Monday, March 7, 2011

Physicists and the future of humanity

Among my colleagues, being a jack-of-all-trades is absolutely necessary.

If you wish for someone to work with computers, we will debug your C++ code, interface your data acquisition system hardware with the software, design parts in CAD, write and run a monte carlo simulation and produce a beautifully formatted LaTeX file of our results. When you ask how, we will simply say, "I'm a physicist, I have to do it."

If you wish for someone to work hands-on with equipment, we will mount your expensive detectors, cable them and apply high voltage, set up a rack of power supplies and electronics modules, design and build a vacuum chamber, machine special components, mount all of the pumps with flanges and valves and power and cooling water, leak check the whole thing, stick targets on a ladder inside the middle and align them all perfectly. When you ask how, we will simply say, "I'm a physicist, I have to do it."

If you wish for someone to do chemistry, we will dissolve deuterated polyethylene in a p-xylene solution, spin the solution onto glass slides, float the films in water and mount them to target frames. When you ask how, we will simply say, "I'm a physicist, I have to do it."

If you wish for someone to do statistical analysis, we will compile our data and apply every rule, fit Gaussians and high-order polynomials and Lorentzian curves with low-energy tails, calculate systematic and statistical uncertainties due to innumerable contributions, display the data in curves, histograms, contours and scatter plots, and propagate the results through multiple steps of analysis. When you ask how, we will simply say, "I'm a physicist, I have to do it."

If you wish for someone to present, we will gather by the few or by the hundreds at international conferences, discuss and debate and cooperate and compete, write interesting and understandable posters and talks, publish proceedings, and organize the next conference somewhere else. When you ask how, we will simply say, "I'm a physicist, I have to do it."

If you wish for someone to handle money, we will write grant proposals, estimate budget shortfalls, purchase everything from two-cent pens to $200,000 compressors and million-dollar detector systems, operate facilities on tight budgets, and report our usage to the appropriate oversight committees. When you ask how, we will simply say, "I'm a physicist, I have to do it."

If you wish for someone to be an advocate, we will set up a website, twitter and facebook accounts for the cause, write dozens of letters to Congress and Senate (or Parliament and Ministry, or...), lobby on the Hill on our own dime, sign petitions for the cause, and get our peers to do the same. When you ask how, we will simply say, "I'm a physicist, I have to do it."

We are computer scientists, electricians, plumbers, machinists, financiers, construction workers, babysitters, debuggers, public speakers, beta-testers, lobbyists, drones, mathematicians, writers, illustrators, and thinkers. This is what it is to be a physicist. And this is why humanity needs us.

3 comments:

  1. .. and we invented the internet!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Go physicists!

    I am a musician, and I changed a car battery once.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I know nothing. And I know it.

    ReplyDelete

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