Monday, November 22, 2010

The Daily Grin

Introduction - Oct 21 4:09PM

Dr. Syphers,

Hello! My name is Katie and I am a senior at [...] high school. I am currently taking physics because the classes I would like to study in college (veterinary technition) said it was a good idea. In school I enjoy being on the girls varsity volleyball team, along with the marching and jazz band's.

Now, I would love to know something about you. Like, what kind of physics do you use on a daily basis?

Re: Introduction - Oct 25 12:28AM

Hi Katie,

I hope you are enjoying your physics class so far. It great to see that you, and so many of your classmates, and other students I see at other schools, are into sports and music and theater and all kinds of stuff. That's really great.

I probably use basic physics that I learned in high school and my first years of college really almost every single day. In my job we are constantly doing quick little calculations to estimate things that we want to study, and then once we have a "plan of attack," we will have to do much more detailed calculations which involve higher level math and computers and stuff like that. As you might learn, there are many areas of physics, like particle physics, astrophysics, solid state physics, etc. I mainly do Nuclear Physics these days, but have worked in particle physics and astrophysics a little bit in the past. What I do for each of these is called "accelerator physics" because I study how to build particle accelerators that can be used in order to do controlled experiments in all of these sub-disciplines of physics. I think it is really a lot of fun, and very rewarding.


Re: Re: Introduction - Nov 04 2:41PM

Dr. Syphers,

Your job sounds very interesting and slightly difficult! Which area of work did you find most interesting or exciting to work with so far?


Re: Re: Re: Introduction - Nov 04 4:03PM

Hi Katie,

Another student at another school asked me the exact same question the other day; here's my reply:

"It's really hard to point to one thing in my career and call that the most interesting thing I've done. I continue to learn new things every day, and the excitement of learning and solving problems and figuring things out is always there. I thought I knew a lot about accelerators (and compared to most people, I guess I do), but I just took this new job at MSU this year and we are building an accelerator which has requirements on the beams and systems which I have never had to deal with before. But, rather than saying "I don't want to do that because I don't know how," I like to say, "I want to do that because I don't know how." Know what I mean?

"Right now I'm working with a team of scientists, engineers, and technicians and we are trying to design a system that will accelerate a large variety of different atomic isotopes, smash them into targets, collect the by-products (which will also be a very large range of different types of elements), slow them down and collect them, then re-accelerate them to well-defined known energies so that they can be systematically studied -- all before most of them radioactively decay away. And I only do the "accelerator" part; there's a whole other team that figures out how to actually DETECT these nuclei and determine their energies, masses, charges, lifetimes, and so on. Then, with that information, people can better deduce how stars are made and evolve and how the universe is put together. So, that's what I'm doing right now, and I'm just never sure how to make the job more interesting than that…"

Hope that helps answer your question, too.

All the best,

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