Saturday, June 19, 2010

Life as an Experimenter - Reflections

I've been doing experimental physics for about three years.  I started during my sophomore year in college, went straight to graduate school, and continued here (albeit not quite immediately).  There are people out there who have been doing this for a lot longer than I have, but I've gained a few insights, by working with said people, and through my own experiences in the lab.  I thought I'd try to share a few of these, to help illuminate the past few days I blogged about.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Life as an Experimenter - Day Three

Today marks the third and final day in our beam time at CHESS.  I think the circles under all of our eyes may take away from the glamor a bit, but the right makeup specialist could fix that.  If they ever make a movie about us, which they should, I want to be played by some really awesome british actor.  I think that would be about right.  Someone with a strong jaw.  In case it's not obvious, lack of sleep is getting to me a little bit.  Read on for the final few hours of our experiment.

Life as an Experimenter - Day Two

Today I'm continuing my series on the life of an experimenter.  Today is the longest day, since we have beam time for all 24 hours.  And after the setbacks of yesterday, we feel compelled to use it to the utmost bit.  Read on for more tantalizing glimpses of the grit behind the glamor of the rock-star-like lifestyle of an experimental physicist.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Life as an Experimenter - Day One

I'm an experimental physicist.  If you think this sounds like a job second in glamour only to rock star you would be right.  Just like being a rock star, you have to deal with the people, the shows, the lights, the groupies . . . okay, maybe I'm lying about the groupies.  Unless you're Brian Greene.  Also similar to a rock star, no one really knows what it is we do behind the scenes (when we're not touring the nation or publishing papers).  I'd like to pull back that curtain a little bit.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How Long Can You Balance A (Quantum) Pencil

Sorry for the delay between posts. Here in Virtuosi-land, we've all begun our summer research projects and I think we've just become a little bogged down in the rush that is starting a summer research project. You feel as though you have no idea what the heck is going on, and just try desperately to keep your head up as you hit the ground running, but thats a topic for another post.

In this post I'd like to address a fun physics problem.
How long can you balance a pencil on its tip? I mean in a perfect world, how long?

No really. Think about it a second. Try and come up with an answer before your proceed.

What this question will become by the end of this post is something like the following:
Given that Quantum Mechanics exists, what is the longest time you could conceivably balance a pencil, even in principle?

I will walk you through my approach to answering this question. I think it is a good problem to illustrate how to solve non-trivial physics problems.

I will try and go into some detail about how I arrived at my solution. For most of you this will probably be quite boring, so feel free to skip ahead to the last section for some numbers and plots.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Pepsi* Challenge

The basement of the Physics building has a Pepsi machine.  Over the course of two semesters Alemi and I have deposited roughly the equivalent of the GDP of, say, Monaco to this very same Pepsi machine (see left, with most of Landau and Lifshitz to scale).  It just so happens that Pepsi is now having a contest, called "Caps for Caps," in which it is possible to win a baseball hat.  There are several nice things about this contest.  Firstly, I drink a lot of soda.  Secondly, I like baseball hats.  So far so good.  Lastly (and most important for this post), is that it is fairly straightforward to calculate the statistics of winning (or at least simulate them).