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This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

A fun little argument in relativity

Confession:  I know next to nothing about general relativity.  My graduate work was in materials and optics.  My current research is mostly on optics and biophysics.  I enjoy the elegance of special relativity, but I never studied general relativity.

In a couple weeks I'm teaching students about Newtonian mechanics in non-inertial reference frames, and I felt like I should try to learn at least a few tidbits of general relativity.  I wanted to understand gravitational time dilation, so I came up with a nice little argument that I'm quite proud of.

Suppose that a pair of particles collide and produce two photons.  One photon goes left, the other goes right.  We use mirrors to send them upward (i.e. to a place to higher gravitational potential) and then recombine them.  The photons collide and produce a pair of particles of the same type as the original particles.  (Such things can happen, though the cross-sections are small.)  If the photons did not change their frequencies, i.e. did not lose some energy, then we have a new pair of particles at higher gravitational potential energy but with the same kinetic energy. We have gained energy. We can let those particles fall and extract energy from the system to power machines...for free.  We have thus produced energy from nothing, and that's not allowed.

The photons must thus lose some energy, i.e. must change their frequencies. Say that the kinetic energy of the new particles is zero, i.e. mgy(final)=KE(initial)

The frequency shift can be found via:

KE(initial) + 2m = 2*omega (initial) = 2m + 2mgy

And 2m must also equal 2*omega(final), since the two photons have just enough energy to produce the particles, so we get that 2*omega(initial) = 2*omega(final) + 2*omega(final)*gy

omega(final)*(1+gy) = omega(initial)

omega(final) = omega(initial)/(1+gy) or approximately omega(initial)*(1-gy) (to first order)

(We are working in units where hbar and c are equal to 1.)

So the fractional frequency shift has to be of order gy/c^2.  Once we have the frequency shift, we can argue that clocks based on oscillations of EM fields must run slower lower in the gravitational field, since the people above them are receiving consecutive ticks at longer intervals.

I will present this at the end of my lecture on Newtonian mechanics in non-inertial frames, along with the argument that a guy in a falling elevator sees light curve.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Next Book: Edward Teller's Memoirs

I haven't been blogging books lately, for a lot of reasons, but I'm determined to get back to it.  Right now I'm reading Edward Teller's Memoirs.  Teller has a lot to answer for (e.g. his treatment of Oppenheimer, his utter fascination with WMD), but we're entering an era where peering inside the minds of villains might be of great practical significance.  He was a towering figure who participated in great events, working with Heisenberg as a postdoc before going to the West and getting involved in nuclear weapons.  His narration of events may not be wholly reliable, but his mind is worth peering inside.

Besides, every villain has an origin story, and in that origin story there is tragedy and triumph.  One uplifting thing I've already learned from Teller is that the British were quite proactive in recruiting German scientists as early as 1933.  I had no idea how much effort the British put into that; it is a credit to them. There's plenty else to fault them for, but at least that episode is a good one. A part of me wonders if I should be helping my Middle Eastern colleagues find jobs overseas.