This is the seventh installment of our project Humans of Physics, which seeks to portrait the scientists as the persons they are.
When the Lockdown came the big question every student was asking was “how will this impact my studies, degree, carreer???”. Luckily I am a Physics Student, soon to complete my MSc Thesis and degree, and therefore most of my work is easily done from Home, a luxury that many Physicists share. My work can be done with a stable WiFi connection, a laptop and Zoom-Calls. No longer did I need to “go to work”, I could simply sit at my desk or my bed, and work as I pleased.
If you ask an author what their everyday life looks like, they will hardly ever answer: “Well, I’m just writing!” because combining letters into a meaningful text requires much more than the mere act of ‘writing’. Let me compare the work of a PhD student with that of the author: To say that my PhD is about performing computations on a black screen simply wouldn’t say enough. Both writing a book and calculating climate variables involves long research, practice of methodology, discussion with colleagues, many imperfect trials, and tedious bureaucracy. It requires the will to gain a holistic understanding of a specific topic,and the vision of contributing to society.
This is the fifth installment of Humans of Physics, a series focusing in the researchers more than in the research, for once.
The first time I entered in the room where the cold atom experiment was, I couldn’t express what I felt… Wires everywhere, optical fibers sending lasers all over the room, a metallic vacuum chamber hidden by a huge amount of copper wire, optical fibers and water cooled magnetic coils… A big mess. My supervisor asked me to have a look inside the vacuum chamber through a thick glass. After five minutes trying to find the right angle I finally saw it. A red bubble surrounded by darkness. This was a billion atoms trapped in the vacuum… I was really impressed.
This is the fourth installment of Humans of Physics, a project which searches to show how we scientists are just like everyone. Dispelling some stereotypes is probably a good idea, from time to time.
For me, the cliché is true. Every morning I get woken up by the birds. It’s actually a chime but it still feels good and I congratulate myself for having found it on my phone every morning. It’s seven, I try to roll between my sheets as long as possible without falling back to sleep. Usually the fool-proof way to do that is to put on a podcast of yet more grueling news. I’ll start with the short German one. Then if I need more time, the English one. At some point around twenty past seven I will crawl out of bed, do my morning stretches, get dressed and go downstairs to get breakfast. I’ll balance the warm bowl of porridge and the tea upstairs to my room. While clutching the cup I will try to keep myself motivated for long enough to write a little to do list in my diary. I will make sure my workout, watering my plants and going outside is on there as well as all the work stuff. Sometimes I will drift off at that point, either too excited to focus or too bored to be bothered. It’s usually videos on Youtube on why polar bear numbers are rising in some places in the Arctic or pictures of London on Pinterest in anticipation for my master’s that I will start in October.
This is the third installment of Humans of Physics, a series focusing in the researchers more than in the research, for once.
“I stare at equations for a living,” used to say my Tinder profile – and it’s not too far from true. My day usually looks like a mixture of scribbling mathematical formulas, programming them into a computer, and then trying to make sense of it all in meetings, blackboard discussions or just by staring long enough into the void. That’s at least how it looks like from the outside.
Inside me, every day is more like an intellectual and emotional journey – sometimes a calm stroll, sometimes a roller coaster. It all starts and ends with (small) questions about the (big) world. When I’m playing with ideas and trying them out I feel in flow, I feel alive. When ideas don’t work out, I get frustrated and start doubting about myself, wondering why I do what I do. But then, a new idea. And I dream of revolutions. An error, and I feel stupid. Another idea, and I feel like Einstein. Yes? Nope. Doesn’t work. Perhaps a different question?
No matter the answer, what makes the journey to me truly meaningful is sharing it with my friends and peers: sharing our enthusiasm about little findings; our random conversations about the world; and, my personal favorite, those Friday afternoons when our tired minds will forge the most amazing idea that is gonna solve physics once and for all. Except it won’t. But maybe next Friday.
Asier is a postdoc at JILA (Boulder, USA), trying to understand the games that atoms play with each other when they’re left alone in the quantum world, inside it’s cold, and no one is looking. (aka dynamics of cold many-body quantum systems)
Note that it might be that none of what I say is true. Don’t believe me and check for yourself – that’s the foundational rule of being a physicist.
Physics seems to attract the obsessive type, the intense, on-it, keen beans. Those who are mad to learn, calculate, experiment, discover.
In some of us, this desire to burn carries over into other aspects of life: writing, dancing, climbing, film-making, building radios, public speaking, anything, all of it. And there’s one aspect which I observe in my friends, which carries over to the extra-curricular activities: scientific rigour. Life gets busy as a physicist – we’re obsessional, remember, which means when we get going there’s no stopping us – but whatever gets done gets done well. And we always seem to find time to do more.
Once my dad needed help to move a large fridge-freezer up two flights of stairs. He knew there was a friendly face in the flat above, a guy who was out of a job and nearly always around.
He went to ask him, and the reply came: “Sure! Hmmmmm… I think I might have time next Tuesday.” My dad always used to say that it’s those who are busiest who can make time. Maybe that’s what I love the most about physicists, the desire to always fit in more activities, like creating this website and packing it with more physics-goodness.
We finally made it to YouTube! Our first video presents the ideas we want to talk about, and our team. We expect to be sharing more on diverse topics, such as quantum technologies, environmental and particle physics. Like and subscribe if you want to know more about this initiative!
This is the first of many short recounts on the lives of physicists. We hope to dispell some stereotypes about physicists, and open a window so that scientific outreach can be sometimes also about the scientists, their hopes and anxieties, in the context of their science.
The alarm sounds and wakes me up. I know myself: I set it a bit early so I can chill, browse reddit, check instagram, the usual. Anyway. I then head to the kitchen and serve myself a bowl of my personal delight, cereal. Maybe I’ll have a coffee? I’m surprisingly unattached to coffee even though I enjoy it a lot.
With cereal, the physics of the day starts.
There’s this neat website where physicists usually upload their papers before they’re published, arxiv.org . I’ll browse the website to see what’s new, skim through a few papers that catch my attention. It’s like easing myself into the workday, it’s technically work-related but you don’t need to put in a whole lot of energy into it, so it’s a nice slow start to the day.
The rest of the day usually flies by. I go into “math mode” –I put my headphones on and work on my research. Sometimes the day is short, sometimes long. Sometimes I’ll end the day on a high, and happily play music; sometimes, I end the day abruptly because the math gets too confusing.