Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ford Chooses China, Not Mexico, to Build Its New Focus

The body shop at a Ford plant in China. The automaker said it would begin making the Ford Focus in China for global markets in 2019. CreditGiulia Marchi for The New York Times
DETROIT — Ford Motor said on Tuesday that it would build its next-generation small car for American consumers in China rather than Mexico, where the automaker canceled plans for a new factory this year.
The shift of production of the Ford Focus to China was among a number of manufacturing moves announced by the company, and one of the first strategic steps taken by its new chief executive, Jim Hackett.
Ford said it would begin making the Focus in China for global markets in 2019, after production ends at its current location in Michigan.
A Lincoln Navigator on display at the New York International Auto Show in April.CreditHilary Swift for The New York Times
The company was building a $1.6 billion assembly plant for the next Focus model in Mexico, but it ran into stiff opposition from President Trump and then canceled the project.
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Ford, the nation’s second-largest automaker behind General Motors, also said on Tuesday that it would invest $900 million in a Kentucky plant to produce new versions of its Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator sport-utility vehicles. The company said the investment would preserve 1,000 jobs at the plant.
G.M. also imports cars from China to the United States market, notably the Buick Envision, a compact crossover. But Ford’s commitment to the Focus represents a far greater volume of production.
Ford shares were down 0.5 percent in morning trading.

Yearning for New Physics at CERN, in a Post-Higgs Way

By Dennis Overbye
MEYRIN, Switzerland — The world’s biggest and most expensive time machine is running again.
Underneath the fields and shopping centers on the French-Swiss border outside Geneva, in the Large Hadron Collider, the subatomic particles known as protons are zooming around a 17-mile electromagnetic racetrack and banging into one another at the speed of light, recreating conditions of the universe when it was only a trillionth of a second old.
Some 5,000 physicists are back at work here at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, watching their computers sift the debris from primordial collisions in search of new particles and forces of nature, and plan to keep at it for at least the next 20 years.
Science is knocking on heaven’s door, as the Harvard physicist Lisa Randall put it in the title of her recent book about particle physics.
But what if nobody answers? What if there is nothing new to discover? That prospect is now a cloud hanging over the physics community.
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It’s been five years and more than seven quadrillion collisions of protons since 2012, when the collider discovered the Higgs boson, the particle that explains why some other elementary particles have mass. That achievement completed an edifice of equations called the Standard Model, ending one significant chapter in physics.
2015 bump in the collider data hinted at a new particle, inspiring a flood of theoretical papers before it disappeared into the background noise as just another fluke of nature.
But since then, the silence from the frontier has been ominous.
“The feeling in the field is at best one of confusion and at worst depression,” Adam Falkowski, a particle physicist at the Laboratoire de Physique Théorique d’Orsay in France, wrote recently in an article for the science journal Inference.
“These are difficult times for the theorists,” Gian Giudice, the head of CERN’s theory department, said. “Our hopes seem to have been shattered. We have not found what we wanted.”


A “physicist” in the office of John Ellis at CERN. Susy stands for supersymmetry.CreditLeslye Davis/The New York Times

What the world’s physicists have wanted for almost 30 years is any sign of phenomena called supersymmetry, which has hovered just out of reach like a golden apple, a promise of a hidden mathematical beauty at the core of reality.
Theorists in the 1970s posited a relationship between the particles that carry forces, like the photon that conveys electromagnetism or light, and the basic constituents of matter, electrons and quarks.
If the theory of supersymmetry is correct, there should be a whole new set of elementary particles to be discovered, so-called super-partners of the quarks and the electrons and the other particles we already know and love. Clouds of them left over from the Big Bang, moreover, could make up the mysterious dark matter that astronomers say constitutes a quarter of the universe and whose gravitational pull controls the fates of galaxies.
Colliders get their mojo from Einstein’s equivalence of mass and energy. When a pair of protons collide in the Large Hadron Collider, they recreate a smidgen of the original Big Bang that jump-started the cosmos. Whatever forms of matter can be made from that bank of energy — particles and forces that held sway when the universe was young — can reappear and briefly strut their stuff through labyrinths of electronic detectors and computers.
Every time colliders get a little more energy to spend, scientists get access to realms of time, nature and possibility we have never experienced, and we get a little closer to the mathematical bones of reality.
The Large Hadron Collider was designed to collide protons with energies of seven trillion electron volts apiece, taking science back to the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. That was enough, physicists knew, to discover the Higgs or to prove that it was wrong.
Many theorists had also hoped that supersymmetrical particles would show up when the Large Hadron Collider was finally turned on in 2010. Indeed the mystery particles could have shown up even earlier, in the collider’s predecessors, according to some versions of the theory.
As a headline in The New York Times put it in 1993: “315 Physicists Report Failure in Search for Supersymmetry.”
So far they are still failing. In May, a new analysis by the 3,000 physicists monitoring the big Atlas detector (one of two main detectors in the CERN tunnel) reported no hints of superparticles up to a mass of almost 2 trillion electron volts.
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The Atlas detector at CERN, which helped scientists uncover the Higgs boson five years ago.CreditLeslye Davis/The New York Times
In other experiments, meanwhile, increasingly sensitive efforts to capture the putative dark matter particles drifting in space (and through our bodies) have also come up empty, and theorists have started turning to more complicated ideas for what nature might be doing in the dark.
Last year, some scientists gathered in Copenhagen to pay off bets, with bottles of expensive cognac, they had made that supersymmetry would appear by now.
“Many of my colleagues are desperate,” said Hermann Nicolai of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany. “They have invested their careers in this.”
The idea that the Large Hadron Collier would discover the Higgs bosonbut nothing else has long been physicists’ worst nightmare. Among other things, it would leave them with no explanation for their greatest achievement: the Higgs itself.
According to CERN, the long-sought boson, the keystone to the Standard Model, weighs 125 billion electron volts, or as much as a whole iodine atom. But that is ridiculously too light, according to theoretical calculations. The mass of the Higgs should be some thousands of quadrillion times as high.
The cause is quantum weirdness, one principle of which is that anything that is not forbidden will happen. That means the Higgs calculation must include the effects of its interactions with all other known particles, including so-called virtual particles that can wink in and out of existence.
Theorists have to doctor their equations for the Higgs and other numbers to come out right under the Standard Model.
But when the alleged supersymmetric particles are inserted in the mix, a miracle occurs. They cancel out the effects of the other particles, leaving the Higgs with a perfectly finite, normal mass. This is the way nature should be, they say.
Supersymmetry is such a general idea that there is always another version that can be proposed.
Not everybody is ready to give up on supersymmetry or to pay off bets.


The CERN Control Center, where scientists analyze data from some of the laboratory’s projects.CreditLeslye Davis/The New York Times

Gordon Kane, a superstring theorist at the University of Michigan who is well known in the community for his optimism about supersymmetry, said his calculations predicted that the lightest superparticle should show up around about 1.6 trillion electron volts once enough data was properly analyzed. “Sadly,” he wrote in an email, “the experimenters have not done realistic searches.”
Another staunch supporter is John Ellis, a veteran CERN theorist and professor at Kings College London, whose office at the lab displays a cardboard skeleton holding a sign implying that this is what happened to the last person who criticized “Susy,” short for supersymmetry. “Obviously I’m disappointed Susy didn’t show up when the L.H.C. was turned on,” he said, adding that there were still plenty of chances for it to show up.
Guido Tonelli, a professor at the University of Pisa in Italy who was one of the leaders of the Higgs hunt, said, “For a while we thought we could discover the Higgs and new physics at the same time — that was very exciting.” But he said he did not share his colleagues depression that it did not happen: “The fact that the Higgs fits the Standard Model means new physics is farther up the energy scale. We know it is there, we just don’t know if it is tomorrow or the next decade.”
He added, “We need to explore; don’t be timid.”
By the end of 2018, the collider will have logged some 15,000 trillion collisions. If something does not show up by then, Dr. Giudice said, it will be time to go back to the drawing board.
“It’s a high point of research when we have confusion,” he said. “Certainly this is a moment of confusion.”
“Confusion,” he explained, “means an opportunity for new ideas.”
Among the other ideas, Dr. Giudice suggested with a few quick squiggles and scrawls on this blackboard, is that the Higgs mass is fixed not by some deep symmetry principle, but rather by the continuing dynamics of fields and forces. As the universe expands and evolves during the Big Bang, the Higgs field, of which the boson is an expression, undergoes phase transitions, like water turning to ice. At some point, it gets stuck.
“What fixes the value of the Higgs is the history of the universe,” he said. But that would make the Higgs field unstable over very long time frames — much longer than the age of the universe — and could eventually collapse, dissolving what we think of as reality.
Another possibility, which is anathema to many card-carrying Einsteinians, is that these problematic numbers are due to random chance. There are virtually an infinite number of possible universes with different Higgs masses, but only one that has the capability of a evolving into stars, planets, us.
CERN has begun laying plans for a truly giant successor to the Large Hadron Collider: It would be 100 kilometers around and collide protons at 100 trillion electron volts. China is also exploring a “Great Collider” along those lines.


The Worldwide L.H.C. Computing Grid contains all the data gathered from the Large Hadron Collider. More than seven quadrillion collisions of protons have been recorded since the discovery of the Higgs boson. CreditLeslye Davis/The New York Times

At 14 trillion electron volts, the Large Hadron Collider would either find the Higgs boson or something else because the Standard Model broke down at those energies.
The Future Circular Collider, as CERN refers to it, has no such specific purpose because under the Standard Model, that higher energy range is barren of new particles — a desert in the parlance. But nobody really believes that the Standard Model, with no mention of gravity, is the last word about the universe.
There are trillions upon trillions of proton smash-ups to go before we sleep.
One encouraging hint has come from recent CERN studies of a weird short-lived little particle called a B-meson, which among other things flips back and forth from being itself and its antimatter opposite trillions of times a second. According to the Standard Model, these particles should have an equal chance of producing electrons as their fat cousins the muons, when they decay in certain ways. However, measurements at the CERN collider have shown a definite propensity for the mesons to underproduce muons, as reported at CERN in April.
The same quantum weirdness that blows up the theoretical mass of the Higgs might also be at work here, physicists say, hinting at a new very massive particle called a leptoquark. Or it could just be a fluke.
“Needless to say, if these signals hold up then it would be an extremely big deal, but it is too soon to say,” said Guy Wilkinson, an Oxford professor who is the spokesman for the LHCb collaboration.
It was only six years ago that the collider was on the verge of ruling out the Higgs boson, at least as prescribed by the Standard Model. Scientists prepared to explain to the public why failing to find the Higgs boson would be more exciting than finding it: another chance at creative confusion.
It was just then, of course, that a small bump appeared in the data charts that would turn out to be the elusive boson.
“Nature might be more subtle than we think it is,” said Joel Butler, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, who leads one of the CERN detector teams.
“It took 50 years to find the Higgs,” he said, standing beside his multistory detector, known as CMS, 300 feet underground one morning.
“Patience is clearly a virtue in physics,” he added.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Move Over, Bitcoin. Ether Is the Digital Currency of the Moment.

Total market value of each currency
Daily averages
A virtual currency called Ether has been growing alongside Bitcoin in the last year to $35 billion, compared with Bitcoin’s $43 billion.
The price of Bitcoin has hit record highs in recent months, more than doubling in price since the start of the year. Despite these gains, Bitcoin is on the verge of losing its position as the dominant virtual currency.
The value of Ether, the digital money that lives on an upstart network known as Ethereum, has risen an eye-popping 4,500 percent since the beginning of the year.
With the recent price increases, the outstanding units of the Ether currency were worth around $34 billion as of Monday — or 82 percent as much as all the Bitcoin in existence. At the beginning of the year, Ether was only about 5 percent as valuable as Bitcoin.
The sudden rise of Ethereum highlights how volatile the bewildering world of virtual currency remains, where lines of computer code can be spun into billions of dollars in a matter of months.
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Bitcoin, the breakout digital currency, is also hitting new highs — one Bitcoin was worth $2,600 on Monday. But the Bitcoin community has struggled with technical issues and bitter internal divisions among its biggest supporters. It has also been tainted by its association with online drug sales and hackers demanding ransom.
Against this backdrop, Ether has been gaining steam. The two-year old system has picked up backing from both tech geeks and big corporate names like JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft, which are excited about Ethereum’s goal of providing not only a digital currency but also a new type of global computing network, which generally requires Ether to use.
In a recent survey of 1,100 virtual currency users, 94 percent were positive about the state of Ethereum, while only 49 percent were positive about Bitcoin, the industry publication CoinDesk said this month.
If recent trends continue, the value of Ethereum’s virtual currency could race past Bitcoin’s in the coming weeks. Virtual currency fanatics are monitoring the value of each and waiting for the two currencies to switch place, a moment that has been called “the flippening.”
“The momentum has shifted to Ethereum — there is no doubt about that,” said William Mougayar, the founder of Virtual Capital Ventures, which invests in a variety of virtual currencies and start-ups. “There is almost nothing you can do with Bitcoin that you can’t do with Ethereum.”
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Racks of machines at a server farm mining Bitcoins and Ether in Guizhou, China, last June. Credit Gilles Sabrié for The New York Time
Even though most of the people buying Ether and Bitcoin are individual investors, the gains that both have experienced have taken what was until very recently a quirky fringe experiment into the realm of big money. The combined value of all Ether and Bitcoin is now worth more than the market value of PayPal and is approaching the size of Goldman Sachs.
Investors buying Ether are placing a bet that people will want to use the Ethereum network’s computing capabilities and will need the currency to do so. But that is far from a sure thing. And real-world use of the network is still scant.
Bitcoin, on the other hand, has made inroads into mainstream commerce, with companies like Overstock.com and Expedia accepting Bitcoin for purchases, along with the black-market operators who use the currency.
The fact that there are fewer real-world uses for Ethereum has many market experts expecting a crash similar to the ones that have followed previous run-ups in the price of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Even during recent pullbacks, though, the value of Ether has generally continued to gain on Bitcoin in relative terms.
Ethereum was launched in the middle of 2015 by a 21-year-old college dropout, Vitalik Buterin, who was born in Russia and raised in Canada. He now lists his residence, jokingly, as Cathay Pacific Airlines because of his travel schedule.
The Ether he holds has made him a millionaire many times over, but he has generally avoided commenting on the price increase in Ether.
Mr. Buterin was inspired by Bitcoin, and the software he built shares some of the same basic qualities. Both are hosted and maintained by the computers of volunteers around the world, who are rewarded for their participation with the new digital tokens that are released onto the network each day.
Because the virtual currencies are tracked and maintained by a network of computers, no government or company is in charge. The prices of both Bitcoin and Ether are established on private exchanges, where people can sell the tokens they own at the going market price.
But Ethereum was designed to do much more than just serve as a digital money. The network of computers hooked into Ethereum can be harnessed to do computational work, essentially making it possible to run computer programs on the network, or what are referred to as decentralized applications, or Dapps. This has led to an enormous community of programmers working on the software.
One of the first applications to take off was a user-led venture capital fund of sorts, known as the Decentralized Autonomous Organization. After raising over $150 million last summer, the project crashed and burned, and appeared ready to take Ethereum with it.
Ethereum was launched in 2015 by Vitalik Buterin, a 21-year-old college dropout who was born in Russia and raised in Canada. Credit John Phillips/Getty Images
But the way that Mr. Buterin and other developers dealt with the problems, returning the hacked Ether to users, won him the respect of many in the corporate world.
“It was good to see that there is governance on Ethereum and that they can fix issues in a timely manner if they have to,” said Eric Piscini, who leads the team looking into virtual currency technology at the consulting firm Deloitte.
Many applications being built on Ethereum are also raising money using the Ether currency, in what are known as initial coin offerings, a play on initial public offerings.
Start-ups that have followed this path have generally collected Ether from investors and exchanged them for units of their own specialized virtual currency, leaving the entrepreneurs with the Ether to convert into dollars and spend on operational expenses.
These coin offerings, which have proliferated in recent months, have created a surge of demand for the Ether currency. Just last week, investors sent $150 million worth of Ether to a start-up, Bancor, that wants to make it easier to launch virtual currencies. If projects like Bancor stumble, Ether could as well.
Several big companies have also been building programs on top of Ethereum, including the mining company BHP Billiton, which has built a trial program to track its raw materials, and JPMorgan, which is working on a system to monitor trading.
Over the last few months, over 100 companies have joined the nonprofit Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, including global names like Toyota, Merck and Samsung, to build tools that will make Ethereum useful in corporate settings.
Many of the companies using Ethereum are building their own private versions of the software, which won’t make use of the Ether currency. Speculators are betting that these companies will eventually plug their software into the broader Ethereum network.
There is, though, also the possibility that none of these big trials come to fruition, and the current excitement fizzles out, as has happened many times in the past with Bitcoin after big price surges.
“I hope this is the year where we start to close the gap between the speculative value and the actual value,” Mr. Mougayar said. “There is a lot at stake right now.”