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Friday, August 16, 2013

Pollyanna marks Erwin Schrodinger's birthday

Pollyanna is back with you and hopes you all enjoyed the Perseid display. She notes the birthday of Erwin Schroedinger, born August 12, 1887-died January 4, 1961.

He is famous as one of the founding fathers of Quantum Mechanics and the formulator of the fundamental wave equation of quantum theory. He shared the 1933 Nobel Prize with Paul Dirac. You will note the Google Doodle in his honor above which shows a cat live at one side of a box and its ghost on the other side. It demonstrates Schroedinger's famous thought experiment in which he pointed out the difficulty of applying quantum mechanics ideas to reality.
Imagine this: A cat is placed inside a box with a flask of poison, a radioactive source, a Geiger counter (to detect radiation), and a hammer for one hour. There is a finite chance that the radioactive source decays within the hour, which would set off the Geiger counter, cause the hammer to smash open the vial of poison, and the cat would die. And there is also a finite chance both the poisonous vial and the cat would come out intact. But can the cat be both dead and alive at the same time? The cat’s status – dead or alive – is only determined once an outside party takes a look inside the box to see how the cat fared. Whereas before, the Copenhagen theory of quantum physics proposed that particles could be in two different states at the same time, Schroedinger extrapolated this theory to something concrete that cannot exist simultaneously as both dead and alive: a cat. It was his reductio ad absurdum of the applicability of quantum mechanics to the real world.While Schroedinger and Einstein, among a few others, criticized the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, it has turned out to be a most successful way of describing the subatomic world. It also is starting to be found in the macroscopic world.  Pollyanna wonders what Schroedinger, who coined the term entanglement ('Verschrankung' in German), would think of the weirdness of modern physics (reverse causality anyone?) or the new vistas of quantum computing which depends on superposition of states of qubits. We have or do not have a cat named Schroedinger among the population of felines we feed in our yard. On Schroedinger and his poor cat in popular culture, more in the Silly Section below.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. As the weeks and months go by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

This week it is Pollyanna's turn to promote a charity. Her choice is the Association for Children at Risk. This nonprofit group supports children in Israel with developmental problems, in particular autism, and their families.
You can go into their Web site in English or Hebrew. One nice option that we pick up every year is to buy their calendars decorated with art by autistic children. Please be generous as the Hebrew New Year approaches. She also points out new research into the connection between autism and gut bacteria. It may be that gastroenterological treatment might alleviate some of the behavioral problems associated with autism spectrum disorders.

Edyie Gorme, the voice of sophisticated pop singing, died this week at age 84.
Blame it on the Bossa Nova was her biggest solo hit
She and her husband Steve Lawrence starred for decades as a singing couple on the Steve Allen Tonight show. Edith Gormezano was born on Aug. 16, 1928, in the Bronx. Her father, a tailor, was from Sicily and her mother from Turkey, but both were Sephardic Jews and spoke Ladino, a language derived from Old Spanish, at home. She married Steve Lawrence, a cantor's son, in 1957. Their marriage lasted for her lifetime. We remember them fondly, for their singing and repertoire preserved quality when rock was taking over. The LA Times obituary quotes Steve Allen on this:
"What has been the nature of their success?" Allen said in a 1996 Times story. "First, the fact that they are a couple has something to do with it. Secondly, they are damned good singers. And thirdly — this has both hurt and helped them — they concentrated for the most part on good music. This lost them the youthful audience, who prefer crap to Cole Porter's music. But it endeared them to people with sophisticated taste."
 Rest in Peace, Edyie z"l. Hear her singing Gershwin

Pollyanna together with Titan and YandA wishes to express her warmest congratulations to the 32 young Israeli scientists who won grants of 1.5 million euros each from the European Union for five years of research.
David Bachar
Anat Hershovitz. "Every scientist is like the CEO of a small company." Photo by David Bachar
 The competition was fierce and Israel did very well. In the case of the Israeli researchers, 31 percent had their applications approved. That put them in third place in terms of the number of grants received, after Britain, with 60 recipients, and Germany, with 46. Germany has a population of 80 million, and Britain’s population is 60 million, so per capita, and by a wide margin, Israel takes first place among the 22 countries. Leading the list of local institutions whose researchers received a grant is, not surprisingly, the Weizmann Institute of Science, with 10 recipients, followed by the Hebrew University (8), Tel Aviv University (6), the Technion Israel Institute of Technology (2), Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (2), Bar-Ilan University (2), Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (1), and Hadassah University Hospital (1). We hope that the new flap about funding for the Occupied Territories does not affect the next seven year program which is still to be signed. We wish all of them success in their scientific endeavors.


Gloria Steinem
President Obama has awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to  a group of people who are household names to Americans. The award is the highest U.S. civilian honor and this year's ceremony is to mark the 50th anniversary of the medal.. One of the honorees is Danny Kahneman with whom we served in the Army. Gloria Steinem, the famous  feminist, was also among the awardees as was former President Bill Clinton.
Princeton’s Daniel Kahneman was among the winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Princeton’s Daniel Kahneman was among the winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. photo Getty Images
Now let us get on to some science goodies.
SWAP View of Sun space wallpaper
This stunning space wallpaper shows the view of the sun from the SWAP (Sun Watcher using Active Pixel System detector and Image Processing) instrument onboard ESA's Proba-2 satellite.
Credit: ESA/SWAP PROBA2 science centre

The Sun has a period of activity of 11 years and we are now approaching the end of such a cycle, Cycle 24, which as usual will be marked by a flip of the polarity of the solar magnetic field. This last cycle has seen a rather quiet Sun. During the reversal, the sun's polar magnetic fields will weaken all the way down to zero, then bounce back with the opposite polarity. Researchers will keep a keen eye on just how strong this recovery is over the next two years or so.

The Earth also has field reversals. Scientists say earth's magnetic field is weakening and could all but disappear in as little as 500 years as a precursor to flipping upside down. It has happened before—the geological record suggests the magnetic field has reversed every 250,000 years, meaning that, with the last event 800,000 years ago, another would seem to be overdue. When it happens, things will be quite chaotic. The atmosphere will be exposed for some time to the solar wind and many things will be difficult to maintain. The absence of a magnetic field could explain why life does not exist on Mars.

The existence of dark matter is acknowledged by the scientific community but observing it has proven most difficult. The astrophysical community is debating whether a line of gamma rays at 130 GeV (60 billion times as potent as ordinary yellow light) is an indication of dark matter. Up to now dark matter has been thought to interact only via gravity, but since its WIMP component (weakly interacting massive particle) is its own antiparticle (google it) it would self-annihilate in a collision. The feature was found by Christof Weiniger of the Netherlands and much effort is now being devoted to figuring out whether it is real or not. It will involve changes in the observing strategy.  The observations are made by means of the Fermi orbiting observatory which has been mapping the universe in gamma rays since 2008.
All-sky gamma-ray map from Fermi Space Telescope
This all-sky image, constructed from two years of observations by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, shows how the sky appears in gamma-ray light. Brighter colors indicate brighter gamma-ray sources. A diffuse glow fills the sky and is brightest along the plane of our galaxy (middle). Discrete gamma-ray sources include pulsars and supernova remnants within our galaxy as well as distant galaxies powered by supermassive black holes.
Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration)

If dark matter is not just an amorphous mass, but consists of different types of dark particles, the implications are staggering. There is much more dark matter than light matter in the universe and we may coexist with a dark universe with dark stars, dark planets and dark astronomers debating whether light matter can be observed. Pollyanna likes questions of this type. Have a nice day!

Just to confuse things, astrophysicists have revived interest in wormholes. Black holes are well known,regions of monstrous gravity and mass which are bottomless pits in spacetime. Wormholes on the other hand, whose existence was predicted by Einstein and Rosen in 1935 as a consequence of general relativity, would be bridges from one part of spacetime to another and possibly connectors between universes making up a metaverse (again go google). It is now being argued that what looks like a black hole at a galactic center might really be a wormhole and telescope technology is reaching the stage that might make a detection possible. In the meantime, wormholes provide means of transport in science fiction, but the observation may be around the corner. Wow! says Pollyanna.

At Tel Hazor in Northern Israel the paws of a sphinx statue dating from 2500 BCE has been found. It has an inscription in hieroglyphs naming King Mycerinus. The pharaoh ruled in 2500 BCE and oversaw the construction of one of the three Giza pyramids, where he was enshrined. It is a complete mystery how a sphinx made its way from Egypt to Hazor, which at the time was the main city of Canaan.

In November 2012 commanders in theIndian army mistook Venus and Jupiter for Chinese drones. Fortunately they consulted astronomers and were straightened out. As Phil Plait points out Jupiter and Venus have often been misidentified as UFO's.
Venus and Jupiter by Robert Blasius
Massive worlds ponderously orbiting the Sun, or Chinese drones?
Photo by Robert Blasius
 This kind of ignorance is scary. While the story of the excommunication of Halley's Comet in 1456 by Pope Callistus III, is a legend, when the Earth passed through the tail of P/Halley in 1910 and it was reported that the tail contained cyanide gas, some creative crooks marketed Comet Pills to protect gullible people. When the comet returned in 1986, the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Roger Chaffee Planetarium sold them as a combined joke and fund raiser. The comet pills were actually a healthful snack of yogurt-covered sunflower seeds that sold for $2 per jar.
Protect yourself from cosmic danger
What If deals with space and orbital velocity and tries to explain by example what is meant by 8 km/s. Elementary, but maybe interesting to some.

The Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Mechanics and the principle of superposition of states which give a
probabilistic view of how the world works can be used in many ways.


 Schroedinger had a complicated life according to Zack of SMBC/.

We all want to do our bit in the war against terror, even Dilbert's boss:
Dilbert Cartoon for Aug/14/2013

and as promised a collection of Schroedinger cat jokes compiled by the Independent.

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