Sunday, February 20, 2011

In search of brainpower

I'm back in Berkeley again after my visit to Caltech. Later this week I'll return to my sabbatical in Taiwan.

As I mentioned in this earlier post, I've lately been working on the unconventional idea that the theta parameter in QED might be directly measurable (specifically, in experiments involving superpositions of photonic states; slides). If I'm correct, there is an additional fundamental parameter of the standard model, and of QED, that has yet to be measured. On this trip I've discussed this idea with theorists at Oregon, Berkeley and Caltech, and also with experimentalists in quantum optics at Oregon, Stanford and Caltech.

During my week at Caltech I sought out my former professors Mark Wise (McCone Professor of Theoretical Physics), John Preskill (Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics) and David Politzer (Tolman Professor of Theoretical Physics) to get their feedback on the idea. Mark and John both arrived on campus in 1983, my freshman year. They and David were the bright young professors on the fourth floor of Lauritsen, successors to the giants, Feynman and Gell-Mann. As you might expect, it's psychologically quite difficult to be the advocate of an idea that goes against conventional wisdom. An iconoclastic "maverick spirit" is probably as necessary for innovation as is raw intelligence. I was counting on their brainpower to help me find the problems with my work -- what is opaque to me might be obvious to them :-)

It's entirely possible that I'll discover, after many months of effort, that the work is incorrect. Dave Politzer told me, either this idea will be seen in retrospect to be obvious, and people will wonder why they didn't have the imagination to think of it, or there's something wrong that will be revealed under further examination. I guess time will tell.

Action photo: theoretician at work in a Berkeley cafe.

Another beautiful sunset.


Mariano Chouza said...

Do you prefer unruled paper? Or you just use any piece of paper that is near? :-D

steve hsu said...

Anything works for me. One colleague of mine claims that ruled paper inhibits his creativity, but I don't notice any effect :-)

steve hsu said...

Depends on some detailed calculations: do you need a superposition of coherent states, or would a Fock state do? The latter is easy, the former is hard.

David said...

Pardon me for asking side questions. I just looked up Fock state on wikipedia. My simplified interpretation is that it has to be coherent and synchronized. I'll have to read more about it. Assuming a Fock state is required, is there a low-energy limit for the experimental process or could you use the laser-cooling guys equipment and controllers?

steve hsu said...

In either case this would be a quantum optics experiment -- something that could be done in a medium sized room.

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