Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Beijing book and movie club made a return in style with well over 20 people coming along yesterday. An excellent range of people from all over the world showed up and chatted Renais, literature on psychedelia and modern Hong Kong cinema over wasabi nibbles and yak jerky (much better than it sounds). People seemed interested to hear about my time in Japan especially as there is often a very strong anti-Japanese feeling with Chinese youth. I informed them that my time had been fantastic and that all of the Japanese people I met were extremely nice, very generous and stupendously polite. This garnered a few deep intakes of breath and puzzled looks though most were genuinely interested to hear this.

I've been told by one Chinese person in their 20s that they were shown films at school every week explaining the terrible things that the Japanese did to them over the years so it's unsurprising that such vehement expressions of distrust are still common (though I have met many Chinese people who have nothing against the Japanese). I wonder how long it will be before these defensive barriers are lowered and such strong xenophobia disappears. A while I fear but things in China are changing fast and I don't think that long-term predictions are simple in this atmosphere.


So, I'm moving onto a new project and various options are up in the air. I'm sharing an office with a professor at the moment who's an expert on GUTs (well, if not branes, then GUTs seem the next best thing!). We're going to have a chat on Monday about his research, so since the beginning of this week I've been working my way through a mammoth review to get myself up to speed on an area that I'm only familiar with from attending seminars.

These GUTs (grand unified theories) are, hand-wavingly, one step below TOEs (Theories of everything). Apologies, it appears that high energy physicists are rather anatomy obsessed. A theory of everything tries to unify all four forces of nature in a single theory. String theory is, most would say, the closest we've come to this. These theories therefore include gravity which is the especially tough part to try and get it to work together with the other forces at very small distance scales.

GUTS attempt to unify the three forces of the standard model (Electromagnetism, weak and strong) into a single force which splits into three forces at some high energy scale (much higher than the energy of our current collider capabilities but much lower than the energies around at the time of the big bang).

To do this, one of the first concerns is to understand the symmetries of your theory and, as I've spoken about before, each of the forces of nature is characterised by a certain set of symmetries. The subject of symmetries is a huge and complex area of mathematics called group theory which is part of the foundation of modern particle physics.

Certain areas of this field are more relevant than others and in particular certain types of symmetries (Lie groups) are found in a large class of theoretical physics problems. I'd like to explain this in more detail but feel that a) to do so I would feel much more comfortable gesticulating wildly as I expound and b) the Chinese lesson I've just had has filled the area of my brain that deals with group theory with a serious of guttural utterances which my body doesn't want to produce.

Anyway, so I have to look over the books that I learnt group theory from several years ago, finish this paper and try and think of some sensible questions for our discussion on Monday.

Many meetings this week as well but I may sneak off tomorrow afternoon for a spot of sightseeing. I'll be in the office over the weekend for some time so feel I owe myself a small treat for having got the paper (for which the e-mails requesting citations are already coming in) out of the way.

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