APS News

Letters

BNL Proud Of Davis

I was pleased to read your extensive and informative write up of the 2002 Physics Nobel Prizes in your December 2002 issue.

We at Brookhaven National Laboratory have been especially excited about the award to Ray Davis because he was a BNL employee (in the Chemistry Department) from the start of his scientific career until his retirement, and his prize-winning work on the detection of solar neutrinos was initiated and pursued for the most part while he was at BNL with funding from DOE.

I was thus dismayed to find not a single reference to BNL in the entire description of Davis' experiment and would like to set the record straight (although most physicists undoubtedly already associate Davis with BNL).
Peter Paul
Brookhaven National Laboratory


My B-Field Is Bigger Than Yours

The first sentence of the article on the DPP meeting (front page January 2003 APS News) asked, "Where can you find the strongest magnetic fields on Earth?" The answer is, in close approaches of high-energy heavy muclei. Magnetic fields of 2 x 1020 Gauss are found midway between two 500 TeV lead nuclei passing with a center to center distance of 20 fm. This will occur with the LHC (Linear Hadron Collider) at CERN when it becomes operational in a few years. The magnetic field generated by the heavy ions is about a trillion times the laser generated field described in the article.
Edwin Norbeck
Iowa City, IA

Knee-Jerk Rejection Wrong

James Felten's rabid dismissal of Anna Mayo's point of view on Teller because her choice of political persuasion appears to be what he calls "leftist" reminds me of the way some schools of feminism reject most of classical and modern physics because the choice of social persuasion of the authors appears to be what they call "sexist".

It's so easy to close a mind, but in our business we are supposed to be dedicated to opening them.
Patricia Schwarz
Pasadena, California

First Came The Grasshopper

I enjoyed the "Circa January 1961: Lorenz and the Butterfly Effect" piece in the January 2003 issue of APS News. Unfortunately, the article perpetuates the myth that the term "Butterfly Effect" came about because the Lorenz attractor has, with some imaginative effort, the shape of a butterfly.

The actual story is much more interesting. Some of the details are given in Ed Lorenz's book The Essence of Chaos (U. Washington Press, 1996).

I recently learned that the "butterfly effect" was, in fact, predated by nearly 70 years in a book review published in The Physical Review.

The late Prof. Al McLennan of Lehigh University, knowing of my interest in nonlinear dynamics, alerted me to the review of Pierre Duhem's Traité Élementaire de Méchanique Chimique fonde sur la Thermodynamique (1897) written by Prof. W. S. Franklin of Lehigh.

The review appeared in Phys. Rev. 6, 170-175 (1898). Discussing the sensitivity of the atmosphere to small perturbations, Franklin writes:

"Long range detailed weather prediction is therefore impossible, and the only detailed prediction which is possible is the inference of the ultimate trend and character of a storm from observations of its early stages; and the accuracy of this prediction is subject to the condition that the flight of a grasshopper in Montana may turn a storm aside from Philadelphia to New York!"

It seems as if the notion of "sensitive dependence on initial conditions," the hallmark of chaos, has been in the air (so to speak) for some time and that insects have been the creatures of choice for vivid metaphors for these effects.
Robert C. Hilborn
Amherst, MA

Specify What Each Author Did

The recent debates about authorship of scientific papers have been thoughtful, and led me to think of one possible innovation. What if a journal were to require a short paragraph at the end of the paper, where acknowledgments are usually given, which specified the nature of the contribution of each author?

I think it might be very useful to tenure committees and funding agencies to know that a postdoc carried out the major measurements and wrote the manuscript, while a grad student characterized the samples, which were provided by a collaborator, and the professor secured the funding for the research.

Readers would know exactly whom to call with specific questions, and meeting organizers would know which author should be invited to present the work. This would certainly be a more valuable use of space than the author pictures and bios published by some journals.
Kristl B. Hathaway
Deale, Maryland

APS Prejudiced And Cowardly

Re."APS Council Approves Statement Protesting Boycott of Israeli Scientists", APS News, January 2003: Bravo to the APS for taking a strong stand for academic freedom. It was particularly heartening to read in the statement "Bona fide scholars pursuing academic activities should be free to do so without hindrance".

As such, I will eagerly look forward to a similar protest by the American Physical Society over the closing, by military force, of two leading Palestinian Universities on January 15 by the Israeli military in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank. By shutting down the Islamic University and the Polytechnic Institute in Hebron, Israel is doing far worse than refusing to speak to Palestinian academics. It is destroying the very structure of Palestinian academia by force.

Unless I see a similar protest by the APS at Israel's destruction of Palestinian academic institutions, I will have no choice but to see the APS as prejudiced, cowardly, politically motived and totally unworthy of my continued membership.
Isaac Boxx
Austin, TX.

Ed. Note: For the record, the APS statement (See http://www.aps.org/statements/02.5.cfm) takes no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It asserts, however, that regardless of one's views on this conflict, it is wrong for those in the academic community to boycott Israeli science and scientists.

Engineers May Drop Physics Requirement

On one slow day in July a polite young engineering professor came to my office to discuss teaching physics to engineers. The conversation began with a concern that his students did not understand vector cross products very well and an offer to supplement what we teach with some engineering examples. He was quite nice. Then he asked what our physics faculty would think about moving physics to the second year so he could teach statics to engineering students in their first semester. His course would include Newton's Laws and energy conservation. I explained some problems with doing that and he seemed satisfied, especially when I asked to look at the material he wanted me to use. However he was not quite done. And after a pleasant interlude he asked how many of the physics faculty at our university do research in classical mechanics. None, I thoughtfully replied. He pointed out that some of his colleagues in engineering are actively working on statics and dynamics, and commented that our engineering students might find some of their research interesting. Remaining topics, such as quantum mechanics, could in his view, be given in a second year physics course. He was kind enough not to explicitly say that these engineering students are not even in our college of arts and sciences, or that engineers active in mechanics may be better qualified to teach mechanics to engineers.

The accreditation of courses in engineering physics in the US is now done by an accreditation board for engineering and technology (ABET). The rules have changed. Specific courses are no longer required for a BS in engineering. Instead a list of goals is developed, including familiar topics such as problem solving together with new topics such as professional development. These goals are somewhat flexible and vary from university to university. Schools of engineering are now free to find new and better ways to teach their students. At many universities such as ours, retention of students (together with their tuition) and financial self-sufficiency of individual schools ("each tub on its own bottom") provide rational for implementation of change. Our school of engineering would like direct contact between engineering students and faculty in the freshman year so that student commitment to engineering can be strengthened. Our school of engineering may also question why they should send money to math and science that can be spent within engineering to build engineering.

In many physics departments across the country enrollments in introductory physics courses include large numbers of engineering students. Faculty positions are to some extend tied to the demand for teaching. If the demand is reduced, eventually the number of positions in (and the influence of) physics may also be reduced.
Jim McGuire
Tulane University

Diffusion In Biological Membranes Related To DLA

I enjoyed James Riordon's reminiscences of Tom Witten and Len Sanders' PRL on "Diffusion Limited Aggregation" (APS News, December 2002).

There's a similar earlier 2D example from biological membranes, to which I was introduced on sabbatical in Jon Singer's laboratory at the University of California at San Diego, stimulated by a basic paper by Frye and Edidin [Journal of Cell Science 7, 319 (1970)].

We Monte-Carlo modelled the mobility of "particles" in membranes as a simple diffusion, and let particles remain together upon contact. The resulting pictures are similar to those in the letter.

We spent a fascinating half-day with Benoit Mandelbrot, exploring connections with fractals, but were too limited in computing power to pursue this. Diffusion in biological membranes is still an active field.

Paul Meakin, with whom we discussed early on our problem vis-a-vis diffusion limited aggregation, has nicely noted in "Fractals, Scaling, and Growth Far From Equilibrium", Cambridge University Press, (1998) why there was not more connection between the diffusion limited aggregation and biophysical communities.
Leonard Finegold
Philadelphia, PA

Examples Reflect Ideology

In the January 2003 issue, Brian Cluggish states in his letter that, "The Bush administration needs to base its actions on sound science, regardless of ideology." I fully agree, but have to laugh at the examples he refers to. It is obvious that his openly biased position wants an administration to base its actions on sound (liberal) ideology, regardless of science.
Bill Morrey
Palm City, Florida

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