The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

On the Verge of Obsession

Sometimes I get so close to an objective in my research, I become utterly obsessed with it. I spent most of my life in graduate school in that state, chasing the results that eventually became the work of my thesis. This past week, I’ve been pushing hard to try to wrap up my long-running search for invisible decays of bottomonium. Invisible decays of heavy, b-quark bound-states could provide a gateway to physics beyond the Standard Model of particle physics, the most successful scientific theory of Nature ever crafted by humans.

This effort required a lot of work from my collaborators on BaBar to set the stage, and I’m trying to wrap this up for presentation to my colleagues this week. The problem is that the unanswered questions from the last round of this work became the gateways to new questions in the current round. I’d process a whole ton of data, dig around in it to answer my questions, and then start processing it all over again, incorporating what I had learned. This bootstrapping has filled my entire weekend, so I can meet my deadline of mid-week.

As a result, I’ve closed my eyes to sleep and awoken early the next morning, my head filled with control samples and sideband extrapolations that nail down my background expectation. I’ve felt perpetually unsettled. Jodi and I frequented wireless-equipped coffee shops all weekend, she to work on her big dark matter talk for the “La Thuile conference”:, me to work on my research. Consequently, a holiday weekend turned into a non-stop work-fest for me, and I am fairly drained.

Thankfully, Jodi and I were able to take a walk up by the “Stanford Dish”:, which turned my stress into some helpful physical activity. Tonight, I am trying to wrap up a few last things before heading to bed, hopefully to sleep dreamlessly before my collaboration meeting begins tomorrow morning.