Photo:

Mark Jackson

Today the BICEP experiment found evidence for gravitational waves created during inflation. If true, this may be the earliest signal from the Big Bang humanity can ever observe. That only happens once.

Favourite Thing: Being the first to figure out something new. Even if it’s not very profound, it’s like *you* created it.

My CV

Education:

B.S. in physics and math from Duke University (1999); Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Columbia University (2004)

Qualifications:

Other than those degrees, absolutely none. I am completely talentless in every other area.

Work History:

I have been a postdoctoral researcher at the Fermilab, the Lorentz Institute for Theoretical Physics (Holland), and the Paris Centre for Cosmological Physics.

Current Job:

I just began another postdoctoral ressearch position.

Employer:

African Institute for Mathematical Sciences.

Me and my work

I research how the most fundamental laws of physics affect the Universe as a whole.

The laws of physics usually change as we go to higher energies. This means we have a really good understanding of how things operate at low energies, but are completely clueless about how they operate at higher energies. Usually we test ideas usually a particle accelerator like CERN, but even this is not nearly powerful enough to test the really interesting theories like superstring theory. Fortunately Nature has already performed an ultra-high energy experiment, The Big Bang! I try to understand how the Big Bang could allow us to test such laws of physics.

My Typical Day

I read, and think, and write.

I wake up and have coffee (this really is necessary). I go to the office and read which articles have been published that day, especially those which might have any relevance to my own work. The rest of the day is spent thinking, jotting down equations, scribbling them out and writing more. Often I talk with colleagues to bounce ideas off them, or attend lectures. By the end of the day, I often have a headache from going around in circles in my mind. And just before I go to bed, when I’m so tired that I cannot think completely logically, I have a vague idea which isn’t completely thought out but seems like it could have some bearing on the problem. I write it down then go to sleep. In the morning I read this and often realize this was some insight into the puzzle. It’s amazing how many times I made a discovery while very sleepy.

What I'd do with the money

I would make the public understand how amazing physics is, and understand the need to support fundamental research.

I am currently developing the world’s first physics fundraising agency named Fiat Physica, Latin for “Let Physics Be Done.” There is almost no private sponsorship of fundamental physics research because the public sees it as unrelated to their daily lives. I want to change this and make them realize that they use physics every day in ways they never would have imagined. I would use the money to cover expenses incurred in giving presentations to publicize the work of my client research groups.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curious. Stubborn. Absent-minded.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Ennio Morricone. Radiohead. Beatles. Death Cab for Cutie. Pink Martini. Mozart.

What's your favourite food?

Pizza and pasta. Candy.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I’ve gotten to live in and travel in many countries. The most fun thing was meeting so many different types of people from around the world.

What did you want to be after you left school?

Physicist.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Not in a serious way. But I was a nerdy smartass, and did not mind telling people they were wrong. I’ve tried to work on this.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Physics and math.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Gotten to work with truly brilliant scientists. I can’t count how many times they shared an idea and I thought, “Wow I never would have thought of that in a million years.” Working with such individuals is a bit like having a deeper connection with Nature.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Both of my grandfathers were very “handy”, and enjoyed showing me how things worked. One even tried to give me a chainsaw when I was four.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Private detective.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1. Being able to relate to other people more. 2. Travel to more places, especially those outside my comfort zone. 3. Change the world in a noticeable way (for the better, I hope).

Tell us a joke.

All of the mathematical functions are at a party. The exponential is sitting all by his lonesome self. One of the other functions asks him, “Why don’t you integrate a bit more?” He replies, “I’m an exponential, it won’t make any difference.”

Other stuff

Work photos:

Since my work is theoretical I’m not able to show any big experiments I’m building. But here are a few of me in scientific-type settings.

myimage1

In front of some equations I’m playing with.

myimage2

Giving a lecture about my research at a conference.

myimage3

On the rooftop of our lab in Paris, holding a beachball patterned with the earliest light in the Universe, the Cosmic Microwave Background.