APS News

Letters

Top Quark Discovery Was a Joint Effort

We are very pleased to see that in the April 2002 issue of APS News, "This Month in Physics History" (on page 2) describes one of the recent successes of particle physics, the discovery of the top quark. The article contains a very fair description of how the discovery unfolded.

Unfortunately, in searching for a snappy title for this piece, your headline writer erred. "April 1994: Discovery of the top quark at Fermilab" is not correct, and the article itself makes this clear. In 1994, the first evidence for top started to come in, and the actual discovery was made in 1995. This is important because the 1995 results were the independent work of two groups and were statistically very solid. The 1994 publication was from one group, and wasn't close to meeting the normal criteria for a discovery in particle physics (a five standard deviation effect).

This may seem like a tempest in a tea-cup, but hundreds of people, including many graduate students, worked hard to put the data concerning the top quark on a rigorous and statistically firm basis. By 1995, when this had been done, discovery could be, and was, announced. Without them, the discovery wouldn't have happened. They are naturally very sensitive to any perceived attempt to "backdate" the discovery to this earlier paper. This would imply that all their hard work was unneeded.
Harry Weerts
John Womersley
Fermilab


Report Omitted "Wigner and Symmetries" Talk

I just received the APS News, April 2002, Volume 11, No.4 on page 3 there is a note on "Remembering Wigner". The writer probably was not present at the Centennial Symposium in honor of Eugene Wigner. He speaks of George Marx who gave a lively talk on Wigner' s life, John Wheeler, whose subject was interesting but unfortunately his health was poor, and Alvin Weinberg, who very properly mentioned Wigner as the first nuclear engineer.

He forgot the fact that I, Wigner' s student in 1946-1949 with whom I got a Ph.D., had the task of talking on "Eugene Wigner and Symmetries in Physics" where I tried in 40 minutes to present the main achievements of Wigner on applications of group theory from atomic to relativistic physics.

As I have spent my life working at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico my name was probably unknown to the author of the report, but at least he must have read the abstract of my talk that appeared in the Bulletin of the April Conference.
Marcos Moshinsky
Mexico City

A Scientist looks at the Corporate Universe

In the hectic corporate world, one should understand the underlying physics. When Einstein studied the physical universe, he concluded that as one goes faster and faster, time slows down. This is good! However, in the corporate universe, analysis has shown that as one goes faster and faster, time accelerates. The time you have to do the next job is always less than the time available for the current job.

A corollary of this theorem is captured in the well known folk saying, "The more faster you go, the more behinder you get."
Sheldon Kavesh
Whippany, New Jersey

More on Kelvin's Degree

In a letter in the March issue of APS News, B.S. Chandrasekhar 'corrects' Arne Reitan on the issue of whether the plural of kelvin is kelvin or kelvins. Without taking sides on who is right, I advance the following explanation for the confusion.

We used to say the temperature was, e.g,. N degrees Celsius or K degrees Kelvin. Note that degrees is plural. Now the word degrees has been dropped (along with the capital letter) and we get K kelvin (without the s). In other words kelvin is a short-hand for degrees kelvin.
W. J. Metzger Nijmegen,
The Netherlands

Bridge Goes Too Far

I must take issue with your decision to publish the Zero Gravity article written by Martin Bridge (May 2002). Are the pieces in APS News not refereed or is it that you seek to promote sexist and elitist ideas? This article was not funny. I don't know much about so-called table-top fusion, so I can't comment on whether or not this author and you have any justification for such ridicule of that experiment, but I must comment on the depiction of women and community college teachers.

I quote. "'You'd think we'd found the Higgs Boson or something,' said Emily McTavish, who has been having her hair done at Gladys's every other Wednesday." What is the intended sentiment in this quip found in Bridge's article? It seems obvious to me: Women in beauty parlors should clearly know nothing about the Higgs Boson. It reminds me of a talk given by a colleague a few years ago, where he kept stating that "even my mother could understand this." I asked him after the fourth or fifth repetition if his mother wasn't a physicist. He was not amused. As a female member of the audience, neither was I. Another physicist whom I admire thought I shouldn't take offense if none was intended. Perhaps Mr. Bridge meant no offense either, but one can easily see his attitude towards women and APS editors should be sensitive to how it could make female members of their society feel.

Likewise, how should physics teachers at community colleges feel about this "lighter side of science?" Another supposedly funny part of the article goes on, "Rodney Colquist, a physics teacher at Swampscott Community College, was the one who discovered what was going on when his wife, Samantha, came home after her appointment at Gladys's in a frenzy of excitement and disbelief." Clearly,one should have no respect for the intellect of a physics teacher at a mere community college, it seems. And if not, then how about high school teachers - the ones we're supposed to be desperately, actively recruiting? I thought APS wanted to do something about attracting more women to physics also, but I guess was wrong about that.

This makes me want to quit being a member of your society, but you're the only game in town, so I guess I have to renew my membership, though it has a bitter taste.
Monica Halka
Portland, Oregon

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