Locklin on science

Great physicists: Pyotr Kapitza

Posted in history, physics by Scott Locklin on May 8, 2021

Pyotr Kapitza is one of those physicists whose greatness isn’t fully appreciated. In fact, I think other than the memory of him in the low temperature community, weirdoes who are Nobel Prize autistes, and a few mentions in L&L books, he’s largely forgotten in the West (I assume there are Russian language biographies as his son ended up a famous TV personality ). Not only was he a very great physicist, he was also a great man in every way. Principled, a leader and talented in multiple fields; his enormous indirect influence was almost important as his direct contributions. A biography of Kapitza would make for wonderful reading.

He was a Russian-Pole who landed in Cambridge working for Rutherford in the 1920s. He proceeded to make big contributions in ultra-high magnetic field physics, low temperature physics (liquefaction of helium), and he created the enormously influential Kapitza club.

The idea of the Kapitza club was that young physicists were too deferential to older ones, and older ones too dismissive. The lectures were done informally with chalk and board only, with jokey Kapitza introductions to loosen people up. Guys like Dirac, Hartree and Heisenberg built courage and had big ideas here which changed the world. These were invite only affairs, done in student housing; much like early Christianity met in the catacombs to avoid detection by the establishment of the day. It was unapologetically elitist group (again; invite only), but also radically egalitarian. Kapitza would warm them up by making deliberate blunders in his introductory remarks which he encouraged shy people to correct to get into the spirit of things. Very much in the spirit of the ancient Greek philosophers.

“In setting up the Kapitza Club in October 1922, he [Kapitza] had shaken his postgraduate colleagues out of their lethargy and persuaded them to attend a weekly seminar on a topical subject in physics. The talks usually took place in Trinity College on Tuesday evenings, after a good dinner. The speakers, normally volunteers from the club’s members, spoke with the aid only of a piece of chalk and a blackboard mounted on an easel and had to be prepared for a series of interruptions, mediated by Kapitza with the quick wit and elan of a modern-day game-show host.”

Those of you who are still in the game should take note. In this era of mediocrities, “company men,” policed speech codes and professional and personal cowardice: such meetings and societies are the only way to drive scientific research forward. People have tried inclusiveness for decades now and the results are in: it doesn’t work. Forming tightly knit, non-hierarchical groups of elite minds who are interested in science rather than all the bullshit that goes with it in “fn-leeerb merp derp science” current year is the only way forward. I encourage all kinds of people to try this; exclude more people: exclude most people, you’ll get more done. Finding scientific shitlords willing to do a presentation via chalkboard is a great filter. Doing this for F=MA tier shit is difficult, having a bunch of fellow loons who will throw buns at your head when you goof up on some arcane and novel subject: even better.

Though Kapitza was primarily considered an experimental physicist, he could hang with the greatest theorists. He and Dirac came up with a cute quantum diffraction effect in one of these BS sessions which was later proved out. This is sort of the Platonic ideal of a physicist to my mind; you have to be able to roll with the theorists, but you have to be able to deal with matter. That’s what physics is, after all: the study of matter. Others who had this quality were Fermi and Oppenheimer. While some theoretical and experimental specialists were required even back in those days; it was expected that even the most allergic-to-experiment theorists like Wolfgang Pauli would be able to think deeply about matter and experimental apparatus. Even if such apparatus would spontaneously combust if Pauli were in the same room with it. This is something that is forgotten by contemporary noodle and symmetry fetishists playing in the particle soup.

Kapitza was kidnapped by the Soviets while visiting his parents and did most of his important work in the Soviet Union. As a pioneer in liquid helium research he was the first to discover superfluidity which he eventually won a Nobel Prize for (oddly shared with Penzias and Wilson). He also worked closely with Lev Landau whose book is why I remembered Kapitza -for a cute little effect called the Kapitza pendulum; a sort of mechanical phase locked loop that is marvelous and beautiful in its action.

Incidentally he didn’t come up with the actual mechanical effect: someone told him about the effect described many decades ago. Kapitza was the one who sat down, did experiments and figured out the detailed math that explains it. This is the type of thing that could theoretically have been done by anyone using simple apparatus; it is literally F=MA tier physics. Kapitza, a man who had already done his Nobel prize winning work; arguably work which would earn him two Nobels in current year, a man who helped develop the Soviet atom bomb: he didn’t think it was beneath him to figure this out. Proper physicists rather than career drudges are actually curious. It’s on page 714 volume 2 of his collected works if you’re curious; a really beautiful piece of work. In fact open his collected works at random and it’s filled with treasures like this. The previous paper in this collection was on how the wind induces waves on the sea. First paper in volume 3 is a learned seminar on the Russian cod liver oil business.

For his next couple of important contributions he developed industrial scale processes for air liquefaction, microwave oscillators and new contributions in plasma physics. As a scientific administrator he made contributions to the Soviet nuclear program and founded multiple technical journals and the Kapitza Institute. Any of these contributions would have made him a first rate scientist, scientific administrator and technologist; the fact that he managed to fit them in one life is amazing and awesome.

Beyond all this, he was a badass with a life filled with appropriately Russian tragedy. He drove an ambulance on the Polish front in WW-1, his wife and two children died of the 1919 flu afterwords, and in Soviet times he both stood up to arch commie monster Beria and lived, and was the only member of the Russian academy of sciences who never joined the Communist party.

Kapitza was a universal man; not only did he contribute numerous physical and mathematical inventions to his field, he was a great administrator, and a good man who made the world and all the people around him better wherever he went. Despite great tragedy he lived an admirable and courageous life. People like this do not go into physics or any kind of scientific endeavor any more. Maybe a few applied math people in startups or hedge funds for considerably lower stakes.

37 Responses

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  1. Kagami Taiga said, on May 8, 2021 at 3:31 pm

    Scott, always like reading your posts even though I’m a cretin who’s not anywhere close to understanding the science stuff. Do you have a post or comment on how to revive physics/science in general?

    • Scott Locklin said, on May 8, 2021 at 3:36 pm

      None that don’t involve either rivers of blood, or 99.99% of physicists being forced to pick potatoes for 5 years.

      • William O. B'Livion said, on May 20, 2021 at 10:43 pm

        To quote from one of my favorite movies:

        “I’m strangely comfortable with that”.

    • George W. said, on May 8, 2021 at 6:42 pm

      AI could revive both. That is, making people Artificially more Intelligent (AI) through technology or some other means. It’s a keystone technology: imagine having smarter and more competent members of society. Maybe it is not possible or ethical.

      Either way, most physicists and scientists (n < 20) I've met at university are highly unexceptional. Like, one guy wrote their PhD on gender differences in physics education.

      The brightest people leave academia in pursuit of money, like Scott seems to have.

      Academia is too big and government-bloated to collapse, but it needs to.

      • DamnItMurray said, on May 8, 2021 at 9:10 pm

        A fellow human accelarationist. I’ve always thought of human cognitive enhancement to be tied to toying around with the brain’s electric grid, but am curious to know what you mean by AI boosting. And as far as it goes about smart people, the ones that are truly of Kapitza/Landau caliber I’m afraid go neither in financially lucrative institutions(as witnessed by the total dope heads in said companies and banks) neither in academia. They probably stay away from it all, and there is also the fact that such brilliant and most importantly courageous men probably aren’t being made anymore.(Chad Locklin being an exception of course (; )

        • Scott Locklin said, on May 9, 2021 at 10:16 am

          The upper middle classes are completely decadent right now; an actual mandarin class of cowards and women. I keep poasting examples of men who were upper middle class and had nuts from history. You’re probably going to find them today in men who originated in the working classes like I did, who at least had to get in a fistfight or two.

          I think academia could collapse; I wrote about it in a magazine not-to-be-named about 10-12 years ago, noticing college debt sure did look like a bubble. It’s starting to happen now. Most of what is taught in the US is poisonous and worthless, and people are going to realize it and stop going to school. Even among Americans it’s starting to happen, but I think it will happen fairly quickly among foreigners. I suppose the one way the schools could deal with it would be to ensure what is taught could be accepted by low-IQ cannibals, but I suspect the number of low-IQ cannibals who can pay for school is low.

        • George W. said, on May 9, 2021 at 9:33 pm

          It’s a positive feedback loop.

          (1) Humans learn how to make themselves smarter through genetic or environmental modification.

          (2) The smarter generation learns how to optimize this process and make the next generation even more intelligent. They also improve society as a whole and restore morality.

          (3) Repeat step 2.

          Alternatively:

          (1) Genetic and environmental pressures exist to make people dumb and lazy.

          (2) The next generations are dumber and lazier than the previous ones. The genetic and environmental pressures worsen. They make society worse.

          (3) Repeat step two

          Pretty obvious which loop America is in. I’m not sure how to get back into the other feedback loop, if that’s what you mean.

          • anonymous said, on May 10, 2021 at 6:09 pm

            I’m going to push back a bit on the “optimize” thing. Optimization is an inherently dumb process. It can make some quantitative gains by taking the slack out of a system and wedging it into a local fitness hill, but qualitative advances require something other than optimization. Something diametrically opposed to the sort of economizing that goes on in optimization. Exploration of that sort seems like it’s an inherently inefficient process almost by definition.

            So while I agree that smarter people are possible (just about every autobiography from ~1900 that I’ve read, including not only the subject but his entire social world is an existence proof.) I disagree with the typical sci-fi vision that it’ll be a self-reinforcing process. A typical creative genius is not just an overclocked idiot: He’s doing something else with his brain. Doesn’t necessarily follow that you can do it *more*. Same with computers: A faster computer isn’t “more Turing complete” than a slower computer, once it’s general it’s general. But who knows?

            • anonymous said, on May 10, 2021 at 6:40 pm

              PS: Perhaps this is part of “the trouble with physics”. Anything that gets optimized gets fast (or not, faster at the process anyway) and dumb, and channeled into a rut. Once you’re explaining how you’re meeting some metric to a committee, you’re not exploring anymore. You can’t justify exploration to a review panel: It’s nutty crankery, and a waste of company/university/taxpayer time, until it isn’t.

            • George W. said, on May 11, 2021 at 3:08 pm

              > Optimization is an inherently dumb process

              This is an inherently dumb thing to say. Not sure why you feel the need to “debunk” my shitpoast either, Mr. Soyjak. That’s a redditor thing.

              • Euler said, on May 12, 2021 at 11:31 pm

                George W – Thank you so much for turning me onto blazeaster. My life might be changed.

  2. iuliAyahoocom said, on May 8, 2021 at 6:52 pm

    nice post of yours, for a change – no time wasted attacking social scientists:

  3. remnny said, on May 8, 2021 at 9:14 pm

    I must be developing early-onset dementia, because when I heard the words “Kapitza club”, combined with the description of arrogant old scientists, I imagined a physical club that Kapitza would hold at lectures and brandish at the senior physicists who got a little too uppity.

    • Scott Locklin said, on May 9, 2021 at 10:08 am

      I have a sort of billy club I bought at a market in Kiev; it will be called Kapitza club from now on.

  4. gbell12 said, on May 8, 2021 at 9:25 pm

    Great read and thanks for celebrating good character.

    But Scott how do you know there aren’t lots of these elite clubs operating today? Maybe you’re just not invited!

  5. Filip said, on May 8, 2021 at 10:19 pm

    This Kapitza Club reminds of something The Great Man Freeman Dyson himself wrote about how General Atomics was created in ‘Disturbing the Universe’ (chapter 9).

    “[…] In August 1955, while I was quietly working on spin waves in Berkeley, a mammoth international conference on the peaceful uses of atomic energy was held in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations. This was a decisive moment in the development of nuclear energy. American and British and French and Canadian and Russian scientists, who had been building nuclear reactors in isolation and secrecy. were able for the first time to meet one another and discuss their work with considerable freedom. Masses of hitherto secret documents were presented openly to the conference, making available to scientists of all countries almost all the basic scientific facts about the fission of uranium and plutonium and a large fraction of the engineering information that was needed for the building of commercial reactors. A spirit of general euphoria prevailed. Innumerable speeches proclaimed the birth of a new era of international cooperation, the conversion of intellectual and material resources away from weapon building into the beneficent pursuit of peaceful nuclear power, and so on and so on. Some part of what was said in these speeches was true. The conference opened channels of communication between the technical communities in all countries, and the personal contacts which were established in 1955 have been successfully maintained ever since. To some small extent, the habit of openness in international discussions of peaceful nuclear technology has spread into the more delicate areas of weaponry and politics. The high hopes raised in Geneva in 1955 have not proved entirely illusory.
    The technical preparations for the Geneva meeting were made by an international group of seventeen scientific secretaries. The scientific secretaries worked in New York for several months, driving hard bargains on behalf of their governments, making sure that each participating country would reveal a fair share of its secrets and receive a fair share of the limelight. They worked in obscurity and waded through vast quantities of paper. The success of the conference was entirely due to their efforts. One of the two Americans in the group of seventeen was Frederic de Hoffmann, a thirty -year-old physicist then employed as a nuclear expert by the Convair Division of the General Dynamics Corporation in San Diego, California.
    As soon as the Geneva meeting was over, Freddy de Hoffmann decided the time had come to give the commercial development of nuclear energy a serious push. For the first time it would be possible to build reactors and sell them on the open market, free from the bureaucratic miseries of secrecy. He persuaded the top management of the General Dynamics Corporation to set up a new division called General Atomic, with himself as president. General Atomic began its life at the beginning of 1956 with no buildings, no equipment and Freddy rent ed a little red schoolhouse that had been abandoned as obsolete by the San Diego public school system. He proposed to move into the schoolhouse and begin designing reactors there in June.
    Freddy had been at Los Alamos with Edward Teller in 1951 and had made some of the crucial calculations leading to the invention of the hydro gen bomb. He invited Teller to join him in the school house for the summer of 1956. Teller accepted with enthusiasm. He knew that he and Freddy could work well together, and he shared Freddy’s strong desire to get away from bombs for a while and do something constructive with nuclear energy.
    Freddy also invited thirty or forty other people to spend the summer in the schoolhouse, most of them people who had been involved with nuclear energy in one way or another, as physicists, chemists or engineers. Robert Charpie, even younger than Freddy, had been the other American in the group of scientific secretaries of the Geneva meeting. Ted Taylor came directly from Los Alamos, where he had been the pioneer of a new art form, the design of small efficient bombs that could be squeeze d into tight spaces. For some reason, although I had never had anything to do with nuclear energy and was not even an American citizen, I was also on Freddy’s list. Probably this was a result of my encounter with Teller the previous summer. Freddy promised me a chance to work with Teller. I accepted the invitation gladly. I had no idea whether J would be successful as a reactor designer, but at least I would give it a try. For nineteen years I had been waiting for this opportunity to make Eddington ‘s dream come true.
    Freddy de Hoffmann was my first encounter with the world of Big Business. I had never before met anybody with the authority to make decisions so quickly and with so little fuss. I found it remarkable that this authority was given to somebody so young. Freddy handled his power lightly. He was good-humored, and willing to listen and learn. He always seemed to have time to spare.
    We assembled in June in the schoolhouse, and Freddy told us his plan of work. Every morning there would be three hours of lectures. The people who were already expert in some area of reactor technology would lecture and the others would learn. So, at the end of the summer, we would all be experts. Meanwhile we would spend the afternoons divided into working groups to invent new kinds of reactors. Our primary job was to find out whether there was any specific type of reactor that looked promising as a commercial venture for General Atomic to build and sell.
    The lectures were excellent. They were especially good for me, coming into the reactor business from a position of total ignorance. But even the established experts learned a lot from each other. The physicists who knew everything that was to be known about the physics of reactors learned about the details of the chemistry and engineering. The chemists and engineers learned about the physics. Within a few weeks we were all able to understand each other’s problems. […]”

    Can anyone imagine current corporat c-word fuckees putting a 30 year old in charge of a new, nuclear division? That would be against their corporat sociopath irrresponsability which is all about filling their pockets.

    Not to mention the informal way hiring and lectures were done – nowadays there would be a form to fill after each lecture done by some clueless business graduate to give ‘feedback’.

  6. Euler said, on May 9, 2021 at 1:11 am

    Kapitza club doesn’t seem elitist at all by today’s definition if the purpose was to bridge intellectual gaps between suede patch-senior physicists and shy nerds. Seems more meaningful to define it as parallel to a workshop, or bootstrapped startup, where tangibility is premium. Hot take: Inclusivity and exclusivity are equally productive when dipshits/hacks aren’t called out. WASPy groups and homogenous groups have worked because communication is synced and BS reduced.

    I’ve found it easy to find exclusivity clubs, past and present, where the purpose was NOT meant to give egogasms – even in my have vs have-not culture of Southern California.

    • Scott Locklin said, on May 9, 2021 at 5:19 am

      Excluding all the dumbasses is kind of elitist. People literally do not do this any more.

      • anonymous said, on May 10, 2021 at 6:44 pm

        Question: How do you exclude the dumbasses, without the “teachers-pet types”, “smart-set” types ending up on top of the hierarchy? (Basically what happens to *every* meritocracy once the benevolent dictator that started it leaves the scene?) Once you have a standard of “not-a-dumbass”, it’ll get gamed by optimizers, unless the standard is the subjective judgement of someone who is good at not being gamed that way?

  7. Fizics Zoomer said, on May 9, 2021 at 6:07 am

    “Finding scientific shitlords willing to do a presentation via chalkboard is a great filter. Doing this for F=MA tier shit is difficult, having a bunch of fellow loons who will throw buns at your head when you goof up on some arcane and novel subject: even better.”

    Locklin, you’re a great autodidact. How does someone build up the skill to do this? What’s the progression? I’m just a humble undergraduate physics major. Do I just begin by explaining how to solve problems outloud to myself from Goldstein’s Mechanics? And then challenge myself by looking at patent designs for simple devices? Then try to replicate seminars like Kaptista’s and move on to your own niche interests?

    • Fizics Zoomer said, on May 9, 2021 at 6:12 am

      Also, who are some scientists’ collected papers you highly reccomend besides Kaptisa?

      • Scott Locklin said, on May 9, 2021 at 9:47 am

        Learn how to give a talk first and read Kapitsa (and Schroedinger); plenty of physics autism available later.

    • Scott Locklin said, on May 9, 2021 at 9:44 am

      WTF do they teach you in school any more? One of the best things about a physics degree, to my mind, was the inclusion of rhetoric a la trivium by making you give presentations on shit you did.

      Step #1 make a friend. Use the internet if you have to. You ain’t gonna get far in life with no friends.

      Step #2 explain something you know about to them. Could be Goldstein problems, patents, how to tie your shoelaces. Usually it helps to give the presentation to yourself beforehand; make some notes on index cards (buy index cards, zoomer; don’t use your fucking phone), make sure it has a decent explanatory arc. If you teach a course, your lecture notes (on index cards or in your head if you’re a genius) would make a good book. Talk slow, like your audience is retarded. Then after you do your song and dance, let them criticize you and tell you how you could have done it better.

      Boardmanship is important. If you’re explaining something simple like 1 problem over 10 minutes, have the board all laid out. Use good examples and think about how they explain things and present. In your physics classes you’re probably struggling to keep up so you can’t think about the presentation techniques. You can use others; Milnor’s lectures were so great, people’s notes got turned into books with his name on it. They’re on youtube. You can also look at Math Dr. Bob how he explains trig:

      https://mathdoctorbob.org/

      Bob used to put the paper cutter in me in Brazool Jiu Jitsu; great lecturer, and his little 10m seminars won’t require post cycle therapy afterwords the way modern seminars do.

      • DamnItMurray said, on May 9, 2021 at 10:21 am

        Wait what the hell why am I just discovering this dude. I can respect a math teacher with a bigger neck than me.

      • Fizics Zoomer said, on May 9, 2021 at 3:42 pm

        “One of the best things about a physics degree, to my mind, was the inclusion of rhetoric a la trivium by making you give presentations on shit you did.”
        In our program, we only do this in our senior year seminar where we present about a couple papers we’re assigned and for our experiments we do in our lab course. Everything else is just problem sets and exams.

        Thanks for the awesome response Scott!

      • Montius said, on May 10, 2021 at 8:36 am

        I wish I would have known about Math Dr. Bob when I was taking all my math courses years ago.

        Also very badass he does the Jits. The man looks the opposite of the pencil neck professors I had. Hespect!

        • Scott Locklin said, on May 10, 2021 at 11:51 am

          He made brown belt at least; might be black by now, but age catches up with you. Dude was a beast; I couldn’t get full mount on him because his fucking chest is too big.

          • Montius said, on May 11, 2021 at 2:09 am

            Oh I know the type. Gotta go to a technical mount, otherwise it is like straddling a giant barrel.

            Always hate trying to set up certain triangles on dudes with cartoonishly broad shoulders/torsos. I have fairly long legs, but fuck if I want to have to do Jean-Claude Van Damme splits to get around them.

  8. Enrique Casanovas said, on May 9, 2021 at 6:13 am

    Hello Mr Scott. I was reading your article
    https://scottlocklin.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/the-problem-with-lee-smolin-and-physics/

    and I want to tell you that I thought it was excellent, because while I watch Sabine Hossenfelder’s YouTube videos sharing Lee Smolin’s scepticism about string theory, I was thinking exactly the same as you: that other theories that consider the quantisation of gravity mandatory, are no less whimsical than strings.
    In fact, I totally share your admiration for Freeman Dyson.
    In fact, I am writing to tell you about something I have been thinking about gravity, something that relates to a comment Dyson made in an interview:

    “And now we know that the universe is accelerating and in an accelerated universe everything is different, so that whole discussion, in fact, is now wrong”.

    —Are you saying that due to the idea that the universe is accelerating it potentially changes your idea about how we think and the capability of thinking?

    “Yes. In a very drastic way. It’s bad news if we really are accelerating all the time in the future”.

    (Freeman Dyson interview, June 2018).

    I think Dyson’s words are entirely consistent with what I have been thinking about since 2011: that there is a relationship between the acceleration of the expansion of the universe, discovered in 1998, and gravity.

    In short, my point is this: we know that our universe is made up of four dimensions, not three. Therefore, shouldn’t this accelerated expansion affect all four dimensions?
    And if so, isn’t it possible that the curvature of space-time is caused by the inertial resistance of bodies to this accelerated expansion in the temporal direction?

    This would be consistent with the proven fact of gravitational time dilation since, if massive bodies locally resist this accelerating momentum in the time direction, it is logical that those bodies that would be at the bottom of this curvature would have a lower time rate than the areas far away from this massive body.
    I understand that it is a rather far-fetched idea but I think it is not without logic and you seem to me to be an ideal person to evaluate it because of your knowledge of physics and your “Dysonian” attitude.
    Without further ado, I leave the link to a reply on the social network Quora where I explain my lucubrations in more detail.
    I hope this message can reach you and (if possible) give me an opinion (even if it is not flattering).
    Greetings and good luck to all!

    https://www.quora.com/What-could-be-the-origin-of-gravity/answers/96935266

    • Scott Locklin said, on May 9, 2021 at 9:59 am

      Dammit Henry I’m a statistician not a cosmologist. It sounds like a pretty good idea. You should work out the implications and see how it fits the data.

      I started reading Sabine’s book last night and it s truck me she’s pretty late to the party (and she may have stumbled across that Locklino essay at some point).

  9. phf said, on May 9, 2021 at 2:26 pm

    this is not a particularly interesting piece of trivia, but since i’m in a self-imposed exile from u.s. i’m living with a view of Akademik Kapitza street. this area in south-west of moscow used to be where all the practicing hard science intelligentsia would get apartments, and there are clusters of research institutes within a bus ride.

    there’s major avenue named after Vernadsky, and then a variety of streets named after Lobachevsky, Anokhin, Kapitza, Koshtoyants, Miklouho-Maclay, Alexander Oparin, Lev Artsimovich (one of your guys, the father of Tokamak), Vladimir Obruchev, Alexander Polyakov (still alive and at Princeton apparently), Nikolay Pilyugin my grandfather’s supervisor. that’s just the names i recognize from cursory look at the map. Innovators street and Scientific drive.

    of course the make up of the surrounding neighborhoods has changed: as was the soviet way, practicing scientists would get apartments allocated in the same complexes as “rabochiye and krestyane”, but now most of the intelligentsia has left. the place is a kind of a husk. the old timer working class people that got left behind still remember what the place was all about 40 years ago, my neighbors will catch me in the hallway and talk about “your grandfather, a great man, living next to us, common humble folk.” i don’t think many people living on kapitza street know who he was anymore.

    • Scott Locklin said, on May 10, 2021 at 11:53 am

      Ask the locals about the TV Kapitza; his son. Supposedly he was pretty famous! Maybe working people don’t care about Carl Sagan types.

  10. Altitude Zero said, on May 10, 2021 at 4:24 pm

    Very interesting. The only thing that I knew abut Kapitza was that his air liquifier gave the Soviet space program a real leg up in the early days, much better and more rapid than anything we had at the time, I understand. John Clark gives him a shout out in “Ignition!”

  11. anonymous said, on May 11, 2021 at 1:53 am

    The Kapitza pendulum thing is interesting. I encountered the principle in an ODE class where they were discussing arbitrary linear systems in the abstract, but made the connection at the time to quadrupole ion traps: It’s a weird, counter-intuitive, and perhaps underexploited thing: That you can take a system which is dynamically unstable and make it stable by blindly applying some oscillating forcing function. (Not feedback, just the application of agitation.)

    I’ll have to look again: I think I remember there being some limitation to what parts of phase-space it traps, or I’d expect us to be using it for all sorts of things that we aren’t: Confinement and working on unstable thermalized systems with positive potential energy, plasma traps of various sorts, storage rings that are lossless on collisions.

    • chiral3 said, on May 11, 2021 at 2:07 pm

      I built a mechanical duffing oscillator once. It might be in a box in a closet somewhere with a xenon laser and a rail gun I tried to build in the sixth grade.

  12. Altitude Zero said, on May 11, 2021 at 2:34 pm

    “a rail gun I tried to build in the sixth grade.”

    If there is hope, it lies in the children…

  13. William O. B'Livion said, on May 20, 2021 at 10:54 pm

    > Soviet times he both stood up to arch commie monster Beria and lived,

    Wow. That’s impressive.


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