#brian greene
Opening Remarks

Just as you realize that watching all those Breaking Bad episodes reading all your chemistry textbooks during break still doesn’t shake that feeling that you’re not quite so ready for another semester, your professors made another round of funny comments to get you back into the swing of things.

Couch Potato i.e. I know what you did last summer

Professor Richard Bulliet, History of America in the Muslim World 

“Hitler’s been the gold standard of evilness.”

Eric Blanchard, Gender and International Relations

On why weekend e-mail responses tend not to be so prompt: “Because sometimes we need to go to Tijuana, too.”

Brad Garton, Music Hum

“As you can tell, we’re going to spend a lot of time on avant garde stuff and contemporary music. Why? Because I have tenure! Muahahaha.”

Erik Gray, Literary Texts & Critical Methods

“Have you ever noticed how people pretend to eat babies?”

Norma Graham, Statistics for Behavioral Scientists

”We used to have a heavy contingent from Barnard. They must have learned—they have learned how to teach statistics.”

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Bwoglines: Pondering It All Edition

Empty space isn't really empty

Cash-strapped urbanites may soon find work in the new convenience economy, which crowdsources temporary personal assistant tasks. Among the guinea pigs is an Arts Initiative coordinator, who claims its merits are more than monetary. (Observer)

Whoever said field trips were dead? One visiting professor at GSAPP took his class to a banana ripening plant and blogged about it. (Edible Geography)

Time recently profiled Brian Greene in a review of the PBS series The Fabric of the Cosmos. Space and time, who knows? (Time)

Our football’s coaching position open, speculation continues over who will fill the void. One sports writer wonders what if would have been like to have Urban Meyer. (Springsfield News Sun)

Mustachioed Musings via Wikimedia

Life, the Universe, and Everything, With Brian Greene

Last night, Miller Theater was transformed yet again into a realm of mystique and wonder, courtesy of PBS, and Bwog’s favorite physicist, Brian Greene. A sizable crowd assembled to watch the premiere of the new NOVA special, The Fabric of the Cosmos, based on Greene’s book of the same title. The real treat, however, was a live webcast (jointly hosted by the World Science Festival) with Brian Greene after the showing as he answered questions about physics, space, and nearly everything else. Brian Wagner, Bwog’s passionate spacetime enthusiast, was on hand.

cosmos

The NOVA special is based on Greene's book of the same name

Amber Miller, the Dean of Sciences, opened the evening on behalf of PrezBo, who was unable to attend due to his European vacation. After more remarks by folks from the World Science Festival and PBS’s obligatory five minutes of donor-thanking, the show actually began.

Episode 1 of the sciencey special is entitled “What is Space?” The show first asks you to consider all the “stuff” surrounding us in the world. Now what happens if you take away all the “stuff?” What are you left with? If you guessed nothing, you’re kind of right. But mostly wrong. You’re left with space. And though we don’t really know what space is, it’s definitely…something. It can bend and twist (but not shout). Taking a chronological tour (oh, by the way, time might not be real, but you’ll have to wait for Episode 2 for that one) through the history of scientific explanations of space, Fabric explains that space is not a passive “stage,” as Newton conceived of it. In the last century, Einstein discovered that space actually bends and stretches in order to keep the speed of light constant, and this is where gravity comes from. With the help of some fancy CGI Brian Greene explained that space is kind of like a pool table with a stretchy, elastic surface. When you put something heavy on it (i.e. a planet), it creates an indentation. Then when something smaller (like a moon) comes rolling by, it falls into the indentation and begins rolling along the edge of the curve, in effect rotating around the planet.

So space can bend. Got it. What’s actually bending then? At the subatomic level, space is a pretty crowded place, full of elementary particles whizzing around, with pairs appearing and then annihilating each other at an alarming rate. The interesting part is that these little guys have different masses, and we don’t really know why. Actually, we don’t really know what mass is. The current theory, proposed by Peter Higgs, is that space contains a “field,” which particles move through and pick up mass. Fabric invites you to picture it like a crowd of paparazzi. Lesser-known actors, in this case representing lighter particles, are able to move through the crowd without much effort. The George Clooneys of the particle zoo, however, attract rampant attention, and move slower and slower as they progress through the field, picking up more and more “mass.” But what makes some particles Alec Baldwins and others nameless part-time waiters is still unknown.

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Faster Than The Speed of BunsenBwog

Liquid nitrogen: it's like getting iced, but... much worse.

The physics community’s collective world was recently rocked by the latest results from CERN, with some now claiming that they have measured neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. While the discrepancy is small (only 60 nanoseconds), it could force physicists to reconsider Einstein’s theory of relativity. Columbia’s go-to physics rock star, Brain Greene, remains skeptical: “I would bet just about everything I hold dear that this won’t hold up to scrutiny.” Ouch.

One million Americans suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but researchers have yet to understand its causes. Earlier studies suggested that the condition might stem from the XMRV virus or one of the related mouse leukemia viruses. However, recent data from patient blood work finds no correlation between XMRV and chronic fatigue syndrome. Mailman School of Public Health Professor W. Ian Lipkin is conducting his own study, though other faculty members such as Vincent Racaniello agree that “it’s clearly time to move on.”

The blood-brain barrier makes it impossible for doctors to intravenously deliver drugs to the brain. Or at least it was impossible until Columbia professor Elisa Konofagou developed a method using short ultra sound pulses to safely open the blood-brain barrier. Konfagou believes this method will lead to treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Cue an updated Frontiers curriculum.

Graphene has already established a reputation as an incredibly versatile material, but things might just get even better—a new paper published by a large collaboration of Columbia professors and graduate students hints at an unplumbed frontier in the nitrogen doping of graphene. The embedded nitrogen atoms profoundly change the electrical properties of the graphene, albeit only in a two-atom radius, making it highly tunable and useful for electronics. That’s all well and good, but could it possibly be worth all those Girl Scout cookies?

IcyHawt image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Wild World of Particle Physics

If you give a mouse a Tevatron, and that mouse is an experimental physicist, it will ask for more money to build an enormous super collider beneath Switzerland and France, telling you that it needs more energy to confirm its theory on what makes the Universe do its thing. At least, that’s roughly how it works. On Monday, physicists, grad students, and particle lovers of all shapes and rest masses gathered in Pupin to discuss the Large Hadron Collider’s findings up to this point. Lepton lover Zach Kagan was in attendance.

Bwog didn’t quite know what it had gotten itself into—all these professors and graduate students gathered to hear the exciting new results from the LHC! This must be what a cocktail party at Brian Greene’s house feels like.

As the talk got underway, Bwog found it a lot more technical than we expected. Still, some it was recognizable: quarks, photons, antimatter, nuclear forces, atomic collisions… But this was just the beginning, and we were still waiting for the secrets of the universe to be unlocked before our eyes!

As the data began to emerge on slides for the audience to view, all that we could really distinguish was a jumble of lines. A LOT of lines. But our wonderful physics faculty came to the rescue and translated. So the Higgs Boson doesn’t exist…or maybe it does. But it probably doesn’t. But, if we try at higher energies we may find it. But most experts don’t think so. Except for the ones that do. So that clears that up.

Then the talk moved back to quarks. Wait, no, squarks. Bwog started wondering where the speaker’s sudden accent had come from. But then we definitely heard the words “stop squark.” At that point, we were pretty convinced we were being punk’d. What the hell is a squark? Who names these particles anyway?

Then we spotted a sleeping grad student. Oh dear; if he doesn’t get this stuff what hope do the rest of us have? But towards the end of the meeting, a sense of relief flooded over us. It all made sense. The standard model of particle physics is fundamentally flawed without the Higgs Boson to provide mass. Through the analysis of thousands of PP hadron collision events at 7 TeV through myriad detectors, an intimate picture of nature is created. Gluons, leptons, Z bosons, muons, pions, interweave through supersymmetry, reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, quantum entangling you and me and everything in the universe. THIS IS HOW WE SEE INTO THE MIND OF GOD.

…At least, it made sense until the graphs came back. And the acronyms. Oh, the acronyms. We pined for a fully-spelled-out word. Was the text even supposed to be read left to right anymore? We wouldn’t know. So, in summary: If the Higgs Boson doesn’t exist, does that mean I don’t exist? Does anyone exist even? Oh, it’s over… well that was… insightful, yes, fascinating. It’s time to go lie down now.

From the Issue: The Elegant Physicist

We continue to respect our heritage/amorous affair with our mother-magazine, The Blue & White by posting each issue of the magazine online. The latest issue, available this week around campus, is a cornucopia of delights: a harrowing (and fictional) account of the muscles that guard the cheeses at Westside , the shockingly sincere history of Barnard’s Greek Games, and a strikingly beautiful account of a detour into Pennsylvania coal country. In the Conversation, the magazine locates a cool person, and sits down to talk to them for the benefit of all—simple as that. This month senior editor Claire Sabel and staff writer Brian Wagner sat down for a chat with physicist extraordinaire Brian Greene.

Drawn in beautiful eleven-dimension-vision!

Illustration by Eloise Owens

To many people, Brian Greene is the face of modern physics. After the astonishing success of his book on string theory, The Elegant Universe, he found himself an impromptu spokesman for the field. Splitting time between the lab, film sets, and book tours, Greene still finds time to teach undergraduate classes at Columbia. Minutes after wrapping up filming for his latest NOVA special in his Riverside apartment, Greene spoke to The Blue and White about his goals, motivations, and how he combines science and his celebrity image.

The Blue & White: You have done much in recent years with both science and media. Do you think of yourself as being equal parts public figure and researcher? How do those roles influence each other?

Brian Greene: It’s always a big struggle and challenge for me to find the right balance between the pure research side of things and the public side of bringing these ideas out to general audiences. There are periods when I’m doing very little general public-type stuff and the focus is almost purely on research. But then there are stretches where it flips the other way. So, you know lately I’ve been filming a four-part series for NOVA, working on the World Science Festival, I just finished that book (motions to a copy of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos on a nearby bookshelf), so I was on a long book tour… so for the past month and a half it’s been hard to sit down and focus on physics.

But as all this stuff draws to a close I’m looking forward to very soon—like in a week or so—being able to spend much more time focusing on physics. So, as far as time goes, it’s really depending upon when… in terms of my own view, I don’t see them as different as they might appear—the two roles. Because I couldn’t feel comfortable talking to a general audience, bringing these ideas to the general public if I wasn’t engaged in the research, because I wouldn’t feel like I understood it or had my finger on the pulse well enough to be a good translator. And at the same time, when I’m out there talking to the general public it helps me figure out for my own self, what are the most vital ideas of what we’re working on; and what are the pieces that really need to be pushed forward? So there really is a kind of give and take that I find productive.

B&W: So do you think that the non-physicist has an important say in what is important in physics?

BG: An important say in terms of what we work on?

B&W: Yes.

BG: I would say that there are certain very basic questions that someone who is not trained in the field can recognize the value of pursuing. Things like, “How did the universe begin?” or, “What is time?” or, “Is space a real thing?” or, “Will the universe end?” or, “Does space go on forever?” or, “Do any of these ideas suggest that there might be other universes?” or, “Might there be other copies of me out there?” All of these questions are so straightforward and so compelling that you don’t have to be a scientist to find them interesting and exciting. So, from that perspective, I think the general public has the capacity to engage in the conversation, and ultimately that, to me, is what’s important.

I don’t like the idea of science taking place in a cut-off, isolated, silo-ed environment where the connection to the larger world is weak or nonexistent. I mean, the reason we do what we do is to answer questions that matter to everyone, and for that reason as we make progress, everyone should be able to—at least at some level—participate in the joy of discovery, and that is what I try to help make happen.

Read more after the jump!

Bwoglines: Perspective Edition

Does the grid make the perspective or does the perspective make the grid?

Prospies currently attempting to get a perspective into life at Columbia may be flustered as their peers rattle the names of their other college acceptances. But remember—it’s all about perspective. The salutatorian of Bronx Science got into six Ivies and is “just trying to refrain from any hubris,” but an acceptance to Columbia is still an incredible feat in itself. (NYDaily)

One columnist questions commonly held views on “Internet Addiction,” arguing, “if a pastime is not classy, those who love it are ‘addicted.’” (NYTimes)

In a recent episode of All Things Considered, Columbia’s beloved Brian Greene explained how recent findings at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory could change how we look at the universe. (NPR, US LHC)

The outcome of one man’s recent lawsuit is poised to question how employers perceive gender. (NYTimes)

NYMag offers three fascinating perspectives into the mind of post-crash Wall Street. (NYMag)

German via wikimedia.

Bwoglines: B-List Edition
Guys, getting B's is okay! Stop stressing!

B's on Bwoglines

Congress avoids a full government shutdown and passes a last-minute budget deal that plans to cut $38 million from federal spending. While Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide abortions should go relatively unharmed, President Obama admits that “some of the cuts accepted by Democrats ‘will be painful.’” (NYT)

Columbia superstar professor of mathematics and physics Brian Greene appears in the opening of an episode of The Big Bang Theory in a reading for his newest book, The Hidden Reality. Sheldon is not impressed by Greene’s dumbing down of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. (CBS)

A 17-year-old British high school student literally gets bored stiff in class, yawning so widely that she can’t close her mouth! Let this be a lesson to you all: if you’re too tired to go to class, just sleep in. Classroom fatigue could be hazardous to your health! (Daily Mail)

New Yorkers are catching up with Bwog’s love for Hawkmadinejad and taking hawk bird watching to the next level. First, it was a live nest cam of two hawks (Violet and Bobby) nesting outside of NYU President JSex’s office. Now, the new hawk to watch is Pale Male, whose womanizing ways are receiving major attention. (City Room)

Surprise of the century: New Yorkers love brunch. We guess it’s not just a HIMYM thing! This article even gives our beloved Community Food and Juice a shout out. (WSJ)

B Typography via Wikimedia Commons

 

Bwoglines: Who’s To Blame? Edition

"What up Columbia?"

UWS residents blame Columbia’s recent construction for rats the size of “cats and kittens.” Columbia they’re culpable, but will offer a pest-taming workshop. (PIX 11)

Big deal physics prof Brian Greene will make a cameo appearance in the Big Bang Theory as himself! (Digital Spy)

NYC Councilwoman Gale Brewer introduced a bill which would prohibit cars from traveling in the 6-mile Central Park loop. (NY Post)

Detroit’s population fell 25% in the past decade. (NYT)

Lindsay Lohan partied in NYC this past weekend, and hit seven clubs in four nights. (People)

 

Giant rat via Wikimedia

Occasional Bwoglines Part 1: Sciencey Edition

Have you ever noticed how time seems to run so much more slowly when you’re not drinking 9 cups of coffee a day and putting half of that energy into being passively aggressive? Bwoglines leisurely returns with a first installment: a feast of not-strictly-topical links, and context—something we all wish we had more time for. You could learn something!

Relegated!

Thursday’s episode of the Colbert Report (remember when?!) featured Neil deGrasse Tyson, big deal astrophysicist and GSAS alum. When he’s not demystifying the movement of the tides, Tyson directs the Hayden Planetarium (totally worth visiting, by the way) and hosts PBS’s scienceNOW.  So remember how Pluto used to be a planet? Well, Tyson led the charge against Pluto’s planet status by refusing to include it in the Hayden’s solar system exhibits. For the record, Pluto’s a “dwarf planet” now. It’s tough being tiny.

Tyson the galactic gospel also has a top-notch Twitter feed, featuring sub-140 character gems like “stunning thin crescent Moon this night, suspended in the western sky” and “solve one mystery and the universe presents another: which came first, the chicken salad sandwich or the egg salad sandwich?”

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CU People in the News Roundup

In which Bwog newcomer Anish Bramhandkar keeps you up to date on the latest news in the strange and quirky happenings of the lives of Columbia’s finest.  Beware, in some cases connections to our fair alma mater may be otherwise dubious or somewhat circumspect.


UPDATE: Columbia Economics professors hijack today’s New York Times Op-Ed page to wax about the bailout and their expectations for tonight’s Presidential debate.

CU Researcher Quantifies SEAS Sex Appeal

That Peter Bretter even dated Sarah Marshall to begin with is a mystery CU Business School assistant professor (and MIT graduate) Leonard Lee has solved, according to the Calgary Herald.

According to Professor Lee’s research, men are just as “superficial” as women, but women let their perception of their own appearance limit their dating pool.  Men, on the other hand, will date just about anyone.  The figure of men being 2.5 times more likely to accept date requests just about summarizes the situation in the Carleton Lounge, Bwog figures. (more…)

Gray Lady: “I am Light Blue”

Two Columbia-related articles of interest in the New York Times recently: First up, an op-ed from physics professor/Colbert Report interviewee Brian Greene sent to Bwog from tipster Lucy Tang. In a piece currently #1 on the Times‘ Most Emailed list, Greene recounts receiving from a letter from a soldier stationed overseas from whom Greene’s book (the immensely readable and enjoyable The Elegant Universe) was “something of a lifeline. [...] It speaks to the powerful role science can play in giving life context and meaning. At the same time, the soldier’s letter emphasized something I’ve increasingly come to believe: our educational system fails to teach science in a way that allows students to integrate it into their lives.” Greene goes on to lucidly and convincingly argue for a “cultural shift” that would emphasize the philosophic importance of science.

Next up, via tipster Ian Corey-Boulet, a piece which focuses the on Sisters Colleges’ (your strong, beautiful Barnard College among them) initiative to recruit more students hailing from the Middle East. According to the article, admissions deans from the Sisters believe that their schools’ emphasis on encouraging women to engage in science and math-related fields, in addition to providing a less-jarring transition from single-sex high schools, would make them an especially appealing option for prospective students from places like Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait.

A Festival for the Rest of Us

Tipster Michael Wymbs alerted us to last night’s episode of the Colbert Report, on which Physicas Professor Brian Greene was a guest. Greene was promoting the World Science Festival (of which he is host), which will take place this weekend in all over the city. As part of the festival, Greene will be a panelist in an “Invisible Reality” lecture (moderated by favored West Wing Republican Alan Alda.) Check out the Festival’s full schedule here.

The Festival’s Street Fair will take place on Saturday in Washington Sq. Park and will feature a 12-foot tall animatronic dinosaur and a real-life version of the Magic School Bus. Bwog will see you there.

New Mag on Campus: The Gadfly

gadflyA gadfly, according to Billy Goldstein (CC’ 09), is “some big-ass fly,” and also the only non-defunct undergraduate philosophy magazine at Columbia University.

The Gadfly has so far printed one issue with a medley of contributions: a letter of explanation, a few art pieces, a fictional work, a quasi-Socratic dialogue, a lecture review, and–as a centerpiece–interviews with Columbia professors David Albert and Brian Greene. As a magazine rather than a journal, its founders say, it focuses less on academic theses and more on anything that can provoke thought. “It’s not a formal magazine, it’s mostly just thought-provoking,” Goldstein said.

Basically, the magazine stays true to form. It usually provokes thought rather than positing specific opinions, and a couple of the pieces present multiple views without really advocating any in particular. In general, even if you don’t find yourself agreeing with it, it raises interesting discussion points, and the articles are long enough to develop the authors’ ideas but not so long as to get dragging.

Goldstein’s description of the Gadfly’s function as “a forum for ideas that people otherwise only talk about with their friends, or when they’re stoned” fits perfectly with the fiction piece, by Maddie Boucher (CC ’09), which includes the journal of a wandering philosopher/outlaw from which the veracity and meaning of any entry, whether ultimately true or not, is ample fodder for discussion.  The interviews with Albert and Greene, while much more formal and scientific, become accessible to the humanities-minded among us through a somewhat meta-philosophical letter. Roberto and Gadfly VP Adam Waksman, who interviewed Greene and Albert, respectively, are as much physics nerds as they are philosophy geeks, and hope to draw in some of both.

Interview with the editors after the jump! (more…)