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World Science Scholars Feature Simon’s visit to CERN in a newsletter. The current course is about neurons. Reading Stephen Wolfram.

Simon’s September visit to CERN has been featured in a World Science Scholars newsletter:

Here’s our update on the World Science Scholars program. Simon has finished the first bootcamp course on the theory and quantum mechanics by one of program’s founders, string theorist Professor Brian Greene and has taken part in three live sessions: with Professor Brian Greene, Professor Justin Khoury (dark matter research, alternatives to the inflationary paradigm, such as the Ekpyrotic Universe), and Professor Barry Barish (one of the leading experts in gravitational waves and particle detectors; won the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”).

September 2019: Simon at a hotel room in Geneva taking pat in his first WSS live session, with Professor Brian Greene
September 2019: screenshot from Professor Brian Greene’s course module on quantum physics

At the moment, there isn’t much going on. Simon is following the second course offered by the program, at his own pace. It’s a course about neurology and neurological statistics by Professor Suzana Herculano-Houzel and is called “Big Brains, Small Brains: The Conundrum of Comparing Brains and Intelligence”. The course is compiled from Professor Herculano-Houzel’s presentations made at the World Science Festival so it doesn’t seem to have been recorded specifically for the scholars, like Professor Brian Greene’s course was.

Professor Herculano-Houzel has made “brain soup” (also called “isotropic fractionator”) out of dozens of animal species and has counted exactly how many neurons different brains are made of. Contrary to what Simon saw in Professor Greene’s course (mainly already familiar stuff as both relativity theory and quantum mechanics have been within his area of interest for quite some time), most of the material in this second course is very new to him. And possibly also less exciting. Although what helps is the mathematical way in which the data is presented. After all, the World Science Scholars program is about interdisciplinary themes that are intertwined with mathematical thinking.

Screenshots of the course’s quizzes. Simon has learned about scale invariance, the number of neurons in the human brain, allometric and isometric scaling relationships.

Another mathematical example: in Professor Herculano-Houzel’s course on brains we have witnessed nested patterns, as if they escaped from Stephen Wolfram’s book we’re reading now.

screenshot from the course by Professor Herculano-Houzel

Simon has also contributed to the discussion pages, trying out an experiment where paper surface represented cerebral cortex:

The top paper represents the cerebral cortex of a smaller animal. Cerebral cortex follows the same physical laws when folding is applied.

Simon: “Humans are not outliers because they’re outliers, they are outliers because there’s a hidden variable”.

screenshot from Professor Herculano-Houzel’s course: after colour has been added to the plot, the patterns reveal themselves

Simon is looking forward to Stephen Wolfram’s course (that he is recording for world science scholars) and, of course, to the live sessions with him. The information that Stephen Wolfram will be the next lecturer has stimulated Simon to dive deep into his writings (we are already nearly 400 pages through his “bible” A New Kind of Science) and sparked a renewed and more profound understanding of cellular automata and Turing machines and of ways to connect those to our observations in nature. I’m pretty sure this is just the beginning.

It’s amazing to observe how quickly Simon grasps the concepts described in A New Kind of Science; on several occasions he has tried to recreate the examples he read about the night before.

Simon playing around in Wolfram Mathematica, after reading about minor changes to the initial conditions of an idealised version of the kneading process
Simon working out a “study plan” for his Chinese lessons using a network system model he saw in Stephen Wolfram’s book “A New Kind of Science”
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Mind Mystery

Our visit to Mind Mystery, a place featuring a few famous optical illusions and math puzzles museum in the Dutch province of Limburg was really impressive.

by the entrance
this was my favourite effect, it felt like we were trapped in the Interstellar Tesseract (amazing how beautiful sphere can be shaped by a little mirrored tunnel with an LCD screen on the back wall, the trick is that the tunnel was not rectangular but trapezium-shaped, Simon explained)
and then Simon’s sister Neva lost touch with gravity
the only way to deal with that was to flip the whole building! and look there, at the back of the courtyard, isn’t that Penrose’s impossible triangel made possible?
if you look through the peephole, the triangle’s vertices seem to be touching
ahm… an Euler torus?
and we have finally tried a mirror maze
Simon playing with the Towers of Hanoi, applying a new algorithm; when we got home, Simon actually wrote a Python program that spits out the solution for up to 9 disks!
Upon coming home, Simon tried recreating one of the tricks he encountered at the museum, the 63-digit-number trick, and has discovered that the trick doesn’t always work!
no matter how exciting Mind Mystery was, this slide was ranked as the top activity by the kids, together with a similar slide in the neighbouring swimming pool (in the
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CERN Open Days September 14 – 15, 2019

The most important experience was actually simply to see how huge the Large Hadron Collider is. We totally didn’t expect the site of every experiment on the 27km ring to resemble an industrial town in its own right, scattered miles across a desert-like terrain with the Mont Blanc and the Jura mountains as the scenic back drop. It was a challenge to walk between the activities we had carefully planned in advance only to find out that some of the were full or required an hour of waiting in line. But the kids have withstood these challenges heroically and were rewarded with a few unforgettable impressions.

In front of the CMS experiment
A schematic of the LHC
It all begins with simple hydrogen protons…
the waiting
Magnet levitation above superconductive material used at CERN to create strong magnetic field to bend the path of the particles
Cloud chamber: we have actually seen energetic charged particles leave traces in the alcohol vapor in real time, in the form of a trail of ionized gas! What we saw were mainly alpha particles and electrons, we were told, judging by the character of the trail they left. Cloud chamber detectors used to play an important role in experimental physics, this is how the positron was discovered! Simon was a bit sad he didn’t get to actually build a cloud chamber as part of a workshop (they didn’t allow anyone younger than 12 to do the workshop), but he was lucky to get a personal tour at another site, where a couple of cloud chambers were available for exploration.
Our wonderful guide computer scientist George Salukvadze showing us around at DUNE, the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. George told us the detectors they are building will be employed at Fermilab in the U.S. Among other things, George has done the programming for the live website (screen with liquid Argon).
Playing the particle identity game
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Surrounded by the equations that changed the world

At the main entrance to CERN there is an impressive smooth curve of a memorial to the world’s most important equations and scientific discoveries:

Simon pointing to the Fourier transform function
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Supersymmetry: Why do we need the Future Circular Collider?

This is the text of the mini-lecture on Supersymmetry that CERN Research Physicist, CMS supersymmetry group convener and Deputy LHC Programme Coordinator Filip Moortgat kindly gave us during our visit to CERN and the Large Hadron Collider last week.

Filip Moortgat: Supersymmetry stands out among all the other Beyond Standard Model theories (like extra dimensions and so on). It’s particularly interesting because it answers multiple things at the same time. I would say that most other extensions of the Standard Model solve one problem but not five like supersymmetry.

The first problem: because it connects the internal property of a particle to spacetime, it actually opens a way of gravity entering the Standard Model. As you know, the main problem with the Standard Model is that gravity is not in there. So one of the major forces that we know exists is not in there. Nobody has succeeded to make gravity part of it in a way that is consistent. People hope that supersymmetry can do it, although we’re not there yet.

The second problem is called the hierarchy problem. What that means is that you have a base  mass for a particle and then you have corrections to it from all the other particles. What happens is that if you don’t have any other particles beyond the Standard Model particles you get corrections that become gigantic. What you need to do is tune the base mass and these corrections so that you get the mass that we measured for the Higgs Boson or for the w and z bosons. It’s like 10^31 minus 10^31 is a 100 type of tuning, and we find it unnatural. It’s ugly mathematics. In supersymmetry, you get automatic cancelation of these big corrections: You get a big one and then you get minus the big one (the same correction but with a minus in front of it), it cancels out and it’s pretty, it’s beautiful.

The third thing is dark matter, a big problem. 85 procent of the matter in the universe is dark matter (if you also include the energy in the universe, you get different numbers). And the lightest stable supersymmetry particle is actually a perfect candidate for dark matter, in the sense that it has all the properties and if you compute how much you expect it’s exactly what you observe in the universe. It works great. It doesn’t mean that it’s true, it would work great if you could find it.

And then there’re more technical arguments that make things  connect together in nicer ways than before. Normally, the electric symmetry is broken in the way that everything becomes zero. All the masses would be zero, the universe would just be floating particles that wouldn’t connect to each other, it would be very boring. But that’s not what happened. To show what actually happened you need to drive one mass squared term negative, which is kind of weird but that is what supersymmetry does automatically! Because the top quark mass is so heavy. Heavier than all the other quarks. For me it’s the most beautiful extension of the Standard Model that gives you a lot of solutions to problems in one go.

The problem is that we haven’t seen anything, yet! We have been looking for it for a long time and we have absolutely zero evidence. We now have reasons to believe that it’s not as light as we have originally thought, that it’s a little bit heavier. Which is not a problem. The LHC has a certain mass range, for supersymmetry it’s typically up to a couple of TeV. But it could be 10 TeV and then we couldn’t get there, we can only get up to 2 or 3 TeV. It could be factor 10 heavier than we think!

This why we are starting to discuss the planning of the Future Collider that will be able to go up the spectre of 10 TeV in mass, for supersymmetry and other theories. There’re several proposals, some of them are linear colliders, but my favourite one is a 100 km circular collider which will connect to the LHC, so that we have one more ring. That ring will actually go under the lake and that would be quite challenging, but in my opinion – although we don’t have any guarantee – we will then have a very good shot, at least in terms of supersymmetry. At the LHC we also have a good shot but don’t have enough reach that we need to really explore the supersymmetry. 

When we use conservation of energy and momentum at the collision point, what we do is we measure everybody, we sum it all up and what we need is we need to get the initial state. If something is lacking, then we know there’s something invisible going on. It could be neutrinos, or neutralinos, or it could be something else. So we have to look at the properties and the distributions to figure out exactly what we’re seeing. It’s not a direct detection but it’s a direct derivation if you want, from not seeing something, from lacking something, that we can still say it is consistent with neutralinos. 

How do you know if it’s neutrinos or neutralinos?

Neutrinos we know well by now so we know what to expect with neutrinos. Otherwise it could be neutralios but it could be something else. And then to actually prove that it’s neutralinos we have a long program of work. 

And is that mainly math?

No, it’s everything. It needs all the communities to work together, because we need to measure certain properties, distributions with the detector and we will need the theoretical ideas on how to connect these measurements to the properties of the particle. So we will need both the mathematical part and the experimental part. Translating the mathematics into the particle predictions, we will need all of that.   

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Doing math and computer science everywhere

One more blog post with impressions from our vacation at the Cote d’Azur in France. Don’t even think of bringing Simon to the beach or the swimming pool without a sketchbook to do some math or computer science!

This is something Simon experimented with extensively last time we were in France. Also called the block-stacking or the book-stacking problem.
Simon wrote this from memory to teach another boy at the pool about ASCII binary. The boy actually seemed to find it interesting. A couple days later two older boys approached him at the local beach and told him that they knew who he was, that he was Simon who only talked about math. Then the boys ran away and Simon ran after them saying “Sorry!” We have explained to him that he doesn’t have to say sorry for loving math and for being the way he is.
Drinking a cocktail at the beach always comes with a little lecture. This time, the truth tables.
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Some more London

Taking the Thames Clipper
At London’s olympic pool: Simon and Neva took part in the Ultimate Aquasplash, an inflatable obstacle course for competent swimmers that involved sliding down a 3-meter high slide into deep water – another personal victory
At the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Generating power on a bicycle (you could see how many watt you generate)
At a 3D film for the first time
Back to the Science Museum