Archive | November 2011

I have my essay marks!

I have the marks for my essay on the role of computer models and simulations in physics: 8.1 out of 10! I’m in on campus now, so I don’t have the electronic copy with me, but I’ll upload it later.

UPDATE: I originally wrote it in a scientific style for physicists, but I want to rewrite this for a general audience – so it will have to wait until the holidays. Sorry about that.


Last resort of cranks: threaten the skeptics

Ever heard of the “Burzynski” Clinic? It’s run by a guy named Stanislaw Burzynski, who claims he has found a wonderful new cure for ANY form of cancer – which is a red flag all by itself, even before you read this page from Cancer Research UK – but several sceptic-related sites have recently come under fire from somebody claiming to represent them.

One of the sceptics is 17-year old Rhys Morgan in Wales. The lad has decided to bring it onto the Internet – brave move to some bastard threatening to sue you.

Andy Lewis at The Quackometer reports that his family was being threatened by one “Marc Stephens”, who is acting like an almost comically bad lawyer. Just read the letters, and you’ll see why this is so laughable – until you read this line:

Be smart and considerate for your family and new child, and shut the article down..Immediately

Such bravery, threatening a man’s family. [/sarcasm]

As always, Orac has a great background piece on the whole story.

If anyone reads this and has their own blog, please link to Rhys’ page – he needs the support.

Update on the OPERA results.

Back when the OPERA experiment first announced they had observed neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light in a vacumn, Professor Jim Al-Khalili said that if they turn out to be right, he would eat his underwear. He isn’t going to do that just yet, at least until the results are independently verified. However, he must be thinking “Me and my big mouth”, so Crispian Jago created a list of tasty boxer short recipes. Bon appetit!

One of the reasons that most physicists are still sceptical about this is that there should be radiation coming from the neutrino interactions as they lose energy, but that wasn’t detected. Another thing to bear in mind is the tiny discrepancy in the velocities: about 0.0025% of the speed of light, which is almost negligible, or it would be if it was that much slower.

Either way, watch this space!

Opera repeated, same result

The OPERA experiment that claimed they had detected neutrinos travelling faster than c has just been repeated – with the same results.

So far, this has not been independently confirmed, so I’m taking this with a grain of salt. Also, if it is true, it does not throw special relativity out the window! GPS units have to be programmed to account for time dilation, which is another part of special relativity, and they still work – so special relativity is not wrong, it is more likely incomplete. Of course, some people (I’m looking at creationists, believers in perpetual motion and other cranks) will take this to mean “my pet hypothesis that contradicts ALL the evidence must be right!”

Another possibility is that neutrinos are actually tachyons, which means they must either have imaginary mass but go forward in time; or they’re travelling backwards in time but have real mass!

If anyone’s interested, the paper released to the arvix server is here. One final note that the paper itself makes is that the anomaly is small enough to potentially be a very subtle error. As they put it themselves:

the relative
deviation from the speed of light c of the neutrino velocity due to its finite rest mass is expected
to be smaller than 10-19…a larger deviation of the neutrino velocity from c would be a striking result
pointing to new physics in the neutrino sector.

I almost hope this is wrong, and that we get something new out of this – but I’m still not convinced this will happen.

I have my exam dates

Okay, now I really need to panic! I found my exam times! *scare chord*

5th of December: Solid State Physics

8th of December: Optoelectronics

12th: Quantum Mechanics

15th: Atmospheric Physics

I don’t know which of these I’m most worried about yet – none of the topics are easy (but then, what did I expect?), and I have only one week left of actual term time before Study Week. On the upside, they’re spread out enough for me to catch up on the revision in between.

So, bottom line: don’t be surprised if I don’t post anything for a while.

If somebody rings up about your computer…

…then string them along, they’re part of a scam. The Beeb’s technology correspondent did that for somebody calling him about “problems with your windows computer” – and he uses a Mac. 😀

If I ever get that sort of thing on my mobile, I’m just going to tell them I’m on Linux at the moment, and where did they get my number?

Final Year Project

The list of topics for the dreaded Final Year Project has come out! Oh noes! PANIC!
*Tries to run in every direction at once, and promptly passes out*

Anyway, I’ve already found a list of three I’m potentially interested in. One is measuring ice nuclei out at Mace Head. Ice nuclei are particles that allow water to freeze on their surface, allowing ice to form more easily than if pure water were to freeze in the air. This is a research project, probably a good idea if I want to do a postgraduate course.

Another involves trying to find a successor to the programming labs we had last year in computational physics. This year, they’ve got about 80 people doing the course between physics and maths students, and while the system we have has about 64GB of RAM, that just isn’t enough and the system is running slow. Unlike the previous one, this is more a problem that needs to be solved.

The third possibility is somewhere in between. It is a computational project, but it involves comparing signals to each other to see if they are correlated. This could, according to the description I have, be applied to data consisting of ultra-violet or gamma-ray observations of a supermassive black hole in the centre of a galaxy (such as the Milky Way).

Anyway, that’s what I might be doing next semester, unless I find something else altogether.