Thursday, January 10, 2008

Nobel Laureate Bait-n-Switch

DAVID JONATHAN GROSS Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004, is in town and gave a talk this afternoon at De La Salle University on Taft Avenue in Manila. Unfortunately, he decided not to address his advertised topic, "Fundamental Revolutions in Physics" involving the work on String Theory and Quantum Chromodynamics for which he received the Nobel Prize. Instead Dr. Gross, who is a likeable and amiable enough speaker, seemed to dumb down his topic, mentioned the problem of increased species extinction, deforestation, the bleaching of corals, the melting of the polar ice caps, connected it to the profligate lifestyles and industrial bad habits of mankind, and made a pitch for World Government as the solution to the Global Warming problem.

I was really disappointed at the Bait-n-Switch on the topic pulled by the sponsor, the International Peace Foundation, since I was hoping to hear something about the Discovery of Asymptotic Freedom in Quarks and and various other BIG QUESTIONS like Dark Energy and Dark Matter, which are the most intriguing scientific questions of the present day. You know, all that sexy scientific hifalutin physics stuff from a real Physics Nobel Prize winner, which I would assume is very different from a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The Al Gore Show was last month in a different auditorium. I'm sure many in the audience were equally disappointed that he had dumbed down the topic!

But the audience did get to ask Dr. Gross two questions: one of them a softball about high energy physics, another from some Guy with a Beard who said he was a De La Salle Grade School graduate, on the value of skepticism as a scientific virtue in the age of the Y2K Bug and various other pseudoscientific apparitions, on the need to understand fully the causes of global warming trends, whether anthropogenic or natural, perhaps within a solar system context, so as to decide on the correct strategy for remediation, avoidance, or adaptation. Dr. Gross was gracious enough to admit that he had not been fully convinced about Global Warming's real causes being purely or even mainly anthropogenic -- but he didn't sound very convinced or convincing about in his answer this afternoon either. I hope he keeps on doing String Theory instead of Carbon Taxes, know what I mean?

Ugh! I really wanted to ask him about 26 dimensional string theory of the strong nuclear force.

We did have scintillating company as there was a huge audience of students, faculty and even celebrity, and I must say, a Nobel Laureate exudes a kind of aura, an inner radiance, a supreme self-confidence. David Gross was warm and friendly, just like the last Nobel Laureate I've had the pleasure to meet in Manila, Norman Borlaug, Father of the Green Revolution several years ago. I attended that talk with Dr. Paulo Campos, father of nuclear medicine in the Philippines. By sheer coincidence, I attended today's talk with his son, Dr. Jose E. Campos, President of Emilio Aguinaldo College, who will sponsor the next Nobel Laureate talk in Manila, sometime in March.

Heading the list along the front row of reserved seats was former President Fidel V. Ramos, looking fit and giving the Nobel Laureate some of his trademark cigars. Bro. Armin Luistro, DLSU President was there with Chairman Joaquin Quintos IV, and various other stars of the local academe.

Speaking of the environment, Blue Law by Anna has a nice post on Project Sinag, the First Philippine solar-powered car, also done by the Gang Green at DLSU.


blackshama said...

Professor Gross had to adjust his lecture topic to fit his audience. After all how many in De La Salle or even in UP (where Gross gave the 1st centennial lecture) have read Michio Kaku or Brian Green?

DJB I think you are expecting too much of our students and academics many of whom slept through lectures on Newtonian mechanics!

DJB Rizalist said...

I get your point of course, but it's too bad. He really was a nice speaker and when for a lil bit he did start talking about those BIG QUESTIONS, the audience did not seem to turn off, and a perceptible crackle of interest seemed to arise when he mentioned "dark matter". I didn't mean he should've given a lecture above our heads, but he certainly could've made us look up more.

Anonymous said...

Is Ellen rattling the cages? Her blogpost:

January 11, 2008 at 12:15 am
Estrada should take precautions
.... a group is planning to do a “Benazir Bhutto” on him.

Jego said...

I would have asked:

Can string theory be tested? Can any conceivable experiment testing its predictions ever be devised? If not, why is it considered a scientific theory? 26 dimensions? For the love of...!!

Has dark matter been observed? If not how can you be sure it exists? Physicists have conjectured that since their equations dont account for actual observations, dark matter must exist. Have they considered that maybe their fundamental equations are wrong?

DJB Rizalist said...

that's exactly what i wanted to ask david gross!

Jego said...

Im glad Nobel laureates take time to visit our country though. Maybe famous popularizers of science could drop by as well and inspire the kids.

I might as well take this opportunity to ask you science guys (DJB and blackshama) about something that's been puzzling me: If the universe is expanding in such a way that the rate of expansion is proportional to the distance to us observers such that if a galaxy A is twice the distance from us as galaxy B, we'll see A move at twice the speed away from us as B is moving. There would then be some distant galaxy X that looks like it's traveling away from us at the speed of light, and if a galaxy Y is farther from us as X, then from our perspective, Y would be traveling faster than the speed of light. Now how would that be possible knowing that nothing should be moving faster than light, and what would Y look like?

DJB Rizalist said...

Here is an absolutely fascinating and more or less accessible article on Hubble's Law, the Redshift and the Expansion of the Universe, and all that good brain bending stuff.

And it gets worse! Not only is the Universe expanding, the rate of expansion is accelerating, driven by a mysterious force associated with dark matter/dark energy. And I'm not even sure I said THAT right.

blackshama said...

I'm an example of a science PhD who slept through College Physics as an undergrad. I got a big 3.0!

Physics review: The apparent velocities according to Wikipedia article on Hubble redshift
is due to "are artifacts of a coordinate transformation that occurs in an expanding space." That galaxy is moving faster than light speed if we fix our frame of reference. The Copernican principle says that we really have not fixed frame of reference.

The concept of a coordinate transformation is first introduced in freshman algebra and trigonometry. Unfortunately with the state of high school science and math education in the country, many students sleep through the lectures and eventually flunk.

They may have not flunked if the thought of freshly baked raisin muffin.This seems to be the best analogue for understanding Hubble redshift. Just thinking about the whole thing can make heads expand. But you can eat the muffin afterward and make your tummy expand!

DJB Rizalist said...

Jego, Blackshama,
I guess it is one of the greatest tragedies of our time in History, that Man knows he ought to be reaching for the stars instead of using that spark of intelligence for the creation of greater and ever more destructive machines and means of killing each other. It is a grim necessity that we may survive, but it is for a different generation of men to enjoy a full humanity.

Amadeo said...

In looking for acceptable (and provable?) answers to the difficult questions above, are we maybe akin to the "paper being pierced by a pencil"?

That maybe the answers lie in a different realm?

Unreachable to man on the purely horizontal plane?

DJB Rizalist said...

I've always interpreted Christ's invitation "to come and follow me" as a command to do science, to figure out the Resurrection (biology) and Ascension (space flight) and what lies beyond.