November 2014: The November Revolution

On November 11, 1974, members of the Cornell high-energy physics group could have spent the lulls during their lunch meeting chatting about the aftermath of Nixon’s resignation or the upcoming Big Red hockey season.

But on that particular Monday, the most sensational topic was physics-related. One of the researchers in the audience stood up to report that two labs on opposite sides of the country were about to announce the same thing: the discovery of a new particle that heralded the birth of the Standard Model of particle physics.

“Nobody at the meeting knew what the hell it was,” says physicist Kenneth Lane of Boston University, a former postdoctoral researcher at Cornell. Lane, among others, would spend the next few years describing the theory and consequences of this new particle.

It isn’t often that a discovery comes along that forces everyone to reevaluate the way the world works. It’s even rarer for two groups to make such a discovery at the same time, using different methods.

One announcement would come from a research group led by MIT physicist Sam Ting at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. The other was to come from a team headed by physicist Burton Richter at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, then called the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, in California. Word traveled fast.

“We started getting all sorts of inquiries and congratulations before we even finished writing the paper,” Richter says. “Somebody told a friend, and then a friend told another friend.”

Ting called the new particle the J particle. Richter called it psi. It became known as J/psi, the discovery that sparked the November Revolution.

To find the full Symmetry Magazine article, click here.

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November 2014: Longtime Cornell Physicist receives Wilson Prize

Hasan Padamsee, a Cornell physics researcher for more than 30 years, has received the Robert R. Wilson Prize for oustanding achievement in accelerator science.

Padamsee, now at Fermilab, came to Cornell in 1973 as a research associate and retired as an adjunct professor in 2009. He taught “Physics of the Heavens and the Earth” during spring semesters. He remained a part-time researcher and lecturer in physics until this year.

Cornell’s Wilson Synchrotron Laboratory is named for the same Wilson, who helped design Cornell’s electron storage ring, and was known for his work in the Manhattan Project and as first director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. (Cornell Chronicle, 11/12/14).

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November 2014: Grad students help envision black holes for sci-fi ‘Interstellar’

The sci-fi thriller “Interstellar“ received critical praise and big box office last weekend.

Similar in premise to many other science fiction films, something sets “Interstellar” apart: Many of the images are – for the most part – scientifically accurate, based on lensing calculations that show what black holes or wormholes look like.

Three graduate students – Andy Bohn, François Hébert and William Throwe – are doing related research at Cornell. Just last week, the students published their research about binary black holes on ArXiv, an online repository for scientific papers founded by Cornell physicist Paul Ginsparg. The paper, “What Would a Binary Black Hole Merger Look Like?” immediately garnered the attention of publications such as Nature.

In the plot of “Interstellar,”Earth is dying; to save the human race, astronauts and scientists search for a new planet via a wormhole, essentially a shortcut through space.

To find the full Cornell Chronicle article, click here.

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November 2014: Physicists crank up current in new type of accelerator

A kilometers-long particle accelerator may epitomize big science, but a team of physicists has taken a key step toward doing the same job with a much smaller machine. The team has amped up the current in an experimental type of accelerator—known as a plasma wakefield accelerator—and shown that it can efficiently produce an intense beam of electrons accelerated to a precisely defined energy. Many challenges remain, but some physicists hope that someday such a scheme might be used to make much smaller particle colliders.

“It’s certainly an important step,” says Gerald Dugan, an accelerator physicist and professor emeritus at Cornell University who was not involved in the work. “At the same time there’s a long way to go” to developing a practical technology.

Particle accelerators are essential tools for many types of science. Physicists use them in atom smashers—such as the 27-kilometer-long Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Materials scientists and structural biologists study samples using x-rays radiated by the beams in electron accelerators. Accelerators typically measure hundreds or thousands of meters in length and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

To find the full Science magazine article, click here.


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November 2014: When to Fold ‘Em

Better living through origami

For the most part, professor Itai Cohen’s physics lab in the basement of Clark Hall looks like any other. The tables are covered in computers, calculators, and. . . intricately folded sheets of paper? Cohen’s team has been studying ways to apply the Japanese art of origami to manipulate the physical properties of materials—work that has potential applications in robotics, medicine, engineering, and more.

The fold that Cohen’s lab has been working with is called the miura-ori. Invented by Japanese astrophysicist Koryo Miura in the mid-Nineties, it comprises a grid of alternating mountains and valleys that can be collapsed into a small, compact shape with a single motion, like an accordion. The lab’s research—spearheaded by former grad student Jesse Silverberg, PhD ’14—centers around the idea that the miura-ori is a “metamaterial,” which means that its mechanical properties derive not from the composition of the material but from the arrangement of the fold. “We can add ‘defects’ to the fold pattern, where we take a valley and turn it into a mountain,” Cohen explains. “By pushing one of the vertices through to the other side, the whole paper becomes much stiffer. So we can put these defects in different spots to ‘program’ the stiffness of the paper.”

To find the full Cornell Alumni Magazine article click here.


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November 2014: Davis to use $2M ‘risky’ grant to explore the quantum world

Some of the greatest moments in science may have happened when an experimenter said, “That probably won’t work, but let’s try it.”

J.C. Séamus Davis, the James Gilbert White Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences at Cornell, is about to try some new experiments in the uncharted territory of quantum physics, supported by an approximately $2 million, five-year grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which encourages “high-risk” research that could lead to potentially world-changing technological applications.

Davis already has experience working with “quantum materials” that exhibit unusual properties at temperatures near absolute zero and sometimes under high pressure. Using exceptionally sensitive scanning tunneling microscopes (STMs) that can observe electrical activity at the atomic level, he has revealed many secrets of superconductors that carry electrical current without resistance. In earlier work at the University of California, Berkeley, he studied the macroscopic quantum physics of “superfluids” that flow without resistance from the walls of their containers, just like current in a superconductor.

To find the full Cornell Chronicle article click here.

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November 2014: 2015 Robert R. Wilson Prize for Achievement in the Physics of Particle Accelerators Recipient

Hasan Padamsee


For his leadership and pioneering world-renowned research in superconducting radiofrequency physics, materials science, and technology, which contributed to remarkable advances in the capability of particle accelerators.
Selection Committee:

Sergei Nagaitsev, Chair; N. Phinney; M. Tigner; L. Teng; K-J. Kim

Link to APS Physics here.

Hasan came to Cornell in September, 1973, as a Research Associate and was promoted to Sr. Research Associate in November, 1978. He retired in July, 2009. Hasan was appointed as an Adjunct Professor from July, 1994, until June, 2009, in the Physics Department while he taught “Physics of the Heavens and the Earth” during the spring semesters.

Upon his retirement in 2009, he was retained as a part-time researcher and lecturer in Physics until May, 2014, at which time he accepted a position at Fermilab.  (Provided by CLASSE, Cornell University).

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November 2014: Becoming the controlling hand of rage with the Moshpits Simulator

One of the great avenues for exploring the barely contained exuberance, rage, joy, and other bundled-up emotions let loose by a particularly great song is the mosh pit. A primal expression for concert attendees, moshing finds people slamming into one another but also helping each other along, to ensure no one is too hurt while forming its own little tribe of controlled chaos. This most human of outlets would be perfectly suited for a physics-based computer model.

The “Moshpits Simulation” allows users to change certain elements and settings to produce mosh pits of various sizes, intensities, and dispersals. By altering factors like the speed of the inner vortex (circle pit) and the strength of the outer circle (the mosh pit proper), users can create drastically different scenarios that are hypnotic in their dynamic motion. The simulator is based on an actual academic paper, “Collective of Moshers at Heavy Metal Concerts,” written by Jesse Silverberg, Matthew Bierbaum, James Sethna, and Itai Cohen for Cornell University. According to the abstract of the study,

Human collective behavior can vary from calm to panicked depending on social context. Using videos publicly available online, we study the highly energized collective motion of attendees at heavy metal concerts. We find these extreme social gatherings generate similarly extreme behaviors: a disordered gas-like state called a mosh pit and an ordered vortex-like state called a circle pit. Both phenomena are reproduced in flocking simulations demonstrating that human collective behavior is consistent with the predictions of simplified models.

To find the full AV Club article click here.


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