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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8 Responses to Nuclear Guy Goes Nuclear

  1. Bee says:

    Hi Clifford,

    Thanks for the link. I mostly agree with you. In case you’ve never been at a heavy ion conference though, I should add it’s quite common that their criticism is very *ooohm* straightforward. Insecurity is not a word I can connect with ‘The nuclear people’ 😉

    The reason for my post was simply that I think there is more communication necessary between string theorists pursuing the AdS/CFT approach to RHIC physics and the heavy-ion community. This is a process which has only begun, one that I welcome very much, but one that shouldn’t stop with putting the word ‘RHIC’ in a title of a talk.

    I am not surprised by the split reaction of the heavy ion guys (I’ve heard criticism not only from McLarren). They are of course defending their models, and before they believe that AdS/CFT is a cool thing, it will have to compete with the established approaches. This was to expect, and I actually think it’s a reasonable requirement.

    On the other hand, I’ve not heard one single heavy-ion guy saying this is uninteresting, or nonsense. It’s more like (in my impression) they are definitely interested, but also kind of frustrated because the usefulness of AdS/CFT isn’t yet really good quantified – and, let me be honest, its not always really obvious what you string theorists are talking about in your seminars… 😉



  2. Plato says:

    More On name.

    Of course speculation of a layman in regards to what must be done in testing the physics process.

    Clifford:“There is nothing wrong with being publicly excited by the possibility, though…”

    Maybe, if seen in relation to the cosmological understanding of the universe who could not be impressed? Increase activity of suns?

    The conditions are being created in microstate blackhole creations?

    “Superfluid attributes” and it’s tunneling in this context, are quite interesting to look at in probing the perfect fluid? Tried to keep it short.

  3. TheGraduate says:

    Pinochio is a puppet whose nose grew longer when he lied. Seems like it is already not just about jokes …

  4. Clifford says:

    Hi Bee… No, I have not been to such a conference. I imagine that I should one day… learn a bit about other styles and approaches.



  5. Hi All,

    As an outsider (so far) of string theory community and an involved participant of Quark Matter 2006 -Shanghai ( I served on the International Advisory Committee of the past few QM conferences and helped local organizers of this meeting with the scientific program), I would like to provide some facts about the meeting and the Theory Summary (we call it Rapporteur Talk) that has spiked so much discussions. I think these facts are useful for an meaningful and informed discussion, before you reach any conclusion based on prejudice or stereotype of what heavy-ion physics is about (for a complete program of the meeting see:

    (1)The Theory Summary by Larry McLerran was one of the rapporteur talks which was to summarize theoretical presentations at the meeting. The speakers are free to inject his/her own comments. Critical comments on papers presented at the meeting in those rapporteur talks are very common and are essential for the health of the field, or any scientific endeavor.

    (2)As a tradition in Quark Matter conferences, no comments or questions are allowed from the audience at the end of each rapporteur talk.

    (3)There are four invited plenary talks in the program that focused on or discussed about AdS/CFT and heavy-ion collisions: (a) AdS/CFT and QGP by Dam Son (b) Mach cone in quark-gluon plasma by Jorge Casalderrey-Solana (b) AdS/CFT and jet quenching by Hong Liu (c) Physics opportunities at LHC by Urs Wiedemann. Three of the above speakers have been working on heavy-ion theory for some time.

    (4) In addition to the four plenary talks, Dam Son also have an hour-long lecture on AdS/CFT and QGP in the student lectures the day before the conference. A post-conference workshop on AdS/CFT and strongly coupled quark matter was also held in Beijing (

    Xin-Nian Wang

  6. Clifford says:

    Xin-Nian Wang,

    Thanks very much for this! It’s very useful indeed.



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