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In this issue:
Exhibition Opening: Lylie Fisher
Science Today: Computer Simulations of Gamma-Ray Bursts
GLAST Mission Operations Center Makes Contact
Registration Now Open for Spring Continuing Studies Courses

SLAC Today

Thursday - March 1, 2007

In Search of Meaning #6

Exhibition Opening: Lylie Fisher

Please join artist Lylie Fisher as she unveils her series of physics-themed paintings titled "In Search of Meaning" this evening at 5 p.m. on the second floor of the Research Office Building (Bldg. 48).

Fisher's collection visits the lab more than 40 years after SLAC conducted the bubble chamber experiments that inspired her artwork.

"My work is an investigation of the nature of life and spiritual reflection, which echoes fundamental questions of particle physics research," said Fisher, who is based in Alameda, California. "This project honors the work of particle physicists, while elevating abstract notions of creation."

Bubble chambers are filled with superheated, pressurized liquid; particles passing through them leave a bubbly trail that can be captured on camera. To create her paintings, Fisher enlarged copies of experimental photos to several feet across and added varnishes, layers of resins, and bold pigments to capture the bubbling subatomic particle trajectories. She sees the project as a unification of art and science.

"Science is the voice of the rational mind, and art is the reverberation of questioning," she said. "For me, depth of color represents the intellectual and emotional space we inhabit."

After the show at SLAC, Fisher's collection will embark on a tour of national and international museums, galleries and laboratories. Visit Fisher's website for more information.

(Daily Column - Science Today)

Computer Simulations
of Gamma-Ray Bursts

General relativistic magnetohydrodynamics simulation of an accretion disk around a Kerr black hole.

Recently, a team of KIPAC researchers led by Roger Blandford was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to study gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and supernovae through computer simulations. The project is part of the Computational Astrophysics Consortium which involves five universities and three national laboratories.

Gamma-ray bursts are one of the greatest challenges in modern astronomy. Thanks to the recent progress in GRB observations, there is strong evidence that a prolonged GRB is the birth cry of a black hole created in the death of a massive star.

The physics of GRBs is so complicated that computer simulations will be crucial in unraveling the mystery. Many branches of physics come into play in GRBs. Graduate student Peng Wang and I are developing a computer code that incorporates general relativity, magnetohydrodynamics, neutrino physics and nuclear physics to study the central engine of GRBs by simulating accretion disks in Kerr black hole spacetime. The material in these disks is being pulled toward the black hole due to the magneto-rotational instability (see above image).

Our computer code will be run on some of the world's fastest supercomputers to study GRBs and the death of massive stars. According to the "collapsar" model, a rotating massive star will collapse to a black hole after it burns out all its nuclear fuel. Ultra-relativistic jets are made due to the Blandford-Znajek process. The jets will eventually make extremely bright flashes of gamma-rays that can be observed even if they are billions of light-years away. Comparing our simulations with observational results from the Swift satellite and the upcoming GLAST satellite will help us better understand GRBs and black holes.

GLAST Mission Operations Center Makes Contact

The Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) program achieved an operations milestone on February 25th. In a communications test with the GLAST observatory, the Mission Operations Center took control of the Large Area Telescope (LAT) instrument onboard the observatory for the first time. Staff in the LAT Instrument Science Operations Center (ISOC) at SLAC monitored the LAT operations in real-time.

The LAT instrument is still on the ground in Arizona, being prepared for flight late this year. The GLAST Mission Operations Center, located at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, sent simple LAT commands to the instrument using flight-like radio-frequency communication. The LAT successfully executed the commands.

"Many thanks to all the people in the LAT Integration & Test team, the ISOC and NASA who made this mini end-to-end test a success," said ISOC manager Rob Cameron.

Registration Now Open for Spring Continuing Studies Courses

Registration for spring quarter courses offered by Continuing Studies is now open, and continues through April 4. There are more than 100 courses to choose from, ranging from the liberal arts, foreign languages and studio art to business, personal development and communication. In addition, Continuing Studies is sponsoring 10 free public events in the fields of astronomy, archaeology, music, computer science and photography.

This spring there are dozens of new courses to choose from: an archaeology course on Hannibal, an architecture survey from the ancient world to the Baroque, a studio workshop in sports photography, a course on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, literature courses on William Blake and Philip Roth, a music course on Bach's partitas and a technology course on the future of the Internet.

SLAC employees who work at least half time may use Staff Training Assistance Program (STAP) funds to pay for tuition and registration fees. All courses and programs are open to the public. Click here to register online.

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