So, how has physics been this past year? Let’s start by taking a look at Physics World. In an article dated 7th December 2023, online editor Hamish Johnston said this: “Physics World is delighted to announce its top 10 Breakthroughs of the Year for 2023, which ranges from research in astronomy and medical physics to quantum science, atomic physics and more”. He went on to say the winner will be revealed on 14th December. Sounds good. So, Hamish, what have you got?
1. Growing electrodes inside living tissue
Johnston described the top 10 breakthroughs in chronological order, starting with Growing electrodes inside living tissue. Follow the hyperlink to read the original Physics World article dating from March 2023. There is of course a link to the relevant paper, namely Metabolite-induced in vivo fabrication of substrate-free organic bioelectronics. It was published in Science, and unfortunately is paywalled. However the determined detective can usually find a non-paywalled copy somewhere. Mum’s the word. Here’s figure 1:
Image from Metabolite-induced in vivo fabrication of substrate-free organic bioelectronics by Strakosas et al.
What do I think? I think it looks like good research by Xenofon Strakosas and 16 other authors, and I think it may have some interesting applications. Hey, it’s messing around with brains, what’s not to like? It reminds me of the old cyberpunk science fiction where people living in some dystopian dark future had all sorts of implants and Borg-like augmentations. But whilst I think it looks like good research, I have to say it just isn’t physics. It’s biochemistry.
2. Neutrinos probe the proton’s structure
I can’t say the same for Johnston’s second item, which is Neutrinos probe the proton’s structure. That’s definitely physics, and of definite interest to me. Why, I’ve even written two successive articles called the proton and the neutrino. However when I followed the link to the original Physics World article article, I was disappointed. It started off well enough. A postdoc called Tejin Cai, working on the Fermilab MINERvA experiment, came up with the idea to use antineutrino scattering to learn something about proton structure. The relevant paper in Nature is Measurement of the axial vector form factor from antineutrino–proton scattering. I’m pleased to say it’s open access. I’m not so pleased with the findings. There’s no proton structure here, and no mention of the crucial proton g factor, which is 5.585. Instead we have graphs galore and error bars and “direct comparisons with the increasingly precise lattice quantum chromodynamics computations”.
Image from Measurement of the axial vector form factor from antineutrino–proton scattering by Cai et al.
I’ve seen this sort of thing before from Big Science collider collaborations. I also know about the history of QED. So, if you were to ask me if future work in this area will come up with any advance in mainstream understanding of the proton, I’d say it won’t. There will be no near-threefold spinor wave structure coming out of this. All we’ll get is reams of handwaving and graphs followed by some quark-model rabbit out of a hat which “proves that the Standard Model is correct”. Hence I don’t see this as a breakthrough. Particle physics has dug itself into too deep a hole for that.
3. Simulating an expanding universe in a BEC
Johnston’s next pick was Simulating an expanding universe in a BEC. There were some immediate red flags in the original article. The first was the reference to cosmic inflation, which remains speculative, and was not simulated. The second was the phrase “spatial curvature”, which is not the same thing as curved spacetime. This was closely followed by “quantum particles follow trajectories determined by the curvature of the spacetime in which they move”. This is not true, because there is no motion in spacetime, and because “the curvature of light rays occurs only in spaces where the speed of light is spatially variable”. Photons curve where there’s a spacetime gradient, they don’t follow the curvature of spacetime. For the cherry on top, the expansion of space was simulated by decreasing the speed of sound in the BEC. Has nobody read the Einstein digital papers? You might want to blame these red flags on the author of the Physics World article, but everything he said came from the (freely-available) Nature paper Quantum field simulator for dynamics in curved spacetime. Which means the whole thing is valueless, because it’s based upon zero understanding of gravity, the expanding universe, dark matter, or curved spacetime. This is definitely no breakthrough.
4. A double slit in time
Johnston’s next item was A double slit in time, which referred to the double-slit experiment. It said “a material in which two slits rapidly appear and then disappear, one after the other, should cause incoming waves to maintain their path in space but spread out in frequency”. The original Physics World article says physicists have conducted the double slit experiment with single photons and still seen interference fringes, “implying that light is both a wave and a particle”. It doesn’t imply that. It demonstrates that a photon is a wave, as you would expect from expressions like E=hc/λ. Has nobody read Pascual Jordan’s resolution of the conundrum of the wave-particle duality of light by Anthony Duncan and Michel Janssen? Clearly not, but I digress. The article concerns a Nature Physics paper called Double-slit time diffraction at optical frequencies by Romain Tirole and eight other authors. Again it’s freely available. Perhaps Johnston had a hand in that, which is good. It’s also on the arXiv which is also good.
Image from Double-slit time diffraction at optical frequencies by Tirole et al.
What’s not so good is that there’s a mundane explanation for the double-slit experiment – the act of detection at the screen or a slit performs something akin to an optical Fourier transform, so you “focus” a wave into something pointlike. I think there’s something similarly mundane here, where fast changes from absorption to reflection chop up the incoming wave resulting in interference. Perhaps there will be some useful applications, but I was not particularly impressed.
5. Digital bridge enables natural walking after spinal cord injury
I was however impressed by Digital bridge enables natural walking after spinal cord injury. Check out the June 2023 Physics World article Brain–spine interface enables natural walking after spinal cord injury as well as the Nature paper Walking naturally after spinal cord injury using a brain–spine interface. Yet again it’s freely available. It’s by 35 authors, including Grégoire Courtine, Guillaume Charvet, and Jocelyne Bloch. It says this: “A spinal cord injury interrupts the communication between the brain and the region of the spinal cord that produces walking, leading to paralysis. Here, we restored this communication with a digital bridge between the brain and spinal cord that enabled an individual with chronic tetraplegia to stand and walk naturally in community settings”.
Restoring control: a digital bridge between the brain and spinal cord helped an individual with paralysis to walk naturally. (Courtesy: CHUV / Gilles Weber)
How heartening. A man in a wheelchair might walk again. If only this had been around for Christopher Reeve. This is life-changing, and ordinarily I would say this should be the outright winner. But this is medicine plus computing, or more properly “neural engineering”. It isn’t physics. So I can’t count it as a physics breakthrough.
6. Building blocks for a large-scale quantum network
I felt the same about Johnston’s next selection, but for a very different reason. It was Building blocks for a large-scale quantum network. The original article was Quantum repeater transmits entanglement over 50 kilometres. It refers to the Physical Review Letters paper Telecom-Wavelength Quantum Repeater Node Based on a Trapped-Ion Processor by Ben Lanyon and seven other authors. It’s paywalled, but you can find a version on the arXiv. The original article says physicists “have combined all the key functionalities of a long-distance quantum network into a single system”. They used this “to transfer quantum information via a so-called repeater node over a distance of 50 kilometres – far enough to indicate that the building blocks of practical, large-scale quantum networks may soon be within reach”. Such networks “could work by connecting the quantum bits (or qubits) of multiple quantum computers to ‘share the load’ of complex quantum calculations”. The blurb says “New quantum repeaters could enable a scalable quantum internet”. So why don’t I consider this to be a breakthrough? Because I’ve looked carefully at the history of quantum entanglement, and I am confident that it’s based on a misunderstanding of Malus’s Law:
Malus’s law image Labster. Apologies, I’m not sure if this is an original image.
Measuring the polarization of the local photon doesn’t alter the remote photon, it alters the local photon. It rotates it, in line with I = I₀ cos²θ. When I dug deeper and looked at Bell’s inequality and the various experiments, I came to the conclusion that quantum entanglement is scientific fraud. In similar vein I think quantum computing is the preserve of quantum bullshitters spinning a jam-tomorrow yarn and sucking up money that ought to be going into bona-fide physics. So I don’t think this is a breakthrough. I think it’s just another puff of hype holding up a castle in the air. Next.
7. First X-ray image of a single atom
Next was First X-ray image of a single atom. It refers to the July Physics World article Synchrotron X-rays image a single atom, and the Nature paper Characterization of just one atom using synchrotron X-rays. What they’ve got here appears to be an improvement on the scanning tunnelling microscope via an “intense X-ray illumination”. The technique is known as “synchrotron X-ray scanning tunnelling microscopy (SX-STM)”. It sounds useful, fair play to Saw Wai Hla, Volker Rose, and 18 other researchers at Argonne. However I’d say it’s more of an incremental advance rather than a breakthrough. Sorry.
8. “Smoking gun” evidence of early galaxies transforming the universe
At number eight we had “Smoking gun” evidence of early galaxies transforming the universe. It concerns stellar UV radiation in the early universe. The EIGER collaboration used the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Near Infrared Camera “to find compelling evidence that early galaxies were responsible for the reionization of the early universe”. The team looked at light from quasars that had passed through “ionized bubbles” in space, and found a correlation between the locations of galaxies and the bubbles. See the July 2023 Physics World article JWST finds ‘smoking gun’ evidence of early galaxies transforming the universe. Also see the Astrophysical Journal paper EIGER. I. A Large Sample of [O iii]-emitting Galaxies at 5.3 < z < 6.9 and Direct Evidence for Local Reionization by Galaxies. It’s by Daichi Kashino and six other authors. I really like the James Webb Space Telescope, but I have to say I think this is telling us something we already know. Hence I don’t think it’s a breakthrough.
9. Supersonic cracks in materials
Johnston’s ninth item is Supersonic cracks in materials. It concerns Meng Wang, Songlin Shi and Jay Fineberg of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They found that “cracks in certain materials can spread faster than the speed of sound”. Whilst worthy, since we already know about shock waves which propagate faster than the speed of sound, I don’t see this as a breakthrough. Sorry again, especially since this work was done in Israel.
10. Antimatter does not fall up
Last and least is Antimatter does not fall up. CERN have been milking this for years, even though everybody in physics knows that the issue was never in doubt. It’s energy that causes gravity, and it’s energy that responds to gravity, whether it’s in the guise of light, matter, or antimatter. See the Wikipedia article Gravitational interaction of antimatter. It refers to the 1960 CPT theorem, and says antimatter falls down like ordinary matter. The bottom line is that CERN have been peddling woo about antimatter falling up for decades. This is definitely not a breakthrough.
11. Fusion energy breakthrough
Johnston also gave an “honourable mention” to a Fusion energy breakthrough. This concerned work at the National Ignition Facility. On 13th December 2022 they announced that NIF “produced 3.15 megajoules (MJ) of fusion energy output using 2.05 MJ of laser energy”. This was widely reported, but to be blunt it was hype. Tom Hartsfield explained it in Calm down. There’s no NIF fusion power “breakthrough”. He said “the input energy to the laser system is somewhere between 384 and 400 MJ. Consuming 400 MJ and producing 3.15 MJ is a net energy loss greater than 99%”. Hence I’m not impressed by this.
The Quanta magazine article on The Biggest Discoveries in Physics in 2023
I definitely wasn’t impressed by the Quanta magazine article on The Biggest Discoveries in Physics in 2023. It was by Nadia Drake and was headed up The Year in Physics. It started well enough with a piece called The Cosmos, Unveiled. It’s about the JWST, which observed early stars, very bright young galaxies, what looks like a surprisingly large number of supermassive black holes, and 42 intriguing pairs of objects that orbit one another.
Caption: the young cosmos is home to a mystifyingly large population of tempestuous galaxies with large black holes at their cores. Courtesy of Jorryt Matthee. Data from the EIGER / FRESCO surveys.
This JWST stuff is the right stuff, but I was a little surprised that there’s no overlap with the Physics World JWST item. Ditto for Quanta’s next item, A Hum of Gravitational Waves. This concerns pulsar observations over a 15-year period. They are said to demonstrate that the universe is full of very long wavelength gravitational waves, allegedly resulting from supermassive black hole mergers. My view on LIGO shapes my opinion on that, and the timing variations are so very minute I am not excited. The other “biggest discoveries” were Stronger Quantum Knots, Quantum Magic, and Toward Quantum Gravity. As ever Quanta are peddling the quantum bullshit with this. That’s what they do.
A blobby neutrino image of the Milky Way
The APS Physics magazine Highlights of the Year was very different. It started with the gravitational waves, see Researchers Capture Gravitational-Wave Background with Pulsar “Antennae”. Then it gave an item about the IceCube collaboration unveiling a blobby neutrino image of the Milky Way. See Milky Way Viewed through Neutrinos. I didn’t think it was much of a highlight myself. Then there was a piece on Might There Be No Quantum Gravity After All? As somebody who likes to think that I understand gravity and the quantum nature of light, I thought it didn’t live up to its title, and I was not impressed. I was not impressed by The Cost of Sending a Bit Across a Living Cell either. Or Quantum Repeater Goes the Distance, which was Hamish Johnston’s item 6. I particularly disliked See No Bias, Hear No Bias, Speak for No Change which was critical race theory dressed up as science. Then there was an opinion piece on How AI and ML Will Affect Physics), which I thought was valueless. In similar vein I did not feel any enthusiasm for the other “highlights of the year”, namely Tackling the Puzzle of Our Solar System’s Stability, New Accuracy Record for Molecular Lattice Clock, Vanishing Act for Water Waves, and Life at the South Pole Science Station.
There were no highlights
If felt the same lack of enthusiasm about the CERN highlights in 2023. That’s because there were no highlights. Anyway, as I expected, Hamish Johnston announced the brain–spine interface as the Physics World 2023 breakthrough of the Year. Like I said, I thought it was heartening and life-changing. This is good science. But as I also said, it’s neural engineering. It isn’t physics. In similar vein, Growing electrodes inside living tissue isn’t physics. This is moot because it’s Physics World. Not Science World. So, what were the breakthroughs in physics in 2023? I’d say the JWST really delivered, but that’s about it. I would love to see Neutrinos probe the proton’s structure turn into something that bends the Standard Model towards TQFT, but I am not optimistic. I would love to see a fusion energy breakthrough, but I’m not convinced it will come from Big Science. I’d love to learn something about the evolution of universe from the pulsars, but the timing variations are so small, and the leaps to the conclusions are so large.
2023 was a nothingburger
So where does that leave us? I’d say a lot of the items I’ve mentioned were worthy work by dedicated scientists, but were incremental advances rather than breakthroughs. Others were not so worthy. All in all, I’d say that with the exception of JWST, when it comes to physics breakthroughs, 2023 was a nothingburger. I am reminded of the BBC. We pay them billions of pounds, and all we get for it is propaganda, censorship, wokery, greenwash, antisemitism, and fatcat salaries. The same is true of academia. We pay them billions of pounds and what do we get in return? Clean cheap energy? Planes that don’t pollute the skies? Free speech in science? No, what we get is the mainstream narrative, transvestite thuggery, terrorist sympathisers, and back door immigration for foreign students who don’t make the grade. We are paying billions in science funding to people who despise us, and who make it their business to stifle scientific progress. More and more people are aware of this every day. It’s going to be fun to watch this one play out. Meanwhile let’s hope that there’s some better breakthroughs this year.