March 16, 2009 - Physics Press Conferences

Monday, March 16

10,000 Physics Majors and What to do With Them (papers B3.1 and J8.1) 10:00 a.m.
Theodore Hodapp of the American Physical Society (APS) will explain why the APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers recently endorsed a call to double the number of physics majors in the United States to an all-time high of 10,000 students per year (paper B3.1). Roman Czujko of the American Institute of Physics will join in the press conference to offer an overview of what sorts of careers young physicists are choosing in these troubling economic times. He will also provide suggestions for ways U.S. physics departments can prepare the current crop of 5,000 physics students (or perhaps 10,000 students, if the doubling initiative is successful) for the realities of supply and demand in the scientific workplace (paper J8.1).

The Physics of Facebook, Sports Careers, and a Bump in a Rug 11:00 a.m.
Sessions sponsored by the Group on Statistical and Nonlinear Physics (GSNP) at the APS March Meeting always include a few talks that apply physical methods to intriguing and unexpected questions. Amanda Traud ( of the University of North Carolina has investigated friendship networks in U.S. colleges using data from the online social networking site Facebook. Traud and colleagues at UNC, Harvard, and Oxford have found that they can gain insights into the social structures of different schools by comparing network structural properties with characteristics given by the online users (paper H9.13). Alexander Petersen ( of Boston University has turned his attention to professional athletes, and put together a definitive plot of the likely length of a player’s career. The trends he discovered are consistent for all sorts of sports in locations around the globe, indicating that one specific type of career distribution holds throughout the sporting world (paper Q15.11). Dominic Vella ( of the Laboratoire de Physique Statistique in Paris has set his sights a little lower in his studies of the evolution of a bump in a rug. The analysis reveals the fundamental mechanics of how flat objects glide across each other, which applies to various phenomena including the motion of tectonic plates over the Earth’s mantle and interactions between sheets of material at atomic scales (paper J9.12).

Batteries of the Future (papers A4.4 and B20.1) 1:00 p.m.
Although batteries have improved only incrementally in the last generation, the cell phones, laptops, hybrid cars, and other devices they power have made much more fundamental technological advances. So how might batteries of the future catch up? One emerging technology uses polymers instead of relying on traditional metal/metal oxide electrodes. These new batteries promise to be lighter, safer, and much more long lasting. In paper A4.4, Hiroyuki Nishide of Waseda University in Tokyo will be discussing charge transport and storage within electroactive polymer-based energy devices. In paper B20.1, Mohit Singh of SEEO, Inc., will be discussing polymers for new battery technologies. Also at the press conference will be Nitash Balsara of the University of California, Berkeley, who is chair of session A4.

Tuesday, March 17

New in Nano: Tiny Tools and Hybrid Memory (session H8) 10:00 a.m.
Abha Misra of Caltech will describe minuscule soldering irons built of iron-filled nanotubes . The nano-soldering irons should be ideal for linking together molecular-scale mechanical and electronic devices (J24.2). Izhar Medalsy and colleagues of the The Hebrew University in Israel have developed a novel memory unit that combines a ring-shaped protein molecule 11 nanometers in diameter with a 5 nanometer particle of silicon. The structure can be electrically charged to store a single bit of information. The achievement is an example of a promising bottom-up approach to building nanoscopic electronics, rather than the top-down technique of carving devices out of silicon, which is getting increasingly challenging as technology moves to ever smaller scales. (A28.11).

The Greening of Pittsburgh (session H8) 11:00 a.m.
Many 21st century cities are going green in terms of air quality, environmental efficiency, recycling, and building construction. Few cities have had to come as far as Pittsburgh, whose iron works, steel mills, and other industries relied heavily on burning coal for much of the city's history. In session H8, moderated by Brian Schwartz of The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, a panel of local speakers will be discussing Pittsburgh’s history and the city's greener present and future. Joel A. Tarr of Carnegie Mellon University will discuss water, air and land in Pittsburgh environmental history. Alan Traugott of CJL Engineering will talk about green materials and construction. Cliff Davidson of Carnegie Mellon University will describe the city's air quality from its early days to the present. Finally, Mark Leahy, the General Manager of the David L. Lawrence Pittsburgh Convention Center will discuss the greening of the convention center itself, the first of its kind.

Biology at the Smallest Scale 1:30 p.m.
Recent technological advances in optical microscopy have shattered diffraction limits, allowing scientists to directly image a variety of biological processes with unprecedented resolution. In the 2009 Irving Langmuir Prize Lecture, W.E. Moerner of Stanford University will discuss the technique of single-molecule spectroscopy and imaging, which he pioneered. Many aspects of the early low temperature studies have critical roles in today's room temperature bioimaging. He has managed to reveal the shapes of filaments in living bacteria and to resolve single molecules in three dimensions far beyond the diffraction limit. Stefan Hell of MPI for Biophysical Chemistry, Gottingen, Germany, conceived and developed the first far-field optical microscope that breaks the diffraction-limited resolution barrier. He will discuss the importance of this technology for fluorescence imaging with resolution on the nanometer scale and give an overview of the wide range of applications of this rapidly emerging field, from nanoscale imaging of cellular organelles to studies of polymers and crystals. Also at the press conference will be Session H7 chair K.C. Huang of Stanford University.

Supersolid Crystal Gas (session P6) 2:30 p.m.
Even though scientists know a lot about atoms and about chemical bonds, the nature of matter still holds surprises, especially as manifested in a variety of quantum phenomena. One of the weirdest of these is the possible existence of superfluid solids. The idea of supersolids arose a few years ago when it appeared that at least part of a solid helium sample was able to pass through the rest of the sample without friction. Interpretation of these helium results remains controversial, but physicists continue to explore the phenomenon in other systems. Charles Clark of NIST, a coauthor of numerous papers at the meeting dealing with supercold atoms (eg, W16.7, T16.6), will describe his modeling of a one-dimensional supersolid consisting of atoms held in place by an optical lattice. Dan Stamper-Kurn of the University of California, Berkeley will report experimental evidence for a two-dimensional gas of rubidium atoms which, in the form of magnetic domains, exhibits supersolid behavior (paper P6.3). (For a brief animated video depicting a supersolid in motion, see

Wednesday, March 18

Super-Computations: Space Clouds, Hurricanes, and Other Fluids (session P5) 1:00 p.m.
From the collapse of planet-forming dust clouds to the coursing of blood through the human body to the aerodynamics of hurricanes, many of nature's most fascinating phenomena are all forms of fluid flow. As supercomputers have grown larger and larger in the last decade, scientists have found unprecedented opportunities to model the dynamics of these widely varied phenomena -- the subject of an invited session on fluid dynamics and computational science. Paolo Padoan of the University of California, San Diego will discuss how the dynamics of dust grains in turbulent flows plays an important role in many astrophysical processes, including the formation of precursor planets. George Karniadakis of Brown University will present a model of the human circulatory system that describes blood flow in vessels ranging in size from large arteries to tiny capillaries. Jacqueline Chen of Sandia National Laboratories will present high-fidelity simulations of a turbulent reacting flow -- an ethylene-air jet flame. Fuqing Zhang of Penn State University will discuss the use of high-performance computing facilities to model hurricanes. Said Elghobashi of the University of California, Irvine will focus on particle-laden turbulent flows, which are ubiquitous in nature (e.g. dust storms on Earth and Mars) and in industrial applications (e.g. liquid fuel and pulverized coal sprays in combustion chambers). Also at the press conference will be Pui-Kuen Yeung of Georgia Institute of Technology, who is chair of Session P5.

The Physics of the Great Painters (sessions W5 and Q5) 2:30 p.m.
Science and art are two different ways of portraying the world. Science cannot interpret art but it can comment on some of the physical attributes of art, which can have a bearing on such things as the authentication of paintings. Here four scientists will report on their computer analysis of patterns in the works of notable artists. Charles Falco, University of Arizona will speak about extending his study of optical effects (carried out in collaboration with the painter David Hockney) to the works of Monet and Renoir. Katherine Jones-Smith of Case Western University will provide a much-improved study of the supposed fractal nature of the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. James Wang of Penn State who had previously tendered qualitative assessments of the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, will describe his ability now to provide a fuller accounting of brush strokes -- size, curvature, and relation to neighboring strokes. Peter Lu of Harvard will describe the origins of the complex tiling patterns evident in many medieval Islamic buildings. The tiles are arranged with a deceptively crystal-like orderliness that changes slightly from one place to the next, much like natural quasicrystals that straddle the line between true crystals and randomly ordered glass.

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The American Physical Society ( is a non-profit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy and international activities. APS represents over 51,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories and industry in the United States and throughout the world. Society offices are located in College Park, MD (Headquarters), Ridge, NY, and Washington, DC.

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