Tuesday, June 05, 2012


Just pointing out that real life has been very busy of late.  Hopefully I'll have more blogging time shortly.  In the meantime, definitely check out this post by Ash Jogalekar.  It's a topic I've written about more than once, and I've been thinking hard about what to do to address this.  Things like TedEd are intriguing.  It should be possible to do some about the remarkable aspects of condensed matter.  Heck, you could do a great one about Pauli Exclusion....


Anonymous said...

There was a TED talk from a grad student who worked with Andrew Cleland and John Martinis on using SQUIDs to measure superposition in mechanical resonators. So it seems that some condensed matter guys are getting a bit better about putting themselves out there.

The old problem with promoting things like CM physics, physical chemistry, materials science, and such fields is that to a lay audience it is hard to communicate why something is important. Why study frustrated antiferromagnetism? Why study superfluid phase transitions? These kinds of questions are hard to answer to a non-physicist. Moreover, if the public ultimately decides that such physics is esoteric, then physicists could be in a funding crisis.

Anonymous said...

I think the "importance" problem is kind of a cop-out. High-energy, string, and cosmology folks have the same (if not worse) barrier and in my limited experience I don't think "where did the universe come from?" is intrinsically more interesting to science-curious lay people than "well, what can we do now that we're here?"

If there were a number of CM types out trying and failing, that's when I'd be concerned that it might be something specific about the material. But it's really just an overall lack of effort. Professors in my department have given local outreach talks on CM that audiences absolutely ate up, with many asking me afterwards where they could read more about those topics. There is a market here, and the books people want barely exist. There are a handful of really good CM public talks, on the web and probably at most universities if you look out for them, but no one is willing to make it their career. And that's what you have to do to make it really stick. Write books, promote those books heavily, and become as much showman as scientist.

Let me put it this way: I don't think everyone was clamoring to learn about strings, so Brian Greene wrote a popular book. I think strings are popular because that's what Brian Greene happened to be studying. When someone is actually willing to play the role of BG for CM, I don't see any reason that it won't share a similar -- or maybe even better -- space in the public consciousness as string theory.

(And finally: don't promote CM, chemistry, materials, etc., because of a hypothetical funding backlash?! For being too esoteric, when the public seems to love multiverse cosmology et al.?! It's the near *refusal* to popularize our work that puts public support in jeopardy. The idea that we should hide our work to protect our funding is *not* a principle on which to rest the scientific enterprise.)