Sunday, March 14, 2010

PBS: What Einstein never knew (1985)

PBS/NOVA shot an interesting one-hour program about high-energy physics, "What Einstein Never Knew", in 1985.

Six parts, a playlist

You may see Abdus Salam, Sheldon Glashow, young Michael Duff, Burt Ovrut, and many other interesting physicists talking about unification and supersymmetry. Steven Weinberg is giving a lecture and he calmly talks about the Z boson "which will be discovered in April in Geneva". Of course, Weinberg was "wrong": it wasn't April 1983 but May 1983. :-)

Their picture of the unification is made out of graves of individual forces in the landscape. The program employs a wooden female blonde 2D physicist to explain the spontaneous symmetry breaking in a magnet. They discuss the proton decay experiments and the search for magnetic monopoles (which found nothing so far) but also mention the search for neutrino masses (which have been established later).

In the fourth part, around 3:00, they start to talk about the "paradoxically simpler" unification of all forces - extra dimensions. String theory's first revolution was way too new for the TV staff in 1984/5 so 10 or 11 dimensions are presented as a consequence of supersymmetry. (At any rate, string theory enters the program in the fifth part, near 8:00.) Theodor Kaluza's son appears on TV. Sheldon Glashow attacks SUSY, helps to hype an anomaly that was complete bogus, but he also says nice things about the human curiosity.

While theory has made a huge progress during the last 25 years, the experiments were somewhat stuck near the 100 GeV frontier - and the LHC is finally going to massively unstuck them on March 30th or so with the first 7 TeV collisions - and the scientific quality of the presentation may have even deteriorated. Some things have changed, others have not.

For example, they said very clearly that as the experiments were getting harder - which was surely a great prediction back in 1985 - the physicists would have to increasingly focus on the mathematics alone, which they did. After all, Einstein has made his key progress in his way, too. This way of looking at these things was a part of my reasoning since my childhood - that's why I was ever interested in physics - so I am really puzzled by the "postmodern" people who would love to paint mathematically built arguments almost as illegitimate ones in physics.

At any rate, it's interesting to watch how such programs would look like 25 years ago.

Brian Cox and politics

By the way, Brian Cox, a former rock star, CERN physicist, and a popularizer of science has finally left the swines of the Labor Party, quoting their reductions of funding for science as a reason. He's going to vote for Lib Dem but I will only applaud once he chooses UKIP. ;-)

He is planning to bring the Solar System to your TV living room.

Meanwhile, several childish hysterical AGW ads by Ed Milliband, the young U.K. Labor secretary of energy, have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority because even ASA could have seen that they surely exaggerate the hypothetical impacts of AGW.

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