It’s Black in Physics Week!

It is #BlackInPhysics week, and be sure to check out the various special activities at https://blackinphysics.org. It is a joy to see the faces and stories popping up on twitter under #BlackInPhysicsRollCall as physicists around the world introduce themselves. Join in! Share! Use it when people in your department tell … Click to continue reading this post

Two Days at San Diego Comic-Con 2019

[caption id="attachment_19354" align="aligncenter" width="499"] Avengers cosplayers in the audience of my Friday panel.[/caption]It might surprise you to know just how much science gets into the mix at Comic-Con. This never makes it to the news of course – instead its all stories about people dressing up in costumes, and of course features about big movie and TV announcements. Somewhere inside this legendary pop culture maelstrom there’s something for nearly everyone, and that includes science. Which is as it should be. Here’s a look at two days I spent there. [I took some photos! (All except two here – You can click on any photo to enlarge it.]

Day 1 – Friday

I finalized my schedule rather late, and so wasn’t sure of my hotel needs until it was far too late to find two nights in a decent hotel within walking distance of the San Diego Convention Center — well, not for prices that would fit with a typical scientist’s budget. So, I’m staying in a motel that’s about 20 minutes away from the venue if I jump into a Lyft.

My first meeting is over brunch at the Broken Yolk at 10:30am, with my fellow panellists for the panel at noon, “Entertaining Science: The Real, Fake, and Sometimes Ridiculous Ways Science Is Used in Film and TV”. They are Donna J. Nelson, chemist and science advisor for the TV show Breaking Bad (she has a book about it), Rebecca Thompson, Physicist and author of a new book about the science of Game of Thrones, and our moderator Rick Loverd, the director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, an organization set up by the National Academy of Sciences. I’m on the panel also as an author (I wrote and drew a non-fiction graphic novel about science called The Dialogues). My book isn’t connected to a TV show, but I’ve worked on many TV shows and movies as a science advisor, and so this rounds out the panel. All our books are from […] Click to continue reading this post

Endgame Memories

About 2-3 (ish) years ago, I was asked to visit the Disney/Marvel mothership in Burbank for a meeting. I was ushered into the inner workings of the MCU, past a statue of the newly acquired Spidey, and into a room. Present were Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the writers of … Click to continue reading this post

Event!

Well, I’m off to get six hours of sleep before the big announcement tomorrow! The Event Horizon Telescope teams are talking about an announcement of “groundbreaking” results tomorrow at 13:00 CEST. Given that they set out to “image” the event horizon of a black hole, this suggests (suggests) that they … Click to continue reading this post

Available Now!

Oh, that talk I did at Perimeter? It is available online now. It is all about the process of making the book “The Dialogues”, why I did it and how I did it. Along the way, I show some examples and talk about the science they’re bringing to life, but this is not primarily a science talk but a talk about talking about science, if you see what I mean.

The talk starts slowly, but bear with me and it warms up swiftly!

YouTube link here. Ended below:
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Stan Lee’s Contributions to Science!!

I’m late to the party. Yes, I use the word party, because the outpouring of commentary noting the passing of Stan Lee has been, rightly, marked with a sense of celebration of his contributions to our culture. Celebration of a life full of activity. In the spirit of a few of the “what were you doing when you heard…” stories I’ve heard, involving nice coincidences and ironies, I’ve got one of my own. I’m not exactly sure when I heard the announcement on Monday, but I noticed today that it was also on Monday that I got an email giving me some news* about the piece I wrote about the Black Panther earlier this year for the publication The Conversation. The piece is about the (then) pending big splash the movie about the character (co-created by Stan Lee in the 60s) was about to make in the larger culture, the reasons for that, and why it was also a tremendous opportunity for science. For science? Yes, because, as I said there:

Vast audiences will see black heroes of both genders using their scientific ability to solve problems and make their way in the world, at an unrivaled level.

and

Improving science education for all is a core endeavor in a nation’s competitiveness and overall health, but outcomes are limited if people aren’t inspired to take an interest in science in the first place. There simply are not enough images of black scientists – male or female – in our media and entertainment to help inspire. Many people from underrepresented groups end up genuinely believing that scientific investigation is not a career path open to them.

Moreover, many people still see the dedication and study needed to excel in science as “nerdy.” A cultural injection of Black Panther heroics could help continue to erode the crumbling tropes that science is only for white men or reserved for people with a special “science gene.”

And here we are many months later, and I was delighted to see that people did get a massive dose of science inspiration from T’Challa and his sister Shuri, and the whole of the Wakanda nation, not just in Black Panther, but also in the Avengers: Infinity War movie a short while after.

But my larger point here is that so much of this goes back to Stan Lee’s work with collaborators in not just making “relatable” superheroes, as you’ve heard said so many times — showing their flawed human side so much more than the dominant superhero trope (represented by Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, etc.,) allowed for at the time — but making science and scientists be at the forefront of much of it. So many of the characters either were scientists (Banner (Hulk), Richards (Mr.Fantastic), T’Challa (BlackPanther), Pym (Ant Man), Stark (Ironman), etc) or used science actively to solve problems (e.g. Parker/Spiderman).

This was hugely influential on young minds, I have no doubt. This is not a small number of […] Click to continue reading this post

Science Friday Book Club Wrap!

Don’t forget, today live on Science Friday we (that’s SciFri presenter Ira Flatow, producer Christie Taylor, Astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, and myself) will be talking about Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” once more, and also discussing some of the physics discoveries that have happened since he wrote that book. We’ll be taking (I think) caller’s questions too! Also we’ve made recommendations for further reading to learn more about the topics discussed in Hawking’s book.

Join us!

-cvj

(P.S. The picture above was one I took when we recorded for the launch of the book club, back in July. I used the studios at Aspen Public Radio.) Click to continue reading this post

And So it Begins…

It’s that time of year again! The new academic year’s classes begin here at USC today. I’m already snowed under with tasks I must get done, several with hard deadlines, and so am feeling a bit bogged down already, I must admit. Usually I wander around the campus a bit and soak up the buzz of the new year that you can pick up in all the campus activity swarming around. But instead I sit at my desk, prepping my syllabus, planning important dates, adjusting my calendar, exchanging emails, (updating my blog), and so forth. I hope that after class I can do the wander.

What will I be teaching this semester? The second part of graduate electromagnetism, as I often do. Yes, in a couple of hours, I’ll be again (following Maxwell) pointing out a flaw in one of the equations of electromagnetism (Ampere’s), introducing the displacement current term, and then presenting the full completed set of the equations – Maxwell’s equations, one of the most beautiful sets of equations ever to have been written down. (And if you wonder about the use of the word beautiful here, I can happily refer you to look at The Dialogues, starting at page 15, for a conversation about that very issue…!)

Speaking of books, if you’ve been part of the Science Friday Summer reading adventure, reading Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, you should know that I’ll be back on the show on Friday talking with Priyamvada Natarajan, producer Christie Taylor, and presenter Ira flatow about the book one more time. There may also be an opportunity to phone in with questions! And do look at their website for some of the extra material they’ve bene posting about the book, including extracts from last week’s live tweet Q&A.

Anyway, I’d better get back to prepping my class. I’ll be posting more about the semester (and many other matters) soon, so do come back.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

DC Moments…

I’m in Washington DC for a very short time. 16 hours or so. I’d have come for longer, but I’ve got some parenting to get back to. It feels a bit rude to come to the American Association of Physics Teachers annual meeting for such a short time, especially because the whole mission of teaching physics in all the myriad ways is very dear to my heart, and here is a massive group of people devoted to gathering about it.

It also feels a bit rude because I’m here to pick up an award. (Here’s the announcement that I forgot to post some months back.)

I meant what I said in the press release: It certainly is an honour to be recognised with the Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award (for my work in science outreach/engagemnet), and it’ll be a delight to speak to the assembled audience tomorrow and accept the award.

Speaking in an unvarnished way for a moment, I and many others who do a lot of work to engage the public with science have, over the years, had to deal with not being taken seriously by many of our colleagues. Indeed, suffering being dismissed as not being “serious enough” about our other […] Click to continue reading this post

Radio Radio Summer Reading!

Friday will see me busy in the Radio world! Two things: (1) On the WNPR Connecticut morning show “Where We Live” they’ll be doing Summer reading recommendations. I’ll be on there live talking about my graphic non-fiction book The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe. Tune in either … Click to continue reading this post