Sunday, December 23, 2012

Obama gives medal to Drell, Gates, Mazur

I hate honors but this list is kind of interesting. Barack Obama gave the National Medal of Science to 12 scientists and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation to 11 technologists and innovators:
Obama names 23 scientists and innovators as medal winners (Cosmic Log)
The scientists include Sidney Drell, an accomplished violinist, hadron collisions specialist, and arms control expert at SLAC who is also the father of Persis Drell, the current SLAC director.

The generation that is not quite the youngest one knows Sidney Drell's name from one more context: we know him as a co-author of the Bjorken-Drell textbook on quantum field theory, Relativistic Quantum Mechanics (1964) and Relativistic quantum fields (1965). It was the ultimate mainstream standard for such a textbook before it could have been surpassed in this place by Peskin and Schroeder.

It was a hard reading for me when I was a high school kid. But it was arguably the first book from which I understood that the existence of photons – light quanta – follows from the "ordinary" quantization procedure applied to the electromagnetic field. I wonder how hard these things are for generic beginners. They have looked self-evident to me for quite some time but unlike other sources of difficulties people have, I can understand that this one requires some concentration.

Another winner is Sylvester James Gates, a top supergravitist and string theorist. Incidentally, if you have never tried to watch his 24 lectures Superstring Theory: the DNA of Reality (2006), you should give it a try. They look cute:

(Video excerpts no longer available for free. Search for "DNA of Reality Gates" at

Finally, the list of the science medal winners includes Barry Mazur, Harvard mathematician whom I know very well from numerous dinners in the Society of Fellows. He is a nice and sensitive man who sees many emotional things in number theory, geometry, and their relationships. ;-)


  1. Aah, some of these honors seem to have gone in the right direction :-)

    At what kind of audience are these video lectures targeted? They look very interesting and the large "play" button of the embeded video picks me ... :-)


  2. I love the sound of James Gates voice. I've just watched the first lecture and I can't wait for the next one. It's like a nice Christmas gift. Even the wrapping is lovely: his shirts are just class :-)

  3. Professor Sylvester Gates? Huh?

    I hope you can prove me incorrect, Lubos, but I've always seen him as the token black scientist included within the scientific circles of white liberal scientists; a role model in the making for black kids, rather than an outstanding American scientist deserving of a medal.

    And he's at the University of Maryland?

    Very strange that the list included scientists from universities I've heard of, but Maryland I haven't.

    Fair enough, he should get a medal as a black role model, but really as a top American scientist?

  4. Persis Drell recently retired as SLAC director. The new director of SLAC is Chi-Chang Kao. Chi-Chang was previously the director of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource at SLAC, and before that was director of the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven. His original training is Chemical Engineering.

  5. I think Gates is very good 'explainer'!

    (Have watched the first 4 lectures, and so far so good.)

    The only problem he has convincing me that he is a top physicist is that his voice only slides into extreme falsetto now and then. He needs to work on that aspect of his delivery. ;>

  6. He is not a crackpot and transmits scrupulously what he's learned. He's doing a good job of it IMO. His lectures have something of the Walt Disney productions ;-)

  7. Peter, imagine Witten instead of Gates. You would hear snores in the audience after the 3rd lecture ;-D

  8. John F. HultquistDec 25, 2012, 2:20:00 AM

    Merry Christmas!

  9. Well the Gates lectures have disappeared from Youtube . Click above, it says "copyright violation". :( I have seen the first 7 :(. I tried to see if they exist in some other venue, with no success

  10. Dear Anna, obviously, the only right venue is to buy the DVDs.

    Did you think about anything else?

  11. Why are you so ready to misread my comments? There are Feynman lectures fee here : ,
    and I thought this might hold for these lectures too. However could I guess there would be a DVD for sale? You yourself did not mention it.

  12. I saw the amazon page and it is a turn off for anybody. Had I not seen the lectures while they were on Youtube the amazon page would never convince me to shell out 70$. There is not even a description of content, i.e. if it is the same 24 half hour lectures.

  13. Hm Lumo,

    I am vary amazed too that these lectures, intended to make the public better appreciate fundamental physics, have suddenly disapeared, even though buying them if one really wants to have them is not a big deal.

  14. Your attacks are pretty disgustingly disrespectful. You don't have to pay every $70 product on the market; indeed, the creators surely assumed that most of the average 7 billion people on this planet wouldn't buy it; but not wanting it doesn't give you the right to steal it.

    Also, your suggestion that the 24 lectures are identical to each other is childish and your comment that the topics of the individual 24 lectures isn't freely available is just a lie, see e.g.

    Moreover, they're cool lectures. Don't you think that it's more important to notice that no sensible person would pay $1,000,000 for the physics work you have done in your life, as indicated by what you hinted at the Internet? Which of the two appraisals do you think is more important and more justified?

  15. Dilaton, a product is always designed for some consumers who get something out of the product, but that doesn't mean that products should be free. Lots of work and time was surely invested - not only by Gates, but also by the production staff - to the creation of this collection of video lectures. It is just repulsive if someone expects such things to be free.

    I am shocked by your hardcore communist discourse, too.

  16. Dear Lumo,

    you are right, I have only seen the first lecture and I have already noted that it was produced very beautifully and carefully. So of course, those people who have done such a nice work have to obtain an appropriate (financial) recognition.

    Please dont be angry with me, I was just disppointed because I wanted to watch all of these coole lectures during this days ... :-/

  17. Dear Lubos, This is the last time I will venture to post on your blog since you continually misunderstand me, insult my intelligence and integrity and are willing to assume the worst of my intentions in posting.

    For example, of course I did not say "that the 24 lectures are identical to each other". By "the same lectures" I meant the same set of 24 lectures I started to watch and were stopped by the Youtube discontinuation." I " did not put them on Youtube, and if you had not drawn attention to them I would never have seen them free or otherwise, unless somebody else gave the Youtube link. And in no way did I disparage them, I enjoyed the first 7 I watched and was hoping to keep on watching to the finish.

    In addition I have nothing against a professor making money from his work or the people recording the lectures. I was commenting on the bad marketing in the amazon page which was not made to attract buyers.

    Up to now I have ignored your outbursts the way I would ignore my grandson's tantrums. But enough is enough. It has been interesting interacting with you, at my old age.

  18. Of course that the pirated 24 lectures on YouTube are the same lectures as the 24 lectures sold on DVD. Do you think that Gates has recorded 12 extra hours of material with the only purpose that it's the additional stuff that should be stolen?

  19. "since you continually misunderstand me, insult my intelligence and
    integrity and are willing to assume the worst of my intentions in

    You must be new here ;)

    Seriously, you have been reading this site for long enough that you should know better than to take something like this personally. I just find it funny that Lubos links to pirated content, then blames your nationality-derived moral failings for you clicking on the link :)

  20. JollyJoker, well - if you have found a way to distinguish pirated YT content from content legitimately put on there by the owners of the copyright to the material, you're a better man than I am (or Lubos is). In my experience, YT are not generally able to do so themselves - I had a lot of hassle with them in the past explaining and re-explaining to them time and again that the CDs from which I occasionally post excerpts are *my own productions*: more than once, my YT clips were blocked claiming I have been pirating my own material, and "law" required them to save me from myself, so to speak. Given these circumstances, maybe it's a bit "funny" that you accuse Lubos of linking (knowingly) to pirated material on YT?

  21. Come on, JollyJoker, don't be silly. There's nothing wrong about embedding YouTube videos and it's absolutely not my business to be investigating which of them were posted in agreement with all laws and which of them weren't.

    I will continue to embed YouTube videos I find relevant without any investigations of this kind because I am just a third party that has nothing whatsoever to do with the YouTube's agreements with creators and/or copiers of the content whether something may be posted or not.

  22. I agree, of course. My point was that Anna had even less reason to suspect the material wasn't available for free.

  23. The videos *were* freely available when I embedded them in this blog entry but some days later, YouTube has been notified and found out that the videos were not posted legally and these videos were erased, with a totally clear and self-explanatory message. What the hell is so difficult about it?

  24. Dear Dilaton, at some moments, one may perhaps watch them for free - I haven't watched all of them yet and I haven't bought them. But if it isn't possible to see everything for free, it's just not possible and it has a good reason.

    Such projects have a budget and they are designed with a plan to have a positive profit. To achieve it, one has to sell X thousands of copies of the DVD, I don't know the precise numbers, and they're using intellectual property laws to help them achieve this goal. Copyright protection is a transfer of property rights to the realm of ideas and it's pretty much needed for nontrivial, special, professional enough intellectual creations to be born at all. Without copyright protection, we would be overwhelmed by an ocean of videos, books etc. equivalent to the amateurish ones we know today. Some things would be the same but certain things would be completely missing. The quality just wouldn't be there.

    I find the general laws about all these matters pretty much balanced. They give reasonable tools to content creators, distributors, as well as consumers to protect their interests without harming others too much - well, usually. Some copyright-non-kosher videos on YouTube may be removed without much hassle, or added commercials to them etc. One doesn't have to scream crime at every moment. Also, one doesn't have to involve millions of third parties - like people who randomly embed some videos - into these possible disputes because the system would be really hostile and ineffective in this way. However, some zeroth-order protection of copyright exists, it's the right thing, I believe, and it's just annoying if some people want to attack people like me just for our respect to the existing law, or because they "demand" that I will be more protective or less protective than the law says. I am behaving within the law in ways that I find right which is the right attitude and any screaming that I should be helping to spread pirated content more intensely or, on the contrary, I should be spending time to fight online piracy for free - all these things are just wrong, outside the reality, annoying, and they seriously disrupt the comment section when they appear.

    This blog entry was about U.S. National Science Medal winners. Nevertheless, almost all the discussion stemmed from Anna's complete misunderstanding of the self-explanatory message that a video was removed due to copyright violation.

  25. Dear Lumo,

    thanks for these additiona explanations, I did not think deeply enough about the meaning of these copyrights and what would happen without it ect ... :-(

    I agree with you and your attittude towards the youtube videos is very reasonable in my opinion, it is not your task to check if the ones available are rigthly so available ...

    I am sorry that the discussions below this happy news article have gone bad and I probably made it even worse :-/

  26. Right, John, and I am often amazed how cheaply certain impressive things may be produced/sold these days.

  27. Dear Lubos,

    It was your reaction to Anna's complete misundurstanding message that a video was removed which is unacceptable. In which part of her messege she "demands" videos for free? She wrote that she looked for it and could not find it. As you said sometimes you can find some work for free (on Gates website too). Is it crime to check? You should appologize her.

  28. With age should come wisdom or at least a thicker skin. Given you have grand-kids and profess to being of old age you must recall the days when one needed many times the money to get just a fraction of the educational opportunity that is available now at fingertip. Certainly also you have been thus around to have lived in a time when people were not so overly polite as you seem to demand. I admit to know little of modern Greece and nothing of you so perhaps there is a special reason you take such offense over so little. But, by your earlier posts you are an experimental specialist right? Certainly you had "interesting interactions" among such diverse cultures and talents.

  29. I have the videos, Dilaton---I wanted an "easy" intro to string theory, so bought them from the Teaching Company. They start off easy, and stay reasonably so, though the concepts do accelerate.

    The level is aimed at likely science majors who haven't taken QM but have taken a few years of math and physics. I liked them, but for getting into it more, I need to get through Zee's QFT and an intro book like Zweibach --though these 4 lectures by John Schwartz are good and a relatively quick read--

    There are plenty of free great lectures online, as well as courses you can take for free and actually get signed certificates of satisfactory completion of them from the well-known instructors----this is

    Coursera, courses offered by Stanford, Princeton, MIT etc that are actual courses offered by these universities. You sign up, and do weekly assignments. Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng----machine learning mavens at Stanford, started it, and it has grown and includes some very interesting courses. I will enroll in Andrew Ng's machine learning course, but also may do the QM course because I could use it :) :)

  30. Hi Gordon,

    thanks for the link and the tips, I really like it that one can study so much cool physics online these days without having to physically sit at the universities where the people doing it are.

    Huh, does one really need to have read the Zweibach-book to follow the Gates lectures? I only have the Demystified book, which one of these two do you think is better btw? I thought about buying and watching the Gates lectures just like that ...


  31. Noooo----you can follow the Gates lectures with NO other introduction. You are overqualified for them, but they are cool, as Lubos said. I haven't read much of the Zweibach book yet---I might have to take a course to motivate me. The Demystified books seem (to me) overly heavy on giving you some tools to problem solve. I would appreciate more explanations of concepts from them, but that is just me. I am reading other stuff now (heresy----non-stringy stuff, non-physics stuff (No, not LQG)).

  32. Your object is what? He is black, you've never heard of him and he teaches at the University of Maryland? You are an idiot.