Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Short items

A couple of points of interest:
  • Bill Gates apparently turned down an offer from the Trump administration to be presidential science advisor.  It's unclear if this was a serious offer or an off-hand remark.   Either way it underscores what a trivialized and minimal role OSTP appears to be playing in the present administration.  It's a fact of modern existence that there are many intersections between public policy and the need for technical understanding of scientific issues (in the broad sense that includes engineering).   While an engaged and highly functional OSTP doesn't guarantee good policy (because science is only one of many factors that drive decision-making), the US is doing itself a disservice by running a skeleton crew in that office.  
  • Phil Anderson has posted a document (not a paper submitted for publication anywhere, but more of an essay) on the arxiv with the sombre title, "Four last conjectures".  These concern: (1) the true ground state of solids made of atoms that are hard-core bosons, suggesting that at sufficiently low temperatures one could have "non-classical rotational inertia" - not exactly a supersolid, but similar in spirit; (2) a discussion of a liquid phase of (magnetic) vortices in superconductors in the context of heat transport; (3) an exposition of his take on high temperature superconductivity (the "hidden Fermi liquid"), where one can have non-Fermi-liquid scattering rates for longitudinal resistivity, yet Fermi liquid-like scattering rates for scattering in the Hall effect; and (4) a speculation about an alternative explanation (that, in my view, seems ill-conceived) for the accelerating expansion of the universe.   The document is vintage Anderson, and there's a melancholy subtext given that he's 94 years old and is clearly conscious that he likely won't be with us much longer.
  • On a lighter note, a paper (link goes to publicly accessible version) came out a couple of weeks ago explaining how yarn works - that is, how the frictional interactions between a zillion constituent short fibers lead to thread acting like a mechanically robust object.  Here is a nice write-up.


Peter said...

The big twist is that *all* clothes are made with magic fibers that magically hold together, and that only fools can see.

Pizza Perusing Physicist said...

Is Phil Anderson dying???

Douglas Natelson said...

PPP, I hope not, but he is in his mid-90s, and the tone of the document is concerning.

David Brown said...

Professor Anderson's cosmological speculation contains the two sentences, "An appreciable amount of gravitational energy would seem to have been radiated away irreversibly in the course of star, galaxy and black hole formation. This does not seem to be accounted for in the present cosmology, and may be a part, or even the whole, of the "dark energy" that is now postulated." Unless Einstein's theory of gravity is badly wrong, the speculation is entirely wrong, because such gravitational radiation would merely shift spacetime curvature from one area of the universe to anther area and have no effect whatsoever on the value of the cosmological constant.

Douglas Natelson said...

David, my thoughts exactly.

Anonymous said...

The one time I met him, Phil Anderson himself was the first to admit that many of his ideas, even those that he publishes, are, in his own words, "quite wrong", but that he thinks its worthwhile to not be afraid to fail, so that one can take risks and challenge the status quo to develop novel ideas.

I guess since he's Phil Anderson, he can do this and not fear for his livelihood or social status. The rest of us are not so fortunate.