Monday, August 9, 2021

What a Weekend That Was!

Sad. It was a sad weekend. The weekend following 23rd July, 2021. When two eminent theoretical high energy physicists, both of them Nobel laureates, Toshihide Maskawa and Steven Weinberg, transitioned from being alive to whatever that other dumb state is. Sir would have probably said, उनीहरू धान रोप्न गए (they went to plant rice). I never inquired about or understood the origin of that phrase. I just like(d) it for the simplicity and obscurity of the reference!

I ‘knew’ Dr. Maskawa because of the CKM (Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa) matrix or quark mixing matrix. In modern theoretical physics, it is quite hard to put a face on an equation. (Remember, E=(γ)mc² reminds one of Einstein. Or, (γ·∂+m)ψ=0 reminds one of Dirac. Well, maybe that’s not a good example. How about Noether’s theorem or Yang-Mills theory or Higgs boson or Feynman diagrams or BRST formalism or BCFW recursion relations? I guess you get the idea that it is hard to associate faces to equations in physics… Forget faces, even names sometimes get lost in the zoo of acronyms!) It is indeed sad that, for me, CKM matrix got a face at this inopportune time.

I ‘know’ Dr. Weinberg because of… a lot of things. In fact, I decided to become a theoretical physicist because I read his book “Dreams of a Final Theory” in the library of my high school. (Why do I have to be specific about the library? For that, read OMUs 4 in this post.) Then, during my undergraduate days, I got to know more of him by studying the electroweak theory (including Weinberg angle or weak mixing angle), by studying his book on Gravitation & Cosmology (including his paper on cosmological bound on neutrino masses), by reading his book “The First Three Minutes” (though I doubt I finished this one). I got to know much later that the name “Standard Model” in particle physics was coined by him. I had even applied to UT Austin for graduate studies, just for the possibility that I could, maybe, in due course of time, be able to meet him in person. But that application didn’t go as planned and I went to SBU. I was still confident that being in the same country possibly means the probability of meeting him is still nonzero. The day of 23rd July, 2021 has made that probability zero.

I have ‘followed’ Dr. Weinberg’s advice on graduate research since my undergraduate days, i.e., since I read his Nature article Four golden lessons. In fact, I always keep a summary of the 4 lessons in my shirt pocket (along with other quotes from famous people like Einstein, Feynman, Salam, WS, PvN, etc.). As I started thinking about graduating and becoming a postdoc, I came across another article of his with similar flavour: To the postdocs. What a coincidence of timely guidance!

Sadly, as I inch towards finishing my third postdoc and no clear view of a faculty job on the horizon, I wonder if I have missed a third article by him titled, “Are you ready to teach?” or “Research without academia?” or ⋯. Well, I guess 23rd July has made me stop that search.

I will end this post with an article, which on any other day, I would not have. (Read it till the end, though!)

Finding one’s place in physics

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