Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Visiting Stockholm in the Kingdom of Sweden

The Golden Room in The City Hall
In the first week of July,  I went to the 13th Marcel Grossman meeting in Stockholm. I presented a short seminar on the "Physics of the Far Future" and I will have to submit a conference proceeding about it by February. Initially, I wanted to go alone, but in the end I decided to take the children and my mother. Of course, Mihai and Andy came to attend the meeting. So, everyone was there and we had a reasonably good time. Traveling is a nice way to learn new things, but somehow I always feel relieved and happy to be back home and for the next two years home is in Switzerland.

First impression of Stockholm 
The Blue Room
Stockholm in July is warm and very beautiful. The Kingdom of Sweden is a rocky country with many lakes, and trees, and lovely parks. The average height in Sweden in 1.82 meters for men. I am 1.78 meters and female and Sweden is the only country I have visited where I did not feel too tall. We visited the Skansen museum, the Stockholm's City Hall, the university where the meeting was, and some parks around the hotel. Skansen is a famous Swedish open air museum with a nice zoo and many traditional old houses, which give a glimpse of Sweden before electricity and industrialization.

The City Hall
The Nobel Prize ceremony is held in the Blue Room of the City Hall in December every year. This is where the reception for our conference was held as well. The room is not blue. The architect changed his mind when he saw the beautiful red brick walls of the Blue Hall and decided against painting them blue. After the reception, we visited the Golden Hall (see picture), which is another room in this beautiful building. The golden part of the name comes from the 18 million pieces of gold mosaic and glass covering its walls.  The mosaic figures on the walls looked like the painted walls in cathedrals to me. However, they do not have much to do with religion. They represent important events in Sweden and in the world.

Familiar with dynamite?
On our way to the meeting we were told that we have two minutes to pass on fairly long stretch of road before 'the blast'. We hurried and made it in the two minutes, and than we heard THE BOOM. There was a siren that was announcing the blast as well. It turns out that dynamite is used frequently in Sweden due to the rocky nature of the soil, and we just happened to be along when they had to blow up something. This placidity toward dynamite shocked me a little, which shows I am not of Swedish ancestry. It shocked Andy, too, and he is a quarter Swedish.
An old bike at the Skansen Museum
The Reindeer

The Big Cats and their litter
The snake - this fake animal is what the kids loved most

Sleeping upright?
I learned that beds were really short in the 18th century because people would sleep sitting up tied with some kind of leather belts; they did have some pillows to lean on.  Retrospectively, while it still is surprising, it makes some sense. The reason for this apparent self-imposed torture is that they were afraid of dying in their sleep. It is strange that I have never seen this type of sleeping in a movie yet; in fact I have never heard of humans sleeping in upright or sitting positions all the time and out of choice before this visit to the Skansen museum. It seems that due to the various diseases for which there was little medicine, it was easier to breathe sitting or standing than lying down, which is true if one's lungs are filled with fluid. My 0th order guess is that people must have felt more comfortable this way when they were sick, and that they were sick for so long that they became used to this sleeping position.

Conclusion: in the light of the habits of our ancestors, planes, buses and trains are a natural places to sleep. Oh... and one could say the same about lecture halls and meeting rooms, which explains a lot.

The Discovery of the Higgs announced on the 4th of July
Peter Higgs was invited to CERN after the discovery of the Higgs boson was officially announced. The Higgs boson gives mass to all other particles when it interacts with them, and is a crucial pillar of the Standard Model, which describes electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear interactions among subatomic particles. Note that even though most people think only of Peter Higgs when they mention the Higgs boson and the Higgs mechanism, the seminal papers of 1964 that described how particles could acquire mass were written by six people: Robert Brout and François Englert, Peter Higgs, and Gerald Guralnik, C. Richard Hagen, and Tom Kibble; Higgs was the only one who was the sole author on his paper and had the name that became associated with this new particle. These six scientists received the Sakurai Prize in 2010, and some of them will receive the Nobel prize in the next few years once it is confirmed that this particle is truly the Higgs boson. 

Some of the first seminars about the Higgs boson were at the Marcel Grossman meeting.  The mass of this new particle is about 125-127 GeV (133 times the mass of the proton). The two experiments at CERN: ATLAS and CMS reported slightly different masses with CMS announcing a mass of 125.3 ± 0.6 GeV and ATLAS a mass of ~ 126.5 GeV both with a 5 sigma significance. The corresponding percentage for 5 sigma is 99.9994, which means that pure statistical fluctuations will give a result in the 5-sigma range 0.0006 percent of the time. So, scientists are sure they have found a new particle, but there are still 10+ years of work ahead of the Large Hadron Colider at CERN. They will continue to study the Higgs and its channels of interactions over the next few years to understand which version of the Standard Model is true. A Higgs found with this mass does not rule out supersymmetry. The hope is that the Higgs is not part of a "vanilla Standard Model" and that exciting new physics is very near.

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