Interim Start of Semester Post

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I have as a goal for the semester to write more…really. I’m serious. I have fun projects coming up like researching the history of the physics department at my university (apparently it started in the 1890s and there was once an on campus observatory).

In the meantime here’s a question: What are you wondering about?

Right now, besides time independent time perturbation theory, which is more likely making me want to pull my hair (ok my textbook’s inefficacy  is making me want to pull my hair not the theory), I’m wondering this: Why didn’t anyone on Lost ever use the fact that they had watches to estimate their longitude using the sun or some stars (someone on the plane had to have had an astronomy magazine with a star chart, it was a big plane) or use the southern cross to estimate their latitude? Wouldn’t have helped them get rescued–but it would have let them know where they were.

*So a friend convinced me that I need to know about this show called Lost which I watched a bit during my senior year of high school but didn’t follow at all in college and in which I now am 5 years behind….hence this wondering, I’m only in season 2.

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Autumnus advenit

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Autumn arrivest at MSU in 2007 or 2008

Autumn arrives at MSU in 2007 or 2008

A month into autumn and it is finally beginning to show in Washington DC! The leaves, so slow to turn, are revealing their hidden fire. The air, once warm and sultry, turned cold and damp with furious speed last week, though in perfect autumn tradition, the weather has since become milder. Soon I expect to see squirrels scampering about the ground with cheeks puffed full of nuts ready for storage.

The in-between seasons, spring and autumn, are the most emotional and mysterious. In their rapid changing, it is like the whole world becomes a series of metaphors. Spring breathes hope and nervous excitement, like one falling in love for the first time. All the world waits for something wonderful-the return of life. Autumn is comfort and shelter from the cold and harshness of ‘things as they are.’ It is all of nature humbled by its own frailty, the bombastic days of summer since past. Yet, autumn is also beauty and vibrancy, an experience of love in its own way, filled with admiration of something bigger than oneself. Like a mind made wise by age, the world is aflame and sharpened. While spring is novelty, autumn is pure admiration-it is wonder!

On and off during these first two months of graduate school I have had moments of heavy nostalgia for my undergraduate institution, Michigan State.  I have missed sights and traditions, friends and the comfort of familiarity. Once more thrown into a sea far larger than myself, I have felt lost or alone or ignorant. It has been rough and frustrating at times. Yet October, that noble month, has reminded me that despite my impatience, it’s been only eight or so weeks since school started. Each time I miss the comfort of my undergraduate days in Michigan, I am reminded  later in some way that I do have many friends here already, that I have an incredible opportunity in attending graduate school, that this adjustment to the ‘real world,’ outside of campus and dorm life, is a  necessary part of adulthood which I was able to avoid as an undergraduate,and  I am humbled by the imperfections which are sometimes revealed by my impatience.

Change continues it’s endless task and time the for harvest has once more returned. Autumn arrives and Orion is rising in the southeast.

Autumnus advenit et focillor ignes Spiritus Sancti! (Autumn has come and I am warmed by the fire of the Holy Spirit)

Aestas Adveniet!

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It only took me two weeks to do it, but I have finally taken advantage of my close proximity to Washington DC for the summer.

It rained (actually poured, if even that word suffices) but I missed it because I was inside at the Natural History Museum. The highlight of the day was visiting the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It was my intention to go, pray in some chapels and attend the Saturday vigil for the Sunday Mass, which I did. However, I discovered when I arrived at basilica that the vigil Mass would also be the fiftieth anniversary Mass for Cardinal McCarrick, the Archbishop Emeritus of the Washington Archdiocese. So I attended a Mass presided over by a cardinal and several bishops and archbishops, including the papal nuncio to the US!

It was a beautiful Mass which focused on the vocation to priesthood and ministry, appropriate for an ordination anniversary I suppose. It left me with a deeper appreciation for the life to which the priests I have known dedicate themselves and which my friends in seminaries are preparing to join. It is a life of service and devotion to God and the Body of Christ, full of deep faith and love. It is not necessarily a call which I have myself, from what I can tell at this point at least, but it is most certainly one of the most beautiful and challenging ways in which one can give of himself. So I shall have to keep that in mind and be thankful for those who respond to it.

This summer I am at an internship in part to experience it would be like to be an astrophysicist . For a while I have been somewhat bugged by the feeling that besides adding to knowledge, an astronomer does little to help the the world. However, perhaps I need to look at things in a slightly different manner. We are called to use all the many things that make up who we are to serve others, to devote ourselves fully to God and each other in lives of faith and love. It is in all of our living, not merely in how we make a living, that we follow Christ. So then this summer through prayer and greater awareness of my actions each day, I may also come to understand how it is that I am best to respond to this call, in life as an astronomer or otherwise, but also in daily life as a better model of Christ. As so often happens, it may also be that like stumbling upon a Mass presided by a Cardinal when all I expected was a typical Saturday vigil, I’ll find myself in a place far bigger than I could of imagined. But one does not go looking for serendipity and so for now, I shall just have to continue to patiently, hopefully, and ever more faithfully use whatever opportunities come each day.

Aestas adveniet et focillor ignes Spiritus Sancti!

(Summer is coming and I am refreshed by the fire of the Holy Spirit)

Nuclear Physics in the (Early) Morning

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The men (of course it need not be only men, but in this case it is) huddle around monitors looking at computer codes and figures, muttering. Everything is running fine, but something looks fishy. They gather, discuss, go back to their stations and congregate once more.

It is a diverse group ranging in age from 20’s to 60’s, an international assemblage with Germany, Japan, Poland, and the United States represented. A clock on the wall reads quarter to 1 in the morning. Most have been here since the afternoon. Some have been here even longer, sleeping on couches in the atrium when naps are needed. Here is science in action, a world not often described in books or shown in movies.

On a nearby table are bags of chips, some bread, peanut butter, jelly, and most important, a pot of coffee. Do the coffee farmers halfway around the world know that they are growing the fuel of late-night science?

The night progresses. What was once a problem, so typical in nuclear physics, has been resolved, and the data is coming out as expected. Plans are made for the next day’s actions in the experiments-changes to be made in set-ups, new approaches to be investigated. Most leave, ready for several hours of rest, maybe 4 or 5, after a long day. A fresh batch replaces them to monitor the experiment for the night. Now the lab is empty except for the beam operators and a duo from the experiment team.

It will be months before all the data is analyzed and results are made, but now, in the silent, lonely hours of the night, just as in the morning when the lab is bustling, is when the discoveries begin. The blood and sweet, or eyes laden with tears from fatigue, are small sacrifices in experimental nuclear physics to those searching for a look into the world of the nucleus.