Ask Me Uncomfortable Questions

I’m seriously lacking in bloggy inspiration at the moment. So we’ll fall back on something that has worked a couple of times in the past:

Everyone has things they blog about.
Everyone has things they don’t blog about.
Challenge me out of my comfort zone by telling me something I don’t blog about, but you’d like to hear about, and I’ll write a post about it.

The usual disclaimers apply: questions that are pointlessly obnoxious or whose answers would get me in trouble of some sort (“What are three things you hate about the Deans to whom you report?”) will be ignored or get blow-off answers. I’m short on inspiration, not brains.

23 thoughts on “Ask Me Uncomfortable Questions

  1. If physics is the basic science that underlies almost every other science, why do American high schools usually teach it in the 3rd or 4th year, after biology and chemistry? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Physics first, then chemistry, then biology?

  2. We heard great colloquium from Steinberg about his work, both the experimental side and the theory (post-selection, weak measurement, negative probabilities,…) could be good topics. Apologies if you already covered that…

    (OK, not phrased as a question, that’s why I never made it big in jeopardy)

  3. Since science is a self-correcting process (maybe only at a statistical level, not necessarily an individual level), it would be cool if you would relate the last time you were seriously wrong about some aspect of science or research, and how you altered your thinking as a consequence.

  4. Klein, Kaluza and Schrodinger all discovered solutions that seemed to indicate more dimensions than the conventional 1-time+3-space, but abandoned some of their theories under peer pressure. Now that string theory math has breathed new life into the concept of multiple dimensions, have other scientists revisited their work to see if the “mysterious” parts of quantum mechanics can be explained?

  5. What would you tell to middle- and high-school students about the importance, benefits, and drawbacks, of obtaining a solid education in science and mathematics?

  6. Union is one of the most expensive colleges in the country. What are students getting for their money? How does Union justify the increase in price over other schools with comparable academics and facilities?


  7. This is an excellent blog, but the volume of posts leaves me with a mixture of envy and annoyance (to be unnecessarily honest, perhaps). How in the world do you find the time to do so much blogging and reading of others’ blogs? Aren’t you supposed to be insanely busy trying to get tenure, changing diapers, guiding excitable but naive undergrads in research projects, etc.? Do you have time management secrets based on how time can be warped in some weird quantum way whose theoretical basis is traceable back to Einstein?

  8. Are there any fields you regret not going into? (For serious reasons, not “I wish I were a cancer researcher because everyone admires them and throws panties at them etc etc”.)

  9. What college degree/career path would have have chosen if you could not have chosen any physical science or engineering? (It’s my question, so we get to imagine a universe where you are forbidden to chose these options. Sure such a universe exists, right?) I’m disallowing all physical science and engineering so you don’t just pick something very similar to physics. I consider biological sciences to be fundamentally different enough to be allowable. You get the idea: what would you have done if you had been forced to pick something significantly different? Explain your reasoning.

  10. I’ll take a stab at question 1: physics doesn’t underlie the study of biology, for example, because reductionism doesn’t provide computational derivation. The facts about how life evolved on earth cannot be derived from QM and GR. That’s not denying the causality of physics. But for teaching and understanding science, one can begin in various places and push on the causal mechanisms in multiple directions.

    FWIW, I would say biology has a strong claim on centrality in the curriculum, because we are living creatures.

  11. Einstein seemed to suggest that gravity is the result of a bending of space. Modern scientists work to detect “gravitons” or “gravity waves”. Does this mesh with the gravity of relativity or are they two distinct theories in conflict with each other?

  12. Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. Yet you, while not personally a believer, seem to have little sympathy for those who point this out. Why is that? And don’t you think you are helping the religious (i.e. ultimately also the terrorists) by trying to silence their only serious critics?

  13. What’s your favorite homemade supper? What is your favorite thing to cook? What is Kate’s favorite thing to cook?

    (I came here for physics in layman’s terms (yes, I own the book!), but I stay for the baby blogging and pictures of Emmy.)

  14. Do you read your grades? Do you get the RSS feed? Do you actively work to maintain your ‘chili pepper’ status?

  15. Another stab at question 1: Intro high-school biology does not require much more math than basic arithmetic; chemistry requires some algebra; physics requires algebra, trig, and maybe a little calculus. If you teach physics in ninth grade, you’ll have to water it down to the point of junior-high physical science.

  16. At what point during your academic career did you decide that you wanted to teach at a liberal arts institution? What inspired this decision? What are the best and worst parts about it?

    (Maybe this isn’t enough off of your usual topics, but worth a shot.)

  17. What part of mainstream theoretical physics do you find least appealing and why? Something you find so ugly, inconsistent or contrived that you suspect it cannot be the whole story?

  18. Just to clarify I mean theoretical physics already confirmed by experiments (GR, QED, QCD and so on) not currently fashionable speculations.

  19. #14 is waaaay too comfortable.

    What is the WORST thing that Kate ever cooked? What was your own worst cooking disaster?

  20. You posted not too long back about the fantastic physics majors that are graduating this year from Union. It was a lovely post. What are you personally doing at Union to get more women to study physics though?

  21. Elizabeth @ #14, since I speak for myself, my favorite thing to cook is chocolate chip cookies because it’s something I’m good at and it’s usually for a social occasion or a fundraiser.

    CCPHysicist @ #20, the worst thing I ever cooked was in junior high; Mom and I decided to make some traditional Korean cookie for a school fair thing (nb. I am adopted and Mom’s heritage is mostly Armenian) and they turned out basically like hockey pucks. We actually put one under a desk leg at school and sat on the desk, to no ill effects to the cookie.

  22. In regards to number 1: I have heard that there was a conference between high school educators and scientists in the early 1900s. The educators asked the scientists which order would be best to present the sciences in, knowing all that they currently knew about the subjects. The scientists at that point considered the sciences to be sufficiently differentiated that the order was irrelevant, so they suggested doing it in alphabetical order: bio, chem, physics.

    The thought about the level of math needed is not really all that valid. Any of the three can be taught “math-light” or “math-intensive” (maybe not bio, but I’m not a biology teacher).

    I’ve taught under both the traditional route and a physics-first route, and the former tends to have more a problem-solving emphasis on top of concepts and the later more a conceptual-understanding and looking for placing those concepts in a unified whole picture. Personally, I prefer the physics-first route, as I think the solid foundation is more important. Those who want more problem solving can come back for a physics II or AP Physics course their senior year.

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