The Nobel Prize

October 2, 2017
It is that time of year again - the week of the Nobel Prize announcements!

As usual, there is a significant amount of discussion and debate in the scientific community as to who will receive this year's prizes. And also as so often happens, there is no clear frontrunner for the prize this year.

Before I start making predictions though, I must take a moment to make clear who will not be winning. After last year's predictions I received a few communications from people who were unhappy that their favoured candidates were not in my list of predictions, and some even went so far as to accuse me and other science bloggers of deliberately ignoring individuals that the authors believe should receive the prize. 

What these individuals do not realize is that the Nobel Prize has some odd conditions on it, and many of the scientists that have been discussed as deserving the award are simply not eligible. First and foremost in the rules is that all recipients must be alive when the Nobel Prize is awarded. There are many brilliant scientists who have produced important theories and made discoveries that are critical to our understanding of nature, but if they are not blessed with long life they are not eligible. And considering that more often than not the Nobel recognizes research conducted many decades earlier, by people who were already at the peak of their career at the time, the majority of candidates for the prize simply do not live long enough. 

The second condition is that the Nobel Prize can only be given to individuals, not groups, and only to a maximum of three recipients. If a major discovery cannot be attributed to a handful of scientists working on their own, it won't receive a Nobel Prize. That means that all of the great work done by NASA, ESA, LHC, and countless other lettered organizations will be ignored by the prize committee. It also means that quite often if a major discovery or theory was developed by separately by several people, and some of the key figures have died, the survivors will also be overlooked. It is also uncommon for the prize to be awarded to a graduate student or research assistant, no matter how much they contributed to final results.

And finally the third, more informal constraint on the Nobel Prize is that the committee is very conservative in awarding the prize to theories and discoveries that still have some uncertainty in them or may eventually be disproven. The Higgs model was accepted by the physics community for five decades before receiving the prize, while theories such as dark matter and cosmic inflation will likely be ignored until multiple experiments have detected and confirmed their existence and ruled out all the alternatives.

Unfortunately when all of the constraints and restrictions are taken into account, there are actually very few serious contenders for the Nobel Prize this year. However the few that remain are quite interesting, and will be reviewed in the following article.
 

Constraining the Seesaw

September 29, 2017
A few days ago I wrote a brief review of the Seesaw Model of particle physics. Being a theorist, I forgot to mention that the motivation for that review was a new set of results from the experimental community that constrains such models. And so I thought that today I would give a few details on these new results.

In the model I reviewed, known as a Type-I model, each of the species of neutrino that are part of the Standard Model are partnered with a second, very heavy neutrino that provides a...
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The Seesaw Model

September 26, 2017
Neutrinos are very mysterious particles. They do not carry electric or magnetic charge, and so they do not interact very much with anything else. In fact we are constantly being showered with neutrinos from space that fly straight through us without interaction, and in fact straight through the entire Earth without even being slowed down. They are so difficult to detect that the weak nuclear decays that generate them were at first thought to be violating energy and momentum conservation since...
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The End of Cassini

September 15, 2017
After twenty years of studying the planet Saturn, the working life of the Cassini spacecraft will come to an end in the next few hours. On Friday, September 15, 2017 at about 7:55 am EDT, NASA will crash the probe into the surface of Saturn and end its mission.

As far back as the 1980s astronomers from around the world were making plans to send a probe to the gas giant, Saturn. We had already explored both Mars and Venus, and the Voyager probes had made flybys of the outer planets, but Saturn ...
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The HL-LHC

September 14, 2017
As students around the world return to school, or start college, or begin new coursework and training of other kinds, particle physicists are also starting new things in the form of new data runs from the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC has already produced evidence of the Higgs boson, and added further constraints to many other theories of nature. The next data run could easily find evidence of dark matter, dark energy, or even hidden higher dimensions in the Universe.

However the topic of tod...
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Back To School

September 5, 2017

Some loyal readers will recognize this entry as a repeat from the last three years. Each year it gets a good response, and kudos from my readers, and so as before I must appease my loyal followers...

To all the students starting University, enjoy this time of your life. Long ago when I started, a prof told me that this is the start of your real education. Now you get to choose your own courses and your own field of study. It is entirely up to you to decide what to do with this chance.

I know fr...


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Free Software

September 5, 2017
With the arrival of September, students around the world will be returning to classes this week. And for those who are starting out at college or university, one of the most important considerations is how to live on a budget. These are the years when one has little or no income, but must bear the expenses of living independently for the first time. While giving advice on living on a budget is far too expansive to cover in this blog, I can tackle one small aspect of student life by providing ...
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The Antihydrogen Spectrum

August 3, 2017
Another interesting result from the Canadian led team at the ALPHA collaboration, with a paper publish today in Nature in which they present the hyperfine spectrum of anti-hydrogen.

Anyone who has the least interest in either physics or astronomy is aware of atomic spectra. Over a century ago scientists discovered that each chemical element emits a signature series of wavelengths of light, which is unique to that element. From the colour of emitted light we can identify each element that is p...
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Ten Years of GalaxyZoo

July 11, 2017
Happy 10th Anniversary to the team behind the GalaxyZoo website!

Back in 2007 a group of astronomers set up this program that would provide images from professional telescopes to the public, and allow dedicated volunteers to classify the different types of galaxies that were visible. This has produced countless academic papers in peer reviewed journals, and has allowed an army of amateur scientists to have a real impact on our understanding of the Universe.

On a personal level, I was a graduate...
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Simpson's Paradox Visualized

July 10, 2017
A while ago I wrote an article about an interesting statistical phenomenon known as Simpson's Paradox. According to Simpson's Paradox, a company can have discriminatory hiring policies in spite of each of its individual departments being completely fair. A new medical treatment can work better than existing methods for both the young and the old, and yet it gives worse results when you don't know the age of the patient. And it can make a single data set produce opposite and contradictory resu...
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About Me


Dr. Chris Bird I am a theoretical physicist & mathematician, with training in electronics, programming, robotics, and a number of other related fields.

   


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