The House committee responsible for the DOE budget has passed a FY2012 appropriations bill, details here. Total funding for DOE Science is down .9% from FY2011 at $4.8 billion. HEP gets a .2 percent increase, Biological and Environmental Research is whacked %10.6, with the committee opposed to climate and atmospheric research being funded by DOE. The language about DUSEL argues against it becoming a DOE lab, but money is made available to keep options open. There is support for Fermilab’s Project X (the “intensity frontier”), but a warning that it may not be possible to continue funding both the “intensity frontier” and the LHC (the “energy frontier”).
Fermilab this week announced a program to offer a “voluntary separation program” under which they hope 100 employees will voluntarily leave. They’re clearly trying to better position the lab for tight budgetary conditions ahead.
Over in the Czech Republic, Lubos Motl is hanging out with President Vaclav Klaus and is one of the contributors to his 70th birthday Festschrift. Lubos may have a career ahead in Czech politics, too bad he left the US just before the Tea Party movement got going. He would have fit in quite well with them, but I guess at least in the Czech Republic, he can legally become President some day.
From Physics World, it seems that Lawrence Krauss will be joining with 13 other very prominent academics to teach at New College for the Humanities, a new private university in London. The new university has caused quite a stir in Britain, since it’s unlike anything else there. Tuition will be set at US private college levels, $29,000/year, twice what other British universities charge. The business plan is not public, but Wikipedia says 10 million pounds in funding for the first two years is coming from private investors, with the 14 senior academics getting a 1/3 equity stake in the venture. It’s unclear how much teaching they’ll each be doing, since most will retain their current positions elsewhere and just give anything from one to 20 lectures per year.
The LHC is doing quite well, with over an inverse femtobarn delivered to the experiments already. For the latest, take a look at the slides of the talks here. At the KITP, there was a very interesting talk by Tim Nelson. He addresses the question of whether the LHC detectors, once their searches aimed at standard speculative ideas such as supersymmetry and extra dimensions turn up empty, can be reconfigured to look for other sorts of exotic possibilities, ones that the current triggers are not sensitive to.
There’s an article here about filmmaker Errol Morris, whose new film “Tabloid” is coming out later this year. I saw it a few months ago at a showing in New York, and highly recommend it. It’s one of the most surprising and amazing documentaries I’ve ever seen. Real life is much stranger than fiction. In the article, Morris describes his early career, which included having Thomas Kuhn throw an ashtray at him and have him kicked out of the graduate program in philosophy at Princeton. He moved on to Berkeley, where he hung out with Dan Friedan:
“I felt that he had destroyed my life,” said Morris. It left him reeling for years to come: He still remembers sitting in a coffee shop at Berkeley with Daniel Friedan, a fellow Princeton exile and the son of feminist icon Betty, and commiserating over the frustrating time they’d had out East.
“I’m talking about all these problems that I had with Kuhn, which was a constant refrain, and he’s telling me about all the problems he’d had in the physics department,” Morris recalls. “He said, you know, ‘They just could not appreciate me. I had discovered a new kind of physics!’ And I thought, ‘Oh, no. This looks bad. This looks very, very, very bad. This is not going to turn out well. We’re both going to the nuthouse.’ ”
Of course, they didn’t. Friedan would go on to win a Macarthur Fellowship, and be recognized for his pioneering work on string theory. Morris, meanwhile, left academia behind once and for all to make a movie about a pet cemetery, called “Gates of Heaven,” which became a cult classic, and which Roger Ebert described as one of the 10 greatest films ever made.
There’s a conference going on this week and next at the ETH in Zurich on quantum gravity, with slides appearing here. My long held belief about quantum gravity is that it’s a problematic subject unless some way can be found to connect it to unification with the rest of physics, and thus some sort of testability or good reason to believe one is on the right track. Matthias Blau promotes string theory by arguing that it should be judged:
not by, say, its failure to (so far?) provide specific predictions for BSM physics, or disgust with some of the hype and overblown claims regarding string theory (I may share your feelings . . . )
Among other things, he explains some of the problems with M-theory, then notes that Tom Banks has a highly mystifying recent proposal about this:
For very recent proposal for how to deal with (some of) these issues, see T. Banks, Fuzzy Geometry via the Spinor Bundle, with Applications to Holographic Space-time and Matrix Theory, arXiv:1106.1179 (and then please explain it to me . . . )
His talk, together with the recent preprint Is string theory a theory of quantum gravity?, provides a good understanding of what the problems are facing attempts to use string theory to quantize gravity, from the point of view of a string-enthusiast.
For the latest from the LQG camp, see Carlo Rovelli’s talk here.