I also enjoyed reading Stephen Hawking’s comments.
Sorry to go for so long without posting and then just post links to news. I’ve been super busy, but this required a post.
I’ve been reading Michio Kaku’s Hyperspace, and it’s got me trying to visualize the fourth spacial dimension. It’s not possible to do, but it’s fun to try. Fortunately, the internet has plenty of videos on the matter, a few of which I’ll present here.
As the video I embedded in a previous post about visualizing higher dimensions said, sometimes it’s easier to imagine a higher dimension beyond the three we’re familiar with by thinking of the higher dimension as a dimension you “fold lower dimensions through” to get a desired result. For instance, as shown in the video, folding a 2-dimensional sheet through the third dimension allows the edges of the sheet to touch, so an ant can crawl from one edge to the other. If you lived on the 2-D sheet and could only see in two dimensions, it would appear to you that the ant disappeared from one edge and instantly reappeared on the other. We can’t visualize dimensions higher than three, but we can visualize how actions in these higher dimensions would would look in our 3-dimensional world, analogous to a creature who can only see in two dimensions watching an ant disappear from one place and reappear in another.
A popular 4-dimensional object to try to visualize is a tesseract, which is a 4-dimensional hypercube. We can’t picture it, but we can picture it’s projection, or shadow, in three dimensions. Here is a video of the projection of a 4-D cube rotating:
CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has been in the news a lot recently, and the undertone of fear is frequently present in the angle the stories take. I don’t really want to spread the worry, since it appears that there’s not much to be alarmed about, but I’ve been having some thoughts about alarmist tendencies in the media, and figured I’d share.
It’s no secret that more people are interested in reading a story that involves potential “doomsday” then some benign tale about eggheads doing their incomprehensible nerd research in some distant location. And I suppose fear and mystery can help scientific projects get funded, what with keeping the public interested and all. Still, making people worry unnecessarily does a disservice to them and can hinder the progress of knowledge.
Well, I said that this blog would not be photos and stories about my weekends, and it looks like I’m going to fail on those counts already. It is in the name of science, however.
Every bay I know of seems to have a corresponding volunteer organization whose mission is to save it. Over the weekend, a friend and I attempted to participate with one such organization. I was sort of just along for the ride on this one, but as I understand it, divers harvest this underwater grass, which is vital to the health of the bay ecosystem. Our job as volunteers was to sit on the beach organizing this grass into bundles, which would be transported to another part of the bay, that is short on grass, for transplantation. However, to our embarrassment, we showed up at the part of the bay volunteers were working at last week, and they had moved on.
Though we couldn’t do anything to save it by ourselves, the bay was desolate in the cloudy humid morning, which gave us an excellent opportunity to explore all the nature laying about. I have a tendency to turn into a question machine from time to time, soliciting those around me for all their knowledge and any theories they care to share on every matter that pops to mind, and nothing sets this off quite like nature. Stuffy scientist stereotypes in the general public seem foreign and incongruous to me, since my own behavior in the face of nature is more akin to that of a curious child. My companion and I taught each other some of the facts were knew, and came up with some new theories about the workings of all sort of natural elements. Casually observing aquatic life for a couple hours doesn’t exactly produce rigorous scientific theories, but these sort of curious observations of nature are the spark that propels people to do rigorous studies. It’s from the curiosity that we all have about the world around us and everything in it that all scientific knowledge is born.
I know this video has been out there for a little while now, but every time I see it I think about how great it is. It really illustrates higher these concepts well and makes you think about higher dimensions in a comprehensible way. It’s really dense, so I recommend pausing whenever you start to lose track, and taking a few minutes to really think about what he’s saying.
A year ago, a very tired physicist friend and I were keeping ourselves awake and vaguely engaged in our work by discussing how the “tired particles” that seemed to be bombarding us must be interacting with our “thought particles”. I took the liberty of drawing one possible Feynman diagram of the interaction, and then promptly passed out. Fortunately, I found this MS Paint masterpiece again when I was cleaning out my computer before it was lost to the ages. Nobel Prize, here I come:
This theory is probably best applied to tiredness that occurs due to excessive academia.
I also took the opportunity to tap into the underused Hebrew alphabet, since the physics market on English and Greek characters is pretty saturated. Shin here, with the L subscript, is a “long-lasting thought”. It decays into two “short-lasting thoughts”, and the interaction is mediated by the “tired particle”, tau. My friend insisted that, as tiredness increases, her ability to sustain thoughts decreases, but she gets overwhelmed by many very short lasting though. I agree with the first part, but I think an abundance of short-lasting thoughts only comes to be via tiredness in particular circumstances, so this is not a general theory for the tired particle. The tired particle also leaves behind a “consciousness” particle, which carries with it consciousness of one’s own short-comings due to exhaustion.
It was pointed out to me that perhaps last time I went off too far into the theoretical setup and didn’t quite wrap up succinctly for you what exactly a magnetic monopole is. In short, a magnetic monopole would be a particle that carries magnetic charge, like how electrons and protons are carriers of electric charge. A bar magnet has two poles, and if you cut it in half, it still has two poles. If you keep cutting it in half and break it down as far as it will go, you will have a spinning electron which still has a “North” and a “South” pole. Whereas, in seeking the most simple possible configuration that produces an electric field, if you broke down a material as far as it would go you would have a single electron radiating a uniform electric field in all directions. This electric field wouldn’t pull objects toward it on one side and push objects away on the other like a dipole; it’s uniform in all directions (pictured here is the electric field of a positive point charge. An electron is a negative charge, so the direction of the field in reversed — pointing in toward the electron — but you get the idea). An electron is an example of an electric monopole. Similarly, a magnetic monopole, which is a magnetic charge, would have a uniform magnetic field radiating uniformly in all directions.
It’s not for the faint of heart, but for those willing to brave some math, I’ve got more for you on Maxwell’s equations, and how they would be symmetrical if a magnetic charge existed. Look at the pretty equations and skip to the summary just above the second set of equations if your eyes start glazing over. These are Maxwell’s equations for charges and electric and magnetic fields in a vacuum:
Recently, I was reading this article about doomsday, law suits and the Large Hadron Collider. I admit that I’m intrigued and would kind of like to read a rigorous version of the theories behind these doomsday scenarios. It struck me how difficult a problem it is for courts to sort out such things, what with the high level of prerequisite knowledge a person must possess to understand enough about these concerns to make an informed decision about them. I suppose that’s what expert witnesses are for. Still, I think it is important to try to bridge the knowledge gap between scientific experts and folks with only as much science background as their learning institutions required them to learn to graduate in another field. Our society is pretty lacking in those bridges, I think, and I’m going to try to build more.
One of the fears in the article seems to be that the exotic and frighteningly named “magnetic monopoles”, if created, will be malignant and alter all matter they touch in upsetting ways, Ice-Nine style. Having just reinserted the topic of magnetic monopoles into my brain a couple months ago in my class on electricity and magnetism, I’m feeling the spirit to type about them on the internet.
This is my first post in a proper blog. And by “proper blog“, I suppose I mean “blog on a mission”, as opposed to a personal blog aimed at an audience of friends and family alone. Time will tell if this blog contains more or less colorful language than my personal writings, though I am fairly certain it will contain less photographs of my neighborhood and witty tales about my weekends.
I suppose I should actually state a mission. It will be amusing and possibly informative to look back while from now and see what I thought this blog‘s mission might be at its conception. Well, here is goes:
I have decided to share with an internet audience my thoughts on science, of which I have a wide variety. I intend to place particular emphasis on explaining elements of the hard sciences — concepts, experimental techniques, why you should care if you don’t already, etc — in a way that is comprehensible to any adult of sound mind who desires to learn, regardless of educational background in science (or lack thereof).
Why might you be interested in anything I have to say? That is a very good question, and I hope you asked yourself it. In a nutshell: because I am a scientist who talks pretty. I am good at explaining things to people from many backgrounds, and I do actually know a thing or two about science, a broad subject full of topics that are mystifying and vague to many an otherwise well-informed reader.