Archive for July, 2008

Interesting Look into the Guts of the LHC

With the Large Hadron Collider scheduled to inject its first protons sometime in August, there have been plenty of articles written about it. Most of these articles are either aimed at the popular or scholarly levels, with little in between for the interested semi-knowlegeable student.  (And don’t forget the important question of whether tiny black holes produced in the LHC will eat our world.)

Well, John from Cosmic Variance has bridged the gap with an excellent article about his personal involvement with one of the detectors in the CMS experiment.  Even though I am generally not all that into “tech specs” about such experiments, I enjoyed this peek inside the actual life of the LHC.

It’s mind-boggling to think about the size of the LHC project.  Looking at the complexity and care involved in this one component, and extrapolating this to the thousands of other components involved in the experiment really brings you face-to-face with the magnitude of this undertaking.

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Science, Liberal Arts, and the Two Cultures Debates

This past Saturday, Chad at Uncertain Principles wrote a post about the cultural divide between the sciences and the humanities in academia.  His main point is captured in this quote (although I recommend that you read the whole post)

Intellectuals and academics are just assumed to have some background knowledge of the arts, and not knowing those things can count against you. Ignorance of math and science is no obstacle, though. I have seen tenured professors of the humanities say– in public faculty discussions, no less– “I’m just no good at math,” without a trace of shame. There is absolutely no expectation that Intellectuals know even basic math.

This clearly is an issue of concern to many in science, especially in the science blogosphere, and sparked much discussion in the comments to the original post, as well as prompting other bloggers to share their perspectives here, here, and here.  And if that’s not enough for you, check here and also this one.

I have also given much thought to this topic, and although I am a little late to this round of the discussion, I’d like to offer my two cents.  My perspective is that of a student entering grad school in physics, having just graduated from a liberal arts institution with majors in physics and math.  With this in mind, here are my scattered thoughts on this topic:

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My Carbon Footprint

For a variety of reasons, I will be primarily riding a bike or taking the bus rather than driving a car once I move to my new city in a few weeks.  These reasons include saving money on gas and parking, the exercise benefits of riding a bike, and doing my part to save the environment.  In order to quantify the last part, I used a website to calculate my carbon footprint.  The results were not as good as I had hoped.

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Graduate Junction: The Academic Facebook

I first heard about Graduate Junction through a review from An American Physics Student in England.  Flip’s verdict was something of a mixed review, and he seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the site.  However, the concept seemed intriguing, so I decided to check the site out for myself.

Can this site graduate from a novelty to a useful tool for graduate students?

Can this site graduate from a cool concept to a useful tool for graduate students?

The goal of Graduate Junction is to provide an academic networking service along the lines of social networking sites like Facebook.  Each user creates and maintains a personal profile page including name, institution, research summary, and a list of publications.  Users can create and join groups, post links, publish notes, and send messages to other users.  In fact, there is basically no functionality here that is not on Facebook.  The main difference is what is removed: photos, pokes, applications, personal interests, the wall… anything that isn’t strictly professional.  So if this site presents nothing entirely new, what value can it have?

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Coming Attractions

Here’s a list of some topics that I have in mind for future blogging:

Coming Soon:

  • Background info about me
  • My take on the purpose of an undergrad physics education
  • Studying physics at a liberal arts college for undergrad
  • Graduate Junction, the new networking website for grad students

Coming Later:

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Welcome to The First Excited State

Welcome to my new blog!  Before I go any further, I’ll first explain the title of my blog, which I happen to think is pretty clever:  If you consider being an undergrad physics student to be the ground floor or “ground state” of the career path of a physicist, then grad school must be the first excited state of the physicist-university system.  Get it?  I know, I know it’s pretty corny, but I am pretty excited to be moving to a new state to start grad school next month.  Okay, I’ll stop with the silly puns for now.

I’ve only gotten acquainted with the blogosphere during the past year.  I started out with the basketball blog linked to from ESPN’s website, then later found a whole new world of blogs about physics and life as a physicist.  (I’ll add my favorites to my blogroll when I add it.)  I enjoyed reading these blogs, and the more I read, the more I felt that I could add something worthwhile to the conversation on the blogosphere.

Now, I realize that there are millions of blogs out there on the internet, and I’ll be lucky if my blog can make even a small ripple in this vast ocean.  There are certainly blogs with a similar thrust to mine, but I like to think that I have a unique voice and that I might be able to add something of interest to the conversation.  I hope someone out there finds my writing entertaining or informative, but I think that my blog will have value as a way to focus my thoughts by writing them down, if nothing else.

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