APS News

April 2006 (Volume 15, Number 4)

'Big D' Hosts APS April Meeting

Dallas Skyline
Dallas Skyline

Over 1000 physicists will head to Dallas this month for the April APS meeting, to be held April 22-25, in conjunction with the annual Sherwood Fusion Theory Conference.

The meeting will include three plenary sessions, approximately 75 invited sessions, and more than 100 contributed sessions and poster sessions, covering the latest astrophysics, nuclear physics, particle physics, and plasma physics. There will also be a number of sessions on physics education, physics history, and physics and society. Some potential highlights follow. 2006 April Meeting Scientific Program

Plenary Talks. Three slates of plenary presentations will cover a cosmic range of topics: At Session A1, Voyager 1 and 2 at the edge of the solar system; the study of quark-gluon plasma; and results from the MiniBoone neutrino experiment. At Session O1: the cosmological role of neutrinos; learning about astrophysical plasmas through experiments on Earth; and the physics, engineering, and social implications of cochlear implants. At Session V1: carbon nanotubes; the search for gravity waves with LIGO; and physics and engineering issues for the prospective International Linear Collider.

On Monday as well, there will be a special lunchtime talk at 12:45 by Norman Augustine, former Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Chair of the National Academy of Sciences committee that provided the report "Rising above the gathering storm".

High-Energy Machines. Discerning the subtle logic of submicroscopic matter requires beams of high potency. Session J1 centers on the 10th anniversary of the top quark discovery and the latest results from Fermilab's Tevatron machine. Session C14 looks at a novel accelerator scheme where beams of muons would collide. Colliding beams of electrons with beams of heavy ions (Session J2) is still another way to probe matter, especially for looking at the quark content of protons and the nucleus in general. Speakers in several sessions will look at the new physics on the horizon at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), presently under construction at CERN, where high energy protons will collide head on, and the proposed International Linear Collider (ILC), where electrons would collide. (Sessions H5, L1, E1, Q6)

Radiation Markers. Physicists continue to find creative and useful applications for naturally and artificially created radiation. Vincente Guiseppe of the University of Maine will explain how radon-222, a naturally occurring radioactive gas dissolved in groundwater, can provide information on groundwater mixing and flow (B8.4). Taking advantage of the fact that fission energy reactors emit large numbers of antineutrinos, Nathaniel Bowden of Sandia National Laboratory and his colleagues will explain how these antiparticles might be useful for measuring the reactor's power and plutonium inventory through the reactor's fuel cycle (Paper B8.3).

Cosmic Rays and Biodiveristy. The fossil record shows that Earth's biodiversity fluctuates on an approximately 62-million-year cycle. Until now, there has been no satisfactory explanation for this biodiversity oscillation. University of Kansas researchers Mikhail Medvedev and Adrian Melott show that this cycle can be explained by a change in the flux of cosmic rays reaching Earth as the solar system moves through the galactic plane. This is due to differences in shielding by galactic magnetic fields, and to variations in cosmic ray production and propagation in the galactic interstellar medium. Cosmic rays can influence cloud formation and atmospheric chemistry, and thus affect climate. In addition, energetic cosmic rays produce showers of energetic particles that can damage organisms' DNA. (paper H7.1)

How Round is a Pulsar? Pulsars are some of the most spherical objects in the sky. Generally, however, physicists could only measure the shapes of the stars indirectly, by watching the rate that a pulsar's rotation slows. Data from LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) has now placed limits on the shape of pulsars, including the one at the heart of the Crab nebula, through attempts to directly detect gravitational waves coming from the stars. Matthew Pitkin of the University of Glasgow, on behalf of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, will present the analysis of the most recent and most sensitive LIGO data collected so far, and discuss the limits that the current and forthcoming LIGO data puts on pulsar shapes (Paper C7.2).

Funding Research in Poor Countries. International scientific collaboration and research programs have a largely unrealized potential to promote innovation and economic development in poor countries. As session C4 will show, governmental and public/private programs are reaching out to a wider range of nations and world regions than before. Arden Bement, director of the National Science Foundation, will talk about NSF's international outreach through a variety of initiatives in Africa and elsewhere. At session E4, officials from UNESCO, the World Bank, and NSF's International Science and Engineering Division will discuss burgeoning efforts to develop science, technology, and education programs for reducing poverty in developing nations. (Session C4)

Sakharov in the Gray Zones. The battle for protecting the human rights of scientists did not end with Andrei Sakharov and the former Soviet Union–it is still going on today. Session L6 will explore programs to support and provide safe haven for scholars persecuted for their speech, ethnicity, gender, and citizenship. Yuri Orlov, who is the first recipient of the APS Sakharov Prize, helped establish Human Rights Watch and was one of the early defenders of Sakharov. He will describe "difficult areas of human rights activity in which human rights defenders cannot reach a consensus on how to proceed, and even on how to define the problem." An Iranian physicist sentenced to 10 years of prison for advocating democracy and openness, Hadi Hadizadeh, now at Ohio University, will describe the closed-door trials that he and fellow scholars experienced in Iran.
(Session L6)

Astrophysics in the Laboratory. Plasma physicists have produced in a laboratory some of the extreme conditions and fascinating phenomena observed in the sun and in space. Plasmas and magnetic fields in space often form loops, which merge, twist and reconnect, releasing energy and jets of particles. This magnetic reconnection is believed to underlie many solar phenomena, but scientists don't have a complete understanding of how it works, and the details can be hard to study in space. In an experiment at Swarthmore College, Michael Brown, along with a group of undergraduate researchers, generates and merges loops of extremely hot gas suspended on magnetic fields. These loops have many properties of the much larger loops observed on the surface of the sun, including temperatures up to 1 million degrees, strong magnetic fields, and high velocities. Brown and colleagues have used hundreds of tiny magnetic detectors to map out the entire complex 3-dimensional structure of loops in the process of intertwining and reconnecting. Brown will compare this structure, which had never been mapped out before, to similar structures in reconnecting magnetic fields in the magnetosphere. In their newest measurement, the Swarthmore researchers used Doppler spectroscopy to measure high-velocity (40 km/s), bi-directional jets coming out of a reconnection event. Brown will report on his observations and compare them to observations in a solar context (paper L16.4).

Why Aristotle Took so Long to Die. Aristotle's view of physics and cosmology reigned for many centuries as the definitive model of physical reality among the philosophical thinkers of Islam and Christendom, even after Copernicus and Galileo came on the scene. Dennis Danielson (University of British Columbia) considers why this was and suggests how, by attempting to see things from Aristotle's point of view, we might be better able to "avoid getting stuck in our own orthodoxies" when it comes to untangling nature's mysteries. (paper B5.1)

Cosmic Evolution. Speakers at a Monday afternoon session will present some of the latest and most compelling evidence of how the universe, Earth and life have evolved. Joel Primack (University of California, Santa Cruz) is the co-author (with Nancy Ellen Abrams) of The View From the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos. Primack will review key observations that support modern cosmology, describe some symbolic ways of understanding the modern cosmos, and discuss some possible implications of a cosmic perspective for our 21st century worldview. Penn State’s James Kasting will discuss climate and life on early Earth. Duane Jeffrey, a professor of integrative biology at Brigham Young University, will talk about the evolution of biological diversity.
(Session Q5)

Cool Roofs Save Money. White roofs with a high reflectivity or “albedo” have a long history of keeping buildings cool, especially in the Mediterranean, according to Arthur Rosenfeld of the California Energy Commission. Closer to home, so-called “cool roofs” have been shown to reduce A/C demand in California by as much as 10%, and to slow the formation of ozone. Rosenfeld will report on his recent investigation into the positive environmental impacts of widespread deployment of cool roof technology. Among other benefits, “cooling the planet” with such technology could save hundreds of billions of dollars annually worldwide. (Paper W5.2)

Lessons from Katrina. Coastal and riverine flooding and hurricane-driven storms have long plagued US residents who live or work near shorelines. The devastation wrought last year by Hurricane Katrina has brought the problem to national attention. Gerald Galloway of the University of Maryland will review the development of the US program for providing structural protection, discuss the effectiveness of levees, dams, floodways, and storm barriers, and explore what new approaches might be taken to be better prepared for such disasters, based on post-Katrina planning. (Paper W5.3)

Reaching for the Stars. In 1925, a little-known female astronomer named Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin published a monograph on the composition of the stars and universe that was hailed as “the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy” by one renowned colleague. It combined observations of stellar spectra with the then-new atomic theories in physics. Yet like many other early women in astronomy, today she has been largely forgotten. Her story is among those featured at a session honoring pioneering women in astronomy. The early 19th century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt will also be featured, and Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute will wrap things up with her personal experiences in a male-dominated field. (Session J5)

Special Events

Friday, April 21

High School Physics Teachers’ Day
8:00 a.m. – 2:45 p.m.

Student Reception
8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Saturday, April 22
Welcome Reception
5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Scientific Professionalism and the Physicist: The Skills You Need to Succeed in Physics-based Careers
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

New Reports from Major  National Studies
7:15 p.m. – 8:45 p.m.

Sunday, April 23

Meet the Editors
3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Awards Program, Presidential Address & Lilienfeld Prize Talk
5:15 p.m. – 6:45 p.m.

Monday, April 24

CSWP/DPF Luncheon for Women in Physics
12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Students Lunch with the Experts
12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Special Invited Talk: "Rising above the gathering storm",
Norman R. Augustine 
12:45 p.m.

COM/CSWP Reception
5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.


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

April 2006 (Volume 15, Number 4)

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Articles in this Issue
'Big D' Hosts APS April Meeting
Does the 'Impact Factor' Impact Decisions on Where to Publish?
Public Event Features Lisa Randall
APS Helps Boy Scouts Explore Nuclear Science
Largest APS Prize Targets Young Physicists
High Energy Physicists Hear Mixed Message from Washington Science Policy Leaders
APS Member Honored for Intelligence
Gershenfeld Hopes to Spearhead a Fab-ulous Revolution
Inside the Beltway
The Back Page
Members in the Media
This Month in Physics History
Physics and Technology Forefronts
Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science