Experiences

Some life experiences I faced lately were pretty interesting and which at times posed very singular issues. A small effort in sharing them.

Practical Problem: Plug Points

Plug Point In India, we have round plugs points and most of our gadgets use that specification, including my laptop and mobile chargers.  So, after having come through the rain (after the ‘Stranded‘ experience, shared previously) with Ankur Da to my room, finding these new plug points was a gentle shock (since my phone and laptops were low on battery: my only means of communication with the outer world were close to shutting off). So, for a day I was at complete peace from the dozen odd service messages you get almost every other minute even when you move from state to state in India, and this was a new continent. I was however concerned because my parents and friends would surely be wanting to connect (and Ma was not happy for having finished my balance) and I hardly knew electronics stores nearby. So, that night, got to know about Maplin, and located it. A world-wide usable connector was what they had for Indian plugs (around 20 Pounds), and having no choice, I went for it.

The connector had a problem in going into the wall: basically the base of the plug faced the wall, and one could not push the plug with the base-wire right into the wall! So it had to be just the right amount of adjustment so that plug went into the connector and the connector went into the wall.

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Dr. L

Even in these eight weeks, one professor who caught my attention and should be mentioned here has to be Dr. L (name concealed). Our teacher for Particle Physics, Dr. L has been one of the most interesting professors I have known for quite some time! His idiosyncratic way of explaining concepts may be eccentric in ways as per conventional pedagogues but it was a most refreshing way of learning the subject.

In the first few weeks, he introduced us to a competition on Petrarchan Sonnets organized by Oriel College, University of Oxford, and how he submitted a sonnet on ‘Pseudoscalar Mesons’. It was hilarious to see a most technical subject put into the a semblance of a light-veined sonnet. The competition was won by Cambridge students last year (everyone seemed so happy! Cambridge beating Oxford at Oxford).

particle

There were days when he gave us an off because he was apparently going ‘6.6% too fast’! There were other times when he described how W Bosons ‘farted’ jets in certain preferred directions. I remember the day he spoke of how at times, as a student of science, you have to accept certain definitions since they give the correct results rather than trying to reason it out from first principles. It is like students are like the children of a Psychiatrist: you can do any test on them without the Home Department’s permission required and the poor kids have to endure it.

During his last class, Dr. L spoke of the Higgs Mechanism, using simulations. One of the memorable visuals was that of crazy wave-functions, going all over the screen, constrained only by coupling terms. There were statements that went something like ‘…I invented this technique and it gives results to the lowest order…does not mean it is the wrongest…maybe the others were just high….’ and then used interesting terms like ‘Higgs Washing Line’ for a particular curve in his lecture. Everyone applauded him for a good few seconds. A most deserving ovation for a most interesting teacher.

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‘Spherical Bastards’

zwicky1Fritz Zwicky is considered both as one of the greatest astrophysicists as well as one of the most unusual personalities the world of science may have seen. Zwicky was well known for his rough language. I got to know a little more about this interesting astrophysicist in a ‘Relativistic Astrophysics…‘ class I attended.

A bold and visionary scientist, Zwicky was ahead of his time in conceiving of supernovas, neutron stars, dark matter, and gravitational lenses. In the 1920s,  he became fascinated with cosmic rays. No one could suggest a plausible candidate for the source of these mysterious particles. Zwicky made a conceptual leap and decided that cosmic rays are produced in catastrophic explosions of massive stars. In a 1931 lecture course at Caltech, Zwicky introduced the term “super-nova” to distinguish the explosion of a star from the more common and much less powerful nova, which involved repeated and violent outbursts on the surface of an unstable star.

It was Zwicky who coined the term ‘Spherical Bastards‘ for referring to his fellow astronomers at the Mount Wilson observatory. Why spherical? “Because they were bastards, when looked at from any side”! His colleagues did not appreciate this aggressiveness and, mainly for this reason, despite Zwicky’s major contributions to astronomy, he remains virtually unknown to the public (I am sure most of my readers, just as myself, may not even have heard of him!)

Zwicky was known for getting up during talks in order to tell the speaker that the topic in question has already been solved. According to a story, Zwicky once discussed with a priest about the beginning of the universe. As the priest said that the universe started with “And there is light” Zwicky replied that he would buy this statement if it would be changed to “and there is electromagnetism”!

(t.b continued)

 

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