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Who Am I? July 24, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in blog.

There may be a few new readers heading to this blog, I suspect. So, a few introductions. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions. I’ll do my best to answer them (but I don’t have Internet at home right now, so I might be a little slow!).

The Rumor

Looking for more info? I’m afraid there isn’t much new out there. If you want to follow the trace of posts the best way is to follow the blog articles as they are all interconnected — which is why we call blogs echo-cambers. Here are my posts:

The Article

It was pretty good – I thought it was balanced. It is a bit odd because all of the people mentioned or quoted — we all know each other pretty well. I’ve been out for a beer with almost all of them. Well, there is Dr. Weinberg. I have seen Dr. Weinberg eat lunch at the University of Texas Faculty club (where I did my undergraduate work). I think I once carried a paper from a string theorist at Rutgers down to him for review. But no beer with him. ๐Ÿ™‚

On a more personal note, I never use the word “Dude” in conversation. It was a little awkward reading that. But, that is blogging for you. How often does someone get the word “Dude!” into the NY Times? I think my family will have some fun with that…

I’m curious to see what effects it causes in the experiments. Considering that Dennis, the author, carefully talked with the spokes-people of both experiments I suspect there will be very little fallout from this article.

Who am I?

I’m a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle in the Physics department. I got my Ph.D. in 1995 from the University of Rochester. I then did 5 years of post-doctoral work at Brown University before finally ending up at UW. I’ve been there almost 7 years now. I have just started my first sabbatical — I’ve just moved to Marseille in the south of France. I’m working with some collaborators at a lab called CPPM (Centre de Physique des Particles de Marseille), and I’m here for one year.

I’ve worked on only four experiments in my lifetime. This is not very many! I started at AMY in Japan (so old it doesn’t seem to have an official web site!!), and then moved to CDF at Fermilab, I then walked around the Tevatron accelerator ring a short distance and went to work on D0. I’ve spent most of my professional life there, and I am now really delving into the next experiment, ATLAS at the LHC.

On a more personal note, I’m married to another physics professor at UW and have a 1 year old child (who I miss, darn it, because we are separated until mid-August when she will join me here in Marseille). Probably the best way to find out more about me is pick random posts on this blog and read them or look at my flickr picture feed.

My Job

I love particle physics because it seemed to me to be the perfect intersection of physics and computers and hardware. I’m not sure I could any one of those three full time. My job as an experimentalists lets me, on one hand, explore the secrets of the universe, talk  intelligently about dark matter, and on the other hand argue some obscure point about parallel computing, and perhaps also fiddle at the boundary between hardware and software (micro controllers and the like). That was why I got into this field. I’ve since discovered other things — the students and others I work with, for example. I even like teaching (seriously — people seem to think most professors at large research universities don’t like teaching — I’m sorry they had bad experiences; but it isn’t the norm among my friends).

Particle Physics

The NY Times article does a good job at describing the current hot topics. There have also been some great long articles recently in the NY Times and also the New Yorker

Where do I start? I have no idea. We are trying to unlock the secrets of how things work at the smallest scales (quarks and gluons) and then use that to try to understand how things works at the largest scales (the universe). We have had this beautiful model of now nature works since the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. We call it the Standard Model (yeah, I know, pretty boring). It is almost complete in the sense that we’ve seen every single particle but one that it predicts: the Higgs. The Higgs discovery will be a big deal when we finally find it (if we find it at all – but more in a second). I would not be surprised if its discovery made the front page of the New York Times. Depending on what else is going on, it may even be above the fold. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Finding the Higgs is definitely winning the lottery, but not the jackpot. See, we know the Standard Model is broken — it doesn’t work at higher scales. The problem is all the measurements we’ve made have been at a lower scale that the Standard Model works too well! So we know that nature doesn’t have an infinity in it — so the Standard Model is broken — but we don’t know how to fix it yet. And there are a lot of proposals out there. Figuring out how nature solved this mathematical problem we have with our Standard Model is the big Jackpot.

The beauty of the Standard Model is that it describes all interactions of matter. In particular, it is fairly easy to use its rules to understand how the universe first evolved. And here is the key: if you can predict that, you should be able to predict a universe that looks a lot like the one we are in now. Only we can’t. Some key ingredients are missing — dark matter and dark energy. “dark” because we have no clue. ๐Ÿ™‚

The LHC was built exactly to answer some of these questions. Ironically, the LHC was started before we realized the dark matter/dark energy problem existed. It would be a neat twist of fate if a machine not designed to solve the dark matter problem ended up solving it. But our luck is not that good.

All of us, in this field, are products of the people around us as well as ourselves. I say this especially in reference to the rumor: if you piss off your colleagues then they will not work with you in the future. Collaboration is the life blood of particle physics in a way that it isn’t in many other science disciplines. The lone scientist slaving away at his table in the basement for years and then winning the Nobel prize? Nope, it won’t happen here!

Here are a few links to explore further. They are of varying quality as I just picked them out this morning and have not had a chance to carefully review them. Let me know what you think!

What is this blog?

 I started blogging as part of an outreach program called Quantum Diaries (check them out, there are some much better bloggers than I). The constant fear is not enough people are going into science (women in particular). So, how to make it more accessible? Someone in the PR department at Fermilab came up with the idea of a group of us writing blogs for the 100’s anniversary of Einstein’s most productive year. And I found I liked it.

So what does this blog have? It has less science than most science blogs. There are some excellent science blogs out there (my favorite) — defiantly read them. If you want to find more, just follow one link or anther and you’ll find us all linking to each other. I am very impressed with how they are kept up — it takes me hours to write posts of that quality and depth (this one is over an hour in the making). This blog is much more informal. If there is something bothering me, or some trip I’ve taken, etc., I’ll post about it here.

You can click on some of the blogs I’ve listed in my blog roll if you want. You’ll quickly find they link to higher quality blogs than I do. My problem: I only read blogs sporadically. Never feel like I have enough time…

Thanks for stopping by!


1. Owen Flagel - July 24, 2007

Never read your blog before. If it had not been for the word “Dude” I ‘m not sure I would have looked it up. The “Dude” reference is okay.

2. Tim Tait - July 24, 2007

Hi Gordon

I’ve lurked around your blog at odd moments ever since I someone alerted me to a picture of me with my extrordinarily over-sized laptop that once appeared on it (happy to say I’m now on a more reasonably sized mac…).

Anyway, nice article. It was good to see that at least the NY Times managed to get a relatively sane take on it. I’d be happy that they latched onto the word “Dude!” instead of WTF, BTW, or LOL…

I’m also in France at the moment (ending a month-long visit to Annecy ) and my pockets are also WAY to full of change…

Especially those 5 Swiss Franc coins. Those things are the work of Satan.


3. Not Even Wrong » Blog Archive » Quick Links - July 24, 2007

[…] there). There are quotes from bloggers Tommaso Dorigo, Gordon Watts and John Conway, and, in a new posting on his blog, Gordon is now trying to deny that he uses the term “Dude” in actual […]

4. gordonwatts - July 24, 2007

Tim, good to hear from you! If you ever end up near Marseille let me know and we can try to get together. There are some pretty amazing places to eat around here and I’m always looking for an excuse.

Owen — thanks! But it makes me sound, well, probably about how I actually sound. No one likes that!

5. Dave Bacon - July 24, 2007

Dude, I am so jealous of you getting quoted in the New York Times saying “Dude!”

6. gordonwatts - July 24, 2007

Well, my dept. chair hasn’t noticed yet (whew), but the dean did. Gulp! Lets hope the colledge council doesn’t notice: I’m up for promotion next year!

7. Dave Bacon - July 24, 2007

I think on the west coast, getting “Dude” into the NYTimes actually counts as a plus and not a minus on promotion ledgers.

8. Jeff Spicoli - July 24, 2007

Hey, Dude, what’s your problem with the word “dude”? I use it all the time whether I’m surfing or not. All I need is a cool breeze, tasty waves, and some hot chicks and I’m set. Well, maybe a cold beer or two to drink with my dudes wouldn’t be bad either.

Some of you physicists need to spliff-out and relax more. After all, Amsterdam isn’t far from Marseille and “dude” is just a word that sounds one heckuva lot less ridiculous than quark, muon, mumblelytronic, etc.

Loosen-up, dude, crack a brew, and eat some pomme-frittes.

Dude out!

9. carlbrannen - July 24, 2007

Dude is a good solid west coast word. Probably more common in California than Washington State but perfectly acceptable in spoken conversation at least.

10. Happy Higgs Hunters - Asymptotia - July 24, 2007

[…] some other posts on this article here (starting with Gordon Watts laying down a welcome mat and a useful road map to physics and earlier […]

11. gordonwatts - July 25, 2007

My problem: I grew upon the east coast!

12. Kevin - July 25, 2007

The other thing people should know about Gordon that I’ve learned over the last couple years reading his blog is that he doesn’t always use conventional spelling. Most of the time, this results in a precious, uniquely Wattsian effect:

“There are some excellent science blogs out there (my favorite) โ€“ defiantly read them.”

My feed reader has a defiantly special place for Gordon’s blog.

13. f15mos - July 25, 2007

How does it feel to be in a limelight?
Article struck me as a bit contrived as it was using a strange parallel of Dr. Weinber being it awkward position to try to explain a fluke with well thought put plan to find a Higgs postulated more than 40 years ago (Peter Higgs is not even mentioned). Apples and Oranges.
But funnier it is to read the remarks of the characters.
Denisov says โ€œItโ€™s a rigorous process; we donโ€™t want to make a trivial mistake,โ€. Makes one wonder, if finding non-trivial mistakes require less rigour? Konigsberg – โ€œYou can get lucky or not get lucky” a deep thought!. Dr. Wyatt, from his comments, seems like the most competent and measured and wonderfully sarcastic. And Dr. Roser is politically correct. Dr. Erbacher rhyming “game” and “shame” suggest that it is possible to look “right at it” and not report it! Well, I would think it gets reported if not even seen (as a limit).

All in all the article is about a bubble, but it attracts attention to the real thing, so this is good for HEP. May be the rumor was planted with exactly the purpose of getting some publicity. That is Dr. Dorigo has been cleverly manipulated.

14. Jimbo - July 26, 2007

Relax, Gordon….Dude is complimentary.
Peter Fonda defined the term `dude’ in the movie `EasyRider’ (1969), which you should rent, with a little tequila, if you have’nt seen it already !
The term in Fonda’s context, was subsequently adopted by most rock `n rollers by the late `70’s, but unfortunately has morphed since the `90’s into a synonym used by the general public under 40, for `men, guys, fellows…’ In other words, any human male.
Far from the case….A DUDE IS HIP & SPECIAL.
One must always be cognizant of one’s `dudicality’.

15. Mike Schuler - July 26, 2007

Hello Gordon. This is the first time I’ve seen your blog, but I have put it in my favorites. I read several of the other physics and cosmology blogs.

I have a question that nobody has ever responded to, so I’ll try you. Why has nobody ever explored the possibility that matter itself could be perpetually expanding along with a perpetual expansion of space? It seems to be accepted that space is expanding. Why not matter as well? If matter were perpetually expanding along with space, it would eliminate the need for a “force” of gravity to explain falling objects. Explanations for every observed phenomena could be found in perpetually expanding matter/space and the need for dark matter/dark energy would be eliminated.

16. gordonwatts - July 26, 2007

Kevin — Indeed. In 6th grade that decided if the students in the Metuchen school system should head for the advanced classes or the regular speed classes. English class — which was mostly spelling — played a big part in that. You can guess which track I ended up in. It wasn’t until the end of 10th grade that I finally got my feet under me and started to push back.

I’m glad you have a special place in your feed reader. I’m afraid to ask the name of the folder, however. ๐Ÿ™‚

17. gordonwatts - July 26, 2007

f15mos – I’m not sure what to think. Perhaps I should write about it in about a week or so after all the dust settles. So far, other than there are lots more comments than normal (which is great!) there hasn’t been a personal difference — which is good!

I wondered about that — if this was a carefully guaged comment meant to give particle physics more publicity. But it did have some fairly unpleasent side effects within. Perhaps I’ll talk about them once the data is out there and released and we have moved on. Also, some of the publicity was not at all good. Check out the Wired article, for example. So, in the end, I don’t think it was. It was just someone using a blog to ask about a rumor they had heard — the equivalent of asking someone over lunch at the lab. The blog may feel intimate (I’m alone in my office typing this, no one else to see what I’m typing…), but it is quite public. Further, unless you own the blog, you can never retract your statement: you have no plausible denyiability — which is very much unlike a conversation over the table where nothing is written down.

At any rate, I hope everyone involved has learned. The issues are going to get more complex as the collaborations get bigger.

Pardon the spelling; no spell checker on this interface…

18. gordonwatts - July 26, 2007

Jim — I like that much better! I have not rented that movie. Your recommended watching protocal sounds just perfect.

I had actually used it to temper my comments to Tommaso. I didn’t want the message to be too harsh (since I was saying it in a fairly public place it could easily be interpreted as such). That was why I choose it originally. Yes, I do give that much thought to some of the things I say here. Not everything, sadly…

19. gordonwatts - July 26, 2007

Mike — Thanks! I’m not an expert on the expansion of the universe (I’ll ask some people over lunch tomorrow), but for one thing that isn’t what we measure. So even if it was happening, it is happening in addition to what we see. Actually, the folks on cosmic varience can probably answer this question off the top of my head. I’ll see if I can find out some further information.

20. random dude - July 27, 2007

Dude, let me see if i got this right. You don’t want it to be known that you use `dude’ cuz ur up for promotion next year and are worried that the dudes on the committee will take exception to your use of the `’dude’ word. As in “Dude, we’re hear that u’ve been sayin `dude’ so we’re not gonna promote ya!” Hahahahahaha that’s sick dude!

21. gordonwatts - July 27, 2007

Man. I guess Dude is ok…

22. m van o - November 18, 2007

I knew your old frien dale carpenter 30 years ago. I remember your name, though not what I had for breakfast!

23. UW Physicist Featured in NYT, Says "Dude" | Seattle Metblogs - April 3, 2008

[…] Gordon responds with a post on his own blog, claiming that he never uses the word dude: On a more personal note, I never use the word “Dude” in conversation. It was a little awkward reading that. But, that is blogging for you. How often does someone get the word “Dude!” into the NY Times? I think my family will have some fun with that… [#] […]

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