New Lucasian Professor


After a significant delay, Cambridge University made known the name of Michael Green‘s successor at the Lucasian chair.Michael Cates The 19th Lucasian Professor is Michael Cates, Professor at University of Edinburgh and Fellow of the Royal Society. Professor Cates is worldwide known for his researches in the field of soft condensed matter. It is a well deserved recognition and one of the best choice ever for this prestigious chair. So, we present our best wishes to Professor Cates of an excellent job in this new role.

Looking for the Lucasian Professor


Michael Green, the current Lucasian Professor, is now 67 and Cambridge University is looking for his substitute (see here). It is interesting that Wikipedia is now reporting rumours from researchers at DAMPT (see here)

As of 3rd April 2014, the University of Cambridge is recruiting the 19th Lucasian Professor. Rumour amongst DAMPT researchers is that the process is a required formality, but that unless there’s a last minute surprise the Lucasian Professorship will be held for the first time by a woman. It may also be the first time that the chair is not held by somebody born in the British Isles.

Wikipedia is generally not doing gossip so I report this here because I think this will not last too long. Anyhow, the procedure will be brief. The candidates should send their CV for 15 April and the chosen one should take up the appointment on 1 September this year.  I would like to remember that this is a really prestigious chair held by Newton, Dirac and Hawking to name just a few. Surely, Cambridge University will choose for the best once again.

Lucasian chair again


On 22 May, Professor Michael Green, Professor Michael Greenthe incumbent Lucasian Professor at Cambridge University, will be 67 and must retire. He succeeded Stephen Hawking that left this chair for the same reason on 2009. Well before Hawking’s retirement, Cambridge University issued an announcement asking for possible candidates and, after the selection ended, Professor Green come out as the chosen one. This time, no announcement is out from Cambridge and so, it is possible that the successor of Professor Green should be already known. I think the news will be released in the next few months. Till now, no rumors spread.

Curiosity finds organics but where do they come from?


NASA logoYesterday, at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, NASA announced first results from soil analysis performed by Curiosity. Indeed, initially there was an eager expectation about this announcement as some rumors leaked out and somebody told about historical results. Then, all this was teased by NASA but what they announced yesterday was all but disappointing. I followed a real-time chronicle on twitter by Emily Lakdawalla (@elakdawalla and check her blog) that was there in San Francisco and it was really exciting. The main point is that Curiosity indeed has found organics but that people at NASA cannot be sure yet that carbon was not from Earth. Anyhow, the analysis of the soil displayed a rich content and this is indeed a riverbed. Some further analysis are required before to give definitive conclusions about the presence of organics. If you need a short summary you can read this article on The Guardian but Emily should provide a complete account shortly.

CuriosityI would like to spend a few words here to let my readers know what is at stake here. On 1975, NASA launched the Viking probes on Mars. One of the aims of this mission was to perform some experiments that should give evidence of life on Mars. A pair of these experiments turned out  to give favorable results giving such an evidence but the probes failed at finding any organic molecules and so these results were interpreted as due to some other chemical process at work. Indeed, the question is open yet. Should Curiosity find any evidence of organic molecular, the original findings of Viking probes would be vindicated but, more important, one should have a first evidence of life, even if bacterial, on another planet. This is for historical book indeed!

Nobel prize to Serge Haroche and David Wineland


This year Nobel prize went to quantum optics for experiments that could be useful on the road to quantum computation. The awarded are Serge Haroche of the College de France and David Wineland from NIST (US). They performed groundbreaking  studies working with cavities and ion traps on single atoms and photons. I have had the luck to meet and hear from them at several conferences. Their work was also instrumental in moving environmental decoherence from a theoretical concept to an everyday fact of life. There have been some rumors about the possibility that this year’s prize could go to this area of investigation. I would like to remember that for the recent finding at CERN is somehow too early for a prize both for the way procedures go at the Royal Swedish Academy and also because the very nature of the just discovered particle is yet to be ascertained.

Warp drive at NASA


I am currently a twitter user. One of my followings is Jeri Ryan. She has been Seven of Nine in Star Trek Voyager saga. Yesterday, it comes out of the blue what I read in one of her twits: NASA is developing warp drive! Indeed, Jeri was pointing to  this link. This is a Gizmodo’s post that was describing an effort by NASA to develop warp drive and it seemed like something consistent was in hand. Indeed, this is all true. It is a lab at NASA, Eagleworks, headed by Harold White that is working on a technical realization of the most recent ideas from physics in the area of “spacetime engineering”. This is somewhat of a new term as, so far, no ways were at our disposal to modify spacetime even if, in principle, this is a possibility offered by general relativity. If one would be able to do so, we would have warp drive but also time machines, wormholes and all that. White’s group claims to have found some loopholes in all the hurdles encountered so far in this kind of researches. The most fundamental one is that one needs a huge quantity of exotic matter to get some of these devices work. Nothing that is manageable in practice. So, all this matter was always put in an area of research much theoretical oriented. In a quite recent paper, Stefano Finazzi, Stefano Liberati and Carlos Barceló (see here)  show that Alcubierre drive is unstable with respect to quantum effects: Indeed, if you go faster than light, Hawking radiation will kill you.

So, there are some important difficulties to overcome to change the situation from theoretical to a practical one. One of the Editors of Physical Review Letters, Robert Garisto, commented as follows on twitter:

NASA warp drive story: Not sure which is less plausible, that it’s allowed by physics or that we could implement it if it were.

White’s group claims that they are on the verge to realize an experiment comparable to the Chicago Fermi’s experiment on the nuclear pile. This would imply that they have overcome all the difficulties seen so far in this kind of studies and are able to provide a working realization of the effect. You can find a paper by White here and is worth reading. They can controvert any skepticism by a sound experimental proof.

My view is always the same: As a physicist I have a blind faith on experimental facts and I would like to see accomplished one of my lifetime dreams arisen with that small step by Armstrong on the Moon. NASA is never a disappointment.

Stefano Finazzi, Stefano Liberati, & Carlos Barceló (2009). Semiclassical instability of dynamical warp drives PHYSICAL REVIEW D 79, 124017 (2009) arXiv: 0904.0141v2

Miguel Alcubierre (2000). The warp drive: hyper-fast travel within general relativity Class.Quant.Grav.11:L73-L77,1994 arXiv: gr-qc/0009013v1

The man passed away, the legend will always survive


Neil Armstrong passed away yesterday (see here and here). He was the first man to put his feet on the Moon. He started all my dreams when I was just nine and that July’s night I was staring at his extraordinary enterprise together with Buzz Aldrin (see here) and Michael Collins on the Apollo 11. Now, I am moved to tears by this but my dreams are still there and his legend will always survive. Thank you very much, Neil!


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