Singularity as Stone

Five Day. Counting down until I can visit specialist and see how big the pain (and money) bill will be for this illness. Assuming, of course, that it can be accurately diagnosed and treated. 

Other than that, a day of waiting looms, as much for the coming arrival of the dread Polar Vortex raid as for the trip to the midicalist singularity. No gym this morning so I was able to eke by with a bit of pedaling and some reading. Much easier to concentrate when one is doing boring things. Like exercise,

On which azimuths, the BIG Physics guys have announced their “discovery” – detection seems more accurate – of gravitational waves.[Link] I am uncertain since the waves were predicted by the second Great Isaac – Einstein – something like a century ago. I am fuzzy on this, general relativity course was a bit too intensive to permit any deep learning, but I suspect it’s a combination of a mental itch and a way the equations could be manipulated. Regardless, this is another case of theory being confirmed by experiment and observation. Mostly observation. Astrophysicists don’t really do experiments. Beyond our technology level. 

Over the years there have been numerous attempts to observe gravitational waves, the first, so far as I know, by Joseph Weber at the University of Maryland (?) [Link]

Weber’s approach was to take jolly big cylinders of metal, put detectors on them and look for effects of coupling of the waves with the BIG cylinder. Then he did all sorts of what we now call data mining on the observations. Around 1970 he announced that he thought he had detected gravitational waves.

One of my colleagues, Magnetic Inductance Force, commented on the aftermath of this yesterday on the Facescroll and was kind enough to share an extended version with me:

Back in 1971 – I think – Joseph Weber gave a seminar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign physics department on his detection of gravitational waves. I was working on a graduate degree in chemical physics and knew little about gravitational waves and had little interest. But I could sense this was a moment to watch some physics in the making and so I attended

The seminar room, usually a hall that could handle a hundred, was a pit auditorium normally used to freshman service courses, and full. I nabbed one of the last available seats – still a half-hour shy of start time – and avoided having to stand in the clouds on sit on the steps. Weber came out, a bit of a stereotype of a bushy-haired scientist and gave his presentation. Only a few questions were broached and things seemed to be rather too pat.Then the Q&A began.

Several grating questions were asked and immediately fielded by Weber with nods of agreement and approval from the questioners. Then John Bardeen spoke up and the room hushed. He asked a question and Weber answered. Another question. Another answer. Bardeen became a bit intense, seemingly finding a trail of ill scent. But Weber kept coming back with what seemed good answers. Obviously he had trod this ground thoroughly before.

All of a sudden the atmosphere became more active. Q&A turned into a discussion between Bardeen and Weber with a thousand eves-droppers. It continued for a half-hours or so with no conclusion. Bardeen was still unsatisfied and Weber had not admitted any shortcoming. 

I left that seminar a different person. That interaction between Bardeen and Weber had been metamorphosing to me. I thought on the things said and heard for weeks, chewing on them mentally and with readings. In retrospect I learned more physics that afternoon than during the rest of the year. And almost didn’t go to the seminar.

Weber was eventually determined to be wrong and basically pilloried. That happens. Science is a cold mistress. Bardeen was already a laureate for inventing the transistor and went on to secure a second for his work on superconductivity.  

Weber’s effort, nor any of the others, ever had any real doubt of the existence of gravitational waves. Their failure was one of technology, not physics. And finally the technology has gotten there. This is, at best, another anti-climactic confirmation akin to the Higgs.

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