Friday, July 22, 2011

Here Comes the Higgs?!?!?

A recently published article, summarizing new data presented at a high energy physics conference in Europe, show an excess of particles in the mass spectrum that may end up being the Higgs boson, as some like Nobel winner Leon Lederman have called the 'God particle.' This is a particle that has been predicted for some 45 years, from a theory known as the Standard Model. This is the theory that covers the known forces and particles in Nature, minus gravity. It has been wildly successful when compared with experimental data, and one of the key pieces is the Higgs boson and Higgs field. This particle and field are responsible for nothing less than the matter we are all made from. It is the theoretical mechanism that allows energy to transform into matter, which is summed up by Einstein's E = mc^2.

Physicists on the experiments producing these data do caution the world NOT to jump to any conclusions. In science, rumors are left just as that, rumors. There are strict statistical results that are needed before one can claim discovery. There are double and triple checks of analysis algorithms, calibrations of the detectors, fine-tuning theoretical programs called Monte Carlos to re-check the backgrounds for these types of particle decays, and many other checks before anyone would even think of calling a few excess events a discovery, especially something as vital as the Higgs. We will see over the next few months what the final conclusions are, but this provides a sense of excitement for the world of physics.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mathematical Minds

From one of my favorite blogs, which has a focus on looking at brain functioning to understand all sorts of issues in education, learning, and life, there is a wonderful post about mathematical minds.

Gifted math minds really do 'light up' differently than average math minds when looking at math-related problems. And because of the way the brain is organized and behaves for different mental tasks, gifted math students can be difficult to identify from commonly used assessments and classroom behaviors. For instance, many truly advanced math students are not strong verbally, which can make them difficult to pick out of a crowd, and many like to 'do their own thing' when it comes to math and not at all be interested in the rote math memorization so often done in school. And likely the single most common trait is the love of solving problems of any type. This shows up not just in the 'numbers people,' but also tinkerers. Can you relate to any of these traits?