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Peter Steinberg | USLHC | USA

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S.O.S. (i.e. Save Austrian Science)

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

I can’t believe I’m the first to post about this, since it’s “ancient” news (i.e. from last week).  But if you missed it, Austria is planning on pulling out of CERN after 50 years involvement.  The claim is that they can use the money (about $21M) elsewhere in the EU.

Anyway, don’t think that the Austrian scientific community is taking the news well.  They are getting organized and already have a petition online.  Please take a minute and sign it:


It came as a surprise when Federal Minister Hahn announced that he wanted to discontinue Austria’s membership in CERN.

This “wrong historic decision” (quoting Prof. Dr. Herbert Pietschmann) must be stopped before Austria’s reputation as a nation of high-tech and modern research suffers irreparable damage and our country excludes itself from future developments.

CERN – this is research in elementary particle physics and comology. CERN is a brilliant example of excellence by European cooperation. CERN is the vision of our young scientists.

By signing this petition I urge the Austrian parliament not to agree to this proposition of minister Hahn.

(And I hope no-one missed that ATLAS slide in the AP article!)

(Thanks, Heinz and Paul!)


Changing of the Guard

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

A nice article on the changing of ATLAS leadership in the CERN Courier.   It really gives a sense of the sustained commitment that it has taken to make a huge project like ATLAS become a reality.

I am very proud to have helped the collaboration to construct ATLAS. Twenty years ago we could only imagine the experiment in our dreams and now it exists,” says Jenni. “I could lead the collaboration for so long because I was supported by very good ATLAS management teams where the right people, such as Fabiola Gianotti, Steinar Stapnes, Marzio Nessi and Markus Nordberg over the past five years, were in the right places.”

It’s also interesting to find out in the CERN courier that your own experiment is a lot larger than you might have realized (i.e. it’s officially 3000 people!  I can’t say I’ve ever met even a fraction of them myself…).


Obama at the National Academy

Monday, April 27th, 2009

President Obama addressed the National Academy this morning.  I missed the telecast but I’ve been reading the transcript.

Federal funding in the physical sciences as a portion of our gross domestic product has fallen by nearly half over the past quarter century…We double the budget of key agencies, including the National Science Foundation, a primary source of funding for academic research, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which supports a wide range of pursuits – from improving health information technology to measuring carbon pollution, from testing “smart grid” designs to developing advanced manufacturing processes. And my budget doubles funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science which builds and operates accelerators, colliders, supercomputers, high-energy light sources, and facilities for making nano-materials. Because we know that a nation’s potential for scientific discovery is defined by the tools it makes available to its researchers.

He also finally officially announced ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy.  And new commitment to improve science education. Exciting times in we are.  And not one to miss an opportunity, I bet he left a lot of the audience misty-eyed with this (worked on me):

At root, science forces us to reckon with the truth as best as we can ascertain it. Some truths fill us with awe. Others force us to question long held views. Science cannot answer every question; indeed, it seems at times the more we plumb the mysteries of the physical world, the more humble we must be. Science cannot supplant our ethics, our values, our principles, or our faith, but science can inform those things, and help put these values, these moral sentiments, that faith, to work – to feed a child, to heal the sick, to be good stewards of this earth.

We are reminded that with each new discovery and the new power it brings, comes new responsibility; that the fragility and the sheer specialness of life requires us to move past our differences, to address our common problems, to endure and continue humanity’s strivings for a better world.


The Real News

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Heuer’s email (mentioned by Steve, so public enough for me…) suprised me in one line:

“The new schedule also permits the possible collisions of lead ions in 2010.”

Finally, at least the possibility is official.  Considering that I had never heard management mention a year for first ion collisions, this is music to my (and probably all of my heavy ion friends’) ears.

Of course while the return of the LHC was a forgone conclusion, the details were certainly not — so good news all around!


Senate Cuts Science Stimulus

Friday, February 6th, 2009

(via Harvey Newman at USLUO and TPM with my Keynote skills for the excerpts from pages 2 and 4…)

Like, all of it if I read this right:  Both NSF and the DOE Office of Science (already cut hugely from the House version)…

Who are these people?


Angel of the Higgs Boson

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Via symmetry breaking, here’s a neat video of artist Josef Krisofoletti painting a stylized image of ATLAS on the side of the Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, SC:

But no art (nor science) comes to the public without some misunderstanding:

“As with the creation of the real ATLAS detector, Kristofoletti faced a few setbacks along the way. Approached by a policeman who thought he was covering the wall with graffitti, he explained what he was doing and that the painting was of one of the particle detectors at CERN. The policeman had heard of CERN and the LHC, and let the painting continue, but not without a quick discussion of much-publicized doomsday scenarios.”


The Never Ending War

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

I admit it: I’m still pinching myself on a daily basis when I see “President Obama” in newspapers and on broadcasts.  While many are excited about how he will restore balance to American foreign policy and the gyrating economy, those of us in the science community are still buzzing about Obama proclaiming loudly and clearly, in his inaugural address no less, that he will “restore science to its rightful place.”

Dennis Overbye wrote a lovely piece for yesterday’s Science Times on this, thoughtfully explaning the connection between scientific method and democratic values.  In particular, science is “not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth”.  That is to say, it is an approach towards finding truth which implies a worldview based on values of “honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view.”  Overbye goes on to discuss how this pragmatic activity, this behavior which “evolved because it worked”, is often squelched in authoritarian societies such as China.  There, any contradiction with Marxist dogma (which while anti-religion, does all those things that orthodox religions do), including advocating the Big Bang theory, leads to imprisonment or worse.  But even nominal democracies like ours can stray, as it has in recent years:

But once you can’t talk about one subject, the origin of the universe, for example, sooner or later other subjects are going to be off-limits, like global warming, birth control and abortion, or evolution, the subject of yet another dustup in Texas last week.

What still surprises me, in this optimistic new era, is that science can still remain under attack — but the techniques get more and more insidious.  To my eyes, the doomsday crowd plays a similar role as the same gang of politically-motivated thugs who try and squelch actual science.  But rather than claiming that certain science is immoral (e.g. stem-cell research), they object to it on the grounds that it is somehow dangerous for humanity on scales that we can barely imagine — based on “scientific” arguments which can be proven false.  Seriously, I could accept their concerns, but only if they had a point and they took a consistent scientific approach to the problem, allowing all relevant evidence to bear upon it.

But check out this Onion-worthy headline Fox News ran today (pointed out by fellow blogger Seth): “Scientists Not So Sure ‘Doomsday Machine’ Won’t Destroy World.'” from an article by Paul Wagenseil.  It seems to start out in the right way: here is a scientific paper which says something, and I’m telling you the conclusion.  But he isn’t.

Instead of quoting the actual paper, an unrefereed (it’s arxiv, natch) preprint by Casadio, Fabi, and Harms (yes, Harms), Wagenseil quotes a blog post merely about the paper on arxivblog.org.  Arxivblog is  anonymously written by a blogger named “KFC” and is unrelated to the actual arXiv.org website.  I personally think KFC is an amusing blogger, as do many others, and seems to know something about physics.  However, the conclusion drawn from the last sentence of the paper: “Whoa, let’s have that again: these mini black holes will be hanging around for seconds, possibly minutes?” has two serious problems.  First, it has no obvious connection to the destructive power of said black holes.  Second, it is completely at odds with the conclusion drawn by the authors of the paper, who most-likely know their assumptions and results far better: “We conclude that, for the RS scenario and black holes described by the metric ([6]), the growth of black holes to catastrophic size does not seem possible” (which is the second-to-last sentence.)

If you’re going to use a paper’s conclusions to support an argument, the scientific method requires you to cite the full conclusion, not just the part that you need.  All of the estimates in the paper, based on quite relaxed assumptions, tend to work against a doomsday scenario, but this doesn’t seem to make it into either the arxivblog post — nor into the article by the putative science journalist who doesn’t bother to read the original paper, or simply call the authors.

Instead, all you get is a punchy headline, which can only add fuel to the fires raging against doing actual scientific research.  We can only hope that in the Obama era, Overbye’s imagined “wild and beautiful” garden of wide-ranging scientific research is properly protected from those fires.


Chu Speaks

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

It’s one crazy time, post-inauguration.  I mean, Obama was sworn in again.  And the stimulus package is really kicking the science community into high gear.

So expectations will probably be quite high today, when Secretary Chu (no more mere designate, he) speaks to the DOE community today by video.  I will update this later today after watching.

[Update: I couldn’t get my RealPlayer settings sorted out until just before the end, so I basically missed it.  BNL will post video soonish, but in the meantime, I found a nice set of notes posted on Cosmic Variance.

Some things jump out: Energy is priority #1. The national labs are crown jewels.  The US needs to replace the great industrial labs that have closed down.  He expects lots of young-to-middle-age scientists to shift their careers toward energy to develop the transformative technologies needed for US energy independence…more later when I see the video.]



Thursday, January 15th, 2009

So things are getting interesting: the House Democrats unveil an $825 billion (billion…) stimulus package, and the Times tells us:

… it would provide $10 billion for science facilities and research…

Ten billion dollars.  I wonder who exactly is going to get a piece of that.

One answer I’ve heard is that the DOE office of science (a major source of particle and nuclear physics funding) will get $5.9B — that’s nearly 50% more than the current funding provided by the FY09 Continuing Resolution (CR).  Now who is going to get a piece of that?  Anyway, it won’t matter until it gets farther along in the process, but wow.

UPDATE: fellow blogger Rene has pointed me to a nice set of links:

  • Press summary
    Highlight: “Department of Energy: $1.9 billion for basic research into the physical sciences including high-energy physics, nuclear physics, and fusion energy sciences and improvements to DOE laboratories and scientific facilities. $400 million is for the Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy to support high-risk, high-payoff research into energy sources and energy efficiency.”
  • Full bill

The Present and Future of CERN

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Sorry for my long absence.  I was on the road for pretty much all of December (South Africa, Chicago, Vermont) with a day here and there in NYC.  Now I’m back — and expect to report more often!

Anyway, what better way to enter 2009 than with this fascinating set of slides from the new Director General of CERN, Rolf Heuer?  There’s even a video of his talk online.

Heuer covers a lot of ground here, particularly the plans for the LHC in 2009, but also the budget, and quite a bit of forward thinking about the future of CERN, both scientifically and geographically (particularly slide 26 and following on “Global Collaboration”).  Enjoy.