By the end of 2016, I was running 10 miles at my longest stretch. Then I injured my hamstring. Then 2017 came. I was on sabbatical, which sounds like “academic vacation” but isn’t. My exercise schedule was disrupted. My teaching schedule in the fall of 2017 was a mess that disturbed any semblance of regularity. I got sick in the spring with a really bad cold, then sick in the fall with hand, foot, and mouth disease, then a cold, then the flu. I injured my right foot, and even walking became a problem. By 2018, I had gained 12 pounds from my low of 188lbs. 2017 was not a good year. But, then, you probably all knew that 2017 was not a good year.
When I joined the existing co-authors of “Reality in the Shadows” to contribute to the book, I hesitated. It had nothing to do with them. Jim Gates is renowned in my field for his intellectual prowess, considered a founder of key ideas in the theory of supersymmetry. Frank Blitzer is a talented polymath, with expertise in engineering (he’s literally a rocket scientist), a man who helped put humans on the moon, and a man passionate about communicating modern science to a non-expert audience. In fact, both of them are passionate on the latter.
It wasn’t a fear of writing. A lot of physicists are afraid of writing. They seem to dread the exercise. I embrace it. I know I am too wordy, but I also accept the need for review and editing… so that usually works out for me. I can write fast and revise slow.
No, it was something else that made me hesitate: my colleagues. Writing a book on physics for a popular audience carries potential social and, as a knock-on effect, professional risk for a practicing physicist mid-career. I hesitated because I feared a backlash from my peers, those who frown on writing books for a popular audience. They view it as an exercise in bad analogies, misinformation about the details of physics, and especially revisionist history. In this essay, I explore my fears ahead of taking the dive into joining Frank and Jim in co-authoring “Reality in the Shadows.”
A human being is the sum of the influences of all their caregivers and bullies, successes and failures, dreams and fears… all bound together by that something special each of us has inside, that thing that ultimately makes each of us unique. I am no different. As a teenager, and later in my 20s as I pursued a Ph.D. in Physics, I was influenced by parents, teachers, friends and foes, and even the science writers to whom I was exposed by family, friends, and colleagues. With the publication of our book, “Reality in the Shadows (or) What the Heck’s the Higgs?”, Jim Gates, Frank Blitzer, and I hope now to repay the gift given to me by those science writers. I repay it not to them, but forward to a new generation (or even an existing one) by nurturing a new love of science, and especially for physics, as a principle means of inquiry into the origin, nature, and fate of the cosmos.
This week Jodi and I left for Washington D.C. on Monday for an event at the Canadian Embassy on Tuesday night. She had been invited to attend an evening celebrating science in Canada, especially Nobel Prize-winner Art McDonald and projects at SNOLAB, that nation’s premiere underground science facility. In addition, Jodi and I hit Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with staffers from Congressman Sam Johnson and Congressman Pete Sessions’ offices. We returned to Dallas early Thursday morning, in time to attend a very special event at SMU later that night: a dinner with the Board of Trustees at SMU where faculty receive the University’s top research and teaching distinctions. This was yet another whirlwind week in a semester of whirlwind weeks… but at least, this time, I could spend it with Jodi.