US and Switzerland Go After FIFA

Now back from a short hiatus and it looks like a lot has happened. The big news of the week is that the US has filed for extradition of a number of FIFA officials and the Swiss are investigating now too. Now that FIFA has also reelected Sepp Blatter in the wake of these arrests, it looks like it could be very bad for the organization. A Swiss investigation potentially means that FIFA and its officials won’t be able to use their ties to Switzerland to avoid punishment (apparently extradition of Swiss citizens from Switzerland can be tricky). Given that FIFA is about as widely hated as the IOC, a lot of people are probably happy about all of this.

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The LHC Starts 13 TeV Collisions

Collisions at the LHC have started again and are now at a center of mass energy of 13 TeV for protons on protons. This was the target energy for the upcoming physics run this year, so this means that the accelerator group was successful in getting everything up to the desired energy. It’s still a little bit lower than the design energy of 14 TeV, but is much better than the 7-8 TeV that the initial runs used. The extra energy allows for a lot of analyses to be done better. Searches for exotic particles can reach a wider range of masses. While cross sections for most processes fall with energy, it is also the case that for some important analyses the backgrounds fall faster than the signal. Thus, a better measurement can be made with lower statistics because the sample has a better purity.

New ANTARES Dark Matter Annihilation Limit

The ANTARES experiment has a new preprint out setting a limit on the annihilation of dark matter in the center of the Milky Way. ANTARES is an underwater neutrino telescope located in the Mediterranean off the coast of France. It uses photomultiplier tubes placed underwater to look for Cherenkov light from particles created when neutrinos interact in seawater. The basic idea sounds similar to various cosmic ray experiments like IceCube (also looking for neutrinos) and Auger (looking for ultra high energy cosmic rays of more traditional types like protons). Rather than attempt to build an enormous detector, they just place sensors in a fairly uniform natural medium like water. This is a great way to get an enormous fiducial volume, although it is obviously harder to control than a fully man-made detector system.

Since ANTARES looks for neutrinos, the dark matter signal they look for is dark matter annihilation to a neutrino-antineutrino pair. Since WIMP dark matter is assumed to be quite heavy, each neutrino gets a momentum (and energy) equal to that of a dark matter particle. Since the neutrinos are coming out of the center of our own galaxy (about 7 kiloparsecs away), things like redshifting due to the expansion of the universe are irrelevant. The main signal from WIMP annihilation directly to neutrinos would be a nice peak around the WIMP mass. They also look for WIMP annihilation to other states that eventually lead to neutrinos, such as bottom pairs and tau pairs, but the spectra for these are not quite as obvious as for the neutrino case. There are plenty of non-dark matter neutrinos, so the analysis would have to rely on finding a signal on top of a nontrivial background. In the end, they get the best current limit from a neutrino telescope, although not really the best overall.

USC MFA Students Withdraw En Masse

The LA Times reported a couple days ago that an entire class of USC MFA students has withdrawn from the university. While the whole class was only a handful of students, I find this to be a very interesting case. The students claim that after they matriculated, a great deal of things about the program changed and that they all decided that the changes were too great to continue and finish the program. Apparently, there were a number of changes to the curriculum and the faculty. Additionally, the students felt that TA opportunities that had been promised were not actually being offered.

Without knowing all the finer details of the story, it sounds like both sides may have some valid points. USC is correct when they say that curriculum changes and arrivals and departures of faculty members are things that happen everywhere. This is obviously true, and while it is perfectly valid for a student to withdraw if, for example, the faculty member that they were to work with leaves the institution, it also isn’t in any way newsworthy.

What the students are alleging is much more serious than that. They seem to be alleging that the entire program has been revamped so that the program that they joined effectively no longer exists. If true, this is much more troubling. If USC wants to remake the program, it ought to have an obligation to either wait until the current students graduate to make the changes or to help them transfer to equivalent programs. The fact that the new director of the program has no background in fine arts suggests that the students’ version of the events may in fact be the truth. Again, none of this would be a problem if USC openly stated what they were doing. They do have the right to decide what programs they want to offer. However, they need to make their plans clear to prospective students.

Once again assuming that the students’ claims are true, this also highlights some problems with how some sectors of higher education are changing. Focusing on things like “interdisciplinary” cooperation between different academic programs can easily end up damaging rather than enhancing the original programs in order to garner some press coverage about a new “innovative” academic program.  I would guess that the joint USC/Conde Nast master’s program (though it’s institutionally separate from the MFA) will fall into the damaging category. It looks good to the press and generates a lot of buzz but probably doesn’t actually serve the students very well. Furthermore, I wasn’t really aware that Conde Nast and wired.com were respected enough to be partners for a reasonably prestigious university like USC, and I would fear that such a program would really be a long and expensive job interview for a single company that will only take the top one or two students. I think there are so many possible issues with direct corporate influence on an academic program that no university that’s really serious about its academics should even consider this kind of deal. There are reasons why universities typically have policies that donors’ money is welcome but their influence is not.

New Kamland Proton Decay Search

The Kamland-Zen collaboration has a new preprint on the arXiv on searching for proton decay to a kaon and an antineutrino. Kamland is a detector based at the Kamioka underground lab in the mountains of Japan. It consists of a spherical volume filled with liquid scintillator and uses photomultiplier tubes to measure events happening in the detector volume.

This decay mode is found in various grand unified theories and in the Standard Model is kinematically allowed but cannot happen due to conservation of baryon number and lepton number. If a unified theory conserves some combination of these quantum numbers but not all of them separately, then it can allow for such exotic phenomena to occur. Enough energy is released by the decay that radioactive backgrounds are basically irrelevant. Kaons can be produced in neutrino interactions but these events should be rare.

They find a limit on proton decay if it occurs through this channel of greater than 1032 years. This is still behind the best SuperK result, but SuperK has also been running for a lot longer than Kamland and has a much bigger detector. The Kamland-Zen group seems to see this as more of a proof of principle work showing that large scintillator detectors are useful at looking for rare events like proton decay.

Harry Shearer Leaves the Simpsons

It was announced a couple days ago that Harry Shearer has decided to leave the Simpsons after over 25 years as a member of the main cast. I think that Shearer would be the first major cast member to leave the show. Previous departures (including the tragic loss of Phil Hartman) meant that only some minor characters would need to be written off or recast. While Shearer doesn’t voice any of the main characters, he does do voices for many of the most important minor characters. He’s the voice of Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, and Principal Skinner as well as many others. Shearer is fairly old and has said that he would like to do something new for once, which is understandable given how long he’s been on the show.

The producers say that they will recast most of Shearer’s characters. Obviously, it would be too difficult to just not show his characters again, as many are too important to just let disappear. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see this as anything but the beginning of the end for the Simpsons. The whole main cast has been around for decades, and the show is too iconic to remove any main characters or recast their voices. In fact, that is the sort of thing that the Simpsons would have lampooned while the show still had the vitality that it lost years ago.