Sunday, January 16, 2011

Two awesome books.

I finished reading A ZEPTOSPACE ODYSSEY a few days ago. It was published in January 2010 by Oxford University Press, which usually offers more advanced reading material for non-scientists. I would not recommend this as a first book about particle physics unless you are prepared to use supplemental material. In other words, this is not a light or casual read; one must work at this book in order to finish.

Here are some of the interesting facts I learned from this book:

-The prefix 'zepto' is derived from the Latin 'septem' and the 's' was changed to a 'z' in order to avoid duplication of symbols, since the 'second' already uses 's' as an abbreviation. 'Zepto' is a relatively new prefix, as it was invented in 1991. A zeptometer is one billionth of a billionth of a millimeter. Or, it is one million times smaller than the diameter of a proton. We actually have the ability to probe this fantastically small space.
-Leibniz (a contemporary of Isaac Newton) called atoms 'monads'. Philip K. Dick sometimes used the word 'monad' in his novels. Now I know where it came from.  
-Cathode rays were originally thought to be electromagnetic radiation, but photons do not have charge.
-The atom was first split in 1897 by J.J. Thomson, since a fragment (the electron) was observed. Electrons (not photons) were determined to be cathode rays.
-The ratio between the size of the solar system (out to Neptune) and the diameter of the Sun is 6,000:1. The ratio between the size of an atom and its nucleus is 20,000:1. Thus, there is more empty space (relatively speaking) inside atoms than inside our solar system.
-Leo Szilard first thought of liberating atomic energy, due to the fact that neutrons don't ionize matter.
-The weak nuclear force transforms particles, while the electromagnetic force does not transform them.
-Subatomic particles are nothing but localizations of quantum field energy. An electron is not really a particle, but a lump of energy in a quantum field. 
-The slow disintegration of some hadrons led to the property of strangeness. Strangeness is a property of particles, like charge or mass. It refers to unusually slow decays. 
-The W bosons mediate the 'charged current' weak interaction, in which neutrinos transform into electrons. The Z boson mediates the 'neutral current' weak interaction, in which neutrinos retain their identities.
-The discovery of neutral currents provided evidence for electroweak unification.
-Less than 1% of particle accelerators are used for science research. The majority are used in hospitals.
-X-rays lose most of their energy close to the skin surface, causing more damage to healthy cells than hadron-based treatments. (This makes sense. X-rays do not have mass, but hadrons do.)
-A bent proton beam emits ten thousand billion times less radiation than an electron beam.
-It takes 20 minutes for a proton beam to reach 7 TeV.
-A proton beam consists of 2,808 bunches of 100 billion protons per bunch. Each bunch is separated by 10 meters. 100 billion protons weighs about a ten-trillionth of a gram.
-The full power of the beam can melt a 1,000 pound block of solid copper. 
-Two main detectors are called ATLAS and CMS. Each consists of 4 structures: 1. trackers 2. electromagnetic calorimeters 3. hadron calorimeters 4. muon chambers
-One million gigabytes of data are generated every second. 
-Soft events are when the quarks and gluons inside a proton do not collide with those inside another proton.
-Hard events are when quarks or gluons have direct head-on hits.
-The GRID was invented to handle the enormous amount of data, which is a vast network of processing power. 
-Symmetry in the subatomic world refers to invariance under a transformation of particles. For example, the strong force is symmetric, since it does not distinguish between protons and neutrons.
-The configuration inside a superconductor spontaneously breaks the gauge symmetry associated with electromagnetism, giving mass to the photon. Photons are impeded in their motion and they can propagate the electromagnetic force only within a short range, behaving like massive force carriers.
-The Higgs mechanism contributes less than a kilogram of mass to the average person.
-The Higgs substance becomes much less dense at temperatures exceeding one quadrillion degrees.
-Nature saves energy by filling space with the Higgs substance, rather than leaving it empty.
-Present understanding of matter and forces is based on 3 elements: 1. general relativity (gravity) 2. Yang-Mills gauge theory (strong, weak, composition of matter) 3. Higgs sector (spontaneous breaking of electroweak symmetry)
-The masses of quarks accounts for 1% of proton and neutron masses.
-98% of the mass of hadrons comes from the motion of quarks and gluons (binding force of QCD)
-Electromagnetic effects account for the other 1%.
-Higgs mechanism generates the quark masses, but not the QCD effect
-Higgs mechanism accounts for 1% of the mass of ordinary matter, or 0.2% of the mass of the universe.
-Electromagnetic waves are purely transverse, because the electric and magnetic fields oscillate only in directions perpendicular to the direction of motion.
-Samuel Goudsmit and George Uhlenbeck invented the concept of particle spin in 1925.
-The rate of particle spin never changes, like electric charge.
-The 3 coupling constants become nearly equal at 10^-32 meters, which is beyond what can be explored at the LHC. It would be like using regular binoculars to spot molecules on the surface of the moon. 
-Gravitational red shift is not the same as Doppler red shift. Gravitational red shift refers to the increase in wavelength of light as it loses energy during its escape from a star.
-On the scale of the universe, 3000 billion complete LHC programs are occurring every second.
-INFLATION: In 10^-35 seconds, the universe expanded by a factor of 10^30, which is equivalent to a 20 nanometer virus expanding into a creature with a diameter of 2.2 million light years in the time it takes light to cross a few millionths of a zeptometer. (How awesome is that?)
-Our technology can peer no further back than 380,000 years after inflation, due to the background temperature exceeding 2700 degrees Celsius, which is like a brick wall to electromagnetic radiation. Thus, the early universe is 'opaque' to our current telescopes.
-Experiments must be sensitive to 10^-19 watts in order to detect dark matter.
-The 72% estimate for dark energy comes from observations of supernovae and data from the cosmic microwave background.
-Due to the expansion of space, nothing beyond the solar system will be visible 500 billion years from now. (Like it will matter.)

Funny quotes the author provided:

"Communication is established between humans here on earth and extraterrestrials living in a galaxy made of antimatter. It is found that in that anti-world they have anti-science, anti-mathematics, and anti-physics. Earthbound physicists get a description of an anti-physics anti-laboratory, and lo and behold, they find it is filled with anti-Semites."

     -Peter Freund

"If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew."

     -Albert Einstein

"Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true."

     -Bertrand Russell

"There is no law except the law that there is no law."

     -John Wheeler

The second book I recently finished is titled GATHER YOURSELVES TOGETHER. It was written sometime between 1949-1951 by Philip K. Dick and is his first novel. It was not published until 1994, a full 12 years after his death.

This is not a science fiction novel, but one of his realistic novels which focuses on a small group of people. Usually, they are miserable, just like real people. In this novel, 3 American workers are left behind after a company in China has gone bankrupt. Two of them are connected in an unusual way, while the third is supposed to be PKD himself. This is a haunting novel and very well written, considering he was younger than 25 when he wrote it. There are certain things I will never forget, especially the dialogue between the Chinese scout and the Americans.

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