15 December 2012

Practical Benefits of Particle Physics #8

A team at Los Alamos has a plan for using cosmic rays to examine the remains of the Fukushima nuclear reactors.
In a paper in Physical Review Letters, researchers compared two methods for using cosmic-ray radiography to gather images of nuclear material within the core of a reactor similar to Fukushima Daiichi Reactor No. 1. The team found that Los Alamos’ scattering method for cosmic-ray radiography was far superior to the traditional transmission method for capturing high-resolution image data of potentially damaged nuclear material. 

To find a place where you can see the stars...

... take a look at Clear Dark Sky, which includes a stargazing weather forecast and the Dark Sky Finder.

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
     or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
     or can you guide the Bear with its children? 
Job 33:31-33 (ESV)

Common Ground between Climate Skeptics and Conservationists

From the New York Times:

Town managers attribute the new resolve mostly to a yearlong competition sponsored by the Climate and Energy Project, which set out to extricate energy issues from the charged arena of climate politics.

If the heartland is to seriously reduce its dependence on coal and oil, ... the issues must be separated. So the project ran an experiment to see if by focusing on thrift, patriotism, spiritual conviction and economic prosperity, it could rally residents of six Kansas towns to take meaningful steps to conserve energy and consider renewable fuels.
"How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!" -Psalm 133:1

You went to the Creation Musem?!?

Yes, several interested friends and I, including my roommate Chris, drove to the Creation Museum in Kentucky from Columbus. Some readers of this blog may not have heard of this Museum; others may see it as a beacon of truth in a sea of lies; others may see it as a beacon of lies misleading and corrupting American minds. All of these groups are probably asking the same question: Why did you go?

We made our visit on Dec. 8, 2008.  As a professional scientists (a physics graduate student at the time), I was rather hesitant to pay an admission fee to an institution that directly attacks as fraudulent many conclusions of my field, which is also partially why I have waited so long to publish this entry.  Two of the friends with whom I went were also graduate students in physics and astrophysics.  The rest were not scientists and had varying levels of agreement with young Earth creationism, so I thought it would be good for them to tour the museum with scientists. Several other fairly well-known scientists have visited the museum, including Daniel Phelps, President of the Kentucky Paleontological Society,  Lawrence Krauss, a group from the Ninth North American Paleontological Convention, and P. Z. Myers.  So, I thought I would join their ranks.

You can get some idea of the negative reactions this museum has received from most scientists via a collection of responses collected by P. Z. Myers.  I don't have much more to add to them.  My photos are in the album below.  The photo at the top of this post really summarizes the message of the museum: science is destroying the church and moral foundation of this nation.  As I physicist and a Christian, I disagree.

07 December 2012

Moons and Jupiter

From Fermilab Today Nov. 30, 2012: "The moon loomed large Wednesday night. This photo shows our moon, Jupiter and Jupiter's three moons as seen from the patio of the Users' Center. Click to enlarge and let it load— the photo is high-resolution. Zoom in on Jupiter (at roughly 11 o'clock relative to the moon) to see Jupiter's bands and its moons. Photo: Marty Murphy, AD"

Marty is a colleague and softball teammate. Actually, Jupiter has more than three moons, but only three are visible in this photograph.

03 November 2012

We vote for our Coroner!? 2012 Election Information Sources

In any election, many of the "down ticket" races do not get much attention or coverage in the press or on Facebook.  In order to make an informed decision on this races, I have compiled a list of information sources I am using to inform my votes  Kane County, where I am voting this year.  Please let me know if this list is of use to you.

Find your sample ballot.

Nonpartisan Sources

Local News Sources

06 October 2012

Two Experiments, One Seminar, OSU!

High Energy Physics Seminar - Luke Corwin (Indiana University) - "Catching Ghost Particles in Iron, Plastic & Oil: the MINOS and NOvA Experiments"

Monday, October 8, 2012 - 2:30pm
Room 4138, Physics Research Building
Neutrinos are fundamental particles that are so weakly interacting they are sometimes referred to as ghost particles. Particle physicists are actively trying to answer many questions about neutrinos, which come in three known flavors. Which neutrino type is heaviest? How do they change from one flavor to another? Do they violate CP symmetry, and could this help account for the dominance of matter over antimatter in the universe? This seminar will review two neutrino oscillation experiments whose purpose is to answer these questions: MINOS and NOvA.
They both use the NuMI neutrino beam at Fermilab. MINOS has been taking data for several years and has produced the world's most precise measurements of some neutrino oscillation parameters. It consists of a near and far detector composed of alternating planes of steel and plastic scintillator. NOvA is one of the latest generation of neutrino detection experiments; it is currently under construction at Fermilab and in far northern Minnesota. It will consist of a near and far detector composed mainly of PVC extrusions and scintillating mineral oil. A prototype near detector is already taking data. This seminar will review the results from the MINOS experiment and the status and prospects of the NOvA experiment.

06 September 2012

Watch the First NOvA Block Move Into Place Live!

"You are watching the creation of the most powerful neutrino experiment in North America."


Watch live streaming video from fermilab at livestream.com

Click here for a larger version.

01 July 2012

Kyoto Pictures Complete!

Click on the image above for the Photobucket album and sub-albums of my trip to Kyoto!

07 June 2012

Kelly is a particle! So am I!

Kelly is the electron neutrino (νe), and I am the left half of the Higgs (H).

A Familiar Tune at the Kyoto Train Station


04 June 2012

Recall Walker!

Those of you who follow this blog know that despite my occasionally strong political opinions, I rarely place them here.  However, this is one occasion where I feel compelled to write publicly about it.  I have been praying about this, and God seems to be letting the idea stick in my mind.

The upcoming State Senate and gubernatorial recall elections in Wisconsin have commanded a good deal of attention from me because I grew up in Wisconsin, the main issue that triggered the recall is of great importance to me, and my wife and I both have friends who are public school teachers.  I am no longer a resident of Wisconsin, so I cannot vote in this election, but I am writing this partly to encourage you who do live in Wisconsin to vote against Scott Walker.

He, with the cooperation of the state legislature and the state Supreme Court, eliminated the ability of public school teachers to bargain collectively for their wages or benefits.  I can understand the need to reform pension systems and balance the budget, but I disagree with eliminating unions to do it.  The state government could have negotiated, even to the point of a good, old fashioned strike, but they chose not to.

In my mind, state and federal budgetary problems are largely due to the current recession, and Gov. Walker is simply using them as an excuse for union busting.  In other words, public school teachers and their unions are becoming scapegoats for the recession, for which almost every American citizen and institution is culpable to some degree.

He has, via these actions, caused two of the best teachers I have ever known to leave the field via early retirement.  More than anything else, this is why I am writing this post. I do not have permission to name them here, but whatever command of the English language or artistic merit is present in this blog is in part due to them.  They are not the only ones.  The cost of this loss to students now and to the young teachers who are deprived of the opportunity to learn from their experience, will not be fully realized for a generation.

I realize that in the spring State Supreme Court election and the State Senate recall elections earlier this year, supporters of the public school teachers unions lost by a few thousand votes.

I realize that current polls show Gov. Walker with a single digit lead.

I realize this will probably not accomplish much beyond garnering negative feedback from some of my conservative friends in at least four different states.

However, I also realize that one drop of water will not accomplish carving the grand canyon and a few loaves and fishes will not accomplish feeding thousands of people.  So, I post this for what it is worth and trust the Lord to guide the voters of Wisconsin to do his will.

30 May 2012

To Kyoto!

For the second time in my life, I will be flying across the Pacific to visit a new continent.  The first time was my study abroad year in Australia in 2000-2001.

This time, I will be presenting a poster at the 25th International Conference on Neutrino Physics and Astrophysics (Neutrino 2012) in Kyoto, Japan.  The entire MINOS collaboration has been intensely preparing for this conference for many weeks now.

As the name suggests, this is the most important conference in neutrino physics and is only held every two years.  It will be the final conference at which we can present results from new data since our beam was shutdown at the end of April in preparation for a year-long upgrade for the NOvA experiment, which is currently under construction.   Also, at the end of this year, the MINOS collaboration will officially cease to exist and be replaced by MINOS+, which will continue to operate the MINOS detectors in the NOvA era.

I will be sure to post the poster here once I have posted it at the conference.

15 May 2012

Surprised It Actually Worked!

Though this is Bike to Work Week, the picture above is from a bicycle trip to our neighborhood grocery store Berkeley Finer Foods.  They had 40 pound packs of charcoal on sale, and we decided to buy one for grilling this summer.  I decided to try getting it on my bicycle.  It was easier than I expected.  With a few bungee cords and the pack balanced on my rear bike rack, I was able to bring coals, bike, and rider home safely.   It is a amazing what we can do when we are sufficiently determined to find a way.

06 May 2012

Practical Benefits of Particle Physics #7

A particle accelerator named ALICE (not to be confused with the LHC experiment of the same name) is researching and developing an energy recovery technique.  It also may be able to generate infrared laser light that may be able to enable early diagnosis of esophageal cancer.

12 April 2012

A Short Story: "Sam's Ending"

"Where are we, is this Heaven?" Jerome asked aloud before the wood beneath his back suddenly fell away and just as suddenly slammed back into him.  "Well, I sure hope Heaven doesn't have this many potholes," came a voice from the darkness.

As he stared into the light above him, he realized he was now lying down rather than standing before a firing squad with Maggie.  "Maggie!" He cried out and sat bolt upright so quickly that it made him dizzy. "I'm over here," she replied with a groggy voice.  He snapped his head over toward her voice and saw that they were both in plain wooden boxes; they would have been coffins had they been dead. The light looked like a dome light one would find inside a car. From the creaking and rumbling and what the light illuminated, he realized that they were in the back of a covered truck with a single dome light above their heads. Another sharp jolt proved that the voice had been right about the potholes.  Jerome could see Maggie slowly sitting upright next to him about a foot away.

She said, "how can we still be alive? I remember the guns firing, and look, I've got blood on my chest."  Indeed she did, and so did he; there were two holes in his shirt with blood dripping from them.  "I thought were were going to be with the Lord." She had been at peace with them dying for their faith for much longer than he had, but in the last few days even he had developed an unnatural peace, almost excitement, about facing the squad that would finally send them out of that wretched prison into the arms of Jesus.  So, he could understand why she sounded almost disappointed.

The voice in the darkness could not.  "You sound like you would rather be dead!  I risk my hide, not to mention other body parts, to save your lives, and this is the thanks I get?"  It was the voice of an older man near the back of the truck whom they could not see.  He did not sound angry as much as annoyed.   He also sounded familiar. "Who are you?" They asked almost in sync.  "Call me Sam," came the reply.  "What's on your chests are not wounds; they were produced by squibs."

They looked at each other very confused as to what a sea creature with ten tentacles had to do with their present situation.  "Squids?"  Maggie spoke for both the them.  "No, squibs," Sam said, emphasizing the b.  "A squib is a small explosive. Yours popped a plastic bag filled with fake blood; in this case, a mixture of corn syrup, red food coloring, and corn starch.  Also makes a surprisingly good ice cream topping."  Sam sounded like a professor who enjoyed lecturing about his subject a bit more than his students enjoyed hearing it.  He continued, "It also propelled a small needle into your chests, injecting you with a fast-acting anesthetic.  So, when the squad fired, you fell limp just as if they had actually executed you."

"So, they were shooting blanks?" Maggie asked.  "Correct."  She began to realize that the conspiracy necessary to keep them breathing must have been rather large.  As Jerome was examining the fake wounds, he found a slim book concealed beneath his shirt.  As he removed it, he also felt a small sting as he removed the needle Sam had mentioned.  It was hollow, with holes in both covers for the needle and the fake blood, but he could still read the title.

"Thank you.  I'm sorry that I sounded ungrateful, but this is all such a shock," Maggie said.  "Don't worry," replied Sam.  "I understand you must be terribly disoriented."  A look of surprise and realization came over he face.  "I recognize your voice; you were the doctor who examined us when we were checked in to the prison!"  "Indeed I am; that was months ago.  You have an excellent memory." He sounded genuinely impressed.

"Why are you doing this?" She said as she pulled the same hollow book out of her shirt.  "Maybe I don't think I would be doing my job as a physician if I let two of my patients die needlessly.  Maybe somebody paid me.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for young lovers such as yourselves.  In any case, I'm not why my motivations matter to you.  They don't change the fact that you are alive while all your enemies think you are dead and that you are being driven to a nation where you will be safe."  Maggie would have blushed at Sam's final explanation if her skin were light enough; they were not actually lovers yet since they had been arrested before they were married.  Now, she realized, they might still have a chance.

Jerome, who tended to be more direct than Maggie, put her question more bluntly, "Are you a believer?  We prayed for our executioners before they fired, so we're obviously concerned about the state of your soul."  "Well," said Sam with just a hint of mischieviousness in his voice, "I'm afraid I'm going to leave the state of my soul a mystery for now."

Maggie had now had time to examine the strange book.  She smiled at the irony of it saving her life by making her appear dead.  Her smile quickly faded when she read the title. "Again, I don't mean to sound ungrateful for you saving our lives." She halted, obviously unsteady, "But, before I was arrested I was a librarian, so I have to ask.  Why did you destroy two perfectly good copies of Romeo and Juliet to do it?"

Sam answered as he stepped into the light, allowing them to see his face for the first time.  He was grinning with bright eyes.  He did not look somber or heroic as they had expected.  He looked like a middle aged man with a bad haircut who had just proudly pulled a marvelous prank. "I would think the answer to that would be obvious by now. I never liked the ending."

26 March 2012

We Made Sushi!

We were blessed with the opportunity to learn how to make sushi recently!  It was a class called Just Roll It! given by I Wish Lessons; we had a Groupon.  The teacher was good, and it was really fun to learn how to make food that we both enjoy greatly but have never made.  The results were not always pretty, but they were all delicious.

23 March 2012

I Voted on Tuesday...

...of all the candidates for whom I voted, only one won.  Such is democracy.

15 March 2012

Spiritual Aspects of Neutrinos

I recently read The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis for the first time.  It is a profound, prophetic, and prescient book; it is truly stunning how much wisdom Lewis could place in such a thin volume.  I will attempt to comment only on a small segment of it here.  I think it best to introduce this segment with a passage from another of Lewis' works: a book in The Chronicles of Narnia.

     "I was a long way above the air, my son," replied the Old Man. "I am Ramandu. But I see that you stare at one another and have not heard this name. And no wonder, for the days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and all the constellations have changed.
     "Golly," said Edmund under his breath. "He's a retired star."
     "Aren't you a star any longer?" asked Lucy.
     "I am a star at rest, my daughter," answered Ramandu...
     "In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."
     "Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of."
-- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Ch. 14)

When I originally read this passage, I found Ramandu's reply to Eustace stirring but rather cryptic.  In Abolition of Man, Lewis expounds on the concept of a physical object being more than its physical components.

Nature seems to be the spatial and temporal, as distinct from what is less fully so or not so at all. She seems to be the world of quantity, as against the world of quality; of objects as against consciousness; of the bound, as against the wholly or partially autonomous; of that which knows no values as against that which both has and perceives value; of efficient causes (or, in some modern systems, of no causality at all) as against final causes. Now I take it that when we understand a thing analytically and then dominate and use it for our own convenience, we reduce it to the level of "Nature" in the sense that we suspend our judgements of value about it, ignore its final cause (if any), and treat it in terms of quantity. This repression of elements in what would otherwise be our total reaction to it is sometimes very noticeable and even painful: something has to be overcome before we can cut up a dead man or a live animal in a dissecting room. These objects resist the movement of the mind whereby we thrust them into the world of mere Nature. But in other instances too, a similar price is exacted for our analytical knowledge and manipulative power, even if we have ceased to count it. We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly... The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed... To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo or to "body-snatchers" is simply obscurantism. But that is not the whole story. It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost.
Is it, then, possible to imagine a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the "natural object" produced by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view, and always correcting the abstraction? I hardly know what I am asking for. ... The regenerate science which I have in mind would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself. When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. While studying the It it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou-situation. ... Its followers would not be free with the words only and merely.
- The Abolition of Man (Ch. 3)

The idea that even inanimate physical objects can have properties beyond those discernible by science is one I had not considered deeply in a long time.  However, I think God is using these passages from Lewis' writing to reactivate this line of thinking in me.  Phrases like the elegant Universe, the God particle, and the handwriting of God may be echos of the great minds that Lewis mentioned.

Many poets and artists have pondered what a star is beyond its energy and plasma, so I thought it would be a good exercise to ponder the possible spiritual aspects of the particles I study: neutrinos.  Neither Lewis nor anyone alive when Abolition of Man was published in 1944 knew that neutrinos existed; they were not discovered until 1956.

Neutrinos are electrically neutral and very weakly interacting.  Trillions of them pass through your body and mine every second of our lives, but since the almost never interact with the matter of our bodies or this planet, we never notice them.  It is only the development of intense neutrino sources combined with very sensitive and very large detectors that allows scientists to study them.

Despite their ghostly qualities, they are necessary to several physical processes that are important to life on Earth.  Without neutrinos, the sun could not shine as it does.  With out the sun, the existence of life would be impossible. Nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons could not function as they do.  Most of the energy of exploding stars called supernovae is carried away as neutrinos.  Supernovae create and disperse many elements (such as iron and iodine) that our bodies require to function.  Neutrinos are found throughout the Universe in great quantities.

Three kinds of neutrinos exist, and a neutrino produced as one kind can be detected in a distant location as another kind.  It is like shipping a semi trailer full of Old Milwaukee from Milwaukee to Duluth only to open the door in Duluth and find a trailer full of Amstel light!

That summarizes their physical aspects, so what are their spiritual aspects?  I believe, that like all created objects, the reflect some characteristics of their Creator.  They demonstrate that he is able to create things that are ubiquitous extremely important yet invisible and nearly impossible to detect in any way.  They are a reminder to me that such important particles can be invisible and thus a reminder that there may be many other important things in Creation that I cannot see.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."
 - Hebrews 11:1-3 (NRSV)

07 March 2012

The Price of My Information

Via Facebook, I found a story in the online New York Times Magazine on the data mining Target does with the information it collects when we buy its products using a credit card, coupon, or anything else that identifies us as the purchaser.   Their data analysis is so good that they can determine, with a high level of confidence, whether a shopper is pregnant and when she is due.  According to the story, they were even determined that a teenage girl was pregnant before her father did!

Similarly, Google's new privacy statement has raised concerns about how much information we, sometimes unconsciously, give to them.

I don't think these companies are doing anything illegal or even necessarily unethical.  We and they are participating in a business transaction; in effect, we sell all of this information about ourselves for the price of credit card rewards, coupons, e-mail, internet searching, online documents, other services and benefits, and even this blog.  If I want, I can simply stop participating in many of these transactions, as an article in Forbes suggests, by paying mostly (on only) in cash.

I am beginning to realize that I have not been sufficiently conscious of this transaction even though I have thoroughly participated in it.  I have not stopped to ask the question, "How much is my information worth?" Certainly I have implicitly decided its price, but is that the right price?  Does that price reflect its true value?  I am asking these questions now, and I am not sure what the answers will be.

24 February 2012

Snow Trees at Home And Fermilab

Last night's snowfall turned the trees near our home and Fermilab into bases for beatiful and fleeting snow sculputres.

If this images make you a little uneasy, you may be a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

19 February 2012

Helping Each Other Fly With Decency

I am opposed to the use of backscatter x-ray, millimeter wave, and other advanced imaging technologies used to scan through clothes at US airports.  At TSA Status, travelers can report on the use of these machines and help each other avoid them.  There is at least one update from me on the site.

12 February 2012

Practical Benefits of Particle Physics #6

My colleague Xinchun Tian writes that someday we may be able to use neutrinos to predict earthquakes!

How I Shall Choose to Vote

With the Presidential primary season already well underway and Illinois primary coming up on March 20, I have been thinking about my process for decided which candidates to vote for.  In past years, I have tried to judge candidates based on a wide range of issues and criteria from foreign policy to economics to bicycle policy.

However, I have realized that, at least for me, such an approach is impractical.  My time is finite and with many local candidates, it is difficult or impossible to find the answers to all the questions asked in such an overarching approach.  Instead, I think it is better for me to focus on a few particular areas that are of most importance to me or in which I am unusually expert. I am an evangelical Christian, a husband, and a scientist by training and career.

This year, four areas stand out to me, and I have arranged them in order from least to most specific.

Forthrightness:   Before I can make judgements in any other area, I first must be able to discern what a candidates opinions and stands are.  Do they fill out voter guides, appear at candidates forms, or have a web site where this information is available?  If not, I am much less likely to vote for them because I do not have enough information to make an informed decision.  This area is particularly difficult for judicial elections where the candidates are bound by law to reveal little.

Integrity: Once a candidate's apparent views are determined and I agree with them enough to consider voting for the candidate, I must asses whether his or her actions and words are consistent with those apparent views?  Does he or she have a voting or other record consistent with the stated views, and do I expect it to remain consistent in the future?

Justice:  Once I have some idea of what the candidates believe and would do in office, I need to assess whether I agree with those beliefs, past actions, and hypothetical future actions.  I believe that, from a Biblical perspective, justice is the most important function of any government.  This includes honoring the good (Romans 13:3-4), ensuring the guilty are punished (Romans 13:4-5 ), confirming the punished are guilty (Deuteronomy 17:6), preventing crime when possible, and defending those who cannot defend themselves (Jeremiah 22:15-16).

Science:  In any government, no matter how large or small, some decisions will need to be made with regard to scientific findings and technological developments.  The myriad of examples include the validity of arson investigations, DNA testing, obesity, energy policy, nuclear weapons, evolution, global warming, and funding for scientific research.  I include bicycle policy in this area because of its connection to obesity, energy policy, and global warming. Regardless of the absolute importance of any of these examples, this area is the one where I am best trained, most knowledgeable, and can be most confident of my discernment.

01 February 2012

Office Fridge Label Win!

It contains so little information, yet it is all I need to know.

29 January 2012

Our 2011 Christmas Tree, with LED lights

More Blessed to Give

"It is more blessed to give than to receive." - Jesus (Acts 20:35)

This aphorism was reinforced to us with great joy when we were visiting my family for Christmas.  My mother had given some indications that she was ready to take a technological step forward into the computer age.  She wanted something on which she could type letters rather than handwriting them.  This may not seem like a big technological step, but bear in mind that she got her first cell phone for Christmas ... in 2010!

Kelly and I decided to refurbish my old laptop and give it to her as a surprise.  It has grown rather slow with age; it is old enough that it is actually and IBM (not Lenovo) laptop!  Kelly did a lot of work installing a new operating system, Xubuntu, and several useful freeware programs (word processing, photo manipulation, DVD player, etc.) to make it as fast and novice-friendly as possible.  I made sure to capture the moment of her opening this gift on video:

Her joy seems to have made her a fast learner.  She just sent us friend requests on Facebook!  The internet will never be the same.

18 January 2012

Beginning the Year with a Short Prayer from the Longest Psalm

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.