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Press Release: 'Quantum Diaries' Reveal the Secret Lives of Modern Physicists

Date Issued: February 10, 2005


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What is it like to be a physicist in 2005, 100 years after Einstein pushed physics to a new frontier? A new website featuring researchers at Stanford and around the globe is helping answer that question by cataloging the daily lives of more than 25 physicists.

Quantum Diaries ( celebrates the World Year of Physics by recording the experiences, thoughts, impressions, triumphs and disappointments of these men and women in their blogs, which is short for weblogs, or web-based logs.

The response so far has been stunning. Quantum Diaries was launched on Jan. 13 and garnered more than 45,000 visits by the end of the month. Some of the physicists' blogs are getting nearly 1,000 visits per day.

For Quantum Diarist Caolionn O'Connell, a 27-year-old Stanford graduate student studying plasma wake-field acceleration at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), it was strange sharing her life with hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

"Honestly, it is a little weird," she said. "I'm a fairly private person, so this whole thing seems very exhibitionist. My friend says, 'Blogging is the writing analogue of karaoke.' I just hope my writing is turning out to be better than my singing."

O'Connell's entries touch on everything from progress on her doctoral thesis to high-energy physics funding, from neighborhoods in San Francisco to the recent debate over Harvard President Larry Summers' comments on women in science.

Three other SLAC scientists also are participating in Quantum Diaries. Stephon Alexander is a theorist working in the areas of fundamental physics and cosmology. He is also an accomplished jazz musician and his blog is as likely to mention legendary music producer Brian Eno as any of the great physics theorists.

Bryan Dahmes and José Ocariz are both members of the BABAR collaboration at SLAC. Dahmes is a graduate student at the University of California-Santa Barbara and a member of the Tae Kwon Do Club at Stanford. Ocariz is the only Quantum Diarist to write in Spanish, and he has connected with readers interested in doing physics in Latin America and Europe.

The remaining diarists hail from universities and laboratories in the Americas, Asia and Europe and write in English, Japanese, French, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Dutch and German, among other languages.

The Quantum Diaries website was developed and is jointly maintained by the InterAction collaboration (, whose members represent particle physics laboratories in Europe, North America and Asia, with support provided by the science funding agencies of many nations.

Excerpts from the blogs

Caolionn O'Connell on her thesis:

"I have hit a bump in the road, metaphorically speaking. A really big bump, such that even though my car might have lost a wheel, I am hoping it will still drive me to the thesis defense."

Stephon Alexander on interviewing for a faculty position:

"The interview? It was incredible. These things are grueling in one sense but exhilarating and exciting because you're selected from hundreds for a possible faculty gig. You get to define a research programme, have colleagues, students and postdocs to work with and get to teach—something I really love to do!"

Bryan Dahmes on his research:

"My goal is pretty simple. In order to get an analysis approved for release from our collaboration, there has to be lots of people who agree that I'm not just making things up, or (worse?) doing bad physics."

José Ocariz on signs of success:

"Not all days start with a nice series of e-mails. Fortunately, today is one of those! The first one was a message announcing that the European Union has approved our HELEN project Â... [which] will provide mobility and research grants for students, technicians and physicists from Latin America to work on collaboration projects with the European labs."

by Kathy Bellevin

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