APS News


Olympiad Coaches Play Key Role

It is a pleasure to see the October issue of the APS News give visibility and recognition to the successes of the US Physics Team which represented our country in the International Physics Olympiad. All of the physics community is well served by our continuing to emphasize the importance of physics education at all levels. In your article, however, you failed to mention those teachers who prepare and coach the team during this intensive competition. Mary Mogge of Cal State Pomona was the academic leader of the 2000 Team. Leaf Turner of the Los Alamos National Lab was senior coach; Warren Turner of the Brunswick School, Greenwich, CT was a coach; Boris Zbarsky, a former Gold Medalist, now an MIT undergraduate, was the junior coach. Lab responsibilities were carried out by Jennifer Catelli and Ryan McAllister of the University of Maryland.

Again, thanks to APS News for the encouragement and recognition offered to physics education at all levels. If physics is to be widely recognized as the basis for much of our understanding of the universe as well as the stimulus for much of our technology, we need to assure that all students study and understand our discipline. Recognizing our teachers is a crucial part of such encouragement.

Bernard V. Khoury
Executive Officer, AAPT

We thank the writer for pointing out this omission. Both the coaches and the dedicated AAPT staff were crucial to the success of the American team in this year's Physics Olympiad.

Readers Respond to Astronomical Top Ten

Among the list of the "Top Ten Astronomical Triumphs of the Last Millennium" appearing in the October issue of the APS News is "There exist...other universes (Steinhardt, Linde, Guth, Hawking, Hartle, Rees, etc., 1990s)." I did not know that the existence of other universes was established. Perhaps either the compiler of the list or the editors of APS News can enlighten me.

Don Lichtenberg
Indiana University


In Virginia Trimble's article on Astronomy's Greatest Hits, she lists as a scientific discovery, "There exist other universes." I had to check twice to make sure I was reading APS News and not Bob Park's "What's New." How could such scientific speculation ever find its way into an article on scientific discoveries?

As an assignment in my introductory physics class I have students look for examples of poor scientific reporting in the popular press. Now I have found my own example in APS News.

Michael G. Strauss
University of Oklahoma


In your October 2000 issue, Virginia Trimble lists the top ten astronomical triumphs of the last millennium. Fine; but under # 5, "the Universe is expanding", she mentions the most significant contributors thus: Hubble, Gamov, Alpher, Herman, Ryle & Scheurer, Penzias & Wilson, while missing, it seems to me, the top players, i.e., Friedman, de Sitter and particularly Georges Lema tre who invented the notion of "Primitive Atom", precursor of the Big Bang.

Incidentally, Lema tre was a Catholic priest who wrote his doctoral dissertation at MIT on the "Primitive Atom," showing that Einstein's "Cosmological Constant" was not required. In fact, in 1931, Lema tre, Hubble and Einstein met at Mount Wilson to discuss the problem, with the first two named having a hard time convincing Einstein that the Universe was in fact expanding. Only then did Einstein abandon his cosmological constant ("My most serious blunder"), which is now being resurrected by cosmologists.

Didier de Fontaine
University of California, Berkeley


Virginia Trimble Comments
The "top ten" list printed in a recent APS News was never intended for this venue. It started as a press release, prepared for the 100th anniversary of the American Astronomical Society in 1999 (and so very strongly emphasized observations over theory). It was then recycled as a press release at the April APS meeting (at the request of those organizing the press briefings there). And, finally, an APS News editor asked permission to excerpt the material. The editor did, of course, edit. And perhaps I should have said "no." But it is good to know that I have at least three readers - this exceeds the average readership of a technical paper in most physics and astronomy journals by a factor of roughly four (according to the late Sam Goudsmit). And if any of them should be interested in what I have said about some of the topics in contexts other than press briefings, please take a look at the following:

  • "The Origin and Abundances of the Elements" Rev. Mod. Phys 47, 877 (1975)
  • "Cosmic Abundances: Past, Present, and Future" in S.S. Holt & G. Sonneborn, eds. Cosmic Abundances (ASP Conf. Ser. 99, 3, 1996)
  • "The 1920 Shapley-Curtis Discussion: Background, Issues, and Aftermath" PASP 107, 1133 (1995)
  • "Ho: the Incredible Shrinking Constant" PASP 108, 1073 (1996)
  • "Extragalactic Distance Scales: Ho from Hubble (Edwin) to Hubble (Space Telescope)" Space Sci. Rev. 79, 793 (1997)
  • "Beyond the Bright Searchlight of Science: the Quest for the Edge of the Universe" in S.S. Holt & E.M. Smith, eds. APS Conf. Ser. 470, 3
  • And the series of pieces in BeamLine that have been appearing in most issues since 1992 with titles like "The Solar Neutrino Problem and How We Know the Stars Run on Nuclear Energy"

Referencing the Buttered Toast Problem

I thoroughly enjoyed the "Zero Gravity" column in the October issue of the APS News, which among other things points out that chicken tikka masala has a stronger affinity for carpets than buttered toast. But your readers may enjoy tracking down the seminal paper on toast by Held and Yodzis1. This paper not only purports to give a relativistic analysis of the buttered toast problem, but also provides a historical account of the origin of Murphy's Law.

Tevian Dray
Oregon State University
1A. Held and P. Yodzis, On the Einstein-Murphy Interaction, Gen. Rel. Grav. 13, 873-882 (1981).

Help for Displaced Scientists

For those of you who have been struggling to keep your job, wondering why you haven't had that hoped for physics career, or have been repeatedly downsized and are now being told that your PhD in physics makes you "over-qualified" for programming jobs - check out: http://www.zazona.com

This web site has been developed by a displaced engineer and contains hiring information of US companies who have used imported labor in the past five years. Sources include direct data from the US Department of Labor. The site is very user friendly. Check out the comments made by members of the US House and Senate about how these elected officials feel about American technical talent. Read the stories of other displaced US and foreign workers' stories of being laid off and downsized in this "great, robust US economy."

Dwight Walsh
Alumni, Brigham Young University

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette