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Fermilab test throws off more matter than antimatter — and this matters

May 29, 2010

Reposted from: Ron Grossman for the Chicago Tribune

By the logic of science, things simply shouldn’t exist. The best scientific minds of several generations have reasoned that shortly after the Big Bang created the universe, matter and antimatter should have wiped each other out.
So that explains the global chain reaction of excited e-mails among physicists this month, after scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory “opened the box” — their jargon for taking a peek at newly crunched data — and raised hopes of some day solving the riddle of existence. “It’s like looking back to the instant where everything began,” said Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist at the sprawling research facility near Batavia. Simply put, the Fermi team sent protons and antiprotons around its underground Tevatron accelerator ring into a head-on collision, which produced slightly more tiny fragments called “muons” than tiny fragments called “antimuons.” It was a laboratory victory of matter over antimatter, and a minuscule replication of what scientists believe must have happened shortly after the Big Bang, though exactly how matter won out has long confounded them.
Previous tests slamming such infinitesimal particles together — a proton is one one-hundred-thousandth the size of an atom — have produced similar results. But they never have risen above a statistical shadow of doubt for physicists working with computer calculations about particles and interactions they can’t see. By contrast, the latest discovery by Fermilab’s DZero team seems statistically solid. If it makes it past critical peer review, it will lead to a re-evaluation of existing theories and, possibly, a deeper understanding of physics and why things exist. It certainly will inspire a barrage of additional supercollider tests, as other labs try to verify the discovery or shoot it down.

Muon

Muon neutrino

Either way, it could be one incremental step toward the holy grail of atomic physics: the long-sought discovery of the elusive “Higgs boson,” a theoretical particle assumed to be the fundamental building block of all matter. “It’ll be written about in physics books a hundred years from now,” said Zoltan Ligeti, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology who was not involved in the Fermilab experiment. For decades, Fermilab was the world’s pre-eminent center for subatomic particle research. But increasingly, the expectation was that the next big breakthrough in physics would come from a new and more powerful European accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, which has begun overshadowing Fermi and draining its talent. So scientists at the older facility just west of Chicago have expressed a quiet satisfaction with the home team victory, which could help its efforts to remain relevant and fund-worthy. In a Web site posting, Fermilab Director Pier Oddone said “I am delighted to see yet another exciting result from the Tevatron.” An official from the U.S. Department of Energy, which funds Fermilab, echoed that pride, saying the “result underlines the importance and scientific potential of the Tevatron program.” The question of existence is something that humans have wondered about ever since there were humans to wonder: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” as the 17th Century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz put it.

Clearly, things do exist — evidenced by the sprawling research facility near Batavia, where bison graze above a subterranean, 4-mile-circumference accelerator, or the tidy homes in nearby suburbs where Fermilab staff members live. But, theoretically, they shouldn’t. One of physics’ foundation stones is the concept of a symmetrical universe. Everything has its mirror opposite, like humans’ left and right hands. As schoolchildren learn, Newton said every action has an equal and opposite reaction. “A good example is the Big Bang,” Lykken said, putting his colleagues’ discovery into context. “The universe began as a perfectly symmetrical object, a ball of energy.” The problem lies in what happened next. That energy condensed into matter but also into its opposite, antimatter. The two being mutually destructive, they should have canceled each other out. Instead, Lykken noted, matter joined together in ever larger concentrations — nuclei, atoms, stars, galaxies.
Fermilab had that kind of question in mind 27 years ago when it built the Tevatron to imitate Big Bang-like collisions in miniature. The tentative breakthrough came earlier this month when some of the Dzero team’s 500 scientists looked at the latest of eight years’ worth of results from collisions, monitored in a Buck Rogers-looking apparatus in a warehouse-type building atop one of the rings. In the game of physics, the ball now passes from researchers to theoreticians like Lykken to figure out how the new data jibe with scientists’ overall understanding of the universe, a collection of theories known as the Standard Model. His office at Fermilab is dominated by an enormous old-fashioned blackboard covered with mathematical expressions and graphs, each a trial-fit interpretation of experimental data, and perhaps such a chalk scrawl will someday explain how matter prevailed.
The discovery someday could have practical spinoffs, but it could have immediate implications, among them in the clamorous intersection of politics and religion. Lykken hypothesized that proponents of “intelligent design” could seize upon the new findings to further support their argument that the laws of nature are so fine-tuned, they must be the handiwork of a creator. From a scientific perspective, he postulated there could be an infinite number of universes, some vastly different and others quite similar, though not exactly. “I can imagine a universe exactly like ours,” Lykken said. “Except that the Cubs win a World Series.”
In the course of their normal work, theoreticians and researchers freely exchange ideas in a regular rhythm of intellectual interaction — except when a big breakthrough like the recent one is at hand. “For about 10 days we kept quiet about it, not talking to other physicists, even those here at Fermi,” said Stefan Soldner-Rembold, a member of the research group. Once their data and logic had been double-checked, the research team invited colleagues to a Friday evening wine-and-cheese party, a tell-tale method of tipping off colleagues.
Lykken was away at a scientific conference, half-listening to a panel presentation while checking e-mail on a laptop computer when his invitation arrived on his screen. The title of the presentation at the Fermi bash began with two exciting words — “evidence for …” As a group, physicists don’t indulge in frequent displays of emotion. But Lykken wasn’t the only Fermi scientist elated by what was found when “the box” was opened on May 5. Soldner-Rembold said he got goose bumps. “I said, ‘Wow!’ ” recalled Dmitri Denisov, a physicist present at the opening.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2010 in Muon, off balance, Particle Physics

 

Do Intuitives Bite? Part 3

human and horse activity

The spiral labyrinth

Our Equine Assisted Activity was a walk along a spiral labyrinth. Each person chose a horse to accompany them on this symbolic journey. Horses always know how to be in these situations and each one fulfilled his role as the perfect accompaniment for his human’s personal purpose for the exercise. Notably, Villomina chose the mini Io to represent a past lover. He balked and bit his way into and out of their spiral. To her credit she laughed about it. To my credit I’m not posting photos I took of her experience here.

As everyone debriefed marveling at the pure appropriateness of each horse’s gentle guidance I zoomed into the house to finish lunch prep. Villomina gave a spiel about her idea of the perfect diet (note: never mind her pallor, her heft and that total lack of rooted teeth) which sounded a lot like what you might get at any Bavarian eatery or Parisian cafe but would  be largely unavailable to most every Asian, Central and South American on the planet. Her point about a general need to drink more water was a good one though. Can’t go wrong with water.

Back in the tranquility of the seats circled in the barn careful explorations into residual points people were willing to share with the group were shared and discussed.

circle of seats

Back to the circle of seats in the barn

Then it was time to turn up the music and gather round the art table where I had assembled a pile of colorful, shiny, fun objects for participants to create their own “Staff of Dreams” using repurposed tobacco sticks, ribbons, beads, bits of paper and applied positive intentions. A party atmosphere took over and we ended with a round robin expression of each person’s hopes and that, as they say, was that.

I was spent, exhausted and ecstatic! I thought I had never co-conducted a better experience. After everyone had left, the messes cleaned up and the horses turned out I emailed Villomina marveling at our synergy and the success of our creation. I was in a celebratory mood.

Not everyone was.

 
 

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Do Intuitives Bite? Part 4 w/Aftermath

porch seatingVillomina didn’t offer much of a response to my effusive email but you know the Swiss, so reserved. We scheduled a meeting for Wednesday to go over the highlights and settle the cash.

Her car barreled up the drive. The kitchen door banged shut and with her teeth firmly hidden behind a white-lipped smile she joined me at the table. Her eyes narrowed and tilting forward slightly she proceeded to ‘rip me a new one’ with three and a half days’ build-up of her own blackened emotional spew.

Turns out, not only had I “talked too much” I had also “not talked enough“. I “hadn’t supported her”. I, me and me alone, Marti McGinnis, the creative coach, facility provider, lunch chef, animal activity and art coordinator had been solely responsible for letting the talkative fellow ruin everyone’s morning.

The discussions had been Villomina’s only responsibility. It never occurred to me to step on her toes during the facilitation of any of the structured dialogues. I had wanted to cut that dude off immediately (Dive! Dive! Dive!) but figured Villomina was intuiting something valuable in his hijacking the conversation for the benefit of the group. Rather than make an attempt to take charge of her portion of the workshop she had been waiting for me to step in. Funny, right? Because that’s what I was waiting for her to do!

In her mind, I had “created such a fiasco” she was going to have to hold a special session with the attendees and most definitely NOT me to “repair the damage” I had done! She had more:  “Everyone who’d been present,” (except a personal friend of mine)  “had communicated their disappointment in me” to her. Weirdly, and I’ll never forget this, the more she went on, the bigger her smile became. She was enjoying herself!

As I let her words flow over and through me — because until a nanosecond ago I had held her in high esteem, a venerable resource, a powerhouse of truthiness — it was hard to integrate the meaning of her venomous diatribe. I went into that auto-polite mode of the well-trained apologist and slid the neatly stacked $1000 worth of booty at her – refusing to take my 50%. “Please give back my share to each participant at your fix-it event and tell them I’m so sorry.” I bleated. She offered to let me keep $100. But that felt like an insult. So she left with it all.

hands on horseAftermath

In the end I felt used and violated. My house felt sullied and my barn made impure. This was emotional rape! How had I let this happen? I Tibetan belled, sage smoked and swept the physical spaces, brushed and bathed the horses and deconstructed the art I had created during the workshop. The ol’  scrub, purge and burn! Though these exercises helped alleviate some of the pain I kept wondering why I had let this happen?

In the year since I’ve come to some conclusions, accepted my responsibilities and discovered the gifts in all of this.

In his book, “The Four Agreements”, Don Miguel Ruiz suggests the following:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

potted pansyFor me 1 and 4 are easy but in this situation I had completely ignored numbers 2 and 3. I had made a whole crazy series of assumptions about Villomina and had taken everything she said to me deeply personally, from the compliments all the way through to the accusations. You have to. If you accept the apparent positive you are then duty bound to to accept the negative. And you know what they say about assuming stuff.

This entire uncomfortable situation revealed to me in illuminated detail just what I need to work on!   It was an experiential learning opportunity for me to make a deep connection with a better way of assessing my role in this and all future situations. So that’s the gift. It’s huge and wonderful and hard won.

And here are the take away stocking stuffers also gleaned:

  • Just because you ask someone to refund money on your behalf doesn’t mean they’re going to.
  • Home is haven, barn is sanctuary, their occupants all worthy — steward them well.
  • Gossipy malcontent isn’t the typical descriptor you should look for in a workshop collaborator.
  • Beware of people who remove their teeth during polite conversation- they may throw them at you!
 
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Posted by on April 27, 2010 in Interesting Characters, off balance

 

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