Last week I had a wonderful trip to the University of Oregon in Eugene to give a colloquium for the Department of Physics. This was my first visit to the university, and actually my first visit to Oregon at all!
Wooster Physics and Oregon Physics are connected in a number of ways — Dr. Leary did his Ph.D. there, and he recommended the department to several Wooster physics graduates. So there are now four Wooster alums doing their graduate work there! Saul Propp and Amanda Steinhebel are both second year grad students and they recommended me to the colloquium organizers and set up my schedule.
I spent the morning talking about active matter, flocking, and granular flow with a number of different faculty. This might have been my favorite part of the day — as a curious person, I find it so wonderful to just sit down with a really smart person and have them explain their current research to you. For me, these kinds of discussions are where I really see how various areas of physics, which may seem totally different at first, really fit together and complement each other. I love seeing these connections between different fields. Over my physics career, I’ve changed areas several times (always as a condensed matter experimentalist), so I know a little about a lot of subjects, and I think that gives me a good starting point for these conversations. I saw some amazing cell behavior, learned a new video analysis tool that I can use right away in my own work, met a post-doc who I knew previously as a grad student at Illinois, talked about gender issues in physics, ate pizza and got totally quizzed by the grad students, talked about art and physics, saw an awesome new AFM and other enviable equipment, and saw some photon anti-bunching results that were only a few hours old. Sweet!
The physical space at Oregon was really attractive. I know Oregon has more than its share of cloudy days, and it was raining while I was there, but the physics building is designed with large windows and a central atrium, so that despite the grayness outside, it still felt light inside.
There is a lot of art incorporated into the building as well, although it might be helpful to have some obvious signs explaining the meaning of the art. The Feynman diagrams in the floor are pretty straight-forward to recognize (if not understand!), but I didn’t find out the meaning behind the cool starry metal-work at the top of the atrium. Maybe they are just stars… Or hyperbolic surfaces? Somehow related to DNA? It’s a mystery, but great art.
I am totally a physicist and not a biologist, but I am a gardener and I enjoy seeing how plants are different across our country and in different landscapes. For example, this tree just outside Willamette Hall was just covered in moss, so you can see this silvery green outlining the trunk and limbs. And the crocuses were in full bloom elsewhere on campus, while here in Ohio, the snowdrops (which are an earlier bulb than the crocus) have just started blooming in my yard.
I will say it was a lot of travel from Ohio to Oregon for a one-day visit. I was lucky to get a good flight though, so that I only had to change planes once in each direction. And, the change of planes was in Denver. I used to live in Denver, so it always feels like home when I fly through the airport. On the way out, we landed just as the sun was setting behind the Front Range, and it was beautiful. As my plane left Denver for the trip farther west to Eugene, I made full use of my window seat and played a little game of “what can I recognize”. It was fully dark by then but I recognized the patterns of the lights, and followed the trail of Interstate 70 from downtown, past our old neighborhood on Sheridan Boulevard, out to Denver West and Golden and up into the mountains.
All in all an excellent trip! I have a few more trips planned during this research leave — a research trip coming up soon and another trip to give a colloquium. Sadly, I’m going to miss the March Meeting in New Orleans, so I am relying on my colleagues (hint, hint!) and the students to blog about that always-amazing meeting!