The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Summer Journal: Part 1

Our summer travels began with a flight from Dallas to Paris, France.

There has been too much happening this summer to stop and write about it. Instead, here are scenes and some short verses describing this summer so far. Needless to say, if there wasn’t even time to write… it was one heck of a ride.

Celebrating the best

Our semester closed with the conferring of an honorary degree to Dr. Francis Halzen, in honor of his remarkable contributions to the development of neutrino astronomy – an entirely new kind of astronomy. Dr. Halzen wowed the crowd with a public lecture at SMU a couple of days before graduation.
My second graduate student, Jeff, successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis back in March. In May, we celebrated his achievements at the annual Ph.D. dinner. He’s looking for positions in data science in industry. I will miss our conversations about physics and statistics and coding. This was a bittersweet part of my summer so far.
We graduated five bachelors degree recipients in Physics this spring. Another bittersweet moment; I love seeing students work hard, study hard, and accomplish so much, but I hate saying goodbye to them. This is the lot of the faculty member – to forever be training a new generation, then setting it loose and saying goodbye (for now).

Embarking to Europe

Just days after SMU graduation, Jodi and I boarded a plane bound for Paris, France. We paid out-of-pocket to upgrade to business class, a treat to ourselves ahead of many travels in Europe. We started with a few personal days in Paris, then began conference participation and research anew.
During our personal time in Paris, we visited the Conciergerie, used as a prison during the French Revolution, and the Musee d’Orsay. It was a chance to regenerate our creativity before diving into a crazy summer.
Inside the Conciergerie is a room in which are listed the names of those imprisoned – and in many cases, executed thereafter – in the fortress. I sought the name of Antoine Lavoisier, a genius of chemistry who had the misfortune of being a tax collector who once wronged a young man yearning to be a scientist himself. He was beheaded during The Terror.

Rencontres de Blois

We arrived in Blois, France in time for the start of the Rencontres de Blois, which Jodi co-organizes. It was a chance to see old friends and colleagues and learn the latest news in particle physics, astrophysics, astronomy, and cosmology. I adore this conference, if only for the chance to meet people working well outside my comfort zone and to learn neat ideas from other corners of the field.
A high point of my time at Blois was to chair a session on beyond-the-standard model physics, including an awesome talk on searching for topological deformations in spacetime, and very precise clocks, as a means to hunt for dark matter.
Blois is a beautiful city, with arts and science and history all blended into one incredible week of life in the Loire Valley.
Jodi and I had a good time at the conference, though we lost a lot of sleep with the late schedule of the typical day at the conference. A few days of personal time to recover after the conference were welcome, before we returned to Paris and then left for CERN.
During our personal recovery time in Blois we visited parts of the city we’d not seen before, including this World War II memorial in a nearby park. In part, it commemorates the lives lost to the horrible concentration camps setup by the Nazis to exterminate Jews and other people deemed unacceptable to the Nazi Regime. A horrible reminder of what nationalism mixed with fascism and racism can do to scourge a nation.


CERN was mostly a lot of work, but we did take a break one evening to gather all the SMU folks at CERN for dinner at a nearby restaurant. Not only were ATLAS colleagues at CERN, but also many of our SMU theoretical physics colleagues.
One of the projects in play while I was at CERN was the development of an automated software validation pipeline for the crucial ATLAS H->bb analysis. As co-convener of the Hbb Software Framework Group, this is one of my interests and tasks. I had a lot of fun not only learning about Gitlab and “continuous integration” (e.g. validation) pipelines, but also how you can trigger a pipeline from actions in a package other than the one hosting the pipeline.

Home Again

Upon returning from Europe, we found our senior cat, Bud (18 years old, foreground) had entered a state of acute kidney failure. He’d been diagnosed with kidney failure about 4 years ago, and had lived quite a remarkable life, criss-crossing the nation 1.5 times as Jodi and I moved from Wisconsin, to Massachusetts, to California, and then to Texas. The severity of his illness was too great, and we said goodbye to him on Monday, June 19, 2017. It was a brutal day for me and Jodi, to lose such a loving companion as this tiny cat.
Meet Lilac. We adopted her two days after Bud died. Our other cat, Snowball, would have been alone in the house, and as he’s partly siamese and these are sociable cats, it would have been very difficult for him to be alone when we travel. We rescued Lilac from the Plano Animal Shelter. She’s having a hard start to life. She has a nasty viral infection, with both an eye infection and a respiratory infection. For now, she’s by herself in an upstairs bedroom until she’s well enough to socialize regularly with Snowball. our other cat.
Work with Frank Blitzer, Jim Gates, and our publisher, Otto Barz, continues on “Reality in the Shadows (or, What the Heck’s the Higgs?)”, a popularized science book we’ve been writing. We’re in the stage of going through the chapter proofs. I had some fun with VPython making the above 3D representation of 5D space, including one “compact” circular extra dimensions (and with 3 spatial dimensions compressed to just 2).


Let’s close with a cute cat video. We all need those.