Friday, March 31, 2006

Did you mean: "Cyclotron"?

If you go to Google and search for the word "Cyclotram", the very first hit is this page you're looking at right now. At least for the moment, anyway. And this is nice and everything, but above the link to me is a "helpful" bit asking users if they wouldn't really rather be searching for stuff about cyclotrons. I realize they're just trying to be helpful. I realize it's even possible that more people go to Google searching for cyclotron info than they do looking for this blog. Again, strictly for the time being, anyway.

However, I can't help thinking about all those potential visitors who instead get lured away by the sweet siren song of high-energy physics, never to be seen again. It makes me sad, kinda. All's not lost, though; if the physicists are going to come play in my pool, I can go play in theirs. I'll just do a post all about cyclotrons, so I'll show up in that search too, and maybe lure a few of those wayward surfers back to the path of, uh, righteousness, or whatever. Why I'd even care about that remains an open question; it's not like I'm selling banner ads or anything. Trying to game the system for its own sake, maybe? But regardless, it's what I've decided to do. So there. On that deeply cynical note, here's the list:

  • First off, here's the Wikipedia article, if you want to brush up on what a cyclotron is.
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has a history page about the very first cyclotron, created by, you guessed it, Ernest O. Lawrence.
  • A Java applet demonstrating particle paths inside a cyclotron. Not the flashiest graphics in the world, but it gets the point across.
  • Want your own cyclotron? Build one! This guy did. Granted, he was a physics Ph.D. candidate at the time the article came out (Nov. '04), but still, he built one in his parents' garage. So how hard could it be, really?
  • Don't want to build one? Too lazy? Scared? Then just buy one, or have it donated, and install it in your home. Here are two stories about a guy in Alaska who's trying to do exactly that. His neighbors aren't so happy, though, some going so far as to call it a potential Three Mile Island. Which is silly. Actually everyone involved in this whole saga is silly, which is what's so fun about it. Alaska...
  • A fairly cool blog titled Cyclotron. Is not about cyclotrons so far as I can tell.
  • The local angle, such as it is: There aren't any cyclotrons or similar fancy gadgets in Oregon, probably because they cost money to build and operate. But the U of O's high energy physics group does collaborate on out-of-state projects.
  • As an aside, let me take a moment to lament the demise of Greco-Latinate neologisms (cyclotron, television, etc.) in favor of TLA's (Three-Letter Acronyms -- VCR, DVD, etc.). At some point society decided that acronyms were more modern and scientific, or something. This seems to have happened roughly in the late 60's and early 70's, around the time U.S. Steel renamed itself "USX". The reason for this trend remains unknown to me. If the cyclotron was invented today, you can bet it wouldn't be named that. And I'm fairly certain that the makers of Unknown World intended the term "cyclotram" to evoke "cyclotron", so that term wouldn't have been coined either, and thus this blog would be nameless, which would be a real shame.
  • Physicists iterated the "-tron" naming scheme for quite a while after the practice had lost currency in the larger culture: After the cyclotron came they synchrotron, the Bevatron, the Tevatron... The Tevatron is the current pride and joy of Fermilab, although perhaps for not much longer. It seems that the shiny new LHC (=TLA) accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland will render the Tevatron and others like it obsolete. The editors of Scientific American are having a cow about this. In an editorial titled The Collider Calamity, they express deep alarm that the US soon won't have any state of the art particle physics facilities. I can see how this could be alarming from a pure national pride standpoint, but their economic competitiveness argument strikes me as a bit strained. If physicists really want to get funded in this country, they of all people ought to know that it's important to spin their proposal as an exciting new way to kill lots of people, because that's the only thing the Power$ That Be care about anymore. And they ought to take note that discussing the origins of the universe without relying on the literal account given in Genesis is career suicide in so long as there's a Republican in the White House.
  • An important recent Tevatron result comes from the MINOS experiment, confirming that neutrinos do have mass. Not a lot of mass, certainly, but a nonzero amount, and given the estimated number of neutrinos in the universe, it really adds up.
  • The existence of massive neutrinos, we're told, implies the existence of at least one more as-yet-undetected neutrino, a so-called "sterile" neutrino that can only interact with normal matter via gravity. It's recently been proposed that sterile neutrinos may be a good candidate to solve the dark matter / dark energy problem. Here are two stories about this idea.
  • While we're on the subject of neutrinos, a couple of stories about neutrino detectors. First, the current travails at the venerable Homestake detector, located deep in a defunct gold mine near Lead, SD.
  • And a construction update on the next-generation IceCube detector, located deep in the polar icecap in Antarctica. Gee, South Dakota or Antarctica. Whereas if you're an astronomer working in visible or IR light, you get to go work in Hawaii instead. Hmm.
  • You don't see neutrinos used as technobabble very often, but here's one example: An article about the QNX Neutrino real-time operating system. I gather the term "neutrino" conveys feelings of speed, lightness, and in-crowd geekiness. I've played with QNX before and I was rather impressed. Unlike most RTOSes it provides a familiar Unix-like api, so that you can port existing software to it without rewriting everything. I have to wonder what the future holds for the OS in an increasingly open-source world, though. I'm a firm believer in having a diverse OS ecosystem, and it'd be a real shame if it went away.
  • And at this point I've wandered completely off topic. So I think I'll stop here.


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