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Chu's Final Breakthrough Before Taking Office 233

Posted by kdawson
from the chewing-up-the-scenery dept.
KentuckyFC writes "While preparing for the job of US Secretary of Energy in the incoming Obama administration (and being director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Nobel Prize winner to boot), Steven Chu has somehow found time to make a major breakthrough in the world of atom interferometry. One measure of an interferometer's sensitivity is the area that its arms enclose. Chu and colleagues have found a way to increase this area by a factor of 2,500 by canceling out the noise introduced by lasers, which work as beam splitters sending atoms down different arms (abstract). One thing this makes possible is the use of different types of atoms in the same interferometer, allowing a new generation of tests of the equivalence principle. (This is the assumption that the m in F=ma and the m's in F= Gm1.m2/r^2 are the same thing). Let's hope he's got equally impressive breakthroughs planned for his encore as US Secretary of Energy."
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Chu's Final Breakthrough Before Taking Office

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  • by Shaitan Apistos (1104613) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:31PM (#26512315)

    (This is the assumption that the m in F=ma and the m's in F= Gm1.m2/r^2 are the same thing).

    That's what she said.

    • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Monday January 19, 2009 @12:08AM (#26512583)

      (This is the assumption that the m in F=ma and the m's in F= Gm1.m2/r^2 are the same thing)

      Bah! Just another example of More-of-the-Same! Where's the change we were promised from the Obama Administration!

      Just another example of an Obama appointee trying to maintain a status quo!

    • by volpe (58112)

      (This is the assumption that the m in F=ma and the m's in F= Gm1.m2/r^2 are the same thing).

      How can they *not* be the same? Aren't they sort of defined to be equal via the fudge-factor "G" in the second equation? If the m's were different, the value of G would just be adjusted to make them the same again, no?

  • Not "final" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:32PM (#26512331)

    The title seems to imply he wont make any more breakthroughs after taking office. Yet I hope and I think that he should continue to due science work even after taking office and there is no reason why he couldnt.

    • by Rei (128717) on Monday January 19, 2009 @12:16AM (#26512629) Homepage

      I'd just love to hear him use the phrase, "Look at me, still talking while there's science to do."

    • Re:Not "final" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes@NOSPAM.xmsnet.nl> on Monday January 19, 2009 @04:07AM (#26513671)

      he should continue to due science work even after taking office and there is no reason why he couldnt.

      Right, because as Secretary of Energy he'll have oodles of spare time. It's not as if the nation needs governing or anything.

  • Interferowhatsjiggy? (Score:5, Informative)

    by gravos (912628) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:34PM (#26512355) Homepage
    In case you're an idiot like me, you might appreciate to know that interferometry is about studying the properties of two or more waves by looking at the pattern of interference created by their superposition. The instrument used to interfere the waves together is called an interferometer.

    What, you don't remember this stuff from Physics 101? Shame on you...
    • by fermion (181285) on Monday January 19, 2009 @02:02AM (#26513151) Homepage Journal
      An interferometer is a cool device. By splitting a single beam of light into two, we end up with two identical waves which can then be made to interfere to create patterns that can be observed with the unaided eye. The cool thing is that microscopic changes in path length result in macroscopic changes in the pattern.

      One of the neatest applications of this is the Michaelson Morely experiment. A the time of this work, theory was going back and forth between light as a wave and light as particle, and at the time light was a classical wave, which meant it needed a medium to travel, like sound needs air or water waves. It was theorized that the universe was saturated with an aether to carry the light. IIRC, it was theorized that as the Earth moved through the aether, there would be differences in the speed of light based on direction the light is going. In this work, a light beam was split, made to travel in perpendicular direction, and the difference in speed measured.

      No difference was measured. this implied that no aether existed. this implies that the waves traveled without a medium. This was quite a surprising result, and was the beginning of the end for classical mechanics. 10 years later we had quantized energy, 15 years later we had the photoelectric effect tell us light was a particle, and a few years after that we have matrix and wave mechanics.

      • by symbolset (646467) *

        a few years after that we have matrix and wave mechanics.

        And a few years later we have the whole thing is a hologram [slashdot.org] and the speed of light (and everything else) is subject to where you are because that alters your light cone and hence your local laws of physics.

        Sometimes I think the more you know, the more aware you are of how much you don't know.

      • If light is both a wave and a particle, does that mean that the light "wave" is actually a standing wave (vibration?) inside the light particle (aka photon)? With the particle moving the wave would appear to be travelling.

        What happens if two photons collide (head-on)? Do they go straight through each other? Do they bounce? With the theory that every particle exhibits wave/particle duality, they should bounce.

    • by Shag (3737)

      I'm used to interferometry (in the astronomical context), but a particle physicist I'm not, and this abstract left me wishing there were an abstract of the abstract.

  • by overzero (1358049) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:45PM (#26512445)

    Obviously this is just an attempt by the democrats to distract from the nation's problems as Obama takes office. They should be ashamed of themselves for exploiting the public's interest in atom interferometry this way.

  • Nice Change (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zwekiel (1445761) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:46PM (#26512453)
    It's a nice change from the previous high level government officials of the Bush Administration, who were appointed not based on their knowledge and experience in a given field, but their willingness to bend the truth according to the Bush administration dogma.
    • Re:Nice Change (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday January 19, 2009 @12:38AM (#26512753)

      It's a nice change from the previous high level government officials of the Bush Administration, who were appointed not based on their knowledge and experience in a given field, but their willingness to bend the truth according to the Bush administration dogma.

      That was my initial reaction. But at that level of responsibility I much prefer someone being appointed for their competency to manage well rather than their ability to do technical work. I have no idea if Chu is a good manager or not, just saying that the Peter Principle is something to be avoided.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by overzero (1358049)

        Two things:

        First, someone as generally intelligent as Chu should be able to figure his job out no matter what. We're not talking about idiot savants here, we're talking about people who are incredibly good learners.

        Second, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Berkeley_National_Laboratory [wikipedia.org]

        • Re:Nice Change (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:44AM (#26514261) Homepage Journal

          I don't know a lot about Chu, but over the years I've worked at a University, I've come to the conclusion that people skills and scientific skills are largely orthoganal - some people have both, but a number of researchers are either extraordinarily shy and nonconfrontational or egomaniacs, neither of which make good leaders. I hope that Chu is of the sort that's good at both.

      • by antic (29198)

        "That was my initial reaction. But at that level of responsibility I much prefer someone being appointed for their competency to manage well rather than their ability to do technical work. I have no idea if Chu is a good manager or not, just saying that the Peter Principle is something to be avoided."

        I can appreciate that, but I think there's also an advantage in someone like this being elevated to that position where they may serve as inspiration for others.

        Hadn't heard of the Peter Principle before - chee

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jo42 (227475)

        What makes you think Bush appointees where good managers? Or where even close to being competent for the position they where appointed to?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Err, he is the director of LBNL, so I would assume he would be a good manager as well as a good scientist.
      • Re:Nice Change (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Yvanhoe (564877) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:44AM (#26514033) Journal
        I continue to find it strange that so many people think that competence in the core field of a department is second to management skills. What makes management so special that you can rely on a collaborator to have the core competency but not the management skills ?

        Of course, I'd rather have one with both but, well, is it really preferable to have a good manager with poor scientific skills at the head of what is mainly a technology department rather than a scientist with poor managerial skills (which, some clues indicate, Chu is not) ?
        • Because at the highest levels it is more important to understand how to mange your technical people to get the job done that it is to know exactly what they are doing. That's not to say that some understanding to the technology involved shouldn't be a goal of a good manager. Clearly you can't make decisions about direction without know what you are directing; but at the highest level of an organization I rather see a brilliant manager with a good overview of the technology, than a brilliant technician who

          • by Yvanhoe (564877)

            Because at the highest levels it is more important to understand how to mange your technical people to get the job done that it is to know exactly what they are doing.

            Well, I disagree here. In this particular department, I feel it is important for the decision maker to know how nuclear waste decays, for example, and what are the reasonable expectation one can have in a 5 years horizon about nuclear recycling. He will have to make decisions based on this particular knowledge. Such decisions could endanger whole regions for several centuries if done badly. I'd rather have him use ten times the resources a good manager would need to make his administration work than having

      • by syousef (465911)

        That was my initial reaction. But at that level of responsibility I much prefer someone being appointed for their competency to manage well rather than their ability to do technical work. I have no idea if Chu is a good manager or not, just saying that the Peter Principle is something to be avoided.

        That's rather unfair. I'm guessing this wasn't a one man technical effort and that Steven Chu led a team. Now that doesn't immediately make him competent to lead at the national level but I don't think he could b

    • Re:Nice Change (Score:4, Insightful)

      by overzero (1358049) on Monday January 19, 2009 @12:45AM (#26512807)

      I think this is even truer than it sounds. A lot of people Obama's tagged have very little incentive to take the position other than if they feel they might be able to get stuff done. All the good scientists I know mostly just want to work on cool and interesting things and see administration and bureaucracy as a necessary evil, making the aspects of these jobs which can be exploited for monetary gain less attractive than getting back to a lab. Furthermore, any career politicians in their positions would be ruined by going around the administration, whereas it's not like Steven Chu will ever struggle to find a job he wants. The upshot is that these guys have little to lose by being forced to resign, whereas it'd look horrible for Obama if they go off in a huff because he won't listen to them. Obama's been accused of talking change without having any substance, but I think he just hit the point of no return on following good science. It'll certainly be nice to see Nobel Prizes having more weight than Magic 8-Balls.

    • by timmarhy (659436)
      the danger with that, is he might not know the in's and out's of washington and be ineffective. the best managers i've ever had were non techincal (also the worst where as well), he might not be willing to listen to other points of view either - you just have to look on /. to see how unwilling the science/geek types are to consider other peoples opinions as having some merit.
    • At least it should not be a national goal to take the people who are expanding the realm of human knowledge and chain them to a desk managing federal middle managers. It's cruel. It's wasteful.

      Kudos to the incoming administration for being able to figure out who the thinkers in their country are. That's a refreshing change from the previous administration. Now please - for the sake of us all - when you identify them, leave them in place and appoint administrators to get stuff out of their way. For all

  • For the Record... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:46PM (#26512459)

    From http://arXiv.org/auth/show-endorsers/0901.1819 :

    Holger Müller: Is registered as an author of this paper.

    Sven Herrmann, Sheng-wey Chiow and Steven Chu are not registered as owners of this paper.

    Sure, it doesn't nail down who did what exactly, but if I had a question about the paper, I'm asking Holger first.

    • Re:For the Record... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 19, 2009 @12:22AM (#26512667)

      According to http://arxiv.org/help/not-registered.html, Steven Chu may not be a registered owner for as simple a reason as not having a user account with that website.

      That said, Mueller is listed as final author of the paper and Steven Chu is listed second to last, which pretty much throws all assumptions based on position out the window. (See http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=562 for a comedic but sadly true primer).

      Mueller served as a postdoc under Chu but both are professors. Based on Mueller's other publications (http://www.physics.berkeley.edu/research/faculty/mueller.html) and Chu's second-to-last position, I'd say the other two names are postdocs in his lab. Really, I'd ask those two if you want to know the specifics on this experiment. Blind guess at Chu's role, but probably functionally a PI - more of an adviser role.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by artor3 (1344997)

      Chu is a big name, so its hard to tell whether he was the driving force behind this research, or tossed on the list of authors to get funding. Muller is an Assistant Professor. Chiow is a post-doc.

      Herrman, I can't find a position for via a quick google search, but it looks like he's been putting out papers under Muller for 5 years, which means he's been working under him even longer. The only way you'd work under one person for that long without having a larger internet presence is as a meek and lowly gr

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nairolF (315683)

      From http://arxiv.org/auth/show-endorsers/0901.1819 [arxiv.org] :

      Holger Müller: Is registered as an author of this paper.

      This means that Holger Müller is the guy who logged onto arXiv and uploaded the paper. It has nothing to do with who actually contributed how much to the research.

  • by voss (52565) on Sunday January 18, 2009 @11:53PM (#26512491)

    Our incoming president reads spiderman comics and his secretary of energy is some incredible nobel prize winning genius who ran a program called "Bio-X", can we possibly get more nerdy?

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday January 19, 2009 @12:31AM (#26512731) Homepage
    He's gone and made us all have to feel inferior again. Seriously, does the man just exist to make the rest of us feel like we're idiots who can't get anything accomplished in life? I have to ask myself what Steve Chu could do to be more impressive and at this point the list is pretty short:

    1. Prove the Riemann Hypothesis.

    2. Bring peace to the Mid-East.

    3. Turn out that to have made an amazingly human AI in his free time that escaped and now calls itself Randall Munroe and writes xkcd.

  • by wrecked (681366) on Monday January 19, 2009 @02:30AM (#26513293)
    ... I'll bet Chu will be thinking that physics is a piece of cake compared to governing the US.
  • (This is the assumption that the m in F=ma and the m's in F= Gm1.m2/r^2 are the same thing).

    I think 350 years of experiments on Newtonian physics have shown that they are the same thing except in weird-ass quantum or near-speed-of-light situations that don't really matter anyway.

    Don't go confusing the high school kiddies, please. They're already confused enough about evolution thanks to media spinelessness.

  • . . . between Obama and Bush. Bush appointed a professional politician (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spencer_Abraham) and then someone slightly more qualified, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_W._Bodman), a venture capitalist who had attended MIT. Abraham had nothing to do with energy Bodman has done nothing but executive positions for the last thirty years. Obama chose someone who's really qualified and isn't financially tied to our current energy industries. Considering that the inauguration is tomorr

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