News from ICTP 94 - Dateline
For the first time in the 15-year history of ICTP's Dirac Medal,
the selection committee has chosen a woman as one of the medallists.
Helen Quinn, staff scientist in theoretical physics at
the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford, California,
will share the medal with Howard Georgi, professor of physics
at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Jogesh
Pati, professor of physics at the University of Maryland,
College Park, Maryland, USA. The announcement was made on 8 August,
the birthday of the famed physicist and Nobel Prize winner Paul
A.M. Dirac, who died in 1984. Dirac was one of the Centre's most
forceful advocates during ICTP's first two decades of existence.
The three scientists are being honoured for their "pioneering
contributions to the quest for a unified theory of quarks and
leptons and the strong, weak and electromagnetic interactions."
Their research tracks the same line of investigation that earned
ICTP's founding director, Abdus Salam, the Nobel Prize in 1979.
Salam shared the prize with Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow
for proposing a theory of unification of nature's electromagnetic
and weak forces. For additional information about the Dirac Medal
and other ICTP awards, click here.
ICTP's Second School on the Mathematics of Economics, held between 21 August and 1 September, included a host of intriguing theories concerning potential links between studies in theoretical physics and real-world economic and social patterns of behaviour. A series of lectures and discussions explored, for example, how game theory could shed revealing light on financial market volatility, strategic military planning and decision-making, and efficient airline scheduling. The most provocative lecture at the school, however, was given by Jean-Philippe Bouchaud, a condensed matter physicist from the French Atomic Energy Commission. Bouchaud contended that he had uncovered a theory explaining why every society, since the dawn of civilization, has been characterised by a minority of wealthy people who maintain power in their own hands. He claimed that the 'wealth and power' profile, revealed time and again in history books, was replicated in an equation used by physicists in their studies of disordered systems. Bouchaud's observations have received extensive coverage in the international press, including a front-page story in the French daily Le Monde and a feature article in the weekly magazine New Scientist. One conclusion drawn in the Le Monde is this: If the rich are always with us, why not tax them more?
Several ICTP scientists have recently received notice in Science and Nature. Filippo Giorgi, head, and Raquel Francisco, staff scientist, ICTP's Weather and Climate Group, were recently quoted in a Science news article ("Dueling Models: Future U.S. Climate Uncertain," 23 June 2000, p. 2113) that discusses the findings of the U.S. government report, "Climate Change Impacts on the United States." The report assessed the potential impact of global warming on various regions of the USA based on the output of the best available climate models. Giorgi and Francisco spoke about the reliability and uncertainty of climate models, especially at the regional level. Erio Tosatti, International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), and consultant in the ICTP Condensed Matter Physics Group, co-authored a research article with Santi Prestipino, SISSA and Italian National Institute for the Physics of Matter (INFM), "Weird Gold Nanowires," Science (28 July 2000), p. 561-563. Amos Maritan, Christian Micheletti and Antonio Trovato, who hold joint appointments with SISSA and ICTP, co-authored a research article, "Optimal Shapes of Compact Strings," Nature (20 July 2000), p. 287-290.
"Theoretical physics requires experimental confirmation. For this reason, in my opinion, string theory is a sort of intellectual speculation more than real science. And cosmology is becoming a sort of religion: It has non-predictive power; it's totally speculative."
Dutch-born physicist Martinus J.G. Veltman, 69, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, reaffirmed his strong convictions at the ICTP on 4 July. He came to the Centre to receive the Dirac Medal that he was awarded in 1996. Last year, Veltman was honoured with the Nobel Prize together with his former student Gerardus 't Hooft.
Veltman is well-known for his pioneering work in the use of a 'theoretical machinery' that permits researchers to predict the properties of new elementary particles. It's a discovery that has revolutionised the field. His calculations, for example, provided the theoretical framework instrumental in the search for the top quark mass, which was discovered at Fermilab in 1995 within the exact range of energies forecast by Veltman. The same parallel track will hopefully be followed in the search for the Higgs particle.
Philip W. Anderson was another Nobel Laureate hosted by the Centre this past summer. Anderson, now 77, professor emeritus at Princeton University, is a frequent visitor to ICTP and a member of the Centre's Scientific Council.
Anderson received the Nobel Prize in 1977 for his studies on the magnetic properties of non-crystalline solids, permitting the development of a number of electronic devices. He has been one of the great innovators in the field of condensed matter physics.
His name, however, has been strictly linked to the history of complex systems since 1977, when Anderson postulated what has become a classic article in Science: "More Is Different". In that article, he formulated his ideas against a reductionist view that puts the physics of particles at the top in the hierarchy of sciences. "A vision that has no real meaning", he explains. "The truth is that we can't derive the properties of superconductivity or the laws of biology from the behaviour of elementary particles."
Since 1984, Anderson has been a fellow of the Santa Fe Institute, New Mexico, USA, a think tank of 'complexologists' that is a meeting place for physicists, biologists, economists, and anthropologists. "We are not seeing the end of science, as some critics contend," Anderson observes. "Instead, we are living in a strongly science-based world whose inhabitants ignore basic science. It's a troubling contradiction."
The tau neutrino, the most elusive particle of the ghostly family of neutrinos, has been detected at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago, USA. An international team of 54 physicists working at Fermilab's Tevatron, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, announced the finding in late July. The tau neutrino had been one of the two remaining major undetected particles in the so-called Standard Model of elementary particle physics, which describes the properties of all the known building blocks of matter: quarks, protons, neutrons, electrons, and neutrinos. The other yet unseen particle is the Higgs boson, which physicists believe is the source of the masses of all particles.
A few days after the announcement of the discovery of the tau neutrino, reports surfaced of possible detection of the Higgs boson in the LEP accelerator at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland. High energy physicists are thrilled by the possibility to 'see' at last the long-sought particle. For the moment, however, additional tests will be necessary to confirm or deny the rumoured findings. As a result, the race between Fermilab and CERN for the Higgs boson continues.
News from ICTP has received an APEX 2000 Award for publication excellence in the category of newsletters. The institution, headquartered in Springfield, Virginia, USA, honours print, broadcast and electronic communications. Some 5000 institutions participated in this year's competition. Those recognized by APEX 2000 included the Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts; the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C.; and the Sea Grant Institute in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
On the occasion of Pakistan's independence day, 14 August, President Mohammad Rafiq Tarar conferred the nation's highest civil awards on some of Pakistan's most accomplished scientists and artists. Among those honoured this year are two physicists well-known to ICTP: long-time ICTP Associate and 1987 ICTP Prize winner Abdullah Sadiq, Center for Nuclear Physics, Islamabad; and Fayyazuddin, former pupil of Abdus Salam's at Imperial College and one of ICTP's first Associates, who is professor emeritus at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.