Save the Fundamental Particles…

Inspired by this insane buzz in my head (which, in turn, was inspired by “the lawsuit a Russian astrologer is bringing against NASA over it’s mission to comet Tempel-1”:,0,6528169.story?coll=ny-health-headlines),
I think it’s time we take this whole issue of “probing the universe with bombs” more seriously.

No, seriously.

I’ve previously reported on the horrors of the cheap and easy-to-obtain chemical menace dihydrogen-monoxide. In the spirit of that important stand, I believe it’s important to recognize the harm particle physics laboraties all over the world are doing to our universe’s fundamental particles. What mystical forces might they be imbalancing? What twist of fate might the human race have to endure due to the careless annihilation of billions and billions and billions of electrons and quarks??? I “know the times”:, and I think it’s time you all knew the times, too.

These fundamental particles, especially the lightest ones, think at the start of their busy day that their identity is safe. But then we go and accelerate them to massive velocities, smash them into their antiparticle partners, and BLAMMO! Pure energy. Whatever comes out, it’s no guarantee to be what you put in (sure, the whole thing conserves energy, but that doesn’t guarantee you get out the same particles!). In fact, many times you get out whole new particles whose energy then tranforms into other exotic particles. In the end, you may end up with what you started, or you might get photons or neutrinos! Imagine, waking up an electron and ending as a spray of neutrinos and photons!

Oh, I hope you’re not taking this seriously. If so you need help.

No, seriously.

Bai Bai, Deep Impact

It’s a little uncouth to post twice in a few minutes, but this “second article on the lawsuit by the Russian mother in the Seattle Times”:
escaped my attention when last I scanned Wowsers. You gotta love this quote:

“If the Americans can study comets with the help of bombs, why not the Chinese?” she asked. “Americans want to be ahead of everybody. And maybe that’s good, but not in this case. It’s a barbaric method, to study the universe with bombs.”

That’s from Marina Bai, the plaintiff in the suit. She’s mostly concerned that the collision will upset “mystic forces” in the universe. Wait a sec. Let me check. Hang on. Well, a quick scan of my physics texts indicate the gravitational force, the electromagnetic force, the strong and weak nuclear force, the Higgs field… but, thankfully, no mystic force to upset. She should be able to sleep now.

Oh, and as I’ve indicated in the past, these natural forces will really not notice this eensy-weensy little impact. I mean, after all, they survived the Big Bang. They can take a little probe hurtled into a comet by a single species on a tiny planet in an average galaxy.

As for “studying the universe with bombs”, she should tell that to nature. Nature is the one that makes supernova, gamma ray bursts, solar flares, and a wide variety of other deadly and explosive phenomena that affect us every day. Our little probe doesn’t even qualify as a bomb, and even if we were hurtling something like a nuclear weapon at the comet the sun would still giggle at our feeble attempt to blow something up. To compare this probe to a bomb is to scream and wail at every mosquito bite.

After a week of invisible decays… the weekend.

This past week was immensely fruitful for my research. It was also the week where I was really able to concretely identify the road toward solving the problem of the worst background in my research. Let’s refresh a bit.

I’m looking for invisible decays of the “Upsilon meson”: Suppress your giggles! The decay of Upsilons into visible particles is a tale long since told, but it’s expected decays into neutrinos have never been thoroughly probed. That’s what I am hoping to do.

“Invisible” here means that the Upsilon’s energy is transformed into some lighter particles which, while quite real, are not detectable with the BaBar detector. That’s how you define invisible. The neutrino has already taught us that just because it’s hard to see doesn’t mean it isn’t there. My hope is that the decay of the Upsilon into such hard-to-detect states is not limited only to the neutrino, but also includes some new exotic particle that might open up a new path to understanding the universe.

But there’s a big problem here: you have to have a perfectly hermitic detector in order to be sure that a particle, once created, *would have been detected*. In the real world, detectors have gaps or regions where there is no coverage. That means that decays of the Upsilon into things like a pair of electrons or muons could **fake** the invisible signal if both leptons go into a region of zero coverage.

So I spent the week thinking about how to measure what I cannot see, by relating what I do measure to what I can’t measure. I had some mental breakthroughs on this in the last few days. Hey, perhaps they were obvious to others but they weren’t so obvious to me.

In other news, I’ve spent the day consuming the large amounts of Spongebob delivered to my by Netflix. Ah, Spongebob. The irreverence is such a delight. I’ve also been playing around with the iPod my wife got for storing her work data. I figure while she’s out of town at the Soudan mine, it can’t hurt to put a little music on it. And not just a little music… a little music using LINUX! Indeed, I’ve been using “gtkpod”: to move a bunch of our ripped CDs over to the iPod. Now I’m writing this while listening to a so-called “podcast” of “Le Show”: from last weekend.

I’ve also gotten in my long walk for the day in the surrounding hills, and now I’ve got this blogging thing to fill the void left by Jodi’s world travel. Sigh.

In the news of the weird, I saw that the “story about the Russian woman suing NASA to stop the Deep Impact mission is still making headlines, though the number of lines in the article is shorter than it used to be”:
Hard to believe that’s still even news. Oh, hey, that reminds me! NASA’s mission is scheduled to impact comet Tempel-1 on July 4!

Summertime for Physics

It’s summer for physics. That means a “large number of physics conferences”:
and lots of results to get out the door. It also means all my MIT colleagues are right here at SLAC, instead of spread all over the place with teaching responsibilities,classes, exams, or travel. It also means that I get more time in my day to work on my own research. No more seminars or conferences for me to go to!

In that spirit, I’ve jumped back into my search for invisible decays of bottomonium. This is motivated by several factors: more time for me to work on it, the “appearance of Bob McElrath’s paper on these decays on the arXiv”:, and a sudden burst of fresh experimental ideas that all need consideration to make this measurement work.