Archive for November, 2011

How many authors can a paper actually have?

November 29, 2011

3000 people - The number of authors on some research papers. Whose to blame if there is a mistake? (Picture from 'Behind the Curtain Blog)

While searching for a paper by my colleague Robin Underwood the other day, the Institute of Physics journal page gave me three hits. Second on a list was the paper I  was looking for:

  • The electromagnetic fields of a triaxial ellipsoid calculated by modal superposition

by Gordon Edwards and Robin Underwood. I smiled at how obscure its title seemed, and again at the first item on the list – a paper by  Bret Underwood entitled:

  • A breathing mode for warped compactifications’

which just seemed such a bewildering title. However, it was the paper below which blew my mind. But it wasn’t the title which was caught my eye

  • Charged-particle multiplicities in pp interactions measured with the ATLAS detector at the LHC

it was the author list – it contained 3048 authors covering more than 10 journal pages! Just in case you don’t believe me, I have reproduced the author list below.

The list made really made me think. Firstly, I was just amazed! And I report it to you like I might tell you that I saw a really big dog, or a giant tree – it is just an immense item, inspiring awe. Secondly, it made me aware of just how stupendous are the efforts that go into making an experiment work at the Large Hadron Collider. But it also caused me to reflect on the concept of authorship.

The affillitions listing  – where the authors were based – covered a further 9 pages and listed 175 separate insitutions! From my own experience, I can attest that writing a paper with authors from multiple institutions is difficult: it is ‘Tear-your-hair-out‘ difficult! So I can only imagine that this paper is actually authored by at most about a dozen people. Now these people know who who they are, and the fellow authors know who they are: but the paper doesn’t make it clear. And it should.

When I write papers I feel nervous about everything I say. I question every statement and ask if I can defend it. Why? Because exposing one’s work and ideas publicly is risking ridicule if you get it wrong. It is part of the discipline which keeps science on track: Authors take responsibility for what they write. When  a paper has more than 3000 authors there appears to be – from the outside – a kind of herd tactic that keeps a herd safe from predation by appearing so large that no individual is exposed to danger. So although it might seem aggressive or disrespectful, IMHO, the people who actually wrote the paper should be identified separately. Just a thought.

Author List

G Aad, B Abbott, J Abdallah, A A Abdelalim, A Abdesselam, O Abdinov, B Abi, M Abolins, H Abramowicz, H Abreu, E Acerbi, B S Acharya, M Ackers, D L Adams, T N Addy, J Adelman, M Aderholz, S Adomeit, P Adragna, T Adye, S Aefsky, J A Aguilar-Saavedra, M Aharrouche, S P Ahlen, F Ahles, A Ahmad, M Ahsan, G Aielli, T Akdogan, T P A Åkesson, G Akimoto, A V Akimov,M S Alam, M A Alam, S Albrand, M Aleksa, I N Aleksandrov, M Aleppo, F Alessandria, C Alexa, G Alexander, G Alexandre, T Alexopoulos, M Alhroob, M Aliev, G Alimonti, J Alison, M Aliyev, P P Allport, S E Allwood-Spiers, J Almond, A Aloisio, R Alon, A Alonso, J Alonso, M G Alviggi, K Amako, P Amaral, C Amelung, V V Ammosov, A Amorim, G Amorós, N Amram, C Anastopoulos, T Andeen, C F Anders, K J Anderson, A Andreazza, V Andrei, M-L Andrieux, X S Anduaga, A Angerami, F Anghinolfi, N Anjos, A Annovi, A Antonaki, M Antonelli, S Antonelli, J Antos, F Anulli, S Aoun, L Aperio Bella, R Apolle, G Arabidze, I Aracena, Y Arai, A T H Arce, J P Archambault, S Arfaoui, J-F Arguin, E Arik, M Arik, A J Armbruster, K E Arms, S R Armstrong, O Arnaez, C Arnault, A Artamonov, G Artoni, D Arutinov, S Asai, R Asfandiyarov, S Ask, B Åsman, L Asquith, K Assamagan, A Astbury, A Astvatsatourov, G Atoian, B Aubert, B Auerbach, E Auge, K Augsten, M Aurousseau, N Austin, R Avramidou, D Axen, C Ay, G Azuelos, Y Azuma, M A Baak, G Baccaglioni, C Bacci, A M Bach, H Bachacou, K Bachas, G Bachy,M Backes, E Badescu, P Bagnaia, S Bahinipati, Y Bai, D C Bailey, T Bain, J T Baines, O K Baker, S Baker, F Baltasar Dos Santos Pedrosa, E Banas, P Banerjee, Sw Banerjee, D Banfi, A Bangert, V Bansal, H S Bansil, L Barak, S P Baranov, A Barashkou, A Barbaro Galtieri, T Barber, E L Barberio, D Barberis, M Barbero, D Y Bardin, T Barillari, M Barisonzi, T Barklow,N Barlow, B M Barnett, R M Barnett, A Baroncelli, A J Barr, F Barreiro, J Barreiro Guimarães da Costa, P Barrillon, R Bartoldus, A E Barton, D Bartsch, R L Bates, L Batkova, J R Batley, A Battaglia, M Battistin, G Battistoni, F Bauer, H S Bawa, B Beare, T Beau, P H Beauchemin, R Beccherle, P Bechtle, H P Beck, M Beckingham, K H Becks, A J Beddall, A Beddall, V A Bednyakov, C Bee, M Begel, S Behar Harpaz, P K Behera, M Beimforde, C Belanger-Champagne, P J Bell, W H Bell, G Bella,L Bellagamba, F Bellina, G Bellomo, M Bellomo, A Belloni, K Belotskiy, O Beltramello, S Ben Ami, O Benary, D Benchekroun,C Benchouk, M Bendel, B H Benedict, N Benekos, Y Benhammou, D P Benjamin, M Benoit, J R Bensinger, K Benslama, S Bentvelsen, D Berge, E Bergeaas Kuutmann, N Berger, F Berghaus, E Berglund, J Beringer, K Bernardet, P Bernat, R Bernhard, C Bernius, T Berry, A Bertin, F Bertinelli, F Bertolucci, M I Besana, N Besson, S Bethke, W Bhimji, R M Bianchi, M Bianco, O Biebel, J Biesiada, M Biglietti, H Bilokon, M Bindi, A Bingul, C Bini, C Biscarat, U Bitenc, K M Black, R E Blair, J-B Blanchard, G Blanchot, C Blocker, J Blocki, A Blondel, W Blum, U Blumenschein, G J Bobbink, V B Bobrovnikov, A Bocci, R Bock, C R Boddy, M Boehler, J Boek, N Boelaert, S Böser, J A Bogaerts, A Bogdanchikov, A Bogouch, C Bohm, V Boisvert, T Bold, V Boldea, M Bona, M Boonekamp, G Boorman, C N Booth, P Booth, J R A Booth, S Bordoni, C Borer, A Borisov, G Borissov, I Borjanovic, S Borroni, K Bos, D Boscherini, M Bosman, H Boterenbrood, D Botterill, J Bouchami, J Boudreau, E V Bouhova-Thacker, C Boulahouache, C Bourdarios, N Bousson, A Boveia, J Boyd, I R Boyko, N I Bozhko, I Bozovic-Jelisavcic,J Bracinik, A Braem, E Brambilla, P Branchini, G W Brandenburg, A Brandt, G Brandt, O Brandt, U Bratzler, B Brau, J E Brau,H M Braun, B Brelier, J Bremer, R Brenner, S Bressler, D Breton, N D Brett, P G Bright-Thomas, D Britton, F M Brochu, I Brock, R Brock, T J Brodbeck, E Brodet, F Broggi, C Bromberg, G Brooijmans, W K Brooks, G Brown, E Brubaker, P A Bruckman de Renstrom, D Bruncko, R Bruneliere, S Brunet, A Bruni, G Bruni, M Bruschi, T Buanes, F Bucci, J Buchanan, N J Buchanan, P Buchholz, R M Buckingham, A G Buckley, S I Buda, I A Budagov, B Budick, V Büscher, L Bugge, D Buira-Clark,E J Buis, O Bulekov, M Bunse, T Buran, H Burckhart, S Burdin, T Burgess, S Burke, E Busato, P Bussey, C P Buszello, F Butin, B Butler, J M Butler, C M Buttar, J M Butterworth, W Buttinger, T Byatt, S Cabrera Urbán, M Caccia, D Caforio, O Cakir, P Calafiura, G Calderini, P Calfayan, R Calkins, L P Caloba, R Caloi, D Calvet, S Calvet, A Camard, P Camarri, M Cambiaghi,D Cameron, J Cammin, S Campana, M Campanelli, V Canale, F Canelli, A Canepa, J Cantero, L Capasso, M D M Capeans Garrido, I Caprini, M Caprini, D Capriotti, M Capua, R Caputo, C Caramarcu, R Cardarelli, T Carli, G Carlino, L Carminati, B Caron, S Caron, C Carpentieri, G D Carrillo Montoya, S Carron Montero, A A Carter, J R Carter, J Carvalho, D Casadei, M P Casado, M Cascella, C Caso, A M Castaneda Hernandez, E Castaneda-Miranda, V Castillo Gimenez, N F Castro, G Cataldi,F Cataneo, A Catinaccio, J R Catmore, A Cattai, G Cattani, S Caughron, A Cavallari, P Cavalleri, D Cavalli, M Cavalli-Sforza, V Cavasinni, A Cazzato, F Ceradini, C Cerna, A S Cerqueira, A Cerri, L Cerrito, F Cerutti, S A Cetin, F Cevenini, A Chafaq, D Chakraborty, K Chan, B Chapleau, J D Chapman, J W Chapman, E Chareyre, D G Charlton, V Chavda, S Cheatham, S Chekanov, S V Chekulaev, G A Chelkov, H Chen, L Chen, S Chen, T Chen, X Chen, S Cheng, A Cheplakov, V F Chepurnov, R Cherkaoui El Moursli, V Chernyatin, E Cheu, S L Cheung, L Chevalier, F Chevallier, G Chiefari, L Chikovani, J T Childers, A Chilingarov, G Chiodini, M V Chizhov, G Choudalakis, S Chouridou, I A Christidi, A Christov, D Chromek-Burckhart, M L Chu,J Chudoba, G Ciapetti, A K Ciftci, R Ciftci, D Cinca, V Cindro, M D Ciobotaru, C Ciocca, A Ciocio, M Cirilli, M Ciubancan, A Clark, P J Clark, W Cleland, J C Clemens, B Clement, C Clement, R W Clifft, Y Coadou, M Cobal, A Coccaro, J Cochran, P Coe, J G Cogan, J Coggeshall, E Cogneras, C D Cojocaru, J Colas, A P Colijn, C Collard, N J Collins, C Collins-Tooth, J Collot, G Colon, R Coluccia, G Comune, P Conde Muiño, E Coniavitis, M C Conidi, M Consonni, S Constantinescu, C Conta,F Conventi, J Cook, M Cooke, B D Cooper, A M Cooper-Sarkar, N J Cooper-Smith, K Copic, T Cornelissen, M Corradi, S Correard, F Corriveau, A Cortes-Gonzalez, G Cortiana, G Costa, M J Costa, D Costanzo, T Costin, D Côté, R Coura Torres, L Courneyea, G Cowan, C Cowden, B E Cox, K Cranmer, M Cristinziani, G Crosetti, R Crupi, S Crépé-Renaudin, C Cuenca Almenar, T Cuhadar Donszelmann, S Cuneo, M Curatolo, C J Curtis, P Cwetanski, H Czirr, Z Czyczula, S D’Auria, M D’Onofrio, A D’Orazio, A Da Rocha Gesualdi Mello, P V M Da Silva, C Da Via, W Dabrowski, A Dahlhoff, T Dai, C Dallapiccola,S J Dallison, M Dam, M Dameri, D S Damiani, H O Danielsson, R Dankers, D Dannheim, V Dao, G Darbo, G L Darlea, C Daum, J P Dauvergne, W Davey, T Davidek, N Davidson, R Davidson, M Davies, A R Davison, E Dawe, I Dawson, J W Dawson, R K Daya, K De, R de Asmundis, S De Castro, S De Cecco, J de Graat, N De Groot, P de Jong, E De La Cruz-Burelo, C De La Taille, B De Lotto, L De Mora, L De Nooij, M De Oliveira Branco, D De Pedis, P de Saintignon, A De Salvo, U De Sanctis, A De Santo, J B De Vivie De Regie, S Dean, G Dedes, D V Dedovich, J Degenhardt, M Dehchar, M Deile, C Del Papa, J Del Peso, T Del Prete, A Dell’Acqua, L Dell’Asta, M Della Pietra, D della Volpe, M Delmastro, P Delpierre, N Delruelle, P A Delsart, C Deluca, S Demers, M Demichev, B Demirkoz, J Deng, S P Denisov, C Dennis, D Derendarz, J E Derkaoui, F Derue, P Dervan, K Desch, E Devetak, P O Deviveiros, A Dewhurst, B DeWilde, S Dhaliwal, R Dhullipudi, A Di Ciaccio, L Di Ciaccio, A Di Girolamo, B Di Girolamo, S Di Luise, A Di Mattia, R Di Nardo, A Di Simone, R Di Sipio, M A Diaz, F Diblen, E B Diehl, H Dietl, J Dietrich, T A Dietzsch, S Diglio, K Dindar Yagci, J Dingfelder, C Dionisi, P Dita, S Dita, F Dittus, F Djama, R Djilkibaev, T Djobava, M A B do Vale, A Do Valle Wemans, T K O Doan, M Dobbs, R Dobinson, D Dobos, E Dobson, M Dobson, J Dodd, O B Dogan, C Doglioni, T Doherty, Y Doi, J Dolejsi, I Dolenc, Z Dolezal, B A Dolgoshein, T Dohmae, M Donadelli, M Donega, J Donini, J Dopke, A Doria, A Dos Anjos, M Dosil, A Dotti, M T Dova, J D Dowell, A D Doxiadis, A T Doyle, Z Drasal, J Drees, N Dressnandt, H Drevermann, C Driouichi, M Dris, J G Drohan, J Dubbert, T Dubbs,S Dube, E Duchovni, G Duckeck, A Dudarev, F Dudziak, M Dührssen, I P Duerdoth, L Duflot, M-A Dufour, M Dunford, H Duran Yildiz, R Duxfield, M Dwuznik, F Dydak, D Dzahini, M Düren, J Ebke, S Eckert, S Eckweiler, K Edmonds, C A Edwards, I Efthymiopoulos, W Ehrenfeld, T Ehrich, T Eifert, G Eigen, K Einsweiler, E Eisenhandler, T Ekelof, M El Kacimi, M Ellert, S Elles, F Ellinghaus, K Ellis, N Ellis, J Elmsheuser, M Elsing, R Ely, D Emeliyanov, R Engelmann, A Engl, B Epp, A Eppig, J Erdmann, A Ereditato, D Eriksson, J Ernst, M Ernst, J Ernwein, D Errede, S Errede, E Ertel, M Escalier, C Escobar, X Espinal Curull, B Esposito, F Etienne, A I Etienvre, E Etzion, D Evangelakou, H Evans, L Fabbri, C Fabre, K Facius, R M Fakhrutdinov,S Falciano, A C Falou, Y Fang, M Fanti, A Farbin, A Farilla, J Farley, T Farooque, S M Farrington, P Farthouat, D Fasching, P Fassnacht, D Fassouliotis, B Fatholahzadeh, A Favareto, L Fayard, S Fazio, R Febbraro, P Federic, O L Fedin, I Fedorko, W Fedorko, M Fehling-Kaschek, L Feligioni, D Fellmann, C U Felzmann, C Feng, E J Feng, A B Fenyuk, J Ferencei, D Ferguson, J Ferland, B Fernandes, W Fernando, S Ferrag, J Ferrando, V Ferrara, A Ferrari, P Ferrari, R Ferrari, A Ferrer, M L Ferrer, D Ferrere, C Ferretti, A Ferretto Parodi, M Fiascaris, F Fiedler, A Filipčič, A Filippas, F Filthaut, M Fincke-Keeler, M C N Fiolhais, L Fiorini, A Firan, G Fischer, P Fischer, M J Fisher, S M Fisher, J Flammer, M Flechl, I Fleck, J Fleckner, P Fleischmann, S Fleischmann, T Flick, L R Flores Castillo, M J Flowerdew, F Föhlisch, M Fokitis, T Fonseca Martin, D A Forbush, A Formica, A Forti, D Fortin, J M Foster, D Fournier, A Foussat, A J Fowler, K Fowler, H Fox, P Francavilla, S Franchino, D Francis, T Frank, M Franklin, S Franz, M Fraternali, S Fratina, S T French, R Froeschl, D Froidevaux, J A Frost, C Fukunaga, E Fullana Torregrosa, J Fuster, C Gabaldon, O Gabizon, T Gadfort, S Gadomski, G Gagliardi, P Gagnon, C Galea,E J Gallas, M V Gallas, V Gallo, B J Gallop, P Gallus, E Galyaev, K K Gan, Y S Gao, V A Gapienko, A Gaponenko, F Garberson, M Garcia-Sciveres, C García, J E García Navarro, R W Gardner, N Garelli, H Garitaonandia, V Garonne, J Garvey,C Gatti, G Gaudio, O Gaumer, B Gaur, L Gauthier, I L Gavrilenko, C Gay, G Gaycken, J-C Gayde, E N Gazis, P Ge, C N P Gee,Ch Geich-Gimbel, K Gellerstedt, C Gemme, A Gemmell, M H Genest, S Gentile, F Georgatos, S George, P Gerlach, A Gershon, C Geweniger, H Ghazlane, P Ghez, N Ghodbane, B Giacobbe, S Giagu, V Giakoumopoulou, V Giangiobbe, F Gianotti, B Gibbard, A Gibson, S M Gibson, G F Gieraltowski, L M Gilbert, M Gilchriese, O Gildemeister, V Gilewsky, D Gillberg, A R Gillman, D M Gingrich, J Ginzburg, N Giokaris, R Giordano, F M Giorgi, P Giovannini, P F Giraud, D Giugni, P Giusti, B K Gjelsten, L K Gladilin, C Glasman, J Glatzer, A Glazov, K W Glitza, G L Glonti, J Godfrey, J Godlewski, M Goebel, T Göpfert, C Goeringer, C Gössling, T Göttfert, S Goldfarb, D Goldin, T Golling, N P Gollub, S N Golovnia, A Gomes, L S Gomez Fajardo, R Gonçalo, L Gonella, C Gong, A Gonidec, S Gonzalez, S González de la Hoz, M L Gonzalez Silva, S Gonzalez-Sevilla, J J Goodson, L Goossens, P A Gorbounov, H A Gordon, I Gorelov, G Gorfine, B Gorini, E Gorini, A Gorišek, E Gornicki, S A Gorokhov, B T Gorski, V N Goryachev, B Gosdzik, M Gosselink, M I Gostkin, M Gouanère, I Gough Eschrich, M Gouighri, D Goujdami, M P Goulette, A G Goussiou, C Goy, I Grabowska-Bold, V Grabski, P Grafström, C Grah, K-J Grahn, F Grancagnolo, S Grancagnolo, V Grassi, V Gratchev, N Grau, H M Gray, J A Gray, E Graziani, O G Grebenyuk, D Greenfield, T Greenshaw, Z D Greenwood, I M Gregor, P Grenier, E Griesmayer, J Griffiths, N Grigalashvili, A A Grillo, K Grimm, S Grinstein, P L Y Gris, Y V Grishkevich, J-F Grivaz, J Grognuz, M Groh, E Gross, J Grosse-Knetter, J Groth-Jensen, M Gruwe, K Grybel, V J Guarino, C Guicheney, A Guida, T Guillemin, S Guindon, H Guler, J Gunther, B Guo, J Guo, A Gupta, Y Gusakov, V N Gushchin, A Gutierrez, P Gutierrez, N Guttman, O Gutzwiller, C Guyot, C Gwenlan, C B Gwilliam, A Haas, S Haas, C Haber,R Hackenburg, H K Hadavand, D R Hadley, P Haefner, F Hahn, S Haider, Z Hajduk, H Hakobyan, J Haller, K Hamacher, A Hamilton, S Hamilton, H Han, L Han, K Hanagaki, M Hance, C Handel, P Hanke, C J Hansen, J R Hansen, J B Hansen, J D Hansen, P H Hansen, P Hansson, K Hara, G A Hare, T Harenberg, D Harper, R D Harrington, O M Harris, K Harrison, J C Hart, J Hartert, F Hartjes, T Haruyama, A Harvey, S Hasegawa, Y Hasegawa, S Hassani, M Hatch, D Hauff, S Haug, M Hauschild, R Hauser, M Havranek, B M Hawes, C M Hawkes, R J Hawkings, D Hawkins, T Hayakawa, D Hayden, H S Hayward, S J Haywood, E Hazen, M He, S J Head, V Hedberg, L Heelan, S Heim, B Heinemann, S Heisterkamp, L Helary, M Heldmann, M Heller, S Hellman, C Helsens, R C W Henderson, M Henke, A Henrichs, A M Henriques Correia, S Henrot-Versille, F Henry-Couannier, C Hensel, T Henß, Y Hernández Jiménez, R Herrberg, A D Hershenhorn, G Herten, R Hertenberger, L Hervas, N P Hessey, A Hidvegi, E Higón-Rodriguez, D Hill, J C Hill, N Hill, K H Hiller, S Hillert, S J Hillier, I Hinchliffe, E Hines, M Hirose, F Hirsch, D Hirschbuehl, J Hobbs, N Hod, M C Hodgkinson, P Hodgson, A Hoecker, M R Hoeferkamp, J Hoffman, D Hoffmann, M Hohlfeld, M Holder, A Holmes, S O Holmgren, T Holy, J L Holzbauer, R J Homer, Y Homma, T Horazdovsky, C Horn, S Horner, K Horton, J-Y Hostachy, T Hott, S Hou, M A Houlden, A Hoummada, J Howarth, D F Howell, I Hristova, J Hrivnac, I Hruska, T Hryn’ova, P J Hsu, S-C Hsu, G S Huang, Z Hubacek, F Hubaut, F Huegging, T B Huffman, E W Hughes, G Hughes, R E Hughes-Jones, M Huhtinen, P Hurst, M Hurwitz, U Husemann, N Huseynov, J Huston, J Huth, G Iacobucci, G Iakovidis, M Ibbotson, I Ibragimov, R Ichimiya, L Iconomidou-Fayard, J Idarraga, M Idzik, P Iengo, O Igonkina, Y Ikegami, M Ikeno, Y Ilchenko, D Iliadis, D Imbault, M Imhaeuser, M Imori, T Ince, J Inigo-Golfin, P Ioannou, M Iodice, G Ionescu, A Irles Quiles, K Ishii, A Ishikawa, M Ishino, R Ishmukhametov, T Isobe, C Issever, S Istin, Y Itoh, A V Ivashin, W Iwanski, H Iwasaki, J M Izen, V Izzo, B Jackson, J N Jackson, P Jackson, M R Jaekel, V Jain, K Jakobs, S Jakobsen, J Jakubek, D K Jana, E Jankowski, E Jansen, A Jantsch, M Janus, G Jarlskog, L Jeanty, K Jelen, I Jen-La Plante,P Jenni, A Jeremie, P Jež, S Jézéquel, H Ji, W Ji, J Jia, Y Jiang, M Jimenez Belenguer, G Jin, S Jin, O Jinnouchi, M D Joergensen, D Joffe, L G Johansen, M Johansen, K E Johansson, P Johansson, S Johnert, K A Johns, K Jon-And, G Jones,R W L Jones, T W Jones, T J Jones, O Jonsson, K K Joo, C Joram, P M Jorge, J Joseph, X Ju, V Juranek, P Jussel, V V Kabachenko, S Kabana, M Kaci, A Kaczmarska, P Kadlecik, M Kado, H Kagan, M Kagan, S Kaiser, E Kajomovitz, S Kalinin, L V Kalinovskaya, S Kama, N Kanaya, M Kaneda, T Kanno, V A Kantserov, J Kanzaki, B Kaplan, A Kapliy, J Kaplon, D Kar, M Karagoz, M Karnevskiy, K Karr, V Kartvelishvili, A N Karyukhin, L Kashif, A Kasmi, R D Kass, A Kastanas, M Kataoka, Y Kataoka, E Katsoufis, J Katzy, V Kaushik, K Kawagoe, T Kawamoto, G Kawamura, M S Kayl, V A Kazanin, M Y Kazarinov, S I Kazi, J R Keates, R Keeler, R Kehoe, M Keil, G D Kekelidze, M Kelly, J Kennedy, C J Kenney, M Kenyon, O Kepka, N Kerschen, B P Kerševan, S Kersten, K Kessoku, C Ketterer, M Khakzad, F Khalil-zada, H Khandanyan, A Khanov, D Kharchenko, A Khodinov, A G Kholodenko, A Khomich, T J Khoo, G Khoriauli, N Khovanskiy, V Khovanskiy, E Khramov, J Khubua, G Kilvington, H Kim, M S Kim, P C Kim, S H Kim, N Kimura, O Kind, B T King, M King, R S B King, J Kirk, G P Kirsch,L E Kirsch, A E Kiryunin, D Kisielewska, T Kittelmann, A M Kiver, H Kiyamura, E Kladiva, J Klaiber-Lodewigs, M Klein, U Klein, K Kleinknecht, M Klemetti, A Klier, A Klimentov, R Klingenberg, E B Klinkby, T Klioutchnikova, P F Klok, S Klous, E-E Kluge, T Kluge, P Kluit, S Kluth, E Kneringer, J Knobloch, A Knue, B R Ko, T Kobayashi, M Kobel, B Koblitz, M Kocian, A Kocnar, P Kodys, K Köneke, A C König, S Koenig, S König, L Köpke, F Koetsveld, P Koevesarki, T Koffas, E Koffeman, F Kohn, Z Kohout, T Kohriki, T Koi, T Kokott, G M Kolachev, H Kolanoski, V Kolesnikov, I Koletsou, J Koll, D Kollar, M Kollefrath,S D Kolya, A A Komar, J R Komaragiri, T Kondo, T Kono, A I Kononov, R Konoplich, N Konstantinidis, A Kootz, S Koperny, S V Kopikov, K Korcyl, K Kordas, V Koreshev, A Korn, A Korol, I Korolkov, E V Korolkova, V A Korotkov, O Kortner, S Kortner, V V Kostyukhin, M J Kotamäki, S Kotov, V M Kotov, C Kourkoumelis, A Koutsman, R Kowalewski, T Z Kowalski, W Kozanecki, A S Kozhin, V Kral, V A 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A look at sideways lightbulbs

November 27, 2011
A tungsten halogen light bulb

A tungsten-halogen light bulb. Notice the inner bulb within the outer glass enclosure

I have just replaced a light fitting in our living room in which light bulbs of every type failed to thrive:

  • Conventional light bulbs would blow after a couple of weeks;
  • Compact fluorescent bulbs would fade prematurely;
  • And even expensive halogen bulbs dimmed, and then died.

What was going on? Well, I think the answer has to do with temperature and gravity. As evidence, I present a picture of a failed halogen light bulb which I examined after I had removed it from the fitting. The key feature of the fitting was that it held three light bulbs sideways – and looking at the picture below it is clear that the tungsten elements have sagged until – instead of being isolated in the middle of the inner bulb – they are lying on the surface of the inner bulb. At this point the filaments would be very likely to fail.

Detail of a failed tungsten halogen light bulb.

Detail of a failed tungsten halogen light bulb. Notice how the filaments have 'sagged' to the point where they lie along the surface of the inner bulb.

But why does the light bulb have that complicated structure with the filament so close to the inner bulb? To answer that I have tell you about the amazing extreme physics that goes on inside these devices. There are 3 key points

  1. Tungsten-halogen light bulbs run hotter than normal light bulbs – around 2800 °C rather than 2500 °C. This makes them brighter, and converts a larger fraction of electrical energy into light than conventional – colder – light bulbs.
  2. However, increasing the operating temperature increases the rate of evaporation of the tungsten – which causes darkening of the light bulb – and failure of the filament as it thins to the point where the current density causes it to melt.
  3. This is where the halogen gas – usually iodine  – trapped in the inner bulb comes into operation. If the temperature of the bulb surface exceeds roughly 250 °C – then amazingly the iodine reacts with the deposited tungsten forming WI (No! Not molecules of Women’s Institute! Tungsten Iodide) which is a gas at these temperatures. However, when the WI molecules come close to the heated filament, they decompose and the tungsten is re-deposited on the filament! Wow! Is that a clever trick or what!

In order to keep this tungsten re-cycling working, the inner bulb needs to be rather hot, and so it is kept small, and close to the filament. Normal glass would soften at these temperatures, and so the inner bulb is made of pure silica – silicon dioxide. The outer bulb – made of normal glass (which is silica with impurities such as boron that make it less liable to shatter) is there to prevent anyone touching the inner bulb, and to prevent ultra-violet light from the hotter filament escaping.


The Wiki Page for tungsten halogen light bulbs is excellent. But I also strongly recommend the Lamptech Web Pages. They have been written by someone whose love and knowledge of the subject radiates from every sentence on the page. They also have a movie in which iodine is periodically introduced into a light bulb to clear up the deposited tungsten.

Rubbish: I play my part.

November 25, 2011
Old televisions: from expensive to worthless in less than a decade.

Old televisions: from expensive to worthless in less than a decade.

We bought a new television last weekend, and I tried unsuccessfully to find anyone who would take our old television. It was 8 years old – perfectly adequate in most respects – but quite literally, we could not give it away.  So this weekend I took our television to the dump and said goodbye to it. And it was shocking to see the container full of similar televisions. And lo! Was that iMac in there?

I was driven to replace the television by one missing feature – it was impossible to see the outer 10% of the screen in almost everything we were watching! This came to a head as we watched Frozen Planet. I was in awe of the images, but frustrated at the technology. But in purchasing this new television, I have transformed our television from the category of ‘useful device’ to the category of ‘useless waste’ – something  which requires energy and resources to dispose of safely.

Apparently the way out of our current economic crisis to do this more – to consume more and replace my old goods with new ones. But this will create even more ‘waste’ and see the epic scale of our wate creation activities makes me sceptical.

It is a real pleasure to watch Frozen Planet in high definition, from the left edge of the frame all the way to the right edge of the frame. And to see the rugged landscape of David Attenborough’s face in all its beautiful detail. But I wish there were a way to do it without despoiling the very thing I wish to preserve.

Carbon dioxide – the full picture

November 21, 2011

Week 4 of Protons for Breakfast is approaching in which we discuss Global Warming. I have just been updating the PowerPoint slides, and checking all the links and I came across the above video (from NOAA here) . It shows the whole story in 3 minutes and 15 seconds. I think it is wonderful, but I feel it needs some explanation to get the most out of it.

Update: I asked Andy Jacobsen from NOAA (who made the video) for his comments and I have included these in blue below. We disagreed over one point and I have included our exchange at the bottom of the page.

Start to 1 minute 42 seconds:

  • This covers the period from 1980 to 2011 shows carbon dioxide concentration from at first a few, and then a few dozen, stations in the northern and southern hemisphere.
  • Look at the map for the location of the stations
  • One can see that the concentration in the southern hemisphere shows an inexorable rise, but the concentration in the northern hemisphere shows quite large annual oscillations. These are summarised in the graph on the right which shows data from the south pole in blue and data from Mauna Loa in red.
  • Looking at the ‘clock’ in the middle of the picture one can see that the CO2 concentration in the northern hemisphere falls sharply in northern hemisphere summer – when growing things grab CO2 out of the air using photosynthesis. Its amazing to think of this subtle process changing CO2 concentrations globally!
  • Notice the spikes in some of the data – presumably from monitoring sites positioned close to industrial centres.
  •  The “spikes” can also be due to natural processes, such as respiration by plants, animals, and microbes.  This is why Keeling went to Mauna Loa and the South Pole–not only were previous measurement techniques unreliable, but the ambient variability of CO2 is generally quite strong.  As the measurement network has expanded, we have begun taking measurements at sites with more local signals…hence the outliers.

 1 minute 42 seconds to 2 minutes 2 seconds:

  • Now we end the modern era measurements, and go backwards in time from 1980 to 1960 with the original data taken by Keeling at Mauna Loa.

2 minutes 2 seconds to 2 minutes 22 seconds:

  • Now the data compresses and we go backwards in time quite quickly to show the first ice core measurements which are in fantastic detail – extending back two thousand years. At this point it becomes clear how amazingly rapid the rise in CO2 concentrations has been.

2 minutes 22 seconds to 2 minutes 2 seconds to 3 minutes 15 seconds:

  • Now we reach the deep ice core results showing data that extends back first 400,000 years, and then 800,000 years.
  • We see the CO2 concentrations rising and falling by around 100 ppm – correlating with the Earth descending into ice ages when the CO2 concentration is low (180 ppm) and experiencing interglacial warm periods when the CO2 concentration is high (280 ppm). Although the CO2 concentration is not thought to have directly driven these changes, it is thought to have reinforced the changes.
  • Now we really see the context of the modern measurements. Since the period that human beings have existed as a distinct species (roughly 1 million years) we have never lived on a planet with CO2 concentrations this high.
  • The rise of humanity has all occurred since the last glacial maximum, about 20,000 years ago.
  • Concentrations now are more than 100 ppm higher than a ‘normal’ interglacial melt and will certainly rise by at least another 200 ppm in the coming decades – truly a massive change of geological significance. And although we don’t know the consequences of this for certain, they almost certainly imply a warmer and less icy world.

It would be good to know what happens next, but we have to work that out for ourselves. Sadly the BBC report today that the rate at which CO2 concentration is rising is accelerating. NOAA have the actual data which can be seen in the figure below.

NOAA data showing the rate of rise of CO2 concentrations. It appears to be accelerating.

NOAA data showing the rate of rise of CO2 concentrations. It appears to be accelerating.

Andy also wrote

I’m puzzled by your comment about CO2 not having a primary role in glacial-interglacial climate changes.

Paleoclimate researchers would all agree, I believe, that ice ages cannot be explained without invoking the radiative forcing impacts of 100ppm CO2 shifts.  Perhaps the thinking has evolved since I last checked in on this issue, but my understanding is that CO2 is the most direct driver of glacial cycles.  Of course, part of this is how you define drivers and feedbacks; water vapor is a classic example of this paradox.  It has a big radiative impact, but is generally classified as part of a feedback loop due to its short atmospheric lifetime.

I responded:

My comment about the role of CO2 is that (as I understand it) the interglacial changes are driven by orbital factors – Milankovitch cycles – and similar effects. These factors cause some warming and then this warming causes a rise in CO2 which then reinforces the warming. Similarly with glaciation – I thought the slow loss of CO2 reinforced a cooling climate trend, but did not trigger it. Obviously the situation is different now and clearly CO2 is now the trigger.

Calculus: For Emily

November 20, 2011
A graph showing how one quantity varies when another quantity changes. Calculus allows scientists and mathematicians to study the rate of change - or the slope - of such graphs.

A graph showing how one quantity varies when another quantity changes. Calculus allows scientists and mathematicians to study the rate of change - or the slope - of such graphs.

I was chatting with an engineer colleague the other day when he asked for advice about his daughter, Emily. He explained that she was doing great at school, in the top set for everything, but that she was having trouble with calculus. She had asked him “Dad: What is the point of calculus?“. And he had not known how to answer.

Well, my first thought was how great it would be to have a daughter who was confiding such a question! And then I thought about my own education where I was just told things and had to learn them. And I thought maybe it’s possible she is just being told stuff, and that someone has avoided a few short paragraphs of explanation. So I thought, I would imagine a conversation in which I would brilliantly explain things:

The conversation

Michael:Calculus is the mathematics of change. It is essential for the study of any situation where things change.

Emily: Thanks Michael, that’s brilliantly explained.You really are wonderful. But everything changes all the time – so what’s so special about calculus?

Michael: That’s the point, calculus is ubiquitous. Indeed its hard to imagine what science would be like without calculus. Before Newton people couldn’t really understand the motion of any objects – whether in the heavens or on Earth. Newton had to  invent calculus so that he describe the motion of objects – and we have been using his mathematical techniques  ever since

Emily: Newton invented calculus?

Michael: Yes. Leibnitz came up with the idea at roughly the same time, but Newton certainly invented it independently.

Newton: I was first!

Michael: He thought (correctly), that if there was no friction, the rate of change of the speed of an object would be zero. He hypothesised that there existed things he called ‘forces’ whose direct effect was to affect the rate of change of the speed of an object. He didn’t equate the force on object to a simply measurable property of the object (such as its speed) – but to the rate of change of a property of the object (its acceleration). Nowadays we would call that a differential equation – but Newton had to invent the mathematics to be able to write down the equation!

Emily: OK, but what about other areas?

Michael: Here’s three examples: In ecology the population of one animal or plant affects the rate of change of the population of another animal or plant ; in chemistry  the rate at which reactions occur depends on concentrations of chemicals; and most importantly, in economics – where things change all the time – you get to pick your own favourite reason for what caused what to change.

Emily: Well thanks for taking the time to explain that, but I am still unconvinced. In fact I think I am actually more confused than I was before.

Michael: Sorry. Well stick with it. If you can master calculus – you can master anything!

Protons for Breakfast 1000!

November 18, 2011
Seeing the light.

Seeing the light. A visitor uses a spectrometer to study the light from a fluorescent lamp. Is this the one thousandth person to attend the Protons for Breakfast Course at NPL? And who is that beautiful lady helping him?

At the start of November, we began the 15th presentation of Protons for Breakfast at NPL. And somewhere in the audience was the one thousandth person to attend the course. Wow! That is quiet an achievement. However, I still feel the course is alive and developing rather than merely ‘clocking’ people through. Thinking about now, I find it hard to know what I like best about the course.

First of all, there is the basic event – people coming to NPL and listening to a lecture – then discussing basic physics and doing experiments – it represents community involvement in Science in a way that most scientific institutions only dream of. And its focus on establishing a continuing dialogue with adults is still quite unusual.

Secondly, there is the chance for me to meet so many staff from around NPL who volunteer their time to help. I am profoundly grateful to have such colleagues who are the diametric opposite of merchant bankers. They are people who love what they do and want to communicate it, and who give up their time to do it. They are gold dust mixed with diamonds.

Thirdly, I get to answer people’s questions. Now in some way this is an imposition – it takes around 6 or 7 hours each weekend. But in another way I feel honoured that people open up enough to ask the basic questions about science that are on their mind. And I enjoy the challenge to trying to answer the questions fully, but succinctly.

Finally, reading peoples’  insightful questions re-doubles my conviction that it is possible for people to gain a meaningful appreciation of physics without having to study mathematics. I agree that mathematics is a necessity for a professional physicist, but IMHO a physicist who cannot explain a  physics idea without mathematics simply hasn’t understood the idea themselves.

P.S.  Regarding the picture at the head of the article I can exclusively disclose that ‘that is no lady – that is my wife!

What secrets lie hidden in the spectrum of a candle?

What secrets lie hidden in the spectrum of a candle?

TEDx Teddington: When demonstrations go wrong…

November 16, 2011
How cold is that? One of teh demonstrations which worked at TedX Teddington.

How cold is that? One of the demonstrations which worked at TEDx Teddington.

You may be familiar with TED talks – short talks with the general theme of ‘Ideas worth spreading’. Well the inspirational Ed Hui at Teddington School recently obtained a licence to organise an independent event along the same lines which he called TEDx Teddington. I was honoured to be asked to talk but as the event drew closer I began to dread it more and more .

It was scheduled two days after the latest presentation of Protons For Breakfast began – generally tiring enough in itself. But it also came at a time when I am under immense pressure to publish the result of my Boltzmann Constant experiments. Anyway, I was pushed for time. And stupidly I made the decision to try out two demonstration experiments which I had not done before. The experiments were complex and took two two full days to refine. My colleagues Gavin Sutton and Robin Underwood helped me and Gavin wrote software to make the thing look pretty slick. But there was no time to rehearse!

Testing the apparatus last thing on the day before the talk, it – literally – exploded. Mmmmm. The next morning I raced around getting replacement parts and began to put it all together. I re- tested it in the lab, taped all the electronics and oscilloscopes and laptops to two wooden boards, and moved the whole thing down to Teddington School at 4:00 p.m., in good time for a 7:00 p.m. start. Ahhhh. Time to relax.

At this point it became clear that things would not go smoothly.  First of all I was told that I couldn’t use the equipment at all because there was no black table available to put it on. I wondered what planet I had landed on! But after much fussing I was eventually allowed to use a white table. But there was no possibility for a rehearsal and no chance to even put the thing on stage before hand!

Then everything ran late, and being on at 10:00 p.m. I barely had time to set up before I was on. I had hoped to lead the audience through a sequence in which a physical phenomenon is first identified, then measured crudely, then studied in more detail, and then with precision, and then exploited, eventually resulting in a piece of technology which just works. But that is not how it happened!

First of all the video which I had shot showing the cloisters in Trinity College Cambridge where Newton first accurately measured the speed of sound sound didn’t work. Oh Well, I busked that misadventure by miming what happened.  Next with my son Christian’s help I sent sound pulses through two tubes, and saw the delay in one tube as liquid nitrogen was poured all over it! It worked! And at this point I had high hopes that the last demo would work, allowing me to leave the stage with my pride in tact. In fact it went horribly wrong!

What should have been a precision thermometer with 0.01 °C sensitivity shown fluctuations of 20 °C! I thought about trying to sort it out. But it was 10:30 p.m.and I was knackered, and I guessed most of the audience were too. I reckoned that on balance they would prefer my embarrassment to be over quickly rather than dragged out, so I just apologised and got off stage as quickly as I could.

And what have we learned? Firstly I have learned of the power of demonstrations over Power Point slides. When the first demonstration worked, I could sense people’s involvement. Secondly I have been reminded never ever to do demonstrations that have not been tried repeatedly before hand. But thirdly I learned that people quite enjoyed the fact it didn’t work – it just makes everyone else feel better! So my evening was not entirely wasted!

My Weight 1995 to 2011: The mass of Sisyphus

November 14, 2011
My weight from 1995 to 2010

My weight from 1995 to 2010

My weight having tipped 86 kg, (BMI 28) and my belly having inched past the limits of 34″ waist trousers, I have begun a diet. Again. The first couple of weeks have been fine with my weight falling by roughly 1 kilogram a week (my target is 0.1 kilograms per day).

Plotting my weight on a spreadsheet I see that this is my fourth diet in 16 years and with each diet I seem to go over the same weight range. And at the end of each diet I am eating happily, I feel much better, my BMI is back to 25, and  I can’t think of any reason why that should change. But it does.

Somehow – all that weight creeps back on. Between 2006 and 2009 (≈1000 days) I put on roughly 10 kilograms – or about 10 grams per day – equivalent to an calorific imbalance of around 85 ± 15 calories per day. This is a single biscuit a day – or the difference between a slice of buttered bread or non-buttered bread.

Is this my fate? Am I condemned to an antiSisyphean cycle: endlessly pushing my weight down the hill only to have it roll back up? Oh! the Gods are cruel!


November 12, 2011
Nest thermostat

The Nest thermostat, from the man who brought you the iPod.

I have wittered on before about how consciousness of the amount of energy we use can help us to manage our energy use more efficiently. And so I was intrigued to hear that the man who invented the iPod (No, not Steve Jobs) has a new project to re-invent the humble room thermostat. The Nest is a stylish object and brings those famous Apple design values to the fore. It foreswears the complex programming capabilities of previous conceptions, and boldly claims to learn what you want.

I have no idea if this kind of thing will make a difference, or even if it will work! But then I am appalling at visualising the future. I remember thinking ‘so what?’ when the iPod was launched. But despite my scepticism, the iPod did change a multi-billion dollar industry. Looking at the Nest I again feel sceptical, but I must admit it is at least  conceivable that perhaps the NEST could change another – empowering the people on Earth who use the most, to use less.

When a giant tree falls in a forest…

November 10, 2011
LA Times picture of Fallen Tree

LA Times picture of Fallen Tree

Last month, a propos of nothing in particular, a Giant Sequoia fell over in the only grove in the world that harbours them. The event was caught on video by some tourists and provides a definitive answer to the age old, deliberately misremembered question: When a tree falls in a  forest, does it make a noise? The answer is ‘Yes’

My picture of a fallen Sequoia with my children sitting on it

My picture of a fallen Sequoia with my children sitting on it's shallow roots.

A relative youth at a mere 1500 years old,  the tree appeared to have fallen because increased rain had loosened soil around its shallow roots. This appears to be the way that these mature trees die. My family visited the Sequoia Forest National Park in 2006 and I found it profoundly disturbing to be in the presence of such ancient living things. It is good that they are now looked after sensitively, but human beings are ill equipped to cope with life-processes which take thousands of years rather than years. The trees only grow above a certain altitude where the humidity  is just right to encourage their particular giganticism, but not too high that the temperature slows their growth. Given the geographical specificity of the species, and the generality of climate change, I fear for this species.

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