Sharper view of matter

first_imgIn a breakthrough that could one day yield important clues about the nature of matter itself, a team of Harvard scientists has measured the magnetic charge of single particles of matter and antimatter with unprecedented precision.As described in a March 25 paper in Physical Review Letters, the team — led by Gerald Gabrielse, the George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Physics, and including postdoctoral fellows Stephan Ettenauer  and Eric Tardiff and graduate students Jack DiSciacca, Mason Marshall, Kathryn Marable, and Rita Kalra — was able to capture individual protons and antiprotons in a “trap” created by electric and magnetic fields. By tracking the oscillations of each particle, the team was able to measure the magnetism of a proton 1,000 times more accurately than any proton had been measured before. Similar tests with antiprotons produced a 680-fold increase in accuracy in the size of the magnet in an antiproton.“That is a spectacular jump in precision for any fundamental quality,” Gabrielse said. “That’s a leap that we don’t often see in physics, at least not in a single step.”Such measurements, Gabrielse said, could one day help scientists answer a question that might seem more suited for the philosophy classroom than the physics lab: Why are we here?“One of the great mysteries in physics is why our universe is made of matter,” he said. “According to our theories, the same amount of matter and antimatter was produced during the Big Bang. When matter and antimatter meet, they are annihilated. As the universe cools down, the big mystery is: Why didn’t all the matter find the antimatter and annihilate all of both? There’s a lot of matter and no antimatter left, and we don’t know why.”Making precise measurements of protons and antiprotons, Gabrielse explained, could begin to answer those questions, by potentially shedding light on whether the CPT (charge conjugation, parity transformation, time reversal) theorem is correct. An outgrowth of the standard model of particle physics, CPT states that the protons and antiprotons should be virtually identical — with the same magnitude of charge and mass — yet with opposite charges.The predictions of CPT have been verified by experiments measuring the charge-to-mass ratio of protons and antiprotons, but further investigation is needed, Gabrielse said, because the standard model does not account for all forces in the universe.“What we wanted to do with these experiments was to say, ‘Let’s take a simple system — a single proton and a single antiproton — and let’s compare their predicted relationships, and see if our predictions are correct,’” Gabrielse said. “Ultimately, whatever we learn might give us some insight into how to explain this mystery.”While researchers were able to capture and measure protons with relative ease, antiprotons are only produced by high-energy collisions that take place at the extensive tunnels of the CERN laboratory in Geneva, which created a dilemma.“Last year, we published a report showing that we could measure a proton much more accurately than ever before,” Gabrielse said. “Once we had done that, however, we had to make a decision. Did we want to take the risk of moving our people and our entire apparatus — crates and crates of electronics and a very delicate trap apparatus — to CERN and try to do the same thing with antiprotons?  Antiprotons would only be available till mid-December and then not again for a year and a half.“We decided to give it a shot, and by George, we pulled it off,” he continued. “Ultimately, we argued that we should attempt it, because even if we failed, that failure would teach us something.” In what Gabrielse described as a “gutsy” choice, DiSciacca agreed to use the attempt to conclude his thesis research, and new grad students Marshall and Marable signed on to help.Though the results still fit within the predictions made by the standard model, more accurate measurements of the characteristics of matter and antimatter may advance our understanding of how the universe works.“What’s also very exciting about this breakthrough is that it now prepares us to continue down this road,” Gabrielse said. “I’m confident that, given this start, we’re going to be able to increase the accuracy of these measurements by another factor of 1,000, or even 10,000.”last_img read more

Pew Trust launches tech tool for Vermont arts organizations

first_imgThe Pew Charitable Trusts announced the launch of the Cultural Data Project (CDP) in Vermont, giving nonprofit arts and cultural organizations state of the art technology to help them strengthen their management capacity and demonstrate their impact across Vermont.  The project’a web-based data collection tool for arts and cultural organizations and their advocates’launched with funding from the Vermont Arts Council, The Vermont Community Foundation and The Kresge Foundation. ‘As cultural organizations navigate a challenging economic climate with limited resources, the CDP provides the information they need to track programmatic, operational and financial trends,’ says Neville Vakharia, CDP director. ‘Arts and cultural organizations in Vermont will be better able to understand their financial condition, improve management practices and plan for the future.’ Operated by The Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia, the Cultural Data Project has emerged as a national resource for collecting and disseminating reliable, standardized data for the cultural  sector. The CDP is in use by more than 11,500 nonprofits in Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and now, Vermont. With support from national arts grantmakers including the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, the CDP is on track to be operational in 22 states by 2014. Those participating in the Vermont CDP will receive free assistance from a team of on-call database specialists and financial consultants. Once participants supply the wide range of financial, programmatic and operational data, the CDP serves as a repository and financial management tool. Organizations can instantly generate information for grant applications, or create on demand 77 different analytic reports on topics such as program activity, free and paid attendance, balance sheet trends, or marketing expenses to present to their donors or boards. Organizations can also use the CDP to understand how they operate in comparison to groups of similar organizations in their community, or communities in other CDP states.  ‘Understanding not just how financially healthy an organization is, but how the entire sector is doing, is just one aspect of this effort,’ says Vermont Arts Council Executive Director Alexander L. Aldrich. ‘Giving managers contextual information is critical to their planning, as is giving hard, defensible data to funders and policy-makers. Added to all this is the convenience of Vermont organizations being able to apply for funding from some of our major national foundations or creating an annual report with just a few clicks of a mouse.’ With the CDP, research and advocacy organizations can provide a clearer snapshot of arts and culture in a region, demonstrating how vital a role the sector plays. In regions where the project has been in existence for many years, the CDP has been used successfully to provide policymakers evidence of the sector’s assets and needs. For example, arts advocates in Pennsylvania used data collected from the project to defeat a proposed ‘arts tax’ that would have removed the tax exemption on ticket sales and membership revenue for nonprofit arts and cultural organizations. ‘Supporting this project is a natural fit for the Vermont Community Foundation’s goal of strengthening the state’s nonprofit sector,’ says Foundation President & CEO Stuart Comstock-Gay. ‘Having access to this data and other CDP resources will allow arts and cultural organizations to fine tune their financial management, create stronger messages about their community impact, and better understand the value of their sector.’    For more information on the Vermont Cultural Data Project, visit www.vtculturaldata.org(link is external). The Cultural Data Project, which originated in Pennsylvania, is governed by a consortium of organizations including the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, The Heinz Endowments, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the William Penn Foundation. The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. www.pewtrusts.org(link is external)last_img read more