Physics Experiment Shows the Universe Isn’t Objective?

At the quantum level, the world is far stranger than most realize and the results from a new experiment at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have some questioning if reality is independent of the observer.

Quantum Strangeness

In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger developed one of the most famous thought experiments in physics to illustrate how counterintuitive quantum nature can be. Named Schrödinger’s Cat, the experiment involves a cat in a box whose life depends on a particle not decaying. Schrödinger posited that until a researcher opens the box the cat can be considered both alive and dead at the same time. Coexisting in both of these conditions is called a superposition of states. Although this situation might sound incredible, this interpretation dominates our understanding of the quantum world. But once someone opens the box, the superposition collapses and the cat’s fate is determined.

Although physicists aren’t putting cat’s in superposition states, it is possible to detect and even create particles in superposition. They can even put pairs of particles, such as photons, into a superposition state. These pairs of particles are called “entangled” because they are linked to each other. When the entangled particles are measured in the same way, they always agree, independent of the distance between them. This is as if the particles can communicate faster than light. Albert Einstein dubbed this “spooky action at a distance” because he found the implications disturbing. Unfortunately for Einstein, this was experimentally verified. It has even been observed that measurements made at one point in time on one of the entangled pair can affect their partner particle in the past, as seen in the Quantum Eraser experiment.

The Strangeness Deepends

One thread of continuity throughout these experiments has been that observers agree on results. Whenever a measurement is taken on one of the entangled particles, we verify always measuring the corresponding result on the other of the entangled pair. You can imagine having two entangled boxes with the fates of the cats linked. But the experiment in Edinburgh has thrown things for a loop.

The physicists at Heriot-Watt University have designed an experiment using multiple pairs of entangled particles. It was found that a pair of entangled particles could have one measured yet the partner still be detected in superposition. This would be akin to having one person crack open an egg but the another person finding the same egg still whole.

Yet the results from this experiment still conform to the predictions of quantum mechanics. In fact, this experiment is an extension one proposed by Eugene Wigner in 1961 called Wigner’s friend The issue here, and that of the thought experiment, is how can these two different observations be reconciled in our understanding?


Feb. 21, 2018 has been horrible. This is my rant.

I am having a rather crappy day. Work sucked. My laptop is still acting stupid (I’m on the chromebook trying to troubleshoot) and I’m trying to do the calculation of which will probably take longer: fix the stupid PC or use my wife’s Mac and install python and my simulation program (which took forever on the PC to get to work). Understanding that I never use Macs.
As I do this, I’m realizing just how very very much I do NOT want to keep writing this thesis. I just found that I screwed up some mathematics WAY early into a derivation, and then I use the result of that for some calculations… so that all needs to be fixed. [fixing the math is easy, its changing it in the thesis. Its literally paaaaages long.) And it isn’t like the analysis is done either. And the experiment failed horribly. That much was clear 6 months ago. Or at least, it failed for me. There are clearly things than can be fixed, but my results are just miserable.
I still want a PhD. I’m just unsure I want it this bad. It feels sooooo good to write that. And it isn’t just the weight of Imposter Syndrome sitting on my chest. Which it is. But it isn’t just the constant repetition that:
  • I am really not worthy of getting my PhD because:
    • My work sucks
    • I didn’t learn enough
    • I was never smart enough to begin with
  • And I knew that before I started so why did I waste my time trying?
  • But even if none of the above is true… I’LL STILL NEVER FINISH BY APRIL!

But all those points aside (and the last one actually is a reasonable argument) I still don’t want to keep writing this. At one point this summer, I’d decided I wanted to finish this thesis, even if it wasn’t getting published. Even if I wasn’t getting the PhD. I wanted to at least finish it up and throw it on the archive or something. I wanted to have that tome that I wrote.

And now I don’t. I just want to lay down this task that feels like nothing but a burden. Worse than that, it feels like a waste of my time. A waste of my adviser’s time and my wife’s time and my adviser’s awesome assistant’s time (who sometimes I feel puts in more time, energy, and effort into this than my adviser does).

Right now, while I’m utterly exhausted and sore from work and just kind of bleeeeh, I don’t feel any real emotion towards the PhD.

But it does open some different doors I couldn’t otherwise. And some of those doors are really cool. Not just ‘great opportunities’ or high paying  jobs, but I’ve seen postings that have made me perk up and think it sounds like a fun thing to do… and then get paid for. I know there will be differences between my imagination and reality, but when it at least (on paper) sounds fun, that’s a lot better than most anything else, right? Better than where I’m at now.

So…. I don’t know. Either way: I’m working my laptop tonight. I think any more than that is a waste. Because sometimes you need to know when to just stop.

Side Adventure of a Grad Student: NYC; Or How America is More Than Just A Country

Edit: I initially started this post on the 22nd. It took me a while to finish it.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, meaning that the last 4 days, which I spent in good ol’ New York, New York, were the last days of summer. It also means that today,  the equatorial plane will pass through the center of the sun and the amount of day and night are nearly equal.

Equal. Equality.

This was my first trip to The Big Apple. Having grown up on the West Coast, I’d only interacted with the city as something abstract, as a movie set or as a historical setting. Sometimes it was this far away place (with a literal continent between us) where things were ‘happening’. And I’d been to San Francisco and L.A., so Having confined most of my early travel to the bounds of California with brief excursions into the neighboring states (and even shorter trips to Tijuana, Mexico), it never really occurred to me that I might visit the famed city.

Some of it failed to live up to expectations, as anything that’s built up in your mind will. Times Square was impressive and even a bit sickening with the bombardment of advertisements. Impressive, but I didn’t get that grandiose feeling I thought I’d have. But there were places that exceeded already high expectations.

Our first day, after a long bus ride and subway rides in both DC and NYC, we walked the Brooklyn Bridge. Now that was a sight! We inadvertently took part in a bit of a march for a union protest (possibly a strike) against Charter Spectrum. Having dealt with that company before as a customer, I can’t don’t want to imagine how they treat employees. Later we went to Times Square, had some Japanese curry, and ended up walking over a half marathon worth of steps.

I caught my first Broadway show (Miss Saigon) and a strange off-Broadway ‘experience’ called Sleep No More. I walked through Chinatown (lunch and a massage) and Little Italy (obligatory cannoli eaten). I had New York Style pizza, which it turns out I’ve honestly had before at “Celestino’s New York Pizza” right next CSU Chico’s campus!  And finally even a legitimate NYC bagel that I scarfed down on our last morning.

It is this last morning, one where we grabbed bagels and the Staten Island Ferry, that is really where the unexpected happened.

I don’t think anyone would confuse me for a knee-jerk “America is the best nation ever. Period.” kind of person. I think it is important recognize flaws, otherwise you’ll never correct them. Yet, that right there, that idea of perpetually correcting flaws, whether they are inherent in the system or just in how it is enacted, is something core to the American ideal.

The Staten Island Ferry runs for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is free for all passengers. And it goes by Liberty Island, affording a tremendous view of the Statue of Liberty. This view shook me to the core. I wont deny getting teary-eyed seeing it up close for the first time. Buy why? It is a 131 year old statue, that was a gift. I’ve even made fun of it a few times, as something that France gave us so they could unload people they didn’t want. Not really a funny joke, and I’ve made a lot of those. Buy why is this statue important? Why would it make me get misty-eyed.

First, the statue could have just been something that was a a celebration of our citizens being free, having carved out a space for ourselves (and ourselves alone) to be free from tyranny. And some of our citizens really stick to that idea. That America is exceptional and exceptionally alone in its awesomeness.

Anytime I hear the phrase America First, it makes me sick. Because they are wrong. The French designed and made the statue and gifted it to us but we decided which way she faced. As it was a joint venture, we built the base (pedestal) for it. In an effort to pay for the pedestal, Emma Lazarus wrote and donated a poem called “The New Colossus” which you are at least somewhat familiar. It is inscribed on a bronze plaque and contains the famous lines “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Lady Liberty stands with a broken chain at her feet. She faces outward with her torch and calls to “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” She is the essential idea of America. America is not a group with some shared ethnicity or creed or even birth place. It is the acceptance of an ideology “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed […] with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Inherent:          in·her·ent          /inˈhirənt, inˈherənt/     adjective

  1. existing in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute.
    “any form of mountaineering has its inherent dangers”
    synonyms: intrinsicinnateimmanentbuilt-in, indwelling, inborningraineddeep-rooted;

Inalienable:       in·al·ien·a·ble      /inˈālēənəb(ə)l/         adjective

  1. unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor.
    “freedom of religion, the most inalienable of all human rights”
    synonyms: inviolableabsolutesacrosanct;

This is not to even slightly imply that this has been implemented well. At the time the Declaration of Independence was penned, slavery was legal. Genocide of Native Peoples was well underway. It needs to be remembered that we are NOT just a nation of immigrants. We a nation of the decedents of slaves and those who owned them, of native people and those who slaughtered them, the victims and perpetrators of some of the malicious acts in history. Men of color gained the right to vote before women did. Cycles of distrust and violence and isolationism repeat and repeat and repeat. These attitudes still persist.

But the idea is… we move forward. The Preamble to the Constitution doesn’t say “to form a perfect Union.” It says a more perfect Union. Old-timey speak for closer to perfect.

If you are worried some immigrant is coming to ‘steal your job’ then you have no real understanding of how economics works and are clearly lacking the skills to compete. If you are pissed off that some athletes did the most peaceful protest possible, by taking a knee during the anthem, then wake the hell up. If you are NOT pissed that peaceful protesters were surrounded by police in battle armor, sprayed in the face with pepper spray, while they tried to leave but COULD NOT due to the police not letting them… so they were then thrown to the ground and beaten, then you REALLY need to wake the hell up.

This is America. A place that is NOT perfect. Yet it is our duty as Americans to push forward toward an ever more perfect country. Wake up and join the fight for freedom or you can just sit there, and through your complacency, spit on the very idea of this country.

Season 7, Episode 1 of “Being a Grad Student” Or: How The Meeting Went

When we left off, it was the night before the scheduled Mentoring Committee Meeting, where I was to lay out the issue before us: ~200 hours of data was collected. All of it corrupted by what I believed was some electrostatic patch charge on a plate, giving an enhanced signal giving us a toque on the balance over a thousands times what we should see.

I didn’t sleep that night. And by that I do not mean “I tossed and turned in bed all night.” I mean, I got in bed by 11:30, read to try and take my mind off things, and couldn’t fall asleep. I’d known I would probably wake up early, so I’d grabbed a clean set of clothes and stashed them in our spare bedroom. I’ve done this repeatedly over the last couple years, knowing that I wake up early when stressed and from experience have found that fumbling around in the dark or using my phone as a flashlight both wake up my wife.

So I went to the back bedroom, and finally fell asleep around 1:30am. I was awake, WIDE awake by 3. I tried reading again, but at a certain point, when you are that awake, when your adrenaline is pumping for no good reason, I’ve learned just to funnel that energy into action. Tossing and turning wont give me any rest and will just build the stress. So I get up, shower, and head to work, pausing to grab a 12 ounce cranberry flavored Red Bull and a couple doughnuts from the gas station on my way in.

Seriously, this thesis has been fueled by those addictive Red Bulls. Specifically the cranberry. Sooooo good. Amanda and Red Bull have kept me going.

Having made it to the lab before 5am, I learned something about the world. Or at least about Saint Louis near campus. Coffee shops don’t open that early. That morning I compiled a binder full of work, in chronological order. Post it notes coming out of the top, labeling “important” reports I’ve done. Reports detailing either a significant change I’d suggested, with data to back it up, or characterization of a piece of equipment, where I’d presented data on how it worked. I’d hoped those reports could sway the committee that I’d actually done some science, even if the main experiment was still currently inoperative.

Printing those extra copies of the reports, collecting and organizing my work to present to the committee wasn’t as time consuming as I’d feared, as I’d already been working to organize everything in anticipation of my leaving the lab. By 7:20 I was done, and I layed down, exhausted onto the couch in the lab and passed out. I wish I could say it was a dreamless sleep, but it wasn’t.

I was startled awake by a fellow graduate student coming into the lab around 9am. I felt much more refreshed and would later find out I slept better on that couch than I had at home. With less than 2 hours left to the meeting, I went back to work. It was at this point I slammed the Red Bull.

By the time 11am finally came, I had basically organized all my work in such a way that it had never been before. I was ready. Or so I thought.

When the meeting began, I (formally) explained to the committee as a whole what the issue was. They’d all heard it from me before, but I wanted to lay out exactly where we were. I pulled out the raw data (graphed) and explained it in detail until it seemed we were all on the same page. To my utter surprise, there wasn’t the slightest discussion on their part about a possibility of me not writing a thesis and defending it, only how to (possibly) pivot the focus, or how to approach writing it. At some point, fairly early on, I realized I was playing the Devil’s Advocate, attacking the suggestions, trying to poke holes in their ideas, trying to find all the things an outsider would find fault with. I didn’t want to spend a few more months working on a thesis (without a stipend) only to have an unsuccessful defense. I didn’t want to spend months working for nothing, and have used up our savings writing instead focusing on job hunting with my current education level.

Thankfully, I was rebuffed at each point and was convinced that there was a viable path forward.  I was later told it sounded as if I was trying to talk myself out of a PhD. And perhaps I was daunted by the idea of completely rewriting everything or just scared of defending without having reasonable data. Having been convinced that a defendable thesis was at least possible and plausible, I was asked to leave so the committee could discuss it in private.

I waited in a chair at the end of the hallway. It was far enough away that I couldn’t overhear whatever was being discussed in the room, but I had a clear vantage point of the doors. I knew I’d hear what was decided eventually, but I couldn’t leave that hallway. As time slowly crawled on, I had the chance to speak with quite a few people I hadn’t seen recently.

Ten, fifteen, and then twenty minutes passed with me sitting in that hallway. My confidence was shaken. How long did it take to discuss this? What private information could be shared right now? Or was it some debate in my competence? Who was on my side? Better yet, who had lost confidence in me (other than myself)? Finally they left. I’d hoped to thank my committee members for their time, but my adviser bee-lined it to me. He was going to write up the recommendations formally, and then send it to me. He didn’t let on to what those were though, which was fine as I’d see them soon. At this point the other two members were already going in opposite directions and caught by someone else who needed to speak with them.

So I continued to wait in the hallway, feeling a bit creepy as I just meandered back and forth aimlessly, waiting for one of them to finish their discussion, just to thank them. One of them finished up after what was probably a short time but felt as much of an eternity as waiting in the chair had been. It was brief, things felt positive in the conversation until we discussed my coming back to finish installing equipment and taking more data.

My heart sunk. I explained how that’d be very strenuous on our limited (no-income) budget. I realized that he’d forgotten that I was off the stipend starting the end of the month. Suddenly things clicked for him, as if the purpose of the meeting, and my urgency finally made sense. And there was a not-so-subtle shift (or perhaps I read way too much into it or projected) where it seemed the last vestiges of “well, maybe he’s just being a little lazy” seemed to evaporate from him. Eyes when wide with an “Ooooooh, oh, that makes total sense now!” (or something to that effect). I was somewhat more comforted by this shift, yet my heart learched. What else had I failed to impress upon them? We finished up speaking and I stayed in the hall, waiting for the last professor to finish up talking to a colleague.

Eventually I gave up on waiting. I was starving at this point, having eaten breakfast around 4am, and it was nearly 1pm. I wrote an email to the third professor and tried to go back to work. I can’t even tell you what else happened that day. I think I did more organizing. More printing of graphs and updating a notebook, filling out a binder more… but it was all a blur. Possibly sleep deprivation played a big role here, but also, I couldn’t stop refreshing my email.

By 4:30pm I needed to leave. I’d been on campus for too long. I kept waiting for that list, and was really stressing out over it. All my fears about feedback came roaring back. Had I not impressed upon everyone how terrified I was about being left to drift in the wind? That was my exact feeling at that moment, just hours after the meeting.

I should have realized what happened, but I didn’t, so I emailed my advisor’s assistant. I had a feeling they’d be the one to actually type up the recommendations or at least would know something about it. Turns out we were just waiting for the other committee members to approve the write up. That still hasn’t happened, as far as I’m aware, but I was given the unapproved draft.

Current mission: Write up the damned thesis just like the data isn’t crap. Build up the analysis tools, calculate the Newtonian gravitational potential and then the torque on the balance due to it, and put a bound on the inverse square law violation. It’d be a HUGE possible violation, but at least I’d show that I’d have the skills to detect it, if the experiment worked. And also write up what needs to be done.

This means that most of what I’ve been writing gets to stay the exact same. There is still the review process with my advisor while I’m away working, but I’ve drafted a proposal for deadlines on my submissions to him, turn around deadlines for him replying to me, and a fairly detailed rubric for him to apply to my work. Mainly I need him to focus on those questions so that we don’t go back and forth a million times.

At this point I feel… mostly relieved. There is still a ton of work to do over the next few months. But it is mostly writing, a little programing, and a bit more analysis. I’m staying a graduate student for at least this semester. Possibly not defending until the spring semester, partially because I padded the submission deadlines for myself because I plan to get a part time job in Boulder once we get there, to augment our income.

For now, I am still a graduate student and a PhD candidate. So the saga continues!

The Story So Far…

1) There has been an edit to this post (besides this note) where I changed part of my discussion where I spoke about a colleague in particular (who wished not to be mentioned) to be more general. Editorially, this actually works better as it more correctly illuminates a general situation. On a personal note I’ll add that I had hoped my reference was positive, as I’ve greatly appreciated their hard work and dedication on my behalf (as well as others) but deeply regret any distress caused.
2) I don’t believe any of the bare facts of this little peak into my private-self-turned-public are incorrect. The majority of this article are my feelings and opinions. I relate events as the appeared to me, at the time they were unfolding. This is to give greater insight to my mental state. Actually, that’s bullshit. The truth is: I was freaking the hell out and needed to get that off my chest! I tried to use a bit of humor, as is my way, to express very deep concerns. I’ve done my utmost to forego any hyperbole, which, if you know me is incredibly difficult. <\end edit>

This is possibly the last post for this site (theotherstlarch) as, in a week, I’ll leave Saint Louis for good. Some things about this next big step are so solidly reassuring that they make all the rest far more than bearable. The most important part is my amazing wife, Amanda, and knowing I have someone to face this all with. But other parts aren’t as much a “sure thing” such as tomorrow’s meeting. A meeting which is going to determine what I do with my days for the next few months and, in a possibly significant way, the rest of my life.

Tomorrow’s meeting will decide if I continue writing on my thesis. Actually, tomorrow decides if that is even an option. And that scares me. I friend of mine, Andrew said the nicest thing about all of this to me tonight: “I hope it all works out however you want it to.” It was very kind, but really hammers home the question, “How do I want things to work out?” I wish that was as easy of a question to answer as it sounds. To be able to understand why, you’d have to know the circumstances. Partly it comes down to the fact that this PhD has been delayed over and over again. False starts and countless equipment failures have me multiplying any estimation for even the tiniest deadline by at least 5, and still failing to meet the time requirements in a spectacular fashion.

It would be easy to blame this all on myself, my inability to properly diagnose or fix problems, inability to convince my superiors of the necessities for changes (or at least not fast enough), or possibly just a general deficit in general intelligence. Any and all of which I’m sure have contributed somewhat. I have no illusions that I’ve navigated any of my challenges perfectly or through the best route, but I’ve had enough successes based on my hard work and/or perseverance to fall into that mental trap that I’m somehow worthless or stupid. But trap is often there when we face challenges. It is a terrible, and yet easy, scapegoat.

I really should explain. I can’t assume you are one of the people I’ve rambled at while tired. As of this moment, the experiment I’ve been working on for 5 years isn’t capable of producing worthwhile data. And my time is up. This summer I was given the goal of gathering 100 hours (minimum) of experimental data. That was honestly the first time I’d been given a genuine goal to meet with an concrete pass or fail. Which all by itself is a bit disturbing. But this was the first time the goal was quantitative vs qualitative… or even just subjective.  If that sounds frustrating, you’re right.

Over the past few days I’ve been painstakingly going through my notes and trying to organize everything to pass onto the next student. And I’m seeing over and over that expectations haven’t ever been clear. And feedback has been nearly nonexistent. It has left me in a rather constant state of fear and confusion. I have no doubt it is completely unintentional. That doesn’t make it any more effective as a teaching or mentoring strategy. Looking back over notes, I’ve noticed that regularly a third party would intercede and break down the larger goals into smaller, concrete tasks that could then be evaluated easily. I never noticed this pattern, and now I’ve become the lab member with most seniority that’s in the lab on a daily basis. Since I hadn’t recognized that pattern, I haven’t emulated it completely.  I’ve still broken down goals into smaller, obtainable goals, but just for myself. I report my findings at each step, but without the immediate oversight. Most importantly, I have rarely done that for a fellow graduate student. I’ve come to realize that the lab relies on having someone with authority down in the lab on a regular basis. But a graduate student doesn’t have the time or experience to be directly running a full lab. Or perhaps I’m just unwilling to commit that much more time and energy to doing tasks that distract from my PhD work.

Now we are in a unique position. Amanda has defended and has a post-doc lined up, and with how things were going, we thought we’d both be done. I mean, our wedding was planned so that I’d have defended before the wedding and now we’ve already celebrated our first anniversary. But the experiment isn’t working and my adviser has only recently come to that conclusion. I’ve been trying to communicate that to him, but he was out of the country for two months. I’d stressed how important communication was, to the point that he bought a new laptop so that we could Skype weekly. In two months: zero calls. I sent emails explaining that things had broken, and what I was doing about it to very little response. I stopped sleeping. I basically started living in another room so my wife could sleep. I would fall asleep late, and then just head to work early. This wasn’t helped by the fact that construction has been going on campus since May.

I work on an experiment that is very sensitive to vibration. They are building an underground parking lot very close to our basement lab. Not to mention a building right next door as well. Digging from around 5 am until nearly 11 pm. So guess who is up at midnight, watching to see when the noise is finally quiet enough to start the experiment and then wakes up to turn it off before the construction starts and start the feedback system. The feedback system which can’t run during the experiment is collecting data without possibly altering the data but is needed during construction to keep the experiment aligned, which takes days to fix.

At this point maybe you’ve done the math and thought, “Well, even if they work every single day that’s still around 5 hours a night, so you needed just 20 nights, right?” And you’d be right. I collected nearly 200 hours of data and would have kept on trucking until summer ended had my adviser just last week finally started looking at the data. Data I had been sending and talking about in emails while he was gone. Data that had been discussed and shown a few times the first week he was back. At least twice he tried to correct me on the magnitude of what I was reporting. “I think you mean microradians.” “No, sir, I mean milliradians.”

Up to this point, as I’d sent some of the data, graphed, I assumed he knew what he was looking at, and would say if something seemed off. He’s usually quick to remember any of this and prides himself on having it all in his head and on the tip of his tongue. Although I was collecting data at night, I was still working away at the theoretical calculation so it could be subtracted so we could see if anything was out of place. Still working at it. I didn’t have it finished. I still don’t. I do currently have a very rough one. Which, sadly, I’ve only done recently in anticipation of finishing the whole big computer program that takes into account every piece of material that moves in the chamber. Upon finishing that calculation, it is clear that the signal is over a thousand times too high. That’s an entirely reasonable figure to be off by if caused from even an incredibly tiny electrostatic charge. Electricity is so much stronger than gravity you can’t even wrap your mind around it. Think about how easy it is to pick up a piece of paper. Now realize that it is only solid because of electrostatic forces.

Anyhow, yeah, it took my a while to get around to that calculation. I “knew” (i.e. assumed) my adviser would know instantly if something was off. Normally he’s quick to call anything into question. And this is a good thing as it trains you work out reasoned arguments before speaking and being prepared with evidence. But this wasn’t a course of action or some analysis, this was just the raw data. And the data shows that the balance is moving far more than it should given the incredibly tiny changes being made. Once I’d done the calculation, I realized why I’d been “corrected” earlier about my units. What I was looking at was saying that, I shouldn’t be seeing anything given the tiny changes I made. But you can see right on the graph, without any trouble, that the experiment is really responding to the source plate moving. So what makes sense? Thing are moving a thousand times more than you think they should or someone just confused 2 prefixes that are both small and start with m?

So now we’ve realized that there is no time to fix anything. We are already packing up to move. There’s no time to collect more data and there’s nothing to be done with it. And there’s already been a great thesis on this project that was all about methodology. And there’s been an experiment with the same ‘ground breaking’ geometry when it was assumed there wasn’t.

Seems like, even though I’ve fixed more problems than I can count (and I am counting!), that none of them really count if there are still more. So even if I get to continue writing a thesis, a good chuck of it was predicated on the idea that I’d have data and analysis of that data. That isn’t true. Possibly my committee (and I) will come up with a new way to wrap up my work. Perhaps we wont. In that case, I’m just done. I’d go back to looking for a job requiring just a Masters (but I’d have 4 years more of research experience than someone straight out of school). But if we find a new direction, that still requires a major re-tooling of the thesis.

Either way, re-tooling is going to happen: the thesis or me. And I’ll find out which ones are a choice or mandatory tomorrow. Or “vollen-told” as opposed to volunteered (not my joke, heard it today and thought it was funny).

Why I Need Feminism (and Beyond)

Recently there has been a bit of a kerfuffle over some newer entertainment projects. In case you’ve missed it, people have been complaining about Wonder Woman, the new Star Trek trailer, and Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, just to name a few.

Now, for a moment I want to focus on Wonder Woman. If you like action movies, or comic book movies, I highly recommend it. And I’m not alone. And one of the things I liked about it, among many, was how fresh it was to get a different perspective on a familiar story. I’ve heard/read about men feeling strange watching it. And not in the down-in-my-pants kind of way they were expecting. They felt strange watching a story where (for a while) men weren’t in it. At all. They saw no one who looked like themselves on screen. And this was new. And it is new. When I say “I didn’t feel that.” it isn’t supposed to be in some self aggrandizing, look-how-evolved-I-am thing. But I didn’t feel that but only because I was completely enraptured by a new take on a story.

I really like new things. I think variety is great. Not all the time, as my go-to lunch has been a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich for as long as I can remember, but that’s likely due to my obsession with peanut butter more than anything else. But in general, trying new things is good. Getting different perspectives and varying ways of thinking.

In physics we have great reverence for those who change how we see things. Newton, Einstein, and Feynman were all men who helped radically shaped how we saw the understood the world. And there is a long line of European physicists and mathematicians who have done the same. The vast majority of them have been dudes who were white. I feel like we get down to two big options here. Perhaps I’m missing something but it seems that either: a) white men are just much more genetically predisposed to everything from the arts to science to finance to… everything, basically. Or b) we’ve missed out on a lot of brilliant minds that didn’t have the right conditions to succeed.

I seriously doubt that it is the former. I’ve met too many amazing people from all around the world and the color of their skin or what was (or wasn’t) between their legs didn’t have any difference. Now, I could be wrong. I just really doubt it. So let’s just move forward with that as an ansatz.

So what does that tell us? Now, I’m going to be selfish and just focus on myself and what detriment that has directly on me. Many of these things may apply to you and maybe not. You can decide for yourself. And I’ll grant you that an intellect like Feynman’s only comes along once in a great while. But if we missed even one person with that genius, we are behind where we could be. I am behind where I could be. I study physics more because I want a greater understanding of the universe. There is good chunk of our understanding I’m already running up against. As much I wish I was, to be perfectly honest, I’m not the guy who is going to figure this all out.

Then I start thinking about all the other sciences. And engineering. And I wonder where we’d be if we’d had those other brilliant minds working. Would be walking on Mars right now? With the arts, how many great symphonies haven’t I heard? What great stories have we missed?

So that’s why I need feminism and an end to racism. I want all the advantages.

Finding things that shouldn’t be there: or new evidence for a fifth fundamental force

A big part of being an experimentalist is looking for things that shouldn’t be there. If every test you do comes out exactly as you planned, you haven’t learned anything. Currently we have a rather robust theory that covers particle physics. It is so robust in fact, that it is dubbed The Standard Model. But there are some problems with it. Mainly that it doesn’t include gravity. There is also hope that the strong nuclear force (QCD) and the electroweak force can be framed in a way that unifies them as the electroweak force is a unification of electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force. But we don’t know how to do that yet.

One way for researchers to find new ways is to find new things that happen in the universe that are unexplained by our current theories. One such unexplained happening is the anomalous magnetic moment of the muon.

Continue reading “Finding things that shouldn’t be there: or new evidence for a fifth fundamental force”