Welcome Back!

Well, school is about all started up again. I apologize for the lack of posts over the summer–I have been swamped with some very interesting research projects and various other things besides…

What follows is mainly for my students, although if you are looking at the blog for the first time, perhaps this will be of interest to you.

This semester in Frontiers of Science we begin by exploring the mysteries of the human brain, grappling with the (for some) discomfiting notion that every aspect of our being ultimately comes down to the electrical and chemical workings of this three pound calorie emitter in our heads.

After that we will turn to Earth Science. The theme here is how climate change can occur and its possible impacts on life. We start with a lecture about climate change happening in the recent past, now, and the near future. From there we go on to explore how periodically changing climate may have affected human evolution. Finally, we’ll look at the extinction of the dinosaurs–death by asteroid. But it wasn’t the asteroid that killed them all. The likely scenario is that the abrupt climate changes brought about by this catastrophe killed off most of the plant life, thereby starving the survivors of the original impact.

Astronomy is up next, wherein we’ll learn how to “build the Universe.” Sounds a bit ambitious, but at the very least, we’ll come away with a deeper understanding of what the Universe is on the largest scales we can probe and the behavior of some of its residents: the stars and galaxies.

Finally, we come back down to Earth and look at Biodiversity. What is it? Why is it important? How is it presently threatened and what can we do about it?

For those of you who are new, here’s a little bit about me: I’m a theoretical physicist working at the physics department here at Columbia in Professor Brian Greene’s group (called ISCAP: the Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics). I am a string theoristy kind of physicist (though my interests are broader, extending into some purer mathematics as well as gauge theory and condensed matter physics).

At the moment I’m working on a few projects. The most exciting involves the possibility that space itself can tear and reform in a new configuration (technically, we say that the topology of space can change). This is a possible scenario that might occur in string theory.

Well, that about sums things up for now. Once again, welcome back.


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