Quick Links

  • 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.

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    19 Responses to Quick Links

    1. anonymous says:

      The LHC has been doing extremely well, not “quite well”.

    2. anonymous says:

      Would it be better to go to higher energy (1.e. 14 TeV) or try to improve luminosity or work on a detector upgrade? From Nelson’s slides it looks like the improved luminosity outweighs any detector upgrades and if there is confidence in new splices then an energy upgrade does not present a risk? I can see this going on for many years..

    3. Yatima says:

      Lewandowski: Canonical LQG: soluble models and other advances

      “The canonical LQG provides more and more soluble models of quantum gravity with all the local degrees of freedom. The first model was LQG coupled to dust (Giesel-Thiemann). The current second model describes gravity coupled to massless scalar field. It is an exact generalization of the cosmological models of Loop Quantum Cosmology to the full theory with the local gravitational degrees of freedom.”


    4. abbyyorker says:

      On the new college for …

      It’s just a new education scam. I did not know Mr Krauss was so cynical. Unless he really thinks he’s going to help with his “1-20 lectures a year”.

    5. Jon Lennox says:

      anonymous #1: I’m guessing your dialect of English is a UK one? In American usage, “quite” means “very”, not “somewhat”, so Peter agrees with you.

    6. OhDear says:

      As a Brit living in the states, I would say that “quite” and “very” mean the same on both sides of the Atlantic. We used to have a thing for understatement, but not these days.

    7. Aleksandar Mikovic says:

      There is a growing number of physicist, including the string theorists, who realize that the problem of quantum gravity is not just the problem of finiteness, but it also involves the problem of the fundamental degrees of freedom and the problem of applying the standard quantum mechanics to the whole universe. Obtaining a finite or renormalizible quantum gravity theory with the right classical limit, after all, is not that difficult: for example, take the Horava gravity. However, many people believe that the structure of the spacetime changes at the Planck length, so that string theory and loop quantum gravity (LQG) have many more adherents. When comparing string theory to LQG, both have a non-trivial quantum geometry (strings vs. spin foams) and both are finite and have the right classical limit. String theory offers a natural unification of interactions, while LQG can address more naturally the quantum cosmology. String theory allows a multiuniverse, and LQG as well, through the group-field theory approach, which is a type of the third quantization. Still, neither theory has nothing to say about the problem of applying quantum mechanics to the universe, and even less to the case of the multiuniverse. It is clear that one needs to modify the quantum mechanics, and this is the hard part of the quantum gravity problem.

    8. Peter Woit says:

      Yes, I meant “quite” as in “very”.

      If you look at the projections made earlier this year, typically they were for around 3 inverse femtobarns for 2011. It seems to me that they’re on track for this, which is great.

      If they do 5 inverse femtobarns, that might merit “extremely”, we’ll see what happens, maybe that’s possible, maybe not. As a general rule though, this subject is hype-ridden enough, I don’t see the point in adding to the problem.

    9. noname says:

      OK, would you agree on the following? If by the end of 2011 each experiment collects 3/fb you’ll write “the LHC is doing great”. If they collect between 3 and 5/fb you’ll write “the LHC is doing extremely well”. Anything beyond 5/fb (which I believe is what will happen) will merit your “the LHC is doing outrageously well”. Deal?

    10. Peter Woit says:


      Doing just above 3 inverse femtobarn would still be more or less according to plan, not exactly an extreme situation. I certainly hope you’re right, and they get above 5 inverse femtobarns, which would get into a more extreme situation. For “outrageous” I think they need to go to 10…

    11. anon says:

      this one goes to eleven.

    12. Caramel says:

      Am I correct in reading Giddings’ paper as saying that no-one no how to predict particle-particle scattering at the Planck regime using string theory? How does that square with all the claims I’ve heard along the lines of “if we only had a Galaxy-sized particle accelerator, we’d definitely observe a tower of excited string states”?

    13. Caramel says:

      “…that no-one knows how…” rather.

    14. Peter Woit says:


      I’ve often pointed out that the argument for those claims isn’t very solid. It assumes that the string dynamics at that scale is weakly coupled and that perturbation theory is valid. There never was a good argument that this had to be true. Giddings explains in detail how non-perturbative effects are important even in scattering processes at energies far above the Planck scale.

    15. Casey Leedom says:

      Wow. I know that this is a “physics blog” but no one else is concerned about the 10.6% decrease in Biological and Environmental Research? High Energy Particle Physics is either “hopeless” or “doing great” depending on which side of the String Theory Divide you fall on but Biological Research is doing amazing things these days and promises both fundamental new knowledge and relevant medical breakthroughs. Very sad if that’s taking a hit.


    16. Peter Woit says:


      This is just the DOE budget. Most biological research is funded elsewhere (NIH?). Also, the budget process is a long ways from completion. I don’t think this necessarily reflects how such research will do overall in the budget.

    17. Casey Leedom says:

      Ah, good point. But still, when I worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory there was a big biology effort (breast cancer, human genome, etc.) and my friends at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory do a ton of basic biology research.

    18. Mark Decker says:

      Well good for Krauss. Maybe some of the lectures will wind up on youtube so some of the Brits (and us) who can’t afford can still watch. In any event, it will be sad to see him go. He is one of the few Physicists left in this country who still has his sanity.

    19. John Baez says:

      I’m at that Zurich conference. You can see some very fragmentary notes on it starting here.

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