Thursday, April 19, 2018

“The G-Engines are Coming”, or How the Fringe Funded Higgs before Higgs Was Cool

"Sure," I hear you saying, "Michael Gladych is cool and all, but what does this have to do with the history of physics?" Read on and find out how Gladych reported on the events that would fund Higgs Particle research as well as the relativistic framework that inspired the Alcubierre drive. The same events that inspired Nick Cook's antigravity classic, "The Hunt for Zero Point"

The article that brought Mike Gladych to the attention of fringe physics buffs everywhere, “The G-Engines are Coming”, appeared in its first incarnation in the pages of the November, 1956 issue of American Modeler.  The article begins with the bold assertion that nuclear airplanes will be made obsolete—by the artificial control of gravity—before they ever leave the design phase.  It then goes on to state that many aircraft companies were currently engaged in the study of the control of gravitation including: Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Co., Convair, Bell Aircraft, Lear, Inc., and Sperry Gyroscope.  The article included optimistic quotes from aircraft industry executives Lawrence D. Bell, “We’re already working with nuclear fuels and equipment to cancel out gravity.”, and George Trimble, stating that he thought the effort to conquer gravity, “could be done in about the time it took to build the first atom bomb.”  In a rather scientific flourish, the article also quotes William P. Lear, commenting on the elimination of g-forces due to large accelerations,

“All matter within the ship would be influenced by the ship’s gravitation only.  This way, no matter how fast you accelerated or changed course, your body would not feel it any more than it now feels the tremendous speed and acceleration of the earth.”

How was all of this going to be accomplished?  According to Gladych, through recent experimental advances in particle physics, “In the course of such experiments, Dr. Stanley Deser and Dr. Richard Arnowitt of the Princeton Institute of Advanced Study found the gravity culprit—tiny particles responsible for gravitation.  Without those G-(gravity) particles, an atom of say, iron still behaved as any other iron atom except for one thing—it was weightless.”

At first blush, the article seems to be purely fanciful.  However, a little background research  revealed that its primary source material came from a Gravity Day meeting of the Gravity Research Foundation—GRF.  The GRF is an organization started and sponsored by Roger Babson.

Babson made his millions in the stock market and then safeguarded them by selling off most of his investments a few weeks before the crash of 1929.  He attributed his success to heeding the words of Newton, “What goes up must come down.”  Babson, a graduate of MIT, went on to build a financial empire printing stock picking advice pamphlets.  Much of his advice was based on Newton’s three laws.  In addition to founding the GRF, he also started Babson University.  He and his wife were avid collectors of Newton memorabilia and the university that shares Babson’s name also came to own one of the largest collections of historic Newton artifacts, including Newton’s study, shipped piece by piece from England to Massachusetts and reconstructed there.

Inspired by tragic drownings that claimed the lives of two of his family members, Babson set out to found the Gravity research foundation in order that “insert gravity quote from Babson essay contest here”.  For more detail on Babson, and his quest to conquer gravity, see David Kaiser’s graduate dissertation , and Jon Mooalem’s article in Harper magazine .

Each year, the GRF hosted the Gravity Days event at Babson’s estate near New Boston, NH.  These events were attended by industry moguls such as Thomas Edison, Hunter Agnew Bahnson Jr.; Clarence Birdseye, of frozen food fame; and Igor Sikorsky, inventor of the helicopter.  Bill Lear, mentioned in Gladych’s article, was also known to attend.  The meetings consisted of a day or two of financial seminars interspersed with presentations about the latest in anti-gravity research.  

At each Gravity Days event, awards were presented for the winners of that year’s gravity essay contest.  The contest offered prizes for the best 

“…essays on the possibilities of discovering: (i) some partial insulator, reflector, or absorber of gravity; (ii) some alloy or other substance, the atoms of which can be agitated or rearranged by gravity to throw off heat; or (iii) some other reasonable method of harnessing, controlling, or neutralizing gravity.” 

For the first twenty years or so, not a single scientist from the halls of academia entered the contest.  The academic freeze-out was broken by Bryce DeWitt in 1954.  Bryce was a well-established relativity physicist who had received his degree with the mentorship of John Archibald Wheeler.  The next year Richard Arnowitt and Stanley Deser won the award.  They were both worked at the Institute for Advanced Studies, run by Robert Oppenheime,r who instructed them to return the cash prize.  They did not.  The essay, relating recently discovered subatomic particles, the kaons, with gravity appears as a subject of Gladych’s article.

Gladych’s article, fanciful in the extreme by today’s standards, portrays the optimism of an industrial culture which at the time hoped to bend nature to its every whim.  And, while none of the article’s claims, such as anti-gravity engines within a decade, came true, the chain of events, put into motion by the meetings it chronicled, funded gravity research that ultimately led to the discovery of the Higgs boson.  

Upon reading Bryce DeWitt’s prize-winning essay, the aforementioned Agnew Hunter Bahnson Jr. approached him with an offer to head up an industry funded gravity research institute that would operate within the halls of academe.  Bahnson in addition to being the CEO of Bahnson Industries, was also a pilot, and dreamed of being the first man in outer space.  To this end, he provided and marshaled a significant amount of funding towards gravity research.  Wheeler advised DeWitt to accept the position<add citation>.  Bahnson rounded up funding from his many contacts in the world of business and the Air Force, and in 1956, Bryce DeWitt and his wife Cecile Morette-DeWitt –an accomplished physicist in her own right—became the first co-directors of the Institute for Field Physics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  A few years later a visiting scholar, Peter Higgs, would write one of his seminal papers on the Higgs boson [5].  His visit was funded by an Air Force grant authored by the DeWitts.

The Higgs boson wasn’t the only unintended consequence of the GRF.  One of the industry luminaries quoted in Gladych’s article was Richard Trimble of the Martin Aircraft Company.  Trimble was a board member, instrumental in the formation, of the Research Institute for Advanced Studies .  The institute was started under the auspices of Martin Aircraft with “two unorthodox goals—spaceflight and the control of gravity itself for propulsion.”   Interestingly, the same reference pointed out: “Five years ago most scientists held that anybody who proposed an artificial satellite was a dyed-in-the-wool-crackpot.”   

One of the first scientists hired by Trimble’s organization was Louis Witten.  Dr. Witten described the situation like this in a recent historical roundtable, “Enter the Witten quote about funding and supporting children.”  

RIAS provided support and an environment that enabled Witten to develop himself into a premier relativist.  One of the children he raised was named Edward Witten, today an acclaimed string physicist.  The younger Witten is so prolific and so often produces respected results that his peers have jokingly created an annual award for the “best NEW string theory”.  NEW is an acronym for “Not Edward Witten.”  Trimble accomplished his goal of placing a satellite in stable orbit.  He then went on to lead the manned spacecraft effort for NASA’s Apollo program.
There’s one final aside to the G-Engines article.  William P. Lear’s comments about controlling gravity within the ship to prevent its occupants from feeling the effects of large accelerations was shown to be conceptually valid thirty-eight years later by Miguel Alcubierre.  In his article, Alcubierre shows that Einstein’s field equations will allow a solution describing space curved into a gravity hill behind a ship and a gravity well in front.  With this configuration, the ship, sitting on the flat space between the hill and the well, is in constant free-fall, accelerating without the occupants feeling the effects of the motion, (Figure 6).

It might seem gratuitous to point this out, but there’s a connection.  Alcubierre derived his ‘warp’ equations using the ADM 3+1 general relativity formalism.  The A and D of ADM are Arnowitt and Deser.  They developed the formalism with Charles Missner in 1959 five years after winning the GRF essay contest.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Higgs… and Other Things as Related by Fighter-Ace Turned Journalist Michael Gladych

Scientific research in post-war America during the 1950s and ‘60s as seen through the eyes and life of ace fighter pilot turned science journalist, Michael Gladych, reveals a time when scientific possibilities were grander and fairly dripped with the promise of sci-fi style adventure.  

Michael Gladych enters our story in the “The Hunt for Zero Point” , the fringe physics classic, by Nick Cook: 
“The strapline below the headline proclaimed: "By far the most potent source of energy is gravity. Using it as power, future aircraft will attain the speed of light." It was written by one Michael Gladych…”
Gladych, portrayed by Cook as merely the random author of a science journalism article , (figure 1), rapidly fades from the story amidst numerous claims of government and aerospace industry conspiracies to cover-up the ‘true’ anti-gravity programs of the 1950s.

Ironically, Gladych is a far more interesting, and ‘true-to-life’ character than any of the others in “The Hunt for Zero Point”.  Gladych, sometimes science journalist, sometimes biographer, and sometimes government operative enters our story as a fighter pilot ace of World War II; one of the few to be decorated by four different air forces; one who talked his way from America back to Europe to re-join the Allied forces, piloting fighter planes without any official military orders.  Gladych, whose life would turn out to be anything but quiet or private, makes his first public appearance in an article in the Syracuse Herald Journal of April 7th, 1944, titled: “Polish Fighter Leaves No Further Address”.  The story details how Gladych, who traveled to the United States attached to an advanced Army flying school in New York, subsequently bluffed his way onto a clipper back to England, and joined an American squadron where he knew a few other Polish pilots.  He flew several missions before anyone thought to ask for the orders that he simply didn’t have.  His exploits became so famous, his life story was chronicled with a three page biography in issue #91 of Wings Comics , (seen above).

A few years later, in 1946, Gladych made the nationally syndicated press rounds again.  He was still a subject of the news rather than its author.  The headline read: “Ace to be Deported” .  After surviving several wartime adventures, not the least of which was the single-handed rescue of his younger brother Jan from a Soviet POW camp , Gladych had re-entered the United Sates, married, had a child, and settled down.  This time though, he’d entered the country under a ruse—using a visa for Great Britain to gain access—and was on the verge of being deported. The article stated that a grass-roots effort had formed to keep the Gladych family state-side:
“Polish groups in the U. S. have joined veterans' organizations in an attempt to have the deportation order rescinded.”
Everything worked out for the best; the suspension of Gladych’s deportation was documented in the Senate Journal of March 7, 1950.

Soon after avoiding deportation, Gladych transitioned from gallivanting fighter pilot to prolific author.  Perhaps, not surprisingly given Gladych’s lifestyle, his selection of scientific subject matter tended towards the legendary.  

Part II of this post looks at Gladych's coverage of the race for antigravity.  A real race peopled by the aviation titans of the 1950s.  Names like Bell, Lear, Sikorsky, and Trimble entered the fray, and Gladych was there to write about it all. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Unschooling Networks

It happened again.  The kid's network appeared on my radar.  Walking through our local art museum last week, I was stopped by a passerby who was leading a kids' art tour, "You're No. 1's dad aren't you?"  Then, this weekend, we went camping at a state park 20 or so miles away.  We hiked three miles into the nearby town of Stinson Beach where, while waiting in line at the local snack shack, 1 ran into one of her art teachers from last summer.  They took the time to catch up on the artsy things that had been going on in their worlds, and then they headed off their separate directions.

Kids and networks.  It's a thing.  In my experience, unschooling kids tend to build networks for themselves and their families.  They build them the same way the rest of us do: by being outside, living life.

It seems to be that simple.  Just by being out and about, interacting with the world that's around them, they network.  I frequently meet people on transit who know me because they've seen me with my kids, who they've  actually sat down, and had discussions with my on the bus.  The kids are meeting different people each week.  They're also building routine, seeing some of the same people over and over.  Better even yet, for, me, the same people are seeing them over and over again.

Is it a power-network?  I don't know.  The oldest kid here, No. 1 is seven years-old, so only time will tell.  Is it a valuable network to me though?  Yes!  Very!  When my wife and I walk past Gumps, a chic knick-knack shop in downtown San Francisco, (think about where the Gilmore grandparents would shop for Christmas gifts), the guards at the entrance stop us and ask us where the kids are.  When I drop in for coffee in Noe Valley, people ask me what the kids are up to.  When I stop at the corner store to pickup a bottle of wine on the way home, the owners ask how my family is doing.  You get the idea.

Every time the kids grow their network, I feel a little more cozy here in our major metropolitan town of San Francisco.  They're making contacts.  They're learning where and what things are.  They're finding people they care about, and who care about them!  All this from unschooling just giving them the chance to wander around!

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Look

Every so often it happens, someone asks how unschooling is working while giving me the ‘surely they’re done with that by now’ look. Sometimes the look gets to me, and gives me pause to think about whether what we’re doing really does work or not. Then, I remember where the kids really are academically, almost universally ahead in my opinion, and I relax a bit.

Annoying as it is the ‘look’ winds up being a positive force in general. It makes me re-evaluate my goals for unschooling in the first place. I just have two of them.  The first is  for the kids learn in a natural easy way that echoes the way I learned things growing up.   The second is for them to get out into the world to experience it, and to build the skills necessary to work with it.

Sometimes when I review, I realize we could focus more on one or the other of those goals, and try to amplify my efforts accordingly.  For example,

  • “No. 1 mentioned she wanted to learn to solder, we need to take time to make that actually happen.” or 
  • “No. 2 is starting to bounce off the walls in the afternoon. He’s really good at action oriented activities like hikes and sports. I need to make dinners that we can take with us so we can walk out the door in the afternoon and hang out in our forested park or the playground instead of our house.” or 
  • “I noticed the kids are saying bye without making eye contact while leaving places we visit. We should start practicing role-play about greeting people when we’re out and about again.”

The look reminds me to do little things that make our unschooling life more effective and more fun, so, I’ll take it. Little reminders always help.

About the Antelope: Last summer when we went eclipse spotting, we met this guy.  He gave us a different sort of look.  As we ignored him, he then followed us, (always about 50 yards away), bleating his disapproval.  Apparently, we'd invaded his space.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Always Watching

A few weeks back, Mom-person lost her wedding ring.  I was walking across the room one morning, and noticed her engagement ring laying on the rug, but the wedding ring was nowhere in sight.  She and I started a search for the errant ring.  We looked under the rug, then under the bed.  I emptied out the recycling bag, (Ick!), since we’d been cleaning house the night before.  We looked in all the places the ring should be.  It wasn’t in any of them.  Finally, we asked five year-old No. 2 if he happened to know where the ring was.  He’s frequently the moving force behind ‘misplaced’ items.  He earnestly told us he had no idea.

Having assured ourselves that we weren’t shipping the ring to the recycling plant, we got on with life figuring the ring would turn up, and that we’d remount a more extensive search later.  Life, as it does around here, proceeded to trod rapidly along.  Before we knew it, a week passed before we’d even thought to look for the ring again.

Then, one morning, from out of nowhere, three year-old No. 3 walked up to Mom-person, and said “You haven’t found your ring yet.”

“Nope.” Mom person replied.

“It’s under the dresser.  Yeah.” No. 3 appends most statements of fact with “Yeah.”


“Yeah, it fell down, and rolled, and went under the dresser.  Yeah.”

And there you have it, all we need have done is asked!

A few days later Mom-person got time to look under the dresser, and there the ring was, exactly where 3 said it would be!

I love it that the kids are always taking in far more than I think they were at the time!  All of them do this.  Weeks after a class or lecture that I think they merely sat through politely, they’ll quote some piece of information they picked up there.  Often, when we get back from an outing, I’ll ask them what their favorite part was.  Most of the time I get back a blanket statement, “All of it!”  Then, out of the blue, weeks later, one of them will recount a part of the outing to me as a story.  They absorbed everything!  They just wanted to recount the information when it made sense to them.  Kinda just like the rest of us!

What’s your favorite story of your kids being ahead of the game, (or maybe even the only ones in the game)?