## Monday, September 24, 2012

### BBC: How small is the universe?

Off-topic: Czech police claims to have found the culprits behind the methanol scandal which killed 25 people in recent weeks (and led the government to impose temporary prohibition). The two men have fully confessed and face up to life sentences. A company legally using methanol to produce windshield washers was selling the methanol to the black market. The two criminals knew that they were producing a deadly mixtures of ethanol and methanol – to make profit, regardless of people's lives. I assure everyone that none of this business has ever compromised the safety of Czech exported beverages, especially not those produced near Pilsen, the opposite side of the country, so discrimination against Czech alcohol would be a sign of someone's misunderstanding of the details.
If you haven't watched this BBC2 Horizon program named How small is the universe? four weeks ago, here is the 60-minute video:

Is the narrator speaking in conventional British English?

It's about Nature at very short distance scales and topics such as the string theory landscape, tiny black holes, the Planck length, quasiparticles, MAGIC cosmic rays telescope, and many more things.

The visual effects are pretty good. They probably got much cheaper than a few years ago. Michael Green grows a new universe out of a blue seed in his palm – and many vibrating strings are everywhere, of course. He and others are playing with matryoshka dolls, too.

Well, there are some people I have never heard of, like Joachim Meyer, sorry ;-), despite his cool PICO (or TITAN?) electron microscope which sees individual atoms, rather sharply. They have also been to a cathedral in Aachen. Around 7:00, they start to magnify the matter.

To see inside the atom, they get to the LHC. Andy Parker of ATLAS who "co-built" the device is the guide. He throws some cute old cuckoo clocks from a tower to find out its internal architecture; I was doing similar experiments when I was 7, poor clock. The documentary already treats the Higgs boson discovery as a historical fact. Parker says that his main interest is beyond the higgs, however.

Jeroen van den Brink of Dresden is a solid physicist but he presents his work as looking inside the electron. Well, if you need an example of squalid state physicists' parasiting on the depth of high-energy physics, here you have another one. ;-) So they switch to some X-ray sources that van den Brink, the theorist, doesn't understand, as he admits. At any rate, they create spinons, orbitons, holons, and so on. I am afraid that they deliberately mislead the viewer into thinking that they're observing the splitting of the "fundamental particle". They are just observing an emergent, low-energy effect that "looks like" the particle is being split.

Around 26:40, we return to Parker who wants to create black holes at the LHC so he starts to speak French: impressive. Black holes may only be accessible if there are extra dimensions and gravity is fundamentally stronger than it looks in our superficially 3+1-dimensional world: gravity is leaking into extra dimensions. Parker is driven by his desire to win 3 Nobel prizes – for black holes in the lab, extra dimensions, and falsification of normal GR. ;-)

Michael Green and string theory get to the stage – well, to a French boat – at 33:50. Green's head dissolves into strings. Usual comments about the music of strings. Strings are too small. Strings, if real, are the smallest ones, and at their scale, the notions of big and small turn upside down. 38:00, many solutions, the landscape. The solutions are the peaks, maxima, not minima, in their conventions.

At 41:20, a not-so-physicist is finally given some room. He is not a surfer but a motorbiker. Giovanni Amelino-Camelia tells us that the spacetime is the spacetime. Very interesting. ;-) He says that the BBC viewers are the worst because they think they know a lot but they know nothing: completely nothing. That's still better than Amelino-Camelia's knowledge which is negative. A few vague comments about a discontinuous spacetime at the Planck scale. This babbling by an average Italian in the cafés of Rome made me bored rather quickly.

Hopeless and unjustifiable attempts to find violations of proper relativity via distance gamma ray bursts.

It was an OK program but I would still say that some of the other Horizon episodes discussed on this blog have been better, more informative, based on more special sources, more exciting.

1. I'm an American who lived two years in Scotland, and the narrator is speaking Scots English. The BBC likes to highlight regional accents when they can.

2. Oh, I see, Scots English. ;-) Some things, like a more hearable "R" and "ER" look closer to the Czechs' conception of the sounds except that all of us have been re-taught not to say any "ER". :-)

3. Ah, this looks like a nice bedtime story that will not upset me :-)

(I still need to calm down when thinking about the comment section below Sean Carolls actual post, wondering why the hell he has announced this new site on CV. Obviously in order to let everybody spit and spat on it; poor students who have done the cute work if they see and read what has happened over there :-(...!!!)

4. Exactly, I think that he wanted to make himself visible by allowing scum to attack hard-working and smart Oxford students.

5. Yeah, I wanted to write to Sean Carrol that he really should take it down, but he has obviously banned me ...

Maybe I can write something nice and comforting to Edward Hughes on physics SE below his answer to the community ads meta question ... ;-)

6. Dear Lubos, sorry, nothing to contribute but I have a technical question. You have a few thingamajigs on each article for making a recommendation, in particular it is possible to "plus-one" it for Google Plus; also, one can click on the "star" button (to the right of "# comments"). Which of these, if any, is better for nudging up the page's rank in Google's web search? I am guessing the answer is, giving it a +1 for Google Plus. Then the "stars" thing is more or less cosmetic, or just a measure of popularity for the blogger's perusal?

7. Thanks for your kind question. I am not going to push readers towards recommending articles, however. A reason is that as far as I can see, it makes no impact on PageRank etc. However, some Google-Plus or Facebook or DISQUS pluses may sometimes be visible to some contacts of yours at those social networks. I am not sure how it exactly works.

I realize that those pluses are unused for most articles now. But I am not gonna artificially promote these software creations. When something becomes popular, people often click at something they like if many other people before them did the same. But if it's not a habit, people just don't click at what they don't understand. ;-)

There are of course articles on TRF that get dozens of Google-pluses, for example, and it's always when some mass habit explodes. It seems wrong to me to expect many readers to take care of some buttons.

8. so maybe another possibility is that spacetime relations come into existence in a discrete fashion, like whenever an electron-positron pair pops into existence, so do the relations, and then they disappear. Rather than particles sitting in a pre-existing space, which is convenient for equations of motion, there could be enough wiggle room for space to expand.

9. I saw this episode a few days ago and I actually think the last 15 mins are just a pure lie! To my knowledge, The MAGIC experiement has been superseded by the much more precise FERMI measurement showing no departure from Lorentz invariance upto the Planck scale - WTF? Is it just a case of deplorable journalism to show something shocking at all costs?

10. Go away, looks like I am watching a science fiction movie with some cheap animation work. He is talking like a fortuneteller with poor references. Simply don't buy it.

11. Did they actually see they saw an anomaly? I could only hear they were dreaming how important they would be if they did. ;-)

I agree with you that Fermi is superior over MAGIC in this business.

12. Definitely Scaw'ish :-)

13. We've come a long way from the Blackhole that Ate My Planet.:)

Best,

14. Hi Lubos,

And thanks for clarifying that the quasiparticles weren't actually splitting the electron!!

One potentially important bit I didn't understand was Michael Green saying this tiny particle in his hand could also be the whole universe - is he referring to pre-inflationary big bang?

15. Hi Lubos,

And thanks for clarifying that the quasiparticles weren't actually splitting the electron!!

One potentially important bit I didn't understand was Michael Green saying this tiny particle in his hand could also be the whole universe - maybe he is referring to pre-inflationary big bang?

16. James,

are you smoking strange things again, or what did pick you to just say the absurd things to me over there at CV ...?

If Sean Carroll had any spark of decency left, he would immediately take his latest post down now.
But obviously, just to gain attention, many clicks, making himself visible etc, he is ready to sell his own grandmother ... :-(0)

17. Yeah I am a bit crazy, but for fuck's sake dilaton, you're trying to protect undeserving people. They probably want to experiment with web technologies rather than learning more difficult QFT methods etc

Learn the fucking basics I say before you display your limited knowledge on the internet.

If you know the UK academic system, then anyone who gets a cambridge/oxford place is very lucky, rich or, perhaps, talented. And the majority of these people end up in IT companies and finance.

18. Ha ha, I too hat the idea to scholar-google what Giovanni Amelino-Camelia is actually working at ... :-D

I thought Micheal Green is alluding to T-duality when by these comments but of course I'm not sure :-/

19. They said there was a delay of 5s ...

And I think I can guess what they were talking about the last 15min, something not to mention here ... :-P

20. Hm dont know the UK academic system of course :-/, but Edward Hughes is at physics SE too and to me it seems he is seriously interested in physics, wanting to write a PhD about ST etc ...
The amount of trolls over there just annoys me and they appear everytime when somebody dares to mention any fundamental physics topics at a site where the comments are not moderated.
Because of this I no longer like it when people talk or write about such things outside TRF or physics SE :-(

21. "Is the narrator speaking in conventional British English?"
Yes. But there isn't just one, you know.

"Hopeless and unjustifiable attempts to find violations of proper relativity via distance gamma ray bursts."
I fail to see why you do not grok lumpiness. Lumpiness is your friend. Without it, you could not hold a beer glass.

22. Did they? That's really bad because it shows that BBC can't even make their research of existing work right. Fermi has shown beyond any reasonable doubt that the delay, if nonzero at all (probably zero), is less than tens of milliseconds.

23. If you are like me, then Lumo is your thickest and most reliable pillar of pleasurable reference for the HEP-portion of how you perceive What Is going on. :-)

24. Dear James, the project was still led by Joseph Conlon who is a full-fledged string researcher at Oxford.

25. James, is this BBC reporter you?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19703834

26. haha,

unfortunately not, I don't think the bbc would employ a foul-mouthed crazy guy (although they do have Jeremy Clarkson).

There are a lot of James Gallagher's in the world so I make appearances in all sorts of weird and wonderful places, I even have half a dozen wikipedia entries:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Gallagher

27. erm, apologies to Conlon then, he probably knows a lot more than I do :-)

28. unfortunately not, I don't think the bbc would employ a foul-mouthed crazy guy

Strange, I thought this was the only kind of people they would employ – and Jeremy Clarkson is the only exception because he's actually sane. And funny.

29. You have no prayer of getting hired by the BBC if you are a white heterosexual non-Marxist English male (assuming that such specimens exist: Edith Cresson had her doubts about that.)

Exemptions may be made for people with Welsh, Scots, Irish surnames or even Englishmen if they have a cute speech defect, a.k.a. as an accent from oop north.

30. that Giovanni Amelino Camelia looks so annoying. he talks nonsense and is also arrogant. he is not saying anything special or anything that makes sense.

i made a comment some months ago about physicists and logic and i made some people upset. although it's a short conversation it fits here. i also made another one about physicists that reach a certain level and talk poems or say things that don't make much sense.
i might be wrong but i think astronomy gets more guys like Amelino Camelia than theoretical physics.

31. Yeah, I was astonished that Lumo was not more upset about him from the beginnin, I got it FTL what he was up to, LOL :-D