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Physics, Food and Franglais, or, What We Did on Our Spring Break

By Virginia Hafer & Chelsea Tiffany, Wellesley College, ‘04

Left to right: Jane Park, Kali Wilson, Kate McClain and Chelsea Tiffany pose in front of their noble transportation on the Rue St-Denis in Montreal.  

At 10:30am Saturday morning, three physicists and two physics groupies piled into Virginia’s red station wagon and pointed our collective nose northward for Montreal and the APS March meeting.  Of course, five college students driving through Vermont can only mean one thing: Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory Tour!  I’m sure you all want to know what this year’s new flavors are ... but all I’ll say is, they are good!  Of course, it started snowing on the way north, and of course, Kate from California was driving through a ground blizzard crossing the Canadian border.  Kate was not thrilled.  However, we arrived safely in Montreal and our hotel on the rue St-Denis.  Thanks to Fodor’s, we’d found the Castel St-Denis Hotel, right in the heart of the Latin Quarter.  Our dinner plans each night consisted of walking out the door, and picking a direction to walk down St-Denis until we found something.  We found Thai/Indian, Tibetan, Ethiopian, Mexican, and French restaurants, as well as a Portuguese market, a Chinese grocery and a French bakery.  Suffice it to say, we ate insanely well.

Despite the distractions surrounding us, we did in fact remember to go to the APS meeting.  Monday morning, there we were, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, all set to... wait in line with all the other unregistered people.  Incidentally, this is a great time to meet people (and to spread physics jokes to an audience that will finally appreciate it).  And one major advantage of being a student at this meeting is that it’s free for SPS members, though we didn’t appreciate this little detail until filling out the registration forms.  Fortunately our first commitment was the student session at 2:30, as registration took awhile; preregistration is a wonderful thing and we fully endorse it.  Due to loyalty and lack of audience, we sat through all 12 scheduled student presentations, plus an unscheduled spandex break. 

Left to right: Kate McClain, Jane Park, Kali Wilson and Chelsea Tiffany in front of their little hotel on the Rue St-Denis.  

Gary White demonstrated gravity and tidal motion with the assistance of red spandex and marbles. The student talks ranged from the LIGO detector to Scanning Tunneling Microscopy.  Henry Garcia, from Cal State – Sacramento, talked about his summer research at NASA.  He worked on NASA’s program to develop a solid-state laser that could survive space flight.  One of his subprojects was to devise a means of mounting a lens duct with complete internal reflectivity, without breaking the lens’s reflectivity.  Of course, this means that the mounting can’t touch the lens surface at all.  Kali Wilson, from Wellesley College, presented her thesis work on Laser Cooling and Trapping of Rubidium Atoms.  In the past five years, Wellesley students have been building a laser cooling and trapping apparatus and Kali finally got it to trap reproducibly.  To achieve reproducible results, Kali had to build a housing to stabilize the laser.  She also discovered that their beam-splitters require vertically-polarized light and that the beam-splitters introduced interference patterns.  James Davis, from the University of Florida, discussed his summer work on the magnetic susceptibilities of novel liquid crystalline compounds.  He used a SQUID magnetometer to order both the liquid crystals and their inorganic parents.  Like all good scientific research, some of his results agreed with the literature, and some did not.  James concluded that these contradictory results could be due to impurities in the liquid crystal samples, or as he said, “We blame the chemists”.

While the student talks were essentially comprehensible, we also sat in on some other sessions, which we found were over our heads.  We attended a session on quantum dots, but all we now know is that they’re quantum; the exact nature of their dottiness remains unclear.  This was primarily because each talk was very short, and highly focused in a specific topic, and did not have time to explore the background information for those of us not already immersed in the subject matter.  On the other hand, the longer invited lectures were able to include more background and so were more understandable to those of us not already expert in the field.  We particularly enjoyed the Bose-Einstein Condensate Session, with home-town hero Wolfgang Ketterle.  Among topics that we actually understood, by far number one was Kris Larsen’s press conference, “Physics and Tolkien”.  Professor Larsen teaches physics and astronomy at Central Connecticut State University.  She particularly enjoys using examples from J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic works to demonstrate the wide and often overlooked influence that science has on society.  In a lab designed to connect astronomy with society, she has students identify constellations from Tolkien’s creation myths in The Silmarillion.  To answer one skeptic’s question, Larsen has found that her Tolkien examples appeal to a wide audience thanks to the author’s recent elevation to pop icon.  We’re sure the gratuitous elf pictures help, too.

Left to right: Kali Wilson, Jane Park, Kate McClain. It was a hard vacation, poor souls. All that physics really took a lot out of us.  

Even with such gratuitous elf pictures, we didn’t spend all of our Spring Break at the physics conference.  As previously mentioned, we spent a lot of time in the restaurants.  We also prowled around Old Montreal, visited the Botanical Gardens and Olympic Stadium, celebrated Kali’s birthday with sinfully decadent desserts at Kilo’s, and visited a small percentage of the underground city.  Montreal is a very walkable city, and extremely student-friendly.  And don’t miss visiting the tourist bureau off of Peel St., preferably at the beginning of your trip.  They helped us in our search for a sugar shack outside Montreal, which was definitely worth getting lost in a small rural Quebec town where no one spoke English. 

On the whole, the APS meeting is really aimed at grad level and above, but it is still a worthwhile destination for Spring Break.  For undergrads considering grad school, it’s a good chance to meet people from different schools and talk to them.  And while many of the sessions were over our heads, there were enough sessions and posters that weren’t (or at least not completely) that we felt we learned something.  And we had a good time while doing it.

Interview with Dr. Helen Quinn, President, APS

by Virginia Hafer & Chelsea Tiffany

Section 1: Background on APS and Student Involvement

VA: Just starting off, you’ve just been elected president of APS?

HQ: No actually, the way it works is you get elected in about June of the year before you start your office, and it’s a four year job: you’re vice-president for one year, president-elect for one year, president for one year, and past-president for one year.  So this is the third year in the cycle for me; that is, the year that I’m the president.  And the next two behind me are already elected.

VA: So, as president, what issues do you hope to focus on inside the APS?

HQ: Well, the main issue is trying to develop a little more long-range view ahead and planning.  APS does very well on day-to-day managing, it’s got a very good staff; it’s got a very well-organized system and much of what comes to the board are reports of what we’re doing; that leaves very little time left on the schedule for thinking of what are the things we need to do in order to be where we want to be five years from now. So we’re trying to do a little long-range looking ahead.  What I did in the previous two years was mostly to do with getting the budgeting process into a shape that the board and council could understand.  It’s very well-managed, but the budget was presented in such a way that the Council just sort of looked at it and said, “Okay”.  The Council is really the group that’s responsible for the long-term financial health of the society, so they need to understand budgets better. I think we do now.  That makes it possible to think long-term; realistically, our choices are constrained by resources.

VA: What do you think are the hot-button issues within the APS today; what’s controversial, in the physics society?

HQ: In a physics society, there’s kind of an established status quo.  You can think of this as being like some very big ship, and it makes small course corrections. There are always people within the society who wish it were going that way, and there are people who wish it were going another way, and there’s some average opinion which defines where it is.  So there are not large controversial issues as far as the usual activities that impact most members are concerned, much of the time.

 The society makes statements and takes public positions on issues, some of them related to science funding, some of them related to human rights for scientists, some of them related to particular issues that have a science content where we want to take a position publicly.  Of course, as soon as you take a position there’s somebody who thinks you shouldn’t have taken that position.  But generally, it’s not terribly contentious, partly because most members pay little attention to these statements, partly because really contentious issues within the physics community never get through the process to become a society statement. There’s pretty well defined area in which the society operates and makes these statements.  The decision-making process within the society is rather slow and involves quite a few stages. A statement goes through several committees before it comes to Council. For example, if it’s an education issue it gets referred to the Committee on Education and they talk about it and they bring up a recommendation, and then that comes to the Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) and they refine it, and then that comes to the executive board and then to Council and they each refine it one more time. So by the time the society makes a public statement, a lot of people have thought about it and a lot of hands have been on it.  Things do come up where we find ourselves not able to make a statement because there’s not enough agreement about what statement should be made.  It’s better not to make a statement than to make one that is not solidly supported by Council.

 There are people who say: oh, we should never have started our Washington office, where we do lobbying for physics funding - because we’re lobbying for physics funding, that restricts our tendency to make human rights statements, or political statements that might interfere with the process of getting science funding.  So there’s that position, and then there’s the opposite position: we should be doing more lobbying because clearly we don’t have enough science funding, so we have to work harder at that and we have to be willing to make deals to get funding.  And so, again, there’s the people who play the political game that way, and there’s the people who play it this way, and those who do not wish to play it at all, and all of that spectrum is among the membership.

 Does all that answer your question at all?

VA: Yes, it does.  I can’t say I thought quite so much about it... [Students get a glance of the complexity behind APS]

HQ: So what is the society, right?  The society is a publishing company; we publish the journals.  The society is a membership organization and we run meetings and we do things like we have here [at the Montreal meeting], and also the units run their own meetings, all of which are services to the membership, and it’s a lobbying organization for science funding.  And it’s other things as well, but those are some of the bigger ones.  In each of those roles, the society has a different set of needs and a different set of demands, and a different set of interested members, and they interplay with one another in a complicated fashion.

VA: Right.  Would you say that there are certain benefits, or even certain things that undergraduate physics students could take more advantage of or even help with, within the APS?

HQ: Well, we just started a graduate student forum.  And we didn’t call it the Student Forum, we called it the Graduate Student Forum partly because SPS exists, and we don’t want to create a turf battle with AIP, who runs SPS.  We’re partners in these things, and we’re very supportive of that.  I mean, the only reason SPS is AIP and not APS is history, right, and if it were in the APS then we’d be supporting it the way AIP supports it there.  However, that’s where it is, and that is not a problem.  The thing we do that links it in is to offer SPS members  student memberships in APS, so that you can begin to see yourself as part of this community.

CT: Now that we’re seniors, and...

HQ: graduate school is just around the corner, one hopes?

VA: Right.  So we are starting to look at that as the next step.

HQ: Well, as graduate students, then you should join the graduate student forum; get involved with that.


Section 2: Personal Career in Physics and Educational Outreach

VA: Right.  So, to shift gears maybe a little, as to your own career in physics.  Well, I guess the first question is: why did you decide to be a physicist?

HQ: You know, I don’t think I ever did.

VA: You know, I understand completely.

HQ: I started university in Australia, and my family moved to the US after I’d had two years there, so I transferred to Stanford, and because the systems are somewhat different, and because someone wrote the right letters for me I finished up getting three years of credit including a year for my last year of high school, I had one year to get a degree, at Stanford.  It turned out, given the courses I’d taken, and where I was, physics was the best match with where I was [in terms of courses].

 In Australia, I would have been a meteorologist, because I started University with a cadetship.  It’s a system there where you can support yourself through school.  They pay your fees and they pay a salary and you’re committed to work for them for a certain number of years after your degree.  But when my family was leaving the country, they released me from that commitment, and so I had physics, math, chemistry, plus two years of a general science degree, and that fit with physics degree requirements. The fit was partly, perhaps, because the professor I was sent to at Stanford was a very open-minded and flexible person who’s attitude was: if you think you’ve taken it, we’ll give you credit for it.  If you think you need it, take it.  And so I could work it out, as it worked for me.  So that’s why I finished up as a physics major.

 By the time I graduated from Stanford, it was just the time when the Accelerator Center, where I now work, was opening up. Because I’d only been there for one year, people encouraged me to stay on at Stanford as a graduate student.  They were very excited about what they were doing, and when people are excited about what they are doing, it’s easy to get interested and excited, too.  And so, that’s where I went, into high-energy physics.

VA: Would you tell us a little about your current research at Stanford?

HQ: My main interest for the past ten years, probably, is very easy to explain: the laws of physics are almost but not quite symmetric between matter and antimatter.  And that little tiny difference is presumably what’s responsible for the fact that the universe is not at all symmetric between matter and antimatter.  We think the early universe had equal amounts of matter and antimatter.  Somewhere, somehow, sometime they got out of balance.  And the little excess of matter over antimatter - it’s about one part in ten billion – that happened at that time is now all the matter we have left. The rest was annihilated – it disappeared.  And if matter and antimatter had stayed in balance, there’d be nothing left.  So obviously, understanding the asymmetry in the laws of physics is crucial to understanding how they could possibly have gotten out of balance.

 There is another possible answer: and that is, that the baryon number – the difference between the amount of matter and the amount of antimatter – is a conserved quantity and it’s just an initial condition on the universe.  Most physicists don’t find that an attractive answer, and in the modern theories it’s probably not even a possible answer, because as soon as you don’t have the absolute conservation law, initial conditions don’t help.  My focus is this asymmetry, which is called CP violation – that’s the technical name.  C is charge conjugation, the relationship between a particle and its antiparticle, and it turns out, in the standard model of particle physics, the relationship is not just between particle and antiparticle but between particle and mirror image antiparticle, and P is the mirror image symmetry, or rather symmetry under reversal of all coordinate directions. CP is that’s the symmetry that is almost exact in the particle physics theory we call the Standard Model, but not quite.  

 The major experimental program at SLAC at the moment – the high-energy physics program – is what’s called B-factory, where we make millions of B and anti-B together, and look for tiny differences in the way they decay. We then try to use that to decode what’s different in the laws of physics for matter and antimatter.  Is our standard model theory correct?  Is the CP violation in the quark sector what that theory predicts is it not?  That’s one possible place where this asymmetry in the laws of physics appears, and we know it’s there.  If what the Standard Model says is true, that’s not the place that gave us the matter-antimatter asymmetry, because when you try to model the universe with just that CP violation, you don’t get the right answers. 

So either there’s more CP violation that affects quarks, or there’s CP violation someplace else.  The other possible place for CP violation in the particle theories is neutrino masses and mixing effects.  Either way the Standard Model needs to be extended to givea theory that could produce the matter-antimatter asymmetry in the universe. So, there are two completely different scenarios for this, one of which we’re investigating at SLAC.  I’m a theorist, not an experimentalist, but I’ve been very close to this experimental program from the beginning, because it exactly aligned with what I’ve been interested in.  A lot of my work is really detailed stuff: if you measure this decay mode of the B-mesons and you look for that pattern, that’s a good way of testing this particular prediction. You have to test a lot of things to see if you get consistency with the overall pattern of prediction or, if you get inconsistencies, what’s the pattern of inconsistencies.

VA: So, besides you’re research, you’re also the education and public outreach manager... [at SLAC]

HQ: You got my old title, right.  I just became Professor of Physics.  I still have that job in fact, but not quite.  SLAC hired somebody to do the public outreach/communication side of it; they never really had that before.  What I was doing was outreach in the sense of running programs for high school physics teachers and doing a program every summer for undergraduate summer interns  I still run the summer intern program.  The teacher program: some years we get funding for something like that, some years we don’t, so we do it when we can; we don’t always.

VA: Why were you interested in education and outreach, and what did you hope to achieve?

HQ: I think education has always been an interest.  I really thought I was going to be a teacher as I was growing up, and it’s funny that my physics job finished up to be not a teaching job.  So I have this education interest.  I used it in the different direction partly because some teachers came to me and said: you know, we’re working on this project and we were at Fermilab last summer, and now we’re coming here; what’s SLAC going to do?  And I said: That’s a good idea.  I’ll take them up on that.

 Have you seen the Contemporary Physics Education Project posters?  There’s one on particle physics, it has a black background, and the title says “The Standard Model of Fundamental Particles and Interactions”.  Most physics departments have it up on the wall; and there’s a nuclear physics one and there’s a plasma physics one.  Contemporary Physics Education Project is the little name down in the corner; that’s a nonprofit we’ve formed to be sort of a collaboration between physicists and teachers to come up with a poster that would be good both for high school and in the college classroom.

CT: Oh, right, we had those in high school.  Do you find a lot of teachers who take advantage of this program?

HQ: There’s certainly a group of them.  The high school teachers have a wide range of backgrounds – the AIP does statistics on these kinds of things, and there’s statistics on high school teachers.  About a third of high school teachers have a year or more of college physics.  The next third have less than a year of college physics, but they’ve been teaching high school physics for quite a few years, and they pretty much know that but nothing else, and the last third are people who don’t have college physics and haven’t been teaching high school physics and they’re more or less working through the book a few chapters ahead of the students.  And it’s the upper two-thirds who tend to be members of AAPT and who look around for opportunities where they can learn more about a different area of physics they find interesting. From that pool you find some that are just fascinated to have the opportunity to come to SLAC and learn about what goes on there; we also have the synchrotron radiation facility which produces X-rays, which can do interesting work in lots of different areas of science, and now we have a Particle Astrophysics Institute.  Again, many people find that fascinating; so, they love to come and learn more, and some of it they can take back to their classroom and some of it they just do it because they’re interested. 

VA: So, I guess, the inevitable question about your career: what achievement would you say you’re most proud of?

HQ: The things I get the most recognition for are two papers, so I’ll talk about them, right, and then, well, we’ll figure if that’s what I’m most proud of?  I’m not sure.  These are both papers with over a thousand citations, which is top forty or something of papers in my field.  I don’t know what you know, but I assume you know about strong, weak and electromagnetic interactions, and at the scales we look at them in laboratory they look very different right?  But mathematically they’re very much the same kind of theory, so it’s natural to think of them as different components of a single theory. The paper that I wrote with Steve Weinberg, and Howard Georgi shows how it is that the coupling strengths of these different interactions come together at high energy, so at very high energy scales they do look like a single theory.  So that’s one paper that’s famous and everybody quotes that result in further work that came after it, so it’s a classic of the field.  We don’t know yet whether unified theories is a right idea or not, but it’s very tempting because it all fits together in such a way that it’s plausible. Most particle physicists expect that this idea will turn out to be right in some way, even though we have absolutely no external evidence for it – other than the fact the couplings come together.

So, that’s one paper.  The second one – this one’s a little more technical, but, to explain at this level, it’s not too hard.  I was talking about CP violation and lack of symmetry between matter and antimatter.  Now we know that the strong interaction and the electromagnetic interactions have CP symmetry; it’s only the weak interactions that have this CP violation effect.  Experiment tells us that.  It turns out that, in the Standard Model, the way we understand particle physics today, once you have CP violation in the weak interactions, it sort of infects the strong interactions, and gives you an effect in the strong interactions.  The measurements of the dipole moment in the neutron tell us that that effect is very, very tiny. So the question is: how come it’s so tiny, how do you get a theory where it’s naturally small?  And, together with Dr. Roberto Peccei, I came up with a symmetry you could add to the theory that would make  this an automatic effect, and that the strong interactions are protected in a way against getting this infection.  So that’s known as Peccei-Quinn symmetry.  One consequence of this symmetry (which is the one that, I keep my fingers crossed, maybe sometime, somebody will discover and then that would be really exciting) is a particle called the axion, and it’s a candidate for the dark matter in the universe.  People are doing searches at Livermore, very specifically doing looking for this particle.  It turns out the axion can decay in two photons.  Axions are very, very light, very weakly-interacting particles, so it’s a very rare process.  But by building a resonant cavity that’s very precisely-tuned to the right frequencies, and putting very intense electromagnetic fields in this cavity, the idea is that if an axion that is in the halo of the galaxy, because that’s where dark matter is dense around us, comes through this cavity, it will make it ring, because of interactions with photons that the axion has. The problem is: since you have to be sensitive enough, you have to make the cavity very high-Q, which means you have to have it very precisely at a definite frequency.  That means you’re only looking for axions of a very particular mass, and we don’t actually know what the mass of the axion is. However there’s a relationship between its mass and its other parameters, so there’s a window where they’re looking, defined by the theories, and by other constraints on these particles.  If the axions make up the halo density, this experiment is just beginning to be sensitive enough that we might see them.  So that’s the second theory piece.  And yes, I’m proud of that work, of course.

I think, if you ask, probably what I’m proud of is, you know, surviving in this career; continuing to be productive over many years is not easy.  As a woman, you have additional challenges.  I have two kids, and my son was sick for three years, and that was probably the hardest time; I didn’t really have the emotional energy it takes to really focus and concentrate and produce  good research in that period.  And so then I had to climb back out of that hole.  To some extent, I’m most proud of that, that I got to the point [where I had made it back].  Then these last few years I’ve had a lot of recognition.  As well as my election to be APS President, I got elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and then I got the Dirac Medal, and then I got elected to the National Academy – so all of those things come back and say: yes, you did do a good job.  And that feels good.

VA: I’m sure.

Section 3 – Women in Physics

CT: You described having a good experience in graduate school, and we were wondering if that was your general experience throughout being a woman in physics, because we’re surrounded by women in physics [because we go to an all women’s college].

HQ: Right.

VA: So we don’t think it’s unusual to see lots of women in physics.

HQ: Right.  And, you walk around this meeting, and you see that women are quite a small percentage, and as you look at the older women, the percentage gets smaller.  I mean, my age group is about two percent. And so, basically, early on, I had to say, “Okay, I’m in a career where there’s not going to be other women around, and that’s not going to matter.”  I think I was fortunate: I grew up with three brothers, and so I was used to holding my own with my brothers, and I had a father who was an engineer  and who liked to have sort of challenging intellectual discussions at the table. He expected me to participate as much as my brothers, and it was the style of those discussions that if you didn’t jump in and defend your ideas you were out of it.  And so, I was very well-prepared for the style of the physics community.  You can’t be aggressive, but you have to be assertive.  You have to be able to stand up for your ideas, you have to be able to back down when you make a mistake, you have to be able to engage in that give and take, and not be sensitive or upset about whether people are treating you right or wrong as a woman, right, because it’s not a relevant piece of that discussion.  And I think the fact that it was not relevant to me made it easier to be a part of the community – not have people keep thinking of me, “Oh, that’s that woman.”

Of course, you always meet people, individuals, who, for one reason or another have their prejudices, or say stupid things, and you just have to let it be water off a duck’s back.  So, that was my reaction to it.  And, once you’re far-enough established in your career, then you can start pushing on those things.  But as you’re coming up in the ranks, you basically have to have a pretty thick skin, because there are going to be people who say things – without even meaning it sometimes.  My undergraduate advisor, with the best of intentions, right – and this is a remark that wouldn’t be true today, and nobody would make it today – but he says, “Well, you know, graduate schools are often reluctant to accept women, because they get married and one thing or anther and they don’t finish.  But I don’t think we need to worry about that for you.”
VA: Oops.
HQ: Complete foot in mouth disease.  But, he wasn’t intending to be nasty, and he didn’t even know what he’d said.  He was saying I wouldn’t have any trouble being accepted by graduate schools.  He said it in a rather awkward fashion.  And this kind of remark can happen and you can take it badly, or you can think: he didn’t intend it that way.  That doesn’t mean you have to let people walk all over you.  Again, it’s this business of being able to be assertive and yet not confrontational.  And it’s a very important professional skill no matter what profession you go into.
VA: Right.

CT: What do you recommend for students thinking about continuing in physics, at both the graduate and professional level, in the US versus abroad?

HQ: I think the graduate education in the US is probably still the best in the world, and students have come from all over the world – now they’re having a little more trouble coming, because of our visa situation, but in general, there are opportunities here, and a style of graduate education here which I think is better than most places.  We have an international experiment at SLAC, which we have graduate students from many, many countries there.  For example, in Great Britain, you can get your Ph.D. in three years, in fact, you must get your Ph.D. in three years, and most of those students are not very well-trained by the time they’ve gone through that program; there’s lots of missing pieces.  As a postdoc they have to make it up.  And so they struggle for a while.  So, I think the US is a very good place to do it. Many young physicists do move around the world at some point. I spent two years as a postdoc in Germany – probably the two worst years of my career, so I’m a little prejudiced about it.  Germany is not a good place for women – at least,  there’s a very low percentage of them, it was very difficult.  Of course, that’s not the only reason those were two difficult years for me. As for where is a good place to study a lot depends on the individual people [you’re working with].  The best advice I can give you: wherever you’re thinking of going, talk to the students who are already there; wherever you’re thinking of taking a postdoc, talk to the postdocs who are already there.  There are people you need to avoid, not places, but people you need to avoid working for or under, because they won’t necessarily be the right place for you to be. You can find that out only by talking to the people who are already there.

VA: Because we’re very interested in looking abroad as well as here.

HQ: Yeah, it’s a very interesting thing to do.  I think, probably, the best time to do it is at your postdoc level. 

VA: Okay.  So, we were just talking about going abroad as a postdoc.

HQ: And, you can certainly look around as a graduate student, too.  I can probably think of  a couple of places where you really would like to be.  But the style of the education is different in other places.  I think students here have an advantage; first of all there is a more intensive graduate-level coursework, and then there’s a nice progression from being dependent to being independent, which happens during those graduate school, thesis, research years, which is generally done pretty well here.

CT: What physics do you foresee being the up and coming field in physics?

HQ: I don’t have a crystal ball.  Actually, if I were starting out today, I think biophysics would be very interesting, just because there’s a lot going on there, because of tools suddenly make information that just wasn’t available more available; computational biophysics, for example, is a field that may be able to solve some very interesting problems.  I think particle physics is a field that moves rather slowly, at this point, partly because of the scale of the experiments; it just takes a long time to measure something really new.  And so, it’s a harder field in that respect.  You have to be very – the axion is twenty-five or thirty years old, and we still don’t know if that’s the right theory or not.  There’s so many [different fields] at this meeting, so many different sub-specialties within condensed matter materials physics, and I’m not well-informed enough to say, this is the area, and not that one; you have to talk to people more in those fields.  Actually, there’s lots of interesting things going on, I just don’t know enough to answer your question.  We tend to be very narrow; we specialize and hone in on one little area of physics, don’t know a lot about the other ones.

CT: You kind of have to.

VA: There’s so much information, you can’t know it all.

HQ: Astrophysics and cosmology are also very exciting and popular right now. How far that will take us, I don’t know.  Cosmology has gone through this little boom, and [gotten] a huge amount of experimental information; and then you look at the next generation of experiments, and it’s going to be like particle physics: it’s going to take quite a while to get the next level of information that is needed to clean up the remaining questions there.  It’ll be very fascinating, but it will take some time.
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