20 November 2009


It's a good time to be a physicist. CERN started circulating particle beams today at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the date acquired from the particle collisions will be phenomenal.

Unfortunately, I'm not yet a physicist.

I notice, though, since I full-on decided to pursue this course of education, all of a sudden, physics are everywhere. I wonder if this is some sort of cosmic message, or just the Yellow Volkswagen Phenomenon. You know... when you buy a yellow Volkswagen, suddenly you start seeing them everywhere. It's not that everyone else bought one as soon as you did, just that you're more aware now.

Of course, I'm aware of what's going on with the LHC at CERN because of my interest in physics. Other things, though... I started reading the His Dark Materials trilogy last week. As I was listening to them discuss "dust" and their theories of multiple universes, I couldn't help but think how much it sounded like the ideas about quantum physics I'd been reading lately. And, as the story progressed, I found physics was exactly what they were discussing. Next week's episode of House, MD (my biggest guilty TV pleasure, which I reward myself with while at the gym) involves a physicist. Those things are less an awareness and more a coincidence.

Or maybe it's the Universe's way of telling me that I'm on the right path here, that this is where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing right now. I find it ridiculously ironic that, as I'm preparing to become a scientist, I'm also waxing philosophical about everyday occurrences.

But that's part of what I love so much about quantum physics, astrophysics, and cosmology. At this point, it has all the intellectual appeal of modern science and the spiritual appeal of theology. I can get my preternatural fix without resorting to the supernatural.

I never have been happy with a boring life.

19 November 2009

Patience is a Virtue

The problem with making life-altering decisions is that you get impatient to get started. Or at least I do. Halfway through the fall semester (when I'm not taking classes), I came to the conclusion that I want to study physics and astronomy at a respectable university. In order to do that, I have to take several semesters worth of math and at least one course each of physics & astronomy.

But I have to wait until next semester to start.

Next semester is TWO MONTHS AWAY.

I also made the mistake of following a twitter search of "physics OR astronomy" on Tweet Deck and lots of people are talking about their physics and/or astronomy homework, which just makes me more jealous. I feel like my life is hanging in balance, and that I'm holding this lofty goal in my mind without really knowing if I can even hack precalculus.

I need to get these math courses under my belt before I can feel confident actually stating my goals (what? I haven't even told YOU my goals yet, beyond an undergraduate degree? see, I told you I'm self-conscious about them) out loud to anyone other than my husband, and I am impatient to do so.

13 November 2009


Do you ever feel silly just talking about something?

The idea of ME as a physicist seems to me like something one would picture when confronted with a boggart and yelling "ridikulus!" whilst brandishing a wand.

It took me ages to get up the courage to write my acknowledgements post, mostly because it seemed silly to even consider the idea that I may one day be pursuing a doctorate in physics. I mean, ME? For one thing, I've always hated math and I was never any good at science (part b: I'm an artist). For another thing, I change my mind weekly/monthly/yearly about What I Want to Do When I Grow Up (Newsflash: I'll be 30 in three years. I'm grown.) Third of all, saying I want to be a physicist sounds about as reasonable as saying I want to be a professional hockey player, an olympian, an astronaut, or a rocket scientist. It's just one of those pie-in-the-sky sounding goals.

Even though I've mapped out my next four semesters at community college in such a way as to prepare me for University and a physics/astronomy major, even though I've been studying maths and layman-level physics (cause I do NOT have the math skills for anything more advanced yet), even though I can retrospectively see that this is something I always should have tried to do, even though it's a perfectly practical goal that will take a long time to accomplish... I haven't really mentioned it to anyone but my husband and the Internet. Why?

Because I feel silly.

How silly is that?

11 November 2009


Some day, I hope to write a physics dissertation. Right now, I'm just hoping to get through precalculus. But assuming I do so, and that calculus itself doesn't suck the very marrow from my bones, I plan to go on to study physics at an undergraduate level and hopefully (someday) pursue a doctorate. And a Ph.D., as we know, involves the writing of a dissertation .

Even if I never get to that point, the very desire to learn about the world around us, to dream of one day calling myself a physicist, is something I never thought I'd have. Getting to this point has required the input and inspiration of many individuals. I suspect if I ever write that dissertation, I'll have even more names to add. For now, these are the people who have gotten me to this point.

Quentin - My eldest son, with an insatiable curiosity. From Bill Nye the Science Guy to "George's Secret Key to the Universe," Quentin and I have learned the basics of science and physics side-by-side. Eventually, I realized my wish for him to be a scientist one day was really a projection of my own desire to learn ever more and become a physicist myself.

Mrs. VanWyck - By far the best science teacher I ever had. In the sixth grade, she introduced me to the basics of physics and the cosmos, and to Bill Nye the Science Guy. She's the first person I remember making science interesting and relevant, and hers is one of the only classes I really remember from Jr. High.

Bill Nye (the Science Guy) - I LOVED his show in sixth grade and loved it even more as an adult. Bill Nye makes science interesting, funny, relevant, and fun. He explains the basics of physics with such finesse, and always made me want to learn even more.

Random boy whose name I can't recall - When I was a freshman at community college, floundering around, unsure what I wanted to do with my life (a state that continued for a good decade, I'll have you know), I worked in the childcare room a couple nights a week. One of my coworkers wrote a paper about quantum physics and as I helped him edit it, he explained the basics of the concepts to me. I was positively fascinated by the uncertainty principle and wave function collapse and the idea that observing and measuring something's state could actually change the state, and I remember that as the first time I wished I were smart enough to actually study something like physics.

Stephen Hawking - I read "The Illustrated Brief History of Time" when I was a teenager, but what really got me hooked was the "George" books. My then-four-year-old's insatiable thirst for scientific knowledge was quite satisfied by "George's Secret Key to the Universe" and "George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt." As for me, I found an interest in the cosmos, in black holes, in astrophysics, that I never would have imagined. Stephen Hawking's work continues to inspire me.

Rebecca Mosher (Webster) Escamilla - One day I was whining on Facebook about how I wished I were smarter, I wished I had learned more about science in high school, I wished, I wished, I wished. She told me in no uncertain terms to quit whining about what I wish had been and to make the things I wanted happen. I was rather irritated with her at the time, mostly due to the fact that she was right.

Robert Walsh - He seems to have inspired numerous Unitarian Universalist sermons with the phrase, "Nothing is settled; everything matters," and I happened to read one of them at a critical point in my life. Nothing is settled. That's a powerful thought if you take it to heart, and I did. My life hasn't been decided for me. It's not done. I'm going to be a scientist, even if that means I'm studying until I'm 40.

Luke McGlynn - My wonderful, supportive, loving husband. He took me seriously when I said I wanted to go to school to study astronomy and physics. He took on more than his fair share of the duties of running a house and family. He believed in me. He told me he was proud of me. I don't think I would have even tried if it weren't for him.