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Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Particle at the End of the Unvirse - Sean Carroll #Review

One of a few books I bitterly felt that I should have read in earlier times. The Higgsteria,the discovery of Higgs goes back to July 2012 and this book is all about the endeavour for the discovery of the same. The author lucidly counts the steps, both mechanical and humane, in the establishment of the LHC. No mention about the Cyclotron, there is a beginning account of Linear Accelerators from the USA to the present CMS or ATLAS at the LHC (at 456F, the largest refrigerator in the world, he calls) is beautifully brought about with ample examples and reasons. If all the data generated by the LHC were to be stored on CDs, it would fill more than a million discs every second. Avoiding this using Trigger is a worthy devouring mention. With Nobel going for this discovery essentially not centred over the idea from where it started, the author mentions the excitement associated with this along with lasting contribution of the same in the most accessible way for every reader.

The mass of everything hereabouts is dominantly due to the nuclei of atoms, the source of which is the kinetic energy of quarks trapped within protons and neutrons. This has nothing to do with the Higgs. The Higgs is (or was) believed to give mass to fundamental particles: the size of a hydrogen atom is inversely proportional to the mass of the electron, as Carroll writes; the compactness of the nuclei of heavy atoms is due to the mass of their constituent quarks. The force that converts protons into the seeds of helium in the solar furnace, and leads to sunshine, is weak in part because its carrier - the W boson - is massive. This is critical for our existence, for had the W remained massless, like a photon, the force would have been more powerful and the Sun burned out long ago!

On the whole, Carroll's descriptions of the Physics are excellent. He engages in lots of metaphors from everyday experiences to give some concreteness to the very abstract notions. Here are some bullets that attracted my attention:

#The behaviour of inverted pendulum gives a good, intuitive approach to the level of energy of a Higgs boson.

#That Angelina Jolie walking across a party room full of people will be slowed down by fans wanting an autograph. She "breaks the symmetry" because if Carroll were to walk across the same room, he would not be approached and would cross the room unhindered. This is equated with Higgs Boson, which is capable of breaking symmetry.

        # That dropping Mentos into bottles of Diet Coke will have the same result when you are sitting still, as when you are in a train going 100 miles per hour.

# At COBE, if you are religious you are looking at God!

# Without Higgs many elementary particles would appear identical to one another

# Bosons don't take up space - 2 or 2 Trillion can sit exactly in the same location

# The Magnets of ATLAS have 1 billion Joules of energy in them.

# A single collision event at LHC results in 1 MB of data

# Why life is so big? Because we are trying to look at things that happened within very short distances which means we need to use small wavelength which means we need high energy particles - that's why LHC is there

# Plasma state has mass lower than that of temperature!

# WIMP's in billions pass through your body

There are several remarks after the appendices that could have been elevated to the main text as they carry vital information, but
then it seems the book was written as a guide to the "LHC setup", and for everyone who is not aware of Physics and the particles.

Charming book, indeed

Friday, January 6, 2017

How to teach Physics to your dog - Chad Orzel #Review

After reading his book "How to teach relativity to dog', which turned out to be a thriller of sorts, I was tempted towards this book. The style and manner are similar in both the books, but here in '...physics', there is more fundamental approach to the subject, that would, therefore be very useful for beginners. Nevertheless, the author takes us through his quirky dialogues allowing microscopic properties to be copied to macroscopic ones - the dog chasing the bunny

There is excellent description about the waves, diffraction and their bending. apart from Bell’s Theorem and g-factor. Planck's length is beautifully explained. The pronunciation of de-Broglie’s, who's wavelength was what we were hammering our heads against in our PG days, was a good toner here - de Broy!

Zeno's paradox was a new one to me. Zeno's arguments are perhaps the first examples of a method of proof called reductio ad absurdum also known as proof by contradiction. They are also credited as a source of the dialectic method used by Socrates. That said, the example of Tortoise and Achilles (In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead. – as recounted by Aristotle, Physics VI:9, 239b15) is brought out beautifully. There is hence a mathematical sequence to this and the resulting sequence is represented as:
{......,1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1}

Wave function Collapse and Quantum Entanglement/tunneling are given a big share in the book, though beautifully explained, these did not make interesting reading as I was aware of these two effects from previous reads. Quantum Healing is also being 'sniffed' upon by the dog and a meek reference to Deepak Chopra's book on the topic is enlightening.

“Physical body is like an illusion and trying to manipulate it is like grasping the shadow and missing the substance.” This is what the author has to say about the world which is a reflection of sensory apparatus that registers it.

Homeopathic Treatment finds a strange mention in this book. The Milagro's reference to its healing simply sends a chill through the brain's cortex. When minute quantities of herbs or toxins are placed in water and diluted to a point where there should not be a single molecule of the original herb or toxin in a given water sample, the water gets 'disturbed'. The water tries to remember its 'past' in the presence of original substance, though and acquires some of its properties which supposedly enables the water to heal the patients who drink it. This memory effect of water is related to Quantum Entanglement.

The book is far less mathematical than any other similar book of this caliber and hence is much more enjoyable. If you don't mind a talking dog, and frequent references to bunnies, then this is an excellent introduction to quantum physics.

A confession by the dog:

The universe is making fun of me
So here's the problem:
Particles do not exist - fields do.
Fields do not exist - particles do.

This insight is not helping me. In fact, I find that it leaves me profoundly frustrated. Clearly, the universe is conspiring against me. It is thwarting all my efforts to grasp what is going on. My intuition is failing. The way I have thought about the world all my life is useless when trying to understand how the world works at a deeper level. I am in a quagmire, I am thrashing around, straining to grasp the branch of a tree in an attempt to steady myself, to lift myself onto solid ground.

Friday, July 29, 2016

#Review - Life on the Edge: Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden


Life_on_the_Edge: Coming of Age of Quantum BiologyJim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden

       The book is pillared on Erwin Schrödinger’s "What is Life?", written in 1943, based on a series of public lectures given at Trinity College Dublin and spoken of with almost reverence by the authors. The concept of life and consciousness is quintessentially the most thought-provoking question ever posed by humankind. The suggestion that quantum mechanics may lie at the defining edge between ‘live’ and ‘not-alive’ should invoke interest in the modern day scientist. This way "Life on the Edge" proposes "at least one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of life found within the world of quantum mechanics.”

In this book the authors, introduce two of the fascinating quantum physics phenomena, quantum tunneling and quantum superposition, via a number of seemingly commonplace biological topics: the homing precision of a migrating Robin, enzyme reactions at ‘normal’ temperatures, photosynthesis, and the anatomy of smelling. Most of us are familiar with quantum phenomena thanks to the advent of technologies such as electron microscopes, fast processors and MRI scanners. The weirdness of particles (or rather dual nature) in quantum systems is superposition of states until an observation is made goes well with 'gadenken' experiments like “Schrodinger's cat”. The act of observing the cat - alive or dead - forces the quantum states to become only one. This 'de-coherence’ of states is what separates the quantum world from the classical physics of our everyday world.

The macro world of biology, and everyday other occurrences, is shielded from the weird quantum stuff via thermodynamics - an aspect that has remained the debate between Einstein and Bohr (with Heisenberg). Many animals employ the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate by. It has been proposed that magnetite, found in the tissues of some migrating species such as bees and some birds, may provide the ability to sense weak magnetic fields with the aid of magneto-receptors.  An eye pigment, cryptochrome, acts as a chemical compass depending on free radical pairs being in a superposition of singlet and triplet states. This quantum entanglement is familiar to physicists from esoteric experiments involving particles in isolated systems. This ‘de-coherence’ of quantum reactions comes about because of the ‘noise’ of large thermodynamic systems. Nonetheless, the evidence is compelling, even if the mechanisms are not fully understood, some properties of living systems depend on quantum mechanical phenomena such as tunneling, coherence and entanglement (with ample and nice evidence of spooky effect narration).

When an incoming photon (light particle) hits a specialised photo-receptor in the robin’s eye, it creates two electrons that are “entangled” in a quantum sense. Entanglement is one of the most mysterious quantum properties, allowing particles to remain instantaneously connected however far apart they are – which Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”. Experiments show that entangled electron pairs can be extraordinarily sensitive to the orientation of magnetic fields, and the behaviour of the spinning electrons as they move apart in the robin’s eye giving the bird a quantum compass.

In addition to this ability of birds, other systems, photosynthesis and enzyme reactions, are given a compelling discussion in Life on the edge. The evidence of these diverse findings strongly suggests that biological systems employ quantum phenomena at the heart of their macro behaviour. This has huge implications for the study of large-scale quantum systems and their possible technological innovations. 

The book is aimed at a lay audience, and in this it should succeed admirably as is delivered from Al-Khalili, accurately and suitably referenced, sufficing further reading and backing up the scientific claims. "Life on the Edge" is a well-written introduction to one of the most fascinating areas of modern science – quantum biology. With about eighty percent of the book, the reader is buoyed with enough references like Extremophiles, Life out of Mud volcano, Miller's experiment on creating Amino Acids rolling drastic methods, Butterfly effect, probability with Tinba virus (with just 20 Kb in size) etc., but in the end there is a philosophical termination to these subjects with "consciousness" taking the theme. The proposed conclusion is that quantum theory can account for human consciousness, put forward by the Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose in 1989 and adopted by a few others. 

Their idea is that quantum effects modulate the fluctuating electromagnetic fields in the brain that some scientists associate with consciousness, though there is no convincing evidence for this.  Here the authors take a sensibly cautious tone, warning against the argument that, just because consciousness is a mystery, something as mysterious as quantum theory will help to explain it. But they cannot resist asking: “Is it likely that the strange features of quantum mechanics we discovered to be involved in so many crucial phenomena of life are excluded from its most mysterious product, consciousness? We will leave the reader to decide.”

Good Read!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos - ‪‎Michio Kaku - Review

Looking at night you are actually looking into your past!
The book falls into three parts: the first reviews our discovery of modern cosmology, the second describes some of the more intellectually challenging and counter-intuitive aspects of modern physics, astrophysics and cosmology theories, the third considers possible long-term futures for existence, knowledge and the universe. Along the way the usual suspects are rounded up, with black holes, time travel, quantum entanglement, string theory, 11-dimensional M-branes, and the anthropic principle all getting a mention.
Filled with informational punches one can glide through the time from Classical physics to the present spooky baffle. That the first image Hubble could capture was that of the Universe 13 billion light years ago (With about 300 million black holes in our night sky!). Whether the universe expands forever into a deep freeze or eventually contracts back into a hellish dot containing all energy, the future looks grim. Nearly all cosmologists agree that our universe isn’t static. It’s apparently expanding at an accelerating rate.
This we deduce from many years research with ET telescopes, and very fast computers. Step by step with the observations are the mathematical reasonings. The uncertainty principle, quantum mechanics, relativity, string theory all try to correlate the forces, fields and particles that constitute our existence. But, once entering into the realm of mathematics, the equations can lead to places that aren’t observable. Therefore, the concept that a parallel world might exist given the way Physicists vouch to evaluate the 11 dimensions, comes to the fore.
A beginner can get a glimpse of the how the Universe might have formed starting from dense stars to nebulae to pulsars to dwarfs. Along the way, the author mentions the works of Newton, Halley, Darwin, Einstein, Gamow and other luminaries along with Godel's Universe, Kerr black hole, Casimir effect and Schwarzschild values. These references, however, don’t obscure the main thrust which is to enable understanding of our universe, but are rather significant. Kaku explains why the night is black (read Olber's paradox), how the uncertainty principle links to consciousness (what a jump), and where quantum theory can lead to infinite realities. And with these spectral information he vouches for Strings Theory. Why not? Everything not forbidden is compulsory.
The heart of the book is the exotic physics. The path along proves to be an intellectually challenging one, starting with black holes, and especially their much-debated possible implications for time-travel. At places there is no clear yes-no answer, since there is no agreed one. The continuing fascination of quantum mechanics is well-discussed. Uncertainty and certainty are discussed at the same vigour, but when you look into certainty, questions like "Can a tornado striking a junkyard build up a Boeing 747?", appear and put the entire onus on probability and thus the ultimate Schrodinger's thought experiment emerges significant.
The pace with which he describes the events is very fast so that one need to have learnt already a few basic things about the Universe. Some catchy references, from what I have liked, include:
# How would you suspend 50000 pounds of water in the air with no visible means of support? - Answer - Build a cloud
# Vacuum is already empty and there is discussion about false vacuum
# A donkey falling into a pit has negative energy an bringing it up to the surface you bring it to neutral state (I am reminded of the medico in Chennai, who dropped an innocent dog from a third floor as if he was evaluating Guinea-feather experiment on Energetics!)
# Why is Gravity stronger than the electromagnetic forces? Because it is only a monopole unlike magnetism or charge which has positive and negative sides.
# The secret of nature is about losing the symmetry. A single homogenous drop develops into a heterogeneous human being!
# Butterfly effect: At critical time even the fluttering of the wings of the butterfly sends ripples that can tip the balance of forces and set off powerful storms.
# Objects exist because humans are there! : If a tree falls in a forest no one is there to see it and it does not really fall then. something related to collapse of the wave.
# What is the smallest distance one can travel? For moving from point A to point B in a room, quoting Feynmann, you move through the Milky way and other stars!!
# The Universe is behaving like a driver who slows down.
The vast range of topics discussed embraces modern cosmology, a subject increasingly replacing quantum mechanics and elementary particle physics at the head of the great race for knowledge and a theory of everything. The universe will prove itself to be more interesting than we have yet imagined.
Here is the circle of anthropic principle which has no end: The Weak - Constants of nature must be tuned on to allow for intelligence. The Strong - An intelligence of some sort was required to tune Physical constants to allow for intelligence.
The book does add weight to your knowledge of the things that have been Created.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Three Roads to Quantum Gravity - Lee Smolin - Review

One of the boldest books read in recent times Lee Smolin takes the courage to disagree with Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle, for a brief though, and takes a surge up to breathe back suggesting that there are more reasons to agree with this principle than not to - albeit with a suggestion that determination of a position would require at least one dimension out of three and the calculations thus.  It made quite a thrilling reading because we matured unto the post graduate status gulping this principle along with relativity and Quantum doses.

Smolin gathers these theoretical activities into three categories: studies of black holes, string theories and his own specialty, loop quantum gravity. In black holes, as espoused by John Wheeler of Princeton and Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, he finds ''microscopes of infinite power which make it possible for us to see the physics that operates on the Planck scale.'' String theories, recently popularized by Brian Greene of Columbia, reduce matter not to elementary point-like particles but to one-dimensional threadlike entities that flutter and vibrate with differing beats corresponding to the observed spectrum of particles.

Loop quantum gravity will prove difficult to grasp unless readers have followed the recent history of particle physics, the LHC and LIGO. According to this approach, ''space is made of discrete atoms each of which carries a very tiny unit of volume.'' This may sound like a simple idea, but Smolin manages to make it exceedingly complex - perhaps because he does his own theoretical research in this arena. What appears obvious to him is nearly opaque for the rest of us.

All three approaches seem to require that space and time be fragmentary at the Planck scale. But they have extremely fine-grained structures, which helps explain why they appear so smooth to us: ''A blink of an eye has more fundamental moments than there are atoms in Mount Everest.''

There are some unusual frank expressions by the author too.  That he would count on 'tales' to prove his points beginning with superimposibility of the quantum states of a dead or alive mouse proves funny. He gives room for all other tales connected with more such proposals. It is a generous thing on his part that he would find at least one reason to agree with other's theories. Like, for instance, he imagines Galileo and Kepler working in the same building (different floors though) over different theories and claiming each one is true, because Galileo talked about motion of the planets while Kepler stuck to the shape of the orbits.

These kind of lucid narration asks us to rethink the epistemological roots of the mental pictures we make about nature and space. It is one of the most difficult intellectual challenges humanity has ever faced. Quantum mechanics accurately describes realms of the very small, while Einstein's general theory of relativity applies to vast, cosmological distances spanning galaxies or groups of galaxies and to enormously massive objects, such as the billions of stars in them. The goal of combining these two disparate theories into one eluded physicists for most of the 20th century, but progress has occurred during the last few decades.

Faster than light concept of wave, quantum fluctuations of vacuum, zero point motion and energy, zeroth law of thermodynamics, large number of event and information flow, black holes and their horizons (along with Hawking Radiation), the illusion of continuous space, Feynman's diagrams, vibration and heat association of system with lower temperatures, empty space with non-zero density, 'cosmological constant' dilemma and 'information becoming geometry' are brilliantly discussed to the pleasure of the intelligent layman.

That Mathematical consistency in itself follows one theory of nature is a stark reality and the author merges all his open discussions with this solid liner. Some questions on M Theory and the beautiful point that science will become religion if it is proved makes interesting reading.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Is God a Mathematician - by Mario Livio - Review

As the title suggests, the main theme of the book represents the existence of various factors that describe how we should approach mathematics. The conclusion drawn has two things: formalism (claiming that Maths is invented by the human mind) and Platonism (regarding mathematics as an a priori universal language whose truths are merely discovered).
Being a senior astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and author of a few other math books aimed at the general public, Mario Livio has written a short, accessible, and in many ways profound exploration of the nature of mathematics. He centers his book around two questions:
1. "Is mathematics ultimately invented or discovered?" and
2. "Why is mathematics so effective and productive in explaining the world around us that it even yields new knowledge?"
He frames his inquiry with what physicist Roger Penrose describes as the triple mystery. The idea is that there are three worlds that people experience: the world of physical reality, the world of our minds, and the abstract world of mathematics. Then the mysteries are as follows:
1. why would world of physical reality give rise to our minds that perceive the reality?
2. why would our minds give rise to abstract mathematics? and
3. why does mathematics so effectively describe the physical reality in which we exist?
There are several occasions whereby the author proves the existence of maths that has been 'discovered' - just like Shakespeare did not 'invent' Hamlet. There is stress on the statistical part of the Mathematics and syllogism at the beginning. Aristotle, Archimedis, Dante, Descartes, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Tesla, Bernoulli's, Mendle, Gauss,....everyone's contribution has been dealt with suitably in a lucid manner.
Each chapter discusses important topics like geometry, logic, topology, statistics and probability theory, as well as major breakthroughs in adjacent fields – such as physics or astronomy. The narrations are easy to follow and the overall tone is objective. Unlike many popular science books that tend to get tedious or uninteresting after the first few chapters, it has a good structure and can keep the reader engaged.
Talking about the Natural Selection (of Darwin fame), the author argues that if there was no society and everyone was mere re-producer (of the next generation), then there would be no selection at all!
That would mean that a marriage in a society allows the genes to 'sense' the order and promote genes that is not defective for the next generation.
The next beautiful thing I liked about was the 'golden ratio' concept. There are many examples, including the human hand and the face where one part is longer than the other (in a single entity) and a mere mathematical division gives the value of 1.6xx which is abundant in nature (just like the pi).
Discussing about the relationship between Mathematics and Logic, there is good mention about the "barber paradox" by Bertrand Russel. The most excellent example is one around De Morgan, a Mathematician. When asked about his age, his reply was "I was x years old in the year x^2". It turns out that his age was 43 and 43x43 gave 1849. 1849 - 43 thus gave 1806, the year in which he was born!
George Boole, on whose adjectives we have based our Computer Science Syllabus gets his due with a brief mention about his logic using mathematics. The famous 'Gordian Knot' is used to describe the logic and perturbation of various knots. I had to explore a new science behind the knots. (Haven't we come across various knots undone by magicians? But then we never thought there is Mathematics behind it).
A mathematical model of the atom that turned out to be wrong turned into the pure mathematics of knot theory, which then yielded the key to understanding the structure of DNA. As Livio surveys the field, he exhibits a charming sense of surprise at each unexpected turn in the problems he’s describing.
Slowly, the impact of language is brought in to suggest how language is useful in making one understand the logic behind every action. "You cannot repair a Hoover Dam, using a chewing gum" - a blistering example of how easy it is for us to understand the sentence and the 'logic' behind it. Einstein thus insisted that mathematics is a creation of the human mind, abstracting from messy reality to invent a language whose implications can be unspooled in an imaginary realm of perfection.
He ends with the following quote from Bertrand Russell's "The Problems of Philosophy":
"Thus to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy
contemplates, the mind is also rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good."

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Anti-matter by Frank Close - Review

After reading his book "Void", I was tempted to know how he would fit "Anti-matter" to it. And it turned out to be a sequel (or rather answer) to the non-fiction writers from whom some film makers got the clue that America was developing "antimatter" weapons and made movies and documentaries that were nearly taken as true. The Antimatter is one of the strangest discoveries in physics - an opposite to the 'normal' matter which makes up the world in which we live our everyday lives, and which annihilates anything it touches in a blinding flash of energy.
Comprising Nine chapters, most of them start with questions or hypothesis or rumour. And it is too good that the answers come out explaining many things about Physics even for the lay man. The Tunguska event, where there was a blast in the sky in 1908 without any debris or crater to its credit is thought to be a fusion of matter with antimatter. Though this is the Close's view, there is no solid proof of this, I found.
Then there is this 'philosophical' approach towards the lives on Earth. Describing humans as "Nuclear Waste", the author writes "Oxygen you breath, Carbon in your skin, ink on this page etc. was made of stars about 5 billion years ago. To an extent this is a fact that one atom in our right hand might have a different parentage than those in the left. There is mention about the Nobel prize for the discovery of positron. The diagrams on waves and loops are interesting. There is also mention about LHC, but here in this book I came to know that it was earlier called as LEP (Large Electron Positron Collidor).
Dirac's famous equation "i*gamma*dow sigh= m sigh" is discussed with slight hinting that this might have been the foundation for Schrodinger's solution to the energy of the particle. The most interesting part in this is the description that a^2=1; b^2=1 and aXb is not zero, that is their sum axb+bxa =0, is dealt with solution in matrices. The matrices and determinents form the basic parts of quantum mechanics.
Anderson's experiment on positron trapping and Millikan's one on charge determination are described well with illustration. Blackett's study of about 20,000 photos of the 'waves' from 1921-24 suggests how hard work one has to do come up with one small discovery - the identification of Positron!
Annihilation is dealt with at large in one of the chapters where the author writes "We breath in oxygen , exhale carbon di oxide, grow and die, but the atoms will continue" delivers the fact of our existance on earth. There is brief description into other particles like gluon, W, Z etc.
I found Feynmann in a slightly poor light when there is mention about his reason for not publishing the famous eponymous diagrams in some leading journal. He says that it was war time when drawing experts were not available. The easy diagrams, the author claims, could have been drawn by himself easily, but for 'stealing' work he did from Stueckelberg's idea. There are many such instances in science where ideas have been stolen.
The last two chapters describe particle Physics/Chemistry, call it the way you like about these ubitquitous fermions. The Tunguska event is again brought back to prove that anti-matter weapons would be impossible on paper given the fact that 1g of antimatter can be produced per year by present set up of the advanced lab elsewhere. Close explores many of the theories surrounding the symmetries between normal matter and antimatter, as well as offering some thoughts on why we might see a universe which appears to be largely devoid of antimatter. While a small handful of antimatter particles have been created in labs around the world, as well as a few dozen antihydrogen atoms, the mysterious lack of antimatter in the universe remains one of the questions needing a great deal of further research to explain.
The appendix is very informative, especially the Dirac code and the poser to arrive at a^2=1; b^2=1 and aXb+bXa=0, whose solution can be found using Matrices. The book is good if you like particle physics and are a layperson with regard to science.
”If you want to use antimatter you must first make every antiparticle" - which is a very inefficient process.