Gender bias in STEM fields helps maintain the “gender gap”.

We’ve got an accelerator conference coming up soon. I volunteered to help prepare material addressing issues faced by women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The title says it all, really.

I suspect that every scientist would benefit from doing this sort of service work now and again. I read some very interesting papers and I learned a ton.

Problems of bias can seem nebulous and impossible to describe, let alone to solve. Something I particularly appreciated about my experience making this poster: the problems are clear and often quantitatively described. What’s more, there are data-driven, concrete solutions to these problems! Assuming your department has the political will to implement these solutions, you can help fix things. Not bad!


New job, new post!

hoorayI took a few months off of blogging so I could focus all my energies on worrying about job applications. And I guess all that worrying paid off because I got a job! I work at Fermilab now, doing basically the same stuff as before.

I want to tell you all about it! But not all at once, because (a) I respect you and your limited free time too much for that; and (b) oh man, Anaïs and I still have so much unpacking to do.

I’m very happy to be blogging at you again. Hello!

Friday Physics Photos: ???



Ok you guys, I’m doing that thing where as I write my next post, I discover that I have more and more things I want to talk about and the post gets longer and longer … Right now it’s an unreadable mess. While you wait for me to carve that mess up into several smaller messes, here’s a little bit of fun.

On my bike ride into work, I passed by another department’s lab. In their parking lot was this totally inexplicable vignette. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here and I love it. Somebody write me a short story about this.

Sunrise on Haleakalā

Wedding photos: You want to see them, I want to see them, everybody wants to see them!  But oh my goodness, there are so many.  There are about 1,250 photos for us to sort through.

Sorting through our wedding photos may take a little time.

While you’re waiting, I’ll periodically post some photos from the honeymoon.  We went to Maui, because … well, because Maui.  It was totally and completely Maui.  One of the Mauiest things to do on Maui is to sit on top of a volcano at sunrise.  So we did that.  Here are some photos!

This is a crater near the summit of a probably-dormant volcano called Haleakalā, which apparently means “House of the Sun”. (Can you guess why?) The environment is so austere and lunar that the Apollo astronauts came here to train in the 1960s.

Once the sun was up, you could see all the things. All of them.

3,055 meters is apparently not enough elevation for me.

Coming up next: DIY wedding photo booth stories!

LBNL Open House

It is my pleasure to show you low-quality cell phone photos of an impossibly great physics thing.  This is a Lego scale model of the ATLAS experiment, one of the two detectors at CERN responsible for the recent discovery of the Higgs boson.

Here’s what it looks like in real life:

ATLAS Experiment © 2012 CERN

The Lego version is still pretty cool though, right?

A lot of my posts lately have been about particle accelerators and how impressive they are.  (A quick summary: particle accelerators are impressive.)  But I’ve only briefly touched on what you might want to use one for.  Let’s totally talk about that it more detail, very soon.  For now, I’ll just say that discovering fundamental properties of matter at the smallest scales requires some very very impressive, complicated machinery.  Something like 3000 people work on ATLAS.  Some of them develop hardware and maintain the various bits of the detector.  Some of them work on piping the vast amounts of collected data from the detector complex to their computing farm.  And some of them study that data, looking for evidence of new and interesting physics.  Three thousand people!  And this is only one of six detectors operating at CERN right now!

The model is color-coded, by the way. Here’s the key.

The model is built to scale. Look at those little Lego guys! Yes, the detector really is that big.

This wonderful monument of dorkitude was on display at my lab’s recent open house.  I ran a demonstration about the superconducting magnets used in certain kinds of particle accelerators, including the LHC.  I would be very happy to write a post about this, but first I need to get a few more photos together.

PS.  Should we talk specifically about the Higgs boson?  Or did you get enough of that from every other blog in the entire world?  I think it would be interesting to address your questions, if you have any.  (“What is the Higgs” is a fine sort of question to ask.)  I encourage you to post your questions in the comments section.

Transit of Venus

Lots of hard work and travel have kept me away from the blog.  But!  There’s now a huge body of cool stuff to talk about.  New posts will be coming fast and furiously in the following weeks!

Let’s talk real quickly about the transit of Venus.  Aside from being a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime celestial event, it’s a huge plot point in one of my favorite books of all time, Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon.  So … read that book?

Anaïs and I went down to the Chabot Space & Science Center to watch the transit.  Not only do they have three enormous telescopes, but the place was lousy with amateur astronomers who brought their impressive gear and were so generous as to share it with us, the great unwashed.

In the center of that photo, towards the bottom, you’ll see a suuuuuper-fancy telescope.  (I don’t care to speculate on how much it cost.)  It’s outfitted with a hydrogen-alpha filter, a narrow-band filter that blocks out most of the light coming from the sun.  It makes possible some insanely detailed images of the solar surface.  Of course, I failed entirely to get any photos of that caliber.

Something even more interesting, though, were the pinhole viewers.  I submit to you that a fancy, multi-thousand-dollar telescope rig is impressive and intimidating to the point that it turns your brain off.  Viz:

Q:  How does this complicated, expensive machine work?

A:  Technology!

Bogus.  Unsatisfying.  Worse, that dialogue is intimidating and can scare people off of asking further questions.  Of course, a sufficiently interested person (sometimes reductively called a “geek”) will bother to pick through the layers of complication until they understand how an arbitrarily complicated machine works.  This is totally great, and it can be very entertaining to watch it happen.  But I think we ought be making more geeks.  As many as possible!

So for those times, like the transit of Venus, when the public comes out in droves to do sciency things, I prefer the following gizmo:

Very simple: filter, lens, mirror, screen.  Anybody can look at this gizmo and figure out how it works.  And, because it’s so simple, the sun’s image moves fast across the page.  You end up with not just an intellectual understanding of the sun’s motion, but a visceral feeling of it as well.  People waited in line for a long time to look through the fancy telescopes, but it seemed to me that they stayed longer at the pinhole viewers and asked more questions.

I hope you got a chance to see the transit!  I hope you had lots of fun seeing it!

Particle Accelerator Q&A

Just real quick:  If you’re curious about accelerators and you also do the twitters, you may want to check out this (I’m told this is an actual word that people use)  tweetup: #LabChat.  It’s a twitter Q&A with some US Department of Energy scientists.  Here’s a link for more information:

I know Gigi Ciovati, one of the participating scientists.  He’s a sharp cookie, and pleasant to talk with besides.

A lovely visit from lovely people

Alex and Adria paid us a visit and we had so much fun and they are very very lovely people.  Here are some photos from our outing to the Palace of Fine Arts.

The fog is normal. It was like 4 pm?


I guess this structure was originally built for a World's Fair, and then people decided they liked it. It's a lovely park now.

Grrrr, friends!

This li'l doggeh was very pleased to peek at us as we walked by.


This last photo makes a good segue into an upcoming post, in which we all went to Aptos and made wine.  Wine-making photos!  Coming soon!

I found a secret gym!

We can talk later about my exercise proclivities.  For now, let’s just say that I find most hotel “fitness centers” to be seriously deficient.  Two ten-pound dumbbells and a treadmill just don’t cut it. I require a squat rack. Squats are the best.

So when I was in Chicago a couple weeks ago, I poked around for a more adequate gym.  Of course these are plenty of gym franchises everywhere you look, but these have their own drawbacks.  They’re crowded, they blast terrible music, and their main focus is always on making a hot dollar.  So it’s common in one of these franchises to see rows and rows of gleaming elliptical trainers (because these impress newcomers) and then maybe one dusty ol’ squat rack in the corner (because newcomers don’t know from squats).  Some of these places forbid deadlifting, olympic lifting, and even moderate grunting.  Lame.  Unacceptable. But with a little effort I found “Unicus Fitness Lair”, the best, weirdest, secret-est gym in Chicago.  I’d like to share it with you.

It’s a legitimate secret.  You really, truly can’t find the gym without help from the owners.  Seriously.  You can’t just stumble on it by yourself because there are no signs.  I had to call them, get directions, and have them put my name on a list so I could get through security.  You can’t walk in off the street because … Well, let’s just go through the directions, step by step.

First, find this building. It was designed by Mies Van Der Rohe and is featured in the first few minutes of that movie "The Dark Knight".


From the front door, it looks like this.

Go inside and show your ID to the guys at the security desk. They have to open a gate for you.

Take the elevator to the 30th floor.

Oh, but the gym is on the 32nd floor and the elevator doesn't go that high. So find the spooky stairwelll and climb up the last two floors.


Once you're finally there, it's ENORMOUS. I'm about to show you several photos, each of a different room.

I chatted with the owners for a while, so I can tell you confidently that I’m not actually giving away any crazy secrets.  It’s not a super-exclusive club, it’s just that they found a big, unused space and jumped at the opportunity.  It works well for them, since they don’t care too much about pulling people in off the street.  They’d rather train a few dedicated people than a bunch of treadmill bunnies with no motivation.

I felt irrationally cool for finding this place, though.  After my first trip there, I told my friends in hushed tones about the secret skyscraper gym I’d found, feeling totally like somebody who was “hip” and “in-the-know”.