Thursday, December 15, 2005

Thursday, and this week feels about 20 days long so far. Really looking forward to the weekend which holds some interesting things in store, but I'll chat about them if they work out.

Another real eye-opener today (You can't go home again - DJ Shadow) when I arranged a meeting with all the students to talk about the future of group meetings. This is all with the approval of the head of the group who is worried that the students all seem so shy. The meeting was an attempt to gauge what the students wanted out of the sessions, what they would like to learn, how the sessions could be made more comfortable, an open discussion. I suggested that they come with their own ideas of how it could be made enjoyable and productive. I also didn't want to run the whole meeting but just get the ball rolling and some discussion flowing. So I started with a few suggestions, some of them sensible, some of them clearly ridiculous and chatted with them for a few minutes about my minimal experience of being a PhD student, what I'd got out of meetings and what I would have liked (Dazzling Stranger - Bert Jansch).

The trouble it seems is that not only are children taught to respect authority but they fear it. They're told to do stuff and they do it without questioning. So when I asked them for their opinion there was complete silence for a start. I realised that they might be nervous about speaking out so I gave them options and asked for a show of hands. A few hands went up but then they looked around the room and saw that they were in the minority so quickly retracted their opinions. Uncle Pee - any suggestions? I did manage to get a few of them speaking and so have arranged a few things over the next couple of weeks including an activity in the city (of their choosing) so that I can prove (or possibly fool them into believing) that I'm not that scary and they can chat to me without fear. I'm sure the fact that I speak English doesn't help matters. Unfortunately, if they want to make it in the international community and get their name known, they have to be able to present in English and the least scary place for them to do this is with a load of people they all know, perhaps.

-anyway, for now, I have a spokesperson from the group who will go around and collect opinions of outside-physics things they want to do and what they'd like to study in a reading group and a workshop, the aim of which would be to write a collective paper.

There's an interesting article by Matthew Pinsent about the sports academies out here which illustrates to some extent the relationship between pupil and teacher which I didn't find terribly surprising from what people have been telling me here. Shocking: yes, surprising: not very.

A brief picture interlude: One of the reasons that Beijing, like Mexico city has so much pollution is because of the mountains surrounding it. This has its advantages because, as I walk back from the gym and pass over a twenty lane intersection, I have this view in the distance which is pretty stunning, especially at sunset as the sun dips behind the panorama.


Physics now in italics

Just had another interesting lecture from one of the guys who is a visiting Professor here. I won't go into detail about the topic (rare B decays from minimal SUGRA models - for anyone who's interested). It made me think, as I'm constantly reminded that the state of theoretical physics is in a really strange position at the moment.

The problem is that we know that the current model of particle physics is a far from perfect theory. Unless we are to do away with certain underlying rules that we use to study the universe (unitary, causality etc.), we know that what we have is only an effective model - a model that explains the world up to a certain high energy scale but then breaks down, to be replaced by some more accurate model. The aim at the moment is partly to try and work out what this more detailed, high energy completion (or even higher energy effective theory) might be. There are many thousands of possibilities, each with their own predictions of what we should see at the next generation of particle accelerators (see post below about the LHC). The aim is to find a single theory with as few free parameters (numbers that we can change/tune by hand) to fit all of the data. The trouble is that at the moment it feels to me like the theory community is putting so much effort into building all these models (theories) and we're just standing around, waiting for the first results to come in. When they do come in, it will take some time to analyse before we can work out how many of the models that people have devoted the last ten years of their lives to, can be put on the scrap heap. It may then be that we have a large number of other models, each of which is different but may still give the same predictions to within the experimental error. Anyway, it's currently a time of limbo for many theorists while we heinously neglect our links with the experimental community. Some time in the next four years, the emphasis will change hugely and experiment will again become the driving force it really should be.

Anyway, some musings for you.


Anonymous said...

dont understand a word of the physics but nice photo jonny!! kate

Jonathan Shock said...

My apologies for causing total befuddlement but glad you like the pic.

Dylan Thomas said...

Behave yourself Shock. Going in there and poisoning young minds with your democratic ways and blue-sky thinking. You must to them appear to be some manner of bohemian; a maverick free-thinker. But you are, in your own way, upholding the noblest of British traditions. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Anonymous said...

20 day week? I'd be so lucky! With Christmas nearly here British weeks have only 4 days!
Keep with the physics - incomprehensible but lyrical. Anne

Jonathan Shock said...

DT - indeed, it is my aim to intoxicate these young minds with my radical ways. It is my hope to get them to come out of their shells. I have to be careful not to terrify them in the process.

AT - I'll certainly keep up with spouting physics when I feel inspired. It would be good if I could give a rough impression of what I'm going on about to the non-scientist, but we'll see.