The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Put In Our Place

Jodi and I have been working our asses off to prepare job applications. We’ve just finished the most grueling of them, and while largely this was a painful experience there was good, too. I learned a lot about what Jodi has accomplished since graduate school. This may sounds ridiculous – I mean, that makes it sound like we never talk. But we do talk, all the time, about our work. This, however, is a bit like studying a painting by putting your nose up to the canvas. You’ll never see the picture, just the strokes or the dots.

Job applications force you to think about the picture. What have I *really* accomplished, and do those things set me apart from other physicists? How does my work, no matter how inconsequential, set the stage for the next phase of my career? In particular, how do my accomplishments, and the achievements I desire, fit into the picture of research? Most important, how does my research relate to the big picture of the universe? By asking, and trying to answer, these questions, Jodi and I found ourselves learning more about the importance of our work. I had a lot of fun learning about CDMS, and she learned a few things about how my pursuits connect to astrophysics and theoretical physics.

One of the great pleasures of working like this is thinking about the universe, and how our work connects to the big questions challenging physics. One number that kept recurring for both of us was 0.04. This number represents the fraction of the universe’s energy budget occupied by normal matter, the stuff we’re made from. Protons and electrons, neutrons, the quarks that are the basis of the nucleons, the neutrinos, all of it – just 4% of the universe. 24% is dark matter. The rest is dark energy. These are numbers we know very precisely, from a number of different kinds of measurements. But while we may know the ratios, we do not understand what goes into some of them. Dark matter and dark energy are a complete mystery.

Tonight, while doing some work from home, I had the pleasure to listen to a “Radio Lab” program called “Space”, which largely discussed our understanding of the universe and our place in it. Have a listen. It’s a fantastic program: “”: