Monday, July 20, 2015
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One minute with Alexey Burov, beam physicist

Alexey Burov, a beam physicist in the Accelerator Division, enjoys exploring philosophical questions.

How long have you been working at Fermilab?
I came here in 1997. At that time the project of electron cooling started to be discussed here at Fermilab, and I was brought on as a beam physics expert.

What is a typical day for you like?
Some time ago I developed a theory of beam instabilities at strong space charge, and right now I am working to combine all the ideas inside a single code.

What's the most exciting thing about working here?
In a sense everything is exciting. The entire cycle of scientific research is very exciting. Today, the span of scientific cognition is extremely huge, it's cosmic. We are able to see up to 26 orders of magnitude above our own size. If instead we look toward the small, we face the top quark and Higgs boson, which are 19 orders of magnitude smaller than we are. When you divide these two numbers you get an enormous dimensionless parameter of 1045. This parameter of 45 orders of magnitude universally describes the span of scientific thought. That is already a miracle. It shows our real size, telling of who we are. We are cosmic creatures, cosmic observers.

You recently won fourth prize in a prestigious philosophy contest held by the Foundational Questions Institute. What was your essay about?
The topic of the contest was the mysterious relation of physics and mathematics. I wrote the essay, "Genesis of a Pythagorean Universe," with my oldest son Lev. Our essay is about the source of the laws of nature. In order for these laws to be complex enough to generate life and thinking beings but also simple enough to be discoverable by these beings, the laws must be just right. We concluded that they could not be accidental and could only have been produced by some sort of transcendental mind.

Why did you start the Fermi Society of Philosophy?
Because I like philosophical discussion. And I think there are some people in this laboratory full of intellectuals who cherish philosophy who would be happy to come and share their questions, impressions about philosophical texts and their own ideas.

When did you become interested in philosophy?
My earliest recollection about myself is when I was three years old. It was a rainy day in some industrial region of Siberia, and I thought, "Who am I? What does it mean to be three years old?"

What's the most important philosophical question to you?
This I cannot tell you. Philosophy doesn't have a single set of axioms. It doesn't have axioms at all. If you try to set some axioms, the next question will be, "Why these axioms and not something else?" The philosophical question I'm asking right now usually appears in front of my eyes as the most important.

Ali Sundermier

Editor's note: The Society of Philosophy meets every other Thursday from noon-1 p.m. in the northwest conference room on the fourth floor of Wilson Hall (the Req Room). It is open to everybody, from curious scientists to contemplative three-year-olds. Mailing list:

In Brief

Neutrino Theory and Phenomenology Workshop - July 21-25 in One West

From July 21-25 Fermilab will host the Neutrino Theory and Phenomenology Workshop, or Nu@Fermilab. Registration is open until July 21 and is free.

In the coming decades, Fermilab will play a central role in the field of neutrino physics worldwide. In view of the upcoming opportunities in experimental neutrino physics at the laboratory, it is relevant to advance our understanding of neutrino theory and phenomenology, which is the main goal of the workshop.

Learn more at the Nu@Fermilab website.

In the News

DOE: Let's move accelerator technologies to commercial markets

From Physics Today, July 2015

Six US Department of Energy national labs have been on the make of late: They want to meet you, and they want you to get to know them better, too. Representatives from the six labs have held events, attended conferences, and engaged in networking to seek out people from industry, academia, and other national labs who want to learn about and use their tools. Those efforts represent the ramping up of the Accelerator Stewardship Test Facility Pilot Program. A 28 April launch event for the pilot, held jointly by Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory, attracted about 100 people. Since the event, says Robert Kephart, director of Fermilab's Illinois Accelerator Research Center, "we've been approached by both old friends and a few first dates" to talk about launching joint projects.

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Tip of the Week:
Ecology and the Environment

Survival of a species

This peregrine falcon is identified by the bands on his leg (see inset) as an adult male named Joe, hatched May 13, 2005, in Chicago. Photo: Marek Proga

Last week, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced that the peregrine falcon was no longer in need of listing as a threatened species in Illinois. Although it is still protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty, these birds are now present in sufficient numbers to "go it alone" in Illinois without formal state protection. This has to be regarded as a success story, because 30 years ago the prospects for the species were dim indeed. Peregrine falcons are demanding in their habitat needs — they prey almost exclusively on other birds (they were known at one time as "duck hawks"), and they naturally inhabit cliff sides. As humans moved in, the habitat shrank.

Before the use of the pesticide DDT was banned in the early 1970s, bioaccumulation of the chemical led to weak eggshells and high levels of nest mortality among raptors such as the peregrines. The parents literally squashed the weak-shelled eggs before they could hatch. The peregrine population, especially in the Midwest United States, has rebounded spectacularly since then. This is also part of a larger story about successful protective laws and programs. There are still many, many species on various state and federal threatened and endangered lists, but there have been successes as well. It is worthwhile to step back and examine how and why success occurs.

The reason there are so many species in the world is the fundamental ability of plants and animals to adapt to their ecological conditions and pass on successful adaptations to their offspring. This basic tenet of natural selection results in the proliferation of thousands of species as generation after generation is exposed to slightly different conditions. Even when those conditions are the result of human interference, individuals can sometimes succeed by exploiting an "unnatural" habitat. In the case of the peregrine falcon, high-rise buildings and a plentiful supply of pigeons in the city were an adequate substitute for cliffs and ducks. Falcons further exploited their urban environment by constructing their nests on building ledges high above the city streets.

A second source of success is a variety of programs enabled by protective legislation and implemented by various government agencies and volunteer organizations. For the peregrine falcon in Illinois, the Chicago Peregrine Program, operated from the Field Museum in Chicago, became the epicenter of falcon recovery. There is a certain poetic justice when humans get together and work to protect an endangered population and bring it back to healthy levels after historically creating the conditions that put it in jeopardy in the first place.

Rod Walton

Photo of the Day

Air and water show

Tip to tail: A pair of dragonflies attach to each other as they fly over the pond in front of Wilson Hall. Photo: Jesus Orduna, Brown University
In the News

LCLS-II upgrade to enable pioneering research in many fields

From Cold Facts, July 8, 2015

Cold Facts visited Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory recently to learn more about the lab's involvement in LCLS-II, a project that involves several institutions, features cutting-edge physics and promises some very exciting results.

The LCLS-II project, supported by the US Department of Energy Basic Energy Sciences, will provide a major upgrade to the functionality of the existing Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC), taking up 500 meters of the existing two-mile tunnel. A baseline design has been established, incorporating a 4 GeV superconducting accelerator and two undulators capable of delivering femtosecond-scale X-ray pulses at up to 1 MHz repetition rate for photon energies between 250 eV and 5 keV. These upgrades will also enable photon energies as high as 25 keV in the fundamental beam at 120 Hz repetition rate using the existing accelerator.

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