APS News


UC Campus Maintains Commitment to Physics

We are writing regarding the article "California Physics Departments Face More Budget Cuts in an Uncertain Future" [APS News, December 2003] to correct some confusion regarding UC Davis and to convey the campus's commitment to its physics department.

The article's Science magazine quote regarding UC Davis' potentially losing 72 faculty slots actually refers to the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, which suffered a state-targeted 30% budget cut. The general campus fared much better as enrollment growth has so far been funded in full and UC Davis is in a growth phase-its freshman class is the largest in the UC system this year and has been for the past several years.

Because of this growth phase and because the administration recognizes the importance of the quality of the physics department to the campus as a whole, the department is being allowed to maintain the momentum of its current buildup.

Earlier this year the department successfully recruited National Academy of Science member Zach Fisk in condensed matter experiment and also completed its Cosmology Initiative, highlighted by the recruitment of NAS member Tony Tyson.

On the heels of the Cosmology Initiative, the department launched the High Energy Frontier Theory Initiative (HEFTI). It is recruiting now for HEFTI and for a high energy experimentalist to prepare for the LHC discovery era.

When Zach Fisk and Tony Tyson come onboard in 2004, one junior-faculty slot each will be allocated in their respective areas. Even in these difficult budget times, UC Davis remains committed to strong support and growth for our physics department.

Barry Klein,
Winston Ko

Davis, CA

The authors are respectively Vice-Chancellor for Research and Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at UC Davis.

Hungarian Ruler not a Fascist Dictator

In "This month in physics history" [APS News, November 2003] we are told that in the 1920's "Hungary was ruled by a virulently anti-semitic fascist dictator".

This is false.

Admiral Nicolaus Horthy was elected according to internationally accepted and constitutional rules to become Regent of Hungary, and he led the country by a then acceptable (but imperfect and occasionally repressive) form of parliamentary democracy from 1920 to 1944 (when he was arrested and imprisoned by the German Nazis).

He was autocratic and an avid anticommunist (quite understandable considering the terrible six months suffering of the country during a "Proletarian Dictatorship" preceding Horthy's coming to power). In fact, the first two years of his reign were marked by some low-level populistic folk-violence, which he eventually put under control. He was never "virulently anti-semitic".

In fact, during the apocalyptic year 1944 he saved the lives of about 200,000 Jews in Budapest. Despite his many shortcomings and errors, he was never a "fascist" and never a "dictator". History should not be rewritten by journalists—nor indeed by anybody else.

Paul Roman
Ludenhausen, Germany

Not Wise to Ignore Engineering

I would like to comment on the report of the Energy Department 20 year plan on the back page of your December 2003 issue. I am concerned that the top priority was given to the subject of fusion power.

It is customary in R&D projects that involve major future engineering problems to work on the present technical problems and delay the consideration of the engineering. In effect saying "Lets cross those bridges when we come to them". The purpose of this note is to say that procedure is not always wise.

My illustrative example stems from the Air Force Nuclear Airplane program many years ago. The Navy had found successful applications for nuclear power in the Nuclear Submarine and the Nuclear Carrier. The Air Force decided to explore the possible applications to its mission. A substantial team of scientists and engineers was assembled in several different technical areas. Early in the program someone remarked that of course the Nuclear Airplane must not crash. The reaction of the participants in the program was that the problem lay far in the future and not an appropriate consideration at the time.

It is fortunate that technical problems forced the cancellation of that program after only a few years, but even so it absorbed a not insignificant portion of the Air Force R&D budget. Suppose that technical problems had not stopped the project. It might have gone on for years, finally culminating in a first flight test airplane. Now is the time to cross that bridge. We can always hope for breakthroughs that will minimize a problem, but gravity will not likely go away. Human error and human inability to see the future are problems that will not go away. At that time an assessment of probabilities of a crash and the resultant damage to the environment would have almost certainly led to the final cancellation of the program.

I am aware that various groups have given some consideration to the future engineering problems of fusion power, often from an adversarial viewpoint. It seems to me that it is appropriate at this time for the Department of Energy to assign some group to make an honest and thorough assessment of those problems with the same vigor that is being put into solution of today's technical problems.

Phillip R. Carlson
Pasadena, CA

Stuyvesant Teachers Definitely Above Average

Regarding the Viewpoint by Howard Greyber on Stuyvesant High School [APS News, December 2003]: for the most part, it was a pretty good overview of my time spent at Stuyvesant (Class of February, 1951), but I am disappointed by the claim that the teachers were average.

One could not be any further from the truth in this respect. All of the teachers with whom I interacted were of a very high caliber; they were extremely dedicated educators and always spent much of their own time with us (after hours) to be sure we understood and absorbed everything they threw at us.

In my own case, I took two years each of chemistry, biology, and physics. Where else could one have such an experience? Certainly not at Bronx Science or at Brooklyn Tech. Our program was as full as we wanted it to be and our teachers motivated us as no others could do.

Jack Cazes
Boynton Beach, FL

What Really Happened That Morning in Georgia?

Regarding the letter from Berol Robinson in the November APS News, under the heading "Saw Flash Two Time Zones Away", I must disagree with the conclusion that the writer saw light from the first nuclear bomb explosion at Trinity, New Mexico.

As a person who has seen a ship with a mast 50 feet high disappear over the horizon at a distance of 20 to 25 miles, I intuitively felt that it would be impossible to see light from the Trinity explosion at Macon, Georgia.

Macon is approximately 23 degrees of longitude and 1,400 miles from the Trinity Site. A "back-of-the- envelope" calculation (aided by a pocket calculator) shows that the horizontal line-of sight from Macon passes approximately 330 miles above the earth's surface at Trinity site.

Neither the explosion itself nor the light reflected from clouds over Trinity could have been seen at Macon.

Some of the brilliant light from the explosion may have traveled upward to the altitude of 330 miles and in principle have been viewable from Macon. But there is effectively nothing at that altitude to scatter the light into a path toward Macon. Ninety-nine percent of the atmosphere is below 31 miles altitude.

Bernard D. Kern
Lexington, KY

Berol Robinson replies:

To interpret this unique observation, I assumed a light path from Trinity to my eye somewhat different from that suggested by Professor Kern. I imagined forward scattering in/on a layer at altitude H, about halfway between Trinity and Warner Robins (over eastern Texas, between Dallas and Texarkana). H comes out to be about 85 km.

What is up there?

The body of reported sightings of light-scattering layers at high altitude dates from before the turn of the 20th Century; they were invoked originally to explain the after-twilight phenomenon called "noctilucent clouds".

An early review by Robert K. Soberman appeared in Scientific American in June, 1963. All scattering layers above about 50 km are now called mesospheric. Sunlight reflected from mesospheric clouds has even been seen from above, according to the reports of Soviet Cosmonauts.

Gary Thomas published an extensive review paper in Reviews of Geophysics in November, 1991 (pp. 553- 575).
There is in fact a practical application of the mesospheric layer in astronomy. Reflecting telescopes with adaptive optics (in which the shape of the parabola is continuously modified in an effort to minimize the effect of atmospheric turbulence) require a relatively bright "guide star" to drive the adaptive optics system. But a suitable guide star is not available in every field of view. An artificial guide star was developed for the Lick Observatory by Claire Max and her co-workers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (see p.1649 in the September 12, 1997 issue of Science).

Laser light, at the wavelength of the sodium D line, is projected upwards through an auxiliary telescope fixed to the main telescope; it is resonantly absorbed by sodium in the mesospheric layer at about 95 km and re-emitted to form the artificial guide star.

When viewed from the side, the artificial guide star is about three kilometers long (thickness of the mesospheric layer), but it varies from night to night in intensity, in height and in length.

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