Spring Sprung

No doubt about it: Spring has sprung. Whoever says there are no seasons in LA – and there are many who do – have no idea what they are talking about. The signs are in the air – there’s been a distinct change of the smell; lots of flowers are blooming. A parade of displays has begun. These are some of the poppies that are in various corners of the campus here at USC:


Here’s another shot…. […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From The Industry XVIII – History Looked On

Notes on GRI had some unusual guests in my General Relativity lecture yesterday, Eric Salat and Philip Shane, two film makers from Left/Right productions. They’re working on a documentary for the History Channel on the development of various ideas in physics in the early 20th Century, and they wanted to know more about the topics, and to see a full (1 hour and 50 minute) lecture from me.

While it is the History Channel (hence the dramatic subtitle – sorry), it is not part of the series “The Universe”, by the way. It is another separate part of the increased very welcome expansion of that channel’s science programming. Have you noticed the diversification of their programming that they’ve been doing? I’ve mentioned it before, and a number of people have commented on it to me elsewhere. It has been great to see.

It’s always fun to have more people in the classroom, and so we had a lot of fun… (Or at least, I did…I hope everyone else did too.) I happened to be doing a lecture on […] Click to continue reading this post


nicholas payton

Nicholas Payton came to town last Wednesday. For me, this means drop everything and go and hear him play. Two happy coincidences took place as well, contributing to making it a bit more special. The first was that my friend and colleague from UBC, Moshe Rozali (who sometimes comments here on the blog) was visiting to give a seminar that day. As I’ve been discovering (as a result of this blog more than anything else) we are very much in the same place when it comes to music, books and many things, and so it was just fantastic to be able to take him along. The second was that my friend of many years, cosmologist Marc Kamionkowski, got in touch just on the off-chance by email (I’d not seen him in many months) to ask if I knew if there was any good jazz coming to town! Marc and I have shared our love of Jazz for about 16 years now, going back to our days of meeting up in New York together at various Jazz clubs. So the three of us sat there and enjoyed the concert together. It was at the Jazz Bakery (to which you’ve possibly read me refer here before), and since I’ve not been there in a while, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they’ve replaced the plastic picnic chairs with some more comfortable padded ones. Quite an improvement.

Payton was joined by four excellent musicians, who were just great too: Russell […] Click to continue reading this post


There was a sweet, sweet moment during the afternoon Cosmology, Gravity, and Relativity session on Friday. (See here.) I don’t think I’ll be able to convey its full intensity to you, but I cannot let it go unmarked. The background comes from a personal place. In addition to my being, for many years, somewhat of a relative anomaly in being a black theoretical (high energy) physicist, there’s another component to that rare situation. My parentage is West Indian (or “Caribbean”, I might say, since in my experience the other term often does not register with many people from the USA), and until recently, I’ve not really known (m)any other such people in theoretical physics*. What struck me on Friday was a single syllable.

chanda prescod-weinsteinChanda Prescod-Weinstein (left), a graduate student at Waterloo/Perimeter, who has commented on this blog from time to time, and who I met for the first time on Thursday, was giving an excellent overview of her project to begin research on Doubly Special Relativity. Some of the motivating remarks involved simultaneously taking Newton’s constant, [tex]G[/tex] and Planck’s constant [tex]\hbar[/tex] to zero (the idea is that quantum gravity’s Planck length might remain finite in this limit, and thus remain in the physics as a new scale that breaks Lorentz invariance at […] Click to continue reading this post

DC Crossover

I find myself in Washington DC for two and a half days, attending an interesting conference. It’s the annual meeting of the National Society of Black Physicists* (NSBP), and I’ve been invited to give a talk (which I gave a few hours ago, entitled “The Dynamics of Flavour in Gauge/Gravity duals”, with a focus on what we can learn about experiments and observations of strongly interacting nuclear systems using string theory. Post about that here). I’m here for more just the talk, however. I also want to talk – in the sense of converse. Basically, it is of interest to me to get a feeling for what’s going on with the issues of underrepresented minorities (in this case, people of African descent) in Physics. As you know, the numbers are vanishingly small, and as you also know from reading my writings, I am very interested in this issue, and of course, how to make it not an issue, by helping more people find their way into the field and have as much opportunity to do well as the next person.

    nsbp banquet nsbp banquet

(Scene from the opening banquet on Thursday night. The featured speaker (no, not on stage in photo) was 2006 Physics Nobel Laureate, John C. Mather. Click for larger.)

It has been years since I came to one of these, and I must say it is a real pleasure to be here. There seems to be a lot of contrast to how I remember things from the […] Click to continue reading this post

A Farmer’s Market at USC

(hollywood farmer's) market day basket of cvjFantastic news! There’s going to be a farmer’s market on campus at USC. The first one is on Thursday this week, and rumour has it that it is expected to be monthly! If anyone has more information about this, please let me know in the comments or by email. (Right, enlargeable image of one of the results of my weekly visits to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. More here.)

Here’s the announcement for Thursday: […] Click to continue reading this post

Total Eclipse of the Moon

NASA total eclipse diagramThere’s a total eclipse of the moon tonight (Wednesday 20th)! NASA has a nice website on the timings, and some background information. Totality is at about 10:26pm EST, (see the NASA graphic to the right) but you should start watching before that to see the changes, which are always lovely to see. Naked eye is good, but if you have a pair of binoculars to help – even better!

Locally, if you’re interested you can join some of the Astronomy 100 students and TAs […] Click to continue reading this post

Nick Halmagyi: Why I do Science

Nick HalmagyiI’m pleased to introduce a guest blogger today. It’s Nick Halmagyi, who you might have seen comment here from time to time. Nick is a postdoctoral researcher in Theoretical Physics, currently at the Enrico Fermi Institute in Chicago. Before that, he was a graduate student in our High Energy Physics group at USC, which is where I met him. Nick wrote his reflections below for Seed, and he reproduces a version of it (with permission – see details below*) here. I hope you enjoy it.



Theoretical physics is a tough subject. Just one example of how hard things can get is when you ramp up the energy density of a system, the physics used to describe the system itself starts to change. At first it may be a small tweak in the parameters that appear in the equations (the electric charge for example), but then there can be large, abrupt transitions.

The biggest system we study is the universe, and immediately after the big bang all of its energy occupied a tiny region of space. Back then, the energy density was enormous, and as the universe grew over time it underwent several transitions before it became what we now observe.

I’m a theoretical physicist, in part, because I relish the challenge of studying the entire […] Click to continue reading this post

Tales From the Industry XVII: Jump Thoughts

A commenter asked how the aforementioned movie viewing and panel discussion went on Friday (movie: Jumper), and so I thought expand a bit on the answer I gave:

It went very well. We were at the School of Cinematic Arts, at USC. We had a full house in the Norris Theatre, which was great to see. Most of the audience was students from the SCA, I think, with some of the faculty present, and people from the film’s parent studio, and several others. For the panel, present were two of the film’s producers, the visual effects supervisor, costume supervisor, production designer… basically, the perfect people to have a discussion with about the physics! I won’t try to list all names since I did not catch all of them and don’t want to mis-credit people for being there who weren’t.

Teleportation physics aside for a moment, I’m very impressed with how they realized […] Click to continue reading this post

Movie Spoiler?

No, not spoiler in that sense. Doug Liman’s new action movie “Jumper” is all about teleportation, you see, and one of the questions that’s going to be on people’s minds is something like “Is teleportation really possible, or is it just some silly science fiction thing?”. I like it when such questions come up, and I like trying to answer them too.

This time I get to do it officially, since Doug Liman’s people are doing a private screening of the film this evening and there’ll be a panel of some of the film’s creators and a scientist for questions and answers afterward. I’ll be the scientist.

The downside is that I’ll be the bad guy of the evening by having to pour a bit of cold water on some of the flights of fancy. The spoiler, you see, as in spoilsport. The upside (besides, you know, free movie) is that I’ll maybe get to explain some really […] Click to continue reading this post

Stellar Basketball Physics

shaq on supernovae (from the onion)So the Onion’s gone and mixed some astrophysics with basketball. Headline:

“Shaq Terrified Of Phoenix Suns After Reading About Supernovas”

(Image on right also from the Onion.)
You can tell how it’s going to go from the title, although it’s rather amusing just how much stellar astrophysics they pour into the article (not even trying to disguise it much). Extract:

…new Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O’Neal admitted Monday that, upon reading about the phenomenon of massive stellar explosions popularly known as supernovas, he is now terrified of the entire organization.

(Wow… Shaq isn’t in LA any more? Huh. I’m so out of it. Update: Oh, yeah, I remember now. He went to Miami in 2004. Evidently I don’t follow the NBA.)

…and further: […] Click to continue reading this post

Art, Walk

downtown art walk mapI’ve mentioned it before a number of times, but it’s always worth remembering the downtown Los Angeles Art Walk every second Thursday of the month. Lost of people still don’t know about it, so I like to remind from time to time. For the one today, given the day, you can take your sweetheart along for a Valentine’s day ramble around the neighbourhood. Or, if you’ve either too many or too few to choose from… never mind – just go along yourself! There’s always lots to see.

Some months back I made a huge effort to document photographically (sometimes surreptitiously) some of the work I saw, to show you it. I was planning on doing a long post describing all of it and of course I was so exhausted when I got home that I never did and then I sort of went off the boil on that project. I’ve no idea why I’m mentioning it now – it just came to mind. […] Click to continue reading this post