Emeritus Faculty Association news February 2013
Friday February 1, 10.30am Javits Room, 2nd floor library. The speaker will be Michael Douglas, permanent member, Simons Center for Math and Physics, to talk on String theory - a status report.
Abstract: Since 1984, string theory has been studied intensively as a candidate fundamental theory underlying all of physics. The talk will survey the reasons for believing in it, and the progress which has been made towards contact with the existing fundamental theories such as the Standard Model of particle physics. After describing the role of mathematics in studying the theory, the talk will conclude with the prospects for testing it at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
Bio: Douglas received his B.S. in physics from Harvard and his Ph.D. at Caltech under John Schwarz, one of the developers and leading researchers in superstring theory. After serving briefly as a postdoc at the University of Chicago he moved to Rutgers to help start the New High Energy Theory Center (NHETC). 1990 was spent visiting the Ecole Normale Superieure and the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. After promotion to associate professor at Rutgers he left for a year in 1997-1998 to take up a permanent position at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques. He returned to Rutgers in 2000 to become the director of the NHETC. In 2008 Douglas became the first permanent member of the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics here at SBU. Douglas is best known for the development of matrix models (the first non-perturbative formulations of string theory), for his work on Dirichlet branes and on non-commutative geometry in string theory, and for the development of the statistical approach to string phenomenology. He was on the team (led by Gerald J. Sussman) that built the Digital Orrery, a special-purpose computer for computations in celestial mechanics, and maintains an active interest in computer science.
Anita Gelber died suddenly and unexpectedly on November 1st, at the age of 86. She would have been married 65 years the next week. Our sympathies go out to Sidney and the children. A gifted concert pianist and teacher, Anita was a graduate of the Juilliard School and Hunter College and studied with Artur Schnabel, Edward Steuermann, and Nadia Reisenberg. In 1949, performing as Anita Sixfin, she and Sidney gave the first U.S. performance of the Schubert Fantasy in F-minor at Carnegie Recital Hall. In recent years, she gave recitals in New York, Israel and Germany. Before her death, she was in the process of recording all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas. Anita was admired and loved by all who knew her. She generously shared her wisdom, humor and upbeat outlook on life with her family, friends and students. She will be deeply missed. Funeral services were held on Monday, November 5th in Woodbury, NY.
Charles Rosen, member, died in Manhattan on Sunday December 10 of cancer at the age of 85. He was an accomplished scholar, concert pianist, and author. Besides many years as professor of music at Stony Brook, he was professor of French at MIT, professor of poetry at Harvard, and professor of music and social thought at Chicago. He was also an accomplished cook. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/arts/music/charles-rosen-pianist-polymath-and-author-dies-at-85.html?ref=obituaries&_r=0
Merton Reichler died on Monday 17 December at the age of 86. He leaves behind his companion, Liane Thurau, his three children, and many grandchildren. Merton was an early faculty member at Stony Brook, teaching constitutional law courses in the Department of Political Science, and was the long time pre-law advisor in the Office of Undergraduate Studies. He mentored many students who went on to successful careers as attorneys. In recent years he could regularly be seen at our meetings, at Staller concerts, and as an active teacher in the OLLI program (click on OSHER on our main webpage). He also served for several years as one of the cantors at Hillel High Holiday services and was a generous supporter of Jewish life at Stony Brook.
Charles Staley, our previous newsletter editor, died peacefully surrounded by family on January 11 at Foxdale Village, State College, PA., at the age of 86. He is survived by his wife Rhoda, three children, Duncan, Blair, and Jessica, a brother Paul, and three grandchildren. After graduating from a one-room school house in Munden, Kansas in 1945, he served in the U.S. Army, then earned degrees in economics from the University of Kansas and MIT. He taught in the economics departments of the University of Kansas as well as SUNY Stony Brook. He spent a year each teaching in Costa Rica, Harvard, and Edinburgh. His academic interests included international economics and the history of economic thought, authoring two books, International Economics (1970), and A history of Economic Thought from Aristotle to Arrow (1989). In his younger years, Charles enjoyed square dancing, hiking, camping and mountaineering. Memorial contributions may be made to the Foxdale Employee Appreciation Fund, 500 E. Marylyn Ave., State College, PA 16801.
Blackboard E-Mail Addresses Changed on Jan. 7, 2013
DoIT is making an important change to Blackboard for the new academic semester that users need to know about and that some may need to take action on. Effective Monday, January 7, 2013, email addresses in Blackboard were systematically reset to users' official University EPO email address (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) and users will no longer be able to change their email address in Blackboard.
Update on union negotiations:
Last spring, the state (governor) unilaterally changed our health care provisions without contractual agreement. Several unions sued, including UUP. The AG denied this was valid, but the judge disagreed and said he would hear the case. The basis of the suit is that civil service law says that retirees are covered by the contract in effect when they retired.
There continues to be deep concern over the fate of Downstate Hospital which serves a largely minority community in Brooklyn. Hundreds of people have been terminated and nurse pensions have been cut. The community has organized and last week, numerous clergy had a public meeting to support the hospital. Currently, both the governor and the Chancellor have stated that they want to see Downstate remain in the community and have offered $99 million in aid. Unfortunately, $64 million of this is for severance pay which seems to indicate that there will be more firings. The big worry is: yes, they all want Downstate to continue BUT, they are talking about a public benefit organization, in other words, privatization. The plan is the same for Upstate Hospital in Syracuse. So, the big worry is that this will end state support of our hospitals and most disturbing, may go beyond the hospitals, all of which is also a concern for Stony Brook.
Linwood Lee introduced Miriam Forman (see bio last issue) to speak on Space Weather: modern living with a star. Solar storms are important. They have caused failures of satellites, GPS navigation and long distance radio transmission, and increases in cosmic radiation exposure to air and space travelers. Via huge geomagnetically induced currents they can also cause problems in any long distance conductors such as railways, oil and gas pipelines, and particularly high voltage transmission lines. Although the latter in particular is potentially catastrophic, the mild effects of solar storms on the earth in recent years seems to have caused complacency in certain quarters. However Professor Forman insisted that she was merely a scientist and would leave the politics to others (so more on this later).
So starting with the history, Galileo was the first to see sunspots through his new telescope (which was another political problem because the church ruled that the sun was perfect). A single sunspot has roughly the same diameter as earth and observations of them over the last 400 years have revealed the 27 day rotation of the sun and the 11 year cycle of sunspot activity (we are currently at a maximum). It also became clear that the sunspot activity was related to aurora displays in the earth's atmosphere. Observations during the 1869 eclipse proved the sun's corona to be over a million °C, even though the surface of the sun was known to be only 6000 °C. Observations of comets showed a second blue tail always pointing away from the sun. When Eugene Parker in Chicago in 1960 proposed that the heat flowing from the Sun and the comet tail blowing away from the Sun were the result of a hot solar wind he was widely ridiculed, even though Sydney Chapman had proposed a theory as early as the 1920's of how a neutral plasma of ions and electrons flowing from the sun could create a magnetic disturbance on earth. Parker's paper was only saved by the editor Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, later winner of the Nobel prize. Miriam Forman was a student in Chicago at that time and that was where she was first smitten to do research on this subject.
It is now known that the solar wind consists mostly of hydrogen and helium ions. As it travels outward it eventually succumbs to opposing powerful winds of interstellar space in a termination shock wave called the heliopause at about 120 X the distance of the earth from the sun. The Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 are just crossing this now. Normally the earth's magnetic field protects us and a similar spherical termination effect safely steers the solar wind around the earth and on its way. Except when violent sun storms intensify the wind to particle densities and temperatures an order of magnitude higher. Then it is capable of causing major disruptions in the earth's magnetic field causing the troubles alluded to in the first paragraph. Our satellites can give a warning of a few hours but these are unreliable as it seems it is all a matter of luck whether one of the coronal ejections just happens to come in our direction and hit the magnetosphere in the wrong way.
Linwood Lee was asked to describe JASON, which is a group of academic scientists who advise the federal government on technical issues, and who in 2011 were tasked to assess the threat to the electric grid of severe space weather (conclusion: the threat is real and serious). Also there are signs that the earth's magnetic field is getting ready to reverse as it has done before, meaning that in between we would have no protection at all (Bob DeZafra). Question time also raised the history of past magnetic storms. In 1859 the largest geomagnetic storm on modern record caused telegraph terminals to melt. In 1921 another caused the entire signal and switching system of the New York Central Railroad below 125th street to be put out of operation. In May 1989 a storm took down the entire Quebec hydro in seconds leaving 6 million without power for 9 hours. A later surge in October destroyed a transformer at a NJ nuclear plant and almost took down US power grids from the mid-Atlantic to the Pacific Northwest. Some experts believe that the storms of 1921 and 1859 were actually up to 10 times stronger but didn't seem so bad because we were not then comparably dependent on technology.
References for further reading:
JASON: see: http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/jason/spaceweather.pdf
So now we come to the politics of solar storms, courtesy of your correspondent, drs, and Prof Forman is innocent. The problem lies mainly with extra high voltage (EHV) transformers which didn't exist in earlier storms. Each weighs over 200 tons, costs $10 million to replace, and there exists no worldwide stock. So depending how many burn up in a storm, replacing them could take months or even years. It gets worse because nuclear power stations require a functioning connection to the grid in order to sustain emergency operations beyond a week. So there is a possibility of dozens or even hundreds of meltdowns. However, it turns out there is an inexpensive fix to protect the grid with capacitors and block the inflow of geomagnetically induced currents. Incredibly, the only country which has done this is Finland (apart from Quebec province which got that 1989 wake up call). A search for other Finland firsts comes up with quite a list:
* Most competitive economy (World Economic Forum 2003, Newsweek 2010, Legatum institute 2009);
* Least corrupt (Transparency International 2012, corruption perceptions index 2007, 2009);
* Best education system (Economist Intelligence Unit of Pearson publishing, 2012);
* Top in access to justice (5/29 World justice project 2012);
* Top in press freedom (worldwide press freedom index 2006, 2009);
* World's first permanent nuclear-waste repository deep down in solid rock and designed to last at least 100,000 years;
* Led the world in environmental sustainability in 2001, 2002 and 2005 (World Economic Forum ESI - environmental sustainability index)
* 2nd in general happiness (UN 2012).
So, one might think that the US congress might seek to discover how little Finland has managed to achieve what the U.S. has not. OK, maybe after they are finished congratulating themselves for voting down elementary cyber-protection for the grid this year. And making American exceptionalism pronouncements. And of course after they take the time each morning to attach those little "God Bless America" lapel pins.
But instead one finds this:
Congressional fact-finding trips: (www.legistorm.com/trip_browse_by_destination_country/index/sort/number/type/desc.html). With a total cost of $76 million, the top foreign destination is Israel, with Finland at #53, after the Republic of Georgia, and Serbia. The data encompasses all privately gifted trips since 2000 but does not include trips paid for by US or foreign governments, on military aircraft, or otherwise paid for by taxpayers, which are thought to raise that cost total much higher. It does include the 2012 naked fact-finding at a fancy Israeli beach resort.
Of course it is true that Finnish beaches can be a little chilly.