Various Items

A few short items:

  • Things had been going quite well at the LHC, they were ahead of schedule, starting to ramp up intensity for the new run. Then at 5:30 this morning a weasel decided to visit a 66kV transformer, which did not end well either for the weasel or for the LHC power grid. The machine and a lot of its cryogenics lost power, and recovery is going to take a week or so.
  • For some commentary on the excitement about the new run building up (pre-weasel), see Tommaso Dorigo (at least I’m guessing he’s the author) here. He points to the twitter #MoarCollisions hashtag.
  • In various Breakthrough Prize related news, first there’s an announcement from Terry Tao about the new IMU Graduate Breakout Fellowships, funded by him and some of the other math prize winners.

    On the physics front, Caltech has Glitz and Qubits, about Alexei Kitaev and John Schwarz’s experience with the prize. Schwarz still hopes for vindication of his string theory prize by a discovery of SUSY at the LHC, assigning a much higher probability to this than I think most other people would these days:

    I would say the probability is on the order of 50 percent or so that it will show up.

    As for the glitz:

    At the 2014 award ceremony, Schwarz says, he and his wife, Patricia, were “both struck by the fact that the Hollywood types showed no interest in mingling with scientists.” And the media coverage also seemed to focus on the movie stars rather than the award winners.

    Kitaev points out a major positive effect of the $3 million: more respect from one’s family:

    But for Kitaev, the biggest impact of awards like the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics is on his family. “They don’t really understand what I’m working on,” he says. But thanks to these awards, they at least realize his research is a pretty big deal. “It helps me do more work because they have more respect for it,” he says. “My wife is really proud of me.”

  • In other big money news the Perimeter Institute and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation have announced a new professorship for Asimina Arvanitaki, funded by $8 million. More about her here.
  • At Nautilus you can read an interview with IAS director, theoretical physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf.
  • At Edge, there’s a conversation with Frank Wilczek. I’m quite curious what the following is about, have no idea:

    What I’ve been thinking about today specifically is something of a potential breakthrough in understanding our fundamental theories of physics. We have something called a standard model, but its foundations are kind of scandalous. We have not known how to define an important part of it mathematically rigorously, but I think I have figured out how to do that, and it’s very pretty. I’m in the middle of calculations to check it out.

: Two more:

  • Jim Baggott has a post on Status Anxiety, with more thoughts about the Munich conference and the use of the term “theory”.
  • Discover magazine has an article in the upcoming June issue on The Fall and Rise of String Theory. The story seems to be that String theory for some reason ran into a little trouble in 2006, but now it’s back, because Strominger has done some “string-inspired” black hole calculations, and some people are claiming inspiration from AdS/CFT for an approximate calculational method in some condensed matter models. The idea now seems to be that, starting from this, string theory is on its way to again finding a theory of everything. No comment on its hype problem.

Update: A special 2016 physics Breakthrough Prize has been awarded to the LIGO people. \$1 million split by Drever, Thorne and Weiss, \$2 million for the rest of the collaboration.

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20 Responses to Various Items

  1. John Sirois says:

    From context below that quote, particularly:
    “Who does this falsify? It’s a funny situation where the theory of electroweak or weak interactions has been successful when you calculate up to a certain approximation, but if you try to push it too far, it falls apart. Some people have thought that would require fundamental changes in the theory, and have tried to modify the theory so as to remove the apparent difficulty. What I’ve shown is that the difficulty is only a surface difficulty….”

    A guess would be a “solution” for Landau Poles.

  2. Hi Peter,

    yes, the post at the AMVA4NewPhysics site was mine – good guess! And thanks for the link.

    About the weasel: it will cause a few days of delay, but by now we’ve gotten accustomed to the fact that our big machine can be stopped by improbable causes such as saving on resistors, bombing it with baguettes, and now munching on wire cables. I think the cause of the next technical stop is hard to predict, but I am a betting person so I offer the following:

    – sewage water flooding of the ATLAS cavern, 10:1
    – growth of fungus on the inner walls of the beampipe, 20:1
    – hijacking of the LHC control room by Corsican independentists, 15:1


  3. Anonyrat says:

    Further context from below the Wilczek quote:

    This thing that I mentioned before about what I was thinking about and am excited about is making the foundations of the standard model more secure. This problem that we’re addressing has been a worm in the rose for decades that has been worrying people. Most people don’t want to think about it; they think it’s somehow going to resolve itself.

    It looks very technical, but it’s been there and it’s been annoying for those of us who care about logical consistency.”

    So I think John Sirois’ guess is a very good one.

  4. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    I read somewhere the baguette thing is apocryphal. I, of course, want desperately for the the story to be true. Is it?

    On the subject of animal attacks, some early pioneer of electronic music, Allen Strange, had a band, The Electric Weasel Ensemble. Perhaps this hapless mustelid was a fan.

  5. Abbyyorker says:

    Landau pole is a u(1) thing as I recall. I would guess that that would not be a fundamental enough problem to motivate Wilczek, assuming he thinks it is possible that it is contained in a GUT. But maybe he doesn’t.

  6. Anonyrat says:

    Well, it is the QFT problems with a fundamental scalar like a Higgs, whether you call it Landau poles or quantum triviality.

  7. Nick M. says:

    If Frank Wilczek’s idea pans out, it might mean a sort of “mini retreat” for certain sectors of the multiverse camp as well:

    “Who does this falsify?…….It falsifies speculative theories that have been trying to cure a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s things like certain kinds of brane-world models, in which people set up parallel universes where that parallel universe’s reason for being was to cancel off difficulties in our universe—we don’t need it.”

  8. Mitchell Porter says:

    I think Wilczek is talking about naturalness and Randall-Sundrum.

  9. Stephane says:

    There is also a good article by Wilczek about “Entanglement Made Simple” in Quanta Magazine :

  10. Gaucho says:

    Nothing about what Wilczek says really points to Landau poles or the multiverse or naturalness. Rather, it sounds like he is referring to the lack of a nonperturbative regulator for chiral gauge theories in d=4. The regularization of theories with global chiral symmetries currently involves domain wall fermions (“parallel universes where that parallel universe’s reason for being was to cancel off difficulties in our universe”), and Grabowska and Kaplan have recently made a proposal to extend these techniques to gauge theories using gradient flow. The lack of a nonperturbative regulator for chiral gauge theories is certainly a situation where it was “not known how to define an important part of it mathematically rigorously.” I would guess that this has motivated Wilczek to revisit the problem. Curious to see what he comes up with.

  11. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks, your guess sounds quite plausible. I’ve never understood why this problem gets so little attention.

  12. srp says:

    How many times do English-speaking physicists complain that their progress is being held up by weasels? Funny that this time it is literal.

  13. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    My sick sense of humor notwithstanding, it looks as if things ended quite poorly indeed for the sleekit saboteur. There may not have been enough of it left to determine whether it was a weasel or a marten. Perhaps also of interest: apparently the Tevatron suffered a raccoon raid in 2006, which was bravely repelled by Fermilab operators. Casualties were reportedly low, and the machine was unscathed.

  14. Visitor says:

    Raccoons have a very high incidence of rabies and are the single largest vector for rabies in human beings:

    “Wild animals accounted for 92% of reported cases of rabies in 2013. Raccoons continued to be the most frequently reported rabid wildlife species (32.3% of all animal cases during 2013), followed by bats (27.2%), skunks (24.6%), and foxes (5.9%).” (from )

  15. Other says:

    The baguette story is indeed true. On a related note, two beer bottles were previously found in the LEP beam line.

  16. phillipe says:

    Jim Baggott link doesn’t work.

    Scientific American article is behind a paywall.

  17. Peter Woit says:

    There seems to be some temporary problem with Jim Baggott’s web site, presumably it will get fixed, so try later. The Discover magazine article is mostly behind a paywall. Columbia provides electronic access via our library to Discovery magazine content, unfortunately I don’t know of other options.

  18. Shantanu says:

    Peter and others: Those of you who have electronic access to Discovery magazine, please write to the author of this article to point out about the hype. Else such non-sense articles will continue.
    PS: have you seen any article/press release/statement arguing that LIGO results are evidence for string theory?

  19. Peter Woit says:

    The Nadis article comes pretty close to making the LIGO string theory connection, here’s some of it (fair use…)

    “Using similar techniques originally inspired by string theory, Strominger’s group has computed the spectrum of gravitational waves emitted when compact objects like stars fall into giant black holes — predictions that could be verified by the future Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, planned to launch in two decades (or maybe sooner). Strominger also believes that evidence of conformal symmetry might emerge from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which spotted gravitational waves for the first time earlier this year. Soon, he says, astronomers may be drowning in data that they cannot fully interpret. “We’d like to use ideas from string theory to shed some light on corners of this.”

    At this point, I guess any use of conformal symmetry from now on will be described as an “idea from string theory”.

  20. Peter Woit says:

    After taking another look at the article, I decided it was worth it’s own “This Week’s Hype” post, see the next posting.

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