On Sunday March 29, Philip W. Anderson passed away. Anderson is doubtlessly one of the greatest condensed matter physicists who ever lived.
Anderson made foundational discoveries in localization, high-temperature superconductivity and antiferromagnetism. Indeed, his achievements stretch beyond condensed matter; his work on spontaneous symmetry breaking contributed to development of the Standard Model of particle physics. I’m sure many more competent people will eulogize him, but I wanted share one specific personal connection I have to his work.
I put together a collection of links and resources for how to stay safe and sane during the pandemic as a page on my website. I thought these were important to share, but I didn’t want to post them individually. I plan to update that page, so if you have suggestions for things to add, please let me know.
For the APS Congressional Visit Day last month, my team visited the DC office of Representative Jim Himes (D-CT-04) to advocate for a number of issues important to science (see previous post). One of our asks was for Rep. Himes to cosponsor the Keep STEM Talent Act. I just heard that Rep. Himes is now a cosponsor! Thanks so much to my CVD team, to Rep. Himes and to the staffer we met with, Jessica Hagens-Jordan!
In this week’s issue of Science they cover a new pilot program by NIH called FIRST that will fund ‘cluster hiring’, where a department hires 10 or more faculty in 1-2 years. The idea is that this will help cast a wider net and yield more junior faculty from underrepresented groups.
I can see how hiring in larger cohorts could make it easier to detect if there are biases, since have a cohort of 10 white men would set of alarm bells. Cluster hiring is unproven, but it’s promising and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what comes out of the pilot program.
Here’s the article (paywall): Science: NIH hopes ‘cluster hiring’ will improve diversity
APS Congressional Visit Day 2020
This week, I am in Washington DC for the APS Congressional Visit Day and Annual Leadership Meeting. We started on Wednesday with the Congressional Visit. APS broke us up into teams by region. I’m a Massachusetts voter, so I joined a team of people from Massachusetts and Connecticut. We had six meetings with the offices of Massachusetts Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Connecticut Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal along with House Representatives James Himes and Rosa DeLauro.
Last Friday, the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measures voted to replace “Le Grand K”, the 129 year old physical prototype of the kilogram, with a new measure based on physical constants. The new definition, which comes in to force next spring, is now fixed by defining the Plank constant as exactly 6.626 070 15 x 10-34 Joule seconds.
The kilogram was the last SI unit based on a physical prototype (which means that until next year, Le Grand K is, by definition, exactly one kilogram). Other prototypes, such as the physical meter, have been long since retired. This redefinition is a triumph of high-precision experimental physics. The problem with physical prototypes for units is that they can change. Le Grand K, for example, has been losing mass, to the tune of about 50 micrograms (5 parts in 100 million), possibly because the identical cylinders it is compared to have gotten dirty from being handled more often.
Farewell Le Grand K! Thank you for your service!
If you have three minutes every month to devote to keeping up with science policy, I highly recommend subscribing to APS’s Signal Boost. Signal Boost is a monthly video update about key developments in science policy. Among other things, they provide critical information on the budgeting process for science funding in the House and Senate along with how to contact your elected officials about each issue. Scientists are a small group, so we need to speak up to be heard.
This month: appropriations and a bill to fight harassment in STEM: