Physics & Astronomy Colloquium

Science Policy in America

 

 

Dr. Tyler Glembo The American Physical Society Science Policy in America Fundamental scientific research, as a majority federally funded initiative, is becoming more deeply embedded in politics. Since the end of the Space Race, funding of basic physical sciences research as a percent GDP has continuously declined, indicating that policy makers see funding scientific research as less of a priority than they once did. Indeed, a lack of understanding about both science and how science is done amongst members of Congress has led to both reduced prioritization and also to misguided attempts at regulation, such as making peer review a public process and considering Congressional oversight for specific grants. Here we will examine a few current issues in science policy and the need for physicists to effectively weigh in on such policy issues. We will also consider the positive or negative effects such public engagement may have on our scientific careers and ways in which you can get involved.

 

 

Unravelling the Mysteries of Neutrinos

Dr. Stephen Parke Fermilab Neutrinos are the most numerous massive particles in the Universe. Their masses are very tiny, no larger than one millionth the mass of the electron. Are they like all the known massive fermions, being four component particles, or are they a new type of fermion never seen before, a two component fermion? Are there only only three neutrinos or are there more species of neutrinos? Of the three neutrinos we know of, we have determined part of the massing pattern but not the completely pattern. Also we have measured some of their mixing parameters with reasonable precision via neutrino oscillation experiments but not all. Do neutrinos violate CP in neutrino oscillations? Can neutrinos help explain the baryon-antibaryon asymmetry of the Universe? I will address many of the important questions about the neutrinos and how the future Fermilab program will address some of these questions.

 

 

Ultra High Energy Cosmic Rays: Recent results from the Pierre Auger Observatory

 

 

Dr. Fred Sarazin Colorado School of Mines The cosmic ray spectrum spans many orders of magnitude in energy. At the very end of the spectrum (E>10^18 eV) lie the Ultra High Energy cosmic rays (UHECRs). Their origin remains largely unknown and their study is made difficult in part by the very low flux impinging on Earth's atmosphere. The Pierre Auger Observatory, located in the Mendoza province of Argentina, is an array of detectors spread over 3000 km^2 specifically designed to study the properties of the extensive air showers induced by the UHECRs in the atmosphere. The Observatory is fully operational since 2008 and is operated by a collaboration of more than 500 scientists and engineers from 19 countries. In this colloquium, a selection of recent results obtained by the Observatory and the plan for the upcoming upgrade will be presented.

 

 

Top Eigenvalue of a Random Matrix: A tale of tails

Dr. Satya Majumdar 

CNRS Paris

The statistical properties of the largest eigenvalue of a random matrix are of interest in diverse fields such as in the stability of large ecosystems, in disordered systems, in statistical data analysis and even in string theory. In this talk I'll discuss some recent developments in the theory of extremely rare fluctuations (large deviations) of the largest eigenvalue using a Coulomb gas method. Such rare fluctuations have also been measured in recent experiments in coupled laser systems. I'll also discuss recent applications of this Coulomb gas method in three different problems: entanglement in a bipartite system, conductance fluctuation through a mesoscopic cavity and the vicious random walkers problem. 

 

Your textbook is still wrong about the Milky Way galaxy

 

 

Dr. Heidi Newberg Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Fifteen years ago, we modeled the distribution of stars in the Milky Way using three components: an exponential disk, a power law spheroid, and a bulge. Then, we discovered the distribution of stars in the spheroid was lumpy due to the accretion and tidal disruption of dwarf galaxies that ventured too close the the Galactic center. We now wonder whether the Milky Way has a classical bulge at all; likely the bulge-like feature we see is instead due to the Galactic bar. And most recently, we are discovering large scale departures from the standard exponential disk. New discoveries point to variations in the expected bulk velocities of stars in the Galactic disk, and oscillations in the spatial densities of disk stars. Some believe these observations point to a wave response to the passing of dwarf galaxies (or dark matter lumps) through the Milky Way's disk. These waves may also explain the observed rings of stars, 15-25 kpc from the Galactic center, which is farther out than we originally believed the disk to extend.

 

 

Explaining the Global Warming Theory

 

 

Dr. Joseph P. Straley University of Kentucky Explaining the implications of science to contemporary public issues is an important part of our job. As an example I will give an introduction to the global warming issue.

 

 

Designing energy and climate security in different regions of the world

 

 

Dr. Rajan Gupta Los Alamos National Labs Spectacular developments in technology and resource exploitation have provided 2-3 billion people with unprecedented lifestyles and opportunities in the twentieth century. On the energy front, this has largely been achieved using inexpensive fossil fuels-- coal, oil and natural gas. The real costs of burning fossil fuels, many of which are hidden and long-term, have been environmental. Today, all species and nature, are being stressed at unprecedented levels and face conditions that have an increasing probability of resulting in catastrophes. Providing the same opportunities to nine or ten billion people will require 2-3 times current energy resources even with business-as-usual anticipated gains in efficiency. There is little doubt that, globally, we have the resources (100 more years of fossil fuels) and the technology to use fossil-fuels ever more cleanly so that the impacts on the environment are smaller and localized. Unfortunately, the emissions of green house gases and their contributions to climate change mandate we transform from the existing successful fossil-fuel system to zero-carbon emission systems. This talk will examine energy resources in different regions of the world and address the issue of whether these resources can provide energy security for the next fourty years. I will next examine how countries with enough resources (fossil, nuclear, hydroelectric) can reduce their carbon footprint in the power sector. I will then discuss the conditions needed to integrate large-scale solar and wind resources to create sustainable systems. Finally, I will identify areas which lack adequate reserves of fossil fuels and how they can address the simultaneous challenges of energy and climate security.

 

 

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Dr. Geoff Greene University of Tennessee, Knoxville While neutrons within nuclei may be stable, the free neutron is unstable against beta decay and has a mean lifetime of ~15min. Free neutron beta decay is, perhaps, the simplest weak nuclear process as it is uncomplicated by many body effects that are present in the decay of nuclei. As a result, it can be directly understood in terms of rather simple fundamental weak interaction theory. Additionally, because free neutron decay is the "prototype" for all nuclear beta decays, the neutron lifetime is a fundamental parameter whose value is important not only in nuclear physics, but also in astrophysics, cosmology, and particle physics. I will give an introduction to the theory of weak nuclear decay and briefly discuss the importance of the neutron lifetime as a parameter in the Big Bang. A review of the experimental strategies for the measurement of the neutron lifetime will be given as well as a discussion of the puzzling discrepancy among the measurements with the lowest quoted uncertainty. Finally, I present a very new result recently obtained at the NIST Cold Neutron Research Facility in Gaithersburg Md.

 

 

Topological Phases in Correlated Materials

Dr. Yong-Baek Kim University of Toronto

Recently there have been significant theoretical and experimental efforts to understand and identify the so-called topological phases of matter in interacting electron systems. These topological phases may be characterized by different kinds of topological properties such as non-trivial edge/surface states and/or unusual elementary excitations in the bulk or surface. Notable examples include quantum spin liquids, topological insulators, and other closely related phases. One of the main challenges is to come up with theoretical criteria that can be used to identify or predict correlated materials that hold promise for the emergence of such topological phases. We discuss recent theoretical and experimental developments in this direction, along with a brief introduction to some of the proposed topological phases. In particular, we focus on correlated materials with strong spin-orbit coupling and/or near a metal-insulator transition.

 

 

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