Emeritus Faculty Association news March- April 2009

Next Meeting:
The next meeting will be Friday, 6 March. Prof William Arens will speak on "Cannibalism and Nobel Science". In addition to evaluating the specific ethnographic evidence for presumed cannibalism among the Fore people of New Guinea, he will also consider the broad cultural, social and personal context of the Nobel award in 1977 to D. Carlton Gajdusek as the result of his research and sojourn there in the 1950s.
Bill Arens obtained his doctorate at the University of Virginia in1970 and is Professor of Anthropology and Dean, International Academic Programs. His books include The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy, 1979. and The Original Sin: Incest and Its Meaning, 1986. His present research is primarily literary in character. The first project involves an analysis of the travel literature available in English on Sweden and Scandinavia from the 18th to 20th centuries to determine the shifting image of these countries in other nations of the Western world. The second project is a continuation of the deconstruction of the medical literature on kuru and its relationship to presumed cannibalism in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. This research and argumentation has implications for a present cultural understanding of new BSE diseases, (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) including Mad Cow Disease, in the industrialized west. There is also a continued interest in the social development of a community in Tanzania that was initiated as Ph.D. field research and has been the subject of a follow-up study by a current IDPAS student as a dissertation topic.

Last Meeting
The chair read the following message from Judy Wishnia who will be back in town from 13 Feb. She can answer further questions by email at jwishnia@notes. As you all know, SUNY's budget has been slashed. Tuition has been raised but only 10% will go to the campuses: the rest goes into the state budget. A new chancellor is being installed but up to now SUNY has essentially rudderless and has been just accepting the situation. UUP is trying to take up the slack and there is a huge campaign to reach the legislature. The governor is also calling for UUP to reopen its contract and reject any salary increases and to accept a pay lag. UUP is unlikely to agree to that. Now for retirees: The governor's budget calls for those who are still working to pay more into the retirement system and for those who are retired he is once again asking for retirees to contribute to Part B without reimbursement (we don't know how much yet) As you may remember, we fought this out in 2006 (UUP vs. State of New York) and the appellate court sided with us, stating that the contract we have with the state clearly states that no side can unilaterally change the provisions. Of course, the governor could change this through the legislature but I have spoken to some of our local representatives and they see this as highly unlikely. Please be alert. You can help by writing or faxing the governor and the legislature. There are fax letters ready to go at the UUP website (on the EFA main webpage, click on "Retirement Health").
The chair then introduced the speaker, our own Paul Grannis (see bio in last month's enews) for his talk "Breaking the Paradigm of Particle Physics"
For more than three decades the standard model (uninspired name) has been corroborated in thousands of experiments. A brief review of the model will be followed by the reasons why we believe from recent investigations that it cannot be correct. And then why there is an exciting prospect of new insights in the near future.
The standard model comprises the particles of matter at the most fundamental level and the forces governing them. The atom is comprised of a nucleus of size only about .00001 radius of its surrounding cloud of electons. Although the electrons have tiny mass and no internal structure that we know of, the nucleus on the other hand is composed of neutrons and proton particles having a mass of around 1 Gev = 1000 million electron volts (recall from Einstein that mass and energy are equivalent). These in turn are each composed of three particles named up and down "quarks". In fact 2 up and 1 down for the protons and 1 up and 2 down for the neutrons (no these are not baseball teams). The down quark is just a little heavier than the up quark and if the neutron were not locked in a nucleus its down quark would beta-decay into an up plus an electron and neutrino in about 15 minutes. And very fortunate for us too that it isn't the other way round, since positively charged protons are needed to keep in line the negatively charged electrons and all of chemistry.
So much for the particles with mass, called generally the fermions. Now we come to the force particles- generically named the bosons. The interaction of two fermions through the agency of a boson can be compared to two skaters passing a heavy puck - it causes the paths of the skaters to bend slightly away from each other.There are four known forces: The electromagnetic force acts on electrically charged particles (protons, electrons) via a puck called a photon; The weak force controls the beta decay via W and Z bosons: The strong force binds together quarks via gluons; Finally there is gravity, (actually the weakest of all by far), hypothesized to use a mediating particle called a graviton.
Then things started to get out of hand. At higher energies more and more particles appeared: - muons and muon neutrinos mediating between quarks called charm and strange (don't ask), and still higher, taus and tau neutrinos and top and bottom quarks . The unification of the electromagnetic and weak forces required a new boson called Higgs which experiments did not yet find.
Nowadays the standard model is thought incorrect for at least 6 reasons: (1) It requires 26 parameters with no rhyme or reason for their particular values. (2) The strong and electroweak forces refused to unify at high energies. (3) Gravity is not even in the theory at all. (4) It is almost impossible in the standard model to keep the Higgs boson mass from becoming impossibly large. (5) Violation of CP symmetry: -The big bang is supposed to have created equal amounts of matter and anti-matter. Yet after a period when particles and antiparticles collided and mutually annihilated, we were left with a (comparatively) small surplus of regular matter left over (again, fortunately for us). (6) Finally, the rotation rate of galaxies implies that most of the mass left over is not visible, not made out of fermions at all. Two recently colliding galaxies even show the visible masses in the process of coalescing while the dark masses (evidenced by light lensing) are overshooting without any apparent interaction.
So how to fix it? There are some possibilities: (i) Supersymmetry, - a theory that for every known particle there is a (somewhat heavier) opposite twin with different spin (eg: the negatively charged electron with spin 1/2 has a twin positively charged selectron, with spin zero. This would solve a lot of problems, cancelling out terms in calculations that are presently giving ridiculous answers; (ii) New unseen dimensions in which some particles might move which would explain why some forces are much weaker than others; (iii) New fundamental forces beyond the four above.
The interesting thing about the LHC, - the large hadron (proton) collider now coming on line in Geneva is that it will operate an energy level (well above 1000 Gev) that should be capable of showing these things (Higgs boson, supersymmetry particles, new dimensions, or new forces) for the first time. Thus we live at an exciting time for physics, and even us old codgers can hope to see a new understanding of the origins and forces of the universe around us. For a recent NY Times report of an advanced timetable for getting the LHC back on track after an initial setback, see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/17/science/17cern.html?_r=1&ref=science.

Mathematics, Common Sense, and Good Luck
This was the title of a physics and astronomy department colloquium given on Tuesday 10th February by James Simons, and attended mostly by students. It turned out to be a retrospective of Jim's time here: His arrival in 1968 after having gotten fired from his job at the Princeton Institute of Defense Analysis for opposition to the Vietnam war; His first years as chair of mathematics; His first million at age 29 through (he says) pure luck; The Chern-Simons form and its subsequent application to gauge theory and many other branches of physics; The divison of mathematical sciences; Moneymetrics at station commons; and now Renaissance Technologies in Setauket. To the sprinkling of old timers in the audience there were many points of connection, for these were our years too.
Caveat Emptor
In comments on the financial meltdown, Jim placed most of the blame on the credit rating agencies(in the US: Moody's, Standard & Poor's, and Fitch Ratings). Ever since they decided that they would rather be paid by the issuers rather than the investors, a clear conflict of interest, their ratings have been essentially worthless; "if you cut the police, then the criminals will run amok, because that is what criminals do". NB: fixing this conflict of interest is among the top priorities of the new head of the SEC.