QFT Book Review

9780199699322This month’s issue of Physics Today has a review that I wrote of the book “Quantum Field Theory for the Gifted Amateur”, by Tom Lancaster and Stephen J. Blundell. I took the opportunity to give a broader view (albeit brief, given the word limit) of the landscape of books on that subject and how it has changed a lot, in a way that I think reflects some excellent changes in formal theory brought about by (at least in part) research into the many topics pulled together under the broad umbrella of string theory. As you might know from reading here and elsewhere, I’ve long been pushing for the increased application of the ideas and techniques of string theory to other areas of physics, and it has become quite the thing these days, I’m happy to see. Such research has resulted in the blurring of the […] Click to continue reading this post

Great Big Exchange

great_big_story_piece

Here’s a fun Great Big Story (CNN) video piece about the Science and Entertainment Exchange (and a bit about my work on Agent Carter). Click here for the piece.

(Yeah, the headline. Seems you can’t have a story about science connecting with the rest of the culture without the word “nerd” being used somewhere…)

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Space at the Movies

first_fridays_nhm_space_movies_eventWell, that was a fun event. Here’s a photograph* of Sean Carroll and me as guests of the always-excellent host Patt Morrison at the Natural History Museum as we talk about aspects of the science of space (and time) as it appears in the movies, how we go about giving advice to filmmakers, and so forth. It was part of the First Fridays series which has a special focus on […] Click to continue reading this post

Gyration…

Extract from Wednesday’s General Relativity class:

Me, at the board writing equations: “…and so the ratio of the earth’s radius to its radius of gyration is about 0.577…”
Student raises hand and asks: “What’s radius of gyration?”
Me: “Er… It’s the average spacing everyone has to give you at the night club when you go Ker-ray-zay on the dance floor.”

As luck would have it, everyone laughed. That would have been a terrible time to have an awkward silence.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Weekend Reminder

NHM_poster_April_1_2016_2While wandering with the family in the Natural History Museum this weekend, I spotted a reminder (click for larger view) for Friday’s event, which you might be interested in.

I’ll be on a panel about science (particularly space-related) and the movies, with fellow panelist Sean Carroll, and it is hosted by the awesome Patt Morrison! It’s part of the Natural History Museum’s First Fridays series, which you might recall me blogging about here before (actually, last time I was at one, I was a host so I imagine it’ll feel a bit different this time).

Here’s a website with all the details.

-cvj
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Reaction…

Apparently I was on an episode of the BBC program Horizon a couple of hours ago over in the UK. I completely forgot that was coming up and forgot to mention it. Sorry! I’ve no idea what parts of the interview with me they used, or what the final thrust of the episode is, but I did have a lot of fun shooting the episode with the filmmakers over in Joshua Tree some time last year. See a post I did about it here. I spent some time explaining why negative mass is problematic, especially in the context of gravity… The program talks a lot about people who are trying to find anti-gravity of various sorts. I was reminded that the episode aired since I found myself tagged on social media, and wondered what the ruckus was about. Then I found the following tweet by @homeworkjunkie with a screen shot, and the caption “Nice reaction to runaway problem;zero cost energy proposed by some people in BBC Horizon”:
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Sabbatical Dreams Fulfilled!

NYT_Simons_fellowship_announcement_2016Well, today’s hunt for a print copy of the New York Times (click for larger view) was easier than the Wall Street Journal hunt a couple of months back. Been a while since I was in the Science Times, and I’ve not been in it in this capacity before. The Simons Fellowship announcement was today, and I was awarded one. I’m honoured to be in such fine company! Nice to see my friends Lawrence Hall, Jeff Harvey, Petr Horava, Andy Strominger among my fellow Fellows, and congratulations to everyone!

This is a major part of my sabbatical planning for next academic year (half book-completing, half research), and it sure is great to get it. There aren’t many fellowships of this sort for my area of work. Thanks Simons Foundation and all concerned.

-cvj

*And when I say fulfilled… Well, there’s still the matter of actually doing the thing and getting all my planning to work out… Click to continue reading this post

Retreated

retreat_placeIt’s Spring break. For the greater part of the last week, I’ve been in hiding. I’m alone in a quiet town somewhere, getting a good long stretch of work done on the book project for the first time in a long time. For most of each day I’d sit at this tiny table, writing and doing rough layout sketches, glancing out of the window from time to time, listening to music on headphones during the long stretches of concentration*. Yes, and drinking tea and coffee. For lunch I’d […] Click to continue reading this post

Visualizing Zero Matter

zero-matter-in-actionWired has a video piece about the VFX work done on Agent Carter to bring the substance known as “zero matter” to your screens. They very kindly mentioned me, which is a pleasant surprise. There was a lot of conversation early on with the writers, show runners, and the head of VFX (Sheena Duggal), discussing what it might look like, and what kind of aesthetic drivers were in play for the look of the show overall (less ZAP! and more ooze and flow), and what you see on screen is the result of a lot of that conversation. It’s really great to see so much of what we brainstormed make it up on screen. The main physics input I wanted to use as a guide was the idea that this is some sort of special fluid from “elsewhere”, in a very special physical phase (inspired by various super fluids and perfect fluids in actual physics from our world, which I explained a bit about to them…Sheena was also very taken with ferrofluids, which was a very smart design input to use as reference). We also talked a lot about the idea that zero matter manifests itself in different ways depending upon the biology of the host. (See a post I did about other aspects of zero matter here, including the naming of it, and “elsewhere”.)

The amazing company Double Negative played a huge role overall, doing the rendering and bringing all sort of techniques to bear to make it all work. You’ll maybe recognize that name since they were the people who worked with physicist Kip Thorne […] Click to continue reading this post

BPS Panel on Science and Entertainment

BPS_panel_1Yes, I’ve been panelling again, down at the LA Convention Center. It was a fun conversation, moderated by Rick Loverd the Program Director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, entitled “The Science of Hollywood” as part of the 60th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society*. With me were Amy Berg, who is a Film/TV Writer and Executive Producer, Jessica Cail, Professor of Psychopharmacology, Pepperdine University, and Mike Ireland, Senior Vice President, Production, 20th Century Fox.

Despite the title, we were not trying to put observations of, experiments done on, or theories constructed about Hollywood on any firm scientific footing! We did engage in a lot of discussion about the connections we work on between science and Film and TV. We spoke about why we do it, how we try to do it, and […] Click to continue reading this post

What Fantastic News!

einstein_and_binary_atlantic_graphicThis is an amazing day for humanity! Notice I said humanity, not science, not physics – humanity. The LIGO experiment has announced the discovery of a direct detection of gravitational waves (actual ripples in spacetime itself!!), opening a whole new window with which to see and understand the universe. This is equivalent to Galileo first pointing a telescope at the sky and beginning to see things like the moons of Jupiter and the phases of venus for the first time. Look how much we learned following from that… so we’ve a lot to look forward to. It is 100 years ago since gravitational waves were predicted, and we’ve now seen them directly for the first time!

Actually, more has been discovered in this announcement:- The signal came from the merger of two large (stellar) black holes, and so this is also the first direct confirmation of such black holes’ existence! (We’ve known about them […] Click to continue reading this post

News from the Front, XII: Simplicity

adding_cyclesOk, I promised to explain the staircase I put up on Monday. I noticed something rather nice recently, and reported it (actually, two things) in a recent paper, here. It concerns those things I called “Holographic Heat Engines” which I introduced in a paper two years ago, and which I described in some detail in a previous post. You can go to that post in order to learn the details – there’s no point repeating it all again – but in short the context is an extension of gravitational thermodynamics where the cosmological constant is dynamical, therefore supplying a meaning to the pressure and the volume variables (p,V) that are normally missing in black hole thermodynamics… Once you have those, it seems obvious that you can start considering processes that do mechanical work (from the pdV term in the first law) and within a short while the idea of heat engines in which the black hole is the working substance comes along. Positive pressure corresponds to negative cosmological constant and so the term “holographic heat engines” is explained. (At least to those who know about holographic dualities.)

So you have a (p,V) plane, some heat flows, and an equation of state determined by the species of (asymptotically AdS) black hole you are working with. It’s like discovering a whole new family of fluids for which I know the equation of state (often exactly) and now I get to work out the properties of the heat engines I can define with them. That’s what this is.

Now, I suspect that this whole business is an answer waiting for a question. I can’t tell you what the question is. One place to look might be in the space of field theories that have such black holes as their holographic dual, but I’m the first to admit that […] Click to continue reading this post

On Zero Matter

zero-matter-containedOver at Marvel, I chatted with actor Reggie Austin (Dr. Jason Wilkes on Agent Carter) some more about the physics I helped embed in the show this season. It was fun. (See an earlier chat here.) This was about Zero Matter itself (which will also be a precursor to things seen in the movie Dr. Strange later this year)… It was one of the first things the writers asked me about when I first met them, and we brainstormed about things like what it should be called (the name “dark force” comes later in Marvel history), and how a scientist who encountered it would contain it. This got me thinking about things like perfect fluids, plasma physics, exotic phases of materials, magnetic fields, and the like (sadly the interview skips a lot of what I said about those)… and to the writers’ and show-runners’ enormous credit, lots of these concepts were allowed to appear in the show in various ways, including (versions of) two containment designs that I sketched out. Anyway, have a look in the embed below.

Oh! The name. We did not settle on a name after the first meeting, but one of […] Click to continue reading this post