Emeritus Faculty Association #124 May 2007
Provost's Annual Luncheon, 12.00 noon, Friday, May 4th, Student Activities Center, Ballroom B. Spouses or significant others are welcome. Be sure to RSVP to Ann Ozelis (632-7012, email@example.com) by April 20.
Our guest speaker for the luncheon will be Roger Rosenblatt, Professor of English. His subject wil be "Reflections of a late bloomer, or it's never too late to fail"
Prof Rosenblatt received his PhD. from Harvard in 1968. He is the author of the following books: Lapham Rising (Ecco/Harper Collins: 2006), Anything Can Happen (Harcourt: 2003), Rules for Aging (Harcourt: 2000), Consuming Desires (ed./introduction; Island Press: 1999), Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969 (Little, Brown: 1997), Children of War (Anchor/Doubleday 1983), and Black Fiction (Harvard UP: 1974). Some of the honors and awards he has received are: Fulbright Scholarship, George Polk Award (twice), George Foster Peabody Award (twice), The Emmy, and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize (for Children of War)
Several members gave brief eulogies for the four recently deceased emeriti. For more details and links to the obituaries see last month's newsletter by clicking on news-archive.
UUP retiree delegate Judy Wishnia gave a brief update on budget negotiations. These had succeeded in adding another 18M so that the governor's final budget increase for SUNY came to 160M. SUNY non-tenure track faculty are now a majority, 60%, up from 3% just 16 years ago. New contract negotiations would be addressing this as well as medical plan co-pays.
Bob DeZafra then introduced our speaker, Prof Kenneth Lanzetta of Physics and Astronony, saying that the perception of our members that time was passing more quickly might also be physically true.
Ken started by saying that the last few years could be thought of as auguring in a new golden age of cosmology featuring measurements of unprecedented accuracy. First he gave a little background. It had long been known that there was a type of giant star called a Cepheid which pulsated at a rate proportional to its luminosity. In 1925 Edwin Hubble discovered Cepheid variables that he showed must be in other galaxies outside our own. The luminosity could be used to estimate distance, while the cosmological redshift of the light could be used to estimate velocity away from us. (Light coming to us from a source moving away at high velocity has its wavelenth increased, analogous to the whistle of a passing train). He then plotted data from 46 external galaxies to create his famous law, that the velocity and distance are proportional. The gradient of this graph was called the Hubble constant, and was originally measured by him as 500 km/sec/Megaparsec. (A parsec is the distance to a star at which the maximal distance between the Sun and Earth subtends an angle of one second of arc, ie: about 19 trillion miles). The expansion could be projected backwards to an origin at a single point, called the "big bang", and thus estimate the age of the universe. This picture was consistent with the model of an expanding universe permitted by Einstein's general relativity theory of 1917. Einstein however had put in a fudge factor called the cosmological constant in order to cancel out the expansion, which he thought not possible. Later, on hearing of Hubble's result, he famously said that it was the biggest mistake of his life. We now know that Hubble's original estimate of the age was less than the Earth's oldest rocks. The figure has been successively revised upwards, after more accurate measurements from the Hubble space telescope, and after measurements on supernovae proved that the expansion has been accelerating. It is ironic that this acceleration has now led to the rehabilitation of the Einstein cosmological constant, which has the role of a "dark energy" that is pushing outwards against gravity. Other complications followed. Rotational motion of galaxies implies that there is a lot of extra, non-luminescent "dark matter", stuff different from regular atoms, which must surround each galactic disk in a spherical halo. It is also theorized that very soon after the big bang, there was a period of extra-rapid expansion called inflation, in which an extremely large number of universes condensed out.
Ken broke his discourse at this point to give a couple of analogies. If we throw a baseball up, its motion as governed by Newton's equations portrays a struggle between the original upward momentum and the downwards gravitational force. In terms of the equivalent energy E, if this is negative (the second term exceeds the first), then the ball eventually returns. But if E were positive, then the ball would keep on going up. And if E were zero, then the ball would eventually reach zero speed and stay there. The expansion of the universe is governed by a similar kind of equation in a struggle between the expansion and the gravity of the aggregate mass.
There is also the related question of the geometry of the universe, considered in three spatial dimensions. According to general relativity this could have positive or negative curvature, or be flat. To envisage this, most ordinary mortals resort to the analogy in two dimensions. In a flat two dimensional geometry (a plane, or a cylindrical surface, or a torus surface), the interior angles of a triangle sum to 180 degrees. If positive (the surface of a sphere) they sum to more. If negative (saddle) they sum to less. To find out if the three dimensional space of our universe is curved we would need an observer on each of two other galaxies to help us measure the angles. Such kind of information is now being obtained after the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB).
The CMB is the redshifted remnant of the big bang fireball itself, seen when the universe was a mere 380,000 years old, and has tiny wavelike disturbances in it. The most recent and accurate data is being obtained from the Wilkinson microwave anistropy probe (WMAP) spacecraft. This hovers about 1 million miles from Earth, at four times the distance of the Moon. It is a point of gravitational stability between the Earth and Sun, and is going around the Sun in synch with Earth's orbit. In this way WMAP has an unobstructed view of the sky, free of interfering magnetic fields and microwave transmissions, with the Sun, Earth and Moon always to its back. For the last three years WMAP has provided pictures of the CMB and measurements of many cosmological parameters to a much higher precision than any previous instruments. I cannot include all of Ken's lovely pictures here but you can see some of them at http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/m_mm.html
I found Prof Lanzetta's explication of all these complex questions excellent and on a level with a number of books for the layman in recent years, from Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, Lisa Randall, to Leonard Susskind. The trouble I have though, even after looking at some of the original papers, being that most of the many equations are not accessible to me, I end up having to take their word for it. Thus the WMAP data allegedly shows that:
The age of the universe is 13.7 billion ± 200 million years, or about three times that of the Earth's oldest rocks.
The universe is composed of 4% matter, 22% dark matter, and 74% dark energy. (recall from special relativity that energy and mass are different forms of the same thing)
The Hubble constant is 70 (km/s)/Mpc, +2.4/-3.2.
The geometry of the observable universe does not deviate measurably from flat.
Cosmic inflation in the first trillionth of a second after the big bang has been confirmed.
But as to exactly how it proves all of this, dear reader, I am afraid I cannot tell you.
From our foreign correspondent: In the February newsletter (number 121), we reported that Yassin El-Ayouty (Emeritus, Political Science) was dispatched by the U.N. Security Council to appraise the situation in Darfur. Now we have received his follow-up report:
"By the end of February, I returned from Darfur following two-months' investigation of the legal and judicial system in that region of Sudan, on behalf of the U.N. Security Council. Upon completing my report, at the request of the Associated Press, I traveled to Iraq in early March as a member of a two-person defense team. The mission: to weigh the credibility of the allegations leveled by the U.S. military against an AP photo-journalist, an Iraqi, who had won a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for relaying to the world images of the effects of the war and the rebellion on the life and people of Iraq. Over a period of four days with him (our client) at his U.S. military detention facility, and our investigation of two weeks in Baghdad, led us to one inexorable conclusion: the war in Iraq has a less visible side effect: a little war on journalists, and no end in sight for either war. Thus our Pulitzer winner sits in jail, neither properly charged after one year of detention, nor released, manifesting a glaring absence of due process."
Identity theft - defenses for seniors
Stay safe (physically and financially)!