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Biggest physics meeting of the year

American Physical Society Annual Meeting, March 13-17 at the Baltimore Convention Center

The American Physical Society (APS) March Meeting, usually the biggest physics meeting of the year anywhere, will occur this year March 13-17 at the Baltimore Convention Center by the harbor in Baltimore, Maryland. The March APS Meeting has traditionally been the showcase for the kind of cutting-edge research results that appear, sometimes not so long afterwards, in the new electronic, communications, computer, and medical diagnosis products that have done so much to shape modern culture.

Over 6500 papers will be delivered, some of them in prestigious invited-paper sessions, some in sessions of shorter 10-minute talks, and some in the form of posters. The large disciplinary areas at the meeting will be condensed matter physics, biological physics, chemical physics, new materials, fluid dynamics, polymers, and large-scale computing. Many of the presentations concern fundamental physics discoveries, while many others will look at the progress made toward implementing scientific discoveries in practical devices.

The March Meeting is a place where the latest developments in leading physics research areas (e.g., superconductivity, nanotubes, superfluids, quantum information, ultracold atoms) are reported and where whole new subjects are represented for the first time (e.g., fast electrons in graphene, session D2). The diversity of session subjects is abundant: planetary interiors (A42), ultrafast chemistry (R13), liquid splashing (P8), biological swarming (G8), optical clocks (K1), snake infrared vision (Y26), nanoplumbing (N26.4), Bose-Einstein transistors (B43.10), serial crystallography (A29.11), microscale synthetic swimmers (B29.2), plastic-explosive-degrading enzyme (P26.4), Cooper-pair molasses (Z39.11), double electromagnetically induced transparency (N43.1), vortex-phase qubits (B43.13), novel skin cream (C1.131), and antimicrobial coatings for medical devices (G29.5).

A Nobel Prize symposium (session G1a) entitled "One Hundred Years of Light Quanta" will feature all three winners of the most recent physics prize (Ted Haensch, John Hall, Roy Glauber) and at least one talk (Serge Haroche, K1.5) will describe how the prizewinning work still manifests itself in modern experiments.

Not all the sessions are technical in nature. Session H4a looks at Renaissance art (did painters use optical devices to achieve "realistic" effects?) and Broadway theater (science- and math-related themes). Other topics with social implications include Intelligent Design (M50, Tuesday night, March 14---see below), nuclear proliferation and terrorism (B5), US technology in the age of globalization (N5), how to be a referee (N34), the foundations of evolution (R7---see below), the use of complexity theory on Wall Street (A33, B33) and in studying population dynamics (Z28), and issues relating to university physics departments including the status of women, curricula trends, foreign students, and ethics (H5).

The March Meeting website is ;click on "epitome" to view the session topics and times. The site offers a quick way to view hotel and travel information. Complimentary press registration will allow science writers to attend all scientific sessions. If you wish to attend, please contact Phillip Schewe (

Here is information relating to the press operations at the meeting:

  • The meeting pressroom will be located in the Baltimore Convention Center, Room 334
  • Press conferences will take place in Room 333
  • Pressroom hours: Mon-Thur (March 13-16) 7:30 AM to 5 PM.
  • Pressroom phone numbers: 410-649-6498, -6502, -6506, -6510
  • Pressroom fax number: 410-649-6494
  • Internet lines will be available.
  • Breakfast and lunch food will be available in the pressroom from Monday-Thursday (breakfast only on Thursday).

During the week a number of press conferences will be held. A press conference schedule will be issued in early March, along with further tips about notable papers at the meeting (see also the list below). Science writers will be able to attend any regular invited- or contributed-paper session at the meeting.


From gene chips to microfluidics and nanotechnology, new tools now exist to test and explore biological evolution at a much deeper level than was possible 20 years ago. An entire session will be devoted to cutting-edge physical sciences approaches for bolstering the study of evolution. According to speaker Daniel Fisher of Harvard (, evolution can now become a quantitative experimental science, with the ability to do such things as manipulate microorganisms at the genetic level, move biomolecules with microfluidics, and make detailed measurements with state-of-the-art optics tools. The University of Chicago's Jim Shapiro (, another speaker at the session, shows that an information-science approach is bound to offer many new details about evolution. As he points out, the results of 50 years of molecular biology research have demonstrated that the genome is not a passive blueprint, but rather a complex information-processing unit, and that cells have "natural genetic engineering tools" for restructuring DNA molecules. Other speakers at the session include Michael Deem of Rice University ("Life Has Evolved to Evolve"), Juan Keymer of Princeton (evolutionary ecology of E. coli), and Richard Lenski, University of Michigan. (Session R7; for more information, also contact session organizer Robert Austin of Princeton, austin@Princeton.EDU, and session chair Herbert Levine of UC-San Diego,

Painter David Hockney and physicist Charles Falco (Univ of Arizona) began collaborating a few years ago in proposing the idea that some Renaissance painters used optical devices to aid to in the production of realistic, almost photographic, details in their works. This hypothesis has generated a great deal of controversy in art-history circles. Falco (520-621-6771, will summarize evidence in favor of the theory and his work with Hockney. He will also give a public lecture on this subject at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore on the Wednesday of the meeting (at 6:30 PM). (Session H4a)

New carbon nanotube yarns and sheets, stronger than steel and extremely light, could be used for a wide variety of futuristic applications, including artificial muscles, solar cells, energy storage, solar sails, electrically conducting appliqu├ęs, and several types of lamps, displays and sensors. These sheets are transparent, flexible, light, and extremely strong, and can be produced quickly. Ray Baughman of the University of Texas at Dallas (, 972-883-6538) will describe how he and colleagues produce these textiles by starting with a forest of nanotubes and spinning them into long, thin sheets, and will evaluate their use for some of these amazing applications. (N32.1)

One of the major unsolved questions in evolutionary biology is why sexual replication appears to be the preferred, indeed often the only, mode of replication for complex, multicellular organisms. Why don't organisms instead choose asexual reproduction, which is a bit riskier (no built-in mechanism for preventing the accumulation of mutations) but typically quicker (no time spent in finding a suitable mate). In a new mathematical model that directly addresses the evolutionary advantage for sexual reproduction in complex organisms, Emmanuel Tannenbaum of Ben Gurion University ( considers a replicating population of single-celled organisms, whose genomes consist of two chromosomes, and applies some simplifying assumptions (e.g., any mutation in a chromosome renders it defective). If the cells replicate slowly, he finds, so that the time lost in finding a mate is small compared to the time it takes to replicate, then the benefit from recombination (i.e., the contribution of genetic material from two distinct organisms) is sufficiently large to make sexual replication the preferred strategy. This conclusion differs from previous notions, which assumed that sexual replication was simply more advantageous in all small populations, while the new analysis suggests for possibly the first time that sexual reproduction is advantageous only in those small populations with low replication rates. (W29.15)

In 2004 evidence for superfluid behavior in a solid, solid helium, was reported for the first time. Then at last year's APS March meeting Tony Clark and Moses Chan of Penn State said that they have obtained evidence also for superfluidity in solid hydrogen. Because the existence of a superfluid solid would require much new thinking about macroscopic quantum behavior, the number of theoretical papers on this topic have been increasing rapidly, and several groups have commenced experimental studies. At this year's meeting, Chan's group will be reporting more definitive results on these two supersolid systems. Other groups may have something to say as well (sessions B2 and G41).

Session M50 looks at the impact of this topic much in the news and the efforts of many to keep science education on a scientific footing. Jeremy Gunn (American Civil Liberties Union) will review some of the legal milestones concerning the teaching of evolution, such as the Scopes trial of 1925, and will suggest how scientists can contribute to the ongoing debate. Marshall Berman (Sandia National Lab and past vice president of the New Mexico State Board of Education) looks at the social and political standing of science and of religious fundamentalism. Francis Slakey (APS) will review past policy action by the American Physical Society and current efforts in this area. Finally, Cornelia Dean of the New York Times will describe how the evolution and intelligent design issue has been covered in her newspaper. (Tuesday night, March 14, Marriot Hotel, Grand Salon V)

Viruses are very simple organisms, consisting of little more than a membrane surrounding genetic material. The microorganisms propagate through hijacking other cells by inserting their DNA into their victims, which in turn begin churning out copies of the infecting virus. Rahul Sharma and You-Yeon Won (, 765-494-4077) of Purdue are building artificial analogues of viruses designed to deliver therapeutic genetic material, instead of causing disease. The researchers create their artificial viruses with a trio of polymers; one that binds to a DNA molecule and collapses it to a compact size, and two others that encapsulate the DNA in a coating much like a virus' membrane. Although the work is still in early stages, it could lead to an efficient gene therapy method that mimics the ancient and effective infection behavior of natural viruses. (V16.2)

Rice and MIT researchers will present ongoing investigations of an unusual superfluid phenomenon in gases of ultracold fermions such as lithium-6. Because fermions are one of the fundamental building blocks of matter, the new research may bear on diverse phenomena ranging from superconductivity to the dense quark matter at the core of neutron stars. Conventional theory says that superconductivity requires an equal number of spin-up and spin-down particles, similar to requiring an equal number of men and women at a dance hall. Using ultracold atomic gases consisting of spin-up and spin-down atoms, physicists can now test what happens when this condition is not met in superfluidity, the analog of superconductivity for particles without an electric charge. By observing superfluid vortices in an unequal mixture of lithium-6 atoms, Wolfgang Ketterle and his colleagues at MIT ( have shown that superfluidity persists even when there are unequal numbers. Only when there are too many unpaired loners (the single men) in the room, the situation becomes uncomfortable for the couples and superfluidity breaks down. At Rice University, Randy Hulet ( and his colleagues have shown that beyond a critical mismatch the unpaired loners are no longer tolerated and are suddenly expelled from a uniformly paired core to a surrounding shell containing the excess unpaired atoms (so that a wall of singles surrounds the paired-up couples). For a small number of excess unpaired atoms, however, the Rice group reports evidence of a uniform superfluid, i.e., the couples accommodate the presence of the single men on the dance floor. The nature of this lastly mentioned state is especially enigmatic, and may involve some exotic, new form of superfluidity. (Papers H6.3 and D43.4)

A novel coating provides safe passage for drugs attached to magnetic nanoparticles, potentially leading to rapid and precise treatment of diseases and injuries. Delivering drugs via magnetic particles allows doctors to use magnetic fields to attract the particles to locations in the body where they are most needed. Doctors can also monitor the motion of the particles and their therapeutic cargo with MRI imaging systems. But there is little benefit to the technique if the drugs don't stay attached to the particles long enough to reach a trouble spot. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky (, 402-472-9178) and colleagues have attempted to solve the problem by sealing drug-coated nanoparticles with layers of surfactant molecules that keep the chemicals in place until the particles reach their destinations. The method is currently undergoing animal studies testing the effectiveness of particles that deliver drugs to reduce brain damage following a stroke. (G22.4)

Sound consists of a longitudinal pressure wave producing alternately regions of high pressure followed by low pressure in the medium through which it passes. A few years ago, physicists at the Ecole Normale Superieure (Paris, France) focused a sound pulse which was so powerful (4 bars amplitude at 1 MHz) that the medium (liquid helium) actually crystallized for a moment. But the crystals nucleated on a glass plate which had been placed at the acoustic focus for calibration purposes. The same group has progressed; now they can for a brief time solidify a region in the bulk of superfluid helium by focusing an even more powerful pulse of sound without the need for any nearby solid wall. Sebastien Balibar (, who will report the new results obtained with R. Ishiguro and F. Caupin, says that this work should not only help understanding how far one can pressurize a liquid before it crystallizes but also how superfluidity should vanish in a Bose liquid when the interatomic interactions increase. (Paper A41.4)

The single-cell organism Paramecium caudatum employs a process known as gravikinesis, the act of regulating its swimming speed depending on whether it swims with or against the force of gravity. Gravikinesis fights the paramecium's natural tendency to settle to the bottom of a body of water and form sediment; as a result it swims harder upward than downward. Karine Guevorkian ( and James M Valles Jr. of Brown University have successfully observed and quantified gravikinesis in Paramecium using a magnetic-force gravity simulation technique. The simulation approach employs magnetic forces that can be directed to pull in tandem with gravity's forces to create enhanced gravity or to push in opposition to gravity to create weakened and even inverted gravity (in which the organism moves opposite to the direction of gravitational force).. These strong magnetic forces are generated by intense inhomogeneous magnetic fields such as those available at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory acting on the "diamagnetic" materials naturally present in cells. Besides reproducing results obtained from high gravity in a centrifuge chamber, the technique allowed the researchers to investigate the swimming speed regulation in decreased and inverted simulated gravity.(Paper B29.3)

Some proteins naturally form nanometer-scale pores through which ions travel to enable communication within and between nerve cells. Researchers are developing biotechnology applications for natural and artificial versions of such nanopores. For example, nanopores are coming closer to enabling faster and better DNA sequencing than present biochemistry-based methods. In the general concept, DNA would traverse through the pore, and in one scenario the change in ion current as DNA moves through could yield the sequence of bases in the DNA. A Brown University group led by Sean Ling ( will present one solution to reading the individual letters of DNA molecules through nanopores even though they are only 4 angstroms apart (N26.10), as well as making addressable nanopores on chips (N26.1). An entire session on nanopore biophysics (H7) includes a number of advances in nanopore technology from leading researchers, such as Cees Dekker of the Delft University of Technology ( who will discuss his group's latest work with artificial nanopores (H7.2). NIST's John J. Kasianowicz (, the researcher who first proposed using nanopores for DNA sequencing ten years ago, will also show that the nanopore of a protein secreted by anthrax may provide the basis of new technologies for quickly detecting anthrax in blood samples, measuring the levels of toxins in the body, and studying the effectiveness of therapeutic agents that fight anthrax (H7.1).

Nanometer-scale objects, such as proteins and DNA, constantly jiggle around in a liquid solution as they are bombarded by the heat-carrying solvent molecules that surround them. This jiggling, also known as Brownian motion, makes the task of studying nano-objects very difficult: the objects just don't hold still. Conventional laser tweezers can trap objects, but the smaller the object, the brighter the required laser beam, typically harming objects smaller than 200 nm. Adam Cohen of Stanford ( will present the Anti-Brownian Electrokinetic (ABEL) trap. It eliminates the Brownian motion of one object in solution, allowing detailed examination of its properties. The ABEL trap works by using a small, non-damaging amount of laser power to track the tiny Brownian movements of the object, and then applying precisely customized electric fields to cancel those movements exactly. By optimizing their setup, the researchers trapped single fluorescently labeled protein molecules in solution. These molecules (as small as 10 nm in diameter) are the first proteins trapped in solution and the smallest objects ever trapped in solution. This achievement opens the possibility of studying individual proteins free-floating in solution. (Paper G26.1)

Hydrogen power has the potential to produce less pollution and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. But significant challenges remain in order to make a hydrogen economy efficient and economically feasible. Speakers in session A5 will present an overview of the challenges for the hydrogen economy, and some promising ways in which physics and materials science can enable progress. Mildred Dresselhaus of MIT (and past president of the APS and AAAS, as well as being a former official of DOE) will open the session with a big picture view of the hydrogen initiative. She will discuss the needs of a practical hydrogen economy, including production, storage, and utilization and will also highlight recent progress and opportunities (A5.1). Next, Claus Hviid Christensen of the Technical University of Denmark will discuss metal ammine salts that have been recently proposed for safe, reversible, high-density and low-cost hydrogen carriers (A5.3). Manos Mavrikakis (UW-Madison) will show how first-principles methods can be used to predict properties of materials and identify catalysts for specific applications needed for hydrogen fuel cells (A5.4). (A number of other sessions at the meeting also focus on new materials for hydrogen storage: A16, H16, N16)

In addition to the hydrogen economy, two other speakers in A5 will talk about novel materials for other energy applications: Mercouri Kanatzidis (Michigan State University) will present recent progress in nanostructured chalcogenide materials that could be used as more efficient thermoelectric materials, which convert heat to electrical energy (A5.2). Fred Schubert will discuss a new class of low-refractive-index materials for highly efficient LED lighting that will enable huge energy savings. (A5.5)

When a superconducting zinc nanowire is attached to bulk superconducting leads of another material, one would expect that the wire remains superconductive. In a recent experiment at Penn State, Minglian Tian and his colleagues (Moses Chan, observed that when the wire was connected to superconducting leads consisting of indium or tin, its superconductivity is suppressed. Bizarrely, when the indium or tin attachments were driven into a non-superconducting state, the superconductivity in the zinc nanowire recovers. (A1.2)

The sun provides an abundant source of clean energy, and could be a good alternative to fossil fuels for many applications. Speakers in session G5 will discuss the possibilities, recent developments, and challenges involved in the use of solar energy. First, Nathan Lewis of Caltech will present an estimate of the fossil fuel available, and will evaluate the outlook, cost, and R&D investment needed for various types of renewable energies, including wind, solar, biomass, hydroelectric, and geothermal (G5.1). Solar cells are currently costly and limited in efficiency (the current record is 39%). But, as Sarah Kurtz of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will explain (G5.2), lenses and/or mirrors that focus light on small solar cells can greatly improve efficiency and lower cost, possibly soon bringing efficiency to 50%. Many companies are already investing in this solar concentrator technology. Peidong Yang of UC Berkeley will introduce some promising new nanowire-based solar cell technology (G5.3). Thomas Moore of Arizona State University will describe biology-inspired systems for converting sunlight into useable forms of energy (G5.4).

The United States has held the undisputed lead in science and technology for more than half a century. Recent competitiveness benchmarks, however, suggest that the US may be giving up its advantage as competing nations focus on coming up to speed and the US loses its technological head of steam. Michael Lubell (, 212- 650-5610) will examine the sliding US benchmarks and explore various governmental policies that may keep the nation at the top of the research heap. Charles Duke of Xerox, on hand to receive the Pake Prize, will discuss the matter from an industrial perspective. Other speakers will recount how physics discoveries were later turned into billion-dollar industries. Examples include MRI and liquid crystals. (N5)

Econo-thermodynamics is an emerging interdisciplinary field that is generating considerable excitement. Physicists often model economic interactions as if they were collisions of atoms in gases: one agent, or atom, gains from the interaction, while the other loses. This means they can use equations drawn from thermodynamics to predict distribution patterns of wealth in various countries, for example. Victor Yakovenko (University of Maryland) will describe his work analyzing empirical data on income in the US, which be believes follows the equilibrium probability distribution of energy in a closed physical system. Specifically, money is locally conserved in interactions between economic agents. He found that the majority of the population (97-99%) belonged to a lower class that followed classical thermal distribution equations, while the upper class (1-3%) followed a "superthermal" model in which the distribution parameters change over time with the rise and fall of the stock market. Juergen Mimkes of Germany's Paderborn University argues that the daily struggle for survival of all economic systems follows a Carnot cycle driven by energy. He argues that motors and markets are based on the same laws of calculus (macro-economics) and statistics (micro-economics). (A33 and B33)


###Embargo notice### Please do not report on the results mentioned in this press release until the day and time the respective paper is delivered at the meeting.

For more information contact Phillip F. Schewe, 301-209-3092, or Ben Stein,301-209-3091, at the American Institute of Physics and James Riordon, 301-209-3238, at the American Physical Society

Jennifer Ouellette and Ernie Tretkoff of APS also contributed to this press release.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on All rights reserved.



If you can keep your wits about you while others are losing theirs and blaming you, the world will be yours.
Rudyard Kipling
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