Accelerated Thinking

August 11, 2008

On Friday afternoon I had Roger Blandford and Martin Rees in my office at the same time. They have brains the size of seventeen planets each, and my office isn’t that big, so I could only just fit in at the same time. I could feel my thoughts being squeezed out through the crack under the door. I roped them back in and switched the brain into overdrive to try to keep up for a bit. Then Roger went off to a meeting, as he is wont to do, as he is a Very Important Chap (I’m not anymore ! Woohooo !) and Martin and I chatted of Scottish Physics and Quasars for bit.

Earlier that day we had both crashed lectures in the current SLAC Summer Institute, which is called Cosmic Accelerators and brings together an eclectic mix of particle physics folk, cosmic ray types, STP people, and black hole jet fans. All this non-thermal stuff is coming back into fashion, thanks to gamma ray bursts. With GLAST flying, the pulsar and blazar folks are gearing up for action too, getting their samples ready ….. The only trouble is, this stuff is so hard. We’ve done all the simple “woahh look at that” stuff, and we’re into the detailed physics and boundary conditions and so on. Every so often though a new experiment can make a big simple advance. Possibly my favourite is Meegan et al 1992 . After thirty years of utter mystery regarding gamma ray bursts, they just counted the buggers, and showed that they were isotropic on the sky, but falling off with flux faster than the 3/2 law : so they just had to be cosmological, and at large redshifts. Classic. Lets just hope GLAST does something that nice.

By the way, Martin was visiting Roger on the way to the Googleplex. For the second year in a row, Google have invited a hundred or so of the world’s top scientists for an unstructured brainstorming. Pretty special party invite. Whoever sees him next can ask if it worked …

Oh and talking of great simple ideas, happy birthday packet switching. Now that really changed the world…