Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Yukawa reflections

I wanted to mention one of the features of the Yukawa Institute which particularly impressed me. In the departments I've been in as an undergrad, a postgrad and a postdoc I've found that the various subgroups in a physics department have not mixed as much as I'd hoped. I think that this is less at the higher levels and it seemed that the professors knew each other through committees which they commiserate each other for having to sit on, teaching arrangements and various social events. However, certainly at the grad student level, apart from a few friends I had in other sub-departments I had little idea what went on in the astrophysics department, the 'ultra-fast' department or the geophysics department, for example. I would occasionally peer into a lecture but was quickly put off by the quantity of buzz words which were incomprehensible to me.

Anyway, once a week at the Yukawa Institute is a lunch meeting, for the whole department. The first 20 minutes or so is set aside for having a bento lunch and chatting with whoever you find yourself near, be it a cosmologist, a solid state physicist or a string theorist, perhaps a new masters student and perhaps the head of the department. Then there's a short talk, really very short, perhaps 15 minutes or so introducing the basics of somebody's research area. It's at such a level that people in the audience start asking questions although it's not in their research area and by this simple, sociable meeting once a week, there seems to be more healthy discourse between the research groups.

It's not necessarily vital for a cosmologist to know about advances in traffic theory phase transitions, but it certainly introduces them to a slightly new subject and makes the department more of a transparent place to work. A good thing in my book.

Another inclusion, though of a technological nature which I was impressed by were the whiteboards in all the coffee lounges - though these are no ordinary white boards. I spent some time at these explaining to various people about what I did and chatting to grad students who asked questions, mostly about the fundamentals of the AdS/CFT correspondence. I would fill the white board with diagrams, equations and a few words at which point the student would press a button, an arm would move across the white board and a scanned printout of what I had written would appear. I'd then wipe the board and start writing again. By the end the student was left not just with the memory of my illegible scrawls but a solid copy. Perhaps this is an expensive addition, but in the land of such gadgets, this one ranks about as highly for me as the electronically controlled toilet, a fine invention in my book!


Tomorrow is officially my last day at Ochanomizu, though I may return for a couple of meetings if I get the chance before I leave. After tonight I will be Couchsurfing for the rest of my time here and I'm not sure how likely an internet connection is. I'll report when possible.


Anonymous said...

The whales are fighting back:

Luca said...

Interesting the whiteboard-scanner, even though I like more often than not not to leave any tangible proof behind!
Here at the Perimeter, blackboards are everywhere, which gives chances for people to discuss research in an informal environment. Today I gave a talk and was surprised to know that it would have been recorded. PI has a permanent public archive where one can find every talks gave in the years http://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/en/Scientific/Seminars/PIRSA

Unknown said...

The above link from CP was http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/player/nol

with no spaces. There's a warning on the video.

Hi Luca,

I definitely like the idea of having scribbling spaces within easy reach at all times. Coffee lounges are a particularly good place. In fact at the University of Tokyo they go one step further than the white board scanners and have white boards with direct computer connections.

I've seen a few of the videos from the PI but will be taking a look at yours too.


Again, with no gaps.

All the best,