Highlights of APS Meeting in Denver, May 2-5, 2009

Article ID: 550552

Released: 27-Mar-2009 5:00 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: American Institute of Physics (AIP)

James Riordon, 301-209-3238, riordon@aps.org Jason Socrates Bardi, 301-209-3091, jbardi@aip.org, orPhillip Schewe, 301-209-3092, pschewe@aip.org

Newswise — The April Meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) will take place from May 2-5, 2009 at the Sheraton Denver Hotel in downtown Denver. This is the second of the two largest general physics meetings of the year and is focused on cutting edge research in particle physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics, and plasma physics. In addition, there will be a wide variety of sessions devoted to education, national security, energy research, and other social issues.

The 2009 International Sherwood Fusion Theory Conference will be held jointly with the April APS meeting. Sherwood sessions begin on Sunday, May 3, covering topics related to plasma-based fusion. Associated APS Division of Plasma Physics sessions will discuss diagnosing the physics of burning plasma, plasma heating from turbulence, and imaging of advanced accelerators. (See sessions G15, H15, Q15, W15 and poster sessions K1, S1).

Information about registration for journalists who wish to attend the APS April meeting is located at the bottom of this news release.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MEETING 1) Four Hundred Years of Telescopes 2) Measuring Climate Change with Gravity 3) Terahertz Snapshots of Accelerator Beams 4) Latest from the Pierre Auger Observatory 5) A View of the Sky Through Neutrinos 6) Teaching Physics with the Arts 7) Balloons over Antarctica Detect Cosmic Rays 8) A Rainbow of Gravitational Waves 9) In Search of Gravity's Limits 10) The Death of a Star 11) The Short Life of an Extreme Atom 12) Public Lecture: Death from the Skies with the Bad Astronomer 13) Plenary Sessions 14) Touching Base with the LHC 15) The Search for Dark Matter 16) Physics and Society 17) Managing Nuclear Fuel 18) Nuclear Physics in Second Life 19) Registering as a Journalist

1) FOUR HUNDRED YEARS OF TELESCOPESIn 1609, Galileo Galilei discovered the moons of Jupiter, mountains on our own moon, and other celestial objects using a telescope that he perfected. His scientific version of the telescope and the systematic studies he publicly published (in "The Starry Messenger," which appeared in 1610) are regarded by some historians regard as the first full demonstration of the scientific method. To mark this occasion, Caltech astronomer Richard Ellis will deliver a keynote address surveying the march of progress from Galileo's simple instrument to the giant optical telescopes of today. (Session N1, http://www.aps.org/meetings/april/events/spec-sessions/keynote.cfm).

2) MEASURING CLIMATE CHANGE WITH GRAVITYThe GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) mission is a pioneering project launched in 2002 to measure large-scale mass redistribution on the Earth through precise satellite-satellite microwave tracking. Microwave measurements conducted by two spacecraft, along with precision accelerometers on board each spacecraft, track changes in the water levels as small as 1 cm over regions a few hundred kilometers across. The measurements generate monthly maps of ocean level changes over the entire Earth. The maps have provided vital information about large scale climate-related phenomena, including mass loss rates in Greenland, Antarctica, Alaska, Arctic Ocean circulation, water storage in major river basins, and Arctic river discharge. Michael Watkins of the California Institute of Technology will discuss the design challenges and engineering approaches for GRACE, the current state-of-the-art science results, and approaches for improved follow-on missions (T5.3). Other speakers in the invited session dedicated to precision gravitational measurements include Nergis Mavalvala of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who will provide an overview of ways that quantum noise can be manipulated to improve gravitational wave detection (T5.1), and William Weber of the University of Trento discussing the planned 2010 launch of a mission to test the feasibility of placing the mirrors that make up the LISA gravitational wave antenna in space (T5.2). (Session T5, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=103044).

3) TERAHERTZ SNAPSHOTS OF ACCELERATOR BEAMSTerahertz radiation, which is light just below the infrared portion of the spectrum, has recently drawn considerable attention for biomedical and security imaging. Ki-Yong Kim and colleagues at the University of Maryland have developed a promising, new tabletop light source that fires a laser into a gas to free up electrons that produce intense terahertz bursts. The researchers propose that their technique would be ideal for taking snapshots of the beams in particle accelerators, in order to provide a noninvasive diagnostic of ultra short electron bunches. (Talk R6.2, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/102565).

4) LATEST FROM THE PIERRE AUGER OBSERVATORYScattered over a 3,000-square-kilometer field on a high plain in Argentina are 1,600 sealed water tanks, each about the size of an automobile. Inside each tank are three photomultiplier tubes that can detect "Cherenkov" light, which is produced by high-energy particles passing through water in the tank. The tanks, along with an array of four other ground-based telescopes, comprise the Pierre Auger Observatory, which is arguably the largest scientific apparatus in the world.

This observatory seeks to study extremely high-energy cosmic rays that are believed to be produced by supermassive black holes at the hearts of nearby galaxies. When they enter Earth's atmosphere, these high-energy particles will generally strike air molecules high in the sky. The collision breaks up the molecule, and the pieces fly apart and strike other molecules. This creates a shower of secondary particles that rain down to Earth and -- with a little luck -- into the Cherenkov tanks where they emit streaks of light that indicate their direction. Scientists can use this data to suggest the source and composition of these cosmic rays. In Denver, Stefan Westerhoff of the University of Wisconsin will present the latest data from the Pierre Auger Observatory. (Talk A1.1, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/101637).

5) A VIEW OF THE SKY THROUGH NEUTRINOSSince 2005, construction has been underway on the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, the first cubic-kilometer-sized telescope being built at the South Pole to detect neutrinos -- fast moving elementary particles of very low mass that rarely interact with other matter. When complete, IceCube will be a cubic arrangement of 86 parallel strings of sensors, all buried underneath 1.5 to 2.5 kilometers of Antarctic ice. Although the observatory is not expected to be finished until early 2011, its modular design allows scientists to collect data as it is being built. In Denver, Teresa Montaruli of the University of Wisconsin-Madison will present a neutrino skymap based on about 5,000 neutrino events collected by IceCube's first 22 sensor strings, about a quarter of the full detector.

The goal of IceCube is to detect high-energy neutrinos produced in supernova shocks or black holes and to identify their sources. Doing so would revolutionize the way that astrophysicists understand cosmic rays -- accelerated particles like protons and ionized nuclei thought to be created by black holes and supernova shockwaves. So far, the early IceCube data has allowed the identification of a "highly significant region" in the observable sky that may indicate an astrophysical source of high energy neutrinos -- though the neutrinos detected have about a one percent chance of being due to fluctuations in the background of ordinary atmospheric neutrinos. Montaruli will discuss these data and describe the anticipated capabilities of IceCube in the coming season. At this time, 59 of the eventual 86 total strings of sensors are online and will begin detecting soon. (Talk R2.00003, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/102550).

6) TEACHING PHYSICS WITH THE ARTSSpeakers in invited session W7 will describe various ways that art can help motivate and inspire students who would otherwise lack the interest or aptitude for the sciences. Thomas Rossing of Stanford University relies on musical acoustics to teach physics to students primarily involved in the arts (W7.1). Kenneth Laws of Dickinson College uses dance movement in examples of physical principles that allow dancers and dance fans to deepen their understanding of the natural world (W7.3). And retired high school teacher Christopher Chiaverina of New Trier High School teaches optics with examples culled from the art world. (Session W7, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104485).

7) BALLOONS OVER ANTARCTICA DETECT COSMIC RAYSWhen charged high-energy particles (known as cosmic rays) rain down on Earth, they generally collide with molecules in the upper atmosphere, making it all but impossible to directly detect cosmic rays at the Earth's surface. One way to get around this problem is to float cosmic ray detectors high above the ground where the atmosphere is so thin it doesn't filter the cosmic rays. Long-duration balloon flights over Antarctica, where the interference of Earth's magnetic field is minimized, are better still. A number of experiments have done exactly this in the last several years, and separate presentations in Denver will describe the results of two of them.

Thomas Hams of the NASA/GSFC Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science and Technology will describe the Balloon-borne Experiment with a Superconducting Spectrometer (BESS-Polar), which uses a detector aboard a balloon at 119,000 feet to search for nuclear antimatter in cosmic radiation -- mostly secondary particles produced by the interaction of cosmic rays with interstellar gas. Hams will describe how measuring the flux of these particles falling to Earth can help reveal details about the early universe. (Talk R8.5, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/102576).

Martin Israel of Washington University in St. Louis will describe the latest analysis of the Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder (TIGER), an experiment that collected data during two December balloon flights at an altitude of 125,000 feet in 2001 and 2003. A one-square-meter detector on board these flights could determine the elemental composition of cosmic rays, which can give information about where they come from. The abundances of several rare heavy elements measured in these experiments suggest that many of the cosmic rays come from areas where there are large numbers of massive stars that are at least ten to forty times heavier than the sun. (Talk G4.2, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/102044).

8) A RAINBOW OF GRAVITATIONAL WAVESThe recent construction of a number of kilometer-scale laser interferometers around the world is just the beginning of a surge in efforts to peer into the cosmos with the aid of gravitational waves. In the coming years, gravitational wave detectors will span an enormous spectrum of signal frequencies. In session D5, three speakers present current and upcoming systems that will soon look for gravitational waves at various frequency ranges. In talk D5.1, Vuk Mandic of University of Minnesota will describe the present status of the LIGO detectors, some of the most recent results obtained from LIGO data, and prospects for the next generation gravitational-wave detectors, which focus on frequencies from tens to hundreds of Hertz. In talk D5.2, Guido Mueller of the University of Florida offers an overview of the gravitational wave observations in the 0.0001Hertz to 1Hertz frequency range that will be covered by the forthcoming, space-based LISA gravitational observatory, which will allow the study of the astrophysics and evolution of black holes, compact galactic binaries, and the universe itself. And in the final talk of the session (D5.3), Fredrick A. Jenet of the University of Texas at Brownsville will provide a glimpse into detection techniques that will open a window on the various astrophysical phenomena that will be visible with nano-Hertz gravitational waves. (Session D5, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=103039).

9) IN SEARCH OF GRAVITY'S LIMITSGravity is weak, which makes it very difficult to measure, but the challenge is hardly enough to deter a host of physicists from taking a stab at it. Session Q11 features a collection of gravitational experiments, ranging from refinements of older techniques to entirely novel approaches. The session starts off with a talk by Stephen Merkowitz of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, who will describe next generation versions of tried-and-true lunar laser ranging instruments that could be put in place upon NASA's planned return to the Moon within the next decade (Q11.1). David Merritt of the Rochester Institute of Technology and coworkers believe that stars orbiting very close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way will experience relativistic effects that are potentially observable using adaptive optics on the next generation of large ground-based telescopes (Q11.3). Quentin Bailey of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will provide an update on theoretical and gravitational experiments testing Lorentz symmetry, which might offer hints of extensions to the widely accepted Standard Model of physics (Q11.7). (Session Q11, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=102503).

10) THE DEATH OF A STARWhen a massive star dies, its center collapses to form a dense proto-neutron star. Some stars explode during this process in magnificent supernovae that can rival the brightness of an entire galaxy. But others do not explode -- instead, the proto-neutron star is compressed into a black hole up to 30 to 50 times the mass of the sun. Predicting the fate of a dying star has proven challenging for astrophysicists, who rely on rough estimates based on its initial mass and composition. Now, using computer simulations based on Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, a team of astrophysicists at the California Institute of Technology has for the first time systematically investigated the conditions necessary for the formation of black holes in massive star collapse. Evan O'Connor will present results showing that previous assumptions that all stars above a certain mass form black holes oversimplify the problem and are in most cases incorrect. These results will impact a variety of areas of astrophysics and cosmology and may help astrophysicists better understand the gamma-ray burst phenomenon. (Talk W8.2, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/102855).

11) THE SHORT LIFE OF AN EXTREME ATOMThe basic building blocks of matter are atoms, and every atom heavier than Hydrogen has at its core a nucleus that contains positively charged particles called protons and electrically neutral particles called neutrons. Atoms can exist in various forms -- isotopes -- that differ in how many of these neutrons they have at their cores. One strange isotope is helium-8, which contains a higher concentration of neutrons than any other isotope ever seen on Earth. It is extremely hard to make and, once formed, exists for only for a quarter of a second before it decays.

In his Francis M. Pipkin Award Talk, Zheng-Tian Lu of Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago will describe how he and his colleagues have recently succeeded in using lasers to trap and cool helium-8 atoms. This has allowed them to study this exotic form of matter, revealing basic information about the fundamental forces within atomic nuclei. (Talk B3.2, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/101646).

12) PUBLIC LECTURE: DEATH FROM THE SKIES WITH THE BAD ASTRONOMERThe April Meeting public lecture will feature the popular pseudoscience debunker Phil "The Bad Astronomer" Plait. Plait will take a look at some of the most fearsome death-from-the-skies calamities, the science principles behind them, and the odds that any of them will disrupt our quiet corner of the cosmos. The lecture is open to the public and April meeting attendees. (May 4, 7:00 p.m., Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. http://www.aps.org/meetings/april/events/spec-sessions/plait.cfm).

13) PLENARY SESSIONSThree plenary sessions are devoted to premier topics which should be of interest to all attendees at the meeting. Session A1 (8:30 a.m. on Saturday) features talks on the Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope, described above; the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) at Jefferson Lab, where the insides of protons and neutrons are probed by beams of electrons; and the merger of two black holes, an event which is expected to produce bursts of gravity waves observable by detectors on or near Earth. (Session A1, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104480).

Session P1 (8:30 a.m. on Monday) features talks about the coming generation of X-ray free electron lasers, facilities such as those under construction at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California and DESY in Germany, where coherent light will afford imaging with 1-angstrom spatial resolution and time resolutions at the femto- or even atto-second level; a look at nuclear physics by Robert Rosner, outgoing director of Argonne National Laboratory; and an assessment of the likely terrorist threats involving nuclear and non-nuclear explosives by University of California, Berkeley physicist Richard Muller, author of the popular book, "Physics for Future Presidents." (Session P1, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104481).

The third plenary session, V1 (8:30 a.m. on Tuesday), features three talks about huge international facilities: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which looks at particle collisions at the highest energy accelerator in the world; the Pierre Auger Observatory, the largest detector of cosmic rays; and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which will be the largest tokamak device for undertaking nuclear fusion reactions. (Session V1, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104482).

14) TOUCHING BASE WITH THE LHCNo other physics project has attracted more recent attention in the popular press than the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). An estimated 1 billion people tuned to watch the first beams of protons being switched on in Switzerland last September. The particle accelerator is due to restart operations by the end of September 2009, and several speakers at the April APS meeting will be discussing issues important to the project. In one talk (D4.1), Chris Llewellyn Smith of Oxford University will offer an overview of the benefits and challenges of large collaboration construction projects like the LHC, as well as the SSC, ALMA, and ITER. In another talk (L2.2), Daniel Green of Fermilab will discuss the role of U.S. groups in this collaboration, and in talk T6.3, Michael Tuts of Columbia University will speak on his personal experiences as manager of the US ATLAS Operations Program Manager at the LHC. Thomas Ruf of CERN and Hitoshi Murayama of IPMU Tokyo will consider the impact of the LHC on fields outside of high-energy physics: flavor physics (Talk R12.3) and cosmology (Talk L2.1), specifically. And in Talk L2.3, James Brau of the University of Oregon will look beyond the data expected to be collected by the LHC to consider the next generation of particle physics machines -- the International Linear Collider (ILC). (Talk D4.1, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/101841),(Talk L2.2, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/102351),(Talk T6.3, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/103101),(Talk R12.3, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/102601), (Talk L2.1, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/102349), and (Talk L2.3, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/102350).

15) THE SEARCH FOR DARK MATTERMost of the matter in the universe is a mystery to science. We call it dark matter, and even though we know it exists, we don't know what it is, and we have never been able to detect it directly. Many experiments are underway that aim to do so. There are detectors buried deep underground detectors, gamma-ray telescopes arrayed in the Arizona desert, powerful observatories in orbit around the Earth, and experiments at particle colliders -- all searching for clues that will help identify this mysterious matter that makes up so much of the mass of the universe. Such groups as the PAMELA and ATIC collaborations, the XENON experiment, and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope will report latest findings. This year's meeting features numerous sessions devoted to the search for dark matter. These include: (Session R4, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104452),(Session L12, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=106163),(Session T12, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104579), and (Session W12, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104580).

16) PHYSICS AND SOCIETYThe APS Forum on Physics and Society has helped sponsor talks on seven diverse topics. Session B6 looks at the use of particle beams at accelerators in developing new materials, in providing radiotherapy for tumors, and in converting the radioactive isotopes in spent nuclear fuel rods to benign materials. Session D4 consists of a panel discussion on large-scale scientific collaboration. Session G7, about science policy, brings together two former presidential science advisors, Jack Gibbons and Neal Lane, and Lewis Branscomb of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Session J7 looks at physics and intelligence gathering, including subjects such as quantum cryptography and eavesdropping. Session Q7 is about geoengineering and climate change, which includes things such as injecting particles into the stratosphere and seeding the oceans with iron filings. At Session R7 the Forum awards will recognize two scientists who have helped the cause of nuclear non-proliferation. Session X6 offers several talks about arms control.(Session B6, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104540), (Session D4, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104719),(Session G7, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=102054), (Session J7, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104465), (Session Q7, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=103125), and (Session X6, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex2/?SessionEventID=104384).

17) MANAGING NUCLEAR FUELThe effort to build a repository for nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, Nevada was recently canceled by the U.S. government, putting this topic on the front page. After many years of debate, the issue of how to safely store spent nuclear fuel from reactors remains unresolved. Nor is it clear exactly how aging nuclear reactors should be shut down and their sites returned to pre-reactor conditions. Session H7 brings together three speakers, one each from Canada, Japan, and Romania, to offer an international perspective. Elizabeth Dowdeswell of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization in Canada will explain the country's project to survey its citizens about their nuclear waste concerns -- both "real and perceived" -- to create a long-term plan to boost public acceptance of nuclear power. Kazuaki Matsui of the Institute for Applied Energy will talk about Japan's efforts to locate suitable waste storage sites in its Pacific Rim geology and how those efforts were blocked by local political and social protests. Finally, Lucian Biro of Romania's National Commission for Nuclear Activities Control will discuss this country's first decommissioning of a nuclear reactor and the shipping of its spent nuclear fuel to Russia. (Session H7, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/SessionIndex3/?SessionEventID=104254).

18) NUCLEAR PHYSICS IN SECOND LIFEUniversity of Denver physicist Robert C. Amme describes the effort to use the popular "Second Life" virtual world protocol as a basis for instructing students in the workings and environmental impact of nuclear reactors. Amme's own research specialty is granular materials, and he is manager of the Environmental Materials Laboratory in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Denver. (Paper C7.2, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Event/101760).

*****************************************************19) REGISTERING AS A JOURNALISTMembers of the press who wish to attend the meeting for free should email Phil Schewe at pschewe@aip.org. Complimentary press registration will allow access to the pressroom and all scientific sessions. Public information officers, as usual, are welcome.

WEBSITES OF INTERESTThe April Meeting website is http://www.aps.org/meetings/april/index.cfm. The meeting program, including searchable abstracts can be accessed at http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR09/Content/1380.

PRESSROOM INFORMATION---The location of the meeting pressroom is Plaza Court 6.---Pressroom hours: May 2-4, 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and May 5 until noon.---Pressroom phone number: call the Sheraton Hotel at (303) 893-3333 and ask for Plaza Court 6.---Internet access will be available.---Breakfast and lunch will be available in the pressroom Saturday-Monday, and breakfast on Tuesday morning.---A press conference schedule will be issued in mid-April.

ABOUT APSThe American Physical Society is the leading professional organization of physicists, representing more than 47,000 physicists in academia and industry in the United States and internationally. APS has offices in College Park, MD (Headquarters), Ridge, NY, and Washington, DC.

ABOUT AIPHeadquartered in College Park, MD, the American Institute of Physics is a not-for-profit membership corporation chartered in New York State in 1931 for the purpose of promoting the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics and its application to human welfare.

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