26 April 2009

13 April 2009

Collaborating in Cambridge

On Mar. 25, I returned from the MINOS Collaboration Meeting at Emmanuel College at the University of Cambridge, England. It was quite an experience. The meeting consisted of talks held in plenary and parallel sessions in the style of a scientific conference, except that these talks are not intended to be public information. This was my first MINOS collaboration meeting; I attended with several other members of my research group from Indiana University.

Since I am still new to the Collaboration, this was an excellent opportunity for me to learn the names and work of my fellow collaborators. There are approximately 250 of us, though most (including me) split their time among more that one experiment. Approximately 70 attended this meeting. As a result of hearing the talks and meeting people who I have known previously only via e-mail, I think I am finally starting to adapt to the collaboration and find my place in it.

Most of our time was taken up with the business of the meeting; however, we also had time for some social events. The main collaboration dinner was a four course meal served by the staff of Emmanuel. It was probably the most formal dinner I have ever eaten. Each course included its own wine in addition to the pre-dinner drinks. Since I did not want to embarrass myself, I did not finish most of the wine but sampled all of it. While I enjoyed the meal, I must admit some discomfort knowing that other people's tax money was paying for it.

The "young MINOS" leaders organized two social events at local pubs that I joined. We had good food and good company at The Anchor and The Castle. One of my collaborators even demonstrated his growing skills at magic card tricks. When we started having a conversation about the Boolean operator xor, we decided it was time to head to bed.

I did make time for exploration and sightseeing in Cambridge. My first goal was the doors of the old Cavendish laboratory, which contain the text of the beginning of Psalm 111 in Latin. I mentioned before that the English translation of this passage is the basis of the title of my blog. I found it quite easily and along the way discovered the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, which was quite nice. It included an original printing of Newton's Principia and a piece of Charles Babbage's calculating engine, a mechanical precursor to modern computers.

While at Whipple, I found a brochure for several other small museums in the area. I only had time to visit the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. It houses an amazingly dense collection of fossils and other artifacts. The exhibits are laid out as a time line from the Cambrian Era through the present, although the most recent 1.8 million years were blocked off due to the preparation of a new exhibit on Darwin. Highlights included fossils that were more than half a billion years old, a fossil of the largest spider that ever lived, a piece of the Apollo 15 heat shield, a complete Pleiosaur fossil, and several beautiful fossilized shells. I recommend it to any visitor to Cambridge.

I also enjoyed exploring the grounds of Emmanuel College, which was founded in 1584. It is home to several beautiful buildings and many ducks and other birds. The chapel was built in 1640 and is still open. Since we were at the College between terms at Cambridge, no services were held. However, I used it as the location for some of my morning Bible reading. Across from where I sat was the stained glass image of John Harvard.

I composed most of this entry on the plane ride from Heathrow to O'Hare. Pictures will be posted soon after my computer problems are resolved.

Computer Problems

Recently, I tried to make some modifications to my trusty IBM notebook PC (a.k.a. laptop). The fact that it bears the IBM logo (not Lenovo) gives you an idea of how long I have had it. The modifications did not go as planned, and after several calls to the IBM help line, I was told that I had to revert the system to factory settings. Fortunately, my friend had advised me to backup my system before I tried the modifications. I did so on an external USB hard drive.

I was able to restore the system, but now the USB ports appear to be inoperative. Another call to the help line resulted in a box being prepared for me. It will be sent to me so that I can pack my computer in it and return it for service. I have an extended warranty, so it will only cost me time. Since all of my pictures and other personal items are in the hard drive I cannot access, I will probably not do much blogging until my computer is repaired and returned.

02 April 2009

How I Proposed

Quarks and leptons were formed a small fraction of a second after the Big Bang. Quarks condensed to forms baryons, including protons and neutrons. These baryons were fused into light atomic nuclei in the heat of the very early Universe. Light nuclei were fused into heavier nuclei, such as carbon, in the cores of stars over the ensuing several billion years.

These nuclei were returned to the interstellar medium by the deaths of their progenitor stars. The most explosive stellar deaths produced even heavier elements, such as gold. In the cold of space, these nuclei captured elections to become full atoms. Some of the atoms were captured by gravity as part of a newly formed planet that would soon be the home of many forms of life.

After being geologically and biologically processed for billions of years, a small collection of the carbon atoms formed crystal lattices that one species on the planet found particularly valuable. Three of them were cut, polished and placed on a circle made of gold that had been taken from another part of the planet's crust. At this point, I entered this cosmic tale.

I had decided to propose to Kelly and spent a few days shopping. When I selected the store where I would buy her engagement ring, I already knew what kind I wanted. I specified a three stone white gold or platinum ring with a central diamond flanked by blue sapphires, which were to match another ring she wares. I also knew the quality and other specifications I wanted for the diamond. The store had several three stone rings with three diamonds. After some study and discussion, I chose one and had them replace the two outer diamonds with sapphires.

I tied the ring to a card using a silver colored ribbon and placed it in an envelope. I would propose when I made my first visit from Indiana to Columbus on Feb. 20. In high school, more that ten years ago, I purchased the card because I thought was very romantic. I had no one to receive it at the time, but I hoped that I someday would.

When planning this trip, I asked Kelly if she wanted to take a walk down to the Olentangy River, which flows through the Ohio State campus. She really likes rivers, so it seemed like an appropriate spot for the proposal. She had explicitly told me that she wanted to be surprised, so I did my best to give her no clues about my true reasons for this walk. However, when proposing to someone as intelligent and insightful as her, the element of surprise is difficult to achieve. Since I asked about this walk specifically several weeks before the visit, she strongly suspected that this was when I would propose.

On the walk, we saw a sun dog in the western sky, which looks like a fragment of a rainbow in the clouds near the sun. We also saw a hawk eating a duck near Mirror Lake, so I am glad that we do not believe in omens. I was a little quiet on the walk but did not betray the intense anxiety and excitement I felt in anticipation the question of the question I was about to ask.

When we arrived at the bank of the river, I tried to guide us to a spot where I could kneel in on gravel or rock instead of mud, but I was unsuccessful. I told her that I had a card for her, took it out of my coat pocket, and handed it to her. This confused her because she had been expecting an engagement ring and did not think anyone would put one in a card. So, I did manage a surprise proposal in the end!

When she opened the card and saw the ring, I assumed the traditional position kneeling on one knee and said, "Will you marry me?" With a quiet excitement, she said "Yes." She hugged me while I was still kneeling, which almost knocked us both over. We then moved to sit on a nearby picnic table, place the ring on her finger and begin planning our wedding.

01 April 2009