Saturday, January 16, 2010

Science Sunday

click to enlarge

"I want to be a chemist. And if I was a chemist I would mix up lots of chemicals. And I would make $50.00 a day." --ann foxlee, aged 8

.....And this is where I mention the part about me being a secret science nerd-- a slightly technophobic science nerd, but that's another post.
That's right my lovely readers, before I decided to pursue arts or writing, I was absolutely positive I wanted to be a chemist (or at least positive about the '$50.00 a day' part). Also, I was rather interested in proving I could correctly spell 'chemicals'.

These days, the secret science nerd in me is a sucker for Particle Physics, Theoretical Physics(including dark matter, string theory, and supersymmetry-- squee!) and most of all, the Large Hadron Collider. Just thinking about it makes my brain go tingly!
MMMMMmmmmmm.... shooting a stream of protons at 99.9999991% the speed of light, in opposite directions around a 17-mile circular track until they collide, creating conditions that only existed a billionth of a second after the big bang.... oooohhh, tingly.

I was asked the other day why it mattered, and why they were bothering to do this.
Besides the obvious pursuit of knowledge, most of the scientific advances we've had-- from going to the moon to the personal computer-- would not even be remotely possible without the work of physicists, like Einstein and those who followed him. Before Einstein we didn't even know that mass could be converted into energy, that mass WAS energy. And electromagnetism? Nope, we had no idea it was connected. Without understanding that magnetic fields produce electric fields and vice versa, computers are kinda not possible.
As far as we've come in 100 years, imagine then what we could do if we truly, completely understood what it is we're made of and how/why it is all stuck together the way it is. (tingly, tingly).

The things that make up the universe have been described as like snowflakes-- once, the flakes were a simple thing, water, and with time and cold, they grew into unique, complicated, separate things, with intricate crystal structures. But at the core of their beings, they are only that original pool of water. Similarly, we and the earth and the stars also 'crystallized' out of a simple source, and are at our cores, all the same thing. (sigh, tingle)
But how and why?

As it is right now, there is something predicted, but missing in all the theories-- something so small or dark that it's hidden from our view, or perhaps it's something larger that is driving all the other forces. The theorists have made their best predictions, and hope to find what they're looking for via the LHC and its mini big-bangs. Otherwise, they'll all be rethinking the existing theories.
The exciting part is that, no matter how it is solved, we'll end up understanding why you and the table and the light coming from your lamp are all fundamentally one thing (tingle tingle), and why, like snowflakes, they are coalesced into so many forms. Understanding this would open the doors to making and manipulating anything. (tingle...............)

My two favorite physicists are cool not just for their contributions to Particle and Theoretical Physics, but also because they have a unique ability to charmingly explain these complex things to laypeople like you and me. Both have regularly appeared on the Science Channel, the BBC, and give lectures whenever they can.

Dr. Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist, and often talks about the impact and potential of science in the future. His writings give you the ability to visualize and 'get' things like extra dimensions. His books are very readable, although I did re-read sections a few times here and there to make sure it stuck, or just to make my brain tingle some more. So far I've read Visions and Hyperspace, which are great, and I'm looking forward to his new book Physics of the Impossible (which I think his current Science Channel show is based on).

Dr. Brian Cox (otherwise known as ann's nerd crush-- hands off!) is a particle physics professor at the U of Manchester, a former rock star (really!) and is a total dreamboat because he actually works at the Large Hadron Collider, in the ATLAS detector. Plus he sometimes cusses and calls people tw*ts when discussing science, which only makes me love him more. You can youtube him and get some great shorts of him discussing everything from the 2012 conspiracy theories, to what excites him about the Grand Canyon (hint: the rocks at the bottom are 1/7th the age of the universe--TINGLE!).
Here is a not-to-be-missed speech he gave for TED, all about the LHC. In it he also explains so many things about particle physics, and does it in such easy to understand language that I almost feel qualified to work at the LHC too. Mmmmmmm......Me and my science nerd crush, working side by side... what? It could happen, you know, extra dimensions and all!
OK, maybe not quite, but I could visit the LHC and understand what the hell they're talking about. And I would wear this t-shirt:

heh heh. It's just the sort of cheesball, dirty humor my nerd crush will love.


Ally said...

I love that you wanted to make $50 a day. Too cute!

Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing

Catherine Denton said...

Wow. Kind of mind-blowing.
Winged Writer

ann foxlee said...

Ally: I know, it must have sounded like an enormous sum to me...

Catherine (or should I say, Nancy!): I see you got the 'tingle' I spoke of... :-)

Natalie said...

How cool Ann! Science and writing go well together. You have the built in knowledge to make things believable. Whenever I have to write anything even a little sciency I have to ask my husband for help. He loves physics too.

ann foxlee said...

I read somethng from Holly Lisle recently that talked about how we writers end up having to know an icredible amount of 'trivia' just to be able to construct believable worlds, and it is so true!
At this point, I can pretty much tell you absolutely anything you want to know about Japanese culture, religion, farming, art, clothing, accessories, households, housing, social structure, warfare, etc etc....
The amount of books I own, on things like: "Shophands and Servants in Medieval Tokugawa Japan"... it's kind of ridiculous :-)

Polenth said...

A whole $50.00! Unimaginable riches.

Stephanie Thornton said...

That is so stinking adorable! I have my first grade journal where I wrote I wanted to be a paleontologist. And I spelled it right. :)

And I just saw that I won your contest! YAY! I've been up to my eyeballs in revisions this weekend so I'm emailing you right now- that just made my night!

Rachel Stark said...

Thanks for being my 50th follower! And what a lovely, exciting post -- hooray for nerdiness!

Aubrie said...

Hi Ann!

My middle name is Ann but its spelled with an E at the end. Anyways, I'm following your blog! That picture is really cute and $50 dollars a day! You'd be rich.

Southpaw said...

Oh that is so cute. "mix up lots of chemicals".

Lily Cate said...

Oh wow, I was just reading an article about the LHC this week and thinking "This is the coolest thing I've ever encountered."

ann foxlee said...

Polenth: lol! I know, right? It's what, $6-ish an hour?

Stephanie: paleontologist in first grade! well done! I think a lot of people couldn't spell that as adults ;-P

Rachel: glad I could be #50! And nerds rule!

Aubrie: technically, Ann is my middle name too... and ever since Anne of Green Gables pointed it out, I've been jealous of Annes who have that 'distinguished' E on the end;-)

Southpaw: I have memories of locking myself in the bathroom and randomly mixing up things I found in there. Probably where I got the idea for mixing chemicals, though I'm surprised I didn't mix up something that could burn my lungs out! How did I ever survive childhood?

Lily Cate: Isn't it? I just say it and I get chills. I kicked myself when I realized the other day that when hubby and I were in France this fall, we were only about an hour train ride from CERN and the LHC... gah!! I totally would have gone there!!

yokohamamama said...

Sheesh--my own sister, and I had no idea you're a closet physics junkie. Which, btw, is how I've been describing *myself* lately. How weird is that? Do we have totally entangled particles, or what? ok--so have you read any Brian Green? Get "Fabric of the Cosmos"--you'll get that woozy, standing-on-the-edge-I-almost-understand-quantum-mechanics feeling. whoo-whee. Hey--I don't remember that you wanted to be a chemist. Really? ooh-if you fly *that: way, and I fly *this* way, we could meet in the middle at the LHC (which, for some reason, I want to say with a surfer-dude accent like the turtle from Nemo. "What brings you this fine day to the LHC?" Best not to ask.) I just realized--all my chapters are entombed in the old computer. Can I have some new pages to read? Pleeeeeze?

yokohamamama said...

..."I have memories of locking myself in the bathroom and randonmly mixing up things I found in there."

I'm pretty sure I remember her getting in trouble for that...

doesn't it stink having your big sis stick comments in your blog:)) just because iwuvyou! ao.