Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Spin ice on prime time TV

In condensed matter one can see many analogues of phenomena in quantum field theory and elementary particle physics. There have been many fruitful illustrations of cross-fertilisation over the years: symmetry breaking, renormalisation, fractional quantum numbers, vortices, confinement by gauge fields, .....
This raises controversial questions about which is more fundamental? Afterall, if the Higgs boson is just the analogue of gauge symmetry breaking in superconductors, why spend all that money on the LHC...

Last week I watched a great episode of The Big Bang Theory, "The Vengeance Formulation" [Season 3, Episode 9]. It features some cool condensed matter physics. Sheldon, who is enamoured with string theory is interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR) for the show Science Friday.

Leonard: Are you really going to be on NPR?
Sheldon: Yes, they’re interviewing me by phone from my office, regarding the recent so-called discovery of magnetic monopoles in spin-ices. It’s pledge week and they’re trying to goose the ratings with a little controversy.

[Complete dialogue is here].

The Big Blog Theory gives a good summary of the science issues, suggesting Sheldon is having a go at two papers that appeared in Science at the same time as the episode was filmed. Michel Gringas wrote a Perspective piece on the two Science papers.

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