[ExI] Discontent with the path physics is taking

Kelly Anderson kellycoinguy at gmail.com
Fri Aug 26 20:33:52 UTC 2011

On Sat, Aug 20, 2011 at 1:38 PM, Brent Neal <brentn at freeshell.org> wrote:
> On 20 Aug, 2011, at 10:52, Kelly Anderson wrote:
>> So Brent, why do you think the mass media never even talks about this
>> stuff? Don't us Monday morning physicists deserve to hear about this
>> cool stuff too? :-)  Is it just too hard to grok the basic concepts?
>> I've never even heard the phrases "Soft Matter" or "Polymer Physics".
> Yeah, I honestly don't know why these areas aren't considered 'popular' - there's some pretty clever work being done there. I honestly believe that you don't need to be particularly numerate in order to write a good popular book on these topics - its much more important to have an excellent facility at explaining things conceptually, but with a wicked accuracy and attention to detail.  So maybe you should write these books? :)  With de Gennes having passed away a few years back, I'd be willing to bet the market is ripe for a good biography of his work.

You would have to be a pretty dang good writer...

> Primarily, soft matter physics is the study of order-disorder phenomena in condensed matter at levels of order between crystalline solids and the classical liquids.  de Gennes particularly studied the physics of liquid crystals and the isotropic-nematic transition. More broadly (and this gets into the nature of my current research), soft matter includes polymer dynamics - the behavior of macromolecules in dilute solutions and in melts and their crystallization from those melts, as well as  order-disorder phenomena in multicomponent systems, colloids, and gels.

I understood about two thirds of that... :-)   Not sure what
order-disorder phenomena is specifically... for example...

The Wikipedia article on Soft Matter was also not particularly
illuminating, which is sad. If you wanted to brush that article up and
dumb it down for the rest of us, that would sure be appreciated by
this dumb Monday morning physicist. :-)

> Practically speaking, this is how we clarify polypropylene that you use to store your food. (i.e. Ziploc food containers, Gladware food containers.)  Polypropylene on its own is pretty much opaque. By controlling the dynamics of its crystallization, however, we can make the polyproylene crystallites always smaller than 200 nm, so they won't scatter light in the visible bands.

See, that's interesting... but which came first the glad bag, or the
physics explaining why it was clear?

> So, no, I don't think the physics here is particularly hard. The only advanced math I've seen anywhere in the literature here (i.e., beyond a run-of-the-mill partial differential equation) is a stochastic DE, and I felt that was probably unnecessary. My background is in condensed matter and I found it exceptionally accessible. If you wanted to check out a book or two from your library, the two I felt were the best were Gert Strobl's book, and Rubenstein and Colby's book.  (One is titled "Polymer Physics" and the other is "The Physics of Polymers."  And boy, I wish I could remember which is which without recourse to Amazon...)  You might be better off starting with Rubenstein. I recall Strobl being mathematically intense and weak on conceptualization.

I think I'm already going in enough directions that I can avoid that
level of depth in this area... LOL!

>> I am glad to hear that there is a lot of good work going on, and I
>> suspected that there was. We of the great unwashed masses just don't
>> hear about it.
> I was thinking about this a lot as a response to this thread. I suspect strongly now that there is a lot going on in physics that the atoms-and-particles set would not recognize (or acknowledge, if they did recognize) as physics. But ultimately, if your goal is to find the basis of measurement of a physical phenomenon in order to construct rigorous mathematical models of the behavior with a goal of understanding some underlying behavior, then you're doing physics, no matter what your degree or job title says. Physics is a science, and thus is a skillset and problem solving formalism, not a static body of knowledge.

Why not contact NOVA and do a show about it? In the end, everything is
physics, including chemistry, microbiology, laying out silicon, a
bunch of stuff is there just above raw physics. This is probably
another one of those areas that lies just barely above physics...
Perhaps it's like artificial intelligence in computer science, once
it's understood to a certain point it gets a new name :-)


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