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Letters to the Editor


10:11am, November 19, 2010
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Superfluid’s roots
I’m confused. A little. I thought that a Bose-Einstein condensate occurred only in a gas and that the first time it was achieved was in 1995 using rubidium atoms. “A matter of solidity” (SN: 9/11/10, p. 22) states, “Superfluidity arises when the atoms in superfluid helium join up in a quantum state called a Bose-Einstein condensate.” Further reading leads me to believe that the quoted statement may not be accurate. Are the helium atoms just behaving similar to a Bose-Einstein condensate?

By the way, just so you can add me to any demographic data, I’m a machinist, typical blue-collar, 54 years old and have been reading Science News since I was about 10 years old.
Eric R. Snow, Whidbey Island, Wash.

Bose-Einstein condensation, in which atoms lose their individual identity and begin to move as a collective quantum mass, was indeed observed experimen­tally for the first time in 1995 in supercooled rubidium atoms. But it was proposed theoretically in the 1920s and, soon after superfluidity was discovered in liquid helium in the 1930s, researchers argued that Bose-Einstein condensation could be the explanation. Today scientists think that superfluidity is associated with a more generalized version of Bose-Einstein condensation as laid out in the 1950s by Oliver Penrose. —Alexandra Witze

The source for science news
I really liked chief editor Tom Siegfried’s column in Science News (“Staying on the lookout for rumors disguised as news,” SN: 9/25/10, p. 2) about “lax reporting” in science journalism nowadays and how your magazine tries to fight that tendency. I thought, “This is why I read Science News” — your content is trustworthy, and I’m an interested (in science) layperson (which doesn’t mean professional scientists can’t read SN). The Internet makes it easy for inaccuracies to become global. Tom mentioned a blogger who thought Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle had been overturned. No, not yet (if ever). Tom describes how SN writer Laura Sanders got to the truth of the matter (Deleted Scenes blog, SN Online: 8/5/10). I humorously offer an informational correlate to Heisenberg’s quantum uncertainty: If it’s not in Science News, be wary (uncertain).
Paul Rizzuto, Orange, N.J.

The September 25 issue was excellent, especially the volcanoes (“Fire and ice,” SN: 9/25/10, p. 16) and wheat rust (“Rust never sleeps,” SN: 9/25/10, p. 22) articles, the latter of which explained the whole situation in prose that was clear as a bell.

I found the article about general relativity and thermodynamics (“A new view of gravity,” SN: 9/25/10, p. 26) intriguing and frustrating: Clearly the math is so complex that only a small number of humans can really grasp these theories. My thanks to the author for making it as clear as he could without using any equations, but the surface nature of the explanation is obvious to the reader, and I’m sure to the author too.

Regarding the editorial, I don’t bother reading or listening to the regular media, Internet sites or anybody else reporting announcements of new progress in science. I just wait for the article in Science News to explain what really happened. Thanks, you are doing a great job.
Park Chamberlain, via e-mail

Entropic gravity
“A new view of gravity” (SN: 9/25/10, p. 26) was a wonderful article on both gravity and entropy! I’m no scientist, but I have always wondered if entropy really is at its peak inside a black hole. Could the unbelievable gravity in a black hole force matter into an organized state, and thus into an extremely low state of entropy? Or, when information “enters” a black hole the entropy of our universe increases but the entropy inside the black hole decreases? (Perhaps the physics inside a black hole is different from outside the hole.)

Could this explain why at the birth of our universe entropy was very low?
Don Wilfong, San Ramon, Calif.

I enjoyed the article on the potential for entropic roots to gravitation. Only very occasionally are there real breakthroughs in theoretical thinking; this could be one of them, once it’s fleshed out. It also looks like a very promising lead toward an approach to a grand unified theory, something which Einstein sought. But I think the most promising aspect of this approach is that it might eliminate the need for the phantasmagorical “dark energy.” The search for dark energy has grated on my amateur theoretical instincts for years, as it represents a “correction factor” for the incorrectness of our theories. We should be looking to improve our theories, not looking for correction factors. (Einstein himself disliked these.) Dark energy has always reminded me of phlogiston, or the ether. It’s good to see an approach being explored that does not require it.
Tom DuBois, Glens Falls, N.Y.

Kudos to Tom Siegfried for an essay on a topic requiring deep thought that is understandable to laymen. Decades ago I majored in physics and have since then been annoyed with the “discovery” of every new particle, force, string and fabricated explanation that just seemed to make a unifying concept more distant. This “primacy of information over matter and energy” conjecture is unique and profound as this report describes so many aspects of reality that seem to be mathematically consistent. Maybe someday it will be confirmed, and if so, perhaps we’ll learn that this primacy of “information” is consistent with “intelligence.”

Greg Tullo, Raleigh, N.C.

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