“An Awesome Kind of Busy”

That’s how an old professor of mine described grad school to me once, when I asked him whether or not grad students were busier than undergraduates. I’m beginning to discover what he must have meant.

This is partly to say that I apologize for not having updated the blog the last few days. I have several homework assignments I’m working on at the moment and a test to prepare for next week, so while I have several draft posts being saved up, you probably won’t see them until next Monday or Tuesday. Heck, when I tried to throw up a small post late last night just to keep the content slightly fresh, I wound up, erm…wishing that I had chosen to do it in a slightly less-groggy, more proofreading-inclined state, to say the least. It didn’t make me feel as embarrassed as this guy, but fairly close.

To get back on the subject of “an awesome kind of busy,” however, let me at least reassure you that I’m not just neglecting the blog for pointless practice problems. That’s not “awesome busy,” that’s just “busy.”

What’s kept me awesome busy is something that happened in my lab course. I’ll elaborate on this more when I get the chance, but basically, by a happy accident my lab partner and I have stumbled upon an odd phenomenon that, with the encouragement of our professor, we’ve been exploring extensively. He thinks there’s a chance this effect hasn’t been measured before, or at least not studied extensively

Now it’s important to say, I think the odds that this is true are pretty low, and we’re still working on doing a literature search to see where else it may have been documented. But still, the mere fact that something we were doing in class quickly turned into something that might be publishable is incredibly cool, even if that “might” is a very small might. And I love the idea of being in a class where the professor understands if you want to drop everything you were supposed to be doing and focus on some other problem just because it seems cool and has everyone in the room scratching their heads. It’s that kind of fun experience that makes school turn into real science, and science turn into real fun.

Still, it also turns me into a really busy version of me, so don’t be too disappointed if my blogging is lighter than usual until after next monday.

UPDATE: I can’t think of how to describe this effect we’re studying in layman’s terms at the moment, so I didn’t try. However, it occurs to me that the quasi-technical description is probably not over the heads of many of you, so here goes. Basically, we see an anomalous dip in the absorption of circularly polarized light by Rubidium when very, very small magnetic fields are applied perpendicular to the polarized light. We think it’s the result of a degenerate mixing between Zeeman levels that is not entirely reflected in the current approximate mathematical models, but it may be that we just haven’t found models that are accurate enough to contain this effect yet.

If I get the chance, I’ll put this into plainer English later on, but again, that will have to wait for a few days. Now I gotta run– my homework buddies are calling me!

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About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

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