Friday, September 7, 2007

Quarked: Mysteries of the Universe

The second installment of my column was published today in The Observer! Because I know that utterly no one cares if I post it, here it is for those too lazy to click on the link...

Quarked: Mysteries of the universe revealed

Yvette Cendes, Columnist

I don't know a lot of things. I honestly don't. I don't know how to imagine a world with no hypothetical situations, I don't know why you have a light in the fridge but not the freezer, and I don't know what color a Smurf turns when you choke it. I don't know why Case has a persistent logo fetish when they had a perfectly fine one for several decades, and I don't know who, upon reviewing architectural plans for the renovation of the Cleveland Art Museum, pointed at the ghastly one they chose and exclaimed, "Yes, this is exactly what we were looking for! We could do no better than investing millions of dollars in this design!"

Perhaps these mysteries all have perfectly decent explanations behind them. If it's enlightenment you seek on these topics, I am simply not the one to ask.

I mention all this because I am a physics major. For those of you who have little experience with physics, the field is filled with pressing questions no normal person would think about unless in a state of intoxication. What happens exactly when I smash objects together really fast? Why does time move really quickly when I'm on a hot date, but really slowly on the dull ones? Why is there something instead of nothing in the universe, and why is so much of it on my desk? Why is this object – wow! – really, really shiny?

I'm oversimplifying things a little, of course: we know a lot more about physics now than we used to. Nowadays if you want to smash things you usually need an excuse to use a particle accelerator. But you get the idea.

When I first declared my physics major, one of the main reasons I wanted to do it was to answer a few questions about this universe we call home. And while there have certainly been moments of enlightenment, one of the things that has most impressed me about this journey is how 10 new questions always seem to take the place of the one I just answered. The universe is complicated and refuses to give up its secrets without a good fight.

The best thing about physics? While it may be true that the universe is big and we are small and none of us can really say we know what's going on half the time, I still find the universe wonderfully exciting. This place is a lot more grand and wonderful than anything we can possibly imagine, and there will always be something new to ponder. We need never be bored thanks to all the things we have left to discover.

And while you're all busy pondering, I have a favor to ask. If you ever come across an asphyxiated Smurf, could you check on his color and get back to me? I'm dying to know the answer to that one.

When not doing something else, Yvette is a fourth-year physics major.


Linda said...

Smurfs would obviously turn the color of their unoxygenated blood. My guess that since our blood is red and turns blue, that the smurfs would be the opposite-- blue blood that turns red. So in answer to your question, a choked smurf turns red. QED. ;)