I'm already two weeks late on this (and less late on other things) but two weeks ago I got the chance to present my senior research at the University of Rochester. For those who haven't already read about it, I've been working on quantum optics with professor Kiko Galvez at Colgate. I got to start working on this back in September, and being only a senior in college, I can say with little doubt this is the subject I know the most about in physics. Since then, I've become attached to the subject, and was really excited to get to talk about it in front of an audience. Furthermore, since the conference was titled the Rochester Symposium for Physics (Astronomy & Optics) Students (emphasis mine), I figured I'd probably be talking to an audience that knew something about what I was talking about.
I got to talk pretty early on in the day, which was fine by me, I like being done with obligations, and didn't really get the questions I was hoping for. While I'm certainly glad the conference was put on, none of the students really seemed willing to sick their heads out and ask something. There were a couple cool projects, a couple that really didn't seem to have any physics in them (especially in the biophysics section). I guess it was a good time for people to make some of their first presentations. It really brought out how useful Colgate's Physics requirement of presenting your senior research really is. In any event, I felt good about what I did.
With that, I leave you with a link to my presentation, and a picture of the confinement fusion chamber at the LLE at the University of Rochester, which is probably the closest thing to the death star I will ever see.
This is where a whole bunch of very high energy, pulsed laser beams are brought together to cause deuterium and tritium to fuse by melting a plastic ball the fuel is contained in. These pulses are extremely short, but if you look at hole #11 in the picture (under the more visible #22), you can see a black mark that was at least 6 inches in diameter, which is from someone not aligning the mirror as well as they could have.
The Physics and Astronomy department at Colgate hosts weekly lectures by professors from other institutions about their research or interests. This week we had the pleasure of hosting Professor Adam Frank of the University of Rochester, who studies stellar outflows, and how they affect start formation. I was really surprised to learn that was what Professor Frank studies, because his talk today was about cultural perceptions of time. He has, in fact, written a book about this (which isn't yet published, so here's a link to another one of his).
While he has obviously read a lot about the subject, and taught me a few things (e.g. first sleep), I was most interested in the talk we had afterwards over lunch with the physics club and professor Bary who also joined in. The discussion went about the idea of energy sustainability, mostly, and how oil has given us a 'free energy' card to play for the last hundred years that allowed us to live in ways that we probably couldn't have otherwise. This notion of a free oil energy card was new and unusual to me. It was based on the extreme energy-freedom we have now because of all of the energy we use from oil.
Oil is (like most earthly energy sources) mainly stored solar energy, in a potent form. Over millions of years, plant and animal matter has been pressed down into the stuff and collected in pockets in the Earth. Because we only found out about how much energy it had recently, we've had millennia's worth of energy to draw on, and we've drawn most of it in the last hundred years. This allows us the cars we're all so used to, the sprawl, the easy consumption, but imagine a world with a lower energy budget. What if we could only afford to run the washer once a month? Or to drive only on the longest of trips because the energy to power these things was so rare that we actually only had enough to use it sometimes. I'm pretty sure I can barely even conceive of that
Also discussed was the failings of modern string theory to explain the so-called fine-tuning of the standard model. The fine-tuning problem is that there are a number of constants in the standard model describing forces and the like that just seem to be from the universe itself. We don't really have any reason they should be what they are, other than that they make the equations describe our universe. The other strange part is that they could only be pretty much exactly what they are to get anything like our universe to exist. Some people like to use this sort of thing as a rationale for a god of some kind, but that's just not seeing the pavement for the puddle.
Back in America and classes are starting again. While I've definitely learned to better manage time and get things done, running two clubs effectively and gettting school work done will be a challenge. I've already been running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get clubs up - hopefully more people will step up to the plate soon so more can get done without my direct supervision.
TGA - Started up nicely, lots of new, enthusiastic freshmen - capture the lighthouse went quite well.
BSA - No students, but the new rabbi is interested and one polisci professor is quite into it and has a really neat meditation timer.
Physics Club - Working on organizing talks/lunches. Need to plan events with fire and nitrogen and shotting things out of other things...
Classes - Will computational mechanics be cool or hideously boring? Signs are pointing to boring. Geography of SE Asia may be interesting, but nobody seems to have said anything concrete yet.. Thermo should be new and interesting and research will be something about coherence of photons and storing images on them.