APS News

Baltimore Hosts Largest Physics Meeting of 2006

Baltimore's Inner Harbor
Baltimore's Inner Harbor

The latest developments in an incredible variety of research areas will be presented at the 2006 APS March meeting. The meeting, the largest physics conference of the year, with over 6500 papers being presented, will be held March 13-17 at the Baltimore Convention Center by the harbor in Baltimore, Maryland.

Sessions cover the latest research in condensed matter physics, biological physics, chemical physics, new materials, fluid dynamics, polymers, and large-scale computing. The diverse array of subjects includes planetary interiors, ultrafast chemistry, liquid splashing, biological swarming, optical clocks, snake infrared vision, nanoplumbing, microscale synthetic swimmers, a plastic-explosive-degrading enzyme, double electromagnetically induced transparency, antimicrobial coatings for medical devices, and fast electrons in graphene. A number of talks highlight the interdisciplinary nature of physics, showing how physics methods apply to problems from biology to economics, and even sports and traffic.

Physics also has implications for many social issues, and the program includes sessions that address topics such as Intelligent Design, nuclear proliferation and terrorism, physics in developing countries, and the changing dynamics of industrial research, as well as issues relating to university physics departments including the status of women, curricula trends, foreign students, and ethics.

A sampling of highlights of the meeting follows. The full program can be found online at http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/MAR06/Content/346 

Nobel Prize symposium
This Tuesday morning session will feature all three winners of the most recent physics prize, Ted Haensch, John Hall, and Roy Glauber. (Session G1a)

Foundations of Evolution
From gene chips to microfluidics and nanotechnology, new tools now exist to test and explore biological evolution at a much deeper level than was possible 20 years ago. According to speaker Daniel Fisher of Harvard, evolution can now become a quantitative experimental science, with the ability to do such things as manipulate microorganisms at the genetic level, move biomolecules with microfluidics, and make detailed measurements with state-of-the-art optics tools. The University of Chicago's Jim Shapiro will show how an information-science approach will offer many new details about evolution. Michael Deem of Rice University will explain how "Life Has Evolved to Evolve." (Session R7)

Science and Art: Not-So-Strange Bedfellows.
Five years ago, renowned artist David Hockney stirred up a controversy with his contention that artists as prominent as Dutch master Jan van Eyck must have used optical devices to aid to in the production of realistic, almost photographic, details in their works. The debate has continued to rage among art historians. At the Baltimore meeting, Hockney’s scientific collaborator, Charles Falco (University of Arizona), will present a wealth of optical evidence to support Hockney’s claim, and will share his experiences of this unusual and remarkably productive collaboration between an artist and a scientist. He will also give a public lecture on this subject at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore on Wednesday, March 15, at 6:30 p.m.

At the same session, Brian Schwartz (The Graduate Center of the City University of New York) will discuss CUNY’s ongoing “Science as Performance” program, designed to communicate to the public the excitement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Schwartz will also discuss his personal involvement in bringing to the stage two musical versions of Einstein’s Dreams, a novel by physicist Alan Lightman, one of which opens in Philadelphia this month. (Session H4a)

Searching for Supersolids
In 2004 evidence for superfluid behavior in a solid, solid helium, was reported for the first time. At last year's APS March Meeting Tony Clark and Moses Chan of Penn State reported that they had obtained evidence also for superfluidity in solid hydrogen. Because the existence of a superfluid solid would require much new thinking about macroscopic quantum behavior, the number of theoretical papers on this topic has been increasing rapidly, and several groups have commenced experimental studies. At this year's meeting, Chan's group will report more definitive results on these two supersolid systems. Other groups will also report their latest theoretical and experimental results. (Sessions B2 and G41)

Intelligent Design
A Tuesday night session looks at the impact of this topic much in the news and the efforts of many to keep science education on a scientific footing. Jeremy Gunn (American Civil Liberties Union) will review some of the legal milestones concerning the teaching of evolution, such as the Scopes trial of 1925, and will suggest how scientists can contribute to the ongoing debate. Marshall Berman (Sandia National Lab and past vice president of the New Mexico State Board of Education) looks at the social and political standing of science and of religious fundamentalism. Francis Slakey (APS) will review past policy action by the APS and current efforts in this area. Finally, Cornelia Dean of The New York Times will describe how the evolution and intelligent design issue has been covered in her newspaper. (Session M50)

Nanotube Yarns and Textiles
New carbon nanotube yarns and sheets, stronger than steel and extremely light, could be used for a wide variety of futuristic applications, including artificial muscles, solar cells, energy storage, solar sails, electrically conducting appliqués, and several types of lamps, displays and sensors. These sheets are transparent, flexible, light, and extremely strong, and can be produced quickly. Ray Baughman of the University of Texas at Dallas will describe his new method for producing these yarns and textiles in the solid state, and will evaluate their use for some of these amazing applications. (Paper N32.1)

Nanopore DNA Sequencing
Some proteins naturally form nanometer-scale pores through which ions travel to enable communication within and between nerve cells. Researchers are developing biotechnology applications for natural and artificial versions of such nanopores. For example, nanopores are coming closer to enabling faster and better DNA sequencing than present biochemistry-based methods. A Brown University group led by Sean Ling will present one solution to reading the individual letters of DNA molecules through nanopores even though they are only 4 angstroms apart (paper N26.10). An entire session on nanopore biophysics will present a number of advances, including the latest work with artificial nanopores and the use of the nanopore protein secreted by anthrax for technologies for quickly detecting anthrax in blood samples and studying the effectiveness of therapeutic agents that fight anthrax. (Session H7)

Anti-Brownian Trap
Nanometer-scale objects, such as proteins and DNA, constantly jiggle around in a liquid solution as they are bombarded by the solvent molecules that surround them. This Brownian motion makes studying nano-objects very difficult. Adam Cohen of Stanford will present the Anti-Brownian Electrokinetic (ABEL) trap, which eliminates the Brownian motion of one molecule in a solution. The researchers have trapped single fluorescently labeled protein molecules in solution. This achievement opens the possibility of studying individual proteins free-floating in solution. (Paper G26.1)

The Hydrogen Economy
Hydrogen power has the potential to produce less pollution and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but significant challenges remain in order to make a hydrogen economy efficient and economically feasible. Speakers in Session A5 will present an overview of the challenges for the hydrogen economy, and some promising ways in which physics and materials science can enable progress. Mildred Dresselhaus of MIT will discuss the needs of a practical hydrogen economy, including production, storage, and utilization, and will also highlight recent progress and opportunities. Other speakers will present advances in new materials for the hydrogen economy. (Session A5)

Topsy-Turvy Superconductivity
When a superconducting zinc nanowire is attached to bulk superconducting leads of another material, one would expect that the wire remains superconductive. In a recent experiment at Penn State, Minglian Tian and his colleagues observed that when the wire was connected to superconducting leads consisting of indium or tin, its superconductivity was suppressed. Bizarrely, when the indium or tin attachments were driven into a non-superconducting state, the superconductivity in the zinc nanowire recovered. (Session A1)

Is the US Losing its Technological Edge?
The US has held the undisputed lead in science and technology for more than half a century. Recent competitiveness benchmarks, however, suggest that the US may be giving up its advantage as competing nations focus on coming up to speed and the US loses its technological head of steam. Michael Lubell, APS Director of Public Affairs, will examine the sliding US benchmarks and explore various governmental policies that may keep the nation at the top of the research heap. (Session N5)

Thermodynamics of Money
Econo-thermodynamics is an emerging interdisciplinary field that is generating considerable excitement. Physicists often model economic interactions as if they were collisions of atoms in gases: one agent, or atom, gains from the interaction, while the other loses. This means they can use equations drawn from thermodynamics to predict distribution patterns of wealth in various countries, for example. Victor Yakovenko (University of Maryland) will describe his work analyzing empirical data on income in the US, which he believes follows the equilibrium probability distribution of energy in a closed physical system. (Session A33)

Special Events

Sunday, March 12
8:00 am – 5:00 pm
APS Workshop on Opportunities in Biological Physics

1:30 pm–5:30 pm
Special Workshop:
Quantum Mechanics using Interactive Computer-Based Tutorials

7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
NRC/NAS Town Meeting Condensed Matter and Materials Physics in the Next Decade

Monday, March 13
5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Awards Program

6:30 pm – 7:45 pm
Welcome Reception

8:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Special Symposium:
Emerging Emergent Phenomena

Tuesday, March 14
8:00 am – 2:30 pm
High School Physics Teachers Day

7:30 am – 9:30 am
CSWP/FIAP Networking Breakfast for Women in Physics

2:30 pm – 3:30 pm
APS Journal Editors Panel Discussion

3:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Meet the Editors of AIP and APS

6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Alumni Reunions

Wednesday, March 15
1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Students Lunch with the Experts

5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Student Reception

7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Special Symposium:
Perspectives on Our Energy Future

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff