Science is exciting, and it has the power to change the world! But sometimes this is hard to see, when results are written up in papers and hidden behind complicated formulas. I believe that scientific outreach can serve three important purposes:
Sharing the excitement and wonder of discovery with younger audiences helps to inspire the next generation of scientists.
Accessible talks on seemingly complicated topics improve our communication skills and foster critical thinking in society.
Many theoretical physicists (like myself) are publicly funded, and explaining the progress in our work to the general public holds us accountable.
With that in mind, on these pages I want to keep myself accountable and list all efforts to communicate my scientific work to audiences outside of academia. And if you would like me to give a generally accessible talk on black holes, General Relativity, or my work in physics, or take part in an outreach event, please feel free to contact me, and I will do my best to get back to you.
Three Minute Thesis (3MT)
In the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, graduate students are challenged to present their work in three minutes to a live audience. It's a little bit like an elevator pitch. In 2019 I was lucky to be one of the ten 3MT finalists at the University of Alberta, and you can find my talk on YouTube. It's titled Black Holes and Einstein's End of Eternity, and it is about the end of space and time that may or may not sit inside black holes.
Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. No, really, and that's what the Images of Research Competition at the University of Alberta is all about: to capture your research in one image and share it with the local community as well as online. I have participated in this event three times, and below you can find my contributions:
Back to back
How do we know the stuff we know?
In physics and engineering, a lot of our knowledge comes from calculations. And when these calculations become difficult, we need tools to perform them.
Fifty years ago, mechanical calculators (pictured left) were the tool of choice, and they allowed us to quickly add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers. They are reliable, make a heck of a noise, weigh 20 pounds, and they just work. They solved many problems before the advent of the computer, contributing a huge amount to what we know today. But as science progressed, new and faster tools were required.
Today, almost every day, I use my computer (pictured right) to solve the equations I encounter in my research in physics. Don't get me wrong: many of those calculations could, in principle, still be done on the mechanical calculator, but a computer is just faster, quieter, and does not weigh as much.
In the background you can see a part of the equation that I solved using my computer. Below it, the mechanical calculator and the laptop stand "back to back," as if they are debating who is better at solving it.
This is not just a high school evergreen, but it is vitally important for many applications in research. Recasting an equation into a more convenient form is the most fundamental tool that a theoretical physicist makes use of, every day of every week of every year.
As it turns out, this is not always possible. Some equations resist even the most sophisticated calculational techniques, which is why they are called "transcendental." But what can we do then? When we encountered such a transcendental equation in our research, we resorted to a graphical method on the computer, and we obtained the graphical shape depicted in this contribution.
At the bottom right you can see my handwritten original equation. The graphic above shows how we can solve it: wherever the white lines meet, we find a solution of the equation. This is not only important for science, it also gives rise to a beautiful and intricate shape, deeply embedded in the mathematical structure of equations. When I was in highschool, I never thought I would meet an equation like that. Solve for x...
Black holes belong to the most fascinating objects in our Universe, and they challenge the way we think about space and time. My research involves studying both mathematical and physical properties of black holes, and how they can help us to learn something new about the Universe we live in. With this contribution, I'm trying to bridge the gap between theoretical physics and modern art by mixing scientific results and the concept of pop art.
My image contains three computer-generated plots of a rotating black hole, where the rotation speed “a” increases from left to right. The black surfaces correspond to the various horizons (the “membranes,” that once you pass them, you can never get out again). The other surfaces have a more involved meaning, in that they visualize the vanishing of so-called curvature invariants.
Look at the green lobes in the leftmost picture, and track their shape as the rotation speed “a” increases to the right. In the middle one, for a critical value, they touch the horizon at the north and south pole, and in the right picture they protrude outside of the horizon. Mathematically it means that only for the first two pictures we can think of the black hole horizon as a surface in flat three-dimensional space, and not for the third one.
I wrote an invited article for the University of Alberta's YouAlberta news outlet, covering my experiences in graduate school, my research on black holes, and my outreach activities at the 3MT competition: