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Particle physics--strange stuff
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Kerrigan
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Jun 9, 2010, 12:13 PM
 
So I'm going to my cousin's wedding this weekend. He works at the Fermilab in Illinois where he's doing research for his PhD.

When I'm standing there at the reception, cocktail in hand, I want to be able to know some "light" conversational topics pertaining to his life's pursuit--particle physics.

Any suggestions?

The only one that I can think of is the cat-in-the-box problem. But even this I fail to truly understand. Conscious human observation affects the way that subatomic particles behave? That can't honestly be true.
     
Big Mac
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Jun 9, 2010, 12:39 PM
 
What I remember from my light physics background: Shrodinger's Cat is just an analogy to an aspects of quantum physics. A cat is put in a box with poison in it that will kill the cat if the observer opens the box. With the cat in that state, the observer can't know whether the cat is actually alive or not in the box because opening the box definitely kills the cat. It's a poor analogy to the fact that in quantum physics you can only measure one trait of a quantum particle at a time and that the act of measurement is variable and changes according to your choice of measuring it.

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Doofy
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Jun 9, 2010, 12:41 PM
 
Originally Posted by Kerrigan View Post
Conscious human observation affects the way that subatomic particles behave? That can't honestly be true.
It is. But there's more. Conscious human observation affects the way reality unfolds, period.

But good luck finding some "light" conversational material pertaining to the subject.
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nonhuman
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Jun 9, 2010, 12:48 PM
 
I recommend talking about neutrinos, that's what all my physicist friends seem to be into right now. They're also pretty awesome.
     
OreoCookie
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Jun 9, 2010, 12:59 PM
 
I'm a physicist (not a particle physicist, but for the sake of the discussion, that's close enough), so I think I can give you some pointers. I don't think you need to drag out the old Schrödinger cat (I've heard Hawking said that if he gets asked about Schrödinger's cat again, he'll go and get a gun ).

If you're genuinely interested in what they do, ask them what they do. Even down to the nook and cranny. Physicists are generally very much interested in what they do and you'll get a much warmer response if you show that you are interested in what they do. Understanding up to a certain degree is optional. If they are experimentalists, they can tell you about how their favorite detector works and stuff. If you are into computer science, you can ask about how the data is processed. Things like that. There are lots of things you can understand without being an expert.

If you want to make small talk, then physicists are interested in the same topics as you and me. We're just people I personally like mountain biking, running, Japanese food and culture, etc. It's true that many of us are geekish, but if you're a Mac addict, it's like pot meeting kettle and calling it black.

One important piece of advice: don't leave the impression that since it's physics, it's inherently complicated and `normal people' cannot understand it. That really ticks us off People can talk (and understand to some degree) the banking crisis, heart surgery, etc.
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olePigeon
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Jun 9, 2010, 01:22 PM
 
WHAT EVER YOU DO DON'T BRING UP STRING THEORY!

Other than that, you should be fine.
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olePigeon
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Jun 9, 2010, 01:23 PM
 
Originally Posted by nonhuman View Post
I recommend talking about neutrinos, that's what all my physicist friends seem to be into right now. They're also pretty awesome.
A recent experiment has strong evidence that they do have mass. It's pretty revolutionary in particle physics.
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olePigeon
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Jun 9, 2010, 01:23 PM
 
By the way, I'm insanely jealous. My dad got to visit CERN last year.
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nonhuman
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Jun 9, 2010, 01:30 PM
 
Originally Posted by olePigeon View Post
A recent experiment has strong evidence that they do have mass. It's pretty revolutionary in particle physics.
Yeah, one of my friends works at the MINOS detector in Minnesota. Seems like things are pretty exciting for neutrinerds.
     
hyteckit
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Jun 9, 2010, 01:49 PM
 
Talk about the Hadron Collider and the Higgs Boson.

Ask him if it'll kill us all by creating a black hole that might go out of control.

Ask him if he has watch Angels and Demons.
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olePigeon
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Jun 9, 2010, 01:50 PM
 
Originally Posted by hyteckit View Post
Talk about the Hadron Collider and the Higgs Boson.

Ask him if it'll kill us all by creating a black hole that might go out of control.

Ask him if he has watch Angels and Demons.
Bring some lotion for when you get smacked.
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SSharon
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Jun 9, 2010, 01:51 PM
 
Originally Posted by olePigeon View Post
WHAT EVER YOU DO DON'T BRING UP STRING THEORY!

Other than that, you should be fine.
Funny you say that. My sister in law got her phd in physics a few weeks ago and previously recommended that I read Amazon.com: The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (9780375708114): Brian Greene: Books (great book, btw).
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hyteckit
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Jun 9, 2010, 01:54 PM
 
Ask him about teleportation and the recent success in teleporting photon particles.

That's always cool.
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reader50
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Jun 9, 2010, 02:14 PM
 
Originally Posted by olePigeon View Post
A recent experiment has strong evidence that they neutrinos do have mass. It's pretty revolutionary in particle physics.
This is a bit out of date. The neutrino was proven to have mass some time ago. As a bonus, we solved the solar-neutrino problem at the same time.
     
reader50
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Jun 9, 2010, 02:28 PM
 
Originally Posted by Big Mac View Post
What I remember from my light physics background: Shrodinger's Cat is just an analogy to an aspects of quantum physics. A cat is put in a box with poison in it that will kill the cat if the observer opens the box. With the cat in that state, the observer can't know whether the cat is actually alive or not in the box because opening the box definitely kills the cat. It's a poor analogy to the fact that in quantum physics you can only measure one trait of a quantum particle at a time and that the act of measurement is variable and changes according to your choice of measuring it.
Better stay away from Schrödinger's Cat. It's a thought experiment that can't be done in the real world. Some physics students may well have tried over the years, but the results are not a real experiment.

Also, the above explanation is way off. Check the Wikipedia entry. The "experiment" is designed to make indeterminacy (normally a particle phenomenon) apply to a macroscopic object (a cat). But it can't work for a good many reasons. For example, the box cannot prevent interaction from the outside unless it were a separate universe. No physical material can shield all radiation types.
     
OreoCookie
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Jun 9, 2010, 02:49 PM
 
@reader
There have been a number of experiments probing the boundary as to what is and isn't macroscopic. I think experimentalists were able to realize Schrödinger cat states in bucky ball-type molecules, but you're right, decoherence kills all hope of observing superposition on macroscopic objects.
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olePigeon
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Jun 9, 2010, 02:54 PM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
Better stay away from Schrödinger's Cat. It's a thought experiment that can't be done in the real world. Some physics students may well have tried over the years, but the results are not a real experiment.
I thought Schrödinger's Cat applied to measuring particle spin and superposition states?

Edit: Nevermind.
( Last edited by olePigeon; Jun 9, 2010 at 02:55 PM. Reason: Nevermind.)
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The Final Dakar
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Jun 9, 2010, 02:55 PM
 
Are you talking about Heisenberg?
     
Doofy
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Jun 9, 2010, 03:01 PM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
The "experiment" is designed to make indeterminacy (normally a particle phenomenon) apply to a macroscopic object (a cat). But it can't work for a good many reasons.
It does work. But you can't observe it working.
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mattyb
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Jun 9, 2010, 03:03 PM
 
Originally Posted by Kerrigan View Post
So I'm going to my cousin's wedding this weekend. He works at the Fermilab in Illinois where he's doing research for his PhD.

When I'm standing there at the reception, cocktail in hand, I want to be able to know some "light" conversational topics pertaining to his life's pursuit--particle physics.

Any suggestions?
How about NOT talking about particle physics ? It is his wedding after all.
     
Big Mac
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Jun 9, 2010, 03:06 PM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
Better stay away from Schrödinger's Cat. It's a thought experiment that can't be done in the real world. Some physics students may well have tried over the years, but the results are not a real experiment.
I didn't say it was a real experiment.

Also, the above explanation is way off.
I don't think my explanation was way off. I think it was pretty spot-on from a general standpoint. Kerrigan mentioned the topic so I gave a summary of what the analogy (my term) or thought experiment (your term) consists of, based on my memory of it. The example is meant to demonstrate some principles of thought in quantum physics. And I'm pretty sure that's basically the way the topic was explained to me by my Cal Tech physics tutor years ago. But not a big deal.
( Last edited by Big Mac; Jun 9, 2010 at 03:20 PM. )

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OreoCookie
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Jun 9, 2010, 03:16 PM
 
Originally Posted by hyteckit View Post
Ask him if he has watch Angels and Demons.
… where the fate of the universe rested on a few AA batteries … 
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imitchellg5
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Jun 9, 2010, 03:16 PM
 
Talk about LOST.
     
Goldfinger
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Jun 9, 2010, 04:22 PM
 
I recommend talking about booze, cars and baseball. Seriously.

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reader50
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Jun 9, 2010, 04:23 PM
 
Originally Posted by Kerrigan View Post
So I'm going to my cousin's wedding this weekend. He works at the Fermilab in Illinois ...
After further thought, perhaps we're answering this the wrong way. Can you find out if the new wife is a good cook? Because if the answer is 'No', then the subject of discussion is obvious.

Talk about girls. This will win you all kinds of credit with the new wife, and you will not be invited to any future dinners. Everyone comes out happy.
     
Doofy
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Jun 9, 2010, 04:26 PM
 
^ Win.
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olePigeon
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Jun 9, 2010, 05:11 PM
 
Originally Posted by The Final Dakar View Post
Are you talking about Heisenberg?
No. That's only knowing relative certainty of a particles position or its momentum, but not both.
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ghporter
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Jun 9, 2010, 08:53 PM
 
I built a molecule with Tinkertoys once...

I'd be interested in a Fermilab person's take on CERN and their hunt for the Higgs Boson. Lots of good stuff to be learned if they ever actually catch and measure such a critter.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
macaddict0001
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Jun 9, 2010, 09:06 PM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
Better stay away from Schrödinger's Cat. It's a thought experiment that can't be done in the real world. Some physics students may well have tried over the years, but the results are not a real experiment.

Also, the above explanation is way off. Check the Wikipedia entry. The "experiment" is designed to make indeterminacy (normally a particle phenomenon) apply to a macroscopic object (a cat). But it can't work for a good many reasons. For example, the box cannot prevent interaction from the outside unless it were a separate universe. No physical material can shield all radiation types.
Yeah, in the theory the box is an isolated system, which cannot be replicated.
     
   
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