Sunday, February 28, 2010

One year of Physics Quotes of the Day

It's been exactly one year since I left my job as IT project manager at French telecom operator SFR. In that job, I missed the physics, the photons, the electrons, the atoms... So when SFR gave the opportunity to change course, I eagerly applied for a year Master of Science training at the Institut d'Optique, which could give me an upgrade relative to almost 20 years out of the professional physics world. This back to school period is extremely satisfying. It's a pleasure to learn new things, or learn them again and under different circumstances, to meet instructors, researchers and students who share the same interest. My last exam was past Friday and the last term of the MSc year is a 4-month long internship in a lab. So I'll be teaming up with a group at the ESPCI who's growing semiconductor nanocrystals.

It has also been a year ago since I started to tweet daily quotes from physisicts. I needed a speed course in all the fields of physics. It seemed that looking for quotes from diverse physicists is a great way to achieve that goal. Monte Zerger, a mathematics professor, wrote an interesting paper: "A quote a day educates". It explains how a daily quote can "instill in students an appreciation for the human in the mathematician as well as the mathematician in the human".

From March 2 last year, I challenged myself to quote only physicists (or physics related scientists) who where born on the day I quoted them, and to provide the reference for that quote, in order that one can check the context in which it was written or said. For about a tenth of the days in the year, such quotes could already be found easily on the web, but the 90% other ones needed a lot of reading, of searching in oral histories, in archives or in online parts of books or papers with Google Books or Scholar. I now have a year long physics calendar, a bit in the same trend as the catholic saints calendar. So if anyone is interested in publishing such a calendar, I'm the man;-) I currently have about 1300 sourced physics related quotes from 800 different scientists in my collection, part of which may be found on Wikiquote, or in my past posts or tweets.

Here are the two last quotes in the Physics Quotes of the Day series on this blog. I hope, you've enjoyed it. And I'm looking for another challenge...

"Your waistline may be spreading but you can't blame it on the expansion of the universe." Richard H. Price, born 1 March 1943.

"The atoms become like a moth, seeking out the region of higher laser intensity." Steven Chu, born 28 February 1948.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Physics Quote of the Day (February 21 - February 27)

"The recent developments in cosmology strongly suggest that the universe may be the ultimate free lunch." Alan Guth, born 27 February 1947.

"Such is the privilege of genius; it perceives, it seizes relations where vulgar eyes see only isolated facts." François Arago, born 26 February 1786.

"There can be no doubt that our descendants will learn to exploit the energy of fusion for peaceful purposes even before its use becomes necessary for the preservation of human civilization." Lev Artsimovich, born 25 February 1909.

"Hey, I got a new idea for an experiment I must tell you about !" William Fairbank, born 24 February 1917.

"There is also hope that even in these days of increasing specialization there is a unity in the human experience." Allan McLeod Cormack, born 23 February 1924.

"The rigour of science requires that we distinguish well the undraped figure of Nature itself from the gay-coloured vesture with which we clothe her at our pleasure." Heinrich Hertz, born 22 February 1857.

"We do not aim at « mathematical rigour » of exposition, which in theoretical physics often amounts to self-deception." Evgeny Lifshitz, born 21 February 1915.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Physics Quote of the Day (February 14 - February 20)

"But every day I go to work I'm making a bet that the universe is simple, symmetric, and aesthetically pleasing—a universe that we humans, with our limited perspective, will someday understand." George Smoot, born 20 February 1945.

"Perhaps our thinking exemplifies a selective system. First lots of random scattered ideas compete for survival. Then comes the selection for what works best —one idea dominates, and this is followed by its amplification. Perhaps the moral [...] is that you never learn anything unless you are willing to take a risk and tolerate a little randomness in your life." Heinz Pagels, born 19 February 1939.

"Personally, people know themselves very poorly." Ernst Mach, born 18 February 1838.

"The experiment decided in favor of the quantum theory." Otto Stern, born 17 February 1888.

"The twentieth century return to Middle Age scholastics taught us a lot about formalisms. Probably it is time to look outside again. Meaning is what really matters." Yuri Manin, born 16 February 1937.

"For successful education there must always be a certain freshness in the knowledge dealt with. It must be either new in itself or invested with some novelty of application to the new world of new times. Knowledge does not keep any better than fish. You may be dealing with knowledge of the old species, with some old truth; but somehow it must come to the students, as it were, just drawn out of the sea and with the freshness of its immediate importance." Alfred Whitehead, born 15 February 1861.

"To eliminate the discrepancy between men's plans and the results achieved, a new approach is necessary. Morphological thinking suggests that this new approach cannot be realized through increased teaching of specialized knowledge. This morphological analysis suggests that the essential fact has been overlooked that every human is potentially a genius. Education and dissemination of knowledge must assume a form which allows each student to absorb whatever develops his own genius, lest he become frustrated. The same outlook applies to the genius of the peoples as a whole." Fritz Zwicky, born 14 February 1898.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Physics Quote of the Day (February 7 - February 13)

"I had one experience which gave me some slant on the way large organizations run. I was not allowed to take spherical trigonometry because I'd sprained my ankle. Because I'd sprained my ankle I had an incomplete in gym, phys ed. And the rule was that if you had an incomplete in anything, you were not allowed to take an overload. I argued with some clerical person in the administration office, and was stopped there. It's an experience which I've remembered since, and advised people not to be stopped at the first point." William Shockley, born 13 February 1910.

"I also have a secret fear that new generations may not necessarily have the opportunity to become familiar with dissident ideas." Julian Schwinger, born 12 February 1918.

"A man's clarity of judgment is never very good when you're involved, and as you grow older, and as you grow more involved, your clarity of judgment suffers." Leó Szilárd, born 11 February 1898.

"One has to stress once again, that the mechanical world view and psychophysical interpretation accompanying it are based not on the instructions of the philosophizing mind, but on the clear and accurate facts discovered by experiment and observation; and in the cases of noncorrespondence (very rare, fortunately) between the requirements of the mind and the facts, reason must adjust to the facts, and not vice versa." Yakov Frenkel, born 10 February 1894.

"Physicists are more like avant-garde composers, willing to bend traditional rules and brush the edge of acceptability in the search for solutions. Mathematicians are more like classical composers, typically working within a much tighter framework, reluctant to go to the next step until all previous ones have been established with due rigor. Each approach has its advantages as well as drawbacks; each provides a unique outlet for creative discovery. Like modern and classical music, it’s not that one approach is right and the other wrong – the methods one chooses to use are largely a matter of taste and training." Brian Greene, born 9 February 1963.

"I thought we should require physical determinations, and not abstract integrations. A pernicious taste begins to infiltrate, from which real science will suffer far more than it will progress, and it would be often better for the true physics if there were no mathematics in the world." Daniel Bernoulli, born 8 February 1700.

"I learned a lesson from this experience. I knew that wall clocks have such a temperature correction device since it can be seen. But I didn't associate it with wristwatches. This taught me to think matters through carefully, taking as many relevant elements into account as possible." Toshihide Maskawa, born 7 February 2010.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Physics Quote of the Day (January 31 - February 6)

"Is the surface of a planet really the right place for expanding technological civilization?" Gerard K. O'Neill, born 6 February 1927.

"The Nobel Prize is given as a personal award but it also honors the field of research in which I have worked and it also honors my students and colleagues. It is an indication that the world thinks the subject of the investigation of small things is an important one. Not only has this subject been long associated with the ideas of thinking men over the ages but its practical importance is attested to by the huge resources of men and material thrown into this type of work. " Robert Hofstadter, born 5 February 1915.

"Historical contingency plays an essential role in the construction and selection of a successful scientific theory from among its observationally equivalent and unrefuted competitors. I argue that historical contingency, in the sense of the order in which events take place, can be an essential factor in determining which of the two empirically adequate and fruitful, but observationally equivalent, scientific theories is accepted by the scientific community." James T. Cushing, born 4 February 1937.

"A thorough and careful training in physics is of fundamental importance for the development of the engineer." Paul Scherrer, born 3 February 1890.

"The future development of physics will lead probably to much which is not yet known. New phenomena will be discovered and solutions will be found for problems which at the moment defy our attempts to solve them." Hendrik Kramers, born 2 February 1894.

"The mathematical framework of quantum theory has passed countless successful tests and is now universally accepted as a consistent and accurate description of all atomic phenomena. The verbal interpretation, on the other hand – i.e., the metaphysics of quantum theory – is on far less solid ground. In fact, in more than forty years physicists have not been able to provide a clear metaphysical model." Fritjof Capra, born 1 February 1939.

"To me, [it's] extremely interesting that men, perfectly honest, enthusiastic over their work, can so completely fool themselves." Irving Langmuir, born 31 January 1881.