Experiments, Geography, Milestones, Physics, Together with sis, Trips

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
Geography, history, Milestones, Murderous Maths, Museum Time, Notes on everyday life, Physics, Together with sis, Trips

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
Electronics, Engineering, Experiments, Milestones, Notes on everyday life, Physics, Trips

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.   

Community Projects, Computer Science, Group, Milestones, Murderous Maths, Notes on everyday life

Simon introducing himself for the World Science Scholars program

This is Simon’s introductory video for the World Science Scholars program (initiative of The World Science Festival). In May this year, Simon has been chosen as one of the 30 young students worldwide, joining the 2019 cohort for exceptional talents in mathematics. Most of the other students are 14 to 17 years old, age was not a factor in the selection process. To help the students and their future mentors to get to know one another, every World Science Scholar was asked to record an introductory video, no longer than 3 minutes, answering a few questions such as what is the biggest misconception about math, what your favourite branches of math and science are and who among the living mathematicians you’d like to meet.

Throughout the program, the students are given access to over a dozen unique interdisciplinary online courses and have the option to complete an applied math project, alone or as a team, consulting real experts in the field of their project. Simon has already started the first course module, on Special Relativity by Professor Brian Greene. The course has been specifically recorded for the World Science Scholars and reflects the program’s ethos: it’s self-paced, no grades, it relies on beautiful animations and visualizations, it’s full of subtle humour, is dynamic, thought-provoking and quite advanced (exactly in The Goldilocks Zone for Simon, as far as I could judge), yet broken up into easy-to-digest pieces. It’s difficult to predict how Simon’s path as a World Science Scholar will unfold (I’m afraid of making any predictions as he is extremely autodidact), but so far we have been very pleased with the nature of this program and it seems to match our non-coercive, self-directed learning style. I have especially liked one of the course’s main postulates: “Simultaneity is in the eye of the beholder”.

Simon watching Brian Greene’s Special Relativity course
Studying light clocks
Light clocks. Does the moving light clock tick slower?
Simon thinking about the question: Does the moving light clock tick slower?
Contributing, Milestones, Murderous Maths, Museum Time, Physics, Trips

The Brachistochrone

Simon believes that he has found a mistake in one of the installations at the Technopolis science museum. Or at least that the background description of the exhibit lacks a crucial piece of info. The exhibit that allows to simultaneously roll three equal-weight balls down three differently shaped tracks, with the start and the end at identical height in all the three tracks, supposes that the ball in the steepest track reaches the end the quickest. The explanation on the exhibit says that it is because that ball accelerates the most. Simon has noticed, however, that the middle track highly resembles a cycloid and says a cycloid is known to be the fastest descent, also called the Brachistochrone Curve in mathematics and physics.

In Simon’s own words:

You need the track to be steep, because then it will accelerate more – that’s right. But it also has to be quite a short track, otherwise it takes long to get from A to B – which is not in the explanation. It’s not the steepest track, it’s the balance between the shortest track and the steepest track.

Galileo Galilei thought that it is the arc of a circle. But then, Johan Bernoulli took over, and proved that the cycloid is the fastest.

The (only) most elegant proof I’ve seen so far is in this 3Blue1Brown video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cld0p3a43fU

There’s also a VSauce1 video, where they made a mechanical version of this (like Technopolis): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skvnj67YGmw

Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brachistochrone_curve

We’ve also made some slow motion footage of us using the exhibit (you can see that the cycloid is slightly faster, but as far as I can tell, it’s not precision-made, so it wasn’t the fastest track every time): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Brub0FnpmQ

I hope that you could mention the brachistochrone/ cycloid in your exhibit explanation. I don’t think you can include the proof, because for such a general audience, it can’t fit on a single postcard!

Exercise, Experiments, Notes on everyday life, Physics, Simon teaching, Together with sis, Trips

A lot of fluid dynamics at Technopolis

Today we celebrated my 40th birthday with a family trip to Technopolis, a mekka for science-minded kids in the Belgian town of Mechelen. (Technically, my real birthday is in two days from now, but I have messed with the arrow of time a little, to speed things up).
The entrance to the museum is adorned with a red lever that anyone can use to lift up a car!
Simon and Neva lifting up the car
The beautiful marble run and math and physics demo in one
Galton’s board and Gaussian distribution
Simon explaining the general relativity demo, which is part of the marble run
This was probably the winner among all the exhibits: a wall to climb with a mission (Simon figured it out rather quickly – one had to turn “mirrors” to change the direction of light (green projection) and have the light rays extinguish the targets.
Simon tried to explain this to other children, but they only seemed to want to climb. It was sad to see how no one cared to listen (well, except for Neva of course).
Simon was already familiar with this optical illusion. Later he saw another version of this on an Antwerp facade.
The logic gates were too easy.
the center of gravity
Huge catenaroids! Something Simon had already demonstrated to us at home, but now in XXL!
cof
And huge vortices! Another passion.
Hydrodynamic levitation! Hydrodynamic levitation!
Look! A standing wave!
And another standing wave!

Here Simon explains one more effect he has played with at home, the Magnus effect.

Coding, Community Projects, Computer Science, Contributing, JavaScript, Murderous Maths, Physics, Simon's Own Code, Simon's sketch book

Simon’s Community Contribution: Variation of 2D Casting Coding Challenge in p5.js

This is Simon’s version of Daniel Shiffman’s 2D Casting code, made on Wednesday last week right after the live session. Link to the live session including the coding challenge.

Code and interactive animation are online at: https://editor.p5js.org/simontiger/sketches/ugHX4yKQC
Play with the animation online at:
https://editor.p5js.org/simontiger/present/ugHX4yKQC
https://editor.p5js.org/simontiger/full/ugHX4yKQC

Simon’s suggestions during a patron-only live session yesterday
a screenshot of Simon’s community contribution published on the Coding Train website

Simon has also made one more, optimized version of this project (with fewer rays, runs faster): https://editor.p5js.org/simontiger/present/F6TCHAZs_
https://editor.p5js.org/simontiger/sketches/F6TCHAZs_

Both of Simon’s versions have been added to the community contributions on the Coding Train website: https://thecodingtrain.com/CodingChallenges/145-2d-ray-casting.html

screenshot of the optimized version
chemistry, Experiments, Physics, Simon teaching, Simon's sketch book, Together with sis

Chemistry Experiments: Polarized light iridizes crystals

Today we have made beautiful rainbow chrystals! Polarized light iridizes sodium thiosulfate crystals, so we made the crystals in between two polarizing films and then observed them through the microscope. In the video, Simon also explains how polarizing film works.

From the scientific description at the MEL Science website: Sodium thiosulfate crystals contain five molecules of water per one unit of sodium thiosulfate Na2S2O3. Interestingly, when heated, the crystals release the water, while sodium thiosulfate dissolves in this water. This solution solidifies rapidly when cooling, forming beautiful crystals. If these crystals are put between polarizing films, they take on an iridescent sheen. This is because the polarizing films only let light with certain characteristics through, and this light in turn “iridizes” the otherwise-colorless sodium thiosulfate crystals.