Shaken, because of a stir

We have demonstrably been shaken here on earth, because of a stir in the cosmos.

The measured peak strain was $10^{-21}$ [^].

For comparison: In our college lab, we typically measure strains of magnitude like $10^{-3}$ or at the most $10^{-4}$. (Google search on “yield strain of mild steel” does not throw up any directly relevant page, but it does tell you that the yield strength of mild steel is 450 MPa, and all mechanical (civil/metallurgical/aero/etc.) engineers know that Young’s modulus for mild steel is 210 GPa. … You get the idea. …)

Einstein got it wrong twice, but at least eventually, he did correct himself.

But other physicists (and popular science writers, and blog-writers), even after getting a full century to think over the issue, still continue to commit blunders. They continue using terms like “distortions of spacetime.” As if, space and time themselves repeatedly “bent” (or, to use a euphemism, got “distorted”) together, to convey the force through “vacuum.”

It’s not a waving of the “spacetime” through a vaccum, stupid! It’s just the splashing of the aether!!

The Indian credit is, at the most, 1.3%.

If it could be taken as 3.7%, then the number of India’s science Nobels would also have to increase dramatically. Har Gobind Singh Khorana, for instance, would have to be included. The IAS-/MPSC-/scientist-bureaucrats “serving” during my childhood-days had made sure to include Khorana’s name in our school-time science text-books, even though Khorana had been born only in (the latter-day) Pakistan, and even if he himself had publicly given up on both Pakistan and India—which, even as children, we knew! Further, from whatever I recall of me and all my classmates (from two different schools), we the (then) children (and, later, teen-agers) were neither inspired nor discouraged even just a tiny bit by either Khorana’s mention or his only too willing renunciation of the Indian citizenship. The whole thing seemed too remote to us. …

Overall, Khorana’s back-ground would be a matter of pride etc. only to those bureaucrats and possibly Delhi intellectuals (and also to politicians, of course, but to a far lesser extent than is routinely supposed). Not to others.

Something similar seems to be happening now. (Something very similar did happen with the moon orbiter; check out the page 1 headlines in the government gazettes like Times of India and Indian Express.)

Conclusion: Some nut-heads continue to run the show from Delhi even today—even under the BJP.

Anyway, the reason I said “at most” 1.3 % is because, even though I lack a knowledge of the field, I do know that there’s a difference between 1976, and, say, 1987. This fact by itself sets a natural upper bound on the strength of the Indian contribution.

BTW, I don’t want to take anything away from Prof. Dhurandhar (and from what I have informally gathered here in Pune, he is a respectable professor doing some good work), but reading through the media reports (about how he was discouraged 30 years ago, and how he has now been vindicated today etc.) made me wonder: Did Dhurandhar go without a job for years because of his intellectual convictions—the way I have been made to go, before, during and after my PhD?

As far as I am concerned, the matter ends there.

At least it should—I mean, this post should end right here. But, OK, let me make an exception, and note a bit about one more point.

The experimental result has thrown the Nobel bookies out of business for this year—at least to a great part.

It is certain that Kip Thorne will get the 2016 Physics Nobel. There is no uncertainty on that count.

It is also nearly as certain that he will only co-win the prize—there will be others to share the credit (and obviously deservingly so). The only question remaining is, will it be just one more person or will it be two more (Nobel rules allow only max 3, I suppose), what will be their prize proportions, and who those other person(s) will be (apart from Thorne). So, as far as the bettors and the bookies are concerned, they are not entirely out of the pleasure and the business, yet.

Anyway, my point here was twofold: (i) The 2016 Physics Nobel will not be given for any other discovery, and (ii) Kip Thorne will be one of the (richly deserving) recipients.

[E&OE]

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From the horses’ mouths

My first choice for the title was: “From the Nobel Laureate’s Mouth”; I had spotted only the opinion piece by Professor David Gross in yesterday’s Indian Express [^]. Doing the ‘net search today for the URI link to provide here, I found that there also were three other Nobel laureates, also joined by one Fields Medalists. And they all were saying more or less the same thing [^].

… That way, coming from a Marathi-medium schooling background, I had always had a bit of suspicion for the phrase “from the horse’s mouth.” It seemed OK to use in the news reports when, say, a wrong-doer admits his wrong. But purely going by the usage, I could see that the phrase would also be used in the sense: “from the top-gun himself,” or “from the otherwise silent doer himself.” This guess turns out to be right [^]. Further, since there were as many as five “horses” here, the word to be used would have to be in the plural, and if you say it aloud: “From the horses’ mouths” [go ahead, say it aloud, sort of like:“horseses” mouth) it really sounds perfect (for something to be posted on the ‘net).

So, that’s how comes the title.

As to the horses’ thoughts… Ummm…

[But please, please, give me just a moment to get back to the title again, and congratulate me for not having chosen a title like: “From Dave Himself.” You see, Professor David Gross had visited COEP in 2013, and I might have been, you know, within 50 meters of where he was sitting. I mean, of all places, in the COEP campus! Right in the COEP campus!! [^]. Obviously, you must compliment me for my sense of restraint, of making understatements.]

OK. As to their thoughts… Umm….

I think these guys are being way too optimistic. Also naive.

Without substantial economic reforms, I see no possibility of the Indian Science in general undergoing any significant transformation yet again. And substantial economic reforms aren’t happening here any more. In fact, no one is even talking about it, any more. [Check out Arnab’s hours, or Sardesai’s, or Dutt’s, if you want to find out what they are talking about. [I don’t, because I know.]]

It was the 1991 that could propel, say a Mashelkar into prominence several years later, and help transform the 70+ CSIR labs from something like less than 100 patents a year, to thousands of them per year—all within a matter of a few years [less than a decade, to be sure]. If the same momentum were to be kept, the figure should have gone up to at least tens of thousands of patents by the CSIR labs alone—and with a substantial increase in the share of the international patents among them. Ditto, for the high-quality international journal papers.

Why didn’t any of it happen? Plain and clear. The momentum created by the economic liberalization of the early 1990s has been all but lost. Come on, face it, 1991 was twenty-five years ago.

To an anthropologist, 25 years is like an entire generation! More than enough of a time to lose any half-hearted momentum (which, despite the hysterical Indian press, the liberalization in the early 1990s was).

It’s been years that we entered the staleness 2.0 of the mixed economy 1.0. Even today, the situation continues “as is,” despite a change of regime in New Delhi. Yes, even under “Modiji.” [I am quoting Professor Gross—I mean the word.]

But, yes, the five gentlemen were also being realistic: Each one of them emphasized decades.

Decades of sustained efforts would have to go in, before the fruits could begin to be had. [But you know that decades isn’t a very long period—just recall what was happening to India’s economy some two decades ago—in the mid ’90s.]

Talking of how realistic they actually were being, Haroche even pointed out the lack of freedom in China [obvious to any one outside of California], and its presence in Europe [I don’t know about that] and in India [yeah, right!].

But anyway, it’s nice to hear something like this being highlighted after an Indian Science Congress, rather than, say, “vimaanshaastra.”

Both happened during “Modiji”’s tenure. So what is it that really accounts for the difference? I have no idea. (It can’t be a “pravaasi” whatever, to be sure; they would be too busy booking the next Olympics-size stadium.)

Whoever within the organizers of the Congress was responsible for the difference, compliments are due to him. (Hindi) “der se kiyaa lekin kuchh achhaa hi to kiyaa.”

In the meanwhile, bring out your non-programmable desk calculators and do some exercises: $0.8 \times \dots$, $2.7 \times \dots$, $4.4 \times \dots$ and $2.1 \times \dots$. Oh well, you will have to refer to the ‘net.

OK then. Find out also the R&D spending by, say, (i) Baba Ramdev’s pharmaceutical industries, (ii) the top or most well-established five industrial groups in India (Reliance, Tatas, Mittals, whoever…), and (iii) the top three (or five) Indian IT firms. Compare them to those in the advanced countries. Let your comparisons be comparable: pharma to pharma; oil, steel and engineering (and salt!) to oil, steel and engineering (and salt!); IT to IT [engineering IT to engineering IT]; overall (GDP) to overall (GDP).

And, never forget that bit about freedom. Don’t just count the beans “spent” on research. Think also about whether it is the government spending or the private spending, and where the expenditure occurs (in private universities, private labs, independently run government labs, public universities in a country with a past of a private control, etc., or in the in-service-pensioner’s-paradises with something like “laboratory” in their titles).

But why didn’t the “horses” cite any specific statistics about how many Indian students go abroad for their graduate studies, and choose to permanently settle there—their trends?

Obvious: Nobel and Fields laureates (and in fact any visiting dignitaries to any country (and in fact any visitors to a foreign country)) generally tend to be more polite, and so tend to make understatements when it comes to criticism (of that host country). That’s why.

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “kahin naa jaa…”
Music: R. D. Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar

[E&OE]

The 2015 Physics Nobel, the neutrino, and the quantum entanglement

Okey dokey, so…. Quite a few important things have happened since I wrote my last post. Let me jot them down here, in the order of the decreasing importance:

1. The teaching part of our UG term has (finally) ended.
2. The QM papers mentioning Alice, Bob, entanglement or Bell’s inequalities did not get the Nobel recognition, not even this year—and if you ask me, for a very, very good set of reasons, but more on it later; I am not done with my list yet.
3. Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald did get the Physics Nobel for this year, “for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass.” The official popular explanation is here [(.PDF) ^]
4. Youyou Tu got half of the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine this year, “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria.” The press release is here [^]. … Is it just me or you too failed to notice any “China-tva-vadi” thumping his chest in “pride” of the ancient Chinese medical system?

OK. Now, a few personal comments, in the reverse order of the list.

Given my interests, the list could have ended at point no. 3 above. It’s just that, given the emphasis that the supposedly ancient “vimaanashaastra” happened to receive in India over the last year, I was compelled me to add the fourth point too.

I don’t understand Kajita and McDonald’s work really well. That’s why the link I have provided above goes only to the popular explanation, not to the advanced information.

However, that doesn’t mean that I knew nothing about it. For instance, I could appreciate the importance of the phrase “mass eigenstates.” … It’s just that I don’t “get” this theory to the same extent that I get, say, Dan Schechtman’s work for his 2011 Chemistry Nobel.

That way, I have known about neutrinos for quite some time, may be for some 25 years or more. In fact, there also is a small personal story about this word that I could share here.

If you are an Indian of my generation, you would know that it would be impossible for you to ever forget the very first radio which your family had got (it probably was the one on which you listened to your Binaca Geetmaalaa every Wednesday evening), the first (and probably the only) bicycle your father bought for you (the one which you were riding in your bell-bottoms, when the thoughts of somehow having to impress that first crush of yours passed you by), the first PC that you bought…

Oh well, I am jumping ahead of myself. Correction. It should be: The first PC whose OS you installed. …

Chances are high that you got to install—nay, you had to re-install—DOS or Windows on your office or lab machine quite a few times, and chances are even higher that you therefore had become an expert of Windows installation way before you could save enough money to buy your first PC…. You can’t forget things like these.

So, in my case, while the first time I ever touched a PC was way back right in 1983 (I was in the EDP department at Mukand back then—a trainee engineer), the first time I got the opportunity to format a HDD and install a fresh OS on it was as late as in the late-July of 1996. (I happened to buy my first PC just a few months later on.) I was already a software engineer back then. The company I then worked with (Frontier Software) was a startup, and so, there were no policies or manuals concerning what names were to be given to an office PC. So, I was free to choose any which name I liked. While some others had chosen names like “koala” or “viper,” or “bramha” or “shiva,” when it came my turn, as the VGA-resolution screen on a small (13”) CRT monitor kept staring at me, the name I ended up choosing in the heat of the moment was: “neutrino.”

“Neutrino’? Why neutrino’? What is `neutrino’?”—the colleague who was watching over my shoulder spontaneously wondered aloud. He had been to California on company work some time earlier, and therefore, my guess at that time was that he perhaps could be guessing that “neutrino” could be some Mexican/Spanish/Italian name or expression. I, therefore, hastened to clarify what neutrino really meant (already wondering aloud why this guy had never heard of the term (even if he would maintain that he was into reading popular science books)). … No, he wasn’t thinking Mexican/Spanish/Italian; he was just wondering if I had made up that name. Alright, following my clarification that some billions of these neutrinos were passing through his body every second—even right at that moment, sitting in the comfort of a office, and right while our conversation was going on… Hearing this left him, say, dazed, sort of.

This instance conclusively proves that I have always known about neutrinos.

My “knowledge” about them hasn’t changed much over the past two decades.

… Anyway, my knowledge of QM has…  Two things, and let me end this section about neutrinos.

(i) If they could hunt for just a few (like just tens of) neutrinos out of billions of billions of them, why can’t they build a relatively much less costly equipment to test the hypothesis that the transient dynamics of the far simpler quantum particles—photons and electrons—isn’t quite the same as that put forth by the mainstream QM? [I have made a prediction about photons, and even if my particular published theory turns out to be wrong, any new theory that I replace it with will always have this tiny difference from the mainstream QM, because my theorization is local, whereas the mainstream QM is global.]

(ii) Can photon have mass? … Think about it. It’s not so stupid a suggestion as it may initially sound. (Of course, this point is nowhere as important as the first one concerning the transient dynamics).

Many, many people have been at least anticipating (if not also “predicting,” or “supporting”) a physics Nobel to something related to quantum entanglement. By “quantum entanglement,” I mean things like: Bell’s inequalities, or Clauser/Aspect/ Zeilinger, or Alice and Bob, … you get the idea.

I am happy that none of these ideas/experiments got to get a Nobel, also this time round. [Even if a lot of Americans were rooting for such an outcome!]

No, I have no enmity towards any of them, not even Bob; I never did. In fact, I carry a ton of a respect for them.

My point is: their work (or at least the work they have done so far) doesn’t merit a physics Nobel. Why?

Because, Nobels for the same theoretical framework have been given to many people already, say, to Planck, Einstein, Compton, Bohr, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Pauli, Dirac, Born, et al. The theoretical framework of QM (and unfortunately, even today, it still remains only a framework, not a theory) as built by these pioneers—and as systematized by John von Neumann—already fully contains the same physics that Bell highlighted.

In other words, Bell’s principle is only a sort of a “corollary” (rather, an implication of the already known physics)—it’s not an independent “theorem” (rather, a discovery of new fact, phenomenon, or principle of physics).

As to the experimentalists working on entanglement, if you take the sum-totality of what they have reported, there is not a single surprise. Forget surprise, there isn’t even an unproved hunch here. For a contrasting example, see what Lubos Motl describes in case of neutrinos, here [^]. Unlike neutrinos, when it comes to quantum entanglement, there literally is nothing new. There has been nothing new, over all these decades—except for the addition of a lot of “press,” esp. in the USA, and esp. in the recent times. [Incidentally, you may want to note that Motl supports string theory—which, IMO, basically has always been, and remains, a post ex facto theory.]

The Nobel committee has once again demonstrated that it has a very solid grasp of what an advance of physics means.

An advance of/in physics is to be contrasted from “mere” deductions of corollaries, no matter how brilliant these may be.

About a century ago, they (the Nobel committee members back then) had shown a very robust sense regarding what the terms like “discovery” and “physics” mean, when they had skipped over the relativity theory even in the act of honoring Einstein—they had instead picked up his work on the photoelectric effect.

The parallels are unmistakable. Relativity theory was “sexy” those days; quantum entanglement is “sexy” today. Relativity theory was only a corollary of James Clerk Maxwell’s synthesis (at least the special relativity certainly was just that); quantum entanglement is just a corollary of the mainstream QM. And, while Maxwell had not pointed out relativity, entanglement indeed was pointed out by Schrodinger himself, and that too as early as before EPR had even thought of writing down their paper. So, the parallels—and the degradation in the American and European cultural standards over time—are quite obvious.

Still, what is to be noted here is the fact that the respective Nobel committees, separated by about a century, in both cases chose not to be taken in by the hype of the day. Congratulations are due to them!

And of course, as far as I am concerned, congratulations are also due to Kajita and McDonald.

BTW, Einstein does not become a lesser physicist because he never got a Nobel for the relativity theory. [And people do argue that he didn’t invent the relativity theory either; cf. Roger Schlafly.] So what? Even if relativity couldn’t possibly have qualified for a Nobel, Einstein sure did. He did a lot of work in quantum mechanics. He explained the photoelectric effect; he explained the temperature dependence of the heat capacity of solids using the quantum hypothesis; he didn’t merely explain but predicted the LASER using the QM decades before they were built (1917, vs. 1947–52). If you ask me, any single one of these achievements would have amply qualified him for a physics Nobel. I don’t say it out of deference to the general physics community. You can see it independently. Just put any of these advances in juxtaposition to some of the other undisputed Nobels, e.g., Jean Perrin’s demonstration of the molecular nature of matter (a work which itself was motivated by Einstein’s analysis of the Brownian motion); or de Broglie’s assertion that matter had a wave character; or Bohr’s “construction” of a model that still went missing on two very obvious and very crucial features: stability of orbits and the nature of quantum transitions. (Come to think of it, Einstein also was the first to assert a spatially finite nature for the photon, a point on which all physicists don’t necessarily agree with Einstein, but I, anyway, do.)

So, to conclude, (i) much of Einstein’s best work wasn’t as “sexy” as $E = mc^2$ or  the “relativity” theory; (ii) the physics Nobel committee showed enormously good judgment in picking up the photoelectric effect and leaving out relativity theory.

Just the way relativity didn’t deserve a Nobel then, similarly, nothing related to quantum entanglement deserves it now.

It doesn’t mean that Bell wasn’t a genius. It doesn’t mean that the experimental work that Clauser, Aspect, Zeilinger, or others have done wasn’t ingenious or challenging.

What it means is simply this: they have been either (very good/brilliant) engineers or mathematicians, but they have not been discoverers of new physics. Whenever they have been physicists, their work has happened to have remained within the limits of testing a known theory, and finding it to be valid (within the experimental error), again and again. And again. But, somehow, they have not been discoverers of new physics. That’s the bottom line!

To conclude this post, think of the “photogenic” apparatus that helped nail down the issue of the neutrino oscillation (e.g. see here [^]). Then, go back to the point I have made concerning accurately measuring the transient dynamics of QM phenomena (whether involving photons or electrons). Then, think a bit about how relatively modest apparatus could still easily settle that issue. And, how it happens to be a very foundational issue, an issue that takes the decades of mystification of QM head-on.

If someone told you that all local theories of QM are BS, or that all theories of QM lead to the same quantitative predictions, he was wrong, basically wrong. The choice isn’t limited to confirmation of the mainstream QM in experiments on the one hand, and creative affirmations or denials of QM via arm-chair philosophic interpretations (such as MWI) on the other hand. There is a third choice: Verification of quantitative predictions that are different (even if only by a very tiny bit) from those of the mainstream QM. The wrong guy should have told you the right thing. Too bad he didn’t—bad for you, that is.

A Song I Like:
(Marathi) “saavaLe sundara, roopa manohara”
Lyrics: Sant Tukaram
Singer: Pt. Bhimsen Joshi
Music: Shrinivas Khale

[May be one (more) editing pass is due for this post (and also the last post). Done with editing of this post. Will let the last post remain as it is; have to move on. ]

[E&OE]

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Yo—4: The 2014 Physics Nobel

The physics Nobel for this year has gone to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura, for the invention of the blue LED. Check out the official Nobel prize page to see the huge cost savings the invention implies [^]. Very, very, very well deserved!

Congratulations to all the winners.

Their invention has already begun transforming our lives, and, definitely, much more is slated to come. Just to name two: (i) flexible LEDs, (ii) lost-cost designer walls smartly emitting diffuse light (so that the light (in the sense lamp) is not different from the wall, the wall itself is light)… The possibilities are just astounding… For instance, think how it might affect (i) buildings architecture and interior designing, (ii) lighting inside tunnels/underground transportation…. You couldn’t wish for more…

Or, may be, you could! (Hey, this is science and this is life… There is always scope for more!) … If you ask me to single out just one thing, as far as these light- and energy-related matters go, I would choose: cost-effective (i.e. scalable and high energy-density) artificial photo-synthesis. … But then, that is strictly for another day.

As of today, do pause to note here that the realization of the blue LED also took something like three decades! Enormous achievement, that!!

Congratulations to the winners, once again!

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “pyaar baanTate chalo…”
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: Laxmikant Pyarelal