Professor Edmund Bertschinger, chair of MIT.

Talk titles this year include the tantalizing:
“Addressing a Crisis in Fundamental Physics: Probing the Nature of Dark Energy with Supernovae and Galaxy Clusters”
“Loop Quantum Gravity: What it is and some recent results”
“Formation of black holes and the onset of cosmic acceleration”

Want to know who is giving what talk? Come to our sessions and find out! Check the NSBP schedule and look for the CGR I, II and III sessions.

See you there!