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In this issue:
Coke Bottle Quantum Physics
DOE/INFN Undergraduate Summer Exchange
SLAC Celebrity Gossip: Neil Young Spotted in Lab-designed Tee

SLAC Today

Thursday - April 9, 2009

Coke Bottle Quantum Physics

(Photo - James Cryan)
Graduate student James Cryan with his recyclable experimental setup. (Photo by Lauren Schenkman.)

Don't be fooled by the collection of empty soda bottles in James Cryan's office at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Cryan isn't a caffeine fiend—the cola bottles are for science. As a graduate student with the PULSE Institute for Ultrafast Energy Science, he is studying how nitrogen gas responds to stimulation by an optical laser, and he needed a container for the gas. Instead of ordering a cell and waiting for it to arrive, Cryan cast about for something close at hand—and happened upon one of the empty
Coke bottles on his desk.

"It only cost us a dollar, so it's probably one of the cheapest things in the lab," Cryan said. "Plus, we recycled."

Nitrogen is a diatomic molecule; in a stick-and-ball picture, it looks like a dumbbell. In a cloud of nitrogen, the sticks aren't aligned in any particular way. But when a short optical laser pulse blasts the gas, the nitrogen molecules snap to attention, parallel with the pulse's electric field. Afterward, the molecules keep spinning, but not randomly—in a little while they fall into alignment again. Nitrogen molecules are quantum mechanical objects; their angular momentum, a property related to their rotation, can take on only certain values. If some of the molecules rotate at a certain speed, others are rotating twice as fast, others three times as fast, and so on. As the rotation continues, there are "revivals" of alignment—the molecules line up again and again.  Read more and see video of Cryan's lab setup...

DOE/INFN Undergraduate Summer Exchange

Calling all undergraduates in at least their third year with backgrounds and interest in physics, engineering or computing studies, and the desire to combine research and travel! The Summer Exchange Program offers a marvelous opportunity to work directly with scientists in Italy and to absorb the rich culture there. The deadline for applications is April 27.

The exchange, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science and Italy's National Institute for Nuclear Physics, sends U.S. undergraduate students to Italy for eight to ten weeks to work with scientists on projects. Italian students have similar opportunities stateside. Potential research areas include particle physics, astro-particle physics, nuclear physics, theoretical physics, and detector physics.

Information about the Italian program may be found on the DOE/INFN Summer Exchange Program 2009 call for applications. Information about the DOE program at SLAC may be found on the SLAC/INFN Summer Exchange Program page. For additional information, contact Harvey Lynch (x3691).


SLAC Celebrity Gossip:
Neil Young Spotted in Lab-designed Tee

Neil Young wears a t-shirt designed by SLAC Graphic Designer Terry Anderson. (Images:

SLAC Graphic Designer Terry Anderson has seen his work grace the cover of research journals and popular science magazines, enrich presentations around the world, and adorn T-shirts worn by physics greats. But his work reached a very different audience last month when music legend Neil Young appeared in a Rolling Stone music video wearing a shirt designed by Anderson.

"The rewards from designing this shirt were unexpected," Anderson said with a laugh. "Usually I see my shirts around SLAC or occasionally on some random dude I don't know walking down the street. I always wonder what the story is behind how they got the shirt."

Originally designed for the 1995 Computing in High Energy Physics conference, the shirt design worn by Young shows a particle collision sandwiched between the words "The 2nd Big Bang" and "World Wide Web: Born from High Energy Physics." This conference came at a time when the Web was just taking off as a global phenomenon. Bebo White, one of the original SLAC Web Wizards and a speaker at the conference, give the shirt to Young as a gift in the late 1990s.

"I gave Neil a shirt because we had been brainstorming about the Web and I was going to his house for dinner," said White. "He also wore it about a year ago at a Sun Computer conference. You can only imagine how large his T-shirt collection must be, so it’s pretty cool that he likes this one." (See this video of Young at the computer conference.)

Anderson added: "I don't quite know why he has an attraction to it—but he sure seems to like it. Maybe it's because it's nerdy, goofy, and techy, all at the same time."

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