Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Einstein Lectures at Caltech

The p-orbital lamps at Caltech: The lamps have the shape of the electron wavefunction of hydrogen , i.e. the probability to find an electron around the nucleus. The first solution is the s-orbital, which is just a sphere, and this shape is the second orbit around the nucleus. I just love this school!

Charles called me up this afternoon and said "Hey, there is a lecture about Einstein at Caltech this evening, wanna go?". Of course I said yes, and Erdem with Dimitri agreed to come with me. I checked online to find out exactly what this was about: This year is 100 years since Einstein's "miraculus year", when he published 3 great papers that affected physics forever. So Caltech had 4 lectures about his work this year, and this today was the last one with a topic of general relativity given by Kip Thorne. Thorne is a very close friend of Stephen Hawking and the #1 phycisist on gravitational waves, the most interesting prediction of general relativity. We went there around the time the talk started, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Outside teh auditorium there a HUGE line of people. I mean, it was the HUGEST line of people I've ever seen, more than any other event I've been to. I am talking about thousands of people it a line spreading about half a mile across the Caltech campus. People have been lining up 3 hours before the talk; it was just crazy.

Of course we didn't manage to get inside. We sat close to the speakers outside right next to the fountains, and listened to the whole lecture from there. We only entered inside after the end, when Thorne was signing books just to take a sneak peek.

The talk itself was very interesting: he gave review of Einstein's theories, and then he expleined many research aspects of current issues they are working on - it was great because I got a feel of how the gravity things are going and where science is right now it that field. He mentioned that they expect the most useful results from LIGO, their gravity gaves detection experiment to begin any day now, plus how GPS has to be adjusted to account for general relativity, plus the superconducting gyroscopes that will detect the dragging of spacetime caused by the rotation of the earth (1 revolution per 6 million years!), plus his always crazy stuff about time travel and wormholes.

When I first read this guy's book back in high school ("Black Holes and Time Warps") I didn't understand a thing; today, I found out why :-)