Friday, August 20, 2010

A little more about me and the blog

I've talked to a few people in the last few weeks who asked me to write a bit more of an introduction to both me and what I'm trying to do with this blog, so here goes:

My parents are both extremely intelligent people. Before he retired, my father was in academic publishing as an editor for several years before running the Princeton University Press for the last 20 years of his career. My mother is a writer, author of several books on a rather wide-ranging list of subjects including gardening, architecture, biographies of several people and two novels. I grew up surrounded by books on history, literature, politics, etc. Despite this rather literary background, however, all through school I somehow found myself doing my best work in math and science. I graduated college with a physics degree, but I did not then know what I wanted to do (nor did I have a job). Fortunately, my thesis advisor in college, Dan McKinsey, was hired as a professor at Yale University that summer and asked me to come work for him while I figured things out. Seven years later, I left Yale with a PhD in physics and I think it's pretty safe to say that I am now trying to make a career as a practicing physicist.

Although my family has gotten used to this idea during the (many) years spent lost in graduate school without a real job, I think it's still a bit of a mystery to them how I ended up as a scientist. And perhaps more importantly, I've often felt that they (and in particular, my mom) really don't know what I do nor how I do it. While the question of how I ended up here is sometimes a mystery to me (as far as I can tell, I like doing the physics I do and figure I should keep at it as long as people let me), the second mystery is something I should be able to do something about, especially if I want to be a good physicist. Hence this blog.

I truly do want to try to explain my work so that my family, and my mom in particular, understands. As I said before, my mom is a very intelligent woman, but she tends to be a touch skittish around mathematical ideas. And if I can explain things like dark matter in an understandable way to her, it will mean that I myself understand what I'm doing. More generally, I've found over the years that people I meet really have a lot of interest in physics, but they always say, “I was no good at it” or even worse, “my teacher was terrible.” In the blog, therefore, I'm trying to write about what I'm doing and why it's interesting in a way that does not require any background while simultaneously not underestimating the audience.

Once I started writing, I quickly discovered the particular format I wanted the blog to take, which I outlined at the bottom of this post: Update and future plans. So that's the summary.

Also, here's a picture of me at my sister's wedding. I'm trying to be funny here.


  1. You did not get back to physics. But nice pic. :) More bubbles!

  2. Matt Roman was in Venice (where I am living now) and he told me about your blog. What a wonderful idea. I had to comment here because he raved that you gave the most incredible speech at your sister's wedding. Apparently, you *were* funny.


  3. Hi,

    I am a high-school student and I have a question on CMB radiation.

    I have read that light reacted with charged particles in plasma state after the Big Bang. Why can't light react with ions too in normal environment?

  4. A more detailed answer may require an actual expert on the CMB, but in a normal environment, there just aren't that many ions around - for example, air is made up of neutral Nitrogen and Oxygen and other things, but they are always neutral. In the early universe, when everything was hot, there was enough energy lying around to continually ionize the elements. As the universe expanded and cooled, the amount of energy available to ionize things disappeared and we were left with the largely neutral universe we have today.

    Check out this post and the following one for my take on this last year:

  5. Hi Hugh,

    I just thought I should leave a comment after reading that you used to be at Yale - I'm an undergrad, and I might be taking a lab class with Professor McKinsey. It's amazing how small the world can seem sometimes!

    I really liked your posts on the Fourier transforms and the CMB - they're really clear and easy to follow. I'm working on a research project that has to do with neutrinos and the CMB power spectrum, and I found your blog really helpful (and I'm sure my mom would appreciate it too!), so thanks!

  6. Hi Hugh, as both of your parents that is father and mother too were related to creative writing and your father was and editor, so I want to say that some of their reflection seems in you as this post is also great and fantastic (and may be) like one of your parents at their times...
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