Monday, August 1, 2011

Wasting time, in a good way

Today my morning started early; responding to emails at 6:30 am and an 8:00 am search committee meeting. Various other administrative tasks delayed my arrival in the lab until about 9:45am. After doing the rounds in the lab, and then signing some more paperwork in the Physics office, I made it to my desk, where I spent the rest of the morning answering emails - with a short diversion to chat with the guys fixing our sprinkler system.

After lunch, I finally got back to the task of working on Nathan's cascading paper, which incidentally, I worked on a bit last night. As I was revising text in response to the reviewer's comments, I had a stroke of genius which I imagined would make a significant impact on the world of physics.

Without going into details, cascading is a process by which two molecules cooperate by exchanging a real photon. My insight provided the means for making the exchanged photon virtual. As a consequence, this photon's energy would not need to be conserved as long as the process were fast enough not to violate the uncertainty principle. This made the problem richly beautiful; and more importantly, it meant that a large area of nonlinear optics was flawed. I couldn't resist thinking about this problem with my full attention, so I placed my long "to do" list on the back burner.

I drew Feynman diagrams of the process and immediately realized that if the virtual photon did not conserve energy, it forced the cascading process to also not conserve energy. Thus, the photon must be real and my line of reasoning flawed. I am no genius after all!

However, by taking this detour, I found myself thinking about various cases where virtual processes contribute. To cut to the chase, my understanding of nonlinear interactions took a quantum leap. It made me appreciate the clever minds of great physicists such as Feynman, whose work embodies incredibly deep reasoning.

While most detours on the road waste time and make drivers frustrated, this kind was enjoyable and fulfilling. As I sit at my desk plowing through my work, I remain permeated with a calm happiness.

Until next time...

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