Archive for May, 2010


May 25, 2010

According to Douglas AdamsHitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the well-known answer to the Ultimate Question of Life the Universe and Everything. Adams described his choice as a completely ordinary number with no hidden meaning. Despite of this fact and just for fun, I tried to find occurrences of 42 in physics. A short list is given below inlcuding even a dimensionless quantity (4). Everyone is welcome to continue it.

(1) One femtosecond is about 42 atomic units of time.

(2) A ball rolling frictionless through a tunnel connecting two arbitrary locations on the earth’s (idealized as a sphere of homogeneous mass density) surface needs about 42 minutes for a single trip.

(3) The maximum deflection angle (red light) of the primary rainbow is about 42°.

(4) The ratio of the electrostatic and gravitational force between two electrons is 4.2 * 10^42.

… ?

P.S.: This is just for fun – I do not believe in any kind of numerology.


DAY 10 – Bye bye, shining coast …

May 20, 2010

Welcome wind and rain!

May 11/12 2010

The last day. The evening before, I asked at the guest house’s front desk about the time I may need to reach the airport. The predictable answer was “unpredictable”. To be on the safe side, I left one hour earlier than needed and – as expected – there was no traffic jam in Highway 405 (according to Murphy’s Law this would have only happened if I was late).  I dropped my vehicle at the car rental and arrived at the airport way ahead of time 🙂

Boarding and departure was on time and – as usual – I enjoyed to get a window seat (for some resaon it’s in most cases the southern side) . Over L.A. and the Mojave Desert the weather was clear and I had a nice view over the landscape. Unfortunately, I could not see Death Valley and Las Vegas since those locations were north of the flight route.

South L.A. and Long Beach.

Junction of Highways 405 and 105.

Mojave Desert: lava field at Rodman Mountains.

Mojave Desert: lava hills and sand.

Mojave Desert: Broadwell Dry Lake.

Lake Mojave (Colorado River) between Nevada and Arizona.

Next was the Colorado Plateau with one of the most dramatic examples of erosion on our planet: the Grand Canyon (here it got a little cloudy). I just love canyons  – as you might have already noticed in my blog about Day 5 – and I live at a little tiny one in Germany (the Lahn Valley).

Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon colours.

Details of Grand Canyon with Colorado River.

Snow on the Colorado Plateau.

Erosion at work: branch of the Grand Canyon.

East of the Colorado Plateau stretches the Painted Desert, Arizona. High winds were present further to the east over Chinle Creek causing a “pink dust storm”. Deposited dust was visible one the snow caps of San Juan Mountains. The dust is known to cause accelerated snow melt. Another dust storm was active over the San Luis Valley, Colorado. Finally, we rached the Sagre de Christo subrange of the Rocky Mountains with a nice lenticular cloud over it. The next long part over the plains was cloudy and boring and the flight got increasingly bumpy as we approached the Great Lakes region – in particular during the descent to Detroit where the stratiform rain was convectively enhanced in places.

Western rim of Painted Desert, Arizona.

Dusty conditions over Chinle Creek, Arizona.

Dusty snow on the San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Another dust storm: San Luis Valley, Colorado.

Altocumulus lenticularis over Sagre de Christo Mountains, Colorado.

Since we landed into Detroit ahead of time, I enjoyed watching the laminar-flow fountain just next to the gate where my flight to Frankfurt was going to depart. McNamara Terminal Concourse A at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport  is the world’s second-longest airport terminal building (1.6 km) with 78 gates and an automated people mover system (Express Tram).

1.6-km-long terminal building: Concourse A at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.

Laminar-flow fountain at Detroit Airport with the aircraft to Frankfurt in the background.

Laminar-flow fountain and Express Tram at Detroit airport.

Next day, I arrived (with some delay) in Frankfurt – tired as usual since the noise inside an aircraft hardly allows me to sleep. Fortunately, the Thursday May 12 was a holiday in Germany which gave me some time to get rid of the jet lag. I don’t like to comment on the weather in Germany – at least it was not raining when I arrived (11°C).

DAY 9 – A day at UCLA

May 19, 2010

Severe storms, neutrinos and the Big Bang

May 10 2010

My last day in L.A. before leaving for Germany was dedicated to science at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In the morning, I met a meteorology professor at the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences who works on modelling of mesoscale systems like thunderstorms, squall lines or hurricanes. We discussed a variety of local severe weather phenomena (hail, heavy rain, wind gusts and tornadoes) and I learned a lot new stuff about the influence of topography and cloud microphysics on storm dynamics. I also got the opportunity to talk about my work at the European Severe Storm Laboratory (ESSL) and presented some data about recent and historic tornado events in France, Germany and Poland.

After having lunch at a the UCLA Faculty Center I walked around over the campus and took some pictures of nice architecture. The original buildings in Italian Romanesque Revival style are in fact the defining image of the university.

Royce Hall: main university building, completed 1929.

Powell Library: main college undergraduate library, completed 1929.

Janss Steps: original 87-step entrance to the university.

In the afternoon I had a meeting with Prof. David Saltzberg from the Department of Physics and Astronomy who is doing research in particle and astroparticle physics. He is also known for is work as  scientific advisor of the TV comedy show “The Big Bang Theory“. I learned more about his current ultra-high energy neutrino research in Antarctica (ANITA project) and had a nice conservation with him about his work for the show. Prof. Saltzberg writes regularly  “The Big Blog Theory” on WordPress discussing science behind each Big Bang Theory episode.

UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy: Physics & Astronomy Building (in front) and Knudsen Hall (behind).

Inverted Fountain in front of Knudsen Hall.

Einstein's most famous equation on the facade of Kinsey Teaching Pavilion.

For dinner I went to the “101 Coffee Shop” in Hollywood and enjoyed a (highly recommended) “50/50 Shake” and a cheeseburger.

DAY 8 – Meet the stars

May 14, 2010

Above the City of Angels

May 9 2010

Los Angeles was founded in 1781 by Spanish governor Felipe de Neve as El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Ángeles (The The Village of Queen of the Angels). The new Chathedral of our Lady of the Angels relates by its dedication to these roots of the City. It was completed in 2002 and was replaced (at a different location) former smaller Cathedral of Saint Vibiana which was demolished in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. I went for Sunday Mass to the new Cathedral located in Downtown next to Highway 101. The choir was singing well and the new Dobson Organ has a mighty full sound which fits perfectly into that post-modern impressive building – one of the most beautiful modern churches I have ever seen.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels: nave looking west towards baptistery.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels: altar, choir tribune and organ.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels: movable console of the Dobson Organ.

In the afternoon I first visited a friend from my hometown Villmar (Germany) who is now a sound designer in L.A. and works for the film and TV industry. Following his suggestions I wenn then to the vista point above Lake Hollywood Reservoir (with the best view of the Hollywood Sign) and of course to Griffith Observatory in the homonymous Park which was already on my list of places to visit. I have a special relation to Planetariums since I grew up in the city of Bochum which got 1964 the first post-war large planetarium in Germany. From 1983 to 1986 I gave there talks for the youth. I was 13 when I gave the first official presentation – how fast time goes by…

Hollywood Sign seen from a vista point above Lake Hollywood Reservoir.

Looking from Canyon Lake Dr. over Lake Hollywood Reservoir into “The Valley”.

After enjoying the outstanding view over L.A. I attended the show Centered in the Universe in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium Theater at Griffith and it was – to my surprise – presented live (as in my old times in Bochum) instead of using tapes as most planetariums do nowadays. Somehow the show appeared to me a little too perfect and later I found out that it is actually presented by actors as a narrator instead of scientists , an instance which was controversially debated.

Griffith Observartory with Samuel Oschin Planetarium.

View from Griffith Observatory over the widespread City of Los Angeles with Los Feliz on the foreground and downtown skyscrapers to the right.

Griffith Observatory (built 1933-35) is a prominent landmark over the City of Angels with surely the most impressive view on it. It also appered in a number of movies – most well-known are the scenes in the James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause; a bust of James Dean is placed at the west side of the grounds. It seems a little geeky that I liked that particular movie mainly because of the planetarium scenes.

View from Griffith Observatory towards Mount Lee with the Hollywodd sign. The James Dean bust is seen on the left.

Griffith Obseravatory enthroned above the City of Angels.

After the visit I went for dinner to the highly recommended Umami Burger restaurant at Hollywood Blvd. and had a really tasty Umami Burger (the house mark).

DAY 7 – On the road

May 12, 2010

Heading south on America’s most scenic highway

May 8 2010

According to Genesis 1 the seventh day should be for recreation. Thus, I decided to travel from Stanford to my next destination Los Angeles along one of the most scenic coastlines you can find in creation (to avoid confusion: I am not a creationist); on Highway 1. I highly recommend this route (if you have enough time – it took me about 9 ½ hours including short breaks, mostly for taking photos). I also recommend to travel south since then you have the most scenic views to the right and it is easier to stop at the numerous vista points which are mostly located on the coast side of the road (and started to appreciate navigation systems – more and more during the following days in L.A.).

Ready to start.

I started at 8:00 in the morning at the Stanford Guest House. After about 1 ½ hours on Interstate 280, State Route 85 and US Route 101 via through the Santa Clara Valley and then over the mountain ridge on State Route 156 I reached State Route 1 north of the Monterey Peninsula. Here, the scenery is quite flat with wide plains – but this should change soon. In Monterey you have the choice to use the 17-Mile Drive around the peninsula but I decided to skip this since I did not want to support a gated community with a 9.25 $ entrance fee. The next town, Carmel-by-the-Sea, is known to be the residence of Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff. Kappelhoff? OK – she’s better known as Doris Day. South of Carmel I stopped for the first time to take some photos of the Carmel Bay and the Monterey Peninsula. Next stop was Carmel Highlands where – see the picturesque rocks and cypress trees.

Carmel Bay and Monterey Peninsula.

Carmel Highlands: rocks and cypress trees.

Next two stops were Rocky Creek Bridge and a vista point a little south of Bixby Creek Bridge (both built 1932) – surely one of the most photographed views at Highway 1. Looking south one can see Point Sur – a potato-shaped rock with a famous lighthouse on it (which is still in operation). Not far south of Point Sur the road detaches from the coastline and goes across the mountainous heart of Big Sur with impressive sequoia trees. Where the road revisits the coastline I noticed a temperature inversion over the rather cool sea marked by thin mist layers.

Coastline at Rocky Creek Bridge.

Big Sur: coastline with Bixby Creek Bridge looking north.

Big Sur: sequoias and sea mist (looking south).

At the next vista points Borodna Ridge and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park the road comes very close to the cliff and I enjoyed the scenery very much on this beautiful sunny day. Further south the coastline becomes less rocky and a nice hilly terrain starts to spread out between the mountains of Santa Lucia Range and the sea. This region is known for its large population of elephant seals.

Flowers, Rocks and Water at Boronda Ridge.

Coastline at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park looking south.

Elephant seals near San Simeon.

On top of one of the hills the towers of a prominent building catches the eyes of every visitor: Hearst Castle – the eclectic residence of an eccentric media tycoon and art collector, William Randolph Hearst. I stopped at the visitor center for a short break and purchased a brochure about this unique estate; for a guided tour I did not have enough time (maybe next time).

Hearst Castle Visitor Center.

But still many miles to go on. Near St Louis Obispo State Route 1 merges with US Route 101 and leaves the coast for a while reaching it again at Avila Beach. Santa MariaSanta Barbara – here the Channel Islands came into view. Ventura – then US Route 101 goes again across some hills and enters the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. A last ridge (Santa Monica Mountians) to overcome on Interstate 405 and I finally reached my destination, the UCLA Guest House. Nice welcome, parking next to the house, and after a short rest and telling a friend who lives in LA that I safely arrived I took the car to drive on Sunset Boulevard via Beverly Hills and Hollywood to Los Feliz and back (just on time during sunset) in order to get a first impression of this impressive City.

Destination: UCLA Guest House, Los Angeles.

DAY 6 – CAMPing at world’s most brilliant light source

May 10, 2010

Exploring a terra incognita

May 7 2010

Free Electron Lasers (FEL) produce ultra-intense and ultra-short pulses of UV or X-ray light. In terms of brilliance – which is a measure how intense, well focused and how low the energy spread of the pulsed laser beam is – the new FELs exceed existing sources like synchrotrons by a factor of up to one billion. “New tools create new science” is the motto of the Linear Coherent Light Source (LCLS) for X-rays at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). Another FEL for UV light (FLASH) is operational since 2005 at DESY in Hamburg. The next generation there (X-FEL) is under construction.

A few words about the principle of a free electron laser: A bunch of high-energy electrons from an accelerator travelling almost with the speed of light enters a structure of alternating magnetic fields – a so-called undulator. The wiggling electrons change periodically their velocity direction and form an accelerated charge which – according to the laws of electrodynamics – emits electromagnetic waves, i.e. light. Due to the relativistic speed of the electrons, the radiation is transformed into UV or X-ray light. Furthermore, the electron bunch becomes micro-structured on the wavelength of the radiation. This effect, called “Self-Amplified Spontaneous Emission” (SASE) leads to a coherent amplification of the light intensity which scales with the number of electrons squared.

Principle of an FEL with SASE.

Exploring the “terra incognita” asks for advanced detection instrumentation. One example is the newly developed CFEL ASG Multi-Purpose Chamber CAMP – designed and built by the Advanced Study Group (ASG) of the Max Planck Society at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL). It combines a spectrometer for charged particles (electrons, ions) with world’s largest X-ray CCD chips developed by the Max Planck Semiconductor Laboratory. Pioneering first studies started in November/December 2009. Currently 8 new experiments are under way using the new apparatus. I wish all the participating scientists a successful campaign!

CAMP apparatus in operation at LCLS (Stanford).

And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

DAY 5 – Go West!

May 8, 2010

Across the ridges

May 6 2010

Shuttle brought me on time back to KCI Airport where United Airlines direct flight 6766 to San Francisco departed around 9 am. From the gate I could see clouds coming up. Obviously, some instability built up at higher levels with Castellanus structures soon freezing out into virga bands.

US 6766 to San Francisco at the gate of KCI Airport.

Castellanus clouds freezing out into virgae.

Below, the atmosphere was more stable with annoying layers of stratocumulus which blocked the sight onto the ground during the flight over eastern and middle Kansas. There were a few weak turbulences and occasionally the safety belt sign was seen activated. Further to the west it was clearing up and one could see the endless plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado with eye-catching areas of center pivot irrigation.

Squaremile chessboard in eastern Kansas.

Center pivot irrigation patterns in western Kansas.

Soon we reached the mountain ridge of the Rockies and except some isolated convection and scattered cirrostratus fields one could enjoy the view over the snowy peaks and further west the various fascinating shape of the Canyonlands in Utah.

Front Range of the Rocky Mountains with Pikes Peak (4.301 m) near Colorado Springs.

Castle Valley, Utah.

Bowknot Bend, Green River, Utah.

The desert highlands of Nevada with salt marshes and isolated pivot irrigation are westerly bounded by the Sierra Nevada behind which the San Joaquin Valley spreads as the southern part of California’s Central Valley – one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions.

Salt marshes south of Tonopah, Nevada.

Sierra Nevada: California is in sight.

San Joaquin Valley - an enormous fruit and vegetable garden.

Due to head winds we landed a little behind schedule in San Francisco Int’l Airport, where I took the AirTrain (CX-100, same automated people mover system as in Frankfurt Airport) to the Rental Car Center: here I had free choice among several compact cars – I took a Kia Spectra (for convenience – and of course, a physicist likes spectra :-).

Via Interstate 280 – “Bay Area’s Most Beautiful Freeway“ – running just inside the eastern rim of the canyon of the San Andreas Fault with a scenic view over the San Andreas Lake (the beauty of the landscape cannot hide the fact, that underground we have one of the most dramatic geologic motions on this planet) I finally reached my destination: the Stanford Guest House located on the Campus of SLAC and LCLS.

Destination: Stanford Guest House on SLAC/LCLS campus.

During the afternoon I met colleagues and other scientists at the experimental hall of LCLS where a new experimental campaign is currently under way. For Dinner, they recommended a Mexican Restaurant at a shopping center “two blocks away“ – they were right 🙂

And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

DAY 4 – Seminar Day

May 7, 2010

Just another talk

May 5 2010

Physics keeps me busy – polishing my talk for the AMO (atomic, molecular and optical) physics seminar and discussing again with a student of my host about theoretical model calculations. After lunch I gave the seminar talk in a strange seminar room which is almost three times wider than long (actually two rooms are combined by removing a foldable wall). Because of this one has two projection screens and, thus, I had to use the computer mouse as a pointer which turned out to be a little tricky. The seminar went fine and afterwards I met the head of the JRM Laboratory and learned about interesting ongoing and future experiments there. Then I took part in my host’s group meeting where the students presented their posters and talks to be shown on upcoming conferences and soon it was late afternoon and time to catch the Roadrunner to Kansas City Airport. I decided to stay overnight at the Econo Logde at KCI in order to get the flight on the next day less stressful. Free courtesy shuttle brought me from the terminal to the Hotel and after watching TV news I fell asleep soon.

On the road towards KCI: Interstate 70

And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

DAY 3 – Draw the stops …

May 6, 2010

… pro organo pleno!

May 4 2010

As a tradition, the colloquium’s speaker should be available for the faculty members for discussions. On morning of May 4 I had two meetings – one with a theorist the other with an experimentalist: fruitful and inspiring exchange. Before lunch I met Prof. Mary Ellen Sutton at the Department of Music. She is a professor for organ at the Music Department and is actually going to retire this month. I met her first during my fellowship at KSU in 2002. Hearing somebody playing the organ at All Faiths Chapel Auditorium attracted my attention and I went in. Prof. Sutton was just finished preparing the registrations for a concert and I dared to ask her about the instrument (Austin, 1961) which she called an “american eclectic”. It turned out that she is a fan of Klais organs (famous German organ manufacturer) and I told her about the Klais organ of my home town’s church in Villmar. Later, she gave me the opportunity to give a small farewell recital together with a friend (playing the violin) and my co-worker (playing the piano) at All Faiths Chapel before I left in 2003.


KSU Department of Music with McCain Auditorium

In the afternoon I got the opportunity to have a look at the Austin Organ at All Faiths which has been renovated in 2007. It is considered one of the finest in the Midwest and comprises 46 stops on three manuals (two of them enclosed in a swell box) and pedal. The renovation preserved it’s sound character – just a couple of stops were added (including a digital 32’ stop in the pedal division) and the console has been technically upgraded. Playing the instrument, I noticed that the electro-pneumatic action works now much more precisely with less delay (which drove me a little crazy when I first practiced in 2002) and enjoyed its rich and beautiful sound.


The renovated Austin Organ of All Faiths Chapel Auditorium at Kansas State University


Me playing the organ of All Faiths Chapel at Kansas State University

For the evening a dinner was scheduled at the traditional Little Apple Brewery with Prof. Sutton and three professors from the Physics Department – nice discussions about music, physics and wine 🙂 After the dinner we had a reception at my host’s place with a couple of old friends which was appreciated a lot.

And the evening and the morning were the third day.

DAY 2 – Colloquium Day

May 6, 2010

Minimal music meets molecular motion

May 3 2010

Jet lag made a morning person out of me (which I certainly not am). Woke up at 6:00 (after refreshing 8 hours sleep) – ready for my first day of this visit at KSU. Campus looked familiar but changed a little. There’s a new parking garage and the former spherical street lights along the sideways have been replaced by new LED downlights. I liked to see this contribution against light pollution (which was heavy with the old ones) and the historism style of the new lamps fits much better to the campus architecture. Traces of the 2008 June 11 tornado damage were hardly visible, e. g. new still shiny aluminium sheets at the roof of Cardwell Hall, the host of the Mathematics and Physics Department.

K-State Student Union

KSU Campus with Hale Library

The time schedule of the first day was tight – saying hello to old friends and colleagues, discussion physics, lunch at KSU Student Union (where my favourite Market Carvery still offers decent traditional food), last fine-polishing of the colloquium talk, checking the presentation works (was worried about the sound files and unexpected laptop-projector interactions). The talk went reasonable and I got the impression that the audience liked it. At the end – after discussing briefly molecular chords – I presented a unique performance of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase (which I found on Youtube) as an example of composed quantum beats.

Colloquium title slide

Dinner at (newly opened) Della Voce restaurant in downtown Manhattan, KS – liked the Italian food but the chocolate crème brulée which I had for desert was more like a chocolate mousse.

And the evening and the morning were the second day.