I want to work for the Odyssey because physics has had a bit of a PR problem lately.
Everyone kind of regards physics, especially what’s going on right now in physics, as this esoteric realm of science that you can’t really understand without years and years of training and education. And, I’m not going to lie, that’s kind of true.
I mean, if we sat down right now and someone gave us the equations describing the relativistic mechanics of the curvature of space-time, I’d feel like a jackass because for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what all the squiggly lines mean and you would question why you sat down with me in the first place.
But the thing is, all those equations and two-dollar words are just being used to describe the way space curves around a planet, which is pretty simple when you look at it without the numbers: imagine a trampoline. Without anything on it, it’s totally flat, right? But when you put something heavy in the center, like, for instance, a rock, that rock will sink down and the trampoline will form a valley around it.
There. That’s what it looks like when gravity curves space. Done. Once you understand that, you can talk about gravitational waves, you can talk about time dilation, you can talk about all of these supposedly really complicated things that are actually pretty easy to conceptualize when you ditch the fancy mathematics.
Despite the pomp and circumstance and inaccessibility that’s built up around it, physics is actually pretty easy to understand. And it’s so cool! Just think about it: when you talk about physics, you’re talking about how the world works. Physics can tell you how anything works, from how far you could toss a football on a windy day to how far you could toss one on Jupiter.
Physics isn’t this strange branch of science removed from everyday reality, it’s the human race seeing what the universe does, and thinking about it, and putting words to it. It’s the almanac of everything we know about the world around us, and the universe beyond that. It’s looking up at the stars and feeling an overwhelming desire to know why they twinkle. It’s each and every one of us trying to figure something out. If you’ve ever looked at the moon and wondered why it shines, you’re a physicist. Congratulations!
People don’t find a passion for physics by looking at equations. I didn’t, for sure. I heard about Schrödinger’s cat, and how it was in a box, and how it was alive and dead (What?!) and I thought that was so darn cool that I had to go and tell someone about it. I didn’t know at the time that Schrödinger was using his cat to talk about quantum superimposition—I just liked cats. People get passionate about physics when they hear about something that wows them, something like Schrödinger’s cat, minus the equations and minus the palaver.
This site would be a great medium to try and rekindle a passion about science that people should have but are scared to because they’re intimidated by the subject. A regular science column that would feature articles on both things that are happening right now in physics and overviews of ideas like relativity or quantum mechanics that are, admittedly, a little scary, would be a great way to show people that they shouldn’t be intimidated by physics, but rather that they should be entranced, and I would love to head such a column because I’ve been caught up with learning and telling people about ideas in physics since that darn cat in a box.