Tag Archives: LHC

Liverpool Science Festival

The first Liverpool Science Festival (UK)  is being held June 25 – July 9, 2014 according to a June 6, 2014 Festival announcement, which has a very exciting lineup guests and events,

Liverpool Science Festival was founded with the mission to create a unique platform to engage the public in all things scientific – from natural science to science in its most interdisciplinary and cultural contexts.

For 2014, we are part of the science programme of events during the UK’s inaugural International Festival for Business (IFB 2014). We are also proud to be contributing events to the official 60th Anniversary celebrations of CERN – birthplace of the internet, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), site of the discovery of the Higgs Boson – and home to scientists from more than 100 countries.

Highlights of the festival include:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Solar System:
1 river, 9 planets, 14 days and 70 miles

An ambitious public engagement project setting off from the source of the Mersey on a journey to the sea, culminating in a series of pop-up astronomy events and happenings which will mark out the positions of the planets and a scale model of the Solar System. The journey begins on 25 June with astronomy at the source of the Mersey (Stockport, Cheshire) and ends on the evening of 9 July on Crosby Beach.

www.liverpoolsciencefestival.com/the-hitchhikers-guide-to-the-solar-system

This is the second reference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that I’ve had on this blog in less than one week. Rice University (US) researcher, Nikta Fakhri, referenced the book in a description of her work on carbon nanotubes in a June 5, 2014 post titled, Hitchhikers at the nanoscale show how cells stir themselves. (For anyone unfamiliar with the book and/or its cultural import, here’s a Wikipedia entry devoted to it.)

Next the festival is featuring its physics with two live events, one featuring Jon Butterworth and the other featuring Butterworth and Lyn Evans (from the announcement),

“If you want to know what being a professional scientist is really like, read Smashing Physics!” – Professor Brian Cox

Professor Jon Butterworth (CERN {European Organization for Nuclear Research ], UCL [University College of London] & Guardian Science) at Waterstones Liverpool One on 27 June – one of the UK’s foremost physicists, on Smashing Physics, his smashing new science book about the hunt for Higgs Boson and real life as a real scientist at the cusp of scientific discovery.

www.liverpoolsciencefestival.com/smashing-physics-ft-prof-jon-butterworth  

Dr Lyn Evans (chief engineer at CERN who spent 15 years leading the team constructing the LHC, the most complex machine ever built) flies in from CERN, Geneva, to speak on Engineering the LHCon 28 June at Stanley Dock.

www.liverpoolsciencefestival.com/engineering-the-lhc-ft-prof-jon-butterworth-dr-lyn-evans

Butterworth has a blog, Life and Physics, hosted by the Guardian newspaper as part of its science blog network. I find his writing to be quite approachable. From time to time he starts talking in ‘physics’ but he usually prepares his audience for these brief outbursts by explaining the concept first in plain English and/or approaching the topic from a mundane angle, e.g., ‘it can be lonely being a physicist’.

Evans was in Vancouver, Canada last February 2013 to launch a global project (from a Feb. 18, 2013 news release posted on The Exchange),

… On February 21 [2013], TRIUMF will do its part in fulfilling this role as it plays host to a meeting of the leaders of the major high-energy physics laboratories around the world. The key outcome of this meeting will be the completion of an existing global collaboration and the launch of a new team that will coordinate and advance the global development work for the Linear Collider, the world’s next accelerator project aimed at pulling back the curtain on the secrets of nature’s most innermost workings.

The new Linear Collider Collaboration (LCC) will combine the two next-generation collider projects, the International Linear Collider (ILC) and the Compact Linear Collider (CLIC), under one organizational roof and will be headed by Lyn Evans, former Project Manager of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Some may recognize Lyn Evans as recent co-recipient of the Milner Foundation’s Fundamental Physics Prize. (Evans will give a public science lecture on Wednesday evening at Science World.)

The Linear Collider Board, headed by the University of Tokyo’s Sachio Komamiya, is a new oversight committee for the LCC that will take up office at the same time.

Evans’ public talk mentioned in my Jan. 29, 2013 posting of Vancouver science events features a description that resembles the one for the Liverpool Science Festival (from my posting),

There is a video of the Evan’s February 20, 2013 talk here for anyone who can’t get to Evans’ talk in Liverpool.

Here’s more from the Liverpool Science Festival announcement,

“Wax has an extraordinary mind, and she has brought it to bear with her trademark wit.” – Stephen Fry

Ruby Wax brings her unique wit to the festival with her Sane New World stage show, at Stanley Dock on the evening of 28 June. Since obtaining a Masters Degree in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford University, Wax has become a respected campaigner for mental illness in the UK.

www.liverpoolsciencefestival.com/sane-new-world-ft-ruby-wax

“As the scouts say – be prepared! Say your prayers that you never need this book” – Bear Grylls

Dr Lewis Dartnell presents The Knowledge, How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch, his guide to everything you need to know to survive the apocalypse, avert another Dark Age and accelerate the rebuilding of civilization. Based on Dartnell’s best-selling book which has been the top-selling science book on Amazon in recent weeks.

www.liverpoolsciencefestival.com/the-knowledge-how-to-rebuild-our-world-from-scratch-ft-dr-lewis-dartnel 

For the last highlight from the festival announcement, we return to physics,

“Mind-blowing.” – New York Times on Particle Fever

Screening of Particle Fever – Liverpool Science Festival has special permission to screen this new movie on CERN and the hunt for the Higgs Boson, three months ahead of its UK general release. The screening will be followed by a Q&A featuring Professor Tara Shears, CERN particle physicist and the University of Liverpool’s first ever female professor of physics. The screening takes place on the evening of 5 July at Stanley Dock.

www.liverpoolsciencefestival.com/particle-fever

“Particle Fever” received its May 16, 2014 Canadian premiere in Vancouver, which included a discussion with a panel of physicists.  (There was a also a showing when the Vancouver International Film Festival was held in Oct. 2013 and that has a separate webpage description. I assume a showing during a film festival is not considered a premiere) Here’s a description of the documentary from the Vancouver International Film Festival theatre’s Particle Fever webpage,

May 16th, 7:00 PM screening will be followed by a panel discussion of physicists, copresented by TRIUMF and supported by Reel Causes.
May 19th, 6:30 PM screening is open to youth, the film is rated PG

Imagine being able to watch as Edison turned on the first light bulb, or as Franklin received his first jolt of electricity. Physicist turned filmmaker Mark Levinson gives us the modern equivalent of those world-changing moments with this as-it-happens front-row seat to our generation’s most significant and inspiring scientific breakthrough—the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, built to recreate conditions that existed just moments after the Big Bang and to potentially explain the origin of all matter. Following a team of brilliant scientists, Levinson—aided by master editor Walter Murch—crafts a celebration of discovery while revealing the very human stories behind this epic machine.

“Set in crummy offices and towering facilities worthy of a Bond movie, the documentary is edited with the momentum of a thriller by the great Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now), as we follow six scientists. They come across as simultaneously passionate thinkers and endearing nerds: There’s the elegant Italian physicist and classical pianist Fabiola Gianotti, obliviously stepping into traffic while talking excitedly on her phone. Or postdoc student and experimental physicist Monica Dunford, declaring effusively: “It’s unbelievably fantastic how great data is.”

There is a Particle Fever May 14, 2014 review by Ken Eisner in the Vancouver local publication, The Georgia Straight.  Peculiarly and in the midst a poetic movie review, Eisner starts complaining about physics funding in the US,

In the rarefied world of quantum physics, “The ability to leap from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm is the key to success.” This is according to one scientist prominently featured in an absorbing doc that takes as its locus the Large Hadron Collider, in Switzerland, where some pretty amazing breakthroughs—and a few duds—have happened in the past few years.

The subtext is the struggle to keep pure learning alive with no promise of tangible return, except the possibility of knowledge that will forever alter our understanding of life. …

… its main activities take place at the huge site of CERN, near Lake Geneva—built there largely because right-wingers have managed to kill off nonprofit science in the U.S. [emphasis mine] Its hivelike realities, with staff drawn from a hundred nations, make it resemble a space station on Earth. …

I think there may have been a few other important  factors influencing the Large Hadron Collider’s location.

Getting back to Liverpool, if the website is any indication, this science festival has been beautifully conceptualized and thoughtfully implemented. I wish the organizers all the best as they get ready to launch their festival.

Finally, in the description of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Solar System event, I noticed a reference to the Mersey, which brought to mind this song from 1965. Gerry & the Pacemakers sing Ferry Cross the Mersey,

Peter Higgs and François Englert to receive 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics and TRIUMF name changes?

After all the foofaraw about finding/confirming the existence of the Higgs Boson or ‘god’ particle (featured in my July 4, 2012 posting amongst many others), the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 2013 Nobel prize for Physics to two of the individuals responsible for much of the current thinking about subatomic particles and mass (from the Oct. 8, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily),

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2013 to François Englert of Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium, and Peter W. Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, UK, “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.”

François Englert and Peter W. Higgs are jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 for the theory of how particles acquire mass. In 1964, they proposed the theory independently of each other (Englert together with his now deceased colleague Robert Brout). In 2012, their ideas were confirmed by the discovery of a so called Higgs particle at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva in Switzerland.

TRIUMF, sometimes known as Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, has issued an Oct. 8, 2013 news release,

HIGGS, ENGLERT SHARE 2013 NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSICS

Canadians Key Part of Historical Nobel Prize to “Godfathers” of the “God Particle”

(Vancouver, BC) — The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today awarded the Nobel Prize in physics to Professor Peter W. Higgs (Univ. of Edinburgh) and Professor François Englert (Univ. Libre de Bruxelles) to recognize their work developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field, which gives elementary particles mass.  Canadians have played critical roles in all stages of the breakthrough discovery Higgs boson particle that validates the original theoretical framework.  Throngs across Canada are celebrating.

More than 150 Canadian scientists and students at 10 different institutions are presently involved in the global ATLAS experiment at CERN.  Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, TRIUMF, has been a focal point for much of the Canadian involvement that has ranged from assisting with the construction of the LHC accelerator to building key elements of the ATLAS detector and hosting one of the ten global Tier-1 Data Centres that stores and processes the physics for the team of thousands.

“The observation of a Higgs Boson at about 125 GeV, or 130 times the mass of the proton, by both the ATLAS and CMS groups is a tremendous achievement,” said Rob McPherson, spokesperson of the ATLAS Canada collaboration, a professor of physics at the University of Victoria and Institute of Particle Physics scientist. “Its existence was predicted in 1964 when theorists reconciled how massive particles came into being.  It took almost half a century to confirm the detailed predictions of the theories in a succession of experiments, and finally to discover the Higgs Boson itself using our 2012 data.”

The Brout-Englert-Higgs (BEH) mechanism was first proposed in 1964 in two papers published independently, the first by Belgian physicists Robert Brout and François Englert, and the second by British physicist Peter Higgs. It explains how the force responsible for beta decay is much weaker than electromagnetism, but is better known as the mechanism that endows fundamental particles with mass. A third paper, published by Americans Gerald Guralnik and Carl Hagen with their British colleague Tom Kibble further contributed to the development of the new idea, which now forms an essential part of the Standard Model of particle physics. As was pointed out by Higgs, a key prediction of the idea is the existence of a massive boson of a new type, which was discovered by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN in 2012.

The next step will be to determine the precise nature of the Higgs particle and its significance for our understanding of the universe. Are its properties as expected for the Higgs boson predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics? Or is it something more exotic? The Standard Model describes the fundamental particles from which we, and every visible thing
in the universe, are made, and the forces acting between them. All the matter that we can see, however, appears to be no more than about 4% of the total. A more exotic version of the Higgs particle could be a bridge to understanding the 96% of the universe that remains obscure.

TRIUMF salutes Peter Higgs and François Englert for their groundbreaking work recognized by today’s Nobel Prize and congratulates the international team of tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, students, and many more from around the world who helped make the discovery.

For spokespeople at the major Canadian universities involved in the Higgs discovery, please see the list below:

CANADIAN CONTACTS

U of Alberta: Doug Gingrich, [email protected], 780-492-9501
UBC:  Colin Gay, [email protected], 604-822-2753
Carleton U: Gerald Oakham (& TRIUMF), [email protected], 613-520-7539
McGill U: Brigitte Vachon (also able to interview in French), [email protected], 514-398-6478
U of Montreal: Claude Leroy (also able to interview in French),[email protected], 514-343-6722
Simon Fraser U: Mike Vetterli (& TRIUMF, also able to interview in French), [email protected], 778-782-5488
TRIUMF: Isabel Trigger (also able to interview in French), [email protected], 604-222-7651
U of Toronto: Robert Orr, [email protected], 416-978-6029
U of Victoria: Rob McPherson, [email protected], 604-222-7654
York U: Wendy Taylor, [email protected], 416-736-2100 ext 77758

While I know Canadians have been part of the multi-year, multi-country effort to determine the existence or non-existence of the Higgs Boson and much more in the field of particle physics, I would prefer we were not described as “… Key Part of Historical Nobel Prize … .” The question that springs to mind is: how were Canadian efforts key to this work? The answer is not revealed in the news release, which suggests that the claim may be a little overstated. On the other hand, I do like the bit about ‘saluting Higgs and Englert for their groundbreaking work’.

As for TRIUMF and what appears to be a series of name changes, I’m left somewhat puzzled, This Oct. 8, 2013 news release bears the name (or perhaps it’s a motto or tagline of some sort?): TRIUMF — Accelerating Science for Canada, meanwhile the website still sports this: TRIUMF Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics while a July 17, 2013 TRIUMF news release gloried in this name: TRIUMF Accelerators, Inc., (noted in my July 18, 2013 posting). Perhaps TRIUMF is trying to follow in CERN’s footsteps. CERN was once known as the ‘European particle physics laboratory’ but is now known as the European Organization for Nuclear Research and seems to also have the tagline: ‘Accelerating science’.

Accelerator-on-a-chip at Stanford University’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

For anyone who’s ever seen a picture of the accelerators at CERN’s (European Particle Physics Laboratory) Large Hadron Collider, the notion of an accelerator-on-a-chip seems unbelievable. Scientists at Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory thought otherwise according to a Sept. 27, 2013 SLAC news release (also on EurekAlert),

In an advance that could dramatically shrink particle accelerators for science and medicine, researchers used a laser to accelerate electrons at a rate 10 times higher than conventional technology in a nanostructured glass chip smaller than a grain of rice.

“We still have a number of challenges before this technology becomes practical for real-world use, but eventually it would substantially reduce the size and cost of future high-energy particle colliders for exploring the world of fundamental particles and forces,” said Joel England, the SLAC physicist who led the experiments. “It could also help enable compact accelerators and X-ray devices for security scanning, medical therapy and imaging, and research in biology and materials science.”

Because it employs commercial lasers and low-cost, mass-production techniques, the researchers believe it will set the stage for new generations of “tabletop” accelerators.

At its full potential, the new “accelerator on a chip” could match the accelerating power of SLAC’s 2-mile-long linear accelerator in just 100 feet, and deliver a million more electron pulses per second. [emphasis mine]

The news release goes on to describe how the researchers have achieved a more efficient acceleration,

Particles are generally accelerated in two stages. First they are boosted to nearly the speed of light. Then any additional acceleration increases their energy, but not their speed; this is the challenging part.

In the accelerator-on-a-chip experiments, electrons are first accelerated to near light-speed in a conventional accelerator. Then they are focused into a tiny, half-micron-high channel within a fused silica glass chip just half a millimeter long. The channel had been patterned with precisely spaced nanoscale ridges. Infrared laser light shining on the pattern generates electrical fields that interact with the electrons in the channel to boost their energy.

The researchers’ have produced an animation which illustrates their work,

Caption: This animation explains how the accelerator on a chip uses infrared laser light to accelerate electrons to increasingly higher energies. Credit:  (Greg Stewart/SLAC)

Here’s a citation for and a link to the  research paper (‘near final version as of Sept. 30, 2013),

Demonstration of electron acceleration in a laser-driven dielectric microstructure by E. A. Peralta, K. Soong, R. J. England, E. R. Colby, Z. Wu, B. Montazeri, C. McGuinness, J. McNeur, K. J. Leedle, D. Walz, E. B. Sozer, B. Cowan, B. Schwartz, G. Travish, & R. L. Byer. Nature (2013) doi:10.1038/nature12664  Published online 27 September 2013

It is behind a paywall although you can get reading access via ReadCube.

Finally, here’s what the chip looks like,

Nanofabricated chips of fused silica just 3 millimeters long were used to accelerate electrons at a rate 10 times higher than conventional particle accelerator technology. (Brad Plummer/SLAC)

Nanofabricated chips of fused silica just 3 millimeters long were used to accelerate electrons at a rate 10 times higher than conventional particle accelerator technology. (Brad Plummer/SLAC)

TRIUMF looks for new Director as Nigel S. Lockyer exits for the Fermilab (US)

The circumstances around Nigel S. Lockyer’s departure as Director of Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics, TRIUMF,  are very interesting. Just weeks ago, TRIUMF announced a major innovation for producing medical isotopes (my June 9, 2013 posting), which should have an enormous impact on cities around the world and their access to medical isotopes. (Briefly, cities with cyclotrons could produce, using the technology developed by TRIUMF,  their own medical isotopes without using material from nuclear reactors.)

Also in the recent past, Canada’s much storied McGill University joined the TRIUMF consortium (I’m surprized it took this long), from the May 10, 2013 news release,

At its recent Board of Management meeting, TRIUMF approved McGill University as an associate member of the consortium of universities that owns and operates Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics. McGill joins 17 other Canadian universities in leading TRIUMF.

Paul Young, Chair of the Board and Vice President for Research at the University of Toronto, said, “The addition of McGill to the TRIUMF family is a great step forward. McGill brings world-class scientists and students to TRIUMF and TRIUMF brings world-leading research tools and partnerships to McGill.”

The university’s closer association with TRIUMF will allow it to participate in discussions about setting the direction of the laboratory as well provide enhanced partnerships for new research infrastructure that strengthens efforts on McGill’s campuses. Dr. Rose Goldstein, McGill Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations), said, “We are delighted to formalize our long-standing involvement in TRIUMF. It is an important bridge to international research opportunities at CERN and elsewhere. Associate membership in TRIUMF will also help McGill advance its Strategic Research Plan, especially in the priority area of exploring the natural environment, space, and the universe.”

McGill University has been involved in TRIUMF-led activities for several decades, most notably as part of the Higgs-hunting efforts at CERN. TRIUMF constructed parts of the Large Hadron Collider that ultimately produced Higgs bosons. The co-discovery was made by the ATLAS experiment for which TRIUMF led Canadian construction of several major components, and McGill played a key role in the development of the experiment’s trigger system. McGill and TRIUMF have also worked together on particle-physics projects in Japan and the U.S.

Professor Charles Gale, chair of the Department of Physics, played a key role in formalizing the relationship between TRIUMF and McGill. He said, “Our department is one of the top in North America in research, teaching, and service. Undoubtedly our work with TRIUMF has helped contribute to that and I expect both institutions to blossom even further.” Professor of physics and Canadian Research Chair in Particle Physics Brigitte Vachon added, “TRIUMF provides key resources to my students and me that make our research at CERN possible; the discovery of the Higgs boson is a perfect example of what such collaboration can achieve.”

Nigel S. Lockyer, director of TRIUMF, commented, “The addition of McGill to the TRIUMF team is welcome and long overdue. We have been working together for decades in subatomic physics and this acknowledgment of the partnership enhances both institutions and builds stronger ties in areas such as materials science and nuclear medicine.”

A scant month after McGill joins the consortium and weeks after a major announcement about medical isotopes, Lockyer announces his departure for the Fermilabs in the US, from the May 20, 2013 TRIUMF news release,

In his capacity as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Fermi Research Alliance, LLC, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer today announced that TRIUMF’s director Nigel S. Lockyer has been selected to become the next director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located outside Chicago.  Lockyer is expected to complete his work at TRIUMF this summer and begin at Fermilab in the autumn.

Paul Young, Chair of TRIUMF’s Board of Management and Vice President of Research and Innovation at the University of Toronto said, “Nigel was selected from a truly outstanding set of international candidates for this challenging and important position.  Although it will be a short-term loss, this development is a clear recognition of Nigel’s vision and passion for science and the international leadership taken by TRIUMF and Canada in subatomic physics.  On behalf of the entire TRIUMF Board, we wish Nigel, TRIUMF, and Fermilab every success in the future.”

Lockyer set TRIUMF upon a new course when he arrived six years ago, focusing the team on “Advancing isotopes for science and medicine.”  Based on TRIUMF’s existing infrastructure and talent, this initiative ranged from expanding the nuclear-medicine program so that it is now playing a leading role in resolving the medical-isotope crisis to the formulation and funding of a new flagship facility called ARIEL that will double TRIUMF’s capabilities for producing exotic isotopes used in science and for developing tomorrow’s medical isotopes.  At the heart of ARIEL is a next-generation electron accelerator using modern superconducting radio-frequency technology.

Commenting on Nigel’s leadership of TRIUMF, Paul Young added, “One look at TRIUMF’s current trajectory and you can see that this is a man of great ambition and talent.  Working with the Board and a great team at the lab, he propelled TRIUMF to new heights.  We have all been fortunate at TRIUMF to have Nigel as a colleague and leader.”

Reflecting on his time at TRIUMF and the upcoming transition to Fermilab, Nigel Lockyer said, “Knowing that TRIUMF is in good hands with a superb leadership team and seeing its growing string of accomplishments has helped make this decision a tiny bit easier.  The laboratory’s future is secure and TRIUMF knows exactly what it is doing.  I am proud to have contributed to TRIUMF’s successes and it is my hope to ignite the same energy and enthusiasm in the U.S. by heading the team at Fermilab.”  He added, “I also expect to foster a new level of partnership between the U.S. and Canada in these key areas of science and technology.”

“Nigel has had a profound impact on TRIUMF,” said David B. MacFarlane, chair of the National Research Council’s Advisory Committee on TRIUMF and Associate Laboratory Director at the U.S. SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.  “He articulated an ambitious new vision for the laboratory and energetically set it upon a path toward an exciting world-class program in rare-isotope beams and subatomic-physics research.  When ARIEL comes online, the lab will be fulfilling the vision that Nigel and his team boldly initiated.”  David MacFarlane added, “The TRIUMF community will certainly miss his warmth, his insatiable scientific curiosity, his creativity, and his faith in the laboratory and its entire staff.  However, I fully expect these same characteristics will serve Nigel well in his new leadership role as Fermilab director.”

As per standard practice, the TRIUMF Board of Management will announce plans and timelines for the international search process and interim leadership within the next few weeks.

Before speculating on the search process and interim leadership appointment, I have a comment of sorts about the Fermilab, which was last mentioned here in my Feb. 1, 2012 posting where I excerpted this interesting comment from a news release,

From the Feb. 1, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

In this month’s Physics World, reviews and careers editor, Margaret Harris, visits the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) to explore what future projects are in the pipeline now that the Tevatron particle accelerator has closed for good.

After 28 years of ground-breaking discoveries, the Tevatron accelerator has finally surrendered to the mighty Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN [European Laboratory for Particle Physics], placing Fermilab, in some people’s mind, on the brink of disappearing into obscurity. [emphasis mine]

It seems the Fermilab is in eclipse and Lockyer is going there to engineer a turnaround. It makes one wonder what the conditions were when he arrived at TRIUMF six years ago (2006?). Leading on from that thought, the forthcoming decisions as to whom will be the interim Director and/or the next Director should be intriguing.

Usually an interim position is filled by a current staff member, which can lead to some fraught moments amongst internal competitors.  That action, however fascinating, does not tend to become fodder for public consumption.

Frankly, I’m more interested in the board’s perspective. What happens if they pick an internal candidate while they prepare for the next stage when they’re conducting their international search? Based on absolutely no inside information whatsoever, I’m guessing that Tim Meyer, Head, Strategic Planning & Communications for TRIUMF, would be a viable internal candidate for interim director.

From a purely speculative position, let’s assume he makes a successful play to become the interim Director. At this point, the board will have to consider what direction is the right one for TRIUMF while weighing up the various candidates for the permanent position.  Assuming the interim Director is ambitious and wants to become the permanent Director, the dynamics could get very interesting indeed.

From the board’s perspective, you want the best candidate and you want to keep your staff. In Canada, there’s one TRIUMF; there are no other comparable institutions in the country.  Should an internal candidate such as Meyer get the interim position but not the permanent one (assuming he’d want to be the permanent Director) he would have very few options in Canada.

Based on this speculation, I can safety predict some very interesting times ahead for TRIUMF and its board. In the meantime, I wish Lockyer all the best as he moves back to the US to lead the Fermilab.

Is a philosophy of the Higgs and other physics particles a good idea?

Michael  Krämer of the RWTH Aachen University (Germany) muses about philosophy, the Higgs Boson, and more in a Mar. 24, 2013 posting on Jon Butterworth’s Life and Physics blog (Guardian science blogs; Note: A link has been removed),

Many of the great physicists of the 20th century have appreciated the importance of philosophy for science. Einstein, for example, wrote in a letter in 1944:

    I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest.

At the same time, physics has always played a vital role in shaping ideas in modern philosophy. It appears, however, that we are now faced with the ruins of this beautiful marriage between physics and philosophy. Stephen Hawking has claimed recently that philosophy is “dead” because philosophers have not kept up with science …

Krämer is part of an interdisciplinary (physics and philosophy) project at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider at CERN [European Particle Physics Laboratory]), The Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider. From the project home page (Note: A link has been removed),

This research collaboration works at the crossroads of physics, philosophy of science, and contemporary history of science. It aims at an epistemological analysis of the recently launched new accelerator experiment at CERN, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Central themes are (i) the mechanisms of generating the masses of the particles of the standard model, especially the Higgs-mechanism and the Higgs-particle the LHC has set out to detect; (ii) the ongoing research process with special emphasis on the interaction between a large experiment and a community of theoreticians; and (iii) the implications of an experiment that is characterized by its enormous complexity and the need to be highly selective in data gathering. With the heading “Epistemology of the LHC” the research group intends both a philosophical analysis of the theoretical structures and of the conditions of knowledge production, among them the criteria of acceptance, and a real-time monitoring of the ongoing physical development from the perspective of the history of science. Theresearch group has emerged from a collaboration between a High Energy Working group and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Science and Technology Studies and is based in Wuppertal but also involves external members and collaborators.

Krämer shares some of his ideas and the type of thinking generated when physicists and philosophers collide (I plead guilty to the word play; from Butterworth’s Guardian science blog),

… The relationship between experiment and theory (what impact does theoretical prejudice have on empirical findings?) or the role of models (how can we assess the uncertainty of a simplified representation of reality?) are scientific issues, but also issues from the foundation of philosophy of science. In that sense they are equally important for both fields, and philosophy may add a wider and critical perspective to the scientific discussion. And while not every particle physicist may be concerned with the ontological question of whether particles or fields are the more fundamental objects, our research practice is shaped by philosophical concepts. We do, for example, demand that a physical theory can be tested experimentally and thereby falsified, a criterion that has been emphasized by the philosopher Karl Popper already in 1934. The Higgs mechanism can be falsified, because it predicts how Higgs particles are produced and how they can be detected at the Large Hadron Collider.

On the other hand, some philosophers tell us that falsification is strictly speaking not possible: What if a Higgs property does not agree with the standard theory of particle physics? How do we know it is not influenced by some unknown and thus unaccounted factor, like a mysterious blonde walking past the LHC experiments and triggering the Higgs to decay? (This was an actual argument given in the meeting!)

The meeting Krämer is referring to is this one (from the meeting/conference website),

The first international conference and kick-off meeting of the German Society for Philosophy of Science/Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftsphilosophie (GWP) will take place from 11-14 March 2013 at the University of Hannover under the title:

How Much Philosophy in the Philosophy of Science?

Krämer then highlights some of the discussion that most interested in him (Note: A link has been removed),

… It is very hard for a philosopher to keep up with scientific progress, and how could one integrate various fields without having fully appreciated the essential features of the individual sciences? As Margaret Morrison from the University of Toronto pointed out in her talk, if philosophy steps back too far from the individual sciences, the account becomes too general and isolated from scientific practice. On the other hand, if philosophy is too close to an individual science, it may not be philosophy any longer.

I think philosophy of science should not consider itself primarily as a service to science, but rather identify and answer questions within its own domain. I certainly would not be concerned if my own research went unnoticed by biologists, chemists, or philosophers, as long as it advances particle physics. On the other hand, as Morrison pointed out, science does generate its own philosophical problems, and philosophy may provide some kind of broader perspective for understanding those problems.

It’s well worth reading Krämer’s full post for anyone who’s interested in how physicists (or Krämer) think about the role that philosophy could play (or not) in the field of physics.

The reference to Margaret Morrison from the University of Toronto (U of T) reminded me of the Bubble Chamber blog which is written by U of T historians and philosophers of science. Here’s a July 10, 2012 posting by Mike Thicke about the Higgs Boson and his response to philosopher Wayne Myrvold’s (University of Western Ontario) explanation of the statistics claims being made about the particle at that time,

We can all agree that reasoning and decision making in science is complicated. Scientists reason in many different contexts: in the lab, in their published papers, as career-minded professionals, as interested consumers of science, and as people going about their lives. It’s plausible to think that they reason in different ways in all of these contexts. When we’re discussing their reasoning as scientists, I believe distinguishing between the first three contexts is especially important. While Wayne’s explanation of the statistics behind the Higgs Boson discovery is very interesting, informative, and as far as I can tell correct, I think there are some confusions arising from his failure to make these distinctions.

Thicke does advise reading Myrvold’s July 4, 2012 posting before tackling his riposte.

Inside story on doping; build it and they will collide; and physicist, feminist, and philosopher superstar Evelyn Fox Keller visits

Here are a few events being held in Vancouver (Canada) over the next weeks and months. This is not an exhaustive list (three events) but it certainly offers a wide range of topics.

Inside story on doping

First, Café Scientifique will be holding a meeting on the subject of doping and athletic pursuits at The Railway Club on the 2nd floor of 579 Dunsmuir St. (at Seymour St.) next Tuesday,

Our next café will happen on Tuesday January 29th, 7:30pm at The Railway Club. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Jim Rupert.[School of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia]

The title and abstract for his café is:

The use of genetics in doping and in doping control

Sports performance is an outcome of the complex interactions between an athlete’s genes and the environment(s) in which he or she develops and competes.  As more is learned about the contribution of genetics to athletic ability, concerns have been raised that unscrupulous athletes will attempt manipulate their DNA in an attempt to get an ‘edge‘ over the competition. The World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) has invested research funds to evaluate this possibility and to support studies into methods to detect so-called “gene doping”.  Superimposed on these concerns is the realisation that, in addition to contributing to performance, an athlete’s genes may influence the results of current doping-control tests. Natural genetic variation is an issue that anti-doping authorities must address as more is learned about the interaction between genotype and the responses to prohibited practices. To help differentiate between naturally occurring deviations in blood and urine ‘markers’ and those potentially caused by doping, the ‘biological-passport’ program uses intra-individual variability rather than population values to establish an athlete’s parameters.  The next step in ‘personalised’ doping-control may be the inclusion of genetic data; however, while this may benefit ‘clean’ athletes, it will do so at the expense of risks to privacy.  In my talk, I will describe some examples of the intersection of genetics and doping-control, and discuss how genetic technology might be used to both enhance physical performance as well as to detect athletes attempting to do so.

This is a timely topic  given hugely lauded Lance Armstrong’s recent confession that he was doping when he won his multiple cycling awards. From the Lance Armstrong essay on Wikipedia (Note: Footnotes and links have been removed),

Lance Edward Armstrong (born Lance Edward Gunderson, September 18, 1971) is an American former professional road racing cyclist. Armstrong was awarded victory in the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005, but in 2012 he was disqualified from all his results since August 1998 for using and distributing performance-enhancing drugs, and he was banned from professional cycling for life. Armstrong did not appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Armstrong confessed to doping in a television interview in January 2013, two-and-a-half months after the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the sport’s governing body, announced its decision to accept USADA’s findings regarding him, and after he had consistently denied it throughout his career.

Build it and they will collide

Next, both TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics) and ARPICO (Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals in Western Canada) have sent Jan. 23, 2013 news releases concerning Dr. Lyn Evans and his talk about building the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN (European Particle Physics Laboratory) which led to the discovery of the Higgs Boson. The talk will be held at 6:30 pm on Feb. 20, 2013 at Telus World of Science, 1455 Quebec Street, Vancouver,

Fundamental Physics Prize winner to deliver public lecture Wed. Feb. 20 at Science World

Back to the Big Bang – From the LHC to the Higgs, and Beyond
Unveiling the Universe Lecture Series
Wednesday, 20 February 2013 at 6:30 PM (PST)
Vancouver, British Columbia

(Vancouver, B.C.)  The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is history’s most powerful atom smasher, capable of recreating the conditions that existed less than a billionth of a second after the Big Bang. The construction of the LHC was a massive engineering challenge that spanned almost 15 years, yielding the most technologically sophisticated instrument mankind ever has created.

Join Science World and TRIUMF in welcoming Dr. Lyn Evans, project leader for the LHC construction, in his Milner Foundation Special Fundamental Physics Prize lecture. In this free event, Dr Evans will detail some of the design features and technical challenges that make the LHC such an awe-inspiring scientific instrument. He will also discuss recent results from the LHC and touch on what’s next in the world of high-energy physics. The lecture will be followed by an audience question and answer session.

Dr Evans, born in Wales in 1945, has spent his whole career in the field of high energy physics and particle accelerators. In 2012, he was awarded the Special Fundamental Physics Prize for his contribution to the discovery of the Higgs-like boson. See http://www.fundamentalphysicsprize.org

Tickets are free, but registration is required.

See  http://fpplecture.eventbrite.ca

Physicist, feminist, philosopher superstar Evelyn Fox Keller

Here’s the information available from the Situating Science Cluster Winter 2013 newsletter,

The UBC [University of British Columbia] Node and partners are pleased to welcome Dr. Evelyn Fox Keller as Cluster Visiting Scholar Th. April 4th. The Node and partners continue to support the UBC STS [University of British Columbia Science and Technology Studies] colloquium.

There is more information Fox Keller and the first talk she gave to kick off this Canadawide tour in an Oct. 29, 2012 posting. She will be visiting the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary (Alberta) just prior to the April 4, 2013 visit to Vancouver. There are no further details about Fox Keller’s upcoming visit either on the Situating Science website or on the UBC website.

Simon Fraser University completes a successful mating dance while TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics) gets its groove on

The Federal Government of Canada in the guise of the Canada Foundation for Innovation has just awarded $7.7M to Simon Fraser University (SFU) and its partners for a global innovation hub. From the Jan. 15, 2013 Canada Foundation for Innovation news release,

British Columbia’s research-intensive universities are coming together to create a global hub for materials science and engineering. Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Institute of Technology have received $7.7 million in funding from the Canada Foundation of Innovation to create the Prometheus Project — a research hub for materials science and engineering innovation and commercialization.

“Our goal with the Prometheus Project is to turn our world-class research capacity into jobs and growth for the people of British Columbia,” said Neil Branda, Canada Research Chair in Materials Science at Simon Fraser University and leader of the Prometheus Project. “We know that materials science is changing the way we create energy and fight disease. We think it can also help B.C.’s economy evolve.”

This project builds on a strong collective legacy of collaborating with industry. Researchers involved in the Prometheus Project have created 13 spin-off companies, filed 67 patents and have generated 243 new processes and products. [emphasis mine] Branda himself has founded a company called Switch Materials that seizes the power of advanced chemistry to create smarter and more efficient window coatings.

This funding will allow members of the research team to build their capacity in fabrication, device testing and advanced manufacturing, ensuring that they have the resources and expertise they need to compete globally.

There’s a bit more information about the Prometheus project in a Jan.15, 2013 backgrounder supplied by SFU,

Led by Neil Branda, a Canada Research Chair in Materials Science and SFU chemistry professor, The Prometheus Project is destined to become a research hub for materials science and engineering innovation, and commercialization globally.

It brings together 10 principal researchers, including Branda, co-founder of SFU’s 4D LABS (a materials research facility with capabilities at the nanoscale], and 20 other scientists at SFU, University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. They will create new materials science and engineering (MS&E) technology innovations, which will trigger and support sustained economic growth by creating, transforming and making obsolete entire industries.

Working with internationally recognized industrial, government, hospital and academic collaborators, scientists at the Prometheus partners’ labs, including 4D LABS, a $40 million materials science research institute, will deliver innovations in three areas. The labs will:

  • Develop new solar-industry related materials and devices, including novel organic polymers, nanoparticles, and quantum dots, which will be integrated in low cost, high efficiency solar cell devices. The goal is to create a new generation of efficient solar cells that can compete in terms of cost with non-renewable technologies, surpassing older ones in terms of miniaturization and flexibility.
  • Develop miniaturized biosensors that can be used by individuals in clinical settings or at home to allow early detection of disease and treatment monitoring. They will be integrated into flexible electronic skins, allowing health conditions to be monitored in real-time.
  • Develop spintronics (magnetic devices) and quantum computing and information devices that will enable new approaches to significantly improve encrypted communication and security in financial transactions.

“This project will allow B.C.’s four most research intensive institutes to collaborate on fundamental materials research projects with a wide range of potential commercial applications,” notes Branda. “By engaging with a large community of industry, government and NGO partners, we will move this research out of the lab and into society to solve current and future challenges in important areas such as energy, health and communications.”

The Prometheus team already has a strong network of potential end users of resulting technologies. It is based on its members’ relationships with many of more than 25 companies in BC commercializing solar, biomedical and quantum computing devices.

Researchers and industries worldwide will be able to access Prometheus’s new capabilities on an open-access basis. [emphasis mine]

There are a few things I’d like to point out (a) 13 spin-off companies? There’s no mention as to whether they were successful, i.e., created jobs or managed a life beyond government funding. (b) Patents as an indicator for innovation? As I’ve noted many, many times that’s a very problematic argument to make. (c) New processes and products? Sounds good but there are no substantiating details.  (d) Given the emphasis on commercializing discoveries and business, can I assume that open-access to Prometheus’ capabilities means that anyone willing and able to pay can have access?

In other exciting SFU news which also affects TRIUMF, an additional $1M is being awarded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation to upgrade the ATLAS Tier-1 Data Analysis Centre. From the SFU backgrounder,

Led by Mike Vetterli, a physics professor at SFU and TRIUMF, this project involves collaborating with scientists internationally to upgrade a component of a global network of always-on computing centres. Collectively, they form the Worldwide Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (WLCG).

The Canadian scientists collaborating with Vetterli on this project are at several research-intensive universities. They include Carleton University, McGill University, University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, University of Toronto, University of Victoria, Université de Montréal, and York University, as well as TRIUMF. It’s Canada’s national lab for particle and nuclear physics research.

The grid, which has 10 Tier-1 centres internationally, is essentially a gigantic storage and processing facility for data collected from the ATLAS  experiment. The new CFI funding will enable Vetterli and his research partners to purchase equipment to upgrade the Tier-1 centre at TRIUMF in Vancouver, where the equipment will remain.

ATLAS is a multi-purpose particle detector inside a massive atom-smashing collider housed at CERN, the world’s leading laboratory for particle physics in Geneva, Switzerland.

More than 3,000 scientists internationally, including Vetterli and many others at SFU, use ATLAS to conduct experiments aimed at furthering global understanding of how the universe was physically formed and operates.

The detector’s fame for being a window into nature’s true inner workings was redoubled last year. It helped scientists, including Vetterli and others at SFU, discover a particle that has properties consistent with the Higgs boson.

Peter Higgs, a Scottish physicist, and other scientists theorized in 1964 about the existence of the long-sought-after particle that is central to the mechanism that gives subatomic particles their mass.

Scientists now need to upgrade the WLCG to accommodate the massive volume of data they’re reviewing to confirm that the newly discovered particle is the Higgs boson. If it is, it will revolutionize the way we see mass in physics.

“This project will enable Canadian scientists to continue to play a leading role in ATLAS physics analysis projects such as the Higgs boson discovery,” says Vetterli. “Much more work and data are required to learn more about the Higgs-like particle and show that it is indeed the missing link to our understanding of the fundamental structure of matter.

There is one more Canada Foundation for Innovation grant to be announced here, it’s a $1.6M grant for research that will be performed at TRIUMF, according to the Jan. 13, 2013 news release from St. Mary’s University (Halifax, Nova Scotia),

Dr. Rituparna Kanungo’s newest research collaboration has some lofty goals: improve cancer research, stimulate the manufacturing of high-tech Canadian-made instrumentation and help explain the origin of the cosmos.

The Saint Mary’s nuclear physicist’s goal moved one step closer to reality today when the federal government announced $1.6 million in support for an advanced research facility that will allow her to recreate, purify, and condition rare isotopes that haven’t existed on the planet for millions of years.

The federal fiscal support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation together with additional provincial and private sector investment will allow the $4.5 million project to be operational in 2015.

“The facility will dramatically advance Canada’s capabilities for isolating, purifying, and studying short-lived isotopes that hold the key not only for understanding the rules that govern the basic ingredients of our everyday lives but also for crafting new therapies that could target and annihilate cancers cell-by-cell within the human body, “ said Dr Kanungo.

The CANadian Rare-isotope facility with Electron-Beam ion source (CANREB) project is led by Saint Mary’s University partnering with the University of Manitoba and Advanced Applied Physics Solutions, Inc. in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, the University of Guelph, Simon Fraser University, and TRIUMF. TRIUMF is Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics. It is owned and operated as a joint venture by a consortium of Canadian universities that includes Saint Mary’s University.

As one of the nation’s top nuclear researchers (she was one of only two Canadians invited to speak at a Nobel Symposium last June about exotic isotopes), Dr. Kanungo has been conducting research at the TRIUMF facility for many years, carrying out analyses from her office at Saint Mary’s University together with teams of students. Her students also often spend semesters at the Vancouver facility.

As the project leader for the new initiative, she said TRIUMF is the ideal location because of its world leading isotope-production capabilities and its ability to produce clean, precise, controlled beams of selected exotic isotopes not readily available anywhere else in the world.

In recent studies in the U.S., some of these isotopes have been shown to have dramatic impact in treating types of cancer, by delivering radioactive payloads directly to the cancerous cells. Canada’s mastery of the technology to isolate, study, and control these isotopes will change the course of healthcare.

An integral part of the project is the creation of a new generation of high resolution spectrometer using precision magnets. Advanced Cyclotron Systems, Inc. a company in British Columbia, has been selected for the work with the hope that the expertise it develops during the venture will empower it to design and build precision-magnet technology products for cutting-edge projects all around the world.

Exciting stuff although it does seem odd that the federal government is spreading largesse when there’s no election in sight. In any case, bravo!

There’s one last piece of news, TRIUMF is welcoming a new member to its board, from its Jan. 14, 2013 news release,

Dr. Sylvain Lévesque, Vice-President of Corporate Strategy at Bombardier Inc., a world-leading manufacturer of innovative transportation solutions, has joined the Board of Management for TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, for a three-year term.  Owned and operated by a consortium of 17 Canadian universities with core operating funds administered via a contribution agreement through National Research Council Canada, TRIUMF is guided by a Board that includes university vice-presidents of research, prestigious scientists, and leading members of Canada’s private sector.

Paul Young, Chair of TRIUMF’s Board and Vice President, Research at the University of Toronto, said, “We welcome the participation of Sylvain and his extensive experience at Bombardier.  TRIUMF is a national resource for basic research and yet we also fulfill a technological innovation mission for Canada.  Dr. Lévesque will be a valuable addition to the Board.”

Dr. Sylvain Lévesque earned his Ph.D. from MIT in Engineering and worked at McKinsey & Company before joining Bombardier in 1999.  He brings deep experience with large, technical organizations and a passion for science and engineering. [emphasis mine]  He said, “I am excited to work more closely with TRIUMF.  It has a track record of excellence and I am eager to provide guidance on where Canada’s industrial sector might draw greater strength from the laboratory.”

TRIUMF’s Board of Management reflects the unique status of TRIUMF, a laboratory operating for more than forty years as a joint venture from Canada’s leading research universities.  The consortium includes universities from Halifax to Victoria.

Is deep experience like wide experience or is it a whole new kind of experience helpful for ‘getting one’s groove on’? For anyone who’s curious, ‘getting one’s groove on’ involves dancing.

Physicists at CERN film Decay—their first zombie movie?

Decay, the movie, seems to have been released in late November 2012.  It is, according to the Nov. 1, 2012 preview article written by Rebecca Pahle for The Mary Sue website, a project developed by physics students working at CERN’s (European Particle Physics Laboratory) Large Hadron Collider facility.

There are a lot of zombie movies out there. But Decay is the only one filmed in CERN, a.k.a. the home of the Large Hadron Collider. The film is the brainchild (mmmm… brains) of Luke Thompson and Clara Nellist, both Ph.D. students in physics, who despite having no filmmaking experience decided that, dammit, they were going to make a film about exposure to the Higgs Boson particle turning people into zombies. (If that sounds critical, it’s unintentional—jumping in and just doing it is a time-honored method for indie film.)

Though Thompson and Nellist got permission to shoot their film in CERN, the just-released trailer makes it very clear that officials there in no way endorse it. (Which—of course they wouldn’t. But they let them shoot there! How cool is that?)

Here’s the movie trailer,


J. Bryan Lowder’s Dec. 12, 2012 article for Slate describes some of Lowder’s experiences as a science writing intern dealing with myths about science and the filmmaking team’s motivations (laughing at science horror myths),

Back when I was a science writing intern at a major U.S. lab, there was a short list of words we were cautioned never to use in our public articles. Radiation was at the top of that list, not because the lab produced it in dangerous amounts (actually, it produced less than exists normally in nature), but because when people read the word, they freak out. The public’s fear—and by extension, this lab’s fear of talking about—radiation is understandable, but it’s also unreasonable and reveals a disappointing ignorance of science. …

Burton DeWilde, a physics Ph.D. and Decay’s director of photography/editor (and a friend of mine), explained the genesis of the project in an email:

The idea of filming a zombie movie at CERN was originally conceived by Luke Thompson (writer-director) and Hugo Day (props master) while exploring the lab’s creepy labyrinth of underground maintenance tunnels. It was agreed that they would make an excellent setting for a horror film. From there, the story evolved into a cheeky riff on the black hole hysteria: “The LHC didn’t produce earth-devouring black holes after all—but have you considered brain-devouring zombies?” Concerns about the Higgs in particular and clichés of mad scientists were also mixed in. We took all these worries to a totally ridiculous place.

And Decay is totally ridiculous, in the best sense of the word. The 75-min, $3,500 movie is remarkably well-made, given the creative team’s lack of experience. It’s studded with all the gratuitous gore, cheap shocks, and absurd plot twists that zombie fans crave. Science nerds and those who love them will bask in its shameless use of sci-fi clichés like “the results are inconclusive at best,” and “my research is too important!”

You can view the whole movie by clicking the link to Lowder’s article where it is embedded, visiting this Dec. 11, 2012 posting on The Mary Sue website, or going to the Decay website.

Zombies are a very hot topic in popular culture these days as per this Nov. 12, 2012 posting on this website which mentions my presentation ‘Zombies, brains, collapsing boundaries, and entanglements’ at the S.NET 2012 (Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies) conference in Enschede, Holland.

BTW, Mary Sue is a term used to describe a female character who is perfect. From the Urban Dictionary definition,

  1. A female character who is so perfect that she is annoying. The name originated in a very short Star Trek story that mocked the sort of female characters who showed up in fanfiction. It usually refers to original female characters put into fanfiction, but can refer to any character. …
  2. An original character (fem.) in fanfic or an original story, usually on the internet, who is far superior to all other characters. She is typically beautiful, intelligent, kind, and in all other ways “perfect”. She usually serves as an important part in a pivotal plot element (ie: a prophecy) and becomes romantically involved with the author’s favourite character in the story. The internet fiction world runs rampant with these characters. …

Do go to the Urban Dictionary to reed the examples of ‘Mary Sue’ characters as they are very funny. The male equivalent may be called Marty Stu, Gary Stu, or Marty Sam.

In depth and one year later—the nanotechnology bombings in Mexico

Last year in an Aug. 11, 2011 post I covered some stories about terrorism and nanotechnology in the aftermath of a major bombing in Mexico where two scientists were injured. Leigh Phillips has written a substantive news feature focusing largely on the situation in Mexico.

From the Aug. 29, 2012 news feature (open access) in the journal Nature,

Nature assesses the aftermath of a series of nanotechnology-lab bombings in Mexico — and asks how the country became a target of eco-anarchists.

The shoe-box-sized package was addressed to Armando Herrera Corral. It stated that he was the recipient of an award and it was covered in official-looking stamps. Herrera, a computer scientist at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico City, shook the box a number of times, and something solid jiggled inside. What could it be? He was excited and a little nervous — so much so, that he walked down the hall to the office of a colleague, robotics researcher Alejandro Aceves López, and asked Aceves to open it for him.

Aceves sat down at his desk to tear the box open. So when the 20-centimetre-long pipe bomb inside exploded, on 8 August 2011, Aceves took the full force in his chest. Metal pierced one of his lungs. “He was in intensive care. He was really bad,” says Herrera’s brother Gerardo, a theoretical physicist at the nearby Centre for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (Cinvestav). Armando Herrera Corral, who was standing nearby when the bomb went off, escaped with a burst eardrum and burns to his legs.

As was reported at the time, an eco-anarchist group calling itself ‘Individuals Tending Towards (or To) Savagery’ laid claim to this ‘achievement’.

While there have been other attacks, Mexico has experienced more attacks and more violence and the impact is being felt personally and institutionally,

One year on from the bombing at Monterrey Tec, the repercussions are still being felt. Armando Herrera Corral and Aceves will not speak to Nature about what happened. “It’s too sensitive, you understand?” is all Aceves would say. Herrera has left his job as director of the university’s technology park and is now head of postgraduate studies. Other Mexican universities with nanotechnology research programmes have evacuated campuses in response to bomb threats, and universities across the country have introduced stringent security measures. Some researchers are anxious for their own safety; some are furious about being targets. But all the researchers that Nature spoke to in Mexico are adamant that the attacks will not discourage them from their research or dissuade students from entering the field.

As for reasons why Mexico, to date, has experienced more attacks than other countries,

Reporting by Nature suggests that several broad trends have come together to precipitate the violence. Over the past decade, Mexico has invested heavily in nanotechnology relative to other developing countries, because it sees the field as a route to economic development; mainstream green groups worldwide have grown increasingly concerned about nanotechnology’s health and environmental risks; and there has been a shift towards extreme ideas and tactics among radical environmentalists critical of technology. In Mexico, this has been set against a general background of growing violence and political upheaval.

According to Phillips’ article there were three incidents in 2011 (April, May, and August, respectively)  in Mexico as compared to one attempted attack in Switzerland in 2010. This year, there has been one attack in Europe as I noted in my May 29, 2012 post which featured Andy Coghlan’s article for New Scientist on rising violence against scientists. From Coghlan’s article,

It’s like something out of Kafka. Anti-science anarchists in Italy appear to be ramping up their violent and frankly surreal campaign. Having claimed responsibility for shooting the boss of a nuclear engineering company in Genoa, the group has vowed to target Finmeccanica, the Italian aerospace and defence giant.

In  a diatribe sent on 11 May to Corriere della Sera newspaper on 11 May, the Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front said it shot Roberto Adinolfi, head of Ansaldo Nucleare, in the leg four days earlier. “With this action of ours, we return to you a tiny part of the suffering that you, man of science, are pouring into this world,” the statement said. It also pledged a “campaign of struggle against Finmeccanica, the murderous octopus”.

Coghlan suggests that the focus is being shifted from nanotechnology to nuclear science in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011.

Philips takes a different tack in the Nature article,

As nanotechnology has been growing in Latin America, a violent eco-anarchist philosophy has taken root among certain radical groups in Mexico. Mexican intelligence services believe that the perpetrators of the bombings last year were mainly young and well educated: their communiqués are littered with references to English-language texts unlikely to have been translated into Spanish.[emphasis mine] Intelligence services say that the eco-anarchist groups have been around for about a decade. They started off protesting against Mexico’s economic and political system by setting off small explosives that destroyed bank machines.But around 2008, certain groups began to adopt an ‘anarcho-primitivist’ perspective. (Locally, they are called primativistas, says Gerardo Herrera Corral.) This philosophy had won little notice until the past few years, but with increasing media reports of looming global climate disaster, some radical green activists have latched on to it. California-based environmental writer Derrick Jensen — whose popular books call for an underground network of ‘Deep Green Resistance’ cells — is a highly influential figure in this otherwise leaderless movement, which argues that industrial civilization is responsible for environmental destruction and must be dismantled.

In their writings, anarcho-primitivist groups often express deep anxiety about a range of advanced research subjects, including genetic engineering, cloning, synthetic biology, geoengineering and neurosciences. But it is nanotechnology, a common subject for science-fiction doomsday scenarios, that most clearly symbolizes to them the power of modern science run amok. “Nanotechnology is the furthest advancement that may yet exist in the history of anthropocentric progress,” the ITS wrote in its first communiqué, in April 2011.

If the perpetrators are young and well-educated then the comment in this excerpt from the article does not follow logically and Phillips does not explain this seeming disparity,

In Mexico, the existing social and political climate may have helped light the fuse, says Miguel Méndez Rojas, coordinator of the department of nanotechnology and molecular engineering at the University of the Americas Puebla in Mexico. He says that the bombings cannot be understood outside the context of what he describes as a dangerous cocktail of poverty and poor education, widespread ignorance of science, ongoing social upheaval and a climate of violence. [emphasis mine]

Phillips’ article goes on to discuss some of the more moderate groups including the Canada-based ETC Group, which has an office in Mexico,

Some researchers in Mexico say that more-moderate groups are stoking fears about nanotechnology. One such body is the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC, pronounced et cetera), a small but vocal non-profit organization based in Ottawa, Canada, which was one of the first to raise concerns about nanotechnology and has to a large extent framed the international discussion. Silvia Ribeiro, the group’s Latin America director, based in Mexico City, says that the organization has no links to the ITS. The bombings were a “sick development”, she says. “These kinds of attacks — they are benefiting the development of nanotechnology,” she says. “It polarized the discussion. Do you want nanotech or the bomb?”

ETC wants to see a moratorium on all nanotechnology research, says Ribeiro, who is the lead author on many of the group’s reports criticizing nanotechnology research and commercialization. She says that there have not been enough toxicological studies on engineered nanoparticles, and that no government has developed a regulatory regime that explicitly addresses risk at the nanoscale.

However, ETC also infuriates researchers by issuing warnings of a more speculative nature. For example, it has latched on to the concept of ‘grey goo’ — self-replicating nanorobots run wild — that was raised in the book Engines of Creation (Doubleday, 1986) by nanotechnology engineer Eric Drexler. In ETC’s primer on nanoscale technologies, it says that the “likely future threat is that the merger of living and non-living matter will result in hybrid organisms and products that are not easy to control and behave in unpredictable ways”.

Ribeiro has also criticized genetic modification and vaccination against human papillomavirus in a weekly column in La Jornada. Méndez Rojas says that ETC “promotes beliefs, but they are not based on facts, and we need a public discussion of the facts”.

The impression I’ve had from reading ETC materials is that they are trying to repeat the success they enjoyed with the GMO (genetically modified organisms) and frankenfood campaign and they’d dearly love to whip up some strong feelings about nanotechnology in aid of more regulation.

I’m not a big ETC fan but I do have to note that their research is solid, once you get past the annoying ‘smart ass’ or juvenile attitude in the literature. Yes, they have an agenda but that’s standard. Everyone has an agenda so you always have to check more than one source.  When you analyze it, Phillips’ article is just as emotionally manipulative as the ETC Group’s communications. Including the ETC Group with the eco-anarchists in an article about terrorism and nanotechnology is equivalent to including the journal Nature with North Korea in an article about right-wing, repressive institutions framed from beginning to end to prove a somewhat elusive point.

Scientists in general seem to recognize that there are some legitimate concerns being expressed by the ETC Group and others,

Most nanotechnology researchers acknowledge that some areas of their work raise legitimate environmental, health and safety concerns. The most important response, says Gerardo Herrera Corral, is for scientists to engage with the public to address and dispel concerns. Herrera is head of Mexico’s only experiment at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, and he points to how CERN dealt with public fears that its Large Hadron Collider could create a black hole that would swallow Earth. “We set up a committee to deal with this. We looked into the real dangers. There were journal articles and we answered all the e-mails we got from people. I mean top-level physicists answering thousands of e-mails.”

“But this is work we should all be doing,” says Herrera. “Even if it’s extra work on top of all the other things we have to do. It’s just part of our job now.”

I like the idea of high level scientists taking the time to answer my questions and I imagine others feel the same way, which may go a long way in explaining why CERN (European Particle Physics Laboratory) has acquired such good will internationally.

Overall, I suspect Phillips is a little over-invested in Mexico’s nanotechnology terrorism. Three incidents in one year suggests something deeply disturbing (and devastating if you are the target) but in an international context, there were only three incidents. If you add up all of the nanotechnology incidents cited in Phillips’ article, there are three bombings (Mexico), one attempted bombing (Switzerland), a successful arson attempt (Mexico), and a few cancelled public debates (France) from 2009 – Fall 2012.

I am inclined to Coghlan’s argument that there is a disturbing trend toward anti-science violence and, it seems to me, it is largely unfocused, nanotechnology here, nuclear science there, biotechnology everywhere, and who knows what else or where else next?

ETA Feb. 21, 2013: Leigh Phillips contacted me to mention that there was a May 28, 2012 article for Nature, Anarchists attack science, which preceded Coghlan’s article for New Scientist and to which Coghlan provides a link. Phillips’ preceding article was subtitled, Armed extremists are targeting nuclear and nanotechnology workers. Phillips opens with the then recent attack on a nuclear engineering executive and subsequently focuses on attacks in the nanotechnology sector.

Playing and singing the Higgs Boson

The Higgs Boson has lead to an explosion of creativity. First, the Guerilla Science team has produced a Secret Garden Party (July 19 – 22, 2012) featuring the Higgs Boson. Here’s a video clip from the 2012 event,

Zoe Cormier (writer and Guerilla Science co-founder) notes in her July 27, 2012 posting on the Guardian science blogs,

The Particle Zoo Safari, hosted by Guerilla Science at the Secret Garden Party arts and music festival last weekend, observed the formation of another proton and hydrogen atom, the sparring of two combative electrons, polyamorous covalent bond formation, sunlight manufacture through fusion (and a ping pong ball), and the creation of deuterium – complete with dubstep to mirror the atomic weight of the heavy form of hydrogen.

With polystyrene magnets our audience-cum-collider recreated the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to produce the star of the show: the Higgs boson, sumo-suited and angry, the weightiest particle of all. “I’m hungry,” it grumpily announced, before we threw a net over it and dragged it into the tent. Too much had been spent on the particle’s discovery to let it escape now.

“The idea of the safari came from a colloquialism in physics, which refers to the set of standard particles that make up the entire universe as the ‘particle zoo’,” explains Patrick Stevenson-Keating, the designer we enlisted to help us devise a new way to explore particle physics. “This scale of subatomic particles is so different to our everyday world that there are few comparisons you can really make, so it was challenging to visualise some of the concepts.”

Here’s what the science consultant had to say about it (from Cormier’s posting),

“When I was first approached to take part, I did think it sounded a bit nuts actually, but in the end it worked out reasonably well in terms of the science – I think most people would at least remember that quarks come in threes, and they are difficult to pull apart,” says Dr James Monk of the University College London, a particle physicist who works on the Atlas experiment on the LHC, whom we enlisted as a scientific consultant. “These particles and forces are important to understand how the world works, and it wouldn’t be fitting if physicists said that we do all this fantastic research – but the rest of you can’t possibly understand it.”

It’s well worth reading Cormier’s whole post and you might even feel like taking another look at the video (I found it embedded in Cormier’s posting)  after reading.

(Last year, I featured Guerilla Science and Cormier in my July 12, 2011 posting.)

Meanwhile, the Higgs is producing music. According to David Bruggeman’s July 28, 2012 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog,

While it seems unlikely that papers will soon come as .mp3 files with audio infographics, some are still working on hearing things we usually expect to see.

The idea is to match energy levels found in the data with particular notes.  That way shifts in energy can be more immediately expressed as shifts in tone.  The Higgs boson peaks out of the background noise – noise that isn’t really noise from a musical perspective.

David is hoping turning data into music could be used in the future for educational purposes,

… for those who have an easier time detecting patterns in audio rather than printed data, this could be a very productive development.

I thought it would be interesting to hear some Higgs Boson music. While this piece is based on Higgs data, the composer has taken liberties after letting you hear what the untreated melody sounds like,

The composer, Ben McCormack, had this to say about the piece titled, Higgs Boson (ATLAS preliminary data),

The data was already converted to notes by Domenico Vicinanza. I then consolidated the melody to remove a lot of the large leaps, giving it a slightly better flow.

Before you say anything, I know that this (at least somewhat) defeats the purpose of the data. I’m a composer; my goal was primarily to make a fun piece of music. I inverted the melody and wrote countermelodies that aren’t mathematically-related to the original melody, so consider this more a creative work than an exercise in data analysis.

You can find out more about the Higgs Boson in my July 4, 2012 posting where I wrote about the then latest announcement from CERN (European Particle Physics Laboratory).