Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stuart Freedman: RIP

Stuart Jay Freedman, UC Berkeley physicist, died at the age of 68. He joined Princeton in 1972 and Berkeley in 1991. A former particle theorist became an unusually versatile experimenter even though he used to dislike the Berkeley labs as "Big Science" (in a pejorative sense, similar to the "Big Government").



Picture via Rolf Kaltschmidt

A famous paper he wrote with John Clauser in April 1972 experimentally disproved local hidden variable models of quantum mechanics. The PRL document is wonderfully free of nonsense. They measure a correlation of photons' polarizations in calcium, verify quantum mechanics, and with some help from the CHSH inequality, they explain why local hidden variables couldn't agree with their results. Not too much conceptual progress occurred in that activity during the following 10 years when Alain Aspect got pretty famous by doing similar, slightly improved experiments.




A simple Google Scholar search tells you that he has done lots of experiments with neutrinos etc. In fact, he's been the boss of the Japanese neutrino experiment KamLAND.

RIP, Dr Freedman.



A 16-minute November 2011 talk by S.J. Freedman honoring Luis Alvarez (UC Berkeley, Nobel for NMR). Witty.

Something must be wrong at UC Berkeley these days. Five days ago, Robert Lin, experimental space physicist, died of stroke.

Plans of buildings on Google Maps

Off-topic: Google has added about 10,000+ interiors (list) to Google Maps. You just sufficiently zoom in. Check e.g. restaurants at the Logan International Airport in Boston.

9 comments:

  1. Lubos, thank you for these very nice (and accurate) words about Stuart. His death came as a terrible shock to all of us who worked with him. I had served on a "decadal survey" of nuclear physics

    http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=13438

    which was chaired by Stuart, which gave him many opportunities to deploy his considerable wisdom and wit to help us reach consensus.

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  2. Dear Bill, I kind of knew you had to know him... My condolences.

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  3. Very sad to see those great minds depart in such a short space of time. I hope that those who were close to them will find solace in their memories and work energetically towards the aspirations which they had in common.

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  4. Lubos, what I find interesting about the brief account of his career is his switch from being a theorist to an experimentalist. How common is such a switch? Has it also been done the other way as well, i.e. for an experimentalist to write theory papers?

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  5. Enrico Fermi started as a theorist but when he also became one of the world's best experimenters, he didn't abandon theory, either. So it was both.


    Your opposite situation is interesting. I can't think of any experimenters who later became good theorists, but it's probably just due to my lack of imagination right now. ;-)

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  6. Thanks for the reply. As an aspiring physicist who's still an undergrad, I'm just still torn between the two choices (theory or experiment) and hope that whatever decision I'll make, there will always be room for me to dabble in in the other. Fermi is indeed often brought up as an example, but I think he would be an isolated case? I've never heard anyone give another example.



    Incidentally (and I apologize if this might not be exactly the right place to pop this question, but still), do you think that one shouldn't become a theorist if one doesn't have a certain amount of IQ? I love theory and am doing very well in my studies, but my IQ is just bright, not genius level. Hence there is always this insecurity which plagues me whenever I consider becoming a theorist, because to be honest, there are just so many super smart people in theoretical physics (and I think that you are probably one of those theorists with genius-level IQ, so perhaps you could give me a snippet of advice). Thanks again! :)

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  7. Dear Luboš,

    When I read your 'The PRL document is wonderfully free of nonsense' I was a little surprised and didn't know what to make of it. I'm not a physicist so I'm not in the loop on these things but I am keen to know what you mean exactly as I have really only ever read textbooks, notes or the odd monograph (I'm an occasional dabbler, that's all). Prior to reading your comment my default position was that all physics papers are free of nonsense—apart from the odd unlucky error—much less 'wonderfully' free. OK, maybe that's naive of me. But even bearing that in mind now, I'm still surprised.

    I can think of only two things here: the physics content on the one hand and the style of presentation, and peripheral stuff like that, on the other. Please tell me you mean the latter, the style of presentation etc, i.e. that the language was, for example, wonderfully stodge-free or whatever. But if the news is worse than that then I'd like to know too. In fact, I would really like to know. I have to say it would be a big disappointment to me if it were. In almost any other subject, okay, I can accept that, but in EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICS? Surely not?

    Give it to me straight, Luboš. :)

    When I read the news here that Freedman & Clauser beat Alain Aspect to the punch, and by a decade, I was really surprised. That's the first I've heard of it. Okay, I'm not in the business but... wow! In everything I've ever read in this area it has always been Aspect who finally confirmed Bell's/QM's take (not that anyone ever doubted it, as they say, but it was nice to it have in the bag). No disrespect to Alain Aspect but surely Freedman & Clauser ..... well it just seems grossly unfair to me when they had the guts of it first. I don't know what to make of that either.

    It's funny — I'm meeting a lot of disappointments in the institutions of science lately. I'm thinking primarily of CAGW alarmism and the corruption involved. But that kind of thing can thrive only in an environment of a larger degenerate host culture in academe. So that's nice. Oh well.

    Stuart Freedman seemed like a very nice man. May he rest in peace.

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  8. Hi ZM, everyone who is intrigued by theoretical physics should try. Of course, there's a higher risk that one may do it badly if some prerequisites in the skull aren't optimal.


    But just to be sure, there are lots of successful theorists who aren't intelligent, maybe too many. ;-)

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  9. Freedman and Clauser surely deserved a lot of credit that went to others. It went to others because of some marketing or "spin friendly to armchair physicists".


    You must live in some ideal utopia Universe if all physics papers are still free of nonsense. In the Universe where I live, a big part of them is nonsense, and it is particularly true about the papers about foundations of QM whose 95+ percent is nonsense. By nonsense, I mean claims that are manifestly wrong; whole subpapers trying to prove something that is manifestly vacuous and whose validity is just an artifact of tricks, sloppy notation, and so on, and the actual beef in the papers is either wrong or has been known for a long time. Most of such papers are trying to mask that something isn't valuable, important, true at all - they develop layers of fog to do this masking.

    Of course that physics literature can't be made out of 100,000 valuable original no-nonsense papers - there's just not enough important knowledge waiting in Nature to be distributed to this many papers. But the percentage of noise and nonsense has gotten really high in recent years, especially in disciplines such as foundations of quantum mechanics. Well, of course, I won't even mention CAGW here, that's a hopeless example.

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