For Your Viewing Pleasure

If you’ve already seen the various new math/physics films coming out of Hollywood, this week you might be interested in watching some of the real thing, including the following:

  • The hot ticket this week will be Monday’s Planck session at the conference in Ferrara. They’ve now edited their website to remove references to a promised webcast and slides. So, the only way to get images suitable for scraping may be to get yourself into the lecture hall at Ferrara and bring a camera. Press release here, conference program here.
  • Also on Monday, if you’re in Cambridge (MA), there’s Steven Weinberg’s Lee Historical Lecture in Physics, topic Glimpses of a World Within. The only blurb is

    “Since the 1970s the evidence has accumulated that the structures appearing in the laws of nature at a really fundamental level are vastly smaller than anything we encounter in our high energy laboratories.”

    which I don’t think I’d personally agree with, quite curious to see what case he makes. These lectures often are later made available here.

  • For another historical lecture, there will be a webcast of this event at CERN on Tuesday. It features film of interviews with Roy Glauber, characterized as “the last living scientist from the Theory Division of the Manhattan Project”. Glauber taught the first quantum field theory course I ever took, at Harvard in 1976-77, almost forty years ago (I thought he was pretty ancient at the time). The year earlier I had taken quantum mechanics with Norman Ramsey, here shown signing Fat Man. At the time it seemed perfectly normal that all my instructors had gotten their start designing weapons.
  • If you’re in Berkeley this week, you could attend a Langlands-related conference at MSRI, which in addition is honoring Michael Harris. Program is here, videos to appear soon after the talks.
  • Recently concluded at MSRI was a workshop on geometric representation theory, with lots of interesting talks, videos available here.

Update: There is supposed to be video from Ferrara here, but not working. A press conference was held, but the only thing I see from Planck online is in French here. Nothing about primordial gravitational waves, just confirmation of the standard cosmological model and of 3 neutrinos.

Update: No public release of any numbers from Planck that I can see, although they are being discussed in Ferrara. People are pointing out that the authoritative source for the best values of cosmological parameters at the moment is Twitter.

Update: Peter Coles has this take on the Ferrara Planck results: “a bit of a farce.” Among the many oddities here, it seems that only the French component of Planck is putting out any news to the public.

Update: Adrian Cho at Science has a report about the latest Planck results here. Speculation is that Planck data alone and their joint analysis with BICEP2 will not see a gravitational wave signal, just set an upper limit. Planck is supposed to release papers Dec. 22, unclear if this will include the analysis with BICEP2.

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14 Responses to For Your Viewing Pleasure

  1. Arkadaş says:

    On the Loeb & Lee Lectures page that you link to, there is also a link to a talk by Glauber titled Recollections of Los Alamos and the Nuclear Era.

  2. David Appell says:

    Hi Peter. I’m just curious — how much did you learn in your first QFT course by Glauber, compared to what you know today?

  3. Peter Woit says:

    Not very much, for one thing the class was way above my head (I was a sophomore…) so while I learned a lot in it, I missed even more. Given Glauber’s interests, the course was aimed not at the hot topics of that moment (gauge theory, the standard model), but at other applications of qft, including condensed matter and quantum optics. I then went on to take QFT courses from Coleman and Weinberg, learning about Yang-Mills theory and the path integral method. It seemed to me that the lesson of the Standard Model was that path integrals were the way to go, much simpler conceptually than canonical field theory methods that Glauber was using (just pick a Lagrangian and start turning the crank…). I think I kind of dismissed much of the material of Glauber’s course as old-fashioned and unnecessary.

    I’ve kept learning more and more about QFT over the years, and I’ve in recent years grown to appreciate canonical methods, that’s mostly what’s in the course I’m teaching. These provide a connection to representation theory that is much harder to see in the path integral. Nowadays my point of view is that we don’t truly understand QFT, with the standard story in all the textbooks just one slice of much wider topic.

    So, taking Glauber’s course was just a first step, there’s a huge amount to learn from what we do about QFT, far beyond what is in typical courses and textbooks, and a huge amount we still don’t know.

  4. Mark Hillery says:

    I never took a course from Roy Glauber, but, since I have worked in quantum optics, I have made extensive use of the techniques he developed. He is one of the founders of the field, and by determining which quantum states of the electromagnetic field correspond to its classical description, he was able to show when distinctly quantum effects come into play. His papers are masterpieces. Just this last summer at a conference three of us, Pierre Meystre, the editor of Physical Review Letters, Carl Caves, who has made numerous highly significant contributions to quantum optics and quantum information, and I were discussing how elegant Roy’s papers are and how they can serve as models for younger physicists. Those of us who have worked in the field were delighted when Roy’s contributions were recognized by his sharing the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics.

  5. Doug McDonald says:

    I have no idea if Glauber was at Harvard when I was (1966-1970) (in the Chem. dept) but I did meet Ramsey a couple of times and visited his lab. My housemate worked
    for Klemperer, who did molecular beam electric resonance while Ramsey was a magnetic beam resonance type. The big deal (i.e. envy) was that Ramsey had a PDP-8 before Klemperer got an HP machine, and only slighter later did I get a PDP8-e
    for our beam scattering experiments. All those computers would be big big ticket
    memorabilia today.

    But the physics story was that I sat in on (alone among chemists!) Schwinger’s
    quantum mechanics class (not field theory). He delivered exceptionally lucid
    lectures that I, even from the start, even as a chemist (but I had already had
    the corresponding chemistry class, once at Rice, once at Harvard), had
    detected to be the “Chinese Lunch” of exposition. He could make you
    think, from the reasoning he delivered, that if YOU had been there 1920-1940,
    YOU could have replaced Schrodinger or Dirac (not so much Heisenberg) …
    in class … but five minutes later and little bit of thought, it all fell apart.
    The physicists actually taking the class eventually realized this too.

    I’d love to find out if any people who later became famous were in that room.

    A tidbit question: what did Glashow’s license plate read?

  6. Brathmore says:


    You took QFT as a sophomore, and QM as a freshman (along, presumably, with Math 55)? I’m astounded. I suppose you must have taken several college level courses while in high school to pull that off! Wow.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    I’d studied multivariable calculus and physics on my own in high school, so QM and Math 55 were courses I was prepared for (and did fine in). Taking QFT as a sophomore was something a responsible advisor would probably have stopped me from doing. Luckily I was assigned Glashow…
    But, for just about anybody, I’d argue two QFT classes at least are what it takes to get any handle at all on the subject.

  8. Aaron says:

    Do you remember what text you used for the multivariable calculus?

  9. Peter Woit says:

    Funny, but I realized I still have that book, it is a Calculus book by Hocking
    I don’t remember how I got it, I don’t think there was any good reason for that book in particular, and I don’t recommend it, there are lots of similar and better books. Looking at it now I see it doesn’t include some vector calculus (e.g. Stokes theorem), which I guess I must have learned elsewhere (E and M?).

  10. paddy says:

    As best as I can remember, I must have had Coleman 75-76 ish for QFT immediately before Glauber took over for your years. I do appreciate your point: at that young age the more times I was exposed to the same subject alternately constructed the more I learned.

  11. Bob says:

    Does anyone know if Roy Glauber is related to Robert Glauber, currently at Harvard’s Kennedy School?

  12. Bernhard says:

    The video session (which was really good) with Roy Glauber is now available here:

    I actually managed to download to a mp4 file (no link available, but if you know how to do it for youtube, it’s the same principle here).

  13. Surjit Singh says:

    Does anyone here have any opinion on this controversy here?

  14. Shantanu says:

    Surjit: Sudarshan’s case was discussed on this blog a while back.
    Not sure what became afterwards of these petitions etc. There are very few people
    who read this blog who have expertise in this field to confirm or refute this.

Comments are closed.