Blog » Studies

20 Sep 2006

Life just got more … interesting

Filed under: Studies — paulcook @ 12:19 pm

Ok, so not really life — just my physics. But this title flowed better.

So far today (it’s noon), I have made some real progress on a tricky problem we’ve been working on, that looks like it might soon give some very interesting results, possibly publication-worthy. This is very good. Also today, another paper appeared online with similar results to some of our work, from a different approach. This is potentially very bad. It’s 62 pages of heavy maths, so I’m not sure how bad at this stage. Preliminarily, though, it looks like at least some of our work is not in their paper.

So yes, things might start moving quickly now.

23 Apr 2006

Keeping me busy

Filed under: Personal,Studies — paulcook @ 8:33 am

Those of you that have been paying attention might have noticed I’ve been a little quiet recently. Well, here’s a brief summary of past and future plans — and perhaps some reasons for my silence.

My brother was here for three weeks in March/April. We had a great time and did many things. Some highlights were seeing the Cirque du Soleil show and a whole lot more in Las Vegas, an interesting photo exhibit at Santa Monica, all the usual Hollywood sights (just as there happened to be a huge cheerleading competition on the go) and some interesting parties at Caltech. He also made it down to San Diego with a friend for a few days.

14 Mar 2006

Caltech students: new minimum stipend

Filed under: Studies — paulcook @ 4:54 pm

A quick information note for Caltech students who may not have read the newsletter: the GSC budget newsletter announces that the GSC request for a minimum stipend level for all students, regardless of support source, has been approved by the Graduate Studies Committee, and will be recommended to all division chairs.

I’m really excited, since the figure they mention will be a BIG increase for me. But it’s worth checking, come next year, that your stipend is up to the minimum — and if not, well, perhaps some complaining might be in order.

21 Sep 2005

New beginnings

Filed under: Personal,Studies — paulcook @ 2:08 pm

It’s nearly the start of the new academic year, and so a season for new beginnings. And there certainly are lots of those!

Firstly, I’ve moved into my new office, on the fourth floor of Lauritsen. Yes, I’ve made it to the top floor! Across the hallway from my office is last year’s Nobel prize winner, and around the corner is Richard Feynman’s old office, and also my advisors’ current office. There’s also the coffee machine and printer, which will save many trips up the stairs!

16 Jun 2005


Filed under: Personal,Studies — paulcook @ 11:20 pm

It’s now nearly two weeks into TASI 2005, and quite some weeks they’ve been!

For those that don’t know, TASI is a month-long program for graduate students, at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It features four weeks of lectures by experts on various current issues of string theory. It’s an excellent chance to gain familiarity with aspects of string theory that one might not have come across yet as a grad student; but it’s also an excellent chance to get to meet and talk with leading current and future string theorists. Last, but not least, it’s really tiring — five hours of lectures plus an hour and a half of student seminars a day — and it’s all high-intensity stuff.

The networking opportunities are really fantastic. I’ve met a number of people who wrote papers I’ve used recently. For instance, a few months ago we looked for a while at applying some ideas of Samir Mathur on defining black holes in geometries which do not have an obvious simple horizon, to the formulism of Lin, Lunin and Maldacena for describing 1/2BPS (supersymmetric) 10-dimensional geometries with particular isometries (SO(4)xSO(4)). Today at lunch I was discussing some of our ideas with both Mathur and Lin. It’s also a very fun group of people, and we’ve hit the night-life of Boulder more than once.

6 Jun 2005

The joy of travel

Filed under: Personal,Studies — paulcook @ 7:49 am

Travel can sometimes be annoying. But sometimes it can actually be quite enjoyable.

Yesterday’s travel had the required annoyances, including the need to take two different flights to get from Los Angeles all the (oh so long) way to Denver. Then in Denver, there was the minute by which I missed the hourly bus to Boulder.

But altogether I quite enjoyed it. Salt Lake City is really interesting, particularly flying over the colours of the salt lake itself. I also spent much of the time asleep, on both flights and in the terminal at Salt Lake City.

The best part of the trip, though, was being on a fixed schedule. For quite some time now I’ve been trying to fit too many things into too little time, so I’ve been constantly prioritising things in my mind, and trying to fit as much stuff in to each minute as possible. But once one gets into the car and heads off to the airport (thanks Bert for the lift!), there’s only the fixed schedule of the flights. If there’s a two hour layover in, say, Salt Lake City, that’s two hours during which there’s nothing that has to be done. I could spend as much time as I liked choosing what to have for lunch. Um, breakfast. Whatever.

There’s also the simple instant gratification of succesfully getting through each security check and onto each flight. It’s not much of an achievement, but that’s the point — it’s all one needs to achieve to have had a “perfectly succesful” day of travel.

Anyway, as you can tell, I’m not now in Boulder, Colorado. The next month will be full of physics, as I’m here for the Theoretical Advanced Summer Institute, a seminar series in string theory. More news on that to follow!

26 May 2005

Asymmetries in scientific fields

Filed under: Physics,Studies — paulcook @ 8:40 pm

I’ve just finished reading Michelle’s candidacy report, on some of the research she’s been doing into catalysts for certain reactions in organic chemistry. It’s highlighted for me some of the differences between different fields of research — and in particular, between theoretical physics, and the more experimental work that most other people at Caltech do.

Michelle’s report was very easy to read. That’s partially because it’s well written, but I’d say it’s also because the difficulty is in a different place to that of papers that I’m used to reading. “Reading” a longish string theory paper can take literally months — and even then, I can’t claim to understand everything that is being said. Reading Michelle’s report took a few hours, and while I didn’t understand all the jargon, I think I got the gist of the issues and approach that her research took.

On the other hand, having read Michelle’s report has brought me no nearer to actually being able to synthesise anything more interesting than a bowl of pasta and sauce. “Reading” the string theory paper, however, has involved working through the mathematics behind each step, at great length — sometimes hours for a single line. So once I’m finished, I’ve done a substantial portion of the work that was required to write the paper in the first place. The analogy would be me reading Michelle’s paper, and then making some of the reagents too — and that would take months too.

11 Apr 2005

Fourier transforms and grad student life

Filed under: Studies — paulcook @ 3:25 pm

Graduate student life can contain some hidden contradictions. From the outside, it might seem stable, even boring, as one spends pretty much every day doing much the same thing (staring at papers for me, mixing chemicals for some, writing computer code for others).

So one might, if one were so inclined, plot the external appearance of grad student life as a flat line. Now the thing about flat lines, if I may appeal to your mathematics and/or quantum mechanics classes, is that Fourier transformed into momentum space, they look like delta functions — that is, infinitely steep-sided spikes of unit area.

Irrelevant, you say? Nonsense, I say. And anyway, don’t interrrupt me halfway through my post.

10 Feb 2005

Knots and different dimensions

Filed under: Physics,Studies — paulcook @ 11:53 pm

It seems that most of the time these days, I being asked to think about things in a different number of spacial dimensions than 3 (up-down, left-right, forwards-backwards). Now, some properties follow through to additional dimensions quite easily, but I was thinking recently about one that doesn’t: knots — it’s a great example of the tricks that dimensions can play on one.

What’s a knot? Take a piece of string (an object extended in one dimension). Form a loop and feed it through the loop. The knot so formed cannot, by continuous deformation of the string, be “undone” without moving an end of the string back through the loop.

But knots only exist in three spacial dimensions.

17 Jan 2005

Shoutout to Rhiannon!

Filed under: Personal,Studies — paulcook @ 10:06 pm

So I’m presenting my understanding of a recent paper (hep-th/0411145, by Suryanarayana, for those who care) to my supervisor tomorrow. This, of course, requires a LOT of reading of previous and other papers, to get ANY idea of what is happening.

I’m in the course of going throug the references when all of a sudden I see, “De Mello Koch, R and Gwyn, R., Giant graviton correlators from dual SU(N) super Yang-Mills theory, hep-th/0410236“, etc. etc.

Now Robert De Mello Koch is my undergrad supervisor, and Rhiannon Gwyn (for those who don’t know) is a very good friend currently doing her Masters thesis in Johannesburg.

Nice one, Rhiannon!

(PS. Please note the optimistic attempt to make this post readable to any of the tons of people, around the world, who read this blog).