Nuclear Guy Goes Nuclear

star rhic goldFollowing on from her earlier post (with Stefan) on the research effort to understand Brookhaven’s RHIC physics with string theory, Bee reports some things she heard about a nuclear physics conference in Shanghai (Quark Matter ’06). Apparently Larry McLerran -who is at Brookhaven- did a 20 minute anti-string (and anti-Brian Greene) rant. You can see some slides, etc, over there.

(Note for the non-expert:- RHIC means “Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider”. Picture on right (click for larger): Tracks from collision of two beams of gold nuclei -the heavy ions- recorded by the STAR detector at the RHIC experiment. More here. In a sense, a new form of matter is formed in these conditions – the issue is how to understand its properties.)

This sort of thing is rather funny, so far (apparently Brian Greene was given a “Pinocchio award” in the talk?! ). Let’s hope it does not turn into something serious.

In moving forward:

  1. We on the string theory side need to make sure we are not overstating what we have achieved so far – it is a promising and exciting program that seems to have some rather strong qualitative things to say about some of the physics that is accessible at RHIC. The research is not done yet and there is a lot to understand. How much more we can get out of the program be remains to be seen. Can we complete the qualitative picture? Can we be quantitative to better than 10% accuracy? 1%? We shall see. (It is not even clear to me if that is the only measure of success, since it would be nice to have one model of strongl coupled gauge theory that allows us to understand the class of physical phenomena that is involved. I expect that this comment will be dismissed out of hand in a nuclear crowd though.) Let’s wait before we get too carried away with our public remarks.
  2. There is nothing wrong with being publicly excited by the possibility, though… Would the press please report not just our excitement and our hopes, but also our cautionary remarks? Our doubts?
  3. The nuclear people, on the other hand, probably need not feel so insecure about the whole thing. Also, it is to be hoped that when they react negatively to silly or overstated comments, it is to comments that they know to have been correctly reported, and not snippets taken out of context (I’ve no idea what the circumstances are in this case).

We’re all just trying to understand Nature here. It is not a turf war.


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