All posts by Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.

Revealing the God Particle: CERN To Hold Joint Higgs Boson Seminar On Tuesday!

There is palpable tension at CERN for sure people might not sleep till Tuesday, the 13th. The premier particle physics laboratory is all set to hold a special seminar that day, possibly to announce latest in the search for the Higgs boson. The search is nearing an end and this is expected to be a landmark announcement, possibly one that can either confirm or rule out the Higgs boson.

The 13th  December joint announcement might be the last one on the Higgs. We are hoping for either a confirmation or nullification.  

A 125-126 GeV peak for the Higgs? Tantalizing:
The tunnel - to the final answer?

We had covered a seminar given jointly by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations last month here and we had told you that the search was nearing an end.

The latest news yet!

The mass ranges for finding the Higgs has been narrowed down to just 30 GeV between 114 to 144 GeV, as per the simplest version of the Standard Model. The finding of the Higgs boson is a crucial step, as it would be the final confirmation of the tremendous success of the Standard Model.

Get your camera out! Or maybe not!

The Standard Model

The Standard Model of particle physics is a framework based on very fundamental principles of physics. It describes the interaction between different particles and the three forces electromagnetism, weak and strong. Although there are a number of freely adjustable parameters, the Standard Model has been the most successful theory of physics ever. The progress of physics in this direction has been extremely rapid, especially in the 1950’s to the 1990’s. Each of the particles predicted by the Standard Model has been detected, giving both theorists and experimentalists enormous confidence that this is the correct model. Theory has always been immediately confirmed by experiments, and they have invariably confirmed the Standard Model predictions! All that remains is finding the Higgs and this one last piece is playing hard-to-get.


Many physicists are tensed about the prospect of there being no Higgs! Many others, among them notably Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg, feels that it would be exciting if the Standard Model Higgs is not found! There are many alternative models and these would then gain center stage.

All in all, it is safe to say that this one announcement may be the fork in the path for physics going forward. Higgs or no Higgs – that is the question. The answer comes on the 13th!

A 125-126 GeV peak for the Higgs? Tantalizing:

Scientists Entangle Diamonds Using Vibrations

It seems that Einstein’s spooky action at a distance’ can manifest itself on a macroscopic scale and set two disparate diamonds into entangled’ vibrations. Physicists at University of Oxford, UK, have demonstrated that even diamonds can be quantum mechanically entangled, something that had troubled Einstein deeply as early as the 1930’s.

Diamonds vibrating in sync. Courtesy: Nature communications

What is Entanglement?

Entanglement between two states means that if you alter one state, then the other state automatically responds to it. A simplified version of the entanglement problem was put forward by Einstein, Podolosky and Rosen (EPR) in 1933 and goes like this. If we took two electrons in an orbit, their spin would necessarily be opposite. If one was spinning up, the other would be spinning down. Now, if you separate the two electrons, without ever observing them, by very large distances Einstein said, half the length of the known Universe then, if you observe one, you would automatically know about the spin state of the other. Say, you observe your electron to be in the spin-up state. Since the other electron has to be in the other spin state, it will be in the spin-down state. You’d know this instantly! In other words, you have just transferred information about an electron half the way into the Universe instantly! This is in blatant conflict with Special Relativity. The phenomenon is so detestable, that Einstein compared it with voo-doo, thus coining the phrase Spooky action at a distance’.

Several attempts have been made to make sense out of this. The most respectable argument is that information is not really being transferred. The EPR paradox has also been tested in the laboratory, using entangled photons. Every time quantum mechanics seems to triumph and physicists remain as puzzled as Einstein.

The Present Experiment

In this latest attempt the Oxford group, led by Ian Walmsley, entangled vibrations in a diamond crystal. They fired a laser pulse at two diamonds separated by 15 cm. Each of the pieces were 3 mm wide. The laser would induce vibrations inside the crystals, giving off particles called phonons’, which are quanta of vibrations. The team claims that the disturbance spans 1016 atoms, which makes the vibrating area visible even without a microscope.

Here’s the crucial point! You cannot know which crystal is vibrating, unless you observe them. Automatically, you know something about the other crystal.

The Experimental Work Done – Exciting vibrations

This is how the experimentalists went about their job. They fired a laser at a beam splitter. This, true to its name, split the beam into two. One photon cannot be split up and has to go to either one of the crystals. Once there, it excites a phonon (i.e. induces a vibration). Since, we did not know which crystal the photon had gotten into, the photon was entangled. Once it transfers part of its energy to the phonon, the crystal can emit a low energy photon. This is what is detected and this signals that a phonon has been created. Since, we do not know which crystal the phonon is created in, the crystals are entangled.

Detecting where it came from!

In order to know which crystal is vibrating, the team fired another laser beam at the crystals. This draws out the phonon energy and leaves the crystal as it was before the first laser was fired. The light emitted must have a frequency greater than the one sent in. Scientists arranged for two detectors, one for each crystal, to detect the photons. We would expect 50% chance for each of the the detectors to go off, but what is observed is that the two crystals behave as if they were one entity. Only one of the detectors go off at a time!! They are entangled.

The results were reported in a paper in Nature published today, i.e. on the 2nd of December.

More info here:

The 10 Coolest Things About The Mars Rover “Curiosity”

The new Mars Rover, Curiosity, is the most high-tech way to explore Mars. The most technologically sophisticated spacecraft ever designed to land on an alien world is due to launch on Saturday, 26th November. We take a closer look at the Wall-E-like spacecraft and pick out the 10 coolest things about the rover.

The Curiosity Rover still at the JPL. Photo taken last year. Photo Courtesy: JPL/NASA

1. Magnifying Glass? All the better to see you with, dear

The Curiosity Rover will carry a high-power magnifying lens, only more sophisticated and maneuverable than the ordinary ones. It’s called Mars Hand Lens Imager or MAHLI. It will be loaded at the end of the Robotic Arm of the rover (see below) and be able to see objects as tiny as 12.5 micrometers (a hair’s width) in size! It’s like having a portable microscope to look at rock samples with the facility of being able to point it anywhere.

2. Plutonium Juice!

The rover will run on Plutonium power. The plutonium used will be the non-weapons grade and will be used for heating a rod of Lead Telluride. Lead Telluride is a thermoelectric material and generates electricity if there is a temperature gradient. The plutonium battery’ doesn’t depend on the external condition, like temperature, so even if the outside is a frigid -840C, it doesn’t matter. You need not worry about the battery freezing or draining out too fast. The juice will last for 23 months, which is longer than the period of the mission. The 10 pound battery is located at the rear end of the rover and will produce 110W of power. We’ve managed to put nuclear power on the Red Planet; surely, that’s an achievement.

Graphic showing the different parts of the Mars Rover. (Courtesy: JPL/NASA and

3. Robotic Arm

This is one of the coolest things about the Mars Rover. The rover is fitted with a 7-foot robotic arm, which is quite maneuverable. On the end of the robotic arm sits MAHLI. It also includes the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

4. Analysis on Mars The Sample Analyser at Mars (SAM)

For scientists, just looking at a material means nothing they need to know what it is made up of. The Sample Analyser at Mars (SAM) is just the tool to do the job. It’s also the Hulk of all the modules there, weighing at a hefty 38 kg, about half the weight of all the instruments onboard Curiosity. SAM will look at the rocks in three different ways, thanks to the three instruments that it carries a mass spectrometer, a laser spectrometer and a gas chromatograph. It will thus give all relevant data, like density and chemical composition. SAM will also drill for rock samples from deep inside the Martian surface and this has got everyone excited!

5. Capturing some scenes with the MastCam

Curiosity is expected to send us some pictures of the Martian surface to drool over and the MastCam is the instrument for the job. The name suggests that a camera is mounted on an adjustable mast and, no surprise, that is exactly what it is. The MastCam is also responsible for being the eyes of the rover, allowing Earth-based controllers drive the machine on the alien surface.

ESA Makes Contact With Doomed Russian Mars Moon Craft Phobos-Grunt

This is breaking news coming in from ESA’s ESTRACK station in Perth, Australia. They are receiving signals from the doomed Russian Mars Moon spacecraft, Phobos-Grunt.

More here:

The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft

The First Radio Signals

The fist signals were received at about 20:25 UT on 22nd November, at the ESA tracking station (ESTRACK) in Perth, Australia. They claim to have established radio contact. We still have no idea how solid the contact line is or whether it will be possible to recover the craft.

This is the first time any station in the world has got any signals from the Russian craft, which has been stuck in orbit for a long time. Russian engineers have been working round the clock trying to recover the craft, either to bring it back home or to send it on its way to Mars’ moon Phobos.

The spacecraft was launched on 8th November and, after a wayward launch, has been hanging in orbit somewhere.

The ESA engineers are working closely with Russian ones to try and recover the craft. We’ll relay any important pieces of news or details we get as soon as they emerge.

Spectacular Satellite Photo Of The Giant Hurricane Kenneth

A giant storm is the new talk of the town, as the massive Hurricane Kenneth continues to bear down upon the eastern Pacific seas, yet to make landfall. The giant storm grew from a large Tropical Storm to a giant Hurricane in a span of two days. Kenneth’s windspeeds were recorded at 230 kmph, which means that it is a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

Kenneth is a rare late-November tropical hurricane. On 21st November, the windspeeds were clocked at 140 kmph, but quickly gathered strength from the warm seas surrounding the eye of the storm. Her’s a photo the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite snapped on 21st November:

This photo of Kenneth was taken on 21st November by Terra. Courtesy: NASA

The storm continues to move eastwards. It has weakened somewhat, but is still a Category 4 storm. There has been no warning issued, as it is not expected to make landfall. Its current location is off the west coast from Baja California, New Mexico.

Here’s a more recent image from the NOAA’s premier GOES-13 satellite:

Hurricane Kenneth as seen by NOAA's GOES satellite on 22nd November. The eye is clearly visible. (Courtesy: NOAA/NASA)

The storm is expected to weaken further as it moves northwest. It’s late season giant, but is not expected to cause any damage on land.

New Mars Rover Curiosity To Launch TODAY

After Russia’s botched up Mars Moon mission, the Americans are all geared up to launch their new Mars rover, Curiosity, to the Red Planet. Curiosity is a car-sized rover, which will hope to improve upon the observations from Spirit and Opportunity, the previous Mars rovers. The launch is duetoday, i.e. on 26th of November, 2011, postponed from an earlier announced Friday launch. The launch will happen at 10:02 AM EST from Cape Canaveral, aboard the powerful ATLAS V rocket.

We expect the launch to be shown live here on NASA TV HD:
What’s so cool about the Curiosity rover? Here is a list of ten coolest things about it:
The Curiosity Rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Photo taken in 2010. (Courtesy: JPL/NASA)

Curiosity Touchdown

Curiosity, or more formally, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), will touchdown on Mars in August 2012 in the Gale Crater. One of the main aims of the Curiosity mission is to investigate the composition of the Martian surface, as well as search for the signs of existence of life. It is also expected to return stunning photos of the surface, the likeness of which we’ve not seen as yet. NASA even claims that it will be able to figure out a bit about Mars’ history. This is because the Gale crater is a deep crater revealing several hundred layers of sedimentary rock that can be studied.

Mission Aims


One of the primary aims of MSL is to study the presence of life. MSL will devote quite a bit of effort in that direction, carrying instruments that will analyze the composition of the Martian surface (via the ChemCam) and also detect the presence of underground water, even if it is present in the form of clay.

Instruments on the Curiosity (Courtesy: JPL/NASA)

The rover will be powered by nuclear energy on the frigid Martian surface. The power generation is actually quite a sophisticated process. Plutonium (Pu-238, non-weapon grade) will glow a dull red in the dark and produce enough heat to generate 110 W of electricity, enough to keep one of the modules operational at a time. The heat warms a a bar of Lead Tellurite, which produces electricity via thermoelectric effects, i.e. it produces electricity when there is a temperature gradient. The battery will last 23 months.

Stay tuned for the latest news on the Curiosity launch. We hope to put up some photos of the actual launch.

Good luck, NASA.

Ten coolest things about Curiosity:

Higgs Search At LHC Nears End – Has The Higgs Already Been Found?

The Higgs Boson may have finally have been caught or, may be, not! Only a clutch of scientists with direct access to latest LHC data knows whether the Higgs has been found or not! Whatever the result be, one thing is for sure the Higgs hunt is nearly over. CERN researchers have restricted the Higgs mass to a window of only 30 GeV, taking into results from the Large Electron Positron (LEP) collider, the Tevatron and, of course, from the LHC itself.

A simulated Higgs event at LHC

The Higgs, if present in Nature, has got extremely little energy space to hide in. At a conference in Paris, held today (18th November), ATLAS and CMS researchers got together and erased out a HUGE range for the possible mass of the Higgs. A large swathe from 141 to 476 GeV was wiped out in one fell swoop. Says Guido Tonelli, the spokesman for CMS

We’ll know the outcome within weeks.

This is surely going to increase the pulse rate of any particle physicist in the world.

The mass range as it looks now (Courtesy: Nature)

What if…

What happens if the Higgs is not found? A lot of problems for the Standard Model. The Higgs boson is the simplest way to generate masses for fermions (like electrons and protons) and bosons (like W and Z bosons). There are other possibilities, but this one Higgs model is the simplest and most beautiful of all the possible models. However, as Feynman would say, if theory disagrees with experiment, then it’s wrong and it doesn’t matter how beautiful the theory might be.

For long, has the Higgs mass been pinned at about 140 GeV. There is still a strong possibility that the Higgs, if found, will be of this mass. We may be on the brink of history.

More Info:

Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Experiment Rerun Gives Similar Results!

The fantastic results still stay! The sensational OPERA experiment, which gave us the faster-than-light neutrino results, have repeated the experiment and have found similar results. Neutrinos continue to travel faster than light and the amount by which they break the speed barrier is also the same. The experiment was carried out during 30th October to 2nd November.

The OPERA experiment

The latest results give a 60.7 ns advance for the neutrinos with a 7.4 ns error for the systematic and 6.9 ns statistical error. This means that the previous results are not discredited. The difference between the previous experiment and this present one is the proton bunch size.

So it’s

Δt =  60.7 ns +/- 7.4 (systematic) +/- 6.9 (statistical)

Still Skeptical, as they should be!

Scientists are still skeptical and not willing to accept this result yet. Even OPERA and CERN scientists say that the experiment has to be repeated by MINOS or T2K and only then can the experimental results verified.

Detecting one neutrino at a time

This time, the beam of neutrinos has been bunched in 3 ns bins separated by 520 ns. This means that each bunch in the beam consists of basically one neutrino. The experiment has, thus, been repeated with essentially single neutrinos. The number of events is much less than the last time. While OPERA used 16111 events last time, this time they have stuck to merely 20 events. This has led to many people questioning the statistics of the experiment. OPERA, however, claims that the accuracy is just as good, if not better.

The paper of the repeated experiment is already on ArXiv. Here’s the  link  to the short paper.

Repeat Experiment Needed!

This experiment re-run proves that the beam bunching has nothing to do with the observed results. The effects have not gone away, but that might depend on the CNGS (Cern Neutrino to Gran Sasso) beam structure as well as the systematics of the OPERA detector. A repeat of the experiment in some other part of the world is the need of the day.

Creating Real 3D Images In Air By Making Plasma With Lasers! [With a Video]

This is just too cool. Forget about the 3D optical illusion that is used to show 3D movies, this 3D technology is for real! The True 3D display technology creates plasma at specific points in air (or under water) and hence forms a true 3D picture. The plasma is formed by a high frequency laser, powerful enough to create pockets of plasma that give off light.

Making a plasma show!

The technology is developed by Burton and improves upon a previously known version of 3D technology. The researchers point out that this is the first time you can show pictures without any screen!

This system can create about 50,000 dots per second, and its frame rate is currently about 10-15 fps. But we’re working to improve the frame rate to 24-30 fps.

Presently, they are testing the system with a green laser in water, as it takes much less energy to make plasma in water than in air. The results are definitely positive. They plan to use a higher power laser to make such images in air! The next step would be to generate multiple colors using red, blue and green lasers. The final step would be to use this system to screen a short film!

This following video (Courtesy: should be self-explanatory. Warning: When I first saw it, my mind was completely blown! Enjoy.

Has the time for a redefinition of a 3D film imminent in a few years?

Source and More Info here:

Cosmic Spectacle: Leonid Meteor Shower To Light Up Sky Tonight

The Leonids are upon us and that means that you should cancel all your plans and just stare towards the heavens tonight. On the night of 17th November (i.e between 17th and 18th), the Leonids are going to peak in intensity and we intend to give you every piece of information you need to know about them.

Leonids are seen when the Earth moves into the trail of the comet Temple-Tuttle. They are called Leonids, since their radiant (i.e. the point in the sky from where they appear to radiate’ out) lies in the constellation of Leo. This is generally the procedure followed for naming meteor showers.

The radiant for the Leonids (Image Courtesy: ESA)

The peak this year is right on schedule and will be on 17th November. However, don’t despair if you miss it tonight. The meteor peak doesn’t fall off too sharply and you will be able to catch some streaks the day after as well, but obviously the rate will reduce.

The Leonids are one of the most prolific meteor showers known. They are also very capricious in their counts per hour. Leonids have been known to exceed 1000 streaks an hour and that becomes a scene you cannot possibly afford to miss. One such shower happened in the year 1966 and again as recently as 1999.

Details you need to know

Peak of the shower

Now for some bad news. The peak of the shower will happen at about 10 PM EST, when the radiant will be either near the horizon or below it for most places around the globe experiencing nighttime. In the US, the radiant will poke above the horizon at about 1 AM, but light pollution from the horizon can severely restrict the number of meteors you see, as many are very faint.

Avoid light pollution

We suggest that you try and go to a place which has as little light pollution as possible. Go out of the city, if possible. We recommend that you like comfortably on your back and don’t hurry things. The meteors are fickle-minded objects and there may be no sign of them for several minutes, may be even an hour. However, they will come in bunches, as the Leonids are reputed to do. Then they will relent again and not appear for quite some time. This effect will be more pronounced, if your view is blurred by smog as most of the streaks will be quite faint.

The Leonids (Courtesy: Mr. Kwown O Chul and
Photographing the shower

For enthusiastic photographers, here’s a quick tip. Try exposures of 5 to 10 minutes and, thus, you’ll need a tripod. Try to get as far away from the moon as possible and you should have no problems doing that here. If you’re lucky, you’ll get brilliant streaks, roughly perpendicular to the trails made by stars in the sky (photo above).

Remember that the time to watch out for is at about 12:30 AM to 1:00 AM. Happy skywatching.