Tag Archives: Perimeter Institute

National (Canada) livestreamed science events from Situating Science (two events) and the Perimeter Institute (one event)

The Situating Science (humanities research cluster) is preparing for a couple of events both of which will take place on April 10, 2014 as part of their Lives of Evidence lecture series . The series has been mentioned here before in a couple of previous posts (my Jan. 31, 2014 posting titled: The Press and the Press Release: Inventing the Crystal Meth-HIV Connection and my March 19, 2014 posting titled Patents, Progress, and Commercialized Medicine).

The next Lives of Evidence lectures are (from the March 25, 2014 announcement),

From the ‘Bankruptcy of Science’ to the ‘Death of Evidence’: Science and its Value
Stathis Psillos, Rotman Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Science, Department of Philosophy, Western University
Thursday, April 10 2014, 5 PM [EST; 2 pm PST]
Room 4101, 4th floor, Desmarais Building , University of Ottawa, 55 Laurier Ave. East, Ottawa, ON
Free. Reception to follow.
“Join” our Facebook event
https://www.facebook.com/events/819874048026027/
U. Ottawa ISSP Distinguished Speakers Lecture Series.
Supported by the Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Science and University of Ottawa Departments of Philosophy and History.

Those Who Have the Gold Make the Evidence: The Pharmaceutical Industry and Clinical Trials
Joel Lexchin, Professor, School of Health Policy and Management, York University
Thursday, April 10 2014, 7pm [EST; 4 pm PST]
Room 2130, David Chu Centre, Western Student Services Building, Western University. 1151 Richmond St., London, ON.
Free. Reception beforehand.
“Join” our Facebook Event:

https://www.facebook.com/events/252408878265465/

Watch live online here!
Supported by the Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Western University

While it doesn’t appear that the April 10, 2014 Psillos lecture, ‘Bankruptcy of Science’ to the ‘Death of Evidence’, will be livestreamed, he will be reprising it on April 16, 2014 at the University of Toronto and, according to the chatter on the event’s Facebook page, there appears to be a possibility that one will be livestreamed and I will try to confirm that information. I expect they can’t or are having difficulties arranging two livestreamed events on one day and, for some reason, the second of the April 10, 2014 lectures, Lexchin’s ‘Those Who Have the Gold Make the Evidence’ is the one being livestreamed.

Onto the Perimeter Institute and their livestreamed Future of Physics event,on April 2, 2014 (from the March 25, 2014 announcement),

The Future of Physics: Kate Lunau of maclean’s magazine in Conversation with Emerging Talent at Perimeter Institute
Kate Lunau, Science Journalist
WEDNESDAY, April 2, 2014 AT 7:00PM
Perimeter INSTITUTE
31 Caroline STREET North, WATERLOO
The late astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan once said: “The great discoveries are almost entirely made by youngsters.” Sagan understood the power of youthful awe and curiosity, unbounded by established ways of thinking.

Exceptional young physicists will discuss what fascinates and motivates them during Perimeter Institute’s April 2 public lecture. A panel of top early-career scientists, moderated by journalist Kate Lunau of Maclean’s magazine, will share their unique perspectives on the big questions and the types of discoveries they believe may shape the future.

Participants will walk the audience through the “typical” day of a theoretical physicist, describe the path that brought them to the Perimeter, and explore the unprecedented challenges and opportunities that face their generation — and the generations of new scientists to follow — through the 21st century.

If you are thinking of attending the event live in Waterloo, it’s too late to get tickets which were awarded via lottery!

Africa and a quantum future at TED 2014′s All Stars session 2: Beauty and the Brain

This is my last piece for today, March 18, 2014  As I noted earlier , I wish I could cover everyone. For this session I’m covering Neil Turok, physicist and director of the Perimeter Institute, from his TED biography (Note: Links have been removed),

Neil Turok is working on a model of the universe that explains the big bang — while, closer to home, he’s founded a network of math and science academies across Africa.

Neil Turok works on understanding the universe’s very beginnings. With Stephen Hawking, he developed the Hawking-Turok instanton solutions, describing the birth of an inflationary universe — positing that, big bang or no, the universe came from something, not from utter nothingness.

Recently, with Paul Steinhardt at Princeton, Turok has been working on a cyclic model for the universe in which the big bang is explained as a collision between two “brane-worlds.” The two physicists cowrote the popular-science book Endless Universe.

In 2003, Turok, who was born in South Africa, founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Muizenberg, a postgraduate center supporting math and science. His TED Prize wish: Help him grow AIMS and promote the study and math and science in Africa, so that the world’s next Einstein may be African.

Turok is the Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, in Ontario, Canada. In 2010, the Canadian government funded a $20million expansion of the AIMS schools, working with the Perimeter Institute to start five new AIMS schools in different African nations.

I featured Turok in an Oct.17, 2012 posting about purpose in nature and in the universe.

Thankfully, Turok was not reading aloud as he did in 2012 when he was in Vancouver with his ‘What banged?’ talk and he immediately engaged the audience with his stories about AIMS (African Institute for Mathematical Sciences) in particular about two AIMS students, Marciel (?) and Kitsis (?) who have gone on to postgraduate degrees and work respectively in the fields of tropical medicine and fluid mechanics.

He segued to quantum physics and how important quantum computing will be in the future and will change everything and how we need to help Africa prepare for the quantum future.

I was a little confused by Turok’s plea to help Africa achieve a quantum future as it seemed to me that AIMS and efforts like that would mean that Africa and Africans might lead in the future, quantum or otherwise.

That’s it for me today. This is a very intriguing session although despite its title seems primarily focused on brains over beauty, which has scarcely been mentioned.

Happy Pi Day! on March 14, 2014

It;’s no surprise that Canada’s Perimeter Institute (PI) is celebrating Pi Day. Before sharing the institute’s latest public outreach effort and for anyone like me who has a shaky understanding  of what exactly Pi is, there’s this explanation excerpted from the Pi Wikipedia essay (Note: Links have been removed),

The number π is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, approximately equal to 3.14159. It has been represented by the Greek letter “π” since the mid-18th century though it is also sometimes spelled out as “pi” (/paɪ/).

Being an irrational number, π cannot be expressed exactly as a common fraction. Consequently its decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern. The digits appear to be randomly distributed although no proof of this has yet been discovered. Also, π is a transcendental number – a number that is not the root of any nonzero polynomial having rational coefficients. This transcendence of π implies that it is impossible to solve the ancient challenge of squaring the circle with a compass and straight-edge.

Fractions such as 22/7 and other rational numbers are commonly used to approximate π.

Someone at the Perimeter Institute has prepared a ‘facts you don’t know about Pi‘ flyer to commemorate the day, which includes these facts and more,

In the 1995 OJ Simpson trial, one witness’ credibility was called into doubt when he misstated the
value of pi. [for anyone not familiar with the trial, O. J. Simpson murder case Wikipedia entry)

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco associates the mysterious pendulum in the novel with the intrigue of pi.

In 2005, Lu Chao of China set a world record by memorizing the first 67,890 digits of pi.

In the year 2015, Pi Day will have special significance on 3/14/15 at 9:26:53.58, with the date and time (including 1/100 seconds) representing the first 12 digits of pi.

Over on the Guardian science blogs (Alex's Adventures in Nunberland blog), Alex Bellos shares Pi artwork in his March 14, 2014 posting, here's a sample,

Artist: Cristian Vasile

Artist: Cristian Vasile

In this work, Vasile converted pi into base 16. The sixteen segments around the circle represent the 16 digits of this base. He then traced pi for 3600 digits, going from segment to segment based on the value of the digit. A fuller explanation is here and Vasile’s art can be bought here.

Have a happy Pi Day and a good weekend!

Silence of the Labs (exposé) a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television event scheduled for January 10, 2014

I’ve perhaps overstated the case by calling the upcoming telecast ‘Silence of the Labs’ an event,. For many people in the Canadian science community, it will be an event but for most of the television audience it’s simply the first new episode of the Fifth Estate’s 2014 schedule. (For anyone unfamiliar with the Fifth Estate, it’s the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s [CBC] longest running, 39th season, and most prestigious investigative journalism television programme.)

Assuming there are some people who haven’t been following this story about the ‘silencing’ of Canada’s scientists or censorship as it has been called, here’s a précis (and if you’ve been following it more closely than I have and note any errors or have any additions, please do use the commenting option (Note: Due to spam issues, I moderate comments so it may take a few hours or more [I don't usually check the blog on the weekends]  before your comments appear.)

I think my earliest mention of the topic was in 2009 (Sept. 21, 2009; scroll down to the last paragraph). At this point, the Conservative government  had put a ‘muzzle’ on government scientists working for Environment Canada not allowing them to speak directly to media representatives about their work. All questions were to be directed to ministry communications officers. In fact, the muzzle was first discussed in a National Post Jan. 31, 200-8 article by Margaret Munro (which predates this blog’s existence by a few months). In a Sept. 16, 2013 posting, I featured the then recent muzzling of Natural Resources Canada, a story which was first covered by Margaret Munro. My understanding is that Health Canada had also been ‘muzzled’ but that was done earlier by the Liberal government when it was in power.

My colleague, David Bruggemen (Pasco Phronesis blog) disagrees with the contention by many in the Canadian science community that these ‘muzzles’ constitute a form of censorship. In addition to the postings he has made on his blog he also commented on my March 7, 2012 posting (I linked to one of David’s postings on the topic and included an excerpt from it) where I discussed my failure to get answers to questions from an institution located on the University of British Columbia lands and linked it to the ‘muzzle’. In that context,, I mused about censorship.

Since 2012 the focus seems to have shifted from media representatives being able to get direct and uninhibited access to scientists to the public’s right to know and attempts to ‘shut down’ scientific inquiry. In July 2012, there was a rally in Ottawa called Death of Evidence (discussed in both my July 10, 2012 posting and my July 13, 2012 posting followed by a 2013 cross Canada event, Stand up for Science described in my Oct. 4, 2013 posting. As I noted in that posting, most of the science being ‘censored’ or ‘attacked’ is environmental. Institutions such as the Perimeter Institute (theoretical physics)  in Ontario and TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics in British Columbia have done very well under the Conservative government.

with all that, here’s a preview (51 seconds) of the Silence of the Labs,

You can find out more about the episode here and, if you should miss the telecast, you’ll probably be able to watch later on the Fifth Estate’s CBC  Player webpage. As for the ‘Silence of the Labs” (hat off for the pun), I believe it will be broadcast at 9 pm regardless of timezone on the local CBC channel across most of the country; I assume that as usual Newfoundland will enjoy the telecast at 9:30 pm.

Three Canadian subatomic physics powerhouses invite graduate students to apply for summer 2013 TRISEP in Vancouver (Canada)

It’s not the first time I’ve been puzzled by a TRIUMF (Canada’s National Particle and Nuclear Physics Laboratory) news release but now I have to break my silence: please, please hire me or someone else or anyone else to help you write these things. Putting the reason (or call to action) for the news release in its last line at the very end is not good practice.

Particle physics graduate students from anywhere in the world are invited to apply for an opportunity to attend the Tri-Institute Summer School on Elementary Particles (TRISEP) sponsored by Canada’s big three subatomic physics research institutions, TRIUMF, Perimeter Institute (PI), and SNOLAB.

From TRIUMF’s Apr. 12, 2013 news release,

… master the pioneering topics of collider physics, neutrino physics, dark matter, Monte-Carlo simulation, and physics beyond the Standard Model.

The new international summer school is convened by Canada’s three subatomic physics powerhouses: TRIUMF in experimental particle physics, Perimeter Institute in theoretical physics, and SNOLAB in deep underground physics. Taken together, these three institutions not only give Canada a competitive advantage on the world stage, but they also give international students an opportunity to learn about and then pursue the hottest science topics with
some of the leaders.

One of the incentives for attending, according to the news release, is this,

A recent independent analysis by the Council of Canadian Academies showed that Canada is one of the world’s top six national performers in terms of physics and astronomy (driven by particle and nuclear physics) as measured by bibliometric analysis and surveys of international scientists.

I’m not quite as impressed by that assessment as the folks at the ‘big three’ since there are problems with bibliometric analysis in general which I noted in part of two of my commentary on the report (The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 2: the rest of the report).

I find this bit from the TRISEP home page (Note: Some links have been removed) a little more exciting,

TRISEP will feature lectures by leading experts in the field of particle physics and is designed to be very interactive with ample time for questions, discussions and interaction with the speakers. Students will also have the opportunity to present a poster describing their research topic. The summer school can also be taken for graduate course credit, more details are available here

The key note speaker will be Hitoshi Murayama, UC Berkeley/Kavli IPMU

Lecturers at the summer school include:
Richard Baartman, TRIUMF
André de Gouvêa, NorthWestern University
Ashutosh Kotwal, Duke University
Heather Logan, Carleton University
Tsuyoshi Nakaya, Kyoto University
Scott Oser, University of British Columbia
Torbjörn Sjöstrand, Lund University
Tim Tait, University of California, Irvine
Viktor Zacek, Université de Montréal

The deadline for applications as listed on the TRISEP home is Friday, June 1, 2013, which is a little confusing since June 1, 2013 is on a Saturday. Presumably you should have your application submitted by Friday, May 31, 2013.

Science and Technology Week in Canada starts today (Oct. 12, 2012)

I see the coordinators of Canada’s 2012 National Science and Technology Week (Oct. 12 – 21) have organized what they hope will be a record-breaking “Largest Practical Science Lesson,” from the event page,

This October join the Science.gc.ca team, its partners, and thousands of Canadians in establishing a new Guinness World Record for the Largest Practical Science Lesson at multiple locations.

The record-breaking event will take place on Friday, October 12, 2012 at exactly the same time across Canada,  …

For those of us on the West Coast, the time will be 10 am, today. What a shame this wasn’t on the website when I checked for National Science and Technology Week events for my Sept. 11, 2012 posting. Happily, the event list for BC has grown and it’s not too late to participate,

British Columbia

Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre

ShawTitle of Event: Floating Ideas Lecture Series; Playing with Giants: Enrichment of Giant Pacific Octopus in Captivity

Location: Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre

Date: October 18, 7:00pm (doors open at 6:30)

Description: Learn how the Aquarist Team at the SODC is putting the giant Pacific octopus to the test and researching how to enrich the time they spend within the Centre.

Kootenay Association for Science & Technology

KASTTitle of Event: RoboGames

Location: Nelson, BC

Date: Training Sessions – October 18th, 25th; November 1st, 8th Competition – November 10th

Description: Robotics circuit training (4 sessions) and team-based competition. Open to kids aged 11 – 18, in the West Kootenay region.

Telus World of Science

Telus World of ScienceTitle of Event: Grade 8-10 Practical Science for the Classroom

Location: Telus World of Science – Vancouver

Date: October 19th, 2012, 8:30am – 3:15pm

Description: A full day of Professional Development for Grade 8 – 10 Science Teachers. http://www.bcscta.ca/

Title of Event: SWEET presents On The Edge, an inside look at Parkour

Location: Telus World of Science – Vancouver

Date: October 12, 6:30 to 10pm

Description: Cost is $10 + HST, to purchase your tickets in advance please go to http://www.scienceworld.ca/teen(Tickets will also be available at the door)

Title of Event: Westport Innovations Connection weekend

Location: Telus World of Science – Vancouver

Date: Oct 20 & 21, 10am to 6pm

Description: Included with your general admission to Science World. Please go to http://www.scienceworld.ca/aroundthedomefor updated information.

Title of Event: TEDx Kids BC

Location: Telus World of Science – Vancouver

Date: Oct 20, 9am to 5pm

Description: An awesome mix of British Columbia’s finest youth speakers. Please go to http://www.tedxkidsbc.com/ for more information. Attendance for this event is fully booked.

Title of Event: Café Scientifique: Changing Landscapes, Science in Canada’s North

Location: Telus World of Science – Vancouver

Date: Oct 20, 6:30 to 9pm

Description: This is a free event with limited space. Please go to http://www.scienceworld.ca/specialprograms#cafeto RSVP

Title of Event: Opening the Door

Location: Telus World of Science – Vancouver

Date: Oct 12 2012, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Description: A science career networking event for student’s grade 10 – 12. This is a free event but you must preregister.

Title of Event: Community Science Celebration – NSTW Western Canadian Launch

Location: Telus World of Science – Vancouver

Date: Oct 13 & 14, 10 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Description: This is the first event of its kind at TELUS World of Science, and we want you to be there. Let’s celebrate the science all around us at the Vancouver Community Science Celebration! Included with your general admission to Science World. http://www.scienceworld.ca/aroundthedome

BIG Little Science Centre

BLSCTitle of Event: Fun Hands on Science at the BIG Little Science Centre

Location: The BIG Little Science Centre. 985 Holt Street, Kamloops BC.

Date: We are open year round Tuesday to Saturday. Closed Sundays, Mondays and Holidays.10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Description: Everyone is invited to visit the BIG Little Science Centre for interactive FUN science! Vistit our website www.blscs.org for more information.

Title of Event: Fantastic Kite Day

Location: BIG Little Science Centre

Date: Saturday October 13, 2012, 10am to 4pm

Description: BIG Little Science Centre’s FANTASTIC KITE DAY! Fly your old kite, build a new one, experiment with Bernoulli’s principles of lift and learn about the physics of kite flying. Hands on colour and excitement on the ground and in the air.

Perimeter Institute [emphasis mine]

Perimeter InstituteTitle of Event: 2012 CBC Massey Lectures – What Banged?

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

Date: October 16, 2012, 8:00 p.m.

Description: Neil Turok, Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute, delivers the 2012 CBC Massey Lectures in five locations across Canada. Turok explores how the human mind can unlock the universe and transform the future. Please order Massey Lecture tickets directly from each lecture venue. Find a list of venues here.

Gairdner Foundation

Title of Event: Gairdner Foundation High School Outreach Program Lecture at the University of British Columbia

Location: University of British Columbia

Date: 22-Oct-12

Description: Science can be intimidating for teenage students. This is why the Gairdner Foundation’s laureates travel throughout Canada, sharing their personal stories about pursuing a career in research with students from over 120 schools. Today, the University of British Columbia will host a group of high school students for a lecture by Dr. William Kaelin Jr. and Dr. Jeffrey V. Ravetch.

Simon Fraser University

Title of Event: Saturday Morning Lecture Series

Location: SFU Surrey

Date: Saturday October 13, 2012, 10:00 a.m.

Description: TRIUMF, UBC, and SFU are proud to present the 2012-2013 Saturday Morning Lecture series. The lectures will be at a level appropriate for high school students and the general public. Event is free, however please register for tickets so that we can make sure we accomodate everyone. Everyone welcome.

The Exploration Place

Title of Event: National Science and Technology Demonstrations at The Exploration Place!

Location: The Exploration Place, Prince George, BC

Date: October 17th, 18th, 19th

Description: Have some fun with us as we celebrate National Science and Technology Week. Enjoy exciting hands-on activities, interactive daily demos, visit with our critters and tour the galleries.

Let’s Talk Science

Title of Event: Brighouse Science Bash

Location: Richmond, British Columbia

Date: October 19, 11 am to 3 pm

Description: In partnership with Genome BC and Richmond Public Library the 6th annual Science Bash takes place from 11am to 3 pm and will include interactive displays, fun experiments and other hands-on activities.

I’d like to note that the Perimeter Institute/CBC Massey Lectures is running a contest for  tickets to the various talks, books, and a grand prize of a trip to the Perimeter Institute and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (European Particle Physics Laboratory). Here’s more about the contest and about the book by Neil Turok which forms the basis for this Massey Lectures series, the CBC Massey Lectures page,

ENTER TO WIN tickets to the Massey Lectures, books and a grand prize trip to the Perimeter Institute in Ontario, Canada and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland!

Every technology we rely on today was created by the human mind, seeking to understand the universe around us. Scientific knowledge is our most precious possession, and our future will be shaped by the breakthroughs to come.

In this personal, visionary, and fascinating work, Neil Turok, Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, explores the transformative scientific discoveries of the past three centuries – from classical mechanics, to the nature of light, to the bizarre world of the quantum and the evolution of the cosmos. Each new discovery has, over time, yielded new technologies causing paradigm shifts in the organization of society. Now, he argues, we are on the cusp of another major transformation: the coming quantum revolution that will supplant our current digital age. Facing this brave new world, Turok calls for creatively re-inventing the way advanced knowledge is developed and shared, and opening access to the vast, untapped pools of intellectual talent in the developing world.

Elegantly written, deeply provocative and highly inspirational, The Universe Within is, above all, about the future -  of science, society and ourselves.

The Universe Within: From Quantum  to Cosmos will air on Ideas November 12 – 16.

Good luck with the contest and enjoy this wealth of  science events.

Mike Lazaridis (Blackberry) at AAAS 2012 in Vancouver next month?

Set to appear on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012 as a plenary speaker at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting, Mike Lazaridis will be speaking about The Power of Ideas.

Lazaridis’ presence (assuming he shows up) is likely to add a frisson of excitement given today’s announcement that he is stepping down as co-chief executive officer (CEO) of the company he helped found, Research in Motion (RIM) which produces the Blackberry mobile device. (Thorsten Heins, a four-year employee with the company and former Siemens AG executive, will be RIM’s new CEO.)

I was intrigued months ago when I saw Laziridis was scheduled to speak partly because of his company’s importance and current travails, partly due to his connection to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (as I recall he provides/ed much of the institute’s funding), and partly his communication strategies.

I’m inferring from the little I’ve been able to observe that Lazaridis does not perform well when criticized or attacked. There was a court case back in 2001 in the US, where Lazaridis seems to have engaged in a ‘pissing contest’ with a company I’ve often seen described as a patent troll, NTP Incorporated. I gather he initially dismissed the litigation as frivolous (did he dare them to sue?). Unfortunately he did that publicly, never a good idea when you’re engaged in a court case where people are likely to read your comments in the press. Five years later, RIM lost the case and had to pay NTP over a complicated legal argument (you can read more about that here). Frankly, it seems wrong that RIM should have had to pay money to a company that files patents for the sole purpose of suing other companies.

I’d dismiss the incident but, more recently, it took Lazaridis too long to apologize for a major service outage. In October 2011, service was lost by customers in Europe and elsewhere for three days before an apology was forthcoming. Interestingly, that was around the time the outage began to affect North American customers. Also, he’s been far less visible publicly over the last few months. (Note: Lazaridis has tended to be the public face/spokesperson for RIM, while Jim Balsillie, his co-CEO) had performed that function less frequently.)

I am looking forward to how Lazaridis performs in Vancouver in February 2012 at the AAAS meeting (Feb. 16-20).

The smallness of the Higgs mass (finding the Higgs boson)

As I noted last week (in my Dec. 6, 2011 posting), there was a big Dec. 13, 2011 announcement from CERN (European Laboratory for Particle Physics) about the Higgs boson. No, they haven’t found it but researchers believe they’ve discovered a hint of where it might be—this ‘hint’ has made international news.

For anyone who may have some questions about what exactly a Higgs boson is, here’s a video of “Fermilab scientist Don Lincoln [describing] the nature of the Higgs boson. Several large experimental groups are hot on the trail of this elusive subatomic particle which is thought to explain the origins of particle mass” (from the YouTube description),

Here’s a little more about why there’s so much excitement, from the Dec. 13, 2011 news item on Science Daily,

The Standard Model is the theory that physicists use to describe the behaviour of fundamental particles [the smallest discrete entities that make up matter and are not made up of smaller constituent bits of matter themselves] and the forces that act between them. It describes the ordinary matter from which we, and everything visible in the Universe, are made extremely well. Nevertheless, the Standard Model does not describe the 96% of the Universe that is invisible. One of the main goals of the LHC [Large Hadron Collider] research programme is to go beyond the Standard Model, and the Higgs boson could be the key.

A Standard Model Higgs boson would confirm a theory first put forward in the 1960s, but there are other possible forms the Higgs boson could take, linked to theories that go beyond the Standard Model. A Standard Model Higgs could still point the way to new physics, through subtleties in its behaviour that would only emerge after studying a large number of Higgs particle decays. A non-Standard Model Higgs, currently beyond the reach of the LHC experiments with data so far recorded, would immediately open the door to new physics, whereas the absence of a Standard Model Higgs would point strongly to new physics at the LHC’s full design energy, set to be achieved after 2014. Whether ATLAS [research group at CERN] and CMS [research group at CERN] show over the coming months that the Standard Model Higgs boson exists or not, the LHC programme is opening the way to new physics.

The search for the Higgs boson has been ongoing for some 40 or 50 years and this announcement points to a definitive answer as to its existence by late 2012.

Two groups at CERN have reported on the results of their search for the Higgs boson. From the Dec. 13, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

Two experiments at the Large Hadron Collider have nearly eliminated the space in which the Higgs boson could dwell, scientists announced in a seminar held at CERN today. However, the ATLAS and CMS experiments see modest excesses in their data that could soon uncover the famous missing piece of the physics puzzle.

The experiments revealed the latest results as part of their regular report to the CERN Council, which provides oversight for the laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland.

Theorists have predicted that some subatomic particles gain mass by interacting with other particles called Higgs bosons. The Higgs boson is the only undiscovered part of the Standard Model of physics, which describes the basic building blocks of matter and their interactions.

The experiments’ main conclusion is that the Standard Model Higgs boson, if it exists, is most likely to have a mass constrained to the range 116-130 GeV by the ATLAS experiment, and 115-127 GeV by CMS. Tantalising hints have been seen by both experiments in this mass region, but these are not yet strong enough to claim a discovery.

Scientists (Philip Schuster, Natalia Toro, and Andy Haas) at the Dec. 13, 2011 (9:30 am PST) Perimeter Institute webcast (What the Higgs is going on?), which took place a few hours after the CERN announcement, exhibited a lot of excitement liberally spiced with caution in regard to the announcement.  The webcast is available for viewing and if you’re wondering whether it’s suitable for you, here’s a description from the event webpage,

What is everything in the universe made of? What was the universe like billions of years ago?

These are eternal questions that humans have pondered throughout the ages. Today, we are on the verge of potentially making revolutionary breakthroughs in answering them.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is a 27-kilometre long underground experiment located on the Swiss-French border near Geneva. It smashes subatomic particles together at vast speeds in an effort to learn more about the fundamental building blocks that make up everything around you. It is the biggest, most ambitious scientific experiment in human history.

On December 13, the LHC will announce its latest findings in its search for the last undiscovered particle in our current model of subatomic particles. This particle is the near-mythical ‘Higgs Boson’ — the particle thought to be involved in giving other particles their mass.

This educational event, geared towards high school students, teachers and the general public, will follow CERN’s announcement and discuss its findings and their background and implications in clear, accessible language.

You can view the webcast from here. The description of how scientists choose which events to measure and the process they use to define whether or not an event is significant adds to one’s appreciation of the work being done in these projects.

Jon Butterworth, a physicist who works at CERN and whose blog is one of the Guardian science blogs, wrote a limerick about it all in his Dec. 13, 2011 posting,

A physicist saw an enigma
And called to his mum “Flying pig, ma!”
She said “Flying pigs?
Next thing you’ll see the Higgs!”
He said “Nah, not until it’s five sigma!”

Five sigma is a measure of certainty. The current results have a 2.3 sigma, which is promising but the gold standard is five.

Here’s the live blog that Alok Jha, science correspondent for the Guardain, kept during the Dec. 13, 2011 announcement (excerpted from the live blog),

1.01pm: Cern’s live webcast has begun, but the seminar has yet to start. The expressions on some of the faces in the audience suggests Christmas is about to come early for the physics community.

1.02pm: Ok the seminar has started, but traffic to the webcast is obviously heavy, breaking up the transmission.

TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, held a public seminar at 2:30 pm PST (Dec. 13, 2011) on their site at the University of British Columbia. They also have some information on their website about Canadian scientists who are involved in the CERN experiments ( from the Research Highlights page,  Physicists Smell but Don’t Yet Taste Higgs),

In a seminar held at CERN this morning and then repeated across Canada at multiple partnering institutions, the ATLAS and CMS experiments presented the status of their searches for the Standard Model Higgs boson. Finding this particle would snap in the last missing puzzle piece of the Standard Model that describes the universe at its most basic level. Tantalizing hints have been seen by both experiments in the same mass region, but these are not yet strong enough to claim a discovery. The main conclusion is that the Standard Model Higgs boson, if it exists, is most likely to have a mass in the range 115-130 GeV, excluding essentially all other hiding places.

“We are at a crossroads in our understanding of how energy gained mass and became matter in the early universe,” said Rob McPherson, spokesperson of the Canadian team working on the ATLAS project and a professor at the University of Victoria and a research scientist with the Institute of Particle Physics. “If these hints lead to a firm discovery over the coming year, we will be at the start of our investigation of the interactions that lie behind our current theories. If they are not confirmed, we will have to reject our present understanding, throw out our current theories, and start over. It is an extremely interesting time in particle physics.”

So there you have it. They think they observed something but they’re not sure, which makes for a very exciting time (they hope). While I’m not a scientist and cannot fully appreciate this moment, I can remember similar moments in my own work when something seems to be coming into focus. It isn’t my final result but it does hint at what is to come and gives me the resolve (giddy excitement for a few hours or days) I need to continue because a lot of what I do is slogging (I recognize the word play).

On a final note, it seems there was a minor crisis during the presentations in CERN. Lily Asquith, at the Argonne National Laboratory [Chicago, US] writes about it on Jon Butterworth’s blog (Guardian science blogs) in her Dec. 14, 2011 posting,

We have a large windowless meeting room at Argonne with an old-fashioned pull-down projector screen. When I walked in there yesterday morning for the CERN videolink I was greeted by 30-odd ashen-faced physicists. Oh lord, I thought, there has been a terrible accident. …

There stands Fabiola Gianotti [particle physicist in charge of the ATLAS experiment in CERN], our queen, looking fabulous and doing a typically faultless job of presenting a complicated and not-yet-conclusive measurement; taking the work of hundreds of nutty, stressed-out physicists and breathing sense into it.

But I hear only one thing as I walk the corridors of my lab and of the internet:

comic sans [the font Gianotti used for the text in her presentation]

- why‽

Do we need to add an additional systematic uncertainty to all our measurements based on this unwise choice of font? Are any of our results still valid? What does this mean for the speed of light?

Please do read the rest of Asquith’s very amusing piece. Who knew physicists are so concerned with fonts?

For the curious, here’s a sample of Comic Sans along with a history excerpt from its Wikipedia essay,

Microsoft designer Vincent Connare says that he began work on Comic Sans in October of 1994. Connare had already created a number of child-oriented fonts for various applications, so when he saw a beta version of Microsoft Bob that used Times New Roman in the word balloons of cartoon characters, he decided to create a new face based on the lettering style of comic books he had in his office, specifically The Dark Knight Returns (lettered by John Costanza) and Watchmen (lettered by Dave Gibbons).

So the font was originally designed for children and comic books, eh?

Scientific spat and libel case in UK has Canadian connection

Neil Turok, Director of the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics located in Waterloo, Canada, has been described as being insufficiently qualified to assess a fellow scientist’s work. Alok Jha, science correspondent for the UK’s Guardian newspaper, writes about the situation which includes a libel suit against Nature magazine in his Nov. 18, 2011 article,

A scientist who is suing one of the world’s most prominent scientific journals for libel compared himself to Albert Einstein in the high court on Friday [Nov. 18, 2011] as part of his evidence against the journal. Professor Mohamed El Naschie, also claimed that an eminent physicist brought in by the journal as an expert witness to analyse the value of his work was not sufficiently qualified to do so.

El Naschie is suing Nature as a result of a news article published in 2008, after the scientist’s retirement as editor-in-chief of the journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals. The article alleged that El Naschie had self-published several research papers, some of which did not seem to have been peer reviewed to an expected standard and also said that El Naschie claimed affiliations and honorary professorships with international institutions that could not be confirmed by Nature. El Naschie claims the allegations in the article were false and had damaged his reputation.

On Friday, Nature called Professor Neil Turok, a cosmologist and director of the Perimeter Institute in Canada, as an expert witness to assess some of the work published by El Naschie.

In his evidence, Turok said he found it difficult to understand the logic in some of El Naschie’s papers. The clear presentation of scientific ideas was an important step in getting an idea accepted, he said. “There are two questions – one is whether the work is clearly presented and readers would be able to understand it. It would be difficult for a trained theoretical physicist to understand [some of El Naschie's papers]. …  The second question is about the correctness of the theory and that will be decided by whether it agrees with experiments. Most theories in theoretical physics are speculative – we form a logical set of rules and deductions and we try, ultimately, to test the deductions in experiments.

There’s more at stake here than whether or not Turok is qualified or El Naschie’s work is up to the standards in his field, this is also about libel and libel laws in England. There have been some intended consequences from the current set of laws. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia essay,

Libel tourism is a term first coined by Geoffrey Robertson to describe forum shopping for libel suits. It particularly refers to the practice of pursuing a case in England and Wales, in preference to other jurisdictions, such as the United States, which provide more extensive defences for those accused of making derogatory statements. According to the English publishing house Sweet & Maxwell, the number of libel cases brought by people alleged to be involved with terrorism almost tripled in England between 2006 and 2007.

Jha goes on to finish his first article on El Naschie’s libel case with this,

Sile Lane, a spokesperson for the Libel Reform campaign said: “Scientists expect publications like Nature to investigate and write about controversies within the scientific community. The threat of libel action is preventing scientific journals from discussing what is good and bad science. This case is another example of why we need libel law that has a clear strong public interest defence and a high threshold for bringing a case. The government has promised to reform the libel laws and this can’t come soon enough.”

I last wrote about the libel situation in the UK in my Nov. 12, 2010 posting, International call to action on libel laws in the UK.

Space contest for teenagers

I caught this Oct. 10, 2011 news item (Google and Hawking seek space mad teenagers) on the BBC News website,

YouTube has enlisted the help of Prof Stephen Hawking in the hunt for budding young scientists.

The site – which is owned by Google – is launching a competition for teenagers to create an experiment that could be carried out in space.

Two winning ideas will be tested by the crew of the International Space Station.

Ravi Mandalla’s Oct. 11, 2011 article for ITProPortal provides more detail,

The competition, titled YouTube Space Lab, will allow students aged between 14 to 18 years to submit a 2 minute proposal on YouTube. The entries will be reviewed by a panel of judges comprising of astronauts, NASA scientists and Stephen Hawking. The winners will see their experiment streamed live from space as the astronauts perform it on the space station.

The BBC News item offers  a more complete list of the judging panel,

Alongside Prof Hawking, the judging panel consists of former Astronauts Leland Melvin, Frank De Winne, Akihiko Hoshide and noted “space tourist” Guy Laliberté. [emphasis mine]

Guy Laliberté, space tourist, is also the Chief Executive Officer for the Cirque du Soleil (founded in Québec, Canada). Professor Hawking also has a Canadian connection, he holds the position of Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute (news release announcing Hawking’s appointment), located in Ontario, Canada.

Getting back to the contest, here’s how Google describes the contest (from the YouTube Space Lab contest webpage,

Your experiment, 250 miles above Earth, for the world to see.
What will you do?

We’re asking you to come up with a science experiment for space and upload a video explaining it to YouTube. If your idea wins, it will be performed on the International Space Station and live streamed on YouTube to the world. And we’ll throw in some out-of-this-world prizes, too.

Can plants survive beyond the Earth? Could proteins in space reveal the mysteries of life? Science in micro gravity can help unlock the answers. The countdown’s begun.

Good luck!

ETA Oct. 13, 2011: There’s an Oct. 11, 2011 article about this contest, which includes more information and a video, by Nidhi Subbaraman for Fast Company,

The lucky teenagers who win will have their experiments flown into space, carried on board an ISS-bound rocket, and could find themselves catapulted into YouTube stardom. Their winning entries will earn a joyride to the International Space Station, where astronauts will perform their experiment while being live-streamed on YouTube. It doesn’t end there. They’ll get to pick between one of two grand prizes: a trip to Japan in summer 2012 to see their experiment take off, or, when they turn 18, a chance to participate in the astronaut training program at Russia’s Star City. The four other regional finalists will be given a Zero-G ride, courtesy of Space Adventures, and laptops from Lenovo.