The Physics Story of the Year
The physics story of the year 2006 was, we believe, the new high precision (0.76 parts per trillion uncertainty) measurement of the electron’s magnetic moment by Gerald Gabrielse and his colleagues at Harvard University. Then in a second paper the same experimenters used the new moment in tandem with a fresh formulation of quantum electrodynamics (QED) provided by theoretical colleagues to formulate a new value for the fine structure constant (denoted by the letter alpha), the pivotal parameter which sets the overall strength of the electromagnetic force. The new value has an uncertainty of 0.7 parts per billion, the first major revision of alpha in 20 years. A comparison between this new value and values determined by other methods provides the best test yet of quantum electrodynamics (QED).
OK, that one didn't get much play in the general press, but some additional physics stories did achieve more prominence. Here are some of my favorites, with links to additional information:
- The observation of many more supernovas at redshifts of 1, thus establishing the idea that dark energy was around even in the early universe. [More: here, here, here, here, and here. I wrote about it here.]
- New WMAP measurements of the cosmic microwave background, including polarization information, help to sharpen cosmological numbers such as the age or the flatness of the universe. [More: here, here, here, here, here, and here. I wrote about it here.]
- Advances in plasmonics, or "two-dimensional light". [More: here, here, and here.]
- Advances in the study of graphene, including the discovery of a new form of the Hall effect. [More: here and here.]
- Progress at several labs in modeling gravity wave transmissions from black hole mergers, the kinds of events which LIGO or LISA would possibly detect. [More: here.]
- Measuring the presence of virtual strange quarks inside protons.[More: here and here.]
- Heaviest baryons discovered. [More: here, here, here, and here.]
- Investigating whether the electron/proton mass ratio changed over time. [More: here and here]
- Telecloning. [More: here, here, here, and here.]
Whew. Quite a list. But I think it leaves a lot out, too. There have been a number of interesting discoveries related to black holes. I've written about some of them. There have also been many advances in the related fields of spintronics, quantum information, and quantum computing. (I still haven't written about those.) Some other areas where there's been quite a lot of progress: carbon nanotubes, dark matter, and laser wakefield accelerators. And that's not the end of it.
Perhaps, if Santa puts an abundance of time under the tree for me this year, I'll tackle writing about what's happened in some of those areas.
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