September 26, 2006


Through a series of interviews this past spring I determined conclusively that girls love bubbles. Of the 42 female college students I surveyed so far not one has expressed a dissenting view. Even though I already proved it, for your own sake I dare you to find one that doesn't. You won't, because the affection between girls and bubbles is a scientific fact. Hence bubble baths, bubble tea, and bubble dances where ladies get all crazy and dance around in foam. You see, this is behavior they would never engage in ordinarily, but the bubbles compel them. The bubbles.

This brings me to the separate observation that almost all of the women I know in the physics/astronomy field fall on the astronomy side of the divide (it goes without saying that there are many important female physicists, I am just speaking in terms of personal, completely anecdotal, numbers). And representation of women in astrophysics is, I have read, closer to parity than in physics overall. This is interesting to me because as anyone in those fields could tell you, there is not a significant difference in the sort of preparation involved in astronomy, or the work itself. Despite public (mis)perception, astronomy is just as math-intensive and experimentally rigorous as straight-up physics. Besides observation vs experiment, really the only difference is that the optical astronomers happen to produce pretty pictures. And I would never insult the intelligence of women by presuming that they require the lure of visual beauty, rather than intellectual challenge, to arouse an interest in science. Nor would I suspect that women going into physics/astronomy undecided would be under the same misapprehension about the nature of the field (that it is "softer" somehow) as the general population, nor that it would make any difference to them if they were! No, the real reason that female physicists choose astronomy is that they love bubbles.

Now lets take a brief pause to think about what a genius I am for figuring this out.

For you see, nearly everything in astrophysics is somehow an extension of the principal of hydrostatic equilibrium -- the balance between gravitational collapse and the outward pressure. And as I'm sure you've guessed, the bubble is purest example of this found in nature (not the gravity part, the balancing inner and outer pressure). For stars, accretion disks, structure formation, nebulae, et cetera the H.E. condition basically determines everything you would want to know. Not only are these phenomena similar to bubbles in this sense, but perhaps more importantly there are actual bubbles in astronomy. Sure, there may be a few bubble topics in other sciences: chemistry, fluid dynamics, lava flows in geology, but astronomy subjects far outnumber them. Coronal ejection bubbles, bubbles in proto-stellar nebulae, magnetic space bubbles, structure formation bubbles, iron bubbles in supernova remnants. in inflationary models there are phase-transition bubbles and bubble nucleation.'Hubble' sounds like 'bubble'. And there are whole books about astronomical bubbles in general. In fact, the largest structures in the universe (see above diagram) seem to be galaxies arranged on the surface of unfathomably large bubbles like some sort of cosmic foam. which, I suppose, is the only similarity between the big bang and one of those soap machines at a frat party.

The career choice is not a matter of difference in cultural expectations or inherent abilities, it is a matter of inherent attraction to bubbles. How can women, with this predisposition written into their very X chromosomes read an article such as "Earth surrounded by giant fizzy bubbles" and not want to go into astronomy?

Women love bubbles. There are bubbles in astronomy. Therefore, women love astronomy. Quad erat demonstratum.

September 25, 2006

degree withheld

last week i witnessed probably one of the top 5 ironic events of my life. at the end of some pointless training chemical safety training course (in theoretical physics, spilling hot tea on yourself is about as dangerous as it gets), a gaggle of geography students wandered into the lecture hall looking for a room that was in annother building halfway accross campus. that's correct, a group of lost geographers. it seems like the one and only binding requirement of you in that field is knowing where things are.

1st annual Kneecap Day

This wednesday marks the first annual Kneecap Day! One-year anniversary of me dislocating my patella, and thenceforth irrevocably altering the course of my life (I would suppose). I like the idea of making up personal holidays, so I suppose I am going to try commemmorating it somehow. Amusingly enough, blowing up my knee seems like something I'm well-known for somehow. A few months ago I ran across this blog post on the unofficial dartmouth physics-astro blog. Not to mention the worldwide circulation of this photo, adroitly snapped by Jenn as I returned home from the ER hopped up on goofballs, and, for some reason I don't understand, sent to absolutely everyone by my father. My working theory is that he was proud that I was enough of a jock (at least temporarily) to injure myself badly enough to need crutches. The best part was visiting my grandmother at x-mas and seeing it on her fridge!

(I love how my clutzy countenance is bigger than the Virgin Mary. Take that lady!)

In any case, I am especially wondering this: what is the correct observance of a orthopedic injury? I was thinking--hit of morphine and then crumpling over for no good reason--just like last year.

September 16, 2006


i have just learned that this is the symbol of the international atomic energy commission. it is the coolest flag i have ever seen, and, i suspect, the one that physicists will use when they take over the world.

September 7, 2006

vacuuming nightmare

in quantum field theory, in the process of making calculations, there often arise situations where you can only deal with the energy difference between two states, and you ignore what an "abosolute" energy would be. in the context of understanding the Lagrangian you are working on, this doesn't cause any difficulties, but overall that supposedly meaningless absolute energy eventually becomes offset, so to speak, by the accumulation of these energy differences. it turns out that you can actually find out what all these offsets are and add them up to see the individual energy terms of every particle interaction. most of these are are "vacuum energy" terms which come into consideration only in certain situations, such as the cosmological constant problem as a potential source of missing energy (though it's too small).

well, a physicist with a sense of humor went through the trouble of finding this abomination, and making it into a pdf. in fact, he even proposes an exam question based on it!

exercise given locality, causality, lorentz invariance, and known physical data since 1860, show that the lagrangian describing all observed physical processes (sans gravity) can be written:

brilliant! i think i've woken up in a cold sweat with visions of this page in front of me. i especially like the "known physical data since 1860" part. not to mention the part about excluding gravity--since that would just be too much to ask!

link to nightmarish equation

he that flings dirt at another dirtieth himself the most

looking through the many dusty and forgotten volumes scattered throughout my home i happened across this neglected text: applied soil physics, picked up as a joke from a table of free books once. it brought two questions to light -- questions that had been gnawing at me for years.

1. not that i condone it, but is there anyone lower on the physics totem pole than soil physicists? is there someone looking up at them with scorn, saying "curse those haughty bastards!"

2. do they really need the 'applied' in the title? are there numerous books on theoretical soil physics, and if so, can i read one?