How the periodic table went from a sketch to an enduring masterpiece

150 years ago, Mendeleev perceived the relationships of the chemical elements

In Danish physicist Niels Bohr’s 1922 version of the periodic table, adapted from a table by Danish chemist Julius Thomsen, elements with similar properties occupy horizontal rows connected by lines. The empty box on the right marks the expected occurrence of a group of elements that are chemically similar to the rare earth elements (numbers 58–70) in the preceding column.

Every field of science has its favorite anniversary.
For physics, it’s Newton’s Principia of 1687, the book that introduced the laws of motion and gravity. Biology celebrates Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) along with his birthday (1809). Astronomy fans commemorate 1543, when Copernicus placed the sun at the center of the solar system.
And for chemistry, no cause for celebration surpasses the origin of the periodic table of the elements, created 150 years ago this March by the Russian chemist Dmitrii Ivanovich Mendeleev…

A crowd that flows like water

Dynamic response and hydrodynamics of polarized crowds
Nicolas Bain, Denis Bartolo
Modeling crowd motion is central to situations as diverse as risk prevention in mass events and visual effects rendering in the motion picture industry. The difficulty of performing quantitative measurements in model experiments has limited our ability to model pedestrian flows. We use tens of thousands of road-race participants in starting corrals to elucidate the flowing behavior of polarized crowds by probing its response to boundary motion. We establish that speed information propagates over system-spanning scales through polarized crowds, whereas orientational fluctuations are locally suppressed. Building on these observations, we lay out a hydrodynamic theory of polarized crowds and demonstrate its predictive power. We expect this description of human groups as active continua to provide quantitative guidelines for crowd management.


Two Notions of Naturalness

Porter Williams
My aim in this paper is twofold: (i) to distinguish two notions of naturalness employed in BSM physics and (ii) to argue that recognizing this distinction has methodological consequences. One notion of naturalness is an “autonomy of scales” requirement: it prohibits sensitive dependence of an effective field theory’s low-energy observables on precise specification of the theory’s description of cutoff-scale physics. I will argue that considerations from the general structure of effective field theory provide justification for the role this notion of naturalness has played in BSM model construction. A second, distinct notion construes naturalness as a statistical principle requiring that the values of the parameters in an effective field theory be “likely” given some appropriately chosen measure on some appropriately circumscribed space of models. I argue that these two notions are historically and conceptually related but are motivated by distinct theoretical considerations and admit of distinct kinds of solution.

NASA and the Search for Technosignatures

Technosignature axes of merit, illustrating some of the considerations that go into developing a good search strategy for technosignatures.

NASA Technosignatures Workshop Participants
This report is the product of the NASA Technosignatures Workshop held at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, in September 2018. This workshop was convened by NASA for the organization to learn more about the current field and state of the art of searches for technosignatures, and what role NASA might play in these searches in the future. The report, written by the workshop participants, summarizes the material presented at the workshop and incorporates additional inputs from the participants. Section 1 explains the scope and purpose of the document, provides general background about the search for technosignatures, and gives context for the rest of the report. Section 2 discusses which experiments have occurred, along with current limits on technosignatures. Section 3 addresses the current state of the technosignature field as well as the state-of-the-art for technosignature detection. Section 4 addresses near-term searches for technosignatures, and Section 5 discusses emerging and future opportunities in technosignature detection.


Noether’s Theorem and Symmetry

A.K. Halder, Andronikos Paliathanasis, P.G.L. Leach
In Noether’s original presentation of her celebrated theorm of 1918 allowance was made for the dependence of the coefficient functions of the differential operator which generated the infinitesimal transformation of the Action Integral upon the derivatives of the depenent variable(s), the so-called generalised, or dynamical, symmetries. A similar allowance is to be found in the variables of the boundary function, often termed a gauge function by those who have not read the original paper. This generality was lost after texts such as those of Courant and Hilbert or Lovelock and Rund confined attention to point transformations only. In recent decades this dimunition of the power of Noether’s Theorem has been partly countered, in particular in the review of Sarlet and Cantrijn. In this special issue we emphasise the generality of Noether’s Theorem in its original form and explore the applicability of even more general coefficient functions by alowing for nonlocal terms. We also look for the application of these more general symmetries to problems in which parameters or parametric functions have a more general dependence upon the independent variables

Black Hole as Extreme Particle Accelerator

Life of the jet set. This simulation follows along in a “co-moving” reference frame with a fixed set of particles as they are blasted out of an active galactic nucleus (AGN). The magnetic field lines they experience change as they move from a smoother region (left) to a region with a kink instability (right).  [Credit: E. P. Alves et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. (2018)]

Efficient Nonthermal Particle Acceleration by the Kink Instability in Relativistic Jets

E. Paulo Alves, Jonathan Zrake, Frederico Fiuza
Relativistic magnetized jets from active galaxies are among the most powerful cosmic accelerators, but their particle acceleration mechanisms remain a mystery. We present a new acceleration mechanism associated with the development of the helical kink instability in relativistic jets, which leads to the efficient conversion of the jet’s magnetic energy into nonthermal particles. Large-scale three-dimensional ab initio simulations reveal that the formation of highly tangled magnetic fields and a large-scale inductive electric field throughout the kink-unstable region promotes rapid energization of the particles. The energy distribution of the accelerated particles develops a well-defined power-law tail extending to the radiation-reaction limited energy in the case of leptons, and to the confinement energy of the jet in the case of ions. When applied to the conditions of well-studied bright knots in jets from active galaxies, this mechanism can account for the spectrum of synchrotron and inverse Compton radiating particles, and offers a viable means of accelerating ultra-high-energy cosmic rays to 1020 eV.

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Simulating quantum field theory with a quantum computer

John Preskill
Forthcoming exascale digital computers will further advance our knowledge of quantum chromodynamics, but formidable challenges will remain. In particular, Euclidean Monte Carlo methods are not well suited for studying real-time evolution in hadronic collisions, or the properties of hadronic matter at nonzero temperature and chemical potential. Digital computers may never be able to achieve accurate simulations of such phenomena in QCD and other strongly-coupled field theories; quantum computers will do so eventually, though I’m not sure when. Progress toward quantum simulation of quantum field theory will require the collaborative efforts of quantumists and field theorists, and though the physics payoff may still be far away, it’s worthwhile to get started now. Today’s research can hasten the arrival of a new era in which quantum simulation fuels rapid progress in fundamental physics.