The Ph-word                

                                            Particles, cosmology and everything

Hi <<First Name>>. Thanks for reading the fourth issue of this newsletter!

...where I try to track the adventures of a wannabe freelance researcher (er, me) and share small doses of my feeling that physics is exciting.

In personal happenings, I was accepted to Astro Hack Week, a cross between "a hackathon and an un-conference" (where astrophysical big data presumably get a Silicon Valley-style workout); looking forward to it in early August. A conference article came out about one of the projects I worked on at my previous job (we were preparing the setup for measuring the asymmetry of the electric charge of the proton). And, I kicked summer off with a road trip to the scenic region of Thessaly, getting sunburnt, wet to the bone and vaguely contemplative about the future.

I also acquired a new personal goal: write this newsletter within the first week of each month from now on. ~^^
But let us jump to Ph-news and then some!
June '18: The latest in ph-word

ttH production

When the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced, six years ago these days, an acquaintance said that the extraterrestrials will be like "okay, now we can start talking to you".
The Higgs is the uncontested star of 21st century physics - but it's not the biggest guy in the room: this is the top quark, the elementary particle weighing spectacularly more than any other. Progress was made lately in the measurement of these two animals' interaction. This took longer than for interactions of Higgs with other particles, as the high masses make the specific process more rare. But let me explain.

The centerpiece of research at the Large Hadron Collider is that accelerated protons carry a lot of energy which, when they collide, is released and quickly put into the form of other particles. This is the famous mass-energy equivalence (no, it's really famous; it's also known as "E=mc2"), but it doesn't happen haphazardly. Instead it is ruled by which kinds of particles can "speak" to which ones, which is ruled by the fundamental physical forces: the electromagnetism, the weak and the strong nuclear force. The fundamental forces govern the relations between particles - actually they are the relations between particles. (In passing, the forces consist of actual particles themselves, exchanged between the other ones. But I digress.)

So, the laws related to the forces will dictate how often each possible particle interaction will pop up from the energy release in the collisions. Essentially, all research with colliders is based on calculating the characteristics of each interaction and how often it occurs, and then look for those. And Higgs and top, given that they are the heavy ones, have small chances of materializing, roughly speaking.

Last month though the two large LHC experiments, CMS and ATLAS, were able to update their measurement of the Higgs-top quark interaction. More accurately, they were able to elevate it to the stuff of legend, the holy grail of particle physics, the "5-sigma level"; which is a suave way of saying that the measurement is now so strong that the probability of it being random is less than one in three million.
...Only that the calculated strength was slightly less than this number given how many collisions have been collected so far. An interesting small disagreement with the theory on an interesting interaction; yet one laden with much measurement uncertainty that might make it go away in the near future.

I must say that the experiments' announcements had a slightly exaggerated outlook on this difference, probably because several people are worried about the absence of any new, unknown physics at LHC. This worry is often expressed as disappointment at "only finding the Standard Model" so far, but imho we should be instead throwing random parties for years more, just to honour how great the Standard Model is. (And if you aren't already irrepairably sick of me praising this model of what the world is made of, you can read here about how it came to be, from one of its founding figures, Sheldon Glashow.)

Hayabusa2 at Ryugu

A month without any cosmo VIP, but with a nice new small step for man. Or for a robot vehicle. Or for two impactors, four hoverers, three surface hoppers and said robot vehicle. Hayabusa2 is the first mission that will try both landing on an asteroid and returning samples to earth, and it has now arrived to its target after a 3-year journey involving some gravitational slingshot. (It is also the successor of a really pioneer mission, saved thanks to circuits secretly installed by its engineers.)

Sabine Hossenfelder is a theoretical physicist and gifted science writer, both as a blogger and a journalist (occasionally also as a hobbyist music video maker). Last month her first book was released, "Lost in Math".
The book is a critique of a peculiar situation in theoretical physics, ongoing for some decades now, more hotly debated than any world cup, and surprisingly unbeknownst to the general public. Namely that theories which don't have any experimental evidence in their favour are presented as if they are solid, established facts. String theory, supersymmetry, multiverse are among them. A quick idea of the situation is given in the trailer of the book.

On a slightly more inspirational note, here's a quote by Hossenfelder which I particularly like,
"I think particle physics suffers from a lack of vision, or you could even say a lack of science fiction. See, astrophysicists have all the good stories about space-travel and alien life and warp drives and Dyson spheres and all that. And computer scientists have tales about sentient robots and omniscient AIs and, omg, we may live in a computer simulation. But particle physicists have nothing comparable. They have no stories.
Give it 5000 years of technological development and what may particle colliders be good for?"
"Shit Academics Say"
Facebook group offering small insights into the reality of academia. Students will find some sympathy here. Postdoc researchers as well. Also professors (maybe a little bit less, though).
Stellar travel tips... 

 Jeff Hodgson is an astronomer hailing from Perth, Australia who is currently a researcher at the Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute. He is researching a mish-mash of black holes, Gamma-rays, and cosmology.
- Jeff, what is your suggestion to tourists who are also science fans for things to do in Perth?
I come from Perth, which has a surprisingly large amount of things to see for the astro tourist! First is the Perth Observatory, which sadly stopped being an operating observatory a few years ago, but it is still open for tours. It actually provided about 10% of the images of Halley's comet when it visited back in the 80s (before I was born)!

We also have the Gravity Discovery Center at Gingin, near Perth, where you can do things like recreating Galileo's experiments!

Of course, nerds will know that the Square Kilometer Array (which will be the world's biggest telescope when finished) is being built in the outback near Perth. The area near there is very beautiful but isn't generally open to the public, but if you're motivated enough, you can go there!

Other cool stuff includes the European Space Agency tracking station (a big radio dish) in New Norcia, near Perth. Further afield, you can see a 1960s-era NASA tracking station in Carnarvon, some 1000km north of Perth. It's worth going there anyway, because it is very beautiful!

- Will you share a few words about a cool project or discovery that you've worked on?

Currently, we are working on a project to extend the Korean VLBI Network to Australia. VLBI (which stands for Very Long Baseline Interferometry), is a clever way of using radio telescopes in different locations by pointing them all in the same direction. This makes an even bigger telescope! So, by having telescopes in Korea and Australia and pointing them in the same direction, we can have a really big telescope, that allows us to detect really small things. We could take a photo of your smartphone on the moon. We are doing this because we want to know how much Dark Energy there was 
juuust after the big bang... and ultimately to find out if Dark Energy even exists... and if it does... if it's even "energy"!

- Many thanks!
• The Ph-word now has a Facebook page.
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Radio Center electronics mall, Akihabara, Tokyo
(from my photoblog Blossom City Hotel)
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