Edith Cook Online

The commentaries below appeared as weekly commentaries in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle until early February 2017. The 2016, 2015, and 2014 and earlier columns are posted on the other "Columns" pages.

A few months ago, when several Wyoming newspapers were acquired by AP Media of the Rockies, local WTE columnists were informed we would no longer be paid. The Casper Star Tribune, which ran my columns for two years, never paid me.


Now that my life needs changing, I am reconsidering my options. First on the list is an entirely new writing project, one that also requires me to rethink long-held beliefs and priorities. You'll read about it in the weeks to come.

As of mid-February, the WTE columns, too, have come to an end. See may remarks on the "News Log" page of this site. Also see the rejected essays, printed in Word formate below.

They are the submitted columns Brian Matin refused to publish on grounds that my "pattern" merely consists of writing "about random people" and "book reports." Editors insist they want to compose their own headlines, but Martin complaint that his copy editor had trouble coming up with headlines for my columns. Since Martin has become opinion editor I noticed that my submissions were given only the most cursory of readings; sometimes the headlines did not match the content at all; for example, my Steinbeck column says nothing whatsoever about current immigrant issues. That headline may be a sign of sloppy reading, or, perhaps more likely, of editorial anxiety. 

 

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Here is the first submission, mid-February, 2017.  Casper Star Editor Dale Bohren likewise would not print the submissions, even though the Scullys are internationally-known Wyomingites born in Casper. :



Marlan Scully and Judith Bailey Scully are Wyomingites made good. Not only that, they have “paid forward” from the fruit of their labors to benefit their home state, their native town, and the educational institutions whence began their paths of higher learning. All have been marked by the generosity of the Bailey and Scully families.

 

Judith Bailey Scully won honors while attending Casper College. The Jim and Audrey Bailey Foundation bears the name of her parents, who arrived in Wyoming as the children of people settling into the rural West. The foundation supports a number of scholarship programs for students at Casper College and University of Wyoming.

 

Judith took her degree from University of Wyoming just three years after graduating from Natrona County High School. After husband Marlan graduated from UWYO, he joined Yale for doctorate studies. In early 2005, Marlan established a yearly award in the name of Judith Bailey Scully, to honor Casper faculty who demonstrate academic excellence. I heard comments from several individuals chosen for the award that convinced me, the award not only acknowledges academic excellence but promotes it.

 

Since his Casper beginnings Marlan Scully has become a renowned physicist. His chosen field is physics and quantum optics, and his career has been marked by research with top scientists in the U.S. and abroad. As Distinguished Professor, Scully holds positions at Baylor, Princeton, and Texas A&M. In a number of countries, Academies of Science have invited his membership, including the German Max Planck Institut für Quantenoptik, and the Hungarian as well as the Russian Academies of Science. He is Einstein Professor with the Chinese Academy of Science.

 

“My best friend and collaborator is my wife,” he says of Judith (“Judy”) Scully.

 

I became interested in the Scullys when, in summer of 2016, I learned about the Symposium on Quantum Biophotonics at Casper College. The annual event, organized by Marlan and sponsored by Texas A&M, Princeton, and Baylor Universities, brings researchers and scientists from around the world to the Scullys’ alma mater. In 2016, a Nobel laureate was among the speakers. The presenters’ abstracts (my son’s among them) and their biographical notes make for interesting reading. Researchers from top U.S. institutions joined scientists from China, Germany, Hungary, Russia, and other countries.

 

“What a boost to the town and the college,” I said to my son. “Imagine the economic impact of international visitors, some undoubtedly bringing a family member or two. Greater Wyoming benefits as well, since it’s a joy to explore the state’s treasures in the summer.”

 

Walter’s answer astounded. “Do you know, this man discovered a way to detect anthrax spores practically at the blink of an eye?” 

 

“You mean pinpointing anthrax in mailing envelopes, sealed and posted?” 

 

I activated an internet search engine, which brought me entries from the many universities that have hosted Scully. Among them was this quote and explication:

 

“‘There is nothing so useful as good theory,’ said Scully when he moved from theoretical analysis to demonstrate his innovative backward-air lasing. The process has developed a technique that instantaneously detects anthrax-type endospores.”

 

The article went on to explain how Scully’s study of quantum coherence effects led to improvements in laser spectroscopy that allow lightning fast detection of spores like anthrax and other microscopic bodies. The breakthrough for medical science must be enormous.

 

Since I now winter in southeastern Texas, when Marlan Scully requested my son’s presence at his research farm, I asked if I might tag along. Scully graciously extended his invitation to include yours truly. 

 

When Walter and I arrived at Salter Research Farm, which is so unique, it deserves a column all its own, my son gave his input regarding three horses the Scullys had recently acquired. Then he went riding with their son Robert while Marlan gave up his own horseback ride to acquaint me with the farm’s layout and purpose, driving me around in his pickup. 

 

Renovating the living quarters of this former plantation is a work in progress. The Scullys acquired the 1000-acre spread five years ago, and the kitchen is not yet fully functional. Hence, Judy Scully arrived from town with a scrumptious lunch of roast chicken, baked beans, a tossed green salad, and desert.Everyone dug into the “carry-in” fare and partook heartily, including the younger Scully who, when not composing biographies for the National Academy of Sciences, devotes himself to managing the ranch.

 

That day I became the delighted recipient of a book authored by Robert (“Rob”) Scully, with chapter-by-chapter endnotes from the elder Scully. At 266-pages, “The Demon and the Quantum” aims to enlighten lay people like myself by providing an overview of the state of modern physics. In particular, Rob explains the bizarre paradoxes at the sub-atomic level, where one particle seems to “know” what the others are doing. The puzzle of the wave-particle duality is explored, while biographical tidbits lend an intimate air to famous names, Einstein to Schrödinger. You’ll hear details on the Scully book next time.


Now here is the simultaneously-tendered second submission:


In school in Germany I was, as they say, no Einstein. My parents only shook their heads over my failure at mathematics. Of course, they themselves knew nothing about algebra. In California, I gleaned concepts like entropy and the second law of thermodynamics from my husband; however, my imperfect understanding rendered them confusing.

 

Hence, gaining possession of Rob and Marlan Scully’s “The Demon and the Quantum” was like engaging with two learned tutors willing fill in the gaps. Rob’s introductory chapter elucidates the beginnings of mathematics and its philosophical underpinnings in ancient Greece, which is interesting in itself, but his dad’s commentary to that chapter, with its “a little basic algebra,” hit home in no time. 

 

The elder Scully begins by asserting that algebra is but basic arithmetic expanded by logic or, if you wish, common sense. Not having to prove myself, I absorbed the lessons at my leisure. When the endnotes went on to explain logarithms, I followed via repeated readings.

 

Subsequent chapters focus on scientific research and the benefits humanity has derived therefrom. Rob explains entropy in various ways. First off, entropy is a measure of disorder. Second, entropy governs the ability to extract useful work from an engine: always, some energy is wasted in the process, for example, by the downstroke of the piston of a motor. Hence, scientists search for more efficient ways to run an engine. Third, the entropy of the universe ever increases as matter and and energy expand. In statistical time, “entropy is time’s arrow.”

 

Quantum mechanics begat the laser and its predecessor maser. Masers create microwaves though electrons’ radio waves; lasers create light because “the atoms or molecules do the hard work (useful work): they radiate the light.”

 

Consumers in line at a checkout stand may not associate quantum mechanics with the scanners that allow swift processing of their purchases, yet the latter are enabled by the former. Similarly, when a cataract is removed from an eye or a varicose vein from a leg, we may give scant thought to the lasers executing the miraculous work, yet these, too, are the result of inquiries into quantum mechanics. Seismic research into the faults that cause earthquakes is another area where lasers transcend the limits of human observation.

 

Further, the work of scientists like Marlan Scully and colleagues has advanced quantum inquiries into the wave-particle duality. Apparently all of sub-atomic nature sometimes expresses as particles while at other times displaying wave-like behavior. Nature “is trickier and more subtle than was previously understood,” comments the younger Scully.

 

When Marlan Scully and Kai Drühl undertook research at the Max Planck Institute that resulted in their 1982 quantum eraser concept, a Newsweek article celebrated their findings. Its sidebar with illustrations is reproduced in the Scully book, which begins with a reference to the well-known dispute between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. Bohr won the argument by relying on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which argues that whenever the position of a particle is known, its momentum remains unknown; conversely, if the momentum is known, the position is not. The Bohr-Einstein dispute, however, relied on thought experiments. Ninety years ago, the technology to follow up with experiments did not exist. Today, scientists use lasers to substantiate their observations.

 

“We have always known” heads the first entry of the Newsweek sidebar, 

 

“Particles of light, called photons, leave a source / And pass through two slits in a screen / Interfere with each other / And form bands of light and dark on a screen.”

 

“Then we found that” announces the second illustration, 

 

“When photons are emitted one at a time / And a detector monitors which slit each photon passes through / The photons don’t form the striped pattern, instead making two bright spots.”

 

“Now we discover” announces the third illustration (meaning Scully and Drühl have discovered) 

 

“When photons are emitted one at a time / And a detector monitors which slit each photon passes through / And another detector erases this knowledge / The striped pattern returns.”

 

The sidebar concludes by reiterating the results of the Quantum Eraser Experiment: “Losing knowledge of the photons’ path, even after they have passed through the slits, brings back the stripes.”

 

When in 1991, along with Berthold-Georg Englert and Hebert Walther of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Germany, Scully undertook two-slit experiments using atoms, it led to breakthroughs by other scientists. 

 

“Wave good-bye to the uncertainty principle—you don’t need it any more. Say hello to quantum entanglement.” Rob heralds the development.

 

The new researchers used the Scully team results by relying on atoms “cooled to within a hair’s breadth of absolute zero.” Thus Rempe and colleagues produced findings to put “An end to uncertainty,” per an article by science writer Mark Buchanan, reprinted in the Scully book.

 

“Much of that experiment is based on [the Scully team’s] proposal,” Rempe is quoted. “Scully and his colleagues came up with the idea because they could use cold atoms.”

 

Needless to say, “The Demon and the Quantum” contains mathematical formulas that go beyond lay understanding. Even so, intelligent readers will enjoy the ride.