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2011 Nobel Prize In Physics 119

Posted by Soulskill
from the magnets-how-do-they-work dept.
brindafella writes "Thirteen years ago, two teams of astronomers and physicists independently made the same stark discovery: Not only is the universe expanding like a vast inflating balloon, but its expansion is speeding up. The two teams have now been recognized with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. Half of the prize will go to Saul Perlmutter of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, who led the Supernova Cosmology Project. The other half will be shared by Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, who led the High-z Supernova Search Team, and Adam Riess of Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, who worked on High-z. In essence, they proved that Einstein's 'biggest mistake' (the cosmological constant, to create a 'stable universe') was actually a clever theoretical prediction that there was something else happening — dark energy."
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2011 Nobel Prize In Physics

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  • Re:Dark energy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by boristhespider (1678416) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @05:36AM (#37609882)

    "The empirical evidence could yet be interpreted in the context of the existence of accumulating carbon dust,"

    No, it couldn't, there have been plenty of studies on the effect of dust on light propagation and it simply doesn't explain the observations.

    "the evolution over history of the supernovae concerned - their increasing content of metals and their increasing spin as time progresses."

    True, the progenitors aren't that well understood. This is usually treated as a systematic error in the surveys. The use of SN1a as standard candles is still somewhat controversial, which is why these days I always advocate leaving out the supernova datasets completely, in favour of observations of the CMB and of large-scale structures and the baryon acoustic oscillations in particular. Those two datasets combined give us a universe with about 25% dark matter, 70% dark energy, and 5% normal matter. The fact that the supernovae *also* happen to intersect at basically that exact same part of the plots is pretty suggestive that the systematics aren't very significant, though.

    "The mathematical model rates as an embarrassment from the perspective of my criticism of fundamental physics."

    This would be your famous criticism of fundamental physics that has received such attention? What criticism of fundamental physics? Do you fancy explaining why you think the mathematical model is an "embarrassment" or are you simply trolling? (I happen to think that the model is being over-interpreted since it's ultimately phenomenology - but it's startlingly successful for a phenomenological theory, and predictions have been tested against observation with a lot of success. The BAOs serve as a nice example of that.

    "What withstands criticism is a possible background of conserved negative mass,"

    Now you're beginning to enter the realms of whacky. Let me guess, negative mass in Newton's formulae give antigravity ERGO EVERYTHING IS SOLVED LOL! Right?

    "Together with a possible background of negative tachyonic mass, which is conserved in its direction of propagation."

    And what the flying fuck is that meant to mean? Yeah yeah tachyons with negative mass. So, what, they lose mass perpendicular to their direction of motion? Kind of like a bird flying in a storm? How about you write a sensible theory and try and get it past all the standard tests.... no, wait, you won't.

  • by rgbatduke (1231380) <rgb AT phy DOT duke DOT edu> on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @07:32AM (#37610464) Homepage
    The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences [nobelprize.org]. (Hint: you may think that as a random geek with a /. account and an opinion, you're smarter than they all are. That is not necessarily the case. HTH.)

    OTOH, it might be. As my Ph.D. advisor (Larry Biedenharn, a Nobel wannabe) used to ask me -- "How do you think they choose who gets the award?" Generally I think they do a pretty good job -- they have the same problem as the Oscar committee, they have to reward people for some specific piece of work but some people up are really being proposed (and perhaps occasionally awarded) for a lifetime of many submarginal contributions, so they'll sometimes grant a prize that at first glance seems "odd". But /. readers are a pretty well informed bunch (with a few notable exceptions, don't make me come down there and spank you) and given time to debate to a consensus would probably do just as well.

    Your remarks concerning color- and gender- blindness of the committee are dead on the money; the Nobel prize goes to the physics far more than the person, and we absolutely revere physicists of any color or gender who make "great" contributions. In physics especially people just don't really give a damn; brilliance is where you find it. If there is a fault leading to a disparity in the distribution of prizes in physics, it is in the general educational and social system that feeds graduate research programs and beyond -- in the US (and probably Europe) females and certain minorities are still underrepresented in the system in spite of decades (at this point) of active recruiting. However, this really is getting better, and I'd predict that in two more decades will be a non-issue. I've seen a huge shift in the time I've been teaching physics, from having basically one black physics major every decade (first decade) to having black majors every year, including black students who top out the class with the best overall score (in damn difficult classes!). In another decade those students will come online and we'll see prizes headed that way.

    Attracting female majors is still behind -- we're still a long way from 50% in the intro-majors classes I've been teaching, more like 20-25% in a good year -- but the ones we're getting are great, I've had women nailing the top THREE slots in intro physics classes total scorewise, and again I think that they are "sticking" and going on to academic careers that will eventually lead to more prizes. Our department has certainly been actively recruiting female and nonwhite faculty -- our current department chair is both female and not white, although we are probably still a decade plus away from parity due to the fact that no matter what it takes time to roll over tenured physics positions and race/gender is only ONE consideration in hiring/recruiting, secondary to competence and ability to fund research and teach and all that.

    I won't say that there are no bastions of white maleness out there in physics-land, but I would say that they are a rapidly diminishing population, and that the real place changes need to take place (and are taking place) is elementary school and high school. Physics requires serious math, and there has been an enormous female anti-math social bias entrenched across the teen years forever that is just recently starting to thaw. Math majoring has gotten to where it is very nearly general balanced (still not balanced at the faculty level, though -- the same decadal lag) and I think physics is not far behind as it is now "cool" and socially "feminine" for women to be good at math in high school. I may be dead before things are really level, but my kids won't be. rgb

Prediction is very difficult, especially of the future. - Niels Bohr

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