Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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The New York Times talks to me, yes, me.

Posted by Arjendu on December 31, 2009

The latest edition of  ‘Chaos‘ reminded me of a discussion in the popular literature about Lagarangian coherent structures, which are related to the persistent patterns that I’ve worked on. To quote:

The patterns of flow have fascinated thinkers for centuries. In the 1500s, Leonardo da Vinci sketched the swirling eddies he saw in rivers and the vortexes of blood he imagined in the aortic valve. Just as those visible patterns of flow change quickly, eluding our ability to predict the fate of objects caught up in them, the hidden structures of flow also move and morph over time.

The concept of the structures grew out of dynamical systems theory, a branch of mathematics used to understand complicated phenomena that change over time. The discovery of the structures in a wide range of real-world cases has shown that they play a key role in complex and chaotic fluid flows in the atmosphere and ocean.

A couple of days ago Dennis Overbye wrote about the LHC and the CDMS rumors about dark matter data, but managed in between to ruminate about the *point* of doing physics. At least two friends couldn’t help forwarding the article to me, pointing me at the last line in particular, perhaps since that sounds a bit like me:

But Dr. Rubin, who likes to stick to the facts, refused to be excited. “I don’t know if we have dark matter or have to nudge Newton’s Laws or what.

“I’m sorry I know so little; I’m sorry we all know so little. But that’s kind of the fun, isn’t it?”

And thanks to the CDMS rumors, at least people accost me at holiday parties to talk about dark matter. I told them I was ignoring the discussion for the moment until we had enough data, thank you very much (much like Vera Rubin, it turns out).

And non-Physics, but Carleton related, is this article about two Carl science graduates and their somewhat cold and minimalist life in Alaska:

Their last monumental trip took an entire year, during which they covered more than 4,000 miles of both urban and untouched terrain in Alaska, Washington and Canada by foot, raft and ski. Ms. McKittrick’s account of the adventure, “A Long Trek Home,” was published in October.

Though their epic expedition ended last year, they’re still camping. Today, their lives unfold under the conical eaves of a Mongolian yurt, where they have lived since November 2008, high on a spruce-covered mountainside of the Kenai Peninsula in the coastal town of Seldovia (population of around 250), where Mr. Higman grew up.

Happy New Year, everyone.


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